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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Film Photography

Where can you still get film developed?

I’ll always miss the days of taking my film to the drug store to get it developed and then printed or scanned. It was so convenient, fast, and inexpensive!

By-mail labs now fill the gap — except they’re neither as fast nor as convenient, and some of them aren’t exactly inexpensive. Still, I’ve found a handful that do good work. I’m going to share with you the ones I’ve tried and like best.

I’m a frugal, hobbyist photographer in Indiana, USA. I’m looking for basic services, good quality, and reasonable prices. That’s why this list doesn’t include any boutique or pro labs. They offer white-glove service and outstanding quality for the demanding customer, and charge accordingly.

I also shoot more than 35mm color film in my vintage cameras. I need labs that can handle medium-format (120) film, and obsolete formats like 620, 127 and 110. I also sometimes shoot expired film and prefer labs that give it the extra care needed to produce good images.

I do have a couple gripes with most consumer labs. First, some of these labs have become much more expensive over the years, charging 20 bucks (including shipping) to process and scan a roll of 35mm color film, and more than that for other formats. I don’t understand the economics of running a lab, but that price is mighty high.

Second, most of these labs offer basic scans that I consider to be far too small, at less than 2,000 pixels on the long side. These labs all scan at 72 DPI, which allows these small scans to be printed at up to 11×17 inches. But I share my photographs online, where pixel dimensions largely trump DPI. I often want to crop my work, but scans this small makes it difficult to do that and have the image still be large enough for online display.

Here are the labs I use, in order of my preference.

Fulltone Photo

Fulltone Photo, of La Grange, KY, processes, scans, and prints 35mm and 120/620 films. Their Web site says they also handle 110 and 126, but their order form disagrees. They process color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.

Their Web site is fulltonephoto.com. You print and fill out their order form and mail it in with your film. After they’ve processed your film, they email you for payment. They accept only credit cards. When your scans are ready they send you a download link.

Fulltone does good work at the lowest price anywhere. Processing and standard scans for 35mm color negative film costs $7. Medium format films cost an extra 50 cents; black-and-white films are a dollar more. Slide film costs $14-16 to develop and scan. They provide a postage-paid label for mailing your film to them. Return shipping is $4.50 for orders under $15 but free otherwise, so it pays to send them many rolls at once.

Fulltone’s standard scans are especially small at 1545×1024 pixels (despite their order form claiming 1818×1228). Fortunately, for an extra $5 you can get scans at a whopping 6774×4492 pixels (despite their order form claiming 4535×3035). Even with this upcharge, Fulltone undercuts everyone’s price for their standard service. The quality of Fulltone’s scans is very good.

Customer service is good — once they screwed up scanning one roll, and they cheerfully rescanned the negatives. They’re also the closest by-mail lab to my central-Indiana home, which cuts shipping time.

Dwayne’s Photo

Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, KS, is the granddaddy of all by-mail labs. They process, print, and scan 35mm, 120/620, 220, 127, 110, 126, Disc, and APS films. They process color and black-and-white negative and color slide films. They also process movie films.

Their Web site is dwaynesphoto.com. At last, they offer online ordering! They take PayPal and credit cards. If you use their older printed order forms, they also take checks and money orders. When your images are ready, they send you a download link. You can also opt to have them mail you a CD of your scans.

Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm or 120 color or black-and-white negative film costs $9. Slide film costs $12.50-$13.50 depending on format. Other services’ prices vary. Return shipping costs $5 for the first roll and 50 cents for each additional roll. They don’t offer prepaid mailing labels so have your postage stamps ready.

Their 35mm and 120 scans of negative film are a not-bad 2740×1830 pixels, though slide film is only 1830×1220 for some reason. For an extra $5, you can get scans of these films at a ginormous 6770×4490 pixels. Scan resolutions are similar for other film types and formats. The quality of Dwayne’s scans is average.

Dwayne’s can handle any curveball I throw them. Once a roll broke while I rewound it in one of my old cameras. I stuck the camera into a dark bag, coiled the film into a black film canister, marked the can “Loose Film Open in Darkroom,” and sent it to Dwayne’s. They processed it without skipping a beat.

Customer service is good if impersonal. Once I sent them a roll of expired Kodak Gold 200 in 620 and they accidentally processed it as black and white. They sent me a note of apology, my black-and-white negatives and scans, and a fresh roll of Ektar, albeit in 120.

The Darkroom

The Darkroom in San Clemente, CA, processes, scans, and prints 35mm, 120/220/620, 110, 126, Advantix, and sheet film. They process color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.

Their Web site is thedarkroom.com. They offer online ordering with credit card and PayPal payment. They also offer printable order forms if you want to send a check or money order.

Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm or 120 color or black-and-white negative film costs $17.95 shipped both ways. Add $2 for a single-use camera, $3 for slide film, and $3 for other film sizes. Shipping costs the same no matter how many rolls you send, so it pays to send several at once.

