Photography

Kodak Retina IIc

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You have to wonder what the point of the Kodak Retina IIc was, given that it replaced the very similar Retina IIa in 1954. Both are German-made compact folding rangefinder cameras for 35mm film, with fixed 50mm lenses, leaf shutters, and fine lenses. The IIc differs from the IIa in several ways, but two stand right out. Its winder is on the bottom plate rather than the top. And its 50mm lens lets in less light, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 compared to the IIa’s f/2.

Kodak Retina IIc

But that front lens element interchanges. It just twists right off, and available 35 and 80mm front elements twist right in. Confusingly, some IIa bodies had Schneider-Kreuznach lenses while others had Rodenstock lenses. Schneider front elements wouldn’t mount on the Rodenstock rear elements and vice-versa.

That’s why the IIc existed: to move the Retina line toward being a system camera. Because what system camera doesn’t have interchangeable lenses? Retina accessories already existed out the wazoo: finders, meters, auxiliary lenses, lens hoods, flash holders, even stereo attachments.

Kodak Retina IIc

That’s not all that changed. The body was rounder. The front-cover latch moved to the edge where the cover opens. Its main shutter bearing and cocking rack might have been made more robust.

Kodak Retina IIc

The IIc also changed the way you set exposure from straight aperture and shutter-speed settings to exposure values (EVs). An EV number represents an exposure level. EV 15 is f/8 at 1/500 sec. — and f/11 at 1/250, f/16 at 1/125, and so on. And EV 14 lets in a “stop” more light than EV 15.

The IIc assumes you can convert light to EVs in your head, or you have a meter with an EV scale. Either way, you set EVs along the bottom of the IIc’s lens barrel. Pull down the metal lever and move it until it points to the right EV. You might have to adjust aperture or shutter speed to access some EVs. From there, turning the knurled dial moves the Retina through all the aperture/shutter-speed combinations that represent that exposure level so you can get the depth of field you want.

The meter app on my iPhone can output EVs, so I used this system. Except for the EV scale being awkwardly placed on the camera, it worked remarkably well. EV 13½? Click it into place and shoot. Nothing to it. On the other hand, the IIc’s EV system complicates setting aperture and shutter speed directly. So if you aren’t using EVs you will find this camera to be frustrating. Get a IIa.

Kodak Retina IIc

The IIc still has all the usual Retina quirks, chief among them being that you can’t close the cover until you set focus to infinity. After you’ve done that, to close the cover you press in the buttons on the top and bottom of the lens board simultaneously.

The other quirk is that the frame counter counts down, and when it reaches one, the Retina stops winding. So set that counter when you load the film! Or do what I did: forget to do it, shoot until you hit one, press the button next to the frame counter, and scoot the slider on the camera back repeatedly until you get enough frames to finish the roll. The winding tension at the end of the roll will tell you you’re done.

What’s not quirky is the shutter’s 1/500 sec. fastest speed. It makes the Retina IIc quite versatile. Someday I ought to drop in some fast film and shoot Sunny 16. But for my test roll I used good old Fujicolor 200.

Back yard log fence

I happily shot the rest of the roll, but when the film came back from the processor only the first frame, above, was exposed. Such a disappointment! I opened the camera back and fired the shutter at all speeds. I watched as it let in light every time. And the winder was clearly turning the takeup spool properly. The negatives showed no sign of sprocket-hole tearing. So I shrugged and loaded another roll of film, this time Kodak Gold 200. I blew through most of the roll in twenty minutes in my front garden.

Orange flower

I shot these around the 4th of July, when my flowers were really starting to go to town. Busy subjects like this one did tax my IIc’s rangefinder. I wish it were brigher; it might have been when it left the factory. But it’s also small. These conditions made it hard for my middle-aged eyes to focus on busy subjects.

Pink

It’s easy enough to focus when you back up and want lots of depth of field, however. My hosta were all in peak bloom when I shot this. I’m ambivalent toward hosta, but I have a lot of them in my yard because Verna, the woman who built this house, planted them.

Front yard

I took the IIc over to Juan Solomon Park to finish the roll. The city is replacing a bridge on one of the roads I take to get there.

Road closed

I’ve photographed this building on the park grounds many times because it is so handsome.

