Return of the Espio Returns (2): fully automated

As mentioned previously (here, here, and here), the Pentax Espio 35-70 AF Zoom is a fully automatic camera. I’ve cursed some of its automation in those earlier articles, but if you make some peace with it, accept (and understand its limitations) and just shoot, you can make some pictures with it.

In fact, I think one of my favorite pictures of 2015, and maybe one of my best ever, came out of this camera, out of just letting the camera do its thing and paying attention to making pictures…

Two things before I get started…

  1. Somehow, I ended up shooting a bunch of modernist paintings in this roll… Geometric Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism, etc. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but it did. If that’s not your thing, apologies.
  2. The switchover from summer water to winter water brought with it a great deal of hardness, and it was with this roll that I realized I would need to scrub base side clean before scanning it. Apologies, but I didn’t go back and rescan it. Shame on me.

Ok. With that out of the way, let’s get this thing started properly.

I shot most of this roll—my last roll of Lomography Color 400*—while wandering around as part of the #lunchbreak project, and I more or less intentionally let the Espio do pretty much whatever it wanted to. I even tried to put it in situations where it would pop the flash. (I wasn’t particularly successful…) It has a nice flash, and in earlier sessions with it, I was annoyed by its insistence on popping that damned flash. Of course, I was using slow (100 speed) film and given the Espio’s limited aperture (4.7 at its widest), it needs quite a bit of light to expose slow film.

FYI: if you want to limit the flash to relatively dim indoor scenes, 400 speed seems like a good option. I think the flash popped twice, once in deep shade outdoors, and again in a dark stairwell.

Just for comparison sake, here’s a similar shot, but this time without the flash.

When I was first looking at these, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. They got oriented vertically by accident, and I didn’t realize they weren’t intended that way until I was most of the way done converting them, and by then, it was too late: I’d already sorta decided that I’d accidentally made some sort of El Lissitski or Kasmir Malevich painting.

I like the flash picture… it works, somehow, so the automatic flash isn’t quite the end-all that I thought it was. I didn’t have much opportunity to see it in action further, as virtually everything else on the roll was shot outdoors between 12:00 and 3:30pm on bright, sunny, very warm early December days we enjoyed here in North Texas.

Continuing on with the art show, how about some Cy Twombly?

Maybe more Anselm Kiefer, than Cy Twombly, but something like that… The parking garage outside the office underwent a few months of renovations to correct some leaks that I think were threatening its structural integrity, and it still leaks. The combination of concrete, iron, rust, hard water, chewing gum, marks left by stubbing out cigarettes, leaves blown in and stuck to the dripping water, and various and sundry other stain-leaving objects and events make for some nice textures and colors.

None of that is anything like the colors and textures given to us by Allah azza wa jall. Abstract Expressionism has nothing on God.

Fall color finally arrived in North Texas… It usually lasts about a week in late October or early November, but this year, it stretched out. Roses were still blooming (see below) in early December, and green leaves mixed freely with the yellow, red, and brown ones still clinging to the trees.

All those lines crisscrossing the plane, with some little dabs of color here and there have a direct and clear link to Pollock and his contemporaries and imitators, but, again, painters have nothing on God.

I really need to upgrade the Scan-O-Matic… the 28-105 really wasn’t designed to have 5″ of foam board and tape and cardboard hanging from the end of its plastic barrel, and it’s front element (I think) gets a bit out of whack from time to time. It was awful in Costa Rica, and continues to plague my scanning attempts.

But this is a review of the Espio, not a shopping list or list of complaints.

Oh! and with this one, I pulled the saturation back by a third to get this look. The Lomo film is very saturated and very vibrant, FYI.

This next shot shows something of the characteristics of the wide-ish angle on the Espio, or maybe the field of view of a typical 35mm lens, but it really has more to do with the film than the camera: the Lomo Color Negative 400 is a rather saturated film. With most of the shots I’m sharing here, I pulled back the saturation quite a bit or monkeyed round with the levels until I got something a bit closer to nature. But I just left this one as-is.

