Camera Reviews

Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

The Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 is an instant camera in Fujifilm’s extremely popular Instax line. Its mission is fun — photos of your crew at the football game, selfies with your partner, and snaps of your family good times. This camera is point-and-shoot simple: turn it on, frame in the viewfinder, press the button. With a click and a whir, a square photograph ejects out of the top of the camera. It develops in about 90 seconds.

Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

Fujifilm has produced a dizzying array of Instax camera models. They all fall in one of three series: Mini, Square, and Wide. Each series makes small images of 1.8×2.4 inches, 2.4×2.4 inches, and 3.9×2.4 inches, respectively.

Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

The Square SQ6 comes in five colors: gray, blue, red, white, and gold. There’s also a Taylor Swift Edition with her name plastered all over the front. I went with gold because that color was on sale.

Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

The camera sets exposure automatically, but focus is fixed. There are two focal lengths, normal and close, which to my eye look more like wide and normal. I wasn’t able to find any information about the lens, such as aperture or those focal-length measurements. I’m sure Fujifilm thinks this camera’s normal user photographs so casually as not to care about such details.

The Square SQ6 offers several modes: selfie, macro, landscape, light (which adds a stop or two of exposure) and dark (which reduces exposure by a stop or two). Selfie and macro mode use the close focal length; all others use the normal focal length. There’s also a double-exposure mode which lets you press the shutter button twice before the camera ejects the photograph. The mode button is on the back; press it to cycle through the modes, which are arrayed across the camera’s back near the top. A small light glows over the mode you select.

The built-in flash defaults to always firing. You can turn it off by pressing the no-flash button on the camera’s back. The camera also comes with orange, purple, and green plastic filters that snap onto the flash, to cast your photo in colored light.

The Square SQ6 also includes a self timer. The button is on the back with the mode and no-flash buttons. Press it, then press the shutter button, and the shutter fires ten seconds later. There’s a tripod mount on the bottom of the camera so you can put yourself in group photos.

By the way, if you’re into instant photography, I’ve also reviewed a bunch of Polaroid cameras: the venerable SX-70 (here), the OneStep 600 (here), the One600 (here), the Colorpack II (here), and the Automatic 250 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here!

Instax Square photos are small, and sit comfortably in the palm of your hand. While the image area is 2.4×2.4 inches, the print itself is slightly larger at 2.8×3.4 inches. Polaroid SX-70/600/I-Type prints are noticeably larger, at 3.5×4.2 inches. I scanned the images in this review on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II to 1,000 pixels on the long end. I’m displaying them in this review at 500 pixels on the long end. They look small on the screen, but when viewed on the Web it’s still larger than the print’s actual size.

Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

Fujifilm produces a color and a black-and-white film for its Instax Square cameras. The color film is good and saturated, as you might expect from a photo system whose mission is to be a part of fun times with family and friends. This film especially loves blue.

Methodist church - Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

I used Landscape mode for the photo above, which put the in-focus patch between 6 feet 7 inches and infinity. I used Normal mode for this photo, which put the in-focus patch between 1 foot 7 inches and 6 feet 7 inches.

Sidewalk Closed - Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

The black-and-white film has a creamy look and a pleasing tonality, though shadow areas block up easily. I favor the black-and-white film and shoot it most often in this camera.

Bowl on her head - Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

It’s a bit much that Fujifilm uses the term “macro” for the SQ6’s close-focusing mode since it lets you focus only from 12 to 20 inches. At that distance you get a lot of horizontal and vertical parallax error because of the viewfinder’s top-left placement. In this photo, I hadn’t figured out yet how much to offset the subject in the viewfinder.

On the table - Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

It turns out that the O in the center of the viewfinder creates the top and right bounds for macro mode. Why Fujifilm didn’t use framing lines like every other camera in the history of cameras is beyond me. Even when I used the O to frame in macro mode, I still cut off some of my image on the right.

Nativity close up - Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

I rather liked selfie mode. There’s a little mirror on the front of the camera, right next to the lens. The idea is that you put your face in the mirror and press the button. But much like macro mode, selfie mode suffers from parallax. To get a photo with your face in the center of the photograph, put your face toward the left of the mirror.

