Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pentax Pictures

As you will know if you read this blog I recently acquired a Pentax 6x7, not my first Medium Format camera (by a long shot) but my first Pentax, and the camera I've nicknamed 'The Beast' due to it's size.
Well so far so good, size ultimately does matter. I can get some pretty good images with my Leica especially with slower film but with this size of negative/tranny it's a whole lot easier in other words there is more margin for error or for the use of faster film.
The first couple of films I've put through have been Fuji Velvia 100, a great film if you want saturated colours, deep blue skies (no polariser needed). It may not be true to life but it's a very attractive film for use with the autumn colours and landscape work but steer away from taking any people, skin tones are a bit red in fact in a couple I've taken my daughter looks like she's got sunburn.
I remember this from my initial tests with Velvia in the late 1980's when FujiHunt gave me a early version to put though my labs E-6 before it was on general release, Provia was a much better bet for skin tone and for pale skin I liked Ektachrome 64 Pro even more.
After a couple of weeks I think the camera is a keeper, not really for everyday stuff but for a small subset of my work especially if I can use a tripod as I fear going less than 1/125 sec because of mirror movement.

All images and text © Mark Antony Smith

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Autumn Colours and Missed Opertunities

Just last week I was driving down a street in my town and was amazed by the fantastic colours of the trees all the along the avenue. As I was on my way to the train station I had no time to stop and take the picture, but made a mental note to re-visit and take some pictures later.
A couple of days later I returned to the avenue with camera in hand only to be midly dissapointed. Since I'd last been there the wind had removed 75% of the leaves from the trees and the blaze of red, yellow and brown was now on the ground.
Oh well, might as well take a snap of the colourful leaves anyhow. When I viewed the images later I was more than pleased with the results.

All images and text © Mark Antony Smith 2007

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Medium Format Acquisition

For a while now I've been looking for a good MF camera, my first thought was a Mamiya RB 6x7 then I became interested in a Fuji 6x9, but while waiting for those cameras to come in second hand locally, my dealer offered me this.

A Pentax 6x7
This camera can only be described as a Behemoth, it's like a regular 35mm SLR but just twice the size and weight. That's fine though because the film size is more than 4 times bigger and the resulting quality is amongst the best MF available, the Pentax lenses are also well regarded especially the later 'SMC' type.
I have only put a couple of rolls though the camera so far, and first impressions are pretty good. Handling wise the camera is what you'd expect, just like a large 35mm SLR. The shutter though is pretty loud especially after the 'mirror-less' Leica rangefinders I've been using of late. Another worry for me is that this is the model without the mirror lock up, so I'm not sure how vibration will affect picture quality so 1/250 is about the minimum shutter speed I dare hand hold.
Pictures taken with the camera I've nicknamed 'The Beast' will follow.

Taken on T-Max 400 with 150mm lens

Taken with 90mm lens on Fortepan 100
All images and text © Mark Antony Smith 2007

Thursday, November 09, 2006

More Paper Tests

This morning yet more packages of paper arrived, some A3+ Fotospeed Fineart gloss and a test-pack of Hahnemühle paper.
After downloading the ICC profiles from the Hahnemühle site, I set about testing their "Photo Rag" papers.
The paper has a heavy weight feel and is slightly heavier than my reference Fotospeed paper at 310gsm.The surface is rough looking and to my eyes at least; a matt finish (even on the Satin Photo Rag)
I fired up my 2400 Epson and printed of one of my files that exhibits the kind of dense blacks I need for most of my subject matter.

Below is a side by side comparison with the Hahnemühle Photo Rag Satin at the top, Fotospeed paper bottom.

I had expected so much from this paper, if I'm truthful I was very disappointed, pretty much everyone I'd heard say anything about this paper from seemed to be full of nothing but praise.
I'll quote from a UK dealers web site:

'The most important paper for photographic reproduction in the Hahnemuhle range, and tends to be the first choice from the point of view of the best 'photographic' look. Other papers in the range might be selected because of their surface characteristics - Photo Rag is popular because the surface intrudes the least'

Well OK, but I'm seeing a pretty intrusive surface, not at all 'best photographic look' in fact the maximum black is pretty average.
I know it's a Satin finish and my reference is gloss, and for some people this paper may be just what they are looking for especially if they do a lot of high key studio work or for an artist who wants a pastel or softer look.

Unfortunately this paper is not for me, my quest for a paper that looks like the silver FB papers of old continues...

