Pacific Northwest · Photography · Seattle

Impulse buys, a 1959 mechanical beauty, and learning to see as the camera

Zeiss Ikon

Last spring, overwhelmed with work, I’d take little breaks and venture off into cyberspace reading about music and photography. At some point I discovered Goodwill auctions, and decided I’d explore the listings for cameras. Maybe, I thought, I’d find a steal of a deal on a good lens.

When I saw the Zeiss Ikon Contina pictured above, I was immediately allured by the mechanics and glass of the storied German company (as it turns out, the lens was not produced by Zeiss). I couldn’t find out too much about the camera (other Continas I identified online looked different), but I put in a bid anyway. Then I won despite the absurdly low price, and immediately regretted the decision.

Why was I spending money on something I didn’t need? What if the camera was garbage, as many things on Goodwill auctions turn out to be?

When it arrived, I was surprised at how clean it appeared, packaged in a leather case inside another leather case, with all the original manuals included. I had read online that selenium meters (the bubbly thing on the left) burnt out over time due to light exposure, but when I tested the built-in meter against an iPhone app, it was spot on. All the more impressive as I finally identified this particular model as the Zeiss Ikon Contina III, which was manufactured between 1959-1960. Here was a camera pushing sixty and it looked and appeared to work like new?

Of course, I would have to take it out for a spin. So I popped in a roll of Fuji Superia 400, following carefully the included instructions.

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Hannah painting, her escape from work last spring.

The camera posed two challenges for me: 1. I had no experience zone focusing (focusing based on estimated distance rather than an image through a lens); 2. I had no experience operating a fully manual and mechanical camera.

Trusting that sixty year old selenium meter, though, I quickly adapted to the shutter/aperture dial around the lens. Focusing was at the same time more challenging because of what I couldn’t see, and more liberating because of, well, what I couldn’t see. I could either stress about focusing, or I could do my best to make images with the information available; I chose the latter.

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A view of Lake Washington from Seward Park.

I shot most of the roll down in Seattle’s Seward Park, and it sure was fun. In a lot of ways, I felt like a kid with a new toy.

When the roll was done, I wound it up with the camera’s knob and stored it away to develop later. Then our summer started, and we traveled to Iceland, journeyed across the United States by car, and prepared to go back to work. Finally this past month I sent the film off for processing and, only seven or so months later, finally have the images from that 1959/60 mechanical wonder.

They are sharp, the color rendering is pleasantly retro, and despite the information limitations I made more good shots with this camera than the rolls I just got back from my 1980s SLR. Consider me fully impressed.

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My beautiful best friend.

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I think a finger may have slipped in front of the frame on this and the next shot. Still, I’m impressed with the detail rendered by this camera.

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Pacific Northwest · Washington State

Getting lost in a 20 acre cornmaze

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This summer was truly a whirlwind. Weddings, Iceland, and a cross country road trip. Thousands of photographs, stories, laughs, memories.

But as I’ve found over the years, I’m most productive at sharing those photographs, stories, laughs and memories when I don’t really have time. Photography and blogging are a release when life gets too busy. After our road trip, I was working in tiny increments at home, and otherwise had way too much free time. Unsurprisingly, I still haven’t processed the photographs from our road trip.

So, as life has picked up steam in the past month, and as I find myself drowning in work, suddenly the camera and this blog are once again calling my name.

Hannah and I had planned for some time to head out to Washington’s famous Bob’s Corn Maze this past Saturday. It was all the more appropriate when the day began with some really difficult news (I’ll share more thoughts on this later). Suddenly, getting lost in a corn maze became both a physical and a mental escape. You don’t need to say a lot when you’re navigating the twists and turns and dead ends of 10 foot corn stalks, nor do you have much time to get too inside your head.

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This year was the third in a row that Hannah and I have welcomed Autumn with a visit to Bob’s. It’s become a tradition of sorts. Pulling up just as the farm opens, standing in line for fresh apple and pumpkin donuts, hot apple cider, kettle corn. Hopping on the hay ride across the road to the maze.

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Last year, we did the corn maze just after heavy rains. Unprepared, we found our shoes and pants submerged in puddles of mud. This year we came prepared, but the ground was sturdy and dry.

