Tight fisted happiness in all circumstances in photograpy

Bronica SQ-A. Zenzanon PS 80mm f/2.8. Shanghai GP3 film. Developed in Rodinal.

This post is in response, or perhaps, in agreement, with Eric Kims blog post:   How to Be Happy in All Circumstances in Photography.

All that I know, is that I keep reading the same sort of questions and answers online.  “Which is best?  The Canikon ZX or the Canikon XZ?”.  “I’m an intermediate photographer, which lens should I buy next?”.  “I am an intermediate / advanced photographer, how should I go full frame?”.  “My camera is three years old, should I upgrade?”.

What the feck?  Where do all of these people get programmed to think like this?  Unless you are taking photographs for a taxable living income, or at the very least, for a substantial amount of the cost of your living – you, like I, are an amateur.  Amateur is not a dirty word.  It means for the love of…  Unless you are a professional, then you are an amateur, and you take photographs for enjoyment.  There is nothing wrong with that.  If you wish, you can be really enthusiastic.  You can be incredibly creative.  You don’t need to take wedding photos for a living – just enjoy the experience.  Embrace your freedom to be eclectic.

I love Eric’s post.  It echoes my own over the past few years, that you can escape the rat race of the upgrade culture.  You do not need that latest fullframe DSLR.  You do not need that high end lens.  Unless your particular chosen school of photography is a technology driven one – such as Nature, Macro, or Sports photography – you do not need that latest model of full frame DSLR, nor that ultra expensive lens, tripod, or camera bag.

Just enjoy and create with what you have.  Seek enjoyment.  Seek creativity and expression.  Seek the unexpected.  Enjoy photography, don’t just consume because you have been programmed to do so.  Protest.

Olympus XA-2 - 50p camera project II


Olympus XA2 compact camera. Ilford HP5+ b/w 35mm film. Developed in Kodak D76 stock. Scanned on a V500.

The two Ilford films from the XA2 (the 50p Camera Project) are dried and scanned.  The above is one of my favourites.  A candid taken at the burger van of a local mid week car boot sale.  I think that it captures the atmosphere of such an event quite well.  Car boot sales, auctions, and Sunday markets are great places to catch interesting people.

I developed in D-76 stock, which might have made the HP5 a little grainy, but as any regular readers will know, I don’t shy away from the rough.  It adds I think to the feeling of the photograph.  Anyway, I wanted to use the developer up, as it wasn’t well stored, and I’m keen to give a bottle of Ilford LC29 a go next.

I guess that is one of the attractions of film and even hybrid photography – we have so many different films, developers, and processes available still, each of which will affect the final image.

Next in the XA2 will be a couple of Poundland C41 films.

Olympus XA-2 - 50p camera project II

Wolf in sheeps clothing. The 50p camera still lives!

This is what a camera looks like!

Zones of Focus – the 50p Olympus XA2

This is what I bought the HP5+ film for – a treat for my trusty old 50p Olympus XA2.  You can see from the images, it’s pretty battered from being stuffed in pockets, along with car keys and what not.  Beaten up, scarred, and misused.  This is the XA2 that I bought at a car boot sale for 50p (GBP £0.50p – around 77 US cents) a few years ago, and proceeded to make this 50p camera Flickr gallery with.

Hopefully, it’s still in good working order.  If not, I’ve another one or two XA2s somewhere around the house, but I’d like to use this original 50p individual.

There is a genuine message that I try to get out by using this camera.  It is that you do not need to spend thousands of hard earned dosh on gear, in order to enjoy photography, and make pleasing photographs.  Whenever I hear two or three photography technicians arguing over the merits and benchmarks of the latest sensor, body, or lens … I think of my 50p camera.  Yes, I can see the benefits of the latest, most expensive technology for some schools of photography. I couldn’t take much of a photo of a pied flycatcher at 100 metres distance, using my 50p camera.  However, I don’t want to take a photo of a pied flycatcher in the distance.  I want to make photography.


Have Film, need more subject

Taken with Sony A200 DSLR, and Sony DT AF 35mm f/1.8 SAM lens. Edited in UFRaw / Gimp 2.8.

New restock of Ilford film arrived today, so the fridge is looking good, although had to move the lemon meringue out of the way.  When I get some beer, I’ll have to move the milk out next.  Also got plenty of Poundland 36x 35mm films in the freezer.  What a stinky hoarder.

As you can see, my bias is for b/w negatives.  I bought the HP5 35mm films to use primarily in my old 50p Olympus XA2 pocket camera.  See what it can do with rugged Hp5 Plus.  I don’t know why some people give HP5 a hard time.  It’s a great action or street film, hard to misuse. Looks great – maybe a bit rough for those that love smoother-than-a-baby’s-bottom pan 50 sort of films for landscapes or stills, but suits my sort of photography.

