Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon N90s

Church door

Sometimes a person needs to just get out and shoot for the joy and fun of it. At such times, a great choice is an auto-everything SLR and a zoom lens. You’ll be ready for pretty much anything you encounter. Especially when the body you choose is as robust and capable as the Nikon N90s.

Nikon N90s

I’ve had great luck with this camera every time I’ve shot it, no matter the film or lens I chose. Here I used the well-regarded 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor on Arista Premium 400.

Anthem

And here I used the 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor that came in the kit with the Nikon N65 I used to own, on very expired and poorly stored Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.

High West

Ken Rockwell calls this plastic-bodied zoom lens one of Nikon’s 10 best lenses ever. I marvel at that a little bit, as Nikon had to have made ten superior F-mount primes. But this lens turns out to be a good performer, sharp edge to edge anywhere in the zoom range.

Lebanon front door

It does have some barrel distortion at 28mm. The shot below shows it a little. That’s its major flaw. But I’m not much of a 28mm guy anyway. 35mm is as wide as I normally go, and the distortion is largely tamed when you zoom in that far.

Union Station

The lens also had some difficulty focusing close. I tried to capture some magnolia blossoms but the lens would only hunt. It also tended to wash out the image a little if the sun wasn’t directly behind me, as this shot of the Slippery Noodle bar shows. I’ve meant to go to the Slippery Noodle ever since I moved to central Indiana in 1994. They say they’re Indiana’s oldest bar, operating since 1850.

The Slippery Noodle

But this should be a referendum on the N90s and not on that lens. So let’s get to it: this camera is large and fairly heavy. Also, its controls don’t follow the modern “mode dial” SLR idiom. But I didn’t experience its weight as a problem. And those controls, specifically a bunch of buttons and one unlabeled dial, are not hard to discover and learn.

Lucas Oil behind the old houses

For example, I was pretty quickly able to figure out how to manually set ISO. The camera accurately read the DX coding on the Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 I had loaded, but I wanted to shoot it at EI 200. A few button presses and I was set. But on this cloudy-day photowalk Downtown along South Meridian Street I might have been better served leaving the film at 400. Meridian Street is the city’s main north-south drag, but some street reconfiguration in this area isolated a couple blocks and the lovely old homes on them.

South Meridian St.

The N90s gives you a lot of controls to keep track of. Apparently I set the camera to center-weighted metering the last time I used it, and forgot to reset it to matrix metering for this roll of film. I think that might have contributed to the problems in this shot of St. Elmo’s, a steakhouse operating since 1902. Pro tip: before shooting an N90s, press in the two green-dot buttons atop the camera for a few seconds to reset the camera’s settings.

St. Elmo's

But for this full-sun shot, everything worked perfectly. The Union 525 was originally a high school but is now a space where startup tech companies can begin to build their businesses. There’s quite a tech startup scene here in Indianapolis.

Union 525

The callery pear were in bloom this day. They smell like rotting shrimp.

Rolls-Royce

I’ve shot this camera often. See everything I’ve photographed with this camera in my Nikon N90s gallery.

A couple years ago I chose this N90s as my Nikon auto-everything body over the entry-level N60 and N65 I used to own. Those more basic bodies certainly demand far less of me than the N90s and could certainly have taken every photo you see in this post. But among these cameras the N90s was the only one built to last.

As I’ve been thinning this herd I’ve already decided that my main SLRs will be metal, (mostly) mechanical, and manual focus. I’ll never leave my first love, Pentax. And I have some truly great Nikon gear that will always have a home here. I might keep a Minolta and a Canon body in case I come upon an interesting lens for those mounts.

But I like the N90s. It’s a smashing companion to my 50/1.8 AF Nikkor and my wife’s 35/2 AF Nikkor lenses. With this zoom lens attached it’s a fine, but heavy, photo-walk kit. If in a few years I find I just don’t use it much, I reserve the right to change my mind — but for now…

Verdict: Keep

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Film Photography

A prizewinning photojournalist’s battered Nikon F3

Washington Post photographer Carol Guzy won several Pulitzer Prizes for her work. This is the camera she used for at least one of her prize-winning photos.

Cameras that took Pulitzer prize-winning photos

Yep, the Nikon F3, with a motorized winder attached. And it’s beat all to hell.

Cameras that took Pulitzer prize-winning photos

But this is why photojournalists chose Nikon pro bodies: they could withstand serious abuse. I wouldn’t be surprised if Guzy’s F3 still worked. Here, by the way, is one of the prizewinning photos she took with this camera.

guzy13

Here’s what an F3 looks like when it’s had a pampered life:

Nikon F3HP *EXPLORED*

Guzy placed her F3 on display at the Newseum, a Washington, DC, museum devoted to newsgathering and reporting. You’ll find it in a larger exhibit of Pulizer-Prize-winning news photographs.

