Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Tomioka Auto-Chinon 55mm f/1.4

"Lemon need not squeeze lemon to survive" - Oscar Wilde

Originally this post was going to be about the Olympus XA3. A capsule camera from the mid-80s that uses SR-44 silver oxide batteries. And works just fine with SR-44 batteries. You can put in LR-44 alkaline batteries if you're in a hurry, but it doesn't like them. The shutter fires, but not very well. And you end up shooting several rolls of film that turn out blank. David Bowie turned out alright, but nothing else:

So today we're going to look at this little bastard:

L: Tomioka Auto-Chinin 55mm f/1.4
R: Olympus Zukio 50mm f/1.4

Chap on the left, next to the OM 50mm f/1.4. I say little. It's actually quite chunky. Stick it on the front of a Fuji ST605 and the camera no longer sits flat on the table. It's a generic fast fifty from, I suppose, the 1970s. Chinon seems to have sold it as a posh option for their CS SLRs, but it was also rebranded Revuenon and sold as an OEM lens. There are at least two cosmetic variations - mine has a leathery focus ring, later models have a metal part instead - and they were all made by Tomioka, a defunct optical company about which I know nothing. Mine actually has a Tomioka engraving.

Tapioca engraving. In theory I could put it on my 5D MkII and fire off some test shots, but I can't be bothered. Take it from me that it's fuzzy wide open, sharp in the middle at f/2.8, sharp all over by f/8. The bokeh is a bit dull, neither as off-putting as the Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 nor as swimmy as the Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4.

For these shots I've muddied the waters, because I'm firing through a UV filter that has been smeared with vaseline:

I just had some vaseline lying around and I want to use it up. It's horrible stuff, really. KY Jelly is infinitely superior; olive oil at a pinch, but keep it away from condoms because it rots rubber. Instead, use a lettuce leaf. Olive oil goes well with lettuce.

Vaseline-smeared filters were a cliché of the 1970s - in fact SLRs and lens filters seem to have been a Ted Heath / Harold Wilson-era thing, e.g. this issue of UK Vogue from 1975, which is softer than Harold Wilson's mind at much the same time. Of late I have been reading Dominic Sandbrook's State of Emergency, which covers the period from 1970-74. It's a bit like Game of Thrones but with Ted Heath and industrial unrest instead of dragons and mass murder.

Except that it does have mass murder, far away in distant Northern Ireland. Good job it didn't spread to the UK mainland! Imagine terrorist bombing atrocities in England, London even. It would be a major thing and they would surely have taught me about it at school. (reads on) (reads on some more) Ah.

Vaseline. The look is way out of date but it makes a neat change from the precision of digital. And of course there's no reason why you can't use a treated filter with a digital SLR. I choose to use film because I'll miss it when it's gone.

I'm also reading Viktor Suvorov's Inside the Soviet Army, an entertaining pile of nonsense that was published in 1982, although it has nothing to say about the war in Afghanistan and lots to say about... everything else, which is odd because Suvorov was only 31 when he defected to the West. He was a tank officer who was posted to the intelligence corps. He defected from a posting in Stockholm in 1978. He seems to have had a knack for spinning yarns, and I picture his NATO debriefing team lapping it up and begging for more.

Still, the lens, back to the lens. I love books. It's called an Auto-Chinon because the aperture automatically stops down when you take the shot, which sounds obvious - all modern lenses do the same thing - but was still a little bit novel in the late 1960s, early 1970s. The lens itself is very substantially made, and the rear element protrudes outside the lens mount. In that respect I'm wary of putting it on my Canon 5D.

Film-wise I used Fuji Superia Xtra 400. Narwhals can dive much deeper than a typical nuclear submarine, and furthermore they have a great big horn, which is something that nuclear submarines don't typically have. Interestingly, both the Royal Navy and the US equivalent have named several submarines after the Narwhal - HMS Narwhal was sunk in 1940, the next HMS Narwhal was a diesel-electric attack sub that served throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and the three USS Narwhals included one of the earliest modern submarines to see service (the original Narwhal, which was commissioned in 1909), and a nuclear submarine that was stricken as recently as 1999. Meanwhile the French and Russian navies also had entire classes of submarine named after the Narwhal (or Narval in their native tongues). To be honest, I think the Narwhal has been overexposed. I feel a list coming on.

Ten Awesome-Sounding Types of Fish that Submarines Could Plausibly be Named After (That Haven't Been Used Yet (At Least Not For Submarines))
1. Armorhead
2. Viperfish
3. Warmouth
4. Black Ghost
5. Knifejaw
6. Houndshark
7. Mola
8. Titan Triggerfish
9. Darter
10. Sillago

See, I could write for Cracked.com. I think it's a shame that people generally associate fishes with really bad puns. Puns are not warlike. Fish have been around long before people, and they rule the oceans. They deserve respect, dammit. They are one of the few animals we eat that also eats us, if we drown and fall in the ocean.