Category Archives: Lenses

Garuda Boy – Now and Then

GarudaMural2018BWFisheye
Black Boy, Garuda, 2018

I’ve walked past this mural for years, and they re-do it every so often. The primary change from visit to visit is the color palette, but over time, major compositional elements change as well. I’m showing the previous version (circa 2013) and now both in black and white just to keep the comparison visually fair.

Black Boy, Garuda, B/W
Black Boy, Garuda, B/W

The bird’s head on the right is a mosaic, originally including mirror fragments, now painted. I think the fisheye treatment in the first image works well because the mural already has a bit of a fisheye perspective to begin with.

Happy Accident – double-exposure

DoubleExposureHappyAccidentFisheyeRZ

Double-exposures, especially accidental ones, can be so much fun! You never know what you’re going to get, and how it will work out. Here I have two very different images layered one atop the other, both with my Mamiya RZ Fisheye lens. Had they been done with different lenses I don’t think this would have worked out so well.

Playing with a Fisheye

I decided to treat myself to a lens toy – I got a Mamiya RZ Fisheye lens for my RZ67. It arrived this weekend and I took it on a walkabout in my neighborhood to put it through its paces. I especially wanted to try and do some shots that did not scream “shot with a fisheye” to see if it could be versatile enough to keep in my camera kit, or was it really a one-trick pony.

SolarLightsFisheye

In this shot, it shows that you CAN use it for street documentary if you want. It’s still a challenge, though, with the distortion it brings to background subjects. And it forces you to get right up on top of your subjects – They were maybe five feet away from me.

SquirtgunFightFisheye

Applied sensibly to architecture, it works. You do have to be extra careful that your horizons are level and square, or you will get wild distortion.

CoHiMetroEscalatorFisheye

This is perhaps my favorite image of the shoot. Leading lines abound and the backlit subject with the sun in the frame create drama.

CyclistRentalFisheye

Selfie with the fisheye – with the sun behind me, it’s impossible to keep yourself out of the photo (or at least your shadow).

SonyasMarketFisheye

Victor – Portraits

Part of the reason for my trip to Mexico City was to see Victor. It’s a developing thing – we haven’t placed a label on it but whatever it is, it’s good. And he’s a willing subject for the camera, which is a nice change of pace from my ex.

VictorAtUNAM1

It was also an opportunity to test out the portrait lens on my Mamiya RZ67 (the camera is new to me, but the lens’ quality is known far and wide – I just needed to see for myself what it would do and if I liked it. I do).

We spent an afternoon wandering around the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) campus when I shot these.

VictorUNAM2

VictorUNAM3

This last one was taken with the 110mm f2.8 lens. It’s an equally good lens for portraits when you need something that gives a bit more background and/or a closer working distance, like this shot.

VictorZonaRosa

All images made on Kodak Tri-X 400. I really like Tri-X for the tonality it has, and the just-a-little-bit of tooth.

VictorUNAMDerechos

This very last image was made with the 50mm lens as an example of environmental portraiture. The film was Kodak Ektar 100, which I love for the color saturation and sharpness.

Cyborg at the bus stop

Well, not really, of course. But that’s what it looks like with the lady in the leg brace.

BusStopCyborg

I wish I’d had a second film back for the RZ that I could have had loaded with Ektar 100, as her hair was pink. This was a test shot for me with the Mamiya RZ 67 and the 180mm f4.5 wide open. It gives a lovely compressed depth-of-field look, and the bokeh of the lens is very smooth and pleasing.

The Belair and its Russian Lens

For those curious what the heck I’ve been talking about when I mention my Lomo Belair X/6-12, and the Russian glass lens for it, here you go. The Belair is an odd little beast – collapsible folding strut camera, takes 6×6, 6×9 or 6×12 centimeter negatives depending on which insert you use, is manual focus, scale focusing (you guess the distance and set it on the lens, and compose through an un-coupled viewfinder), has only two aperture options – f/8 or f/16, has manual film advance via red window, yet has an automatic shutter over which the only control you have is changing the ISO dial. Bulb exposures are an option.

