I have a very controversial little tool to thank for the cleanliness of my negatives; the Dot Line DL-6121, more commonly known as a rubber squeegee.
Many shooters will tell you that squeegees scratch negatives and to avoid them at all costs. I followed this advice for years but then came to firmly disagree with it. As the saying goes, “it’s a poor crafts-person who blames their tools.” I firmly believe that this is the case with squeegees.
I used to live in Baltimore. I didn’t use distilled water during film processing and I always dried my film by “squeegeeing” it with wet fingers prior to hanging. But then I moved to Frederick, Maryland. Every time I processed, I’d get water-spots drying all over my film. Apparently the water here is more fortified with minerals than in good ole Bmore. Healthier for people but no bueno for film processing!
To resolve, I started doing a final wash with Photoflo in distilled, rather than tap water. This reduced the water spots a bit but they were still occurring. A lot of people online swore at Photoflo and swore by LFN wedding agent, which is considerably more expensive. Expensive is always better, right? Well, the only difference that I saw between Kodak Photoflo and Edwal’s LFN was that the LFN, smartly, incorporates an eyedropper on its bottle so you can measure it out more precisely.
Finally, I decided to get a little crazy.
I remembered in school, we used a squeegee to dry our film. And water-spots were never a problem then. So I bought one. I chose the Dot Line probably just because it was available at a good price.
The way I saw it, I could either put up with water-spots and just rewashing my film over and over as I chased them from all the good frames to the bad frames. Or I could risk scratching my film from time to time, which isn’t hard to clone out of a frame or two sometimes.
Obviously, if you’re a photographer who makes optical prints directly from the neg, this option isn’t an option. But for those of us who scan, maybe a little, very occasional damage is OK. Not ideal of course, but OK.
In practice though, I can honestly say that the ONLY times I’m scratched my film with the squeegee, it was because I, myself, fucked up. And using the squeegee completely eliminated my water-spot issue.
100% finished with water-spots. And now, 100% scratch free too.
So here’s the trick to using the rubber squeegee. Before I even begin mixing my developer or even setting all my gear out on the kitchen counter, I get out a beaker, fill it with fresh, clean distilled water and drop that squeegee in there to soak. The idea is that you want the rubber blades to soften up, making them as pliable as possible. Then, when it comes time to use the squeegee, I follow these steps religiously:
1–Remove the squeegee from the distilled water and thoroughly rub the blades with my wet fingertips. What I’m doing here is removing any debris that may have gotten stuck to the blades somehow. If there is a bit of ripped film or a particle of any kind on the blade and you then apply it to the film, you are going to scratch.
2–Next I dunk the squeegee back in the distilled, getting the blades fully wet again. I do this because rubbing the blades dries them off too much and in order for the squeegee to glide safely over the surface of the film, it needs to be a little wet. I also imagine that if there were any debris on the blades that rubbing only moved around, a second dunk in the water may knock it off.
3–Remove the squeegee from the distilled water once more and fling the excess water from it towards my sink. The blades need to be wet but not dripping.
4–Here we go. Moment of truth. I hold the strip of film well above my head, making sure there’s no curls in it, that it’s no where near touching anything, etc. I want to make one, good, clean, single speed pass over the film without stopping or slowing down for any reason. If you stop or change speed, the blades may stick to the surface of film and drag for a moment. You don’t want that. One, smooth, constant motion is needed. I close the squeegee on the film leader, being sure not to clamp it tight. The blades should just kiss the film with a thin water barrier between the film and the rubber. You don’t need to examine this relationship with a microscope, but just have it in mind so you have a feel for how much pressure to apply. Affirm your grip on the film leader with your other hand so that you don’t pull the film out of your fingers when you begin to squeegee.
5–Now, do it! Squeegee that film!
If done correctly, you should get a little puddle of water on the floor and you’ll have some small drops of water still on the film, in long, narrow beaded lines, but no scratches. I hang the film strip in a bay window with a clip at the bottom to dry completely. Depending on a few environmental factors, the film is usually dry enough to be cut and sleeved within maybe half an hour or less.
Some people use a squeegee to avoid water-spots. Some people use a squeegee to dry their film faster.
Whatever the reason, I get really tired of other shooters criticizing others for using squeegees. Darkroom people are some of the biggest know-it-all’s that you’ll ever meet. And there’s a sect of them who love to provide alternatives to squeegees. The only one that I can think of that should work regardless of the nature of the local water is if one used distilled water in place of tap water for 100% of ones workflow. Mix all the chems in distilled and rinse at every stage with distilled. Not only would this get costly, it would be quite annoying to have to deal with all those one gallon bottles sitting about. So I use a squeegee.
