Sunday, April 24, 2022

4×5" Treasure: Kodak Super-XX film (Abandoned Films 09)

Dear readers, I thought my experiments with discontinued films had come to an end when I used a roll of 120-size Gold 100 film in Louisiana in 2021 and then some 35mm Kodak BW400CN in Jackson and North Carolina. Oops, I forgot my box of 4×5" Kodak Super-XX film in the freezer. From Wikipedia:

Kodak's standard high-speed film from 1940 to 1954, when Tri-X was introduced in smaller formats. Discontinued before 1960 in roll-film formats, but sheet film was available until 1992. Originally 100, later 200 iso when safety factor was reduced. Relatively coarse grain. Very long, almost perfectly straight-line characteristic curve, great latitude made it ideal for variable developments, both longer and shorter, water-bath development, special compensating formulas.

Tri-X replaced replaced XX (three Xes rather than two, get it?), although the two overlapped for many years. Many photographers loved Super-XX because of its smooth contrast and subtle grey tones. Kodak still makes a version of Super-XX for cinematography. Some companies repackage it in 35mm cassettes for 35mm photographers, but I have not tried the roll film version.

A treasure of expired film from the freezer

My box had been frozen for decades. It was in the freezer of a dear friend who passed away two years ago.  I had never used Super-XX before and wanted to try it. Here is a small selection of my initial test photographs. 

Neuman Store, Canada Cross Road, Utica (135mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar-S II lens, 1/8 ƒ/32)
Parking lot, Levee Street, Vicksburg (135mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar-S II lens, orange filter, 1/2 ƒ/22)
Kansas City Southern rail yard, Vicksburg, 6/7/21 (240mm ƒ/9 G-Claron lens, deep yellow filter, 1/4 ƒ/45)
Porch, 1211 Monroe Street, Vicksburg (90 mm ƒ/6.8 Angulon lens, 1/2 ƒ/22.5)
BelAir Plaza, Hwy 80, Jackson (135mm ƒ/5.6 Caltar-S II lens, yellow filter, 1/15 ƒ/22)

These negatives were thin. I exposed them at EI-64 and possibly I need to allow another stop of light (EI=32). It is also possibly that the lab underdeveloped them these frames. I will show more examples in some future articles. Also, I will load film holders and try again as the spring advances.  

Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Wide View in Seattle (Hasselblad XPan 02)

Beer Bust, 14th Street, Seattle

Seattle is a beautiful city nestled between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, with stunning views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains to the west and the Cascades to the east. The city is hilly because of the glacial drumlins, remnants of the glaciers that covered this area during the ice age. 

In the late-1800s, Seattle was a bustling supply station for the Alaska gold miners. The famous (infamous) seamstresses, of which there were thousands, served the clothing and "other" needs of the miners and sailors. Seattle grew into a major timber, ship-building, and shipping city.

The economy grew, and during much of the 20th century, Seattle was a Boeing city, making many of the commercial aircraft used throughout the world. But in 1971, trouble came to Seattle. The US Senate and House of Representatives voted to cancel any further development of Boeing's supersonic transport, originally intended to be a competitor to the European Concorde. Boeing fired thousands of engineers and technicians. The city sank into depression. People joked how the last person out could turn off the lights. I recall that the downtown in the 1970s had the seedy look of an old American city, with tired buildings, dirt, and closed shops.  

When I returned to Seattle for a short assignment in 2004, the economy had turned around. Was this the same city? Seattle had become a tech Mecca, with Microsoft and numerous other computer and electronics firms in Bellevue, just across Lake Washington from the city. Traffic was snarled and dense, all day long. Glass office buildings filled downtown. Housing was expensive even on 2004 standards (and a purchase then would be considered an astonishing investment when you look at today's housing prices). New money parked their Ferraris and Porsche at their lakeside cottages. 

Here are a few photographs of Seattle that I took in 2004 with a Hasselblad XPan panoramic camera, using its 45mm lens. In the previous article, I described the remarkable XPan. Click any picture to see more detail.

