Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Photographic Bargain: the 135mm ƒ/3.5 Pentax Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens


The 135mm ƒ/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar (or the almost-identical older Super-Takumar) lens for M42 screw-mount cameras from Asahi Optical Company of Japan (more recently known as Pentax) is one of the great bargains for film photographers and some digital photographers.

The 135mm focal length was popular through much of the 20th century. Leica and Zeiss sold 135mm lenses starting in the 1930s, and during the single-lens-reflex boom of the 1960s, all the Japanese companies made 135 lenses for their respective cameras. Often that was the second lens a budding photographer bought, until the marketers convinced amateurs that they "needed" zoom lenses.
Honeywell Pentax advertisement, Modern Photography, June 1968.
For more information about the wonderful Spotmatic cameras, Casualphotofile wrote an excellent summary in 2017. Mike Johnston wrote about the Spotmatic in Theonlinephotographer in 2017 and explained why the Pentax 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens was one of the finest 50s in the film era.

M42 thread mount

M42 refers to the thread-mount of 42×1 mm used to attach the lens to the camera body. This was a common size in the 1960s and 1970s, and European, Russian, and Japanese companies made hundreds of M42 lenses in various focal lengths. Many people consider Asahi Optical Company's lenses to be among the best optically and mechanically in that era. It is common to buy an old Takumar lens that will still operate perfectly, while a drastically more expensive Leica lens of similar age will likely have haze or film on the inner elements and need professional cleaning and re-lubrication. The Takumar lenses have a following among serious photographers today because they can be mounted on most mirrorless digital cameras. The M42 mount lost popularity in the 1970s because it was slow to exchange lenses, and companies like Nikon and Canon used faster bayonet mounts on their cameras.

The 35mm ƒ/3.5 Super-Takumar or SMC Takumar is another under-appreciated gem.  I tested my bargain 35 around town and at the Tomato Place.


Asahi (or Pentax - the names are confusing) made a M42 135mm lens as early as 1957. It was modified over the following years with improved coatings and different cosmetics, but the optical formula remained approximately the same. The multi-coated version I have was, according to one source, in production from 1971 to 1977. It is a relatively simple design of 4 elements in 4 groups.
Advertisement from Cambridge Camera Exchange, Popular Photography, January 1981, p. 164.
Advertisement from Cambridge Camera Exchange, Popular Photography, December 1985, p. 105.
Production of Takumar M42 lenses ended in 1976 or 1977, when Pentax switched to its K bayonet mount. But some of the M42 lenses, including the 135, were available brand new as late as the mid-1980s. In the 1981 advertisement above, the 135mm lens is only $79.95, a bargain even in those days. Today, you can buy them on eBay in the range of $20 to $50.


My lens has the label "Super-Multi-Coated" on the front ring. This refers to multi-coating on the lens elements to reduce flare. Asahi introduced multi-coating in 1971 and advertised widely to emphasize how it was a unique technology. That is not entirely correct because other companies were already using multi-coating on specific elements in their optics. Asahi did not invent multi-coating, having bought patents from Optical Coatings Laboratories Inc. (OCLI), California. Regardless, Asahi's advertising was effective, and soon customers demanded multi-coating for all their lenses, whether they needed it or not. It tended to be most effective on complex wide angle lenses with many elements. On a simple long lens like the 135, multi-coating would have minimal benefit. Regardless, the best way to reduce flare is to always use a hood, and the 135 Takumar was supplied with a long deep hood.

Despite the obvious benefits of a hood, most point-and-shoot cameras of the 1980s and 1990s did not have any way to attach a hood for two reasons: 1. Users had been told that multi-coating negated the need for a hood (wrong); 2. casual users would not use them even if supplied (lazy).


