Camera Reviews

Nikon Coolpix 950

Digital cameras were new and exciting in the 1990s, but resolution and image quality didn’t yet compare to film. Nikon’s Coolpix digital line finally delivered good image quality with the Coolpix 900 and 900s, but resolution was still paltry at 1.25 megapixels. Photographers eagerly anticipated the Nikon Coolpix 950, for it would bump that up to 2.11 megapixels, enough to make prints up to 16×20 inches. It was 1999, and the point-and-shoot digital camera had finally arrived.

Nikon Coolpix 950

You could buy all sorts of strange-looking digital cameras in the 1990s as form factor was not yet settled. With the Coolpix 900 and 950, Nikon was trying out a body in two segments. You twisted the lens segment forward to take pictures, and up to slip the camera into your coat pocket.

Nikon Coolpix 950

The Coolpix 950 packs a ½-inch, 2.11-megapixel CCD sensor set behind a 38-115mm (equivalent) f/2.6-4 Zoom Nikkor lens. Its shutter operates from from 1/750 second up to 8 seconds. The 950 offers programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority autoexposure modes, but no manual exposure mode. It operates at ISO 80 by default, but you can also set it to ISO 100, 160, and 320. It focuses automatically by default, but you can set it to focus manually across a range of preset distances starting from four inches. You can frame your images using the viewfinder or the two-inch LCD on the back. The 950 stores images on a Compact Flash (CF) card. Four AA batteries power the 950.

Nikon Coolpix 950

A small LCD on the top of the 950 counts down the number of images left to store on the CF card. It also shows the battery charge level and the selected modes for autofocus, flash, image resolution, focus, and metering. Buttons atop the camera set the flash and focus modes, as well as turn on the self-timer.

Nikon Coolpix 950

The 950 offers four flash modes: automatic, red eye reduction, always on, and slow synchronized. That last mode is for poorly lit backgrounds, especially at night. There’s an onboard flash as well as a port to connect an external flash (but there’s no shoe to mount it). The 950 also offers landscape, normal, and macro focusing modes. Macro mode focuses from 2 centimeters! The 950 defaults to 256-segment matrix metering, but you can also choose center-weighted or spot metering.

The switch atop the camera lets you choose A-REC and M-REC picture-taking modes, as well as the image-playback mode. A-REC is the simplest way to make images with the 950: select it, and the camera chooses most settings for you. M-REC gives you more control over settings via expanded in-camera menus.

You can set the 950 to save your images at three resolutions: full (1,600×1,200 pixels), XGA (1,024×768 pixels), or VGA (640×480 pixels), all at 300 pixels per inch. You can also choose among several JPEG compression levels with decreasing image compression: Basic, Normal, and Fine. In M-REC mode you can also select Hi image quality, which saves images as uncompressed TIFFs. You make these selections by holding down the Qual button and turning the dial on the front below the shutter button.

The bottom of the LCD shows you the aperture and shutter speed, the exposure mode, and the number of images remaining on the CF card.

The Coolpix 950 weighs about 12 ounces — heavy enough for you to notice, but not so heavy as to be fatiguing to carry.

The 950 manual doesn’t say how large of a CF card the camera accepts. Some Internet photo forums said that the 950 was designed for CF cards up to either 96 or 128 megabytes, but works with CF cards of any capacity. If you insert an unformatted CF card into your 950, the LCD gives you the option to format it. You can also format your CF card on a computer, but be sure to use the FAT (a.k.a. FAT-16) file system.

I bought a 2 GB CF card to use with my 950, as well as a USB CF card reader to connect to my computer. When I tried to format my card in the camera, the 950 said the format was successful, yet the camera wouldn’t save any images to the card. One forum thread I saw claims that the 950 can’t format CF cards larger than 128 MB. I reformatted the card in my computer, and then it worked fine in the 950.

By the way: I review mostly film cameras on this site, but I have reviewed several digital cameras too. I use my Canon PowerShot S95 a lot; review here. See also my reviews of the Canon PowerShot S80 (here), the Kodak EasyShare Z730 (here), the Kodak EasyShare C613 (here), a Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 (here), a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 (here), and the Pentax K10D DSLR (here).

