Camera Reviews

Minolta XD-11

My hopes were sky high when I bought this Minolta XD-11 as so many prominent film-photo sites give it such high praise. Developed in cooperation with Ernst Leitz, this camera is supposed to exude quality to nearly Leica levels. The two companies worked together so that Minolta could better compete in the luxury rangefinder market and Leitz could build a cost-effective SLR platform. Leica built its R4, R5, R6, and R7 SLRs on this chassis.

Minolta XD-11

You might also see this camera called the XD-7 or just the XD; those were this camera’s name in Europe and Japan.

This is the world’s first SLR to offer full manual exposure with both aperture-priority and shutter-priority autoexposure. It features a vertically traveling metal-blade shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 sec, plus a 1/100-sec manual speed (the O setting on the shutter-speed dial) and bulb (B). In automatic modes, that shutter operates steplessly — if 1/218 second is the right shutter speed, that’s what the XD-11 chooses. The camera also features a mechanical self timer. Two SR44 batteries power the XD-11.

Minolta XD-11

You choose the exposure mode with a switch around the shutter-speed ring: M, A, and S, each meaning just what you’d expect. You can set ISO from 12 to 3200; press the little button and twist the collar around the rewind crank. You can also add or subtract one or two stops of exposure. Press in the tab on the rewind crank and move it to the amount of exposure compensation you want.

Minolta XD-11

The selected aperture is always visible in the viewfinder; a little window shows what you’ve dialed in on the lens. In shutter-priority and manual modes, the viewfinder shows the selected shutter speed. (For shutter-priority mode, first set the lens to its minimum aperture, e.g., f/16 on the 50mm f/1.7 MD Rokkor X lens that came with my XD-11.)

For manual and aperture-priority modes, a shutter-speed scale appears in the viewfinder. (Or it’s supposed to; it didn’t switch over on mine. A fault!) In shutter-priority mode, an aperture scale appears in the viewfinder. LED dots appear next to the scale. In manual mode, they show the aperture you need to choose for proper exposure. In aperture-priority mode, they show the shutter speed the camera has chosen, and in shutter-priority mode, they show the selected aperture. One dot means the camera has chosen that value exactly, while two adjacent dots mean the camera has chosen the proper value between the two marked values.

The XD-11 features “green mode” — set the camera to shutter-priority mode, choose minimum aperture, and choose 1/125 second. Notice that all of these settings are marked in green. In green mode, if 1/125 sec. is too fast, the XD-11 reduces shutter speed until it gets proper exposure.

Under use, the XD-11 is light, smooth, and pleasant. The viewfinder is bright and gives a great view. Its electromagnetic shutter button needs only an easy touch to operate. The wind lever is light and luxurious. My only ergonomic complaint is that there’s no on-off switch. To stop the meter from operating and thus draining the battery, you have to cap the lens.

If you like Minolta SLRs, you might also enjoy my reviews of the X-700 (here), the XG 1 (here), the SR-T 101 (here), and the SR-T 202 (here). I’ve also reviewed some autofocus Minolta SLRs, including the Maxxum 7000 (here), the Maxxum 7000i (here), the Maxxum 9xi (here), and the Maxxum HTsi (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I’ve had a lot of bad luck with Minolta manual-focus SLR bodies, and it continued with this camera. To be fair, I picked up a body at far below market price that the seller couldn’t represent well, and hoped for the best. I’ve already mentioned that the shutter-speed scale doesn’t appear in the viewfinder when it’s supposed to, but there’s more wrong than that. I tested the camera with a roll of Fomapan 200, and on three frames the shutter stuck open. Switching the shutter-speed dial to O, the one mechanical shutter speed, immediately closed the shutter. But those frames were entirely washed out, and the adjacent frames were partially overexposed as well.

I shot the Fomapan at EI 125 and developed it Ilford ID-11 1+1 at the ISO 200 time as I usually do. This was my first time developing in ID-11. It turned out great.

Boone County Jail

The XD-11 feels great in my hand. It’s got enough heft to inspire confidence, but not so much that it feels heavy. The materials all feel nice; the controls are all smooth and luxurious.

Details

The 50mm f/1.7 MD Rokkor-X lens that came with this camera performed as well as any 50/1.7 Rokkor ever does; that is to say, brilliantly. This is a wonderful lens.

