Friday, June 29, 2012

P67 - The (Model) Number Of The Beast . . . (Unless You Count C330F Too)

Morning m'Dearios. 
This week your Cap'n has been reading about the terrible tale of the Somerset Nog. A horse (half Suffolk Punch/half Dachshund . . well, it gets very foggy on the moors) so long and overburdened that it snaps in two and founders along with its cargo of day-trippers in Ganderpoke Bog. They do say though, that if 'ee passes Ganderpoke Bog at midnight, you's can still hear the two ghostly halves of the Nog singing a lament.
It fairly wrings your withers to read about it. 
So let that be a lesson to you all:
Don't overburden your Nog.


My apologies to you all in advance, but this weeks FB is pure photography all the way, so hold onto your hats, tighten your belt and make sure you've got a pair of flat shoes on . . .
It will bore you to hell unless you like talking about cameras. Normal, less techie, service will be resumed next week.
When I started taking photographs seriously again, after a hiatus of about 15 years, I resumed using what I thought would give me the best quality (as our American friends would call it) bang for buck
I eschewed restarting with 35mm because I had used it fairly extensively at college and wasn't really wanting to go along that path again. 
At college, I had actually had the most photographic enjoyment at the time using The Beast - a Mamiya C330F. This is a camera so heavy it requires a team of sherpas to move it about. I think back in the '80's a large number of them were seen in use by the members of the Russian weight lifting squad at the 1988 Seoul Olympics . . . .

Sherpa Ten-dzen transports a Mamiya C330F to secret Russian training camp circa 1987

Honest, it feels like it weighs about 20 gravities, but it produces very nice quality photographs, and is actually about the cheapest way you can get into interchangeable lens medium format photography without selling your kidneys.
Having fond but painful memories of the Mamiya though made me search in another direction, namely Germany and the Rolleiflex. They were light and beautiful and the camera of choice for lots of well-known photographers. I couldn't afford a 3.5 or 2.8 F model with their exceptional Planar and Xenotar lenses, so I opted instead for a Rolleiflex T.
It wasn't cheap, but neither was it a fortune. What it was however was a stunning piece of 1960's engineering with a range of accessories that worked and fitted beautifully. In other words it was the bees knees.
I have spent many long hours wandering near and far with my Rollei and despite a few teething problems to start (film transport going funny) it has served me well (and still does actually). They are a very adaptable camera - portraits, landscape, pretty much anything you can think of a use for a camera for, and with a bit of free thinking, you can get there. 
However, as time went on I started looking seriously at the likes of Wynn Bullock and Ansel Adams and wondered whether upgrading to a larger format would make some of their vision rub off on me (it didn't by the way). So after much thought, I decided I was very hungry and needed a bigger doughnut.
Enter The Beast # 2. 
I saved up all my pocket money (and Christmas money too) and bought a trip into larger format heaven - a Pentax 6x7.
This camera looks and handles like the fat boy brother of the largest 35mm camera ever made (a Nikon F2s?).

Smuggled prototype photograph from Pentax HQ, showing proposed sizing of the original Pentax 6x7 (with new Mk II lens range) in proportion to average human being size. You can clearly see a plan for world domination here.

The Pentax is solid and heavy, has the loudest mirror slap you have ever heard and the shutter flings itself across with such violence it will actually torque the camera even though it is secured to a tripod. In your hands it can kick like a .22 air pistol. 
It was widely used by fashion photographers (Mario Testino and Bruce Weber are two who come to mind) namely and for that if you are using fast film, or flash, but definitely in the higher range of shutter speeds, I can see it working, but for quieter landscapes it is quite a proposition. The incredible thing is though, that for many it is the landscape camera of choice . . or was, in those heady days of using film. 
Personally, I found it difficult and I had to adopt a totally mad method of taking photographs with it.
Apologies if you love and use your P67, the following might tickle your funny bone . . . 
Note: if you are using the Pentax for anything other than hand-holding it at about 1/125th with the lens stopped down a couple of stops, then try this method of using it on a tripod . . it works. 
So here we go - Rogers' Pentax 6x7 Tips.

Rogers' Pentax 6x7 Tip Part 1: Firstly you fix it to your tripod like you are expecting rough weather and phone 999 (or 911).

Rogers' Pentax 6x7 Tip Part 2: Compose your photograph - I recommend the waist level finder actually, because you do not get the full frame when you look through the prism finder. Make sure all emergency services have arrived and are ready and on standby.

Rogers' Pentax 6x7 Tip Part 3: When you are happy, zip up your flash suit, make sure you are in eyeball contact with emergency coordinators and then LOCK THE MIRROR UP AND SET THE SHUTTER TO B. If you do not do this then you will not get a sharp photograph.

Rogers' Pentax 6x7 Tip Part 4: Use your lens cap the way they used to be used - in other words keep it in front of the lens. You can actually use your hand too.

Rogers' Pentax 6x7 Tip Part 5: Hang on to something immovable and release the shutter. This is difficult to do - I found a bicycle chain around my ankle and then secured around a bollard or tree quite good. A cable release is essential, however I have used a pencil. Ear defenders are recommended. The shutter noise will scare birds and small children so sand-bagging the camera can work too. Don't worry though - the emergency crews should be in place to deal with any mishaps.

