Kodak Brownie Starmatic
Canon PowerShot S95
This is a surprisingly capable little 127 camera.
I think I was made to shoot 35mm SLRs. I am happiest using them, and consistently get my best results from them. So despite wishing for a pocketable compact camera for my upcoming trip to Ireland, I also decided to audition an SLR.
My ideal SLR for this trip would be small and light — and one over which I would not cry if it were damaged, lost, or stolen. As much as I love my pro Nikons, the F2 and F3, they are none of these things.
But my N2000 checks most of those boxes. My Pentax ME and Olympus OM-1 are noticeably smaller, but are no lighter thanks to the N2000’s polycarbonate body. And should I need to replace it, N2000 bodies can be had on eBay every day for under $30.
The N2000 has many useful features, first among them being programmed autoexposure for times I want to just point, focus, and shoot. It also offers aperture-priority autoexposure and manual exposure for when I want more control. It also winds the film automatically, and is powered by four common-as-pennies AAA batteries.
Because I wanted to shoot a 35mm lens on this trip, I bought one: the 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor. And then I dropped in some Kodak T-Max 400, clipped a shoulder strap to the lugs, and went out. Except for the jarringly loud motorized winder, this camera handled beautifully.
I got beautiful tones everywhere I turned with this 35mm lens and the T-Max.
The film and lens did have a little trouble with Margaret’s white hair here, though.
I was impressed with how this camera, lens, and film managed scenes with both bright and dark areas. I did, however, tweak a few scans (including this one) in Photoshop to lighten the shadow areas a little.
Moving up close with this 35mm lens I was able to get a reasonable blurred-background effect. I shot this whole roll in program mode, and I like very much how the N2000 biases toward shallow depth of field at close range.
I almost always shoot 50mm lenses on my SLRs with their relatively narrow field of view. This 35mm lens let me see so much more of my surroundings.
I’ve tried to capture this ice-cream shop with my 50mm lenses before, and I can’t back up far enough on this street to get it all in without first bumping into another building. The 35mm lens opened the view up wide, and the house fit right in.
I fell in love with this 35mm lens. Now I want one for my Pentax K-mount SLRs, too. This is just a wonderful focal length for walking around in the world.
This 35mm Nikkor is also plenty small and light. On this light N2000 body, I barely felt this camera when it was slung over my shoulder. It’s bigger, of course, than the Olympus Stylus I reviewed on Friday, and the Olympus XA that I’m auditioning as I write this. But given how much I enjoyed using this camera and how much control it gave me over my images, this N2000 and this 35mm lens stand at least an even chance of going to Ireland with me.
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In deciding which film camera to take with me to Ireland, I’ve been auditioning some of the contenders in my collection. I’m taking the camera with me and pretending I’m on the trip, shooting the kinds of things I plan to shoot, to see how the camera feels and performs. First up: the Olympus Stylus.
I thought surely this would be The One, given how it slips easily into my jeans pocket, is dead simple to use, and packs a sharp 35mm f/3.5 lens.
Overall I had a great time shooting the Stylus, enough that I put two rolls through it: Kodak Gold 400 and an expired roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. But a couple flaws, one fatal, caused it to fail the audition.
Readers with long memories will remember that my Stylus failed the last time I used it. It was so messed up I just dumped it into the trash and bought another. This one came with date imprint function. I left it off except for one trial shot in my living room.
Margaret and I have been taking a lot of walks lately to get into better shape for the trip. A favorite destination is the streets of Zionsville. Here’s a typical home in town.
Just dig the birdhouse built into the roof gable on this house.
Here’s a shot from Monument Circle in Indianapolis. The camera was performing so well, letting me get all the kinds of shots I expect to take in Ireland, landscapes and architectural shots leading the way.
I’m especially pleased with this dusk shot in Garfield Park in Indianapolis. I did have to bring this shot into Photoshop and boost shadows, however, to bring out the fountains.
But the camera is not without issues. First, a few shots had a strange light area in the upper-right corner.
Second, the Stylus seems to focus on whatever is at the center of the frame. The cars in the background of this photo are perfectly sharp, but the tree is a little fuzzy. You can see it at larger sizes.
