Cameras, Photography

Repaired: Certo Super Sport Dolly

Certo Super Sport DollyWoot! Woot woot woot! I’ve licked all of the problems with my Certo Super Sport Dolly.

First it was a broken element in the focusing system. And then there was a pesky light leak. I’ve vanquished both.

The light leak was caused by some tiny holes in the bellows where it attaches to the body. A little black fabric paint closed those holes.

And so I dropped in some Kodak Tri-X 400…and then did nothing with the camera for weeks. I chose Tri-X because we were in a stretch of lousy weather, and I figured a fast film would work fine in the gloomy light. But the very moment I loaded the roll, the sun came out and blazed bright for days. Does Tri-X control the weather? Given the camera’s 1/250 sec. top shutter speed, my exposure options would be strictly limited.

When I had to drive up to Burlington for a meeting of the Historic Michigan Road Association, I decided to heck with it and took the SSD with me. I shot two thirds of the roll on the Michigan Road at the minimum aperture, f/22, and fastest shutter speed, 1/250 sec., and even that overexposed the film by a stop. But Tri-X is resilient.

Burlington, IN

After the meeting we toured the 1848 “American House,” which is being restored and will eventually be a museum and maybe a B&B. Boy, the house is in rough condition inside.

The 1848

I drove up to Michigantown, where this tidy Christian Church lurked on a side street.

Christian Church

And of course I stopped in Kirklin. It might just be my favorite little town on all of the Michigan Road. I’ve photographed this building many times.

Truck Parked

I wanted to see how the camera performed in light better suited to the film. As dawn broke one morning, I stepped onto my porch to photograph my garden. There was scarcely enough light; the in-focus patch was narrow.

Front Garden

A little past sunrise, the sky overcast and gray, I photographed my car just beyond my blooming peonies.

Ford Among the Peonies

Many thanks to Mike Connealy for his assistance making this Super Sport Dolly work again!

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Cameras, Photography

Where do you buy old cameras?

When you get into the film-photography or old-camera-collecting hobby, you can buy gear in a whole bunch of ways.

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Gearpallooza: a typical scene on my desk at home

It’s a remarkable time, really, for film shooters and collectors. Before the Internet, options were limited. Prime used gear could be had at camera shops. Lesser gear could be found at garage sales and antique shops. That’s how I bought cameras when I started collecting in the 1970s. I put hundreds and hundreds of miles on my bicycle visiting sales all over my hometown. I amassed a collection of more than a hundred cameras this way.

But that was so time consuming. Fortunately, so many more options are available today, many of them online.

A word about risk, because buying used gear always carries some. The more expensive the gear, the less risk you obviously want of experiencing some undisclosed problem. It matters little when you’re buying a 35mm point-and-shoot camera for $5 and a lot when you’re buying a Leica IIIf for $500. If I’m shopping online I’d buy that point and shoot but I wouldn’t buy the Leica without questioning the seller extensively. Or I’d just buy it from from a camera shop or a trusted seller — but then it might cost $750 instead of $500.

Here are the options I know about. What options do you know about, especially those of you outside the United States?

Online

The selection online is huge, but you can’t examine a camera before you buy it. So you risk getting broken gear. Some of these sellers accept returns and some don’t. Read my advice for buying cameras on eBay for tips to help you minimize your risk.

eBay. Could this be the ultimate old-camera marketplace? It’s where I buy most of my cameras. You can easily browse among available cameras, looking for just the ones you want or just trolling for bargains. Start with the Film Cameras and Vintage Cameras categories

shopgoodwill.com. Many Goodwill locations in the US participate in this clunky and feature-poor auction site. I assume it lets especially valuable donations fetch the best price. They offer a lot of cameras (see their Film Cameras and Vintage Cameras categories), and my experience has been that prices are slightly under eBay’s.

But your risk of broken gear is high here because the selling Goodwill never knows anything about the cameras and can’t answer any questions about them. After a few painful experiences, I now buy here only when the price is so low I won’t care much if the gear is broken.

Etsy. This site isn’t just handmade goods anymore. Type “film camera” in the site’s Search box and a reasonable selection of old gear will appear. Etsy offers some protection against items not being as described, which should protect you against broken gear.

