Collecting Cameras

Is the new Reto Ultra Wide and Slim worth buying over a used, original Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim?

The Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim was so influential that it has now been remade at least twice.

The original VUWS. Alan Duncan photo.

This camera, which the cognoscenti call the VUWS, is an all-plastic 35mm fixed-focus point-and-shoot camera. It’s the kind that, when new, you found packaged in a blister pack and hanging on a hook in the photo aisle at Walmart.

Two things set it apart. First, it was barely thicker than the 35mm film cartridges that it took. Second, and far more important, its 22mm f/11 lens delivered surprisingly wonderful results. There was a little vignetting and softness in the corners, but everything else was tack sharp.

Photoblogger Mike Connealy (check out his site here) gives his VUWS frequent exercise and regularly shares incredibly pleasing images like these:

Mike Connealy photo, used with permission.
Mike Connealy photo, used with permission.
Mike Connealy photo, used with permission.

If you’d like to see more from Mike’s VUWS, this link will show you everything he’s published from this camera.

The VUWS has achieved cult status and prices reflect it. This camera probably cost under 20 bucks when it was new, but you can’t touch one for under $50 today on eBay, and prices are much more typically $60 to $75.

A company called Powershovel was first to remake the VUWS as the Superheadz Wide and Slim. Reviews around the Internet (like this one) say its lens is almost as good as Vivitar’s, but its rubberized body becomes tacky in time. The Vivitar’s body is non-rubberized plastic and remains smooth under use.

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim.

A toy camera company called Reto is in pre-production with another VUWS clone. You can pre-order one right now (here) for just 30 bucks.

Like the original, it packs a two-element 22mm f/11 acrylic lens set in a 1/125 sec. single-blade mechanical leaf shutter.

If you don’t like it in blue, you can also get it in charcoal, cream, pink, or yellow.

Unfortunately, shipping to the US is a whopping $25, making this camera not that great of a bargain. Patient and persistent eBaying will net you an original VUWS for not much more.

I’ve been impressed enough with Mike Connealy’s VUWS work that I’ve considered buying one, or a clone, for myself.

I think I’ll wait for a good price on an original. There’s not much to go wrong with these, and I’m sure to get original VUWS goodness rather than roll the dice that a clone is exact enough to capture the full magic.

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Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Enjoying the gear I kept

From 2018 to 2020 I slowly got rid of dozens of cameras I seldom used, frequently after putting one more roll through them just to be sure. I called it Operation Thin the Herd. I thought you might like to see a full list of the cameras I’ve kept — all 28 of them. My goal is to use them all regularly, meaning at least once a year.

Agfa Clack: This box camera for 120 film delivers surprisingly crisp images. I don’t actually need this camera, but it’s so fun to use that sometimes I spool some FP4+ or Ektar into it and blow through the roll just for the joy of it. Review here.

Certo Super Sport Dolly: I kept this folding camera for 120 film in part because it belonged to the father of a dear friend, and in part because it’s a pleasure to use. Review here.

Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6: I have only bought a tiny handful of brand new film cameras in my life, and this is one of them. I’m still deciding whether I like it. I haven’t reviewed this camera yet.

Kodak Brownie Starmatic
Kodak Brownie Starmatic

Kodak Brownie Starmatic: I have a soft spot in my heart for 127 film as my first camera took that format. This little 127 camera has a built-in selenium light meter. Review here.

Kodak Monitor Six-20 Anastigmat Special: This is the other folding camera I kept. It takes 620 film, but it’s not hard to respool 120 film onto 620 spools. This camera needs a repair to the shutter linkage, and I’ll have it done someday, because the Anastigmat lens is wonderful. Review here.

Kodak Pony 135 Model C: Every time I use this camera, I’m deeply impressed with the quality of images it returns. It punches way above its weight class. But I vastly prefer any of my SLRs for the kind of work I do with the Pony. I use it so seldom that it might not keep its place in my stable. Review here.