We ended the day with a visit to Chateau St. Michelle’s winery in Woodinville, WA. They make one of Hannah’s favorite Rieslings. Since we were last there, they have undergone massive renovations. It seems that they’ve reevaluated who their customer base is: fancier, less rustic, more private labels, higher prices. It’s still a great spot on a gorgeous estate. The wines are fantastic, the people are friendly. And it was a great way to recover from the twists and turns of the corn maze.

Camping · Pacific Northwest · Photography

Three days in nature and a refreshed mind

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Max the dog enjoying views of Mount Rainier. Shot with Nikon D5300 and 35mm f/1.8.

Some years ago I read that our brains reset after only three days in nature, disconnected from the hustle and bustle of human civilization.

“On the third day my senses recalibrate—I smell things and hear things I didn’t before,” Strayer says. The early evening sun has saturated the red canyon walls; the group is mellow and hungry in that satisfying, campout way. Strayer, in a rumpled T-shirt and with a slight sunburn, is definitely looking relaxed. “I’m more in tune with nature,” he goes on. “If you can have the experience of being in the moment for two or three days, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking.”

There’s been some scientific examination of this theory suggesting that this is true. Anecdotally, I know it to be true. For me, anyway.

This weekend, we got away to Alder Lake Park, not far from Mount Rainier National Park. A few tents, grilling, cooking over the campfire, eating and drinking too much, walking and hiking for hours, taking a dip in the lake, jumping over garter snakes…

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It was all very much needed, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

My wife loves her birthday, and I love to celebrate my wife. Two years ago, she marked the day with a pub crawl in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Last year, we escaped to the Olympic National Forest and Victoria, BC. This year, we used her birthday as a reason to take our new camp gear out for a spin.

(Editor’s Note: Hannah’s actual birthday is today. Happy birthday to her!)

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But it also came just as the year of too much to do is wrapping up. I pushed myself way too hard for way too long, but I’ve reached a number of important professional milestones that move me a bit closer to the finish line. Camping this weekend was a chance to reset, to refresh my mind, to take in the stars on clear, beautiful nights.

It was nice setting aside the electronics. Being unable to respond to e-mails. To spend time with my wife and good friends, unencumbered with the responsibilities of home and work. To sip a glass of scotch sitting around a fire pit late into the night. To take a moment and smell the blooming flowers.

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Summer is almost here, and that first taste of it has me aching for more.

Pacific Northwest · Photography · Seattle

Vintage lenses, modern cameras, and a sunny Seattle day

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The view from Seward Park, overlooking Lake Washington onto Mount Rainier. Shot with Nikon D5300 and Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 (PC, AI) vintage lens.

The sun is finally out. No, seriously. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but Seattle broke a 122 year old record for rain this year. We’ve only been recording rainfall in the area for… 122 years.

In a recent post, I talked about the need to have things to do outside work. Things that are completely removed from work. For me, that’s meant revisiting the things I’ve always liked but haven’t always made time for.

In fact, that’s the raison d’être for this blog. I’ve been making lots of photographs, but the stories go lost on Flickr and other social media.

Hannah and I invested in a camera last year before our wedding, with the help of generous gifts from friends and family. It would be good to memorialize all the year’s big events, to take on our honeymoon, and to document the beginning of our married lives. Plus, I have wanted a DSLR for a decade, at least.

But while I fantasized about a DSLR for years, I cut my teeth on a good old 35mm point and shoot. I remember trying to talk my godmother out of her extra cash at the big box store to buy me a camera when I was too young to know much about them, other than that I liked to document the things I saw. One day when we were at a garage sale, I found a camera on a table. “Go ask them how much it costs,” my godmother urged me. So I did. “25 cents,” the lady at the garage sale told me.

And so it started.

I cycled through a number of point and shoots and disposable cameras in the years that followed (although that 25 cent camera is still at my parents’!), but when I took a photo class in high school my dad let me borrow his 35mm Canon Rebel. I remember when he was saving up for the camera. We’d stop at the store on the weekends to add some more cash to the layaway, until finally he was able to bring it home. He documented the early years of my little sister’s life with that film SLR, and by the time I was using it, though we all had transitioned to digital cameras, it was still an advanced, automated camera that took great photos.

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That’s the kid sister (except she’s not a kid anymore!). Shot with my dad’s Canon Rebel and kit lens on Ilford HP5 400. Developed and printed in a high school darkroom.

Fast forward to 2017, and we have a neat, advanced DSLR. The Nikon D5300 does a lot great, and paired with the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 I picked up last year, it can help to produce some really nice photos.