If you ask me, this photography exhibit is the best thing in the museum and by itself is not worth the $25 ticket. Overall I didn’t enjoy the Newseum. First of all, it is incomprehensibly laid out. Just one example of how: we went down one staircase from the sixth floor which inexplicably led to the fourth. From where we stood we could see the fifth floor, which is where we wanted to go, but we couldn’t figure out how to get there.

But more than that, the Newseum is actually a museum of recent history, and only the bad parts as that is what reporters tend to report. My wife and I were not prepared to be immersed in the Berlin Wall (especially since I stood before it before it came down) and all of the domestic terrorism that has happened in our lifetimes. It was overwhelming. We wanted to run away.

But what do we know. Our son says the Newseum was the highlight of his time in DC.

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

Dad and Sons

Margaret and I met my sons for dinner during their recent Spring Break. She photographed us with my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK, a viewfinder camera with a coupled selenium light meter. Before I handed it to her I matched the needle to set exposure, using an aperture narrow enough that it wouldn’t matter whether I guessed distance wrong.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

It performed, of course, delivering good sharpness, contrast, and detail even on this overcast day. That’s the goodness inherent in a Tessar lens! This camera was my first experience with a Tessar. I first shot seven years ago when my sons and I spent our Spring Break in a cabin in the Tennessee woods. Here’s the fencepost in front of our cabin, on Fujicolor 200.

Fencepost

This time I spooled in some Ultrafine Extreme 100 and brought the Contessa along everywhere I went for a few weeks. That included my recent trip to Logansport for a Michigan Road board meeting. Margaret came along; here she is photographing the State Theater. I do love her long gray hair.

The State Theater

I’d never shot the Ultrafine film before and didn’t know what to expect. The seller is mum on who makes it, but Ilford is the most common guess I’ve found. Some even say it’s Kentmere 100. The last time I used this camera I shot the Kentmere in it (as you saw in yesterday’s post). The results look similar.

Welcome to Logansport

The Contessa was a lovely, willing companion when I took it for a walk along Meridian Street in Indianapolis. If you’ve never walked or driven our Meridian Street, put it on your list: it is lined with stunning homes. I’ll share more photos from that walk in an upcoming post.

Steps

I also took the Contessa to the places I usually go. I keep thinking I’m going to find a new, more interesting angle on my church, but I seem never to.

WPCC

Some views always work photographically, and I suppose it’s no sin to keep revisiting them.

WPCC

I’m not blown away by this film — it’s fine, but not fantastic. But the Contessa brought feelings of delight every time I composed, exposed, and pressed the shutter button. I even liked the winder’s long-travel action. Everything about this camera is light and easy, yet still solid and sure.

WPCC

I drive past a nearly derelict mall on the way home from church. This used to be its Sears Auto Center. I remember when Sears closed here. I bought a ton of stuff cheap at their closeout sale. I also remember when this mall was bustling and vital. When I started my career I drove to it all the way from Terre Haute to buy a young careerman’s wardrobe in one of its men’s stores. Harry Levinson’s, I think. But that was almost 30 years ago. Times change.

Dead Sears Auto

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK gallery.

Its taken me most of a decade to figure out I should use a camera for what it does best. The Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK is brilliant at medium-distance group shots and does pretty well for landscapes and, if you back up enough, architectural work. The lens just adores black-and-white film. Its only flaw is that whenever I load a 36-exposure roll of film, it tears during rewinding. That’s kind of a bummer. But I always have 24-exposure rolls of film in the fridge. And this camera is just a pleasure to carry and shoot. It’s hard to say goodbye to a camera like that.

Verdict: Keep

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Olympus Trip 35

Arches

A handful of film cameras have cult followings. The Olympus Trip 35 is in that exclusive club.

Olympus Trip 35

Rave reviews of the Trip 35 by its devoted fans convinced me that I needed one. Yet in the nine years I’ve owned this camera I’ve shot it but three times. Here’s a photo from my previous outing with it, in 2015. It’s one of my all-time favorite photos. (I drove through Kirklin just two weeks ago, and that Oldsmobile wagon remains parked in front of this building.)

Downtown Kirklin

When I shoot the Trip 35, I always enjoy both the experience and the photos I get. Why, then, don’t I shoot it more often? Probably because I have just too many great cameras to choose from. But that brings up the point of Operation Thin the Herd: to narrow the collection down to a set of cameras I will use frequently. And the Trip 35 is worth using frequently. Check out the excellent color I got on Agfa Vista 200 as I walked around suburban Fishers.

Famous for Steakburgers

I think making consumer-grade film look great is part of this camera’s essential value proposition. As an easy-to-use camera a family might take on vacation, it needed to make memories look great.

Buggy Parking

I’m not sure I needed permanent memories of a walk I took near my office when I needed a mental break. But I have them nevertheless. This photo required a little Photoshopping to bring out shadow detail. The Trip 35’s meter appears to bias for the bright areas.

Service is our Business

Same with this photo. I also corrected many of these photos for perspective, as on this outing I proved incapable of holding the Trip 35 level. Otherwise, these photos needed little or no Photoshop work to look great.