Rogers' Pentax 6x7 Tip Part 6: Remove your lens cap, but still keep it tightly in place until you are sure there is no movement or vibration from the camera. Very gently move the cap out of the way for your timed exposure. Count off your exposure. Place lens cap back in front of lens tightly and quickly. Release cable release to close shutter and unlock mirror.

Denouement: There you have made a nice photograph with the Pentax.
Kindly ask emergency teams to stand down, but remain in field radio contact with them as you have another 9 frames to use up.

I simply had to adopt this method because it was easier than that well known P67 tip of forcing all your weight down on top of the camera whilst it is tripoded to stop the torque ruining the photographs. I had had to do this a number of times until I came up with the method above believe it or not. It didn't half get some funny looks!
Unfortunately for me, because of my financially necessary photographic bottom feeding, the Pentax I had bought had probably been done to death by its previous owner(s).
It's reliance on batteries was also a pain and proved to be part of its downfall in my eyes. At about -4C, and a number of miles away from anywhere, it just refused to work. I was livid. It is no joke removing a small battery with freezing fingers and shoving it into your pants and clasping it tight in the crease where lower groin meets leg to get a little life back into it. This does work very well by the way, but I wouldn't recommend it if you are photographing in a city . . .
After that trip into the depths of a Scottish late Winter/early Spring I had a wonderful time with a few films being exposed correctly with a perfect frame count all the way through (10 frames on 120 film) and then it started misbehaving again: missing frames and locking completely, resulting in a blue darkroom fog of unloading the partially wound film, respooling it and starting again (!)
Enough was enough and I returned it to the vendor for a refund - they were good enough to do so after my 6 months of using it. I often wonder what happened to it. Knowing the secondhand market, it is probably still around with the problems of the transport still unresolved. 
Old and knackered cameras rarely die, they just keep getting shipped around the country.
For all that I seem to be criticizing the Pentax, I actually think that the problems of the early 6x7's were partially resolved in the later rebuilds - namely the Pentax 67 (see what they did there) and the Pentax 67II.
The superb photographer Steve Mulligan regularly uses a brace of P67II's for aerial photography and I simply don't see how they could have sold so many if they were rubbish.
There is a small whining voice inside me that says, I would love to own one again, simply for their sheer heft and the quality of the lenses. This being said, the lens I had (and could afford) was an early 75mm f4.5 Super-Multicoated-Takumar, and I thought it was a tad soft (there seems to be a concensus of opinion that it is one of the sharpest in the range, so maybe I had a not so good example). 
If I were to go for one again, it would be as late a model as possible with either the 90mm or 105mm lens and the 55mm wide angle. But then again, I would still face the same problem of not being able to see 100% of what I am photographing - a point which annoys the hell out of me.
My notes from when I returned the Pentax read as follows:

Basically no matter how good looking and likeable the Pentax 67 system is (and it is) - never get another one!!
The flaw of the system is the shutter (which is ridiculously loud and heavy in action *
If you want a 6x7 go for a RB67 or Fuji or something but not Pentax.
* The camera will torque no matter how much effort you put into restraining it. Only the lens cap/mirror up method works, but then we were let down by the lens.

The madness of bigger doughnuts did sort of resolve itself from this. The money I got back from the Pentax and lens and all the doo-dads I'd bought for it - strap, UV filter, waist-level finder, plus a trade-in of a nice little Petri rangefinder, enabled me to take a giant step forward.
I got the Supersized lunchtime special doughnut; a camera so large and bulky and yet so wonderful that I still own it. A Sinar F.
It is so much a character of his own, that he will have his own dedicated FB sometime soon.
But back to the Pentax, why does that niggling voice keep going? 
Why would I want to get another one when the original proved to be so unreliable and challenging to use? 
I think it could well be, that I like the idea (but maybe not the practicality) of having one again. Yes it was difficult to use. Yes it wasn't a ready companion miles away from anywhere, and yet, it was a character all of its own. A camera that you had to deal with on its own terms and not your own. A struggle to use, and yet a pleasure too. I hope he is still around out there, giving some bargain hunter pleasure and not pain!
The photograph below was made with the Pentax, at a place called Mossburn Ford in the Scottish Borders. The path Alec Turnips and myself were on passed through someone's garden, before meandering away and up a hillside. In the garden were some overgrown sheds with this incredible collection.

The photograph was made on Ilford FP4 at EI 64. I metered it with my Gossen Lunasix S meter (a totally wonderful light meter) placing the top left corner on Zone V. Exposure was 2 seconds at f16.
It was developed as per Barry Thornton's instructions - basically Ilford Perceptol at 1:3 and 20C, for 14 and a half minutes.
The scan does very little justice to the print, which somehow manages to 'breath' in the greys with a luminosity that is always very difficult to get a hold on.
I call it 'Grandfather's Chair', because of that old candlewick bedspread draped over the chair. 
It looks to me like a figure is sitting there - possibly the ghost of someone's Grandfather, still clinging to the unloved remnant of his favourite chair. 
Allied with the movement from the weeping Willow, and I think an air of strangeness has been imparted to it.
Of all the photographs I have made, it is the only one I have framed and on the wall in my study.
(Ab)normal service will be resumed next week.
God bless and thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. an interesting and amusing read herr sheephouse, cheers :-)