For the Bronica on the street, or in UK weather, I’ve treated myself to some posh Ilford Delta Pro 400.  Not really tight-fisted, but I do try to find a good deal for a pack of ten online.

The Shanghai GP3 is my latest film love – but don’t need more yet.  I think that I’m replacing Foma 100 and 200 with it in the future, so I do plan on restocking when I need it.   Not only even cheaper than Fomapan – I also really like it.

So, let’s see what we can do.

Oh, I’ve ordered some of those 3D printed plastic mounts, that enable you to fit a 35mm film direct into a medium format camera.  Should be a bit of fun!

Monochrome, Rants and discussions

Shanghai GP3 – tight fisted 120 roll film

Anita makes shadows on the headstones at Upwell. Trying out cheap Chinese 120 roll film, Shanghai GP3, in the Bronica yesterday. Bronica SQ-A. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4. Shanghai GP3 120 film ID11 at 1:1.

How did I miss Shanghai GP3 for so long?  The cheapest 120 medium format b/w negative film on the market.  Somehow, my frail old brain must have filtered it out as “Chinese”, perhaps associating it with those ‘orrible Chinese toy cameras.  My attention was finally brought to Shanghai early in the winter.  I bought a pack of ten on Ebay – which appears to be where they are being marketed.  I shopped for minimum price, and bought this ten pack with free p&p, working out at a cost of £2.10 per film.  Crikey, that is cheap.  When you think that I have to shop around normally to find Foma Fomapan or Ilford HP5+ for around £3.50-£4.20 a film with p&p.  Heck, if I was to pop in a local shop and try buying Ilford Delta Pro, then I’d expect to shell out at least seven quid a film or more.  So you see that Shanghai is incredibly cheap at £2.10 per film.

Taken from outside of the church. Couldn’t resist the beautiful light. Testing a roll of Shanghai GP3 budget medium format film. Specs as top image.

So what is it like?  Well, I mainly use faster film, especially at this time of year – mainly around ISO 400.  A couple of stops saved on the camera are essential when trying to capture street or candid.  Shanghai is rated at an optimum ISO 100, although I hear rumours that it might be nearer to ISO 80.  Still, we’ve been having some mid-day January sun of recent, so a couple of days ago, I thought that I’d have some fun with a test roll, and promptly loaded an SQ film back with Shanghai GP3 film.

Photograph taken yesterday in Upwell church yard, of a headstone leaning against a tree.Trying out the Chinese budget film. Specs as top image.

One characteristic of GP3 that is worthy of note – there is no sticky tape at the end of the roll.  If I was to shoot more than one roll, then I’d need a roll of sticky tape in my pocket.  After a quick shoot at Upwell church, and along a drove, I took the film home, and later that day, developed it in a dilution of 1:1 Ilford ID11 at 20C for 14 minutes.  (By the way, I recently calculated that such a dilution costs me £0.71p per 120 film.  I have been told that I could save money by switching to Kodak D76.).

After processing and drying – the second characteristic – this stuff dries out really curly.  Not a good characteristic if you are to digitally scan the negative in a mask on a flatbed film scanner.  I’ve heard people complain about Foma being curly – but I never had a problem with it.  Shanghai IS curly.

The results.  I never pretend to be much of an authority nor an expert.  However, to my eyes – much better than expected.  Very smooth, fine grained (although having recently shot a lot of Fomapan Action 400 – anything else looks smooth).  Good tones and contrast.  A real surprise – a budget film that looks good.

Although slower than the film that I like for my kind of photography, Shanghai GP3 is definitely going to feature as a medium in my photography in the future.  I’ll keep a film back loaded.

Film Dark Room, Monochrome, Zenza Bronica SQ-A

Off Colour

Anita and the Post Box. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS/B 80 mm f/2.8 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus 120 film. Developed in ID11

I know I keep putting off the C-41 thing.  I’ve got the chemistry, but right now, I can’t be bothered with colour.  I guess that my excuse is that I’m still scavenging five litre drums, so that I can properly mix all of my processing solutions, and store them properly.  So for now, I keep on loading those Ilfords into cameras.  Not all Ilfords though – I loaded a Firstcall 400S in my Olympus XA2 35mm compact today.  A very cheap, budget true black and white 135 film from Firstcall Photography.  I’ll see how it performs.  It’s the cheapest such film that I’ve seen on the markets, and 36 exposure.  Prices like that could almost lure me away from using the C-41 Poundland film.  Thing is you see, I’m really enjoying B/W film photography.  I’m not sure now if I want to dirty the bleach waters of C-41 yet.

