World Toy Camera Day 2014

Because of the internet, everything apparently has a day dedicated to it. Based on what I’ve seen, a day devoted to toy cameras and their use is not even remotely the most frivolous misuse of precious bandwidth out there. So, naturally, on 18 October I took it upon myself to participate in World Toy Camera Day; having many cameras, some of which are toys, this was not really a hard decision.

The two that went with me were my new Holga 135 Pan, recently introduced here, and my far older Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash, complete with reversed lens for extra toyness (yes, that’s a word…at least here it is). I shot B&W in the Hawkeye – a roll of Fomapan 200 – and color in the Holga – some mildly past-date Kodak Gold 200. The chosen venue was a local farmer’s market, held on the grounds of an old estate that is now a historic property open to the public.

Holga 135 Pan, Kodak Gold 200
Holga 135 Pan, Kodak Gold 200

The grounds are also home to occasional sculpture installations. These are not exactly in keeping with the character of the Federalist architecture and formal gardens, but they’re there, so I took pictures of them. It’s what I do.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash, Fomapan 200 in Caffenol-C-L (semi-stand)
Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash, Fomapan 200 in Caffenol-C-L (semi-stand)

Fall colors are still in evidence around here, and predictably played a part in the color photos. The Holga produces an interesting sort of color rendition; I prefer the look of the Gold 200 against the Fuji Superia 200 I’ve tried in it, but then that’s true of most cameras.

Holga 135 Pan, Kodak Gold 200
Holga 135 Pan, Kodak Gold 200

The reversed lens of the Hawkeye offers reasonable center sharpness, with an abrupt transition to distortion that quickly becomes pronounced toward the edges and corners. It’s a fun effect to play with every now and again. The Fomapan 200 is not my favorite film, but this is probably more due to a lack of satisfactory results with Caffenol than the fault of the film itself. I had to push this roll a stop, as the light was fairly weak due to the low October sun and a persistent layer of thick cloud.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash, Fomapan 200 in Caffenol-C-L (semi-stand)
Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash, Fomapan 200 in Caffenol-C-L (semi-stand)

There’s something very liberating about toy cameras; you just compose and shoot – there simply aren’t any other options. Sometimes taking out the toys is hard to do – there are so many more capable options on the shelf (OK, shelves) – but the toys deserve some attention too. So good for you, WTCD creators, for compelling the often-far-too-serious photographers of the world to get out there and play, if only for a little while.

Meet the Cameras: Pentax K-5 and Holga 135 Pan

This is going to require some explanation.

Introducing two new cameras at once is perhaps a bit unconventional, but introducing two new cameras as completely different from each other as a modern DSLR and a cheaply-made plastic box that just happens to take pictures would appear to be really stretching things. Yet there is a particular (and peculiar) logic to this approach, which will hopefully be revealed in due course.

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First off, the cameras. The Pentax K-5 is a pretty serious DSLR – not quite a pro camera, but close. Lots of nice features and relatively accessible manual controls make it easier to use than my old Canon T3; I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive review because 1) there are already plenty out there, and 2) I haven’t figured out half the features yet. One of the nice bonuses, and one of the reasons I opted for the Pentax over other options, is that I can use the lenses I already have for my Pentax SFX in addition to the 18-55 kit lens. It’s not a full-frame sensor, so there is a crop factor to deal with, but it’s easily manageable. Image quality is very nice, as you would expect.  The body is really solid – far more so than my old T3 was – and weather-sealed to boot.

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The Holga 135 Pan is pretty much everything the K-5 isn’t. The build quality shows the attention to detail that you would expect from something that was probably built by political prisoners. The ergonomics are fairly terrible, at least for anyone who expects to use it with their hands. Actuating the advance mechanism feels like you’re grinding up live beetles. The “Optical Lens,” such as it is, might have been made in the same factory that turns out two liter soda bottles. Of course, it was also less than a tenth the price of the K-5, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much. For what it’s worth, it does seem more carefully designed than the more traditional Holga 120 cameras, but that’s not really saying a lot.

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Why on earth, given their differences (and let’s be realistic: they are essentially the polar extremes of camera design and technology), am I writing about them in the same introductory essay? Well, it first dawned on me that I bought both cameras because they filled gaps in my photographic capabilities. The K-5 gives me high-quality images in an instant when I need (or want) them across a variety of focal lengths thanks to my existing collection of Pentax lenses. The Holga gives me panoramic 35mm photos – a format that is otherwise hideously expensive to break into – albeit soft ones with vignetting to spare.

But more fundamentally than that, they actually have something important in common: they’re simple. The Holga is simple by definition –  there are two apertures (marked “sunny” and “cloudy,” which should give some indication of the level of expertise expected of its users), one shutter speed (plus bulb), and that’s it. In spite of its myriad buttons, modes, and settings, the K-5 is simple too: because it’s so capable and so heavily automated, you don’t really have to think much about exposure at all, even in manual mode (there’s a full exposure setting display in the viewfinder). Aside from composition, there’s not much to actively consider when shooting with either one. Sure, the results will be radically different, but the process of taking a photo with either one is remarkably similar, at least when compared to any of my unmetered manual cameras. And sometimes you just don’t want to have to think too much.

 

Semi-Random Photo for 7 October 2014

Fall is upon us again, which means the color film comes out. I’ve gone on before about my love of uncoated lenses for color, and once again that view has been validated by the results, this time from my old pre-war Rolleiflex.

Rolleiflex Old Standard with Zeiss Tessar 75/3.8, Kodak Ektar
Rolleiflex Old Standard with Zeiss Tessar 75/3.8, Kodak Ektar