I took the Coolpix 950 to the local farmers market one Saturday morning. I shot the camera using the A REC mode, at full resolution with normal compression.

Melons in the truck bed

You make an image with the 950 in the standard way: frame the shot, press the shutter button down halfway to focus and set exposure, then press it the rest of the way to make the image. The camera beeps to tell you the shutter has opened and closed. It takes several seconds for the camera to write the image to the CF card, so be patient before making the next image.

Strawberries Carrots Eggs Lettuce

The 950 focuses fast, but zooms slowly. After making and saving an image, the 950 wouldn’t let me zoom immediately. There must have been some other function the camera needed to finish performing first, but I never figured out what it was.

Apples for sale

The 950 doesn’t handle mixed lighting well. I shot this threesome under a tree’s shade with a full-sun day raging behind them and got a blown background and a little ghosting. Do I detect a little purple fringing as well?

Congregating

Once again, the bright background is blown in favor of reasonable exposure in the shadows.

Working the Farmers Market

In this shot the 950 delivered considerable lens flare. The sun was off to my left.

At the Farmers Market

The LCD washes out easily in the sun. You can change the LCD’s brightness in the menus, which probably helps, but I just used the viewfinder instead. It’s small but bright. Unfortunately, it shows you noticeably less than what the lens sees.

Flowers in barrels

Here’s a photo I made in macro mode, of the ash tree in my front yard.

Ash leaves

You can take a selfie with the 950! Just twist the lens so it’s pointing at you, and frame yourself in the LCD. You’ll be upside down, but that’s easy enough to fix in any photo editor and in most photo viewers. You’ll need to zoom out to fit yourself in the frame. This image plainly shows the barrel distortion this lens delivers at its wide end. The more you zoom in, the more this distortion goes away.

Upside-down selfie

Shadow detail is often poor. When I try to enhance shadows in Photoshop I usually find there’s not enough data there to improve the image. Even in this image of my car, I couldn’t brighten up the side and front wheel at all; there just isn’t data there for it.

My vee dub

To see more from this camera, check out my Nikon Coolpix 950 gallery.

When you consider that the Nikon Coolpix 950 is from digital photography’s infancy, it’s hard to dispute that this camera performed beautifully for its time. It’s an acceptable performer even today.

1999 was a critical year in digital imaging: it was also in 1999 that Nikon released the D1 DSLR. There had been DSLRs before it, but the D1 was a landmark camera that led the way. All DSLRs since followed the D1 idiom. Really, in 1999 Nikon brought digital imaging’s infancy to a close, and began the transition away from film photography to digital photography as the primary way images are made.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Yashica-D

Yashica-D

The Yashica-D was my first twin-lens reflex camera. I had lusted after TLRs for many years, but I always rebuffed them for their high prices. The Rolleicords and Rolleiflexes are the most respected members of the genre and go for big bucks on the used market. Lots of companies made TLRs in the Rollei idiom, but even the clones can be mighty expensive.

Nobody cloned Rollei TLRs as prolifically as Yashica, which produced them from 1953 to 1986. Collectors broadly group Yashica’s many TLRs by the film advance mechanism: knob or crank. The crank-advance Yashica TLRs, which stayed in production longer and offer the best lenses and shutters, go for the most money on the used market. The crank-advance Yashica-Mat tends to be the most expensive today because it includes a coupled CdS light meter. Except for a model here and there that flirted with selenium light meters, other Yashica TLRs offer no onboard metering.

The Yashica-D was a screaming bargain among used TLRs when I bought this one in 2013. I paid about $50 for it, shipped, and that was a typical price. Now good ones start at $75 and go up to about $200. That’s still a good price when you look at what a Rollei TLR costs.

Yashica made the Yashica-D for a whopping 16 years starting in 1957. Of the meterless knob-advance Yashica TLRs, the Yashica-D is the best specified. It used a Copal MXV leaf shutter, which operates from 1 to 1/500 second. Until sometime in 1970, the taking and viewing lenses were both 80mm f/3.5 Yashikors of triplet design. The Yashinon lenses that Yashica used in the D starting in 1970 were four-element, three-group Tessar designs. Those later Yashica-Ds are sought after by collectors. Fortunately, the Yashikors are no slouches.

