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Category: black and white

Camera Review: Agfa Optima 335

Agfa Optima 335 Sensor (Taken with a Nikon F4 + Ilford Delta 100)

I can’t quite remember where I saw this camera mentioned but I do remember being struck so much by its design that I put a £10 bid on eBay almost immediately for this camera during summer of last year. I put a roll through it in 2016 and it didn’t come out very good. I’d mainly been taking pictures of mates at a party and I was clearly being too optimistic about the light levels. That roll at least proved the camera worked and the few shots that came out well did show nice rendering of colour. 

Fast forward a year during which this camera has been sat on my shelf collecting dust I decided to take it with me to a recent trip to the Big Apple to try my hand at some street photography.

Agfa Optima 335 + Kodak TMax 400 (NYC, 2017)

Agfa Optima 335 + Kodak TMax 400 (NYC, 2017)

It was a bright sunny and incredibly hot day as I walked down from Columbus Circle to 34th street. The camera is so compact and light I just had it held in my hand all the time. This is pretty much the simplest camera possible; the focus is via 3 zones that snap into place (although it is possible to leave the focus in between if you want, and there is a distance scale underneath the lens barrel  – but in reality you’re not likely to use that), the aperture and shutter speed are automatically selected by the camera with no manual override. On the top of the camera there is a huge red button to fire the shutter on the top of the wind on crank thats just asking to be pressed and a small knob to change the crank from advance to return.

I was pretty snap happy, but the light was brilliant, and the shadows promising for some good contrast out of the TMax film. I was interested how the little f3.5 lens would hold up and how good the camera would be at getting a decent exposure. After developing the roll – wow  – I was completely surprised. Most shots were correctly exposed and the lens was really sharp. Sure black and white film has tons of latitude and the availability of light meant the aperture was probably f16 for most of these shots, but still, I was still surprised.

Agfa Optima 335 + Kodak TMax 400 (NYC, 2017)

Agfa Optima 335 + Kodak TMax 400 (NYC, 2017)

This isn’t a 100% positive review however. Upon finishing the roll I went to rewind the film. You do this by rotating a knob to change the crank lever from advance to rewind. After a while the crank seemed to become ineffective. Without really thinking I presumed the film as completely rewound so opened the back. Error. It turns out the gear on the crank must have disengaged somehow. I closed the back on the camera as quickly as I could, then decided to put the camera in a darkbag and then manually wind back the film there by hand.  Luckily the design of the camera came to the rescue. The exposed film is wound on into a little covered section in the camera, so opening the back only ruined 2 images. It seems like great design to alleviate the issue of prematurely opening the back. We’ll see with my next roll how the rewind goes.

Agfa Optima 335 + Kodak TMax 400 (NYC, 2017)

Agfa Optima 335 + Kodak TMax 400 (NYC, 2017)

Agfa Optima 335 + Kodak TMax 400 (NYC, 2017)

Agfa Optima 335 + Kodak TMax 400 (London, 2017)

Agfa Optima 335 + Kodak TMax 400 (NYC, 2017)

So to sum up – this camera not only looks incredible, but is very well designed from a functional perspective, and appears to perform very well to my eye. For street photography I think its great in looking inconspicuous. Finally, with some P&S film camera’s valuations soaring, this seems to be a really good cheap option to consider. If you’re looking for more control like aperture selection then keep a look out for the higher spec models in this line from AGFA like the 1535 (although I’ve never seen one on eBay UK). You can read more about this camera on the links below:

http://www.camera.portraits.srv2.com/optimasensor.htm 

http://camerapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Agfa_Optima_335_Electronic_Sensor 

Lightbox Monday #8 – Tate Modern (Pushed Neopan)

Nikon F3 + Nikon 24mm f2.8 Ai + Fuji Neopan 400 pushed 1600 (London, 2011)

Nikon F3 + Nikon 24mm f2.8 Ai  + Fuji Neopan 400 pushed 1600 (London, 2011)

Nikon F3 + Nikon 24mm f2.8 Ai  + Fuji Neopan 400 pushed 1600 (London, 2011)

We’re spoilt for choice for world class art galleries in London. The Tate Modern is an excellent free modern art gallery in a repurposed power station on the south bank of the Thames. The main Turbine Hall (pictured above) is a vast enclosed space that really gives you a sense of being small. Its a space thats used for large installations of sculpture. This series of images from a visit in 2011 captured the Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds exhibition which consisted of more than 100 million individually handmade ceramic replica sunflower seeds. Originally the exhibit was interactive – visitors could roam about and pick up the seeds. However in a good example of modern health and safety fears the dust created from the ceramic seeds was deemed to be too big of a risk to allow this and the section was promptly roped off.  

