Camera Reviews

Nikon F-801s

As 35mm SLRs transitioned to autofocus, it took a few iterations before manufacturers settled on the controls we all know. The Nikon F-801s is an early camera in that transition. Also known as the N8008s, and manufactured from 1991 to 1995, it supplanted the F-801/N8008, but added only improved autofocus and a spot-metering mode to the earlier camera. (Read my N8008 review here.)

Nikon F801s

This camera represents Nikon’s second iteration of autofocus cameras. The first was the F-501/N2020, which had a much more square body. The F-801s generation of camers introduced The Blob as the dominant SLR shape.

Nikon F801s

The F-801s was in Nikon’s semi-professional range, sitting just below the F3 and F4 in the pecking order. As such, it was a robustly built camera, solid and heavy. It also offered a ton of features, including depth-of-field preview, multi-exposure, a two-shot self-timer, matrix or center-weighted metering, programmed autoexposure, and film setting by DX code with manual override from ISO 6 to 6,400. The F-801s’s shutter operates from 30 to 1/8000 second. Finally, three focusing screens are available, including the standard matte Type B screen, as well as a gridded Type E screen and a microprism Type J screen.

Nikon F801s

The F-801s loads the film for you when you insert the cartridge, pull the leader across to the red mark, close the door, and fire the shutter. It winds the film for you, but it doesn’t rewind automatically. If you’re not paying attention to the frame counter, you won’t find out you’re at the end of the roll until you press the shutter button and nothing happens. To rewind, press both buttons atop the camera marked with the red rewind symbol.

The controls were an evolutionary step toward the now-standard mode dial. Press the Mode button and turn the dial to cycle through the modes, which appear in the LCD. There are two program modes, normal (P) and high (PH), which chooses faster shutter speeds to freeze motion. You can also choose dual mode (PD) that chooses normal for focal lengths less than 135mm, and high otherwise. There are also aperture-priority (A), shutter-priority (S), and full manual (M) modes.

If you like auto-everything Nikons, I’ve reviewed several, starting with the similar N8008 (F-801). Also check out the N90s, the N50, the N60, and the N65. You should also check out Nikon’s manual-focus bodies like the F2, F3, FA, and N2000. Or just check out my big list of all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.

I loaded four AA batteries into this Nikon F-801s, without which the camera is inert. I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens and spooled in some Ultrafine eXtreme 400, which I developed in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B. This was my first go with this film. I don’t know why I do this to myself, because when I don’t like the way the images look, I can’t tell whether it’s the film or the camera. I wasn’t thrilled with these images. A few that I shot on a walk around the strip mall near my home turned out best.

BW3

I knew I was going to enjoy using the F-801s because I enjoyed using the N8008 (F-801) I used to own. This is just a solid, competent performer. The autofocus is dog slow by modern standards, but that never bothers me. I almost never photograph things in motion. I have the time to wait.

Drive thru

But something’s wrong with the autofocus on this F-801s. At infinity, it hunts like mad and half the time won’t focus. When it does, the camera usually won’t let you make a photo. An X appears in the viewfinder LCD rather than the solid circle that means everything’s hunky dory. At closer range, the camera often focuses just behind your intended subject.

Do Not Pass

I finished the roll around the house. Trying to figure out what was up with the autofocus, I trained the camera on a drawing my brother made for me many years ago. He’s a talented illustrator; his favorite genre is comic-style art. It’s too bad he doesn’t draw anymore.

Java Jive

Our granddaughter was over for a visit that day. She likes it when we make a bowl of soapy water for her so she can play in it. Notice how the F-801 focused just behind our granddaughter’s head.

Playing in the sink

Disappointed in, but not daunted by, the F-801s’s focusing woes, I decided to try a different lens in case something had gone wrong with my 50/1.8. I thought the lens was unlikely to be at fault, but what the heck. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor lens and spooled in some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. Sadly, the camera continued to whiff focus in just the same ways.

I nosed around the photo forums for tips on what might be wrong. A few others reported this problem, and one fellow said he repaired his by blowing dust off the AF sensor. It’s behind the lens, under the mirror. I tried it, but it didn’t help. Perhaps the AF sensor has just gone bad.

I finished the roll with autofocus turned off. The focusing screen offered no focusing help such as a split image, so I just twisted the focus ring until things looked sharp enough and hoped for the best. It worked out fine.

Lion graffiti

I took the F-801s on a walk around Lions Park in Zionsville. This is where the Little League plays.

From the mound

The 28-80mm lens was a fine choice for this walk and it delivered good sharpness. As for the sign in this photo, Zionsville is a wealthy suburb, and families here have high expectations of their experiences around town.

