Photo Of The Day: “House On Greenwich Street”

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“House On Greenwich Street” 2009. Rolleiflex 2.8C, 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar lens, Kodak T-Max 400 in T-Max Developer in NYC.

About eight years ago I was down in Greenwich Village and just happened to walk by this amazing home that seemed almost completely covered in leaves. It caught my eye and it’s hard to miss. I grabbed my trusty Rolleiflex 2.8C and took a photo of it.

At that time I was posting to photo forums and I titled it “House On Mockingbird Lane” as a tribute to the spooky Munsters television show. That’s the first thing that came to mind since the eery house seemed to be in the process of being “eaten” by the growing leaves. I’m a big fan of these homes covered in leaves and this was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

It was many years later that I discovered the house actually belonged to the famous photographer Annie Leibovitz who was still the owner at that time! She has since sold the place, which I think consisted of three buildings and was called a “compound” by the local papers. As you may or may not know, Annie has photographed Kings and Queens, pro athletes and presidents. She has done it all in photography.

If you want to look at more pictures of the place, search for “755 Greenwich Street.” Quite awesome to see that place in person and then to learn that it belonged to a world famous photographer. That’s why I say…always carry a camera! 🙂

 

Photo Of The Day: “The Beach”

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Oh yes my friends, Summer is now officially here! If it sound a little late, it’s because I actually started this draft on June 20th! Almost a week late and seven dollars short 🙂

Anyway, this is the time all kids look forward to. Do you remember your summers as a kid? Parents, while they may not happy having the rowdy kids home full time, they too will enjoy the summertime as an excuse to bring their kids somewhere that they too may have wanted to go to.

I used to love summers as a kid, but now as an adult I much prefer the spring time. I don’t really enjoy hot weather and from a photographic perspective, I also think the spring is prettier.

Anyway, this is a shot from 2010 taken with a Bronica RF645, 65mm f/4 Zenzanon lens on Kodak T-Max 400 film and developed in T-Max developer. The Bronica Rangefinder or RF (as most people call it) was one of those cameras that I did not expect to like, but ended up loving.

Why did I not expect to like it? As some of you may know, I love fast lenses. The fastest lenses for the RF start at f/4. Of course, you can still get shallow DOF and that medium format look, but f/4 is still f/4 as fas as light transmission goes and I’m always shooting in less than ideal light conditions.

On this shot however, it was in the late afternoon sun and it was good enough for the Zenzanon lens to do its thing.

Also there aren’t many lenses for this system. You’re limited to about three lenses, I think. Having used a Fuji GA645 before, I also was not fond of the default “portrait” orientation on these cameras even though I do a lot of portraits. I’ve gotten used to tilting the camera vertically when I want to do a portrait.

The Bronco RF645 was made during the period when Tamron owned the company so I’ve always wondered if Tamron made the lenses since they are also a well renowned lens manufacturer. Tamron has always made great lenses, most of which were sharp with a modern look. I was concerned that if Tamron made these lenses, they would be sharp but perhaps lack character.

The only reason I got this camera was because I got a very good deal as part of a trade with a photo forum member. I also remember being impressed with some portraits from this camera from some talented shooters on Flickr. I wouldn’t have bought this camera as an outright purchase, but buying and selling works if you want to try other stuff!

I ended up loving the camera and Zenzanon lens because they gave me that “look” that few cameras deliver consistently. The camera and lens, especially when shot on Kodak T-Max 400 always delivered for me.

To me, the shot above has a good balance of sharp focus and just the right amount of bokeh to show the environment. In this case, you can see the hotels on the left side of the picture, in the bokeh zone. If you look hard enough, you may also just barely make out the famous Wildwoods roller coaster in the far distance to the right of the baby. See how the  Zenzanon lens’ focus “melts” from the foreground to the background without getting too “nervous” like some lenses can get. This was shot on Wildwoods Beach on the Jersey Shore.

While I love super shallow bokeh, it is somewhat overplayed in my opinion. The Bronica RF645 and 65mm f/4 Zenzanon is great for environmental portraits which show your surroundings while still giving a very nice and smooth transition from sharp to soft.

This is one combo that I regret letting go! Well, there are quite a few I regret, but I will say again that this combo gave me very consistent results that I loved. Consistent is the key word here! I have a large print of this image on my wall an it looks just as it does here, maybe even better as details are more apparent.