Outdoor selfie - Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

I’m not a double exposure kind of guy, but I tried double exposure mode anyway to see how it worked. Here’s a picture of our garish loveseat in front of the living room window plus a bathroom mirror selfie. Yawn. But as you can see, this mode works.

Double double - Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

The viewfinder is the SQ6’s fatal flaw. It’s just so inaccurate, which makes it hard to get a photograph that matches what you frame. When I made this photograph, the house filled the viewfinder. I also forgot to turn on Landscape mode so it would be more in focus.

Old house - Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

I used the Square SQ6 to photograph my family’s Christmas celebration. Perhaps I should have chosen color film for it, but I had one pack of Monochrome left and that’s what I shot. I found that when I filled the viewfinder with the person I was photographing, I got images like this, with lots of surrounding context. How frustrating. Why can’t what I see in the viewfinder reasonably represent the image I’m making?

Christmas

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 gallery.

The Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 is a fun camera for making snapshots of family and friends. It’s tricky to use this camera for anything else. The Square SQ6 just isn’t a great camera for the kinds of subjects I usually photograph. The film is pretty good for instant film, but you’ll never mistake it for Tri-X or Portra. The viewfinder’s top-left placement creates parallax that takes skill and luck to overcome, and is this camera’s fatal flaw.

Even though I’ve owned a few hundred film cameras in my lifetime, only a handful of them were brand new when I got them. Of them, only this one was still available for sale new at the time I wrote a review of it.

But if you want one, act fast: Fujifilm might have discontinued this camera, as it’s no longer listed on the official Instax site. You can still buy them here and there, but probably only out of available stock. Once that dries up, you’ll have to turn to the used market to get a Square SQ6.

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

Camera reviews in 2021

Even though I’ve deliberately shrunk my collection to a manageable 30-ish cameras, I still like trying a new-to-me old camera. I’m just likely to pass it on to a next owner now when I’m finished with it. Here are the cameras I reviewed in 2021.

Minolta Maxxum 7000i

Minolta Maxxum 7000i. This workhorse auto-everything SLR did stunning work through the zoom lens I bought to go with it. It handles so easily.

The Apple iPhone 6s camera. The camera in the iPhone I used for several years did really good work. My only real complaint was that its default viewing aspect is so wide.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

Kodak Monitor Six-20. I’ve owned this camera for years, and reviewed it once a long time ago. I’ve used it enough since that I wrote a new review based on my further experience with the camera.

Minolta Maxxum HTsi

Minolta Maxxum HTsi. This small, light auto-everything SLR is a pleasure to use. Minolta was really knocking them out of the park in this era of its cameras.

Nikon F50D

Nikon F50. This early Nikon auto-everything SLR was heavy and didn’t have all the usage idioms down yet. But it remains a capable shooter.

Nikon F801s

Nikon F-801s. I didn’t love this camera; I found it to be ponderous and slow. It’s an early auto-everything SLR for the semi pro or advanced amateur.

Aires Viscount

Aires Viscount. This 35mm rangefinder camera was a real surprise — it handles pretty well and has a fine lens.

Pentax ME F

Pentax ME F. This was the first autofocus 35mm SLR to reach the market, but it was challenging to use and thus a dead end.

Canon Snappy 50

Canon Snappy 50. This early 35mm point-and-shoot camera still delivers the goods today.

Sears KSX-P

Sears KSX-P. This 35mm SLR was manufactured by Chinon for Sears, and is a fine performer. This camera is a real sleeper.

Ansco Standard Speedex

Ansco Standard Speedex. This viewfinder camera for 120 film comes from Binghamton, New York, and still makes very nice images.

Minolta XD-11

Minolta XD-11. This manual-focus SLR is on a lot of people’s top-SLR lists. I thought it was fine, but I didn’t love it.

Yashica TL Electro X

Yashica TL Electro X. This manual-focus 35mm SLR is heavy and solid, and its lens is very good.

Kodak VR35 K12

Kodak VR35 K12. This 1986 35mm point-and-shoot is large and clumsy, but boy does its Tessar-design lens return lovely images.

Nikon N70

Nikon N70. The quirky user interface on this 1990s 35mm SLR isn’t as bad as everybody says — but it’s not great, either. Fortunately, the camera is capable anyway.

Nikon FA

Nikon FA. An updated review of Nikon’s most technologically advanced manual-focus 35mm SLR ever.

