If you become good at something, or well-known for something, what should you do next?

In writing or music the answer might be ‘do more of it’. This is the curse of the three-book or four-album deal. You become indentured to the publisher to make more copies of the same thing. But you can also become your own victim by repeating a successful formula, even despite the likelihood of diminishing returns.

As a photographer you might develop a particular look or style. If it gains approval, the temptation is to prolong that style to maintain the approval. If you were a professional the drive might be stronger, as that style might be what you are hired for. But tastes change – what about informal family group portraits shot against plain white backgrounds, for example? And what about your own creative growth? Do you want to be limited to wide-angle landscapes with a rock in the foreground?

There are artists who are recognised as having changed their work over time. Think of David Bowie as an obvious example, but you could also look at Sparks, Neil Young, Tom Waits or Alan Moore. Indeed, Alan Moore is explicit in his descriptions of the writing process, that as soon as you recognise yourself repeating a style you should stop using it and develop something else. His advice is to pick something you find difficult and try that. This is the way to grow, not from comfort and safety but from restraint and risk. If you don’t make yourself do something different, when are you likely to do anything different? Or as Kahneman, Sibony and Sunstei said, “We do not go through life imagining alternative ways of seeing what we see”. You could rephrase this as “nobody ever set out to prove themselves wrong”.

This is different to being in a creative hole. In a hole you are stuck and don’t know what to do next. Instead, here you are riding high, master of your craft and technique, but taking the conscious decision to break away and do something else. This is getting out at the top of your game, before your style becomes your handcuffs. It also hopefully avoids the diminishing returns of repeating what was a successful formula.

Bored already

I did write previously on developing a style, where I wondered if I had one. There must be something, as I’ve had one of my pictures identified as mine even though it was anonymous. So perhaps I now need to break away from what was recognisable and try something else?

I’ve mentioned Alan Moore above, and he has something to say about having a recognisable style. If I may steal quote from his book Writing for comics: “if your ambition is to be a creator, then know that creativity is an ongoing and progressive phenomenon and that stasis and stagnation is sure death to it”.

Taking that as the aim, what could I do with my own cliches?

  • Simplicity – try more complex pictures or containing more elements
  • Block or simple shapes – work through the full list of compositional elements
  • Black and white – shoot colour instead
  • Shoot some landscapes (which I currently avoid)
  • Shoot some street photography
  • Try shooting video rather than stills

I’ve had some words to say on most of these: I like simplicity; shoot a lot of mono; avoid landscapes and street photography. So now is my opportunity to stop doing what is comfortable and see what I can do in a less familiar genre.

Not that I’m presuming to have anything like a consistent style or to suffer with artistic angst. But it doesn’t harm to challenge yourself out of your comfort zone. I might even (one day) find what it is I’m good at or enjoy more than taking pictures of things that go fast or swim.

PS – I had a go at what I proposed. I went out and wandered around some landscape and did a bit of architectural photography. Not as bad as I’d thought. I may never take either of them up as my default, but having seen my first results I now want to improve. Give me a hand and we’ll shift this paradigm.

Selby riviera

What colour is that?

This came about during a walk near fields of ripe barley. I, as you would, asked my partner what colour the barley was. I challenged the first response of ‘wheaty’ and we got to describing what we could see, which seemed to be cream with a hint of pink. Then I realised I could bring the power of digital photography to bear, so I took a picture of the field.

When I got back I loaded the image into Photoshop and blurred it to even-out the range of tones. I then sampled the colour and looked at the RGB coordinates. There is a useful website at e-paint that takes RGB values and finds the best matching paint. Of the easily-available ranges, Johnstone’s had a colour that was a good match.

There is also a website that will give you the RGB values of a named colour. I used this to find the values for British Racing Green to use as a colour tone in a mono picture.


I couldn’t leave it there though, could I? One of our lads was looking at a new flat but really liked the colour in one he had seen on an online estate agent’s website. So we found the picture, sampled the colour and found the paint. Simples.

Interior decorating through the power of photography.

Canonet 28

I was given this camera with the words “I was going to throw it away, but you can have it if you want and can make it work”.  A quick check showed that the light seals were glue and the meter battery was flat (but hadn’t leaked). A little bit of emery cloth on the battery contacts, a new battery and some light seals and it sprang into life. Incidentally, Covid handwash gel is perfect for cleaning old light seal residue: the alcohol does the work and the gel stops it spreading.

So, what do we have? An automatic exposure rangefinder camera with a 40mm f2.8 lens. It was made from 1971-76 and was one of the last all-metal compact cameras before everyone switched to using plastics. This puts it right in the middle of the production run of the Olympus Trip (1967-1984) and it’s a similar offering.

