Category Archives: Lenses

New toy

not much to say, really- it’s camera porn, pure and simple. I got a steal on a Sinar Norma 5×7, which I plan to use in the studio (it’s a heavy beast!). Here she is in her glory: Edit

 

To pretty her up a little I put my Voigtlander Heliar 240mm f4.5 on the front, and used my Sinar pan-tilt head to get her on the tripod.  

 

Quick takes from today’s Intro to Platinum/Palladium class

I’m running a quick impromptu by-the-seat-of-the-pants version of my Intro to Platinum/Palladium printing class this weekend. It’s a bit of a hash because we had scheduling conflicts of varying types to deal with, but we did manage to meet today. My normal plan with students is to take them out into Glen Echo park and have them shoot a bunch of negatives with my 5×7, then come back and process them. WELL… today, the daytime high was still below freezing, so we scratched that idea. Instead, we shot some self-portraits indoors using my Hermagis Eidoscope soft-focus portrait lens, a 1000-watt hot light (a VERY welcome hot light given the weather today!) and an improvised guillotine shutter composed of a pair of dark slides, held in a V-formation. The “shutter” starts with the lower dark slide completely covering the lens, and to allow exposure to happen, the pair are swung past the lens so that the gap between them briefly allows light to strike the film. Exposures can be a little variable, but these are forgiving media.

Here is one shot of one of my students:

Barbara, Hermagis #1
Barbara, Hermagis #1

and here are two of me:

Scott, Hermagis #2
Scott, Hermagis #2
Scott, Hermagis #1
Scott, Hermagis #1

I brought the Hermagis to class to give the students a little something special to play around with, since they both had past experience in working with large format, and I think the soft-focus lens fits very well with the alternative process print look.

Of the two of me, which do you all prefer? I know which one I like better, but I’ll wait to get some feedback before I offer my opinion. All three of these are scans from the negatives, not from prints. We will be meeting again tomorrow to do the actual printing.

Portraits with the Hermagis Eidoscope – Part 2

Five more from the shoot. Wanchuk is a fun subject because he always brings a creative energy to a shoot that brings out the best in both photographer and subject.

Wanchuk, T-shirt
Wanchuk, T-shirt
Wanchuk, Profile
Wanchuk, Profile
"Girl With a Pearl Earring" Pose
“Girl With a Pearl Earring” Pose

I call that last one “Girl With a Pearl Earring” because the pose reminds me a bit of the Vermeer painting.

After doing a series of more serious poses, we decided to get a little funky and play around with faces and gestures.

Wanchuk, Denim Jacket
Wanchuk, Denim Jacket

This last one is not typical of what I’d expect someone to use a soft-focus lens to shoot, expression-wise. I think it works, in spite of or perhaps because of the contrast between the content and the image style.

Wanchuk Rocking Out
Wanchuk Rocking Out

Portraits with the Hermagis Eidoscope

I think I wrote previously about the Hermagis Eidoscope soft-focus portrait lens I have on loan. Here are some results from it. As the lens is on loan to me and not mine, I have not sent it off to have replacement waterhouse stops made for it. It was expensive enough modifying my camera to fit the lens – I don’t want to spend more money on accessories for a lens I’ll have to return. That said, as the only waterhouse stop I have for the lens is the wide-open f5 stop, that’s the only one I’ve been using. It’s not only the maximum amount of light but also the maximum soft-focus effect. I’ve been told that if you stop the Eidoscope down past f8, it becomes a much more regular, sharp lens. But this is what you want to see with this lens anyway – the soft-and-fuzzies.

Wanchuk, close-up
Wanchuk, close-up

I know the lens is flattering to women – I did not know if it would be too much for male portraiture though. I think my example here bears out the fact that it works well for both genders. Here is another portrait of my friend Wanchuk, this time a half-length shot with a different outfit. The soft-focus glow is especially apparent in this image, with the bright denim jacket giving lots of flare around the cuffs of the sleeves.

Wanchuk, denim jacket
Wanchuk, denim jacket

These were shot on Ilford FP4+, with the lighting being just one 1000w Fresnel tungsten lamp and a silver reflector. I bought a pair of these cheap Chinese knockoffs of ARRI fresnel lights ($125/ea as opposed to more like $600/ea for the ARRI lights) for the purpose of teaching my large format photography class. Since I had a need for something that would work without needing electronic synchronization (the Hermagis has no shutter, therefore no flash sync), I broke the fresnels out again for this lens test. Proof positive that you don’t have to have massive, fancy, expensive strobe lighting setups to create great portraits. That said, I wouldn’t try this with my 14×17 using hot lights – there’s just not enough light to be had without literally cooking both subject and photographer.

