Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Olympus Stylus

Carrying a jug

Olympus’s Stylus line is well known to deliver the goods, with fine lenses and easy pocketability. The granddaddy of all Styluses is this, the ∞ Stylus (aka the μ[mju]: in markets outside North America).

Olympus Stylus

I’ve put a lot of film through this little camera. Here’s one of my favorite shots from it ever, on expired Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.

Garfield Park

I hadn’t shot black and white in my Stylus in a while, so I spooled in a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 and slipped it into my winter-coat pocket. It went everywhere with me for a couple weeks.

House at Coxhall Gardens

That’s the beauty of a camera that’s about the size of a bar of soap — it’s so portable. Anywhere I happened to be, I could quickly photograph anything I thought was interesting.

Chevy Citation

All was not skittles and beer with my Stylus. Several shots were marred by a little leaked light, a problem this camera has previously not had.

Rushing water

I like to focus close sometimes, but the Stylus doesn’t. I suppose someday I should read the manual and find out its closest focus distance. This subject isn’t exactly easy for autofocus to figure out, either. What was I thinking?

Berries, out of focus

And then there’s the infernal flash. Every time you turn the Stylus on (by sliding the cover out of the way) it goes into the mode where the camera decides whether the flash should fire or not. You can override it, but it’s so easy to forget to. I get at least one shot on every roll with flash reflecting harshly in something. Here I shot the sun poking through the trees and reflecting onto the creek, first with flash, and after I dropped an s-bomb, without. The effect turned out to be negligible.

Reflected on the water 1
Reflected on the water 2

Its meter struggles with high-contrast scenes. I shouldn’t be surprised; it probably meters near the center, which isn’t going to result in nuanced work. Nothing a little Photoshop can’t rescue, though, as here.

Lion graffiti

Finally, it requires films that are DX coded, and you can’t manually override the ISO. I like to shoot color-negative film a stop fast sometimes, and you can’t do it with the Stylus.

Black Dog Books

But when the Stylus hit, it hit big. Look at the great tonality and contrast it delivered.

Branches

Its 35mm lens grabs lots of the scene, which I like for general walking-around photography.

Decorated fence

To see more from this camera, check out my Olympus Stylus gallery.

I want to own a solid, extra-compact point-and-shoot 35mm camera. Ideally I’d keep film in it all the time and always carry it in my coat pocket. The Stylus’s feature list ticks every box for me, and it has loved every film I’ve ever thrown at it. It’s a brilliant little camera.

I know I sometimes ask too much of it, which leads to most of my wasted shots. But I do have a legitimate gripe with its automatic flash. I almost never use flash and want a way to leave it off by default. Every time I use this camera I waste shots thanks to that infernal flash.

Perhaps I haven’t found my perfect point and shoot yet. Or maybe I have: my zone-focus Olympus XA2 is no bigger, can be used like a point and shoot under most circumstances just by leaving it in the middle focus zone, and lacks any frustrating behaviors. Perhaps it should be my carry-everywhere camera.

This has been another tough-call camera, where I’ve waffled for weeks about whether to keep it. The sheer number of rolls of film I’ve put through it says I like it a lot. Despite its troubling light leak, I’m going to hold onto it for now. Its fate will be sealed only when I finally decide on a carry-everywhere camera. I look forward to trying more of them on the road to deciding.

Verdict: Keep

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Camera Reviews

Since almost the beginning of this blog, which started in 2007, I’ve reviewed old film cameras here. As of today, I’ve reviewed 121 of them. I’m working on review #122 now!

Kodak Retina IIc

I’ve redesigned my page that lists every camera review on this blog. If you’re curious, you can check it out here.

Updated: My master list of camera reviews

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Konica Auto S2

Church entrance

Some old film cameras have become very popular on the used market. Just try buying an Olympus Stylus Epic or a Canon Canonet QL17 G-III for bargain prices anymore. Yet plenty of highly capable cameras never catch on among modern film photographers and languish in relative obscurity. Like the Konica Auto S2.

Konica Auto S2

This 1965 camera has everything you need to make lovely photographs today: a 45mm f/1.8 lens set in a Copal leaf shutter with top speed of 1/500 sec, a coupled CdS light meter driving shutter-priority autoexposure, and a rangefinder. You might consider it a limitation that it accepts films up to only ISO 400, but I don’t; that’s as fast as I normally go. It returns lovely results, as here on Kodak Gold 200.

The Pyramids

For this camera’s turn in Operation Thin the Herd I chose Kodak T-Max 400. I found a fresh PX625 battery in my stash, loaded the film, and got busy.

Bird is the word

I started Downtown in Indianapolis one chilly, slightly snowy day. I have been getting my hair cut at a barber shop on Delaware St. and then walking about with my cameras after. These electric scooters litter the street corners.

