Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Zeiss Ikon Contina: Ikon by name Icon by design

Postings from the wonderful world of analogue photography.

After blogging recently about the Lazarus like rebirth of a Pentax Spotmatic and Lomo LC-A, bought as ‘spares or repairs’ cameras on eBay. Wedged between these two classics came a less celebrated old timer, a West German built Zeiss Ikon Contina J.  This 1964 camera complete with original leather case, was a fiver-less than it costs to process a film- and when it arrived, it looked as if it had just come out of the box in the sixties such was it’s perfect condition.

If Soviet cameras were often somewhat agricultural in their build quality, this little compact exuded quality. The Zeiss Ikon Contina range of cameras began in the 1950’s and ran through via various increasingly technically sophisticated models throughout the sixties. My little Contina J model could be described as an ‘entry level’ camera. Despite being a very attractive little machine, it is very much a hands on camera without such refinements as a light meter or focus adjustment. It does offer  through the lens rings, speed, aperture and distance scales but it’s all guesstimate stuff which makes it interesting.

Still having a batch of old  2010 Kodak Plus 200asa colour print film, I gave it a test run. Quickly firing off a range of shots from landscapes to close ups and off it went to Boots to be processed as standard 6 x4 gloss prints. With an old camera like this, you just don’t know what you will get back? Will it be in the Lomography arena, light leaks, vignetting and heavy saturation or will the prints have some quality? In this case it was definitely the former.

Despite some hit and miss efforts, several shots were really nice. Well defined and balanced. Unfortunately my appalling scanner won’t do them justice here but I can assure you, the images are a hell of a lot better in the flesh as it were-than these digitalised versions.

Overall, I’m delighted with the Contina and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for another more sophisticated model.

Right.... now I’ve got to put some light seals in yet another Lomo LC-A that arrived yesterday and which is another little gem. Perfect condition apart from the light seals and yet another cheap ‘spares or repair’ job and I eagerly await the prints from the Lomo which came from Germany the other week. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Lomo LC-A: New Adventures in Lo-Fi

In the early 1980’s I bought a little Soviet made camera-The Lomo LC-A. My memories of it are that it had that typical agricultural build quality that was the trademark of all Soviet engineered products, from Cameras to cars. Compared to comparable popular Japanese cameras like the Olympus Trip, it was a rather an ugly duckling. The results were equally quirky. The 35mm prints had a strange darkening around the edges-I hadn’t heard of vignetting at the time. The colours were heavily saturated and compared to photos taken by SLR’s, they were not exactly sharply defined.

It didn’t last that long. Something jammed and I gave it away. Some years later I was reading the arts section of the paper and I was gobsmacked to read of a photography movement called ‘Lomography’ which was based around the very quirky camera which I’d dismissed as being a lump of badly made Soviet tat. It appeared that a group of Austrian art students had happened upon the LC-A in a second hand camera shop. Ran off a few rolls and were knocked  by the results. That weird vignetting, the saturation the definition etc. Those elements which I’d taken to be evidence of a poorly made camera were the very elements which the students found so attractive and appealing.
The Lomo then endured a topsy turvy couple of decades as the St Petersburg company went from crisis to crises before the Lomography company basically bought the rights of manufacture of the LC-A in 2006 and continued production in China. Links at the bottom of the page give a detailed history of the Lomo LC-A.

The recent arrival from Germany.As made in St Petersburg in 1988.
These days, the term ‘Lomo Camera’ is used liberally to describe anything from the cheapest plastic toy camera to an advanced film compact. In truth, there is only one Lomo camera and that is the LC-A, although the Chinese made Holga and the Diana form a holy trinity of Lomo cameras supported by other similar, basic plastic cameras. I had a 1980’s Prinz plastic cameras which took great ‘lomo’ pics just like the Holga.

Thirty years on and I’ve just bought another LC-A. Another eBay buy and like the recently featured Spotmatic, another ‘spares or repair’ job. It was being sold by an analogue camera dealer in Germany for less than eighteen pounds. A giveaway price given that a new LC-A from the Lomography company will set you back £250. That’s ten times what I paid in the 80’s! It appeared that the shutter was jammed. A common problem it seems. Fortunately, there are a few tutorials online on fixing a sticky shutter, although it does involve virtually taking the camera to pieces. Not something I particularly wanted to do. I was hoping that it was poor battery connections. A common reason for shutter failure.

