Tag Archives: UT

Mercury II Film Test – A Tale of One City

This week we’re featuring local photographer Bob Grant and his review of the Mercury II camera. Bob found Utah Film Photography a few years ago and we’ve met up for a few photowalks. With a background in engineering, Bob loves the technical details, mechanics, and operation behind film photography. He admits his artistic and technical interests go hand-in-hand, and they tend to compliment each other.

Well, this certainly isn’t the best of times. And pandemic concerns recently prevented me from exploring any city other than my own.

And for anyone who enjoys travel photography, an unexpected 10-week long stay at home spells out “missed opportunities” in bold letters.

But photography continues. I’ve added greatly to my old film camera collection within the past two years, and I have a number of gems that until 10 weeks ago I had not yet put any film in. So I suddenly saw a golden opportunity to correct that by shooting my first rolls in my Contax IIIA, Voigtlander Bessamatic, Yashica D, Yashica-Mat, plus Kodak No. 2 Hawk-eye and Rexoette box cameras. Hoping for interesting photos, or at least ones that exposed the strengths and weakness of each camera, I decided to play tourist on my daily walks of 2 to 5 miles in my neighborhood. As time progressed, novel subjects, lighting, and camera angles became harder to find in such a small radius from home. But playing tourist in my own neighborhood proved to be a fun challenge to my creativity.

In retrospect, selecting my recently acquired Mercury II with an 35mm F2.7 Tricor lens for its tour of duty at this time may have pushed this challenge a tad too far into the deep end of the pool. Because the Mercury II is my first half-frame 35mm camera, and I hadn’t fully anticipated how long it might take me to shoot the full complement of 65 images within walking distance of my home.

Briefly, the Mercury II is a uniquely shaped post-war American 35mm camera.

Mercury II Film Test

Anyone interested in the technical details can easily find it on the internet search for “Mercury II camera”. Mike Eckman Dot Com gives a much better description than I possibly can.

Amazing things about this camera include:
The bump on the top houses a rotating disc that serves as the focal plane shutter. At each shutter speed, from 1/20 to 1/1000, the disc rotates at the same speed, and always emits the same lazy whirl. The exposure is varied by changing the size of the pie-shaped opening formed by the two over-lapping “half discs”. It is unquestionably the most accurate mechanical shutter in my camera collection, and is as precise throughout its whole range as I can measure with my simple shutter tester, challenging some of my electronic shutters.

Mercury II Film Test

The exterior metal surfaces were not plated. They now have an intriguing patina. Okay, it’s actually a tarnish that you can see in the first photo. But the tarnish shows graphically where the operators’ fingers have smoothened the metal’s surface finish and additionally darkened it over the years. Judging by this, this camera has apparently seen heavy use, yet maintained its accuracy. I guess I can’t rule out that the original owner had excessively hard, dry and abrasive skin.

The owner’s manual has a description of the exposure calculator, on the camera’s back, but it is so complex that I couldn’t find any reason to read past the first paragraph or two, when “Sunny 16” answered my needs. A fringe benefit of living in Utah: substantial sun compared to where this camera was designed – NYC.

Mercury II Film TestLeft to right in the foreground above are:

  • The extinction light meter that came with the camera (useless, maybe due to darkening with age);
  • Saymont rangefinder attachment, unrelated to this camera but a useful accessory; This is a viewfinder, not a rangefinder. Distance is by guesstimate, but I happen to have this era-appropriate accessory rangefinder, which I also found fun to use.
  • Kodalux light meter, obviously unrelated and with limited functionality, mostly to confirm “Sunny 16”.

Annoying things about this camera:
The half-frame images are pretty small, magnifying any image imperfection and requiring manual framing of each image when using my Epson V550 film scanner. When the camera is horizontal, the image is in portrait orientation. It is easy to grip and hold vertically for a landscape, so I didn’t find this to be a problem. Until I saw the photos. Many of them were skewed. I obviously had a hard time holding the camera level, in either configuration. Will you let me blame the tiny viewfinder, which is vignetted for anyone wearing glasses? I actually can’t get my eyeball close enough to see the edges of the viewing frame.

It takes 4 repeated twisting motions for me to wind the film and cock the shutter. If this was a full-frame camera, I’d have to pre-schedule each film advance on my monthly calendar.

