Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The best Commie glass so far- Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Oreston

shoot-324I bought this Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Oreston 50mm F1.8 after a bit of a search. I’d seen a friend’s results with one and liked the look it gave, so I went hunting. I’ve a thing for commie glass, and this East German lens is one of the best from the other side of the Iron Curtain I’ve seen.


Meyer-Optik was a competitor of the Zeiss Jena company initially, and then was merged in to them. The Pentacon 50mm f1.8 produced right after this lens is a dead ringer for it, and is probably the same design. Although I’ve been warned about the usual communist problems with quality control, the only Oreston I’ve used that had issues had obviously been dropped.


The early versions of the Oreston have the solid metal “zebra” style construction I like. There’s a nice feel to all metal lens bodies that plastic ones just do not have. This lens isn’t multi-coated so it can flare on you, but it hasn’t been too much of a problem for me.


Stopped down, it's nice and sharp

Stopped down, it’s nice and sharp


Most versions of the Oreston go for around $80 to $100 which is not a bad price. I lucked in to this one in an odd way. I was actually looking for an ultra cheap M42 body that wasn’t a Commie camera to use with my M42 lenses. I had a Praktica and a few Zenits, but I wanted higher shutter speeds and a better viewfinder. The older Zenits I was using seemed to have viewfinders made from Coke bottles, so an improvement was vastly needed. I happened across the Vivitar 400/SL I previously wrote about here for $50. It came with the Oreston mounted on it, so I killed two birds with one stone.


I occasionally think about selling all of my M42 gear off, and I’m thinning my collection. I can’t bring myself to sell this lens, though. The good sharpness even wide open and the way the light falls off in the corners that I like prevent me from doing it. Shooting in tight spots with this lens is easy, it has the closest minimum focus distance of any 50mm lens I’ve tried. Plus the images have a certain character I like and haven’t gotten from any other lens.


Wide open, still sharp

Wide open, still sharp


So my love of this lens is keeping my 400/SL employed, since I want to keep using it. Perhaps I’ll find a solid Voigtlander VSL1 or Rolleiflex SL35M to mount it on one day. Of maybe I’ll hit the lottery and get a Voigtlander Bessaflex TM for it. It’ll take a lottery win to justify a $500 M42 body, but I’d like something better to use this lens on. It gives great results and a better body will mean I use it more. The Oreston has solid performance and a great look from East Germany. How often do you get to use those words in the same sentence?



The best Commie glass so far- Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Oreston

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Forward to Spring

shoot-320We went from a serious snow storm to budding plants in a few days. Winter, it seems, gave up after a bit of a halfhearted attempt. As fast as a setting sun, it was gone. Rather suddenly, it seems, spring is here.


I’m doing a bit of a purge this spring, selling off some cameras to fund a large format lens, shutter, and board. Plus, things were getting a little tight in the Misfit Toy shelves. Spring cleaning is not my forte, but I’ll try my hand at it this year. It couldn’t hurt to do.


When the seasons change, I always seem to change a few things in my life. I suppose it’s only natural as the wheel turns to reflect that as well. My photography is heading toward some new directions. I find my self gravitating toward what I’ve always thought of as more thoughtful, slower tools. I’d never shot with rangefinders in the past, but I like the way they work. I like that it leads to a better result than when I use an SLR in general. I’m not sure what it is about the type of camera that does this, but I’m liking the way the images come out.


I’m about to spend more time with medium format. I’ve habitually left my Hasselbladski at home due it’s weight and the inconvenience of carrying around all those film backs. Now I’m hunting up a means to sling it more effectively. I’m looking for a wide that won’t break the bank. It’s time to lug the beast to the back country and see what I can find.


