Cameras

Inspecting vintage film cameras before you buy, part 2: Advanced features

Recently I shared how to check an old film camera’s fundamental functions so you don’t end up buying junk. (Read it here, if you missed it.) But many cameras offer features beyond those fundamentals. They can be broken too.

Minolta SR-T 202

Quite a find at an antique shop!

A couple years ago I found a Minolta SR-T 202 at an antique shop. A 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X lens was attached. What luck! These are great cameras, and a 50/1.4 is always a prize.

But there I stood in the middle of a dimly lit shop 60 miles from home. What problems would this camera have, and could I negotiate a price that would make me willing to take them on?

First I checked the fundamentals, which I described in part 1 of this series. That all checked out. So I moved on to the camera’s advanced features. Here are the things I checked:

Remove the battery cover, if there is one. When there’s no battery cover, the camera is all mechanical. Cameras that take a battery have some level of electronics, even if it’s just an onboard light meter. Without the proper battery you won’t be able to check some or all of its functions, depending on how much of the camera is electronically controlled.

Yashica Electro 35 GSN

Battery cover on the bottom, slotted to be opened with a nickel

I don’t know about where you live, but where I live Walgreens and CVS are on every other corner, and they have a surprisingly extensive battery selection. For a camera I really, really want, I’ll duck out and buy a battery.

Many battery covers have a slot that fits a nickel or a penny, so grab one out of your back pocket and unscrew it. Alternatively, there might be knurling on the cover that lets you grip it with your fingertips. Or you might find a tab you press in that lets you pull the cover back. Ideally, the cover removes easily and the inside is free of leaky-battery corrosion. If the cover is jammed shut, there’s probably corrosion. I’ve had good luck cleaning up a little corrosion (I use a dab of vinegar and fine steel wool), but my experience has been that a lot of corrosion means the camera’s electronics won’t work.

Check the camera’s focusing. The camera either focuses manually or automatically.

On manual-focus viewfinder cameras, you guess how far away your subject is and twist the aperture ring until that number of feet or meters lines up with the focusing mark. There’s no good way to check accuracy in the field, short of carrying an accessory rangefinder everywhere you go.

But if the camera has a built-in rangefinder, use it to check focusing accuracy. The rangefinder might be inside the viewfinder or it might be in a separate window near the viewfinder. Look for the “patch” in the center, which should be bright enough for you to see the image inside it. Aim the camera at something a known distance away. Turn the focusing ring until the image in the rangefinder patch lines up with the image in the viewfinder. Check the distance selected on the focusing ring and see if it matches the actual distance.

You can do the same on a manual-focus 35mm SLR. Twist the focus ring until the image in the viewfinder’s split screen lines up, or the microprism ring stops shimmering.

On autofocus cameras, see if there’s a manual-focus mode and try the tips above. If there’s no manual mode, you’ll have to roll the dice that focus is accurate. Fortunately, of the dozens upon dozens of  cameras I’ve bought in over 40 years, only one or two were significantly off.

Olympus Trip 35

Selenium meter around the lens

Check the light meter, if there is one. Look through the viewfinder. If you see a needle or an LED/LCD panel, there’s an onboard meter. A few cameras place the meter needle on the camera body instead.

Some meters need power and others don’t. Selenium light meters are photosensitive on their own and need no battery. Look for a bubbled plastic patch on the camera’s face or around the lens.

Yashica Lynx 14e

CdS meter “bubble” on the body

Cadmium sulfide (CdS) and silicon meters need batteries to work. Some cameras place CdS meters on the body. Many cameras embed these meters inside the body

For a powered meter, the camera must be on for you to check it. Some cameras, like the Pentax K1000, are always on. Others have an on switch or button, and still others require you to activate the meter by pulling back the winder lever a little or pressing the shutter button partway.

There are so many ways cameras show exposure settings in the viewfinder that I can’t explain them all here. Many cameras use some sort of needle system: when the needle lines up with a mark or a notch, you have good exposure. Other cameras use LED or LCD displays.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

Meter needle at the top of this viewfinder

Download a light-meter app to your smartphone. Read light on a subject with the app and the camera, making either shutter speed or aperture match on both. Do this for a few different aperture and shutter speed combinations to see if the meter consistently agrees. A consistently wrong meter is still usable. My Yashica Lynx 14e above is consistently off by a full stop. I just adjust as I shoot. It works beautifully.

A busted or inaccurate meter doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. The meter on that otherwise all-manual SR-T 202 was quite dead. I dropped in some film anyway and metered with an app on my phone. I prefer a working meter, but I still had a fine time with the SR-T. That camera had a bigger problem my initial inspection missed: a pinhole in the shutter curtain that left a bright spot on many photos. That disappointed me far more than the inactive meter did.

