Approaching a Personal Perfection

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rick_drawbridge, Sep 17, 2020.

  1. Over the last few months I've been confronted on numerous occasions by the problem of choice that I'm sure crops up for some of our members. Many, like me, own too many cameras and the question arises, "What camera shall I use today, with which lens and loaded with what film?" Nikons, Canons, Minoltas...They are all capable of creating fine photographs, and I began to ponder the choices to determine which combination of kit and film consistently returned my most satisfying results. Yesterday I chose three items that seem to be high on my go-to list, went to town and shot off twenty frames in the hard light of a New Zealand Spring day. Developed in my usual PMK Pyro, the results were right up to my expectations and I felt that there really was very little room for improvement. Which, for me, is a very rare occurrence. Here's the combination.

    Canon T90.jpg
    The Camera. A tidy Canon T90, from around 1986, and very nearly the last of the Canon FD mount cameras. It has to rate as one of the most influential designs of all time, it's radical moulded polycarbonate body going on to set a trend that continued up to the DSLRs of the present day. All it lacked was the autofocus facility, and it could have become the first of a long legacy of AF film cameras, but Canon decided to adopt the EF lens mount and the reign of the FD cameras came to an abrupt halt. Much to the distress of huge numbers of Canon devotees, I might add, whose expensive FD lenses were of no use on the new mount, encouraging many to forsake Canon in disgust and migrate to the Nikon camp. But the T90 has all the features I need in a film camera and handles beautifully, despite it's bulk. It has the usual exposure modes of the day, though I find I shoot almost exclusively in Aperture Priority, and excellent metering options, including a cunning spot-metering trick that will store up to 8 readings and come up with a very accurate exposure. All the controls are sensibly placed, the viewfinder display is bright and legible and the camera overall exudes an encouraging air of efficiency and reliability that lets me get on with the job.

    The Lens. I have quite a few Canon FD mount lenses, some Canon, some Vivitar Series 1, the Tamron Adaptall lenses and a variety of other brands. Up until about six months ago my favourite walkabout lens for the T90 was the esteemed 35-105mm Canon FD f/3.5, but at that point I acquired a Tamron Adaptall lens that seems to get very little press, tested it against the Canon and was somewhat amazed. The lens in question is the little Tamron Adaptall 2 35-135mm f/3.5-4.5 (Model 40A), seen fitted to the T90. It performs far better than it has any right to; in particular, it produces very little in the way of distortions, far less than the barrel and pin cushion effects created by the Canon and most other zoom lenses in this class, and it's pretty much tack sharp throughout it's zoom range. As it's an Adaptall II fitting, I can use it on a variety of cameras, and it's recently been getting quite a bit of use. In a perfect world it would be a 28-135mm zoom, but I'm happy to forego the wider reach in view of the overall versatility of the lens.

    The Film. Ilford FP4 Plus has always been a yardstick film in it's speed range so far as I'm concerned. The quality control is consistent, the grain is pleasant and unobtrusive and it responds well to a wide range of development. My only criticism would is that it's a little "polite" and lacking in character, without the "bite" I can achieve with other films such as Rollei or Foma, but I know what to expect from it under a wide range of lighting conditions and it gives good results in the Pyro developers I'm using. It also scans very well on the Epson scanners.

    So, I'd be interest to hear from other other members who have similar favourite combinations. Meanwhile, here are some samples from the "nearly perfect film". Not much in the way of creativity, but hopefully a demonstration of technical aspects and quality.

    A Rail for the Sake of a Rail

    A Rail for the sake of a rail.jpg

    Conart #1

    Conart #1.jpg



    Styles copy.jpg



    Post Modern

    post Modern.jpg

    Country Town

    Country Town copy.jpg

    White on White

    White on White.jpg




    33's copy.jpg
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2020
    Lou_Meluso, LMar, cameragary and 15 others like this.
  2. You have taken a large step on the road to enlightenment, Grasshopper. Attachment to physical objects with too many choices leads to a cluttered mind, and leaves little room for exploration.

    Perfection is unobtainable, but knowing that, we should never stop striving for it.
  3. I have been convinced on the FP4+ for a while. Rick's consistent results are the primary driver. Secondarily, innerwebs reading has me believing that it is quite forgiving in the development, has great tonal range, is smoother, and less chunky in grain.

    Rick has convinced me on Pyro. I just started last week with Pyro HD in glycol, they were immediately my best results ever.

    For a lens, I prefer a fixed middling focal length for the format. 50mm focal in 35mm, 150mm in 4x5. So my current 4x5 is in my sweet spot with a Caltar II N 150mm f/5.6, a rebadged Rodenstock Sironar N 150mm 5.6. Zooms are probably excellent. My brain can't handle "probably". In Nikon, I go to the 50mm f/1.8. I like fixed focal length wides and teles too, though not too extreme.

