OK, K1000

I was over the moon to be able to pick up a Pentax K1000 from my local camera shop a few months ago. Manufactured between 1976 and 1997 (unbelievably) it’s a wonderful, solid workhorse of a camera. I put that to the test recently when I was poking around a ruined castle and managed to slip down a flight of moss-covered wooden stairs, scattering everything I was carrying to the four winds. Although I lost some skin and some pride, the K1000 was perfectly fine, which was great – broken bones mend, broken lenses don’t.

The K1000 was known as the go-to camera for students: it’s fully manual, but simple. You have control over everything, but there’s not enough to get you bogged down or confused. It’s quickly becoming my favourite 35mm SLR. The only electronic thing on it is the light meter, which displays as a needle swinging between – and + in the viewfinder. It uses one watch battery, fortunately of a type you can still buy.

Predictably, that one bit of tech on the camera was the only thing that played up. I loaded it up with ISO 400 Kentmere B&W film and all was well for the first few shots. Then I began to notice the meter was giving daft readings (this happened before I fell down the stairs with it, in case you’re wondering).

I popped back in to the camera store and explained the problem.

‘I’ve got a 400 speed film loaded,’ I said, ‘and a shutter speed of 500 but when I go out on a bright, sunny day, the needle barely moves out of the minuses. Even if I point it straight at the sky, I have to step it down to f.2 before it moves towards “correctly exposed”, that can’t be right.’

The shop owner took the camera and fiddled with the settings. ‘Looks like it’s reading a few stops out,’ he said – the master of understatement.

So now my poor K1000 is sitting in a room somewhere being recalibrated. I can’t wait to shoot with it again. In the meantime, here are some photos I did manage to grab with it, using a combination of the sunny 16 rule and good old guesswork.


Somebody thought it would be funny to put a Christmas tree in a phonebox. Perhaps there’s some deep message I’m missing.


The ever-photogenic Wrest Park


The gatehouse to the keep at Dover Castle


The port of Dover

Kentmere 400, developed in Ilfosol 3


Lost in the Loft

It seems like it’s been years since I started clearing out my mother’s house – it doesn’t help that I live so far away and can’t get down there very often. But, at last, it’s all finished and the decorators are in making it ready for renting.

Rummaging around in the loft one last time yielded a final photographic find. This is the Olympus 700XB which, according to Olympus, was released around 1999 and provided a wide range of features at a great price. The XB, from what I can gather, stands for the Xtra Big viewfinder: one of its listed features. And yes, it has a pretty big viewfinder – actually quite treat when you’re used to peering down some of the pinholes that pass for viewfinders in vintage cameras.


As with the Zenit I found in the loft, I have no idea how long this camera has been up there. I had two fears when I found it: firstly, the batteries would have leaked inside it; secondly, it would be APS. Thankfully, neither of these were founded. Despite having an expiry date of 2002 the batteries were fine. When I opened the camera’s cover, the lens extended and the zoom worked – both of which sounded like a piece of military hardware deploying. This is not a stealth camera, it has the nosiest motor I’ve ever heard. Even without having a mirror, the shutter sounds like a robot firing a shotgun.

Looking through the window on the camera’s back, I was in luck again. There was a film inside, and the frame counter read 8. Again, I have no idea what’s on the film or what state it’s in, but I shall finish it and get it developed and see. Here’s hoping!

Tucked inside a book, I also found two more strips of old negatives in addition to the 120 ones I’d found before. These ones haven’t fared that well over the years, either, but I’m a bit stumped as to what format they are. My scanner is, too – it keeps throwing a tantrum and cutting off the edges.


For comparison, I’ve put a 120 negative at the bottom. They’re too large to be 35mm, they’re square and they don’t have any sprocket holes. If anybody can enlighten me, please drop me a comment: I’d love to know!

Hats off to New Towns

I was talking to a friend about a course I was about to go on.

‘Where is it?’ she asked.

‘Hatfield,’ I showed her the letter with its intricate list of directions. For some reason, the people who send these things out never see to understand that everybody has a SatNav now.

‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I used to live in Hatfield.’

‘I’ve never been.’

‘You’re not missing anything,’ she said.

English people tend to be quite self-deprecating about the places where they live, as if civic pride is some ghastly disorder that only affects foreigners and idiots (and we tend to lump these two categories together a lot too – sorry). Poor old Hatfield, though, seemed to have quite the reputation as a place you don’t go unless you need to.