Bike parking

I drove up to Lebanon, Indiana, just to make some photographs with the XD-11. Lebanon is my county’s seat. I photographed the courthouse on the square, but I wasn’t thrilled with the images. Therefore, you get photographs of things around the square.

One Way

Lebanon, like most Indiana county seats, features a courthouse square with sturdy old buildings living their fourth, eighth, or nineteenth small-business life. Truly, the photo below could be from any of a hundred small Indiana towns.

On the square in Lebanon

This is the point in the review where I’m supposed to heap giant praise onto the Minolta XD-11. I’ll refrain. I liked this camera, but I like my Olympus OM-2n far better. Camera reviews like this one are highly subjective — what tickles my fancy might turn you right off. So just know that the XD-11 is a fine camera and you should try one someday if you can.

Rocket Liquors

I stopped finding interesting things to photograph in Lebanon, so I headed back to Zionsville, specifically to Lions Park, which is always good for a few frames.

Zionsville Little League

This little lion is a drinking fountain, and it’s on the edge of one of the park’s many playgrounds.

Lion drinking fountain

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta XD-11 gallery.

Minolta considered its XD-11 to be its premium SLR in its day, slotting it above the full-program X-700. I can see why; this is a very solid and smooth camera. That mine isn’t fully functional is a shame, as I wouldn’t mind being able to do more than a one-roll review of this well-regarded camera. Instead, I did something I’ve never done before: after writing this review, I asked the eBay seller for a refund.

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

Ansco Standard Speedex

In the 1940s and 1950s, Ansco offered a line of folding cameras with Speedex in the name, all of which made square photographs on 120 film. Ansco manufactured some of the models while Agfa manufactured the rest, which makes sense as Agfa and Ansco were one company. Speedexes were available with a number of lens and shutter combinations of increasing capability. Ansco manufactured this one, the Ansco Standard Speedex, in 1950, and it was closer to the bottom of the range.

Ansco Standard Speedex

The Standard Speedex is refreshingly simple. It features a 90mm f/6.3 Ansco Anastigmat lens, set in a self-cocking Ansco leaf shutter that operates at 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 second, plus time (press the shutter button once to open the shutter, and again to close it). It focuses from 3½ feet to infinity. That’s it.

Ansco Standard Speedex

Press the button right next to the viewfinder on top to pop the door open, and pull the door down until it locks to extend the bellows. Dial in aperture and shutter speed, dial in subject distance, compose, and press the shutter button. The viewfinder isn’t huge, but it doesn’t feel cramped, and it gives a clear view.

Ansco Standard Speedex

The wind knob is big and sure. I thought surely its reverse cant would make it hard to use, but I was wrong. It reads “B2/120” because Ansco used its own size codes for its films, and B2 is equivalent to 120.

If you like medium-format folding cameras, check out my review of the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here), the Kodak Monitor Six-20 (here), the Kodak Tourist (here), and the Voigtländer Bessa (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I like folding cameras of this size and shape. I also like making square photographs. I do not, however, like having a top shutter speed of only 1/100. 1/250 is better, and 1/500 is better still, because they let me more easily shoot fast films and get shallow depth of field with slow films. The similar Ansco B2 Speedex has a top shutter speed of 1/250 and is available on the used market for about the same money as this Standard Speedex.

The slowest film I had on hand was Ilford FP4 Plus at ISO 125. That meant on a sunny day I was going to be shooting at f/16 and f/22. Everything within a mile of that lens would be in focus. But that was probably the design goal of a camera like this. For an amateur photographer, it would have been a step up from a box camera. Shooting 1/100 and f/16 meant it wasn’t critical to get focus exactly right, as you’d have huge depth of field. The wide exposure latitude of consumer films like Kodak Verichrome Pan (also ISO 125) meant that you didn’t have to get exposure exactly right, either. It was perfect for the everyday shooter.

Welcome to McDonald's

Snapshooters who bought the Ansco Standard Speedex were looking for a better lens than they’d find in a box camera, but to get it they had to learn a little about exposure. Surely, most of them just used the Sunny 16 rule. That’s what I did for most of this roll.

Country road

You could get Kodak Panatomic-X film then, too, which was ISO 25, 32, or 40, depending on when it was manufactured. That film would have allowed photographers to get shallower depth of field for portraits if they wanted it. I’ve not been able to find any information about the speeds of Ansco’s own films.