Yashica-D

When I held this Yashica-D in my hands for the first time, it felt incredibly right. I wanted to shoot with it right now. It was much as how the scent of a delicious meal can make you hungry, or the sight of a beautiful woman can make you …well, you know. I’ve never been so affected by a camera before. I heeded its call, moving it to the front of the line ahead of several other cameras awaiting their test rolls.

The Yashica-D is a real pleasure in your hands. Not only do all the knobs move smoothly and precisely, but there’s also a sensually pleasing heft to them. It delighted me to find that focusing the camera moves the entire lens assembly in and out. You have to cock the shutter manually, but the lever slides like it’s on silk with a tiny, sure click at the end. The winding knob is large enough to grip easily and it works smoothly. Tip: you have to press the button in the center of the knob first, or the film won’t wind.

But before any of that, you have to load film. This is awkward at best in any TLR as the form factor doesn’t lend itself to easy handling. But in the D’s case, after you hook the film backing end into the takeup spool you wind until the big arrow on the film backing paper lines up with a red triangle on the body. Then you close the back and wind until the film stops. From there, as you take photos and wind the camera stops at the next frame for you. It’s so much nicer than using the infernal red windows you’ll find on so many other medium-format cameras. A frame counter is on the side of the camera next to the winding knob.

When you open the hood, the viewing box erects on its own. When you press the Y logo in the lid, a magnifying glass pops out. Is it just my middle-aged eyes, or is this glass necessary for accurate focus? It is for me, anyway. I’m glad it’s there. Either way, be prepared: the viewfinder image is reversed. This takes time to get used to. You can also press the Y logo in the lid until it swings entirely out of the way, and use the lid as a sports viewfinder.

To set aperture and shutter speed, turn the two small dials between the lenses until the values you want appear in the window atop the viewing lens. Then cock the shutter, frame your subject, press the shutter button, and wind on to the next frame.

By the way, I also own and have reviewed the Yashica-12 (here), which is much like the Yashica-D but offers a light meter and a crank winder. Other medium-format gems in my collection include the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here), the Kodak Monitor Anastigmat Special (here), the Agfa Isolette III (here), the Ansco Standard Speedex (here), the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), and the Voigtländer Bessa (here). You can check out all of my camera reviews here.

It seemed right to shoot black-and-white film in this camera, so I loaded some Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros and took it along when my sons and I drove up to Terre Haute one cloudy afternoon. This jet has sat on the lawn of the Clay County Courthouse in Brazil, Indiana, for as long as I can remember.

Jet

We also stopped by Iron’s Cemetery, which is hidden from view along US 40 west of Plainfield. Check out that delicious bokeh.

Iron's Cemetery

The roll’s 12 shots went by too fast. So I went to the fridge for a roll of now-discontinued Kodak Ektachrome E100G slide film and kept shooting. My D beautifully rendered the evening sunlight as it fell across my car’s tail.

Matrix Hindquarter

I’ve put several rolls of E100G through this camera. This film just loves the D’s Yashinon lens.

Crown Hill National Cemetery

I sometimes get out my Yashica-D just to enjoy it. I own few cameras that bring me such pleasure. One evening after work I shot an entire roll of E100G on the flowers in my front yard.

Yellow and purple lilies *EXPLORED*

The father of a dear friend gave me another Yashica-D, one he had used for many years. It was in like-new condition and it was older, so I sold my first Yashica-D and kept his.

Yashica-D

According to this site which lists the history of Yashica TLRs, this D was made sometime between 1963 and 1965. It came with a plastic lens cap; earlier models had a metal cap. And it has the “cowboy” Y logo on the hood; later models had a plainer, wider Y logo. My earlier D has that wide-Y logo, so it’s from after 1965.

To start, I shot some Kodak Ektar 100 in it. I took it to Crown Hill Cemetery, home of one of the nation’s largest military cemeteries.

Charles H. Ackerman

This Yashica-D came with a Spiratone close-up lens kit. It did nice work on the narcissus in my front yard.

