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Sunday, 15 December 2013


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Mike! What a great post...well, at least for me. My birthday was Friday the 13th and I was reminiscing (probably a bit too much) about photos I wish I had taken.
When I was 12(ish) we lived in Tampa, Florida and the neighborhood was full of celebrities which I of course, just thought of them as... neighbors.
One of my friends, was Scooter Langford. We climbed trees together and every so often, his sister Frances would visit and somewhere there is a picture of Frances teaching Scooter and me how to blow bubbles with bubblegum. And somewhere in our family archives there is a picture of Frances, me and Scooter out back of their house on a picnic table blowing bubbles. Yes, she really was Frances Langford.
And the point is that I only wish I had some of these photos.
It wasn't until many years later that I realized the impact that photo images have on our lives and memories.
Thanks for an insightful post and stop taking so much time off. We miss you.
My two pesos.

Mike, you're making me miss film again.

A very enjoyable read.

Mike, your comment about not showing your work resonates. I'm often implored by photographer friends on various websites to post. It used to be post more. Now it's just post. Trouble is that not many people like the mundane photographs I like to shoot. The few times I have shared my meanderings with others, they've received a - how shall we say it - lukewarm reception. So I decided a while ago to keep my work for myself. Glad I've found a kindred spirit.

There have been many times where it's occurred to me I might be able to sell more than the odd print or even make some actual money if I focused on a different kind of work. But then I remember I wouldn't have any fun making pictures like that and that seems counterintuitive.

I love reading what you write. Thanks Mike.

You never know till after what was important. It's backwards.

Mike, if you can find that lens again there are adapters to manual focus Mamiya 645 cameras. I know, it is long lost, but there is always hope!

"P.S. And before anyone asks why I didn't just get commercially-made prints made of that lakescape, that just wasn't the ethos then, in my circles. You printed your own work. At that time I wouldn't have considered selling prints I didn't make myself."

Why then, not now? My sense is it's even more important now. Do your (own) work.

My Exacta 66 was green and I had a lovely Xenotar on it (I'm sure I had a plain prism - can't remember a meter, but I might be wrong) but, it had been mistreated and the frame spacing was erratic and I just couldn't afford to get it fixed. It came from a sale of a deceased photographers' effects and I had decided to buy into Contax for my wedding work at the same time, so I let it go very cheaply having only put half a dozen rolls through it. It did produce some outstanding frames and for several years I wanted to find another - as rare as rocking horse manure. It was one of those camera/lens combinations that elevated some photographs into something I thought was a bit special. Thanks for the reminder, Mike.

Memories. My first SLR was an Exakta VXIIb, bought for me by my father when I was around 13 or so -- this would be in the middle 1960s. He worked in Penn Station in NYC and knew somebody who worked part time at Seymour's Exakta, as far as I know the only camera store that specialized in Exaktas. It was located near Penn Station and in those days that was the camera district (Spiratone, Willoughby-Peerless, Camera Barn, Olden, and a bunch of others). I cannot remember the brand or type of lens it came with, but it was a 50mm and not terribly fast.

Very idiosyncratic machine. Shutter release was on the left side and was part of the lens (the release not only tripped the shutter but also closed down the lens -- you could focus with the lens wide open, and it shut down when you took the exposure.

Mine had a pentaprism, but it was interchangeable for waist level finders. After a few years somebody came out with a pentraprism that incorporated a light meter. You had to set the lens to stop-down mode, though, and the exposures were often widely off -- I used the sunny 16 rule as a check.

There were other interesting features. As with Mike's 66, the mirror was not quick return, you had to cock the shutter to get the mirror in place again. But you could cock the shutter without advancing the film, so you could make as many multiple exposures as you liked, as long as you remember to take up the film tension using the rewind knob first. And there was a little knife built into the camera -- you could cut the film in mid-roll and remove the exposed film. the body was trapezoidal, wide in the middle tapering down on both sides. And I seem to recall that the body was made at least partially of wood. And finally, it had stampings on it saying it was made in East Germany.

In the end, I sold the camera back to Seymour's, I forget how much I got -- maybe $100 -- and put the money toward a new Olympus OM-1md, figuring it was time to move forward.

In my book, this is my camera of the year.

