photography

Dark Room In-A-Box

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on the blog, but a lot has been happening since this summer. We’re still in the pandemic, but I’ve been making the most of it by editing my next novel and working on a system to develop my own film at home.

For all the upsides of film photography, the main drawback for me (and many others I’m sure) is the cost.

Film is expensive, and prices are only going up. The few remaining labs near me charge roughly what a major mail-away provider does, and the cost of developing color film has turned it into a periodic luxury. This has sent me back in the direction of black & white photography, which I’m totally OK with. I originally started on black & white with my father’s Canon FTb way back in a high school photography class. I enjoy the look and the challenges inherent in black & white photography, so I’m alright with that being my main film output.

I also recently acquired a Canon Rebel EOS T7 DSLR, but that’s a story for another post.

I do not have a lot of free space or the budget to create a home darkroom, so I wanted to try and put together a “dark room in-a-box” for under $100. I managed to accomplish that goal and I’ll outline what I purchased here for any of you that might want to start developing film in your own home.

Step 1: Put Your Film in The Box

That’s not actually step 1.

As I mentioned before, I wanted to do this on a budget of $100 and ensure it didn’t take up a lot of space, so here’s what I came up with.

  • Sterilite Locking box ($7 at Walmart)
  • Clothes pins ($2 at Walmart)
  • Distilled water ($1 at Walmart)
  • Can opener ($1 at Walmart)
  • Scissors ($3 at Walmart)
  • Measuring cup & funnels ($4 at Walmart)
  • Thermometer ($9 on Amazon)
  • Changing Bag ($18 on Amazon)
  • Cinestill B&W develop-at-home kit ($35 on sale from Cinestill)
  • Kodak Photo-Flo ($8 from B&H Photo)
  • Coat hangar (salvaged)

Total Cost: $88 (enough left to buy some rolls of film!)

The big break I got when it came to building this kit was the Cinestill “DF-96 monobath Develop-At-Home kit”. This kit came with the Cinestill monobath, a two-reel Patterson tank, and a couple rolls of their BWXX black and white film. Thirty five bucks is a steal considering every Patterson or Jobo tank I saw online was around $30 or more just by itself.

Workflow

This is a very simple workflow. The Cinestill monobath is a one-step developer and fixer, and quite easy to use. It has a somewhat short shelf life, but it gave me the confidence to start developing again after having been out of the game for over twenty years.

I load all my equipment and film into the Patterson tank, and then developed some Kentmere 400 (also going budget on film) in the tank. Unfortunately, my negatives came out a bit thin since my monobath had been punctured during delivery and was somewhat spoiled.

Luckily, the fine folks at Cinestill provided me a replacement and sent it in powdered form, which is the form I’ll purchase it in going forward.

Once I had developed the negatives, I tried out my Pixl Latr. It’s a nifty device (review is forthcoming) but didn’t deliver the exact results I wanted, so I’m looking to get a flatbed scanner sometime soon.

Thoughts on Home Development

I enjoy the process of home development. I’m happy to continue building out a little “home lab” as I find deals on equipment, since I’m still a bit nervous about the long-term sustainability of film. Black and white is simple, which I assume means it will be around for quite a while even if it’s produced by smaller companies. Plus, COVID has put a lot of strain on film labs, and I like having the piece of mind that my beloved film cameras won’t become paperweights as long as I can get my hands on some cheap B&W film and have the skills to develop and scan it myself. I consider this “Dark room in-a-box” and investment as this should all pay for itself in under twenty rolls of film shot.

Do you develop you own film at home? Let me know down in the comments I’d love to hear from you about your setup and any mishaps or triumphs you’ve had with this always intriguing process!

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DIY Black & White Photo Development

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten any photos developed.

The lack of photo updates (or any updates, really) are due to COVID-19 and its impact on creative endeavors.

Specifically for film photography, there were a couple reasons I haven’t gotten any new pics.