If you want to play it safe and find a workaround that’s fine. But I’ve been processing my film via this method for about a decade, shooting usually over a hundred rolls each year. We can all work a little differently and that’s OK. One of the beautiful things about photography is that there’s so many more than just one way to practice it.
In any case, hopefully, these comments will bring squeegee use out from the shadows to help those struggling to produce, nice, clean negatives.
Proverbs 18:2 states “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
I’m not a religious guy but I heard this Bible passage recently and immediately thought of the litany of misinformation and poor demeanor that I have seen posted ad nauseam on film photography forums for the last 20 years. I’ve tried to chisel away at some of the bullshit with responses to these posts as well as dedicated blogs but thought it was about time to draft a singular doctrine.
And remember, I am not God. But I do talk to the Great Yellow God. And I may just be a fool myself. But here goes…
1–Thou shalt not hoard cameras or lenses. Bestow excess equipment upon those who may resurrect it.
2—-Thou shalt not use cameras or lenses that have not been professionally cleaned, lubed and adjusted. Love is a verb, not a noun.
3–Thou shalt not hoard film that is still in production. Thou shall buy fresh film and shoot and process in a timely fashion.
4–Thou shalt not avoid hand-checking thy film at airports and other security check-points, no matter the ISO.
5–Thou shalt not blame thy tools. Seek to improve thyself, not thy equipment.
6–Thou shalt not mock young brothers or sisters for their style or self-righteousness no matter how seemingly misguided or uninformed. Hipsters are people too.
7–Thou shalt not alienate brothers and sisters who do not kneel at the altar of the Darkroom. Remember, Virgin Mary Adobe gave birth to Jesus Christ Photoshop for the love of film.
8–Thou shalt not criticize adherents of brands of camera and lens of which thou are not an adherent. You know that you secretly wish for Leica.
9–Thou shalt not speaketh non-factual bullshit about digital photography. It’s not 2001 anymore, digital cameras no longer suck.
10–Thou shalt not post more photos of thy film camera than photos from thy film camera unless photos of thy film camera were taken with thy other film camera.
Well, the Great Yellow God has spoken through me! Did He leave anything out? What do you think? You wanna start a religion? Have we already?
Thanks for reading, and please, let’s be good to each other!
Something that drives me crazy is when I see photographers with disorganized camera bags. My wife’s is absolutely terrifying. Film photographers are probably the worst offenders but ironically have the greatest need for an organized bag.
If you’re an award-winning, world renowned photographer and keep a messy bag, fine. Who am I to criticize you? But if you’re still working towards that Pulitzer and find yourself scrambling to find the right roll of film at just the right time, rummaging around for a lens or a nickel to change a battery, this blog’s for you!
Here is my Domke F-1X, loaded and ready for a shoot.
In addition to what you see here, I’ll be wearing my Leica M6 TTL and Summitar lens. I always wear a camera that I keep out of the bag, ready to use at any given moment, to identify myself to people as the photographer, and also to free up that much more space in my bag.
Inside the bag, left to right, you’ll see three Nikon bodies; two FM2n’s and one FM10, and five Nikkor AI lenses that fit those three bodies. Another Leitz lens is tucked in a case below the Nikkor with the skull rear cap. I really like these LensBling rear lens caps. Check them out if you are neurotic like me. Or, you can just do what I used to do which is buy a roll of white Gaff Tape and note the length of the lens on a patch of tape stuck to an existing rear cap.
As a lens is removed, the rear cap is removed and returned to the slot from which the lens came. As the lens is returned, the rear cap goes back on too. I seldom mess with front caps when shooting weddings or concerts. Metal hoods protect the front adequately and there’s just not time to baby your gear if you are being attentive to the work at hand.
A well organized bag may LOOK like you’re babying your gear but it actually allows you to work in such a way that there is NO NEED TO BABY YOUR GEAR.
On the far left, is a strap for each camera. I like to shoot without a strap but when using two bodies at once, both need a strap. Every once in a while I get ridiculous and wear three bodies.
Also notice that I have several markers and pens. You need markers for noting ISO changes on your film (CRITICAL) and you never know when you need a pen. Or when someone else does and you can help them out! The other pockets contain business cards, batteries, a nickel for changing the batteries, shoot itinerary, cell phone charger, extra tripod plate, a Giottos Rocket Blower, a collapsible reflector, a couple camera rain jackets, spare pair of eyeglasses, Tylenol, and a small changing bag in case there’s a problem. As well as my film.
I use Chinese plastic film cases to keep my film organized. I label each case by ISO and am careful to insert all the film with the “nub” of the cassette facing upward. After the roll is spent, the leader is of course sucked in and the roll is returned to the case with the nub facing down. This small habit rightfully compliments and further expresses my OCD but also ensures that I NEVER grab a spent roll during reload.
