Crazy to shoot film?

For a long time ago, I am trying really hard to identify and find the proper way formulate the reasons why I am pursuing film photography. My opinion has changed during the years quite drastically and I went through many stages. If I want to be honest I have started up because it was the only way I could afford to go with bigger “sensor” sizes and thus achieve bokeh.

Piano, Leica M2, Summitar 50mm, Ilford FP4 Plus, Epson V700

Later I turned towards the typically listed reasons such as slowing down, being more disciplined and make every frame count. I was also and to some extent still is a big believer of the film look and the superiority of quality of film over digital. But as digital technology as well as the corresponding software environment matured I have had harder and harder time convince myself that these arguments stand if they are closely inspected.

The film look can be emulated so good that I have hard time to tell the difference between some of my own experimental film filtered digital and actual film photo pairs. The quality argument in strictly technical terms has melted away to me unless one uses really big formats. Even worse there are plentiful situations where digital is unquestionably excels for examples when extreme high sensitivity is needed.

One can be disciplined with a digital camera in hand as well. A memory card with just little space on it can simulate the limiting factor of roll sizes, and nothing stops us not to look at the screen every time the shutter was released.

I was really questioning all the effort, time and money I have put into equipment, film, darkroom material and  software into film photography. Should I keep doing this or it would be the best to write off all the losses and switch completely to digital once and for all? I had to let this question sit on a hidden shelf for quite some time somewhere in my mind. I think I have my  answer now and I am eager to share. Maybe I am not alone with my reasons.

Pentacon Six TL, Biometar 80mm, Fuji Acros 100 expired, Ilford ID-11, Epson V700

The answer is not quite straight forward. It is an evil mixture of deep psychological hooks on my personality spiced up with a good amount of nostalgia and a tiny bit of snobbism. The trivial part is that I enjoy to handle nice, well made vintage cameras and lenses. They are built to last and most of them even have quite a bit of a history. I think I also have an anti-consumerist side which grasps for the concept of a simpler world where one does not feel the need to change camera body and even brand every second year. I adore my carefully selected gear and I am now very reluctant to change it for the next big thing from the universe of gadgets.

The not so trivial part starts with the limitation factor on choices. If I use a certain type of film, I can technically do countless things with it especially because I use a hybrid workflow which involves digital processing. But a digital raw file with a library of Lightroom filters in hand is just a bigger set of infinite. This could lead to paralysis via choices. Here is a brilliant Ted talk by Barry Schwartz about this topic. I need to accept the inherited characteristics of the material rather than trying to define it. I am very happy with the aesthetics I get from my favorite film stocks, but I have hard time to be able to decide which filter to use when I start out with a digital file.

Of course there is also the fact that to get from the decisive moment to a print or even to a digital file, there is a lot of work involved. Prepare, shoot, make notes, develop,make notes again, scan, process digitally, catalog, select in multiple rounds, archive, print, publish online. All these steps require me to be fully present and put myself into the process. Every stage involves different skills, a lot patience and of course anything could go wrong at any given time especially with the chemicals. Because of this long and delicate process I learn to care more about the photos. Eventually I program myself to like the end results because I have to wait (sometimes months long) to get to see them. 

Showroom puppet after work, Pentacon Six TL, Biometar 80mm, Fuji Acros 100 expired, Ilford ID-11, Epson V700

Each and every shoot which survives my process is special for me even though they are not perfect. They have personality and I remember them all. I could mostly tell what film and camera I used even without checking the notes. They reflect a stage on my self-seeking journey, a snapshot of the way I approached a subject and the process at a given point in time. All of these factors together shape the reason why I stick to film.

Systers, Pentacon Six TL, Biometar 80mm, Fuji Acros 100 expired, Ilford ID-11, Epson V700

Of course there are numerous things which I don’t necessarily like about film. While I enjoy working in the darkroom, I am not very happy to get in contact with dangerous chemicals.  Working with old equipment means that occasionally they give up, leaving you with nothing but bitter disappointment instead of nice photographs. 