Used-camera sites. Several companies deal in used gear online, mostly 35mm SLRs and higher-end medium-format cameras. You’ll pay much more than on eBay et al, but these sites generally guarantee their gear for 90 days. My favorite is UsedPhotoPro.com, largely because they’re in my city. But the granddaddy of them all is probably KEH.com. I’ve bought from both and have never regretted it. Other sites, which I haven’t bought from (yet), include Green Mountain Camera, Cameta Camera, Jack’s Camera Shop, Midwest Photo, Unique Photo, and Igor’s Camera Exchange. B&H and Adorama also sell a little used gear, too. If you know of others, let me know in the comments!

I’d like to specially mention Pacific Rim Camera, which is possibly the biggest dumping grounds of old gear ever. Their Web site is straight outta 1997 but they evaluate each camera and tell you it’s exact condition, including any faults. You know exactly what you’re getting. I’ve bought from them a few times and the camera is always exactly as described, warts and all.

Trusted sellers. Some people specialize in selling used cameras, especially of a certain type. Frequently these same people restore the cameras so what you buy is as good as new. I’m thinking specifically about Chris Sherlock, who restores and sells Kodak Retinas, and a fellow named Jurgen (better known as “Certo6”) who restores and sells old folders, and well-known Nikon F2 restorer Sover Wong who sometimes sells F2s on eBay. You might even build trust relationships with sellers via the other channels I list here.

Craigslist. This is only sort of online as you make purchases in person. And you can scoop up bargains here as sellers sometimes don’t know their gear’s value. But after you arrange the meeting and drive out to look at the gear, what if you don’t want it? What a waste of time. And who hasn’t heard a horror story about a Craigslist seller? (I’ve bought and sold stuff on Craigslist and have always had good experiences.) There’s no cameras-for-sale category, so search for “film camera.”

In person

When you shop in person you can examine the gear and be sure of what you’re getting. I wrote a short series of posts on how to do that: part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Camera shops. If your town has a camera shop it likely sells used gear. The camera shop in my town does, and offers a no-hassle 90-day return policy. It’s just fun to go see what they have and lay hands on it. You’ll pay more here than on eBay, but zero risk can be worth it.

Thrift/charity shops. Most thrift/charity shops I’ve visited will have a smattering of junk cameras and occasionally something good. I find that I have to keep going back and have good luck to buy anything interesting at them. I don’t have that kind of time. Prices vary wildly, too.

Antique shops. The selection is much as in thrift shops except the gear tends to be older, and prices are almost always negotiable.

Garage/yard/boot sales. This remains a hit-or-miss way to find gear, but sometimes you can stumble upon something amazing at a fraction of its value.

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Cameras, Photography

Time to send my Pentax ME out for CLA

My much-loved Pentax ME has developed a light leak. Much sadness.

Cincinnati Zoo

Bodies go for so cheap on eBay that I considered for a minute just buying another one. But I’m on my third body already — all three wound up with some minor problem. (Should that be telling me something?) Rather than try the camera lottery again, I’m just going to send this one to Eric Hendrickson for CLA (clean, lube, and adjustment) and new seals.

Cincinnati Zoo

I first saw the leak earlier this year when I had some black-and-white film in it. I immediately went into denial. The roll I shot at the zoo came back from the processor’s with so many affected images that I couldn’t avoid reality any longer.

Flag

This also solves a mystery. You might remember a couple shots I shared several weeks ago where I couldn’t remember which camera I used to shoot them. Well, the light leak in the corner of this shot from that roll tells the story. And I had to be shooting my 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M Zoom lens on it to get shots like this one.

Eastern Star

While my ME is out of commission, I’ll just have to fall back on my delightful and pristine Pentax KM when I want to shoot from my collection of Pentax lenses. Life is good.

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Cameras, Photography

Nikon N8008

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I did not need another auto-everything 35mm SLR. But in what is probably my greatest guilty pleasure, which says something about my buttoned-down life, I really enjoy them. I’m no less devoted to my first love: all-manual, all-metal SLRs! Yet I was deeply tempted when I came upon this Nikon N8008 body at KEH for $13.