If funds permit and I can find the right one, I may give it another go in the future. I also plan to do a more in depth review of this camera so keep an eye out if you’re interested in the Bronica RF645.

Thanks for looking and enjoy your Summer weekend everybody!

 

 

Tuesday Titans: The Contax 645

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The almighty Contax 645 and 80mm f/2 Carl Zeiss lens. I took this shot when I had to sell this dream combo. Perhaps one of the greatest camera systems ever made?

Wow, what can I say about this one?

The Contax 645 is a Medium Format autofocus film camera introduced by Kyocera in 1999. It was part of their 645 system, an ambitious foray in the (then) professional portrait and wedding world where medium format was king.

I got the Contax 645 in 2008 and had the pleasure of using it for a few years, but eventually had to sell it. I’d always say that I would only sell this camera if I had to pay the rent. Guess what? I had to pay the rent 🙂

I had actually gotten the camera initially because I had done a couple of weddings, was thinking of going down the weekend weddings path, and was thinking of adding something different and unique to my wedding portraits. Looking back now, it was just another excuse for G.A.S. but man, if you have to have an excuse for another camera, the Contax 645 is IT!!

I apologize for not having more photos of the camera. When I sold it years back, I never thought I’d be writing about it one day on a blog 🙂

This is by no means a complete review of the Contax 645, just my memory and experience with it. I do have photos made with this camera and will be updating this article, once I can rescan and put them together. I couldn’t write enough to do the camera justice.

THE CONTAX 645 BODY

The Contax 645 is a modular system with removable backs, prisms, and lenses. You can even add a nice (but expensive) accessory battery holder/vertical grip (the MP-1).

The body when fitted with AE prism and film back feels very solid and is as beautiful to look at, as it is to shoot. The viewfinder is beautifully bright and contrasty. I believe there was actually a waist-level finder for this camera.

From the shooter’s perspective, the top right of the camera contains the shutter speed (32-1/4000 in AV mode) and exposure compensation dials. The mode (B/X/M/TV/AV) dial and AE lock is also located on the top right.

The left side does not have a top “plate” so to speak, but it contains the dial for drive (single or continuous at 1.6 fps). The camera runs on one 2CR5 battery, but can run on four AA batteries with the optional MP-1 grip.

The Contax 645 is still popular with wedding and portrait photographers today due to its ability to use compatible digital backs and if you’ve got this setup, this would be the ultimate digital portrait system in my view.

PERFORMANCE

Ergonomically, I had no complaints. It’s a Contax and all the controls are well laid out. It’s one of those cameras I could use without a manual and that to me is always a sign of a good camera.

The Contax 645 is an autofocus camera and unlike the Contax AX 35mm camera I wrote about, the AF on the 645 is quite good and definitely usable.

While there were quite a few lenses for the 645 system, I only used the 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar so I speak only to my experience with the camera and this lens. I do not know how it performed with any other Contax lenses.

It was not an EOS or Nikon speed demon, but I did not remember having issues with it, except in very low light conditions. I think you’d be fine with this for those wonderful outdoor wedding portraits.

The 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar is one of the fastest lenses available in the 645 format. I believe only the manual focus Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 was faster.

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The lens, as expected, made for wonderful portraits. The lens was beautiful wide open for portraits with bokeh that seemed much smoother than other Zeiss lenses I have used. Perhaps it was the extra shallow DOF that you can get with medium format, but the bokeh on this lens was not quite as “nervous” as the Zeiss lenses I have used in the 35mm format.


BOTTOM LINE

If you’ve ever read any of my articles on Contax, you will know that while I love Contax cameras, I’ve always blasted their electronics as brittle and unreliable.

I’m happy to report that in the three or four years that I had the Contax 645, I never had that problem. Oh, there was one time when the camera started focusing erratically, but it turned out that it just needed a new battery.

It seemed to me that Kyocera put everything they could into making the Contax 645 the best camera that they could make.

The Contax 645 is a highly desirable camera. With its usable AF system, and an arsenal of superlative Carl Zeiss lenses, it is an incredibly capable image maker. To this day, it is considered one of the premier systems in all of medium format photography. It is a camera that can take film or modern digital backs making it versatile enough for the old school film die-hard or the modern digital artist.