The more electronics on a camera, however, the more likely its manual exposure settings are buried in counterintuitive menus. And some cameras lack manual exposure settings altogether. A busted meter renders them useless.

Check the motorized winder, if there is one. For this, you must have a battery. But then this is as simple as turning the camera on and pressing the shutter button. If it doesn’t wind, or if the winder sounds sick, move on.

♦ ♦ ♦

Speaking of all- or mostly-electronic cameras, they present special challenges in field inspection. They can be broken in surprising ways that you might not be able to detect without putting a roll of film through them. In the final part of this series I’ll share how you can predict the problems a camera might have.

Advertisements
Standard
Blogosphere

Recommended reading

Happy weekend, Roadies, and happy reading from the blog posts I enjoyed most this week!

I’m not good at pausing to rest. If I’m not busy, I’m not happy. Johanna Rothman argues that rests are the key to productivity. Read When Do You Take a Break?

A blogger I know only as Evangelina07, who loves to travel, shares what she’s learned about making good vacation photos. I learned a few things! Read Easy tips to improve your vacation photos

Alister Scott explains why a password like correct-horse-battery-stable is far more secure than the kinds of passwords most sites require (i.e., Tr0ub4dor&3). Read Computer Security: Passwords

Writing for The Book of Life, Jess Cotton explains the psychology behind the Seven Deadly Sins. Read Beyond the Seven Deadly Sins

Kelly-Shane Fuller figured out how to process Kodachrome… in colorat home. Let that sink in for a minute. He wrote about it for Film Shooters Collective, and shared some of his results. Read Kodachrome Gave Us Those Nice Bright Colors

Standard
Ten Years of Down the Road

Why I probably won’t watch your vlog or listen to your podcast – and why I probably won’t create my own

It seems like podcasts and, especially, vlogs (video blogs) are where it’s at. All the cool kids are doing one. Some vloggers and podcasters have become Internet famous!

Will podcasts and vlogs leave traditional blogging in the dust? I worry that I’m out of step that I don’t make my own — and that I don’t follow any.

Well, hardly any. For the right podcast or vlog I will make an exception. I call it the Osgood Exception.

CBS NEWS SUNDAY MORNING

Charles Osgood. CBS News photo.

During my 1970s kidhood we listened to the radio over breakfast. We always tuned to the station that played middle-of-the-road music and CBS news on the hour. Being a CBS station, they also carried The Osgood File, a little vignette written and read by Charles Osgood. More than 40 years later, he still does four Osgood Files each weekday for CBS Radio. And he even makes them available on the Internet now as podcasts!

It was the perfect podcast before anybody could even conceive of the idea. Each one is a human interest story, crisply and engagingly written. And best of all, each one is short, clocking in at about 1 minute and 45 seconds.

As a kid, my whole family piped down for the 1 minute and 45 seconds it took to listen to an Osgood File. We could pack it into our busy mornings with no problem.

That’s the Osgood Exception: is it interesting and can I listen to it quickly and easily?

I will always prefer to read a blog post — I can do that anywhere. I’m not going to listen to your podcast or watch your vlog in a waiting room or in the can. I don’t want the sound to fill the room and I won’t carry headphones everywhere.

And how much of a time commitment are you asking of me? The shorter the better. I can skim and scan a blog post, but when I launch a podcast or vlog there isn’t any good way to cut to the good stuff. I have to listen through. So deliver the goods fast and I might stick around.

If it’s too long, it becomes like a television program: something I have to schedule time for. For the little time I have for television, the competition is fierce. Your podcast or vlog is going to have to be stunning to make the cut.

So the list of podcasts and vlogs I’m willing to follow is very short. A model podcast, one I do follow, is called Agile in 3 Minutes. (It’s about software development, which is what I do for a living.) See what the podcaster did there? He tells you right away that you need a bite-sized amount of time to listen to his podcast. I can listen to it quickly while cooking breakfast or while taking a quick work break. And it’s easy to listen to as it uses simple language, spoken clearly. That removed pretty much every barrier to me sampling his work, and now I’m hooked.

There’s a vlog I want to like. It’s by a blogger fairly well known in software-development circles who writes unfailingly interesting blog posts. But on his vlog, the stuff I want to hear is interlaced with cut scenes of him walking or driving through his city and interacting with his family at home. And his videos sometimes go on for as long as 10 minutes. I just want him to cut to the chase, tell me what he has to tell me, and end it already! I’m about to unsubscribe.

♦ ♦ ♦

I could probably make my own podcast or vlog. A podcast would be easier: I’d need to buy a good microphone. I happen to own audio-editing software already. While my radio voice is rusty, with a little practice it would be fully sonorous again. And I do know how to write for audio, which is different from writing to be read.