The film advance on my camera has aged a lot faster than the shutter. One film sprocket hole was torn mid-roll, several exposures slightly overlapped, and the last 8 to 10 exposures were blank, with one frame showing multiple exposures despite the expected tension signaling that I had properly reached the end of the roll, and the shutter appeared to have never missed a beat. I respect any camera that presents me with a mysterious failing such as this. I wonder now if the advance knob stops when it reaches frame number 65, even if the film stopped advancing sooner. I’d have to wind it 65 times just to find out. 65 x 4 =260 twists. Never mind.

The top of the leather case folds up, over, and back toward the user, preventing them from getting an eye within 4 inches of the viewfinder. Perhaps it is because the leather is now so hard and stiff that it won’t drop out of the way. I decided to just remove the case while I had film in the camera – the first time I’ve ever felt obliged to operate any camera without its case.

So – how good are the pictures? First let me explain. I find it hard to believe, but I checked the math, and I really did make my first photographic equipment purchase (Crown Graphic 4×5 and Omega DII enlarger) 49 years ago, while still in high school. I have a fair amount of amateur darkroom experience. However, now my favorite way to view my photos is using my 4K TV, so now my old amateurish ways of judging analog input/analog output image quality no longer apply to me, and keep in mind that my new amateurish analog input/digital output methods do not always satisfy me, and might not appeal to you, either. This has always been only one of several hobbies that are enjoyable for my own entertainment, but I’ve never sought to totally master.

I shot Ilford FP4+ with standard developing time. I used no filters – none of mine fit this small lens. Most outdoor shots were handheld, usually taken at 1/100 and F16 or F8.

These subjects aren’t particularly interesting, but were primarily selected to judge the camera’s capabilities. One, but only one, image on this roll gave me the image definition evocative of my what I love about my Zeiss and Voigtlander cameras from the ’50’s and ’60’s. At least it wouldn’t stand out if grouped with those images – when viewed on my TV. All of the others would fall short.

Mercury II Film Test

So I know beautiful photos are somewhere within this camera’s capabilities, but I couldn’t find all too many with my first roll of film. The small image size is a big disadvantage. Every speck of dust or blemish is twice as big as full-frame 35mm. All of these images are scanned at 3200 dpi (but downsized for this publication) with Epson’s lowest USM setting, and no post processing and no digital dust removal. Kinda raw.

Can anyone identify what caused the circled flaws in this image, and how to avoid them? Other than, of course, not shooting a 3/4″ x 1″ negatives while a 4″ x 5″ camera sits unused at home. 🙂 I don’t remember it ever having been a problem for me before, so I guess it is a processing flaw that has previously gone un-noticed with less magnification. You will see more examples in other shots.

Mercury II Film Test

Middle-lane Social Distancing for Teens

Mercury II Film Test

Outer-lane Social Distancing for Adults

Mercury II Film Test

Stay-at-Home Social Distancing for Boomers

Mercury II Film Test

These cameras are said to have a good depth of field due to their small images, so I took this picture to get a sense of it.

Mercury II Film Test

The camera can focus as close as 1′ 6″. This was taken a little further than that, but as close as I could get due to standing in a ditch.

Mercury II Film Test

Tennis Court Shadow

Mercury II Film Test

Sno-Cat

Mercury II Film Test

I cannot quite count the number of plies in the rubber belt of this cat-track, which I interpret as pretty good.

Mercury II Film Test

Snuggle Bench During a Pandemic However, nothing looks very sharp.

Mercury II Film Test

I’ve started shooting very rudimentary resolution test shots of all my cameras, with similar lighting and always tripod mounted. My methodology still has many flaws, but this suggests to me that this lens is average – comparable to my Canon 50mm FD, but better than my Canon zoom lenses with FD mounts.

Mercury II Film Test

 

 


Yashica Mat-124 G CLA

I recently sent my Yashica Mat-124 G off to Mr. Mark Hama in Georgia (USA) for a CLA (clean, lubricate, adjust). Mark is known for working on the team that built the Mat-124 G at Yashica’s factory in Japan. For the past 30 years he’s been repairing cameras from his home. If you recall, he also repaired my Yashica 44 last year.