    For an f/stop, I go study up on sharpness. Usually, there's a sweet spot for a lens. Nikon is around f/8 like most 50mm focal lengths on 35mm film. For the Caltar / Rodenstock, it's f/16, followed by f/22. I only adjust off of those numbers if I am cranking one direction or the other for DOF management, knowing I'm giving up technical quality.

    I always shoot for art on a tripod. I drink too much coffee to hand hold.

    For metering of 4x5 art, I use both a Pentax spotmeter, and an old no-name Japanese CDS cell meter from the 1960s that matches all my most trustworthy Nikon's meters. Man, I meter the daylights out of stuff to know the mids, highs, lows, and decide my shutter speed accordingly.

    Shutter speed: Old 4x5 shutters don't time correctly! I have an app on my phone that LISTENS to the shutter, and shows you a graph of the sound of the shutter. You adjust the start to the first loud snap, and the end to the last loud snap, and the app TELLS you how long it took. That way, you can dial in exactly the shutter speed you want, regardless of what the long-since-obsoleted shutter speed scale says.

    Camera bodies are all just light tight boxes, aren't they? Jewels, of course. If they work or can be made to work, they stay on my shelf. If they cannot be made to work, they go in the garbage can. I don't have the time, shelf-space, or interest to be a mortuary.

    I love my Nikon FE because it was my first love. Light, accurate, durable, great meter, etc.

    In 4x5, I happen to be using a Crown Graphic, the type of camera my Dad used for 1 year as a reporter in L.A. in about 1957. It's a nice light-tight box with a history for me. It doesn't have movements to speak of, but I'm not prepared to spend the $1K yet for a great 4x5.

    Lens hoods: I always use one. I often also use my hand or other object as a shade to get direct sunlight off the lens elements, unless, of course, the sun is purposefully in the picture.

    Clean glass: I am obsessed. It probably doesn't matter. I don't care. All my glass is pristine, or I clean it. If I can't get it pristine, I get rid of it. I could write a whole article about that.

    After all that, I'm just a middling photographer. I would desperately like to develop Rick's eye for composition. With his mind and a cell phone camera, I could trounce all my technical shenanigans above.

    I love my technical shenanigans. I just know they don't substitute for artistic skill.
  4. Always a treat for me to see such perfectly artful photos taken on a nearly forgotten camera that many gearheads would disdain. Each one of these photos is a jewel.
    Lou_Meluso and cameragary like this.
  5. ericphelps said :
    Thank you Eric, much appreciated.
  6. SCL


    Hurrah for another T90 fan. Mine doesn't get much use these days, but every month I dry fire it. I too wish I had Rick's compositional eye.
    cameragary likes this.
  7. Rick - excellent write up. Compositions are top notch and geometric perfections (lines are fabulous on the architecture and 33 and 33A doors, how do you do it, really?)

    Tonality of the images is excellent, I guess your pyro soup works well. What scanner are you using? I still use a Nikon Coolscan LS IV ED from early 2000 that has not let me down (35mm)
    cameragary likes this.
  8. Too many? More than you need, maybe!

    Cracking shots and processing as ever.
    cameragary likes this.
  9. Hi Rick, I bought my T90 / 300TL combo from Hutt Camera Services in Lambton Quay, Wellington in March 1987. A few months later they had the new EOS 620 and 650 in stock. I was miffed at the time but I got over it. Never did get around to buying an EOS film camera.

    Coming from other A series Canon bodies I still mainly shoot in shutter priority mode when using auto exposure. As long as I can see both shutter speed and aperture in the viewfinder I'm happy. I have never used the multi spot facility on the T90. If I'm spot metering I try to meter from a part of the subject that represents a mid tone such as grass or worn tarmac etc. If I can't find a suitable mid tone for spot metering I'll find another tone and adjust the metered results with the Highlight / Shadow buttons. At this point I then move the metering spot over the brightest and darkest areas of the scene to judge the range of tones in the scene.
    I've never been one to meter from the darkest part of the scene and then close down 2.5 stops or whatever to preserve shadow detail. (Should probably do this sometimes as a 'sanity check' on the exposure.

    My original thoughts about the multi spot facility is that the averaged results would probably give the same result as a careful single measurement from a mid-tone. Now I'll have to go out and see if this is true or not.

    The T90 also has a partial, 12%, metering patter which I don't think that I have ever used. (Curiously my F1-N has the non auto metering prism and the 12% partial area screen fitted. I get along fine with it.)

    That Tamron 35-135 lens looks interesting although at f4.5 it's a bit slow at the long end for my liking. I have the nFD 35-105 f3.5 and it's a good performer and also quite heavy at around 680g. My go to FD lens is the nFD 35-70 f2.8 - 3.5 at about 100g lighter that the FD 35-105. My example is a cracker for sharpness and I haven't noticed any distortion. After nearly 40 years the zoom ring is starting to feel a bit dry and raspy. Suspect that the plastic nubs that track the zoom helical are worn out. Cross fingers for the future as we are running out of repair techs in Australia.

