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I take pictures of things. Mostly with film. Mostly with cameras. I am an engineer by trade. What really makes me happy, though, is to find an old camera at a swap meet or antique store and bring it back into working order with a few hours at the workbench. I then like to take them out and shoot some film. This blog is in large part the result of that activity.

Friday, July 22, 2011

on the virtues of fumbling

I had recently acquired my Pentax 6x7 and went for a walk at Paramount Ranch, a short distance from where I work.  Paramount Ranch is an old former studio property that features a faux western town and quite a bit of good hiking.   Sometimes when I go there on my lunch break they are filming a commercial or some sort of something and it is fun to watch.  This particular day not much was going on and I hiked back into the hills to get some nice medium format landscape shots, just me and my 6x7 and a 105mm f2.4.  I realize that a 105mm lens seems like an odd landscape choice as that seems telephotoish, but for this camera that is the normal lens, a 50mm equivalent.  I don't own a wide angle lens, mostly because they are really expensive, so this one has to do.


The Pentax 6x7 is a heavy beast with an all metal body that looks like an SLR on steroids.  It has a huge (and by that I mean about 4 inches on a side) mirror which slams up and down with each shutter press while the giant, cloth horizontal shutter slams from one side of the camera to another with a maximum shutter speed of 1/1000.  It goes BAM! Clunk Whoosh every time you take a photo.  The later versions of the camera, which this particular one is, have a mirror lock up button so that you can fire the mirror well in advance of the shutter.  This is very useful when taking long exposures with long lenses, as it eliminates the mirror slap vibration blur.   Sadly, when the mirror goes up the prism is blanked out and you can't see anything in the viewfinder.  You must aim it first, obviously.  The meter is located in the removable prism and as such is completely optional.  There are unmetered prisms as well as waist level finders available, but for this day I had the metered prism mounted.  While the meter is optional, the battery is not, as the 6x7 is NOT a fully mechanical camera.  The shutter is electrically controlled and the battery is necessary to shoot.  I checked the battery level with the check button before I locked up my car and everything seemed fine so off I went.  


I found a really nice pond scene that I wanted to make a long exposure stopped down and set the camera down on a log to frame my photo.  Everything looked fine.... turn on the meter and... nothing.  No movement at all.  Turn it off.  Back on.  Nothing.  Grrr.  Now I had to perform some gymnastics on the camera and I didn't want to do that on a dirt trailside next to a pond (water and dirt are not "good things" for camera mechanisms) so I grumped and grumbled and hiked back out to my car. 


Reaching the car and opening my tailgate I sat down with the camera in my lap.  The Pentax 6x7 has a tricky meter/aperture interlock design.  Within the body of the camera is a tiny metal chain which is attached to a ring around the lens mount.  When the aperture ring is turned, that tiny, metal chain is pulled.  The top end of that chain is attached to a little, plastic bushing which pushes against the nub of the metered prism, telling it what aperture the lens is set to.  This is all well and good except that it means that you have to be very careful in what order you do things when you start to remove prisms and lenses or *DINK*, broken chain.  I therefore carefully popped of the meter.  I pressed the lens release button so I could remove the lens and see what was wrong when I heard a loud BANG.   Arrgggghh.  In my unfamiliarity with the camera I had pressed the button on the side of the lens mount which for EVERY OTHER Pentax camera is the lens release, but in the 6x7 is the mirror lockup button.   


So here I am, early in my lunch, fresh film in the camera, cocked shutter, no meter, locked up mirror.  The only way to let that mirror down is to take a picture.  Because the mirror is locked up I have no viewfinder and, of course, I have no meter.  Frustrating.  I stood up, held the camera up, pointed it blindly in the general direction of a tree on nearby hillside, focused to just a bit short of infinity, looked at the sky and did some quick mental calculations... lets see, 400 film, bright sky, let's stop that sucker down to about 11 and BAM! Clunk whoosh.  Picture wasted.


Sigh.  I pressed the CORRECT button, removed the lens, put the meter back on and turned it on.  YES!  it worked.  I remounted the lens and hiked back out to take pictures.  Later that day I recounted the story to my friend Joel at work and joked that that photo was probably going to be the best on the roll.  A week later, when I got the negatives back, it was.  That is the photo you see above.


I've seriously considered "no eyes open" photography ever since.

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