CVNP, Fall, and Cheap Cameras / by Jeremy Mudd

Dawn breaks at CVNP. This is the Ohio Turnpike overpass that runs across the park. The line in the middle is the gap between the Eastbound and Westbound lanes. If you look closely way down below the bridge you can just see the Towpath Trail that’s open to both hikers and cyclists to traverse the park. Mamiya 645 Pro w/35mm f/3.5 lens on Kodak Ektar film.

In October we made a Fall pilgrimage to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Northeastern Ohio. This was the second time we’ve been there this year, having been there earlier in May. This trip was planned to take advantage of good Fall colors, and we couldn’t have done much better in regards to planning. We were there the 3rd week of October, and the Fall colors were in peak for the end of that week and into the beginning of the 4th week. I had some concerns given the EXTREMELY dry Summer that the leaves would just turn brown and drop off this year, but thankfully I was wrong!

Mamiya 645 Pro with Grip and 80mm lens

This time I REALLY tried to limit the amount of gear I brought with me. The plan was to bring my Mamiya 645 Pro medium format film camera, and to shoot the majority of the time with that. I brought three lenses (35mm, 80mm, and 150mm) and two backs with me, which due to the compact nature of the camera meant all of that plus some film easily fit in my backpack with room to spare. Most of the time I was hiking with the camera slung around my shoulder on a strap and the rest of the gear min the pack. Disclaimer - I had my trusty D750 digital camera as a back-up in the vehicle just in case something went wrong with the 645, but thankfully I didn’t need it – although there was a slight hiccup on the last day – I’ll explain more later.

Canon Elph 6.0 megapixel point and shoot

In addition to the Mamiya, I had with me a circa 2002-ish Canon Elph 6.0 megapixel point&shoot camera. It’s a camera that can be found for $20 on eBay. We have a gallery at the office where I work, that rotates employee art several times per year, and for the upcoming Winter gallery we are doing a “Cheap Camera Challenge”. Several employees have signed up to borrow the camera for a week at a time, and then print their best images taken with the camera and have them on display. This was inspired by the YouTube series of the same name, and is meant to show people that you don’t necessarily need an expensive camera to make great images.

Below are two images of the same scene in CVNP. This is the Station Road Bridge on an early, foggy morning at the beginning of a hike. One image was taken with the Mamiya on Ektar film, and the other on the $20 6.0 megapixel P&S. Can you guess which one is which?

The first one is from the $20 camera.

It’s actually 3 portrait (vertical) images, stitched together in Photoshop and edited to look similar to Ektar’s color profiles. As you can see the field-of-view is different from the Mamiya with the 35mm lens, even with the stitch. I posted the same image on my Instagram account and no one guessed it came from the cheapo camera. It looks pretty good, but it does have its shortcomings. Even with the 3-image stitch there’s no hope in printing it much larger than 11x14 without it totally falling apart, just due to the low megapixel count. Also if you start pixel-peeping there are some areas that just aren’t resolved well. But still – it does show that if you have a good subject, and have good light/conditions, that you can get a decent image with just about anything. The cheapo camera image is going to be printed for our work Gallery, but know that the Mamiya shot will be the one that would be the keeper for me and be on my website.

Blue Hen Falls - Mamiya 645 Pro on Ektar film.

Yep. It really is that pretty in person. I love the way that Ektar renders fall colors. Renee on the Towpath Trail. Mamiya 645 Pro with Ektar film.

While not hiking and photographing in the park, we spent the nights in a hotel in downtown Cuyahoga Falls. Cuyahoga Falls is a great base of operations for us for these trips – still within 20 minutes at most for anywhere in the park, and great restaurants to eat at in the evenings after getting cleaned-up. If you stay there I highly recommend to check out Burntwood Tavern and also Leo’s Italian Restaurant. Both have great food and mixed drinks, but get there early if going on a weekend as they fill up fast! For breakfast there’s a great bakery/café named “Blue Door” that I highly recommend.

The train rolling into the station in the town of Peninsula. We did a 8.5 mile hike from the North end of the park on Saturday, then took the train back north. The Hike&Bike train option in the park is great, only costing $5 to ride.

Renee after we were dropped off by the train. If you look closely you can see the Station Road Bridge in the background that was in one of the earlier shots. Mamiya Pro 645 camera w/35mm f/3.5 lens on Ektar film.

Great Falls at Tinkers Creek. Mamiya 645 Pro on Ektar film.

All told I shot 8 rolls of film over the 4 day trip. 6 rolls of Ektar, 1 roll of Fuji Pro 400H, and 1 roll of Cinestill 800. The only I problem I had was on the last night were there. After we got in from hiking and got cleaned up for dinner, I loaded the Cinestill into a back and headed out. There are some areas in Cuyahoga Falls I really like and wanted to capture some dusk/night images of the architecture and some of the fountains. Unfortunately, something went wrong with the film back and it wouldn’t read the 800 ISO that I had indicated on the dial, so the camera wasn’t firing and the light meter in the prism kept saying it was over-exposed, even though I knew it wasn’t. I finally got it to work by putting the ISO at 50 and then putting the camera in manual mode and guessing at the exposure. I left my light meter in the hotel room so that was the best I could do. Unfortunately that roll was wasted. None of the images were keepers. I think the camera was firing at a default 1/60th no matter what I was doing. At the time I wasn’t certain if it was the body or the back, but since then I’ve figured out it was the back. I’ve got a few other spare backs so no big deal, other than the loss of the roll of film and my frustration when it was going wrong.

I can’t remember the name of this trail, but it was an old access road that at one time ran up to a farm on a ridge. It was wide, hilly, and extremely scenic. Mamiya 645 with Ektar film.

I do like the 645 Pro as a compact medium format system quite a bit, but it can be fragile sometimes. I’ve had a couple of bodies die on me in the past. Given the fact that they are fairly cheap to replace its not a big deal, but if you are interested in getting a 645, potentially the older 645 1000s is a better alternative. They are all metal as opposed to the Pro being all plastic, and tend to be fairly robust. The trade-off is that the 1000s doesn’t have replaceable backs, and it’s a bit heavier. The 1000s also has light seals versus light traps, so they periodically need to be replaced. Assume that any 1000s that you purchase needs to have the seals replaced. I’ve done two of them and its fairly easy. I have both the 1000s and the Pro, but really prefer the ability to swap backs mid-roll and also the lighter weight. Everything is a trade-off I guess. First-world problems. Know that the prices of most medium format film cameras have been on the rise this past year or two, so if you are interested now is the time to pick one up. The good deals will probably disappear soon as prices escalate.

I’ve still got 2 rolls of Ektar yet to scan, but wanted to get this blog finished and a few images posted here. Hopefully I’ll have more to add to the site in the next few weeks.

After the trip, and before I gave the cheap camera to the next person in line, I did get out to Carillon Park in Dayton to make an image last week. This is a 25-shot pano, stitched together in Photoshop and warped into a “tiny world” image. I’ve done several of these type of images in the past at various locations, but this was the first time I’ve done one at Carillon. I was super lucky that day to have a nice sky and some wonderful fall colors in the trees. This will probably be the second image I put in the Cheap Camera Challenge gallery at the office.

Carillon Park - Tiny World. Canon Elph 6.0 megapixel. 25-shot pano stitched and warped in Photoshop.

That’s all for now! I hope you’ve been able to get out there and enjoy the wonderful Fall weather. If you have any questions about anything regarding film, Cuyahoga, tiny world images, or even shooting a cheap camera, please feel free to reach out.

Thanks for reading!

Jeremy