Tag Archives: 35mm PC lens

Southern Pacific SD45 at Old Gorge on Donner Pass, July 1990.

Perspective Control Technique.

I spent a lot of time exploring Southern Pacific’s Donner Pass in 1990. Among my favorite locations was ‘Old Gorge’, sometimes referred to as ‘American,’ where SP’s line rides briefly on an open shelf some 2,000 feet above the American River.

Southern Pacific on Donner Pass
Southern Pacific SD45 7418 is downgrade on Donner Pass between Midas and Towle, California at the American River overlook in July 1990. Exposed on Kodachrome 25 with a Nikon F3T and 35mm PC ‘Shift’ lens.

This offers a stunning view of the American River Canyon, but can be a pretty challenging place to effectively portray a train on film.

On this day in July 1990, I’d been following a westward SP freight downgrade, and driven as close to my location as was practical, and then walked to this ledge overlooking the line.

The classic whine of dynamic brakes preceded the train by several minutes. I made several exposures as the train came into view.

For this image I use my recently acquired Nikon F3T with 35mm perspective control lens. (See recent  posts for detail on this equipment: Santa Fe at West Pittsburg, California, November 1990; Metro-North FL9 at Waterbury, Connecticut, November 16, 1992).

In this situation, I used the camera and lens handheld, and made a slight adjustment to the shifting element front element. Instead of aiming the camera down toward the front of the locomotive, as I would with a conventional 35mm lens, I aimed toward to the far rim of the canyon, while lowering the front element downward to take in the tracks.

As the train passed, I panned the nose of the leading SD45, exposing this frame when it was roughly parallel with the film plane.

Since I didn’t have the camera completely level there is still a bit of line convergence, yet the overall view helps put the magnitude of the canyon in perspective with the train without the locomotive appearing too small or seriously distorted.

Southern Pacific on Donner Pass

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Santa Fe at West Pittsburg, California, November 1990.

EMD SD45-2 Under a Blue Dome.

I’ve posted this image as another example of my work with a perspective control lens. This was a tool I made excellent use of in the early 1990s. On the recommendation of J.D. Schmid, I bought a Nikon 35mm PC ‘Shift’ lens for my Nikon F3T.

Among the advantages of a perspective control lens is the ability to shift the front element. This can be used to keep vertical lines from converging, but also to alter the image in subtle ways.

Santa Fe freight
Santa Fe SD45-2 5809 thunders east with a freight at West Pittsburg, California in November 1990. Exposed on Kodachrome 25 film with a Nikon F3T with 35mm PC lens at f4 1/500th of a second.

It was a clear Saturday morning in the Bay Area, and Brian Jennison and I were on one of our jaunts looking at area railroads. We stopped near the old station location at West Pittsburg (no ‘h’), California. (I believe the palm trees in the distance are an indication of where the building once stood.) Here we photographed several trains.

For this eastward freight, I positioned the camera relatively low to the ground and raised the front element of the 35mm PC to near its maximum. I didn’t quite keep the camera level. The result includes a large amount of crystal blue sky, while minimizing the foreground and keeping the vertical elements of the lead locomotive nearly parallel with the image frame.

I feel the subtle effect allows the locomotive visually surge forward, seeming to charge along. This was my intent. Santa Fe 5809 is an SD45-2, a machine powered by EMD’s 3,600 hp 20-cylinder diesel.

In their heyday these were powerful machines that produced an awe inspiring low-base sound in the high-throttle positions. I hoped to convey that power visually while making use of the California sky.

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