Zenit 3M Reloaded

Last time when I wrote about my Zenit 3M, I could not show any sample photos as the shutter was very slow and ran uneven. It was the case only until I have found a neat little article Zenit E: Shutter Curtain Repairs with repair tips. I noted the risks stated in the article, but eventually I decided to engage some screw tightening in hope of bringing the camera back to service. Thankfully the Zenit E on which the tutorial was based on is very similar to my older Zenit 3M, and so the important screws are located exactly at the same spot. I grabbed a screw driver and after 15 minutes of careful tinkering the shutter was good as new. All speeds became distinct and I have not noticed any more the uneven operation. I had no idea if the speeds very accurate, but considering what I had before, it was a definitive improvement.

The next step was to load some film, attach a stylish neck strap and take the camera with me everywhere for a while. Because the camera was with me for a longer time, I had a chance to take some photos of it in all it’s glory in different environments.

I have to say that shooting with the Zenit is a lot of fun, but at the very least a special experience. Operation is very minimalistic, I have hard time to imagine more stripped down SLR experience. The mirror does not return automatically after firing the shutter. When the shutter is not cocked, the viewfinder is dark, only when film is advanced the mirror is being lowered. Only when the mirror reached it’s position the full image is projected to the screen. Speaking of viewfinder, it is simply a ground glass with round edges and no additional information presented. My finder has a light orange tint and the world simply looks like if I were watching  an 80’s movie through it. The unique image in the finder is perfectly complementing the retro look of this camera which combined with the simplistic operation is what makes the experience appealing to me.

Zenit 3M finder
Zenit 3M finder

First I have shoot a roll of badly expired Kodak Gold 100 and I have left my light meter at home to thrown in some more variables into the mix. Despite all the odds, the first roll came out just fine. Swirly bokeh from the cult classic first generation Helios 44, plenty of noise and shifted colors from the expired film, but no issues with exposure.

Next I loaded a fresh roll of Ilford HP5 Plus and I taken the camera to a trip to the mountains. The camera worked fine for the most part. But the temperature started to drop as we hiked higher. At the end the camera was really cold and the shutter sounded like it has started to struggle again. I guess my fix was not flawless after all.

I (over) developed the film in Rodinal and again it came out with flaws which was due to my errors and not because of the shutter except the very last frames where the shutter got “frozen”.

Nowadays, I am experimenting more with the Helios 44 lens on digital bodies, but it is good to know that I can mount this really lovely lens to it’s native camera. The Zenit will come in handy because my desire for old school SLR experience is proven to be recurring.

At the end of this post, I have to place here a warning. Repairing cameras are always risky, one may damage the camera and film could be also lost if repair is not successful. Please be careful and let your gear serviced by experts unless you are really know your way. In any ways always watch out for the risks.

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.

Last roll from 2013

Yet another quick post with little-written content but with a bunch of random snapshot images. This is what I end up with when I carry the same roll of film over weeks and only occasionally have a chance to shoot.  I am basically on pilot light mode right now and really hope that the next year I can do something a bit more organized work. What I can book as an achievement though is that I could gather some courage and I asked a stranger for a portrait on a street again. It was a really nice experience and I am happy with the result, but you can judge yourself if you scroll down to the second photo.

This time I had my Olympus OM4 Ti in my bag in the last few weeks loaded with the same Ilford HP5 I used in the Kiev before. As usual, the film was developed and scanned by me.

Stadtpark (Graz 2013), Olympus OM4 Ti, Zuiko 50mm 1.4, Ilford HP5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Biker (Graz 2013), Olympus OM4 Ti, Zuiko 50mm 1.4, Ilford HP5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Skulpturenpark (Unterpremstätten 2013) ), Olympus OM4 Ti, Zuiko 50mm 1.4, Ilford HP5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Concrete (Unterpremstätten 2013) ), Olympus OM4 Ti, Zuiko 50mm 1.4, Ilford HP5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Train (Unterpremstätten 2013) ), Olympus OM4 Ti, Zuiko 50mm 1.4, Ilford HP5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

Kiev 4 + Ilford HP5

If you followed the Camerajunky Facebook page you may have already read about my planned reunion with my beloved Kiev 4 camera after a long period in which it was hidden in a box.  I really felt that I needed to use it again, and my recent discovery about the beauty of Ilford HP5 film gave me the final push to do so.

I don’t know why, but from time to time, I feel serious urge to go back to the basics and pick up a fully mechanical camera such as the Kiev and leave the sophisticated OM4 on the shelf. In addition, I really do like the character of the little Jupiter 8 lens. Especially the quality of the background blur it produces is really appealing to me. I know that many find it not so pleasing, but hey great things are usually dividing after all. It is not the sharpest nor the fastest lens I have ever touched, but an unmistakable character for sure.  I also learned that the grain structure and tonality of the Ilford HP5 ISO 400 film is also very unique and close to me, so I thought, I should combine the unique lens with the unique film.
I usually use lower sensitivity film so it could be that other medium speed films have similar characters as well. I guess I will need to try more. Until that, I leave you with some random but to me very catchy shots.

Eszti, (Gyöngyös, Hungary), Kiev 4, Jupiter 8, Ilford Hp5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Eszti, (Gyöngyös, Hungary), Kiev 4, Jupiter 8, Ilford Hp5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Trumpeter, (Graz, Austria 2013), Kiev 4, Jupiter 8, Ilford Hp5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

Bring your giant medium format camera to work

A photographer is never really putting down his camera, no matter what crazy thing she or he is doing for a living or filling the days with. Since we are not living in an ideal world, most of us have to face the limitation of time and availability of light in our everyday life.

But limitations are not necessarily bad things! They teach us to utilize our possibilities more creatively by forcing us to see and think in ways we would normally not choose to. This, of course, influences our work as well as ourselves and vice-versa. Eventually this feedback loop can contribute our personal and photographic development similarly to the way the ever-changing environment influences life forms and pushing them towards evolution.

Currently, my job is to sit in an office and convince computers to obey to the needs of their human masters. Making their lives easier by sending them nice, well formed and most importantly correct invoices. As interesting as it sounds, but it is somewhat fulfilling to my geek side which likes to brain wrestler with abstract problems.

But it makes my photographer side starve because the current situation has a very little room for photography. Especially now when the winter is coming. Days are shorter and shorter, so more and more frequently I end up to spend most of the hours filled with natural light in between walls in my natural working environment.

To overcome this obvious contradiction, I decided to make occasionally a “bring your giant medium format camera to work day“.  I started to bug my colleges and taking portraits of them during lunch brakes or when I need to wait for my computer to finish a long-lasting blocking task.

The point is, you don’t need to stop being a photographer, just because the conditions are not ideal for the kind of photography you are normally up to. Try to get out the most of the situation and who knows this might drive you to completely unforeseen paths and discoveries.

Jogi, Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 80mm, Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

Jogi is a musician besides being a software engineer and in my opinion, they are making pretty cool music.  Their website http://www.theflamingdugongs.at/  is not complete yet, but worth to have a look at.

Barbara, Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 80mm, Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Janez, Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 120mm, Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Kyrylo, Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 120mm, Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

Kyrylo was so pleased with his portrait that he visited me at my desk (2 floors below his place) to shake my hands right after I sent it to him.

Hannes, Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 80mm, Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Marco, Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 80mm, Ilford HP5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

Naturally, it is not my top priority to photograph at work, and I always make sure that this does not have any effect on my everyday responsibilities. It took me quite a while (about 2 months) to get these images. Though they are not perfect, I enjoyed taking them they are part of my journey.