Lochee Burn - part three

I wrote most of this post about a year ago, around the time I was photographing a small burn not too far from my former home in Dundee. This last in the three-part series features some scenes through an old Zeiss lens that I can fit to the Rollei SL66E via an adapter. That was one of my reasons for getting the camera in the first place.

As promised in parts one and two of the Lochee Burn saga, here are some pics that give a different look to this wee stream as it winds it way through the trees and shrubs on its short journey to the River Tay via a merger with the Fowlis Burn.

These come courtesy of a 1920s Sonnar from a Contessa Nettel quarter plate camera, a lens with a focal length of 120mm. I have a couple of lens plates that fit the Rollei SL66E's bayonet lens mount and which can then accept any old lenses with a focal length of more than 90mm or so. Any smaller than that and you can't get infinity focus. There's an upper focal length limit as well. Longer lenses need some extension between camera and lens. The 203mm Ektar I have for the Speed Graphic is one of those so I can't use it without an extension tube of some sort.

The Sonnar I used works very well as it is and is the equivalent of about a 75mm lens on the 35mm format. It can be used two ways: lock the camera on "B" and use the lens shutter (if it has one) or lock the lens on "B" and use the camera's shutter. Since the latter is much easier, I go with the line of least resistance, as usual.

I gave it a go on this project just to see if it could render the scenes in a way that would increase the variety of images. The answer was a resounding, "Yes!" The Zeiss lenses for the SL66E are all sharp, fairly contrasty and highly corrected. The earlier Sonnar is low contrast, a bit soft in close-up and around the edges and has a tendency to flare.

These aren't qualities that would normally make it a favourite but this Sonnar has one thing in its favour: it covers 5x4 and it's being used on a 6x6 SLR. The coverage means that only the centre - and sharper - section of the lens's image circle is being used. Its use on 120 ensures that, unlike on 35mm, its defects won't be stressed too much through over-enlargement.

What this translates into in practice is a lens that "draws" with a very gentle quality. Backgrounds melt nicely into out-of-focus areas and light coming through the trees in contre jour shots is soft and poetic. When I look at a few of these pics, particularly the first one, I think they have an obvious old-fashioned quality to them that makes them look as if they could have been taken pre-WWII or even in the 1920s. 

I've written about the lens before but here's a recap from that post to put you in the picture, so to speak:

The lens was inscribed as a 12cm f4.5 Contessa Nettel Sonnar Anastigmat (about 75mm in 35mm terms) but there was no mention of Zeiss anywhere on it. A bit of research revealed that the Sonnar name was first used by Contessa in 1923/24 having been designed by Dr Ludwig Jakob Bertele. When Zeiss Ikon took over the company in around 1926, they decided they liked the Sonnar name so much - a German pun on Sonne or sun, if I'm not mistaken - they would use it on another lens of Dr Bertele's design - the Sonnar we know today. Bertele's original Sonnar, it transpires, was actually a much simpler, four-element Tessar design.

A reader who identified himself as Balázs Pál Nagy added in the comments below that post, "This is a Sonnar labeled Xenar (Tessar design) made especially for Contessa Nettel by Schneider-Kreuznach."

I've only had time to print one of the negatives from the Sonnar and tried my best not to modernise it by producing a sharp, contrasty print. I kept the shadows nice and open, the overall contrast on the lowish side and allowed the background to do its thing without bothering to burn it in too much. Here's the scan of the print which is from the same negative as the pic at the top of the post.

I think I've covered the wee burn fairly comprehensively - at least, I can't see too many other approaches I can try beyond just swapping formats for the sake of it. You might have noticed, though, that all the photographs in the three posts were taken in late winter/early spring and it might be rewarding to return in the summer for a change.

The only problem with that is the undergrowth which gets quite hairy as the year moves on and becomes fairly impenetrable at times. I might have to look out my Indiana Jones hat and machete for that visit.

And what of the SL66E and Sonnar combination for other projects? I like it. Going for maximum sharpness and good contrast is all well and good but sometimes a scene takes on more character - a certain "feel" - with the softer approach.

The Sonnar would no doubt make a good lens for portraits should I ever decide to have a go at them. It might also give me the look I'm after when out photographing old, historical stuff such as abandoned WWII airfields, ruined castles and dilapidated industrial factories and units. If I decide to hang on to the SL66E then it might see quite a lot of use in future.

Lochee Burn parts one and two.


  1. Hi Bruce or should I call you grandad or maybe pops.Not sure what bairns in Scotland call grandfather. Anyway pleased to see you've got your mojo back. That's a good lens and excellent series of shots. The Rollei is a beautiful piece of kit that holds it price well, you may regret parting with it. Looking forward to your posts once again

  2. I seem to be a granda or, at least, will be when little Lottie starts speaking. I know what you mean about the Rollei. I'll not do anything rash. Hope everything is good with you, Andy.

  3. This looks like a tranquil place. Well worth persisting.