Spring flowers from my garden

Along the way I bought a Yashica-12, which features not only the Yashinon lenses and crank wind, but also an onboard light meter. The meter makes the 12 a little nicer to shoot than the D. But I still get my Yashica-D out once in a while because I enjoy its simplicity. I shot Kosmo Foto 100 on one outing.

Black Dog Books

I shot Kodak Gold 200 while my wife and our granddaughter were planting flowers in pots out front.

Grandma and Granddaughter

To see the rest of the photos I took with my two Yashica-Ds, check out my gallery.

The Yashica-D just feels great in the hands. You wouldn’t think so; this is, after all, a large brick of metal. Yet its weight and size feel just fabulous as you carry it around. And then everything about it feels and sounds precise and luxurious, from winding to cocking the shutter to pressing the button. The Yashica-D is a sensual joy, roll after roll.

It’s why I keep mine within arm’s reach. There are just times when I feel like a little medium-format fun and the D is always a marvelous choice. I’ve been known to shoot a roll of 120 in twenty minutes in my D! Moreover, Ds go for far less on the used market than the better-known Yashica-Mat 124-G with its crank winder and integrated meter. While I very much enjoy the crank-wound, metered Yashica-12 I own, I think that if I could keep only one TLR, it would be the Yashica-D.

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Camera Reviews

Ansco Viking Readyset

Slim when closed, folding cameras were intended to fit in the pocket of a man’s jacket. The front of these cameras opened to unfold a long bellows with a lens at the end. Folding cameras were popular for several decades, but by the 1950s their popularity faded as other camera types supplanted them. One of Ansco’s last folding-camera gasps in the 1950s was its Viking line, at the bottom of which sat the Ansco Viking Readyset.

Ansco Viking Readyset

Produced from 1952 to 1959, the Viking Readyset features an f/11 Agfa Isomar lens of unknown focal length. This single-element lens sits behind the shutter. If you’re wondering why an Ansco camera features an Agfa lens, it’s because these two companies had been intertwined since 1928. They were one company until World War II, when the U.S. government broke them apart due to Agfa being German. After that, Ansco still often turned to Agfa for resources. Agfa made Viking cameras in Munich for Ansco.

Ansco Viking Readyset

The Viking Readyset offers two aperture settings, “Bright,” which I’m guessing is f/16, and “Hazy,” which is the full f/11. You choose this setting with a lever at the bottom of the lens housing. The shutter has two settings atop the lens housing: I (instant) and B (bulb). An old ad I found said that the shutter operates at at 1/40 sec. The shutter button is the long lever along the inside of the front door. Press it down to fire the shutter, which is a simple single leaf on a spring that does not require cocking.

Ansco Viking Readyset

The camera offers two focus zones, 5 to 10 feet and 10 feet to infinity, which you select with a lever on the side of the lens housing. The viewfinder is a simple pop-up “sports” type, on the same side of the body as the winder. The body is metal with a water-resistant coating that feels like it’s made of plastic. There’s a tripod mount on the faceplate, which is a nice touch. The camera also features a flash sync port. The Viking Readyset makes eight 6×9-cm images on a roll of 120 film.

“Readyset” was Ansco’s way of identifying a folding camera as being simple to use. You could buy far better specified Vikings than the Readyset. The top-line Viking featured an f/4.5 lens; the next one down an f/6.3 lens. Both were set in a shutter with a top speed of 1/200 sec. The Viking cameras cost $48.65, $34.95, and $19.95, respectively, when new. $19.95 is equivalent to about $215 today. In comparison, an Ansco box camera could be had for as little as $4.95, or about $55 today.

I’ve reviewed a couple other Agfa and Ansco folding cameras, including the Standard Speedex (here), the B2 Speedex (here), and the Isolette III (here). I’ve also reviewed the folding Kodak Monitor Six-20 (here), Tourist (here), and giant No. 3A Autographic (here); as well as Voigtländer’s original Bessa (here). You can see all of my camera reviews here.

I bought this Readyset Viking for $45 shipped, which is a fairly high price for such a simple camera. I took the plunge because this one appeared to be in very good condition. Unfortunately, the bellows turned out to be full of pinholes. This is a common malady among old folders. I dabbed a little black fabric paint on each hole to make the bellows light tight again.