I really enjoyed revisiting these images some 6 years later whilst categorising my library of film photographs. The first thing that stuck me was how much I liked the contrast of pushing the now defunct Neopan 400 to 1600. I don’t think I’ve pushed a roll of film since then and I don’t really know why. I intend to do this again soon. This series of images were also captured with a recently acquired 24mm wide angle lens and it does a good job of capturing the vastness of the space. Now I have the 20mm f4 and 24mm f2.8 and I’m toying with the idea of selling one of them. Originally it was going to be the 24mm but these images have given me pause for thought. Finally the last thing I took from looking at these negatives is how I must have been pretty careless in developing them. There are chemical marks peppered throughout the rest of the roll but also visible on these images particularly on the image with the wall text. It serves as a good reminder to make sure I spend enough time washing the negatives after fixing!

Lightbox Monday #7 – Tones of Camden’s Graffiti

Nikon F65 + Nikon 50mm f1.4G + Ilford Delta 100 (Camden, 2010)

Its an iconic piece of graffiti on a bridge in Camden. Reviewing some old images from when I first started shooting film this one caught my eye. Its a pretty run of the mill snapshot but what I do like about it is the way the graffiti itself is more of a background with the eyes being drawn to the contrast on the patterns of the rivets themselves. Its also a reminder of my short use of a Nikon F65; an entry electronic level SLR from the early 2000s. It was a reasonably fun camera to use being very lightweight and also compatible with the 50mm AFS f1.4 lens I used quite a bit at the time on a DSLR. It was dirt cheap to buy at around £15  and could produce some decent exposures. The main issue I had with the camera was really that it felt a bit boring to use at the time. Film was fun then but I was more intrigued by older cameras and soon after I would decide to part ways with this camera for an F3 instead. Now I’ve got a new appreciation for electronic Nikon SLRs and I actually think this is probably the best camera for a Nikon DSLR user with some modern FX glass to try out film (due to its very low cost to relatively high feature set – see Thom Hogans review).

Lightbox Monday #5 – Ford 5000 Tractor Portrait

Bronica SQ + 80mm f2.8 + Kodak TMax 400 (Shropshire, 2017)

 There is an excellent restaurant in Northwood in Shropshire set up by family friends and outside there is a quite epic display of the proprietor’s tractor collection. There must be 20-30 tractors there, all Fords, mainly shipped back in containers from New Zealand. It reminded me my camera collection at least doesn’t take up too much space. My wife did not share that point of view. 

Lightbox Monday #4 – Tones of Scafell Pike

Bronica SQ + Zenzanon 80mm f2.8 + Ilford Delta 100 + Self Developed with TMax 1:4 Developer (Scafell Pike, 2016)

Lugging my Bronica up England’s highest peak at least was worth it for this one shot. It was an overcast and foggy day, but I like the way the film has captured the texture and tone of the mountainside here. Unfortunately I only have two shots left from this trip due to an error in development.

In an effort to reduce my costs while shooting more film I’ve started to home process black and white film once more. During my Imperial College days I learnt the basics in the excellent darkroom the photo society had there and then continued with a makeshift bathroom in my flat after graduating. I never really got back into it when I moved abroad and I’d stopped using monochrome films so much because to get a roll processed at my normal labs in London were over a tenner each; this soon adds up and also was making me hesitate before each shot when really I should be experimenting with photography more.

Anyway, the error. This was the first 120 film I had self developed in at least 4 years. Whereas before I had a nice dark bathroom to use, my current flat does not, so I am having to use a changing bag for the first time. Its pretty much a pain in the arse and seems especially so when loading 120 film onto the plastic patterson reels I have. I completely butchered this film. When the roll went stiff I didn’t realise the film had got so jammed that it crumpled and ripped. Trying to keep my frustration at bay I decided the rip was too bad to continue winding it on so cut my losses (literally). I couldn’t actually remember what was on this film so at the time I wasn’t too bothered, it was collateral damage in reacquainting myself with self processing.

