Here are a few more shots taken with the Fujifilm Superia Xtra film. I find the grain in the first shot particu;arly off-putting and it’s only marginally better in the fourth shot, which is my favourite from the roll. I believe this is one of the many films Fujifilm are pulling from the market. If so, it’s no great loss.
Disappointing. I expected more from this film. Partly because it is from Fujifilm. Partly because the results from the last colour 400 film I tried – Kodak Ultramax – were unexpectedly good. While images from this film taken in good light look well, once shadows appear so does the grain to a much greater extent than with the Kodak film. While it is small and relatively uniform this only makes it worse since it contributes to a kind of smudged appearance at times. Harder, more random grain would be better. So, a decent film on a bright day but a distant second to the Ultramax when shooting in the shade.
Here are a few archtectural shots taken mostly in the full light of the day.
Less than ten weeks left and 21 rolls of film. I’ll be leaving Bulgaria for good in mid-August and while doing a little organising I opened the bag I keep my film in. Twenty-one rolls. I don’t recall buying that much since I prefer to pick up only a few rolls at a time, so I’m not at all sure where they all came from.
I probably thought I would have more time for photography while here, but then work came along and the hours disappeared. The COVID-19 restrictions didn’t help either – though I think that was more a matter of affecting my mental attitude rather than any legal or physical constraints.
So, back in Bulgaria but still off work after a long weekend in Munich, I dusted off my Minolta XD, loaded it up with Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400, and headed out for a leisurely walk through the city. I haven’t previously used this film and as far as I know Fujifilm are gradually withdrawing it from the market. So if it turns out to be wonderful, too bad.
I also decided to use my 135mm Rokkor MD f2.8 which I have had for a while but rarely used since I nearly always shoot somewhere between 35mm and 70 mm. Since Superia is an ISO400 film and it was a bright day most of the time I was shooting the lens at f11 or f16. At the end of the afternoon I dropped the film off at my local developers and I’m now in that period of anticipation, waiting to see if some of the shots that I think were quite good live up to my expectations, anf if some of the ones I’ve dismissed or forgotten turn out to be not too bad after all. I will, of course, post the best of them here when I get the scans.
Tomorrow is another day off and I’m hoping to shoot at least one more roll.
Key Bridge Marriott, Rosslyn VA / Konica C35, Agfa Vista 400
This is the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel seen from Rosslyn Gateway Park. This was one of the first Marriott hotels, originally built in 1959 and I believe it is the oldest Marriott still in operation. Last year the Arlington County Board approved a makeover for the hotel and construction of new residential developments on the site so soon this view will be gone, replaced by more nondescript high rises jammed together in too small a space.
I have now gone an entire year without buying a camera – impressive. My last purchase, almost a year ago to the day, was something of an impulse buy. We had visitors in town at the time and I and some of my colleagues were assigned as their minders. On the agenda was a courtesy call with some VIPs. Naturally, we were not in the room and as time passed it became clear that the VIPs and and our guests were getting along nicely. We drank coffee and played with our phones. I happened to take a look at the Used Photo Pro website, something I do most days.
From time to time a camera shows up there that I’m convinced I must have. I’m sure I’ve hit the ‘buy’ button and started filling in my details half a dozen times before talking myself back from the edge. This time I jumped. A Nikon F2A, black, and in great condition. Who could resist?
Nico van Dijk’s F2 serial number matrix dates my camera to 1974, between August and October. This would imply that the head that came with the camera is not the original, since the DP-11 head that makes this an F2A was designed to work with AI lenses which only appeared in 1977. The DP-11 uses CdS cells for metering and has a simple swinging needle display. I had read, while waiting impatiently for the camera to arrive, that the needle in these heads can sometimes be quite jumpy but on mine it moves very smoothly. I also noticed that the light seals, while not perfect, are in better condition than I would have expected for a 45 year old camera. I suspect that either the camera has been very well looked after or has been serviced at some point. I didn’t need another camera but sitting next to my FM2n and collection of Nikkor lenses it looks rather well.