The Canonet 28 was a cheaper person of the more famous Canonet QL17 and was made in Taiwan. It has shutter speeds ranging from 1/30 to 1/600, apertures from f2.8 to f16 and film speed settings from ISO 25 to 400. All pretty normal, basic and usable. Like several other automatic cameras of this type, the shutter locks if the meter indicates under or over exposure. So putting a lens cap on the camera prevents accidental shots. It also stops you taking blank shots if you forget to remove the lens cap.

The white tape makes the lens cap a tighter fit.

The lens might be better than you would expect, with five elements in four groups. This is the same configuration as the Pentax 40mm pancake lens that everyone is chasing, so this Canon might be a cheaper alternative that comes with its own film holder and shutter.

The viewfinder shows only the shutter speed selected by the meter, not the aperture. But they vary together from 1/30 at f2.8 to (the experts say) 1/620 at f14.5. If you take the setting off the Auto position you get 1/30 shutter speed but access to manual control of the aperture. This is meant for using flash. The meter itself will lock and hold its setting with a half press of the shutter. Perfect for this camera’s audience – you can shoot on automatic, then take a bit more control as you learn more about photography. It also weighs just over half a kilo, so not too onerous to carry around. The only thing to perhaps think about is that it was originally built to use a 1.35v mercury battery. Mine now has a fresh 1.5v cell (same as the expired one that was in it), so there may be a difference in the metering. We’ll see if it matters.

The lens has a short focus throw, turning only through about 40 degrees to go from infinity to its closest focus of 0.8m. The rangefinder patch in the viewfinder looks faint, but in use works quite well. I’m used to twisting and turning my rangefinders to get an edge or feature that can show a double image for focusing (or even using a laser pointer). The Canon surprised me by showing a clear double image without any fiddling.

The flash hot shoe has an extra contact, as there was a dedicated flashgun for this camera that could be used in full autoexposure mode. With any other flash you have to take the camera off auto and set the aperture. This sets the shutter speed to 1/30, which is pretty slow for a Copal shutter that should sync at all speeds.

There is a little window below the tip of the winding lever that gives visual confirmation that the film has engaged with the sprockets and is winding-on. It’s a bit superfluous, as the rewind crank also rotates. Or I thought so, until I rewound the film. When you do that the indicator wiggles until the end of the film releases from the make-up spool. This makes it easy to rewind the cassette with the end still out. The film counter window is tiny, but has a magnifier. Even so, I had to tilt the camera into the light to be able to see the numbers.

There is another bit of good design that you find when you load the camera. Rather then the usual wind-and-fire to get past the initial exposed part, the Canonet just winds-on a couple of times to get to the start position. Clever, as it just works and would save you from losing the first shot or two on the film if you were not familiar with 35mm.

In use, the viewfinder display of the camera’s selected shutter speed is not that helpful. It really only confirms that the camera is not struggling with overexposure or a slow speed.

The shutter button has quite a long action, but this does make it easier to find the half-press spot where the meter reading will be locked-in. This is really the only control you have – take a look at the displayed shutter speed, point the camera at a darker or lighter area to change it, then lock that exposure with a half-press of the shutter button. Then reframe and shoot.

I’m impressed with the build quality of this camera. It was Canon’s cheap and low-end model but the rangefinder seems to be in adjustment and everything works.  For a 45 year old camera, this is pretty good. It does help that it has obviously been looked after.

Carrying the camera is not so great. The standard strap slips off my shoulder (which could be fixed) and it places the camera under my elbow. This would be fine, but it risks me knocking the lens cap off. That would enable the camera’s meter and shutter, so there could be a risk of taking accidental shots. The camera is small and light though, so it’s easy to hand-carry. Hey, I could even go tourist and carry it around my neck.

I loaded the camera and took it for a walk. Normally I would be more interested in the handling of the camera than the pictures, but I’m curious to see what the automatic exposure does and how the 40mm lens performs. …And it’s pretty obvious that the higher battery voltage is being seen as more light, meaning that the camera is underexposing. Now, I’m sure I could do something clever with a battery adapter but I took the crude and simple route: I put a spot of black marker pen on the meter window. It’s not a permanent marker, so I can see how the lens works and buy the adapter if I need it.

The lens is quite good. It even delivers a slightly swirly bokeh under the right conditions.

Even though the aperture of f2.8 is modest, it can be used in lower light and it can give some subject to background separation.

The negatives were nicely exposed, so the bodge with the marker pen seems to have worked. Neat.

So overall, quite a handy package that works better than you might expect for what was a cheaper consumer camera.

What does photography mean to me?

Grant Scott asks this question of someone every week. But he knows what he’s doing and the people who respond are gifted and experienced.