The Austrian Students who rediscovered the LC-A in 1992. Photo-Lomography Company
The camera arrived quickly from Germany and despite the serial number indicating that it had been made in 1988, it was in immaculate condition. I ordered new batteries, popped them in and sure enough, when I pressed the shutter button it clicked but the shutter blades did not open. Opening up the camera I got a teeth flossing stick and gently prised the shutter blades apart and let them spring back. Bingo! Next time I wound on and pressed the shutter button it worked. Unfortunately, the next morning it had seized up again.

One of the problems with all cameras from this era is the fact that the light seals which are a sponge like material, degrade and tiny bits of often gunky material fall into the camera and- as probably is the case with this camera- lodge in the lens blades.

Today, I’ve been carefully using cotton buds and rag lightly dipped in denatured alcohol –that’s Methylated spirits to you- and cleaning around the shutter blades. I’ve also cleaned out the gunky degraded seals and fitted new light seals. The same sponge like material.

At first the shutter remained open. Had I really fcked it up this time! However, after trying it on different apertures and  generally faffing around, it finally freed up and started doing as it was told. 

Thus far, the camera is ‘working’. That is, it winds on and the sticky shutter is opening and closing as it should using different apertures. I’m not getting too excited yet as it may seize up again but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a drop of meths, some cleaning up and quite a bit of shutter action will keep it working OK.

If it remains in working condition then I’ll run off a film and post the results. To be continued.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic...Class of 64

 eBay 'spares or repair' old Spotmatic

An occasional dip into the wonderful world of analogue (film) photography.

I recently bought an old Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic camera on eBay which was being sold for spares or repairs. Something in the description suggested that the problem described was down to the inexperience of the user rather than a technical problem and as it was less than fifteen pounds plus P&P, then it was worth a punt. About twenty years ago I had a Spotmatic which I sold through a free ads paper for £80 to someone who made the five hour trip up from Cardiff to buy the camera. He gave it a once over, turned around and drove straight back home. Even refusing the offer of a quick cuppa!

These days Spotmatics are still plentiful on eBay and you can pick a working model up for as little as thirty pounds. What was unique about this Single Lens Reflex camera is the fact that this chunky classic was one of the first cameras with ‘through the lens metering’. The user could work out the aperture and speed  through the on-board meter and by looking at the scene through the viewfinder, the user could frame the photograph-knowing that what was seen was exactly the self same image as that reaching the lens, courtesy of the drop down mirror behind the lens.

Manufactured between 1964 and 1976, these tough workhorse SLR’s were popular with professionals of the period and it appears that my Honeywell Pentax was made for the US market as opposed to the Asahi Pentax which was marketed in Europe.

The camera arrived and I discovered that the Takumar lens really was unusable. No worries, as early Pentax SLR’s used a screw in thread. At least I could use lenses from Praktica and Zenith cameras which also used the same screw in thread. However, when I took off the gash lens I was taken aback to discover that there was no mirror! I examined another slightly more recent Pentax and after gingerly delving inside the Spotmatic, I realised that the mirror was stuck. Having failed to drop down after taking a shot.

Thanks to the power of the internet I discovered an easy fix to this common problem. With a new battery installed it appeared that the light meter was working as well. All systems go!

With a Zeiss Pancolour 1.8 50 lens taken from an old Praktica screwed in and a 200 asa colour print film wound on, I quickly ran off a roll of film to see how it was working. As someone whose first serious camera was a Soviet Zorki 4 Rangfinder camera without a light meter, I got used to guess-timating speed and aperture rather than use a light meter. The Spotmatic’s  light meter was suggesting speed and aperture readings somewhat out from my estimates. Old camera light meters are sometimes rather less than accurate, nevertheless I went with the readings to see how in/accurate they were in this instance.

I popped the film into Boots for a standard 6x4 print off and awaited the results. When they came back, I was somewhat disappointed. As expected, the meter readings had caused over and under exposure in a lot of cases and there was a lack of sharpness and definition, but to be fair, I was using a film which was five years out of date and which hadn’t been cool stored! Out of date films are usually fine for lomography when using point and shoot compacts but perhaps not advisable for a quality SLR like the Spotmatic. I’d like to run a black and white film through it but next time, I’ll treat the light meter readings with a pinch of salt and guess-timate my own.

Verdict... a classic SLR camera but one not immune to problems common to a lot of old cameras and in this case, not helped by using an old out of date film. Requires further experimentation. 