Also, I only bring film in increments of ten so that each slot of each case is filled. If a slot’s empty, I know I’m missing a roll immediately.
Why go to all this trouble?!
Well, the reasons are numerous and critical but here are my top three:
1–If you can find what you need from your bag quickly and easily, you have that much more time to consider a shot and take it correctly. Obvious.
2–If you can find what you need from your bag quickly and easily, your client will never witness you fumbling around like an idiot. Each time they see you without the camera over your face, they will see you removing and returning items from your bag like a methodical machine on a mission. This makes you look good. Photographers, rather we like to admit it or not, live and die by our clients’ confidence in us. Less obvious.
3–If you can find what you need from your bag quickly and easily, you will never accidentally leave gear behind at a shoot or misplace a roll of film. Photographers often forget a lens or flash or something at a venue. I have seen it happen to just about every shooter I know. A well organized bag should prevent this. The film thing is even more crucial though. I can’t tell you how many times, shooting weddings with up to 35 rolls of film burnt a day, I used to leave a roll in the wrong pocket of my bag and forget it during processing. Yes, I’d always eventually find that film but maybe I wouldn’t find it until after I thought I’d processed all my shots from a day. Then, I’d have to go back and process just a single roll of film in order to complete a project. That means mixing fresh chemistry, drying and scanning all over again for a single roll. Far from obvious and perhaps something you just have to experience to appreciate!
So keeping an organized bag is not something taught, or that needs to be taught in Photo 101. But I promise that an organized camera bag is a good start to better photography. Particularly if you are doing product shots of camera bags!
Let me know what critical items you always keep in your bag or how you keep things organized!
This is a very challenging workflow that I’ve set up for myself but it’s quite rewarding and fun. In particular, my favorite part of a wedding to photograph is the reception.
What I like about the reception is that I no longer have to run around from location to location, constantly selecting different films and different lenses and, best of all, all the bridal party and guests are familiar with me by the reception. They are usually well buzzed on alcohol or just happiness and allow me to shoot candids without interruption or reservation.
I generally like wedding reception photos more than any other images of the day. They display a genuine joy and excitement that is rare in portraits of any genre. I like how backgrounds are mostly dark instead of light as with outdoor portraits. This really emphasizes the people in the images and just sort of flips convention around. I enjoy the out of focus elements at wider apertures. And I enjoy big, pronounced film grain of 3200 ISO 35mm films and high acutance developers. One can certainly reduce grain by shooting medium format, using flash or using a developer that tidies up the grain. But I enjoy the textures and de-emphasis of irrelevant details in a scene. Yet grainy b&w also makes out of focus highlights sparkle with energy.
I wanted to share some of my methods and techniques for achieving, what I think are, great wedding reception portraits in this style. It’s not as easy as it may seem and I’n not totally sure I can even articulate what I do exactly but let’s have a look.
My method starts with Kodak TMAX P3200 or Ilford Delta 3200. For years I just used Delta since P3200 became unavailable. But now that P3200 is back, I can choose which film might be best for a particular situation.
P3200 is a bit more tonal and perhaps not quite as sharp as Delta. I use it when I expect light to be more contrasty. It’s tonality helps gather better context around people since greys don’t disappear as fast. I choose Delta if I’m expecting flatter lighting where I need to help the highlights to pop out of the shadows as much as possible. Both films, I process in Kodak HC110b and boost low levels and/or contrast a bit in Photoshop. Yes, I scan my film as a final result.
Next, a good, low-light lens is critical. A common 35mm or 50mm lens with an aperture wider than f2 is what’s needed for shooting candid portraits in dim light. Any wider, and barrel or perspective distortion is a concern. Any longer, and shutter speed needs to be increased to prevent hand held camera shake. And raising your shutter speed reduces your ability to stop down.
I tend to prefer a 35/1.4 or 50/1.5 to 1.8. I have a Pentax 50/1.2 but not only can focus be tricky to hit, the DoF is often too shallow for portraits. As high a resolving lens as possible is also recommended for use with these high speed films. A softer lens will just turn that big, beautiful grain to mush.
While I adore my 1949 Leitz 50/1.5 Summarit, at full aperture, it’s quite soft so I tend to only use it with higher speed film when I know I can stop to f2 or so. Something like the Voigtlander 50mm 1.5 Nokton is a better choice in my opinion. A Summilux is fantastic but really only if it’s a newer aspherical model. For Nikon, I use either my 35/1.4 AIS, 50/1.4 SC or 50/1.8 AIS. 35mm lenses are fantastic because you can catch a whole scene while having a fast lens and added DoF compared to a 50. Shooting at 1/30th is fun for adding some motion blur to dance scenes.
