Thursday, December 30, 2021

Pinhole Fun


This week I made a cool little pinhole camera out of an old smartphone box. I hadn't made one of these since undergrad over ten (!) years ago. I'm going to make these with my alternative processes class next semester, so I figured I better practice ahead of time. For the actual pinhole, I used a LaCroix can. The quick paint job gives the camera a little more personality, I think. I'm especially proud of the nose lens cap. :)

Here are a few photographs I made with the cat camera. It works pretty well, aside from a light leak I think I've since rectified. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

Print: Chooka


A multiple exposure collage of my cat, Chooka. I made all the exposures while she was taking a bath on the bed. The size of the print is 12x12 inches. A Christmas gift for my wife, Katie.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Drawing: Tum Warm, Head Empty

 Tum Warm, Head Empty, 6x6 inches, Pen on bristol paper

Furiosa loves napping on the radiators. 

Spotlight: TDC Stereo Vivid


The Stereo Vivid is a 35mm stereo camera first made in 1954 by Three Dimension Company (TDC). TDC happened to be based right here in Chicago, Illinois, and was a subsidiary of Bell and Howell. They made a few different stereo cameras, but the Stereo Vivid was the most advanced model in many regards. Stereo photography has always been a passing interest of mine, but last month I took it upon myself to buy a stereo viewer, along with a few different stereo cameras, and attempt to make my own stereo views. The Stereo Vivid is the first camera I tried out. 

One reason I bought the Stereo Vivid is because it's just such a beautiful camera. I figured that even if it didn't perform well, it could still look great on my shelf! The top plate is especially handsome with its aperture and shutter speeds dials that are synched up with a mechanical exposure calculator. It's up there with the Exakta VX when it comes to overall aesthetics. 

Besides its looks, here are some things I like about the camera.  The combined viewfinder/rangefinder window makes for smooth and rapid operation. I enjoy the position of the focusing knob, as well as the shutter release. I found it comfortable to focus with my pointer finger and control the release with my middle finger. The shutter makes an adorable little wind-up robot noise. There is a little level within the viewfinder that makes it easy to straighten out compositions. The scale on the focusing knob makes calculating depth of field a breeze! Overall the build quality feels top notch. 

Now some things that irked me. The camera can be a bit limiting when it comes to its maximum shutter speed, which is a measly 1/100 of a second. This makes capturing any kind of moving subject difficult, and also means it can be difficult to shoot in bright sunlight even with ISO 400 film. Another limiting factor is how the camera can only focus down to 4 feet. What's odd is that the focusing knob lists distances down to 2.75 feet, but due to a plastic stop, the knob cannot turn past 4 feet. Due to a known manufacturing defect, frames slightly overlap, so you lose a bit of information on the sides of your negatives. Because the viewfinder window is positioned over one of the lenses, and not between the lenses, close-up compositions usually turn out a bit skewed due to parallax error. 

The idea is for the camera's two lenses to create two nearly identical photographs, with the perspective shifted slightly in each photo. Upon looking at the photos aligned next to each other in a stereo viewer, the brain combines the two slightly different perspectives into a 3-D view. On a standard roll of 24, you can get 16 views (32 individual images). I scanned and printed a few negatives to make into stereo cards for use with my 1901 Underwood and Underwood stereo viewer (viewable above). For the cards, I cut out 3.5" x 7" rectangles using mat board. I printed each image 3" square and pasted them together in the middle of the mat board, using gel medium. The resulting 3-D effect is amazing. Unfortunately it is impossible to convey the effect online, but all the effort is well worth it. Below are a few of the cards I made using the TDC Stereo Vivid. 

Over the next few months I plan to test out a few different stereo camera models to see which one I like best. I'm looking forward to experimenting with this new medium! 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Spotlight: Zenit C

The Zenit C is a diminutive 35mm SLR from 1955. It was made by the Soviet company, Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works (KMZ). I picked mine up from the Chicago Photorama camera show earlier this month. What initially attracted me to the camera was the Zenit C's tiny size for a camera with a mirror. I mean, the little guy fits right in the palm of my hand!  The all-metal construction means it still has some heft, but it's still compact enough to take pretty much anywhere without annoyance. It'll fit easily into a coat or sweatshirt pocket. 

Like most primitive SLR's, the Zenit C is painfully slow to operate. This is mostly due to the Zenit C's lenses having no sort of automatic aperture diaphragm. You have to focus the camera with the lens wide open, then manually stop the lens down to the desired aperture before exposure. The 50mm f/3.5 lens that came with my camera has no aperture stop ring, so I had to take my eye away from the finder after focusing, carefully change the aperture to the desired setting without changing the focus, recompose through the finder again, and then make the exposure. Of course, I could have focused and composed with the aperture already at the correct setting, but then the finder would be incredibly dim and the focus imprecise. Capturing any kind of moving subject without resorting to hyperfocal distances is near-impossible. 

One other annoyance I had with the Zenit C is its focusing screen. It's pretty dim, and the eye needs to be basically touching the viewfinder to see the entire screen. For glasses wearers like myself, it's only possible to see about 60% of the screen at any given time. There is no focusing assist; the screen is entirely a matte surface. The shutter has to be cocked before you can look through the finder (no instant- return mirror here). 