Scanned prints taken on 2010 Kodak Colourplus 200 asa film

Camerapedia guide to the Spotmatic 

What is analogue photography

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Snowdonia: assault on the wild places-then and now

Construction work taking place in Llanberis Pass on the hydro scheme.
Driving down Llanberis Pass last week, one couldn’t fail to take in the construction work taking place on the west side of the Pass where a pipeline course has been gouged down the mountainside to arrive at a turbine house just 100 metres or so from the road. Hydro schemes within the National Park are currently very much in vogue with even the National Trust getting in on the act on the south side of the Yr Wyddfa massif where they have constructed a hydro pipeline and turbine house above Nant Gwynant. However it is the £100m Glan Rhonwy scheme above Llanberis which has been granted planning permission by Gwynedd CC which is causing outdoor activists the most disquiet. Using a recently created business Snowdonia Pumped Hydro, the London based Quarry Battery Company under the watchful eye of its executive director, Peter Taylor who is listed as being based on the Isle of Man (Not a tax exile surely!) the company seeks to exploit abandoned quarries and convert them as storage facilities for its hydro power schemes.

It currently boasts twenty planning applications in the pipeline –no pun intended!.

Compared to the environmental impact of industrial scale wind farms and their negative impact on fragile ecosystems and their aesthetic blighting of our uplands, coasts and seascapes, hydro power schemes are by contrast pretty low key in their impact on their surroundings. Particularly the small scale schemes in the Pass and Nant Gwynant. Glan Rhonwy on the other hand will definitely have a detrimental impact. Ecologically in its utilisation of a site which harbours all manner of wildlife, aesthetically in its degrading of a site which is returning to nature and of course, the impact it will have on outdoor activists who use the site for recreation. At the end of the day, The company behind Glan Rhonwy, like their friends in the wind industry, are in it for easy profits and are certainly not driven by evangelistic ‘green’ motives.

However, when dealing with our low calibre, bovine local politicians, throwing the word ‘renewable’ around is like holding the magic key to the planning permission door. I’m convinced that a developer could submit plans to build a power plant burning old tyres and it would get planning permission if the developer added the word ‘renewable’ to his application and business name!

Interestingly, the threat to the ‘natural environment’ in Snowdonia (and I’m well aware that in an area of intensive farming, quarrying and tourism there is nothing particularly ‘natural’ about the land) has a history of activism undertaken by those engaged in outdoor activities. In the 70’s the BMC journal ‘Mountain Life’ ran a regular feature ‘Assault on the wild places’ alongside its general mountaineering and climbing news. Below are two examples of well known climbers- Barbara James and Gwen Moffat- taking up the environmental gauntlet and lambasting what was then the Central Electricity Generating Board on their insensitive developments in Ogwen Valley and Dinorwic.

Has time been kind to the Electric Mountain or the tarmac road up into the Carneddau from the A5? Personally I find the feeder lake up at Marchlyn Mawr a rather sterile and depressing place and despite regularly toiling up the CEGB road above Ogwen, I rather hate it! It’s dead straight, seems to go on forever and blights what should be a rocky, grassy pathway up the hillside. Mountain bikers appear to like pelting down it though!
CEGB invades the Carneddau

Mountaineers will know well the track which leads north from the A5 near Helm to Craig Ysfa and Carncdd Llywelyn, for it ascends, steeply in places, into the largest roadless area in Snowdonia. It crosses the famous leat which was built during the war by Italian prisoners of war. This leat collects water draining from lakes Lloer and Llugwy on the south side of the Carneddau and channels it into Llyn Cowlyd and thence to Dolgarrog Power Station in the Conway Valley. The trackway ends near the dark waters of Ffynnon Llugwy cradled beneath the west slopes of Pen yr Helgi Du, but a path continues to climb steeply to a col. At the top a strong wind hits you — but there is a dramatic view and the unfolding of the Eigiau valley below towards the distant Conway Estuary gives a superb excuse to pant and regain your breath.

Most people either turn left up the narrow ridge to Carnedd Llewellyn or descend to the foot of Amphitheatre Buttress and the other Craig yr Ysfa climbs. The walk up from the main road to the lake takes little more than half an hour but it leads to a haven of peace and solitude deep in the hills where the water drains as softly as a cat prowls with dinner on its mind. How many mountaineers associate the work being done on the Hydro-electric scheme in Llanberis with the chaotic state of the Ogwen Valley during the latter months of 1974? Early negotiations certainly gave no warnings of such disruption, which has been caused by the need to draw water from Ffynnon Lloer and Ffynnon Llugwy to supply the villages around Bethesda to the west with drinking water. Apparently the CEGB never realised that the water in Marchlyn- the round lake high on Elider Fawr that is being raped for the Hydro-scheme, would he too disturbed to be drunk by the inhabitants of the villages.