Remember

Except for its autofocus woes, the F-801s performed well. Its large grip makes it a little awkward in the hand; the F50 I shot recently felt far more balanced.

Ladder

See more photos from this camera in my Nikon F-801s gallery.

This Nikon F-801s was a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, but if you want one, they go for peanuts on eBay all the time. My F-801s’s autofocus problems notwithstanding, these are generally reliable cameras and are a good value in easy SLR shooting. I prefer my Nikon N90s, which replaced the F-801/F-801s and evolved the 35mm SLR’s controls even further toward the configuration that everybody uses today. It feels more luxurious in my hand, and it focuses faster.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Nikon F50

In 1994, when the Nikon F50 was new, we didn’t know whether digital photography would ever be good enough to replace film. Maybe companies like Nikon could see the day coming, but they had cameras to sell in the meantime. Nikon in particular kept evolving its lines of 35mm SLRs, including those at the entry level like this F50, which was called the N50 in North America.

Nikon F50D

Nikon’s SLRs moved slowly toward what we now consider the standard idiom, with an on/off switch around the shutter button, a mode dial, and an LCD display of settings. The F50 added the LCD display, but not the rest. A series of buttons around the LCD display let you choose most of the camera’s settings — not as simple as a mode dial, but not hard to figure out.

First, set the Simple/Advanced switch to Advanced. Then press the leftmost button to enter selection mode. The LCD panel lights up with P S A M; press the button above the mode you want. In P mode, press a button for the sub-mode you want; there are a bunch of them including a macro mode and a sports mode. I just used Auto, which is the first option on the left. For the S, A, and M modes, select aperture, shutter speed, or both using the buttons. If you need a little help figuring it out, here’s a manual at the wonderful Butkus site. Or set the Simple/Advanced switch to Simple and just use the F50 like a big point and shoot.

Nikon F50D

My F50 is technically an F50D because it has the date back. Not that I’m ever going to use it. The camera is a good size, noticeably smaller than the semi-pro N90s which was made around the same time. I recently got to shoot a Minolta Maxxum HTsi, which is smaller than this F50. The Minolta handled easily enough, but the F50’s slightly larger size made it even easier to handle.

Nikon F50D

The F50 is surprisingly heavy, though! Nikon’s next two entry-level 35mm SLRs, the N60 and N65, weigh next to nothing in comparison. The F50 isn’t as heavy as my all-metal Nikon F2, but it’s got noticeable heft.

The F50 offers a self timer, but it doesn’t offer mirror lockup, depth-of-field preview, or cable release. It reads the DX coding on your film to set ISO from 25 to 5000, but you can override ISO manually down to 6 and up to 6400. It uses Nikon’s famous matrix metering except in manual exposure mode, when it switches to center-weighted metering. Its shutter operates from 1/2000 to 30 sec. You can use most AF Nikkor lenses with it, and many AI Nikkor lenses in manual exposure mode. The F50 automatically loads, winds, and rewinds your film. A typical Nikon-style LCD inside the viewfinder shows exposure settings. A 2CR5 battery powers everything.

Speaking of winding, mine is a little on the loud side, and sounds weak and wobbly. There’s an odd, slight disconnect between pressing the shutter button and the shutter firing. It doesn’t inspire confidence, but you do get used to it. In contrast, when you press the button on the N60 or N65, it fires immediately and the winder is crisp and quiet.

If you like auto-everything SLRs, especially check out my reviews of these Nikons: the N90s, the N60, the N65, and the N8008. I’ve also reviewed the Canon EOS 650, EOS 630, EOS Rebel, EOS Rebel S, and EOS A2E. If you fancy Minolta, see my reviews of the Maxxum 7000, Maxxum 7000i, Maxxum 9xi, and Maxxum HTsi.

I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens and loaded a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus, which I developed it in Adox HR-DEV 1+30. This was my first go with this film/developer combination. I wasn’t wowed. The scans needed heavy post-processing and some of them could not be made to look good. I later learned that this developer, once opened, should be used within six months — and this bottle had been open at least that long. Perhaps that contributed to the meh results. I let the rest of the bottle go.

1 Thess 5:16-17

It was far below freezing outside, so I shot this roll around the house. This Sears box camera is missing the red plastic bit over the exposure-counter window around back. I need to repair that before I can shoot and review it. But it made a fine subject for my F50. I shot a handful of other cameras with it, but they all suffered from shake as I shot them handheld. In Program mode, the F50 chose apertures of f/3.3 and f/4.5 with shutter speeds of 1/15, 1/20, and 1/30 sec. I normally have a very steady hand and can get away with shutter speeds down to 1/15, but not on this roll.