A slightly over 2 lbs (with lens) 4x5 combined RF/VF camera. Push HP5+ to ISO 1600 and you can even shoot at indoor. Handheld use of course. This is Provia 100F:


Oh, if you are nostalgic about Xenotar, here's one from Xenotar 135/3.5:


This is actually half of a 4x5: I lifted the holder partially without the darkslide. Acros-100 on a traditional 4x5 and not the Saber.

A great post. Indeed.

These so called off-topic posts are among my favourites on the TOP.

Many thanks, Mike.

- Frank

Nice post. Much empathy for the "not exhibiting". Early I exhibited, but found it detracted from my work some of the qualities I prized most, and was physically and mentally exhausting, and sometimes emotionally, too. I was and still am devoted to the unsung "art" of being a framewright, and time left from that and the demands of kids and family, was better spent actually making art, than exhibiting. Also, empathy for the selling of tools to make the nut.

I bought a Pentacon Six just to use my wonderful Zeiss Jena Flektogon 50mm at the width intended. The lens did not disappoint, but that "film holder" sure did... now I use the lens on a digital camera with an adapter, and it's a very large (and still very nice) "normal" lens.

A very interesting column, and one that resonates in many walks of life and careers. It's networkers and self-promoters that succeed, not necessarily the best or the most competent.

But the internet is changing that. TOP and a handful of other websites and blogs show that you can make a living by being almost entirely self-contained and independent if you have something interesting to say and enough people who care.

And you only have to look at social networking sites to realise how the next generation are entirely comfortable networking with people they will never meet in person, preferring to deal with the thoughtful writer rather than the smooth talker.

In future our virtual projection could well be more professionally important than our gregariousness. This could even out opportunity across the board and make interesting people the success stories of the future.

So thanks Mike - you are blazing a trail for all of us who find office parties and enforced socialising a complete chore. ;-)

Thanks Mike,

As a child I too realized the futility of the competitive approach to life. Later, as a photographer, I managed a couple of print sales, a couple of shows and a few artist residencies, but always tempered these with a more cooperative and noncompetitive understanding of living. While I sometimes wonder where the thread may have lead, I'm deeply satisfied as to where it did lead.

Keep up the good work.

Phil K

Great story Mike.
Memories of photographers with disclaimers.
This brings to mind a current news item making the rounds, (see Dpreview for example) about the more you photograph the less you remember, why bother if you have it stored in RAW you can always develop it later.

"I tell this story to explain why I have never shown my work. It's too...competitive. And I'm just not a competitive type of guy."

Well, you're lucky no one reads you blog. Much.


"Mike, you're making me miss film again."

Film hasn't gone away. Marketing has moved on to fast-and-lazy, that's all.

My medium-format drawer is full of Zeiss glass and P6 bodies, nicely serviced by a tech in Slovakia. They work still :o)

Wonderful story, lovely read.

...lot of people still love these, only the "pre-Exakta" one (Pentacon?), lot of people swear by those old Zeiss lenses on the old stuff, too. Amazed that there are lots of people still using them, repairing them, and showing the results on line....

Hi Mike,

Just to say I am looking forward to your Books of the Year which I hope you will be revealing soon. I am thankful to you for highlighting books in the past especially Alfred Stieglitz, published by Bulfinch Press. Just by way of sharing here are mine for 2013.

Best wishes

I hope you at least keep these stories better than your photographs. One day you will publish a book of great short stories.
A lovely Sunday read !

This is great. I imagine there are so many of us who had to deal with the disappointment of having to sell equipment to pay bills. This post brings up two points that I have thought of throughout my career. First is the argument that the camera is just a tool and should have no effect on your work, I used to believe this... a very long time ago. The second point is how we sabotage ourselves, that sometimes fear of success is stronger than fear of failure.

I once had a 50mm DR Summicron that, as best as I can recall, was at the top of spec. Well, at least it seemed magical to me. I sold on the M3 kit (including as well a 90 Summicron and the 21/3.4 SA, both of which were also so good,) and some Rollei SL66 gear to pay bills. I did work with that gear that was very satisfying to me. Ain't it the way?

Better to have loved and lost your prints............