And so it seems maintenance vehicles have to have easy access to the dam at Ffynnon Llugwy. The result is the transformation of the grass trackway to large stone rubble, a scar cutting through the surrounding green hillsides. Complaints by the very active Council for the Preservation of Rural Wales (they have monitored plans throughout) were answered with assurances that the stones would be coverered. But they didn't say with what..... it was to be tarmacadam ! Work was started early in December, and the tarmac was laid first above the leet where it was out of sight from the road. By the end of 1974. the tarmac had oozed from the lake to within 20 yards of the A5.

It is done. What can we lesser mortals do against such faceless. All powerful giants as the CEGB? As I write. the CFRW await an answer from the head of the Generating Board project to their query about the trackway. It seems that reversal is impossible. Decisions now must be made by looking forward not backward. Who will use the road? Three alternatives seem possible. One, that it will be used infrequently by maintenance vehicles; Two, that it will become like the road to Stwlan Dam where mini-busloads of tourists are allowed but mountaineers can are prohibited. Three; that a limited size car park be made near the dam giving easy access to the hills for the first 50 cars to arrive.

Will mountain rescue vehicles and/or other vehicles he given special dispensation? Accepting the fact that the road, with some tidying up, is here to stay. which alternative is preferable? Are there any other alternatives? As I came down from Pen yr Helgi Du on New Year's Eve shafts of sunlight highlighted the unsightly debris that banked the new road and panicking clouds were gathering over Carnedd Llewelyn. Perhaps they too wished to hasten the end of the day and the year.
Barbara James Mountain Life-Feb 1974

The strangely sterile and soulless dammed lake of Marchllyn Mawr

A Third White Elephant 

It is possible that the Dinorwic pumped storage scheme proposed for Llanberis will prove itself as much a white elephant as Concorde and Maplin. The cost increased by one third before the project left the drawing board and it is now well over £100 millions. In view of revised demand forecast the CEGB's entire investment programme is under review so, with the Treasury doing a new set of sums with the taxpayer's money, Dinorwic isn't home and dry yet — but nor are we. Ancillary projects and services necessitated by primary schemes are far-reaching, and often more of a pollution than the principal scheme. Because Dinorwic is to use Marchlyn Mawr for its upper lake — draining and filling it  in combination with Llyn Peris twice daily — an alternative water supply has to be found.

Llyn Ogwen will supply this, its level augmented by Cowlyd. In order to incorporate the existing leat on the south side of the Carneddau in this scheme, an access road has been built from the A5 and it didn't need planning permission. Water will be taken down the Nant Francon in pipes. We are told that these will be placed underground. In their report for 1973, the Gwynedd River Authority examines in some detail the possibility of flooding the Nant Francon by means of a dam at Tyn y Maes. The plan envisages a dam 1,640 feet long, nearly 200 feet high, and an artificial lake extending back to the Ogwen Falls. Cwm Llafar (below the Black Ladders) is also mentioned; a 100-foot dam there would impound a lake with a storage capacity of 3,000 million litres and could be used as a direct supply or to regulate the flow of the Afon Ogwen.

Cwellyn, west of Snowdon, is already the focal point of a two year plan to make it a reservoir. There is a deficiency of water in Gwynedd already, and the River Authority cites new mines and smelters, new hydro-electric schemes and pulp mills, all to be in the area, as the industries which may in the future place an exorbitant demand on water supplies. Present industries, using pure water when they could very well do with the raw product, are the nuclear power station on Anglesey, the aluminium smelter at Holyhead. Wastage in Snowdonia is high. In an area where the rainfall exceeds 100 inches, the storage facilities rely on constant replenishing rather than on dam structure, the efficiency of pipes, and conservation. Wastage between source and consumer varies between 10% and 15%. On the consumer's premises it is 25% (dripping taps, faulty cisterns, washing hands without putting the plug in the basin etc). If you include industrial demand, each of us uses between 70 and 95 gallons daily. With more intelligent utilisation of all water we would need only a small proportion of proposed reservoirs, and these less large.

If we were less extravagant with electricity we would need fewer and smaller power stations. And if the Government decide that we must have more electricity even if we have to spend over £100 millions on one scheme — albeit the biggest in Europe — and that only to augment the supply at peak periods, then why not generate electricity by gas turbines. They don't leak precious power from the transmission lines on the way to the conurbations which the power is designed to serve. You can site gas turbines anywhere: in existing stations, above ground, below ground, near the load centres (not in national parks). They're cheap — and they'll burn almost anything.

Gwen Moffatt.Mountain Life June 1974