The Contax 645 is without a doubt a Camera Legend and perhaps one of the greatest cameras ever made.

WHERE TO BUY?

If you’re thinking about a Contax 645, I have to burst your bubble a little bit and say that with Kyocera out of the camera business, buying a Contax 645 is a bit of a risky gamble.

The reason for this is that if something goes wrong with the camera, Kyocera’s contact in the USA, Tocad, will no longer repair them. I’m not sure who does.

The good (or somewhat good) news is that there are not many reports of these cameras needing repair, just do a search. However, as these cameras approach twenty years on the market, they are getting older and as with any camera, there’s bound to be many ready for retirement or in need of repair.

I would imagine that since the camera is incredibly popular with pros, there should be someone or some place out there repairing these cameras. But in my research, I haven’t found any. I believe they still repair them in Japan, but I will have to do more research.

When I got the Contax 645 in 2008, I paid $1200 for the whole outfit with 80mm f/2 lens, film back, and AE prism. A complete outfit in the same excellent condition today runs for $3000 or more. I’m glad I sold it when I did and made a little profit from the sale 🙂

A Mamiya 645 AF or AFD system is probably a better alternative if you are looking for a similar medium format system that will still be supported.

Now, if you still have your heart set on the Contax 645 Kit (body, 80mm lens, AE prism, back) is trending at $3000-3500. I have seen the kit on eBay with the 45mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens going for around $2300.

For this camera, with its delicate electronics, I would definitely recommend buying from a place with a good returns policy. For that you may try HERE and HERE.

INSTAX cameras on Sale

GoPro HERO on Sale

 

 

 

 

Photo Of The Day: “Lost”

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“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see” -John Newton. I’m not particularly religious, but I do think Amazing Grace is an amazing song. Shot with a Zenza Bronica S2A, 75mm f/2.8 Nikkor-P, Fuji Neopan 400 developed in T-Max developer.

Photo Of The Day: “Strong Coffee”

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“Strong Coffee” 2015. Mamiya C330, Mamiya-Sekor 65mm f/3.5, Tri-X 400 developed in Caffenol straight scan, no enhancements. Messy, dusty, but it worked! 🙂

If you’re in the blizzard zone and stuck home this weekend, I hope this will give you extra reading material 🙂

I’ve been developing film for quite a few years and although I don’t consider myself an expert at all, I’m familiar with traditional developers such as Rodinal, D76, T-Max, HC-110, etc, etc.

One developer that I’ve heard about, but never tried till recently was a home brew called “Caffenol.”

This is a process where you use instant coffee, washing soda, and vitamin C powder to concoct a mix that actually develops film.

When I first heard about this years back, I laughed it off thinking it was a big joke. When I investigated further, I was totally shocked that you can develop film with instant coffee!

The photo above is a result of my first Caffenol experiment. Now I know it’s far from an award winning result, probably not the kind of result anyone wants, but to be honest with you, I’m just thrilled that it worked! 🙂

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A 100 percent crop of the above image. I am unsure why, but I am not getting the option to show the image full size as I used to have. I am trying to get to the bottom of this and will fix it, if possible. If you could see it, you would see the glitter around the glasses well resolved.

Above is a 100 percent crop of the original scan. I adjusted the contrast levels to better show the details. I was quite amazed that the result, while messy, actually holds a lot of details!

The image was shot in 2015 with a Mamiya C330 and a banged up Mamiya 65mm f/3.5 lens that I got for $23. The film was Kodak Tri-X 400 which is my go-to for an easy to develop, classic film.

If you search the web, you will find many fine examples from Caffenol connoisseurs who have posted results much better than this.

As I said, I’m no expert at this. The hardest part is finding “washing soda” so I made it myself by heating up baking soda, not certain whether I did everything right. Also in the darkroom, I made the mistake of turning on the lights when I didn’t have cover on the tank with film in it, allowing for possible light contamination. Something I’d never done in all the years that I’ve developed film. Because of these issues, I was even more amazed that it actually gave me something at all!

I am now eager to experiment more and to perfect this process. However, that would mean I would have to waste a lot of rolls of precious memories so I have to be sure that each roll I process with Caffenol is really “disposable” to me, so to speak.