Their standard scans are a puny 1536×1024 pixels. It’s worth it to spend the extra $3 to get the 3072×2048 enhanced scans. They also offer 4492×6774 super scans for $8 more. These sizes are all for 35mm and 120; other formats scan at similar dimensions. The quality of The Darkroom’s scans is average.

After you mail your film, expect scans in about ten days to two weeks. They are the lab farthest away from my Indiana home, so some of that time is how long it takes the film to reach California.

The Darkroom has never messed up any order, so I can’t comment on their customer service. They have been off this list the last couple years because they’re more expensive than the labs listed above. But I put them back on because they’re now less expensive than the next lab, which I keep on this list for a few key reasons.

Old School Photo Lab

Old School Photo Lab, of Dover, NH, processes, prints, and scans 35mm, 120/620, 110, 126, 127, 828, APS, and 4×5 sheet films. They process color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.

You order and pay through their Web site, oldschoolphotolab.com. Processing a roll of 35mm color negative film and getting their standard scans costs $19.75, including shipping both ways. 120/620 color negative film costs $20 shipped both ways. In both cases, black-and-white film costs $1.25 more and slide film costs $2.75 more. Other film formats start at $26 per roll, shipped both ways. They give discounts if you send several rolls at once. They accept credit cards and PayPal.

Over the years Old School’s prices have crept up so that they’re now the most expensive of this class of labs. You can get good service and quality for less at the other labs I recommend. Despite their ongoing price hikes, they stay on this list year after year for three reasons:

  • Their standard 35mm JPEG scans are a generous 3072×2048 pixels. I know no other lab that offers standard scans that large. You can order giant scans, at 6774×4492 pixels, for an extra $10 for JPEG or $20 for TIFF. Medium format scan sizes are similar.
  • They’ve never let me down — their processing and scans have always met or exceeded my expectations. I can’t say that about any other lab I’ve used. When the film really, really matters, I send it to Old School.
  • They take special care of expired films.

When your scans are ready, they email you a link to where you can download them. If you want a CD of the scans, it’s 3 bucks extra and you have to wait longer to get them. The quality of Old School’s scans is very good.

Old School is popular and therefore a little slow — after you mail your film, expect scans in no less than two weeks.

The staff responds promptly and cheerfully when you contact them. They’ve never screwed up one of my orders, but a few times I’ve written to ask if my film ever arrived. They now send an email when it does so you don’t have to wonder.

Film Rescue International

Sometimes you’ll find some very old, very expired film in a camera. Any of the above labs will process it, but they might not get good images because old film deteriorates.

Send it straight to Film Rescue International, filmrescue.com. They process any film, no matter how old, and use creative darkroom and Photoshop techniques to coax the best possible images from it. They’re expensive and they’re slow, but they do outstanding work.

I used Film Rescue for a roll of Verichrome Pan I found in a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. That film had been in the camera for more than 40 years in unknown conditions, so I was afraid it might have deteriorated badly. They got good, high-contrast images from that film. They lacked “that Verichrome Pan look” but were crisp and clean.

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Camera Reviews

Sears KSX-P

Sears, Roebuck and Company sold cameras under its own brands starting in the 1950s. Outside manufacturers made them all; Sears was a department store, not a manufacturer. From the late 1960s through late 1980s, if you bought a Sears 35mm SLR, Ricoh made it — with one exception. Sears turned to Chinon for its last 35mm SLR, the 1985 Sears KSX-P.

Sears KSX-P

This camera differs only cosmetically from Chinon’s CP-5. It offers two program modes, hence the “Dual2 Program” label on the prism cover. It also offers aperture-priority and manual exposure modes. You can mount any of the huge range of Pentax and third-party K-mount lenses to this camera. I don’t know how they did it, but automatic exposure modes work with any K-mount lens. I mounted one of my SMC Pentax-M lenses and program and aperture-priority modes worked fine. Pentax’s autoexposure SLRs required SMC Pentax-A lenses; older SMC Pentax-M lenses worked only in manual exposure mode.

Sears KSX-P

The KSX-P uses a metal, vertical-travel focal-plane shutter that operates from 30 sec. (8 sec. in manual mode) to 1/1000 sec. It accepts films from 25 to 3200 ISO, selected using the dial around the rewind crank. Pull it up to turn it. The viewfinder features split-image and microprism focusing. The camera also chimes for various reasons mostly related to misexposure; you can turn that off with the switch next to the lens mount and under the KSX-P logo. That switch also activates the self timer. Three AAA batteries power the camera; they’re under the grip.

Sears KSX-P

The two program modes are Program Action (Pa) and Program Creative (Pc), which you select with the gray lever on the mode dial. Pa chooses faster shutter speeds to freeze moving subjects, and Pc chooses smaller apertures for greater depth of field with static subjects. When using one of the program modes, put the lens at its smallest aperture. If you don’t, program mode still works, but the camera can’t choose apertures smaller than the one set on the lens.