Pentacon Six TL, Biometar 80mm, Fuji Acros 100 expired, Ilford ID-11, Epson V700

This is a high risk high reward game I seem to enjoy. I would certainly think different if I would practice photography for living and not only for fun. In any case, I stop struggling for finding better answers for now. There are still many reasons I have not listed now like working with tactile physical materials or the element of surprise as the process cannot be fully controlled. But I know enough to let this question go and I will keep focusing on the actual act of shooting film rather than analyzing the motivations behind.

Balcony door portraits

Light quality is extremely important to a photographer, just like snow for an Inuit. We have countless names for the different types of light while any average people would only call them “strong” or “weak”. The amount of light we get is very easy to measure and describe. But the quality is a far more subtle, much harder to formalize concept and therefore much more interesting to me. Modern cameras can handle low light extremely well thus photography is now possible under such difficult circumstances no one could be foreseen just until a few years before. But high sensitivity sensors with great quantum efficiency and extremely sophisticated noise reduction processing cannot create great photographs just by extending the lower bound of minimum illumination necessary to capture an image. Although these new tools certainly aid the photographing process, the quality of light (among other factors) is and always will be key to a good image.

I am currently experimenting with mainly available light, trying to find situations which work for me so I can get the results I like in a somewhat predictable manner. One of my favorite spots lately is the door of our balcony. In my opinion, this location has nearly ideal light conditions for portraits during most of the day. The balcony is relatively deep, and only the front is open (sides are solid walls), then comes the big door followed by a deep room with white walls and furniture.

This setup has a similar effect to a  soft-box. Light comes through in a beautiful evenly distributed, soft way, which then decays rapidly as it penetrates into the room. A subject placed close to the door can be lit very well with a strongly directional but soft light while the background is lost in darkness.

I have taken several portraits at this place using different formats (APS-C, 35mm, 6x6cm), films and digital sensors, and a small, but representative selection can be seen in this post. I think it is interesting to see next to each other similar shoots using similar focal length but with vastly different capturing technology.

The conclusion is that, no matter what your medium is, good light (and composition) could always give respectable results but technology does not save the day if the light quality is poor for the subject. But it is again another subjective property, what is poor light for a photographer for a given purpose, could be magnificent for another. Nevertheless, I think it is crucial to study light as a photographer, amateurs and professionals alike.

Many thanks for the proofreading to Ramon.

Welcome the Sun

Finally, the Sun has returned to us and days are once again long enough for me to have a chance to enjoy the light even after working hours.

To celebrate this blessing I have finished shooting the roll of Velvia which I have started last October and now sharing with you. A mixture of my two favorite seasons, autumn and spring on the same roll in vivid colors. Isn’t it wonderful? I am truly being energized by the spring, and I hope you too. Go grab a camera and have at least as much fun taking photos as I do right now.

Hilmteich See ( Graz, Marc 2014), Pentacon Six TL, CZJ Biometar 80mm f/2.8, Fuji Velvia
Eszter & Anna (Hilmteich, Graz, Marc 2014), Pentacon Six TL, CZJ Biometar 80mm f/2.8, Fuji Velvia
Anna (Graz, Marc 2014), Pentacon Six TL, CZJ Biometar 80mm f/2.8, Fuji Velvia
Eszter (Mariatrost , Graz, Oct 2013 ), Graz, Pentacon Six TL, CZJ Biometar 80mm f/2.8, Fuji Velvia
Eszter (Mariatrost, Graz, Oct 2013 ), Graz, Pentacon Six TL, CZJ Biometar 80mm f/2.8, Fuji Velvia
(Hilmteich , Graz, Marc 2014), Pentacon Six TL, CZJ Biometar 80mm f/2.8, Fuji Velvia

Pentacon Six TL

Pentacon Six TL in half case, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 80mm f/2.8

Introduction

I have a very special relationship with my Pentacon Six TL camera since it is my only working medium format camera. I was always heavily attracted by medium format photography, but I couldn’t afford for a while to get into it. Eventually, the P6 was the camera which allowed me to shoot 6×6 frames and since then I have not to regret my decision nor had a single thought to change to another system. In this post, I tell my story with this camera and try to show both the bad and the good things about it while hoping that some of you can find this information useful. It will be more like a subtract of my personal user experience and all the important bits I learned during my research.