There’s been a village in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, since Saxon times. In the 1930s, with the presence of British Aerospace and de Havilland, Hatfield became a centre for making aircraft, the industry being the largest local employer. According to Wiki, they made Mosquito fighters there during WWII and afterwards began manufacturing commercial aircraft such as the Comet, the world’s first production jet airliner.

Like many English industrial towns, Hatfield suffered when the industry packed up and moved. British Aerospace relocated in the early 1990s, leaving a huge amount of land and buildings behind that nobody really seems to know what to do with.

Hatfield was named as a ‘New Town’ after the Second World War;  part of the government’s ambitious plan to strategically build towns to house people from London whose homes had been decimated by Nazi bombing raids. These towns, including nearby Welwyn Garden City, were designed to be oases of calm, purposefully planned and self-contained with sweeping streets and plenty of open spaces contrasting with the dark, cramped Victorian slums of inner London. They were to be a bold expression of the future after the horrors of the war. In reality, this meant letting the architects loose with their new favourite toy: concrete.

Walking through any of the New Towns today feels like stepping into a Soviet utopia. The geometric networks of wide roads edged with neat blocks of houses, all focused on a central shopping area providing everything you could need, has more of the air of a Moscow suburb than semi-rural East England.

Needless to say, concrete does not age well. These towns look tired now, their cutting-edge designs now embarrassingly dated; extra developments crammed into their once open spaces; their all-in-one shopping districts half empty or home to pound shops and cheap markets.

My XA-3 came with me as I walked through Hatfield. The local council have started what they euphemistically call ‘redevelopment’ here – which usually means tearing everything down and starting again – but in these days of austerity and post-recession budget cuts, there’s still a long way to go.


A tower block on the edge of town


This old chip van was parked behind the market square. I don’t know if it still moves


Emerging from one of the maze of subways which bypass the town’s roads

Olympus XA3 on Kodak Colorplus 200 (expired)

Summer and The Art of the Crappy Photo


Summer seems to send people into a cleaning frenzy, and I’ve been no different this year (I was fed up of the clutter and spurred to tackle it by Marie Kondo’s excellent book). This unearthed a load of old photographs I’d taken during my childhood/teenage years – most of them still in the developer’s envelope. Some were way too dark. Some had only an elbow or the flash of a leg walking past. Some of them were of flat, muddy green fields with a random blob in the centre which I must have thought was worth photographing at the time. On film, of course, you never know what you’re going to get until the roll comes back. There were a lot of crappy photos, but there were also a lot of memories in those crappy photos.

One of the great losses of the digital age is, I think, the loss of the crappy photo. Not the bad photo – that’s never going away – but the crappy photo, where everything’s not quite right. There’s such an obsession with resolution and image quality – is every hair in focus? Is that leaf in frame? Is 15MP enough, or should I move up to 20? That’s all well and good if you’re producing a piece of art, but I can’t help but feel we’ve lost something of the organic nature of documentary photography; the photos we took just because we were having a good time and wanted to remember it. Now you see people on holiday taking pictures of themselves on their phones or digital cameras. They take multiple shots, flicking through the screen to see which looks the best. A couple ask a passer-by to take their picture. After frowning at the screen, they ask someone else a moment later. The ability to flick through, delete and keep retaking photos loses something of the moment; when everything is perfect, nothing is.

I remember one photo of my dad, taken in Florida when he and my mum went there before I was born (I’m not bitter that they never took me to Florida). He was standing on some long boulevard. He’s putting too much weight on his right foot, and looks like he’s about to tip over. The picture itself is leaning to the right, as if there’s some major subsidence going on. There’s some impressive looking white building growing out of his head. It’s just about in focus.

Everything about that photo is wrong. If it had been taken on a digital camera, you’d have deleted it and taken it again, getting him to stand up, moving him out of line with the building, holding the frame straight. But there were no redos with film. My mum probably had no idea there was so much wrong with it until she got the prints back. Yet, for all that, when my dad had to go away on a business trip when I was too young to understand why he wasn’t around, that was the photo I turned to. After he died, that was the photo which was plucked from the album and ended up in a frame next to my mum’s bed. Not the professionally done wedding photos. Not the carefully posed family portraits. It was the crappy one. For all that was wrong with it, it captured something of him, something I still find evocative even today. That’s what I love about shooting film – the raw honesty of it; that, like it or not, whatever you capture on that strip of emulsion is there forever, no do-overs; and that some pictures which would end up in the trash folder can actually be records of some of our most treasured and fleeting moments. Photography is about making art, of course, but it’s also about making memories.