As I mentioned previously, the Hermagis Eidoscope does not have a shutter in addition to not having an iris diaphragm for the aperture control, so I used a pair of spare dark slides from an old 5×7 film holder, held in a V configuration, as the shutter. I was able to pull off a roughly 1/30th second shutter speed by keeping the gap between the dark slides relatively modest (about a 20 degree wedge). Eventually I’ll print these in platinum/palladium.

DC Pride Parade, June 7, 2014 – part two

I completely forget what group this “float” was with. I’ll just call it “Riding in Style”. Who wouldn’t want a size 200 Jimmy Choo stiletto?

Riding in Style
Riding in Style

One of the go-go dancers from Secrets, the all-male strip bar.

Dancer, Secrets
Dancer, Secrets

Synetic Theater company had a large contingent in the parade. I couldn’t tell if they were trying to show off their costume-making skills or if they were advertising a specific show. They were definitely showing off their bodies, though. Here are three for your consideration.

Synetic Theater #1
Synetic Theater #1
Synetic Theater #2
Synetic Theater #2
Synetic Theater #3
Synetic Theater #3

Another “I don’t know what contingent he is with” shot. But pink feather boas are a sure-fire attention getter.

Pink Feather Boa
Pink Feather Boa

The majorette for DC Different Drummers, the gay marching band.

Majorette, Different Drummers
Majorette, Different Drummers

I think he was with the contingent in front of DC Rollergirls, the roller derby team, and not with them. Many of the political contingents were tossing out beads to the crowd, so he could have been with one of them. I thought he was cute, anyway.

Handing out Beads
Handing out Beads

I think this float was for an entertainment venue here in town. But it could have been part of the Whitman-Walker Clinic contingent. This confusion is understandable – fake cocktail glasses being carried on platters by guys in waiter-esque costumes doesn’t exactly scream “health screenings”.

Village People
Village People

Aah, part of the perennial favorites at the parade, Dykes on Bikes. They’re always the lead-off contingent in the parade.

Dykes on Bikes
Dykes on Bikes

A young boy in a rainbow faux-hawk wig, watching the parade. Here is a shot that plays to the strength of that lens that I was talking about in the previous post. The background swirl really helps to concentrate focus on the boy’s face.

Youth Pride
Youth Pride

And finally, I close this one out with the cowboy (spiritual cowboy, anyway) in line for the JR’s bar outdoor beer garden.

Waiting for the parade
Waiting for the parade

DC Pride Parade, June 7, 2014

Sorry for being a week late with posting these. Life gets in the way of blogging at times. If you remember the last time I photographed the parade, I gave myself a little project to shoot the whole thing with just one lens, the 135 f2 L lens for my Canon 5D. This year I did something similar, but with the 85mm Helios f1.5 Russian-made manual focus lens that I have for my Canon. The Helios has a rather unique character to its out-of-focus areas, which you’ll see quite clearly in these shots. The lens is an odd bird in today’s world in that it is a pre-set aperture lens. You focus wide-open, then turn a manual ring on the barrel to set the aperture to the one you have pre-selected before taking the picture. It’s a holdover from the days when lenses had no mechanical interaction with the camera beyond mounting to the body. The upside is that it makes it easy to adapt the lens to any camera. The downside is, you have to remember to re-set the aperture after focusing.

When the lens is properly focused, it gives a unique signature look – the subject is tack sharp, and really pops out from the background because the background has a “swirl” to it reminiscent of but not the same as you would get with a vintage Petzval-design lens. I chose this lens as my one-and-only for the day not only for the out-of-focus effect but also because it is a shorter lens, therefore a little more intimate than the 135. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Rainbow Streamers, 17th Street
Rainbow Streamers, 17th Street

Politics:

DC Pride would not be complete without a major political section. Actually, in some way, shape or form, most of the parade is political (especially if you include the religious groups that march under that heading). This year marks the first time an official US Military Color Guard contingent was able to march openly in the parade thanks to the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Watching them march in the parade was a very emotional moment for many people.

US Military Color Guard
US Military Color Guard

This year’s honorary grand marshall was Chris Kluwe, the straight former kicker for the Minnesota Vikings who took a very vocal pro-gay, pro- same-sex marriage stance, replete with some very memorable if not entirely polite turns of phrase. It was an extremely brave stance for him to take, and ultimately it cost him his job. He was honored for being a relentless ally.

