I don’t remember exactly when or where I first learned about the Kodak Aero Ektar lens, but I immediately knew that I had to have one! Mine is mounted an Army Air Corps Speed Graphic. More details about that adventure can be found here.
Here’s the first photo everyone takes with their new Aero Ektar (by the way, this doesn’t count toward my “5 Frames” since it’s just an example!)
You’ve seen it a thousand times. The model (in this case my impatient daughter) is placed a dozen or so feet in front of the camera with a busy background behind them. All to capture that wonderful bokeh. Unfortunately, all too often, this appears to be the only style of photo the photographer can envision.
I wanted to explore the capabilities of this unique piece of almost magic glass. It also seems logical to try some nighttime photography. Which is why I chose Fomapan 400 Action for this project, which really complicated things during the daytime even though I normally rate it at ISO 250.
Using the fast film with the fast lens presents challenges. For example, to take the above photo, I added a polarizing filter (-1.5 stops) and an orange filter (-1 stop) and still shot at 1/1000 second (which is actually only 1/650th on my camera.)
Here’s one of my nighttime attempts. This Dodge M37 has been sitting outside in the Colorado weather for years and is sadly just an ornament now. At least it never complains about posing for me, even at midnight under the almost full moon.
It turns out that Fomapan 400 Action has some serious reciprocity issues! After a great deal of experimentation, I ended up shooting this at f/2.5 for 2 minutes. The bright blurs in the background are cars on the road about 1000 feet back. I’ll be doing more tests at the next full moon but probably with a different film.
The biggest issue was trying to focus in the dark. I eventually added a LASER. I would set the LASER dot at the desired point on the subject and focus until it was a sharp dot. I’ve had reasonable success using this up to several hundred feet.
Below is another shot of the old truck, this time taken in bright sun at f/16.
Here’s a shot of my oldest daughter and her mutt Pepper. You can tell it was an overcast day, but even so, this was shot at 1/650th at f/11. I’ve included 100% zoom of his dog tag; you can just about read the fine print! Overall, the grain of the film is quite acceptable.
I thought it would be fun to have the camera take a selfie of itself. This turned out to be more complicated than I expected. Just rigging up the mirrors took half the afternoon. Anyway, here’s my favorite shot:
The real challenge was managing the dynamic range of the film. My first attempts resulted in the label (which lists calibrated shutter speeds) being blown completely away and showing up as just a white rectangle. If I exposed for the label, I had no detail in the shadows.
The simplest solution would have been to remove the silly label but I choose to experiment with contracted development. Normally, I use our SP-76EC developer at a 1+9 ratio. By exposing for the shadows and adjusting my developer concentration to 1+14 and slightly increasing the development time, I ended up with a decent negative. Look for an expanded blog post on contracted development soon.
Of course, since it is an aerial lens, it only seemed right to try some aerial photography with it. I just set the lens to the hyperfocal distance of about 410′ and shot away. This is one situation where it would be nice to have a viewfinder. This is the Erie Municipal Airport and you can see the skyscrapers of Denver in the background. By the way, that’s not smog in distance but leftover cloud cover from a front that had just moved through. Frankly, I’m a bit disappointed with the grain in this photo.
To sum up this adventure: Fomapan 400 is probably not the right film for this camera/lens combo. It’s too slow for nighttime photography (due to reciprocity failure) but too fast to allow you to take full advantage of the lens during the day.
However, it is a decent combination in the studio under artificial lights. I can select a reasonable shutter speed and adjust lighting to utilize the f/2.5 aperture.
For more comments on the lens itself, visit my blog. Thanks for reading,
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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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