If you haven’t tried this process, take a roll of film that you think you could part with and try it out. It’s a lot of fun and could potentially save you money from buying traditional developers. It’s quite a kick to take the instant coffee on your kitchen shelf and turn it into a film developer, it really is! 🙂

Have a blessed day and I hope you stay safe in you’re in the zone of this major blizzard.

Best, Sam

Note: I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong or something changed with WordPress, but people used to be able to click on the photos to see a larger version, but now it doesn’t give me that option. If anyone can tell me why, I would appreciate it!

The Best Camera I Never Knew Part Four: The Exakta 66 Mod III Medium Format Camera

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The Exakta 66 Mod III. A dream camera of West German/Russian heritage and one of the best cameras I never knew 🙂

Sometimes your lust over-rides your head and clouds your better judgement. This was certainly the case with the next camera in “The Best Camera I Never Knew” series.

THE EXAKTA 66 MOD III

The Exakta 66 MOD III (model III) is a medium format camera introduced in 1997. Though the original Exakta 66 was produced by West German company Ihagee, the exact origins of the MOD II and MOD III are somewhat unclear.

The main thing you need to know is that all these Exakta models are a variation of the Pentacon Six, so they are all 6×6 mechanical SLR cameras that use 120 medium format film. They resemble, from afar, the Pentax 6×7 and look like a giant 35mm camera on steroids.

There is a great website http://www.pentaconsix.com that will tell you the differences between the models, and anything else you might want to know about them.

In the context of my story here, just know the MOD III was considered the “ultimate” as far as variations of the venerable Pentacon Six goes. It was the last model so it technically had all the upgrades and enhancements that was done to the basic Pentacon that it’s modeled after. One enhancement was the inclusion of a mirror lockup.

Another reason for its desirability is that the Exakta 66 Mod III is sometimes paired with the superb 80mm f/2.8 Schneider Xenotar lens, though the Exakta 80mm f/2.8 or 80mm Russian Volna or Biometar lenses are more commonly seen.

WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME?

Ok, so in 2013 I came across the Exakta 66 Mod III body on KEH Camera’s website. A used body only for around $300.

I hesitated at first, knowing that it was basically a glorified Pentacon Six or Kiev 60, but the camera lust took over me and I thought I had to have it! That, despite the fact that I already had a Pentacon Six TL and a Kiev 60. Both bodies combined, cost me less than the Exakta alone!

I’m drawn to extremes…the best camera, the worst camera, the last model, the smallest model, the strangest one…you get the idea 🙂

Anyway, I said to myself…if I get the Mod III, I won’t need any other Exakta or Pentacon. And perhaps I could cut my losses by selling the Pentacon and Kiev once I got the Exakta.

Ok, this is getting too long, so to cut to the chase…

I got the MOD III. I press the shutter. The mirror goes up. Stays up. No big deal. If I recalled correctly, the Pentacon did that too. All that it requires is for you to wind the lever and the mirror comes back down. So I did that.

Surprise! The film advance lever won’t move so the mirror won’t come back down!!

So without damaging the camera, I was trying all the emergency remedies I knew. Tried to gently move the mirror down, it didn’t move. Tried to toggle the mirror lockup, no go. Tried to press the shutter release again, nothing.

I then took out my Pentacon Six and pressed the shutter release. Mirror goes up. Stays up. I wind the film advance, mirror came back down. Now I knew for sure something was wrong with the Exakta.

Knowing that I would probably have to return it to KEH, I stopped myself from messing with it further. I did some research online and found the email of a noted authority on repairing these cameras. For the sake of privacy, I will refrain from leaving a name, but if you need one of these cameras repaired drop me a line and I will give you his contact.

Anyway, his advice was to first try to gently bring the mirror down with my fingers which I had already done. I don’t remember everything else he told me, but he tried the best he could to help me through email and I appreciated that very much, but nothing worked.

Finally, he told me I should return the camera because they were well known to have “issues” and he had seen a fair share of them for repair. He said these cameras go bad quite easily and parts are no longer available and/or are hard to find.

I believe him, though I wished I had seen something online about that before I purchased it. I did not find much negative on this camera in my pre-purchase research. Indeed, I did not find much positive feedback either!

