Film Photography

In belated praise of Kodak Gold 200

In case you haven’t heard, the Agfa Vista line of color films has been discontinued. They were manufactured by Fujifilm, which has axed one film stock after another in recent years. At the rate they’re killing stocks, it would not surprise me if they soon exit the rollfilm business.

Agfa Vista 200 is said to have been the same stock as Fujicolor 200. I’ve shot miles of this film under both labels and they look the same to me. It is the color print film I shoot most often by far. It performs well enough for the everyday shooting I do while being inexpensive and easy to get. I can drive to my nearby big-box store right now and buy a four-pack of Fujicolor 200 for about $12.

Its potential demise provokes some anxiety. What will I do when it’s gone?

Switch to Kodak Gold 200, that’s what. It’s nearly as available and only slightly more expensive. It’s just as good.

I’ve only just decided that. For years I strongly preferred Fujicolor’s look, probably because I’m used to it. But when I take those goggles off and look objectively at the photos I’ve made on Kodak Gold 200 I find many that really please me. This is a fine everyday color film. Have a look:

Red house

Nikon N60, AF Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013

Foodliner

Nikon N60, AF Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013

Downtown Cambridge City

Canon TLb, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C., Kodak Gold 200, 2015

Jugs

Canon TLb, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C., Kodak Gold 200, 2015

Allied Van Lines

Canon TLb, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C., Kodak Gold 200, 2015

The Pyramids

Konica Auto S2, Kodak Gold 200, 2016

My neighbor's house

Olympus Stylus, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013

Bridge at IMA

Olympus Stylus, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013

Flo's

Pentax H3, 55mm f/2 Super Takumar, Kodak Gold 200, 2016

At Juan Solomon Park

Kodak Retina IIc, Kodak Gold 200, 2017

Depot

Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Gold 200, 2017

Margaret

Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Gold 200, 2017

Grilling out

Kodak Retina Automatic III, Kodak Gold 200, 2017

North United Methodist

Voigtländer Vito II, Kodak Gold 200, 2015

Fujifilm, do what you will. Kodak Alaris appears to be committed to roll film. I’ll switch to Kodak Gold 200 and not look back.

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Kodak Six-20

f/6.3
Canon PowerShot S80
2010

Just a little camera pr0n, of my Kodak Six-20’s lens assembly. I’ve been looking through old photos lately and this one struck my fancy when I came upon it. This vest-pocket-sized folding camera has lovely Art Deco details on its body.

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Collecting Cameras, Photography

single frame: f/6.3

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak VR35 K40

Lafayette alley

I knew as I loaded a roll of expired Kodak Max 400 into this camera that I wasn’t going to keep it. I was only shooting it one more time, for old time’s sake.

Kodak VR35 K40

My mom bought me my first Kodak VR35 K40 as a Christmas gift in about 1986. I used it heavily through college and in the first few years after. Even though it’s a simple fixed-focus point-and-shoot camera, it was the most capable camera I’d ever owned, returning consistently good results. Here’s a photo I made in 1989 of my brand new car parked in front of the Terre Haute, Indiana, house where I rented an apartment. It was a wonderful place; read about it and see photos here.

My first car

I used that K40 to record the glistening aftermath of a 1990 ice storm that shut down our city. That was such a great day! It was the first time I ever went on a photo walk, just me and my camera, alone, exploring. I wrote about that day here; it’s one of my favorite posts ever.

After the ice storm

I set the K40 aside after I married my first wife, who was a skilled photographer and took most of our family photos. It wasn’t until after we divorced that I started making photographs again. My K40 was nowhere to be found, so I bought a used Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 on eBay and moved on.

Years later I came upon this K40 at Goodwill for a few dollars. I love cheap nostalgia. But it turns out this simple point-and-shoot camera is pretty good, returning bold color on consumer-grade film. Its lens is sharp enough for credible enlargements to 8×10. Here are some wintertime photos I made with it recently.

Whitestown Meijer

I’ve been up to Purdue a lot lately to see my son. This is a great little candy store in downtown Lafayette.

McCord's

This scooter seems always to be parked by my son’s dorm. I love how the K40’s 35mm lens captures so much context. It would be a fine film camera to take on vacation even now.

Scooter at Tarkington Hall

I suppose this camera qualifies as compact. After shooting a couple rolls through my tiny Olympus XA recently the K40 felt pretty large. There’s no way the K40 fits into any pants pocket, but it fits fine in my winter-coat pocket. It weighs next to nothing, but then it’s made almost entirely of plastic. This pocket park is on the block behind my church on Indianapolis’s Near Westside.

Pocket park, Hawthorne, Indianapolis

The K40’s automatic winder is pretty loud. That’s typical of point-and-shoot cameras of the day, but it really attracts attention now. Fortunately, when I made this shot in the foyer of my church, worship had not yet begun.

Stairs and window

I stepped outside on this frigid day for this quick exterior photo. I cropped to 4×5 to get rid of my finger, which got into the frame. A few of my quick outside photos were so marred. It’s not surprising: because the temperature was in the single digits, I was moving fast and not taking my usual care.

West Park Christian Church

You can see more photos from this camera in my Kodak VR35 K40 gallery.

I suppose I’m fortunate to have so many lovely cameras that one that performs this well doesn’t survive Operation Thin the Herd. But nostalgia isn’t enough to keep any of my cameras in the collection.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Kodak Retina IIa

Retina-Xenon
Canon PowerShot S95
2012

Working on a personal project I had reason to search through my whole photo archive. It led me to find a bunch of photos I never uploaded to Flickr, an oversight I corrected. This was one of those photos.

