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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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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Film Photography

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Film Photography

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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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Canon EOS 630

Louvers

Auto-everything film shooting isn’t normally my bag. I’m more a match-needle, twist-to-focus kind of guy. But even I have to admit, sometimes there’s charm in letting a camera do the grunt work.

Canon EOS 630

This is a very early EOS camera, dating to about 1989. I’ve only shot this camera once before, that time with the pictured 35-80mm lens. I shot my former favorite (now discontinued) b/w film, Arista Premium 400.

Barber Shop

I reached for black-and-white film this time, too: Eastman Double-X 5222. But I used my sweet little 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF II lens.

Footbridge

It was gray and cold most of the time I had film in the EOS 630. I’ve never shot Double-X in those conditions and I was surprised by how muddy everything turned out.

Flowing

These photos are from Flowing Well Park on 116th St. in Carmel. That bridge there carries 116th.

Creek

I got a little sun one afternoon and in a spare 30 minutes I took the EOS 630 out on a walk around downtown Fishers. I’ve photographed this area so much over the last year that if you were to look through the photos you’d watch the area change rapidly. It’s heavily under construction. New buildings go up all the time.

Downtown Fishers

Which means parking is becoming a problem. Fishers is solving it with parking garages. I’m not a fan.

Parking

The EOS 630 kept metering for the shadows, I guess, because the highlights were nearly washed out. Tweaking exposure and contrast in Photoshop helped a little. And lest you think that it’s only new buildings in Fishers, a few of the old houses do remain, tucked into alleyways and along side streets.

House in old Fishers

One old house was converted into a little tea room. This is its gate.

Gate

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Canon EOS 630 gallery.

I wasn’t enamored of the EOS 630 the first time I shot it. But I’ve used several more auto-everything SLRs since then, enough to know that this really is a pretty good tool. Focus was always right and exposure was at least good enough. I wished that the body were a little smaller and lighter, like the later EOS Rebel cameras. If I have to shoot a camera this bulky, I might as well reach for my semi-pro EOS A2e. It’s a much better camera. And for that reason, this EOS 630 must go. There’s room for at most one EOS SLR in my collection.

Verdict: Goodbye

I’m selling some very nice cameras from my collection. See them here.

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography, Stories Told

I like cameras

You might think this post’s title is the dumbest I’ve ever written. If you’ve read this blog for more than a week, you know I love cameras! But this post is a rerun from March of 2007, when this blog was just a month old. With it I introduced vintage cameras and film photography to the blog. I’m a better writer now than then, so I edited the heck out of it for this throwback.

My parents were sure I was headed toward a career in engineering — I simply couldn’t keep my fingers off anything with buttons or knobs. I wanted to know what they did!

My great grandmother had a very old TV, and behind a panel right at kid height were about a million knobs. Whenever we visited, if I was left alone with that TV I turned as many of those knobs as I could before being discovered. This almost certainly caused her to utter choice words when she settled in that night to watch Gunsmoke.

My button-pushing and knob-twisting ways were so known to my grandparents that when they got a CB radio — it was the 70s, after all — Grandma took me aside, pointed to the SQUELCH knob, and said, sternly: “Jimmy, now, if you turn that knob, it will explode!” It was several years before I figured out that was a scam.

My parents knew better than to leave me alone with gear of any sort, but they slipped up on one family trip when I was 4. I found Mom’s camera in our hotel room and took about 10 photos — of the doorknob, the corner of the bed, the wall, and so on. I felt so grown up with that camera, but when I was discovered I was on restriction for quite some time.

My camera dreams came true the summer I turned 8. I was with Grandma browsing at a garage sale when I found a little Kodak Brownie Starmite II, a simple fixed-focus camera from the early 1960s that took 127 roll film. I picked it up and turned it over and over, very curious. Grandma aked, “Do you want that?” I was quite embarrassed to have been noticed, and I stammered, “Oh, no, I don’t know, not really.” Grandma noticed the 25-cent price tag and silently handed me a quarter. Now I was both embarrassed and relieved, because I really did want that camera.

Through trial and error I discovered how to open it and how to wind it. I pressed my eye to the open bottom of the camera and pressed the shutter to see light flash into the camera for a fraction of a second. I looked at the camera’s face, pressed the button, and saw the shutter open and close almost imperceptibly. I was fascinated with the camera’s intricacy and with all the thought and work that had gone into designing it.

It took me a long time on my 50-cent allowance to save enough money for film and processing. When I loaded that first roll of Kodacolor II into the Brownie and took it out into the neighborhood, the kids flocked to me. They all wanted to be in a picture! When the prints were back from the drug store I was the center of attention again as all the kids wanted to see themselves. I must have given most of the prints away, because I have only four left. Here’s one print from that first roll of film, from August, 1976.

SummertimeChildrenLancasterDrive

Other cameras found their way into my hands: a Brownie Reflex Synchro Model with flash holder, a cheap Instamatic knockoff, a new Polaroid Super Shooter instant camera for Christmas.

But I didn’t start to deliberately collect cameras until I was a teenager. I’d get on my bike each Saturday morning and ride all over town to garage sales, for something to do. But then one day I came across an Argus A-Four 35mm camera that had more stuff to figure out on it than I’d ever seen — aperture and shutter speed and focus. To help me figure it out, a friend who was taking a photography class in school gave me a roll of film from the school’s stash. It became and remained a favorite camera, reliably taking nice photos.

By the time I was 25, I had accumulated about 100 cameras — a bunch of Brownies, a few movie cameras, a dozen Polaroids, some box cameras, several very old folding cameras, too many crappy Instamatics, and more. I took photos with some of the cameras. Other cameras’ picture-taking days were clearly over.

After I married and had children, my young sons used to ask to look at my cameras. I was reluctant at first, but I eventually relented and found that they treated them well and genuinely enjoyed them. I showed the boys how they worked, all the things that fascinated me as a boy — how to open them, set them so that the shutter would fire, put their eye up to the opening to watch light flash into the camera. Over the years we spent many pleasant hours on the living room floor playing with my cameras. And one time I bought a roll of film for a camera I wanted to try. My sons followed me everywhere, wanting to be in the photo.

As my first marriage crumbled away I found it necessary to sell my entire collection, along with a great deal of my other personal possessions. It was a very sad time in my life. But unexpectedly I have not missed most of what I sold, and only a few of my cameras.

But as the divorce years ended and I turned 40 I decided to start a new collection. I actually have money now and can buy cameras in good mechanical and cosmetic condition. I’ve also put film through every camera I’ve bought for which film remains available. I haven’t kept every camera I’ve tried. I’d say 250 cameras have passed through my hands, and about 100 remain. And now I’m even reducing that number to the 20 or so I’ll use regularly.

That’s not to say I won’t keep buying new-to-me old cameras, though. I’m sure this is one fascination that I’ll never lose.

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