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Camera Reviews

Nikon FA

Nobody could alienate photographers as well as Nikon could in the 1980s. The company did it by leading the way with automation and electronic control. We take all of this for granted today, but then serious photographers were a traditional lot. They shied away from anything not mechanical and manual in their cameras. The Nikon faithful especially looked sidelong at the Nikon FwA.

1983’s Nikon FA was, and is, the most technologically advanced manual-focus camera Nikon ever introduced. Yet it didn’t sell all that well compared to Nikon’s more-mechanical, more-manual cameras. Perhaps its high price, which was within spitting distance of the pro-level F3, helped push buyers away. But its high electronic advancement certainly did.

Nikon FA

The FA offers both programmed autoexposure and Automatic Multi-Pattern (matrix) metering controlled by a computer chip. Its vertical titanium-bladed, honeycomb-patterned shutter operates from 1 to 1/4000 second. It syncs with flash at 1/250 sec., which was pretty fast for the time. Two LR44 or SR44 batteries power the camera. Without those batteries the Nikon FA can’t do very much.

Nikon FA

The FA also offers aperture- and shutter-priority autoexposure. It hedges against your poor exposure judgment with Cybernetic Override. If the FA can’t find accurate exposure at your chosen aperture or shutter speed, it changes either setting to the closest one at which accurate exposure is possible.

Nikon FA

Also, if you don’t want to use matrix metering, you can switch to center-weighted metering. Press and hold the button on the lens housing, near the self-timer lever.

Typical of Nikons of this era, the FA was extremely well built of high-strength alloys, hardened gears, ball-bearing joints, and gold-plated switches. It was mostly assembled by hand.

By the way, if you like Nikon SLRs also check out my reviews of the F2 (here), F3 (here), N2000 (here), N90s (here), F50 (here), and N60 (here). Or just have a look at all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.

This FA was a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. I was in a black-and-white mood when I tested this FA, so I dropped in some Fomapan 200. Given the FA’s compact size, I figured the skinny 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens would look balanced on it. I was right.

Wet hosta leaf / Nikon FA

The FA’s winder glides on silk, and when you fire the shutter the mirror slap is surprisingly gentle. My finger always hunted to find the shutter button when the camera was at my eye, though. That surprised me, as I’m used to everything falling right to hand on Nikon SLRs.

500c / Nikon FA

You have to pull out the winder to turn on the camera and make it possible to press the shutter button. I wasn’t crazy about this, especially when I turned the camera to shoot portrait, as the winder would poke me in the forehead.

Fishers Station / Nikon FA

I loaded some Agfa Vista 200 and took the FA to an event at church. An LCD in the viewfinder reads out your shutter speed. When it reads C250, you know you just loaded film and haven’t wound to the first official frame yet. Every shot until then gets a 1/250-sec. shutter, like it or not. I have other Nikons from the same era that do some version of this and it frustrates me every time. I hate wasting those first few frames!

Church event / Nikon FA

While I’m talking about the LCD panel, it reads FEE when you’re in program or shutter-priority mode but the lens isn’t set at maximum aperture, which is necessary for those modes to work.

Church event / Nikon FA

I brought the FA along on a trip to central Kentucky, where we toured some bourbon distilleries and saw the sights. I mounted the vesatile 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor lens and shot Arista.EDU 200. Here’s a view down into the Makers Mark distillery.

Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*  / Nikon FA

This is a scene from My Old Kentucky Home near Bardstown. The FA was mostly a good companion on this trip, handling easily the whole way. That infernal winder lever kept poking me in the forehead, however.

My Old Kentucky Home  / Nikon FA

I also shot some Agfa Vista 200 on that trip. That versatile 35-70mm lens can shoot macro.

Spring blooms, macro / Nikon FA

Here’s the Willett distillery, near Bardstown. I was growing increasingly annoyed with that infernal wind lever as it kept poking me in the forehead.

Willett Distillery / Nikon FA

I sold my Nikon FA during Operation Thin the Herd (in which I shrank my large collection to about 50 cameras). My collection had more Nikon bodies than I could use, and none of the others poked me in the forehead. Almost immediately, I came across another FA body with a 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens. It was missing the handgrip but was otherwise in good condition. I paid just $30 for the kit, which was an incredible bargain. I figured I’d sell the body and keep the lens.