But I also like to isolate a single person, for which 50 is perfect. I haven’t much liked the Nikkor 50/1.4 AIS at full aperture. It’s as sharp as the earlier SC version with more microcontrast so it appears even sharper. But it just lacks much character to me. The 50/1.8 is a nice compromise between speed and the resolution of an f2 lens so I often go with it.
But what about the body? A good body can make all the difference in terms of your ability to control what you’re doing and seeing. These Leica lenses on an LTM body with its tiny finder or these Nikon lenses on an F3 with it’s atrocious meter display would not end well. What defines a good body?
If you happen across an old Nikkormat in a junk shop etc, you might wonder, what the hell is this?!
It doesn’t SAY Nikon but it has a Nikkor lens and the name plate reads “Nikkormat,” or “Nikomat.” Is this some sort of cheap Nikon knock-off? But it’s weighty and machining is quite handsome. What is going on?
A family photo; My wife’s and my Nikkormat bodies & favorite Pre-AI lenses with period accessories
Back in the ’60’s, the suffix “mat” was ultra hip. There’s Spotmatics, Yashica Mats, one hour photo labs were called PhotoMats. And of course, there’s the Nikkormat. I believe that “mat” was short for “automatic,” which has been the Holy Grail for consumer photography for decades. Yet early “automatic” cameras were fully manual cameras by today’s standards. Things like auto return mirrors and automatically resetting frame counters or having a built-in light meter were considered automatic in the ’60’s but became standard into the ’70’s.
The Nikkormat line are, in fact, official Nikon cameras but they didn’t get the “Nikon” moniker because they were intended to be consumer grade offerings with fewer features than Nikon F cameras. Chiefly, Nikkormats do not have interchangeable viewfinder/meter heads, (earlier models) can’t accept motordrives and the series received auto-exposure before the F series, at a time when pro’s didn’t trust automation. Nikkormats and Nikomats (as they were called in Japan), were Photo 101 cameras before the K1000 was created. They weren’t intended to be taken very seriously. Even today, Nikkormats usually sell for about half the cost of a K1000.
Ironically, though, Nikkormats are probably some of the most dependable, capable, and FUN 35mm SLR’s ever built. Nikkormats have near full access to Nikon’s extensive, decades old professional F-mount lens line. And we all know that lenses are what take the photo. Forget that passé act of screwing the lens into the body, that 1960’s Pentax, Mamiya and many cheaper brands required. Nikkormats rock the bayonet lens mount, just like a pro body. Also, unlike Pentax’s cheaper 1960’s SLR’s, you can meter on a Nikkormat WITHOUT STOPPING DOWN! And what’s this? You get a meter display on top of the camera AND inside the viewfinder! You don’t even need to turn on the meter with a separate switch! Metering was not an afterthought with the Nikkormat, it is a as much a part of the design as the film advance.
Nikkormat FT2: The top plate meter display consists only of a glued-on plastic window to a simple swing needle display that is coupled to the one in the viewfinder. Check out my generously brassed rewind crank!
Nikkormats also feature DoF preview if you care about that, but more importantly, they have Mirror Lock-Up. It’s not until the 1972 Olympus OM-1 and not in many other 60’s or 70’s consumer level SLR’s that MLU is present. This and the availability of cheap but super high resolving Nikkor Micro lenses make a case for the Nikkormat as a well-equipped, budget macro image machine.
When you hold a Nikkormat, it feels like the whole camera was carved from a single solid block of steel. It’s not as jagged in the hand as an Argus C3 “brick” but it does maintain the feel of a veritable block of metal. Design is austere and utilitarian without looking cheap. Tolerances are reasonably tight and fit is very consistent. What probably makes the Nikkormat construction feel good in the hand though, is that no components were made any smaller or lighter than they absolutely needed to be. Everything is big and spacious with large expanses of flat, non-contoured quality-grade metal. Leatherette is tightly applied, both around the body and atop the prism head. Finishes are enduring.
My Photo 101 camera was the Pentax K1000. And I love K1000’s to this day, but the first time I handled a Nikkormat, I felt like I’d been missing out. Nikkormats are cheaper than K1000’s, tougher than K1000’s and, really, can produce higher quality or more varied results with a wider and more nuanced lens system.
Nikkormats are absolutely brutishly beautiful cameras to use, abuse and enjoy. They are everything that Leica is not in terms of grace, style and compactness. And just as Leica was once a war camera, so was the Nikkormat. Ask Greg Marinovich, photojournalist and member of the Bang Bang Club. When people over-use cliche classic camera descriptors like “built like a tank” and “bullet proof,” of all the cameras I’ve ever used, I cannot help but think the Nikkormat line are where these phrases were born.
