Monday, December 29, 2014

Spotlight: Kodak Medalist II

This last weekend I was at an antique mall when I came across this big beautiful beast, a Kodak Medalist II. The Medalist II was first introduced in 1946, and was marketed toward professional photographers and wealthy enthusiasts (It cost around $270, which is over $3,000 in today's money). The camera has a surprisingly easy to use viewfinder/rangefinder system, and a cool retractable "double helix focusing tube" lens. Unfortunately, the Medalist II takes 620 film, which means you have to go through the arduous chore of re-spooling 120 film onto 620 reels each time you want to shoot. Negatives are 6 x 9 cm, and you get 8 shots per roll.

Once again, the Medalist II was a professional's camera, and therefore had professional features. You get a full range of shutter speeds, from 1 second to 1/400th of a second. Once loaded, the camera's advance system will stop automatically at each new frame on the roll, meaning you don't have to look through a little red window and manually stop turning the advance knob when the next frame number pops up (Though a red window is included as a fail-safe). Multi-exposures are possible by cocking a lever next to the viewfinder. The Medalist II has a really awesome depth-of-field scale that spins around as you focus the lens!

The Kodak Medalist II is compact for a 6x9 camera, but it weighs over 3 pounds!

I took my Medalist II with me on a walk through some local woods. Here are some results I got with the camera:

I enjoyed shooting with the Kodak Medalist II. Its Ergonomics leave a bit to be desired by modern standards, but it has some serious deco charm. The 100mm Ektar lens is pretty sharp for its age (most of my examples were shot wide open at F/3.5 or F/4). Thanks for looking!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Print: Motor Crust

I finally got around to getting a new bulb for my D5 enlarger! Here's a print I made this evening from a negative from the mini junkyard behind the Huntley grease factory. I think this engine is in need of a tune up...

I used my Pentax LX with an SMC 50mm F/1.4 lens, on Ilford HP5+. The physical print is 7 x 10 inches.

I'm not sure if I like this print of not. It's a bit busy. Still, it shows some nice texture, and the subject is pretty interesting.

Thanks for taking a peek!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Spotlight/Roll: Nikon FM vs. Nikon FM2n + Greenberg Cancer Center

FM with 24mm F/2.8 Non-AI Lens and FM2n with 50mm F/2 AI Lens

Since I started shooting film back in college, I have always been a Pentax guy. My first manual film camera was a Ricoh A-100 Super (that had a Pentax K mount), which I soon traded for a Pentax MX, and then an LX. However, since buying my first Nikon F a little while ago and learning the important history of that camera, I have become increasingly interested in Nikon. About a month ago, I swapped a few items at a camera show for a Nikon FM2n, and then just yesterday I bought an FM for just $17(!) at an estate sale.

The FM was first produced in 1977, while the FM2n came out in 1984. Both are excellent fully manual 35m SLR cameras, which require batteries only for the light meter. However, there are some pretty significant differences between the two nearly identical looking models. This post is meant to highlight these differences (as well as the similarities) and help you decide which FM is right for your needs.


The basic shell of the FM and FM2n bodies are identical. They're both made out of copper-aluminum alloy; there is no difference in build-quality. The DOF preview switch and self timer lever are of slightly different aesthetic design, but on a functional level, the difference is completely negligable.


The FM has shutter speeds from 1-1/1000th of a second, plus bulb.
Metering range is 12-3200 ISO (ASA). Flash sync is 1/125th of a second and slower. Double exposures are possible by sliding the switch below the shutter speed dial to the left while cocking the shutter. The shutter has a locking mechanism, which works by twisting the dial around the shutter release so that the red line meets the white line. The shutter release accepts both standard and nikon-brand AR-2 cable releases. The meter is activated by pulling out the advance lever part-way.
The FM2n has some important differences when it comes to the controls. Shutter speeds range from 1 second to a much faster 1/4000th, plus bulb. The metering is one stop more sensitive on the high end, ranging from 12-6400 ISO (ASA). Flash sync is one stop faster at 1/250th. Multiple-exposures are still possible, but the switch has been moved to the right of the advance lever, making it easier to operate with one hand. The shutter release is more comfortable, but is unable to accept AR-2 cables releases. The shutter locking mechanism is terrible on the FM2n. To fire the shutter, the advance lever HAS to be pulled out slightly (like in the above photo). If the lever is pushed in flush with the camera, the shutter will NOT fire. Ugh. Awful design. This is by far the worst "feature" of the FM2n. I just love having that lever poke me in the face while I'm trying to compose by shot. Metering is activated by half-pressing the shutter release.