Indianapolis Public Schools

The Auto S2 nailed this gray-day exposure every time. The only thing I had to do with these photos in Photoshop is straighten them, as I proved unable this day to hold the camera level.

Firestone

The more I shoot Downtown Indianapolis, the more I want to capture routine street corners and get as many buildings in as I can. The architecture here is varied and, while common, still interesting.

Indianapolis Musicians

I took the Auto S2 on a sunny-day photowalk in downtown Zionsville. Bright reflections off light-colored surfaces and deep shadows did trip up the Auto S2 a little bit, but generally not so much that a little tweaking in Photoshop couldn’t help considerably.

Black Dog Books

The Auto S2’s controls generate no feelings of pleasure. You know that camera you want to use because everything feels so good under your fingers? That’s not the Konica Auto S2.

Zionsville home

But the Auto S2 isn’t unpleasant to use. It’s neither clumsy nor cumbersome. Everything falls to hand and works well enough. The winder is a little grindy but winds surely. The shutter button doesn’t have too much travel (a common affliction, I find, among fixed-lens rangefinders). The focusing lever is about where your finger needs it to be. Still, the overall tactile experience manages rises only to “meh.”

Zionsville home

What makes the Auto S2 remarkable is its lens, which really drinks in detail. The lens is why I put T-Max into it this time — its minimal grain promised to show me what this lens could do. It didn’t disappoint.

Building

I didn’t shoot anything remarkable on either of these photo walks. I made no art. But every photo on this roll came back properly exposed and bursting with detail. The Auto S2 would make a wonderful companion on one of my road trips.

Main St. Zionsville

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Konica Auto S2 gallery.

I’m surprised that I like the Konica Auto S2 best of the fixed-lens rangefinder cameras I have shot so far in Operation Thin the Herd. What it lacks in refinement it makes up for in consistent, solid results. The question is, do I need a camera like this? Would I shoot it often enough to justify keeping it? Because it never lets me down, I’m going to let time tell.

Verdict: Keep

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If I could own only one camera it would be the Nikon F3

It’s a bold statement, I know: if I could own only one camera, it would be the Nikon F3.

Nikon F3HP *EXPLORED*

My camera collecting has been, in part, a journey toward finding the cameras that work best for me. I think I’ve tried enough cameras now to make this judgment. 

I’d miss my other SLRs, especially my Pentaxes ME and KM. Once in a while I’d pine for my autofocus, autoexposure Nikon N90s. There would be times I wished I could slip my Olympus XA into my pocket, or enjoy a Kodak Retina.

But if I owned only my Nikon F3, I’d make wonderful images for the rest of my life, and be perfectly happy doing it.

The rugged Nikon F3 can withstand any conditions I might subject it to, including my own considerable klutziness. After I send it out for a CLA, it should work beautifully for me for the rest of my life. I own a good range of capable Nikkor lenses. I’m ready for pretty much anything I might want to shoot.

The F3 offers aperture-priority exposure, my favorite way to shoot. It also offers full manual exposure.

The F3 is heavy. One could argue that I might enjoy one of Nikon’s lighter semi-pro bodies more. I own one, an FA, and it’s a good camera — and less fatiguing at the end of a long day slung over the shoulder.

But it took me no time to adapt to the F3’s ways, and now whenever I shoot it I feel one with it. That kind of bonding has happened for me with only a few cameras, my FA not included.

This was going to be my Operation Thin the Herd writeup on the F3. But it is silly to keep you in suspense through a long post when I’ve always known there was no way I would get rid of this camera. So here now, the photos that would have graced that Operation Thin the Herd post. The lens is the 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, and the film is Kodak T-Max P3200.

Chicago River at night

These are from our December trip to Chicago. I really enjoyed being able to capture the city at night on that fast, fast film.

Chicago River at night

I just can’t get over how good these night photos are. That P3200 really performs.

State Street at night

Heavy cloud cover made for poor light during the day. The P3200 let me shoot at comfortable apertures for plenty of depth of field.

Hotel Allegro

The F3 hung off my shoulder nonstop for three days. By the third day I was beginning to wish for relief. That’s my only beef with the camera.

State and Lake

I love Chicago as a photographic destination. I haven’t even begun to exhaust the obvious subjects yet.

Chicago

The F3 is quiet for an SLR perfect for shooting inside a museum like the Chicago Art Institute.

Inside the Art Institute

I managed one photo inside the Merchandise Mart before security sternly warned us that photography was prohibited.

Elevators in the Merchandise Mart

I made a portrait of Margaret at our Sunday lunch, at a restaurant called The Dearborn. We shared a bottle of delicious Spanish wine.