Tower 120

I was at a bit of a loss for subjects, so I reached for anything that I thought would work, like this orange. The tablecloth on the dining table had an interesting texture so that’s where I placed the orange.

Orange

This is where I write this blog and process my photographs. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s also where I work. I spend a lot of time in that chair staring at that screen. As you can see, I have a lot of wires running about, which I don’t enjoy. Someday I’ll figure out a good wire management solution.

At my desk

I did make a few photos outside, but only by sticking my head and the camera out the door. One day during the cold snap we got about a foot of snow. My wife grabbed our youngest son (who’s 20 and hardly a child!) and a couple plastic snowboards and sledded down the back-yard hill. A zoom lens would have let me move in closer without having to step outside! The F50 did a reasonable job of setting exposure in the snow.

Sledding

I wanted to see how this Nikon F50 handled with the kinds of subjects I normally shoot. So I loaded some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 and mounted my 28-80mm f/3.3-4.5G AF Nikkor lens. I first used it to chase our granddaughter around to make a couple candid photos of her. She’s hard to capture perfectly still!

Playing with blocks

I love this 28-80mm zoom and turn to it often. It handles easily, has good sharpness, and resolves subjects well with little distortion, except at 28mm. I generally zoom it out no more than 35mm.

Little bus

I finished the roll on a couple walks outside in near-freezing weather, the F50 in my hand unprotected in the cold. It just kept on working.

Sidewalk closed

The snow from the day I photographed my wife on her sled was beginning to melt. It made for a soggy walk through downtown Zionsville.

the flower shop

I was very happy with these images. They required next to no tweaking in Photoshop — little more than applying the “Auto Tone” command to brighten everything up.

Black Dog Books

See more photos from this camera in my Nikon F50 gallery.

I really enjoyed using the Nikon F50. It’s a terrific auto-everything 35mm SLR. This one was a gift from a reader to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, but a quick look at eBay shows these selling for between $10 and $30, often with a zoom lens attached. The main concern with electronic auto-everything cameras is how robust they are, and whether they can be repaired when they fail. I’ve personally had much better experience with Nikon autoexposure and autofocus cameras working for the long haul than the other brands I’ve tried, namely Canon and Minolta. It’s why I recommend cameras like this F50 to people curious about film photography.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Recycled

Recycled
Minolta Maxxum HTsi
35-80mm f/4-5.6 Maxxum AF Zoom
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

2021

We got one of these enormous recycle bins recently.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve never recycled at home before this. Only a little embarrassed, because I’m not convinced that home recycling is going to change the world. But at least we’re now making an effort not to add to the vast islands of plastic currently floating in our oceans.

I would have continued not recycling were it not for Margaret. It bothered her a lot that we weren’t doing it, so she asked me to call the trash company and ask for a bin. It came the other day. Good heavens, but is the bin huge. It takes up a lot of space in the garage.

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Film Photography

single frame: Recycled

Green recycling bins on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.

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Camera Reviews

Minolta Maxxum HTsi

It didn’t take long after Minolta introduced the first in-body autofocus and autoexposure 35mm SLR, the Maxxum 7000, for these features to take over the entire SLR market. It opened the SLR market to even casual shooters who wouldn’t know an f stop from a shortstop. Anyone could get high-quality images with point-and-shoot ease. Almost from the beginning, Minolta offered auto-everything SLRs aimed at the entry-level photographer. In 1998, the Minolta Maxxum HTsi was that entry-level camera.

Minolta Maxxum HTsi

The Maxxum HTsi cost far more than a point-and-shoot, however. It listed for $770 (including a 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens), which is about $1200 today. Nobody paid that; street prices were far lower. But you got a lot of camera for that money. It has a three-point autofocus system and 14-segment honeycomb-pattern metering. Its shutter operates from 1/4000 to 30 seconds. It reads the film’s DX coding to set film speed from ISO 25 to 5,000, or you can set film speed manually from ISO 6 to 6,400. It offers the usual modes: program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual. A built-in flash pops up when the camera doesn’t detect enough light. You can also slide a separate Minolta flash unit into the proprietary hot shoe. Unfortunately, two expensive CR-2 batteries power everything.

Minolta Maxxum HTsi

The HTsi offers the usual modes: programmed, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual exposure. To access them, move the Mode dial to PASM. Press the P button above the LCD to return the camera to program mode at any time. To access the other modes, press the FUNC button and turn the wheel below the shutter button to cycle through A, S, and M. The HTsi also offers portrait, landscape, close-up, sports, and night portrait modes. To access them, press the P button and then press the button next to the LCD with a head on it, repeatedly, until an arrow appears beneath the mode you want.