All images and text © Mark Smith 2006

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Liquid Sky

Sometimes it pays to look up! this shot was one of those moments where I saw the sky, got out the camera and took a couple of shots.
Within 5 minutes the light in the early morning sky had changed, also the cloud formation disappeared a minute or two after that. I wonder what sort of air currents cause this ripple effect? Just goes to show that you should always carry your camera with you.

All images and text © Mark Antony Smith 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006

Scanning Film

Sooner or later most film camera users will need to digitise their work. Some (like me) prefer to go from film to digital before the print stage.
There are several options:
Firstly if you shoot negative film you could have it processed at a Minilab and ask for a Photo CD to be made, these will have low and high resolution folders for web display and printing respectively.
Altervatively if you have DSLR you could buy a slide copier attachment and shoot digital copies, this is a fast but not as high quality as a dedicated scanner.
Another option is to scan them yourself with either a flatbed or dedicated film scanner, the latter I have found to be best quality.
Film scanners can be found pretty cheaply on the internet, I found my Minolta DiMage for under £100 delivered to my door.
One of the most annoying things for me about scanning (apart from the time) is the 'false grain' or aliasing, this means that areas like blue sky have more grain on a digital print than they would have printed optically.
In order to overcome this effect with B&W I've seen some suggest that you scan your negs as trans and then reverse them in Photoshop, some more expensive scanners come with grain reducing software like ICE™
One of the first things I did after installing my scanner was to download Ed Hamrick's Vuescan and after evaluation found it to be superior to the Minolta scanner software and well worth it's price.

All images and text © Mark Antony Smith 2006

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Paper Chase

During the last week or so I've been trying out lots of different paper combinations on my new Epson R2400, trying to arrive at two or three 'core use' papers.
So far the best all round papers I've found are Ilford Smooth Pearl 290gsm, which has a very similar finish to the pearl finish of their Multigrade papers (think fine grain lustre if you've not seen them) and Fuji Multijet Supergloss 300gsm which has a high but not mirror gloss finish.

My favourite conventional paper of all time was Agfa Record Rapid which hasn't been produced for several years and since the demise of Agfa probably won't be revived.
I would dearly love to find a similar modern ink-jet paper surface to use as my fine art paper, and have been scouring blogs and forums for opinions on the subject.
This week I've been experimenting with duotones (to get that wonderful warm colour) and a paper said to have similar characteristics to fibre based darkroom material- Fotospeed Fineart DWFB Platinum Gloss.

So how successful have I been?

Below is a image of Fotospeed (left) vs Record Rapid

First impressions are quite favourable, although the Agfa paper has a slightly 'snappier look' with slightly deeper blacks and a warmer base white. The surfaces themselves are slightly different, the Fotospeed has a more grainy look when hit by sidelight where the traditional paper is much more fine grained like ripples on a pond.
The Agfa also reflects less under sub optimal lighting conditions, a comparison of paper surfaces is below the Agfa is on top:

I know that I'm not the only photographer who is trying to find a modern replacement for RR, Ed Buziak also writes about it in his blog and in future I will also try the Permajet media he refers to.
So my conclusion?
Part of me feels that I should let go and just find a media I like in the here and now, stop comparing digital to the great silver papers, but those papers were SO good and to equal them in tone and finish would signal the arrival of the digital darkroom as a real contender in the world of the fine art print.
The papers I've tried so far are good, and I'm sure once I've profiled them and honed my setup that they will be 75% there- it's just i long for the other 25%.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Back to the Future

Kodachrome, ah yes that wonderful historic slide film! The first roll I used was about 25 years ago, it came back after two weeks in rounded corner card mounts, later in the 1980's they replaced them with plastic, OK but not as tactile.
Last week I received the first film back from the USA (previously Switzerland) and they seem to have gone retro!
Early comparisons with European processed Kodachrome are favourable, with a slightly cooler colour palette overall, this is only the first roll though, but so far I'm happy.

All text and images © Mark Antony Smith
Printing My Images

Well I finally did it, I bought myself an ink-jet printer. After the recent closure of my favourite Pro-lab I was left in somewhat of a dilemma, just how was I going to get my images onto paper?
Previously I'd been more than happy with my Lab (I had worked there and was a partner for a few years), they'd supplied me with profiles for all their machines and their digital and conventional work was spot on.
I have had quite a bit of experience with printers of all kinds over the years and the thought of moving over to ink-jet printing wasn't something that worried me.
I had after-all been working with digital imaging for over ten years and my choice of printer would be one that I'd often used and seen good results from- the Epson R2400.
The order was duly placed with my retailer, along with some Epson Paper.
First impressions are good, especially the B&W mode which although isn't as good (with the papers I've tested) as a fine art silver print, is relatively free from colour artifacts.
The Epson canned profiles are quite good when printing though Photoshop, description here
All that needs to be done now is to find a good exhibition grade "B&W silver gelatin look" paper, one that gives me the depth that I used to get from my wet darkroom.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Getting Closer