Humphreys Street, Itta Bena, Mississippi
Itta Bena, Mississippi
I owned a Leica 135mm ƒ/4.0 Tele-Elmar lens for 20 years but used it for maybe 20 pictures. We just never bonded. But this Pentax 135 has been in a cabinet for who knows how long, also unused. And increasingly I am appreciating its ability to compress space, especially for urban scenes and railroad tracks. I am an old geezer now; my viewpoint and photo interests have changed. The two frames above are from Itta Bena in the Mississippi Delta on a hazy, glarey day.
Crenshaw, Mississippi
Crenshaw, Mississippi
Crenshaw is a small Delta town on Hwy 3 a short distance northeast of Clarksdale. Most of the commercial block is abandoned, and some of the shops have lost their roofs.
Webb Mississippi (Kodak BW400CN film)
Main Street, Webb, Mississippi
Webb is off Hwy US 49E southeast of Clarksdale and along the Little Tallahatchee River. It is another semi-abandoned town with most of the late-19th and early 20th century commercial buildings empty. These two photographs are on Kodak BW400CN film.
Farm fields, Rte 32 near Webb, Mississippi
Finally, I want to do some more experiments with trees. So many farm fields have these lone, proud trees rising from the flat soil, apparently immune to lightning and other hazards. So maybe I will start taking "pretty" pictures. Beware.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Mouldering away, the Levee Street Tank Farm, Vicksburg, Mississippi

A petroleum tank farm sits at the junction of Levee and Fairground Streets. The facility has been unused since before I moved to Vicksburg in the mid-1980s. For many years, the fence was intact and the gate closed. Then, for several years, I saw a "For Sale" by the General Services Administration sign. The GSA is the agency that manages real estate and other property (like motor vehicles) of the US Government. Then there were no signs at all for a few years.
Levee Street tank farm, April 7, 2018
In April, the gate was open, no one was around - it was too good to resist.
Former compressor building? 
The brick building on the right in the photograph above once must have contained compressors or other heavy industrial machinery. Evidence for this are the concrete supports, now semi-engulfed by vines and jungle. I have watched this building for years as its roof collapsed. 
View of Fairground Street Keystone Bridge, April 8, 1990, 4×5" Fujichrome transparency from Tachihara camera, 75mm f/8 Schneider Super-Angulon lens
Many years ago, my daughter and I climbed one of the metal stairs to the top of a tank. I carried up my 4×5"camera and tripod. There was a pungent smell of petroleum products coming from open valves. No one cared about fumes in 1990? From the top was a great view of the old Fairground Street Keystone bridge. The bridge still stands, but it has been closed to car and pedestrian traffic for 20 years and part of the approach on the west side has collapsed.
This is another 1990 view of tanks and piping, taken on Fujichrome 4×5" film with a 75mm f/8 Schneider Super-Angulon lens. Surprisingly, last week, when I biked by the site, I saw a fellow on a lawnmower cutting the grass. Someone is doing some maintenance there.

The 2018 black and white photographs are from Kodak TMax 100 film with a Pentax Spotmatic camera and the 24mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens. This is fine early-1970s equipment. This version of the lens was made from 1972 to 1976, has 9 elements in 8 groups, and features multi-coating on the glass surfaces to reduce flare and reflections from the internal air-glass surfaces. I mounted the camera on a tripod.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

High Water: Vicksburg's March 2018 Crest

Just before the crest, March 12, 2018, Ford Road, Vicksburg, Mississippi
The high water of 2018 in Vicksburg was on March 16 at a level of 49.9 ft on the Vicksburg gauge (which is located at the old Mississippi River bridge, the one that carries US 80). What does 49.9 ft mean? As a comparison, the table below from the National Weather Service lists other high water crests:

Historic Crests
(1) 57.10 ft on 05/19/2011
(2) 56.20 ft on 05/04/1927
(3) 53.20 ft on 02/21/1937
(4) 52.80 ft on 06/06/1929
(5) 52.50 ft on 04/28/1922
(6) 51.60 ft on 05/13/1973
(7) 51.50 ft on 02/15/1916
(8) 51.00 ft on 04/20/2008
(9) 50.23 ft on 01/15/2016
(10) 50.20 ft on 04/16/1897

Low Water Records
(1) -7.00 ft on 02/03/1940
(2) -6.80 ft on 11/01/1939
(3) -5.80 ft on 01/06/1964