I was having issues with the shutter button. For whatever reason it would not click after advancing the film. For the past two weeks I’ve been running a few rolls of 120 film through the camera to ensure that it’s working correctly. I’m happy to report that it works as good as new. I’m not sure what I did wrong with the negatives, but they’re showing some banding at the top. Possible light piping? If you have some ideas, please leave me a comment.

Camera: Yashica Mat-124 G (1970 – 1986)
Film: Ilford HP5+ 400 (Exp 8/2018)
Process: Kodak HC-110 (1+31) 5 Min @ 68°
Scanned: Epson V700 Photo

 

 


Yashica 44 LM (1958 – 1962)

Soon after I sent my Yashica 44 off to Mark Hama for repairs, I purchased this Yashica 44 LM. This camera was the last of Yashica’s 44 line of TLR’s that used 127 film.

Manufactured from 1958 to 1962, the Yashica 44 LM is nearly identical to the 44 and 44A. The main difference being the LM has a selenium light meter. Both the viewing and taking lenses are multi-coated, 4-element, 60mm f/3.5 Yashinon. Like the 44, the 44 LM has a Copal SV leaf shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/500th of a second and bulb. Mounted above the viewing lens is a semi-coupled selenium-cell light meter.

Aside from the light meter and the upgraded Yashinon lens with bayonet mount for lens attachments, the LM isn’t as good looking in my opinion as the 44 with the film advance crank and the gray color scheme. The selenium meter on this camera works and was accurate. I had no problems with exposure. I did have some light piping on my cut roll of 127 film. A roll of 120 film is both longer and thicker than original 127 film. When 120 is cut and rolled on to a 127 spool, there’s always a chance to expose the edges to light when loading and unloading the film from the camera. I fat-fingered the film while trying to load it. You can see the results of those shots below. And like the original 44, the LM is a quality-built camera. While the LM has a light meter, and that’s a useful feature, I still think the original 44 is my favorite 127 camera.

Clinton Days Car Show 2019
Camera: Yashica 44 LM (1958 – 1962)
Film: Rera Pan 100
Process: FPP-110 (1+31) 7 Min @ 68°
Scanner: Epson V600 Photo

Clinton Days Car Show 2019
Camera: Yashica 44 LM (1958 – 1962)
Film: Ultrafine Extreme 100
Process: FPP-110 (1+31) 7 Min @ 68°
Scanner: Epson V600 Photo

 

 


Yashica 44 (1958)

After purchasing the Camerhack FCK127 film cutter, one camera that kept calling to me was the Yashica 44. Small, grey, and admittedly cute. I spent a lot of time on eBay looking at 44’s, but most of them were beat up, dented, and missing parts. I found one that was in fair condition and made my purchase. When I received the camera, it was in good shape with the original box and paperwork. The only repair I made was replacing the red plastic window on the back of the camera, an easy fix. Shortly after cleaning the lenses and the rest of the camera, the shutter jammed. I asked my friend Maurice to inspect the camera to see what he thought. He confirmed that the shutter was stuck. I admit I was disappointed but refused to make it a shelf queen. I sent an email to Mark Hama and asked for a repair estimate. He responded with an amount that I thought was reasonable and shipped him the camera. Mark Hama is well known in the online film community as the expert on all things Yashica since he actually worked in Yashica’s Nagano, Japan, factory building cameras. Within a few days, he called me on the phone to tell me that the repairs were done and wanted to confirm my home address. We had a short conversation about the history of the Yashica 44 line of cameras. Mr. Hama is a genuinely nice guy. I worry about the future of camera repairs in a world without people like Mr. Hama.

The Yahica 44 is a twin lens reflex camera with a coupled waist level viewfinder. Originally manufactured from 1958 to 1965, the 44 was made in three different variations: 44, 44A and 44LM. If you’d like to read more about the variants, and colors, I recommend visiting Mike Eckman Dot Com and Paul Sokk’s Yashica TLR website. The viewing lens (top) of the camera is a 60mm f/3.5 Yashikor coated lens, and the taking lens (bottom) is a 3-element 60mm f/3.5 – 22 coated Yashikor. The shutter is a Copal SV leaf with speeds from 1 to 1/500th of a second and bulb. The 44 doesn’t have an internal exposure meter, so it requires no batteries. It originally sold for about $60 + $10 for a leather case. It’s no secret that the Yashica 44 bares a strong resemblance to the 1957 Rolleiflex “Baby Rollei,” including the color. The overall specs are the same (60mm, f/3.5, 1 – 500th), but the Yashica 44 doesn’t come with a Franke & Heidecke price tag.

