Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Friday, December 25, 2020

Drawings: Merry Catsmas

Merry Catsmas! I've been working a lot with graphite pencils lately, and decided to make a few cat portraits for my family members this Christmas. Each drawing is 6x6 inches.


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Drawing: Mom's Lizard


An observational 5x7" graphite pencil drawing of a hand-made yarn lizard from my mom's childhood. After Mom died last year, I really wanted this little guy, but my dad didn't want to give him up at first. After some light pleading, he finally let me have the lizard, and he's been sitting on my shelf ever since. I made this drawing as a gift for my dad on his birthday today, December 15th. I decided to challenge myself a bit and use pencil, a drawing medium I don't typically use.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Spotlight: Pentax MZ-S

This is my 100th camera spotlight! To celebrate, I bought a somewhat rare, somewhat expensive camera, the Pentax MZ-S. The MZ-S is the last pro-level 35mm camera that Pentax ever made, and was released in 2001, during the twilight years of professional film photography. Listen, until only a few years ago, I actively avoided using any film camera made after 1985, as I hated the plasticy builds, LCD screens, and primitive autofocus systems of the era. This changed after I fell in love with the groundbreaking Minolta Maxxum 7000 camera, which I borrowed on a whim from my wife's grandfather. Since then, I've learned to embrace all that late-80's-to-early-2000's automatic camera goodness. 

This neglect of late-century cameras is probably why I only recently heard of the excellent Pentax MZ-S. Now, I love Pentax cameras: along with Nikon, they're my favorite camera company. I own a Pentax 67, 645, MX, and an LX (which might just be the greatest 35mm camera ever made). This adoration of Pentax and a newfound interest in modern film cameras made me pretty curious about the MZ-S, which represents the pinnacle of Pentax's 35mm technology. 

The Pentax MZ-S looks pretty bizarre on first glance, and maybe even a tad bit ugly. My wife scoffed at the MZ-S when she saw me using it, and called it a "crappy 90's camera." Suffice it to say she was a bit shocked when I told her how much I paid for it (about $325). The most striking feature of the MZ-S is its top panel, which is slanted at a 30 degree angle toward the photographer. This, in theory, makes exposure information easier to read when the camera is in the "ready" position. From a aesthetic standpoint, however, the slant gives the camera a kind of hunchback vibe., especially when viewed from the front. The MZ-S looks bulky, and from viewing the camera in photographs, I expected it to be massive and heavy, especially since it was touted as a professional camera. I imagined it as being similar in girth to my Nikon F4, but was pleasantly surprised when my MZ-S arrived and I found it to be astonishingly light and compact. 

The unique slanted top panel of the MZ-S
 Ergonomics are great, and the camera is easy to operate. The build is mostly solid, except for the back door, which is feels a little flimsy. The MZ-S has a nice grip that makes the camera comfortable to hold, even with just one hand. The on/off switch is located around the shutter release, and doubles as the aperture preview lever, which works well. Shutter speeds are changed by rotating the dial that encircles the the large LCD panel on the top plate. The shutter tops out at an impressive 1/6000th, and goes down to 30 seconds (longer exposures are possible with bulb mode).  There is no mode dial to speak of on the MZ-S, which was a little strange for me at first. For manual exposure, just set your desired aperture and shutter speed with their respective dials. For aperture priority, set the aperture to the desired value, and hit the green button on the front of the camera. For shutter priority, set the aperture to "A," and the select the shutter speed you want to use. For full-auto program mode, set the aperture to "A," and then hit the green button. This system takes a bit to get used to, but it works fine. It also bares mentioning that aperture values are always set via the lens: it is not possible to manually control the aperture with the camera body. 

