What’s left of the St. Paul Building Aires Viscount Ilford HP5 Plus LegacyPro L110, Dilution B 2021
Some years ago Margaret and I visited Manhattan. We walked from our hotel on 56th St. near Central Park, out to the Hudson River and then south along the walking paths all the way to the World Trade Center and the Financial District. We lingered at St. Paul’s Chapel and its memorial to 9/11. Read about it here.
From 1898 to 1958, an early skyscraper named after the chapel stood across the street. The St. Paul Building had 26 stories and was 315 feet tall — and was regarded by many as ungainly, even ugly. Few tears were shed upon its demolition.
This is its facade. Look closely, and you can just make out ghost letters spelling ST. PAUL BUILDING over its columns. It stands in Holliday Park, a large, lovely park on the Northside of Indianapolis. It’s part of an installation called The Ruins, which recently completed a renovation.
When you think of Japanese 35mm rangefinder cameras from the 1950s and 1960s, names like Canon, Yashica, Konica, and Minolta come to mind. But the Aires Camera Industries Company made a series of well-regarded rangefinder cameras in the 1950s, as well. The 1959 Aires Viscount was one of the last the company made before it went out of business.
Looking at this camera’s specs, two things stand out: its fast 45mm f/1.9 lens, and its fairly fast 1/500 top shutter speed. Not bad for a leaf shutter (a Seikosha-SLV, to be precise). Other than that, the Viscount is fairly simple. It focuses from 2.67 feet (.8 meters) to infinity. There’s a frame counter above the winding lever on the top plate. There’s an accessory shoe. This camera is all mechanical and has no onboard light meter, so you don’t need a battery to operate it.
An 85mm accessory lens was available; it screwed into the filter threads. If you look into the viewfinder, you’ll see two full frames, an outer one for the attached 45mm lens and an inner one in red for the 85mm accessory lens. (Amusingly, they used a red filter to color the inner frame, and the one in my Viscount has slipped out of position.) There are also marks on the outer frame to correct for parallax when you focus within 3½ feet. A rectangular rangefinder patch is in the middle of the viewfinder.
Setting aperture and shutter speed takes a little getting used to, and it’s the one thing that keeps the Viscount from being a thorough pleasure to use. The aperture ring is at the end of the lens barrel. An exposure value (EV) ring is behind it, and the shutter-speed ring is behind that. The aperture ring turns independently. The EV and shutter-speed rings turn together, however, and when you turn them it’s difficult to not also turn the aperture ring at the same time. The Viscount biases toward using EV for exposure. I don’t naturally think in EVs, so I set the shutter speed first, and then aperture. Sometimes I reached the end of the EV scale before I reached the shutter speed I wanted. When this happens, I turned the aperture ring the opposite direction enough stops to let me reach my shutter speed.
The Viscount is heavy and solidly built. It’s a hair taller but noticeably narrower than a standard Japanese rangefinder from the 60s, such as my Konica Auto S2. The Viscount’s body design is less modern, but the S2 is six years newer. I hear that the Viscount has pot metal parts inside, but the camera has a reputation for sturdiness and reliability.
All of Aires’ cameras did. It’s a shame the company’s life was so short: it was founded in the late 1940s and was gone by 1960. It made TLRs at first, but shifted to 35mm rangefinders and stayed there through the rest of its short life.
If you like rangefinder cameras, then check out my reviews of the aforementioned Konica Auto S2 (here), as well as the Yashica MG-1 (here), Electro 35 GSN (here), and Lynx 14e (here); the Minolta Hi-Matic 7 (here), the Argus C3 (here), the Kodak Retina IIa (here) and IIc (here), the Canon Canonet 28 (here) and QL17 G-III (here), and the tiny Olympus XA (here).
My Viscount was donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, and it was filthy. I assumed it would be broken. But it cleaned up nicely (except for a couple odd spots of corrosion on the front of the lens barrel) and it functioned. The slowest shutter speeds were clearly running long, but the speeds above about 1/8 second sounded right, to the extent my ears are any judge of a shutter.
