Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Canon TLb

Hudsonly

It doesn’t surprise me one bit that the one Canon SLR I like is the most mechanical, most metal one of my bunch. It’s also typical of me to like the simplicity of entry-level gear, which the TLb certainly was upon its 1974 introduction. Its 1/500 sec. top shutter speed is the tell. More expensive cameras go to 1/1000 sec.; top-tier cameras to at least 1/2000 sec.

Canon TLb

On earlier TLb outings the 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C. lens that came with it delivered creamy results on consumer color film like Kodak Gold 200, as here:

Allied Van Lines

Not one to mess with success, I loaded more Kodak Gold 200 for this outing. This time, however, I exposed it at EI 100. I like Kodak Gold 200, but sometimes its highly saturated colors are a little much. Exposing at EI 100 softened them beautifully.

Super Bird

Something is wrong with my 50/1.8 lens — when I adjust its aperture, the viewfinder dims or brightens. This doesn’t happen with other FD-mount lenses I own, so the mechanism that keeps this lens wide open for composing is broken. It made for some frustration on this full-sun day, as shooting at f/11 or f/16 made for a dim view. I took to composing at f/1.8 and then setting aperture and shutter speed as I wanted.

Mustang dash

You have to set both aperture and shutter speed yourself on the match-needle TLb. Even though I prefer aperture-priority shooting for its ease and speed, I never felt frustrated or hindered setting exposure on the TLb. It does what every good camera does: performed well and got the heck out of my way.

Another dashboard

To begin this TLb outing I met my buddy Jim at a cars-and-coffee gathering. I met Jim through writing for Curbside Classic, the site for old parked cars. He lives across town. He brought his little red Miata out for the occasion,

Buddy and his car

We spent the most time lingering over a lovely blue 1972 Lincoln Continental. Here’s my favorite photo of it, with a Mustang reflected in the paint.

Mustang reflected

Jim knows his Lincolns: his dad owned a few during Jim’s childhood. Here’s a story of Jim, his dad, and a ’72 Mark IV.

Continental

The event was at a dealer of classic cars, and of course they invited us inside to see their inventory. I bumped the camera up to EI 200 to get more depth of field.

Camaro light

The TLb functioned well and was a pleasure to use. Yes, I said it: a pleasure. You might know that I haven’t been a giant fan of Canon SLRs, but this metal, mechanical camera feels and works great.

bloom

I shot two rolls with the TLb, finishing up the second roll on some usual subjects around Fishers, where I work. I’m so impressed with how this lens rendered color and bokeh. This 50/1.8 FD S.C. should be optically the same as the later 50/1.8 Canon FD lens I shot on my Canon AE-1 Program, but I like the results this older lens returned much, much better. If I were going to keep my Canon gear, I’d invest in another one of these FD S.C. lenses.

McD's

To see more from this camera, check out my Canon TLb gallery.

I guess I’ve tipped my hat: this camera is not long for my collection. I made the choice easily, with my head: I’m planning on using my Pentax and Nikon SLRs going forward, meaning this TLb will get little or no use. It deserves a new owner. But my heart aches a little, because this camera is such a gem. I use a simple heuristic when judging a camera: if the rest of my cameras vanished, could I just get on with making great images with the one that remained, and be happy? The answer for this TLb is hell yes.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Rollei A110

Sunburst

So much about this tiny camera is compelling, first and foremost that it is, as I said, tiny. Super tiny. It’s barely larger than two stacked rolls of 110 film which, not coincidentally, is the kind of film it takes. It feels like a single, solid piece of metal with a silken finish. You feel like CIA or MI5 as you expand the body to reveal the viewfinder, touch the shutter button to make a photo, hear the shutter’s seductive “snick” sound, and compress the body again to wind to the next frame.

Rollei A110Rollei A110

The Rollei A110 packs a Tessar lens, 23mm at f/2.8, to wring every possible bit of performance out of the wee 13x17mm frame 110 film offers. Check out the sharpness and resolution this lens delivered on expired Fuji Superia 200 film the last time I shot my A110. If it weren’t for the odd aspect ratio of 110 film images, you might believe me if I told you I took this with one of my 35mm SLRs.

West Park Christian Church

For this outing with the A110 I bought some fresh Lomography Color Tiger film. I tip my hat to the Lomography people for keeping this old format alive. I shake my fist at the Lomography people, however, for a fault in the backing paper that allows light to leak onto the film. It appears as red splotches on images, as below. I should have covered the film-counter window with electrical tape. I hope they correct the problem as they manufacture the next batch.

Home

My A110 isn’t perfect. It has a few minor nicks in the paint. The winding mechanism moves a little roughly — I’ll bet it was buttery smooth when new.

Park road

Also, its lens cover is loose. It’s supposed to slide out of the way when you open the camera and cover the lens when you close the camera. On mine, before I make a photo I have to tilt the camera to move the cover out of the way. I usually forgot to do this and got eight black photographs for my error.

Orange

Finally, even at moderate distances parallax is a problem. Standing 15 feet or so back from this entryway I centered the scene in the frame. This is what the camera saw.

Orange entrance

But none of this is so bad as to make my A110 a pain to use. It was easy as a breeze to carry in my pocket as my wife and I took a long hike through Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis.

