Thursday, October 23, 2008

Toy Pano: WIN! plus *bonus* Salton Sea footage.

About a month ago (actually, exactly one month ago), I built a toy panoramic out of a Chinese Holga clone and a Japanese stereo pinhole camera.

I took a short vacation to Palm Springs and the Salton Sea area and was able to run a roll of black-and-white Fuji SS, as well as a roll of color Kodak Portra 160NC (that I got for free from Kodak as part of some promotion), through it. The results are in! I'd have to say...mostly positive! First the Fuji SS, developed with D-76. I'll just shut up and show some pictures, the babble for a few lines.

And one very tall shot...

Nice, heh? Focuses great, no worries on the focal length. Has the fall off I expected. Less, actually. And the fall-off varies depending on how far I focus the thing. Has the soft toy camera thing but still sharp enough to show detail.
How about color? This was Kodak Portra 160NC home developed with a Unicolor C-41 kit.

I have to say that overall I prefer the black-and-white film, but I didn't try all that hard. The color roll was very boring, almost all distant horizon shots. But I think the fading at the sides fits better with the bw film. Still, I'm very happy that it worked! Now that I know it does, I can play around a bit more.
Problems with it? The only real issue I had was with the viewfinder. It's just a plastic square and I basically just tried to line up the horizon or something straight along the crosshairs by holding the camera about 8 inches from my face, so everything is pretty much centered in the frame. I'd like to make some kind of "real" viewfinder, maybe from a crappy cheapo goodwill panoramic. Speaking of, these are shots from my crappy cheapo goodwill panoramic, for comparison.

The image size of the homemade pano is about the length of two 35mm shots, plus the space you would have between the frames. The cheapo pano just has a mask that makes a smaller image from a single 35mm frame, so basically you are getting 1/3 of a 35mm shot. Here are some shots taken with Fuji Provia 100F, home developed in the same Unicolor kit.

And a couple older bw shots from the same camera...

While they have their own charm, the difference in quality is obvious. Aside from the green color from cross-processing, they are very grainy and much lower in detail. Compare these to the homemade pano color shot of all the windmills in the distance. While soft, you can see every single one of them in detail. But the image size on the homemade pano is at least six times larger than that of the cheap pano.
If you want one of these cheapo panos, I see them all the time at Goodwill, Savers, etc., for one or two bucks. I plan on grabbing another to see if I can rip it apart for the finder. If you want a homemade panoramic like mine, you'll have to build one yourself! A Diana pano? Hmmm... gears ticking and clicking.

A few words about Salton Sea (this should be a separate post, but while I'm in the mood). It really is a beautiful mess. I highly recommend the documentary Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea. Towards the end someone comments that nobody knows about the Salton Sea and nobody cares, until you visit it. One visit is all it takes and then you care. That's all it took for me. I've been to SoCal quite a few times and been through the Palm Springs area and didn't realize how close it is. I mean it's like 15 miles south of the freeway! With a length of 35 miles, how can anyone miss it? But most people do. I HIGHLY recommend checking it out. Totally fascinating. Beautiful and disgusting at the same time.
The FLIES! I mean, seriously. I just had to turn off my senses, because as soon as I pulled over the first time in North Shore, my truck filled up with flies. Just your basic housefly, so nothing that bites...but they were thick as...well, as flies.
The smell? A lot of people complain about it, but I didn't really notice it. Maybe having grown up in the Midwest, I'm already used to odd, damp smells, like ponds and mold and stuff. And the ocean smells way stronger. It was just kind of a brine smell, with some sulfur stench in some areas where there is more activity like mud volcanoes. Didn't really phase me. Though it's probably best I was alone, as I can't imagine most people putting up with it all day like I do. It was an amazing area, though. I really want to go back soon. As soon as I left, I was thinking about places I wanted to spend more time exploring...the dead beaches, the salt flats, the abandoned motels, the funky trailer towns. So I leave you this time with a few shots of the Salton Sea area. I'll try to describe them a bit.

This was on the east shore in the Niland park. All that white stuff is basically salt mud. I have it all over my truck. It was pretty dry while I was there. I think a lot of pictures I see, this is usually covered with water.

This is the same are with the mud volcanoes. This green pit was bubbling!

Looked like toxic waste to me. This was shot in the same area with a Holga 120GN. Just salt and mud.

Did I mention it was hot? Like above 100 hot? But that doesn't phase me after living in the desert for 11 years. Here's a shot of a typical beach on the eastern shore.

It's not strictly sand...mostly seashells and fish bones, and the fine desert sand/dust we have out here. Everything is bleached white from the brine and sun. Lots of abandoned buildings, as well. A couple more shots of the seashore.

A nice, beautiful emptiness. This is looking down the eastern shoreline, a shot I particularly like with the train going by.

Another shot of from the Holga of an abandoned beach building (these Holga shots are self developed as well).

No shortage of abandoned stuff to shoot. Nobody seems to live there. And even where people do live (mostly in Bombay Beach and Salton City), there is still tons of junk just left behind.

Don't think it's all trashy and desolate, though. It's still a sea and surrounded by desert. It's quite pretty, and peaceful. Rarely do I feel so alone in a populated area. And the birds are amazing. Pelicans and herons and such everywhere. A bit more skittish than those I've seen at the ocean, where the pelicans just kind of sit and watch you walk by. These would fly away if you walked up to the shoreline and they were 150 feet away. Still neat to see, though.