Grand old house

The lens’s f/6.3 minimum aperture means that with an ISO 100 or 125 film, you’re not making low-light photographs. But you could shoot your family picnic under an overcast sky and be fine. I never put this Standard Speedex to that test as I was fortunate to have bright, sunny days while I had film in it.

Clubhouse

As I began riding my bike this season, I carried the Standard Speedex in the saddlebag. I’ve carried other cameras that way, usually little 35mm point and shoots. I can fire off a shot almost on the fly with one of those cameras, but not so the Standard Speedex. It takes a minute to open it, make sure the aperture and shutter speed are right, and then frame. At least I didn’t have to also cock the shutter, as is common on cameras of this type. The shutter button takes a little effort to press, but mine could be a little gunky after 70 years. The red window on the back gave a commanding view of the frame numbers on the film’s backing paper.

Whitestown Municipal Complex

I wasn’t able to find any information about the lens’s design, but as an anastigmat lens it’s bound to have more than one element. I got a fair amount of contrast straight off the scanner. I toned it down a little in Photoshop.

Mail station

Before I loaded this camera with film, I tried to identify pinholes in the bellows by taking into a dark room and shining a bright flashlight inside. I found a couple and dabbed black fabric paint on to close them up. This is probably only a temporary fix, but it’s good enough for testing the camera. I missed at least one, however, as several of my images showed light leaks. Oh well.

Passat

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Ansco Standard Speedex gallery.

Cameras like the Ansco Standard Speedex are easy to come by and don’t cost much. Mine was a donation to the collection, but these go for 20 bucks on eBay all the time. As you can see, it is capable of good, sharp images. It’s easy and pleasant to use. But you can buy the Ansco B2 Speedex for about the same money, and it has that 1/250 second shutter rather than the Standard Speedex’s 1/100 second shutter. I’d choose the B2 Speedex if I were in the market.

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

Sears KSX-P

Sears, Roebuck and Company sold cameras under its own brands starting in the 1950s. Outside manufacturers made them all; Sears was a department store, not a manufacturer. From the late 1960s through late 1980s, if you bought a Sears 35mm SLR, Ricoh made it — with one exception. Sears turned to Chinon for its last 35mm SLR, the 1985 Sears KSX-P.

Sears KSX-P

This camera differs only cosmetically from Chinon’s CP-5. It offers two program modes, hence the “Dual2 Program” label on the prism cover. It also offers aperture-priority and manual exposure modes. You can mount any of the huge range of Pentax and third-party K-mount lenses to this camera. I don’t know how they did it, but automatic exposure modes work with any K-mount lens. I mounted one of my SMC Pentax-M lenses and program and aperture-priority modes worked fine. Pentax’s autoexposure SLRs required SMC Pentax-A lenses; older SMC Pentax-M lenses worked only in manual exposure mode.

Sears KSX-P

The KSX-P uses a metal, vertical-travel focal-plane shutter that operates from 30 sec. (8 sec. in manual mode) to 1/1000 sec. It accepts films from 25 to 3200 ISO, selected using the dial around the rewind crank. Pull it up to turn it. The viewfinder features split-image and microprism focusing. The camera also chimes for various reasons mostly related to misexposure; you can turn that off with the switch next to the lens mount and under the KSX-P logo. That switch also activates the self timer. Three AAA batteries power the camera; they’re under the grip.

Sears KSX-P

The two program modes are Program Action (Pa) and Program Creative (Pc), which you select with the gray lever on the mode dial. Pa chooses faster shutter speeds to freeze moving subjects, and Pc chooses smaller apertures for greater depth of field with static subjects. When using one of the program modes, put the lens at its smallest aperture. If you don’t, program mode still works, but the camera can’t choose apertures smaller than the one set on the lens.

Manual mode is unusual: you press the M button (next to the mode dial) to step through shutter speeds in ascending order. If you press the shutter button partway and then press the M button, you step through shutter speeds in descending order. It’s challenging to get both fingers in there. A flashing LED in the viewfinder appears next to the shutter speed. A second LED, glowing steady, shows the shutter speed necessary for the selected aperture. To set proper exposure, adjust aperture and shutter speed until the two LEDs become one.