  1. Finances – Sending film to a lab for development is expensive, and its a luxury right now that I couldn’t prioritize
  2. Lab Closures – Some of the labs I regularly use are either currently closed or have limited availability
  3. Film stock availability – I’ve read about shortages of particular stock online, and after the price increases early in 2020, I’ve been dipping into my fridge stock rather than buying anything new to experiment with (See: #1)

Learning to Develop at Home

I’ve been shooting color film almost exclusively for the past few years. However, I started on B&W back in the day when I first took photography classes in high school (yes I’m old), and have been interested in getting back to it. I bought a used copy of Black & White Photography: A Basic Manual by Henry Horenstein on eBay, and it has been very inspiring. It’s available for less than $10 used, and I cannot recommend it enough. I plan to write up a full review of the book, because it’s an amazing resource.

I’m interested in coming up with an extremely budget-friendly workflow for black and white development. Most of my film photos ironically end up digital, but I’d like the final scans to be high enough quality to print on paper since I occasionally frame photos as gifts or home decor.

I’ve also been bringing my rangefinder out quite a bit lately, and everything I’ve read about the Yaschica Electro 35 says it truly excels when you load it with B&W film.

Creating The Workflow

I plan to build on this post long-term as I seek out and choose equipment to reach my goal, and I’ll try to update it with links to gear as I put together a kit. The focus will be on value, since I think a lot of film enthusiasts are on tighter budgets than usual during this pandemic. Film and photography equipment is a luxury for hobbyists like myself, but I’d like to be able to continue creating photos more regularly, in a DIY fashion instead of constantly scrimping and saving for lab services.

I’m also open to suggestions from any film photography blog followers, or film buffs who happen to run across this post. How do you develop B&W and has it made things more affordable? Let me know in the comments.

Stay tuned!

photography

Yashica Electro 35 GSN Review

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Following up on my previous post about the Yashica Electro 35 GSN that I purchased, I’ve now had enough time to use the camera and write a full review.

The “Poor Man’s Leica”

The Yashica Electro 35 is a camera with a long history and many iterations. First developed in the 1960’s, it saw improvements across numerous successive models and has endured with a “classic” rangefinder look. It even made a cameo in one of the Spiderman movies!

The GSN is the final, and arguably most popular, iteration of the camera. It was the last one in the line and has the highest ISO range as well as a convenient hot shoe.

The Electro 35 has also garnered a quiet reputation as the “poor man’s Leica”, as a serviceable rangefinder camera that takes higher-than-average quality photos on a beer budget. I found this to be true, but more on that in a moment.

Build Quality and Feel

I lamented in my previous post about my run in with the original Electro that was beyond repair, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise since I found a GSN and ultimately it’s a better camera.

What you immediately notice when you pick up the Yashica Electro 35 GSN is that it isn’t small. This isn’t a dainty camera, and it’s basically on par with my Canon Ftb in size, although it’s definitely lighter. It’s a combination of metal and plastic, and hardly feels cheap, although strangely the fixed 45mm lens has a little play or “wobble” inside the chassis and that is a known “feature” of the camera?

Picture Quality

The Electro 35 GSN really excels in a number of areas. I took these photos in a nearby park to run a test roll (Fujifilm C200) through it. It was a bright but consistently overcast day, so the light was mostly even.

Not the most exciting photos, I know. But they illustrate some of this camera’s strengths.

Sharpness

That Yashinon 45mm f1.7 lens is PIN SHARP. I had seen some impressive photos online, but to have all my photos come out this sharp when I had never actually used a rangefinder before (you line up a yellow “patch” to align a double-image) was impressive. It still doesn’t steal the crown from my Canon FD 50mm 1.4, but it’s more than adequate. When the lens is wide open you can get some decent, gentle, bokeh.

Exposure

The Electro nailed correct exposure on every frame of my test roll. Every. SINGLE. FRAME.

Keep in mind I had this CLA’d, but for a camera using late 60’s/early 70’s technology, it’s pretty impressive how accurate the things light meter is. It’s a simple system of red & yellow lights with corresponding arrows that appear in the large and bright viewfinder. Red is “overexposed” and Yellow is “underexposed” and you simply crank the aperture until the arrows disappear. This is an aperture priority camera, so it takes care of figuring out shutter speed for you.

