Through the viewfinder

This week for the Photo Challenge, Kirsty suggested that we innovate and cobble together some lighting equipment out of household bits and bobs. Before I explain my method, here’s what I achieved.

Through the viewfinder

Through the viewfinder

This picture actually involved three cameras, some drinking straws, and lots of glue. I used the through-the-viewfinder (TtV) technique. The small camera in my picture is a Voigtlander Vito II, and is merely the subject of the photo. The second camera, the edges of which you can see, is a Mamiya C220 twin-lens reflex. Unlike most cameras, when you point it forward the image appears on the top, reflected through 90 degrees. Finally, the picture was actually taken with a Canon EOS 600D, pointed down into the C220′s viewfinder – like this:

TTV setup shot

TTV setup shot

Keen-eyed readers will also spot that the C220 has flipped the image from left to right. This is one of the quirks of using a TLR or SLR without a pentaprism. The surface on which I have placed the Vito II is actually the back side of a mirror that I haven’t yet hung on the wall in the guest bedroom.

The lighting is where the home-made element really comes into play. The tight pool of light around the Vito II was achieved by using a speedlight with a snoot – which is just a tube with a grid in it that forms the light into a narrow beam. They can be purchased ready-made but I followed these instructions to make my own from a cereal packet and a handful of black drinking straws. I stuck the snoot onto my flashgun with masking tape. Usually it’s push-fit and just about stays in place, but with the flash pointing vertically downwards it kept falling off :)

Homemade snoot

Homemade snoot

Chasing the Class 60

Ed, a good friend of mine is a railway photographer. He often takes trips to various industrial locations around the country to photograph diesel locomotives pulling different freight trains, and on his most recent jaunt to the Midlands he invited me to tag along. While I have no specific interest in trains, I do like big machinery and diesel engines – and a photo excursion is always fun so I took along a couple of cameras too.

  • Canon A-1 with Ilford FP4+ film, used mostly with Canon FD 70-210mm f/4
  • Canon AE-1 Program with Tudor Color XLX film, used mostly with Canon FD 200mm f/2.8

I also used a Canon FD 50mm f/1.4, Canon FD 35mm f/2.8 and Canon FD 300mm f/5.6 for some shots. I took along a Tokina RMC 400mm f/5.6 but it stayed in my bag because it was simply too slow to use with ISO100 film and I didn’t need the focal length.

I’m mostly pleased with the colours in these pictures. Tudor XLX is a very cheap film but the bold colours of the locomotives have come out well and the shots have a very “filmic” look.

Photographing le Tour de France

I’m a fan of cycling grand tours such as le Tour de France. This year I was lucky enough to be able to watch three stages of it in France. Needless to say, I took my camera but unfortunately I’m quite disappointed with the results. The reasons are (in descending order of importance) poor technique, poor conditions and poor equipment. I was hoping to be able to publish great pictures of the world’s most famous cycle race, but instead this is going to be an article about common pitfalls of amateur sports photography (amateur photography, not amateur sport).

We saw the Tour on three consecutive days, each with different weather conditions, different terrain and different viewpoints. It’s hard to refine your technique when you don’t get the same conditions twice. I’ll discuss the equipment in more detail at the end, but for now I’ll say that I was using a Canon EOS 600D with a Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM zoom lens.

Stage 4

On the first day we stood behind barriers at the side of the road, about 100m before the finish line of a category 4 climb at Mont Noir. At the roadside you usually have very little idea of what is going on in the multi-hour race but this year I followed @letour on Twitter for updates. I learned that Thomas Voeckler had broken away from the peloton by over a minute and was ahead on his own. We were on the inside of a gentle bend, so I made the assumption that Voeckler would be sticking to the inside of the corner. I didn’t trust the autofocus on my consumer DSLR so I manually focused two metres away, chose a fairly short focal length and stopped down to increase depth of field. I was sure he would be safely within my depth of field.

Unfortunately, Voeckler decided to take the gentle corner wide, on the far side of the road. He’s a bit out of focus in my pictures.