To open the Viking Readyset, pull out the chromed tab on the front, and then pull the front open. To close the camera, press in the joint on both of the door’s struts, and then push the door closed. Closing the camera resets the focus to 10+ feet.

My test roll in the Viking Readyset was Ilford FP4 Plus, expired since December, 1994, but always stored frozen. To load film, first open the back by sliding the entire top plate (with the carry strap) to the side. Then lift up the chromed, hinged arm , place one end of the film roll on its post, and lower the arm as you place the other end of the film roll on the fixed post. It’s harder to explain than it is to do it. Then thread the end of the backing paper through the slot on the takeup spool, wind the camera a few times, close the back, and wind until the number 1 appears in the red window on the camera back.

Brick Street Inn Hotel

I shot all eight exposures at Zionsville’s annual Brick Street Market in early May. They close the main street and invite art and food vendors in.

Brick Street Market

It was a sunny day, so I left the Viking Readyset on its Bright (f/11) setting. I relied on FP4 Plus’s good exposure latitude — you can underexpose it by 1.5 stops and overexpose it by 6 stops.

Cover band

It’s easy to make a vertical image with the Viking Readyset thanks to the pop-up viewfinder. I found the viewfinder to be reasonably accurate, too. What you put in the center of the viewfinder shows up in the center of the image, and the lens “sees” only a little more around the edges than the viewfinder does. This is true when you focus beyond ten feet, anyway. The two images I made focused in the 5-10 foot range suffered from some parallax error. That 1/40 sec. shutter speed sure makes it easy to get blurry photos from camera shake, as here.

Kettle Korn

The 1/40 sec. shutter also won’t freeze action, as the two people walking in this image prove. The lens is reasonably sharp except in the corners, and as you can see there’s a little barrel distortion.

Flower Shop

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Ansco Viking Readyset gallery.

The Viking Readyset handled easily, in large part because there’s next to nothing to set. That’s the whole point of any Ansco camera with the Readyset name: all I had to do was select the distance range, frame the scene, press down the shutter button, and wind. While winding, you have to move the cover over the red window out of the way to see the frame number on the film’s backing paper.

I enjoyed using the Ansco Viking Readyset. It was no trouble to carry around by its handle, and it was quickly ready every time I wanted to make a photo. But I can see that the slow shutter is always going to put images at risk of being blurry due to shake, even though I have a very steady hand. I probably won’t use this camera again.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

A Chinese company called Sunpet has had this little 35mm point-and-shoot camera in its catalog for more than 25 years now. Several companies have slapped their names on it and sold it. The best-known company is Vivitar, who may have been the first to sell it back in the mid-late 1990s. So branded, it became a well-loved, almost cult classic. That’s certainly why so many other companies have sold this camera — they’re trying to cash in. Most recently, the Reto Project in Hong Kong has reissued this camera as the Reto Ultra Wide and Slim.

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

Reto’s release of this camera created quite a buzz in 2022, especially given its $29 list price. That’s barely more than the cost of one roll of film and processing these days. I’m not normally one to jump on bandwagons, but I bought one of these the moment I could. Fellow photoblogger Mike Connealy does terrific work with his Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (see some of it here), and I wanted a piece of that action.

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

But I’ve buried the lede. What sets this inexpensive, fixed-focus, plastic camera apart is its extremely wide lens: 22mm at f/11. It’s set in a 1/125 second single-blade leaf shutter. The lens has a surprisingly sophisticated design, given this camera’s price, with one acrylic element in front of the shutter and another behind it. Also, baffles inside the camera’s film door forces the film to curve. This combination results in remarkably low-distortion images. The lens delivers some softness and vignetting in the corners, however.

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

At 3 7/8″ x 2 1/4″ x 1″, the Ultra Wide and Slim is about the same size as the tiny Olympus XA. But the XA is a heavyweight compared to the feather-light Ultra Wide and Slim. This all-plastic, all-mechanical camera weighs just 2½ ounces!

The Reto Ultra Wide and Slim is available in five colors: charcoal, cream, pastel pink, muddy yellow, and murky blue. I went with the murky blue.

