Photaku’s has been around only half of 2011, but I figure I can think back upon the entire year for notable acquisitions, discoveries, and triumphs (we’ll skip the blunders and failed experiments for now).

The general trend of the year for me was the inevitable: addiction to increasingly larger formats. I slipped into 5×7 with the acquisition of an Ansco 5×7 View Camera (Flickr set here). I already had some lenses that would cover 5×7 so it wasn’t a whole new round of lens investments. I did get a few of different focal lengths and effects, perhaps the most notable being a 7″ Pentac (as analog to the Aero-Ektar on the 4×5 Speedy G). However,I’m still looking for a Petzval that will cover 5×7 better than what I already have. Any sellers out there? The larger negative is fantastic and makes for nice contact prints, of which I’ve a few. Working with that format makes 4×5 seem real easy to handle and renders medium format downright dinky. 35mm becomes pointless, except in my toy camera (Gakkenflex), although I did get two 35mm M42-mount camera bodies (a Pentax Spotmatic and a GAF something-or-other only because it is my initials) and still use my Pentax Super ME/MG as a lightweight tagalong point-and-shoot. I like the 35mm cameras, but the film is just too small and fussy.

And then came 8×10, making medium format seem quaint…. I never really intended to do 8×10 film, but did have plans to do 8×10 pinholes with paper. I already had a couple film holders and only need to make some kind of body. Not having a real workshop and only limited tools, I settled on converting an old 8×10 camera. The one that suited the bill was a Kodak 2D — relatively lightweight (9-10 pounds) and inexpensive since it was bare bones and only in fair to good condition. In other words, it was in perfect condition for a pinhole. I fully intended only paper negs (8×10 film is expensive), but ended up doing only a handful before discovering a cheap pipeline for (unmarked) 8×10 Efke IR820. I’m getting it for about the cost of 4×5 and it looks great when used as normal bw film (a shoot it with a Hoya 25a filter). What’s really remarkable is the sharpness of the results — better than many lenses! I think the pinole itself is well-drilled and I’ve matched it with the focal length (180mm) perfectly. You can see my 8×10 Flickr set here. After a little experimenting I got a system down for exposures with this combo and the results have been very satisfying. Besides expense, I hadn’t planned on using 8×10 film because I figured scanning it would be a challenge and I don’t have much time to do contact prints (although I plan to). Fortunately, I ‘ve had good luck scanning straight on the glass without too many Newton ring problems;  I think only 3 out of 3 dozen have shown rings. The quality of the big negative is incredible — makes 4×5 seem quaint. I really must contact print some of them soon. Now medium format is the point-and-shoot convenience format for me. 35mm is strictly toy stuff now.

In the medium format arena I did strike gold and don’t at all regret investing more in that dinky format. The real big score was a Kowa/Six outfit from a small camera shop in Vermont. For $300 it came with big 55mm, 85mm, and 150mm lenses in great condition and a pistol grip. Results with it rival Sara’s Hasselblad at a fraction of the cost (see here). It’s my all-purpose go-to serious medium format camera now, relegating my beloved Yashica Mat 124G to the sidelines. The other interesting 2011 medium format acquisitions include a Koni-Omega (coolest film advance mechanism on the planet, and terrific lenses: see here) and a Fuji GSW690 (the “Texas Leica”) with a razor-sharp fixed 65mm wide angle lens. With the WA you can crop the neg in half for a great 1:3 aspect ratio panoramic shot for far less money than a dedicated 6×17 panocam. And speaking of cheap panocams, the hands-down Most Unusual and Coolest Camera of the Year goes to a Graflex 3A SLR I converted for 6×14 panos in the same way I did for my Kodak 3A Autographic. The big advantage of the Graflex 3A is that it’s an SLR with ground glass viewer, bellows focusing, and a focal plane shutter that allows the use of barrel lenses I already own. The lenses have to be in the 6″  to 8″ FL range given the design of the camera, but that gives me enough leeway for the lenses I have. The shutter is slow  — about one-fourth of advertised — but that still gives me about a 1/30 to 1/250 range of speeds. I’ve also used with it the pinhole I use with the 8×10 and have had very good results with that configuration; I’ll need to experiment more with it, but so far so good (see samples here). The vintage case it came in is the icing on the cake. Finally, I’ve been slowly assembling a Mamiya RB67 outfit, which is pretty much complete with range of lenses, pistol grip, 120 and 220 backs, waist level and prism finder, and case. It’s built like a tank and great to shoot with.  This will be a studio/field camera shared between me and Sara (if she can put her Hassey down).

I did sell off a few cameras and lenses this year (and bought Philip a trumpet with the proceeds) as I settle into what I like to use best. I still have several cams I rarely use, but they are hard to part with. I should mention that I’ve recently rediscovered the Brownie Hawkeye that set me off on the analog film adventure a few years ago….




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