Unfortunately the dark nights, work and then COVID-19 conspired to keep the camera on the shelf most of the time, but here are some shots from the first roll I put through it back in March last year. I happened to have a couple of rolls of Kodak Ultramax 400, a film I had never previously used, so it was also an opportunity to try it out. I brought my 24 and 105 Nikkors, starting with the former and swapping half way through.
With limited time and a primary goal of ensuring that my F2 was in full working order I chose to visit familiar and favourite sites in downtown Sofia. First, the former Royal Palace, now the National Gallery. I managed to forget that I was shooting with a manual camera, so put the camera to my eye, framed and pressed the button. Once it dawned on my what I had done and I finished cursing my own stupidity I reframed, adjusted exposure and took another shot.
Just past the National Gallery is the Russian Orthodox Church, properly known as the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker. It’s highly photogenic but I have yet to get a picture of it that I think does it justice. The first one below was taken with the 24mm lens, the second one with the 105mm.
Next up is the spectacular Alexander Nevsky Cathedral of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This is another building I photograph a lot with out ever being entirely happy with the results, but I keep trying. I used around one third of the roll shooting the cathedral. Here is a wide shot of the whole building and some detail from the beautifully elaborate roof.
This sculpture below commemorates Stefan Stambolov who fought for Bulgarian independence from the Ottoman Empire and went on to become the country’s ninth Prime Minister. The cleavage in the upper part of the sculpture references Stambolov’s assassination when his killers, knowing that Stambolov wore an armoured vest, struck his head repeatedly with knives and fractured his skull. Stambolov died a few days later.
Probably my favourite building in the city is the Ivan Vazov National Theatre which stands in a pedestrianised square by a small park known as the City Garden – a beautiful building in a beautiful setting. I took six pictures of the theatre. Here they are.
On to the City Museum, formerly the public baths, and the nearby mineral springs. This is the point at which I switched from the 24 to the 105 with the first two shots taken with the former. I used the 105 for a closer look at the beautiful detail on the exterior of the building and for the two candid shots.
And finally, this is the head of a large sculpture of a lion at the Memorial to the Unknown Soldier which is visible in the background. This is quite a tricky shot to get because normally Sofia’s kids are clambering all over the lion. I think I waited about fifteen minutes before there was a brief lull. I wasn’t convinced at the time that it was worth the wait but I’m quite pleased with the way it turned out.
The F2 performed perfectly throughout and the results suggest the metering and shutter speeds are accurate. While it is a big, heavy camera I did not find it to be uncomfortable to carry or handle. I appreciated the large, clear viewfinder and the simple but functional and uncluttered display – shutter speed, aperture and simple swinging needle.
As for Kodak Ultramax, this film was a very pleasant surprise. It’s not nearly as grainy as I expected and the colours are nicely saturated without being excessive. It does have a tendency towards a certain ‘creaminess’, particularly with white tones, but it’s not unpleasant. I tend to view white balance as an aesthetic rather than a technical criterion being primarily a matter of taste. My own personal taste tends towards a more neutral rendering so the only real adjustments I made to these images in Lightroom was to tweak the white balance. Most of the images above got a minus adjustment on temperature (mostly in the -4 to -8 range) and a plus adjustment on tint (between +6 and +12). Overall, though, for a consumer grade and very affordable film it delivered impressive results. This is definitely one I will use again.
For more on the F2 here are a few reviews from Casual Photophile, Emulsive, Dan Schneider and Jim Grey. And here is a video walk through with Travis Mortz. Finally, here is Nikon’s own brief history of the F2’s development and launch.
Gateway Park, Rosslyn VA / Konica C35, Agfa Vista 400
Tomb of the Unknown Warrior / Nikon F2A, Nikkor AI-S 105mm f2.5, Kodak Ultramax 400
Sofia University / Minolta XD, Rokkor MD 24mm f2.8, Kodak Ektar
Lion Bridge / Minolta XD, Rokkor 50mm f1.7, Kodak Ektar
St Nedelya Church, Nikon FM2n, Nikkor AI-S 105mm f2.5, Kodak Ektar