Margaret

All was not perfect with the F3 on this outing. I didn’t know it until the images came back from the processor, but the shutter was acting up a little. On my first roll it affected about a dozen shots, but did not occur at all on the second roll. It’s possible that the shutter was just a little crabby from disuse. I had been using my F3 regularly until about a year ago, when Operation Thin the Herd began. It’s kept me busy with my other cameras!

I’m going to shoot a few more rolls through my F3 to see if the problem recurs. This is a good reason to use up some ten-year-expired Kodak Max 400 I have in the fridge. If I see more of this, I’ll move the camera up in the CLA queue and include a repair to the shutter.

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Camera Reviews

Another Olympus XA2

I’ve never read a negative review of Olympus’s XA2, a remarkably compact 35mm camera. Everybody seems to like it. eBay bears it out: prices hover around $100 for working and complete examples. I am fortunate, as this one came to me for free from the collection of an old friend’s father.

Olympus XA2

The tiny XA2, introduced in 1980, was based on the 1979 XA but replaced its rangefinder with zone focusing and its f/2.8 lens with an f/3.5 lens. And when I say this camera is tiny, I mean tiny — it’s only fractionally larger than my Canon S95 or my wife’s Sony RX100, both compact digital point-and-shoot cameras that don’t have to hold a 35mm film cartridge.

Olympus XA2

I loaded a roll of Ultrafine Xtreme 100 black-and-white film, pulled a battery out of another camera I’d just finished using, slipped this XA2 into my coat pocket, and took it everywhere for a couple weeks. And then, as I explained in this post, I got black shadows, blown-out highlights, poor sharpness, and lack of detail. Here’s a shot from inside a nature park near my home, heavily Photoshopped to make it usable.

Starkey Park, Zionsville

I know better than to test a new-to-me old camera with an old battery and film I don’t know well yet, and then to send the film to a lab I’m still getting to know. So I declared the first test roll null and void, and loaded a fresh battery and tried-and-true Agfa Vista 200 into the camera. I had the camera shop downtown process and scan the film. Glory be, I got good stuff back from the XA2 this time.

Indianapolis Artsgarden

The little green light inside the viewfinder came on a lot, meaning that the XA2 needed a slow shutter speed to get a good exposure and that you should consider using flash or a tripod. Bollocks, I said each time. Every day but one I shot this camera I enjoyed full sun. I should have been getting plenty fast shutter speeds.

Co-op

I can’t tell what is making that green light come on so often. The XA2 doesn’t tell you what aperture and shutter speed it’s choosing based on the meter’s reading, so I don’t know how I would check this meter’s functioning against a known-good meter. But these results speak for themselves: it didn’t matter.

Suburban autumn

Autumn came late in central Indiana this year. It served to deepen the eventual colors, but to shorten their life span. It seemed like all the trees changed color and dumped all their leaves inside two weeks. I was fortunate to be able to take several good walks with the XA2 in my coat pocket during those days. That’s the XA2’s killer feature, by the way: you can carry it everywhere so easily.

Red

These full-sun photos were all noticeably vignetted, so much so that in the centers, light colors tended toward white. I was able to fix that pretty well in Photoshop. I had the same effect with an XA2 I used to own, so I assume this is endemic to the camera.

Yellow tree on Old 334

I experienced the common (and minor) challenges with the XA2 as I used it: the clamshell cover hangs up unless you slide it open in exactly the right direction, and the shutter button is super sensitive and likely to fire when you don’t mean it. If this were my only camera I’d get past those quirks after three or four more rolls.

Wrecks

I finished the roll before meeting a friend for lunch Downtown on a gray, chilly day. That green slow-shutter light was on for every shot, but as you can see the camera did fine.

Maryland St.

When you close the XA2 it moves the focus to the middle zone, which brings into focus everything 4 feet or more away. Because the camera biases toward big depth of field, for most subjects you can just open the camera, frame, and press the button. For truly far-away subjects you can use the landscape setting, and for close subjects (no closer than three feet, though) you can use the portrait setting. I did that here, and in this light got a narrow-enough in-focus patch that the background blurred a little.

Blue umbrella

To see more from both XA2s I’ve owned, check out my Olympus XA2 gallery.

Many film photographers say they prefer the XA2 to the XA. I’m not in that camp. I like the XA’s rangefinder and I prefer the characteristics of its lens. That said, the XA2 is almost point-and-shoot simple with plenty great optics. If I shot people on the street, this would be a great camera for it: open it, frame, snap, done.