Lens Mount

Both the FM and FM2n sport F mounts. The FM has a nifty retractable meter-coupling tab that allows for the use of older non-AI Nikkor lenses. 

The FM2n does NOT have a retractable meter-coupling tab. This means non-AI lenses will NOT work. Why? Why would Nikon omit this feature and severely limit the FM2n's lens compatibility? It makes absolutely no sense to me. Maybe they wanted to sell more AI lenses?

Focusing Screen

The FM's focus screen has a split-image rangefinder with microprism ring, and an overall matte area. It's perfect for general photography. It's also not interchangeable.

The standard FM2n focus screen is the same as in the FM, but it's interchangeable with a couple of other screens, making the FM2n a bit more versatile in this regard.


Both the FM and FM2n are great all manual cameras. If you absolutely need faster shutter speeds and flash sync, go with the FM2n. If you have older non-AI lenses you like to use, and don't like getting poked in the face with advance levers, go with the FM. You can't really go wrong with either.

I took both cameras out today and photographed an old abandoned cancer treatment center in Highland Park, Illinois. Here are my results:


(Six Exposures of Six Loading Dock Doors)


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Print: Mangled

Last weekend my brother-in-law, Aaron, and I went back to the grease factory in Huntley, Illinois.

The factory is so overgrown that a small forest has grown up around it. In the summer, when we were last at the factory, the brush around the main building is so thick that you can hardly see ten feet in front of you. I figured it might be worthwhile to go back to the factory now, in the winter, to see if we could find anything new.

Lo and behold, around the outskirts of the factory, we discovered a small graveyard of wrecked vehicles. Many of these cars and trucks had been destroyed to the point where you could barely tell what they used to be. This print depicts what I think was a pick-up truck, which is now scrunched up into a ball, looking very similar to a wad of crumpled-up paper.

I used my Pentax LX with an SMC 35mm F/2 lens, on Ilford HP5+ film. The physical print is 8 x 10 inches.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Spotlight: Voigtländer Vitessa L

Last weekend at the Photorama camera show, I picked up a beautiful Voigtländer Vitessa L. The first Vitessa camera launched in 1950, and received many re-designs over the course of a decade. The model I picked up, the Vitessa L (1954), was the first Vitessa to feature a built-in selenium light meter. My Vitessa L has the more expensive 50mm F2 Ultron lens, but there was also a cheaper F2.8 Color-Skopar version available.

The Vitessa L all closed up and ready for transport

The Vitessa L has a strange, yet beautiful design. The first thing you notice about the camera is the large plunger sticking out the top of the body. When pushed down, this plunger advances the film and cocks the shutter. It's a pretty cool and unique alternative to the typical knob or lever advance system that's common on most cameras. The lens is of the fold-out variety, with leatherette-covered barn-doors protecting it while it's retracted. Build quality is top notch; the Vitessa L feels nice and solid in your hands.

The awesome depth-of-field scale
The Vitessa L is a 35mm rangefinder camera. You focus the lens with a smallish dial on the back of the camera, rather than twisting the lens barrel. There's a crazy cool depth-of-field scale on top of the body to help you determine how much of your scene will be in focus. The viewfinder window is a bit small, but the rangefinder patch is nice and contrasty. There are no framelines, however, which makes composition a bit difficult.

I took my Vitessa out with me around my neighborhood, as well as through a nature preserve in Highland Park. Here are my results:

Thanks for looking!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Extra Frames: Ringwood Manor

Over the summer, my brother-in-law and I visited an abandoned house on Ringwood Road in McHenry County, Illinois. I just learned that the home (which was one of the first ever built in McHenry County) has since been torn down. While I made a few prints of the house a while ago, I just wanted to post some scans of negatives I created which were not made into prints, in honor of the house and the history it held.

I will miss this place.