I’ve shot a number of point-and-shoot cameras over the years. Check out my reviews of the Canon Snappy 50 (here) and Snappy S (here), the Kodak VR35 K40 (here) and K12 (here), the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here), and the Olympus Stylus (here) and Trip 500 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

My first roll of film in the Ultra Wide and Slim was some expired ISO 200 Ferrania color negative stock with Kroger branding that I picked up cheap. The images showed the grain and color shifts consistent with expired film. But just look at how much of the scene the Ultra Wide and Slim captured!

Down the street

Here’s a look down Main Street in Zionsville. It took me a couple of rolls to start to get the hang of this wide lens, and avoid having so much uninteresting foreground in my images.

Down the brick street

Just look at how straight all the lines are in this straight-on shot.

Blue garage

I kept going with a roll of Fomapan 400. In retrospect, I wish I had chosen HP5 Plus or Tri-X for the huge exposure latitude they offer. Several of the images I made on this film were badly misexposed.

Through the windshield, Downtown Indianapolis

The winder is the cheapest-feeling aspect of this camera. It makes quite a ratchety noise when you use it. On this roll of film I felt it tearing sprocket holes as it wound the first five or so frames.

Mailboxes

The film counter is hard to read. It’s not just that the numbers are small and my eyes are more than 50 years old. The plastic magnifying bubble over the numbers does more to distort those numbers than to magnify them. That bubble also reflects light, which further obscures the numbers. Finally, the numbers are printed in a faint red.

Knight

My next roll was some fresh Fujicolor 200. Some say that this camera can struggle to wind toward the end of a 36-exposure roll. I did not find that to be the case at all with this 36-exposure roll, or the 36-exposure roll of Fomapan that I shot.

At the food truck

The Ultra Wide and Slim’s viewfinder isn’t accurate — when I framed this yellow Pontiac, the cars on either side of it were barely in the frame. But then, hardly any point-and-shoot viewfinder is accurate. I don’t know why I expect better after all these years. The viewfinder also has a fisheye effect that the lens itself does not.

Yellow Pontiac

This simple image does a great job of showing how sharp this acrylic lens is. Reto recommends using ISO 100 or 200 film on sunny days, and ISO 400 film on cloudy days, to accommodate the camera’s fixed exposure.

Ellison

Despite the lens’s ultra-wide angle, I still had to tilt the camera to bring some subjects fully into the frame. However, I don’t think I could have managed this image with the 35mm lenses that are common to point-and-shoot cameras. I would have hit the building behind me before I backed up enough.

J. W. Marriott

I had trouble rewinding the first two rolls I shot in this camera. I thought I heard and felt the film leader pass into the cartridge, but when I opened the camera I found a little film was still wound on the takeup spool. A few frames on each roll were ruined because of this. On my third roll, I discovered that the rewind crank had wiggled down a little bit. I pushed it all the way up before I rewound. This time upon rewinding I heard the same steady clicking noise as when I wound the film. When the film came off the takeup spool and was fully in the film canister, the clicking stopped. Aha! So if you rewind this camera but don’t hear that clicking, press the crank/spool firmly back up into the camera.

Statues

I am deliberately not showing you the many images I made that featured one or more of my fingers. The lens is so wide that if your fingers are on the front of the camera at all, you are likely to see them in your image. By my third roll I had built a habit of holding the camera only around the edges, to eliminate all chance of getting my finger in the lens.

To see more from this camera, check out my Reto Ultra Wide and Slim gallery.

The Reto Ultra Wide and Slim is a blast to use, especially after you learn how to work around its quirks. It’s the kind of camera you want to keep loaded at all times, and slip into your pocket wherever you go. On a full-sun or cloudy-bright day, load this camera with your favorite everyday color film and be ready for some fun shooting.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Pentax ME SE

You have to wonder why Pentax went to the trouble to offer the Pentax ME SE. After all, it was the same camera as the Pentax ME save two tiny details. One of those details is obvious by inspection: smooth brown leather on the body instead of textured black leather.