Konica Auto S2: I enjoyed this rangefinder camera for 35mm film more than any other classic rangefinder I tried, and I tried a lot of them. I’m far more an SLR guy than a rangefinder guy, but this one merits an annual outing. Review here.

Minolta Maxxum 7000i: I only need one Maxxum body, but I own two because they are both brilliant. I may shed one of them someday, but darned if I can decide which. Review here.

Minolta Maxxum HTsi: I only need one Maxxum body, but I own two because they are both brilliant. I may shed one of them someday, but darned if I can decide which. Review here.

Nikon F2
Nikon F2A

Nikon F2A: I love my Nikon F2s for their incredible build quality. I sent this F2A to Sover Wong in 2020 for an overhaul and now this camera is like new again. Review here.

Nikon F2AS: When this F2AS came to me in 2014, it had recently been overhauled by Sover Wong. The meter head has quit working, so it needs to go back to him. Review here.

Nikon F3: This is the one camera I’d keep if I could keep only one. It’s solid as a tank and offers aperture-priority mode, my favorite way to shoot. Its meter isn’t reading right now, so I need to send it for repair. Review here.

Nikon FA: This, the most technologically advanced manual-focus 35mm SLR Nikon ever made, keeps a tenuous spot in my stable. I just don’t use it very much. While I like it, as I have other SLRs I enjoy more. Review here.

Nikon N90s: I got rid of almost all of my other auto-everything 35mm SLRs becuase this one is so great. Review here.

Olympus OM-1
Olympus OM-1

Olympus OM-1: This belonged to the father of a dear friend. I like my OM-2n better, but this OM-1 is delightful in its own right. Review here.

Olympus OM-2n: This camera is my second choice, after my Nikon F3, for the one camera I’d keep if I could keep only one. It’s brilliant, and small, and lightweight. The Zuiko lenses are sublime. Review here.

Olympus Stylus: This little point-and-shoot is fun to use and delivers the goods. I like to slip it into the saddlebag on my bike so I can photograph interesting things when I ride. Review here.

Olympus XA: My life would not be complete without one of these in the stable. There are wonderful, highly capable little 35mm rangefinder cameras. Review here.

Pentax IQZoom 170SL: This small 35mm point-and-shoot has a sharp deep zoom lens. I don’t use it as often as I thought I would, however. Review here.

Pentax KM: This belonged to one of my closest friends. I had Eric Hendrickson overhaul it this year, and put in a new meter. It’s good go to for another generation. Review here.

Pentax ME
Pentax ME

Pentax ME: I adore this light, small 35mm SLR. I’ve found the bodies not to be hardy, however. The meter in mine recently died even after a 2017 overhaul by Eric Hendrickson. I bought a brown-leather ME SE to replace it. Review here.

Pentax ME-F: This historic 35mm SLR is the first to offer autoexposure. It’s fussy and finicky. I keep it because it’s pristine and a real collector’s item. Review here.

Pentax Spotmatic F: This is the Spotmatic to have because of its open-aperture metering. It’s also a jewel of a 35mm SLR. Review here.

Polaroid SX-70: I have always been attracted to instant photography. This is the one Polaroid camera I’ve kept. I put about one pack through it a year. Review here.

Sears KSX-P: Chinon built this 35mm SLR for Sears, and it’s a peach. I like it a lot, but it’s no better than other cameras I own that I like more, so it is on the bubble in my collection. Review here.

Yashica Lynx 14e
Yashica Lynx 14e

Yashica Lynx 14e: This camera is big, heavy, and slow to use. But oh my gosh, is its lens ever sublime! I keep passing over this camera in favor of the Konica Auto S2, so it might not survive the next thinning of the herd. Review here.

Yashica-D: I love my two Yashica TLRs. I prefer the other one, but this one belonged to the father of a dear friend and is pristine. Review here.

Yashica-12: This is a truly wonderful TLR for 120 film. I reach for it first when I want to shoot medium format. Review here.