As you can see, the water level of the Mississippi River as well as the Yazoo Canal and Port of Vicksburg can range about 50 ft or 15 m in many years. This poses a challenge to construction of docks and loading facilities. At Vicksburg, the definition of "flood" is when the water reaches 43.0 ft on the gauge. 
Flood Categories (in feet)
Major Flood Stage:50
Moderate Flood Stage:46
Flood Stage:43
Action Stage:35
The low-lying land north of the Anderson-Tully Worldwide on North Washington Street has always been vulnerable to flooding. The wood facility has its own protective levee, but the Ford and Kings Subdivisions just to the north begin to flood at about 44 ft.  
Ford Road, Vicksburg, March 12, 2018
Ford Road, Vicksburg, March 12, 2018
I do not know the history of these neighborhoods. They are clearly vulnerable at high water. Why were houses ever built here? Over the past decade or more, many houses have been purchased and torn down via a FEMA-funded program for vulnerable properties. I wrote about Marys Alley in 2010 and 2016 (click the links to see pictures of the lost cottages). Those houses looked to be 1920s or 1930s vintage, suggesting the area was developed a century ago, probably at a time when there were no flood zone restrictions.
View north from Haining Road, Vicksburg
During high water, it is fun to bike along Haining Road because the flooded fields and woods to the north host water birds and snakes.
Young Alley, March 16, 2018.
Young Alley is just off  Ford Road, literally behind the wood plant. The cottages are high enough to clear of the flood water at 49 ft elevation. You can see water in the driveway.
Railroad Alley, Vicksburg, March 12, 2018.
Railroad Alley, March 16, 2018.
Railroad Alley parallels the railroad tracks, just a short distance north of Ford Road. Parts of it flood at 49 ft. I have photographed the property with the horses before, at a time when the poor animals had less dry land within their yard. I recall asking a fellow about snakes, and he said horses were the best snake-squashers around.
The railroad tracks, which run north to the International Paper mill in Redwood, are on a raised embankment. The embankment serves as a levee. To the west of the tracks (left in the photograph), the the land floods. East of the tracks, or right, the houses are mostly safe. I am not sure if culverts and stream crossings are plugged before a high water event.

The tracks are operated by WATCO, a short-line operator. From their web page: "The Vicksburg Southern Railroad (VSOR) began operations January 8, 2006. Watco Companies acquired the railroad from the Kansas City Southern in November through a lease agreement and was formerly known as the Redwood Branch. The VSOR consists of 24 miles of track and interchanges with the KCS at Vicksburg, Mississippi."

All photographs are from Kodak Panatomic-X film, taken with a Hasselblad 501CM camera with 50mm, 80mm, and 250mm lenses, all tripod-mounted. I scanned the negatives with a Minolta Scan Multi medium format scanner controlled by Silverfast Ai software.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A River (Ditch) Flows through Vicksburg: Stouts Bayou

Stouts Bayou (in red), Vicksburg, Mississippi. Map created with ESRI ArcGIS Online.
Definition of bayou. 1 : a creek, secondary watercourse, or minor river that is tributary to another body of water. 2 : any of various usually marshy or sluggish bodies of water. (from Merriam-Webster online)

Stouts Bayou starts its circuitous path in northeast Vicksburg somewhere in the gullies below Beulah Cemetery, according to the US Geological Survey topographic map. It flows approximately southwest through town, passes by the Lee Street ball field (near Vicksburg High School), continues south near the Vicksburg water treatment plant, and eventually discharges into the Mississippi River just north of Letourneau Landing. I asked a friend, a former city engineer, about the bayou. He said that a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in the 1930s channelized much of the creek as it wound through the then-developed parts of the city (which, back then, meant the areas occupied by white residents). But the city did not acquire the right-of-way. Private property owners own the land on which the bayou flows and the city does not have a perpetual easement or permission to have access. In decades past, when labor costs were low, city workers would regularly clean trees and debris from the channel. I do not know how they got permission to access private land or if they bothered with such bureaucratic business in the past. City workers still clean brush and trash from the sewer or water pipes that cross the bayou in various areas. But the pipes are often located near bridges or roads and have easy access. But for general cleaning, the city now needs to secure written single-use access permission and hires contractors for the work. I read in the Vicksburg Post in 2017 that some land-owners refused to grant the city single use permission and the contractor could not reach some areas of the bayou. As usual, as an outsider not employed by the city or trained in law, such nonsense baffles me.