Mostly, I’m excited about moving in to large format. I’m looking for a 90mm to try and get some good landscapes and waiting for the time to send my Compur 1 back and get it CLAC’d. I’ve gotten a Mod54 to develop with, and I still have a bit of 4×5 stock to shoot, some 20 sheets or so.


shoot-321Most importantly, there are a pair of train tickets in my box, sleeper accommodations for my beloved and I to cross the country to the east coast and bicycle. A couple thousand miles of steel rails, around 350 miles of spinning pedals and covering gravel and chat, then another couple of thousand miles of rails back. Tomorrow, there are mountains I will visit and walk. This afternoon, I will spin some pedals and listen to the thrum of the tires on concrete and relearn the contours of my home.


It’s as if there are suddenly a myriad of pleasures laid out in front of me. The horizon has pushed back, and I am heading out to go find where the sky meets the ground.



Forward to Spring

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Impulse Misfit- Vivitar Series One 35-85mm f/2.8

shoot-317I’m not really a fan of zoom lenses. I own two. One came with a camera, and the other was an impulse purchase. The impulse purchase was this lens: the Vivitar Series One 35-85mm f/2.8.


Vivitar, as was their custom, did not make this lens. They just bought it from Kiron and made the labels on it. The Series One lenses were their higher end offerings. With its 72mm front element, it’s an impressive looking piece of glass. It’s push-pull design marks it as an older lens from the 70s.


I bought this as the result of a half-hearted foray in to fast zooms. At the time, I was shooting digital as well as film, and with a crop factor DX sensor, this was a mid-range zoom. It turned out I never really used it that much, due to some of its idiosyncrasies.


First, this zoom has the “feature” of not staying in focus if you zoom with it. I call it a “feature” since Vivitar acknowledged it didn’t stay in focus and came up with marketing speak to describe it in such a way as to make it sound like it was cool. After all, “Auto Variable Focusing” sounds better than “doesn’t stay in focus” now doesn’t it?


Stopped down to f16, it's presentable

Stopped down to f16, it’s presentable


The second one was the vignetting. While this lens performed pretty well stopped all the way down, as almost every lens does, it vignettes when wide open at any focal length. While it can be used with interesting effect, it’s not something I’d want shooting in low light, which is what I was going to use it for.


Many people do not like it’s bokeh. This particular example at least has passable bokeh, although I am not an expert on that. I tend to shoot stopped down and avoid that most of the time.


shoot-319

At f2.8, the vignetting is apparent.


Mostly what has kept me from shooting it is its heft. This lens is made of steel. I do not think there is any plastic in it. As a result, it weighs as much as a F3 with a 50mm on it. While I prefer the feel and solidity of an all metal lens, there can be too much of a good thing. This lens has stayed home since I could carry another camera for the same amount of weight. Even when I was traveling the back country via 4Runner, it tended to stay in the truck.


I’ve got to clear some shelf space in the Land of Misfit Toys, so I think this lens will be sold. I’ve not used it enough to justify it being there, and I’m going to see what else I can use that space for.



Impulse Misfit- Vivitar Series One 35-85mm f/2.8

Saturday, March 14, 2015

In praise of repair people

It’s been a bit of a rough patch, photographically. shoot-316In the past few weeks, I’ve had a fair number of equipment failures. It’s been a bit discouraging. It’s time to call in the cavalry and make things better- I’ve got to make some calls to the repair folks.


The shutter on my Canon 7 Rangefinder has jammed while winding. I did some rudimentary looking in to how to possibly repair it and came to the conclusion it is beyond me. Removing the top piece of that camera unveils a very complex viewfinder. I had heard it is one of the most complex viewfinders ever made, what with the parallax correction and switchable bright lines for different lens lengths. I looked at it for a moment and realized I didn’t feel comfortable digging around in there and decided it was something I would send out for repair.


Likewise, my new foray in to large format has been an adventure. I’ve been figuring it out as I go since I have no experience in the format at all. So far, my choices have been hit or miss, but forward progress has been pretty steady. I’ve gotten myself a Zeiss Tessar for portrait work, and the shutter has started being cranky. It’s a Deckel Compur 1 from 1938, and it is showing its age. Since this is the first one of these I’ve ever seen, I’m not real confident I can fix it either. Another that needs to be farmed out for repair.