The KSX-P lets you make multiple exposures on a frame. Slide the lever above the winder to the left and hold it, and wind. The film stays put but the shutter cocks so you can make a second exposure on the frame.

The rewind crank is unusual in that it is round, covering the shaft like a lid. I found the knob to be hard to hold as I rewound my test rolls. It kept slipping from my fingers, which caused the crank to close.

My Sears KSX-P came with a 50mm f/1.7 Auto Sears MC lens made by Chinon, which was probably the kit lens. My Sears KS-2 had a 50/1.7 Auto Sears MC lens too, but Ricoh made it. The easiest way to tell these identically named lenses apart is that the Ricoh lens takes 52mm filters and the Chinon lens takes 49mm filters, and the lenses are marked as such right on the front.

I’ve reviewed other Sears SLRs, namely the KS-2 (here) and the KS Super II (here). These are all K-mount SLRs, shared with Pentax. Check out my reviews of the Pentax KM (here), K1000 (here), ME (here), and ME Super (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded a roll of Fomapan 400 and shot it in Program mode at EI 200, and then developed it in LegacyPro L110 and scanned the negatives on my Minolta ScanDual II.

Sears KSX-P - Suburban scene

I used Pa mode when I was chasing after our little granddaughter and Pc mode otherwise. The KSX-P’s viewfinder shows which shutter speed the camera chooses by lighting an LED along a scale. You can see the lens’s selected aperture in a window at the top of the viewfinder, but in program mode that’s always 22, not the aperture the camera selected. I would have liked know the aperture so I could guess the depth of field I might be getting. The camera has no DOF preview.

Sears KSX-P - Bubbles in the sink

The KSX-P feels plasticky, but it’s got moderate heft. The viewfinder is a little dim, but it’s plenty usable. The battery grip makes the camera comfortable in the hand.

Sears KSX-P - Flowers

This lens focuses down to 18 inches, which ain’t bad for a non-macro lens. I like having the ability to get in close.

Sears KSX-P - VW

This lens has mild but noticeable barrel distortion, which I find to be uncommon among 50mm primes. The lens handles easily, however, and is compact.

Sears KSX-P - Stones on the sill

You’ll never mistake the KSX-P for a professional or luxury camera. The controls are sure, but aren’t hefty or silky.

Sears KSX-P - State Bank

I shot a roll of Fujifilm Superia Reala 100 next in this Sears KSX-P. This stuff expired in March, 2002, but it was stored frozen, so I shot it at box speed. I took the camera to Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, an enormous, sprawling place, for a warm evening walk. Every time I’ve lucked into a roll of ISO 100 Fujicolor film, which isn’t made anymore, I’ve been blown away by the color.

Deeply red

I started the walk with the camera in program mode, but switched to aperture-priority mode after just a few frames. The forecast for full sun proved to be wrong as clouds rolled in. Light was mixed. With such slow film I wanted more control over depth of field, and aperture-priority mode gave it to me. The window at the top of the viewfinder showed me the aperture I’d chosen, and an LED in the viewfinder lit next to the shutter speed the camera chose. Perfect.

Fake flowers on the door

My only gripe with this camera is that the shutter sounds weird and cheap: Shhhhhh-chunk-ping. It sounds the same regardless of the shutter speed, which made me wonder whether the shutter speeds were accurate. (I get a sense of shutter function by listening to it. 1/15 sounds a lot slower than 1/500.) It wasn’t until I saw my developed negatives that I was sure the shutter worked properly. I don’t know if this sound is normal for a KSX-P or not, though.

Crown Hill road

A couple times I knew I was photographing into the light, and sure enough, the lens flared. Photoshop let me tone that down.

Military cemetery at Crown Hill

I bought this KSX-P from its original owner, who hadn’t used it in many years. It says something about this camera that when I put batteries in it, it fired right up and functioned properly.

Military cemetery at Crown Hill

Yet I didn’t fall in love with this camera. I suppose my bar is high after having used so many truly wonderful SLRs over the years. I know that if someone had gifted me one of these when it was new in 1985, I would have been thrilled, and I would have made wonderful photographs with it for years.

At Crown Hill

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Sears KSX-P gallery.

I bought this Sears KSX-P because I’m curious about Sears SLRs and this one cost very little. It is a decent performer, but more than that, it’s truly remarkable that automatic exposure works with any K-mount lens. If you have a passel of Pentax glass a KSX-P might be worth adding to your stable for its versatility.

