Photographs from a recent early morning wander through the neighborhood on the way to work. Leica M4, 35mm Summicron, Kodak Portra 400.
Is a foreign concept.
With that in mind, imagine my surprise at the smile that crept over my face upon seeing the results of this roll of film as the scanner finished its work.
This roll is Ilford HP5+ rated at ISO1600, exposed at ISO800. In this bright light on a sun-drenched California afternoon, there wasn’t much opportunity to control depth of field as aperture was made small and shutter speeds at 1/500 or 1/1000. Even so, I’m extremely happy with the tonality and range of this film.
I own a reprobate Canon Canonet with which I have been in a blood feud for the better part of 18 months.
I bought this little fixed lens, 35mm rangefinder camera from a random seller on eBay. I spent the right amount for a 1970s camera in good cosmetic condition in need of just a bit of TLC. As with most of these cameras, the light seals had turned to black goop. The meter worked. Shutter times were fine. The rangefinder patch was bright and contrasty. I had the light seals replaced by my buddies over at Glass Key Photo in the Haight. All was well.
Or was it? *jarring musical chord*
The test roll I shot a week after buying the camera took me a couple of months to get to the lab for development. I acknowledge that this is my fault for being big on ideas and short on time to run errands.
The lag between shooting the test roll and having it developed left me completely unprepared for the unacceptable results I’d find upon looking at the scans.
I have spent the past year and a half or more intermittently taking the camera apart, putting a ground glass and loupe to the film plane (or scotch tape, or waxed paper or whatever other method I’d found to try on the internet) to try to align the rangefinder mechanism just so to the lens.
When both the rangefinder image shown in the viewfinder of the camera and the image I see when looking through the lens align, the result should be photos on film that are in focus.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m probably terrible at camera tech work. This little endeavor has taken on a life of its own, however. My personal compulsion to not let this inanimate object outsmart me has resulted in many wasted hours and oaths to hurl the damned thing from our 3rd floor balcony.
I adjusted to 1 meter. Infinity was out.
On and on it went. Rangefinder alignment and the image projected on to the ground glass looked pretty good to my aging eyes.
4 or 5 rolls went to the lab with more and more trepidation as each roll came back out of focus to a greater or lesser extent. I didn’t want to shoot with the thing. I didn’t want to take it apart again. I didn’t want to bring it with me to make crummy photos and miss moments. I didn’t want to waste film or money on developing the film on what was increasingly becoming an albatross/paperweight. Each roll that came back from the lab fuzzy and just enough out of focus to drive me nearer to camera assassination.
Finally, I bought a Leica M4 in frustration (read: because I had really wanted one for years and could nearly afford it). That took care of the rangefinder itch – The M4 has been wonderful to shoot with and I’ve made some of my favorite film photos with that camera.
Now then, back to the villain.
The Canonet sat on the shelf for the last 4 months or so, sulking, biding its time. Waiting.
Never having been particularly fond of the scans I paid for from the various film labs where I’d sent my film, I bought a refurbished Epson v600 flatbed scanner. I also picked up some black and white film development kit for next to nothing. Both of these purchases cost less than sending 10 rolls of film out to have someone else process and scan the negatives generically, missing out on the look I was after.
As I worked my way through negatives at home from past rolls, I ran across the most recent roll from the Canonet which, because of the aforementioned cost, I hadn’t even bothered to have scanned. After putting a couple of strips of the film on the scanner and renewing my disgust with the camera’s characteristically awful performance, I threw the damned Canonet in the trash can.
Relief. Resignation. Resolve.
Then, self-doubt. Then, a realization: With the massively reduced cost of development and scanning, I could troubleshoot the little Canonet’s woes without spending $20.00+ and a side trip across the city twice drop off, pickup negatives to finally find out that nothing good had happened with the adjustments.
The camera was presently a denizen of a dank corner at the bottom of the kitchen wastebasket, but the idea coalesced and I fished the thing out from under the trash.
The Canonet looked up at me with its one eye indifferently. I detected what might have been a fleeting moment of gratitude.
After what must be the 20th instance of adjusting the rangefinder to what looked correct, I loaded up a test roll of Delta 100 and metered each shot by hand with an incident meter. Camera was on a tripod and each shot was triggered with a cable release to reduce the chance for user error.
The results were better than any other roll from this camera. Turnaround from shoot to scanning was about 12 hours – huzzah for home development – so I retained much of the shot to shot details (it was getting toward bedtime and I was lazy enough not to take notes). The photos look good. The camera was still front focusing by an inch or so, but that is workable.
Below are a few of the scans from this weekend’s test roll that show definite signs of progress.
Earlier in the week I spent another hour up on the roof in the late afternoon sunlight with the camera on the tripod with the shutter locked open, the focusing screen from my Canon F1 and a 6x loupe to make some very fine adjustments to the rangefinder’s alignment.
I think it’s good, at long last. Maybe.
Another test roll is in the bag. I’ll develop that and share the results. Then maybe I will finally take the thing out to shoot with some confidence.
Meanwhile, it sits on the shelf, watching us.