The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

China Trip – One Last Gasp for Kodachrome

Posted by Deliverator on October 28th, 2008

In a little over a week, I will be taking a trip to China with my father and brother. I will be there for most of November and will be visiting Shanghai, Xi’an, Chongqing and Beijing. We will be going with a group of my father’s tennis friends and will be attending the Tennis Master’s Cup. Tennis isn’t my game, but I am definitely looking forward to watching some of the best players in the world square off. We will be taking a multi-day cruise on the Yangtze river and then finishing the trip with a brief visit to Beijing.

I’ve been spending some time this last week preparing for the trip in a number of ways:

-Touched base with my more important business clients to let them know I will be out of town and to perform advance preventative maintenance. Set up remote access on additional systems.
-Established multiple VOIP accounts so that I can check my voicemail. Set up client software on my Nokia N810 Internet Tablet, Nokia N95 cellphone and my laptop.
-Investigated prepaid SIM cards and data plans so that members of our group will be able to call each other while over there and so that I will be able to have fairly regular access to the Intertubes. I had my dad get his phone unlocked.
-Set up VPN access on my router so that I will be able to establish a secure connection to my home-base here for secure web browsing and email. I am paranoid enough about my own government, much less the Chinese one :)
-Encrypted my laptop hard drive with Truecrypt. This is more as a preventative measure in the event of theft. I will unlock it if absolutely necessary if someone in authority has a fit, so I moved most of my confidential client files and the like off the device I will be taking and also wiped the slack space.
-Visited a map store in Wallingford with my father and picked up a number of regional and metropolitan maps of China.

By far the biggest piece of prep work I’ve done for my visit to China is getting my camera gear ready. I received a new camera backpack from Crumpler for my birthday. I quite like it compared to the Targus model I used previously. I will be walking quite a bit in China, so I’ve been “practicing” with the new pack by carrying it around on my nightly walks. I’ve already kicked several items out of the bag to save on weight. I might leave my Lenovo Thinkpad at home in favor of something like an Acer Aspire One to go lighter still.

My main camera for the trip will be my Nikon D80. I will be bringing an 18-200mm VR zoom, a 50mm F1.4 and a Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 for lenses, but leaving behind most everything else but a charger and a thorough assortment of cleaning supplies. I am considering whether or not to take a tripod. Mine is fairly heavy (no $ means no carbon fiber) and I don’t envy the poor lug who has to carry it (namely me). At this point I am leaning towards no. I might take my Gorillapod instead. I will also be taking a film camera as backup in case my camera breaks, gets dropped, stolen, etc.

My backup camera will be my grandfather’s Konica T3 “N”. He was a pilot for Northwest and flew the Orient for many years. Among the many things he brought back from his travels was this camera, which he made heavy use of for years to come. Through 35 years of use, this camera is still happily clicking away photos good as new with little or no visible signs of use due to its solid metal brick design. They literally don’t make em like this anymore. The camera has never needed any type of professional servicing, either. I had to do precisely two things to get this camera ready for my trip; clean the lenses and replace the batteries. Three things if you count purchasing film.

Konica T3N & Kodachrome

Replacing the batteries on an older camera like this is becoming a less than trivial task, unfortunately. Many cameras from this era used mercury based coin cells, which are no longer made due to the perceived environmental hazard of mercury. Mercury batteries offered a very consistent voltage while in use, almost until dead. Many of the light meters in the cameras of that era did away with any sort of voltage regulation due to the high stability of these batteries. While modern replacements are available, many of these have an initial voltage substantially higher than the battery they are designed to replace. This throws off the light meters in cameras and causes the image to be improperly exposed, particularly if you are shooting slide film, which is much less forgiving then film. Many of these replacement batteries also drop in voltage as they are depleted, meaning that the lightmeter is not only thrown off, but thrown off by a different amount as the battery is depleted.

One type of battery which is a fairly close match to the original PX-675 batteries used by my Konica T3N are Zinc-Air batteries. Zinc-Air batteries are commonly used for hearing aids and the like and are thus still widely available. They do have several downsides compared to Mercury batteries. They only last a couple months after you open the packaging, as their chemistry reacts to air and they dry up. Their battery voltage is slightly higher than mercury batteries, usually ~1.4 volts vs the 1.35 that my Konica expects. They also need air to operate and only reach a usable level after being exposed to air for a while. This may make their use in a sealed battery compartment difficult. Thankfully, the T3N has a perforated battery cover, so air-flow is not an issue in my case. The last time I needed to purchase batteries for my camera, I was able to do so locally. This time around, I had difficulty finding a local source, so searched online. I discoved that “My Old Camera” sells zinc air batteries with a slightly lower voltage, which they call a Wein Cell. I ordered some and receive them in short order. They advertise 1.35 volts. I measured them with my multimeter and they produced 1.37 and 1.38 volts unloaded. This probably drops a little under load, so I called it close enough and slapped them into my cameras battery compartment and then was unable to get the screw on door shut. It turns out the Wein Cell is ever so slightly longer than my previous PX-675 batteries. I ended up using a dremel tool to shave off a tiny bit of metal off the interior of the screw on battery door/plug and thus get the door to fit on with the slightly over sized cells.

For film, I decided to get my hands on some Kodachrome, which is practically all my grandfather ever shot when he was shooting slide film. I am eternally grateful for this as Kodachrome has great archival qualities, despite being in a shoe box in a garage for decades. Many other slide film types like Ansochrome and Ektachrome chromatically distort horribly with age and seem to be a haven for fungus, while Kodachrome taken out of the same shoe box will look like it was taken yesterday.

My Grandfather in Kodachrome

Unfortunately, Kodachrome was very expensive and complex to process and has been largely fazed out in favor of cheaper, simpler processes that can even be done in a home darkroom. Production of Kodachrome has likely entirely stopped at this point, with only occasional production runs at this point. I ordered some rolls from a couple different places, all of which contacted me after the fact to explain that it was on back-order. Glazer’s Camera, by far the best camera store in Seattle, imo, was able to supply me with some Kodachrome 64. They have been out of 200 speed for quite some time and don’t expect to get resupplies of either. When it is gone, it is gone for good.

While it may take you some time to track down some rolls of Kodachrome, your processing search will be quick. You can only get Kodachrome developed at one place on the planet, Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas. The world is strange, indeed. I look forward to photographing a new portion (to me, anyways) shortly.