Nikon FA with 35-105 Zoom Nikkor

But when I tested the kit with some Agfa Vista 200, I realized that I liked the Nikon FA after all. Curiously, I never noticed the winder poking me in the forehead as I tested this body. So I kept it.

Toward the Statehouse / Nikon FA

I guess I was simply meant to own a Nikon FA!

Federal Courthouse / Nikon FA

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Nikon FA gallery.

The Nikon FA is a delightful little 35mm SLR. Its compact size, light weight, high capability, and smooth operation make it a fine choice to take along wherever you go. Working bodies usually go for far less than other contemporary Nikon bodies such as the better-known FM2. But that camera lacks the FA’s matrix metering. So why pay more for an FM2, especially now that we’ve all come to embrace the electronics in our cameras?

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

Nikon N70

When you talk to other film-camera collectors about the Nikon N70, discussion quickly focuses on its infamous “fan” user interface. Most people don’t like it. But they miss its point. This advanced-amateur/semi-pro camera includes a pop-up flash that offers variable flash fill, flash bracketing, and red-eye reduction. Nikon called it a “built-in Speedlight,” referring to their family of versatile external flash units. Nikon designed the “fan” to ease access to all of the flash’s modes. Trouble is, then Nikon overloaded all of the camera’s functions onto it.

Nikon N70

More about the “fan” in a minute. First, let’s talk specs. The N70 offers the same autofocus and metering as in the more advanced (and contemporary) N90s: wide and spot crossfield autofocus; and matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering. Matrix metering is linked to focusing. Its electromagnetically controlled vertical focal-plane shutter operates from 1/4000 to 30 sec. It reads the DX code on the film canister to set ISO from 25 to 5000. You can also manually set ISO as low as 6 and as high as 6400. It features programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority autoexposure. There’s even a camera shake warning in the viewfinder, and continuous film advance at either 2 or 3.7 fps.

Nikon N70

It also features eight exposure modes, which the literature called “Vari-Programs” — portrait, hyperfocal, landscape, close-up, sport, silhouette, night scene, and motion effect. These are all things a skilled photographer can achieve without special modes, but the N70 was marketed to the amateur.

Nikon N70

The N70 lets you set and save for later “quick recall” (or QR) three different combinations of film advance mode, focus area, focus mode, metering system, exposure mode, flash sync mode, and exposure compensation. To do this, select all of those settings as you want them, then press the IN button. Then rotate the dial on the back of the camera to select 1, 2, or 3 in the yellow QR window on “the fan.” To select a QR mode, press the OUT button and rotate the dial to select 1, 2, or 3 in the QR window.

Two CR123 batteries power everything. The camera won’t operate without them. List price was $842 in 1994 when the N70 was new.

The N70 was optimized for the then-new D-series AF Nikkor lenses. Earlier AF Nikkors and non-AF Nikkors generally work on the camera, but without some metering modes.

To load film, open the back, insert the cartridge, pull the film across until the leader is in the takeup area, close the door, turn the N70 on, and press the shutter button.

All right, let’s talk about that dreaded “fan” UI. It’s different for sure, but it’s not hard to use.

  • First, select the function to adjust. Press the Function button and rotate the dial on the back of the camera. When the arrow points to the function you want to adjust, release the Function button.
  • Then set the value for that function. Press the Set button and rotate the dial to cycle through that function’s options. When you find the option you want, release the Set button.

The challenge with “the fan” is that every function is at the same level, even ones you use all the time. For example, I like to switch between programmed and aperture-priority modes. A separate PASM dial would place this control out front where it’s easy to access. All of the options would be clear by inspection, too. On the N70, I have to do the Function/Set dance to switch modes. I also can’t see all of the modes unless I cycle through them while holding down Set.

But this doesn’t make the N70’s interface unusable. It’s just not optimal, and it takes a little getting used to. But it’s consistent and uncomplicated, and therefore learnable. People who hate it protest too much, I think.

By the way, if you like auto-everything SLRs, also check out my reviews of the Nikon N50 (here), N60 (here), N65 (here), and N90s (here). Also see my reviews of these Canons: the EOS 630 (here), the EOS 650 (here), and the EOS A2e (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

In Program mode, the N70 is a perfectly good point-and-shoot SLR. That’s almost exclusively how I used it. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6D AF Nikkor lens and loaded some Kodak Max 400. This is an old auto service station in Thorntown, Indiana.