There used to be a guy here in Denver who did repairs. Ray was a solid repairman. I once took him a F3 body that turned out to not be fixable. Even though it wasn’t, he still took time to knock the dents out of the viewfinder and pretty it up. It was almost like he couldn’t stand to give something back if it was ugly, even though he couldn’t fix it. But Ray has retired, so I’ll have to see if the new shop I’ve found is any good.


shoot-315I’ve had good luck with repair people so far. My Yashica Mat was repaired to good shape for $25 and a six-pack. Cory put my Polaroid SLR 680 right. There are people who specialize in certain cameras that reportedly do good work like the guy in New York state that does XA repair. I love my XAs so I’ve bookmarked him in case one of mine dies.


Repair people are a breed apart. I can ham-fist a few things, but they have an attention to detail and patience I do not have. I miss the ones who have retired. I respect the one who are still in the trenches and taking care of business. They’re serving a vital purpose, keeping our cameras alive. Only a few companies still make new film cameras, and that number shrinks more often than I like. Just this week, it was announced that Rollei was calling it and closing down, after decades of questionable management. If that trend continues, every repair person we have will become more critical.


Repair people are more than just fixer-uppers. They give me hope for the future and keep my favorite tools sharp and ready.



In praise of repair people

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Slik Tripod

shoot-312I never really thought of myself as a tripod user. I spent most of my time originally hiking around and taking pictures and a tripod seemed to be extra weight I did not need. Eventually, though, I got the lightest one I could find to carry around. I wasn’t sold on the idea, so I didn’t drop for carbon fiber, and got something inexpensive. I didn’t want the typical cheap aluminum tripod with a pad head that most people start out with. I finally settled on a Slik Sprint Mini GM.


I was shooting digital at the time, and was interested in getting some night sky photos. I purchased this Slik Sprint Mini tripod to help get them. Honestly, though, it was a wash. I was living back east at the time, and the light pollution was horrible. In addition, early digital wasn’t the best way to capture the night sky.. The sensor would heat up on a long exposure, and the resulting image was crap, full of noise and hot pixels. The tripod made a few hikes in to the Appalachian mountains with me and then got put away. Once the return to film was made, I rediscovered this and have put it to better use.


shoot-314As I mentioned, light weight was the critical factor in buying this. Well, as light a weight as I could get at a reasonable price.  Slik, like most manufacturers, touted their carbon fiber tripods as the low weight solution. Carbon fiber tripods do offer less weight than this one, but at a substantially higher price. I didn’t want to drop that much cash, so I went ahead and got the steel model. The ball head was a plus, and allowed me to add quick releases if I wanted to. The newer version of this tripod is aluminum instead of steel, and is much lighter than this one. However, it’s weight capacity has been basically halved. Everything comes with a price. The foam grips they added are nice, though. The new one also contains a quick release plate.


I’m going to need to get a better, higher capacity tripod in the future. I’m starting to shoot large format, and while this can hold my current 4×5 barely, if I move any higher, it will lack stability. I really have no desire to have a less stable tripod and see my camera go crashing to the ground.


shoot-313I still want to get those night sky photos. Moving west has given me far better access to dark sky out in the wilderness. My film SLRs lack the problem of a hot sensor. To be honest, most digital cameras no longer have that problem either, but I’m not going to go back and buy one just to try it out. I’m sure a nice medium format image will give me a good result.


I’m thinking of getting a higher capacity tripod like the Pro Series Slik makes. Or I may go ahead and take the jump in to the Manfrotto for the large format experience. I’ll keep this one for medium format and my SLRs.



The Slik Tripod

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Horrible Creeping Sameness

shoot-311I had to run an errand in to the suburbs. I do not like going to the suburbs. That’s where you find the horrible creeping sameness. It’s what’s people have done to everything. The strip malls, the fast food chains, I find it hard to know where I am just by looking around. Everywhere looks the same.