Margaret was the intended subject here, but is so out of focus the shot isn’t usable. I’ll bet if I put the subject in the center of the frame, press halfway down to focus, and then reframe, I’d get the shot. But I’d always be anxious the camera would muff focus anyway.
But here’s the Stylus’s fatal flaw: every time you open the camera, the flash defaults to “auto” and fires in low light. I almost never want flash; every time it went off I muttered a bad word under my breath. There’s no way I’m going to remember to shut the flash off every time I open this camera.
So I’ve been auditioning other cameras. I put a roll through my Nikon N2000 SLR with a 35mm lens attached, just to see whether I’d find lugging an SLR around to be too much. (Answer: not as much as I thought.) Photos from that session on Monday. At the moment I have film in my Olympus XA, and that’s going well, too.
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As I get ready to visit Ireland with Margaret later this year, I’ve been trying to decide which film camera to take with me.
I’d love to shoot nothing but film over there, but ay yi yi the cost of processing the film when I get back! So I’ll pack my digital Canon PowerShot S95. This capable camera slips into any pocket and will let me shoot as much as I want. I just have to charge the battery each night at the hotel.
But I still plan to take one 35mm film camera and a few rolls of black-and-white film. The question is, which one? Frankly, I’d be happiest shooting one of my SLRs, but I want to travel light. This calls for one of my compact cameras. I have a bunch to choose from.
Vacation photography typically involves group family shots and portraits, as well as landscapes and streetscapes. Fortunately, compact 35mm cameras are made for just these kinds of photos. If you know going in that you want to shoot something other than that, such as closeups of local wildflowers or cinematic landscapes, consider taking gear that can do that. Most compact cameras can’t.
Which compact film camera you take on vacation depends on what is important to you.
Size — How small it needs to be depends on how you’ll carry it. Do you want it to slip into your pants pocket? Are you willing to carry it by its strap? Will you carry it in a backpack or purse? I want to slip mine into a jeans pocket, so the smaller the better, and it’s best if its lens is flush with the camera face.
Focus type — Decide whether to bias toward speed and ease, or toward control. If you think you’ll shoot almost exclusively group shots and landscapes, go for speed and choose an autofocus or fixed-focus camera. But if you think you’ll want to tightly control focus, such as for close work, consider a rangefinder camera. You’ll need to focus each shot, which slows you down — but that control will be there when you really need it. A middle-ground choice might be a zone-focusing camera. They generally offer three or four focusing zones. Many of them offer a focus setting that’s good for most shots; just leave it there unless you want to shoot something close up or far away. I shy away from zone-focusing cameras because all too often I forget to set focus at all.
Battery — A camera that doesn’t need a battery is ideal, but fairly rare. Next best: a camera that takes easy-to-buy AA or AAA batteries. But regardless of the battery the camera uses, if you drop in a fresh one before you go, it should easily last the trip.
Lens — Most compact cameras offer either a fixed lens of about 35mm or a zoom lens with about 35mm at its wide end. I think 35mm is just right for vacation photography. Compared to “standard” 50mm, 35mm widens the view up just enough to be useful for landscapes, without being so wide that it’s not useful for closer work. For me, zoom isn’t important; I don’t mind backing up or walking closer to my subject. My experience is that fixed lenses tend to be of better quality.
Annoyances — You want this camera to work fluidly in your hands. Why spend your trip frustrated with your gear? What’s annoying is personal, but here are some things that you might find annoying: a built-in flash that you can’t turn off, a mushy or awkwardly placed shutter button, a tiny viewfinder, no built-in flash, or a protruding lens that makes it hard to pocket the camera.
Cameras have a few other measures I don’t think matter too much in this case, such as range of shutter speeds, or range of film ISOs accepted. Pretty much all compact cameras offer a useful range of shutter speeds and accept the most common film speeds, such as 100, 200 and 400.
I own a number of interesting compact cameras, so the choice has been challenging. I used these criteria to narrow it down. More than anything else, I need a camera I can slip into my jeans pocket, which narrows the field way down. I want the best lens I can get, and I prefer autofocus.