The camera out of the box comes with some plastic fantastic lenses (a 90mm and a 58mm). The 90 has perceptible but not egregious distortion, reasonable contrast, and acceptable sharpness. The 58 is, well, not so good. The viewfinder for the 58 has less distortion than the lens does! After the Belair had been out for maybe 6 months or a year, they introduced a limited run of Russian-made all-glass optics for it – a 90mm and a 114mm. I got into the Belair game too late to be able to buy the glass lenses from Lomography, as they were sold out. The lenses were also quite expensive from Lomography, the Belair vendor. I believe they were something on the order of $300 apiece.

The Belair with the 114mm lens
The Belair with the 114mm lens

After having used the Belair with the plastic lens for a while, I got the itch to try and find the glass lenses. That’s when I discovered that they had all been sold, and nobody had any old stock sitting around. They didn’t show up with any frequency on Ebay either. I had particularly wanted to find the 90mm, but no dice. Then along came someone selling their 114mm. The price was good, so I jumped on it rather than take a chance on missing out.

Front view, the Belair with the 114mm lens
Front view, the Belair with the 114mm lens

In addition to the primary reason for getting the glass lens – the glass in the lens with its exceptional sharpness and flare resistance – the ability to precisely control focus is another benefit. The plastic lenses have four distances marked on the barrel – infinity, 3 meters, 1.5 meters and 1 meter (infinity, 9 feet, 4.5 feet and 3 feet for the metrically challenged). If you wanted to focus in between, you had to guess at the distance and hope the depth of field would carry the day. The Zenit-made 114mm and 90mm lenses have many intermediate distances marked on the focusing ring, which is silky smooth without being loose. The ability to much more precisely place your focus means that you can intentionally place objects in or out of focus. This is a major artistic control and a very welcome addition.

The Zenit Belairgon 114mm, and its controls
The Zenit Belairgon 114mm, and its controls

I’m including this scan of a negative made by the 114 so you can see the sharpness and particularly the flare resistance – I’ve had more flare on my Rolleiflex with the lens hood attached with the sun NOT in the picture. While Russian camera bodies may have been shall we say quality-control challenged (particularly in the Soviet era), their optics are truly outstanding. This should be proof enough to put doubt to rest that Russian lenses are up to par with their German and Japanese peers.

Hampton House, Towson, Maryland
Hampton House, Towson, Maryland

The image was shot on ten year out of date Ilford FP4+, and developed in Pyrocat HD.

Key Bridge, Evening, in Palladium

Key Bridge
Key Bridge

Another print I made this weekend – Key Bridge, in palladium. This is a 5×12 negative from my Canham. For the technically minded, I used a circa 1949 Kodak Commercial Ektar 12″ lens for the shot. It’s a very sharp lens with pleasant rendering, and a good match for the subject matter. I also want to talk for a second about the printing – this is a pure palladium print, with a touch of NA2 added for contrast. Sodium Platinum (NA2 for short) is a contrast agent you can add to a palladium print to boost the contrast if required. NA2 is very powerful stuff – a tiny bit goes a long way. In this case, I needed just one drop of 2.5% NA2 added to the 12 drops of Palladium and 12 drops of Ferric Oxalate sensitizer. NA2 comes from the manufacturer in a 5% strength solution, so you can see how little was needed to give the print some snap.

If you are using blended platinum and palladium, or trying to do a pure platinum print, and are in need of a contrast boost, you cannot use NA2 as a contrast agent – the platinum in it binds with platinum in your paper and what ends up happening is you reduce your highlights, blowing out detail, without actually increasing contrast. If you are using a blend, or pure platinum, you have several options – you can boost the contrast with a different additive, such as gold chloride, you can pre-coat your paper with fumed silica, or you can use a dichromate infused developer. I prefer adding a contrast agent into the emulsion rather than in the developer, because to do the infused developer route, you’ll need to have six or eight bottles of developers with different concentrations of contrast agent, and then you’ll have to play with chemistry to mix up replenisher for each developer concentration as it gets used. That realistically means keeping twelve to sixteen bottles of developer around. The downside to additives to the emulsion is that most of them will alter the color of the print. Gold Chloride will do anything from slightly cooler gray tones to eggplant/aubergine tones, depending on how much of it you use. Sodium Tungstate will actually reduce contrast in the print, and give you reddish brown tones. You can use dichromate in the emulsion as an alternative to the developer, but you must be careful in handling the undeveloped print as dichromate is toxic.