My wife’s and my Nikkormat FTn’s; notice the perfectly flat, simple advance lever & Spartan top plate fitted with precisely machined controls including a glass frame counter window with chrome bezel
I discovered my first Nikkormat, an FTn at a pawn shop when I was still only dating my amazing wife. It was only $50 and had a 50/1.4 SC mounted. WOW. Coming from the FM world where the body was about $150 and the 50/1.4 AI was another $150, this was unbelievable. I grew to love the outfit and so I had the body CLA’d for paid work and continue to use that same pawn shop special 50/1.4 SC, my favorite 50mm Nikkor, on my F2sb today. I picked up several FTn’s and pre-AI lenses with time and learned that my favorite Nikkormat is the FT2.
Most people prefer the FT3 and it is the most expensive of the Nikkormat line as a result of the usual internet over-hype. But as a working photographer, I’ll tell you that the FT2 is more practical because it accepts both pre-AI and AI lenses. The FT3 allieviates the need for the Nikon Shuffle but therefore, cannot take pre-AI lenses, which, in my view, is a tragedy.
Oh wait, the Nikon Shuffle? Did I forget to mention this classic Nikon dance move?!
So in the 60’s, as I mentioned, it was unusual for an SLR to have a built-in light meter that didn’t require stop down metering or some other compromise. Nikon’s compromise is that the photographer has to INDEX the aperture of the lens when it is mounted. Since the meter doesn’t “know” what the aperture range of any particular lens is, we have to “tell” it what it is. So to mount any Nikkor lens to a Nikkormat FT, FTn, or FT2 (among others), one must first select a lens that has an Indexing Prong on the aperture ring. Then, one must set the lens aperture to 5.6 and slide the Indexing Pin on the Nikkormat all the way to the right until it stops (right while facing the front of the camera.) Mount the lens as you would any other bayonet mount lens but while doing so one has to allign the Indexing Pin on the body with the Indexing Prong on the lens so that they are engaged/coupled. Twist the lens to lock it into the mount like any other bayonet lens. BUT THEN, you do the Nikon Shuffle. Rotate the aperture ring of the lens to it’s largest then its smallest aperture. You should only have to do this one but I honestly, go from end to end two or three times every time I mount a Nikkor lens to a body. Sometimes I find myself doing it on an AI (Auto Indexing) body like the FM2n too, just out of habit from using the Nikkormats and F2sb.
Nikkormat FTn: Note the “crab claw” Indexing Prong positioned at 5.6 on the lens aperture ring is engaged with the Indexing Pin on the lens mount
This may sound like a pain in the ass. Newer Nikons obviously don’t require the photographer to shuffle and even pro body Nikons from the pre-AI era like the F2s and F2sb only require the shuffle, not the set the lens for 5.6 step. But it’s really not a big deal and any old Nikon shooter will tell you that it just becomes a habit. For me, personally, when I mount a Nikkor to a pre-AI body and rack the aperture back and forth, I get a sense of manly confidence like I just loaded a damn machine gun.
Another thing that makes Nikkormats fun is the shutter speed dial. Instead of being positioned atop the camera, the dial is wrapped around like lens mount. Olympus later copied this on their OM line but this method has been surprisingly left behind by SLR designers otherwise. What’s nice about the shutter speed control is that your left hand needs only to work along the lens barrel for adjustments, making your right hand solely in control of the shutter release. It’s a little faster a shooting method once you get down with it. And so that you don’t have to keep turning the camera around to see the shutter speed, Nikon smartly included an optical shutter speed display in the viewfinder. Again, something else the K1000 or similar consumer grade bodies do not feature.
A real head-turner for me too is the addition of a light meter display on the top plate. Many cameras have the display only on the inside of the finder or only on the top of the camera (if only in the form of an accessory meter.) But the Nikkormat features both, allowing the photographer to check exposure, perhaps for candid shots, without lifting the camera to the eye. On the FT2/3 they also added + and – symbols to the top plate display which is quite a nice, albeit small refinement that the FT and FTn lack. If you own/use a Nikkormat and habitually don’t make good use of that top plate display, I recommend trying to incorporate it more, I think you’ll like it. It’s much like shooting with a DSLR. Very forward.
The only drawbacks to the Nikkormat are the limiting top ISO of 1600 and the often jumpy swing needle.
Nikkormat FTn: ISO dial located sort of under & on the side of the lens mount. Grow your fingernails out to assist adjustment. The FT2/3 have a nice locking mechanism for the the ISO slider but it probably isn’t necessary on the FT/n where the slider is very firmly dampened.