Nikon N8008

I resisted. But that afternoon KEH emailed me an offer of 12% off used gear and I was a goner. Twenty dollars shipped for a body that cost $857 new. Pennies on the original dollar! Now is the time to buy these higher-end auto-everything film SLRs. And the N8008 (known as the F-801 in most of the rest of the world) was higher end, as it rested just below the pro-grade F4 in Nikon’s pecking order.

Nikon N8008

Befitting its station, its specs are solid. They begin with a big, bright, high-eyepoint viewfinder, which means you can see through it perfectly even when you’re wearing glasses. It offers both matrix and 75% center-weighted metering. Its shutter operates from 30 seconds to 1/8000 second and it takes film from ISO 6 to 6400 (and it reads the film’s DX coding). It syncs with flash at 1/250 second. And common AA batteries power it all.

Nikon N8008

It offers all of the modern modes: manual, programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority. But as you can see, it was designed before the mode wheel became idiom. You expect that from a camera made from 1988 to 1990. To set mode, you have to repeatedly press the Mode button and look at the LCD. It works fine and isn’t cumbersome. It just takes a minute to adjust to it.

The N8008 also offers depth-of-field preview, allows multiple exposures, and boasts a self timer that can take two shots in succession. And its focusing screens exchange. Three screens are available, including the matte Type B screen that shipped with the N8008. You could also get the gridded Type E screen and the microprism Type J screen.

This camera also takes most F-mount lenses. Nikon lens compatibility requires a secret decoder ring (Ken Rockwell keeps his up to date) but with a few exceptions and caveats (pre-AI lenses won’t mount, AF-S lenses won’t automatically focus, AF-G lenses work only in programmed or shutter-priority mode, the latest AF-P lenses won’t focus) you can use your legacy lenses on the N8008.

I considered mounting my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor to this camera just to test that compatibility. The moment passed quickly, a fleeting shadow. I reached instead for my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor, a “gelded” lens that has no aperture ring. The N8008 drives this lens beautifully in P (program) or S (shutter-priority) modes. Even though Nikon shipped this lens with bajillions of its entry-level film SLRs, don’t underestimate this solid performer.

I loaded some fresh Kodak Tri-X and went to work at home, right next to my easy chair. I’d just finished a finger of whiskey. Photograph drunk, Photoshop sober?

Empty whiskey glass

I stepped back and zoomed out, revealing this lens’s one major fault: barrel distortion at the wide end. I reduced the effect in Photoshop.

Illuminated whiskey glass

These well-made auto-everything SLRs appeal to me, I think, because I can get high-quality images with almost zero thinking. That’s not to say I don’t like thinking. I get full joy from shooting my manual-exposure, manual-focus cameras. But sometimes it feels good to let the camera do all the work for you, all the while leaving you confident of good results. And with the N8008, I could have full control if I wanted it.

I never wanted it on this test roll. Good thing, as the gelded lens sharply limited my options. But on a stroll down Zionsville’s Main Street I didn’t much care. I twisted in my zoom level, pressed the button halfway to focus, and then pressed the button the rest of the way to get the shot. With a loud zip, the camera wound to the next frame and I was ready to go again.

Black Dog Books

I did, however, fall pray to one pitfall of easy-peasy shooting: I shot indiscriminately. Lots of uninteresting photos was the predictable result. This post shares almost all of the photos I think have any merit from this 36-exposure roll.

Brick Street Inn

Here Margaret stands between our two Fords in the parking lot at work. I used to work not far from her workplace, a large suburban church where she’s in charge of buildings and grounds. She wears dresses on Mondays to remind her co-workers that she’s a woman after all, as otherwise it’s jeans and T-shirts because a Director of Facilities never knows when she’ll find herself cleaning up after a sick child or crawling around a failed baptistry heater.

Margaret on Dress Monday

My sons have always been curious about my cameras. When they were very small I used to get the boxes down from my closet and we’d play with them together, cameras strewn across the living room. As I got serious about my collection again in my 40s and began to shoot my cameras more, my sons often asked if they could shoot them too. Frankly, I wasn’t always thrilled to say yes. They showed no real interest in exposure and focus, so explaining it to them got us nowhere. I took to setting the camera for them, but they were often impatient as I read the light and guessed distance and all. But a camera like the N8008 is perfect for kid use, even if that kid just turned 18. It requires no explanation beyond “press the button halfway so it can focus and then the rest of the way to get the shot.” My son did that perfectly while we waited for dinner at a Perkins one evening.

