Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

What’s the best film camera to start with?

Every time I see a post about the best first film camera, the comments pile on. So many different, strong opinions. So many of them recommend a mechanical, manual SLR like the Pentax K1000 or the Minolta SR-T 101.

I think that’s a terrible place for a newbie to start. There’s so much to learn about exposure to use a camera like that. It’s a barrier that could turn a budding film photographer away.

Instead, buy an auto-everything 35mm SLR from late in the film era, around the turn of the century. My favorites are the Nikon N-series cameras, like the N55, N60, and N65. Get one with a lens already attached, preferably a Nikon Nikkor. A 28-80mm zoom lens is common and still useful. You can buy kits like these for $30 on eBay every day. (Read my post here about how to buy film gear on eBay.)

Nikon N65

There are some risks. Any used camera could have issues. But I choose these N-series cameras because, in my experience, unless one has been abused it is likely to work reliably.

The other reason I recommend these cameras is that when you twist the big dial atop the camera to Auto, you have a giant point-and-shoot camera. You’ll easily get great first results.

Nikon N65

If you try one only to realize that film photography isn’t for you, you’re out very little money. You can probably sell the kit to someone else for what you paid for it!

If you find you like shooting film, keep going with this auto-everything SLR until you feel like you’ve mastered it. Then try a mechanical, manual camera like that K1000 (more info here) or SR-T 101 (more info here).

Here are some photos I made with my Nikon N60 and N65 with my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6-G AF Nikkor lens, a common one to find with these cameras. I used everyday color films: Fujicolor 200 and Kodak Gold 200, which you can still buy at the drug store. I walked up, twisted the lens barrel to zoom in on the scene, and pressed the button. (My wife shot the last one.) That’s all there is to it.

Red house
Goals
Story Inn
A portrait of the photographer

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Photography

Still more 35mm color scans from ScanGear on the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II

Lab scans of 35mm color negatives are miracles. Any lab I routinely use reliably sends me crackerjack digital images.

Getting usable scans from my CanoScan 9000F Mark II via its ScanGear software, on the other hand, is a lot of work involving a number of subjective choices in scanning and post-processing.

I used to think that the colors I got back from the lab were the film’s true colors. I see now how much of that is in the scanner settings, and that I don’t actually know how any film I typically use renders color.

The improvements I made this time were to scan to lossless TIFF files, and to turn off ScanGear’s Image Adjustment setting (which I had overlooked when turning off all the other image-enhancement settings). It helped? I think?

Here’s my scan of a photo I made on Kodak Gold 200 with my Olympus OM-1 and a 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro lens. There’s a little of that mottling in the blue sky that I keep trying to prevent. But it’s not as bad as in previous scans.

Roberts Camera scanned this film when I had them process it. It’s a touch brighter than my scan. The sky has a slight turquoise tint and lacks any mottling. Otherwise, either scan is fine.

North and Maple

Here’s my scan of a butterfly pausing over this flower. Notice how purple the flowers in the background are.

Roberts made those same flowers quite pink, but brought out the detail lurking in the butterfly’s wings.

Butterfly

I also tried scanning some Kodak Ektar 100 I shot in my Pentax Spotmatic F with a 35mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar lens.

Here’s Robert’s Camera’s scan. They got richer colors than I did, although I’d say the sky in mine looks more realistic. The green tint on the right edge of my scan is clearly an artifact of the negative that Robert’s somehow edited out.

Around Zionsville

I walked over to the building to make this close shot. My scan:

Roberts Camera’s scan got a richer red, but my scan offers better highlight detail.

Around Zionsville

It was so much easier when I accepted whatever color I got from my lab scans, as if they were the final word on film and lens. Now I’m suspicious of every scan, because of all the choices it represents. Is it possible that the only way to truly know what colors are in a negative is to make a darkroom print?

This, by the way, is the last in this series of experiments. I’ve learned what I need to. I get good enough black-and-white scans now to start processing and scanning black-and-white film, which was my goal. Now that I work Downtown in Indianapolis, eight blocks from Roberts Camera and their C41 lab, I’m likely to have them process and scan my 35mm color negative film. They charge just $10.

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Photography

Construction at North and Maple

When you test as many old cameras as I do, you tend to shoot the same subjects a lot. But this one kept changing — because it was being built.

Construction
Nikon N90s, 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6G AF Nikkor, Agfa CT Precisa (x-1/2006, xpro)

This was going to be apartments and retail spaces, and it filled an entire city block in downtown Fishers.

North and Maple
Minolta Hi-Matic 7, Kodak Tri-X 400

The views are all a little different even though I stood at the same place to make these photos. Focal length, film, and available light all differed.

North and Maple
Olympus OM-1, 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto-Macro, Kodak Gold 200

As you can see, construction was well along on that last shot. I’ll bet it’s completed now. But I don’t work over that way anymore so this is all you get!