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Ease of Use

Loading and unloading film is easy and pretty much identical to any standard film SLR. As I mentioned above, the Electro 35 is aperture priority so it takes a lot of guesswork out. You focus where you want, half-press your shutter to activate the meter, dial in your aperture and fire. A big reason I wanted one of these was to get away from my fully manual SLR’s. When I’m being a try-hard and want to tinker I have those available. When I don’t want to think, I grab a point & shoot or my Instax. This is a nice “bridge” camera that is a bit more flexible without killing all spontaneity by having to adjust for the entire triangle.

Drawbacks

Not without its faults, I’d warn everyone that any Electro 35 you find, GSN or otherwise, will probably be broken in some way. It has a number of parts that wear out including the “pad of death” which is a foam pad that renders the camera essentially useless when it goes. It also requires an adapter or jury-rigging for a battery. That said, it takes a pretty standard alkaline, which is better than mercury. I’d also say it doesn’t provide the level of control that an SLR does, so don’t think it will.

This camera wants to take good pictures.

It was designed as a mass market consumer camera, so I don’t expect I’ll be doing as much off-the-wall creative photography with it. But again, that’s not why I bought it. I wanted something that took consistent, high-quality film photos that had better sharpness, and nicer bokeh than a Point & Shoot.

Finally, and this is a TINY quibble, but it was engineered for right-handed people, and the non-centered viewfinder threw a southpaw like me off a bit. But I’ll get used to it.

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Conclusion

If you’re in the market to add a classic rangefinder to your camera collection, you could do much worse than the Yashica Electro 35 GSN. They’re plentiful and can be found in excellent cosmetic condition for $40 USD or less, which means you could get one gussied up with a CLA and still be under $100 to buy a roll of film and maybe a milkshake.

It’s not a conversation piece like a Leica, but it’s pretty enough that I got a few compliments from local photogs in the park that day, and the thing is a budget work horse. Overall I’d recommend it, and I look forward to getting more comfortable with mine and seeing what I can do with it.

 

photography

Yashica Electro 35 GSN

Happy New Year! I hope your 2020 is off to a great start.

I recently added a new member to the camera collection. I stumbled across this Yashica Electro 35 GSN at a thrift shop and purchased it for a very fair price (< $35) considering its condition.

I’m excited to add this classic rangefinder to my arsenal.

Poor Man’s Leica

I’ve seen the words “poor man’s Leica” more than a few times while researching this camera. I wanted a budget rangefinder, and had narrowed my search to either a Canonet Giii QL17 or some form of the Yashica Electro 35. Both garnered favorable reviews and create beautiful images despite their individual quirks & flaws.

Not My First Electro 35

In fact, I found an ORIGINAL Electro 35 (there are numerous iterations) last year at an estate sale in pristine cosmetic condition. I was extremely excited and bought it, only to discover it was marginally functional and beyond my capability to repair. Sadly, I sold it for parts or hopefully to someone more savvy than myself to resurrect.

After that disappointing venture, I was happy to run across this GSN which by most measures is the superior model. It has a hot shoe and higher max ISO rating among other things. Plus its prior owner had included a snap-on lens cap, the original hot shoe cover, and a nifty Vivitar UV filter.

While not pristine this GSN is still in excellent cosmetic condition for its age, and the fixed lens is flawless. Looks can be deceiving however, and it suffered from a common issue called the “Pad of Death” that eventually afflicts nearly every Yashica Electro. Luckily the Electro 35 is mostly mechanical with some old school electronics and is repairable.

Fixer Upper

After a night of research on YouTube, I resigned myself to the fact that it needed a CLA. I wasn’t willing to sell ANOTHER Electro 35, and I obtained this one for such a bargain that fixing this common problem was still within my budget. Plus, when you’re dealing with vintage equipment, cosmetics count. Internals can be replaced/repaired but sometimes body restoration is impractical. This particular GSN is still pretty at over five decades old.