At Juan Solomon Park

This park has been a frequent subject because of its color and its varied shapes. This neighborhood is fortunate to have such a wonderful playground. It’s much nicer than the playground that was here when my sons were small and we used to visit all the time.

Playground

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Retina IIc gallery.

As you can see, the Retina IIc performed well on the second test roll. I did goof one thing up: I had my meter set on ISO 100 for this ISO 200 film. But fortunately Kodak Gold 200 has good exposure latitude. I adjusted exposure in Photoshop on several images to tame wild highlights and bring out best color, but every frame was usable as scanned.

The verdict: as long as you’re metering in EVs, the Kodak Retina IIc is a delightful camera.

To see the rest of my camera collection, click here
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Cameras, Photography

Nikon FA

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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 who shied away from anything not mechanical and manual in their cameras.

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 Nikons more-mechanical, more-manual cameras. Perhaps its high price (within spitting distance of the pro-level F3) helped push buyers away. But certainly its high advancement 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 operated from 1 to 1/4000 second. It synchs 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.

IMG_4407 rawproc.jpg

The FA also offers aperture- and shutter-priority autoexposure. And it hedges against your poor judgment with Cybernetic Override — if the FA can’t find accurate exposure at your chosen aperture or shutter speed, it changes that aperture/shutter speed to the closest one at which accurate exposure is possible.

IMG_4408 rawproc.jpg

Also, if you don’t want to use matrix metering, you can switch to center-weighted by pressing and holding a button on the lens housing, near the self-timer lever.

Typical of Nikons of this era, it was extremely well built of high-strength alloys, hardened gears, ball-bearing joints, and gold-plated switches. It was mostly assembled by hand.

This FA was a gift from John Smith to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. John has my tastes pretty well pegged at this point! 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 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens would look balanced on it, and I was right.

I like this little clock. I got it at Target for my office at work four jobs ago. But I don’t have an office anymore, so it announces the time to nobody in my seldom-used living room. I keep thinking there’s a good photograph to be made of it on my bookshelf. I’m not sure this is that good photo. I’ll keep trying.

Clock on the bookshelf

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.

Vertical blinds

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 eyebrow. Because I’m right-handed I tend to rotate my camera so the shutter button is up top, where it’s easy for my right finger to reach. When I rotated it so the shutter button was on the bottom, the winder stopped poking me, but the button became awkward to reach.

Shutter

An LCD in the viewfinder reads out your shutter speed. When it reads C250, you know you just loaded film and haven’t would 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! And 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.

P30 Alpha

The matrix metering on my FA was accurate enough, but I suppose there are just some challenging light circumstances it just couldn’t navigate. A little flash would have helped a lot when I photographed my No. 3A Autographic Kodak.

Folding camera in the shadows

I shot most of my test roll around the house, but also took it to work a few times and made lunchtime photo walks around Fishers. Someone in my building drives this lovely Fiat 500c.

500c

The Nickel Plate tracks run alongside the building I work in, and I often walk along them on my strolls. This platform and awning are fairly new, and are largely for show as trains don’t travel this track anymore.

Fishers Station

I wrapped up the roll in my garden after a rain.

Wet hosta leaf

It was here that I discovered a fault in my FA: you can wind it as many times as you want after a shot. I wonder how that gets broken on a camera.

Hosta

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. And my quick eBay research reveals that working bodies 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?

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Cameras, Photography

Where do you buy old cameras?

When you get into the film-photography or old-camera-collecting hobby, you can buy gear in a whole bunch of ways.

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Gearpallooza: a typical scene on my desk at home

It’s a remarkable time, really, for film shooters and collectors. Before the Internet, options were limited. Prime used gear could be had at camera shops. Lesser gear could be found at garage sales and antique shops. That’s how I bought cameras when I started collecting in the 1970s. I put hundreds and hundreds of miles on my bicycle visiting sales all over my hometown. I amassed a collection of more than a hundred cameras this way.

But that was so time consuming. Fortunately, so many more options are available today, many of them online.

A word about risk, because buying used gear always carries some. The more expensive the gear, the less risk you obviously want of experiencing some undisclosed problem. It matters little when you’re buying a 35mm point-and-shoot camera for $5 and a lot when you’re buying a Leica IIIf for $500. If I’m shopping online I’d buy that point and shoot but I wouldn’t buy the Leica without questioning the seller extensively. Or I’d just buy it from from a camera shop or a trusted seller — but then it might cost $750 instead of $500.