My Pentacon Six story

I was a student at the university sometime around my second year when I first heard about this camera. I have just started up an experimenting film with an old Zenit-E when my buddy and roommate showed me a website with lots of photos and a description of the P6. Both of us got pretty excited when we realized that there is a world beyond the 35mm film, so we started to google and find more information about this beast. Unfortunately, I had no money at this time to simply buy one on eBay, therefore, I almost abandoned the idea until I found a Pentacon in a repair-shop next to my sister’s old apartment where I helped her to move in. The camera was broken, not complete and had no lens. It was literally a looted old donor of a camera. Despite the conditions of this camera-corpse, I was amazed by the size of the thing. It was huge, much bigger than I have expected after all the photos I have seen on the Internet, especially the lens mount was extraordinary sizeable compare to anything I have seen before. I could only wonder what a hell of a lens could possibly fill this gigantic hole on the front of the camera.
From this moment, there was no return. I knew I had to get one of these monsters, but I still had to find the right one, which turned out not to be that difficult at all.
A few weeks later I found a little shop in a small village next to my hometown by accident. I had spotted an ancient Russian enlarging machine in the shop-window so I stopped by and found a great repairman and a huge cabinet of precious vintage cameras and other relics. As you have already figured out, he had a nice Pentacon Six TL in the shape I was looking for. The camera was there for cleaning, but the owner hasn’t fetched it for many years.
It was not an easy deal because the guy was not really keen to sell anything from his collection, but eventually, I got my Pentacon Six with the standard 80mm f/2.8 Biometar lens made by Carl Zeiss Jena and with a waist level finder. Both the camera and the lens were beautiful, nice, clean and fully operational. In fact, it was not really heavily used and in addition, the repairman was kind enough to check the shutter speeds before he handed the camera over them to me.
Since then I have added many additional accessories and lenses to my Pentacon kit so today my collection consists of:

Pentacon Six TL drawing by Eszter

2 Pentacon six bodies 2 Waist level finders TTL pentaprism 2 Carl Zeiss Jena (CZJ) 80mm f/2.8 Biometar 1 CZJ 50mm f/4 Flektagon 1 CZJ 120mm f/2.8 MC Biometar 1 CZJ 180mm f/2.8 MC Sonar (This lens belongs to a friend I just use it) 1 CZJ 500mm f/5.6 MC Pentacon Extension tube set Split image focusing screen Ever ready cases

The way it looks

Bad reputation

Unfortunately, there are not only great things about this camera even if most of the bad rumors are only partially true. So let’s start with the not so nice before we focus on the good things.
Many people think that the quality insurance was not the best during the manufacturing of these cameras, therefore, it is a real gamble to buy one as you may get a pretty bad and unreliable one.
It is true that it is hard to find a Pentacon Six in a good working condition with perfectly accurate shutter speeds, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the cameras. The fact is that these cameras are pretty old and most of them were used for professional purposes where most likely a tremendous amount of film was burned through of them. You should think of them like you would think about an old car, for instance, a VW Beetle. It is a nice car with very few flaws, but since it is old and was driven around the Equator like 30 times you need to pay attention to maintenance to keep it running. You wouldn’t drive a 40-year-old Beetle found in someone’s backyard without checking the oil level, would you? Of course not, so why would you treat a camera differently? An old mechanical camera is just like an old car. It needs some maintenance and care. Of course, if you were a Hasselblad user, you might disagree, but the category and price tag of these brands are completely different, however, the produced images could be very similar.