Chris Kluwe, Grand Marshall
Chris Kluwe, Grand Marshall

This couple marching in the parade with the police contingent showed up at the counter-protest to the Westboro Baptist Church looney-tunes protest of DC Pride, giving silent rebuke to the Westboro clan with a passionate kiss.

Police Officer Couple
Police Officer Couple

David Catania is running for DC Mayor as an independent. It is almost impossible to run for city-wide office anymore without participating in DC Pride – pretty much the entire city council was in the parade, and even several former-candidates who lost their primary elections had marching contingents.

David Catania Supporters
David Catania Supporters

My apologies to David for this photo, but it’s not my fault that he’d been hit by a super-soaker prior to marching past where I was taking photos.

David Catania
David Catania

This is Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s Congressional Delegate. She sits in the US House of Representatives but does not have the same rights and authority that a full congressperson has because DC isn’t a state. She’s a regular at Pride, though – I don’t think I’ve been to a single Pride parade in the last 20 or so years that she hasn’t participated in.

Eleanor Holmes Norton
Eleanor Holmes Norton

Custom work – Mounting a Hermagis Eidoscope

Here are two photos of the Hermagis Eidoscope #5 mounted on my Canham. The Hermagis is on loan to me from the Washington School of Photography. Mounting it on my camera required multiple customizations. First, I had to have the front standard on the Canham swapped out, as the original one was made to handle Linhof lensboards. The Linhof Technika board is just a little too small to take the flange for the lens. Fortunately, the Canham design will accommodate the larger Toyo 110×110 mm board, and now comes standard in that format.

I called Keith Canham and spoke with him about this. One of the great things about calling Keith is that when you call to discuss a problem, he answers the phone himself. You speak directly with the man who built your camera! He suggested that I pull the front standard off the camera, ship it to him, and he would re-use the hardware on a new wood panel the required size. I followed his instructions and popped it in Priority Mail. I had the new panel with all the hardware installed plus the original should I ever want to convert it back in my hot little hands within four days. Talk about customer service!! This is why I will be a loyal Canham customer as long as they remain in business.

I took the Toyo lensboard out to my folks’ place where I have my drill press and, after hunting around a bit to find the proper tools, drilled the hole in the lens board that would let the flange fit. Typically, I slightly oversized the hole, but not so big it caused any problems. I’d wish for a laser lathe but I don’t do this kind of stuff often enough to justify such a thing. For now I’ll live with my cheap Ryobi drill press and my variable diameter circle cutter.

In addition to mounting the lens, I made a lens cap from the cardboard insert that came in a package of Bergger VCCB fiber paper. The lens cap top was traced from the lens hood then cut out with an Xacto blade. The edge was made from a strip of the same board bent into a tube. There was a small gap in the side of the tube because it was too short, but that worked out to my advantage- otherwise the cap would have been too tight and therefore too hard to take off and put on efficiently. The tube is attached to the body with black bookbinder’s tape, the same tape I use for repairing hinges on light traps for film holders.

I’ll be using the lens cap as a shutter for now, until I get around to making a mount for a Packard shutter. You can see the lens cap in the first picture, on the lens.

20140514-080600.jpg

20140514-080613.jpg

More from the Helios 85mm f1.5

A few more from the Helios 85mm lens. I’m impressed, what about you? That razor-thin depth of field wide open is tricky to manage, but I think it transitions nicely between sharp and out of focus.

Frosty is one of my two cats. He’s the more wiggly of the two, actually, so it’s a challenge to get him to pose. Chub-Chub will sit still longer, until he realizes the camera is pointed at him, and then he has to come look at the lens.

Frosty
Frosty

This is my friend Missy, wife of my best friend Steve. This was a grab shot at their Super Bowl party. She just lights up when she smiles.

Missy
Missy

Richard is another friend – also photographed at Steve and Missy’s Super Bowl party.

Richard
Richard

New Lens – Zenit Helios 85mm f1.5 for Canon EOS

I got a new lens yesterday – a Zenit Helios 85mm f1.5 in Canon EOS mount. The Helios is a Russian made lens. It’s a strange anachronism – solid brass barrel, pre-set aperture (which is the weirdest thing I’ve ever dealt with), but multi-coated glass. If you’ve never used a lens with a pre-set aperture, here’s how it works – you set the aperture you want to use. The lens remains open to its widest aperture for focusing. When you are ready to expose, you turn the stop-down ring to close the aperture, then take the picture. I have yet to decide if this is worth the trouble.