I still own a handful of cameras that aren’t on this list, cameras I’ll sell off or give away soon.

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Collecting Cameras

Sold image leads to new old Pentax SLR

I sold an image recently. This one.

City-County Building

This is the City County Building, essentially the Marion County Courthouse, in Indianapolis. I made this image with my Kodak EasyShare Z730 in 2008.

A television production company asked if they could purchase the rights to use this image in a documentary they are making for the Discovery Channel. Apparently, the story they are telling involves a criminal case tried in this building, and they hoped to use my image as an establishing shot. They found my image on Flickr.

Their contract was reasonable: I grant them a license to use and modify this image for the purpose of this television production in perpetuity worldwide, but I retain copyright and all other rights.

With what they paid me, I bought this Pentax ME SE.

My Pentax ME’s light meter quit working, despite the camera having been CLA’d in 2017. I paid all of $16 for that body, and it was well used when I got it. I wondered if sending it back to Eric Hendrickson for repair would be throwing good money after bad. Could my ME be like that old car that just keeps breaking down?

I decided I’d go looking for a much more lightly used body. I came upon this very clean ME SE at Victory Camera, which had given it new light seals.

The only differences I can detect between the regular ME and the ME SE are the brown leatherette on the body, and the split prism in the viewfinder is canted at -45 degrees rather than horizontal.

I’ve got a roll of Fomapan 200 in it now and will soon report on my ME SE’s performance.

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View camera

Speed Graphic
Nikon F50, 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor
Kodak Max 400
2021

A longtime camera collector and professional photographer retired several years ago and sent me a box of cameras from his collection that he no longer wanted. Some of them were broken in some way while others worked, either fully or well enough to test. I’ve shot several of them now, and their reviews are up on this site.

This one is a Miniature Speed Graphic, manufactured somewhere between 1939 and 1946, and it takes 2×3 sheet film. I’m sure that if I invested the time to figure it out, I could get wonderful photographs from it. I have decided to let it look glorious on my fireplace mantel instead. SLRs and TLRs have captured my heart.

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

single frame: Speed Graphic

A small view camera that I own.

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Collecting Cameras

Popular camera reviews

Yashica MG-1
Popular on this site

A major feature of this blog is reviews of old film cameras. I’ve reviewed 146 cameras so far! See the entire list here.

Thanks to Internet search, camera reviews drive a great deal of traffic to this site. It’s interesting to track the reviews that have gotten the most views here over the years. Here are the top five most viewed reviews since this blog’s inception:

The most visited reviews so far in 2021 is a very different list, however:

When I look back at 2015, the list is:

I’m curious to understand how these cameras end up ranked as they are. I know some things about it. For example, the Nikon Nikkormat EL couldn’t possibly have made the 2015 list, as I didn’t review it until 2016.

Also, my Yashica MG-1 review, which is from 2010, was very likely the only review of this camera on the Internet for many years. But since then, several other photobloggers have reviewed this camera, giving it competition. Moreover, search engines prefer newer articles — my 11-year-old article is positively ancient.

I’d love to say that a growing interest in 35mm point-and-shoot cameras is what’s pushing my reviews of the Pentax IQZoom cameras and the Nikon Zoom Touch up the rankings. This could play a role; the Nikon Zoom Touch review is from 2014 but has only recently started to get this much activity. But my other popular point-and-shoot reviews are all from the last couple of years. A review can’t rank if it hasn’t been written yet!

None of the cameras I use most — the Pentax ME, the Nikon F3, the Olympus XA, the Yashica-12 — make even the top twenty in any given year. I believe it’s because so many others have reviewed them. When you search for “Pentax ME” on Google today, the number one result is Ken Rockwell’s review. My little site is always going to have trouble competing with Ken Rockwell’s well-known and popular site!

So if there’s one lesson to learn from my stats, it’s to review cameras that have few or no other reviews yet!