Typical issues and solutions

I am lucky because I have personally met with only very few issues you can read on the Internet according to the P6.
Most problems are easy to fix during a general overhaul which involves cleaning, lubrication, and adjustments of strings etc.

Slow and inaccurate shutter speeds

The Pentacon Six TL uses a huge canvas focal plane shutter which has 3 implications.

  1. Lenses are cheaper because there is no shutter in the lens
  2. Flash photography is limited to the sync speed which is 1/30s.
  3. The huge canvas needs big and strong strings which can lose their adjustment as time goes by.

Usually, the speed 1/125s is the most accurate, anything faster could be slower than intended if the camera was not used in a long time. The slow times also could be problematic because the mechanical clock could pick up some dust.
The solution is an overhaul by someone who knows what he is doing. The camera must be disassembled, cleaned and adjusted. There are no big worries here if you casually use your camera this does not have to be done too often, maybe once in every 10 years.

Overlapping frames

This problem is much more apparent than the previous one though. Many people have this problem of “kissing” or worse, overlapping frames. I think in most cases this happens because of the improper loose loading of the film. Have a look at this video from PentaconSixExpert on Youtube. I am not saying that this is the only problem because my rolls have uneven spacings between frames too (but no kissing or overlapping so far), but many times it is only because of the way you load the film.

Frame counter

I had no problems with this feature either, but this is definitely one of the weak spots of the camera. I have seen some Pentacons where the back of the camera was modified by adding a little window covered with red plastic to be able to see the numbering at the back of the film. This is certainly a solution, but a very harsh one. You could get the counter fixed by a professional or you could live without it, eventually, you can shoot even if it is broken.

The bright side

Now that we finished off the not so nice things it is time to celebrate and inspect why this system is so great.
If I had to be short I would say we need to have a look at the following aspects to justify:

  • Lenses and image quality
  • Size
  • Flexibility
  • Value/price ratio

Lens choices

The lens selection for this system is just fantastic in my opinion. You can find excellent optics for literally no money (compared to modern lenses) for every focal length from a wide variety of manufacturers most notably Carl Zeiss Jena (CZJ). The lenses I use most of the time, are generally very fast, sharp and joy to shoot with.

It has to be said that even the multi-coated (MC) versions are more prone to flare than modern lenses with similar optical formula, therefore the use of a lens hood is always a good idea.
If you want to read more about compatible lenses, visit the truly great site pentaconsix.com.

Jupiter 8 lenses vs CZJ Sonnar 180mm f/2.8

A friend of mine gave me a 180mm f/28 Sonnar to use. While this is one of the best and most iconic Pentacon mount lenses, I rarely use it, because it is so much bigger and heavier than the not much shorter 120mm Biometar.

Size and weight

The Pentacon Six looks like a 35mm SLR except this is much bigger, therefore, many people call them beefed up SLR or SLR on steroids.
While it is true that they are significantly bigger and heavier than their 35mm counterparts, in fact, the P6 is a rather compact medium format camera which shoots 6x6cm frames.
Yes, there are smaller ones, but those usually do not have the capability to switch lenses or having similar dimensions but with more weight.
If you, like me love to travel with the biggest “sensor” possible then this size/weight aspect could be really important for you.

It has to be said, that this kit could be still awfully heavy especially if you pack more than one lens and a tripod too.

Value for the money

I think the Pentacon Six system comes with a very appealing price nowadays. You can get your body with an excellent standard lens around 100€ and even if you add the extra for cleaning and adjustments it is still far cheaper than most other interchangeable lens medium format system.

The fun I have

Eszter documented how I took a portrait of a painter in Istanbul. I think it reflects my emotions during the usage of this camera.