Mike - great post! If anyone is thinking of going "pro", you should read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield! It's a great book about the struggle to be a professional as a creative type. (In his case, a writer) http://www.amazon.com/The-War-Art-Through-Creative/dp/1936891026

Maybe you could exhibit under a pseudonym. That might reduce the competitive pressure. In addition, years from now, when your alter-ego is a successful and well-loved art photographer, he can shock the world by revealing his true identity. That would be fun!

Mike, I love your posts about these old cameras. I love mechanical items and I have the mistaken belief that if I have a lens with these qualities then maybe my photos won't stink. I know better than that but I like to dream.

Reading the posts about David Vestal have made me want to get out and learn the light for B&W photography. I have a Pentax MX and 50/1.7 lens so I should have no self-doubt about my tools. But as always, money is tight and right now my priority is to retrain my brain towards compassion and optimism no I can wean myself off anti-depressants one day. So photography takes a backseat (unless there is a way to use photography to help my depression).

PS. I know you mentioned having a problem recently (and it is winter which makes depression worse) and one book I can recommend is "Unstuck" by James Gordon. I've only read a little so far but it's really good. My wife really liked "Buddha's Brain" by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius. It is about using meditation and other exercises to "rewire" your brain so that your automatic thoughts are more optimistic and compassionate.

That explains a lot. Wonderful post.

About displaying your work and competitiveness... Yes, many photographers see photography as a contest. And, when I'm honest with myself I recognize that I too keep a photography scoreboard in my head. Competition isn't poison -- sometimes it fuels the rocket of creativity. However, I think we must remember that the spirit of competition is just a small facet of photography and art.

In this era of open warfare for social media eyeballs, I sometimes forget that the ultimate goal of photography is better visual communication. Maybe a competitive site like 500px will prove to be the Peenemünde of visual arts. But, I have doubts.

American's are already saturated with a culture of competition. It's the responsibility of us so called artists to push the conversation in a new direction. Photographers need to celebrate what moves our art forward: experimentation and persistence. For my part, I try to be honest about my process. I share the work that leads up to the masterpiece. At my blog I post my experiments in the same stream where I post my triumphs.

I still have the predecessor of the Exacta 66 the Pentacon 6. It's one of the cheapest exchangable lens medium format here in Poland. Later on I had various different medium formats, which were objectively better, but somehow I like the pentacon most. The finder is clearly shit, but otherwise ergonomy is quite unbeatable.
As for the overlapping frames I encountered it, both the another destroyed camera (sodl as "for parts") for no money, dismountled it, understood the winding mechanism and learned how to LOAD pentacon. For that time on the overlapping frames happened never again.

Merry has since left the Smithsonian but not before elevating photography through her Smithsonian Photography Initiative. Sadly, only portions of her efforts still exist online including this:

http://click.si.edu/ - "Click! Photography Changes Everything"

A collection of essays "...that explore the many ways photography shapes our culture and our lives."

...you know I always wondered about these when they were marketed, and flirted with the idea of buying one back when they were introduced..you know, they were SUPPOSED to be 'upgraded' and improved versions of the Pentacon, but from what people are saying on here who owned them, it sounds like the upgrading was limited to putting a new covering on the camera and squaring off the body, doesn't sound like they touched the 'innards' at all, all the same problems...

...you know, the Mamiya 6 rangefinder, a camera still in demand (and over-priced used), certainly showed how to get that full square 120 format while knocking the camera down to a reasonable size...the correct solution...

It's not true that the Exakta 66 and the Pentacon Six are the same on the inside. Exakta 66s had different focusing screens, quite modern TTL measurement for the time (measurement at full aperture and contacts for set shutter time encoding), pressure plate swichable for 120 and 220 film, "mod3" had (very unconvenient) mirror lock-up. The achilles heel of PSix - which was film winding system was clearly NOT upgraded, nor was the finder coverage, but saying that the changes was only the exterior look is unfair.

My camera repairman says that Mamiya 6 is a camera to avoid, as the system of collapsible lens mount is much to weak. on the contrary he praises Mamiya 7.
(Which is not MY opinion, I havent dismountled neither 6 nor 7)

I thought when reading the first four paragraphs that they were from a long lost JD Salinger novel.

Hey Mike, don't drool: the Xenotar 80/2.8 re-born:

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