5 Frames… Shooting three National Parks with Kodak Portra 400 (EI 400 / 120 format / Zeiss Ikonta 521/2) – by Sergio Plascencia

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In May of 2019, my partner and I embarked on a 2000-mile road trip to Joshua Tree, the Grand Canyon, Zion and Death Valley National Parks. It was a wonderful experience and the perfect opportunity to slow down with film. Shooting film in nature, especially 6×9 120 format, gives us more time to take in the sights and gawk at nature’s wonders.

I only took one camera: Zeiss Ikonta 521/2 with the 105mm f/4.5 Novar lens. I had only shot a single roll before the trip, in B&W no less but I was comfortable enough with it due to a recent CLA. You don’t need anything with a fancy fast lens or even a rangefinder for landscape. Compact affordable folding cameras are perfect for this use case, especially with fast film. I chose Portra 400 for its wide exposure latitude and warm palette. Even though I was using a handheld meter the film gave me a lot of piece of mind.

Life got busy and it took 5 months to finally develop all the film from the trip. In a way, it was better to wait as we got to experience our vacation all over again. Zion was definitely our favorite national park and these five frames bring back the memories from our journey.

The star trail photo was easily my favorite. It was a 6-hour exposure that was almost spoiled after sleeping through the early morning alarm. Luckily the wide exposure latitude of Portra 400 saved the day.

My keeper rate was very high from those rolls of film; much higher than anything digital or even 35mm. With only eight frames per roll, you really slow down and consider the shot before committing. On top of that, the ~46mm (135 equivalent) focal length can be a challenge with landscape.

Even though I only shot 6 rolls, I consider the photographic part of the journey a huge success.

~ Sergio

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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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8 thoughts on “5 Frames… Shooting three National Parks with Kodak Portra 400 (EI 400 / 120 format / Zeiss Ikonta 521/2) – by Sergio Plascencia”

  1. Lovely shots! I have a similar folding 6×9 Zeiss Ikon camera with 105mm f/3.5 Novar lens. I noticed even when shooting stopped down to f/8 or f/11 that the edges of my frames were considerably less sharp than the center. I suppose that’s to be expected with triplet lenses. Anyway, I tend to crop out the left and right edges of my frames, even if I keep the 2×3 aspect ratio. I noticed that your images in this article aren’t all the 2×3 aspect ratio. Did you crop for compositional reasons or because of the edge sharpness issue that I too am familiar with?

    • Hello Lee! Thanks for the compliments. I usually embrace the character of the lenses and only crop for composition reasons. The character is clearly evident in the long exposure image, which was shot wide open. It is difficult to frame with the viewfinders of these old folders. Especially since I have to remove my glasses to use them. So I usually end up having to crop a little when I inevitably include things I didn’t want.

  2. I have the same (521/2) Zeiss Ikon camera with a Zeiss (not Jena) Opton Tessar 105mm f3.5 lens. I’ve shot 2 rolls with it about 5 years ago and I do not remember a single “not-to-be-shown-to-anyone” image. This has never happened to me with any other film camera! It must have something to do with this lovely camera.

  3. Beautiful work! Thanks for sharing. Zion is a magical place. I just got a 120 film back for my Kodak Recomar 33 folding plate camera. Really excited at how great those 6×9 negatives look! Your story is inspiring!

  4. Startrails with an Ikonta… now that is something you don’t see often, but it came out great! The other ones came out pretty good too, with lovely colors. Well done 🙂


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