Getting lubricated

I imagine most people who bought an N70 back in the day wound up using it at factory settings. I sure did. Here’s an alleyway in Lebanon, Indiana.

One Way Alley

The N70 handled well. It’s almost as large and as heavy as my Nikon N90s, however, and I like that camera a whole lot more.

Old house in Lebanon

I photograph the entrance to the former Boone County Jail a lot, but always in black and white. It might surprise you to find that the door is turquoise.

Boone Co. Jail

I kept going with a roll of Kodak T-Max 100 I found forgotten in the freezer. I spent a partly sunny Saturday afternoon in Bloomington after having lunch with my children, all of whom live in or near that college town. Ohio State’s football team was in town to play the Indiana University team, and Kirkwood Avenue was full of fans. Many young women were walking around in these red-and-white striped pants.

Striped pants on Kirkwood

The N70 is hardly an inconspicuous camera, but nobody seemed to care that this middle-aged man was out photographing people.

Cafe Pizzaria

It probably helped that I wasn’t the only middle-aged man, as the group at the table below shows.

Nick's English Hut

The N70 performed well on this mostly cloudy day. If some of my favorite functions weren’t buried in “the fan” I might have done more with the N70 than leave it in P.

The Von Lee

When people ask me how to break into film photography, I tell them to start with an auto-everything SLR from the 1990s or early 2000s. You can shoot in P mode just to get a feel for film, and when you’re comfortable, try more advanced settings. The trouble with the Nikon N70 is that it’s hard to discover those advanced settings, especially if you don’t know what you want to try.

Puzzles in the window

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Nikon N70 gallery.

If you’re interested in one of these late film-era SLRs, the Nikon N70 isn’t a bad choice. But you will probably be happier with one that has a proper PASM mode dial rather than this multi-step function selector interface.

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

Kodak VR35 K12

I don’t know for sure, because I wasn’t there. But I’ll bet that when Kodak introduced its VR35 line of 35mm point-and-shoot cameras in 1986, it was after someone in the Eastman Kodak board room said, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Point-and-shoot 35mm cameras had come on the scene, and they were eating into Kodak’s Instamatic business. Kodak turned to Japanese cameramaker Chinon for manufacturing help. Out came a capable, if chunky, line of cameras. The Kodak VR35 K12 was the second best camera in the series.

Kodak VR35 K12

At the top of the line was the VR35 K14, which offered only a date back over the K12. Mike Eckman reviewed that camera at length on his site; see it here. This is a well-specified point-and-shoot camera with a 35mm f/2.8 four-element Tessar-design lens at its centerpiece. You can’t go wrong with a Tessar! It also features auto exposure, infrared auto focus, a popup flash with fill and night modes, and a motor drive. This point-and-shoot ain’t messing around.

Kodak VR35 K12

The lens cover doubles as the flash, and because it opens so wide it separates the flash from the body for better results. It does look strange when open, though.

Kodak VR35 K12

This camera is large, as point-and-shoots go. Its body is about the same size as an SLR, minus the pentaprism. But it’s far lighter than an average SLR. It’s also obviously far less complicated to use: just frame and press the button on the top plate. The camera does the rest.

Kodak VR35 K12

The camera even winds the film for you with its loud winder. Loud winders were typical of the genre in the 35mm point-and-shoot’s early days. The VR35 K12 even does most of the work of loading the film: insert the cartridge and pull the leader across to the yellow mark, close the door, and lift up the lens cover. After a cacophony of whirs and clicks, you’re ready to go. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when the green FILM RUN light blinks. When you reach the end of the roll, the VR35 K12 rewinds the film for you.

The VR35 K12 reads the DX code on your film, but recognizes only films that consumers commonly used in those days: ISO 100, 200, 400, and 1000. If there’s no DX code, or the DX code is for a speed the camera can’t recognize, the camera uses ISO 100. You can’t adjust ISO or exposure.