And the southern end of the sea is all farmlands and preserves, and some factories.

Well worth the trip. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in photography, and anyone else for that matter. It really has to be seen...and i can't imagine anyone visiting it and saying "It doesn't matter, let it dry up." But that seems to be what has happened. I'm not telling everyone to go out and save the Salton Sea (I don't live in California, but water politics are the same throughout the west...waste and divert), but don't hate it! Enjoy it while it's there. I know I'm going to go back, more than a few times.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

WTFD! Uhh...I mean WTCD!

Yes, I almost forgot! It's that time of year again...World Toy Camera Day is on Saturday, October 18th. So grab your favorite crappy, lo-fi camera and celebrate the day! I'm not sure where I will be, but wherever it is, I will have a camera in my hand. Go team!

Voted most likely to...

Oh, and check out the latest issue of Light Leaks, all about Polaroid. I have an article in there about Type 80.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Please to welcome...the Kowa Six!

If I ever have a band, I'm naming it The Kowa Six. Even if it's just me.
Anyway, I've been wanting some kind of nice 120 camera...a "real" camera. No real hurry, just waited for something to jump out at me and say "must have"! I'm not really interested in super high-end stuff like Hasselblads, though they are certainly nice cameras and you can do some awesome work with them. It's just way above me, I think. Too hi-falootin'. But I still wanted something decent. My Great Wall is an alright camera, very cool, of course...but it's still in the realm of funky. So I found the Kowa Six. The price range was acceptable, I like what I've seen from it, and it fulfills my "really cool looking camera" requirements. Picked up a nice one on eBay, complete with a grip.

The Kowa Six was introduced in 1968, and I think it was out of production by 1975 or or so. There are two successors, the Kowa 6MM and the Kowa 66. The 6MM added the ability to do multiple exposures and a mirror lockup, and the 66 had a removable back. I liked the look of the original, and that was a good enough reason for me to get the Six. Sweet looking camera, for sure. The grip was an accessory, and a welcome attachment for my camera.

The camera is not light. I'd estimate it weighs at least 8 pounds with the grip. It's very solid and just...heavy. But look at the size of that lens! For comparison, here is my Great Wall next to the Kowa.

Obviously similar in concept, if not in style. SLRs, with the mirror acting as the shutter. The Great Wall was good practice for using my Kowa Six. It felt very comfortable. And the grip has a shutter release as well, which makes it easier to handle and stabilize while shooting.
It came with the original strap and lens cap, as well.

On this side you can see the film advance winder and the counter/film set. I've been told that using the crank can strip the advance gear, so I don't use it. The knob is plenty big...easy to turn.

When you advance the winder, it cocks the shutter as the film locks into the next frame. Then you just fire the shutter and advance again. It doesn't allow for multiple exposures, as the film must advance to the next frame to cock the shutter.
Another nice feature is the ability to use 220 as well as 120.

Because of this, it doesn't have a counter has a film counter like a 35mm camera. It is important to pay attention to your 120/220 setting, as you could end up with a counter continuing or stopping late or early. And just to show you that I mostly don't ever know what I'm doing, I screwed up two rolls of film. Well, not the entire rolls, just the first couple shots on each roll. Without a window, you have to have the film advanced to a certain point, or you will be shooting on paper for a couple shots. So one time, yeah, I could see screwing this up. But even after I read the instructions, I screwed up the second roll. You have to advance the film to the arrow on the paper before you close the back.

So the second time I managed to just advance it to the dotted line. There was one shot I was really looking forward to, and it was the first shot on the roll, of course, so it does not exist. It was a ghost shot. Oh well.
Opens from the bottom...

Let's check out that lens.

The shutter has to be cocked to remove the lens.

It has flash sync and a self-timer. No bulb setting, though.

Focus from 2.5 feet to infinity, with apertures of 2.8 to 22.

The viewfinder flipped up...

And looking down through it. Nice and sharp. I've read that it shows about 96% of what will appear on film, while the 66 shows more like 98%. Has a flip down magnifier for fine focusing, as well.

And a shot of me holding it. Again, the grip is a lifesaver. Much easier to handle. My arms are not quite that gorilla in real life.

So, the final does it shoot? I wasn't sure what to expect. I mean, I knew it would expose the film, but I figured it would just be 'okay'. I took it to Palm Springs and Salton Sea last week and shot a roll of Fuji Acros 120 black and white, and a roll of Kodak Ektachrome 64 220, expired in 1985. After developing the Fuji, color me impressed (in black and white).

Super sharp! And then the roll of Ektachrome, self-developed in a Unicolor C-41 home developing kit. This cross-processes the film. Again, sweet results. Some are very blown out as I opened the aperture up, but I like the effect.

Not sure where the leak is coming from in the color shots. Will have to investigate further. But it really is a great camera, easy to use with nice results! A keeper, for sure! You can grab a pdf of the instructions here.
Who's this popping up to say hello?

Why, it's our new friend, Blackbird, Fly! I'll be taking this one out on the weekend, with a review to follow. Just because it's so cool, these aren't all that difficult to find outside of Japan. They are already appearing at some museum stores and online for about $120. More to come on that, though.
And my homemade panoramic camera was a success. I developed a roll of black and white, and have almost finished a color roll...more on that later, as well.
Until then!