Thomas Voeckler at Mont Noir

Thomas Voeckler at Mont Noir. 20mm, f/9.5, 1/500, ISO800

Thomas Voeckler at Mont Noir

Thomas Voeckler at Mont Noir. 20mm, f/9.5, 1/500, ISO800

Shortly after Voeckler passed, the peloton swept by. As a group of almost 200 riders I knew they would occupy the entire width of the road so I stuck with the same settings - a wide focal length (20mm) and a moderate aperture (f/8) and retained the manual pre-focus at 2m. With the ISO set quite high at 800, the camera chose what seemed to be fast shutter speed of 1/500. Unfortunately, the peloton were too fast and almost all the picture show motion blur. I didn’t want to miss out on the action with my own eyes, so I held the camera in front of my chest in continuous shooting mode. This was the best of the pictures, despite the poor focus and motion blur.

Peloton at Mont Noir

Peloton at Mont Noir. 20mm, f/9.5, 1/500, ISO800

Stage 5

Stage 5 was a very different proposition – the race would pass by on a narrow cobbled stretch. Cobbles are notoriously difficult to ride on, especially in the rain. I knew the riders would pass by relatively slowly in small groups or individually, and could be at any position on the cobbles. Given the previous day’s manual focus disappointment, I decided to try autofocus again.

However, looking down the road at an approaching subject is one of the most difficult tasks for any autofocus system – especially when the cyclist is distant and only occupies a small proportion of the picture. I set the autofocus mode to AI Servo, which should track approaching subjects. I’m not sure whether it was the camera body having trouble taking measurements in the poor light with a relatively slow lens, or whether the lens was just too slow to actuate, but the autofocus missed on almost every shot.

The best of a very bad bunch of photos was this shot of Geraint Thomas, with a mud-splattered face of pure determination. On many of the other shots, the autofocus locked into the brightly-coloured spectators on the other side of the road.

Geraint Thomas at Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes

Geraint Thomas at Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes. 85mm, f/8, 1/90, ISO800

The shutter speed is far too slow and in retrospect I should have shot at ISO1600 or more. I zoomed in to capture Geraint’s face but this only accentuates the problem of poor focus. I deleted over half of these pictures because they were totally unusable.

Stage 6

On Stage 6, the light was brighter but still overcast. The major factor was that we witnessed the départ fictif, where the riders perform a slow, ceremonial circuit of the starting town before racing off. At these slow speeds with somewhat better light, the autofocus did a much better job, although the shutter speed is still too slow.

Départ fictif in Arras

Départ fictif in Arras. 17mm, f/8, 1/350, ISO800

The equipment

I already mentioned that I used consumer equipment – namely a Canon EOS 600D with a Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM zoom lens.

While the 600D uses the same sensor and offers the same image quality as its big brothers the 60D and 7D, it is most certainly not the same camera. The 60D and 7D have more and better autofocus points for faster and more accurate focusing.

The 17-85mm is the kit lens supplied with the 60D. While it is clearly not a professional-standard lens, it should be a step up from the 18-55mm lens supplied with the 600D and its triple-digit ilk. I’ve found the exact opposite to be true, and my copy of the 17-85mm offers terrible chromatic aberration even when stopped down. Presumably it is just a faulty copy and not representative of all Canon’s 17-85mm lenses.

Stopping down to achieve extra depth of field and to remove as much chromatic aberration from the lens as possible obviously means that the shutter speed will be slower. A slow shutter speed is not suitable for sports photography so the ISO must be increased to compensate – and you find yourself trapped in the three-way compromise of the exposure triangle.

If I had had a similar L lens (for example the 17-40mm f/4L), while it is not faster, it can probably be used wide open – thus gaining me two extra stops of shutter speed for the same ISO. An f/2.8 lens would certainly help the autofocus but is likely to cause inaccurate focusing and insufficient depth of field if actually used at f/2.8.

I am not sure whether my autofocus woes came from the body struggling to find focus or the lens struggling to keep up in its actuation, but I am inclined to blame the body. The ultrasonic motor (USM) in the lens should be fast enough.

The lens I used also has optical image stabilisation (IS) which is supposed to help reduce camera shake. Common wisdom says the shutter speed should be no faster than the reciprocal of the focal length. For instance, my photo of Geraint Thomas was shot at 85mm with a shutter speed of 1/90 – right on the brink of acceptability. IS should make this a more tenable situation, but of course it does not prevent motion blur from moving objects. 1/90 is just not fast enough to freeze Geraint Thomas. He’s fast.