Autofocus appears to operate in three zones: portrait, group, and landscape. I don’t know what distances those zones represent. Press the shutter button down halfway to focus and the rest of the way to fire the shutter. The camera focuses within the frame marks just above the center of the viewfinder. If your subject is not within those frame marks, place it there and press the shutter button down halfway to focus. Then holding that button down, compose your shot as you want and press the button the rest of the way. Also, in a rare and very nice feature, if the subject is too close the portrait symbol blinks in the viewfinder. I can’t tell you how many point-and-shoot cameras don’t have a feature like this and you are left to guess distance when shooting close.

If you press and hold the shutter button, the camera fires every two seconds.

The flash fires whenever the camera thinks flash is needed, and you can’t turn it off. I found its flash sensor to be pretty decent, only once firing the flash in a situation where I wouldn’t want it. There’s also a manual fill flash feature. When your subject is darker than the background, slide and hold the Fill Flash switch on the camera’s front while you press the shutter button.

The VR35 K12 doesn’t work without a battery. The camera was intended to use Kodak’s proprietary Ultralite battery, which is out of production. Fortunately, it also runs on a standard 9-volt battery. I had one in the fridge that I bought a couple years ago that was still well within its best-by date, but my VR35 K12 didn’t work with it. I bought a fresh battery and all was well.

By the way, if you like compact 35mm point-and-shoot cameras, check out my reviews of the Kodak VR35 K40, the Canon Snappy 50, the Canon AF35ML, the Yashica T2, the Olympus Stylus, the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80, and the Minolta AF-Sv. You can also have a look at every camera I’ve ever reviewed here.

These cameras are meant for consumer color films, but I shot black-and-white in it anyway. I have some 12-exposure rolls of Ultrafine Extreme 400 that I use when I’m not fully sure of a camera’s functioning, because the film was inexpensive and I don’t feel like I’ve lost much if a roll doesn’t work out. I’m not sure why I felt hinky about this camera, but I did. I shouldn’t have worried. Here’s my wife and our granddaughter. Notice how the flash lights the scene evenly, even this close.

Bubbles

A few photos on the roll (that I’m not showing you) suffered from mild camera shake. I found the shutter button sometimes stiff, which probably caused the shake. Here’s an alleyway in Lebanon, Indiana.

As seen in an alleyway

The winder shrieks as it advances frames. That’s typical of point-and-shoots of this era but it sure is a jarring sound. Here’s the fountain in front of the library in Thorntown, Indiana. I developed this film in Ilford ID-11, by the way.

Thorntown Library statue

I kept going with a roll of Fujicolor 200. Check out that slightly blurred background when I focused on these potted flowers. This is about as close as you can get to a subject.

Potted flowers

Ellison Brewery is a two-minute walk from my Downtown Indianapolis office and makes for a nice, colorful subject.

Ellison's

I made this photo inside my company’s offices with no flash. The VR35 K12 handled this available-light situation just fine.

Paper lamp

My ideal walking-around point-and-shoot fits in the palm of my hand. That was so not the VR35 K12. Thankfully, its long strap let me sling it over my shoulder. It’s not heavy to carry. That’s my company’s building behind this Jeep Cherokee, which is always exactly right in this spot.

Cherokee

The lens delivers good sharpness and detail.

Kilroy's

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak VR35 K12 gallery.

I didn’t love the Kodak VR35 K12. The Kodak VR35 K40 I used to own had a slower lens and was fixed focus, but was a little smaller and easier to hold. I preferred it. Yet the VR35 K12 returned plenty of interesting images for me. In 1986, this camera would have been a great choice. It’s still not a bad choice, especially given that you can buy these for 20 bucks.

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

Yashica TL Electro X

A long time ago I bought a Yashica TL Electro, an M42-mount 35mm SLR built like a brick outhouse. When I got around to loading film into it, I found out that it was broken in a couple fundamental ways. I paid just five bucks for it, so I wasn’t broken up. But I’ve never forgotten it. Not long ago I came across its forebear, the Yashica TL Electro X, in very good condition. I scooped it up. This time I paid all of $35.

Yashica TL Electro X

Upon its 1968 introduction, the TL Electro X was significant as the first commercially successful 35mm SLR with an electronic shutter. That allows the shutter to operate steplessly. Shutter-speed settings from 1/1000 sec. (top speed) down to 1/30 sec. all click into place, but you can leave the shutter-speed knob in between two speeds and the camera figures out the fraction of a second to use. Shutter speed settings of 1/15 sec. and slower do not click into place; the dial operates continuously in this range.

