Square Dance

Our summer holiday destination this year was a very last minute decision and what originally should have been Denmark turned out to be – after a 13 hour drive – our favorite Tuscan hills between Siena and Volterra. Regarding the weather it was definitely the better choice!

As for previous trips to Tuscany I decided to take a mix of 35mm and medium format cameras with me. But this time I wanted to limit myself to only two camera bodies. For the smaller format I grabbed my “ever ready” F3, but for medium format I decided to wake up a sleeping beauty. About two years ago I had purchased a late photographer’s equipment from the 1950s which among other treasures contained a Rolleiflex 3.5C with all sorts of accessories in good working condition. At the time, I only ran a test film through it, but without an idea for immediate use of the camera it went straight onto the shelves – until now.

Photographer and his toy

Berlin, 2020, Rolleiflex 3.5C, ZEISS Planar 75mm f/3.5, Kodak Portra 160

A couple of rolls of FP4+ and Portra160 later I wonder why I had waited so long to work with this fantastic camera. Sure, it is a bit clunky and especially if you carry it around your neck you may want a massage after a while. But the mechanical and optical qualities of it are pure bliss. Composing with the huge and bright groundglass of the waist-level finder is easy. Using a groundglass instead of a prism finder I always have to get used to the left/right conversion of the image, but with this camera it didn’t take long to adapt. For my landscape photos I decided to mount the Rollei on a tripod. A Rolleiflex TLR looks a bit awkward mounted on a tripod, but the combo does the job when the fading sunlight asks for longer exposure times. Since the in-built lightmeter is the only malfunctioning part of my model (the old Selenium cell is almost certainly broken), I used a mix of “sunny 16” and my external spotmeter. Both film stocks I used have a broad dynamic range and are quite forgiving when it comes to “one stop over or under”, but still, you want to nail the exposure if possible. I have bracketed some shots and already in the negatives I can see not-so-subtle differences, especially in the shadows, which may make or break a shot.

Farneta premises, Tuscany/Italy, 2020, Rolleiflex 3.5C on Ilford FP4+

By the way: these landscapes were already the second attempt to ban the beautiful Tuscan hills on film. My first photo walk the day before was a total disaster. And here is what happened: As said, I only ran one test film through the camera after I bought it two years ago. I was 100% certain that I still knew how to load a roll of film into the Rollei, when I grabbed the first FP4+ from my bag. I even remembered that it is absolutely necessary to fiddle the paper through the small slit between the two metal rulers to activate the film counter. But … I did not realise that I was loading the roll upside down with the paper towards the lens and the film facing the back plate! So I went with high expectations into the field only to find out that after frame 5 the advance lever did not turn anymore, neither forward nor backward. The film instead of winding onto the take up spool had somehow crammed itself into the space between the spool and the camera body, whilst the covering paper was neatly reeled up. When the film transport got stuck I knew that I had to open the camera. Not knowing what exactly had caused the accident I preferred to call it a day and went home. On the way back I already suspected the film to be loaded the wrong way – it was the only possible explanation. And so it was. One film down the drain, and the next one loaded into the camera to repeat the exercise.

And what about the Portra images? Here are a few. Typical subtlety of this film’s color rendering. Beautiful and perfectly suited for the late summer colors of the Tuscan landscape.

Farneta premises, Tuscany/Italy, 2020, Rolleiflex 3.5C on Kodak Portra 160

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