Fed 2 Russian Rangefinder Musings

Fed 2 with 50mm f3.5 collapsible lens

I’ve often asked myself “Why would anyone want to buy a 50 year old plus Fed 2 Russian (Or any other) Rangefinder camera?” I still don’t know the answer to that, but the feelings and desires we get for some apparently inanimate objects is quite irrational. Bass guitars being my other GAS weakness.
I have been interested in older LTM rangefinders ever since I bought a charity shop Fed 4 and a Jupiter 3 for my Sony A6300 mirrorless but had never looked at the Fed 2 Russian Rangefinder. I’d borrowed a Zorki 4 from a friend, but they are so heavy and clunky.

My wife and I were walking past MrCad one day on the way back from the Don McCullin show at Tate Britain last year. Somewhere I’ve passed by many times but never managed to go in. Sparkling in the window was a lovely little Zorki 2. We popped in for a shifty. This felt more like it. It was a lovely little thing, however I didn’t get on with the separate rangefinder and viewfinder. Also the take up spool seemed to be jammed in and so, for the asking price, it stayed in the window.

On returning home and after a bit of Googling I came across a seller on eBay offering various versions of the diminutive Fed 2 Russian Rangefinder. A small, simple, sweet little rangefinder, similar to the Zorki 2, but with a combined view and rangefinder that was being offered with a variety of lens options. A collapsible Elmar copy or Industar 61 amongst others.

My plan was for an Elmar collapsible copy, so I could pocket the camera with minimal fuss. Or pop on the Jupiter 3 if I wanted something a bit faster and more fancy. I also figured if I come across any other interesting glass in a compatible mount I can just pop it on to the Fed 2. Simple! We’ll see on that one what with the focus calibration problems I’ve read about in these older lenses

The Fed 2 Russian Rangefinder is not a complicated camera. As I said earlier. Its essentially a light tight box with an adjustable shutter. The shutter speeds are limited to Bulb, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250 and 1/500. That’s it. It does have diopter adjustment though. And a cold shoe with sync socket on the front. A rewind knob on the left side of the top plate (as you hold it) and the rewind release is around the shutter (shutter release is still in the wrong place, but I’ll live with that).

It’s easier to load that a Zorki 2 or a Leica of the similar era I think (although I’ve never tried either of them) as the whole back and bottom comes off with two nicely engineered turnbuckles on the bottom plate, either side of the 3/8″ UNC 16 tripod socket. The film counter is on the right turret. Don’t forget to zero it when you load or to set the shutter in the correct order to advancing the film with the somewhat awkward wind on knob, not lever (you get used to it).

The lens it came with was the Elmar copy. f3.5 – f16 and a minimum focus distance of 1M. Usable and clean. the exposed focus helicoid was a bit of a surprise, but seems to work ok. It probably could do with a good service and the rangefinder accuracy checking but I’m not sure I can be bothered. Yet.

The Jupiter 3 is a different beast altogether. f1.5 – 22. Also a 1M minimum focus distance. Well made and has that super fast Sonnar formula that Hamish talks about here. The lens looks well I think mounted In the Fed 2 body.

Fed 2 with Jupiter 3
 Fed 2 with Jupiter 3

So far I’ve used the Fed 2 less than I thought, but that says more about me being picky with what I shoot these days and have so far only used expired colour or black and white film. I’ve also set myself the challenge of shooting ‘Sunny 16’ with every roll. Everywhere. Inside, outside, sunny, cloudy, whatever. So far the results have been varied but acceptable. Thankfully I’ve not managed to completely black or blow out a frame yet. I’ve always got something for my labours. Just the quality varies. Couple this with my own light leaky bulk loaded HP5+ from 1996, the fact that I captured anything at all from this roll was  frankly a bloody miracle.

