35mm Pentax – Humble MV?

35mm Pentax – Humble MV?

I’m spending some time in Berlin next week (August 2018). I intend to be a tourist/traveller. Who cares about the tourist identity? Apparently many do so, there is some difference between being a tourist and being a traveller:

Apparently, the traveller is more empathetic with her surroundings: She chooses public transport, prefers to speak the local tongue, enjoys being lost, buys food from small shops, drinks beer not expensive vino.

The tourist is more of a taker: He goes on organised sightseeing trips, uses a translator app, does not stray far from the beaten track, samples overpriced cafes.

The traveller is liked by the natives, and the tourist is a necessary evil. 

Some suggest a tourist/traveller with professional photo gear makes the locals wary. This is a valid idea. My feeling is that looking like a tourist actually opens the possibilities for unique photo opportunities. Being understated is an advantage when taking images, especially if one wants to take a photo of a crazy guy dressed as a transvestite gorilla. So, next week, I’m going to look like a tourist and think like a traveller. I’ll have a camera swinging around my neck all week.

I am a “Touraller” a cross between tourist and traveller.

I wonder what film camera to chose, and decide the little Pentax MV and 40mm f2.8 SMC-M lens will fit the ‘unassuming’ image I wish to portray. Normally, I’d travel with a Pentax SV, 50mm f1.4, and 28mm Takumar. However, I’m hoping to demonstrate how humble equipment can produce solid and impactful imagery. So the MV and Pancake win the competition.

The combined cost of the MV and 40mm is sixty-five pounds, forty pounds being the price of the 40mm. I paid twenty-five pounds for the MV including a 50mm F2.0. Let us consider the camera and lens.

Pentax MV

Fully automatic exposure and manual focus. If the battery drains, you are restricted to a 1/100th of a second bailout. Enthusiasts scorn this little gem, and long may they continue to do so, their ignorance keeps the camera low in price. Because the fact is; the lens is 90% of the photographic deal. A Leica nut can argue until the sun sets his camera is superior, as well it could be: the fact is, the photographer composes the image, the camera holds the film which records his view of the world. Camera 10% – Lens 90% of the equation.

Am I comparing a twenty-five pound MV with a fifteen hundred pounds M7? Of course, I (am) not! Can the MV and 40mm produce fantastic images comparable to a two-grand Leica? No doubt about it! As we’ll see when I return from Berlin!

The Pentax is small (see the image of it sitting next to an iPhone plus). Once calibrated, its metering ability is excellent. The latitude of monochrome film is three stops on either side of the selected settings. The MV is easily able to accomplish exposures within this range. Aperture priority seems to be a good way for the auto-exposure camera to prioritise its exposure. The photographer sets the required aperture, and the camera’s metering selects the shutter speed. Wide aperture equates to fast shutter speed, small aperture gives longer exposure times. 

A three coloured light is visible when looking through the viewfinder. If the light is green, the shutter speed is fast enough for a handheld exposure. Yellow the shutter speed is below 1/30 of a second and great care is needed holding the camera during exposure, red, well take a chance! It may be primitive, but the system works. 

The composition is everything in photography. Why not let the camera look after the exposure? Understanding the lens and depth of focus is key to the composition. Reviewing images is the way to learn: the reviewing process demands the photographer asks: Is the picture in focus, have I cropped tight enough, is the image telling a story, is the image conveying information? The more the photographer asks the questions while reviewing her images, the better her creative subconscious composes images ‘at the time the exposure is made’.

40mm SMC-M Pancake Lens

This lens has a poor reputation, with various reviewers calling it ‘soft’, a term which means it resolves ‘unsharp’ images. The problem with this little lens is it is (for some) challenging to focus. From closest focus distance to infinity takes less than one-third of a turn of the focus ring. At the closest focus distance, three millimetres of movement either side of the sharp focus point and the probability is the image will look soft. Inevitably the inability of the photographer to focus the lens means its design limitation becomes the excuse for poor camera technique. The resulting unsharp images indicate the lens has an unfair reputation.