Minolta Maxxum HTsi

An unusual feature of the HTsi is its customizable functions, like allowing the shutter to fire even when autofocus hasn’t locked on a subject, and leaving the film tip out upon rewind. The manual describes the rest of them. Only one was useful to me. By default, the HTsi fires the flash anytime it thinks it needs to. I hate that! But you can turn it off. The functions and their settings all have numbers; this one is Function 5, Setting 2. Turn the mode dial to CUST. Then turn the wheel under the shutter button until the LCD reads CUST 5. Then press the FUNC button and turn the wheel until 2 appears below CUST 5. Return the mode dial to PASM to take pictures.

By the way, this camera was called the Maxxum HTsi only in North America. As best I can tell, in Europe it’s called the Dynax 505si. I don’t think Japan got a version of this camera.

If you like auto-everything SLRs like this one, also check out my reviews of the Minolta Maxxum 7000, the Maxxum 7000i, and the Maxxum 9xi; as well as the Nikon N60, N65, N8008, and N90s; and the Canon EOS 630, 650, and A2e. Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 into the HTsi. The pictured 35-80mm f/4-5.6 Maxxum Zoom lens came with this body, so I left it on. I took it on a few walks around my neighborhood, one of which lasted a half-hour on a clear 25-degree morning. I held the camera in my hand in the cold the whole way. To its credit, it never complained or malfunctioned. It made every photograph I asked of it.

Snow-dusted BMW

I shot the whole roll in full program mode. I figure that a camera like this is meant to be a giant point and shoot. As one, it’s competent and handles easily. It’s nothing to carry it just by holding its grip. That’s very nice on a long photo walk.

000036680016 proc

The HTsi focuses fast and I could never make it hunt. I was testing an older autofocus SLR from another manufacturer at about the same time and it hunted like mad unless the subject was crushingly obvious. That SLR was a more robust machine with better specifications, aimed at the semi-pro market. I’d rather shoot this HTsi because it just works.

Footprints

I’m sure that other camera is built to outlast the HTsi. But the amateur who would have bought a camera like the HTsi was unlikely to use it nearly as often. It was likely to last a long time in that photographer’s hands.

Old Navy

To finish this roll I popped up the flash and photographed our home office, which happens to be in our living room. It’s odd to walk into this from the front door, but it works for us. The flash lit evenly.

My office

I had a good enough time with the HTsi that I loaded a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus and kept shooting on a walk through downtown Zionsville. I developed the film in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B, and scanned it on my Minolta ScanDual II scanner.

Pot

Who knows how my HTsi came to have a 35-80mm f/4-5.6 Maxxum AF Zoom lens rather than the kit 28-80mm lens. This 35-80mm lens offered good sharpness corner to corner but did suffer from a little barrel distortion at the wide end. That’s typical of the genre, and isn’t surprising.

Window

It’s also not surprising that this lens always flared in the sun, too. These are the kinds of challenges you expect from a zoom lens like this one and I wouldn’t be surprised if the 28-80mm kit lens performed similarly. Lenses like these aren’t stellar performers, but they are more than fine for an amateur photographer documenting his family’s activities.

Flower shop

The lens doesn’t offer a macro mode but it did all right when you moved in as close as it could focus.

70

I enjoyed using this camera, plain and simple. It just worked. What more can you want?

Knight

See more photos from this camera in my Minolta Maxxum HTsi gallery.

A reader donated this Minolta Maxxum HTsi to my collection. I wouldn’t have bought one on my own. It opened my eyes, as this is a terrific little SLR for easy shooting. Here’s the crazy thing about cameras like the HTsi: you can buy them for next to nothing. I just did a quick check of eBay and find dozens of these that sold for less than $50, and many for less than $20, often with some sort of lens still attached. Cameras like these are the great value in film photography today.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Film Photography

A new (old) scanner

I’ve been unhappy with the 35mm scans my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II produces. They lack sharpness and shadow detail. I’ve done everything I can figure out in VueScan to make them better.

I’ve complained about this before, and reader P paid sharp attention. He contacted me recently to recommend a dedicated 35mm scanner he found used for a good price, refurbished, at KEH. I bought it straightaway.

It’s the Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual II, which was manufactured in about 2003. This scanner’s maximum output is 2,820 DPI, yielding images of roughly 3680×2580 pixels. That’s nearly 10 megapixels, which is enough for anything I do with my images.

