My son at the old railroad bridge Minolta XG 1, 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD Agfa Vista 200 at EI 100 2018
A lot of abandoned railroad infrastructure remains across our nation. As railroads consolidated and shed lines through the 20th century, they left a lot behind.
Some of those lines have been converted to rail-trails. The best-known one in central Indiana is the Monon, named for its former rail line. But there are others.
A short rail-trail in Zionsville ends/begins at this bridge over Eagle Creek. A ramp leads down into Starkey Nature Park below, where there are great hiking trails. I like to go over there with my sons when they visit. Hence this photo.
This line was originally part of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, also known as the Big Four Railroad. The New York Central took it over in 1906; they built this bridge. In 1968 New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form Penn Central, which went bankrupt in 1970. When Conrail was formed in 1976 it took over this line. I don’t know when it was abandoned.
I love a bargain. I especially love a bargain on a fully working Nikon SLR kit. $30 netted me this Nikon FA and attached 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens, with an MD15 Motor Drive (not pictured).
This is the second Nikon FA to have fallen into my hands; read my review of the first one here. I had no sooner parted with that one in Operation Thin the Herd when I came upon this one. This one looks well used, but on quick inspection it seemed to function fine.
I’ve got a backlog of cameras I haven’t tried yet and so it took me several months to finally shoot this one. I loaded some Agfa Vista 200 and took it around Downtown.
My previous FA was in superior cosmetic and operating condition with one exception: its winder didn’t lock after winding one frame. You could wind all the way through the roll without ever shooting a frame. This FA has dings and brassy spots, and the viewfinder/mirror are speckled with black marks. But its winder works properly.
On a chilly day where temps were only a little above freezing, the shutter suddenly failed to fire and the winder became stuck. I was 20 frames into a 24-exposure roll — close enough to done for me — so I rewound the film and had it processed. I put the FA on the shelf for a while until I had time to investigate.
Even though old cameras often don’t like cold weather, I suspected battery failure. I tend to trade batteries from camera to camera, and who knows when the ones I put into this FA were fresh. So I put fresh batteries in. Still locked. I then tried putting the camera in manual mode and setting the shutter to its one mechanical speed, M250. That did it — the shutter fired and the camera wound, and when I put it back in program mode everything worked properly. I probably should have tried M250 on the street when the camera seized. If I shoot it again, I’ll know better.
I passed my previous FA on to another collector because every time I used it, the wind lever poked me in the forehead. I didn’t like that. Typical of Nikon SLRs, you activate the meter by pulling the wind lever out. But on this FA, it never poked me in the head. I do not understand; these are identical cameras. Now I doubt my previous impressions.
Do you see the dark streak in the photo below, down the middle near the monument? I’m not sure what caused that but fortunately only this image turned out this way. Another image had a foggy streak in it that I can’t account for. I think I need to put another roll through this FA to be sure of it.
If it turns out this body is faulty, at least I got this nice 35-105mm lens for my money. It’s built well and operates smoothly. These colors seem muted to me, however, more muted than I get from a 35-70 Zoom Nikkor I own. However, this film expired two years ago, I haven’t always stored it cold, and it may be starting to degrade.
The lens has a macro mode, so I made a couple shots with it. Above is my coffee cup on my desk at work. I’ve had that cup since 1987; a potter in my hometown made it by hand. Below are some flowers growing in the bed in front of Christ Church Cathedral on the Circle.
Just because, here’s Christ Church Cathedral.
I slightly prefer twist-to-zoom lenses over push/pull-to-zoom lenses like this one, but I this one worked well in my hands. I also detected very little barrel distortion at the wide end, which is the usual zoom-lens bugaboo. My 35-70 Zoom Nikkor has wicked barrel distortion at 35mm.
I had a nice time shooting this Nikon FA. I’ll put another roll into it as soon as I can manage — I want to shoot the cameras in my to-shoot queue first. If the body truly does have issues I probably won’t repair it. I’ll pass the body on to someone who will give it the proper love, and I’ll turn to one of my other wonderful Nikon SLR bodies to get my Nikon fix.
Kodak’s first Retina camera was introduced in 1934, kicking off a long line of fine 35mm cameras over the next 30 years or so. I’ve long been interested in trying an early Retina, and so I was pleased when this 1939 Kodak Retinette II (type 160) was donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.