That shutter is nearly silent! It makes only a tiny snick sound as it fires. The shutter button has a satisfying, almost luxurious feel. The shutter fires at almost the top of the travel, but if you stop there you won’t be able to wind. Press the button all the way down to release the wind lever.
The rangefinder on mine isn’t reliable. The patch is dim, and sometimes the rangefinder image doesn’t appear. I found that pressing my finger into the golden glass area on the front of the camera, and moving that glass around a little, eventually fixes the problem — for a while.
The focus ring has a big pip on it that’s supposed to aid focusing, but I always struggled to find it while my eye was at the viewfinder.
I tested this Aires Viscount with a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus, using a meter app on my iPhone to read the light. I developed the roll in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B, and scanned the negatives on my Minolta ScanDual II.
The Viscount came with me to Holliday Park in Indianapolis, a place I’ve tested many cameras. I go there less now than I used to since I moved to the suburbs. But on this day I had an appointment nearby, and brought the Viscount along.
Temperatures were in the 40s, too chilly for many of my old cameras, but not the Viscount. I wonder if it would work as well as temperatures approach freezing. It’s good to have a few old cameras I can use even in cold weather.
The negatives looked a little dense, which led to low-contrast scans. I had to heavily boost contrast in Photoshop to avoid these images looking flat and lifeless. But the lens delivered good sharpness and detail.
Framing was easy enough with the Viscount, even up close with the parallax-correction marks. Every frame contained what I framed in the viewfinder, and nothing more.
I also made a few photos along Lafayette Road on the way home from an errand. The great Wrecks, Inc., sign is a frequent subject. Notice that the left third or so of the frame is lighter than the rest of the image. This happened on two other images. I wonder if there’s some sort of light leak. The Viscount doesn’t have foam seals, but rather relies on deep channels around the door to block light. So I’m not sure where light would get in.
But this camera has been on a collector’s shelf, unused, for many years. It’s a testament to how hardy Aires made its cameras that this Viscount works this well after more than 60 years.
The Aires Viscount was a pleasant surprise. It’s pleasant to use and packs a good lens. If you require an onboard light meter, it’s not for you. Otherwise, it contends very well with any 35mm rangefinder camera from the 1950s and 1960s and is worth your consideration.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
Wet winter street Minolta Maxxum HTsi 35-80mm f/4-5.6 Minolta Maxxum Zoom Ilford HP5 Plus LegacyPro L110, Dilution B 2021
I made this photo just a few weeks ago, and now it’s essentially spring. This same scene is dry, with grass greening up, daffodils and crocus in bloom, and buds appearing on the trees.
We have a saying in Indiana. Maybe you have a similar one where you are. “If you don’t like the weather here, wait five minutes.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The lens doesn’t offer a macro mode but it did all right when you moved in as close as it could focus.
I enjoyed using this camera, plain and simple. It just worked. What more can you want?
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! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
At last, we reach the end of Operation Thin the Herd. In this project I’ve sold or given away dozens of cameras, keeping only those I’ll use regularly. Some cameras were a no-brainer to either keep or let go. Others I needed to put one or two more rolls of film through to help me decide. When I did, I shared the photos and my thoughts here. You can see all of my Operation Thin the Herd posts here.
I’ve put off evaluating my Kodak Monitor Six-20, which is why it’s last. Putting film through it might show me that I’m in love with the idea of this camera far more than with the camera itself. I haven’t wanted to find out.
I was smitten with the Monitor from the time I first saw one on Mike Connealy’s site. Not just any Monitor, mind, but this one, with the 101mm f/4.5 Anastigmat Special lens. It’s a gorgeous camera, and Mike always coaxed such beautiful photographs from his. I wanted in on the action. No matter that I had sworn off cameras that take out-of-production 620 film, as the Monitor does. I prowled eBay until I found one in good condition at a good price.
Here’s a photo from one of the first rolls I shot. It’s not smart to test an old camera with expensive slide film, but I did it anyway. This is Kodak Ektachrome E100G.
I used the Monitor again about a year later on a trip to Bridgeton. I shot expired Kodak Gold 200 in 620 from the mid 1990s, at the end of 620 production. The lab I sent the film to accidentally developed it in black and white.