Recently I was looking though a junk shop when I came across what looked to be a leather lens case. After opening and looking inside I found it to be a set of extension tubes and even better they were in my camera mount, the Nikon F mount.
Great! costing only one UK pound (just over a dollar) a bargain to boot!
Those of you who read this blog and know the equipment I use, will understand that there will be one problem; metering.
I meter externally, that is I don't use camera TTL but rather a Minolta Spotmeter F.

The problem is this: Putting in an extension will reduce the amount of light reaching the film plane and we will need to do some maths to give us the correct exposure.

The formula is here and isn't as tough as it seems at first.

So I set off to my favourite garden armed with my F2 and tripod loaded with Kodachrome to take some macro flower shots.
Once I'd taken a meter reading and worked out my exposure most of the rest was pretty easy, a slight wind being the only complication.
Extension tubes are a great way to do macro 'on the cheap' it would be possible to get both camera, lens and tubes for less than $100.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


These are two Kodacolor™ films I found in a local camera shop today. they expired in 1983 so I doubt I'll try them.
The reason I'm going to keep them is mainly nostalgic as I started my photographic career when these films were the current emulsion, and C41 was the new process (previously C22)
Inside the box was the original leaflet, please note the exposure info, as mentioned in my previous post 'guessing exposures'

Also of interest is the 'cutting guide' template for Leica thread mount cameras, and this may be useful for some of you LTM users: there is a link to the full size image 'here'
It may be possible for you to save the image (right click Windows just drag to the desktop Mac) then print the template in Photoshop.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mechanical Manual Cameras

The Nikon F2.

The little collection above is my 1977 Nikon F2 in a Nikon case. The case has room for 3 lenses in a chrome F mount keeper and a flash (where I keep my spotmeter).
The F2 was the sucessor the the F, and is a tough manual camera that needs no battery with the plain DP1 finder but when used with metered finders needs power to operate the meter only.
As you can see the F2 is a rugged workhorse, I'd hate to think how many films have been though it, but I have no doubts about it's reliability.
I have some pretty good lenses with my Nikons, the 28mm F3.5 Nikkor-HC 50mm F2 (superb) 85mm F2 (good and sharp) and the 105mm F2.5 (excellent)
These cameras are available for peanuts now, but at the time I started photography were the de-facto tool for most Pro's. So if you want to try a no batteries manual film camera, an F2 would be a great bargain!

Monday, September 25, 2006

An Un-acceptable Pastime?

Most days I carry a camera with me, normally my M4P. Today was no exception, even though the rain was falling out of the sky I decided to put it in my back-pack (I cycle to work).
It rained all day, and for those of you who know the UK it was a grey, dull day; no photographic inspiration.
But on the way home I spotted something I found amusing, someone's jacket had got so wet they'd just put it in the bin.
Not a great picture but worth a go, so out came my spot-meter and camera, took some readings-urgh 60th at F2.8.
Just as I was about to transfer the settings to the camera I felt a tap on my shoulder, and as I turned a guy prodded me in the chest ' have you taken any photos of me', startled I just replied 'no' 'you better not you *unt', he replied.
Not wanting any confrontation I just tuned my back and took 3-4 shots of the bin not wanting to turn round, and hopped on my bike and went on my way.
After I arrived home I spoke to my wife about the incident, she was pretty shocked but suggested I leave my camera at home or only shoot landscapes and the kids.

I'm not going to stop shooting in the towns; but one thing I have noticed, photographing public places is no longer acceptable to the general public. Twenty years ago what was considered to many to be a harmless hobby is now viewed with distrust and disdain, indeed most think you are acting illegally when you shoot a street scene.

It saddens me that i now have to look over my shoulder and it could be that someday someone will take it upon himself to stop my 'anti-social behaviour'.

So I'm a bit down today and there will be no images in this post

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Light Fantastic

Autumn light, soft warm and perfect for the colours of the dying trees.

This time of year has to be one of my favourite for colour photography. Early morning mist and dew covers the leaves, flowers and cobwebs perfect subjects for close focus and macro work.(Kodachromes in the mail)
The longer more dramatic shadows and the yellow light make great subjects also.