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

Black Dog Books

When I started collecting cameras again in 2006 I decided to specialize in fixed-lens rangefinders. I expected that in time I’d own one example of each of Canon’s extensive Canonet line, with the Canonet QL17 G-III as their centerpiece. I soon found a good deal on this one.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

My Canonet had its faults. Leading the way was a wicked light leak from degraded seals, an common affliction with this camera. The shot below of my departed friend Gracie (on Fujicolor 200) shows my Canonet’s light leak in full bloom. After this I sealed the camera’s seams with electrical tape after loading film. Also, lower shutter speeds were suspect, the meter was probably a little off, and the ISO selector was stiff. Yet my Canonet always returned good images.

Gracie

I adored this camera for several years. It easy to carry compared to the much larger and heavier fixed-lens rangefinders I had been buying and the controls all fell right to hand. I loved the sharp, detailed images the lens projected onto any film I threw at it. Here I used Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros.

Indianapolis Fire Dept., Broad Ripple

I suspected I was going to want to keep this camera as part of Operation Thin the Herd, but not in its sickly condition. So I sent it out for CLA, and then put two rolls of Agfa Vista 200 through it. Wow, what a CLA will do for how a camera feels in your hands. Every control worked as smoothly as the factory originally intended.

Open for Men and Women

The fellow who did the CLA sent it back to me with a zinc-air 675 battery inside. It powered the meter accurately. But this Canonet was designed for 625 mercury batteries, which have a different form factor. Alkaline 625 cells share that form factor, but because they don’t deliver a consistent voltage across their lives they can lead to misexposure. The films I typically shoot have enough latitude that it doesn’t matter, and the alkaline 625s last a long time. The zinc-air 675s die after a few months. 

Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park

I pulled the 675 out and inserted a fresh alkaline 625 cell — and it didn’t work. I tried another, and it didn’t work either. Puzzled, I contacted the CLA guy, who apologized and said he’d fix the issue if I shipped it to him, but suggested I just use the 675 cells for their always-accurate voltage. I decided it wasn’t worth the cost and hassle to mail the camera back for adjustment. So I just got to shooting.

Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park

I didn’t stick with rangefinders. One person gifted me a Minolta X-700 and someone else an Olympus OM-1, and I fell in love with the 35mm SLR. That’s where my collection has gone, and as a result I haven’t shot this Canonet in six years.

At Coxhall Gardens

It’s a shame, really. There’s still a place in my shrinking collection for a couple good rangefinder cameras. I love my Yashica Lynx 14e for its sublime lens, and my Konica Auto S2 just feels great in my hands. But this Canonet is smaller and lighter than both of them and delivers quality results through its 40mm f/1.7 lens.

At Coxhall Gardens

Many other fixed-lens rangefinder cameras have passed through my hands, and this little Canonet is the best user of them all. It’s a good size even for my largish hands. The little lever on the focusing ring is right where my finger expects it to be, and it glides precisely. Slung over my shoulder I hardly notice it’s there. I’m more likely to grab it for an impromptu photo walk than any other rangefinder I’ve ever owned.

At Coxhall Gardens

For this camera’s turn in Operation Thin the Herd I took it on several impromptu photo walks: downtown Zionsville, Lilly Lake at Indianapolis’s Eagle Creek Park, Coxhall Gardens in Carmel, and on a rainy day to the hip intersection of 49th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. in Indianapolis. It was a fine companion on them all. I only wish that the rangefinder patch were brighter. In dimmer light I struggled to see the split image within it. Maybe that’s just middle-aged eyes.

At Coxhall Gardens

In the decade since I bought this Canonet I’ve been blessed to use some truly outstanding gear. I have a lot more experience now against which to compare this camera. It’s a nice camera. It feels good to use. It gives fine images. But I don’t experience it as great in any of these measures. For most everyday photography I’m going to reach for something like my Pentax ME anyway, mount one of the many excellent lenses I have for it, and get results no less than equal to these.

49th & Penn

There’s nothing about this Canonet that makes it my best choice for a particular situation. In contrast, my cumbersome Yashica Lynx 14e has a killer use: its giant f/1.4 lens returns brilliant photographs indoors on black-and-white film. I can imagine future scenarios where I’ll be glad to have that camera in my arsenal. Not so this Canonet.

Bathroom selfie

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Canon Canonet QL17 G-III gallery.

Given this Canonet’s cult status, I feel like I should keep it in my collection. When I put film into it I really thought I’d fall in love all over again. I managed, disappointingly, to fall only in like.

I’ve waffled for weeks about this camera’s fate. I’ve rewritten the end of this post four times, flip-flopping between Keep and Goodbye all the way. What I finally decided is that because I’ve become an SLR guy, any non-SLR has to blow my socks off in some way to stay in the collection. This Canonet just didn’t do that.

Verdict: Goodbye

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