Eagle Creek Reservoir

That Tessar lens is pretty sharp, as the carvings in to that tree trunk show nicely.

Carved

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Rollei A110 gallery.

Despite this camera’s charms, as I worked my way through this 24-exposure film cartridge I soon wished it would be over with already. I didn’t hate using the A110, but I didn’t find joy in it either. It was a novelty, and the novelty soon wore off.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography, Old cars

Operation Thin the Herd: Canon AE-1 Program

Chevelle nacelles

Who doesn’t like the Canon AE-1 Program? It’s universally praised, and with good reason. It’s a capable tool with good features. A photographer could make great images with it indefinitely.

Canon AE-1 Program

I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD lens and loaded up some Agfa Vista 200, which I shot at EI 100. This is the lens I commonly use on this camera, as I did a few years ago on a photo walk Downtown when I had some Arista Premium 400 inside. That’s Circle Tower, a gorgeous building in the Art Deco style.

Circle Tower

Old buildings, old cars, and old roads — these are the things I photograph most. No old roads in this post, however, as I took the AE-1 Program to a “cars and coffee” gathering and shot two rolls there. It’s all old cars up in this joint for the rest of this post. I think my favorite car of the day was this late-70s Firebird because it was in rough, original condition. This is what all ’70s Firebirds looked like in the mid ’80s when I was in high school: rusty and rough. The school parking lot was full of them. This parking lot had just this one.

They're only original once

The AE-1 handled perfectly, as expected. Mine has developed that annoying squealing shutter that is common to this camera. But it doesn’t affect function, and it got quieter and quieter as I kept shooting. This Cadillac’s delightful tail was the first photo I made at the event. The shutter howled.

Cad fin

Color and light play make car shows a wonderful place to test gear, especially on color film.

Speedster

This Porsche Speedster was mobile during the event. I saw it in two or three different places, including coming out of the host’s garage.

Speedster on the move

People from all walks of life came to show and see the cars. Our shared interest created opportunity to talk to people we might not normally interact with. I bumped into one other fellow shooting film, someone whose clothes marked him as being in a much higher economic class than me. When he heard my AE-1 squeal, he whirled around and said, “I know that sound!” He then showed me the Canon T60 SLR he had picked up in the used section at our local camera store. We chatted for several minutes about the relative merits of Canon film gear.

Cop and camaro

What I concluded with that fellow is this: every Canon SLR I’ve ever shot has been competent enough, and the lenses are technically excellent. But the cameras never spark joy when they’re in my hands, and the images I get never give me “wow!” moments. In contrast I’ve swooned, and hard, over Nikon and Pentax SLRs and the images I’ve received from them.

Stang

I enjoyed my car-show morning with the AE-1. I got good results. But as I reviewed the photos, I felt certain that I would have gotten better color from the delightful 50mm f/2 lens I keep for my Pentax bodies. I know that my little Pentax ME would have felt better in my hands.

Celica GT

This, really, is what Operation Thin the Herd is all about. Now that I have built skill as a photographer and have experienced so much gear as a collector, which gear hits that sweet spot of feeling great in my hands and returning images that delight me? That’s the gear I want to keep.

Triumph tail

Yet the AE-1 Program handled everything I threw at it this sunny Saturday morning. I can’t really complain.

Lotus tail

If you’d like to see more photos from this camera, check out my Canon AE-1 Program gallery.

My heart beats for Pentax and my mind pines for Nikon. I own plenty of their gear, enough to keep me busy and happy for the rest of my life. Because my Canon gear just doesn’t grab me in the same way, because I’m unlikely to use it very often, I should probably let it go. Perhaps I’ll keep one body, maybe my mechanical TLb, and a couple of my older lenses. Perhaps not; this isn’t the day to decide. But this is the day to decide about the AE-1 Program, and I know it’s time to let it go.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews, 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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Overexposed selfie

A lovely Pentax ME F was recently donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.

This is a historically significant camera: the first mass-produced autofocus 35mm SLR. Pentax created a single autofocus lens, the pictured 35-70mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax AF Zoom. Its focusing motors were built in, making it almost as large as, and heavier than, the body.

The ME F’s autofocus sensor is inside the body. LEDs in the viewfinder communicate focus: red for out of focus, green for in focus.

I put a roll of Agfa Vista 200 through it recently. Focusing was slow, and sure only in bright light with obvious subjects. Much of the time the lens hunted hopelessly and I ended up focusing it manually. This is a common complaint with the camera. But upon its 1981 introduction, people were probably impressed that it worked at all.

About half the roll came back underexposed. I noticed while shooting that the camera kept choosing shutter speeds that seemed far too fast for the conditions. Just now I checked the ME F against my ME using my 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens. In the light available here at my desk, at f/2.8 the ME chose 1/30 sec, while the ME F chose 1/1000 sec. The meter clearly needs a little adjustment.

I’ll put it into the queue to have it done. While as an autofocus camera the ME F isn’t all that useful, I’m keeping it for its historical significance. And since it still takes the entire range of manual-focus K-mount lenses, it will make a fine backup body to my everyday SLR, the Pentax ME.

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Film Photography

Underexposed selfie

An underexposed selfie from a historically significant camera: the first autofocus 35mm SLR. Meet the Pentax ME F.

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