The FTn’s through the viewfinder of the Nikkormat FT2: Note shutter speed display at the bottom, & upside down + – swing needle to the right. The FT2/3 have split screen finders where the FT/n have matte focus only
As a guy who shoots some 60% of his work at 6400 ISO, bodies like the Nikkormat, Olympus OM series, Pentax M series, etc that stop at 1600 really bug me. I find that shooting P3200 and Delta 3200 with the Nikkormat ISO setting pegged just over 1600 is great for rating these films at 3200 though so I still kept them in use for paid work for some time.
The Achilles heel though, for me is a service problem that is maybe just part of living in a more humid area of the world. With age, the Nikkormat swing needle meter displays tend to get “jumpy.” They flit back and forth to extreme readings when only the slightest adjustment toe the aperture is made. Apparently this has something to do with a corrosion that builds on the electronics. A simple cleaning cures it. But if you live in a more humid region such as on the coast etc, the issue will likely return, as it has with every one of the five Nikkormats I’ve owned. The meter is still accurate, but you just need to be patient with the needle as it flies out of control and then will land back in the right spot. This is fine for slower shooting. But it’s no good for the weddings that I used to carry my FTn’s and FT2 to. Sadly, my small feet of three Nikkormats has largely become grounded, having been replaced with newer, less fun bodies with more stable electronics.
Yes, despite all the dependability and robust construction I patron in the lines above, there is this one nagging issue for those of us who feel we need a meter. But, the Nikkormats and I have had some fantastic times together and while I’ve owned five over the years, I don’t think I’ll let these last three leave my collection in the foreseeable future. They see use as back-up cameras, fun cameras and disposable cameras in harsh weather such as the rainy Matt & Kim concert that Steph and I photographed last year. I’d always recommend Nikkormats to anyone looking for a cheap Nikon body who maybe lives in the midwest (!) and enjoys the haptics of full manual shooting. Below are some of my favorite Nikkormat images.
D.C. Metro – Nikkormat FTn | Nikkor 50mm 1.4 SC | AGFA Vista 400
Like many photojournalists, I love the 35mm focal length. It’s said to be close to what the human eye sees, making it intuitive in use. For those of us raised on 50mm, a 35 reminds one to include more context in a scene. And on a practical level, 35 has more DoF than 50 and can more easily be handheld at 1/30th so a 35/1.4 vs. a 50/1.4 can be used in about a full stop less light while still promising accurate focus.
This is a strong set of advantages that are absolutely necessary for low light shooters. However, with great advantages comes a great cost. Particularly if you want a 35mm of any real speed.
I use a 35mm 1.4 AIS on my Nikons but have dragged my feet for years on selecting an appropriate M-Mount 35mm lens for the reasons above and because the choices were less simple than Nikon.
Meet the contenders for current M-mount 35/1.4! And my problems with each!
Stock image from B&H Photo
Voigtlander 35mm 1.4 Nokton Classic MC ($630 + $70 for the hood) – The optical formula and barrel design of the CV Nokton are a blatant copy of Leica’s 1967 35mm 1.4 Summilux which sells for around $2k retail. With the Cosina Voigtlander clone, you’re paying well south of $1k and and getting a brand new lens. It’s reported to exhibit some of the same chromatic aberrations, fall off and softer full aperture resolution as the Leitz. Additionally, it also shows some barrel distortion. For the cost, maybe these grain-sniffing pixel-peeping issues are more forgivable. And owners typically rave about this lens while pointing to fantastic results. But durability of CV lenses is a concern. Of the three other CV lenses I’ve owned, two had to be rebuilt twice each. Performance and price were are lovely but who wants to buy and repair or re-buy because one didn’t just lay down the proper money from the start?
Stock image from B&H Photo
Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon T ZM ($2300 + $154 for the hood) – I have yet to pull the trigger on a Cosina Zeiss lens. The reason is in the name that curiously, nobody seems to use; Cosina Zeiss. Many are quick to specify Cosina Voigtlander but not Zeiss for some reason. Cosina makes nearly all of Zeiss’s M-mount lenses. So, frankly, I fail to see much sense in paying more for a lens that came off the same assembly line as a cheaper one. Same reason I drive VW instead of Audi. Beyond this, while the Zeiss 35/1.4 performs a bit higher on MTF tests than the Leitz ASPH, I really just cannot get down with the click stops in thirds. I think this would throw off my entire shooting rhythm. Another significant hurtle for me is that the Zeiss is considerably larger than the Voigt or the Leitz. To me, the Zeiss 35/1.4 is exclusively designed for the shooter whose chief concern is resolving power, sharpness; a bourgeois concept! This isn’t me. And, I’ll be perfectly honest with you, the blue dot clashes with the Red Dot! Okay, maybe I’m not above being a little bourgie.
