Seaba Station Motorcycle Museum in Warwick, Oklahoma was a recent stop on the Cross Country Challenge vintage motorcycle ride across the United States. When I heard the news, I thought “vintage motorcycles deserve vintage cameras and black and white film.” I had a busy weekend scheduled, but bumped some other projects to the back burner and ran out to catch the riders as they stopped, some briefly.
It was hot with a blistering sun and nary a cloud in the sky – high-contrast conditions for black and white film. So I tried to focus on bikes parked under the big cottonwood shade trees behind Seaba Station. The shade helped reduce the contrast and reduce the sweat running down my forehead.
I started witih my Mamiya RB-67 since I wanted to be mobile to catch the bikes as they came and went. I was still learning the big Mamiya. When you think of taking photos hand-held with the RB-67, think “taking photos with a car batttery”.
Toyo View VX-125 large-format camera
After a few frames I decided to get some photos with my favorite camera, my tripod-mounted Toyo View VX-125 large-format 4″x5″ film camera. I have owned this camera since I purchased it new in 1998, and still think it is hands-down the best view camera ever made. It is portable like a field camera, yet offers all the movements of a studio camera.
Shooting 4×5 is a very slow process. It is tripod-mounted so I have to move the tripod, level the camera, adjust the tripod head to frame the image, then focus and make any adjustments to the standards needed, then lock everything down, cock and close the shutter, load the film, shoot the picture, then pack it all back up and move to the next bike. If everything is going smoothly I can shoot about one frame every 5 minutes.
After shooting only six frames, I saw that the bikes were packing up and leaving and I wasn’t going to get all the shots I wanted. So I grabbed my recently-repaired Pentax 67 and the Takamur 105 lens, loaded a roll of Ilford Delta Pro 100, and started shooting some bikes before they were all gone. Unfortunately I was still having some problems with the big Pentax. It wouldn’t advance the film properly all the time, and the mirror got stuck a couple of times. I swapped out the battery, removed the lens a coupe of times, and got everything working again. I think the problem was a bad battery (a common problem on a Pentax 67) and my rusty skills at using this camera. It has been mostly unusable for a little over a year so I had to remember all the steps involved in shooting this sometimes finicky camera. I have always liked the Pentax 67 since I got it, especially the super-awesome lenses I have for it, but it has always been somewhat unreliable. So far I am finding the Mamiya RB-67 to be much more reliable than the Pentax 67.
As I walked around with my Toyo view camera, I also carried my favorite digital camera, the Nikon Zfc. It is tiny and looks retro and allows me to capture some cool images easily. I usually shoot it in auto ISO mode and manual shutter and aperture.
Soon the bikes were all gone so I packed up my gear and headed home. The next day I took time to develop my film, and as the images came out of the wash I remembered why I like shooting black and white film again, ESPECIALLY the behemoth 4″x5″ negatives from my Toyo.