I used the Monitor only a few times in the first two years I owned it, and then not again until last November, seven long years later. One reason is that 620 film is expensive to buy expired or hand-spooled fresh, and I wasn’t interested in learning to hand spool my own. But the main reason is that the shutter button doesn’t trip the shutter. The button connects to a series of levers and rods that reach around behind the lens, where the actual shutter release is. They don’t connect properly, and I can’t figure out how to fix it. The only way to fire the shutter is to stick a finger in there. What a pain.
But oh, what a beautiful camera this is! I mounted it on an vintage Kodak metal tripod and displayed it in my living room so I could look at it every day. I kept it there until I moved a few years ago.
I couldn’t put off evaluating my Monitor any longer, so I got it out — and found that its shutter wasn’t working right. No matter the speed I set, the shutter operated at what sounded like the same speed. Mike Connealy advised me to carefully drip a little lighter fluid into the shutter-cable socket and into the cock-lever crevice and fire the shutter at several speeds. Worked like a charm.
Now that I develop my own film and am comfortable working in a dark bag, I tried respooling 120 film onto a 620 spool. It was easy! I had Ilford FP4 Plus on hand, so that’s what I used. I developed it for eight minutes at 20° C in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B (1+31).
It’s hard to level the scene in the Monitor’s tiny brilliant viewfinder. It’s easier in the pop-up “sports” finder, but that finder works best for landscape-oriented photos. But just look at the sharp detail the Anastigmat Special lens captured in this cockeyed photo. The white area on the left is light that leaked onto the end of the roll as it sat on my desk, undeveloped, for far too long.
Given how I have to fire the shutter, I’m surprised I didn’t get my finger in the lens more often than just this one time. I was trying to be creative here by standing the Monitor on its side on the pavement. I forget what aperture and shutter speed I used, probably f/8 and 1/100, but it wasn’t enough to get the depth of field this photograph needed.
I managed to get a few error-free photos on this roll, like the one below and the one at the top of this post. Handled with care, the Monitor delivers!
I decided the Monitor deserved more time in evaluation. By this time the weather had turned chilly and gray, making faster film necessary. I respooled a roll of ISO 400 Ilford HP5 Plus onto a spare 620 spool and loaded it into the Monitor. I developed it for five minutes at 20° C in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B (1+31).
One of the things I like about the Monitor is its 1/400 top shutter speed. So many of the folders I’ve owned top out at 1/100 or thereabouts. 1/400 lets me shoot faster films even on sunny days.
COVID-19 kept me close to home, so I returned to familiar subjects. I have shot the back of this Lowe’s reflecting into that retention pond probably 20 times this year. I think there’s an interesting composition in this scene but I haven’t nailed it yet.
On this roll, a few shots suffered from a light spot in the upper center. Is it a light leak? Is it a shutter fault?
Now I come to the moment of truth: does my Kodak Monitor stay, or does it go?
By the end of my second roll, I’d become fully annoyed with how I have to fire the shutter. It made the rest of the cameras’ limitations more annoying, especially that tiny brilliant viewfinder. The pop-up sports viewfinder eases framing on landscape-oriented photos, at least.
Yet I’m still smitten with this camera. As you can see in these photographs, its lens renders good sharpness and contrast. While I wouldn’t choose any old folder as a primary camera, sometimes it’s nice to let one slow you down as much as they do. This one offers great flexibility given its fast shutter and sort-of fast (f/4.5) lens. And this Monitor remains a beautiful camera.
My Monitor needs a CLA. I can’t evaluate it fairly until it functions properly. Unfortunately, many of my other cameras are ahead of it in the repair/CLA queue: my Nikon F2AS, my Pentax KM, my Pentax ME-F, and my Yashica Lynx 14e. I know exactly who I’ll send these four cameras to (Sover Wong for the F2, Eric Hendrickson for the Pentaxes, Mark Hama for the Yashica). But who restores old Kodak folders? Maybe Jurgen, better known as Certo6, would take it on? If you have any ideas, let me know in the comments.