Here are the options I know about. What options do you know about, especially those of you outside the United States?

Online

The selection online is huge, but you can’t examine a camera before you buy it. So you risk getting broken gear. Some of these sellers accept returns and some don’t. Read my advice for buying cameras on eBay for tips to help you minimize your risk.

eBay. Could this be the ultimate old-camera marketplace? It’s where I buy most of my cameras. You can easily browse among available cameras, looking for just the ones you want or just trolling for bargains. Start with the Film Cameras and Vintage Cameras categories

shopgoodwill.com. Many Goodwill locations in the US participate in this clunky and feature-poor auction site. I assume it lets especially valuable donations fetch the best price. They offer a lot of cameras (see their Film Cameras and Vintage Cameras categories), and my experience has been that prices are slightly under eBay’s.

But your risk of broken gear is high here because the selling Goodwill never knows anything about the cameras and can’t answer any questions about them. After a few painful experiences, I now buy here only when the price is so low I won’t care much if the gear is broken.

Etsy. This site isn’t just handmade goods anymore. Type “film camera” in the site’s Search box and a reasonable selection of old gear will appear. Etsy offers some protection against items not being as described, which should protect you against broken gear.

Used-camera sites. Several companies deal in used gear online, mostly 35mm SLRs and higher-end medium-format cameras. You’ll pay much more than on eBay et al, but these sites generally guarantee their gear for 90 days. My favorite is UsedPhotoPro.com, largely because they’re in my city. But the granddaddy of them all is probably KEH.com. I’ve bought from both and have never regretted it. Other sites, which I haven’t bought from (yet), include Green Mountain Camera, Cameta Camera, Jack’s Camera Shop, Midwest Photo, Unique Photo, and Igor’s Camera Exchange. B&H and Adorama also sell a little used gear, too. If you know of others, let me know in the comments!

I’d like to specially mention Pacific Rim Camera, which is possibly the biggest dumping grounds of old gear ever. Their Web site is straight outta 1997 but they evaluate each camera and tell you it’s exact condition, including any faults. You know exactly what you’re getting. I’ve bought from them a few times and the camera is always exactly as described, warts and all.

Trusted sellers. Some people specialize in selling used cameras, especially of a certain type. Frequently these same people restore the cameras so what you buy is as good as new. I’m thinking specifically about Chris Sherlock, who restores and sells Kodak Retinas, and a fellow named Jurgen (better known as “Certo6”) who restores and sells old folders, and well-known Nikon F2 restorer Sover Wong who sometimes sells F2s on eBay. You might even build trust relationships with sellers via the other channels I list here.

Craigslist. This is only sort of online as you make purchases in person. And you can scoop up bargains here as sellers sometimes don’t know their gear’s value. But after you arrange the meeting and drive out to look at the gear, what if you don’t want it? What a waste of time. And who hasn’t heard a horror story about a Craigslist seller? (I’ve bought and sold stuff on Craigslist and have always had good experiences.) There’s no cameras-for-sale category, so search for “film camera.”

In person

When you shop in person you can examine the gear and be sure of what you’re getting. I wrote a short series of posts on how to do that: part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Camera shops. If your town has a camera shop it likely sells used gear. The camera shop in my town does, and offers a no-hassle 90-day return policy. It’s just fun to go see what they have and lay hands on it. You’ll pay more here than on eBay, but zero risk can be worth it.

Thrift/charity shops. Most thrift/charity shops I’ve visited will have a smattering of junk cameras and occasionally something good. I find that I have to keep going back and have good luck to buy anything interesting at them. I don’t have that kind of time. Prices vary wildly, too.

Antique shops. The selection is much as in thrift shops except the gear tends to be older, and prices are almost always negotiable.

Garage/yard/boot sales. This remains a hit-or-miss way to find gear, but sometimes you can stumble upon something amazing at a fraction of its value.

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Cameras, Photography

Time to send my Pentax ME out for CLA

My much-loved Pentax ME has developed a light leak. Much sadness.

Cincinnati Zoo

Bodies go for so cheap on eBay that I considered for a minute just buying another one. But I’m on my third body already — all three wound up with some minor problem. (Should that be telling me something?) Rather than try the camera lottery again, I’m just going to send this one to Eric Hendrickson for CLA (clean, lube, and adjustment) and new seals.