The remaining shots came out well but I was pretty gutted to realise this was my Scafell Pike roll. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to go and lug my Bronica up there again sometime!

Bronica SQ + Zenzanon 80mm f2.8 + Ilford Delta 100 + Self Developed with TMax 1:4 Developer (Scafell Pike, 2016)

Lightbox Monday #3 – Underground

Nikon F3 + Nikon 24mm f2.8 Ai + Kodak TMax 100 (London, 2011)

Whilst Canary Warf is a place I almost never go, its tube station is pretty impressive. It was designed by British Architect legend Norman Foster and was opened in 1999 and is worth a visit if you can think of any other reason to goto Canary Warf. The tones of TMax capture it well, however I can’t believe I scanned it with so much dust on the negative. Its certainly a candidate for a rescan when I get time. Also its one I developed myself, probably with Ilfotec HC, in the Imperial College darkroom. I’m about to start developing my own black and white film once more in my new flat. I don’t think I ever mastered the process before and got relatively inconsistent results but I’m going to focus this time on trying to get better. I think as well I’ll try to settle down on one B&W film to use as I’ve never really got into the habit of just using one for more than a few rolls. I haven’t fully decided which one yet but the tones from this TMax scan are making me lean this way.

Lightbox Monday #1

Cosina CT1A + Cosinon 50mm f2 + Ilford HP5 Plus (Morocco, 2010)

Lightbox Monday is an idea I’ve, ahem, borrowed from another blog I enjoy reading each week. I’ve at least changed the date… Anyway after a crazy few years of moving about (and a brief spell of living in a van the other side of the world), its been nice to go back through my photo library and do a good bit of sorting out. Its cool to see some photos, underrated at the time, become much more interesting with the passing of time.

This is a shot from a roll of HP5 plus I took with me to Morocco. I’d managed to get a standby flight on Ryanair for £25 round trip for me and a mate and this felt like the most exotic place the budget airline could take me in January. We stayed in Marrakech but did an overnight excursion to the northern edge of the Sahara desert, where we did a couple of hours on a camel and camped in a traditional berber tent. I am quite fond of this picture, much more than any of digital shots I got of these camels. For another favourite from this trip check out this one.

Nikon F5 First Impressions

Nikon F5 + Nikon 50mm Series E f1.8 (Shropshire, 2017)

Its been a while since my last post due to moving flat and many other things. In that time I’ve made a few impulse purchases from eBay, one of which being the mighty Nikon F5. Its remarkable that today you can buy a camera that was the best in the world in 1996, today, for a little over a hundred quid.

I’ve run two rolls through it so far, using mainly the 50mm Series E Ai lens, which is of course manual focus. I’ve been pleasantly surprised using my Ai lenses with this camera. The 100% viewfinder is bright and easy to focus with. The metering with these is only spot and center weighted, which is OK, and I wonder if it was a technical or purely a product decision to remove the matrix metering the F4 had with these. As for the handling, its a relatively heavy camera, but coupled with small light lenses like the Series E 50mm f1.8, it honestly doesn’t feel too burdensome to carry round. 

These photos are from a roll of TMax 100 I’ve had sitting in my freezer for years from a short trip up to the family farm. I had them processed by a lab and scanned them myself with an Epson v500. Whilst these shots were pedestrian for a camera of the F5’s spec, the main thing that I could appreciate is the ergonomics of this camera. It fits in the hand just right, is so well balanced, and has controls in what feels like the most intuitive place. They must have got it right, because over 20 years later every camera Nikon has made since then looks and feels pretty much the same as this. 

Nikon F5 + Nikon 50mm Series E f1.8 (Shropshire, 2017)

Nikon F5 + Nikon 50mm Series E f1.8 (Shropshire, 2017)

Nikon F5 + Nikon 50mm Series E f1.8 (Shropshire, 2017)

My first roll of Ilford SFX

iPhone 6s (Arches National Park Utah, 2017)

This B&W film is a near infra-red (i.e. extended red sensitivity towards IR wavelengths) film made by Ilford. I’d wanted to try it out for a while and decided to take a chance on it by taking it on my trip round Utah’s National (Bryce, Arches and Zion) and State (Snow Canyon) parks. I’d been somewhat inspired by the completely black skies in this post and thought I’d be able to get some good detail in the foreground and some silhouetted rocks with a completely black sky when using my Nikon R60 red filter. Reading more after the fact a deeper filter such as an R72 may have been a better choice to achieve this effect.