So I went straight to my Olympus Stylus. I dropped some T-Max 400 into it for an audition. And I discovered a fatal flaw: every time you open the lens cover, the flash goes into Auto mode. I almost never want the flash to fire. I will never remember to turn it off every time I open it.
So now I’m auditioning my Olympus XA, even though it is a rangefinder. I don’t mind rangefinder focusing. The XA lacks a built-in flash, but that’s also not a problem for me. I have an external flash for it, but I think I’ll just leave it at home.
What compact film camera do you think you’d take on a long vacation?
I was so impressed with this Kodak Six-20 when I bought it seven or eight years ago. I was limiting my collection to folders and rangefinders then, and this mint-condition folding Kodak with Art Deco details was so lovely I just had to own it. I’ve always displayed this camera. I have little display space, so it’s a special camera that doesn’t end up in a closet or in a box under the bed.
Manufactured from 1932-37, the Kodak Six-20 was more style than substance. It featured a 100mm Kodak Anastigmat lens, one step up in quality from Kodak’s entry-level Diway, Bimat, Twindar, and Kodar lenses. Some think this Anastigmat is similar in design to a Tessar. Yet its maximum aperture is only f/6.3, and the No. 0 Kodon shutter in which it is set offers just three settings: 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 sec, plus time and bulb. Not very versatile.
The Six-20 offers two viewfinders: a brilliant peer-down viewfinder attached to the lens assembly, and a pop-up sports viewfinder on the body side. On mine, the brilliant viewfinder is so cloudy as to be useless.
This was the kind of camera a gentleman could slip into his coat pocket, or a lady could carry in her clutch, and look stylish when pulling it out. Only a gentleman or a lady could afford this camera: it was $38 when new, which is equivalent to $666 in 2016.
I shot this camera once before, in 2010. See the review here. I got terrible results and blamed a combination of camera gremlins and photographer incompetence. But I’ve learned a lot about using old gear and making photographs in the years since, and so I decided to try again. I began by cleaning the lens, which is easily accessed from the back by opening the aperture wide and setting the shutter to T. I then shot the shutter at every speed many times to loosen it up.
The Kodak Six-20 unsurprisingly takes 620 film, which hasn’t been manufactured since 1984. It’s the same film as still-manufactured 120, but on narrower spools. You can respool 120 onto 620 spools, or buy it pre-respooled at premium prices. Because neither option excites me, I swore off 620 cameras a few years ago. But as my grandmother always used to say, “never say never.” I bought a roll of expired (1/2004), cold-stored, hand-respooled Kodak Verichrome Pan from the Film Photography Project store and spooled it into this octogenarian camera.
My first stop was a nearby Episcopal church. Armed with my monopod to keep the camera stable, and my iPhone light meter app to get exposure right, I got to work. This is my favorite shot from the roll.
Somebody forgot to put the toys away on the church playground.
From the church, I walked around the surrounding Warfleigh neighborhood a little. The Meridian Street Bridge cuts through on its way over the White River. The sun, low in the west, created gobs of annoying flare. I had to have my back fully to the sun to avoid it. I’m sure Kodak made a snap-on hood for this lens; I wish I had one.
These shots all look a lot better than the original scans, which were hazy and low contrast. Fortunately, in this modern age Photoshop corrects those problems quickly and easily. But even Photoshop couldn’t help with the flare.
I finished the roll (just eight photos!) over in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, where there’s a Graeter’s ice-cream shop. It was busy on this warm Saturday evening.
By the way, the Six-20’s shutter requires no cocking. That’s unusual for a folding camera of this era. I’m betting that the No. 0 Kodon is a simple rotary shutter similar to those found on box cameras.
See the rest of my photos from this camera in my Kodak Six-20 gallery.
I was actually about to sell this camera. I’ve been thinning my herd, as cameras were stuffed into every nook and cranny around here and the madness had to stop. I’ve shed probably 50 cameras and am not done yet. But something made me pause and try this one again. I’m glad I did; after this experience I’ll be keeping it.