I was bored. There was nothing on Netflix or Amazon Prime, Apple TV or Hulu, or HBO Max that I wanted to watch. To distract my mind from boredom, I rummage through a set of negatives from my early college days with 35mm film photography.
In college, the chemistry for developing a 35mm colour film was expensive. As a student on a limited budget, black-and-white photography was an attractive option. I had access to the darkroom at the Media Centre at Drew University, spending hours experimenting and developing Kodak Tri-X Pan, Ilford HP5 and Kodak T-Max.
Kodak T-MAX Professional is a black-and-white film known for its high resolution, sharpness, and fine grain for decades. It has a nominal sensitivity of ISO 100 or 400, making it a versatile choice for various lighting conditions.
One of the key features of T-MAX Professional is its T-Grain emulsion technology, which produces extremely fine grain and smooth tonal gradations. This makes it a popular choice among photographers who want to achieve a high level of detail and sharpness in their images.
T-MAX Professional also has a wide exposure latitude, allowing for greater flexibility in various lighting conditions. It can be pushed to higher ISOs without sacrificing image quality, making it a useful tool for low-light situations or for creating dramatic effects.
In addition to its technical features, T-MAX Professional is known for its classic black-and-white look, with deep blacks and bright whites that create a striking contrast. It has been popular among fine art photographers and documentary, portrait, and landscape photography.
Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow 400 is a 35mm black and white film with an ISO rating of 400. It is a high-speed, versatile film used in various lighting conditions, from bright sun to low light. The film is manufactured by the UK-based company Kosmo Foto. It produces sharp, detailed images with good tonal range and minimal grain. It is suitable for indoor and outdoor photography. It can be used for various subjects, including portraits, street, and landscape photography. The film is also reported to have a wide exposure latitude and good shadow detail. Some users claim it produces the same or better results than Ilford HP5 Plus and Kodak Tri-X.
The 13 frames below were captured with Kosmot Foto Agent Shadow 35mm film at ISO 400 using a Pentax P3n camera and SMC Pentax-A 50mm F2 lens. But I have a secret. All of the images were edited in Adobe Lightroom. I know that some photographers believe (yes, this is about religion) that manipulating a photograph in any way is "cheating" and implies a lack of skill. I call bullshit on this way of thinking.
The fact is that cameras do not see the same way that human beings see. The camera and lens and recording medium (film or digital) cannot capture any subject or scene in the same way the human optical system (a combination of our eyes and brains) witnesses the world. Our brains and eyes have evolved over millions of years to create a perception of the visual world that is uniquely human. Insects, birds, reptiles, and other mammals receive visual data and process and interpret it differently than we do.
Each film stock or camera sensor will process light and shadow differently. The digital processor in a Fuji X-Trans digital camera will not capture and process the light the same way as the sensor in a Nikon Z digital camera. Choosing which film stock to use is a form of processing. A scene captured with Fuji Velvia will not appear the same when captured with Kodak Ektachrome E100. Digital scanners introduce even more processing when a film is developed and scanned. Why is it that when a photographer crops, straightens, colour corrects or darkens parts of an image (a.k.a dodge and burn), it is suddenly not considered "true to life", not real photography?
For a while, I have let this way of thinking infect my mind and ruin my experiences with 35mm film photography. With digital photography, I had let go of it. But this virus re-infected my mind over the last few years of reading various film photography blogs. I won't do this anymore.
When I see 35mm film grain that I do not like, I will remove it using my digital tools. I have inner ear balance issues. My photographs tend to tilt to the left. I will use horizontal correction when I need it. If I need to adjust the shadows and the highlights to make the photograph look better, I will do it. I am 55, and I have had four eye surgeries. My vision is not the best. There are dead spots in my vision and some colours each eye perceives colours differently. I will use whatever digital tools I need to create the world as I see it.
I started making photographs to make me happy and to capture my perspective. If I continue to be a hostage to others' perspectives and opinions on photography, I will not be happy.
Unlike my Minolta XD-11 SLR, my Fuji X-T3 MILC has few mechanical parts.
Dad bought his first camera, an Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II SLR, circa 1973, when I was a kid. Dad was still a junior manager at Barclays Bank at that time. He was raising a family, so I expect that the camera was a luxury purchase, especially given how high import taxes were (are) in the Caribbean. I don’t know that he enjoyed photography as much as I do, but I remember he brought that camera on my family adventures. Dad took many photos on family vacations or when he drove us around the islands1, up into the mountains or to a remote beach. I wish I had some of his photographs to share2. I know what it's like to be a new parent and wanting to capture every moment of your child's early life. I don’t have the memories, but I imagine Dad running around behind me or my younger brothers (or maybe Mom) taking photos of us playing on the beach in Bequia or riding our bikes for the first time. I'm sure my mom has those photos hidden away somewhere.