The Zenit is basically a Zorki (KMZ's rangefinder line) with a prism attached, and the Zorki was a Barnack Leica clone. That said, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Zenit operates very similarly to a Barnack Leica. Like a Leica, film is loaded by removing the bottom panel of the Zenit C. The take-up reel is removable, so take care not to lose it! I forgot to check for a reel before purchasing the camera, but luckily one was included. :) Film is advanced via a knob that surrounds the frame counter. Like pretty much any frame counter of the period, this one does not reset automatically, and must be set back to zero manually before each roll. The shutter only has five speeds (1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250, 1/500) along with bulb, and must be set after cocking the shutter. I've read from multiple sources that changing the speed before cocking the shutter can damage the mechanism. Rewinding is done by turning a dial on top of the camera, then turning the knob opposite the advance knob. It takes forever to rewind a roll. 

After lately using mostly 1990's autofocus cameras (as well as modern digital cameras), it was a fun change of pace to play around with the slow and archaic Zenit C. My results were... not great. I was impressed with the sharpness of the 50mm f/3.5 lens (especially considering it had lots of tiny scratches), but the camera's focal plane shutter had multiple issues. Almost every image I made features a white line, which leads me to believe the shutter is capping. There also may be some light leak issues. Take a look below. All photos were made with Kodak Tri-X. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

October Woods

A few multiple-exposure photographs I made in the woods at dusk this past Saturday.


Thursday, August 26, 2021

Spotlight: Canon EOS 650

Lately I've been into early autofocus SLR's from the 80's and 90's, an era of cameras that I'd previously ignored because I wasn't into plastic builds and expensive batteries. Well, all that's changed, and the 1987 Canon EOS 650 is the latest camera to pique my interest.  My curiosity for the camera stems from the fact that the EOS 650 is the first Canon EOS camera, as well as the first to ever use the now legendary Canon EF mount. Previous manual focus SLR cameras such as the F-1, A-1, and AE-1, used the FD mount, but when it was clear that autofocus was the future, Canon decided to start over from scratch with a new electronically driven focusing system in the form of the EF mount. The EF mount was novel because focusing and aperture functions were controlled by motors in each individual lens, and not the camera body (like with Nikon AF lenses). This being the case, there are no levers or plungers on the rear of EF lenses, only electronic contacts.

As the first EOS camera, the 650 definitely succeeds as a proof of concept. Though there is only one autofocus point (in the center of the focusing screen, of course), focus is damn snappy. Like on a modern camera, the shutter release is pressed halfway to focus, and all the way to take a picture. I couldn't believe the speed of the autofocus, as the camera quickly locks on to the subject with next to no hunting! In comparison to other dedicated autofocus consumer cameras that I've used from the same period like the Minolta Maxxum 7000 or Nikon N2020, the EOS 650 is on a whole different level. Pretty much every shot I took was in good focus, and if it wasn't, the user was to blame. :) 

While the focusing system is certainly impressive for 1987, the rest of the camera is fairly pedestrian. The 650 was not aimed at the professional crowd, but rather the mid-level consumer. Advanced amateurs would have to wait a few additional months for the more feature rich EOS 620, and pros another two years for the EOS-1. The feature set on the 650 is pretty basic. There are four main exposure modes: manual, shutter priority, aperture priority, and program. Actually, there is a fifth mode, called "Exposure AE," which is designed to help calculate depth of field for people who don't understand the concept. It's cumbersome, and I never touched it. 

The camera works great in aperture and shutter priority modes. It's when you switch to manual that things get a bit ugly. In manual, there is no traditional light meter. I thought there was something wrong with my 650 at first, but no, this is normal. To meter light in manual mode, you must hold down an additional button on the side of the camera (The button marked "M"). Then, on the readout screen, the camera will read out "CL" or "OP" based on your current shutter speed. "CL" means close down the aperture, while "OP" means (you guessed it) open the aperture. If the camera deems your current settings correct, "OO" will display on the LCD screen. So, in short, manual mode sucks on the EOS 650. Stick to the auto modes like I did if you value your sanity. 

To compliment the automatic modes, there is also an exposure compensation feature that goes all the way to +/- 5 EV. If you want to shoot action, there is a continuous shooting mode that goes up to three frames per second. Not so impressive now, but good for the time, especially considering the size of the camera. Speaking of size, the 650 has an excellent form factor, and though a little on the heavy side for a simple camera, it feels great in my hands. The grip is comfy, and I love how the auto exposure button falls within easy access of my right thumb. Unless you're constantly fiddling with exposure compensation or switching through exposure modes, it's easy to use the 650 with just one hand. I also love the look of the 650; the raised bottom portion of the camera is funky, and for whatever reason, the overall aesthetic to me feels very cyberpunk. It definitely wouldn't look out of place in the hands of Harrison Ford on the set of Blade Runner.

Below are some photos I made with the EOS 650 on a recent trip to Indianapolis. I used a 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF lens, and Ilford HP5+ 400 film.