And then there’s me.

It’s a good question, and of course it made me think. I post here every week, so you may have some sense of what I think (or don’t), but there is a difference between the things I want to write about and what I feel about the subject. So there’s no harm in me answering the question and it may help me get my ideas in order.

I think photography has three meanings for me: curiosity, creativity and recall.

Curiosity is my sense of being slightly alien and wanting to make a record of how I see things, if only that I can see later what I saw then. I can take pictures of things I can’t do (like sports) or can’t describe (minimalism) or can’t understand (the rest). I can capture what I saw that was different or attracted me. I may never show anyone else, but I have a picture that can say to me “this is what that thing looked like”. I have a good memory but no mind’s eye, so I can look back but I can’t easily look forward into an imagined picture of the world. So if you asked me if I wanted to go and see some whales or waterfalls, the answer would be yes. I want to see what they look like, I want to learn what it takes to photograph them and I want to see if I can take a picture that captures what I saw and felt.

I confess that same curiosity also led me to find and try all sorts of odd cameras and lenses. I would wonder what an extreme wide angle view might look like and then find out. I wanted to take pictures of what I saw underwater, so had a go at that too. Curiosity is fine, but hoarding is not. But once I realised that, I fixed the issue. I’m still as curious as a cat, but I’m now less laden than my former snail.

The creativity aspect is important to me, as photography is a type of art that I can do. I can’t draw, paint or act and my dancing looks like I’m fending off a bee. But I can take photographs that I like. I can take a picture that is not a straight record, but instead shows what I saw or what could be made of the elements of the scene. The camera is a machine that allows me to be creative: it does the things I could not otherwise do. The nearest I could get to painting a landscape would be to give the trees a coat of emulsion, but a camera allows me to render an image of what I saw or thought.

This brings me to memory, as photography provides me with  a history of the people I have met or I am related to. I have pictures of friends, family and many other people that compile a history of people and events. And when I said I had a good memory, I really mean I have a particular memory. I can remember things like trigonometry or the equations of motion from secondary school. I can’t remember what I was wearing last weekend. So I have pictures of my Great Aunt Maud dancing after a couple of sherries and showing her knickers. I have a picture of a nun sat on the fence waiting for the Pope to arrive. I have a picture of my wider family walking in a group under the Esplanade at Brighton, looking like a poster for Reservoir Dogs. These are my memory. I also inherited a large quantity of negatives and some prints from my ancestors. These are my extra memory. Together they are my connection.

This is what photography means to me. What does it mean to you?

Kodak 616

I’ve got a rather handsome art deco Kodak folding camera made in 1938 or ’39. The plate on the lensboard describes it as a Six-16 Model C. It was an ornament for a while, until I got curious about using it. The camera was made to use 70mm wide film to produce negatives of 2.5 by 4.25 inches. That’s more than twice the size of the usual square 6×6 roll film negative. You could think of it as a half-frame 5×4 camera. The idea was that the negatives were big enough to be contact-printed at around postcard size. Load it with ortho film, develop in dishes under safelight and you could make contact prints. Very easy amateur photography without the need for an enlarger.

What this large negative size gives you is a large camera. Quite heavy too, as it’s made of smart lacquered metal. But I got to wondering if it could be adapted to take 120 roll film.

The first thing it needed was a clean – it had been on someone’s shelf and was very dusty. The lens seemed to clean-up ok. The lock nut on the back needed tightening, but that’s easy. The main thing was that the wind-on knob wasn’t engaging in the film spool. It should be spring-loaded, so that it can be pulled out to release the spool but will be held in the drive slot. A quick disassembly of the winder found no spring. That’s odd. I wonder if that accounts for the excellent condition of the camera? It would have made winding-on unreliable, so perhaps it wasn’t used much? But where could I get a suitable spring? A clicky pen spring was too small – I needed one with a 5mm inside bore and about 5mm length. To the rescue came Springs and Things. They had exactly what I needed. Their minimum length was 6mm, but I was probably going to have to trim the spring anyway to get it right.

So after a very fiddly session getting some small, awkwardly-placed and spring-loaded components together, I had a working knob (stop giggling at the back). A bit of careful bending of the metal fingers that located the ends of the film spool and we appeared to have a working wind-on. Hurrah!

Now, roll film has numbers printed on the backing paper to locate the frames. But these numbers don’t match the larger film gate of this camera. Luckily the numbers for 16-on (6×4.5) did match the location of the red window on the back of the camera. So what I did was to load the backing paper from a previously used film and start from the point where the film would have been attached. With this just past the film gate opening, I closed the camera back and saw what number appeared in the window. Then I wound-on the paper to clear the film gate and noted what number was then visible. It looks like I can get seven frames on a 120 film.