Lessons learned

  • Use a fast lens if possible. Even if you stop it down when taking the photos, the extra light wide open will help the autofocus work quickly and accurately.
  • Manual pre-focusing is a valid technique but you have to be sure where your subject will be.
  • Canon’s higher-range bodies (e.g. 60D, 7D) have more sensitive and accurate autofocus sensors which will help any lens perform better.
  • Don’t underestimate the shutter speed required to capture fast action. Increase the ISO if necessary and worry about the noise later. Noise is not as bad as a blurred picture.
  • Set specific autofocus points, rather than letting the camera choose. I think forcing a single autofocus point would have helped me on the cobbles, where the camera often focused on distant spectators.
  • Usually, the Tour de France passes very quickly indeed. You only get one attempt per day to photograph it!

Camera pricing

Inspired by a recent conversation with a colleague about the way cameras are priced, I decided to look up the original retail value of some of my cameras and correct for inflation, to see how they compare to today.

I’ve attempted to make a note to describe the camera’s position in the market line-up at the time (amateur v pro, etc) to give some meaning to the numbers. Canon publishes list prices for all its historical equipment in Yen at the time of launch. I’ve converted from Yen to British pounds using the historic exchange rate of the time, and used an inflation calculator to work out what that is in pounds as of today (June 2014).

This is likely to be inaccurate, not just because of the double conversion but also that launch prices in different countries are usually different. This is still the case today.

For comparison I’ve listed a few current digital models at the bottom of this table for comparison across the range.

Camera Type Marketed Orig price 2014 price
Demi Super compact Feb 1963 ¥10,800 £195.61
Canonet Junior Basic compact Apr 1963 ¥11,800 £212.25
Pellix QL (50mm f/1.4) Advanced amateur SLR Mar 1966 ¥60,800 £982.32
EXEE (EX 50mm f/1.8) Entry amateur SLR Oct 1969 ¥33,000 £551.04
FTbn (50mm f/1.4) Mid amateur SLR Jul 1973 ¥64,500 £1,014.95
FTbn (body only) Mid amateur SLR Jul 1973 ¥39,000 £613.76
A-1 (FD 50mm f/1.4) Advanced amateur SLR Apr 1978 ¥114,000 £1,512.51
A-1 (body only) Advanced amateur SLR Apr 1978 ¥83,000 £1,101.24
AE-1 Program (FD 50mm f/1.8) Mid amateur SLR Apr 1981 ¥86,500 £619.90
AE-1 Program (body only) Mid amateur SLR Apr 1981 ¥60,000 £429.99
T90 (FD 50mm f/1.4) Professional SLR Feb 1986 ¥180,000 £1,746.81
T90 (body only) Professional SLR Feb 1986 ¥148,000 £1,436.27
Sure Shot A-1 Compact Apr 1994 ¥42,000 £475.78
EOS 500N (body only) Entry amateur SLR Sep 1996 ¥59,000 £564.13
EOS 300 (body only) Entry amateur SLR Apr 1999 ¥64,000 £502.77
IXUS 150 Digital compact Feb 2014 £129.00
EOS 700D (EF 18-55mm f/3.5) Entry amateur DSLR Mar 2013 £769.00
EOS 700D (body only) Entry amateur DSLR Mar 2013 £679.00
EOS 70D (body only) Advanced amateur DSLR Jul 2013 £1,080.00
EOS 1D-X (body only) Professional DSLR Oct 2011 £5,299.99
  • It seems that amateur SLR cameras have broadly stayed the same price over time.
  • Professional ones seem to be a lot more expensive, which I find surprising. Historically, a good 35mm camera lasted until it broke whereas today’s cameras become obsolete before they stop working.
  • Compacts seem a lot cheaper these days. This also makes sense as photography is now a mass-market hobby.

Horseman 980 vs Horseman 45HD

For landscape and architectural photography, there is no question that using a view camera gives you the best control over perspective, the plane of focus and spectacular resolution too.

For several years I’ve been using a Horseman 980 medium format technical field camera for this purpose. It has almost all the functionality of a large format camera, but is “only” a medium format camera itself – meaning it’s a bit smaller, it offers the convenience and (relative) economy of roll film and scanners and enlargers are smaller and less expensive too.