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

Canon Snappy 50

The 35mm point and shoot was an exciting development in photography for the average person. When they first came on the scene in the early 1980s, 126 and 110 cameras abounded and Kodak’s Disc cameras were popular. Unfortunately, they delivered so-so image quality. 35mm film’s 24x36mm frame was larger than that of any of those films, and even a middling lens could result in good, sharp images at snapshot sizes and in enlargements up to 8×10. And besides, “the pros” all shot 35mm film. That wasn’t exactly true, but that’s what the average person thought then. It’s what I thought then. When I bought a new camera in 1983 for a trip I would take the next summer to Germany. I wanted one of the early 35mm point and shoots, specifically a Canon Snappy 50.

Canon Snappy 50

Canon’s Snappy cameras, the 50 and its little brother the 20, were the first point-and-shoot 35mm cameras I ever heard of, probably because Canon advertised them on TV.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford either camera. Dad had paid for the trip, which cost my working-class family a ton of money. He told me that if I wanted a new camera, I’d have to save my allowance and buy it myself. The Snappy 50’s street price was about $90 (about $250 in today’s money), and the Snappy 20 about $70 ($190). That’s not inexpensive: you could buy an entry-level Canon SLR body with a 50mm lens for about $120 then. My $5 weekly allowance, plus money I earned mowing neighbors’ lawns, was enough to buy me only a crappy 110 camera, a decision I’ve always regretted even though it was the best I could do. But I’ve never forgotten Canon’s first Snappy cameras, which is why I bought this Snappy 50. It’s just an old used camera today, so I got it for $20 shipped.

Canon Snappy 50

The Snappy 20 uses a fixed-focus lens, but the Snappy 50 offers autofocus. It is limited to two focus zones, though, one centered around 5.9 feet and one centered around 13.1 feet. It uses the narrowest aperture possible at each focus point for the greatest possible depth of field. The Snappy 50 uses a 35mm f/3.5 lens that stops down to f/16. The shutter operates from 1/20 to 1/500 second.

Canon Snappy 50

Atop the camera is a switch to select between ISO 100 and 400 films. The camera doesn’t read DX coding, which hadn’t been invented in 1982 when the Snappy 50 was new. Consumer color negative films were either ISO 100 or 400 in those days, so this limited range was fine.

Flash is off by default, thank heavens. When the red light blinks inside the viewfinder, there isn’t enough light, so turn on the flash by pushing out the orange slider on the front of the camera. It whistles while it warms up, which is such a 1980s sound! The light around back next to the viewfinder glows when it’s ready. The flash has a range of 5.2 to 14.7 feet at either ISO setting.

Two AA batteries power everything, and the camera won’t work without them.

Loading film was remarkably simple for its day. Pull the “Pull Open” block on the camera bottom to open the back. Then lay the film cartridge in on the left, stretch the film across to the red mark at the right, close the back, and press the shutter button repeatedly until the film counter reads 1. After you finish the roll, to rewind the film look for the film-roll symbol on the camera bottom. Above it is a button; press it in with a finger and hold it. Then with another finger, slide the lever above that button in the direction of the arrow and let go of both the lever and the button.

To shoot, open the lens cover with the lever on the side of the lens area. Then frame and press the shutter button.

If you like point-and-shoot cameras, also see my reviews of the Canon AF35ML (here) and Snappy S (here); the underrated Kodak VR35 K40 (here); the Minolta Talker (here); the truly crappy Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here); the Olympus Stylus (here), Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (here), and µ(mju:) Zoom 140 (here); and the Pentax IQZoom EZY (here), IQZoom 170 SL (here), and IQZoom 60 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I shot a roll of Fujicolor 200 in my Snappy 50 and sent it to Fulltone Photo for developing and scanning. Because this film looks great with a stop of overexposure, and because this was expired (though cold-stored) stock, I felt confident shooting it at ISO 100.

Stupid good

The Snappy 50 was pleasant to use. In the great point-and-shoot tradition, you frame and press the button, and that’s all. The camera winds to the next frame and you’re ready to go again.

Red car parked

The lens is sharp and the exposure system does a good job of reading the light even after about 40 years. Look at the good detail in this flowering tree.