Dad passed away in April 2019, a few years after he gifted me his Pentax and his only lens, an SMC Takumar 50mm F:1.4. Dad most likely kept the camera in a damp basement. The Pentax is in good mechanical shape, but the pentaprism and lens are occluded with fungus. But old things have significance beyond mere utility value. This camera is a memento of Dad. I keep the camera on a window sill behind my computer. I keep it clean and dust-free.
Some of the greatest classic cameras of all time have been mechanical SLRs. These cameras were built like tanks with minimal electronics. At 681g, the Spotmatic II is about 142g heavier than my Fuji X-T3. The camera's operation is entirely mechanical except for a spot metering system (hence the Spotmatic name). Aperture and focus are set manually on the SMC Takumar 50mm F:1.4, while shutter speed and film ISO are set on the camera body. The photographer chooses the aperture and shutter speed and the spot meter provides feedback on whether the exposure is correct. The lenses use the very popular M42 screw mount.
In 2020 on the 2020 commemoration of Dad’s passing I bought a silver bodied Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II. I don’t recall if it was from eBay or Etsy but this one worked and I exposed a few rolls of 35mm film.
In order for auto exposure to work, the Spotmiac has to know which aperture is selected on the lens before it can calculate an appropriate shutter speed. Some camera companies used a mechanical linkage between the lens and the camera that would communicate which aperture was selected on the lens. The problem with the mechanical linkage was that the position of the linkages needs to be exactly the same each and every time. The camera has to know exactly where the position of the linkage is to get an accurate idea of which aperture is selected. Since all Pentax cameras up until this point had used screw mount lenses, there was no easy way to mechanically link the lens to the camera as there would be slight variances in rotation between different lenses.
Then after that, I bought a Pentax ES (Electro Spotmatic) II and a few more prime lenses. The Pentax ElectroSpotmatic (ES) II was the most advanced camera in the Spotmatic family. This is an extremely well-built camera with excellent ergonomics. It also featured a dual electronic/mechanical shutter that would fire electronically in Auto mode, but would also have a limited number of manual speeds that would work without a battery. The electronic shutter was stepped less from 1 second all the way to a maximum of 1/1000 second.
I was bitten by the mechanical 35mm camera gear acquisition syndrome (GAS) and soon bought another 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, a Minolta X-700 which I found via Facebook Marketplace. The Minolta X-700 is a mechanical camera that uses the Minolta Bayonet SR Mount which came in two variations, the MC and MD. The previous owner was retiring and moving to Florida to be near her grandchildren. For $70 I had the camera, an MD Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 lens, a Minolta Auto 132FX Speedlight, a Minolta 20 Speedlight, and a JC Penny Multi-Coated Optics 80-200m f/4.5, and an expired roll of Kodak 800. I enthusiastically enjoyed using the Minolta X-700. On the first weekend after purchasing the camera I exposed two rolls of 35mm film one day at the beach.
The GAS increased and so did my love for classic Minolta 35mm SLR cameras and lenses. Near the end of 2020, I sold my Spotmatic II and ES II and all my Takumar lenses (except for the 50mm) and soon I was in possession of a work of art, a black XD-11 (of course) body.
The Minolta XD-11 was produced from 1977 to 1984 in collaboration with Ernst Leitz of Germany, the company that makes the highly valued Leica cameras. The first product of this joint cooperation was the Leica CL and Minolta CL. The Minolta CL and Leica CL are essentially the same cameras with different labels and prices. Leica sold about 35,000 Leica CL units in the first year. The story is that Leitz was unhappy with Minoltas success and was reluctant to work further with Minolta. However, Leitz later relesed the R4 which was also built in collaboration with Minolta. Minolta brought the XD-11 to market by themselves. It was the first SLR camera to offer both aperture and shutter-priority auto exposure, plus manual control. It has classic styling, excellent ergonomics and performance. I love my Fuji X-T3 but I wish it looked more like the XD-11.
We moved around while Dad climbed the corporate ladder. We moved around the British West Indies quite a bit. We lived in St. Vincent, Bequia, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, and St. Kitts. ↩