This is a fun camera to use. It’s small, but not too small. It fits and feels nice in my hands. I’m finding more-and-more that I need to use reading glasses to see up close, so using a waist level viewfinder can be a challenge. I almost always rely on the flip-up magnifying glass to focus with TLR’s. The 44 is easy to focus and because of how you hold the camera, it’s also easy to set the shutter speed and f-stop. The Yashica 44 (and 44LM to be reviewed later) is a solid camera with excellent build quality. I prefer the film advance crank over a knob. And because the film advance is directly connected to the shutter (on the 44 only), there’s no risk of an accidental double-exposure. If I had to pick a 127 camera to use all the time, this would be it.

Camera: Yashica 44 (1958)
Film: Ultrafine Extreme 400
Process: FPP-110 (1+31) 7 Min @ 68°
Scanner: Epson V600 Photo

 

Shooting the Yashica 44 - Photo by Maurice Greeson

Shooting the Yashica 44 – Photo by Maurice Greeson

 


Long Exposure

It’s been a crazy summer for me. With some new job responsibilities, I worked some incredibly long hours at odd times of the day or night. On a Friday back in June, I had spent 12 hours working from home in front of my computer. I felt like I was going to go crazy if I didn’t get away from the screen. When I finished my work around 9:30 PM, I loaded up my Olympus OM-1 with some Kodak Ektar and headed down the street to a local carnival. With a tripod and cable release, I decided the best way to disengage and relax from work would be some long exposures. I’ve never tried long exposures on film, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. With my patient wife standing by me, I opened up the OM-1 in bulb mode, and just shot. It was actually a therapeutic way to end the day. The results aren’t stellar, but they’re not bad either. The next morning, I walked back down to the carnival to get a few shots of some wild looking horses that were part of the merry-go-round.

Camera: Olympus OM-1N MD (1979)
Film: Kodak Ektar 100
Process: CineStill C41 Kit
Scanner: Epson V600 Photo

 


Recently Abandoned

This summer, I spent an afternoon at two recently abandoned places with my Nikon F2 and a roll of Kodak Ektar. On the occasion that I shoot color film, I like the saturated colors of Ektar and the way it renders red, orange and green.

The house and pool in the images are a piece of property purchased last year by the Utah Department of Transportation. Several homes along US 89 in Fruit Heights, Kaysville and Layton in Davis County will be demolished because of a highway expansion project.

Raging Waters in Salt Lake City was operated under a contract starting in 2011 with Seven Peaks Resorts. The contract however expired in early 2019 and the owners decided not to re-open and the water park was abandoned. I know a few skaters that would love to trespass on this property.

Camera: Nikon F2 Photomic (1971)
Film: Kodak Ektar 100
Process: CineStill C41 Kit
Scanner: Epson V600 Photo

 


Minolta X-700

I’ve been looking to buy a Minolta X-700 for a few years. I passed on a few of them because I thought they were overpriced. However, last month I found one in an antique store for $20. I believe they thought it was broken. With a set of new batteries, light seals, and some cleaning, the camera works great! This is one of the few cameras that my friend Mike Williams has raved about for a few years now. He likes this camera so much; he bought a backup. And he’s been eager to hear my thoughts on the X-700.

Minolta X-700

The Minolta X-700 was released in 1981 and was the top of the line from the X-series of cameras, boasting the largest number of accessories and part of the MPS (Minolta Program System). Initially produced in Japan, and then manufactured in China, the X-700 was produced from 1981 to 1999. While the X-700 was sold as a professional camera, it gained popularity with both amateurs and pros because of the camera’s Program mode. The Program mode made use of camera’s electronics, automating the camera, making it a high-end point and shoot, with perfect exposures every shot. The X-700 has three modes: Programmed Automatic Exposure, Aperture-Priority Automatic Exposure and Full Metered Manual Exposure Mode. During my testing, I stayed in the aperture-priority mode because I like control over my depth of field. I spend about 80% of my time shooting in AP on most cameras.

