Lady Liberty in miniature

The St. Joseph County Courthouse (full photo here) was built in South Bend in 1896. It’s the county’s third courthouse, all three of which stood on this spot. The first was a frame building, built in 1832. The second was built in 1855. When this one was built, the 1855 courthouse was moved thirty yards to the northwest, where it still stands. I shared a photo of its cupola with you a few years ago; see it here.

The twisted effect of this photo as you scan it from top to bottom both intrigues and infuriates me. Another shot I took with this camera on this trip has the same effect (see it here). Did I just shoot at a wacky angle twice in a row? Was it something about my gear? But I really like how my Nikon F2 and its 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens rendered the textures present here on Kodak T-Max 100 film.

Photography

Captured: Lady Liberty in miniature

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Photography

Captured: Abigail

Abigail

Nobody wanted Abigail, so my parents took her. It helped that she is a Lab mix; they had two Labs before her and they had come to love the breed. After their last Lab, Shadow, passed a few years ago I didn’t figure they’d get another dog due to advancing age. They didn’t either, they told me, but Abigail had the agreeable nature they like in dogs, and they hated to see her go homeless.

A black-and-white dog seemed like a great subject for the black-and-white film (Kodak T-Max 100) I had in my Nikon F2. I took this photo at my parents’ home against their pale gray carpet, which placed Abigail’s head in relief.

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Photography

Captured: Reflected in the bulbs

Reflected in the bulbs

In the last two weeks of 2013 I shot five rolls of film: two black-and-white and three color; four 35mm and one 120. I shot my Pentax ME, my Yashica-D, my Konica Autoreflex T3, my Nikon N65, and my Nikon F2. Oh, and I also shot half a pack of film in my new old Polaroid Colorpack II, for good measure. I’ll post about that eventually. I had a great time with every camera but the N65, with which I shot my family’s Christmas celebration. They can attest to the harsh words that escaped my lips when the stupid thing wouldn’t focus or wouldn’t fire at all because it didn’t trust me to know what I was doing with the available light. Argh! Anyone want an N65? Free to a good home. Warning: it’s a dreadful camera.

The F2 trusts me. It let me shoot this shot indoors, handheld, on relatively slow T-Max 100 film. There I am, reflected in the basket of colorful glass bulbs I keep on my coffee table every Christmas. Several old cameras lie about my house awaiting their test roll, and I’ll get to them – but in 2014 I will keep film in the F2 at all times. I want to get to know it better. And so I’ll be shooting with it a lot more.

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Camera Reviews

Nikon F2A

I now own one of the finest 35mm SLRs of all time and I’m dying to tell you about it. I’m going to try really hard not to gush.

A classic Nikon SLR has been on my want list for a long time, but they’re mighty expensive. I could see that to own one, I’d have to go well beyond my usual $50 limit. I thought perhaps I could get a Nikon FE and a prime lens for thrice that, if I were patient. I mentioned my FE desires in this post

I have a few readers who never comment, but instead occasionally e-mail me their thoughts. JR is one of those readers. When he read about my Nikon FE dreams, he wrote me and said, “If you want a truly mechanical Nikon SLR to shoot rather than a mostly mechanical Nikon SLR, I might have an F2 that I could be coaxed into donating.”

An F2? You mean the legendary professional SLR? The true system camera, with interchangeable focusing screens and viewfinder heads? A camera I never even considered because good examples go for so much more than my budget allows?

Yep. He shipped me a Nikon F2 body with its DP-11 Photomic viewfinder head, which features a coupled light meter. Nikon called this combination the F2A.

Nikon F2

I bought the 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor on eBay. I find that 50/2 lenses are great bargains, performing beautifully at prices far less than their faster (e.g., f/1.4) cousins.

Nikon F2

This is where I would normally tell the Nikon F2 story and explain how it works. But the F2 is arguably the most documented and discussed camera on the Internet. I have no new information to add, and no new angle from which to examine it. And it works pretty much like any other match-needle 35mm SLR, except that to activate the meter you pull the wind lever out a little bit.

But comparing the F2 to other SLRs feels like an injustice. The F2 is incredibly well built for pros who shoot constantly, year in and year out. The F2’s reliability is legendary. Also, it’s a true system camera. You start with the F2 body and add one of many viewfinder heads (see a list here) and focusing screens (see a list here). Then you choose from among several motor drives and flash systems, if you need them. You can even customize this camera for you. For example, are you a little farsighted? No problem; slip on an eyepiece with whatever level of correction you need.

By the way, if you’re a Nikon SLR fan, you might also enjoy my review of the F2AS (here), the N90s (here), the N2000 (here), the N60 (here), and the F3 (here). Or just have a look at all of my camera reviews here.

My F2 arrived with the gridded type-E focusing screen and the DP-11 viewfinder head. John warned me that the meter in the DP-11 was fussy, and he was right; I couldn’t ever get it to perfectly center, even with two fresh LR44 batteries. Thank goodness for the wide exposure latitude of Fujicolor 200, my go-to film for testing cameras. It made up for most of the meter’s sins, and Photoshop made up for the rest.

This isn’t the best shot I took, but it does show how blade-sharp this lens is. You can almost count the straws of hay in these rolls.

Hay rolls 3

This isn’t a very exciting composition, either – but just look at that great bokeh. It reminds me of an impressionistic painting.

Needles

This is my favorite shot from my test roll. I took the F2A along on a trip to Nashville, Indiana, a touristy town full of shops. I hung the heavy F2A around my neck. I was very aware of it all the time. But when I raised the camera to shoot, it seemed to disappear. It was simply an extension of my eye. Bliss!

