Keeping it simple

So I went off to stay for a week (pre-virus) in a pretty fishing village in the North East, planning to walk a bit of the Cleveland Way. As you do, I took a couple of cameras and lenses. That would be four film cameras and four lenses (two of the cameras having fixed lenses).

  • Praktica LTL body loaded with Kodak P3200.
  • Pentax SV loaded with Kentmere 400.
  • Ensign Ful-Vue loaded with Kosmo Foto 100.
  • Pentax Zoom 105 Super with Kentmere 400.
  • Pentax 35mm f3.5
  • Pentax 80mm f1.8
  • Industar 50 50mm f3.5
  • Yashinon 55mm f1.2

If you’ve ever seen the coastal stretches of the Cleveland Way you will know that it has its ups and downs, mainly where a river cuts through to the sea. Like Ankh-Morpork, Cleveland seems to be built on loam, which accounts for the deep river valleys and eroding clifftops by the sea.

So what I’m saying is that ‘descending the near side of a river valley and ascending the far side’ means stairs. Lots of stairs. With each riser taller than my dog. Very good for the thighs, the Cleveland Way. Next Christmas my party trick will be to crack walnuts between my bum-cheeks.

Cleveland Way

The cliff top path is also quite exposed. Each year a bit more of Cleveland slides into the sea, the farmers move their fences back and the trail creeps sideways away from the drop. We also had storm Ciara blowing hard offshore. Which makes it exciting when the wind is lifting and pushing you towards a crumbling edge on a slippery and muddy track and the poor dog has become a kite. Don’t do this in trainers. I did it in high-ankle walking boots, which while marvellous for fording small streams and puddles, meant increased thigh action on all the steps. See walnut trick above.

So was I going to carry all this camera kit plus map, water etc? The first day, yes. Then I got struck by a flash of sense and carried the Pentax point and shoot. Despite feeling like a housebrick it fits in my jacket pocket. I can work it with gloves on. I don’t have to change lenses. I can even use it one-handed if the dog looks like he’s off to Holland. There’s some advantage to this point and shoot thing.

Of course, being a Pentax means the lens is sharp enough. The autofocus struggled a couple of times though, mostly on back-lit scenes. It was easily sorted with a bit of hold the focus and reframe, so I forgive it. The lens is very prone to flare though, so it’s a definite ‘sun over the shoulder’ camera.

Saltburn pier

So that’s 36 shots with the Pentax point and shoot. 12 with the Ensign, mostly at night. 26 so far with the Praktica and 55mm lens, also mostly at night. And zero with the SV and the other lenses. Think of the weight I could have saved if I’d just accepted that light and simple beats complex and heavy. And that the last thing I wanted to be doing is trying to change screw-mount lenses in challenging conditions.

Compact cameras rock!

The Ensign Ful-Vue bullet-hole camera

Bullet hole? Because the lens aperture is bigger than a pinhole but not as big as a ‘proper’ lens. I’ve written about a couple of them before. Last time I shot the Kodak. This time it was the Ensign‘s turn.

The Ful-Vue has a rough attempt at a focussing lens and a fixed set of aperture and shutter at F11 and 1/30. It can also be switched to a B setting for the shutter, and this is what I had in mind. How else was I likely to get any sort of image on Kosmo Foto 100 in February, in the UK? Especially when there turned out to be a huge storm at the time.

The camera has a rather scruffy metal body with a flat bottom, so it’s simple to stand it on the ground or a wall. Just as well, as the shutter release is below the lens and works with a pull-up action. Without being held down, there’s a risk of movement. On the plus side, the bright viewfinder makes it easy to line the camera up in the dark and looking down into it is much easier than trying to get my eye down behind the camera.

Now, 1/30 at F11 on 100 ISO should translate to an EV of 12. My guide says that this is “daylight scene under heavy clouds; no shadows”. This seems a bit overexposed for even a bright February day, but I suppose that consumer films must have been a stop or two slower when the camera was new. So given that I was going to be shooting day and night scenes plus perhaps interiors, I planned to use semi-stand development to rescue my variable negatives.

The nice thing about the Ensign is that it is not a precious object. Replacements are cheap, the lens has probably already got all the scratches it needs and the body is a light metal pressing. The only worry I had was flare through the uncoated lens. I have previously tried shooting an old Balda folder at night, and the lens on that threw huge rings of flare on the negative from an in-frame streetlight. Flare aside, I had no qualms in stuffing the Ensign into a jacket pocket and taking it for a walk.

Less mad flaring than I got with the Balda

The reduced flare compared with the Balda is probably because the Ensign has a single meniscus lens, whereas the Balda is a triplet: the Balda has more lens surfaces to bounce light around. So for shooting at night, simplicity wins. The Balda does win by a mile if you want a sharp picture in daylight though.