For anyone interested.  For B/W processing, I use Ilford process chemicals, including Ilford ID-11, which I last bought in powder form, to make up five litres of developer solution.  Far cheaper than buying smaller packs, and it packs nicely into a recycled five litre drum (that contained car windscreen wash previously – well washed out), that you can squeeze quite a lot of air out, as you use it up.  The developer was muck cheap from an online dealer – but to make it even cheaper, I dilute my ID-11 down to 1:3 with tap water just prior to processing a film, at 20C.  This of course greatly extends process time.  For Ilford HP5 Plus film (my favourite) with no push, at ISO 400, it’s twenty minutes, with 10 seconds of gentle inversions in every minute.  Prior to developing, I’ve also started to pre-soak with tap water at 20C for three minutes.  Stop and fix solutions are re-used several times.  I use an extended Ilford rinsing technique – progressive inversions, and four rinses – with a fifth rinse at the end, containing a wetting agent.  I’ve stopped using a squeegee again (tram lines!).  It’s a long process, but it’s very cheap, and it’s starting to give me the developed B/W film negatives that I want.

Reading the above, I realise that yet again, I’m posting on techie issues, rather more than creative issues.  I recently read an opinion by someone, that photographers tend to divide into two different types – those that are very knowledgeable about photographic technologies, and those that are more artistic and creative.  I’m afraid that I’m more of the former.  I mean, why would anyone give a toss about how I process my films?

Cheapskate News

On a recent visit to the local refuse / recycling centre (what use to be tips), I spotted a load of old leather camera cases in the “Small Electrical” skip.  Please forgive my tight-fistedness.  I rummaged in the skip and found an old Kodak Box Brownie 620.  Whenever I spot an old box camera, I quickly open it up, check for used film and for 620 spindles.  This one had an empty 620 spindle.  I’ve posted on this subject before, but briefly, you cannot buy 620 film anymore, except for grossly priced, grossly expired rolls.  However, 120 roll film is widely available, and in a darkroom or film changing bag, can be rolled off it’s new 120 spindle, and with care, onto an old 620 spindle (lifting the taped end to release the slack), bringing any 620 camera back to Life.

I asked the refuse workers if they can sell cameras.  The reply was no, as they are classed as “electrical” and could cause an issue with health & safety.   I don’t know where that 620 spindle in my pocket came from.

620 spindle next to a 120 spindle, and one of my Box Brownie cameras.

Pentax ME Super 35mm film SLR, Rants and discussions

Cheap Film Cameras

Old Time Folk. Wisbech Xmas Fair. Pentax ME Super camera. SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus 35mm film. Developed in ID11.

I was reading in a photography magazine the other day (not that I buy many), that Ilford went into receivership around ten years ago, but survived closure, by turning back to what is was good at – film photography products.  Even Ilford seemed surprised, that their sales of 120 roll film, actually increased in recent years!  Film photography seems to be enjoying an Indian Summer.  Ilford put down this reversal in post-digital sales of film, as due to a number of factors.  The Lomo and Toy Camera craze being one of them.  The other, they suggest, was due to colleges continuing to teach darkroom skills to students.  The whole thing has become cool, even in the digital age.  It’s not just the die-hard Luddites that are keeping film photography going – its a new generation.  That’s good news for all fans of film photography.

This sort of leads me to my position.  I lived for more than 35 years before digital photography entered the mass market.  I grew up in the age of the Kodak Moment.  I embraced digital, as I embraced Information Technology in general – I’m a geeky type.  My interest in photography grew immensely with digital cameras.  My first SLR was a Digital-SLR.  I couldn’t afford one back in the 35 mm days.  I’ll also point out that every image that I share on WordPress or on Flickr IS digital, even if it was captured on film.  When I scan a film, it’s used to build a binary file, then compress it as a .jpeg for uploading.  I like sharing digitally, but I like shooting in film.  I think that this hybrid is another cause of the Indian Summer of Film Photography.

What attracted me back to film in the first place was a) the ultra cheap prices of film cameras, that new, I could have only dreamed of owning;  b) the beautiful build of older cameras that seem so refreshing when surrounded by black plastic so-called entry level DSLRs, and c) having something solid to keep – film negatives.  So much more reassuring than binary data.  I’d add a fourth attraction that I more recently discovered – the challenge and reward of learning to develop film.