    FP4(+) has been my preferred medium speed film for ages, (cf Plus-X), but my preferred high speed film was Tri-X rather than Ilford's HPn films. Tabular grain films are a different matter again. For the last few year I've been a bit lazy and everything gets developed in HC-110. I started with HC-110 a few years ago because of it's reputation for long shelf life and supposed reduction of fogging with outdated films, very debatable. I'm just about over it and about to switch to replenished XTOL which is easily available in Oz. I'm also interested in Pyro developers both from the long shelf life and staining properties. They seem to be hard to source in Australia. Do you import yours and if so who ships them internationally?
    cameragary likes this.
  10. martinjones said:
    I import mine from Freestyle Photographic Supplies in California. The freight costs are about double what you'd pay for internal courier in Oz and the developer is not cheap, but it goes a really long way with an infinite shelf life so I accept the expense.

    It sounds as if we've been down a similar paths with the T90. I find the nFD 35-105 f3.5 a weighty lens to tote around, and I'm usually shooting at around f/5.6 or smaller and don't find the loss of an f/stop with the Tamron too much of a problem. I've read great reports about the nFD 35-70mmf /2.8-3.5, but I do prefer short zooms with a greater reach. The Vivitar Series 1 28-90mm f/2.8-3.5 is another of my favourites for the T90.
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2020
    cameragary likes this.
  11. ralf_j said:
    Thanks for the compliments, Ralf. I use either an Epson Perfection V700 or V800 Photo, depending on where I'm working, and the results are pretty much the same from either. I prefer the Silverfast SE software on the V700. I correct lens distortions in Photoshop, usually refrain from PP sharpening, and sometimes correct verticals if they're annoying me. After years of doing this in the darkroom with tilted easels and lens boards, it's a joy to be able to do it without getting yellow-stained fingers!
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2020
  12. Hi Rick, Approaching a personal perfection.

    Indeed you have, but your modesty limits the perfection to only the camera, lens and film component of your images. In my opinion this perfection also extends to the other less fixed components of the overall image. Things like composition, focus and exposure spring to mind. You have mastered the art of extracting and displaying all the data from the negative by using developing and scanning techniques that turn the negatives into the outstanding work that we see here. These images never block up in the shadows and never blowout in the highlights. The smooth grades from black to white are a hallmark of your work.

    Your work with less than stellar cameras rules out the gear component of your images, and what is left is just the way that these negatives are turned into outstanding images.

    It's work that few can emulate.
  13. Thanks, Greg, high praise, indeed! I really enjoy all the steps in producing images like these, from loading the film through to posting on CMC, and perhaps that shows in the final image.
    cameragary likes this.
  14. One thing that leaps at me in all of these is the lack of distortion in the vertical lines. Shadow detail, detail in all the highlights- clean exposure across the spectrum are other prominent features of these superb photos. I typically like a B&W film that's a bit punchier but to these shots, all I can really say is wow.

    We could all aspire to this level, tho few might achieve it.
    cameragary likes this.
  15. If I were limited to film cameras with fairly good support through repair shops, my bag would have a Rolleiflex & a Widelux. When I shoot film, those are the 2 cameras I'm most likely to use.
    And in reality, I do have a bag that carries those 2 cameras. But also in reality, I shoot a lot of digital as well, for the quick turnaround of images.
  16. The T90 is one of my most favorite cameras, film or digital. Unfortunately mine developed the dread shutter error...:(

    see my comments at Canon T90 - Twilight, harbinger, and herald

    However surprising it may seem to some, I have much sympathy for Rodeo Joe's view.
    Lou_Meluso and stuart_pratt like this.
  17. I waste way too much time trying to decide what I will shoot camera lens format etc. By the time I've decided the good light is gone. Like many I have some choices that never fail to disappoint, but I like the feeling I get using an old friend or simply using a storied camera. My taste is usually in wide to med wide. I must admit I've lost my taste for square format and so my TLRs are dusting away. Luckily the storied exception is a Rolleiflex wih the 645 adapter..oops ! Lucky me! The other 5 or 6 6x6 offer less flexibility. We we all have our comfort zone.. I say; Viva la Difference and challenge your self.....umm before the light fades .
  18. ph.


    A wise saying has it that "the best is the enemy of the good", but perfection certainly propels consumption.

    Stepping back from the features race might even provide more useful and cheaper devices.

    Featuritis is no longer a problem for the silver halide users, but Digital cameras might profit from emulating practices common with film. Wait patiently to have pictures developed = no rear screen, No wifi, more hit and miss, and -usually- miss.But more effort put into evaluating subject, composition and light. Savings made in the software department by shifting development of raw files on to the customer, but by eliminating cine ability, no neeed for hyeprfast, battery consuming in-camera storage and conversion except what is needed for the viewfinder Only problem; no large market, unless a renowned photographic fashion accessory firm makes it.


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