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Cross this bridge at a walk

Cross this bridge at a walk
Kodak Monitor Six-20 Anastigmat Special
Kodak Gold 200 (expired)
2013

I won’t soon forget the day I made this photograph. Margaret and I were still dating, and I took her to Bridgeton to see the bridge.

Bridgeton had always been a private place for me, a place I go when life has knocked me around hard and I need to reconnect with the good in the world. At first it was because the people of Bridgeton had kept the original 1868 bridge in good repair. Later it was because after arson destroyed that bridge, those same people rallied to build a new bridge.

It was this day I shared this little piece of my heart with her. Funny it felt that way, because some years before I told the world about Bridgeton on this blog here.

It was a truly lovely day. Margaret packed a light picnic lunch, which we shared on a grassy area alongside the bridge. She asked a passerby to photograph us with another film camera I had along. I can’t find that photograph!

If you’re wondering why this photo on Kodak Gold 200 is in black and white, it’s because Dwayne’s processed it in black-and-white chemicals by mistake. On this photo, at least, it worked out fine.

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Film Photography

single frame: Cross this bridge at a walk

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Olympus OM-1

Butterfly

Why have I not used my Olympus OM-1 more? This is such a wonderful camera — compact, precise, capable. It sparked the SLR fever that has so heavily influenced my collection. Could my subsequent SLR promiscuity simply have kept me from loving this camera fully?

Olympus OM-1

Probably. But I also know I’ve hedged on using it because I never got used to setting shutter speed on the lens barrel. What a wealth of great gear I have that this one little thing led me to favor other SLRs. But really, this is my only gripe. The OM-1 otherwise feels like a luxury item in my hands. Everything about this camera oozes excellence.

Peppy Grill

I own two OM-1 bodies, this minty silver-topped body (review here) and a slightly worn all-black body (review here). I made the above shot with the silver top on Kodak BW400CN, and the shot below with the black top on Fujicolor 200, both with the 50mm f/1.8 F.Zuiko lens.

Schwinn Collegiate

While I shot the silver-topped one this time, I’m including both bodies in this evaluation. They both stay or they both go. These cameras came to me with a bunch of lenses from the father of a dear friend, and I want his whole kit to be a single unit. With that, I mounted the close-focusing 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro lens that came with the kit, dropped in some Kodak Gold 200, and went looking for little flowers to shoot. I don’t know why this little blue chicory flower came out purple, but I don’t care, I love the photo.

Chicory

I made these photos as summer was ending. There were plenty of little flowers left to photograph.

Fall flowers

I even moved in close to this railroad spike on some abandoned tracks. I love the colors this lens picked up in the blurred background. I’m not sure my Pentax or Nikon lenses would have seen them.

Rail nail

You can use a macro lens for normal work, too. This one acquitted itself well.

L O V E

The 50/1.8 and the 50/3.5 Auto Macro were the only Olympus Zuiko lenses in the kit. He also owned a 70-150mm f/3.8 Vivitar Close Focusing Auto Zoom, a 100mm f/4 Portragon, and a big 500mm f/8 Spiratone Mintel-M mirror lens. I’d never shot some of these lenses, so I tried them this time on a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. First, here’s a big green highway sign that is about a half mile away from where I was standing. I had to put the camera on a tripod to steady it enough for this shot, which shows the 500mm Spiratone’s resolving power. Which is only okay, by the way. But in its day it was an inexpensive way to get a long lens.

East

Spiratone was a mail-order house for inexpensive photographic accessories. The 100mm Portragon lens is also a Spiratone product. It was meant for portraits, obviously, but I didn’t have anybody handy so I just shot stuff with it. It created an out-of-focus effect around the center of the image. The best of my Portragon shots was of this Subie’s snout.

Subie snout

I finished off the roll with the 50/1.8. I placed the OM-1 on my tripod, set the self-timer, and got this photo of me in our front yard.

Posed under the tree

Finally, I moved in close to these blue seed balls for one last 50/1.8 photo.

Blue ballies

To see more work from this camera, check out my Olympus OM-1 gallery.

The OM-1 almost makes up for its awkward shutter-speed ring by placing a rewind release on the camera’s front. You turn it to the side and then crank to rewind. Most SLRs place a release button on the camera bottom, and in most cases you have to hold that button in the entire time you’re rewinding. It’s awkward. The OM-1’s system is so easy in contrast.

While I’m going to focus the SLR portion of my collection on Pentax and Nikon, I won’t part with my OM-1s. I feel like I’m this kit’s chosen steward. And they’re just so lovely to use, weird shutter-speed ring notwithstanding. And so this gear stays in my collection.

Verdict: Keep

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Pink and white, the sequel

Pink and white flowers
Canon TLb, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C.
Kodak Gold 200 (at EI 100)
2018

Do you ever get tired of flower photos? I sure don’t get tired of taking them. I like to get in close with my camera and really look at the blooms.

I prefer to photograph wild flowers by the roadside, but sometimes I make do with cultivated flowers in professionally landscaped beds. As here.

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Film Photography

single frame: Pink and white flowers

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