Sunday, 22 March 2015

Palinar 35mm f/2.8

Off to the wilds of eBay, where people dump junk from the past. Palinar was one of several made-up brands that imported lenses from the Far East back in the 1960s, and I mean all brands are made-up, aren't they? It would be more accurate to say that Palinar was a brand of convenience, a name conjured from the great soupy melting pot of human thought in order to put some clothes on the naked, crawling reality of international commerce.

Palinar was part of a large British import business called Photopia, which was founded by a man called Charles Strasser in 1962. Strasser was born in Czechoslovakia, but his family was perceptive enough to emigrate to the UK in 1938. He seems to have led a charmed life. Photopia didn't go bust; Strasser sold the company in the late 1970s, and it still exists today (it services Ricoh cameras and distributes Sekonic light meters, among other things). Strasser himself was awarded an OBE in 2000 and is apparently still alive. Palinar lenses have "ST" as part of the serial number, after Strasser's surname. Generally when writing about old camera gear from long ago the story involves economic collapse, bankruptcy, failed dreams, personal dissolution and failure and death. What made Strasser break even, at least? My hunch is that sheer random chance and not messing up too badly had something to do with it.

Mounted on a Canon EOS 5D MkII

The lenses were made by a company called Tokyo Koki, which went on to become Tokina; they were imported and rebranded by other companies as well, with a plethora of brand names, including Soligor, Hanimex, Sears, Lentar, Galaxy, a few even used the Tokyo Koki name itself. I pronounce it Tokey-Kinky in my mind. The early Tokey-Kinky lenses used a special screw mount system unique to Tokyo Koki, and here's a blog post involving several Japanese women and a statue of a fat baseball player. The lenses came with an adapter ring, fixed with screws, that fit popular cameras of the day.

Two Palinar lenses, both very small; a Palinar 135mm f/3.5 short telephoto and a 35mm f/2.8, with a home-made EOS mount.

The Palinar 35mm f/2.8 jumped out at me because (a) it was cheap (b) it was tiny. It came without an adapter ring, and initially I thought it used the T-mount system, but no. Some JB Weld and a T-mount adapter later and it now has an EOS mount. The minimum focus distance is thus quite far, which is actually a good thing because the rear of the lens would hit my 5D's mirror if I had the original mount.

Irritatingly, a couple of days later eBay produced a Palinar 135mm f/3.5, which I'll look at in a separate post; it came with the appropriate M42 mount. Optically the 135mm f/3.5 is very good, although it has to be said that good 135mm f/3.5 lenses are a dime a dozen. The only Palinar lens with anything approaching a cult following is a 100mm f/4 design, notable for its compact size.

The vignetting is concentrated at the bottom corners, so presumably I didn't quite centre the lens in the T-mount.

The lens is, as far as I can tell, single-coated, although it almost looks uncoated. It uses an old-fashioned preset aperture ring, whereby you focus wide open and then twist shut the (stepless) aperture until it hits a preset stop. In practice I left this at f/8 and just stopped the aperture down until the shutter speed was 1/125th or so.

By chance I walked past the Egypt Exploration Society. Founded in 1882. Britain took control of Egypt in 1882 in a context not far removed from the current Greek debt crisis, except that Egypt was more valuable to the outside world than Greece is today. I wonder how many Victorian explorers set off from Doughty Mews to explore Egypt, with their moustaches and leather cases, by steam train and steamer and camel.

I can't judge the image quality, because I'm using a non-standard, home-made mount. My particular lens is essentially very sharp in the middle wide open, but with ropey edges and corners; stopped down to f/8 the image quality ascends to the level of a decent zoom lens, although on the positive side there's almost no CA. On an APS-C camera it would be a decent 50mm f/2.8, and it's tiny, there is that.

The two lenses have 49mm filter threads. They're both solidly built out of metal. Judging by the 1969 Photo Trade World Yearbook Palinar's 35mm f/2.8 cost around £38 in 1969, depending on the lens mount, and according to the Bank of England's website that's £558 today, and so I conclude that photography was a rich man's hobby in the 1960s.

On a purely economic level the Palinar 35mm f/2.8 was insanity, because the awesome power of inflation has evaporated that precious £558 into nothingness. Would the lens have given you £558 worth of fun? That's a lot of drink and a couple of hours with a lady, but come the morning the lens would still be there.

With a handful of exceptions, even the cultiest and most sought-after vintage camera gear depreciates like mad. Watches, cars, complex physical goods require expense servicing - a kind of anti-dividend - and gold bars are awkward. Perhaps a few very rare Leicas or exotic lenses appreciate, but they were probably very expensive when they were new. Property makes a lot more sense as a long-term investment, because it's exceptionally useful while you have it and there's only a limited amount of space on the planet. And the government is on your side, because MPs are homeowners as well.

