Film Photography

My Nikon F3 is back from repair and CLA


I was mighty bummed when I picked up my Nikon F3 a few months ago and found its meter dead and its winder locked up. If I could own only one camera, it would be this one. I reach for my Pentax ME and Olympus OM-2n more often because they’re smaller and lighter. But as a pro camera, the F3’s robustness outclasses them. With proper care, it might well outlast me.

I sent it to James Holman at International Camera Technicians. $275 and a couple weeks later, it was back in my hands, good as new.

I put a couple rolls of color negative film through it to test it, with my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens mounted. I enjoy moving in close to things, which the Micro-Nikkor lets me do. For other subjects in good light, leaving it focused at infinity delivers enough depth of field that I don’t have to do any fine focusing.

The price of gas I

As expected, the F3 performed beautifully. All of the controls were smooth and sure. They were all pretty smooth and pretty sure before the winder locked up — my F3 was in good condition in the first place. The only trouble I’ve had with it before this is failed light seals; last year I replaced them myself.

Triple ATMs

James charges $50 to diagnose a camera, but applies that fee to the final bill if you go ahead with the repair. After I paid the fee, James let me know within a day what work my F3 needed and what the work would cost. After I authorized the work, James completed it in a few days. My camera spent more time with the USPS than it did in James’s shop.


James services 35mm, medium format, and large format film cameras, as well as lenses. When I’ve sent some of my other cameras out for repair and CLA, I’ve always looked for the One True Expert for that kind of camera: Eric Hendrickson for my Pentax SLRs, Sover Wong for my Nikon F2, John Hermanson for my Olympus OM-series SLRs. There doesn’t appear to be One True F3 Expert, and my buddy John has always sung James’s praises, so I gave James a whirl. Verdict: Recommended. I’m sure I’ll send more cameras his way, as more of my old gear needs work.


For my test roll I did what I like to call “la-de-da photography” — walking around photographing anything that even remotely catches my fancy. It was early spring, so I moved in close on a lot of flowers.


These photos are on Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400. I was gifted two rolls of this stuff; I shared images from the other roll here. This film hasn’t been made in some time, and my rolls are expired. Last time I shot this film at box speed and got grainy, color-shifted results. This time I shot it at EI 200 and got much better performance.

Stained glass

I’m relieved to have my F3 back and working again!

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Camera Reviews

Pentax ME SE

You have to wonder why Pentax went to the trouble to offer the Pentax ME SE. After all, it was the same camera as the Pentax ME save two tiny details. One of those details is obvious by inspection: smooth brown leather on the body instead of textured black leather.

Pentax ME SE

The other differing detail is inside the viewfinder: on the focusing screen, the split screen is canted at -45 degrees. The regular ME’s split screen is horizontal. The canted split screen eliminates needing to rotate the camera when the subject’s lines are primarily horizontal, which is nice.

Pentax ME SE

Otherwise, the ME SE’s specs are identical to the ME’s. It works with films from ISO 12 to 1600 and allows exposures from 8 seconds to 1/1000 second through its electronic shutter. You can adjust exposure up to two stops in either direction by setting a dial around the rewind crank. Its hot shoe syncs at 1/100 sec. Two silver-oxide SR44 button batteries power the ME SE. Without them, the shutter operates only at 1/100 sec and at bulb.

Pentax ME SE

Also like the regular ME, this camera operates only in aperture-priority autoexposure mode, and it lacks depth-of-field preview. This camera was aimed squarely at the amateur.

To use the Pentax ME SE, turn the dial atop the camera to AUTO. Set your aperture on the lens. Then look through the viewfinder, frame your subject, and focus. Press the shutter button down partway. A red light appears next to the shutter speed the ME SE’s meter chose. If the red light appears next to OVER or UNDER, adjust the aperture until the meter can select one of the shutter speeds. Of course, if you get a shutter speed slower than about the inverse of your lens’s focal length, you should mount the camera on a tripod to avoid shake.

Pentax produced these cameras from 1976 to 1979, but you could buy them new out of existing stock through at least 1984. They commonly came in a kit with the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens for a street price of about $120. That’s equivalent to about $330 today, making this camera a solid bargain when new.