Cincinnati Zoo

I first saw the leak earlier this year when I had some black-and-white film in it. I immediately went into denial. The roll I shot at the zoo came back from the processor’s with so many affected images that I couldn’t avoid reality any longer.

Flag

This also solves a mystery. You might remember a couple shots I shared several weeks ago where I couldn’t remember which camera I used to shoot them. Well, the light leak in the corner of this shot from that roll tells the story. And I had to be shooting my 80-200mm f/4.5 SMC Pentax-M Zoom lens on it to get shots like this one.

Eastern Star

While my ME is out of commission, I’ll just have to fall back on my delightful and pristine Pentax KM when I want to shoot from my collection of Pentax lenses. Life is good.

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Cameras, Photography

Nikon N8008

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I did not need another auto-everything 35mm SLR. But in what is probably my greatest guilty pleasure, which says something about my buttoned-down life, I really enjoy them. I’m no less devoted to my first love: all-manual, all-metal SLRs! Yet I was deeply tempted when I came upon this Nikon N8008 body at KEH for $13.

Nikon N8008

I resisted. But that afternoon KEH emailed me an offer of 12% off used gear and I was a goner. Twenty dollars shipped for a body that cost $857 new. Pennies on the original dollar! Now is the time to buy these higher-end auto-everything film SLRs. And the N8008 (known as the F-801 in most of the rest of the world) was higher end, as it rested just below the pro-grade F4 in Nikon’s pecking order.

Nikon N8008

Befitting its station, its specs are solid. They begin with a big, bright, high-eyepoint viewfinder, which means you can see through it perfectly even when you’re wearing glasses. It offers both matrix and 75% center-weighted metering. Its shutter operates from 30 seconds to 1/8000 second and it takes film from ISO 6 to 6400 (and it reads the film’s DX coding). It syncs with flash at 1/250 second. And common AA batteries power it all.

Nikon N8008

It offers all of the modern modes: manual, programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority. But as you can see, it was designed before the mode wheel became idiom. You expect that from a camera made from 1988 to 1990. To set mode, you have to repeatedly press the Mode button and look at the LCD. It works fine and isn’t cumbersome. It just takes a minute to adjust to it.

The N8008 also offers depth-of-field preview, allows multiple exposures, and boasts a self timer that can take two shots in succession. And its focusing screens exchange. Three screens are available, including the matte Type B screen that shipped with the N8008. You could also get the gridded Type E screen and the microprism Type J screen.

This camera also takes most F-mount lenses. Nikon lens compatibility requires a secret decoder ring (Ken Rockwell keeps his up to date) but with a few exceptions and caveats (pre-AI lenses won’t mount, AF-S lenses won’t automatically focus, AF-G lenses work only in programmed or shutter-priority mode, the latest AF-P lenses won’t focus) you can use your legacy lenses on the N8008.

I considered mounting my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor to this camera just to test that compatibility. The moment passed quickly, a fleeting shadow. I reached instead for my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor, a “gelded” lens that has no aperture ring. The N8008 drives this lens beautifully in P (program) or S (shutter-priority) modes. Even though Nikon shipped this lens with bajillions of its entry-level film SLRs, don’t underestimate this solid performer.

I loaded some fresh Kodak Tri-X and went to work at home, right next to my easy chair. I’d just finished a finger of whiskey. Photograph drunk, Photoshop sober?

Empty whiskey glass

I stepped back and zoomed out, revealing this lens’s one major fault: barrel distortion at the wide end. I reduced the effect in Photoshop.

Illuminated whiskey glass

These well-made auto-everything SLRs appeal to me, I think, because I can get high-quality images with almost zero thinking. That’s not to say I don’t like thinking. I get full joy from shooting my manual-exposure, manual-focus cameras. But sometimes it feels good to let the camera do all the work for you, all the while leaving you confident of good results. And with the N8008, I could have full control if I wanted it.

I never wanted it on this test roll. Good thing, as the gelded lens sharply limited my options. But on a stroll down Zionsville’s Main Street I didn’t much care. I twisted in my zoom level, pressed the button halfway to focus, and then pressed the button the rest of the way to get the shot. With a loud zip, the camera wound to the next frame and I was ready to go again.