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Collecting Cameras

Sears Tower Flash 120

In its heyday, Sears was on a quest to sell anything an average person could want. They were Amazon, minus the Web site and the free shipping. Sears offered a vast number of products under its own brands, including cameras under the Tower brand. A number of different manufacturers produced Tower cameras, usually simply relabeling for Sears a camera they already sold directly. Such was the case with this box camera for 120 film, the Sears Tower Flash 120, which Sears sold in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Made by Bilora in (then) West Germany, it was identical to the Stahl Box (Steel Box) camera but for a different face plate.

Sears Tower Flash 120

Like most box cameras, it offers a meniscus lens set behind a rotary shutter. A switch on the front lets you choose between bulb and a timed shutter of probably 1/30 second. The aperture is almost certainly f/11 — I’ve seen other Tower Flash 120s with “f/11” printed on the face plate. The box is made of metal, rather than the usual cardboard. Also, you operate the shutter with a proper button on the camera’s face, rather than a lever on the side. The button even accepts a cable release, although like most boxes, there’s no tripod mount. The Tower Flash 120 offers two waist-level viewfinders, portrait on top and landscape on the side.

Sears Tower Flash 120

I’ve seen two other versions of the Tower Flash 120. One wraps the box’s sides, top, and bottom with a ribbed, rubbery skin. The other uses a plainer face plate (it says “Model 7,” but I’m not aware of models 1 through 6) and a smooth, rather than textured, front and back. Some Tower Flash 120s use a slotted shutter-speed switch rather than the tabbed one on my copy.

Sears Tower Flash 120

My Tower Flash 120 was was donated to my collection by a longtime collector who retired and downsized. It came with its flash attachment, which takes two AA batteries. I’m not much for flash photography so I didn’t try it. But the battery compartment was clean, so I see no reason it shouldn’t work.

If you like box cameras, also check out my reviews of some classic Kodak boxes, the No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here) and Model F (here), as well as the No. 2 Hawk-Eye Model C (here) and its 50th Anniversary of Kodak companion (here). Or look at my reviews of the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here) and Ansco Shur Shot (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I’ve had this camera for a few years, but have put off a minor repair it needed. The bit of plastic that is the red window around back had come unglued. Repairing it meant bending the film pressure plate to get it out of the way, and I was afraid of damaging it. I finally braved it, and with a bead of super glue the camera finally returned to fully usable condition. I bent the pressure plate back into place with no trouble, but unfortunately a little super glue squished out and dried visibly on the red plastic. Fortunately I could still read the markings on my film’s backing paper.

I loaded some Ilford FP4 Plus into the Tower Flash 120. This film expired in December of 1994 but was stored frozen, so I figured it would be okay. The box opens from the sides near the front, by pressing the small button on each side simultaneously.

Tall shadow

The smooth, easy shutter button guards against camera shake. You still need a steady hand, however, thanks to the slow shutter.

Front yard

Surprisingly reflective glass made the viewfinders hard to use. In all but bright, direct sunlight, I saw my silhouette in the viewfinders, which obscured my subjects.

Deck

Thanks to the small, reflective viewfinder, it’s hard to frame subjects. Every last photo I made was far from level. I straightened them all in Photoshop.

Garden

The lens is remarkably free of vignetting, and is soft only in the very corners.

Across the street

I shot the whole roll in my yard, as I sometimes do. Except for the balky viewfinders, the Tower Flash 120 was pleasant to use and returned decent results.

My vee dub

To see more from this camera, check out my Sears Tower Flash 120 gallery.

Remarkably, the Sears Tower Flash 120’s body is based on a camera Bilora made starting in 1935. That goes to show that the box had long been perfected, but was still viable as a family snapshot camera even that many years later. It’s flash attachment made it even more useful. I am unlikely to use this camera often because I enjoy my 1910s-era Kodak box cameras so much more. But if you are box curious, or your collection leans hard into boxes, you would be well served to find one.

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