Developed in Rodinal at 1:25. Scanned at Truecolour Imaging as always. Soon I’ll be scanning my own with my very own Pixl-Latr!! 🙂

Some tweaks in Snapseed or Lightroom mobile to “improve” contrast and composition but that’s about it

Car Park Architecture - Central Milton Keynes
 Car Park Architecture – Central Milton Keynes (Collapsible Lens)
Light pools Central Milton Keynes
 Light Pools Central Milton Keynes (Collapsible Lens)
Grafitt Art - Croydon
 Graffiti Art – Croydon (Collapsible Lens)
Coffee Van Queue - Croydon
 Coffee Van Queue – Croydon (Collapsible Lens)
Reflections on Isolation
 Reflections on Isolation (Jupiter 3)
Bullrushes - Bedfordshire
 Bullrushes – Bedfordshire (Jupiter 3)
Under The Wire
 Under The Wire (Jupiter 3)

I like the character and atmosphere in some of these images. Dark, grainy, light leaky loveliness. Its found a place in my heart this little Russian box with a shutter. No batteries, no meter, iffy framing, questionable rangefinder patch and fiddly controls. But I love it. Along with my Olympus XA it’s staying in one or another bag or pocket for ever.

Thanks for reading my ramblings. Comments and conversation always welcome.

If you. would like to follow my work you can here:
www.julianhiggsphoto.com
www.instagram.com/julian.higgs

New Project: The Craftsmen.

It’s been over a year since I wrote my longer piece about the importance of a long term photography project. My last project at The Vinyl Factory has been in the can for a few years and to be quite honest, at the time took over my though processes for too long. So, now, with a desire to do something else longer term I’ve decided the best way to approach another one is to break things down into smaller ‘projectettes’. Hopefully making it more manageable. The theory being that a short shoot with a subject can be done and put away, then move on to the next one. Sectionalising the work is to speak. Ultimately though, each part will have a common theme and add up to the larger body of work. Below is a few of the first batch from a session with a local tailor. Nicky is 84 at the time of the pictures, and three days later was going to have a knee replacement, so I had little time to get in. A fabulous craftsman, and been involved in the trade since he was a boy, coming to the UK working at various jobs including a gardener and owning his own garment factory in Luton. It’s quite a story. And I thought he made a worthy subject to start off this project.

Following on from this I made contact with a local glass blower, Ricky. I didn’t even know that we had a creative glass bower in the area. We managed to make what I thought were some really interesting images. You can see his work here.

https://www.keechcreations.com/

Since starting this project I have discovered many local craftsmen and women, all doing their thing. It’s been a real pleasure to discover these people chipping away at their own niche of creativity. It has inspired me to extend my own creative processes into the world of film making, so there is a link here to a short documentary I made about a local spoon carver. David Yule.

I met David through doing some paid work with a commercial joinery company that fits out top end houses and hotels etc. He has worked there full time since coming to the UK having lived abroad for a long time. He asked me if I would like to use him as a subject for my project.

Having been asked to possibly make a short film for an other craft client I asked if I could use him as a test subject. The results are below

Ultimately though this body of work will form part of my portfolio and he portraits will be entered into the BJP Portrait of Britain Awards for 2020, I’ll let you know how I get on.

Unexpected Adventures with Ilford FP4+ Expired Film

I have never used expired film or used a bulk loader until now. Not however for any particular reason, probably just because I simply didn’t feel the need to. I had been given a bulk loader and a handful of reloadable cassettes in a collection of darkroom gear by a retired professional. He no longer used them, or any of his other film developing gear, and donated a few choice morsels to my growing stock pile.

Having had no plans on using it, it went in the cupboard in my darkroom, probably never to be seen or used again. However. On one of the many visits to my regular camera shop, we got chatting about bulk loading and a recently found stock of expired film. Much is written and posted about expired film. I never really understood the hype. so when I was asked. ”Want to try this? It’s Ilford FP4+ Expired Film.” I have to admit, I was not overly excited. “We have no idea what it’s like. It’s old cine stock, rolled emulsion side out. So you will need to convert it.” 

Now, It’s no easy task, re-rolling 200 feet of film by hand. Grappling around in a dark bag. I converted about half a roll (and used several expletives in the process), just managing to get enough to fill the loader.

I’ve never shot any expired film, let alone 20-year-old stock, I put a call out to the analogue community. The advice received yielded a good starting point. Start somewhere between 50 – 100 ISO. Next I rolled two short films. One film I metered successive frames at 50, 64, 80,100 and 125 in turn on the same shot. The other I shot a box speed and push processed as if 200 ISO. All processing done in Ilford Ilfotec LC29. Scanning was as always done for me by Truecolour Imaging in Luton.

Below are some of the results. 