Next to the LCD screen are panel are the metering and drive dials. For metering, there are three options: spot, center-weighted, and average. I mainly stuck to center-weighted, and got perfect exposures every time. Drive mode options include single frame, continuous (2.5 fps), self-timer, and multiple exposure. Now let me tell you, if you're a multiple exposure enthusiast like myself, you will love this camera. For multiples on the MZ-S, there's no fiddling with rewind knobs, or awkwardly holding down levers while trying to re-cock the shutter without advancing the film. All you do is flick the little multiple exposure switch, and the camera will continue to expose the same frame until you switch off of the multiple exposure setting, at which point the camera will immediately advance the film to the next frame. To remind you that you're in multiple exposure mode, the frame number on the LCD will blink. This method makes it easy to make lots of exposures on the same frame in rapid succession. It's so simple!

 On the opposite side of the prism is the exposure compensation dial. You have to press in on a little button below the dial to unlock it, which is a little fiddly, but keeps the dial from being turned accidentally. Also on this dial is where you can set your ISO manually, if you're not using DX-coded film. On the inside of the compensation dial is another mini dial that can enable automatic exposure bracketing, but I didn't mess around with that function. 

The MZ-S has a little pop-up flash that's hidden on top of the prism finder. It's obviously not very powerful, but it's good for fill, or capturing serendipitous indoor moments. The max sync speed is 1/180. You pop it up by pressing a little button on the side of the prism. It never automatically pops up, thank god.

All flash photos with the MZ-S came out nicely exposed!

 The MZ-S is intended for use with auto-focus lenses. I shot my entire roll with a Pentax-FA 50mm f/1.4. Manual lenses are still usable, of course, but the all-matte focusing screen isn't conducive to manual focusing. There is a little green dot that lights up when the camera believes you've achieved correct focus with a manual lens, but I don't think it's too dependable. The focusing screen is interchangeable, but there are no official screens available with manual focusing aids (split-image or microprism). No, auto-focus is definitely the way to go with this camera. There are six focusing points to choose from, and you can even let the camera choose the point automatically if you're trusting of early 2000's algorithms. I just stuck with the center point. I do wish the points lit up, as they are hard to see if shooting in dim light. Focusing is very quick, and can even keep up with moving subjects! I had a few shots miss focus, but this may have been user error, since I'm only just getting used to the camera. 

Overall I can say I'm definitely a fan of the Pentax MZ-S. I do wish it took less expensive batteries, as a the required pair of CR2 batteries set me back over twenty bucks. I'm not sure if I'll hold onto this camera or not, but the multiple exposure function alone may be worth keeping it around for a while. Below are a few more photographs I made with the MZ-S, using the FA 50mm f/1.4 lens and Ilford Delta 400 film.


Sunday, November 29, 2020

Photograph: Cards



A 4x multiple exposure depicting a hand of Cards Against Humanity with Katie's family. Made with my Fuji X100V.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Spotlight: Univex Mercury II

The 1945 Univex Mercury II is objectively, hands down, one of the coolest looking cameras ever made. Plus, it's made in the U.S.A! I've always admired the look of this camera, ever since I first spied it sitting on a "not-for-sale" shelf in a camera shop many years ago. I finally came to own a Mercury II when my parents bought one for me for my birthday (or was it Christmas?) a few years back. It's been sitting prominently on display in my home ever since. I never tried it out before because I didn't think the shutter was working properly. However, it's been staring at me longingly for some time now, so I decided to finally give it a chance. 

Though somewhat large in size, the Mercury II is a half-frame 35mm camera. So, you get double the amount of exposures on a roll of film, and the negative size is 24"x18".

The big iconic hump on top of the Mercury II is actually part of the housing for the camera's unique disk shutter. It spins at speeds from 1/20 to 1/1000 of a second, which was pretty impressive for 1945. B and T settings are also available. It's neat to open the back of the camera and watch the shutter disk whip around. The lens on the Mercury II is technically interchangeable, but the camera is pretty much designed to be used solely with its standard 35mm f/2.7 lens. It's basically a fixed-lens camera. For a viewfinder camera, the lens focuses quite close -- about 1.5 feet!