Flowering trees

I really enjoyed the Snappy 50’s big and clear viewfinder. It turned out to be reasonably accurate, in that what I framed is more or less what the lens saw — except when focusing close, when parallax moved things I carefully centered in the frame up and to the left.

Cubs

I never figured out what to do with the Snappy 50’s long lanyard. I tried hanging it around my neck, but then the camera bounced off my chest with every step. When I slipped it across my torso, the camera banged uncomfortably against the bottom of my rib cage. In the end, I wrapped it around my hand three times and carried it that way.

In Starkey Park

Some point-and-shoots deliver dull, muted color on overcast day. I don’t know why, but that’s been my experience. The Snappy 50 was not so afflicted.

In Starkey Park

I enjoyed myself enough with the Snappy 50 that I laid in another roll and kept shooting. I used Ilford FP4 Plus, an ISO 125 film, on the ISO 100 setting. FP4 Plus has good exposure latitude, so the slight overexposure would be no big deal. I developed it in LegacyPro L110 (a Kodak HC-110 clone) and scanned it on my Minolta ScanDual II. Looking at the negatives, it looks like the whole roll is underexposed and overdeveloped. I’m still learning how to read my negatives so I could be wrong. But I had to do a fair amount of post processing to make these scans look okay.

I got it

I used flash on this photo, the only time I did. It lit fairly evenly, but of course it left shadows as on-camera flashes do.

In the kitchen

Processing the photos to bring out detail tended to bring out a fair amount of noise.

Road closed

Most photos had blown-out highlights. About 25% of the photos on the roll were so blown out, I couldn’t rescue them. I’m really bummed out about that. But I had a fine time with the Snappy 50 anyway.

Cemetery gates

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Canon Snappy 50 gallery.

The Canon Snappy 50 would have been a great camera for the average person in its day. It’s pleasant to use and it has a good lens. That’s the formula for a successful point-and-shoot camera right there, even in the present day.

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

Aires Viscount

When you think of Japanese 35mm rangefinder cameras from the 1950s and 1960s, names like Canon, Yashica, Konica, and Minolta come to mind. But the Aires Camera Industries Company made a series of well-regarded rangefinder cameras in the 1950s, as well. The 1959 Aires Viscount was one of the last the company made before it went out of business.

Aires Viscount

Looking at this camera’s specs, two things stand out: its fast 45mm f/1.9 lens, and its fairly fast 1/500 top shutter speed. Not bad for a leaf shutter (a Seikosha-SLV, to be precise). Other than that, the Viscount is fairly simple. It focuses from 2.67 feet (.8 meters) to infinity. There’s a frame counter above the winding lever on the top plate. There’s an accessory shoe. This camera is all mechanical and has no onboard light meter, so you don’t need a battery to operate it.

Aires Viscount

An 85mm accessory lens was available; it screwed into the filter threads. If you look into the viewfinder, you’ll see two full frames, an outer one for the attached 45mm lens and an inner one in red for the 85mm accessory lens. (Amusingly, they used a red filter to color the inner frame, and the one in my Viscount has slipped out of position.) There are also marks on the outer frame to correct for parallax when you focus within 3½ feet. A rectangular rangefinder patch is in the middle of the viewfinder.

Aires Viscount

Setting aperture and shutter speed takes a little getting used to, and it’s the one thing that keeps the Viscount from being a thorough pleasure to use. The aperture ring is at the end of the lens barrel. An exposure value (EV) ring is behind it, and the shutter-speed ring is behind that. The aperture ring turns independently. The EV and shutter-speed rings turn together, however, and when you turn them it’s difficult to not also turn the aperture ring at the same time. The Viscount biases toward using EV for exposure. I don’t naturally think in EVs, so I set the shutter speed first, and then aperture. Sometimes I reached the end of the EV scale before I reached the shutter speed I wanted. When this happens, I turned the aperture ring the opposite direction enough stops to let me reach my shutter speed.

Aires Viscount

The Viscount is heavy and solidly built. It’s a hair taller but noticeably narrower than a standard Japanese rangefinder from the 60s, such as my Konica Auto S2. The Viscount’s body design is less modern, but the S2 is six years newer. I hear that the Viscount has pot metal parts inside, but the camera has a reputation for sturdiness and reliability.