After this little exercise, I shot a full roll that is metered for 50 ISO therefore will be push processed as if shot at 200 ISO n my OM1. This essentially equates to the other piece of advice given of one full stop every decade of expiry by  Matt Evans (@mattevansphoto) via Instagram. This offsets the fact that almost all the first frames suffered from varying degrees of under exposure. I think that it is amazing that 20-year-old stock can still be found and produce more than acceptable images.

I really like the look of the images that have resulted, they have an almost timeless quality with a soft light feel. It also seems to have added some extra contrast to the sky, perhaps that was the push development? The few portraits I have made with this stock look beautiful, more to follow.

Cheers for now!

If you want to keep in touch with my work, you can visit the links below.

www.instagram.com/julian.higgs

Metered at ISO 125 and push processed as if shot at ISO 200
Exposed at ISO 125 and push processed for ISO 200
Exposed at ISO 125 push developed as is ISO 200
Metered at ISO 50 developed at box speed spec
Breakwater at Seasalter Metered at ISO 50 and push processed as if ISO 200. Probably a touch over exposed on the needle too
Metered at ISO 50 and push developed as if ISO 200
Metered at ISO 50 and push developed as if exposed at ISO 200

Olympus OM1 MD the progress so far…

I’ve been in possession of what has become my favourite 35mm SLR, the Olympus OM1 now for about eight months. Truth be told I have not shot it as often as I was expecting. The honeymoon period with it has faded a little. Because I now know that I can get acceptable exposures on my favourite film stocks (and some not so favourite) without too much trouble, the unpredictability of a new camera has now become the reliable and consistent. But I love the all manual nature of the Olympus OM1, and the Zuiko optics are in my opinion, exceptional. Recently I’ve been doing some digital editorial and interior work, and for some reason I’ve either not been inspired to shoot this (or any other film camera) or just not had the opportunity. Is this something others find?

So when we booked a holiday trip to Ilê de Ré, France earlier this year, I had to take my beloved Olympus OM1 and the borrowed Zeiss Ikon along. Loaded with Kodak Portra 400 and Fuji ProH 400 respectively to see what I could get. I’d also recently bagged a bargain 24mm f2.8 from “the bay” and was looking forward to using that for the first time.

Here are a few frames from the first roll of Portra 400 in the Olympus OM1. I like documentary style work, and if possible street portraits or people at work. As well as of course the usually holiday snaps and landscapes. Documentary type shots make me feel like I’m not just a tourist. Concentrating on the real people that live and work in these places that we just visit and enjoy on a more superficial level.

Ilê de Ré is famous for many things, sailing, holidays and camping some of the main things, but also salt production and oysters. The salt pans really caught my attention.it is hot manual work. In the days before tractors, donkeys pulled the carts wearing distinctively striped leggings to protect the, from the salt scrub in the wind. I couldn’t come home without some more interesting shots among the pans. Getting close and speaking to the people that you are about to photograph makes the experience all the more rewarding. Visceral even. I like that.

Salt Pans of Ile de Re
Salt Pans on the cycle track to Ars en Ré
Emanuel, salt pan farmer
Emanuel, working the salt pans in the sun.
Salt tractor
Collection of the dried salt still done by hand.
Marina at Ars en Re
The marina seafront at Ars en Ré
Land Art on Ile de Ré
Stones piled into land art at Phare des Baleines

Let me know what you think.

All my colour film is developed and scanned at Truecolour Imaging in Luton

If you would like to keep in touch with my work, visit any of the following.

http://www.julianhiggsphoto.com
http://www.instagram.com/julian.higgs

Olympus XA – Proper camera in a small package

Since getting back film photography over the last two years or so, like many others, I seem to have accumulated a number of different cameras. Some of which the first time round I would never have considered. One of those cameras is the much praised but diminutive Olympus XA.

In my first film photography life, I could not wait to get away from a compact camera. The SLR was the pinnacle of my equipment desires, and for me, the Pentax K1000 was that.

But since re-discovering film with a storage box found Olympus Trip 35 belonging to my wife from I-don’t-know-how-many years ago, the compact scale focus and rangefinder camera has found a place in my heart.