When it arrived, I quickly scanned a negative strip from a roll of Ilford Delta 400 I shot in my Olympus XA in December to make sure the scanner functioned. It did, but my scans weren’t sharp. So I tried again later with the same strip, digging into the manual and into VueScan’s settings to get focus right. I got very good sharpness that time.

I’m going to show you all four frames from both scanners. In each pair, the Scan Dual II scans are first and the CanoScan 9000F scans are second. I’ve tweaked both in Photoshop to my liking, within the limits of the scan — but the ScanDual scans didn’t need very much help. They are far better than the CanoScan scans, especially in contrast and sharpness. The contrast is apparent right off, but you need to see these scans at full size to appreciate the sharpness difference. To do that, click to see them on Flickr and then click them there to see them larger.

At McCormick's Creek State Park
At McCormick's Creek State Park
At McCormick's Creek State Park
At McCormick's Creek State Park
At McCormick's Creek State Park
At McCormick's Creek State Park
At McCormick's Creek State Park
At McCormick's Creek State Park

Even though the Minolta is 17 years old and relies on a USB 1.0 interface, I got scans faster than I ever do from the Canon. This is in part because VueScan was able to accurately detect frames in the Minolta, and it can’t in the Canon for some reason. I have to painstakingly select each frame before scanning.

The Minolta scans are far sharper than the Canon scans straight off the scanner. No amount of Photoshopping can make the Canon scans look sharp, while a tiny bit of unsharp masking makes the Minolta scans look great.

This scanner’s native software doesn’t work with Windows 10. Fortunately, VueScan recognized this scanner instantly and was ready in seconds to make scans from it.

I kept going, this time with a strip of color film. This is Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, shot in my Olympus OM-2n using the 50mm f/3.5 Olympus Zuiko MC Auto-Macro lens. I sent this film to Fulltone Photo for developing and scanning. My scans from the Scan Dual II are first, and Fulltone’s scans are second. I adjusted VueScan’s settings as best I could but still got rather cool scans. So I adjusted white balance and a few other settings on them in Photoshop.

The Scan Dual II scans are not far better than the Fulltone scans. I rather prefer the color Fulltone delivered — but it could be that after all these years I’m just used to the color a lab’s Noritsu scanner delivers. Now that I’m looking at these again, the ScanDual scans might have a slight magenta cast, and removing it might help. Yet these scans are acceptable for the day I might choose to develop color film at home, or wish to rescan an old color negative.

Tree tunnel
Tree tunnel in autumn
Harvested
Harvested
Harvested by the barn
Barn in the harvested field
Abby and Amherst
Abby & Amherst

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Film Photography

Shooting the 50mm f/3.5 Olympus Zuiko MC Auto-Macro lens on the Olympus OM-2n

All of the major SLR manufacturers made close-focusing macro lenses in 50 or 55mm focal lengths with maximum apertures ranging from f/2.8 to f/4. They won’t replace a 50mm f/1.8 lens for low-light shooting, but they’re a fine choice for everyday photography in good light. Most of their focus range is toward the close end. For non-macro work, you can just focus these lenses to infinity and go.

Olympus’s 50mm macro lens comes in four variations. I’m pretty sure the optical design is identical among them.

  1. Marked Olympus OM-System Zuiko Auto-Macro 1:3.5 f=50mm, single coated, silver-tipped outer ring.
  2. Marked Olympus OM-System Zuiko Auto-Macro 1:3.5 f=50mm, single coated, black outer ring.
  3. Marked Olympus OM-System Zuiko MC Auto-Macro 1:3.5 f=50mm, multi-coated, black outer ring.
  4. Marked Olympus OM-System Zuiko Auto-Macro 50mm 1:3.5, multi-coated, black outer ring.
OM Zuiko MC Auto-Macro 1:3.5 f=50m

Until recently I owned three of these lenses: two of the third type and one of the fourth. I passed the latter along to its next owner recently. Of the two that remain, the first came from the father of an old friend and it’s in mint condition in a hard case. The second one came from a reader who donated a great deal of Olympus OM gear to me this year. This lens looks like it got a lot of use.

I mounted this lens onto my Olympus OM-2n and took it out on some of my last bike rides in October, and on some walks around the neighborhood after that. I shot Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 in it. Of course, it did lovely close work.

Leaves
Leaves
Rose

This lens tends to flare when you shoot into the sun. I rather like the effect in this photo.

Leaf flare

I enjoyed shooting other things with this lens because I could just leave it focused at infinity.

Barn in the harvested field
Suburban autumn
Autumn country road
Suburban autumn

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