Recently though, I’ve been pondering moving to large format. For me it’s not about the extra resolution, but about the angle of view, which I wrote about in more detail not too long ago. Basically it’s much easier to achieve ultra wide angle images when you have a massive negative. In the end, I decided to buy a Horseman 45HD. It’s a sensible choice because it uses the same lens boards as the Horseman 980.

While I have these two unusual cameras side by side for a short time before the 980 is sold, it would be daft if I didn’t do a comparison. Please note this is a comparison of these two Horseman cameras in particular, not a comparison of medium and large format photography in general. Here are the two cameras, the 980 on the left pictured with a Horseman 65mm f/5.6 lens and the 45HD on the right, pictured with a Super Horseman 90mm f/5.6 lens.

Horseman 980 and 45HD

Horseman 980 and 45HD

First let me make a list of all the features that both cameras have, since they are very similar. For more details look at the numbered sections below.

Similarities Differences
  • 80mm lens boards [8]
  • Rugged metal folding body [5]
  • Pop-up focusing hood over ground glass [3]
  • Full set of front movements [1]
  • 45HD lacks back movements [1]
  • 45HD takes larger negatives
  • 980 has a rangefinder & viewfinder [7]
  • 980 has geared movements [6]

And now for the manufacturer’s specs:

Horseman 980 Horseman 45HD
Picture size 6x9cm 4×5″
Height 175 mm 172 mm
Width 159 mm 157 mm
Depth 90 mm 94 mm
Weight 2.0 kg 1.7 kg
Focusing track extension 72 mm 72 mm
Front bellows draw 231 mm 249 mm
Rear bellows draw 23 mm
Drop bed 15° 15°
Front swing L/R ±15° ±15°
Front tilt forward 10° 10°
Front tilt back 15° 15°
Front lateral shift L/R ±30 mm ±30 mm
Front rise 28 mm 28 mm
Back swing L/R ±10°
Back swing up/down ±11°
Lensboard 80×80 mm 80×80 mm

So these two cameras are really very similar in almost every way. Here are a few more detailed notes to expand on the bullet points.

  1. A better comparison with the 980 would be the 45FA with its full rear movements, rather than this 45HD. If I had my time again, I would choose the 45FA. However, I don’t use rear movements very often and normally front rise and front tilt are the only movements I need for my work. Usually I would only use rear movements if I had to tilt the back, tilt the front and angle the bed upwards to achieve more front rise.
  2. For backwards compatibility, the 45HD can accept 120 roll-film backs so you can continue to shoot medium format with perspective correction. The 45HD’s ground glass screen has frame lines for 6×7 and 6×9.
  3. The larger ground glass of the 45HD is a real pleasure to use. Both the 980 and 45HD have self-erecting hoods overs the ground glass, but the hood on the 45HD folds away in in one movement while the 980 needs two movements.
  4. While the 980 and 45HD nominally have the same front rise, in practice the 45HD can achieve a far greater rise. With the 980, when you raise the front standard, the bellows will strike the frame of the main body before the front standard has moved the whole way. On the 45HD, the black panel at the top (marked 45HD) folds up to allow the full extent of the movement without the bellow striking the body.
  5. This is more a comment on the lenses than the cameras, but your typical medium format lens (e.g. Super Horseman 90mm f/5.6 and 65mm f/5.6) are small enough to remain mounted on the camera when it is stowed away. The large format lenses I now use (Schneider Super-Angulon 90mm f/8 and 65mm f/8, plus Symmar-S 150mm f/5.6) have to be removed from the camera before it is folded up.
  6. As mentioned above, the 980 has geared movements. When you want to raise the front standard, you unclamp it (silver knob halfway up on the right as you look at it) and then use the geared movement (black knob in the bottom-left corner) before re-clamping. On the 45HD, you just unclamp, move it with your hands, and re-clamp. It has enough friction to stay put when unclamped but it lacks the precision of a geared movement.
  7. Although the 980 has a rangefinder and viewfinder for hand-held use, it is extremely difficult to hand-hold this camera. It’s not just the weight, but the handle is awkward and the bellows are very fragile and easy to hit with your fingers. You would definitely need the extra hand grip with solenoid release. Note that the rangefinder and viewfinder do not work properly when you start to use movements.
  8. The 80mm lens board is an advantage for size and portability. However it limits you to Copal #0 or #1 shutters, and there are quite a few large format lenses that will not fit in a shutter this small, restricting your choice. I was only able to fit a Schneider Super-Angulon 90mm f/8, not the f/5.6 version and definitely not the XL version! There are still plenty of compatible lenses available – I compiled a list of known good and known bad lenses.