Fast forward to just a few months ago, and now I actively look out for old cameras that pique my interest. A local antiques centre to me does house clearance and sometimes interesting camera gear pops up in there. On the day I went into the shop for a rummage through the box I came upon this little gem. Complete with the original box, the detachable A11 flash unit, a case and even film left in it.

Having read on this very site a couple of XA articles, I knew that this was a camera of some reputation, with its tiny dimensions, cute clamshell case and tack sharp 35mm f2.8 Zuiko lens. The controls are a little fiddly for my larger hands, especially the focus lever, but not enough to cause a major problem. The viewfinder is small but bright enough. The big red shutter button being electronic is also a little sensitive. A quick check over as the batteries were still good, it all seemed to work.

I finished off the roll of Kodak film that was in it, it was so old that everything was massively under exposed. But having a roll of Ilford HP5+ in stock and a trip into London for my day job to do, I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to give the little Olympus XA a proper test drive.

I think for me street photography is where this little camera excels. Small, black, discreet and almost silent when shooting (not the wind on though, that clicks like a tiny football rattle). If you use zone focus it become a cracking little point and shoot. I love it.

Below are a selection from that first roll of the found film and HP5+, let me know what you think.

Beach Vignette
Beach Vignette from the film found inside the XA
1 New Change
Glass Valley – 1 New Change London
St Pauls Garden
St Pauls Garden – London
St Pauls
St Pauls Dome – London
St Pauls Dome Reflection
Reflection – St Paul’s Dome

Olympus OM1. The final destination.

If you have read any of my previous posts, you may have noticed a small but growing common thread running through them: the Olympus OM range of compact SLR cameras. I have been using them since early 2016, starting with a borrowed an OM30 from a good friend at the start of my Vinyl Factory photo project. It is good, but requires a stack of five (yes five) little LR/SR44 cells to work! The advance clutch also slipped a few times causing frame overlaps indicating it needed attention. Then, having been bequeathed a “2 Spot” (to use a colloquialism) and bought a used OM2n, I had, inevitably I suppose, begun to hanker after the original. The Olympus OM1.

Much has been written by others on the tech specs of the OM1 on this site and others, so I’m not going to add to the chorus – you can read the timeline story if you want to here.

I’d learned to expose film ‘correctly’ with my late fathers Pentax K1000 through a City & Guilds evening class at a local college in my early twenties. The directness of the all manual camera with a simple needle meter in the viewfinder had been all I’d known. Having used other types of exposure metering in camera since, it now appealed even more. I still cannot believe I sold that camera and all the accessories both he and I had acquired.

Most of the simplicity I was looking for had effectively been achieved with the OM2n in manual mode. This stripped back appeal is something talked about very well by Hamish here. However I often found myself falling back on the excellent aperture priority Auto setting. You can find this all too easily on the little top plate switch on either the “2Spot” or the 2n. I had to change this situation.

After watching a few on Ebay etc. in various conditions, I eventually pulled the trigger on a fully overhauled, early serial, black paint body only from Luton Camera Repair Service. My camera came supplied with a battery conversion, new light seals plus all cleaned and calibrated. There was also just a smidgen of wear to the pentaprism housing paint on the most appropriate corners. Quite an indulgence in my book. Singularity achieved.

Getting back to basics was the intention here. No exposure compensation, and limited manual shutter settings from 1 – 1000th. This means that I have to take a more considered approach to my photography. I have also found that I’ve started to assess light by eye more. Working with Sunny-16 as a starting point, then confirming with the needle; it’s slow progress but I’m getting better. It’s nice to have the meter to confirm or otherwise my initial assessment.

Using the OM1 brings joy to the photography process, with both shutter and aperture dials on the lens barrel, like the 35 SP rangefinder I shoot also, making adjustments with my eye to the big bright viewfinder a breeze

Below are a selection of images for my first couple of rolls with this camera, all either home developed if black and white and scanned by the same lab as my colour film. Colour film processed and scanned at the excellent True Colour Imaging.

Autumn Cherry Leaves Autumn Cherry Leaves
Fuji 400
Wife and Grandson Woodland Walks
Fuji 400
Angel In The Mist Angel In The Mist
Fuji 400
Breakwater at Seasalter, Kent Breakwater at Seasalter, Kent
Ilford HP5+
Thames Foreshore Thames Foreshore
Ilford HP5+

If you would like to keep in touch with my work, visit either of the following:
www.julianhiggsphoto.com
www.instagram.com/julian.higgs

Published!