Me, taken by my son

Finally, I took the N8008 along the day I visited this abandoned bridge. It’s the one that cemented my love of exploring the old roads, because finding abandoned infrastructure is strangely exciting.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

The N8008 is not without its flaws. It’s a little heavy for all-day use. The loud winder was annoying. Autofocus is slower than on a modern camera. But so bloody what? I don’t shoot sports anyway. This camera worked great, full stop.

But I still own a Nikon N90s, also a wonderful auto-everything 35mm SLR. One does not need both cameras. One does not need a hundred cameras stuffed into every nook and cranny of one’s house, either, but that’s where one is despite ongoing efforts to thin the herd.

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Cameras, Photography

My first book! Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME

Exceptional images can be made with even the most ordinary 35mm SLR. The Pentax ME certainly qualifies as ordinary, with its middling specifications and features. Yet I’ve done some of my best work with this camera and the great Pentax lenses that mount on it, and I want to share some of that work with you.

That’s why I’ve assembled 30 images I made with this camera, images I like best, into a book — Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME.

BookPromo

It’s easy to forget that for most of photography’s history, a photograph was a physical, tangible object. Even now that film photography appears to be finding a new niche after years of decline, so many of us film photographers scan our negatives and work with the resulting digital images.

I wanted both to hold prints of my photographs in my hands and to share them with you. That’s why I collected them into a book. And in the book I described each photo with the same kind of words you’re used to finding here on my blog. Click here to see a preview. Click my book’s cover below to buy one (either paper or PDF) on Blurb.com.

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Cameras, Photography

Shooting the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 for the last time

I’m breaking up with my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80.

Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80It’s been my favorite point-and-shoot camera. It’s so small and easy to use, and I love the contrast and sharpness it always delivers. No matter what film I drop in, I’m always thrilled with the results.

Except for its fatal flaw. And I’ve finally had enough of it.

It’s this weird curved light leak, which this photograph shows. I shot a roll in this camera recently, some Kodak Tri-X 400, and half the images suffered from it. I’ve owned two of these cameras and both had this problem. And reading the forums, it’s not just me; this appears to be a problem with this camera, period.

Rock Bottom

One forum participant said to cover the window on the back that shows the film canister inside. He thought this was the leak’s source. I tried it and it didn’t work. I assume now that the leak comes from around the lens barrel, and I don’t know how anyone would fix that.

It’s a shame. This lens is so capable. And the 35-80mm zoom range is useful, even though the camera zooms slowly. And the flash is pretty good for an onboard flash, lighting remarkably evenly, as this throwaway shot of my kitchen shows.

Air drying

Typical of this kind of point and shoot, the camera decides when to use the flash. But the camera uses it well. I didn’t intend for the flash to fire on this shot, so I turned it off and shot it again. The flash-enabled shot looked much better. Could this camera be smarter than me?

Park-O-Meter

But anyway, back to the light leak. I’ve always cropped the leak out of the afflicted photos, as I did on this shot of some mailboxes in my neighborhood. But I’m tired of having to do it. And sometimes the leak covers up some of the subject.

Mailboxes

I’m sad that it’s time to break up with this camera. It’s just perfect to carry around with me everywhere. I’ve started taking 15-minute walks around my neighborhood before going to work, and after a skiff of snow fell one morning I snapped these tire tracks on the street. It’s great to whip this light little camera out of an inner coat pocket and quickly grab the shot.

Tire tracks in the snow skiff

On an evening when I met Margaret for a pint I photographed this fence across the street. Truly, except for this flaw this is a quality point and shoot camera that’s easy to carry and use enables photographs I might not otherwise make.

Fence

But now the search begins for an easily pocketable point-and-shoot 35mm camera with a great lens. Is it too much to ask of it to take a battery I can buy at the drug store, and will zoom across the 35-80mm range?

What pocketable point-and-shoot cameras do you like? Tell me in the comments.

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