Even though this is a Retinette and not a Retina, it used the same chassis as the Retinas of the time. In fact, except for trim differences it is identical to the 1941 Retina I (type 167). Mine has a 50mm f/3.5 Kodak-Anastigmat lens in a Compur shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/300 sec. You can also find Retinette IIs with a 50mm f/4.5 Kodak Anastigmat and a Gauthier shutter with speeds of 1/25 to 1/125 sec.
As you can see from how nicked up the finish is, mine has been well used. I was very happy to find that everything seemed to work. The cocking lever is firm, the shutter button pushes properly, and the shutter sounded good on all speeds. All the controls (focus, aperture, shutter speed) moved easily.
My Retinette II measures distance in meters. I’ve seen other Retinas and Retinettes with scales in feet, but I don’t know if the Retinette II could be had that way. The frame counter atop the camera counts up, so after you load film set it to 1. There’s a mount for a cable release next to the shutter button. There’s also a tripod mount on the camera bottom.
If you like Retinas and Retinettes, check out my reviews of the Retina Ia (here), Retina IIa (here), Retina IIc (here), Retinette IA (here), and Retina Reflex IV (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
Unfortunately, the lens is hazy. I gently wiped the lens to see if it was just coated in schmutz, but no dice. It’s always a crapshoot whether haze is going to be a problem — I’ve shot some ugly glass and gotten fine results. So I loaded a roll of Agfa Vista 200 and went to town.
It was a problem this time.
Thank heavens for Photoshop and its Dehaze adjustment, which made these photos usable. Not perfect, but usable. The photo above is the best of the bunch. To save the one below I ended up overcooking the sky.
But them’s the old-camera breaks. Let me get right to my real gripe with this camera: its itty bitty viewfinder. It’s hard to see through, hard to be sure the camera is level, hard to be sure you’re looking through it straight on. When I framed this shot, the big monument was centered in the viewfinder.
I have a lesser gripe with this Retinette: the position of the metal pointer against which you set focus. For landscape photos, it’s essentially underneath the lens. You have to turn the camera over to set focus. Its position is much more useful for portrait photos.
Other than that, I enjoyed shooting this Retinette. I took it to work and left it in my desk over the next couple weeks. On days I decided to step out for lunch, the Retinette came along. Closed, it’s small enough to slide easily into my back jeans pocket, where it rode undetected until I wanted it.
I took it to all of the places I normally go around Downtown Indianapolis, shooting four or five photos an outing until I exhausted the roll. Given the bright sunshine I made most if not all of these photos at 1/100 or 1/300 sec. at f/8 to f/16. Such settings are probably this camera’s sweet spot anyway.
Rewinding the film isn’t complicated. You’ll find a lever on the back below the winding knob. Move it to the left and the rewind knob turns freely.
I was a little sad when I’d finished this roll in the Retinette II. Despite my two gripes, I very much enjoyed pocketing an 80-year-old camera for Downtown photo walks, and was impressed with how sturdy and solid all of the controls were after this many decades. I hoped that the lens’s haze would not affect the photos. Sadly, it did.
One of my Flickr followers saw my photo of this camera, where I noted the lens haze. Turns out he has experience with this camera and told me exactly how to remove the front element for cleaning. It doesn’t sound too hard. So maybe this Kodak Retinette II will live to shoot again in my collection.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
It was the last of the Nikkormats (or Nikomats, as they were called in Japan): the EL. It was also the first Nikon SLR with aperture-priority autoexposure. Nikon made them from 1972 to 1976. They’re well-built cameras that can take years, even decades, of heavy use.
This one was a latecomer to my SLR party; by this time I’d settled on my favorites. While I liked this camera fine when I shot my test roll with it I kept reaching for my usual cameras after that. The test roll was Fujicolor 200, and my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens was mounted. This photo from that roll is of two cars I used to own.
This is a fine, capable camera. Perhaps that’s why I waited until near the end of Operation Thin the Herd to shoot it: I expected I’d like it and keep it. I plopped in some Fomapan 100, mounted my guilty-pleasure 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens, and went to town.
I also laid in a fresh battery, a stubby 4LR44. Thank heavens for Amazon, because you can’t get these batteries at the corner drugstore. The battery slips neatly in below the mirror inside the camera. Use the mirror lock-up button to get at it.
