Projects and ponderings for film photographers

Archive for July, 2015

Voyage to the Bottom of the Bay

Or: My adventures as a camera-auction bottom feeder


Oh, eBay.

Anyone interested in vintage photo gear will get sucked in eventually.

I admit, eBay has some very frustrating aspects. The sellers who stubbornly cling to inflated asking prices, ones which are sheer fantasy in 2015. Others with terrible blurry pictures and illiterate descriptions—witness the many listings for a lense, len, leans, lendes, len’s, or lends (search if you don’t believe me).

But you can also find odd bits of gear with novel and inspiring imagemaking potential, at a laughably low cost. Do you actually need a Yashica Dental Eye II? Probably not; but there is some price low enough where finally you say, “what the heck—I’m curious enough to pay that.”

Screen-capture from eBay auction


Skim a day’s closing auctions and you may be surprised what slips by with few or no bids. If an item piques your interest, next search “sold listings” to see how low its price can actually go (but always watch out for padded shipping charges). I’m a very lowball bidder—content to lose most of the auctions I follow. But that patience has scored me some very fun items, at prices lower than what you’d spend on dinner and a beer. Some recent examples follow.


Everything Is Spinning! (on purpose)

“Bokeh” is a bit of photographic jargon often used and misused in confusing and contradictory ways.

But when you hear that a particular lens has “nice bokeh,” typically that means it makes out-of-focus backgrounds melt away into a smooth, un-distracting blur. The opposite of this would be lenses where the background is full of busy, “vibrating” lines or strange geometric highlights.

Yet it has come to this blog’s attention that some photographers actually seek out novel and attention-grabbing bokeh. About 300 of you have pledged $240,000 (so far) to revive a Meyer Görlitz lens with alarming “soap bubble” bokeh. (Trust me, 90% of the time that will just lead to weird and jangly backgrounds.)

Then there’s the Lomography New Petzval lens: 4 pieces of glass that will cost you $600 plus. Its main selling point is that it is said to give a “swirly” look to your photos.

Swirly Bokeh Sample

The background goes round and round (click to enlarge)

“Swirly bokeh” means a blurred background that seems to circle around the center of the frame, as if the world were starting to spin. In my mind, zany and very intrusive bokeh like this is a bit like a fisheye lens: Every once in while the effect can be intriguing; but pretty quickly things like that can wear out their welcome and seem gimmicky.

But: let’s say you want to give this circling bokeh a whirl—er, a swirl. Do you need to plunk down lots of cash on some exotic gadget; or might you already own something suitable already, right there in your camera-cupboard?