About a month before my birthday, though, I started to wonder again about film. The DSLR can do just about everything I ask of it, but in some ways it can do too much. I stumbled across a good deal on a 1980s Nikon FG with an E-series 50mm f/1.8 lens (you can read about the FG here at Casual Photophile). I’m still waiting on the first four rolls of film to return, but I was hooked pretty quickly. The camera has everything you need, and no more. Plus, the tactile response of the all-manual lens – something I’ve never experienced even when I was shooting a film SLR – just felt right.

So I made the impulsive decision to buy another classic, all-manual lens. I justified it to myself because – thank Nikon! – these vintage lenses still work on the modern DSLR. But it wasn’t just any lens. Nope, it was the classic Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 (you can read about it here at Casual Photophile), the legendary lens used by Steve McCurry (in one of its variations, anyway) for the modern Mona Lisa, “Afghan Girl.”

The lens is a joy to shoot with. It’s sharp, renders beautiful color and bokeh (the out-of-focus area), and resolves detail really impressively. And my copy is from the early 1970s, right after the first major redesign of the lens’ elements and groupings.

When I get those rolls of film back, I’ll have more to share. I finally had the chance this weekend to take the 105mm out attached to the DSLR, and I’m really impressed with the lens. It’s fun to handle, easy to focus, and helps me achieve the photos I want to take.

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What the lens is really famous for is portrait photography. I haven’t had the chance to shoot any human subjects, but I have shot some non-humans. The lens really does have a character of its own that it brings to bear on the images I make. And I like that a whole lot.

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Camping · Pacific Northwest · Photography · Seattle

Escaping the city in the Pacific Northwest

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Cape Disappointment Light House. Shot with Nikon D5300 and 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G.

I love living in Seattle. It’s a great city, with lots of great stuff to do, tasty food, and mostly wonderful people. Sure, the drivers are pretty bad, but that’s okay.

But sometimes you need to get outside of the city. To breathe in fresh air and take in the views.

My wife and I have invested in some quality camp gear that we’re taking out for the first time in a couple weeks. She wasn’t sure if she’d like sleeping in a tent – she’s still not really sure. But last September, we roughed it at Cape Disappointment.

When we drove cross country to move to Seattle, we hit a number of wonderful and beautiful places. But as we passed through Coeur d’Alene, Idaho the land started to flatten out. We saw the rust of Washington’s eastern urban center Spokane and the trees started disappearing. When we did see trees, they were covered in thick smoke in the distance, in the middle of summer’s wildfire season.

Tumbleweeds. I remember seeing tumbleweeds and not much else for a couple hours, at least.

But then we hit the Columbia River and the Cascade Mountains. We parked the car and ate our lunch overlooking the massive river and taking in the miles of mountains. From there, the landscape only got greener, even as we approached Seattle. Think of Dorothy approaching the Emerald City and you’ve got a pretty decent idea of what we experienced.

For the most part, when we head out into the wonders of the Pacific Northwest, it’s just a day trip. We’ll park the car and go hiking, or hang out along the water. But it’s never enough, really.

My friend, Chris, and I left a day early for Cape Disappointment this past September. We decided we’d set up camp and relax while my wife and our other friend finished up the work week.

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The camp is right on the Pacific Ocean, approximately where Lewis and Clark ended their expedition across the Louisiana Purchase. That first day, the weather was incredible. We watched the sun set over the Pacific, walked the beach playing fetch with my buddy’s dog under the midnight moonlight, and kicked back with hotdogs on sticks the next afternoon. Plus beer.

Waking up that first morning reminded me why I love camping so much. The crickets and birds chirped, the dew covered the tents and grass, and it all felt right.

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The sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

We were less lucky by the time the others joined us. The sun had already set, and rather than the camp being lit by the full moon, cloud cover came in. Just as the car pulled up, the clouds released a light rain. Not enough to distinguish the camp fire, but enough to make us all cold and wet to the bones.

The rain barely gave over the next 36 hours. The tent that arrived with the two latecomers was missing a rainflap, and we tried to make do by covering it in plastic. Poor Kevin woke up wet and cold and relocated to the backseat of the car. Good thing, too, as the tent collapsed in the course of the night.

Hannah and I were luckier. We were dry and warm inside the tent, if nothing else. And after two nights sleeping on the ground by the Pacific Ocean, Hannah had not yet given up on the idea that maybe, just maybe, a tent of our own was a good idea.