Fomapan 100 is far from my favorite slower b/w film, but this roll had been moldering in my fridge for a long time and I decided to shoot it up. This is easily the best performance I’ve ever gotten from this classic film. Highlights are on the light side but at least they’re not blown out, which seems to be this film’s signature move.
The EL’s tactile experience falls short of luxurious, but everything feels rock solid under use. If you send a Nikkormat EL out for CLA, it will outlast you. That’s what I need to do for this one. Every single frame on the roll showed shutter capping. I’ve just cropped it out of all the photos I’ve showed you before this one. Now you know why some of these photos are 16×9 rather than 4×3.
The shame is, you don’t know a shutter is misbehaving like this until after you’ve shot the roll and had it processed. Unfortunately I shot two rolls of film in the Nikkormat before sending them off for processing. The second roll was Agfa Vista 200. Cropping saved many of this roll’s images, too.
I brought the Nikkormat out for a day on the Michigan Road. This pizza joint is on the square in Greensburg.
Half the 35-70’s split prism focusing aid was black on this bright-sun day, a not uncommon problem with zoom lenses. I had to guess focus, and I frequently got it wrong. Between that and the shutter capping I got nine usable images on this roll, which I shot entirely on Greensburg’s square. Not a great day with the Nikkormat.
The Nikkormat EL is a competent and capable tool, its shutter issues notwithstanding. I didn’t dislike using it, but I wasn’t falling in love, either. Its size and weight is similar enough to my Nikon F2 or F3, which truly delight me to use, that I’ll probably always reach for those cameras first. I’m going to pass this Nikkormat along to its next owner.
I’m sure photographers everywhere thought Nikon was going to heck in a handbasket when they released the EM, a 35mm SLR, in 1979. Plastic body parts? No way to manually set exposure? Whaaaaaaat?
SLRs were originally considered pro equipment. But through the 1970s, everyday photographers came to appreciate the SLR’s many positive qualities. Camera companies sensed a vast untapped market of amateurs and even casual shooters. Pentax may have been first to figure that out with their small, light, simple, relatively inexpensive ME in 1976. Is it coincidence that Nikon’s similarly sized and featured camera reversed those letters for its name?
The EM was the smallest, lightest, simplest, and least expensive SLR Nikon had ever made. Yet virtually every F-mount lens made to that point mounted right on. The EM eliminated most of an SLR’s fussy controls, limiting the photographer to aperture-priority shooting (the Auto mode you see atop the camera). If you could learn to focus, you could get Nikon SLR-quality photographs.
Nikon was deliberate in which corners it cut to build the EM. They built in quality where it counted, starting with a metal chassis. They also built in a metal shutter with electronically controlled shutter speeds from 1 to 1/1,000 sec. — stepless, meaning that if the available light made 1/353 sec. the right shutter speed, that’s what the EM gave you. You could set ISO from 25 to 1600. The EM even had contacts on the bottom plate for an auto winder. All of this required two LR/SR44 button batteries, but if they died you could set the camera to M90 and keep shooting with a 1/90 sec. shutter.
If you like little SLRs like the EM, also check out my reviews of the Olympus OM-1 (here) and the Pentax ME (here). I’ve also reviewed a slew of Nikon SLRs including the F2 (here), the F3 (here) the FA (here), the N2000 (here), the N60 (here), the N65 (here), and the N90s (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.
I was headed out for a day on the Michigan Road, thanks to a quarterly board meeting. I headed south on the road towards Napoleon, the little town where we were to meet. Our meeting was in the Central House (photo here), built in about 1820. I had Agfa Vista 200 loaded as I made some photographs inside.
During loading I had considerable trouble getting the film to take on the spool. You have to make perfectly sure that a sprocket hole is perfectly placed on the little notch that sticks out on the takeup spool. Also, the meter won’t engage until the film counter is on 1, so you can’t shoot those early frames.
To activate the meter on most period Nikon SLRs, you pull the winder lever out. It’s a drag. Not so the EM: just touch the shutter button. The camera beeps when the meter has done its thing. Also, a needle moves to point to the shutter speed the EM has selected. If the EM keeps beeping, it can’t find a good exposure at your chosen aperture.