Stock image from B&H Photo
Leitz 35mm 1.4 Summilux ASPH ($5300 + FREE lens hood) – I keep telling myself that the Leitz 35/1.4 Lux is exactly what I need. If I disregard price, performance-wise and haptics-wise, THIS is the lens that I want. But the problem is, my bank account cannot disregard this price! Unlike the Zeiss, the Leitz is so tiny that there is no viewfinder blockage. And only a little with the hood mounted, which is vented. And despite it’s diminutive size, it’s a pleasure to operate, having an over-proportioned focus tab and a finely sized/milled aperture ring in standard barrel design. This is unlike the Voigtlander which I’m unsure about in practice. The slight disparity in MTF reports on wide open resolution compared to the Zeiss are very quickly remedied by the classic feel of its OoF rendering and absolutely perfect distortion correction. The Voigt’s bokeh is a little busier and it suffers from distortion.
During my last visit to the Leica Store in SOHO, I was fortunate enough to try the 35 Lux on my M6 TTL. Stephanie would like it to be known that we’d walked about a hundred blocks against the wind to get to the Leica Store. But with her windblown hair, we can see the precision resolving power of the 35 Lux.
Nobody would argue that knob-wind Leicas are fine cameras that look as beautiful as they perform. With use of more modern designs, however, it doesn’t take long to realise that these cameras are a bit slippery in the hand, due to the symmetrical rounded sides and lack of front or rear grip.
A neat accessory that Match Technical released several years back is the Thumbs Up Grip. They make different models for specific digital Leicas and other digital bodies that do not feature/require a film advance lever. Because knob wind film bodies don’t have a lever, however, they are also compatible.
The particular TU model that I purchased is the CSEP-2. It was designed for the Leica X1, with a tiny hole for an LED view but thanks to Gary Nylander’s blog, I found that this model also works well on my 1930 I/III and 1947 IIIc. The CSEP-2 features an accessory shoe that’s slightly higher than the built-in shoe. This way, you can still use a brightline viewfinder, Voigtlander VC II Meter, or other handy accessories while the TU is installed.
Leica stores actually sell Thumbs Up grips so if you live near one, it’s a great chance to try before you buy. When I visited the DC Leica Store, they didn’t have the CSEP-2 in stock, only models without the accessory shoe. Cosmetically, whatever model this was, looked even nicer but I wanted the shoe. My point is, there may be other models/styles of TU that you may prefer but still fit a knob wind or other brand camera just fine.
But back to my rig…
The CSEP-2 fits nicely on my knob wind Leicas. It’s machined from solid brass and is coated in a high gloss black enamel that took some time to wear at the edges. The curl of the grip is graceful and smooth to the touch. Build quality certainly matches well with a vintage Leica.
Installed, the Thumbs Up allows ample access to all controls on the Barnack Leica. Things get a little tighter, I hesitate to say “cramped” but space is certainly good. Grip is drastically improved. I feel perfectly confident holding even my invaluable Leica knob wind bodies with the Thumbs Up only, no strap, in one hand! A good degree of additional control comes with use of longer/heavier lenses.
Unlike most accessories, and even other Thumbs Up models, the CSEP-2 locks onto your camera. Using a small Allen wrench, the grip clamps securely into the accessory shoe. I have no doubts regarding its hold on the camera.
I’ve read debates in forums regarding the pressure that’s exerted on the accessory shoe. About how the accessory shoe simply isn’t designed to take this pressure. While this may be a concern with larger, heavier cameras, I just can’t see this as a problem on a tiny, fairly lightweight LTM Leica. I also haven’t had any practical issues using the Thumbs Up for the approximate two years I’ve owned it.
Obviously, on black bodies, the Thumbs Up can wear the finish on the accessory shoe, but no moreso than a finder or flash would. On my chrome IIIc, I haven’t noticed any wear.
I personally do not like to use my Voigtlander VC II meter on the Thumbs Up because the height of the meter off the camera looks inelegant. Admittedly though, this is just an aesthetic preference and the combo works just fine. The additional height is negligible for use with a viewfinder.
There’s not much one can do to improve the design of knob wind Leica rangefinders but the CSEP-2 is a worthy addition. If you enjoy shooting “strapless” or are just a gear-head, I certainly encourage exploring the various Thumbs Up models by Match Technical, not only on Leica knob wind bodies but, really any classic camera. I sometimes also use my CSEP-2 on a Voigtlander Perkeo folding medium format camera. There are probably many possibilities.
Sometimes the dumbest ideas are perpetuated on the internet.
Storing ones film in the fridge is one of them.