Yashica TL Electro X

The TL Electro X was one of the first SLRs to use lights in the viewfinder, rather than a needle system, to indicate exposure. Two red arrows, → and ←, sit at the bottom of the viewfinder. Press the stop-down button, which is on the side of the lens mount panel, and when exposure is not right one of the arrows lights. When you see →, turn up the aperture or shutter speed until the light turns off. When you see ←, turn down the aperture or shutter speed until the light turns off. No lit arrows means you have good exposure. It’s intuitive; you turn the aperture ring or shutter-speed dial in the direction of the arrow until the arrow disappears.

Yashica TL Electro X

Otherwise, this is a typical SLR of its period. It’s large, heavy, and solid. The shutter button is solid and sure. The winder, rewinder, and shutter-speed dial all require mild force to operate. By the late 70s, camera makers had figured out how to make SLR controls operate with a much lighter touch.

The TL Electro X was designed to take a 544 mercury battery, but those are banned. My camera came with a 28L lithium cell inside. The silver-oxide 4SR44 and alkaline 4LR44 batteries are the same size, and I hear they work fine in this camera.

Do you like classic SLRs like this one? Then check out my reviews of the Canon FT QL (here), the Minolta SR-T 101 (here) and SR-T 202 (here), the Nikon Nikomat FTn (here), the Nikon F2A (here), the Nikon F2AS (here), and the Pentax K1000 (here) and KM (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I first loaded a roll of Kodak Max 400 into the TL Electro X, but set the ISO guide to 200. I like this film overexposed by a stop. Fulltone Photo developed and scanned the roll. Here’s my favorite photo from the roll.

Flower box

The TL Electro X handled a little ponderously, but that’s not uncommon with large, heavy, stop-down SLRs of this era. The controls all took deliberate action, and of course the body is large and heavy. The 50mm f/1.7 Auto Yashinon-DX lens focuses smoothly but with more effort than I’m used to. I don’t like ponderous handling, but I accepted it as endemic to this kind of camera and kept on shooting.

Whitestown

The way the lens renders things through the viewfinder delights me; it’s such a classic old-lens look. But on the scans it was clear that the lens delivers mild barrel distortion. You can see it in the parallel lines of this photo. I corrected it on other photos where it was apparent — it was a +4 correction in Photoshop.

Window

However, the lens is sharp and contrasty, and renders color well. It leaves a nice smooth background and a subtle but pleasant bokeh. It also focuses in reasonably close, to about six inches. I like that.

Red and green

In my TL Electro X, the arrows are hard to see under very bright conditions. → is noticeably dimmer than ← and can be hard to see under any conditions. Also, I find the meter to call exposure good over a fairly wide range of settings. It didn’t inspire much confidence as I used the camera. Yet my exposures were generally fine when the images came back from the processor.

Chalkboard sign

I kept going with a roll of Fomapan 200. Because I had more money than time, rather than developing this roll myself I sent it to Fulltone Photo. This isn’t the most interesting image from the roll, but it shows the sharpness and contrast I got. My younger son gave me both of these drinking vessels as gifts, one when he was not yet ten more than half his life ago, and the other for Father’s Day this year. The Father’s Day gift perfectly represents his offbeat sense of humor.

Drinking vessels

I coaxed a little bokeh out of the lens in this shot.

Cottage

I coaxed a little more bokeh out of the lens on this photo of an ash branch.

Branch

This tire isn’t an interesting subject, but the silky sidewall texture sure is compelling.

Eco Plus

I took the TL Electro X on a number of walks around my neighborhood and in downtown Zionsville. It’s heft made it less than an ideal companion when slung over my shoulder for a few miles.

Mail station

To see more from this camera, check out my Yashica TL Electro X gallery.

About halfway through the roll of Fomapan, I grew weary of this camera’s ponderous ways. I shot images of whatever to just get it over with. That’s my main beef with 1960s SLRs — most of them are fatiguing to use. During the 1970s, camera makers figured out how to make all-manual cameras lighter with smoother, easier controls.

But I have to hand it to this Yashica TL Electro X — it’s built like a tank, and will probably work even after I don’t anymore.

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