Nikon F3 + Nikon 20mm f4 + Ilford SFX 200 + Scanned by Bayeux (Bryce Canyon UT, 2017)

Above was one of the first shots from the roll. As you can see the sky is nowhere near the black I’d hoped, but not too big of an issue on this shot as that wasn’t the focus. A few of the ones below are better. Overall the contrast turned out low which is disappointing, but to be fair logistical reasons in getting to the parks (as being memorial day weekend it was hard to camp near the parks) limited the availability of good light (i.e. early morning and evening before sunset). However I still, perhaps naively, hoped for the images to come out better. They seem grainier than I’d expected and the sky was not as dark (though this may be due to the filter and unremarkable-poor light). In addition this roll of film has made me stop and tell myself I should read up once more on the zone system for better B&W exposures.

Nikon F3 + Nikon 35mm f2.8 + Ilford SFX 200 + Scanned by Bayeux (Arches UT, 2017)

Nikon F3 + Nikon 20mm f4 + Ilford SFX 200 + Scanned by Bayeux (Arches UT, 2017)

Nikon F3 + Nikon 35mm f2.8 + Ilford SFX 200 + Scanned by Bayeux (Arches UT, 2017)

Nikon F3 + Nikon 35mm f1.8 + Ilford SFX 200 + Scanned by Bayeux (Arches UT, 2017)

Nikon F3 + Nikon35mm f2.8 + Ilford SFX 200 + Scanned by Bayeux (Snow Canyon UT, 2017)

Nikon F3 + Nikon 35mm f4 + Ilford SFX 200 + Scanned by Bayeux (Snow Canyon UT, 2017)

Nikon F3 + Nikon 35mm f2.8 + Ilford SFX 200 + Scanned by Bayeux (Zion UT, 2017)

Nikon F3 + Nikon 35mm f2.8 + Ilford SFX 200 + Scanned by Bayeux (Zion UT, 2017)

Nikon F3 + Nikon 200mm f4 + Ilford SFX 200 + Scanned by Bayeux (Snow Canyon UT, 2017)

 

Turbine Hall

Nikon F100 + Tokina 12-24mm + Fuji Neopan 400 pushed to 1600 (London, 2011)

Before my F100 was stolen in Belize, I managed to put a few rolls through it. The lens used for this photo is actually for DX digital, but works on film somewhere past the 20mm mark. This shot is the turbine hall of the Tate Modern, and the exhibition here was Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds.

Snake Charmer

Cosina CT1A + Cosinon 50mm + Ilford HP5 Plus (Marrakesh, 2011)

Fog in Frisco

Bronica SQA + Zenzanon 50mm PS + Kodak Tmax 100 (San Francisco, 2013)

Budapest Castle

Bronica SQA + Zenzanon 80mm f2.8 + Ilford HP5 Plus (Budapest, 2012)

Transamerica Building

Bronica SQA + Zenzanon 80mm f2.8 + Ilford HP5 Plus (San Francisco, 2013)

Lloyds Building

Bronica SQ-A + Zenzanon 80mm f2.8 + Ilford HP5 Plus (City of London, 2012)

Beware. Horses may kick or bite! Thank you

Zeiss Ikon Nettar 517 + Ilford Delta HP5 Plus + Scanned with Epson v700 (London, 2011)

So this picture is from the first roll of film I ever put in the 60+ year old folding camera I inherited from my great grandma. I was taken aback by just how much character this camera can give to photos. This was my first introduction to medium format, and quickly showed me the benefits of the shallower depth of field (for given aperture).

What I like most about this photo is how serious the guard and horse look with the deadpan sign to the side.

Relics

Cosina CT1-A + Cosinon 50mm + Ilford HP5 (London 2011)

I first tried out film during my first year of university in 2007. I bought this cheap Cosina camera from a london market stall and ran one roll through it. Unimpressed with the results, and skeptical the camera had a fault, I didn’t touch it again until many years later until I was developing my own film in the university photo societies darkroom. The few rolls I put through it are fun to look back on, and this photo specifically is one of my favourites. This was taken in the basement of the British Museum in their South America room. Whilst I’ve pushed the contrast in post, I am still very impressed how the detail and contrast came out. Looking at this image I find it hard not to be absorbed into thinking about where this stone statue came from, who made it, and the things it has seen.

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