Cheap Film Cameras

The proper advice to someone wanting to buy a used film camera, is to go to a reputable used camera dealer, that cleans and services their cameras before sale.  NOT to buy crap from car boot sales, yard sales, charity/thrift shops, or from online auction sites.  It’s good advice.  However, I’m a tight fisted photographer, and I do buy my cameras dirt cheap “sold as seen” from car boot sales etc.  I’m mean.  So, I’m listing a few pointers for those wanting to risk a few quid at yard sales, thrift shops, or maybe even online auctions, in order to hunt that beautiful film camera down.  What I’ve so far learned over the past two years.

A Two Quid Medium Format TLR. Yes, bought for GBP £2.00 at a car boot sale. I knocked the seller down from £3.

  1. The cheapest cameras are from car boot and yard sales.  Charity shops tend to be priced a little higher (but then again, it goes to charity).  Ebay and other online auctions, you can buy some bargains, but it’s harder.
  2. Inspect the cameras carefully.  Do they use a film format that you can and want to obtain?  The easiest films to buy are 35mm (135 or DX), followed by 120 roll film.  The former can still be bought locally.  Even in my own small market town, I can buy 35mm from at least four retailers, including from the discount store Poundland.  The latter, 120, a little harder, but any real photography shop will sell them, in towns and cities, and of course, it’s easy to buy as much as you like on the Internet, in a variety of brands, speeds, C-41 colour or true B/W.
  3. If they contain used film – don’t open it!  Consider getting it developed.  It could be a lost treasure.
  4. Does the camera have electronics?  What sort of battery does it need?  Some batteries are redundant.
  5. Check the light seals.  The little felt pads and strips inside the back cover – is the cover a tight seal?  Are the seals “sticky”?  You see, by around 25 years of age, they perish and the glue leaches out.  It can kill a camera.  A leaky light seal can also kill your images.  Now, light seals can be replaced, and it’s easy enough to do – but it can be used as a haggling point.  A new light seal kit from the States will set you back something like £7 – £12.  You can save money though, by buying your own seal materials cheaper, and trimming to shape.  EDIT: I’ve had a rethink on this subject.  On an SLR, perished light seals are always bad news.  The leached glue can run into the moving parts.  However – if you buy a compact with sticky light seals, and test it with a roll of film (checking for light leaks across the photos), and it still works ok, sometimes you can get away without changing them.  I’ve not changed the sticky light seals in my XA2 (the camera cost me 50p), but I’ve successfully shot several films with it.
  6. Look at the shutter, try it.  Does it appear to operate.  If you can, test the aperture.  If the camera is built with an automatic exposure, and a selenium light meter (such as the Olympus Trip 35) – shoot towards light and dark – you can see the aperture change size inside the lens.  That might point to a healthy selenium light meter.
  7. Lens.  BEWARE OF FUNGUS.  Inspect the glass carefully, look through it.  Any bad glass, put it back down.
  8. Avoid box cameras and Kodak Brownies, unless you want to collect them.  Don’t think that you can sell them on at a huge profit.  Some take 120 film.  But others use 620 or 127 film.  By the way, if you want to play box camera, and spot any 620 camera with a 620 film spindle in it – consider paying a quid or two, just to get the spindle.  In a dark room or film changing bag, you can roll 120 film onto them, and use your 620 camera.  The spindles are often sold on Ebay – but are sometimes cheaper to buy with a car boot sale camera.
  9. SLR – does the reflex mirror operate correctly?  I’ve known mirrors to stick up to a perished light seal pad.
  10. Avoid APS cameras, Polaroids (unless that you know your models, and that you can buy the requisite instant film to fit), Kodak Instamatics (126 film), Disk film cameras, and 110 film compacts.
  11. DO look at every 1980s/1990s 35mm compact that you see.  A very few of them are hot rods in disguise.  I’m talking about Carl Zeiss lenses in a few of them, such as in the Yashica T4 compact autofocus camera.  There were some good quality compacts hiding in the masses of plastic of that period.
  12. Look at the speed of the lens.  What is the maximum aperture?  Is it an f-number lower than f/3.5?  It’s often the sign of a good buy.
  13. Feel the weight.  I know, it doesn’t always work – but in reference particularly to late compact 35mm film cameras, a top notch model feels heavier.
  14. Avoid cheap and nasty 35mm cameras from the 50s/60s such as the Halina.  If it’s in the leather case, take it out.  If it’s been damp – the upholstery will have peeled away.
  15. Folding cameras are beautiful.  However, if you want to use it, you are going to have to replace the bellows.  A few models are for sale, but otherwise you might have to learn a new skill, and make your own bellows.  Always assume that old camera bellows LEAK light.
  16. At a car boot sale, do try haggling.  Use the seller’s ignorance.  Most people think that film is dead  Exploit this misunderstanding.  If the camera has problems that you can resolve – point to these faults.  Don’t appear too keen.  Be mean.
  17. DON’T try haggling in a Charity shop.  The money goes to charity for goodness sake.  That’s just too mean.