Since the channelization project in the 1930s, the bayou has received little maintenance. Some of the banks have been rip-rapped (stone placement) or concreted, but many of the 1930s panels are buckled or lifted. That means there is more friction for the flow.

We will take a short tour of Stouts Bayou from various bridges in town, starting upstream and moving downstream. (Click any photograph to enlarge it.)
1920s bridge at Grove and 4th North Streets, Vicksburg. Photograph from 2012.
This brick arch bridge on Grove Street is an example of the robust infrastructure built in the 1920s. The bridge seems to be sound, but the weeds and brush could use trimming.
Stouts Bayou from East Avenue (near Olive Street).
Looking south from the bridge at East Avenue, the stream bed is a mess. Trees have displaced some of the original concrete channel, blocks have been uplifted, and trash and debris have been discarded into the channel.
Stouts Bayou west from Drummond Street bridge.
Stouts Bayou west from Drummond Street
The bayou passes under Drummond Street just south of the Bowmar Avenue intersection. The channel is a dirty mess with brush, broken concrete slabs, and trash.
Avenue B footbridge, January 2018.
Stouts Bayou from Avenue B footbridge, January 2018.
West of Drummond Street, the land drops into a valley occupied by a series of small streets with letter names. A steel footbridge crosses Stouts Bayou from Avenue B to Valley Street. The photograph above is the view south taken during the January 2018 snow storm.

Stouts Bayou from Avenue C. Kodak Ektar 25 film from Hasselblad camera.
The view south from Avenue C shows carelessly placed riprap for stream bank protection. Some of the 1930s concrete channel appears displaced.
Stouts Bayou, National Street. Kodak TMax 100 film.
At National Street, the Bayou still has the concrete channel. During low water, I have walked in the channel here.
Stouts Bayou from Lee Street. Kodak Ektar 25 film from Hasselblad camera (50mm Distagon lens).
The bayou flows south under a bridge on Lee Street, just west of where Stadium Drive joins Lee. Not a pretty sight. This an example of what is happening to infrastructure all over the USA.
Stouts Bayou at Patricia Street (Moto G5 photograph).
Stouts Bayou at Patricia Street (Moto G5 photograph).
Patricia Street is a little known street that extends off Army-Navy Drive, past the City's maintenance and vehicle shops. Patricia dead ends, so there is no through traffic. The bayou marks the west edge of a small community of houses. I have photographed there before, but over the years, many houses have been demolished.
Stouts Bayou bridge (approx. 1903) was replaced in 1937 with a similar girder span and then again in the 1960s with a modern concrete span.
The bridge in the photograph above is in approximately the same position as the contemporary concrete span that carries the North Frontage Road. The Kansas City Southern Tracks are in the same position as a century ago, and the bayou runs under one of the spans on the right (from a 2000 brochure titled Highways in Harmony, Vicksburg Military Park Tour Roads from the National Park Service, documented in 1997 by the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER)). Photograph attribution:

46. Steel viaduct spanning stout's bayou and railroad on South Confederate Avenue. Destroyed circa 1938. - Vicksburg National Military Park Roads & Bridges, Vicksburg, Warren County, MS

Title: 46. Steel viaduct spanning stout's bayou and railroad on South Confederate Avenue. Destroyed circa 1938. - Vicksburg National Military Park Roads & Bridges, Vicksburg, Warren County, MS
Creator(s): Faust, William A. II., creator
Date Created/Published: 1997
Medium: 4 x 5 in.

This ends out short tour of Stouts Bayou. South of town, it is less accessible, and I have not seen where it flows into the Mississippi River.