If it’s such a pain to use, you ask, then why did I ever buy such a beast? For several reasons. One, it was only slightly more expensive than the Canon 85mm f1.8 lens, and dramatically cheaper than the Canon 85mm f1.2 L lens. I got the extra half-stop of speed for about $50 more. Second, the lens is famous (infamous depending on who you ask) for producing a “swirly” background when shot at large apertures. I wanted something that would give a Petzval-esque look but would be more modern in function. As to more modern in function, well, read my comments above. It does have an internal aperture at least, and doesn’t require waterhouse stops, but other than that, it’s not exactly modern in function. 1950s-era Soviet technology at its finest.

But how do its images look? That’s the most important thing. Well, here are some examples I shot last night.

This is my friend Thi – we went to see a movie, and I dragged along the lens and camera to take some test photos outside the theater. Thi is always a bit of a sourpuss, and not terribly fond of being photographed, so you’ll pardon his expression. I’m quite impressed with the lens’ rendering of color and contrast, and the overall sharpness even wide open.

Thi, at the Majestic Theater
Thi, at the Majestic Theater

But where’s the “swirl”? Wait for it, it’s coming.

Here’s the neon marquee outside the theater. Again, terrific rendering of the marquee’s intense colors.

Majestic Marquee
Majestic Marquee

It is possible to use this lens for candid shots. I snagged this photo of the boy at Chipotle building burritos, but I didn’t have to play around with pre-setting the aperture because I was shooting wide-open anyway.

Making Burritos at Chipotle
Making Burritos at Chipotle

If it wasn’t already obvious, you can see the razor-thin depth of field at f1.5 in this shot.

Street Sign
Street Sign

I think the shallow depth of field in this shot works very well – this was observed through the window of my car while I sat at a red light. The barbershop has closed for the evening, and the barber is finishing up a last customer, when a friend pokes his head in to chat.

Barbershop, Closing
Barbershop, Closing

Another color test, also observed through the window of my car while waiting at a stop light.

We Buy Gold
We Buy Gold

Here I was playing around with selective focus and action. The weirdness at the bottom of the frame is the rear-view mirror of my car. The mirror frame itself is so out of focus it visually disappears, but what is reflected in it at the same distance away as the primary subject is also equally in focus – it’s a strange quality of focusing using mirrors.

Rear View
Rear View

And finally, we get to the swirl. Here’s my cat, Chub-Chub, on the carpet in the hall. The trick, I found to getting the swirl, is to have the subject close to the background, but the background is out-of-focus due to depth of field. Put too much distance between the subject and the background, and the swirl goes away and you just get really creamy smooth out-of-focus rendition, like what you see in the portrait of Thi.

Chub-Chub, swirly background
Chub-Chub, swirly background

Washington DC in the Snow

We had a snowstorm a couple weeks ago. I know, bad me for taking so long to getting around to developing the pictures. And I have another roll from the snowstorm to go, as part of a batch. In any case, I decided I wanted to take pictures during the snowfall, so I bundled myself up and got out and about with the Rollei. This, and rain, are perhaps the two things the Rollei is less than ideal for, because the waist-level finder does nothing to prevent snow (or rain) from falling on the focusing screen. Unless of course it’s blowing sideways, at which point you have bigger problems.

I took the camera and my Induro carbon-fiber tripod out for a short walk up the street on my way to get dinner. It’s proof of the adage about finding interesting things to photograph in your own backyard. You just have to be willing to see them.

The bikeshare is a great source of material, especially if you like repeating shapes and patterns. The bike seats both break and reinforce the pattern as they are all set to slightly different heights.

Capital Bikeshare 11th Street
Capital Bikeshare 11th Street

The Wonderland Ballroom is a neighborhood bar and grill. Until 2004, it was the Nob Hill, DC’s oldest continuously operating gay bar (opened in 1954), catering to a primarily African-American (and in the end, elderly) clientele. Now it serves a young, ethnically and sexually diverse crowd of urban hipsters. Plus ca change, as the French say – a side-effect of gentrification.

Wonderland Ballroom
Wonderland Ballroom

In a long time exposure (somewhere in the region of 30 seconds) I caught the lights of a passing city bus, under the flare of a street lamp. The awesome and dramatic flare from the street lamp is a combination of the lens on my particular camera, which is prone to strange flare artifacts when you put a light source directly in the scene pointed at the lens (due in part to some loss of coating on the front element of the lens) and the specular reflections from the falling snow. In some cases I’d find lens flare like this to be highly objectionable and would consider the shot ruined. In this case, though, I think it makes the image.

Passing Bus 11th Street
Passing Bus 11th Street