One of the best photographic lessons anyone ever taught me, was when a friend of my father gave me a roll of Ektachrome 64.
He had one proviso: 'use this roll of film to take a picture of your favourite scene every day for the next month.'
I thought he was crazy, won't it get boring? who would want to see 30 shots of the same thing?
The month was October, my chosen scene was a local ruined church almost obscured by trees, I had to shoot it when I could, and this often worked out at different times of the day.
He processed the transparencies for me and put them into clear sleeves, he then showed them to me on his portable light-box.
I was actually pretty surprised, when I surveyed the film in front of me, every single image was different. Different colours, saturation, some were yellow a couple looked blue/cyan.

But the lesson it taught me as we never just photograph a subject, but rather the light falling on that subject and here in the UK the light often changes by the hour:- so if you see an interesting scene photograph it.

After all it may be a unique moment in time.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Months Wages

That was the cost of my first Leica, a 111c model made in 1947 and with it I purchased a Elmar 50mm F3:5.
Why did I make this insane purchase? I mean why buy what was at the time a 39 year old camera?

I had recently been to an exhibition of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson with a photographer friend of mine.

I really loved the immediacy and closeness of his pictures coupled with the feeling of being an observer.

It was the type of work that the miniature format Leica excelled at, being able to take shots unobserved: with the subject showing no or little reaction to having their image captured.
That must have proved very difficult in the days when cameras were not commonplace on the streets of our cities.
At the time I was shooting with a mixture of Pro Canon and Nikon models none of which really are for secretive picture taking, not just because of physical size but also mirror noise.

After using the little camera I found that I had underestimated one thing- the optics.
The 50mm F3.5 Elmar was very similar to the original design first computed by Max Berek in 1924 but with one important change- Lens coatings.

After the initial shock at how sharp the Elmar was, I decided to test it against my two Nikon 50mm lenses a 1.8 and a Nikkor H F2.
I was amazed that looking at the different lenses that there was very little between them once you got to F5.6 with the Leica having marginally better deffinition in the centre at F8 and the Nikor F2 the best at the edge.

The camera has served me well in the 20 years I've owned it, in fact I've never owned a camera for longer.
So was it worth it? You bet!
Guessing Exposures With Manual Cameras

The Sunny Sixteen Method

My Leica 111c left the Wetzlar factory in 1947, at the time very few (if any) cameras had built in light-meters, so my main problem was how to meter.
At the time I hadn't enough cash to buy a hand-held meter, so my options were to drag around my Nikkormat to meter with or just use my experience to make an educated guess.

I decided on the latter; but how educated could my guess be?
The system I decided on was the 'Sunny Sixteen' and it works very well, particuarly with negative film.

The Method is as follows:

First you choose the nearest shutter speed to match your film speed say 1/125 if you are using 100 ISO.
Then your aperture value will be set according to the light/weather conditions:

Sunny F16 (hard shadows)

Sun/Cloud F11 (soft shadows)

Cloudy F8 (barely visible shadows)

Overcast/Dull F5.6 (no shadows)

In bygone days the film manufacturers used to print his info with nice graphical representation inside the box, and this could be taped to the back of your camera.

My hand-held light meter

Most of the photographers I know don't even own one of these beasts, probably wouldn't know how to use one if given one, or just rely on their built in camera meters.
That's fine, especially with modern SLRs both film and digital; in fact DSLR users may choose to rely mainly on their histogram info.

But that's not very practical for me, none of my film cameras have built in light meters as I favour totally manual operation.
For people using manual meterless cameras (like my Leica M4-P) only have 2 choices, either guess (using the sunny 16 method) or buy an external or hand held light meter.
My choice was the Minolta Spotmeter F.

The Spotmeter has a 1% angle of sensitivity that makes it perfect for the Zone System which is a very accurate way of controlling tones recorded on B&W film.

The meter reading is taken from the tiny circle in the centre

Monday, September 18, 2006


Agfa Rodinal has been in production for over 100 years, and despite rumours to the contrary, it is still produced and available today.
Rodinal is a unique product in quite a few ways, it has excellent keeping properties (many years in a stoppered bottle) and can be diluted for both economy and its 'compensating' effect.
I use it to tame excessive contrast in subjects, especially on very bright sunny days, where the range of tones in the subject exceeds the tones the film can handle.
I have found certain films such as Ilford Pan F Kodak Plus-X and Fuji Acros in particular to have far too much contrast at recommended developing times.
One often quoted property of Rodinal is that it increases the grain of the film, that isn't true. At the 1:25 dilution the developer will give you very similar results to any general purpose developer in both apparent grain and acutance, higher dilutions will show progessively more grain along with increased accutance.
That doesn't mean (as I've heared people suggest) that Rodinal gives 'huge grain' but defined rather than smooth.
It must be said that some will feel that films need downrating to a lower EI and for some films that may be true I personally rate Kodak TMX at EI64 and HP5+ at EI320 to give the shadow detail I require.
Here is a shot taken on my Rollei TLR using HP5+ which was then developed in Rodinal at 1:100 dilution (5ml developer in 495ml water)
click on the image to see a larger view.