Manual mode is unusual: you press the M button (next to the mode dial) to step through shutter speeds in ascending order. If you press the shutter button partway and then press the M button, you step through shutter speeds in descending order. It’s challenging to get both fingers in there. A flashing LED in the viewfinder appears next to the shutter speed. A second LED, glowing steady, shows the shutter speed necessary for the selected aperture. To set proper exposure, adjust aperture and shutter speed until the two LEDs become one.

The KSX-P lets you make multiple exposures on a frame. Slide the lever above the winder to the left and hold it, and wind. The film stays put but the shutter cocks so you can make a second exposure on the frame.

The rewind crank is unusual in that it is round, covering the shaft like a lid. I found the knob to be hard to hold as I rewound my test rolls. It kept slipping from my fingers, which caused the crank to close.

My Sears KSX-P came with a 50mm f/1.7 Auto Sears MC lens made by Chinon, which was probably the kit lens. My Sears KS-2 had a 50/1.7 Auto Sears MC lens too, but Ricoh made it. The easiest way to tell these identically named lenses apart is that the Ricoh lens takes 52mm filters and the Chinon lens takes 49mm filters, and the lenses are marked as such right on the front.

I’ve reviewed other Sears SLRs, namely the KS-2 (here) and the KS Super II (here). These are all K-mount SLRs, shared with Pentax. Check out my reviews of the Pentax KM (here), K1000 (here), ME (here), and ME Super (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded a roll of Fomapan 400 and shot it in Program mode at EI 200, and then developed it in LegacyPro L110 and scanned the negatives on my Minolta ScanDual II.

Sears KSX-P - Suburban scene

I used Pa mode when I was chasing after our little granddaughter and Pc mode otherwise. The KSX-P’s viewfinder shows which shutter speed the camera chooses by lighting an LED along a scale. You can see the lens’s selected aperture in a window at the top of the viewfinder, but in program mode that’s always 22, not the aperture the camera selected. I would have liked know the aperture so I could guess the depth of field I might be getting. The camera has no DOF preview.

Sears KSX-P - Bubbles in the sink

The KSX-P feels plasticky, but it’s got moderate heft. The viewfinder is a little dim, but it’s plenty usable. The battery grip makes the camera comfortable in the hand.

Sears KSX-P - Flowers

This lens focuses down to 18 inches, which ain’t bad for a non-macro lens. I like having the ability to get in close.

Sears KSX-P - VW

This lens has mild but noticeable barrel distortion, which I find to be uncommon among 50mm primes. The lens handles easily, however, and is compact.

Sears KSX-P - Stones on the sill

You’ll never mistake the KSX-P for a professional or luxury camera. The controls are sure, but aren’t hefty or silky.

Sears KSX-P - State Bank

I shot a roll of Fujifilm Superia Reala 100 next in this Sears KSX-P. This stuff expired in March, 2002, but it was stored frozen, so I shot it at box speed. I took the camera to Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, an enormous, sprawling place, for a warm evening walk. Every time I’ve lucked into a roll of ISO 100 Fujicolor film, which isn’t made anymore, I’ve been blown away by the color.

Deeply red

I started the walk with the camera in program mode, but switched to aperture-priority mode after just a few frames. The forecast for full sun proved to be wrong as clouds rolled in. Light was mixed. With such slow film I wanted more control over depth of field, and aperture-priority mode gave it to me. The window at the top of the viewfinder showed me the aperture I’d chosen, and an LED in the viewfinder lit next to the shutter speed the camera chose. Perfect.

Fake flowers on the door

My only gripe with this camera is that the shutter sounds weird and cheap: Shhhhhh-chunk-ping. It sounds the same regardless of the shutter speed, which made me wonder whether the shutter speeds were accurate. (I get a sense of shutter function by listening to it. 1/15 sounds a lot slower than 1/500.) It wasn’t until I saw my developed negatives that I was sure the shutter worked properly. I don’t know if this sound is normal for a KSX-P or not, though.

Crown Hill road

A couple times I knew I was photographing into the light, and sure enough, the lens flared. Photoshop let me tone that down.

Military cemetery at Crown Hill

I bought this KSX-P from its original owner, who hadn’t used it in many years. It says something about this camera that when I put batteries in it, it fired right up and functioned properly.

Military cemetery at Crown Hill

Yet I didn’t fall in love with this camera. I suppose my bar is high after having used so many truly wonderful SLRs over the years. I know that if someone had gifted me one of these when it was new in 1985, I would have been thrilled, and I would have made wonderful photographs with it for years.

At Crown Hill

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Sears KSX-P gallery.

I bought this Sears KSX-P because I’m curious about Sears SLRs and this one cost very little. It is a decent performer, but more than that, it’s truly remarkable that automatic exposure works with any K-mount lens. If you have a passel of Pentax glass a KSX-P might be worth adding to your stable for its versatility.

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