Long time no C-41

Well, it’s been a long time since I last posted on this blog; lots of things have got in between me and photography – work, sorting out my mother’s things, the miserable British winter and all sorts of other stuff. Then I read some advice along the lines of, if you’re pushing out the things that sustain you in order to make time for ‘important’ stuff, you’re doing things the wrong way around. I realised that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, and made a concerted effort to finish off the roll of film that had been languishing in my camera since December.

After developing 120 B&W film, I decided to have a go at 35mm B&W. Amazon (where else?) were doing a good deal on a multipack of Kentmere 400 36 exp. Kentmere is owned by Ilford, so I figured I couldn’t go far wrong.

I enjoyed shooting with this film. All my exposures were guesses based on the ‘Sunny 16 rule’ but they seem to have turned out ok (or the film is very forgiving!) I did find 36 exp film significantly more difficult to spool onto my developing reel in the dark than 24 exp and, of course, the extra length makes hanging it out to dry more difficult. I don’t know if that’s the reason why I seemed to end up with much more water spotting on the negatives than I’ve had before.

In a straight scan, the B&W film comes through in a lovely antique sepia. It’s easily fixed in Lightroom, but I’ve left these ones unaltered, as I think it fits with the subject matter.

This is Wrest Park – a late 19th Century stately home attached to a huge estate which has a variety of different gardens from the 17th Century onwards; apparently of great interest to people who like their gardens rigid and geometrical. Personally, I can take or leave coordinated flower beds.

Wrest Park
Wrest Park

There is also an orangery here; a house for growing oranges (I guess they don’t like being outside in our climate). It’s used for events and weddings, but was empty when I visited. It’s effectively a glorified greenhouse, and it’s bigger than my home …

Inside the orangery
Inside the orangery

Outside the orangery, some cherubs keep watch. Or at least they do when they aren’t reading.

A cherub reading a book
A cherub reading a book

Kentmere 400 developed in Ilfosol3 1+9

Cross Processing

As a few people have asked me about, I thought I’d put up a brief post on cross-processing C-41 film in B&W chemicals. I by no means claim to be an expert on this, so try it at your own risk! I can only talk about what I did. I apologise in advance if this post is boring and technical!

The film I shot was a Kodak ColorPlus 200 24 exp. film which expired in November 2014. This is just a cheap, C-41 colour film. I used standard Ilford B&W chemicals:

Ilfosol 3 Film Developer

Ilfostop  Stop Bath

Ilford Rapid Fixer

I used a 35mm Paterson Super System 4 tank.


Before I started, I did some reading on cross processing. There wasn’t too much consensus across the net (surprise!). Some people said it was a waste of time, asserting that you’d only end up with a roll of fog, or very thin images. Other people seemed to produce good results doing it.

C-41 and B&W film have a different chemical make up. Again, I am no expert or chemist, but C-41 film has different dyes than B&W. Processing it involves steps that you don’t have in B&W, such as bleach fixing (blix) and stabilising. C-41 is also much more temperature sensitive than B&W. Apparently, even half a degree can make a huge difference when processing C-41.

B&W chemicals work best at about 20C, C-41 at about 39C, so this is a problem straight away. The way around this is to leave the film in the developer for longer. I came across the suggestion of doubling the developing time. This takes a bit of guess work as, of course, there are no suggested developing times for C-41 films in B&W chemicals! Turning to the trusty Massive Dev Chart, I found that the average developing time for ISO200 (Fomapan 200 for example) in Ilfosol 3 is about six minutes.

I doubled this to twelve minutes. I agitated the film for the first minute by rotating it in the tank, then did the same for ten seconds every minute.  I then poured out the developer and poured in the stop bath for 30 seconds (as recommended on the bottle). The fixer recommends between two and five minutes – I went for the full five.

After that, I poured out the fixer (the film is now lightproof), and filled the tank with tap water. I let this stand for 45 minutes, poured that out and filled the tank with distilled water (my tap water is insanely hard). I agitated this constantly for two minutes before tipping it out and hanging the film in the bathroom for an hour to dry.