Ignition!

These days I don’t always manage to come up with a Photo Challenge entry, Heat. I’m quite pleased with this shot of a match being lit. It did take quite a few goes to get something I liked.

Ignition!

Ignition!

I also shot a high-speed video of the match being lit.

I’m had enough photography for this evening – I guess I’m burned out ;)

Testing toners

Toning a black & white print is a dark art (and one that I’m just beginning to learn). So many different toners exist and can be used to create different coloured tints according to the concentration, temperature, time taken and combination of multiple toners that it is hard to know where to start. To make matters worse, many of the best darkroom textbooks that I usually refer to mention toners that have long since been discontinued. As part of my quest to learn about toning techniques, including split toning, I decided to acquire several modern(-ish) toners and experiment with them.

But first, I need a set of near-identical prints to work with. I decided to use this recent picture of a gate I took on Troopers Hill. This version of the image was scanned directly from the negative, and has been given a fake digital selenium tone.

Gate

Gate

The original negative was shot on 35mm Ilford FP4+ using a Canon Pellix QL and Canon FL 50mm f/1.4 lens. This was actually the first time I used the Pellix and the light meter wasn’t working, so I guessed. The exposure is a bit “off” but the negative shows a wide range of shades so it is suitable for this experiment. The test prints were made on Kentmere VC Select Glossy using a Schneider-Kreuznach Componon-S 50mm f/2.8 lens and my newly-converted LED enlarger. Because of the number of tests I wanted to do, I made seven prints to finish a pack of old paper and decided to cut them all in half to give fourteen tests. These scans of the prints have not been digitally altered, although you can only infer so much from them because they don’t truly reflect the prints.

After making the prints I noticed that some of them have fixer stains. This is nothing to do with the toning process, and serves as a lesson to me to pay more attention to which tongs have been in the fixer!

These pictures are most certainly not a masterclass in toning and are simply the results of my initial experimentation. There is enormous room for improvement with the timings and concentrations of the toners, and in some cases I probably need to adjust the exposure of the initial print.

# Toners Times Notes
1 Untoned Green cast
2 Selenium 3 min Blackens shadows, increase contrast.
3 Viradon 10 min Scan doesn’t really reflect the colour. More purple-brown in reality.
4 Sepia Bleach 2 min + 5 min Nice vintage effect but probably too pronounced for most purposes. Should probably be bleached less.
5 Blue 30 sec Very fast toner that darkens the print.
6 Copper/Red 8 min Leaves a strange scum on the surface of the print which needs removing with a cloth.
7 Viradon then Selenium 5 min + 9 min More purple than Viradon on its own
8 Selenium then Viradon 30 sec + 10 min Too long in selenium means the Viradon was prevented from working
9 Sepia then Blue Bleach 2 min + 1 min + 20 sec Has lost some density. Should probably have been bleached for a shorter time (see #14)
10 Copper/Red then Blue 3 min + 20 sec Split OK but the divide is too obvious. Should probably let the copper work longer to tone the midtones more before unleashing the blue.
11 Sepia then Selenium Bleach 2 min + 30 sec + 6 min Almost completely bleached and toned in sepia almost to completion. Selenium doesn’t show.
12 Selenium then Sepia 1 min + Bleach 2 min + 6 min Barely distinguishable from plain selenium (#2). See #8.
13 Blue then Selenium 10 sec + 2 min Split-toned well but needs longer in blue. It looks too blue to begin with, but the selenium quickly counteracts the blue.
14 Sepia then Selenium Bleach 30 sec + 30 sec + 2 min Similar to #11. Partial bleaching of highlights & midtones which are then restored by sepia, leaving the shadows for the selenium. Split tones well.

I’m very pleased with these results, and I now have leads for further experimentation. Looking forward to making some nice split-tone prints in the future – both refining the times here to get more subtle effects, and trying new combinations. I reckon Copper/Red followed by Selenium would look nice.

Further modifications to the De Vere 54

A few weeks ago I made the jump to large format photography, and upgraded my LPL C7700 medium format enlarger to a De Vere 54 large format. The C7700 is a fairly sophisticated machine from the 1970s/80s, while the 54 is a primitive beast, cast in the fires of Mordor back in 1952. It needed a little bit of modernisation to suit my needs.