Where did all those office towers come from? View south towards downtown Seattle. I-5 is on the left.

South Lake Union district with Space needle in the center

The 184 m-tall Space Needle is an icon for the city.  It was built for the Century 21 Exposition and has remained Seattle's most popular tourist attraction ever since. Elvis even made love (sang) to Joan O'Brien in the needle-top restaurant in "It Happened at the World's Fair" (1963). The movie was a real stinker, but the 1962 views of the Exposition are very interesting. 

The area in the foreground is south of Lake Union. During most of the 20th century, it was known for warehouses, industry, and manufacturing. Now it is trendy, with loft apartments, coffee shops, and condos. Why do I always miss these trends and fail to buy a warehouse or two?

Queen Anne Hill and Lake Union in 2004

If you are really rich (or lucky), you can live on Queen Anne Hill and see Puget Sound to the west, Seattle and the distant Mount Rainier to the south, and Lake Union to the east. It is a bit crowded, and house lots are squashed together, but there is a nice sense of community, with local stores and restaurants. In the early 1900s, a funicular streetcar ascended Queen Anne Avenue. In the photograph above, the snow-capped Olympic Mountains are in the far left of the scene.

Queen Anne Avenue without the funicular (2021 digital file)
Kerry Park, Queen Anne Hill, Seattle (2021 digital file)

Of course you would like to live on Queen Anne Hill if you had this view.

Lake Union, Seattle

Lake Union is a freshwater lake within the city of Seattle. In the mid-20th century, it was rimmed by industrial companies, shipyards, NOAA's ocean survey fleet, and some residences. Today it is a technology hub and trendy center for restaurants and clubs. On a warm afternoon, you will see kayakers, seaplanes, bicyclists, sail boats, and ducks - all having a good time. 

This ends our short look at Seattle. Make time to visit the Pacific Northwest, walk around Seattle, take photographs, eat fish, and drink craft beer.

Some day, I will scan my 1970s negatives of Seattle. Standby.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The Wide View in Western Washington (Hasselblad XPan 01)

Panoramic Cameras

For years I experimented with panoramas. In the past, I took a series of photographs (usually horizontal) with a normal camera and included about 25 percent overlap on each frame. Then I mounted prints on a long board and made a physical panorama. This worked best with 50mm or longer lenses because they did not suffer from distortion or light fall-off at the edges. 

More recently, I have scanned the negatives and merged them electronically using Adobe Photoshop. The software is amazingly effective, and often you barely see the junctions where the negatives overlap at all. The quality of the merge depends on whether the lens displays darkening or unsharp areas at the edge of each frame. Regular readers may remember panoramas from Lower Manhattan and Logan Airport in Boston (click the links).

For a century, camera makers invented various types of cameras that  exposed a wide piece of film. That way, you did not need to combine separate pieces of film or glue prints on a board.

There are three main types of panoramic cameras:

  1. Stationary lens wide body. The camera body holds a wide piece of film and mounts a lens with sufficient coverage to expose the entire frame. Some examples include Former and Schwing's 7×17 and even 12×20 inch banquet cameras. Can you imagine the size of the latter monster? Mid-century, it was more common to use 6×12 and 6×17 bodies that held 120 film. The disadvantage of these wide bodies is that objects at the sides of the frames become elongated. Think of a round ball that becomes stretched along the axis of the film. That is why most photographers do not use wide angle lenses for group portraits - people at the edge look wide. 
  2. Rotating or swing lens cameras. These are ingenious machines. The lens is on a motorized pivot. The film back is curved, and as the lens moves, it paints the image on the film. With this design, objects at the edge do not become elongated. 
  3. 360º rotation camera. The entire camera rotates through a circle while the film moves at the same speed past the lens. One example is the famous Swiss Roundshot. These provide amazing panoramas from mountain tops or cityscapes from towers. 

An excellent introduction to this type of photography is: Meechem, Joseph,1990. Panoramic Photography, Amphoto, New York, 144p. 