The next problem is that 120 film is 61mm wide and the film gate on this camera is 63.5mm wide. So what I need is a 2 or 3mm strip on each side of the gate to mask it down and support the film edges. Black art paper and tape will do the job. It’s easy enough to confine the tape to the places that the 120 film will not be moving across, so there shouldn’t be any issues with sticky residues. The 120 film spool seems to be the same diameter as the 616 one, but shorter. I used a couple of rubber tap washers to space the spool centrally. I will have to unload the camera in a dark bag though, as the longer 616 spool will not protect the edges of the film from light leakage.

Tap washers used as spacers, and you can see the strips of black paper taped down the sides of the film gate.

The good thing is that all of the changes are reversible, unlike some of the things I have done to folding cameras. It’s also a much easier conversion than for cameras that used 620 film.

The end result should be a wide-frame medium format camera – the Xpan of roll film, if you will. It will be shooting a 6 by 10.8 frame, or 1:1.8 aspect ratio. The lens is a 12cm f4.5, giving a 48 degree field of view across the long side of the frame. This is the equivalent to a 40mm lens on 35mm, so a slightly wide standard lens.

So, how well did it work? Well, the first step is that it worked at all. I took it out in bright sunlight as that would make it obvious if the bellows leaked. The first two frames overlapped, so I will need to check my wind-on numbers. But I have seven recognisable frames on the film! In retrospect I think I’ll adjust my numbering to get six more widely-spaced frames. There’s no point in having a panoramic camera if you lose the ends of the frame to overlaps.

That flare at the top right of the frame seems to be a hole in the bellows. When I looked carefully, a tiny wire spring that forms part of the folding mechanism was adrift and had poked a hole. So the next step is a small patch of black card. But this eighty year-old camera works!

If you fancy a panoramic medium format camera, then this is the way to go.

Going down smiling

I got the chance to go diving in warm water again. This time it was in the Red Sea, and my first time on a live-aboard boat. This means living and diving from the boat rather than going out from shore each time. What it should mean is more dives in the day and being earlier at each dive site than the shore-based divers. This means there could be fewer people so less crowding on the dive site, fewer chances to lose your buddy in the throng, and less disturbed silt.

The down side is that there are fewer opportunities to hire kit. Basically, I needed to take most of my dive kit with me, within the weight limit of the flight. So that constrained my camera choice. The dive kit was a necessity – a second or third camera was not. I had 20kg hold luggage and 10kg cabin luggage allowance. There were also some gotchas, such as the requirement that all powered gadgets in the cabin allowance (other than mobile phones) have the battery removed. So my dive computer, that I was planning to wear as a watch, went in the hold and added to the weight. (This rule seemd to be void – there was no problem bringing the dive computer through in hand luggage on the way back). The plus side of being on a boat was that I needed minimal clothing – I would not be going out in the evening or visiting tourist attractions: I would be diving or sleeping. I could get away with a few tee shirts and a pair of shorts, but all the camera gear had to fit into the 10kg allotment.

So – what to take? It would have to be one compact camera with an underwater housing plus spare batteries and charger. The external flash would be nice, but I would be diving in clearer water than the UK and my torch could substitute. Second camera, just in case? If I can squeeze it in, yes, as it would mean I could cope with one flooded housing event. Loads of memory cards, but they weigh nothing. Video action camera and housing? Probably not, as the main camera can do video. A general use camera for surface shots? Not if I take a second camera for the housing – I can use one underwater and the other on the surface. So it’s coming down to a brace of Canon G9 cameras and one underwater housing. For safety I need to pack the batteries, with their terminals taped-over, in the cabin bag. That eats into the weight allowance too.

Lots of test packing and weighing took place. One of the most useful pre-trip purchases was a small weighing scale. I hung this up in the shed and weighed my main suitcase each time I added an item. First in was a full set of diving gear and a thin wetsuit. By reducing my clothes and personal gear to the minimum I got the case down to 19kg. That 1kg leeway was a safety factor in case my (or the airport’s) scales were out. There was also a chance that some of my kit could be damp on the way back, so heavier.

The camera housing is basically a plastic box – light but bulky. This went in the hand luggage with one camera inside it. The second camera and all the batteries went in the same bag. And I was inside the weight limit!

What I hadn’t figured was that the camera and housing were buoyant underwater without the external flash. This was a bit of a nuisance, as holding the camera in front of me tipped me head-up. It doesn’t sound like much, but we try to get as flat and level a posture as possible to reduce drag. It’s all about reducing air consumption – I can vary between 16 and 21 litres of air a minute depending on how much I am finning. Given that we want to surface with a 50 bar (50 atmospheres) reserve, anything that increases my air consumption is to be avoided. The solution was to hold the camera in front of my navel when I wasn’t using it, so that I stayed level.