I recall finding only a few nice shots of the camera on Flickr from some proud owners, but other than that there wasn’t much as far as real world users. In fact, if you did a search now you will see a few of the pretty pictures I’m talking about 🙂

THE REVELATION

Ok, so I really wanted to keep this camera! Never mind that I didn’t have the elusive 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar. I could use the Biometar and other Pentacon Six lenses I already had first.

So before I wrapped it up to return to KEH, I decided to take one last shot at making this thing work. I played with the advance lever. I felt that this was the root of the problem. I had a thin nail file and I poked it in the thin sliver underneath the film advance lever. It hit something and wallah…

The film advance moved and the mirror came down! 🙂

But, this does not have a happy ending. When I pressed the shutter again, the mirror became stuck once again. The nail file worked once again,  but there was no way I was going to use the camera if I had to do this for every shot!

So back it went to KEH, and before I shipped her off, I took this shot. I should’ve taken more, but I took this at a Fedex Kinko and making a review of this camera two years later was the last thing on my mind.

To show you how much I wanted to keep this camera, I even told KEH if they could repair it, I would take that over a refund. They tried, but in the end they gave me a refund.

Just want to put in a good word about KEH Camera. They are the best used camera dealer out there, I even prefer them over eBay because of their great products, prices, and return policy.

Even though this Exakta 66 Mod III turned out to be a dud, I cannot blame them. Things happen and especially so when you’re dealing with the kind of photographic volume that they deal with on a daily basis. I’ve been buying from them for maybe twenty years or more and over 90% of my purchases have been satisfactory or better. They took this camera back with no hassles.

BOTTOM LINE

If looking for one of these, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea, prices are trending at over $1000 for the body and Exakta, Volna or Biometar 80mm lens and probably quite a bit more with the 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar lens.

I am certainly no camera repair expert and I am sure it’s a good possibility that I just got a bad sample and there’s a lot of good working models out there.

However, based on the information I got from the veteran Pentacon/Kiev/Exakta camera repair man, I would have to say Exakta 66 cameras are not a good buy in my opinion.

You are better off with a Pentacon Six or Kiev 60. They are not without issues either. Many have the same problems with film advance, film spacing, etc. However, they are much cheaper than the Exaktas and parts more readily available should you need a repair.

The Exakta Mod II and Mod III may be cooler, prettier than the brutes that the Pentacons or Kievs are, but they are in essence the same cameras.

I knew this before I made the purchase. However, I went ahead and bought it anyway. I should’ve listened to my head but as Emily Dickinson and Woody Allen said…”The heart wants what it wants” 🙂

If you’re looking at the Pentacon Six or Kiev cameras, then the Exakta 66 Mod III is the ultimate medium format camera from that West German/Russian/Eastern European heritage.

However, it gave me nothing but headaches and wasted time and became one of…the Best Cameras I Never Knew.


It’s Fall Foliage Time!

It’s that time of the year again. Especially for those of us in the Northeastern part of the country, the autumn leaves are at or approaching their peak. In some parts, they may even be past their peak.

While I haven’t gotten my foliage pics yet this year, I hope to soon. Maybe this weekend or next.

Anyway, I thought this would be a good time to post some fall foliage from years past. Many with gear I no longer have, but how I miss them!

This is a great time to photograph and use some of those Camera Legends in your closet. Don’t miss it!

Update 10/17/15: I did get some shots today, but only have one to post so far. It is the top photo using the EOS-M I reviewed HERE.

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“AutM Leaves” 2015. Canon EOS-M, 22mm f/2 STM.

Autumn5DC

“Change” 2007. Canon EOS 5D, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS.

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“Fall Fashion” 2014. Nokia Lumia 1020.




AutumnD700NC

“Red, Green, and Gold” 2008. Nikon D700, Hasselblad 110mm f/2 Planar via adapter.

AutumnRollei

“Fall Back” 2007. Rolleiflex 2.8F, 80mm f/2.8 Planar, Kodak Portra 400 UC.

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“Crown Of Thorns” 2012. Sony NEX-C3, 25mm f/1.4 CCTV lens.

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“It’s Raining Leaves” 2008. Contax 645, 80mm f/2.8 Planar, Kodak Portra 400 film.