Scenes from the American Sign Museum

HoJo’s
Pentax ME
50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

Could this have been my favorite sign in the American Sign Museum?

50mm was too confining a focal length in the museum’s tight spaces. I couldn’t back up far enough to get most scenes in. So I had to work within the constraint, using strategic framing and finding dramatic angles.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: HoJo’s

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Scenes from the American Sign Museum

Neonpallooza
Pentax ME
50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

The neon was out in force at the American Sign Museum!

Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Neonpallooza

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Scenes from the American Sign Museum

Glass-letter signs
Pentax ME
50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

I took the Pentax ME along on my Cincinnati spring break trip with Garrett. I have always wanted to shoot serious neon on film, and the American Sign Museum surely gave me a great opportunity.

But of course these signs aren’t neon. The letters are all backlit glass. Such signs preceded the neon era.

Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Glass-letter signs

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Ansco Box

Ansco box
Minolta Maxxum 9xi, 50mm f/1.7 Maxxum AF
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400
2016

Photography
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Camera Reviews

Minolta AF-Sv (Talker)

Check distance! Too dark, use flash! Load film! This camera barks orders and warnings at you when you’re about to screw up. It’s the Minolta AF-Sv, also sold as the Minolta Talker.

Produced in about 1983-85, it was the first camera to include a voice chip. It called you out when there was no film in the camera, when you needed to turn on the flash, and when the subject was too far away to be lit by the flash. Its voice is female, quick, clipped; I can’t place its accent. It’s supposed to say the three things I listed in my opening paragraph, but “Too dahk! Use flash!” is all I could make it say. And then it let me take the picture anyway.

This is a pretty reasonably specified 35mm point-and-shoot camera, beginning with its 35mm, f2.8 lens. It takes film from ISO 25 to 1000, which you set by rotating a dial around the lens.

It includes a pop-up flash and self-timer, as well as a lens/body cap attached to the bottom by a cord. It winds and rewinds the film automatically. It’s all powered by a common AA battery.

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If you like point-and-shoot cameras, I’ve reviewed several others: the Kodak VR35 K40 (here), the Pentax IQZoom EZY (here), the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here), and the Olympus Stylus (here). Or you can just check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded some good old Fujicolor 200 to test this camera that talks with a sharp accent.

And I was impressed with the results. Sharp! Colorful! But dark. Some of that might be because every time I shot it, I was on an evening walk. But even in full sun, there was a darkness about the images. Fortunately, easy adjustments in Photoshop brought out the shadow details and deepened the colors. Wowee wow!

Golden fence

Just look at how this camera resolved the light and shaded areas in this photograph! Yes, the shaded area was darker before I processed the scan, but the shadow detail was all there.

Fairway

Autofocus worked great. Whatever I aimed it at within its autofocus range, it resolved perfectly. I gather that the AF-Sv has three focus settings, and it uses phase detection to determine which zone to use. It’s fast and silent — so much so, you might mistakenly think the AF-Sv is a fixed-focus camera.

Flowers

Here’s the chapel on the cemetery grounds near my house. I found it open and deserted this evening.

In the chapel

And here’s the church on the main road across from my subdivision. Everywhere I aimed this camera, it returned good color and clarity and sensitive resolution of both light and dark areas. My only complaint is that highlights were sometimes a little blown out.

Eastern Star Church

I reach the cemetery by walking through the church’s parking lot; the two are adjacent. A replica of the Liberty Bell is on the cemetery grounds, under this housing.

Bell housing

On another outing with this camera I loaded Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, thinking it would give the AF-Sv more room to breathe. Then I took it out on a gloomy day and got the same dark results.

Artsgarden

Even on a sunny day, shadow detail was poor.

Downtown Lafayette

Sharpness and color were good, however, on this stroll along Main Street in Lafayette, Indiana.

Lafayette Theater

The 35mm lens sure was nice for taking in the view, such as down this alley.

Down a Lafayette alley

The trick with the AF-SV, then, is to give it really good, even light. If you think you can always give it that, by all means, pick one up when you find one.

Your face here

See more from my test roll in my Minolta AF-Sv gallery.

The AF-Sv is a mixed bag. When it hits, it hits big, rivaling some of my big rangefinder cameras for image quality. Yet it struggles so in the shadows and in dim light.

But nuts to the AF-Sv’s useless voice. Fortunately, there’s a switch on the back that shushes it.

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

Minolta Maxxum 9xi

After owning two Minolta Maxxum 7000 bodies that broke, I went looking for a working Maxxum body so I could put my two A-mount lenses through their paces. Then Sam over at Camera Legend profiled the mighty Minolta Maxxum 9xi — and pointed to a place where I could pick up a body for $22 shipped. That’s my kind of price! So I scooped it right up.

