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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Photography

Canon EOS A2e

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Buying two failed Canon EOS Rebels wasn’t enough to kill my EOS desires. I really enjoy the 50mm f/1.8 lens I have for this mount and wanted a light body for those days I wanted to shoot it. I still have my EOS 630 and EOS 650, but as early bodies in the series they feel crude and sluggish. And they’re larger and heavier than the Rebels I’ve unsuccessfully tried lately.

And then a commenter on my Rebel S review mentioned how much he enjoyed the EOS A2e he had when they were new. It’s a semi-pro body, crammed full of features at a sky-high price: $1,200 upon its 1992 debut, which is equivalent to a little more than $2,000 today. So I went snooping around Used Photo Pro to see what they go for these days and found one for $27. That’s pennies on the dollar! I love a bargain, so I bought it.

Canon EOS A2e

This camera (called the EOS 5 outside the United States) is every bit as big and heavy as those early EOSes. But it works quickly and smoothly in straight-up shooting, so I met at least half of my goals.

Canon EOS A2e

The A2e features an electronic focal-plane shutter that operates from 30 sec. to 1/8000 sec. and shoots at 5 frames per second. The camera has all the modes you’d expect: programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority autoexposure; full manual exposure; and special modes for macro, portrait, landscape, and sports.

Two dials control aperture and shutter speed: the usual one (among EOS cameras) behind the shutter button, and a big one on the camera back. In program mode, the first dial cycles through the aperture/shutter-speed combinations that yield good exposure. In aperture- and shutter-priority modes, it selects the aperture or shutter speed, respectively. In manual mode, it selects shutter speed while the big dial on the camera back selects aperture. That big dial apparently controls other things, too — such as letting you choose among evaluative, center-weight average, and spot metering — but I didn’t plumb its depths. Actually, I avoided using it. It’s awkward to use while the camera is at your eye, and the forums and reviews all over the Internet say it’s prone to failure anyway. I imagine this was a point of real frustration for people who relied on the camera back in the day. But for me, shooting casually, it was easy enough to stick to exposure modes that avoided needing to use the back dial.

Canon EOS A2e

You get two additional modes with the A2e. The clever DEP mode makes you focus twice, on something close and something far away; the A2e then ensures that everything in between is in focus and properly exposed. The Green Zone mode (the green rectangle on the mode dial) is similar to Program mode except that it blocks all adjustments, turning the A2e into a point-and-shoot SLR.

The A2e reads the DX coding on the film cartridge to set ISO from 25 to 5,000, or you can set it manually from 6 to 6,400.

The A2e also features eye-controlled focus — that’s the e in A2e. Canon’s EOS A2 is the same camera without this feature. The viewfinder contains five focus points. With this feature turned on, when you look at what you want to focus on the camera tracks your eye, grabs the focus point closest to where you’re looking, and focuses on what’s there. Even after I set it up as the manual directs, I couldn’t make this feature work. I don’t care. It’s a gimmick feature that I wouldn’t use anyway.

I dropped in a 2CR5 battery and some Fujicolor 200, mounted the 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF lens, and headed out to shoot. My first stop: the Episcopal church over on Meridian Street. It’s one of the places I regularly go to test old cameras as it has lots of interesting subjects at various distances. The A2e performed well. Just look at the clarity and color it returned!

Red berries

It was early evening and light was fading. I was shooting in Program mode, and the A2e was giving me as much depth of field as it could in the available light — so much, I feared I’d get no bokeh. So I dialed in bigger apertures. I wound up with a very narrow in-focus patch on several shots. I should have backed off a stop or two.

Angel investor

But at medium and long distances, everything worked out fine. The A2e metered light brilliantly, returning fabulous, sensitive shadow detail in contrasty situations.

Church door

I can’t get over the great color I got. This is one of the first rolls of film I scanned on my flatbed scanner. I’m used to a certain greenish caste from Fujicolor 200, and I didn’t get it at all here. I did get more grain than I’m used to, though. I wonder if what I’m used to is Fujicolor 200 as scanned by the Noritsu scanners most labs seem to use. This is Fujicolor 200 as scanned by an Epson V300.

Autumn Iris

I put the A2e on a tripod and photographed this Belleek pitcher on my coffee table. Margaret and I visited the Belleek factory while we were in Ireland and bought a few pieces there for our home. I really enjoy shooting objects close up in low light, but many of my old cameras just don’t do it well. The A2e handled it like a pro.

Belleek

Do you remember how when David Letterman enjoyed one of his guests, he’d invite him or her to stay past the commercial break? Do you remember how seldom it happened? It was a high compliment to the guest. Sort of like Letterman, I seldom test a camera beyond one roll of film. On that rare occasion I seriously enjoy one, I’ll go for a second roll. Upon finishing the Fujicolor, I immediately loaded some Kodak Tri-X and kept going. I shot most of the roll on a day out with Margaret, which included visiting a little curiosity shop in Broad Ripple.

Curiosities

I love vintage mechanical and electronic items. If I had money and space, I’d collect typewriters. And radios and televisions. Oh gosh, televisions! Margaret is grateful that I lack money and space. The cameras I have stuffed into every nook and cranny are more than enough.