All of Aires’ cameras did. It’s a shame the company’s life was so short: it was founded in the late 1940s and was gone by 1960. It made TLRs at first, but shifted to 35mm rangefinders and stayed there through the rest of its short life.

If you like rangefinder cameras, then check out my reviews of the aforementioned Konica Auto S2 (here), as well as the Yashica MG-1 (here), Electro 35 GSN (here), and Lynx 14e (here); the Minolta Hi-Matic 7 (here), the Argus C3 (here), the Kodak Retina IIa (here) and IIc (here), the Canon Canonet 28 (here) and QL17 G-III (here), and the tiny Olympus XA (here).

My Viscount was donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, and it was filthy. I assumed it would be broken. But it cleaned up nicely (except for a couple odd spots of corrosion on the front of the lens barrel) and it functioned. The slowest shutter speeds were clearly running long, but the speeds above about 1/8 second sounded right, to the extent my ears are any judge of a shutter.

That shutter is nearly silent! It makes only a tiny snick sound as it fires. The shutter button has a satisfying, almost luxurious feel. The shutter fires at almost the top of the travel, but if you stop there you won’t be able to wind. Press the button all the way down to release the wind lever.

The rangefinder on mine isn’t reliable. The patch is dim, and sometimes the rangefinder image doesn’t appear. I found that pressing my finger into the golden glass area on the front of the camera, and moving that glass around a little, eventually fixes the problem — for a while.

The focus ring has a big pip on it that’s supposed to aid focusing, but I always struggled to find it while my eye was at the viewfinder.

I tested this Aires Viscount with a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus, using a meter app on my iPhone to read the light. I developed the roll in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B, and scanned the negatives on my Minolta ScanDual II.

At The Ruins

The Viscount came with me to Holliday Park in Indianapolis, a place I’ve tested many cameras. I go there less now than I used to since I moved to the suburbs. But on this day I had an appointment nearby, and brought the Viscount along.

Shelter

Temperatures were in the 40s, too chilly for many of my old cameras, but not the Viscount. I wonder if it would work as well as temperatures approach freezing. It’s good to have a few old cameras I can use even in cold weather.

Low stone wall

The negatives looked a little dense, which led to low-contrast scans. I had to heavily boost contrast in Photoshop to avoid these images looking flat and lifeless. But the lens delivered good sharpness and detail.

At The Ruins

Framing was easy enough with the Viscount, even up close with the parallax-correction marks. Every frame contained what I framed in the viewfinder, and nothing more.

Nature Center

I also made a few photos along Lafayette Road on the way home from an errand. The great Wrecks, Inc., sign is a frequent subject. Notice that the left third or so of the frame is lighter than the rest of the image. This happened on two other images. I wonder if there’s some sort of light leak. The Viscount doesn’t have foam seals, but rather relies on deep channels around the door to block light. So I’m not sure where light would get in.

Wrecks, Inc.

But this camera has been on a collector’s shelf, unused, for many years. It’s a testament to how hardy Aires made its cameras that this Viscount works this well after more than 60 years.

Former co-op

See more photos from this camera in my Aires Viscount gallery.

The Aires Viscount was a pleasant surprise. It’s pleasant to use and packs a good lens. If you require an onboard light meter, it’s not for you. Otherwise, it contends very well with any 35mm rangefinder camera from the 1950s and 1960s and is worth your consideration.

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

Nikon F-801s

As 35mm SLRs transitioned to autofocus, it took a few iterations before manufacturers settled on the controls we all know. The Nikon F-801s is an early camera in that transition. Also known as the N8008s, and manufactured from 1991 to 1995, it supplanted the F-801/N8008, but added only improved autofocus and a spot-metering mode to the earlier camera. (Read my N8008 review here.)

Nikon F801s

This camera represents Nikon’s second iteration of autofocus cameras. The first was the F-501/N2020, which had a much more square body. The F-801s generation of camers introduced The Blob as the dominant SLR shape.

Nikon F801s

The F-801s was in Nikon’s semi-professional range, sitting just below the F3 and F4 in the pecking order. As such, it was a robustly built camera, solid and heavy. It also offered a ton of features, including depth-of-field preview, multi-exposure, a two-shot self-timer, matrix or center-weighted metering, programmed autoexposure, and film setting by DX code with manual override from ISO 6 to 6,400. The F-801s’s shutter operates from 30 to 1/8000 second. Finally, three focusing screens are available, including the standard matte Type B screen, as well as a gridded Type E screen and a microprism Type J screen.