Hasselblad XPan camera with 45mm ƒ/4 lens and center filter

Lens Options

Two other methods let you create panoramas with an ordinary camera.
  1. An anamorphic lens compresses the image in one direction while leaving the other unchanged. These were developed for cinematography when wide-screen movies became popular (think of Cinemascope). The film remained the normal size. At the cinema, an opposite (or anti-) anamorphic projection lens recreated the wide view that had been filmed on the set or in nature. These lenses were originally spectacularly expensive, but some Chinese companies are selling new version. 
  2. A shift lens can be mounted on any 35mm camera. Take one picture with the lens shifted full to the left, then a second frame full to the right, and merge the frames with Photoshop. I still have an Olympus OM 35mm ƒ/2.8 shift lens. I need to buy an inexpensive body and put the lens back into use.

The Hasselblad XPan

Between 1998 and 2006, Fujifilm made a spectacular camera, the TX-1 (and updated it with TX-2). Hasselblad marketed them in the USA and Canada as the XPan and XPan-2. This camera looks like a modern rangefinder body but it is wider. The film opening is 24×65 mm, in contrast to the normal 35mm camera. which exposes only 24×36 mm. Fuji made three superb lenses, 30mm, 45mm, and 90mm. The 30mm and 45mm lenses had optional center filters to even the exposure across the frame.With the recent revival in film photography, TX-1s and XPans are highly coveted and seriously expensive (a 3-lens kit complete with the center filters is a third or half the price of a new car).

Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, Washington

The coast of Washington has two large estuaries or rias facing the Pacific Ocean. The southern one is Willapa Bay, and Grays Harbor (no apostrophe in the name) is to the north. 

In 2004, I spent a few months working in Seattle on an erosion study of Willapa Bay. A friend offered to fly me to the coast, and I rented an XPan from Glazers Camera. He had a perfect airplane for the trip because the window opened (or maybe it had no window, I can't remember).

Mouth of Willapa Bay, view west to the Pacific Ocean

Willapa Bay faces the Pacific Ocean. Most of the bay is protected from the open ocean by the Long Beach Peninsula, a long sand spit composed of sediment brought down to the ocean by the Colombia River. The mouth of Willapa Bay has been very dynamic and has migrated north more than a kilometer in a century. This northward migration threatened the formerly-protected shellfish grounds used by the Shoalwater Bay Tribe and threatened their homes. 

In 1866, President Andrew Johnson created the 334-acre Shoalwater Reserve for the Willapa Bay Chinook people under the Treaty of Olympia. During the 1990s and 2000s, the village occupied by the tribe (lower right in the photograph above) suffered wave action and threat of severe erosion. The US Army Corps of Engineers conducted a study of hydrodynamics, sediment movement, and geology to evaluate if they could protect the village. If you are interested, Appendix 1, Engineering Analysis and Design of the 2009 study titled, "Shoalwater Bay Shoreline Erosion, Washington, FLOOD AND COASTAL STORM DAMAGE REDUCTION, Shoalwater Bay Indian Reservation" describes the data and analyses used in the study. 

Heading north, Grays Harbor is another large estuary with a dangerous Pacific Ocean mouth. This bay was historically important for the fur trade, fishing, and the timber industry. 

Timber yard, Aberdeen

Grays Harbor's largest city is Aberdeen, located at the east end of the bay at the mouth of the Chehalis River. During the early 20th century, Aberdeen was the world's largest timber port. Much of the timber today is shipped to Asia.


Washington State capitol, Olympia

Olympia, in Thurston County, is the capitol of Washington State. The marble dome of Capitol building is said to be the fifth highest masonry dome in the world. This a nice mid-size city, without the congestion and frenetic pace of Seattle, which is about two hours to the northeast. Olympia has a famous Farmers' Market, where you can indulge your wishes for a gastronomic overload of locally-sources health vegetables and fruits. 