The semi-stand development gave me pretty even development across the whole film, despite the wide range of exposures between frames. When I was out in actual daylight, I made a bit of effort to shield the lens from direct sunlight and it seems to have worked. The lens is by no means sharp, but it does give a nice old fashioned look.

A bit of light leakage into the roll of film visible on the left.

It also has a bad habit that I will need to fix, in that it winds-on soft rolls. The take-up spool does not pull the film tight, so the finished roll is fat and at risk of light leaks. Luckily I took the exposed roll out in a dingy indoors room, so while there is some leakage is is minimal.


The scale-focusing lens feels more like guesswork, but there is a visible sharpish plane of focus in the shots where I used it.

You can see the sharpness fall away from the centre

So, given that you can pick one of these cameras up for £5 or less, I reckon they do a surprisingly good job. And they take standard 120 film, so there is less messing around than with something like the Kodak Brownie that takes 620.

The Ensign Ful-Vue II, a camera that works well within its limitations. And sharpness is over-rated, anyway.


So what are these magical arrangements that every photographer should strive for and will guarantee success?

There are some standard ways of arranging things in a picture that have been widely used. I know I’ve made fun of them previously, but they do work. I’ve also been listening to one of them there podcasts (forgive me, I forget which one) and they were saying that you couldn’t do the Daguerreotype thing any more: you couldn’t have people stood dead-centre in the frame, staring into the distance and keeping very still. And yet you can. So besides breaking the mould we should perhaps learn first how to make it?

So here’s the starting set of standard layouts, as seen in a myriad pictures of yore (and mine).

1981 10 11a
In reading order: thirds; golden mean; line; cross; L; T or variation of cross.
1981 10 11b
H shape; C or spiral; triangle; steelyard (large mass balanced by a small one)
1981 10 111
Circle; S or snake; diagonal; box within box or frame within frame; receding planes; stairs

It’s interesting to note how many of them are the same shape as letters of the alphabet. I wonder if I could write something rude using compositions?

Why do they work? Perhaps because the visual side of our brains are looking for patterns and give your system a little pleasure kick when they find one.

Anyway – why not give one of them a go?

Here comes the sun

The spring is sprung, the grass is riz.
I wonder where the boidie is.
They say the boidie’s on the wing.
But that’s absoid. The wing is on the boid.

I can’t lay claim to this verse, but I second that emotion.

So daylight is finally increasing and an old smudger’s thoughts turn to possibly leaving the house with a camera. But where will the light fall and how long will it last?

Being smarter than the average bear, we fire-up The Photographer’s Ephemeris. This marvellous tool is available as the usual web page, but also comes in smartphone versions to help people who have already left the house and find themselves wandering in the wilderness.

Find the spot you have in mind and take a look at how the sun (or moon) will rise and set, how they track across the sky and how high they get.

So what? Well I used this for a picture I wanted to get of a friend’s place, that was at the western end of a narrow road. I knew that the morning sun would glance across the face of the building, but I wasn’t sure exactly when. Easy – find it on the map, zoom in and drag the time-of-day slider across to see when the sun shone down between the houses.

Perk Up

I know I have mentioned this in a previous post, but what got me thinking about it was driving past a steamy big industrial site every day and watching the sun gradually climb over the hill behind me to illuminate the chimneys and then the buildings. If I wanted to come back at a weekend and stand on a nearby bridge, what time would I need to get there? Turns out I can’t be arsed to get up that early and drive nearly to work at a weekend.

But there you go. When does the sun fall on the front of a particular building, or backlight it?  When would a low-angled sun fall directly down the line of a wet road? When will the moon be low on the horizon? What time is golden hour or blue hour? Go ask the TPE.

One more trick up your sleeve. How do you easily find north or south? With a wristwatch. It has to be an anlogue watch with hands though. In the northern hemisphere, point the hour hand at the sun and bisect the angle between the hour hand and 12 o’clock (works for GMT, but take an hour off for BST). This half-way angle points south.

For the people of the counterweight continent, it’s a bit different. Point the 12 o’clock on your watch at the sun and bisect the angle between 12 and the hour hand. This points north. Simples.

For the landscape photographer (yawn), you might want to know when the sun will appear over a hill. Remember your trigonometry from school? Fair enough. Get a decent OS map and a bit of graph paper. Mark the low-level point you want lit and the high point that the sun has to clear. Work out the different in height and the distance between them. If you can’t remember the maths to calculate the upward angle from the low point to the high one, draw them to scale on graph paper and use a protractor. The TPE will then help you work out what time of year and time of day the sun will be in the right direction and at the right height (it shows the angle of altitude of the sun or moon).

Hell Wath fields
Oh no – we’re surrounded!