Ergonomics on the Mercury II are awful. The viewfinder is painfully small, though this is pretty par for the course by 1940's standards. The worst part about using the camera is that most of the main controls are located on the front of the camera, facing away from the photographer. This setup makes the camera look rad and steam-punky, but also totally awkward to operate. You have to turn the camera around toward you to change anything, as you can't see the settings while holding the camera in a normal shooting position. 

There are two knurled knobs above the lens: one cocks the shutter and advances the film, while the other adjusts the shutter speed. The shutter must be cocked before the shutter speed can be set. With film in the camera, there is a good amount of resistance to the shutter cocking knob, making it hard to turn. The shutter speed knob must be pushed in before a new speed can be selected, which is fiddly. 

There are two accessory shoes on top of the camera, where you can attach a flash, light meter, and/or uncoupled rangefinder. Instead of a rangefinder, I used my Fuji X100V, which says in the viewfinder what distance it's focused at. I'd autofocus with the Fuji, read the distance scale, then transfer that distance rating back to the Mercury II.

Overall, the beautiful yet clumsy Mercury II feels like a prime example of "form over function." I made some photographs with the camera, but the results aren't impressive. That being said, I really didn't expect much. I made some photographs of my cat, Furiosa, wearing the cone of shame (she has an eye ulcer, poor baby). The film is Kodak Tri-X 400. 


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Spotlight: Chinon Bellami


I was at an estate sale this past weekend and this little Chinon Bellami camera caught my eye. Unsure whether it was working or not, I took a chance on it for about $20. After sticking batteries in it back at home, I was pleasantly surprised to find it in 100% working order. First released in 1980, the Bellami (or beautiful friend in French) is a full-frame 35mm compact point-n-shoot camera. Like, this thing is seriously small; it fits in my pants pocket with room to spare, and I wear slim-fits! It's roughly the size of a deck of cards, or a pack of (ew) cigarettes. 

The most distinctive feature of the Bellami has to be the barn doors that swing closed to protect the lens when the camera's not in use. The design is actually pretty brilliant: You pull back on the advance lever to open the doors and pop out the lens. When you're ready to stuff the camera back in your pocket, just push the advance lever back flush with the body. Doing this will cause the lens to quickly retract and the barn doors to close. I found myself constantly opening and closing the doors, just cause it's so fun and satisfying to do. The barn doors do more than just protect the lens from scratches, they also protect your pictures from stray fingers! Without the barn doors present, I think it'd be pretty easy to accidentally block the lens, since the camera is so small. 

Though the camera is teeny-tiny, it's still comfortable to use, and the build quality feels solid. While there is definitely a good amount of plastic in the build, the top and bottom plates seem to be made of metal. The leatherette finish gives the Bellami an almost premium feel.

Operation, as you'd expect with a point-n-shoot, is pretty simple. Exposure is completely automatic. Once you set your ISO (25 - 400) on the top of the camera, the camera will decide the shutter speed and aperture for you. Shutter speeds range from 1/8 - 1/1000, with no option for long exposures. Aperture-wise, the fixed 35mm f/2.8 lens is pretty fast for a camera this small. A little red light next to the viewfinder will turn on when you half-press the shutter if there is insufficient light for a handheld exposure. Focusing is manual, without any aids. You just gotta guess! The lens has a soft stop at ten feet (marked in green), and can focus as close as one meter. The viewfinder is basic, with bright lines and no parallax compensation. Film advance and rewind are done manually. 

Two type 357 button batteries are required for the camera to function. If you half-press the shutter release with the lens extended, a green light will shine to indicate sufficient power. 

In the end, I'm totally glad I picked this camera up. It's fun to use, easy to carry anywhere, and totally cute. My photographs came out well-exposed, and when I hit focus, the lens produced some decently sharp results. Below are some photos I made with my Chinon Bellami, using Tri-X 400 film. 


Thursday, November 12, 2020

Photograph: Commute


Currently, I am an adjunct professor at Carthage College where I teach drawing. It's good experience, but the daily drive to Kenosha from Evanston is brutal. Each way is about an hour and twenty minutes, so I spend almost as much time driving as I do teaching. For the entire fall semester commute (classes moved online this week due to Covid), I made one photograph during each trip to, and from, Kenosha. I then pieced those photographs together to form the digital collage seen above. 

