Another large format failure

I really botched this one. Out of four exposed frames, I ruined three of them due to technical mistakes.

The following self-portrat was the best of the bunch, but I didn’t realize that my head was in direct sunlight. I’m still clumsy with the Linhof but it’s fun trying.

Self-portrait, 2022. Linhof Master Technika. 150mm Sironar-N.

For a previous failure, see The Grafmatic back (and yet another 4×5 failure)

A few photos from Mother’s Day

Had brunch at my parents’ house yesterday to celebrate Mother’s Day. It was nice. My mom has been suffering from pain in her leg for a few weeks, but the combination of new meds and time seems to have helped quite a lot. I took the Leica Q2 Monochrom and made a few snaps. Here are my favorites from the day.

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The kinds of portraits I prefer…Judith Joy Ross, for example

I recently read Joe McNally’s book, The Real Deal: Field Notes from the Life of a Working Photographer . While I found his anecdotes occasionally interesting, I didn’t really enjoy the book. I think this was because I don’t much care for McNally’s photographs. Here’s one of his portraits.

Photo by Joe McNally

There’s no question that McNally is a talented photographer with a powerful work ethic and serious technical skills. His portraits, however, leave me uninspired. You know the style. Creatively lit with a handful of Speedlights, carefully arranged backgrounds or sets, wardrobe and makeup people, etc. The kinds of photos that get a shit ton of likes. This style is not for me.

Now, Judith Joy Ross , on the other hand, makes deeply moving, personal portraits while wandering around with an 8×10 view camera. I wasn’t familiar with her work until recently. I mean, just look at these…

Photo by Judith Joy Ross
Photo by Judith Joy Ross
Photo by Judith Joy Ross

Simply fantastic work. I just ordered her new book: Judith Joy Ross: Photographs 1978–2015 .

Comparing film and digital: Mom

I had lunch with my parents recently and took a few photos with both my film and digital cameras. I shot about the same number of photos with each camera, with close to the same number of “keepers”. Which do I prefer?

Here I’m showing one of each, digital and film, of my favorite from the visit.

Film: Leica MP (HP5 Plus)
Digital: Leica M10-R (B&W conversion in Silver Efex)

I prefer the film image. I manipulated the digital shot in Silver Efex Pro and added a bit of grain to try and get the look I like, but I still prefer the film image.

The difference might be partially due to using the 50mm Summilux on the MP. It’s my favorite lens. The digital shot was with the 35mm Summilux. Also a great lens, but lacks that certain “something” of the 50.

I don’t think the lens difference explains it, though. A large part of what makes me prefer film photos is just knowing they’re film photos. That means something to me, and influences how I respond to an image. One could probably use a decent HP5 preset on that image in Lightroom and I wouldn’t be able to tell it from a film photo in a blind test, but I don’t view my images that way. I know how they were made, and it matters.

Additionally, I can make beautiful silver gelatin prints of the film photo in my darkroom. That’s important, too.

I’ll probably always shoot both film and digital, but more often than not I prefer the results I get from film.

Feelings about the Leica M10-R

I’m feeling twitchy about owning the Leica M10-R .

The M10-R is an astonishingly good camera. World-beating build quality, timeless design, and a fantastic 40-megapixel sensor, all in a small, beautiful package.

Still available new in 2022 for an eye-watering $8,995 (I bought mine used), the M10-R is also a ridiculously expensive camera. Buying one is a big deal and a significant investment.

I am fortunate enough to also own Leica M film cameras, and being able to share lenses between those and the M10-R is very handy. And OMG those Leica lenses! The control layout and handling are the same as well. It’s like having both a digital and film platform for using 70 years of tiny, wonderful Leica lenses. I can carry a full film and digital arsenal with 2 bodies and lenses in a tiny bag.

So, why am I feeling twitchy?

I worry about having such expensive, relatively delicate equipment swinging about around my neck. It makes me nervous. It’s hard to relax and make photographs when I’m so worried about losing or breaking the camera I’m carrying.

Unlike film Ms, digital M cameras depreciate steadily in value. Not as quickly as other digital cameras, perhaps, but still, the trend is downward.

But mostly, I feel guilty having such a fine camera because I’ve barely used it. I’ve been shooting mostly film for the past month or so, leaving the M10-R idling in the bag. I can justify the expense for something I’m using all the time but to have the M10-R sitting in the bag “just in case” is hard to stomach.