Some time ago I started my first photography project. This was centered around a vinyl record pressing works in West London called The Vinyl Factory. 

This historic place had been the former EMI pressing works and while a shadow of it’s heyday, still holds a major place in the music industry.

Having taken some images there, I was granted permission to shoot what turned out to be a large number of frames all on film, mostly black and white. This would eventually be put into a book.

In the meantime, some of the images ended up on a vinyl industry blog, and through that came an enquiry to publish some of them in an article in a German tech magazine called Turn On.

These arrived in the post today having been printed and circulated to over 250,000 readers.

Images In Print
Images IN Print

The Meterman

I use a camera shop in Luton, Bedfordshire England. It happens to be an Olympus service centre, useful when you have a collection of Olympus cameras.

The following images however were not taken with an Olympus camera. I happened to have my antique shop camera with me. The Voigtlander CLR.

Having parked up, I went to the meter to pay, next to it was this chap called Darren. At the point these images were made he had been on the streets for 11 months.

He works the meter, not just asking for loose change but offering advice on the most effective ticket to buy, especially if the ticket takes you into the free periods.

I guess if gives him a sense of worth and value, offering assistance in return for come loose change. He seemed very proud, so I asked for some photos.

Here is a selection of the results.

The Importance of a Photography Project

It is often said that the best way to improve something, anything that you do creatively is to give yourself a project. A self set goal that focuses your creative energies onto an end target. This allows you to break the goal down into steps, a plan, a strategy. I can honestly say that none of that applied to how I started my own long term photography project.

The Vinyl Factory

I had recently got back into taking pictures, mainly on my iPhone and posting them to either Instagram or EyeEm. It seemed I was just snapping aimlessly really. My interest in film cameras had returned after a chance encounter with an Olympus Trip 35. Then quite by chance, I was asked to visit a factory in West London to discuss an engineering contract with a new client as part of my day job.

The client in question was a vinyl record pressing plant now known as The Vinyl Factory. Born from the ashes of the EMI press works when it ceased vinyl record manufacture in the early 2000’s.

Lacquer Master Disc
Lacquer Master Disc before silver coating

On entering the plant, I was overwhelmed with nostalgia for my youth. My record collection and music taste literally defined who I was back then. Standing in the very place responsible for some of the most iconic records ever, I felt compelled to go and get a camera and start photographing everything in sight. But it’s not as easy as that.

After my day job work was done for that visit, I plucked up the courage to ask the MD if it would be OK to come in and shoot some pictures in the factory. That took a little time to get agreement, but after looking at my slowly growing portfolio, was granted permission. Could it be that simple to get access? It seemed so but I think timing and approach had a lot to do with it.

Nickel Plating Baths
Playing the Nickel Plating Baths

With such an analogue legacy before me, it seems the only option was that this project had to be done on analogue cameras, the tools used to record this project had to be authentic, and contemporary with the subject matter.

It wasn’t long since I purchased a classic fixed lens rangefinder. A near mint Olympus 35SP, you can read about that here, so was on the lookout for a small project, an essay subject. Something to give me a reason to shoot. Serendipity?

Nickel Plating Baths
Nickel Plating Baths

Now what? I was in way over my head, having never done anything like this before. Looking at essays online, to get some ideas, I started shooting, some colour film some black and white, to see what worked and go from there.

Setting The Stamper Plates
Setting The Stamper Plates

The first rolls showed lots of promise. Both the color and black and white had potential. Every frame seemed to scream vintage character, and history. However, after some consideration, discussion with friends, and the client (I use the word loosely as it was self commissioned project!) I settled on Ilford excellent HP5+ Black & White, for a number of reasons, speed being one, but mainly I just thought the aesthetic gave the right look. Black vinyl, white labels.

New Pressed Record
New Pressed Record

Now this is where the hard work set in. With maybe 70-100 frames after the first visit or two, the gestation and editing begun. Killing your own babies is a very difficult process. Extracting just the images that really connected with the slowly unfolding narrative was really difficult. Particularly as I didn’t have a clear brief in the first place! I needed space between the shoot, first view of the shots and eventual selection to get the objectivity needed. They say this is what Garry Winogrand did with his rolls. One reason why so many undeveloped rolls were found after he died. He needed to look at the images without the memory of taking them, seeing them with fresh eyes.