The joys of diving in the Red Sea were the clarity and the critters. The visibility was 30 meters or more, compared to the 3-5 meters we typically get in the UK. There is much less silt in the water too. But the critters… most awesome! Fish ranging from smaller than my fingernail to bigger than me. Octopus changing colour and texture to hide between rocks. Moray eels like sock-puppets with teeth. Shoals of exotic and lurid fish. They do say that divers come in two types, depending on whether they like wrecks or critters. You can probably tell I’m a fan of the tentacled and wriggly.

But enough of the diving already, what about the photography? There was almost too much to photograph. I could have taken a hundred pictures of one coral outcrop, and missed the thousand other blooms in the coral garden. There was every possible type, colour and size of fish.

And then there are the things you only see by looking very carefully. Crocodile fish looking like bits of rock; scorpion fish like coral growths; octopus hiding in plain sight.

The weirdest was a Filamented Devilfish that looked like a bit of craggy rock but flashed open a pair of butterfly wings as a warning. It then crawled away using its front fins as legs.

There were bigger fish cruising at a distance, including a Silvertip Shark that slid past close enough for it to take a look at the strange bubble-blowing fish but too far away for an effective photo.

Not a shark: Napoleon Wrasse.

One thing I found interesting is that I was shooting like a film photographer – trying to make every frame count – while one person on the boat was shooting like a Hollywood gunfight. He had a GoPro- type camera on a long extension stick, and he had set it to take a still frame every half second. At the end of one dive he told me had had taken 3,500 pictures. Given that only amounts to 28 minutes and we were diving for up to 60 minutes and four times a day, I guess he had a huge editing job to do when he got home. It’s similar to a sports photographer I have mentioned, who shot thousands of pictures at each event. I suppose it comes to the question of whether you make single pictures mindfully, or play the odds to get one needle-sharp picture in your haystack? I can see a use for both methods, so I’m not saying I’m better. I did notice though that he was using the GoPro pole as a selfie stick. That is something I’m less sure about. There are already underwater drones that can follow the diver and take video, so it won’t be long before the influencers move in.

In the meantime I will be taking snaps of smiling fish and bashful octopus to remind myself of the joys of diving. It helps when I’m paddling around in the cold soup we enjoy in the UK.

The Argus C3

I never intended to buy another camera, let alone one as awkward and basic as this. I had liked the look of them, but reading about using one put me off. And then one turned up at the right price, so I thought I could see if they were as odd as they appeared. 

So what you have here is probably the best selling camera with the longest production run ever made. If it wasn’t for the C3 we might never have adopted 35mm film as the default. Leica may have got there first, but selling two million cameras in the biggest consumer market in the world counts for a lot.

What they built was rugged and simple. Not simple to use, but simple to make, simple engineering and simple to fix. So this was no svelte Leica with its precision engineering. This was a large block of bakelite plastic with metal edges, made for easy assembly. The rangefinder mechanism is a self-contained block held on with screws. The front face of the camera is a separate sub-assembly that carries the lens and focusing gear and has an inspection hole to allow the shutter mechanism to be easily connected when the camera is assembled. The rest of the working parts fit onto the front of the camera body behind the face plate. This is automotive style industrial design, meant for a production line. That’s probably how they made so many of them.

The viewfinder is on the right. In the middle is the rangefinder window; its other lens is in the middle of the range dial.

I’m reminded of a motorbike I used to have – a Moto Guzzi Nuovo Falcone. This copied some of the concepts from an earlier model, such as the engine layout, but it was built to be sold to the Army and Police. It was robust and simple. The (car) dynamo was driven by a rubber v belt. You could take the entire top off the engine without touching any other part of the bike. You could get to the clutch and other important bits without draining the oil. It too was not svelte, but it was rugged.

I said that the C3 wasn’t simple to use, and this is what initially put me off. For example, most 35mm cameras have a mechanism that releases the toothed wheel that engages the film sprockets when the shutter is pressed. Not the C3. You have to press a button to release the film, start winding on and let go of the button. The toothed wheel will make one rotation (counting out the width of the exposed frame) and lock again. Asking the photographer to do this dispenses with some extra clever parts at the risk of accidental double exposures or missed frames. You also have to cock the shutter before it will fire. This avoids needing any mechanism in the camera body to tension the shutter on winding-on. It also avoids needing any moving parts passing through the plastic block of the body – the shutter mechanism is on the front of the camera so that is where the cocking lever lives.

The release that allows the wind-on to pull the film through.