It took a little over a month of commuting to put together the entire scene, with views of both the interior of Katie's Nissan Rogue, as well as through the windows looking out. For the remaining weeks of the semester, I only made exposures of exterior views, and began to layer the resulting images multiple-exposure style. The finished piece is an attempt to convey the repetitive experience of commuting long-distance, while also providing evidence of the time during which it was creating (a coronavirus election). 

Commute will be 18" x 40" if it's ever printed. All individual photographs were made with my Fuji X100V camera.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Spotlight: Ansco Memo


The Ansco Memo is an adorable little pocket camera from 1927. The Memo is one of the first, if not the first American-made camera to use traditional perforated 35mm film, which at the time was mainly used to make big-budget movie films. Like 35mm movie cameras, the Memo creates 18x24mm negatives that are now referred to as half-frame (modern, full-frame stills cameras make a 24x36mm negative). Since it's a half-frame camera, you get around double the frames on a standard roll of film. I got about 45 frames on my roll of 24.

The camera can be used with any current 35mm film, but the film must be loaded into one of the Memo's proprietary film cartridges. This is easy enough to do in a changing bag: just shove the film from its canister into the memo's own cartridge. The Memo doesn't have a rewind feature; the film is advanced straight into a second take-up cartridge. So, make sure, if you want to try the Memo for yourself, that you buy one that comes with two proprietary cartridges. 


You need these two proprietary 35mm cartridges to use the camera

Once film is loaded, operating the Memo is simple. It is, after all, pretty much just a basic box camera. My Memo is an earlier version, with a fixed-focus f/6.3 lens. Later, more expensive variations have faster lenses that actually focus. The original instructions don't explicitly state the distance at which the focus is fixed, just that it is "set for best results," and that a larger f-stop is required for close-ups. How helpful. For most of my pictures, I tried to make sure my subject was at least 10-ish feet away. The lens focal length is not listed anywhere on the camera or in the instructions, but the field-of-view seems similar to a 50mm in full-frame terms. The viewfinder is a pleasure to look through, and I found it to be fairly accurate at moderate distances.

Apertures range from f/6.3 to f/16, and there are three shutter speeds available: 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100. Bulb and time modes are also present if you actually want to try long exposures with this camera. I used 400 speed film and kept the camera at f/16 + 1/100. I only shot in sunlight, and my photos came out fairly well-exposed. 

The shutter is tripped via a little lever on the side of the camera. There's a little metal guard next to the lever to prevent accidental exposures, but it likes to get in the way when you want to make exposures. Holding the camera is awkward, especially for vertical framing, though there is a cute little handle to held you grip the camera a bit better. The handle also works well for carrying the camera around, since there's no way to attach a strap to this thing. I found myself gleefully swinging the Memo around in my hand as I walked, like a kindergartner and his lunchbox.  

Once you make an exposure, the shutter automatically re-cocks, and the frame counter turns one value. To advance the film, you must press down on a spring-loaded lever on the back of the camera. This activates two little mechanical arms on the inside of the camera that grab the film by its sprocket holes and yank it down into the take-up canister. Because the advance and shutter mechanisms are completely separate, there's nothing keeping you from making multiple exposures, either on-purpose or by accident. I did both.

Overall, image quality is horrible, and the Memo film canisters scratched the hell outta the film, but I like the results just the same. It's not like I ever expected sharp photos with this camera. The original instructions themselves state, "do not expect to make Memo enlargements which will compare both in size and sharpness with contact prints from professional camera negatives or even with small enlargements from regular amateur camera negatives." I mean, hey, at least they were honest! The camera is what Ansco claimed it to be back in 1927: a simple snapshot camera that's easy to take anywhere. Though I don't plan to ever use it again, I love the Memo for its quirky design and historic value.

Below are some pictures I made with my Ansco Memo, using Kodak Tri-X 400 film.