Shooting with a Pentacon Six TL
Shooting with a Pentacon Six TL, Istanbul (Turkey)
Artist (Istanbul, Turkey) Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 120mm f/2.8, Fujicolor Pro 160NS, Canoscan 9900F
Artist (Istanbul, Turkey) Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 120mm f/2.8, Fujicolor Pro 160NS, Canoscan 9900F

Personal experience

During the years I used my Pentacon Six, I have gained a lot of experience with it.  So I would like to share some random thoughts I think could be useful for you.

Pentaprism vs Waist level finder

I do have a TTL prism, which provides a correct image in the finder (no switched sides) and can be used for through the lens light readings.

On the other hand, the prism is very dark and the light metering is not very easy to use. It is great to have in some cases, but generally, I prefer an external light meter. There are different brighter prisms available for example the older non-metering version. If I am not wrong the even brighter prism of the Kiev 60 is also compatible and can be attached.

In contrast, the waist level finder is definitely the brightest solution, therefore I use it the most. But it switches the sides of the images in the viewfinder, and you can hold the camera lower than usual to be able to see through the finder. For me, it is much easier to focus with, especially with the little magnifying glass built in.

Despite all of the inconveniences of the waist level finder, the image in it is something really special. I know it is an oxymoron, but it looks even better than reality.  It is huge, bright and vivid, no viewfinder of any 35mm camera can come even close to it.

Focusing

Focusing as always is a critical thing to do when talking about any photography. I had to learn that the depth of field is just way more shallow when you shoot medium format, thus even a slight movement of the camera could cause your subject to fall out of the sharp region.

When I shoot handheld with the 80mm/120mm lenses I try to not going wider than f/4 or even f/5.6 because it still provides nice bokeh, but has some safety in terms of the size of the sharp areas. Naturally, I often find myself shooting wide open (f/2.8) on a street, but it’s always risky to do.

Repairs

Luckily I haven’t had many problems with my cameras, but during the last 6 years, I had some cases where I had to ask someone to help.

I had “the old” (my original) P6 cleaned, lubricated and adjusted one time after I heard some unusual noises from the shutter. Since then it works perfectly. No exposure problems even when shooting Velvia.

My 120mm lens had a stuck iris once which required the disassembly and general cleaning of the lens. This is, unfortunately, a common problem with old lenses.
Conclusion and recommendation

Needless to say, this camera is not for everyone. As long as you can accept that your camera needs some care in a form of regular maintenance, you could be very happy with it. So keep in mind that the final price could be higher than the purchase itself as basic repairs might be needed.

Nowadays it is not always easy to find someone who is qualified to repair old mechanical cameras. Therefore it is best to buy from a trusted source with grantee that you get a working camera. I think it worth the extra money to get an overhauled camera in the first place.

I think this is a great camera, and could be a good choice for anyone who wants to try medium format photography and needs an interchangeable lens solution. If you don’t have the budget for more expensive systems like Hasselblad or Mamiya, or simply want to find the most compact option this could be the solution for you.

So far my Pentacon Six never let me down, the images are just amazing and for me, it is great fun to shoot with.

More samples

Temps de Flors 2009 (Girona, Catalonia), Pentacon Six TL, CZJ Biometar 120mm f/2.8, Kodak Portra 160NC, Canoscan 9900F
Temps de Flors 2009 (Girona, Catalonia), Pentacon Six TL, CZJ Biometar 120mm f/2.8, Kodak Portra 160NC, Canoscan 9900F
Custom bike (Gyöngyös, Hungary) 2009, Pentacon Six TL, CZJ Biometar 80mm, Kodak Portra 160NC, Canoscan 9900F

Links

Big thank you for Ivan for the English proofreading!

Portraits round 1

Portraiture

Portraiture is a very exciting branch of photography probably because of its subject. It is indeed a very ancient and natural thing to depict our fellowman. Therefore an enormous amount of portraits has been created over history and especially nowadays.

Most likely this is the reason why portraiture is not easy to do well, fortunately, all of us genetically attracted to faces. People are hard-coded to recognize human faces virtually everywhere and in anything even if there are only a few random craters and some shadows on the surface of a dead planet.