Reviewers also comment the 40mm produces low contrast imagery. Poor focus flattens the image, and many lenses have lower contrast at open apertures. Contrast is therefore considered as a pointer to the quality of the lens. The better it can resolve an image with clearly defined separation of shade, the higher the contrast. So, the more defined the micro-contrast, which is in effect the line or separation point between the two shades, the better the image.

As we close the aperture on most lenses, sharpness and contrast increases. My preference is for open apertures of f1.4 to f4.0 because I prefer to isolate the subject in the recorded image. I will be documenting aspects of a City, so a little leeway is needed the choice is for an aperture of f4.0 to f8.0, the reasons for this will be put forward in the next article when we review the pictures taken over the next week.

Although, while considering contrast one should also consider film choice, and, for black and white photography the developer, time and temperature combination. These factors affect the contrast aspect of the negative. As does the grade of paper selected during printing. Never underestimate the importance of consistent technique. A photographer who uses, one film, one developer and learns to be consistent can produce bright images time after time. 

Many photographers disagree: their argument is different film/developer combinations offer great compositional opportunities, and there is no disputing the evidence. A counter-argument is; learn every aspect of one film and THEN add another to the photographic arsenal. 

My trio of films is PanF in Rodinal (my favourite combination), followed by FP4plus developed in Rodinal, and finally, HP5plus developed in ID11. Do not think I’m unable to use the right combination for differing situations. There is immense pleasure in printing an image where a fast film is pushed to the limit. Although, most digital cameras can record a black cat in a coal bunker better than any traditional film. So why bother wasting expensive film when the pixel is the celebrity guest at theatres and concerts?

The 40mm focal length is associated with the same field of view as the human eyes. My compositions attempt to record ‘your’ world from ‘my’ intimate perspective. Tight and compressed imagery, combined with dramatic shadows and contrast is the way I’ll photograph Berlin. This is an insight into the way I live my life, can you reflect on your life within your imagery?

Buying Cameras, Lenses and Film:

With continuous searching, bargains are still to be found. The purchase price of £40:00 for my copy of the lens is lower than the £100:00 most sellers ask. One Japanese seller is asking nearly £280:00 plus postage for a 40mm Pancake: Yes, these small compact lenses have a genre: “pancake”. Remember, where one man leads others to follow, the lens is sure to increase in value. And, as many of us know, once someone pays a high price for an item, it will go from mediocre performer to stellar diamond.  

Pentax MV Compact SLR
Pentax MV Compact SLR

At present (2018) enthusiasm for analogue photography is growing: the side effect of this is increasing costs of equipment. Film photographers must begin to accept ‘35mm equipment will continue to rise in value’. Because, apart from a four thousand pound Leica film camera, no others are in production. As the price of available cameras rises, fewer people will feel inclined to try the medium. In the worse case, this suggests, in the long term, analogue photography will decline.

Once the decline happens: It is possible many small film producers cease production. I know this is a contentious statement, but I would guide any photographer to buy only the products of well-established brands. For my part loyalty to Ilford products is a contribution to a stable and established company and therefore, dedication to them will keep film alive. 

Would the photographer rather have one rock solid producer with a long-term future, than ten small and fragile companies struggling to survive? The difficulty with small producers is we fall in love with a film, and it goes out of production, and in the end, you have to return to the established brands. They are like love affairs, they leave nothing but heartbreak. For example Film producers Adox and Foma have see-sawed production and tethered on the precipice of closure for decades. Yes, they are enjoying a well-deserved harvest for the moment, the question is for how long? 

We can discover Zen in photography. Waking up each morning accepting I know nothing, and there is everything to learn: is my Zen. My sincere belief is we can better our life journey by viewing the world with open eyes and an open-minded attitude. Photography encourages us to do this, with one proviso: the images we record should represent the world and environment on a personal level. By allowing people into one’s world, we demonstrate, truth, integrity and creativity.

Stay focussed – Stay sharp – Creativity is the Future.

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