80 Year Old Camera Explores the World Again

This Voigtlander Bessa rangefinder accompanied me on a recent business trip to Sri Lanka, and although I didn’t have much opportunity to use it there I did get to take a few frames (on an overcast day..) which is better than nothing, and then took a few more back in Japan.

These old cameras are handy for travel due to their compact size- when folded and stowed away they are slimmer than your average 35mm slr.  Of course without automatic winding stops you have to watch the number in the window for each frame, and when framing be careful not to crop things out of the top when in close range due to parallax (like I almost did in the portrait of the three friends in below), but this is all part of the experience.  A speed camera it is not.

Slave Island Fellows

These two friendly guys were enjoying the afternoon in this narrow alley in Slave Island with their beautiful cat. They jokingly offered to give me the cat to take back with me to Japan (the cat went along with it for the sake of the joke, but wasn’t that keen on it I don’t think). 

I did ruin a frame due to the bag of lychees I was carrying in my left hand contacting the shutter tensioner while taking one exposure thus slowing it from 1/100th to probably around 1/15th and causing the camera to shake slightly. This is something I like to do with my thumb on my Superb as well.  It generally takes one frame of doing this I’ve found and then I am ok for the rest of the time using the camera:-)  Then I forget again when it is put away for a few months..

slave island alley lychee dream

Doh! Darned lychees. They were delicious though (and cost only about ¥100 for 20pcs).

The Voigtlander Bessa RF was made from 1936-1951 I understand (according to Camerapedia). They were fitted with Skopar, Heliar, Heliomar, Helomar, and Color-Heliar lenses.  I like the 5 element Heliar 3.5/10.5cm, but I have heard good things about any of them.  It does get soft in the extremeties below f8, and swirly opened all the way up. This can look pretty cool for portraits etc if that is what you are going for. It has a yellow filter attached which conveniently flips up and down.  I don’t have a lens shade for it yet so have to watch the flare though haven’t noticed anything too shocking yet.

This high contrast photo of an old Japanese farm building would have benefitted from the zone system (and a tripod) in order to get more detail in the shadows and some more depth of field, although I like all the shapes, textures and shadows as it is.  Probably around 1.5 more stops exposure and then n-1 development?  Next time..

japanese rustic

Film was Arista Edu 100 (Foma 100) shot at ei200 just to get a little more speed for better handheld use. Development was HC-110 E 8 minutes/20C (recommended was 6 min at 20c at box speed).

This camera also is able to shoot square format which would give 12 frames instead of 8, and centralise the image to the area where the lens performs best.



Acros/HC-110/and the trusty FM2

I purchased this FM2 at a camera fair around 25 years ago and it has served me without fail ever since. It is my most “nostalgic” camera.  It hasn’t gotten as much use the last few years due to my growing collection of cameras, but I always take it out again eventually.

Usually I have the 50/1.8 attached which is compact and a wonderful portrait lens, however this time I grabbed the 55/3.5 macro, which is a great macro lens and a fine all rounder.

I used Acros pushed one stop to ei200 developed in HC-110 dilution E (1:47), developed for 7 minutes at 22 degrees C. For Acros at ei100 I would normally develop for 7 minutes at 20 C, and I saw on the Massive Dev Chart that someone recommended 7 minutes at 24 C for ei400 so this was a guess but it worked out fine I think.

I am cognisant that since getting this bottle of HC-110 my use of caffenol has nearly stopped.  I also have the ingredients for D-23 waiting in the wings but alas, the corruption of convenience.  I think some of it has to do with my concern about the HC-110 expiring before I get through it.  Due to the dilutions this stuff goes a long ways!




Caffenol Stand Development

Stand development, or developing film without agitation by just letting it “stand” is generally considered a foolproof (and lazy) way to fully develop film without worring too much about blowing highlights. Caffenol works well for stand development and is one of my favourites.  Below is the recipe I use.


Caffenol Stand – makes 50oml

  1. 500 ml fresh water (I use filtered tap water)
  2. 8g washing soda
  3. 5g Vitamin C powder
  4. 0.5g Kbr (Pot. Bromide) to restrict fogging, too much will restrict development as well..
  5. 20g instant coffee

Equipment needed: A thermometer, a scale, and a mixing container (don’t use your significant other’s ice coffee/tea pitcher).

Add in the order listed mixing well at each addition and let coffee bubbles settle before adding to film tank.  Presoak film for 5 minutes. 10 gentle turns to start then 60 minutes stand @20 degrees C for any film shot at box speed (I dont worry about the temperature too much after I start unless it is mid summer and it might rise more than a couple degrees over the course of the development).

Pushing and pulling, toing and froing..

You can push film one stop by simply increasing the development time out to 70 minutes and maybe adding another 10 sec agitation the second minute. Another stop increase the time a bit more and add a couple turns agitation as follows: 1 min, 2 min, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 (this is called Semi Stand).  I might reduce time to around 45-50 minutes for Kentmere or Acros shot at 80 or less.. Experiment to find out what works best for you. The interesting thing is in my unscientific opinion I don’t think there is anything gained really by pulling the film when you are using Caffenol in terms of grain at least.

I have really gotten a lot of enjoyment out of Caffenol.  It works well for push processing so I like to use it with Acros shot at 200 or 400 since Tri-x is so expensive over here in Japan.

The above recipe is from Rhinehold’s site one of the innovators and responsible for a lot of great research given free to all of us- fantastic resource!  Also check out the Caffenol Cookbook for some inspiration!


morning plant

Just before dawn, Tri-x ei1600 / Caffenol semi stand 85 minutes

This frame captured the early morning peace and solitude I felt when I awoke early and finished off the roll so I could start developing.  A handheld snap really, possible due to the iso of 1600.  Sometimes the discounted frames taken towards the end of the roll hold something when you happen to look at them a few months later.