Minolta Maxxum 9xi

The 9xi was Maxxum in the US, a Dynax in Europe, and an α in Japan, but wherever it was sold upon its 1992 introduction, it was a hugely advanced camera for pros. It is a beast. Don’t let the plastic exterior fool you: the frame and mirror box are metal. You could drop this thing off a building and probably get right back to shooting. And it’s heavy. I’ll bet it weighs more than my Nikon F2.

Minolta Maxxum 9xi

It might also be the most technologically advanced camera I’ve ever owned. Its carbon-fiber reinforced shutter operates from 30 sec down to — are you ready for this? — 1/12,000 sec! Its four-sensor autofocus mechanism tries to predict subject movement horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. Autofocus activates, oh my gosh the voodoo, when you place your eye to the viewfinder. The 9xi also features a sophisticated a 14-segment honeycomb metering pattern. And all the information about your shot projects into the viewfinder using a transparent LCD technology. A flash isn’t built in, but compatible external flashes can be controlled remotely and sync up to 1/300 sec.

Minolta Maxxum 9xi

See that little door on the right, under the FUNC button? Open it to access extra controls for things like setting ISO and rewinding the fim — and to insert “creative cards,” which Minolta sold to add new creative shooting modes to the camera. They didn’t sell well; the pro photographers who could afford this expensive camera didn’t need them.

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By the way, if you like powerful auto-everything SLRs like this, check out my reviews of the Nikon N90s (here) and Canon EOS A2e (here). You might also enjoy my reviews of the Minolta Maxxum 7000 (here), Nikon N8008 (here), and Canon EOS Rebel (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

I had a 2CR5 battery lying around so I dropped it in, spooled in a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, clipped on my 50mm f/1.7 Maxxum AF lens, and went out whenever the weather allowed late in the winter. I had the best luck at Bethel Cemetery.

McCurdy

One thing I really appreciated about the 9xi was its viewfinder’s built-in diopter correction. I’ve reached that age where I need to carry reading glasses with me, but I’m resisting. I also really appreciated the knurled wheel right in front of the shutter button. It moves you through valid aperture and shutter speed combinations given how the camera read exposure. I used it to set the shutter at 1/12,000 sec for this shot just to see what happened. That’s some reasonable bokeh from that lens.

Stone

I put the 9xi on a tripod for this shot of my to-be-reviewed Ansco B-2 Cadet. Even with every light on and the blinds open, there wasn’t enough light to give me a wider in-focus patch.

Ansco Box

This lens gives good definition and sharpness. I wasn’t wowed by the contrast — the miniblind shadow on the wall was much stronger in real life — but that could be the film as much as the lens.

Tree In the House

I didn’t feel like I’d wrung the camera out yet, so I loaded a roll of Kodak Max Versatility 400 (expired, cold stored), clipped on my 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5 Minolta AF Zoom, and kept going. That lens, by the way, came in the kit with many consumer-grade Maxxums. Ho-lee-cow was there ever barrel distortion, especially at 35mm. Thankfully, it was easily fixed in Photoshop. I shot most of the roll Downtown, beginning along Massachusetts Avenue.

Tattered Paqer Can Transform Into Sky

When I moved to Indianapolis in the mid-1990s, Mass Ave (as we call it) wasn’t much. A couple galleries, a couple restaurants, a whole bunch of decay. It’s been transformed into a happening place to be. These shots don’t show much of it, though, especially this detail shot of some planters next to a new condo building.

Yellow bowls

Margaret and I strolled through Lockerbie, an old Downtown neighborhood near Mass Ave. We both love to take in historic architecture. Lockerbie is just charming. Margaret and I have talked about moving Downtown together, but somehow I doubt we’d be willing to pay what it costs to live in this very popular neighborhood.

Lockerbie home

The more I shot the 9xi, the more out of love I fell with it. The tactile experience was just unremarkable. It was going to need to blow my socks off to offset the camera’s size and weight.

In Lockerbie

I finished the roll by driving down Michigan Road a little ways from my house to snap this building, which is on the southwest corner of Cold Spring Road. I’ve always wondered about its story; there’s a large house behind it on the property. For reasons I can’t fathom, this photo was featured on Flickr’s Explore. It’s far from the best shot on the roll.

House on Cold Spring Road *EXPLORED*

See more from this camera in my Minolta Maxxum 9xi gallery.

The Minolta Maxxum 9xi sparks no joy. It is just a heavy lump that does a job. In contrast, whenever I pick up, say, my Nikon N90s, I feel a strong emotional connection with the instrument and finish each roll of film feeling a certain satisfaction. I want that satisfaction in any camera that stays in my collection.

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