The image is typical of what a photographer can expect from highly diluted Rodinal; smooth tonal range, high acutance (aparent sharpness of fine detail) and slight compensating effect helping compress specular highlights with a small loss of photographic speed.
But what about grain? where is the grainy mess promised to us by internet experts?I know, this is medium format, where grain doesn't show as much but looking at prints from Rodinal negatives grain is rarely the problem most would lead you to believe.
Here is a 100 percent crop.

I'm not suggesting Rodinal is a panacea or wonder developer just that it is a valuable tool in my darkroom
All images and text © Mark Antony Smith

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My Leica

What makes Leica special?

The Leica was the first practical miniature format camera. Invented by Oskar Barnack in order to take pictures while on his mountain walks.
It actually didn't go into production until over ten years after Barnacks 1913 prototype 'UR-Leica'.
But it's diminutive size and high mechanical and optical quality saw it adopted by many photographers for the new ''repotage'' style, to which the camera leant itself to perfectly.
Many other companies have copied the Leica but none have remained as faithful to the original design idea.
In fact Leica announced just yesterday their new digital rangefinder the M8.
Most people would ask what's the fuss? Why would anyone want a manual focus rangefider digi-cam?
Simple, the Leica remains an original; mechanically and optically equalled but never surpassed, something to aspire to, but most of all it is a joy to use and own.

Early Days
I think most of the best images I've made have been in Black and White.
Personally I feel the colour in some photos can become obstructive in the putting across of what I want to say with my images.

The first photo I took was on Ilford FP4, I exposed, processed and printed it all within a few hours of buying my first camera. Athough now I look back in mild amusement at my early attemtps at the art of photography, those early days of processing my own photos have pretty much driven my desire to perfect my work since.

My first darkroom consisted of a Patterson System 4 Film Tank (which I still own) a Krokus 35mm Enlarger (Polish I think) a safelight and 3 trays.

The chemicals I used were mostly Ilford and my first papers were Kodak Royal Bromesko and Agfa Record Rapid, both lovely papers.

When I look back at my first attempts at printing, I look at the grey dull low contast prints that were 'pulled' out of the developer far too early (they looked OK under red safelight) with a smile.

The picture above was an early photo of mine, taken on FP4 with a 50mm lens (the only lens I owned at the time)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


This film has been around since the mid 1930's and for me defines colour photography in the 20th Century.
The image above was taken in the 1950's and is over 50 years old, but still it looks as fresh as the day it was made. No other colour film has the archival qualities of Kodachrome and I believe that also extends to the realm of the digital image.

I came across the slide above in a local second-hand camera shop and have no idea who the lady is in picture, just that this is part of a Italian holiday she and her husband enjoyed before I was born!
The films speed at the time was around 10 ASA (compared to 64 today) so anything but good lighting conditions was a challenge.

Why do I still use this antiquated product?
Simple- it gives good colours, fine grain and has a high sharpness. Other films also posses these qualities but none has the longevity. The slides I take of my children today will be easily accessible long after my death by simply holding them up to the light (try that with a DVD). I doubt a fraction of my digital images will survive, I know for sure I've lost one or two from as little as seven years ago due to CD failure.
So I'm preserving the family memories in the best possible way:-
A Leica loaded with Kodachrome

Kids on beach 2006
Long live Kodachrome!

Friday, August 11, 2006

As the inexorable march of digital technology penetrates deeper into the world of photography, why are there still proponents of the 'old way' what makes film so special?

This blog will mainly concentrate on my love affair with the photographic image captured on silver.

Why "Photo Utopia?" I hear you ask.

Utopia is an unrealistic goal for society as outlined in the book 'Utopia" by Sir Thomas Moore in the 16th Century, and is such has a double meaning which is derived from two Greek words: Eutopia (meaning 'good place') and Outopia (meaning 'no place')
The common English language usage is:

"The word UTOPIA stands in common usage for the ultimate in human folly or human hope – vain dreams of perfection in our lives.

Hence with "Photo Utopia" being the struggle for Photographic perfection, as a photo is a facsimile of reality this is an unobtainable goal.
But I have fun trying!

All text and images © Mark Antony Smith 2006