When I say it is everywhere, I mean everywhere. When I got off the plane in Lima, Peru, the first shop we came to on the concourse was a Starbucks. We had just flown thousands of miles to wind up at the same coffee shop that is down at the strip mall. I remember stopping in the middle of the corridor and swearing. A goddamn Starbucks. Sonofabitch. Worse, every American from the plane lined up and waited for the same coffee that place serves. The only difference was the prices were in Soles and not Dollars. Every American in the line noted it and congratulated themselves for experiencing a foreign country. I felt like screaming. There we were, on another continent, a solid 8 hours of flight time from the US, and everyone was getting the same old thing. I’ll occasionally have Starbucks at home, but I don’t travel and not try how the locals drink it. Americans abroad. A gaggle of risk-adverse consumers wanting the familiar.


Photography as a whole is largely the same way. Most photographers use digital cameras from one of two manufacturers and process their images in one of two programs made by the same company. Predictably, the horrible creeping sameness has us. We are doomed.


It hasn’t gotten completely everywhere yet. Small mountain towns lack it. The unpaved back roads and the backcountry is not infested with it. It seems the only places the horrible creeping sameness avoids are the ones that will not produce a profit for it. It’s mostly leaving the film side of photography alone as well. Like small towns, there’s just not enough money in it for the sameness to bother with.


Sometimes I bemoan the smallness of the film world. I’d love to have more options for film stocks and manufacturers. That smallness seems to be saving us. We are not infested with the horrible creeping sameness.


shoot-310I take heart in the fact that in many of those towns, someone always remains even if it becomes a ghost town. No matter how off the path and difficult to get to and live in, there’s always people who will call it home. Maybe film photographers are those people, living up in the mountains far away from everything and choosing to be different. Escaping the horrible creeping sameness.



The Horrible Creeping Sameness

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Polaroid Misfits

shoot-308These two are the Polaroid misfit twins.


They were made around the same time by Polaroid. They both use the older style peel apart films. When Polaroid went under the production of these films was picked up by Fuji Film, but they have discontinued all of the stocks with the exception of one. FP100C, the ASA 100 color film is still made. Both of the black and white films in 100 and 3000 speed are discontinued. It’s not known how much longer Fuji plans to make this film.


Their model numbers are very close, indicating they’re pretty similar cameras.


They both have plastic bodies that lack tripod mounts. They both use the same system of operation that outlines the sequence of taking the picture. They both focus using bellows. But there the similarities end. The 220 has a 114mm f/8.8 plastic two element lens. The 230 has a 114mm f/8.8 three element glass lens. Even though the basics are pretty much the same, these two lenses give different results. The 230’s lens is noticeably sharper. The 220 has a fixed viewfinder/rangefinder on top of the camera body. The 230 has a combination that folds up, making it a little smaller when stowed away.


shoot-309The cameras are both automatic exposure via the “Electric Eye” in the front. This system is powered by a battery that used to be pretty common to find, but has since become a bit rarer and a bit more expensive. They can still be found with some looking, but they run around $13 to $15 dollars in some places. In contrast, the rigid body Polaroids run off of $3 worth of AA batteries. As a result, the most common modification is to convert the system to another battery. These conversions use AAA or AA batteries most of the time but some prefer to convert to the CR123 that powers most of the compact auto-focus cameras from the 1980s since it does not require any cutting or modification of the compartment. I started the conversion of this camera to AAA batteries. I got it wired up temporarily using electrical tape. I tested it. It worked, but I sat it aside before finishing it up and soldering everything in place. I never got around to fixing up the 220.


I don’t have any real plans for using them in the future. I may convert the 230 to a fully manual camera using a Speed Graphic lens, a Copal shutter, and a board. The 220 has a shutter problem which would need to be addressed as well, so I could go with either of them. In the end though, I may just get rid of them. I’m needing fewer Misfits on the shelf and in the future.


If you’re thinking of getting a Land Camera like these, go see Cory at Rare Medium and pick up one of his masterpieces. His cameras are beautifully restored and worth every penny.



Polaroid Misfits