Tacoma is an industrial city at the south end of Puget Sound, about an hour south of Seattle. In the 1970s, Tacoma had major steel and paper mills. When the wind blew from the south, we smelled it in Seattle and called it "Aroma of Tacoma." Today, Tacoma has gentrified and still retains a major port handling timber, bulk cargoes, petroleum products, and automobiles.   

Tacoma harbor, view west
Fisherman cottage, Tacoma (look out for the tsunami)

What a nice place for a cottage: view of the sea, clang on the buoys, swish of the waves, salty/briny smell of the intertidal flats. But when the Cascadia subduction zone finally has a big slip, the tsunami will rush into Puget Sound and wash away this little cottage. 

Browns Point, NE Tacoma

Browns Point has some nice residences on the bluff top and along the base. I do not know about geotechnical issues for the residents at the top with a view. Still, it would be nice.

Port of Tacoma

Want a car? Take you pick, all the finest from Japan and Germany.

Stand by for panoramas from Seattle in a future article. Please click any photograph to expand it. 

Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Colonial Heritage Byway, north central North Carolina (Abandoned films 08d)

Colonial Heritage Byway

In the previous article, I wrote about historic byways in North Carolina. This the second byway that I explored in October of 2021. 

From the North Carolina Department of Transportation:

Colonial Heritage Byway

This byway provides an impressive tour of 18th and 19th-century history in North Carolina. While traveling on NC 62, look for many older houses and barns dating back to the 1800s, especially in the town of Milton. The NC 86 portion of the byway provides a glimpse of the Piedmont’s dairy farms and rural life.

My goal was to photographic tobacco barns. I read that they were a traditional architectural feature of the Carolinas that were disappearing because tobacco is a less important agricultural commodity than in the past. I started my journey in Carrboro and headed northwest towards Hillsborough (a very nice town with an excellent coffee shop, Cup-a-Joe, on West King Street) and proceeded north on NC 86 towards Cedar Grove.  It was a cheerful sunny day but with rather harsh lighting.

Garage with residence above, 8906 Old NC 86
Fixer-upper, 7403 NC 86, Cedar Grove
Vine explosion, 7403 NC 86, Cedat Grove

Heading out of Hillsborough, I did not see many old barns but was pleased to see some of my favorite topics, country stores.

Shed behind 8318 NC 86

Ahah, the first tobacco shed. I stopped at a workshop on NC 86, and when I told the proprietor what I was looking for, he directed me to an overgrown path behind his shop. At one time, these sheds had gaps in the logs, but afterwards, farmers added concrete chinking to seal the interiors.

McDade Store, McDade Store Road

Finally, between Prospect Hill and Hightowers, old-fashioned tobacco barns became more common.

Restored historic barn, Prospect Hill

I spoke to a farmer who owned the barn and land. This one had been restored by the state. He said that if a historic barn was standing, the structure could not be demolished. But, some farmers let the barns deteriorate to the extent that they collapsed, and then they could sell the land to developers who built McMansions. This farmer and several others I met were bitter that some landowners were willing to sell out. I saw signs protesting proposed gravel pit somewhere in the county.

Barn, NC 86, Hightowers, North Carolina
Sheds, NC 86, Hightowers
Asphalt siding house, Hightowers

Asphalt siding, similar to roofing shingles, were popular in the mid-20th century because they were durable, repelled bugs, and did not need paint. Notice how in the siding on this house was made to look like bricks.

Barn on Hwy 119, Hightowers
Shed on Hwy 119, Hightowers

By 5:00 pm, the light was fading and it was time return to Chapel Hill. I could have easily spent more hours driving on rural roads and looking for old barns and sheds.

No gas here, US 158, Leasburg
Slightly closed store, New Hope Church Road, Leasburg

This ends our short tour of part of the Colonial Heritage Byway. Thank you for riding along.

I took these photographs on Kodak BW400CN film using my 1949 Leica IIIC camera and its 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens. This roll of film was grainy, and dark areas looked sooty. This was one of my last rolls of BW400CN, and I will not buy any more.