A year ago I decided I had come to the end of my time as a film only photographer, it had been a wonderful time full of film discoveries, I must have tried out over 40 different stocks, some excellent, some not so. One problem was the prices of Kodak stocks which is now too high for me to want to use them, my favourite colour film Portra 400 being around £18 a roll plus processing! Ilford and others b/w film prices are fine. My processing has always had to be lab based, which was another problem, finding a consistently good lab. I’ve had films processed in exhausted dev (chemical fogging), films covered in dirt, processed for the wrong time, excessively contrasty.* So I went digital. But of course…
…I missed film and wanted to be able to do occasional b/w film photography. I’ve recently found a nice 1938 Leica 111a to play with and a 1949 Summitar 50mm f2 with the 10 blade aperture. I’ve also downloaded an instruction book, essential with these elderly models and made a film cutting template for the 111a’s film. The film leader must be cut to the right shape otherwise dire happenings can occur when you wind on. The Leica 111 is a small camera with a tiny viewfinder, a bit of a struggle if you wear specs so I found a mint SBOOI 5cm external viewfinder. The SBOOI is so bright you hardly notice your looking through and the frame line is very obvious, in fact you can leave both eyes open when shooting.
The problem with Leica 111 cameras and lenses from the 1930’s onward is that most of the ones for sale are knackered, understandably, the bodies have hazy finders and dodgy shutter speeds and the lenses are hazy, internally dusty with sticky apertures/focus and fungus. I thought I would have to buy a knacker and have it serviced, but I got lucky. My 111a has had the official factory flash conversion in the 50’s and seems to have had a CLA fairly recently, the finders are bright and clear, speeds seem accurate also the vulcanite was renewed, altogether a lovely example. The Summitar lens optics are in clean clear condition with no haze, dirt or fungus, the focus was sticky as expected, but it was a simple job to clean off the old grease and replace with new. (There is a camera technician on eBay who sells small pots of the correct grease.)
I used my last roll of T-Max 400 shooting in a variety of lighting conditions from bright contrasty sun to dull overcast and poor lighting in a Christmas market to check out the camera body and lens. The film was lab processed in Ilfotec DD which has made the film contrastier and grainier than I would have liked, I’ve managed to pull the contrast back in post processing. Looking at the negatives the 111a’s shutter speeds seem accurate, nice exposures, The Summitar lens is very acceptably sharp from f2.8, the edges from f8 and nicely flare resistant. These lovely old cameras are pretty much the only way into cheapish Leica photography these days. Fortunately there are loads of technicians around to service the bodies and lenses.
All the best
* I have now found a lab who I’m sure will give me consistent processing quality, I’ve used them for 120 and 5×4 processing but they didn’t have a high res scans service for 35mm film, so sadly I wasn’t able to use them, however they now do high res scans for 35mm, so all is well. Hint, the lab is based at a well known manufacturing plant in Mobberley.
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