Short excursion down Shinjuku’s backside

Unfortunately no backsides were recorded on my camera partially due no doubt to my inebriated condition, but that is no excuse,  I promise to do better next time.  “Don’t apologise just improve yourself” as my crazy old boss used to say..

Don’t worry, nothing as gritty or seedy as you might expect or even hope for (like from someone like Moriyama), I’ll save that for the next time perhaps..

The Tri-x pushed to 2200 in HC-110 worked well (16 minutes development), and next time I might give 3200 a shot to see how it holds up.

Tri-x ei2200 / HC-110 B / Summicron 50, Summaron 35

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FM2 Yoshidamachi 02

Old town, Yokohama.  Nikon FM2 50/1.8 Nikkor / Tri-x / HC-110 E (and fixer that looks like it probably should have been replaced a couple rolls back- doh!)

The wires on the side of the building look like vines to me.  I like how the shapes and patterns attract the eye amongst the jumble and worn disarray of human life- somehow more comforting to me, and definitely more interesting to look at than our new modern sterility.


Slow, really slow

Never put off until tomorrow what can be done the day after tomorrow. -Mark Twain

My blog is finally starting to live up to its name;-) It has been a long while since making a post.  It’s not that I haven’t been taking photos, I just hadn’t gotten around to developing and scanning them.

Well we finally had some nicer weather after what seemed like endless grey, drizzly days so I took the Superb out to stretch its legs. I found a press on yellow filter and hood awhile back that fit so used that this time. I tried some Arista Edu 400 I got from Freestyle and some trusty Tri-x, and developed in HC-110 preparation “H” (1:63, or 15ml per 1l water). The Arista is about half the price of the Tri-x.


At first I struggled with familiarity of the controls, which are a bit unusual even for TLR’s, having been around 6 months since I used this camera, but by the second roll it became second nature and it flowed better. Later when inspecting my drying negatives I saw that I made two double exposures. This despite what I thought was a pretty ingrained habit of always winding just before the shot.  What happens I realised is that I might compose a shot but change my mind at the last second and go look for something else. At the next shot I don’t remember and think I must have already wound it for the last shot..  Old school photography is really good practice for being in the present and remembering each thing- or not:-)  The second roll shot a couple days later was fine. I noticed also a light leak in the first half of the frames on the first roll due to not properly shutting film doors all the way (the Superb has interesting barn doors that snap closed), something I will be more careful with next time.

Loading the developing reel the Tri-x feels more substantial, thicker, and it dries flatter than the Arista (this is helpful for scanning- especially if you have a cheap scanner like mine, a Canon 9000f, whose holders don’t flatten the negatives).  I think I like the look of the Tri-x more, but the Arista works fine for the price.  I can definitely refine my exposure and development with it.

I shot them all at ei280, exposed at 140 to allow for the filter- using my phone exposure app and Sunny 16 depending.  Development for the Tri-x was 11 minutes which seemed about right to me for the lightly overcast situation on that day.  Development recommendations seem to be are really spotty since they changed the film but generally seem to have gotten shorter .  The Arista for 11 1/2 minutes (Arista recommends 6 1/2 minutes for HC-110 B at ei400 starting point on the box), which was sort of a middle of the road calculation since on that day I had both high contrast as well as low contrast scenes on the same roll. Snaps really so not to be too scientific;-)

superb flower arista400 hc110h uncompensated

Straight scan. Exposed for sunny 16 (f16/100 exposed at ei140 due to yellow filter) this would have benefitted from exposing for the shadow and N- compensation development.

Ideally what one should do of course is try to take similar contrast scenes on the same roll so that compensating development can work for all the frames and not adversely affect some. Or take two or more cameras, one for each condition requiring different development. In fact if you are “really serious” you should rewind your roll whether you are finished or not once you have “the shot”, and develop just for that one:-)

The Heart Sees Deeper Than The Eye

What do you call those little bits of paper that they attach to teabags so that you can easily grab onto the string or wrap the string around the finger handle of your teacup?  The paper doohickey?  Yes that’s the one.  Well, I have one (from Yogi Tea) that has been on my refrigerator now for around 8 or 9 years that says, “The heart sees deeper than the eye”.  That is a keeper.  All that wisdom for only around 20 cents:-)

I think this relates to photography in that we shouldn’t get too hung up on rules and should let our heart tell us what and how we photograph. In other situations, take advertising or a con artist for example, we can be distracted by flashy talk and promises, yet if you give your heart a chance it can tell you when something is not right.


Angel, Yokohama Japan.  M3 / Summaron 35 f2.8 / Tri-x (ei 1600) / Caffenol semi stand 85min@20c.

Coming home late from a function one night I almost walked past this angel standing in the cold in front of an izakaya (Japanese old style family restaurant).  The old black and white photographs of ships behind her add an interesting element, along with someone’s bag draped over her head, and the whole thing looked very peaceful to me. Well.. I only had had a couple drinks (I said as I held up 3 fingers)..

In comparison to some HP5+ I had shot also at 1600 and developed at the same time in the identical caffenol stand recipe I thought I noticed what I thought to be a bit more grain in the HP5+, however after looking a bit more closely they seem pretty similar.

Below is a frame I took with some HP5+ at 1600.


Morning bullet train, somewhere between Yokohama and Nagoya. M3 / Summaron 35 f2.8 / HP5+ (ei 1600) / Caffenol semi stand 85min@20c.

These are full size crops of the scans of each (at 2400). Not much in it.  Both are good considering the two stop push and the type of film I think. I would have to scan at a higher resolution to get a definitive answer.. Technically I suppose I would have to ensure both were the same exposure and the area compared of similar density but I don’t intend to get that technical about this stuff.