If you like compact SLRs, see my reviews of the original Pentax ME (here), the Olympus OM-1 (here), and the Nikon FA (here). If you like Pentax SLRs, see my reviews of the K1000 (here), the KM (here), the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), the ES II (here), and the H3 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

My regular Pentax ME has long been my favorite SLR. It’s so light and easy to carry, and I strongly favor aperture-priority shooting. When I found my ME’s meter to be dead last fall, I faced a choice. I could either have my well-used, somewhat battered body repaired, or buy a lightly-used, working body. I decided upon the latter, and soon came upon this clean and minty ME SE. The seller had even just replaced all of the light seals. I paid $105, including shipping, which is a lot more than I normally pay for any camera. But I am entering into a long-term relationship and was willing to pay for a body in very good nick.

To test the camera I mounted the delightful 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens and loaded some Kodak Ultramax 400. I set the camera’s ISO to 200 because I love the look of Ultramax 400 overexposed by a stop.

Autumn in the suburbs on the Pentax ME SE

The ME SE feels just like the ME in the hand, except that the ME SE’s smooth leather feels a great deal nicer than the ME’s nubby black leather. It gives me an “ahhhhh!” moment every time I pick it up.

Metamora, Indiana on the Pentax ME SE

I kept going with a roll of Fomapan 200, which I rated at 125 and developed in Ilford ID-11 stock.

Rushville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

Just like the regular ME, the ME SE’s winder feels a little ratchety. The similarly sized Olympus OM-1 or -2’s winder is a lot smoother. The shutter button feels good, however, with a smooth, short travel.

Rushville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

The ME SE’s viewfinder is surprisingly large and bright, which adds to the joy of using this camera.

Brookville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

Next I mounted the underappreciated 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens and loaded some expired Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400 film. I shot it at box speed — I should have rated it at 200 or 100. This was the best-exposed image on the roll.

Construction scene on the Pentax ME SE

I shot the ME SE all over Indiana on various trips. Because of its size and weight, it’s an easy companion.

Carmel statue on the Pentax ME SE

Finally I took the ME SE along on a trip up the Michigan Road toward South Bend, fresh Fujicolor 200 aboard. I mounted a 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A lens I had just bought.

Rees marquee on the Pentax ME SE

This fat lens made the ME SE front heavy and thus less pleasant to shoot. Mount a prime onto the ME SE (or the regular ME) and you have a light, balanced kit.

1949 Buick Super on the Pentax ME SE

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax ME SE gallery.

I love the Pentax ME SE, just as I have loved the Pentax ME for many years now. I recommend these bodies every chance I get. They’re still relatively inexpensive on the used market, and they let you mount the entire range of terrific Pentax manual-focus lenses. What’s not to love?

Postscript: I got out my regular ME the other day to decide what to do with it. I decided to try another fresh battery just for the heck of it — and the meter lit right up. The camera works just fine. I have no idea why I couldn’t make it work before. Now I have two working ME bodies!

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

First roll impressions: Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400

The reader who sent me the Minolta Maxxum 5 also sent me four rolls of film, including two of the original Agfa Vista 400. The last film sold under the Agfa Vista 400 name was rebranded Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. The film I was sent was the older, Agfa-made emulsion. It’s easy to tell one from the other: the older emulsion carries Agfacolor branding, and the newer carries Agfa Photo branding.

Any Agfacolor Vista 400 you come upon is expired. The two rolls I received were always stored frozen, which always bodes well for like-fresh performance.

Boldly, I shot my first roll at box speed in my Pentax ME SE with the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens attached. Sadly, I was rewarded with photographs that ranged from slightly to very underexposed. Drat it. Photoshop was able to rescue about two thirds of them. The rest were too faint to be made usable.

I shot most of the roll on an afternoon trip to Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis. They have a quirky downtown area they call the Arts and Design District. This photo of leftover Christmas decorations is one of the least degraded images on the roll, and gives a good sense of this film’s capabilities. The colors are true, but slightly oversaturated.

Red ribbons

This film clearly has a color palette all its own, different from the Kodak and Fuji stocks.

Woman with flowers

The Arts and Design District features several statues of people represented as going about their daily lives. I’ve always found them to be strange and creepy.

Carmel statue

It’s strange to me how some of these images are noticeably underexposed and others aren’t. My past experience with expired film is that it behaves fairly consistently throughout the roll.

Carmel statue

I like how Agfa Vista 400 rendered the neutrals and blacks in this photo.

Monon trail

Bub’s is a Carmel institution. You could smell the burgers grilling for 100 yards in any direction.


When I shoot my next (and last) roll of Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400, I’ll dial my camera in at EI 200. That ought to result in better exposures on this expired stock.

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