So, in a nutshell:

1. Develop for 12 minutes.

2. Stop Bath for 30 seconds.

3. Fix for five minutes.

4. Stand in water for 45 minutes.

5. Rinse in distilled water, agitating for two minutes.

6. Hang and wash again.

This left me with some useable prints. Here is one of the originals as it came from the scanner.


The other key difference with C-41 film to true B&W film, is that C-41 film comes on an orange ground, whereas B&W is clear. This is why the picture has an orange colour cast. This can cause problems if you plan to make your own prints in the darkroom, but isn’t too much of an issue if you’re scanning.

I popped the scan into Lightroom. Converting it from colour to B&W corrected the colour cast. All I then did was flip the image (yes, I scanned it back to front!) and upped the contrast to about +25. Here’s the final image. I’m sure it could be improved more in post, but I like to leave them as natural as possible.

High Street

I hope that was a semi-coherent account of what I did. Do drop me a comment if you have any questions! And, try it!


Praktical Results

It hasn’t been a great week for photography here in England. Shockingly, it’s been cold, dark and wet! Sunset at the moment is around 3.45pm, which means that it starts getting dark before it’s started getting light. The sky has been a miserable sheet of dark grey since new year, which rather takes the ‘photo’ out of photography…

I shouldn’t really complain (although it’s a contractual obligation to complain about the weather if you live in the UK), as we had a very late winter and some glorious sunny days right up to the end of December. I shall be grateful for those, instead!

I previously mentioned the Praktica BC1 that I found in a charity shop. I took it out for a spin at the end of December, and have just got around to scanning the results.

For the price I paid for it, I’m pretty impressed by the Praktica. It’s solid, it ‘feels’ like a real camera when you’re using it, but it’s not too big or heavy to carry around. The viewfinder is large and bright (although the film advance lever does tend to stick you in the brow), and it’s easy to focus. The auto-metering is a bit of a waste of time, with the camera starting to suggest ridiculously slow shutter speeds as soon as a shadow crept into frame, and the frame counter doesn’t work on this particular camera. I think I coped quite well with that defect through a combination of my legendary ability to count to 24 and by advancing the film until it wouldn’t go any further! Here are the results:


Goodrich Castle, Ross-on-Wye. This is probably one of my favourite English castles. It was built in the 11th Century, and is one of the best preserved ruins. During the Civil War, it was occupied by Royalists who set fire to many of the surrounding farms. It repelled one siege by Parliamentarians, as its thick walls and deep moat were basically impenetrable. They returned, however, for a second attempt with the largest mortar of the period, and dug mines underneath the towers to collapse them. Starved down to their last 30 barrels of beer, the Royalist garrison surrendered, and the castle was slighted to prevent it ever being used again – the fate of so many of our castles.

The mighty keep

Heading down into Wales, here is one final resting place on the way to a local graveyard. A tale is told of a young lady who married an older, wealthy, widower. Soon after the wedding, he died and was taken for burial. The procession stopped and rested the coffin on this stone (it was a long journey and the coffin was carried by handcart in those days), at which point there came a knocking from the coffin. A carpenter was called, the lid was opened and the old man found to be very much alive. According to the story, when he died many years later, the young widow asked the procession not to stop that time…


The graveyard itself was cold, frosty and built into a hill.


It’s hard to believe we had such nice weather less than a month ago. Roll on summer!

Praktica BC1 on Agfa Vista+ 200


Processing Nicely

Something that I really wanted to do getting into film photography, was to start developing my own films. A few videos on YouTube later, I bit the bullet and ordered myself a Paterson tank and some B&W Ilford chemicals (processing C41 sounds a bit too tricky right now).

Much to my surprise, with the Christmas holiday right in the middle, it all arrived pretty quickly – thanks to a certain online retailer’s speedy delivery service. The only problem was, I didn’t have anything to develop – all my films had gone to the lab already.

So, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. I took my inherited and, as yet, untested, Zenit for a walk, and burned through a whole 24 frames of Kodak ColorPlus 200. Having become used to being slow and measured when shooting film, this felt very decadent.

The Zenit seemed OK. I lost a few frames because I forgot it has a funny aperture ring on it (you set the aperture but it stays wide open so you can see through the viewfinder. You then have to manually close it). I lost another few frames half way through my walk when the shutter decided to go into B mode for no discernable reason. Still, I finished the roll and hurried home and waited for it to get dark.