You can find dozens of X-700 reviews online, so I’m going to touch on a few features and specs. Like the Minolta XG I tested last year, the X-700 has the electromagnetic touch shutter button. Resting a finger on the shutter button activates the meter that is displayed by LED lights in the viewfinder. The camera features shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/1000th of a sec, plus bulb mode. The main power switch lets you select if you want audible beeps from the camera, indicating the shutter speed is 1/30th or slower. The camera has a silicon photocell through the lens, center weighted metering. Made of plastic with a metal frame, it weighs 505 grams, a little over 1 pound without a lens.

Overall, the X-700 is a fun camera to shoot with. The features are on a professional level, but the camera is simple to operate. It feels balanced in my hands. The plastic molded grip reminds me of the Canon A-1. Minolta MD lenses have a solid reputation of being sharp. The only downside to this camera that I can think of are the electronics. How well do electronics age? I think the only reason Konica-Minolta abandoned the X-700 was photographer’s preference for autofocus lenses in the mid 1980’s.

Camera: Minolta X-700 (1981)
Film: Fomapan 100 Classic
Process: Kodak D76 (1+1) 10:00 Min @ 20°
Scanner: Epson V600 Photo

 


Developing Color Film for the First Time

For Christmas 2018, I received the CineStill C-41 one quart developing kit. This seemed to be the right size for my first attempt at developing color film. At $25, the kit is a price I’m willing to pay, to experiment and learn. Plus, the amount of chemistry is enough to get me through roughly 8+ rolls of film. That should be enough to determine if I’m really interested in color film developing.CineStill CS41 Liquid Developing Quart Kit for Processing C-41 Color Negative Film The CineStill C-41 kit I used is a liquid kit, they also have a powder kit available. Before using the chemistry for the first time, you mix the developer, blix and rinse stabilizer. Using the FPP Heat Helper, I heated some distilled water and followed the instructions included in the box, mixing each of the items. Doing this for the first time, I pre-read, re-read, and re-re-read the instructions. CineStill has done an excellent job documenting each step for both mixing the chemistry and developing. To summarize mixing the developer and blix: heat the distilled water to the correct temperature, measure out the correct amount of water, stir in Part A, stir in Part B, stir in Part C. For the stabilizer rinse: measure out the correct amount of room temperature distilled water, stir in Part A.

CineStill Cs41 Liquid Developing Kit for C-41 Color Film - 1 Quart

During the Christmas season, I shot two rolls of film that I intended to be my experimental developing rolls. The first roll was Agfa Vista 200, the second was an expired roll Kodak Gold 200. I developed both rolls at the same time in a Patterson tank. The instructions provided by CineStill are straight forward. So easy, even a caveman can do it! And depending on your skill with the kit, they also provide the details for pushing up to 3 stops and pulling 1 stop.

In the end, the results surprised me. Could it be that developing color film is easier than black and white? The color developing process was much faster than black and white. The step that took the longest was heating up the chemistry. And stepping through CineStill’s instructions was incredibly easy. After this experience would I recommend developing color film at home? Yes.

Camera: Canon EOS 10S (1990)
Film: Agfa Vista 200
Process: CineStill C41 Kit
Scanner: Epson V600 Photo

 


Kosmo Foto Mono 100

One final roll from the the Canon 10S. This time using one of my favorite black and white film film stocks, Kosmo Foto Mono 100.

Camera: Canon EOS 10S (1990)
Lens: Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS USM L-Series
Film: Kosmo Foto Mono 100
Process: Kodak D76 (1+1) 10:00 Min @ 20°


Kodak Plus-X Pan 125 (Expired 3/1981)

Here are some additional photos taken with the Canon 10S. This time I experimented with some Kodak Plus-X Pan 125 that had expired in March of 1981.

Camera: Canon EOS 10S (1990)
Lens: Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS USM L-Series
Film: Kodak Plus-X Pan 125 (Expired 3/1981)
Process: Kodak D76 (1+1) 8:30 Min @ 20°