That might be a help to someone.  Any more tips – please send your comments.  Don’t blame me if you buy a pig.  Let me know if you find that Leica.

Rants and discussions

Cheapskate Film Photography – the Research

The Reader. Reading Class Chapter 1. Taken with a Sony DSLR A200 and Sony AF DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM lens. B&W conversion in UFRaw open source software.

I have posted before in protest at the glossy photography magazines in newsagents.  All dedicated to spanking new D-SLR cameras, particularly Nikon and Canon (the unholy war), and Adobe software products.  As though these three capitalist giants have a divine right to control the minds, aspirations, and bank accounts of the photographic masses.  Laced with articles, features, and advertisements promoting the absolute necessity of buying and consuming their products, if we are to enjoy photography.  How could a 21st Century photographer be taken seriously, unless he or she owns an expensive Adobe software product licence, and swings his or her big black plastic all singing, all dancing, space age technology digital SLR, from a designer Canikon branded strap or camera bag?

Can you tell that I have a chip on my shoulder?  Seriously though, these magazines are clearly controlled by their commercial sponsors.  They are designed to make us feel inadequate if we don’t spend our hard earned wages on new products.  I’m not a Luddite, I’m not a film snob – I’ve taken the above photo with a DSLR.  Digital is great, it gives fast instant and sometimes cheap results.  A digital SLR is a great tool to learn from.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Canon nor Nikon either.  They make some great products.  It’s just that their overbearing advertising campaigns have fed a materialist, brand fan base of consumers hell bent on supporting their ‘brand’.  Here’s a secret, some of the best, and also the most expensive cameras in the World are neither Canon nor Nikon manufactured.  Shock.  Here’s another secret, an enthusiast can produce great results, and more importantly, have great fun, using old technologies and cheap cameras.  There is nothing shameful in being an amateur.  An amateur is an enthusiast with a passion for their interest.

But moving back to the theme of the above photo.  I’ve found a compensation for the lack of magazines catering for us tight fisted photographers.  We have access to oodles of cheap used books, published before the rise of the digital sensor.  We can buy great books, that cater for our 1930s – 1990s contemporary film photography technologies at car boot sales, charity shops, and thrift stalls.  How much do you pay for your glossy magazine?  We buy cracking good books for between GBP £0.20p and £2.00.

Tight fisted cheapskate photography.  Beat the system.

Film, 35mm, and scans, Landscape and buildings, Olympus XA-2 - 50p camera project II, The East English Fens of East Anglia

Back to Tight Fisted Basics with a 50p Camera

Capture the Sunset. Olympus XA2 compact 35mm film camera, loaded with AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film from Poundland.

I’m really enjoying the dark room learning curve at the moment, but I still have plenty of cheapskate colour 35mm film from Poundland, which I take to a local independent commercial processor to run through his mini-lab.  He presently charges me £2.50 for developing negs only – no printing.

I’ve used so many car boot sale cameras over ther past year, but it might surprise people, that if I had to choose just one to keep, it would by my lovely little Olympus XA2 compact zone focus camera, that I purchased for 50p at a car boot sale.  It is such a fun camera – great for street fun – capturing odd moments or sights.  Discreet, small, quiet.  Close and open the clam shell lens cover and it defaults to a medium zone focus.  It’s not such a bad camera for the countryside neither.  Here are two photos that I’ve recently ‘snapped’ with the Olympus XA2!

Balloon over Fenland Skies. Olympus XA2 and Poundland film. Some post neg scan touch up using Gimp 2.8 open source software.

Click on either image to view a Flickr set that I’m proud of – Poundland film in a 50p camera.


A Three quid wide angle lens

First Test. Nita and Flint in a stubble field this afternoon. Warm filter applied post process using Gimp 2.8 open source software. Pentax K110D D-SLR and Pentax-M 28mm f/2.8 lens.

No cameras worth buying at today’s local car boot sale.  A few leather cased viewfinders (an Agfa, and an Ilford), some overpriced old cine cameras, but nothing to really take my fancy.  However, every few weeks or so, something nice turns up.  This time it was a Pentax-M 28mm f/2.8 prime lens.  I’ve had one before from Ebay, but it had bloody fungus inside – the death of a lens.  This one was sweet, smooth aperture, clean glass, the original QC sticker, and Pentax lens cover.  I knocked the seller down from his price of £5 to my offer of three quid.

I’m a mean bastard.  Ebay buy-it-now prices range £40 to £90 for this classic lens.