The 54 came with a condenser head which worked really well with a 135mm large format lens, but was unusable with shorter focal lengths used for smaller film formats. I decided to convert the condenser head to a diffusion head. The project was a reasonable success, although I had problems with evenness of illumination. I was only able to get even illumination with such severe diffusion that I lost three stops of light, and exposure times became very long. And everyone knows I’m impatient.

More recently, I was able lay my hands on a cold cathode head. The heads simply sit on the frame under their own gravity, so swapping is dead easy. It seems to be of original 1950s construction and still working, although the fluorescent tube seems to have developed a flicker and a loud buzz. When I opened the head up, I was shocked (not literally) by the electrical “safety” of the device. The original cabling was insulated with rubber which had long since perished and peeled away, and the wires to supply the two ends of the tube were simply wrapped around it – they could easily have come off. To make matters worse, the metal casing was not earthed. The tube itself was covered with a sheet of old cardboard, presumably not original, but marked with scorches.

Cold cathode head

Cold cathode head

I could have re-cabled the head but given that it’s basically impossible to get new tubes I decided it would be easier to convert the whole lot to run on LEDs. I read about a similar conversion project that was undertaken by someone else whose skills at electronics are far better than mine. Colour LEDs with variable contrast would have been a nice touch but beyond my ability – so I decided to keep it simple and use plain white LEDs. I’ll have to control contrast with coloured filtered instead.

The area covered by the cold cathode is about 15×18cm. Trying to keep the amount of soldering to a minimum, I investigated various LED panels including video lights such as the Yongnuo YN-300. In the end I decided to buy five Rolson work lights and remove the LED panels, each with 72 LEDs in a 3×24 grid. These are designed to run from 4×AA batteries at 6V and a fairly beefy power supply from Maplin.

With hindsight I would probably have done this differently (told you I was no good at electronics) but I wired the five LED panels in parallel, so the whole lot would run from 6V. Each of the 5 individual panels has 24 parallel branches, each with 3 LEDs in series – sharing 6V between them. Testing with batteries and an ammeter I found that the whole panel draws 1.1A. At 6V, that;s about 6.5W steady state. I have no idea if there is a current surge when the LEDs are switched on so I chose a 17W power supply that claims to provide up to 2.5A at 6V – giving me more than double the power I need.

It’s actually a multi-voltage power supply so I decided to run it at 5V rather than 6V to reduce the forward voltage on the LEDs and hopefully increase their lifetime somewhat. Under-volted at 5V they are still much brighter than the original cold cathode tube.

The power supply seems to have a capacitor across the output so when you switch on the panel you don’t get any light for 0.4 seconds. After switching the panel off, you get extra light for 0.1 seconds. This is OK, so long as I remember to compensate for the lost 0.3 seconds of light. It’s probably no worse than using a filament lamp, which takes a bit of time to reach full brightness. Over a typical 15-second exposure it’s only a 2% error anyway.

My fabrication skills are pretty bad, so I cobbled together the five LED panels with a piece of hardboard, some screws and plenty of hot glue gun.

LED panel

LED panel

I drilled some holes in the cast aluminium case to be able to mount the LED panel and the power supply in the top half of the casing. The original cold cathode head had contained a large ferrite transformer so it was no problem to accommodate a switch mode power supply. The head is therefore run from an external mains supply, just as the original cold cathode and incandescent heads were. This means I can still use my enlarger timer, which is a simple timing circuit with a mains relay.

The lower half of the cold cathode head contains a piece of opal diffusing plastic. It looks like it may once have been filled with water. The single diffuser on its own was not quite enough to fully mask the periodic pattern of the LEDs in a grid, so I added another piece of diffusing plastic a few centimetres above it, also mounted by drilling sideways into the aluminium casing and using machine screws. This was sufficient to disguise the slightly uneven lighting from the LEDs while still allegedly passing 95% of the light.

LED enlarger head open

LED enlarger head open

I also decided to modify the lens mount. This old enlarger takes lenses with a coarse 2½” thread (approx 63mm). It’s quite rare (and therefore expensive) to find lenses with this fitting, or indeed adapters to use modern M39 lenses. I have one lens in this size (an EL-Nikkor 135mm) so I didn’t want to lose the 2½” mount. I planned to add an M39 threaded flange to an aluminium panel and mount it over the original lens mount. The EL-Nikkor lens has a fairly small rear element so the 39mm mount does not obstruct it.