Portrait of a press operator
Portrait of a press operator

Clearly I couldn’t do that. But I could put some space between me and the images to get some perspective on them. This of course extends the duration of any project timeline. A typical photo project I read somewhere was between 2 – 5 years. I wasn’t sure I would be able to sustain that level of commitment, especially with an art director friend saying I just needed to finish it and move on.

Andy, long serving press operator
Andy, long serving press operator

The largest challenge I found was the edit. Not editing or retouching of the images themselves, but the selection of images. With about 400 plus images to choose from, some very similar but with a slightly different angle or lighting, it seemed never ending. Pulling all my favorites into a book template really helped. What would have been even better in hindsight would be to use prints to select and order the sequence. This is how I feel it would go in future. Taking the time to note image numbers and roll numbers with greater diligence would make this stage much easier.

Setting The Presses
Setting The Presses

The real sticking point for me was coming up with the words needed to tie it all together. It needed a story, more than just the pictures. There was a lot going on in some of the images and without some explanation, the relevance of the image in would be lost. Running the commentary through every page detracted from the idea of a photo book. It broke the flow of the images.  So after a couple of re-writes the images and words were divided into three sections. Process, People and Place. This I felt was a natural grouping of subject matter.

Empty Press Halls
Empty Press Halls

Finally after two proof prints, and nearly two years of shooting, consideration, writing and thought process a complete book emerged. A long way from the initial concept of a brief photo essay of say 10-15 images and a short article, but it is something I am proud of. It’s also the most expensive book I own.  Adding up the film, processing, proof prints and days of holiday taken to shoot I don’t want to think what this project has actually cost directly. Not to mention the gear acquisition that occurred during the process. Starting with a single rangefinder and ending up with two Olympus OM SLR bodies and a collection of lenses, continuous soft box lights and bags etc.

Factory Building
Former Factory Building

Giving myself a project has been a great learning experience and one I plan to repeat. But only once I’ve managed to do something with the product of all this effort. Maybe before? I have a few ideas for the next one, but with the wisdom of hindsight it will be based around smaller “projectettes” that could build in to a larger body of work. I have definitely been bitten by the documentary bug, recording for the future what is today seen as ordinary.

So, go on, give yourself a project this year and see where it takes you. You may surprise yourself.

If you would like to follow my work you can via the links below.

www.julianhiggsphoto.com
www.instagram.com/julian.higgs

Zeiss Ikon Nettar 517/16 – A Family Friend

After my dalliances with compact Rangefinder cameras, a very good friend of mine who is also an amateur photographer presented me with a thin strip of brown leather from a certain period in camera history, hung with a larger case and various brown pouches. Investigating further I found a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 517/16, supplied complete with clip on rangefinder, yellow filter with lens hood and an Agfa fan out flashgun, all in separate little cases. Cute!

“What’s this?” I enquired. “It’s my dads old camera from his time in Germany in the ‘50’s on National Service, I thought you would like to have a play with it as I know you like old odd cameras.”

Given its simplicity, and limited settings I wondered how I even shoot this camera with modern film? I knew it should work because I had seen others online get good results, however the cameras shutter speeds didn’t get anywhere near my understanding of Sunny 16 using the ISO 400 Ilford HP5+ I had in stock. So I loaded one in and set out on a short photo walk along Whitstable High Street with no meter or rangefinder, just with my eyes for exposure and my best estimation of focus distance. Thank goodness for the exposure latitude of film.

Below are a selection of the results. It’s been a great pleasure to shoot this camera with a personal connection. I plan a family portrait session with the owner at some point. A fitting use I think for a family heirloom.

Because these images were grabbed in less than an hour, with little time to think about what I was actually doing, I didn’t note the settings, something I need to get better at. Intuition and guesstimation were my meter, fortunately, all 12 frames captured something. No retouching or post production, just straight from the scanner. Developed at home in Ifotec LC29 and scanned at Truecolour Imaging in Luton (I can’t wait to receive my pixl-latr, Hamish). Overall I feel very pleased with the results. Is there room for improvement? Of course! But it’s not a bad start. Always learning.