Still, I love the camera and I’m keeping it. At least for now. I know me, and I know that the digital-film pendulum will swing back the other way soon enough, and when it does I’ll be glad I have the M10-R.

Fiber-based silver gelatin prints are a wonderful PITA

I hate making fiber-based silver gelatin prints in the darkroom. But I love having them to hold and to hang.

Fiber-based papers have this deep, magical sheen, and the surface is smooth yet has a distinct, subtle texture that is missing from resin-coated (RC) papers.

Compared to RC papers, fiber-based paper takes twice as long to process. It requires additional washing and optional toning steps. It eats up fixer and takes more trays than I have comfortable room for. It must be washed for up to an hour. And then there’s the curling, so I have to press the prints under heavy books for a few days before I can do anything with them

Just look at this example. It’s ridiculous.

A recently-dried fiber darkroom print.

I gave up on fiber a few years ago, but have been having second thoughts. A fiber print feels so good in hand. Heavy, smooth, and solid, somehow. And there’s no escaping how great they look. I’ve been asking myself if maybe it’s worth the trouble after all. I made a few prints this week and yes, it is definitely worth the trouble.

A recent print of a favorite negative. On fiber.

I enjoy processing film

There are things that I dislike about shooting film, but processing isn’t one of them. I actually enjoy it.

I shoot a roll or two of film each week and process it in my bathroom darkroom. Developing black and white film is quite simple. I have gotten to a point where the process is muscle memory. I shoot mostly the same type of film (HP5 Plus) and develop it in HC-110. I know the dilutions and I know the time, temperature, and agitation schedule.

It takes me about 20 minutes to develop a roll of film. I have to pay attention for five minutes in the developer, one minute in stop bath, then five minutes in the fixer. After that, it’s a hands-off ten-minute wash, a quick dip in Photo-flo, and that’s it.

Standing at the sink during the processing steps is meditative. I can stand there and just let my mind wander. It’s usually silent, but sometimes I have music playing. And there’s nothing like seeing the images unfurl when taking the roll off the reel. Magic.

Scanning, on the other hand, is ????.

The Kodak Retina IIIC

Kodak Retina IIIC

My dad called me from Florida and said that one of his neighbors had died and left a bunch of camera stuff to be given away or sold. He mentioned there was “some old Kodak” and wondered if I was interested in it. I said “Sure, why not” and he said he’d send me a box with the camera and some other stuff that came in the box.

The box arrived yesterday and I was thrilled to find a working Kodak Retina IIIC inside. I didn’t know much about the Retinas except they were around for many years and were very high quality cameras, which isn’t something Kodak is known for.

The last of the Retinas, the “Big-C” IIIC was made from 1957-1960. I assume that mine was made somewhere late in that range, based on the serial number. It doesn’t have the absolute latest changes, so let’s guess 1959.

I was surprised by how nicely the camera is built. It’s dense and feels very solid. All the movements, from focusing to folding the lens, are smooth and dampened well. It’s not quite Leica-level build, but much closer to it than I expected, especially considering the price.

I put a roll through it immediately and everything appears to work perfectly. Not bad for a 60-plus-year-old camera.

Black and white self-portrait

One of the lauded features of the IIIC is the 50mm f/2 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens. I haven’t shot enough to get a good feel, but even after one quick roll I can see that it’s no slouch.

For more details about the camera, there are a few good resources. I enjoyed this Retina IIIC review by Kurt Munger . For everything you need to know, Chris Sherlock has a ton of info on the Retina series .

I don’t know yet how often I’ll use this new camera, but it’s certainly not going to spend the rest of its days on a shelf.

Here’s the camera’s page on my wiki

Holding a Leica M camera

Self-portrait with Leica M3, 2021. (Leica MP. HP5 Plus)

I’ve used many wonderful film cameras from many different systems: From Nikon F to Hasselblad V to Linhof, Olympus OM, etc.

They are all great in their own ways, but none of them comes close to making me feel the way I feel when picking up a Leica M camera.

Sure, every film camera is essentially “a box for holding a lens and some film” but calling a Leica M “just another film camera” is to me like calling Jesus Christ “just another homeless dude”.

OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but you get my point. The way a Leica M is built and shaped fits my hand and the way it works fits my brain like no other camera. And no other camera makes me want to just pick it up and hold it, even if there’s no film in it.

The only time that “The best camera is the one you have with you” is when the one you have with you is an M ????.

I mean, just look at this MP! Tell me you don’t want to pick it up and fondle it a little.

Leica MP (Black Paint). Photo by Leica Camera