I sent the camera to Mark David Horn who specializes in Yashica repairs (great guy!) and he performed a full CLA overhaul, plus sent me a battery adapter which is a bonus since the old mercury battery these took is no longer legally available (yet another endearing quality).

His work was excellent, and the camera returned flawless, looking and working like it was built yesterday.

Ready to Rangefind

I’m pumped to get out and start using my shiny “new” Yashica. The pics I’ve seen online from other Electro 35’s online are pin sharp with a pleasant bokeh effect at open apertures. Also, I wanted a film camera that has more control than a point&shoot but is a bit “quicker” than my SLR’s. I hope the Electro fits that bill and I plan to post a review once I’ve run a few rolls through it.

Thanks for reading!

photography

Reviewing Flickr One Year Later

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When it comes to putting your photographs on the internet, the options are overwhelming.

Instagram, Facebook, Amazon Photos, Google Photos, Flickr, 500px, and many others are all competing for your your images.

When I got back into film photography, I wanted to find a place to present my best images, and also have the option to link them here.

Right around the same time, Flickr was purchased from Yahoo by a company called SmugMug, and they began a long and painful restoration of the service from years of neglect by the previous owner.

Since I don’t use Facebook and didn’t use Instagram (at the time), I thought Flickr would be a nice option given that it doesn’t compress uploads and I wanted all the grainy goodness from those negative scans.

That was in late 2018, and there have been a number of changes and updates to Flickr since then. Some for better, some worse.

Positives

  • High-Res Photos: Whether you’re free with a 1000 photo limit, or pay for their “Pro” accounts, Flickr let’s you upload full resolution photos, no compression, and within a few parameters view them in up to 6K. Being able to push photos up to the internet without the cropping and compression of most social media sites is really nice if you want to show off images in their full glory.
  • Prints-On-Demand: Flickr also has functionality to purchase prints within the site/app and that is a good feature if you’d like high-quality physical copies of your full res uploads.
  • Groups: Flickr has an extremely knowledgeable photo community that is very focused. With Instagram having transformed into a marketing/Influencer playground, it’s nice to see groups, Events, and a community solely dedicated to the craft of photography.
  • No more Yahoo login : Thankfully, you no longer need a Yahoo email to log into Flickr, and they updated their mobile app as well. It has a nice, clean and easy-to-navigate interface.

Negatives

  • Limits on Free Accounts: I questioned whether to list this. I will, only because so many people complained about the 1000 photo limit after SmugMug bought the site. Yahoo had let Flickr decompose into a photo-hosting dump over the years. It was basically a crappier Imgur. The new Flickr has a narrower focus, and it imposes limitations unless you pay for an account. That said, if you’re a photographer who wants unlimited online storage of uncompressed photos, it’s not a bad deal. Or if you’re a hobbyist like me, 1000 photos and a few occasional ads isn’t really horrible, especially considering they let you keep the rights to your images and don’t share any of your personal data like the larger social sites do.
  • Site is “slow”: I do not mean technically. What I mean is, other than exploring photos, there isn’t much to “do” on Flickr. It doesn’t have the same level of interactivity as Instagram. To my point above, its very useful if you’re a photographer, but it doesn’t have the wider appeal of the major social media sites. One of the problems they seem to have is after combating all the image spammers Yahoo ignored, they have a bunch of abandoned groups. I think Flickr would do well to clean house and improve their community capabilities so the existing active users and newcomers can find one another more easily.
  • Long-Term Viability: I received an email from Flickr’s CEO that the site is still losing money. This doesn’t bode well at all for its long-term viability, and I hope that it survives. I think there is a lot of potential, and from what I understand a number of photographers are starting to move away from Instagram in its current incarnation. Hopefully Flickr and other dedicated photo sites can catch that population.

Conclusion

If you’re interested in photography as a hobby/craft (or a business) and are looking for a site as a quick portfolio, I think Flickr has made some huge strides in recovery and is worth at least checking out. Yahoo really let it languish, and my hope is that it manages to financially stabilize and eventually recover as the team there makes continued improvements. If you have an old account and haven’t logged in for a while, give it a look.