Curiosities

This is my favorite coffee shop in Indianapolis. I used to go over there on Saturday mornings with a pen and a notebook and freewrite while I sipped whatever varietal they had on the brew. No frilly coffee drinks for me: I take mine black. Somehow I haven’t been in there for three years. I must rectify this situation.

Monon Coffee Co.

I finished up the roll with a few la-de-da shots around the house. I must have the most-photographed home in Indianapolis.

Bag and mail

To see more of my photos from these rolls, check out my Canon EOS A2e gallery.

The Canon EOS A2e is not just a well-featured instrument, it’s great fun. For most everyday shooting, you don’t have to use the cumbersome controls. Just dial in P, or Av and have your finger ready on the wheel, and enjoy pleasant shooting. If it weren’t for that awkward and failure-prone back dial, this camera would be truly great. My Nikon N90s, a similarly featured camera from the same era, lacks this fundamental flaw and feels more solidly built. When I hanker to shoot a well-featured auto-everything camera, it’s the one I’m going to reach for most often. But for those times I really want to shoot this wonderful Canon lens, I’ve found my forever body.

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Photography

Nikon Nikkormat EL

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Why didn’t Nikon just call its non-pro line of cameras Nikons from the start? As they eventually learned, everyday people would pay for the cachet of the Nikon name. Yet Nikon insisted on calling its lesser SLRs Nikkormats (or Nikomats in Japan) in the 1960s and much of the 1970s.

Those Nikkormats became more and more sophisticated over time. By 1972 Nikon had developed its first camera with an electronic shutter and automatic exposure, and gave it a Nikkormat name. Here it is, the Nikkormat EL.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

Large and heavy, the Nikkormat EL offered a reasonable complement of features. Its shutter operates from 4 to 1/1000 sec. It offers depth-of-field preview, mirror lockup, and a self timer. A stubby 6-volt 4LR44 (aka 476A, A544, and PX28A) battery powers it all. It goes in a slot behind the lens mount, under the mirror. Use the mirror lockup lever (left of the lens mount) to move the mirror up. Then lift the battery cover and insert the battery. I thought I’d have trouble seating the battery in that tight space but I snapped it right in with my index finger.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

The Nikkormat EL’s viewfinder is fairly big and bright and features an easy-to-read match-needle system for the aperture-priority autoexposure. There’s no on-off switch; to activate the meter, pull the winding lever back. The EL’s focusing screen offers a central split-image rangefinder ringed with a microprism. It works beautifully. The white button left of the viewfinder checks the battery. Press it in with your thumbnail. If the battery is good, the amber light glows.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

With this Nikkormat Nikon moved closer to the classic 1970s SLR idiom by moving the shutter speed selector to a dial atop the camera, next to the wind lever. (Early Nikkormats placed the shutter speed selector on a ring around the lens mount.) And as you can see, the EL takes films from 25 to 1600 ISO.

Nikon finally got the clue when it updated this camera for 1977: it became the Nikon EL, the first Nikon SLR without removable prisms and focus screens. The Nikkormat line was allowed to die quietly.

This EL was placed on permanent loan in the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras by John Smith, who generally buys his gear in top shape. The EL is said to be prone to electronic gremlins, but this one works fine.

I dropped some Fujicolor 200 in, mounted my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens, and got to shooting. I love to do close-up work and the Micro-Nikkor enables it so well. Yet it’s a fine lens for shooting things at greater distance. These are the reading glasses I keep on my desk at work.

Cheaters

And here’s a gripping photo for the annals of all-time greats: the cruise-control switch on my Toyota. I love it that the Micro-Nikkor lens lets me contemplate details like this.

Cruise Control

These batteries came out of a flash unit for my Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. They have to be 50 years old, and true to their marketing, they hadn’t leaked. However, in especially dim indoor light, either the meter didn’t read accurately or the long shutter speed was off, because the exposure was terrible. Photoshop helped make something usable out of the frame.

Marathon Batteries

I shot most of this roll around the house. Last year I moved my irises to a sunnier spot, and this year they rewarded me by blooming in the spring and in the autumn. It was refreshing to see a splash of purple and white among the fall colors! Unfortunately, first frost came before the plant finished blooming, which did the remaining flowers in.

Autumn Irises

We had some striking light one evening, so I went out to photograph it.

Strange Evening Light

This light lasted just a few minutes, before the setting sun and the clouds rolling in obscured it. How often do we get light like this but forget it because it is so fleeting?

Strange Evening Light

Finally, showing that I had nothing but fine art on my mind while testing this camera, here’s my Toyota with a load of sod in the back. Some of the grass I planted in the front yard after the sewer connection project had died, and I had lots of bare spots out back after having all those dead trees removed. My Toyota has become an old beater, so it’s just right for dirty hauling jobs. Its plastic floor is easy to clean.

Wagon Full of Sod

For more photos, check out my Nikon Nikkormat EL gallery.

Metal, mostly mechanical 35mm SLRs are my favorite kind of camera, and aperture priority is my favorite way to autoexpose, so of course I enjoyed shooting with the Nikkormat EL. I didn’t enjoy shooting it any more than any of the other mostly mechanical 35mm SLRs I own, though. I suppose it says a lot about the general goodness of SLRs from the 1970s that a camera as capable and well made as this one doesn’t rise above the rest.

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