You know, economists say that deflation is terrible because it makes people put off purchases until the future, when the price has declined, thus hurting the economy now. But are we supposed to believe that people will stop buying food, clothes, and season tickets until the price drops, even at the risk of starvation or being dismissed for not turning up to work? And as prices fall, employees are less likely to raise a fuss about their declining income.

And surely the entire IT / technology / gadget industry has always been beset by rampant deflation, hmm? Computer equipment doesn't just drop in price as time goes by, it drops in price at lighting speed. Volume goes up and the high end advances. And whereas an old car can still move you from A to B, an old iPhone is basically useless (no sane man would be seen dead with an iPhone 3 in 2015). There's a common dilemma whereby you aren't sure whether to buy Technical Revolution #44 today or wait for two months until Technical Revolution #45 is launched, despite which the market for games consoles and computer hardware has... well, actually it has declined over the last few years, but that's because people are buying tablets and mobile phones with the limited amount of money they have left after paying off the loan they took out for the 3D television.

Hopefully the demand for mobile phones will continue to grow at its current rate, and what with the advent of 4K televisions I confidently predict that 2015 will be the best year ever, economy-wise. Non-sequiturs are like feminism; but why take that chance?

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Nový Most

Off to Budapest. But first, Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. Not to be confused with Bucharest Belgrade Bern Berlin Brussels or Copenhagen.

Bratislava is famous for its huge tower blocks - Panelák - which resemble something from DayZ but with a higher frame rate and more colours and more loot, probably. Alas I didn't have time to wander around them otherwise I would have taken hundreds of nearly identical images of large concrete blocks viewed from below, like buildings from early 3D computer games, which is essentially the root of my visual sense.

Bratislava feels very cosy, not like a capital at all. The most famous landmark is the SNP Bridge, also known as Nový Most, which was built in 1972 so that people could travel from the tower blocks to the railway station and back again. Cars and trucks drive along the top, pedestrians have a pair of channels in the side of the bridge.

The bridge was a controversial project, because it has a distinctive look that dominates the surrounding area, and in the process of building it, the authorities obliterated a chunk of the old town and replaced it with flyovers and a bus station, shown here in the bottom-left of the picture:

Off to the right is a huge wind farm over the border in Austria. On top of the bridge is a restaurant, the UFO, which is expensive but one of the few places in Bratislava where the bridge doesn't spoil the view (because you're on it). It puts me in mind of the Post Office Tower, albeit that (a) it doesn't revolve and (b) you are actually allowed to visit the top.

On the whole the view from the castle resembles something from Dredd. My hunch is that the Czechoslovakian authorities circa 1972 wanted to obliterate the past because he who controls the past controls the present and thus the future etc.

Obviously it's not Leonard Nimoy (or Jeremy Clarkson). Nimoy's parents were from Ukraine. That's quite a way from Slovakia, although they're linked by the Danube; the Danube is Continental Europe's river. Human history is dominated by rivers and bodies of water. I wonder why they vandalised the woman?

I took the Olympus OM-1 I wrote about a couple of posts ago, with an Olympus 24mm f/2.8 - another one of those lenses I have used on a digital camera, but not on the film cameras it was built for - and some Ilford HP5. It was a sunny day. Bratislava's other tick-box attraction is the castle:

On the way to the castle. Dubstep is basically drum'n'bass but with all the rhythmic complexity and subtlety taken out, because that kind of thing scares white American teenagers.

But the lack of context (the castle is surrounded by building works) makes it feel a bit ersatz. Bratislava isn't really a tick-box place. It's a popular shopping destination for Austrians because it's cheaper than Austria, and as a tourist stop it has a low-key atmosphere of its own. Almost none of which I photographed, because I was too busy having lunch.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Agfa APX 100: Found Film

A while back I wrote about the Olympus Pen F, a classic half-frame SLR from the late 1960s. My camera arrived with a roll of Agfa APX 100 inside it. APX is a black and white film that was discontinued in the mid-2000s. I put it to one side but it haunted me; I assumed it had been used to test out the camera and probably had nothing on it, but I have a load of developing fluid, so why not find out?

Found film is big business, viz the Vivian Maier industry, whereby a bunch of people who never met her or helped her in any way fight over ownership of her negatives, which they bought in an auction. Maier was a fantastic photographer who lived just long enough to see her life's work taken from her; now a bunch of businessmen squabble over her work while it still has value.

The cat is dreaming that some men on bicycles are cycling to deliver food. Like knights in shining armour, with boxes of sandwiches; the leading cyclists are smoothing the trail. "Hurry", thinks the cat. I've shot some APX 25, a slower and less grainier version of the same film, and they have a similar look - the blacks are clipped. I suppose Fuji Acros is the nearest modern equivalent.

The wild hunt coursed through the sky, pulling us along in its wake. Daring the anti-aircraft batteries to open fire, but radar did not see them; with hearts older than radio waves we felt their passing, and the hot blood, and we took the reins and plunged on. Into a century of corrections, one after the other.