There is also the camera’s most striking feature of the external gear train connecting the lens to a focusing wheel under your right forefinger. What this actually does is transfer the rotation of the lens to a dial that pushes a protruding pin on the rangefinder block. So it needs no arm inside the lens mount to register the lens moving in and out. This makes the lens mount a separate sub-assembly for easier assembly. The camera was basically assembled by three people: one worked on the body, one did the front plate and lens and one the rangefinder. Industrial production methods from Adam Smith via Henry Ford. The more I look at it, the more I can see how this camera was designed to be assembled by technicians rather than experts.

The end result is a camera that was tough enough to be used by soldiers and fixed in the field. Tony Vacarro used one right through World War 2.

The lens can be removed and was actually designed to be swapped with a tele or wide angle option. It’s a fiddly affair and I would not want to do it on a beach or while walking. But you can, so that’s far more sophisticated than the simple spec would have you think. Oh, and it’s perfectly possible to focus by twisting the lens and ignoring the focus wheel.

The viewfinder is small. It’s also separate to the rangefinder. None of your illuminated frames or focusing patch here. There is one window to focus through and a separate one to frame the shot. Mine came with a very blurry rangefinder. Someone had obviously had the viewing window apart to clean it and had assembled the two little lenses inside it the wrong way round. A quick check with Mike Eckman’s site and it was back to crisp and clear.

The slower shutter speeds on mine are hesitant, which is common. It’s 64 years old, after all. The fix is fairly simple: take the front off the camera (5 screws) and flush the delay mechanism with lighter fluid. I’m going to wait a bit and see how it goes – if the faster speeds (1/50 to 1/300) are ok then I can wait.

So – how does it shoot? Slowly. The fairly simple lens works well enough. This was the main point of the thing after all – not to buy the most awkward camera possible but to get access to another vintage lens with (supposedly) its own quality of rendering. You get into a rhythm with the camera quite quickly: flick the little switch and wind-on after each shot; cock the shutter lever just before shooting. The shutter fires with a very spring-like ping noise. At the end of the film, rewind it using a knob on the bottom of the camera. The film counter rotates as you rewind, so it’s easy to stop with the leader still out of the cassette. The odd winding arrangements may make it easier to do the Lomo thing. Double exposures should be simple, and it may even be possible to wind back to a previous shot. It’s just that I’m not cool or groovy enough to try this.

I found that I can stop worrying about the shutter – the top three speeds of 1/300, 1/100 and 1/50 appear to work just fine. The camera does space the negatives quite close together though. It’s a good job I have a film cutter I can use instead of scissors. The plus side of this is that I can probably squeeze an extra frame out of the film.

The lens was a pleasant surprise – it was sharper than I expected. The rangefinder appears to be correctly calibrated too.

The lines mark anticipated sea level due to global warming

So I’m actually finding it better to use than I feared. It’s a big lump with steampunk charm, but will probably last me for as long as 35mm film lasts.

Drag racing

I tried something new, and it wasn’t wearing different clothes. I learned that there is a drag-racing racecourse reasonably close to where I live. A local sports photographer was going to an event and offered to advise and support a small group of snappers. So I signed up.

Having been a nerdy wannabe (and then be) motorcyclist as a youth, I’d had some familiarity with the sport as it was back then. I think George Brown was still racing one of his Nero variants, or was at least recent enough that we knew his name. Oh, and it was known as sprinting, not drag, which is a better description of what it is all about. This of course sparked another memory of going to a tractor-pull competition. This was all about pulling a weighted trailer as far as possible up an earth strip. The trick was that the trailer had a large weight on it, and the front of the trailer was not wheels but a plain metal sled plate. As the trailer moved forward, the weight also moved forward, loading-up the sled and making the trailer harder to pull. This event also required ridiculous amounts of engine power and produced loads of noise and spectacle. What can I say? I loved it all. Anyway, back to the story.

First question is what lenses to take? A few years back when I went to Silverstone I took all of them and nearly came home with a hernia. But let’s say I want my field of view or frame to be 3m wide and let’s assume I will be 30m away from the racers. The magic formula tells me I want an angle of view of 100 mils, so I’ll need the equivalent of a 300 to 400mm lens on 35mm or full-frame. Easy. I have a 70-300 zoom and a fixed 400mm. If we do get near the paddock area I can swap for a 35-70 zoom. This is bold (for me): I usually take two lenses to go to the newsagent. The 400mm doesn’t have a decent lens hood and it could be sunny, but it’s easy enough to make one: it has a 5 degree angle of view so it’s just a bit of work with a protractor and some scissors.

I’m also taking my monopod. This is a Benbo one that must have turned up cheap somewhere in the past. It has a plastic V on top instead of a tripod thread. This makes it easy to support the lens, then set it aside instantly if I need to do something else.