The wind lever is both neat and annoying. It’s a two-part lever. The first part pulls out to provide a good angle for winding, and then both parts work together to wind. Under use, it feels as if too much pressure would break it. Winding itself feels thin and unsure, lacking the usual Nikon high-quality feel.
My EM’s meter didn’t always want to engage. I found that if I moved the selector from Auto to M90 and back to Auto the meter would play nice again for a few frames. Old camera blues, I suppose.
On the way home I stopped in Greensburg to photograph some favorite subjects. When this gas station switched from Shell to Sinclair several years ago I was very happy to see this Sinclair Dino placed out on the corner for all to see. It’s the company’s longtime mascot.
I walked Greensbur’g square to finish the roll. The EM handled easily, which is the whole point of a camera like this. I never got used to the cheap-feeling winder, and the fussy meter remained annoying. But I never failed to get sharp, evenly exposed photographs from the EM.
This Nikon EM came to me from a reader who had it in surplus, and I thank him for letting me experience Nikon’s little SLR. I do like little SLRs, as my love of the Olympus OM-1 and especially the Pentax ME attest.
This is a nice little Nikon body for an easy day of shooting.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
The advice some of you gave me in this post helped me get decent black-and-white scans from my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II and its bundled ScanGear software. I used the same advice to scan a little more color film.
I made these photos last fall with my Olympus XA2 on Agfa Vista 200. Roberts Camera in Indianapolis processed and scanned them. Their scans are 3130 pixels on the long side. I used ScanGear to scan them at 4800 dpi with all built-in image enhancement turned off, resulting in scans of between 6750 and 6800 pixels on the long side. I resized my scans to 1200 pixels long to upload them here.
I edited scans from both sources as best I could in Photoshop, including adding unsharp masking to the ScanGear scans.
My first test was of this shot of old US 52 and a great abandoned neon sign near my home. It shows considerable vignetting, which I believe is endemic to the camera. While I like the depth of blue in the sky, I don’t like how mottled it is. I tried various Photoshop settings and tools to smooth it out but wasn’t happy with any of the results. I wonder if the film profiles and multi-exposure scanning in Silverfast would resolve these challenges.
The Roberts scan captured more turquoise in a perfectly smooth sky. The Wrecks sign shows far better definition and detail. I suppose the Roberts scan might have a touch of green caste to it. Roberts also reduced the vignetting. I prefer the Roberts scan.
The CanoScan/ScanGear scan of this abandoned farm co-op building shows the same mottled deep blue sky, but plenty of great detail in the corrugated walls. This building is all that’s left of the onetime town of Traders Point, Indiana, by the way. See 1950s film footage of this town, including a brief look at this co-op building, here.
Here’s a crop of the image at 100%. It could be sharper, but it’s fully usable.
In the Roberts scan the colors aren’t as vibrant, and the sky is again more turquoise. In retrospect, I could have helped this photo by reducing exposure a little in Photoshop.
From here on out, the winner isn’t as clear between the Roberts and ScanGear scans. This ScanGear scan from downtown Indianapolis shows a scene that’s changed, as the Hard Rock Cafe has since closed and its signs are gone.
The Roberts scan looks like it got more exposure than my scan. My scan highlights the vignetting the XA2’s lens tends to deliver.
These arches are around the corner from the previous scene. Here’s my scan.
Here’s the Roberts scan. Each has its charms; I can’t call one better than the other.
Still downtown in Indianapolis, I shot this outdoor cafe scene. The day was drizzly and chilly and so not ideal for outdoor dining.
Here’s the Roberts scan. I like my scan’s blue umbrella and the overall color temperature better.
Finally, here’s a forlorn building. My scan gives its gray painted brick a bit of a blue caste.
The Roberts scan is more of a straight gray. Like all of the Roberts scans, it got a touch more exposure. Either scan is good enough for my purposes, but I believe I slightly prefer my CanoScan/ScanGear scan.
I believe I’ve figured out a good base 35mm scanning technique and can refine it from here. Perhaps I can get a little more sharpness, a little better color. I do have to solve that terrible mottling problem, though; the two scans with blue sky in them aren’t that great.
Next, I’ll try scanning some medium-format negatives with the CanoScan and ScanGear. This is perhaps the most important test, as my goal is to shoot my lovely TLRs and my simple box cameras more often, and process and scan the film myself.