Vlogging is another matter. I could do it quick and dirty with my Canon PowerShot S95 on a tripod. The video would be serviceable and the audio would be tinny and include ambient noise, but at least it would be a way to start. But ultimately I’d want to invest in a good camera and microphone.

I could just write a podcast and film myself reading it. That’s all some vlogs are: a talking head. An especially attractive or animated talking head can be interesting. But I’m a reserved middle-aged man; therefore I fit into neither category. So I’d have to do something else creative to make it more than a talking-head vlog, which would require extensive shoots and editing.

All of this would take time away from blogging. Which is what I really want to do. So if I’m to be left behind by popular podcasters and vloggers, I guess that’s how it has to be.

Standard

Abandoned

Abandoned Dixie Highway
Canon PowerShot S95
2012

A limestone (I think) pit was dug north of Oolitic, a small town in southern Indiana. It obliterated a section of the old Dixie Highway (and former State Road 37). A gate blocks the way long before this; such is the condition of the road beyond the gate.

Photography, Road trips

Photo: Abandoned Dixie Highway in southern Indiana

Image
Growth, Stories told

This cup is already broken

This was my favorite mug.

mymug

A long time ago I worked in a museum’s gift shop. We sold works of local artists and for several weeks featured a talented potter. I was taken with this fellow’s work for its bold color, especially four coffee mugs in this motif. I wanted them all, but could afford only one, and chose this one.

This mug was as much a pleasure to use as it was to behold. Its slender angled lip felt good on my lips. The thumbprint-sized indentation pressed into the top of the handle made it very comfortable to hold.

I’ve had very few possessions that satisfied me as much as this mug. I drank my coffee from it for 21 years, first at college, then in my first apartment, then at home after I was married, and finally at work. But sadly it was damaged when I moved it to my last job. Something must have struck the box it was in. When I filled it with coffee, a puddle quickly formed wherever I set it.

Buddhists have a saying: This cup is already broken. It’s meant to teach us that nothing lasts forever, so enjoy it while you have it. (The book of Ecclesiastes agrees, by the way, if you aren’t too keen on Buddhist teachings.) Enjoying what I have has been a recurring theme on this blog. For example, I’ve written before about how I was so focused on taking care of my first brand new car that it robbed me of some of the pleasure of driving it. I have struggled with this lesson all my life.

I grew up in a working-class family. We weren’t poor, but we earned every thing we owned, and little was handed to me. I saved to buy things I wanted, such as my bicycle and my first old cameras. Every purchase was dear because my money didn’t stretch very far. I was always very upset when something broke or wore out, because I would have to save for a long time to replace it. This shaped my attitude toward my possessions. I have tended to buy used or inexpensive things, because when they broke or wore out I could soothe myself by saying that I hadn’t lost much. When I have received especially nice or new things, I have tended not to want to use them.

After my grandfather died, I got his pocket knife. It was a gentleman’s knife, two small blades in a slender silver body. I left it in a dresser drawer for years, afraid to carry it lest I lose it. But I couldn’t very well enjoy my grandfather’s memory that way, and so one morning I finally slipped it into my pocket. When I got home that night, I found that it had fallen out somewhere along the way, and I never saw it again.

That loss stung. And in its wake I clenched even tighter on my possessions. That brings me to this mug. Because at about this time I realized I drank far more coffee at work than at home. I wanted to take my mug to the office, but I resisted out of worry that it would more readily be lost, damaged, or stolen there.

And then I found it necessary to sell almost everything I owned. It was not easy. But after it was all gone and I carried on with my life, I was surprised by how little of it I missed. Today, I occasionally wish for a couple old cameras I especially enjoyed and a few of my old record albums that have never been released on CD. That’s it. I can’t even remember some of the things I owned. It was, I am stunned to have learned, just stuff.

That my mug escaped being sold was merely an oversight, but one I was glad to have made. As soon as I came across it, I took it right to work where I could enjoy it best. And sure enough, that’s where my mug met its demise. But I got to use it for seven years at work before that happened – and in that time, I figure I drank at least 3,600 cups of coffee from it. I enjoyed it to the hilt!

And so I’ve been thinking about how to extend this idea. How will I behave differently if I think as though my kids are already grown and gone? As though I’ve already moved on from my current job? As though I’ve already remarried and left my single life behind?

What else can you think of?

Originally published in May of 2010. Back by popular demand. And since I wrote this, I’m almost empty nested, I’ve moved on from two jobs, and I’ve remarried. This reflection from seven years ago absolutely helped me enjoy my fleeting, temporary life more.

Standard

The view from Gilpin Road

The view from Gilpin Road
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

My sons and I were driving the National Road across Maryland. As we ascended Polish Mountain, the view of modern US 40 and I-68 below was arresting.

Photography, Road trips

Photo: The view from Gilpin Road, part of the National Road in Maryland

Image