Parked

This camera is just great for walking around and photographing the built environment, something I do frequently. For all of these shots I just left the zone-focus control at infinity. (The other three zones are 1, 1.5, and 3 meters.) There was nothing to think about but to compose and shoot.

Red Umba-rellas

I did set the Trip 35 to one of the closer focus zones for this shot in my neighborhood, since I was so close to that rocky post. Even then I gave focusing minimal thought. I guessed “group” (3m) and counted on the camera biasing toward big depth of field to make up for any misjudgment on my part.

In Royal Run

Its 40mm lens made it easy to get wide things into the frame, but without leaving lots of useless space above and below the subject.

Fence

To see more from this camera, check out my Olympus Trip 35 gallery.

I do not need this camera. I really prefer to shoot SLRs for their versatility. My favorite SLR, the simple Pentax ME, is not so much larger and heavier than the Trip 35 to give it a serious disadvantage for walking-around photography. And when I shoot SLR I can do things I can’t with a Trip 35, such as get in close.

But I like my Trip 35. It’s light and easy to carry, and it’s almost point-and-shoot simple. As I shot it this time I thought maybe I should shoot a road trip with it, or take it as my only camera on my next vacation. When I have thoughts like that about a camera, I know it needs to stick around.

Verdict: Keep

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People in the early 1950s bearing cameras

Among the Kodachromes from my wife’s family were a few photographs of people and their cameras. What’s great about them is that they are all common cameras to collectors today, about 70 years later!

Here’s a young woman posing with a deer, an Argus Seventy-Five around her neck. This is a box camera with a TLR-style peer-down viewfinder. It takes 620 film. They were made by the bazillions and you can buy them used for under $10 today. I’ve never owned one, but fellow collector Mark O’Brien did some very nice work with his; see it here.

IMG_20180308_0045

This stock-straight fellow has a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye dangling off his hand. This is another extremely common camera from this era. It, too, takes 620 film. I owned one for a while and made some photos with it on Route 66; see them here.

IMG_20180302_0022

Finally, this photo is both at the wrong angle and too shadowy to tell what cameras these women are using. Based on size, I’m guessing they are using 35mm cameras, perhaps something like a Kodak Pony. The bespectacled woman on the left even has her leather “ever-ready case” on her camera.

IMG_20180303_0223

I wasn’t alive when these cameras were new. My whole life they’ve been widely available at yard sales, in thrift shops, and (lately) online for next to nothing. But at one time, they were the kinds of cameras people bought brand new to record their memories!

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Operation Thin the Herd: Yashica Electro 35 GSN

One Nine Five

I’m supposed to like this camera, right? Everybody else seems to. I expected to — I committed to a 36-exposure roll of Tri-X in it. No 24-exposure bet-hedging for me, not this time. But then I didn’t find pleasure in using my Yashica Electro 35 GSN.

Yashica Electro 35 GSN

I liked it the last time I shot it. See my review here; see a sample photo from that shoot below. It is among my very favorite works ever. But that was a solid six years ago, and in that time I’ve discovered that I’m just happiest behind the eyepiece of a mechanical SLR. Using this classic (large, heavy) rangefinder camera seemed awkward to me.

Wall

Its size and heft weren’t the problem, as I happily shoot beasts like the Nikon F2 SLR. It was the controls. I fumbled with them through the roll and never reached that nirvana-like state of being one with this camera.

Flowers

My number one challenge was my inability to find the focusing ring on the lens barrel without removing the camera from my eye. A lever on that focusing ring would go a long way to making the Electro 35 more pleasant to use.

House

Obviously I got usable images from this Electro 35, all in focus and properly exposed. I shot most of this roll on a late-winter walk through downtown Zionsville.

Noble Order

Unfortunately, since I last shot this camera the light seals started to fail. Or maybe it’s just lens flare, but my gut says no, it’s those seals. Half the shots on the roll show leaked light along the top edge. You can see it pretty well as a light haziness at the top of this photo.

Buffet Everyday

Yet when you look past that, the 45mm f/1.7 Color-Yashinon lens returned good sharpness and detail. So it’s no wonder that this camera is so honored and costs so much on the used market. It’s too bad that it and I just didn’t bond on this outing.

Garage

I finished the roll in Fishers. Here’s the room in which I work. My workstation is right up front and the monitor on a pole is part of my brother’s standing workstation. It’s still great to work with my brother every day.

Office

Somebody taped this paper plate to a torchiere lamp last Halloween and it’s never gone away. It is right behind my head as I work, always watching.

Skull

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Yashica Electro 35 GSN gallery.

I own a handful of large 35mm rangefinder cameras: this one, a Minolta Hi-Matic 7, a Konica Auto S2, and a Yashica Lynx 14e. I do want to keep one of them, and I think it’s going to be my Lynx 14e for its sublime f/1.4 lens. But as for this Electro 35 — I already sold it.

Verdict: Goodbye

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