Like many adamant film photographers, I too, used to buy months or even years worth of film when there was a sale. And I’d store it in a little mini fridge. I would open the door and feel very proud of myself. Stacks of golden boxes of Portra, glorious green Fuji Pro, pricey P3200, many films in every ISO and format. Opening my film fridge was like opening a shutter to a beautiful view of heaven.
But then one day, the power went out. For several hours.
Because the mini fridge had a built-in ice-box, all the frost melted and dripped down into the refrigerator section. Of course, I didn’t notice this happened until I went to get some film a day or so after the outage. I was horrified to see hundreds of dollars worth of 35mm and 120 film boxes soaking wet.
Sadly, I removed everything from the fridge, threw out all the wet cardboard boxes and dried off the film as best I could. The unexposed 120 film of course was sealed in those foil wrappers so those were safe. But some of the 35mm somehow got moisture inside the plastic canisters. And the film that was exposed and no longer packaged, pretty much instantly ruined.
Hundreds of dollars worth of film now unable to be used for important work because there was no way of knowing if condensation had occurred inside on the film or not. Nearly an entire mini-fridge of film reduced to Lomography experimentation.
But I learned my lesson. I bought a big box of gallon sized Ziploc bags and about a hundred packets of silica gel. I slowly replenished my film stash and bagged and organized everything and built the whole sorry mess back up again.
Some years went by. I’d moved a few times and my film stash always followed. I had the occasional power outage. There was water on the bags but it wouldn’t get on my film anymore! I reveled in showing guests that my film had its own little refrigerator and how full it was. I’m sure they were really impressed (sarcasm).
I had it all figured out.
As the Ziplocs wore out, and silica gel packets bulgy, I’d replace them. It was a small bit of maintenance for such a great thing I had going.
Once when I was going through all my film, I realised that a good deal of it had long expired according to the dates marked on the packages.
So I rescued my film from water and condensation, regularly re-bagging and tending to it like a little garden. But I was buying too much and not shooting it in a timely manner. Did it matter if the film expired if it had been cold-stored its whole life? In some cases, I found this was okay such as slower consumer grade and b&w films. With pro and higher speed stocks, it wasn’t. Colors got inaccurate, ISO lost sensitivity. So I was back to that sad point from a few years ago; laboring over a good size pile of film that I couldn’t use reliably for important work.
By now I was shooting weddings, some local events and portraits. The point of the fridge was to always have any film I wanted when I needed it. But could I simply buy film at a smarter pace and NOT refrigerate it? I have long been a proponent of supporting film manufacturers. But overbuying isn’t really support. Businesses need steady streams of income, not random lumps of it. And hoarding random lumps of film wasn’t getting me anywhere either.
So I began buying thirty to forty rolls of necessary 35mm films for each wedding and 5-10 rolls for any portrait shoot, only once they were scheduled and paid for. And I keep about 15 rolls handy for unexpected projects and my near daily, spontaneous stream of consciousness shooting. I don’t buy more film until I am starting to run low. I don’t hunt for deals and hoard film anymore. When a discontinuation is announced, I don’t stock up on it. I buy new, fresh, readily available film at full retail and then I use it within a few months at most. I never hold a roll of film for a year much less multiple years.
I keep the film safely organized in a kitchen cabinet now. No thaw period required before I load the film. No maintenance of replacing bags and packets every few months. And no excess film expiring in a dark corner. No wasted electricity. No fear of potential condensation related issues. And an extra bit of space in my house where the film fridge once stood.
I sometimes open my kitchen cabinet and only see a handful of rolls there. Then I order some more until that happens again. And instead of getting high off the pride of seeing piles of my favourite films languishing, unspent and expiring before my eyes, I feel proud about all the quality, non-experimental photos I’m taking and money and time I’m saving by only buying what I need, when I need it.
Consumer grade, black and white and low ISO films can survive at room temperature for several years without any noticeable degradation at all. Hell, leave them in your boiling hot car for a couple weeks. Even professional color and high speed films will perform perfectly after months at normal room temperature. Instant film and the built-in battery can be damaged if frozen or kept too cold.
If you aren’t burning your film within a couple months after purchase, you aren’t shooting enough. Plain and simple.
Buy it. Shoot it. Less shopping. More shooting.
If you’re attempting to establish a second Library of Congress that specializes in rare and obscure film stocks, be my guest. It’s good someone is doing that but, how many of us really NEED to be doing that? How is that going to help keep film photography viable as a medium? How is that going to improve your personal photography?
As with my desire to rid myself of all excess cameras and commit to only a few quality ones, ridding myself of all excess film has kept my results predictable and more consistent in style. So instead of wondering how/if something will turn out, I KNOW it will turn out.
How do you store your film? How much do you buy? Saving any obsolete stocks from certain death in your deep freeze? Let me know!