Black Dog Books

I did, however, fall pray to one pitfall of easy-peasy shooting: I shot indiscriminately. Lots of uninteresting photos was the predictable result. This post shares almost all of the photos I think have any merit from this 36-exposure roll.

Brick Street Inn

Here Margaret stands between our two Fords in the parking lot at work. I used to work not far from her workplace, a large suburban church where she’s in charge of buildings and grounds. She wears dresses on Mondays to remind her co-workers that she’s a woman after all, as otherwise it’s jeans and T-shirts because a Director of Facilities never knows when she’ll find herself cleaning up after a sick child or crawling around a failed baptistry heater.

Margaret on Dress Monday

My sons have always been curious about my cameras. When they were very small I used to get the boxes down from my closet and we’d play with them together, cameras strewn across the living room. As I got serious about my collection again in my 40s and began to shoot my cameras more, my sons often asked if they could shoot them too. Frankly, I wasn’t always thrilled to say yes. They showed no real interest in exposure and focus, so explaining it to them got us nowhere. I took to setting the camera for them, but they were often impatient as I read the light and guessed distance and all. But a camera like the N8008 is perfect for kid use, even if that kid just turned 18. It requires no explanation beyond “press the button halfway so it can focus and then the rest of the way to get the shot.” My son did that perfectly while we waited for dinner at a Perkins one evening.

Me, taken by my son

Finally, I took the N8008 along the day I visited this abandoned bridge. It’s the one that cemented my love of exploring the old roads, because finding abandoned infrastructure is strangely exciting.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

The N8008 is not without its flaws. It’s a little heavy for all-day use. The loud winder was annoying. Autofocus is slower than on a modern camera. But so bloody what? I don’t shoot sports anyway. This camera worked great, full stop.

But I still own a Nikon N90s, also a wonderful auto-everything 35mm SLR. One does not need both cameras. One does not need a hundred cameras stuffed into every nook and cranny of one’s house, either, but that’s where one is despite ongoing efforts to thin the herd.

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Cameras, Photography

Taking photographs in the cold

Do you take many photographs during the cold of winter? I don’t. I hate cold weather.

Cary Quadrangle

Pentax H3, 55mm f/2 Super Takumar, Kodak Gold 200, 2016

So do some of my old cameras. Last winter when I shot my sexagenarian Pentax H3, I foolishly took it out on a near-zero day. It was out of my warm car for two minutes when I made the first shot, above. The shutter sounded odd, so I wound and shot one more time. That time, the shutter sounded quite sick. It made an exposure, below — a hot mess but I like it anyway. Those colors are so Kodak.

Too cold for the camera

Pentax H3, 55mm f/2 Super Takumar, Kodak Gold 200, 2016

The mirror wouldn’t come back down after this shot. Worried, I tucked the H3 into my coat and then, shortly, back into my warm car. Thankfully, when the H3 warmed back up it worked fine.

If your camera is fussy about cold at all, then keep it warm right up until you need to shoot it. My oversized wool coat is great for this — it’s super warm and can hold even my bulkiest SLR. I make my shot and then let the camera warm back up before I make another.

Most of my wintertime shots are around the house, which gives the camera little time to get cold in the first place. In Gracie’s last year I shot her in the driveway with my Pentax ME, right after I knocked snow off the gutter and onto her head and back.

Snow-covered dog

Pentax ME, 50 mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, 2013

It was wintertime when I got around to testing a Kodak 35. I shot about half the roll around the yard in the cold. It did all right.

Front door

Kodak 35, Kodak Plus-X, 2015

I took my 1980s-vintage Canon EOS 630 out for a long walk along the Michigan Road a couple winters ago. I let it hang off my neck the whole time, exposed to the elements, and it performed great.

Barber Shop

Canon EOS 630, Canon EF 35-80mm f/4-5.6, Arista Premium 400, 2015

The camera I’ve shot most outside on cold days is my digital Canon PowerShot S95. I made this photograph on a day when temperatures hovered around -12. A foot of snow had fallen, making the tree branches beautiful. I tried to capture the beauty. I largely failed, but this shot of my next-door neighbor’s house worked out all right.

Snowy day

Canon PowerShot S95, 2014

My S95 performed fine shot after shot in that extreme cold, but I did stow it in my warm coat between shots. But my friend Alice also has an S95, and she finds hers to be fussy in weather below about 40 degrees. Who knows.

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