Loading the film in complete darkness was easier than I thought. As the Kodak is a C41 film, I had to guess the processing times, but after an hour of pouring stinky chemicals around, I had my roll of film.

I learned a few lessons. Namely that I might have been being a tad ambitious, considering I:

1. Shot the roll on an untested camera.

2. Was using a cheap film.

3. Was cross-processing on my first ever attempt.

Which means I will never know which one of those contributed to some of the more … exotic … results.

I did, however, get a few salvageable shots and, all things considered, enjoyed the experience and was pleased with the results – even if they do look like they were shot 60 years ago.

High Street

The local High Street, c.1945


The Road out of Town


Village Green (reminds me of a Victorian postcard…)

And then, there was this…


The Learning Experience

Happy new year, everybody. Keep on shooting.

Local Wanderings

I finished up a roll in my Fed4 last week; here are some pictures I took locally. The autumn colours were gorgeous this year.

My nearest big local town is St. Albans. It’s a lovely, historic town with a thriving market on Saturdays, which I love to shoot. St. Alban was martyred here; the first Christian martyr in England, in the early 300’s. Alban was not a Christian, but hid a Priest in his house who was fleeing from Roman persecutors. Alban asked the Priest about his faith, and was himself converted to Christianity.

Later, Alban dressed himself in the Priest’s robes and allowed himself to be captured by the Romans, allowing the real Priest to escape. The Romans were rather upset to be duped, and demanded that Alban renounce his new faith. When he refused, he was sentenced to death. According to legend, Alban was beheaded on the hill where the Cathedral (a former Abbey) now stands. At the bottom of the hill is a spring, which is said to have sprung up from the place where his head landed. Unusually for an Anglican Cathedral, the Abbey houses a relic of St. Alban.


Below the Abbey is a large park, with a lake visited by all kinds of birds.


Not far outside St. Albans is the site of what used to be a large psychiatric hospital, built in the 1930’s and closed in the 1960’s, to the loss of many local jobs. Most of the buildings are gone, but some still remain – now converted into housing. The hospital was built in the grounds of a grand old estate, so covers acres of woodland, grassland and even an orchard.



Praktically Perfect

I envy reading blogs by American photographers who seem to regularly trip over old cameras in thrift or goodwill shops for next to nothing. It just doesn’t seem to happen as much here, or at least not where I live. My nearest town, of course, has a good old-fashioned camera shop, so most of them seem to end up there at retail price. The ones that do end up in the charity shops, one of the cashiers told me, usually get sent off and sold online, where they make more. That makes sense, I suppose, and I’d never begrudge a charity being able to make more from a donation. But I do still nurse the fantasy of stumbling across a £5 Leica…

That said, I was walking past a local charity shop the other day when a dusty SLR in the front window caught my eye. In the same way, I imagine, as children end up taking puppies home from rescue centres, I couldn’t leave it there; especially as it was going for about half the price of similar ones on eBay.


So I came home with a Praktica BC1. This is a solid little thing, deceptively heavy for its size as there’s virtually no plastic involved at all. It was a bit dusty, but everything seemed to work, as far as I could tell (which is tricky – the shutter is magnetic and will only fire at one speed without a battery), but for the price I didn’t mind giving it a go.

I bought a replacement battery from Amazon (the one in the camera was a Praktica battery, long dead), and with that the shutter was firing fine. Unfortunately, the lens wasn’t quite so good. It came with a Zeiss Jena Macro 1:2.8 55mm, and although I could manipulate the diaphragm from the rear of the lens, it wasn’t responding to the aperture ring. No matter, my local camera shop had a nice (working!) 1.8 50mm for sale, and still all for less than the body alone was going for on the Bay. New lens in place, and it seems the camera’s good to go.

The BC1’s were made for a relatively short period in 1984/5 in the German Democratic Republic. It was the first of its model to have an ASA adjustor and comes kitted out with an exposure compensation ring, self-timer, TTL-metering and an automatic shutter speed mode (although this gets confused very easily). It even has a holder on the rear for the flap of your film box, so you can remember what you’re shooting!

I’ve put a roll of film through it, and am waiting for it to come back. It’s actually a really nice camera to use, even if the sound of the mirror return does, as someone on the internet described it “sound like a car crash”. No chance of stealth photography with this one!