So kitted-out, off I jolly well set. I also found out how the racing thing worked. The course is one eighth of a mile – a furlong, 220 yards or 201 meters. There are two lanes on the track. The racing is controlled by a small tower of lights, known as the christmas tree. The racer pulls forward to a marked line and the top light goes white when the front wheel is on the line. Then a set of orange lights go on, followed by a green. At the green light the racers depart. They are timed over the course distance and their speed measured at the end. It sounds sedate. Then consider that the fastest cars can complete the distance in under six seconds and be doing 130mph as they cross the finishing line. I was told that some courses are a quarter of a mile, and the cars can reach 250mph. That’s pretty extreme. So they use every method invented to accelerate as hard as they can – huge engines, superchargers, weird fuels, nitrous oxide, sticky tyres and probably pagan sacrifice. As a result, they can be loud. No, make that LOUD. I was warned to bring ear defenders, but didn’t expect to feel the pulsing sound in my chest.

The chequered yellow panels are the finishing line. The dots in the smoke are stones that were stuck to the tyres.

On the course I was at, the 300mm was just about ideal at the long end. I did use the 400mm to pick out single cars and details, but it’s slow to focus so not as handy as the the 300. If I go to another event I’ll probably take the same pair again. The 35-70 was perfect in the pit area. Oh, and that’s another thing – this is not Formula One: you can talk to the racers and team, look at the cars and generally get a close look at some extreme engineering. And what’s even further from F1 is that some of the cars and bikes are old. One of the racers was an old Commer van that still had the faded newspaper delivery sign on the side. Oh, and a large V8 engine hidden in the middle of the body. There was a Ford Anglia with a much bigger engine than the one in my grandad’s. And a rough looking MG which squirmed down the track as the rear tyres tried to overtake the front.

A fast shutter speed reveals what the eye cannot see – that the sidewalls of a car’s rear tyres are twisted into ripples by the extreme torque of the engine. And that the rotation of that engine causes one of the front wheels to lift off the road. If these things can reach 250mph I have no idea how they stay on the track.

Look at the rear tyre

One thing that worked very well was my new camera. It allowed me to raise the ISO as needed to get the shutter speed and aperture combinations I wanted. It also has good image stabilisation so it helped me work with long lenses in a buffeting wind.

Both front wheels are trying to lift, but the right one is held down by the torque reaction of fhe engine.

Did I enjoy the racing? Yes, I did. Lots of things going very fast and making loud noises. Did I enjoy the photography? Yes, I did. I love shooting action and people doing things. It was all about fast focusing, panning and framing. About as far from landscape or still life as you can get. Will I go again? Yes, given the chance.

Lady Diana

How Lomo can you go? I’m afraid I succumbed. Meet Lady Di. She’s a 60’s original, so not even the newer Diana F.

Lady Di (the camera) is made of a small amount of thin plastic and very few moving parts, so it weighs very little. Heft is one of the many things it doesn’t have. Saying that, it has more controls than a Holga, which isn’t saying much. It’s like saying a Citroen Dyane is faster than a 2CV. The Wikipedia entry is not complimentary about the build quality – “It is constructed primarily of low-quality phenolic plastics of the type commonly found in toys imported from Asia during the 1960s.”

The shutter release has a long travel and, with the camera being so light, can probably shake the whole thing as it releases. I have found it works better to pull down on the release with my left forefinger, with my hand under the lens. The squeezing motion shakes the camera less and supports it more.

The shutter speed seems to be pot luck and could be around 1/50 to 1/100. Mine also has a B setting, but there is no cable release so you would need to keep your finger on the shutter lever or build a gadget to do it for you. The lens has three apertures. There is a wide open setting of f11 or two different holes that swing across to provide f13 or f19. Given the variation in the shutter, you may as well ignore the number values and just go by the weather symbols. The main control then becomes the speed of the film you load. Bright day? FP4. Dullish day? HP5.

Unlike the Holga it shoots a smaller frame, 4 by 4 cm, but this means it gets 16 shots on a roll rather than 12. My ex father-in-law’s old Balda camera covers the full 6×4.5 frame, but it has a better lens. The Diana’s wind-on is awful. It’s a noisy ratcheting dial that occasionally locks. Don’t force it, just wiggle it, and it frees and keeps working.

The push-fit lens cap is easily knocked off but you only really need it when the camera is packed in a bag. For walking around you can leave it off. Unlike a rangefinder camera you are not going to burn holes in your shutter curtains.