Nikon F801s

The F-801s loads the film for you when you insert the cartridge, pull the leader across to the red mark, close the door, and fire the shutter. It winds the film for you, but it doesn’t rewind automatically. If you’re not paying attention to the frame counter, you won’t find out you’re at the end of the roll until you press the shutter button and nothing happens. To rewind, press both buttons atop the camera marked with the red rewind symbol.

The controls were an evolutionary step toward the now-standard mode dial. Press the Mode button and turn the dial to cycle through the modes, which appear in the LCD. There are two program modes, normal (P) and high (PH), which chooses faster shutter speeds to freeze motion. You can also choose dual mode (PD) that chooses normal for focal lengths less than 135mm, and high otherwise. There are also aperture-priority (A), shutter-priority (S), and full manual (M) modes.

If you like auto-everything Nikons, I’ve reviewed several, starting with the similar N8008 (F-801). Also check out the N90s, the N50, the N60, and the N65. You should also check out Nikon’s manual-focus bodies like the F2, F3, FA, and N2000. Or just check out my big list of all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.

I loaded four AA batteries into this Nikon F-801s, without which the camera is inert. I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens and spooled in some Ultrafine eXtreme 400, which I developed in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B. This was my first go with this film. I don’t know why I do this to myself, because when I don’t like the way the images look, I can’t tell whether it’s the film or the camera. I wasn’t thrilled with these images. A few that I shot on a walk around the strip mall near my home turned out best.

BW3

I knew I was going to enjoy using the F-801s because I enjoyed using the N8008 (F-801) I used to own. This is just a solid, competent performer. The autofocus is dog slow by modern standards, but that never bothers me. I almost never photograph things in motion. I have the time to wait.

Drive thru

But something’s wrong with the autofocus on this F-801s. At infinity, it hunts like mad and half the time won’t focus. When it does, the camera usually won’t let you make a photo. An X appears in the viewfinder LCD rather than the solid circle that means everything’s hunky dory. At closer range, the camera often focuses just behind your intended subject.

Do Not Pass

I finished the roll around the house. Trying to figure out what was up with the autofocus, I trained the camera on a drawing my brother made for me many years ago. He’s a talented illustrator; his favorite genre is comic-style art. It’s too bad he doesn’t draw anymore.

Java Jive

Our granddaughter was over for a visit that day. She likes it when we make a bowl of soapy water for her so she can play in it. Notice how the F-801 focused just behind our granddaughter’s head.

Playing in the sink

Disappointed in, but not daunted by, the F-801s’s focusing woes, I decided to try a different lens in case something had gone wrong with my 50/1.8. I thought the lens was unlikely to be at fault, but what the heck. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor lens and spooled in some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. Sadly, the camera continued to whiff focus in just the same ways.

I nosed around the photo forums for tips on what might be wrong. A few others reported this problem, and one fellow said he repaired his by blowing dust off the AF sensor. It’s behind the lens, under the mirror. I tried it, but it didn’t help. Perhaps the AF sensor has just gone bad.

I finished the roll with autofocus turned off. The focusing screen offered no focusing help such as a split image, so I just twisted the focus ring until things looked sharp enough and hoped for the best. It worked out fine.

Lion graffiti

I took the F-801s on a walk around Lions Park in Zionsville. This is where the Little League plays.

From the mound

The 28-80mm lens was a fine choice for this walk and it delivered good sharpness. As for the sign in this photo, Zionsville is a wealthy suburb, and families here have high expectations of their experiences around town.

Remember

Except for its autofocus woes, the F-801s performed well. Its large grip makes it a little awkward in the hand; the F50 I shot recently felt far more balanced.

Ladder

See more photos from this camera in my Nikon F-801s gallery.

This Nikon F-801s was a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, but if you want one, they go for peanuts on eBay all the time. My F-801s’s autofocus problems notwithstanding, these are generally reliable cameras and are a good value in easy SLR shooting. I prefer my Nikon N90s, which replaced the F-801/F-801s and evolved the 35mm SLR’s controls even further toward the configuration that everybody uses today. It feels more luxurious in my hand, and it focuses faster.

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