The Vemödalen Project: On Lens Selection, Film Processing, and Happy Accidents

As noted in the introductory post to this little undertaking, I expect that seeing things differently will include a range of factors, including camera and lens choices, as well as non-standard film processing. These factors are key to this next group of photos. Unlike the Washington, D.C. pictures, I really had little idea of what I was trying to create with these, other than (for reasons that will become clear in a paragraph or two) that they would be grainy and not terribly sharp.

I have a fair few cameras that don’t see a lot of use for one reason or another. Some produce results that are pretty typical, while others are quite distinct. Falling into the latter category is my King Regula IIb with Ghetaldus Ghenar lens, a 45/3.5 triplet. The lens is far from technically perfect, and on top of the pronounced triplet signature, my example also has some damage to the front element that lowers contrast and causes direct light sources in the frame to glow. A lens hood can help, but it’s awkward to use on this camera, and besides, isn’t the point of this exercise to make photos that don’t look generic?

On top of that, and completely unnecessarily, as I was shooting in daylight, I decided to push the roll of HP5+ I loaded up two stops to 1600. Then to further change things up, I figured I’d try full stand development in Caffenol C-L, something I hadn’t done before. What’s the worst that could happen?

My chosen stomping ground was a state park that used to be an estate, and which still has the remains of some of the old buildings scattered about. Decrepit buildings in the woods seemed an appropriate subject for my intended look. The sky was covered by a thin overcast, making for fairly diffuse light, so contrast would be a bit low and there would be no deep shadows; pushing brought up the contrast, of course.

I shot the roll and processed it as I planned. When I pulled the film from the tank, I saw immediately that the negatives were quite dense; apparently the recommended times were well above what I really needed to get a two-stop push. If I had to guess I’d say the film ended up more like a 3.5-4-stop push. Into the scanner and the preview showed very bright pictures. I cranked the settings much further than I normally would to get somewhere close to where I wanted them, which as expected just accentuated the already prominent grain. Ordinarily, I would have been quite annoyed by this turn of events, but given my plan for this roll it really didn’t bother me at all. Quite liberating, actually.

King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L

There they are in all their grainy, vignetted, glowing goodness. They fulfilled my intent of producing photos that looked different; I’ve shot some of these buildings before, and these are definitely very different. There aren’t really the opportunities for unconventional composition that I exploited in my Washington, D.C. photos, but that’s not the point. Overcoming vemödalen is about trying to achieve something that is distinct (to say unique would be pushing it, but you’ve got to have goals) – I think these photos manage that, and frankly that’s all that counts.

Semi-Random Photo for 20 February 2016

Leica IIIc, Summitar 50/2, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-H(RS)
Leica IIIc, Summitar 50/2, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-H(RS)

Meet the Lens: Canon Serenar 28mm f/3.5 LTM

Well, here we go again. While it is true that I have been working toward thinning out the pile, that in no way suggests that I have completely sworn off new hardware. Rather, what Your Humble Filmosaur is working toward is more focused (pardon the pun – it’s almost impossible to avoid such things completely) gear acquisition, limiting it to those things that fill a gap and fit within the basic working kit requirements. A Leica Thread Mount lens in a focal length I don’t currently have falls within those parameters.

This is not an accidental purchase by any means. One of the things I took away from my brief ownership of the Olympus XA4 Macro was that I liked the 28mm focal length. What I did not like was having it attached to a camera that afforded me no control over exposure settings, so when I decided to sell the XA4, I had already figured that an LTM 28mm was probably in my immediate future. The only problem with this idea is that such lenses tend to be relatively light on the ground and priced fairly high as a result. Plus I would need a viewfinder, which past experience suggested would be a substantial purchase in and of itself. The upshot of this being that it might take a little while to find the right kit at the right price.

You might be wondering why I embarked on this search, given that not so long ago I got a Voigtländer Snapshot Skopar 25/4, a lens that is highly regarded and quite close to the 28mm focal length. The Voigtländer is a very good lens, but it turns out that the difference of just a few millimeters of focal length is enough to throw me off. I like 28mm, and I like 21mm, but 25mm seems unsatisfying – too wide to replace the 28, and not wide enough to replace the 21. Maybe I just need to work with it more, but it also has a more modern look than most of my lenses, which also feels strange to me. I will either have to work harder to wrap my head around the 25, or – more likely – I will sell it off and keep the 28 and the 21.

Anyway, back to the search. After missing out on a few promising lens and finder combos, I was perusing KEH (America’s #1 enabler of the camera-addicted) and happened to see a Nikon 28mm viewfinder priced pretty well, so I grabbed it. I didn’t have a lens yet, but I had a finder, which meant that I could consider lenses by themselves, not just kits. This proved fortuitous, as just a few days later an early Canon Serenar 28/3.5 popped up on Ebay, unused for decades, untested, and dirty – in other words, perfect. In part because of the need for a CLA, I was able to get it for a decent price, and as I suspected, it cleaned up easily. The end result is a great classic set with both pieces in excellent shape.

The look is classic too, and pretty typical of early Canon RF lenses. High resolution, low to moderate contrast, with soft corners at wider apertures sharpening up across the frame from around f/5.6 or so. The viewfinder is really nice, big and bright for one of such an early vintage. The lens itself is tiny; when mounted on one of the Leica IIIcs it protrudes from the body less than the Summitar does when collapsed.

Not a lot more to say at this point. I haven’t shot with the lens much yet, but my initial tests suggest that it does exactly what I intended, namely to give me a compact 28mm option with full manual controls. The look is a bit more classic (a polite way of saying old-fashioned) than what I got from the XA4, but that’s never been a bad thing to my eyes.