I’m not sure why I like it. The framing is off, the angle is strange, the color is just too much, and the subject is unknown (at best), if not completely missing.** But at least it gives me some notes to make about the film itself: colors are saturated and vibrant, and in many cases, it’s hard to get a natural-looking result.

Case in point, this bad picture of a beautiful rose… it’s just too vibrant for its own good.

And the close focus abilities of the Espio once again leave something to be desired, and not just the Espio, my own distance-estimating skills could use some help… I quite simply have no idea what .6 meters looks like. I know it’s something close to 2 feet, but in practice, I have no idea what that looks like either.

In some cases, though, I think the Espio just picks the wrong thing to focus on… I was definitely two feet away from the rose a week or so later when I took this one, or I think I was, anyway.

I kinda like this one anyway… That rose looks like a cartoon monster, some sort of pink claymation Predator or something. Would you believe that that rose is the same as this one?

And that’s my piece de resistance from this roll, and maybe for this year… it just works, somehow, and brilliantly, I think. Time will tell, but I think this is one of my best pictures of the year. It looks like something someone else might have taken, and that I would pause on for a moment while flipping through a book during one of my unboxing videos.

The framing isn’t perfect: 3 inches to the right and I would’ve hidden the stem in the lower left corner, while revealing the full flower head in amongst the old dead parts of the rose bush in the foreground. But it’s still pretty good, and at least I can recognize how it might be a bit better…

Ok. So that’s it for the Espio. It’s a capable little camera, and if you come across one in a thrift shop for a few dollars, or inherit one from a relative, don’t hesitate to run some film through it. For my money, I tend to prefer the results from the FG and LC-A, but that said, neither of those cameras made the rose picture above, or any of that Ab-Ex stuff above that, so I’ll be keeping the Espio and a spare battery around, I think. The lens isn’t as fast or as wide as the one in the LC-A, but it zooms (even though I didn’t spend much time zooming… most everything was shot at 35mm, I think), it’s a bit sharper, and it doesn’t vignette.***

I hope my comments on the camera help someone out there! For a bit more, check out my previous posts:

  • My first mention of it, and mostly just a kvetch about the current state of minilab photo processing, or lack thereof. Not much useful review-type content.
  • A more recent, proper-type review, sort of. I talk about the basic functions and technical specifications, and kvetch some about the not-really macro ‘Full Macro’ claim.
  • A much more recent spoofing of the DX codes on a roll of Kentmere 100 to make the Espio think it was shooting some ISO 320 film. This one includes some of the options I didn’t talk about in the first, more proper review, like the multiple exposure and tele-wide self timer thing.

Thanks for reading!

*for now… I’m slowing running out of film, and I need to go back and make some notes. They’re all a bit different, with varying colors, contrasts, and saturations, and slightly different physical characteristics (tendencies to curl and/or warp, or remain flat, etc.), and I need to pay a bit more attention and figure out what I like and make some notes so that I can choose specific film for specific results, rather than shooting willy nilly, as I’m wont to do.

**I spent an hour or so flipping through Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs a couple of days ago, and something in there—a discussion of an early picture of his that marked a sort of turning point, where he noticed that his early pictures (some of them) had no really identifiable subject: some picture of a tree branch with a distant mountain behind it, and his future wife standing on a ledge or something off in the distance: is the subject the tree, the mountain or the future wife?
Later on, Adams would make the famous claim that “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept” and while many of my pictures have a concept behind them, they have no subject or some nebulous/fuzzy subject like ‘light’ or ‘color,’ in other words, no subject at all.

In sha’Allah I’ll work on that some in the coming years.

***I finished this roll on the same day and at the same time as I finished one in the FG. The Espio auto-loads and auto-rewinds, and when it rewound, I simply popped the back open and pulled out the roll. Well, I sorta forgot that the FG doesn’t auto-rewind and just popped the back open on it… :facepalm:

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