First I had to very carefully cut the leather bellows away from the aluminium lens standard where it had been glued for more than sixty years. I managed to do it using a credit card to get between the leather and the metal and gently ease them apart with minimal damage to the leather.

Then it was a case of drilling some holes to mount the M39 flange on the aluminium panel and the panel to the lens standard. It’s not the prettiest job ever but it works. The first picture shows the underside of the lens standard, that will be visible from the outside.

Lens standard

Lens standard

Here’s the “inside” of the lens standard, showing gratuitous bolting and the residue of the glue I cut off.

Lens standard with aluminium plate

Lens standard with aluminium plate

Finally, for completeness, here’s the lens standard with the large EL-Nikkor 135mm lens and the more common sized Toshikato 75mm lens. Both types of lens can now be screwed in without using adapters.

Lens standard with lenses

Lens standard with lenses

After modifying the lens panel, I reattached the bellows using a gel-type superglue which claimed to be able to bond leather and metal. I held the leather against the aluminium by hand for 30 seconds and it seemed to stick quite well. I then contracted the bellows up as hard as I could, using the focus knob. I kept it there for a couple of hours until the glue had cured, and it seems that the bond is firm.

Other minor improvements were a general clean and lubrication of moving parts, and fixing the brake. The heads on the 54 is very heavy so to counteract the weight, the head is suspended from a wire which goes over a pulley at the top and is fed round a spring-loaded capstan at the bottom. To keep the head in place, it has a lever-operated brake. You can see the wire, pulleys and brake lever in the pictures at the top. I replaced the aged, cracked brake pad with new one, designed for mountain bikes.

Now I just need to find some time to get back to making prints! Thanks to my colleague Paul and my father-in-law Arthur for their help with electronics and metalwork.

Busy bank holiday

I had a busy bank holiday weekend. I travelled around and shot three rolls and two sheets of film. I’ll try and break these photos down into distinct events. First there were a couple of test shots using my new Canon FD 200mm f/2.8 lens. The cranes stand in Bristol’s floating harbour and the other view is across Clifton on a misty morning.

On Saturday we visited Exeter for the day. Hannah was singing at evensong and spent all day in rehearsals, so I occupied myself by spending several hours photographing the interior and exterior of Exeter cathedral.

On Monday, I went out looking for pictures for the natural movement photo challenge. First I visited a weir near my house, and decided to shoot some infrared film to allow a long exposure. Then I called in at Arnos Vale cemetery. The photos of the headstones are quite striking – the infrared filter renders foliage as white and stone as black.

I also took some pictures at Arnos Vale with regular black & white film.

A word on my equipment. Each film was shot on a different camera and using a variety of lenses.

The pictures which appear sepia tinted were digitally split-toned to mimic selenium toning. I decided to keep the infrared pictures as straight black & white.

Getting to know the Pellix at sunset

I finally laid my hands on a camera I’ve wanted for ages – a Canon Pellix from the mid-1960s. Mine is the QL edition from 1966. It’s like most other manual focus Canon SLRs except that it has a fixed pellicle mirror, rather than a moving mirror. It diverts 1/3 of the light to the viewfinder and 2/3 to the film, so overall you lose about half a stop of exposure. To compensate for this, the standard lens for the Pellix is an FL-mount 50mm f/1.4 rather than the slightly slower f/1.8 you might usually expect.

The light meter in my Pellix doesn’t work reliably so I avoided using it at all, and used an iPhone app and my intuition for rough metering. There were a couple of glorious evenings last week so I made these exposures shortly before sunset in the nature reserve near my house, using Ilford FP4+ film.

I love the dreamy image quality from the FL 50mm f/1.4 lens. It flares easily when shooting into the sun (I deliberately was, as the sun was low in the sky) and it produces lovely bokeh when shooting wide open – for example in the picture of the hat. I love this camera and lens :)

Unlike moving-mirror SLRs, the mirror in the Pellix is in the optical path when taking a picture. The mirror in my Pellix has some scratches from where I presume a previous owner was a bit over-zealous in their cleaning. This could probably be contributing to the flare and haze too.