I was a devoted and habitual attendee at Le Mans in the late 80s and early 90s, having discovered it in my youth when the start of the legendary race was a rare and short item on Saturday afternoon sports TV. From those very early days, I knew that I had to attend one day. From what I saw, it all looked and sounded like the ultimate car race… and the cars… well, just incredible. Road cars and prototypes all in it together in a madcap French extravaganza of spectacle, endurance and huge/dangerous speed differentials between the slowest and fastest cars.
For a very long time, I only had a 50/1.8 on my OM-1, but for Le Mans in 1993, I added a second-hand Tamron 70-210 zoom. The sharpness and resolving power of the lens is extraordinary given its weight and that these images were taken handheld and highly likely that I had it at max aperture (ish) and max zoom in the blazing heat and dust of June in France. Thinking through FP4 with Sunny 16, it would have been 1/1,000s at f5.6. Sounds about right.
It looks to me like it’s tack sharp edge to edge, which is also a testament to the FP4 Plus. I don’t have a record of how I developed it, but at that time, I was big into Rodinal (and Agfa Pan 100), so that’s likely what I used. This is ironic as my memory of my use of FP4 back then is more negative than positive (can’t exactly remember why), but this revisiting changes that view. And this is useful and prescient as I (and many others) come to terms with the escalating cost of Kodak stock. As a recent retiree, film costs are a significant outgoing for me (I shoot a lot of film). With the price rises, Ilford films are getting on for half the price of Kodak. From seeing these photos and my recent experiments with HP5 vs Tri-X, the switch is a no-brainer. And that from a long-time Kodak devotee.
My copy of the 70-210 was the multicoated and fast f3.5/4 variant which was, I distinctly remember, heavy (884g apparently). Unlike the cheaper/lighter/slower, f4/5.6, it had 15 elements in 11 groups (a lot of heavy glass!). I sadly no longer have mine but they can be had, amazingly for less than £20 (one went on eBay recently for less than £10 including postage). And to cap it all, it even close focuses and doubles as a 1:2.66 macro (I never tried this though).
Being a Tamron, it was a generic lens for which you needed brand-specific adapters for your particular camera. This made them very popular and less expensive than some bespoke lenses.
That’s all there is to say, really. I had planned for this to be more about Le Mans and less about an iconic old lens, but there you go. This article is about two unique and iconic things I suppose. One, the endurance race to end all endurance races. And two, a cleverly designed, high-quality lens that was a world beater in its day.
Go on, splash out some pocket money on one and give it a go – it’s stunning glass.
Negatives were digitised with a Sony A7R and Sigma 70/2.8 DG Macro lens. Negs reversed with Negative Lab Pro.