I also do love good portraits, and I am generally taking a lot as well. Unfortunately, I am not as good as I wish to be.

It is rather hard to catch the moment of emotion in the right composition among proper lights to get a really special portrait. In addition, as it is an interactive process you have to be connected to the other human-being on a level which is challenging and exciting at the same time.

This is overall very rewarding for me and I am going to keep shooting portraits for sure, hopefully on a higher and higher level.

I was planning to post some of my portraits here for a long time ago, but on the other hand, I decided to push myself to publish new works as much as possible.

Finally, the time has come and I have developed a few rolls of film a few days ago. So now I have some new photos which I will mix up with a few not so new ones.

The recent shoots caused a quite a bit of excitement because as always everything was experimental. I have tested a new focusing screen in my Pentacon Six as well as 2 new types of film (Fuji Across 100, Lomo Lady Gray 400) and this was the first time I used Kodak D76 developer.

It turned out all good, however, there were lessons to learn again.

Some new shoots

Nico (Girona, Spain), Pentacon Six, Biometar 80mm, Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Cannoscan 9900F

SavE (Girona, Spain) Pentacon Six, Biometar 80mm,  Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Cannoscan 9900F

Paolo (Prato, Italy) Pentacon Six, Biometar 80, Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Cannoscan 9900F

Hunor and Tibor (Szentendre, Hungary), Pentacon Six, Biometar 80mm, Lomo Lady Gray 400, Kodak D76, Cannoscan 9900F

Some not so new shoots

These two pictures were among those I shoot on my first few rolls and developed myself around 2007-2008.  The guy was my roommate during the university and these were taken in our kitchen next to a big window.

By the way, he is also a photographer and shooting film too from time to time. He is the founder of a really nice blog called 100ASA.

Holló (Miskolc, Hungary), Zenit E, Helios 44, Forte 100, Forte developer, Cannoscan 9900F

Holló (Miskolc, Hungary), Zenit E, Helios 44, Forte 100, Forte developer, Cannoscan 9900F

Gabi (Gyöngyössolymos, Hungary), Cosina CSM, Cosinon 55mm, Forte 100, Cannoscan 9900F

Final words

Naturally there are many more portraits in my collection which deserve a frame in this blog and certainly many will show up. I only need to find the occasion and the context to merge them with recent works and publish. But hey this is only the round 1. I hope some of these cached your eye.

Stupa (gold and blue)

stupa_4395281485_o

These photos were taken last year around January. The place is close to the village Tar, Hungary. This stupa is called “Béke” (peace) stupa and built in-memorial of Kőrösi Csoma Sándor, also known as Alexander Csoma de Kőrös.

According to Wikipedia he was a Hungarian philologist and orientalist, author of the first Tibetan-English dictionary and grammar book. He was born in Kőrös, Grand Principality of Transylvania (today Chiuruş, Romania).

Anyway, I am probably not the right person to describe this sight historically neither theologically, but it was a wonderful experience and we could really smell a special religious atmosphere.
There were a Fantastic sunshine and clear deep blue sky although the air was a bit chilly plus, of course, the stupa which indeed looks extraordinary. I hope the photos will explain better what do I mean.

If I made you interested in this stupa, have a look at this link.

Gear

I used my Pentacon Six TL and most likely the standard 80mm f/2.8 Biometar and some Kodak Ektachrome 100 slide film. This was my first and so far only trial on this film. I would love to get some more of it though. I have used my Ricoh GR Digital digital compact as light-meter.

Photos

Kőrösi Csoma Sándor emlékpart Tar

Kőrösi Csoma Sándor emlékpart Tar

Kőrösi Csoma Sándor emlékpart Tar

Kőrösi Csoma Sándor emlékpart Tar

Kőrösi Csoma Sándor emlékpart Tar

Kőrösi Csoma Sándor emlékpart Tar

4393512078_31c2648b15_o

Kőrösi Csoma Sándor emlékpart Tar