Because of its age the labels are falling off due to the glue under them drying out. The first was the focusing scale around the lens. This just needed a bit of alignment and a spot of superglue. Then the label on the winding knob departed. Luckily I found it in the bottom of my bag, which saved me using a bit of tape with an arrow drawn on it.

So, all that aside, does it live up to the hype? Is the Diana a better Holga? Why am I bothering when I already have a Golden Hammer?

Well, the first roll through the camera showed that, contrary to folklore, the camera had no light leaks. The roll of film did though – it obviously winds a slack roll so some light got through at the sides. I’ll just be careful in future to unload it in the shade and keep the used film roll covered.

The film could also have done with a bit more exposure. Perhaps the shutter speed is closer to 1/100 than I was expecting? The lesson is though that I can give it a bit more. So this will mean using a faster film or leaning more towards the cloudy aperture setting.

So how did the mythical soft lens turn out? Pretty soft, as it happens, with perhaps a touch of that Lomo vignetting. But does it have that magical quality that these toy cameras are known for? Maybe. Further experiments needed. Oddly, some frames seemed softer on one side than the other, and the soft side changed during the roll of film. There is a plate that holds the film against the gate, but perhaps this is a result of the loose take-up roll? I need to get this thing out again in brighter light, so that I can stop the lens down a bit.

Did I enjoy using it? Yes, as it happens. I’ve moaned before about carrying heavy cameras about but this one is featherweight. Set the aperture for the conditions, tweak the lens to the zone you will be shooting in and just go for it. This may be the perfect post-apocalyptic camera.

Fed vs Zorki

I wrote previously that I had both a Fed 2 and a Zorki. But which one is best? Do I keep one and sell the other, and which one? Does anyone really need two rangefinder cameras?

So first, the basics. The Fed dates from around 1959 and the Zorki from 1969. The Fed has a long rangefinder base of around 68mm and the Zorki a shorter one of around 38mm. So the Fed ought to focus more accurately, yes?

The rangefinder window is on the left
The rangefinder window is in the middle. The thing on the left is the PC socket.

Between the two cameras I have three lenses. The Zorki came with its usual Jupiter 8 lens. This has a serial number starting 08, so could be much newer than the camera body. This lens is a 50mm f2 with a Sonnar design. The Fed came with an Industar 26m that is probably coated, as it has a red P on the front, although I found it fairly low contrast in use. This has a serial number starting 017 and is probably the same age as the camera body. I’ve also got a more modern Industar 61ld. This has lanthanum in the glass and is coated. This should be the sharpest and most contrasty of the bunch. Both of the Industars are based on a Tessar design. The main difference in use is that the ’61 has click-stop apertures while the other two do not. The clickless apertures may be favoured by film-makers, but they are a pain to photographers as it is too easy to nudge them and change the setting. So the best lens for general use should be the ’61, although the Jupiter is an extra stop wider.

Neither camera has frame lines in the viewfinder. Both are supposed to show the field of a 50mm lens and there were external viewfinders available for other lenses. The magnification of the Zorki viewfinder seems to be larger than the Fed. So the view through the Zorki looks the same as the actual scene (or as seen through the other eye) while the Fed appears smaller. I suppose it only really makes a difference if you want to keep both eyes open.

Fed shutter speeds

The Fed has a smaller range of shutter speeds and a lower top speed of 1/500. On my Zorki however, the slower speeds were printed in red ink and have faded away. Not that I am going to be using speeds slower than 1/30 anyway, or that I’d trust the old shutter clockwork to still time them accurately. So the main difference is the top speed of 1/1000.

Zorki shutter speeds

The rangefinder patch of the Zorki is rectangular but not well defined, while the Fed one is circular and a distinct yellow colour.

The shutter releases are different, but that may be their age or how well they were assembled. The Zorki needs a firm push while the Fed is smooth and light. Both shutters are quiet. Perhaps not Leica quiet, but they didn’t cost Leica money. And the Fed seems to have managed 60+ years with probably little care or cossetting.

Carrying them around is similar, except the Zorki has no strap lugs so needs the bottom part of its case to provide them.

So which one do I prefer? The Fed. It’s a bit smoother in action and the rangefinder patch is a bit brighter. Rewinding the film is a bit of a pain, but one doesn’t do it that often. Besides, if I wanted a camera that’s faster and easier to use it would be an SLR. But I want to keep all three lenses, so I may be looking to see what a Zorki body would sell for. <brief pause> About £20, which is just a few quid more than it cost. I will probably hang onto them both. One thing I could check is that all three lenses register correctly on both bodies for the rangefinder. These cameras are more fiddly than SLRs and do sometimes need to be adjusted. Maybe when I’ve got some spare time. In the meantime I’m treating them like a free Leica and I will try to wear them out. But the Fed is my favourite.

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