Pentax ME SE

The other differing detail is inside the viewfinder: on the focusing screen, the split screen is canted at -45 degrees. The regular ME’s split screen is horizontal. The canted split screen eliminates needing to rotate the camera when the subject’s lines are primarily horizontal, which is nice.

Pentax ME SE

Otherwise, the ME SE’s specs are identical to the ME’s. It works with films from ISO 12 to 1600 and allows exposures from 8 seconds to 1/1000 second through its electronic shutter. You can adjust exposure up to two stops in either direction by setting a dial around the rewind crank. Its hot shoe syncs at 1/100 sec. Two silver-oxide SR44 button batteries power the ME SE. Without them, the shutter operates only at 1/100 sec and at bulb.

Pentax ME SE

Also like the regular ME, this camera operates only in aperture-priority autoexposure mode, and it lacks depth-of-field preview. This camera was aimed squarely at the amateur.

To use the Pentax ME SE, turn the dial atop the camera to AUTO. Set your aperture on the lens. Then look through the viewfinder, frame your subject, and focus. Press the shutter button down partway. A red light appears next to the shutter speed the ME SE’s meter chose. If the red light appears next to OVER or UNDER, adjust the aperture until the meter can select one of the shutter speeds. Of course, if you get a shutter speed slower than about the inverse of your lens’s focal length, you should mount the camera on a tripod to avoid shake.

Pentax produced these cameras from 1976 to 1979, but you could buy them new out of existing stock through at least 1984. They commonly came in a kit with the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens for a street price of about $120. That’s equivalent to about $330 today, making this camera a solid bargain when new.

If you like compact SLRs, see my reviews of the original Pentax ME (here), the Olympus OM-1 (here), and the Nikon FA (here). If you like Pentax SLRs, see my reviews of the K1000 (here), the KM (here), the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), the ES II (here), and the H3 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

My regular Pentax ME has long been my favorite SLR. It’s so light and easy to carry, and I strongly favor aperture-priority shooting. When I found my ME’s meter to be dead last fall, I faced a choice. I could either have my well-used, somewhat battered body repaired, or buy a lightly-used, working body. I decided upon the latter, and soon came upon this clean and minty ME SE. The seller had even just replaced all of the light seals. I paid $105, including shipping, which is a lot more than I normally pay for any camera. But I am entering into a long-term relationship and was willing to pay for a body in very good nick.

To test the camera I mounted the delightful 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens and loaded some Kodak Ultramax 400. I set the camera’s ISO to 200 because I love the look of Ultramax 400 overexposed by a stop.

Autumn in the suburbs on the Pentax ME SE

The ME SE feels just like the ME in the hand, except that the ME SE’s smooth leather feels a great deal nicer than the ME’s nubby black leather. It gives me an “ahhhhh!” moment every time I pick it up.

Metamora, Indiana on the Pentax ME SE

I kept going with a roll of Fomapan 200, which I rated at 125 and developed in Ilford ID-11 stock.

Rushville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

Just like the regular ME, the ME SE’s winder feels a little ratchety. The similarly sized Olympus OM-1 or -2’s winder is a lot smoother. The shutter button feels good, however, with a smooth, short travel.

Rushville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

The ME SE’s viewfinder is surprisingly large and bright, which adds to the joy of using this camera.

Brookville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

Next I mounted the underappreciated 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens and loaded some expired Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400 film. I shot it at box speed — I should have rated it at 200 or 100. This was the best-exposed image on the roll.

Construction scene on the Pentax ME SE

I shot the ME SE all over Indiana on various trips. Because of its size and weight, it’s an easy companion.

Carmel statue on the Pentax ME SE

Finally I took the ME SE along on a trip up the Michigan Road toward South Bend, fresh Fujicolor 200 aboard. I mounted a 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A lens I had just bought.

Rees marquee on the Pentax ME SE

This fat lens made the ME SE front heavy and thus less pleasant to shoot. Mount a prime onto the ME SE (or the regular ME) and you have a light, balanced kit.

1949 Buick Super on the Pentax ME SE

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax ME SE gallery.

