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.

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.

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.

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.


Photography · Seattle

Picture This: Seattle in bloom

105mm f/2.5 @ f/5.6

Summer is truly, really here. Just look at the gardens!

I got out of the apartment yesterday with nothing but my camera and that vintage 105mm f/2.5 lens I like so much. I didn’t find a whole lot I wanted to make pictures of, but there were a lot of beautiful flowers in the neighborhood gardens.

Does anyone know what kind of flower this is?

Picture This is a Daydreams in Analog feature focusing on a single photograph.

Pacific Northwest · Photography · Seattle

Vintage lenses, modern cameras, and a sunny Seattle day

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.

Learn to Fly
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.


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.


Camping · Pacific Northwest · Photography · Seattle

Escaping the city in the Pacific Northwest

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.


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.

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.

Maisy · Photography · Seattle

Putting life’s puzzle pieces together

This is Maisy, and she likes to steal puzzle pieces. Shot with Nikon D5300 and 35mm f/1.8.

When my wife and I first moved in together after a year long distance, she made eminently clear her most important demand: as soon as possible, we would get a cat. I assured her that as soon as possible, we’d get a cat.

But Seattle rents stymied our plans.

There’s something really cool about living in a growing city. There is life everywhere. Old, vacant, dilapidated buildings are transformed overnight.

This is a sea change for me. Don’t get me wrong; when I go home to Buffalo now, things are very different from before, and mostly in a good way. But Buffalo’s “renaissance” really picked up speed after I had mostly left. Growing up, Buffalo was mostly in decline. People were leaving, rapidly. Beautiful old buildings were being torn down. Entire neighborhoods were razed, with no new development to take their place.

But there’s a dark side to this type of fast-paced development. When we first moved into our dinky apartment, we considered purchasing a small home. But in the fewer than three years that we’ve lived in South Seattle, even 600 square foot homes have doubled in price and now hang well above the quarter million mark. Yikes.

Apartment hunting has been, in some ways, even worse. We were excited when new apartment complexes started popping up in Columbia City, our little corner of the city. But when Hannah called to inquire after prices, we learned that studio apartments started at around $2,000.


When we finally put the puzzle away, Maisy stood atop her conquered territory. Shot with Nikon D5300 and 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G.


So we buckled down in our little apartment, waiting for the right moment. Some time later, and maybe at a time when we weren’t really ready, Maisy entered our life.

She’s had a storied seven year life. But when exigent circumstances lead friends of ours to seek a new home for their beautiful, friendly, and very much loved cat, we offered to take her in on a trial run.

In retrospect, there was nothing trial about it. As soon as Maisy claimed the chair in our living room as her own, we knew she was staying for good. And truly, she has made our lives fuller. We now have a bratty, furry, and funny fuzzball demanding our attention. All the time. And we are happier for it.

Even when she tears apart Hannah’s puzzles and slaps the pieces all over the floor.

Photography · Seattle

There is life outside work

The Seattle Space Needle on a pleasant April afternoon. Shot with Nikon D5300 and 35mm f/1.8.

The past few months have been grueling professionally. I’ve given up a lot of time and energy to my work. It will be worth it, I keep assuring myself. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Only another month or so before I can relax.

In reality, life is mostly good, and I have very few complaints. But I am tired of being tired. Of feeling intellectually drained.

When I started my doctoral program, I quickly realized that work can’t be the only thing I do. With this kind of work, it’s too easy to take it home with you. So I started exploring the types of hobbies I was into in high school – music and photography – and some new ones – cooking and mixing cocktails.

The weekend before my birthday last month, my wife told me that I was booked the entire Saturday. No work, she insisted. No other plans.

The morning alarm went off early enough that Saturday, and my wife and brother-in-law told me to put on shoes for walking and to grab my camera. After grabbing breakfast at probably the best breakfast diner I’ve ever been to – seriously, if you’re ever in Seattle, check out Geraldine’s in Columbia City – we hopped the light rail downtown, before transferring on the Monorail to Seattle Center.


My wonderful wife found a way to combine all my hobbies into a single day. We visited the Seattle Pacific Science Center (finally), and other than playing with all the sciency stuff like little kids we went to a laser light show. But not just any laser light show – a BEATLES laser light show! True love, and all that good stuff. The day culminated in a birthday barbecue back at our apartment.

In the midst of way too much work and way too little time, it’s been important to find ways to ground myself. Sometimes that requires external intervention, like my wife’s that Saturday. But sometimes it takes little more than grabbing a camera and heading out for a long, quiet walk.

Photography · Seattle

The sun also rises

Seahawk swooping
A red tailed hawk swoops down on its duckling prey, before retreating. Shot with Nikon D5300 and 35mm f/1.8.

This winter and spring have been awfully wet, even by Seattle standards. As friends and family will attest, I’m always insisting that “Seattle gets way less rain – and almost no snow! – than my east coast hometown.” 

Not this year. We’ve been soaked with four feet of rain between October and April, more than at any other time in recorded history. And that’s, like, a bummer.

A perfect storm of way too much rain and way too much work has made this winter both far too long and far too short. So when the sun does come out it’s cause for celebration. Give me some of that Vitamin D, please.

Yesterday, my wife, brother-in-law and I wandered down to Seattle’s Seward Park. The park is a forested green thumb sticking out into Lake Washington, and we can see it (if we squint) from our apartment’s entrance. The outer loop features about 2.5 miles of paved road along the lake, with a number of pathways running through the middle.

But while the return of the sun sure is good for my mood, I’m not so sure it’s as good for the ducks. As we entered the path, we noticed three adult ducks and a single, lonesome duckling swimming in the lake. As my wife wondered aloud what happened to the other ducklings, we noticed a red-tailed hawk swooping down as the ducks dove under water. Thanks to some courageous crows (though I assure you I am no fan of crows!), the hawk retreated without the duckling.

Nature, right?


I’m ready for summer.