Autumn garland

I took this available-light shot while my friend Dawn and I waited in line to get some ice cream. I’m really pleased with the warmth and detail this lens captured. You can almost feel the rough cut of the wooden walls.

To the Ice Cream House

Dawn lives on a farm; this is her neighbor’s horse.

Still grazing

The next time I shot the F2A I loaded some Kodak T-Max 100. Here’s my parents’ dog, Abigail.

Abigail

It was Christmastime. I made this selfie of sorts in a bowlful of glass bulb ornaments.

Reflected in the bulbs

This is the Palace Theater, aka the Morris Performing Arts Center, in my hometown of South Bend.

The Palace

See more photos in my Nikon F2A gallery.

There was one fault with this particular F2: the meter is jumpy. The needle never quite settles in the viewfinder, leaving me to guess a little as to whether I’ve got aperture and shutter speed right. As you can see I got good exposures, thanks to the exposure latitude of the films I used. But I should send this camera off for a CLA and a repair of the meter.

John said that “many are called, but few are chosen” to make the F2 their primary camera. I appear to be chosen; I loved using this camera.

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

Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

It’s not hard to find a Canon Canonet QL17 G-III – Canon made 1.2 million of them between 1972 and 1982, and I swear half of them are available on eBay at any given time. But try finding a working one for under $100! I was incredibly fortunate to stumble upon one for just $30. It wasn’t flawless but it worked well enough.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

According to the code stamped inside, my QL17 G-III was made in 1977. It’s dented in one corner and the rangefinder glass has a small crack in it, so this one’s clearly seen a bit of rough usage.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

Every part of this camera’s long name means something:

  • QL stands for Quick Loading, a clever system that made loading film fast and foolproof (though I must be a sufficiently talented fool, because I managed to goober it up; more on that later)
  • 17 refers to the six-element 40 mm f/1.7 lens, highly praised for its “Leica-like” sharpness and ability to focus as close as 2.6 feet
  • G means “grade up” and recognizes quality improvements over an earlier Canonet QL17
  • III represents the third (and final) generation of Canonets; see them all at Canon’s online museum

The QL17 G-III overflows with goodies. Its very quiet leaf shutter fires from 1/4 to 1/500 second (though mine seems to stick at the slowest speeds). If you plug Canon’s Canolite D flash into its hot shoe, it syncs at all shutter speeds. Its viewfinder compensates for parallax. It has a self timer. And, most enjoyably, when you set the aperture dial to A and choose a shutter speed, it selects the aperture for you – shutter-priority autoexposure. Its CdS light meter is designed to use the banned PX625 mercury battery, but a size 625 Wein cell zinc-air battery will do, despite the slight voltage difference. To see if the battery has any juice left, press the red button next to the viewfinder. If the blue dot lights, the battery’s good to go.

By the way, if you like 35mm rangefinder cameras also see my review of the Canonet 28 (here), the Yashica Electro 35 GSN (here), the Minolta Hi-Matic 7 (here), the Olympus XA (here), and the Konica Auto S2 (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

I itched mightily to shoot a roll of film with my Canonet and see what kind of results I could get from the highly regarded lens. So I stopped at a nearby camera store for a size 625 Wein cell (for $8, gack), dropped in a roll of Fujicolor 200, and went shooting.

I was shooting happily away when I noticed that the counter said 29 – on a 24-exposure roll. I hadn’t stuck the film’s leader into the quick-loading mechanism far enough, the film failed to wind, and I had exposed the leader 29 times. After I reloaded, I snapped this shot.

Hoch lebe Deutschland!

The rumors are true: this is a nice little camera. The winding lever worked easily and quickly. Inside the viewfinder, the yellow rangefinder spot was bright and easy to see. To focus, you move the focus ring until the yellow rangefinder image lines up with the viewfinder image. I especially liked how the focus ring has a little tab that falls right between your left index and middle finger as you shoot; it made focusing almost effortless. I found myself focusing without even realizing I was doing it, as if the camera was part of me.

Gracie

Sadly, the light seals had deteriorated and were leaking light. It’s a common affliction with any old camera that uses foam seals, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. I love this portrait of my dog, Gracie, and am sad that the red streaks mar it.

St. Joseph River bridge, South Bend

My only quibble with the Canonet is its shutter button, which has more travel than I expect. On my first roll I was constantly pressing down to no result. I kept having to reposition my finger at a steeper angle and press again.

James Monroe School

I loaded some Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros on a trip to my hometown of South Bend, where I photographed my old elementary school. By this time I was getting the hang of the shutter button.

Monon Bridge

The Monon bridge in Broad Ripple, Indianapolis, is a frequent subject. The lens and Acros liked this bridge fine.

Untitled

The Canonet did a nice job capturing the details on T-Max 100 of this scene in a little West Virginia town.

Griffith

I finished the T-Max near home, where it kept on delivering the detail and sharpness. The Canonet’s lens really is a peach.

Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park *EXPLORED*

I finally sent the Canonet off for an overhaul and to have its light seals replaced. It came back working very well. I pushed a couple rolls of Agfa Vista 200 through it and got some real gems, like this lakeside scene.

At Coxhall Gardens

By this time, however, I’d owned the Canonet for many years and had shifted my collection toward 35mm SLRs. The Canonet was still a lovely little camera, but I could see that it was never going to be in the rotation among my regular shooters.

Lit balls

So I took it on one last photowalk in Downtown Indianapolis, and then sold it on.

The Claddagh

If you’d like to see more from this camera, check out my Canonet QL17 G-III gallery.

It’s crazy that I own so many great cameras that the QL17 G-III didn’t make the cut. Please don’t take this as a negative review. If this Canonet could be my only camera, I’d get on with making beautiful images with it forever. It’s just lovely, and if you ever find one at a good price you should snap it up.

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