I love the Pentax ME SE, just as I have loved the Pentax ME for many years now. I recommend these bodies every chance I get. They’re still relatively inexpensive on the used market, and they let you mount the entire range of terrific Pentax manual-focus lenses. What’s not to love?

Postscript: I got out my regular ME the other day to decide what to do with it. I decided to try another fresh battery just for the heck of it — and the meter lit right up. The camera works just fine. I have no idea why I couldn’t make it work before. Now I have two working ME bodies!

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Kodak Retina Ia

Kodak’s mission was to bring photography to the masses. They succeeded by cranking out millions of inexpensive cameras. But Kodak really invested in its Retina line when they introduced it in 1934. Made in Germany of German components, the Retina was meant to compete with, or at least carry some of the cachet of, Leicas, Voigtländers, and Zeiss-Ikons. The Retina became Kodak’s most celebrated camera. Naturally I was Retina-curious. My first Retina was this Kodak Retina Ia (one-a).

Kodak Retina Ia

The 1951-54 Retina Ia (“Type 015” in Retina-speak) was the entry-level Retina, which improved upon an earlier Retina I (“Type 013”). The Ia’s most obvious improvement was its winding lever; the I had a knob. This Ia features the Synchro-Compur shutter with a top speed of 1/500 sec. and a coated 50mm f/3.5 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar lens. Other lenses were available on the Ia, including an f/2.8 Retina-Xenar and an f/2.8 Kodak Ektar. Early examples offered a Compur Rapid shutter.

Kodak Retina Ia

A defining and endearing feature of the Retina through about 1959 is that they fold open and closed. The bellows is tiny, but it’s there. When closed, you can put it in a coat pocket — but be ready for your coat to hang funny, because this camera is heavy.

Kodak Retina Ia

There was no mistaking that this is a Kodak Retina; the back cover makes it pretty obvious.

If you’re into Retinas, also check out my reviews of the Retina IIa (here), the Retina IIc (here), the Retina Reflex IV (here), and the Retina Automatic III (here). Other surprisingly capable Kodaks include the Pony 135, Model C (here), the Monitor Six-20 (here), and the Brownie Starmatic (here). Or check out all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed, here.

I put a couple rolls of Fujicolor 200 through my Retina Ia. I decided to “go commando” and use the Sunny 16 rule to guess exposure: on a bright, sunny day, set the camera to f/16 and the shutter to about the inverse of your film’s speed. The Retina’s shutter doesn’t have a 1/200 sec. setting, but it does have 1/250 sec., so I just used that. The photos all turned out right enough that minor tweaking in Photoshop made them look fine. Here’s the cart path on the golf course behind my house.

Golf path

This shot is from the cemetery behind my church, on this land since 1839.

North Liberty Cemetery

My dogs are always easy subjects. Meet Gracie and Sugar. The Ia’s viewfinder is teeny tiny, making it challenging to frame subjects. I thought I had my doggos centered in the frame, but they wound up noticeably left of center. That viewfinder is itty bitty, and it’s hard to frame accurately with it. I cropped the photo to fix that.

Gracie and Sugar

My car is another easy subject. Toyota Matrix owners all know it: it’s so easy to lose wheel covers on this car. That Schneider-Kreuznach lens delivers good color and sharpness.

Red Matrix

For my second roll of Fujicolor 200 I stayed right in my yard. I didn’t have my car repainted — I bought a new one in blue. I’m a giant fan of Toyota Matrixes. And there’s Gracie just hanging out.

Front yard with dog

One challenge I always have with a manual-everything camera is remembering to set all the settings. On about half the photos on this roll I forgot to focus. D’oh! I remembered to focus this shot, where the lens was as wide open as the light would allow it to be so I could get a blurred background.

Matrix tail

This shot of the back of my house shows the resolution and detail this Schneider-Kreuznach lens delivers.

Deck

We’ll wrap this slideshow with a photo of my pal Gracie. The house across the street had been abandoned for a few months when I made this; gotta remember to choose my backgrounds better.

Gracie

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Retina Ia gallery.

The results I got from this Retina Ia helped me see why the Retina line remains well respected among collectors today. But its tiny viewfinder and lack of focusing and exposure assistance helped me see why collectors prefer Retinas II and III.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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