This is the lens of my Kodak Retina IIa, which I reviewed here.

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Collecting Cameras, Photography

single frame: Retina-Xenon

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Kodak Retina Automatic III

Automatic exposure control on a Kodak Retina? You bet, and it was about time. Yet some of the Retina cognoscenti look down their snoots at these, the Retina Automatics. They decry the whole series as a cheapening of the line.

Kodak Retina Automatic III

Kodak produced Retina Automatics in its German factory from 1960 to 1963. The Automatic III, which debuted in early 1961, sat atop the line and featured a coupled rangefinder. It also packs a four-element 45mm f/2.8 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar lens set in a Compur leaf shutter that operates from 1/30 to 1/500 second. The Automatic II was largely the same but for lacking a rangefinder. The Automatic I was further decontented, stepping down to a lesser lens and shutter.

Kodak Retina Automatic III

Through the 1950s, photographers aspired to well-made rangefinder cameras. The Retina was Kodak’s entry into that competitive market. But by 1960 the 35mm SLR was supplanting the rangefinder camera atop the heap of aspiration. Kodak surely added automatic exposure to the Retina as a way to keep photographers buying just a little bit longer.

Kodak Retina Automatic III

The Automatics’ usage is a little wonky compared to the modern autoexposure standard, but I expect that 1961 buyers weren’t bothered as such things were yet far from settled. There is no in-viewfinder exposure display — it’s only on the top plate. Having to move the camera away from your eye to check aperture is a pain. Fortunately, the Automatics won’t let you fire the shutter when it can’t get good exposure at the selected shutter speed. So you only need to check the aperture when you’re concerned about depth of field. These are also shutter-priority cameras, which feels odd today when aperture-priority autoexposure clearly won that battle (but, of course, lost to programmed autoexposure).

If you don’t like messing with any of it you can set exposure the old-fashioned manual way — this is a fully mechanical camera, after all. Given that these all use selenium exposure meters (made by Gossen; look for the name embossed in the glass), your chance is better than even that the meter has given up anyway. When buying a camera with a selenium meter, look for one that’s always been stored in darkness or with its meter covered. It increases your chance of success. This Automatic III was so stored, and its meter reads accurately enough.

That said, when my test roll (Kodak Gold 200) came back from the processor I ended up reducing exposure in Photoshop by a half stop on most images, as super sunny summer days washed things out. I blame the blisteringly bright days because I shot two other rolls of color film in other cameras at about the same time and got similar results from all of them. Regardless, this was a perfectly pleasant and functional Retina.

On 116th St.

This camera’s design is common to German camera makers of the time, down to the giant, knurled shutter button perched aside the lens board. I haven’t enjoyed using those on other cameras for being awkward to reach and having too much travel, but this one was fine on both counts. It operated smoothly, too.

Under construction

Downtown Fishers, Indiana, is heavily under construction. I wonder if 20 years from now someone will come upon this post and be astonished by seeing these then-stalwart buildings unfinished.

Under construction

This was a perfectly delightful camera to take on a photo walk, even though I carried it in my hands the whole time. (I left the leatherette case, to which a strap is attached, at home. I find them to be cumbersome, and so use them only for storage.) And as downtown Fishers transforms from sleepy little village of single-story homes into a modern, dense city center, there’s always something new to see when a camera is in my hand.

Apartments

I’ve always lived in well-established cities with all of their problems. I admit to a little prejudice against shiny, new cities like Fishers, flush with tax revenue from its upper-middle-class residents. It’s easy to build to a grand vision with that kind of money. Given how many of those residents choke I-69 each morning on their drive to work in well-established Indianapolis, I wish some of their taxes went to restore the crumbling infrastructure of the city whose existence frankly allows Fishers to thrive.

Flowers

Oh! Sorry, this is a camera review, not a screed against wealthy suburbs. Let’s move from Fishers to my Indianapolis front yard and its blooming garden. My gardens are no longer blooming, so it’s nice to see this image from just a few weeks ago as blooms were still popping.

Coneflowers

Any Kodak Retina is a reasonable camera to use in this modern age simply because the lenses are so wonderful and the usage isn’t too complicated. One, maybe two test rolls are all you need to learn any Retina and then make great images forever.

Lilies

What it is about Retinas that make me want to use them to shoot family gatherings? For the most part I use only auto-everything cameras for such duties because they’re fast and easy to use. But every time I have film in a Retina I seem to get it out when the family is around. Someday I’m going to learn to choose slower shutter speeds and smaller apertures so I get enough depth of field to cover my focusing sins, as in this photo. There’s my wife Margaret and my son Garrett, who does not look rapt as Margaret weaves her tale.

Grilling out

I focused better for this photo. There’s my son Damion and my dad, who is taking his turn telling a story, as Margaret listens.

Grilling out

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak Retina Automatic III gallery.

Just as I shook my fist at wealthy suburbs, I also shake my fist at anyone who looks down upon these autoexposure Retinas. They’re fine cameras. And they go for very little compared to the better-known folding Retinas. I got mine for under $40 shipped. A Retina Automatic is a fine way to dip your toes into the Retina waters. If you do, I wager you’ll like it and buy more Retinas.

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Photography

Kodak EasyShare C613 Zoom

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Inexpensive cameras were crap during my 1970s kidhood and only slightly better during my 1980s teenagerhood. A basic new camera could be had for under $25, but most of them had limited utility and were cheaply made. A camera my dad gave me as a gift was typical, boasting a plastic lens and a camera-shaking stiff shutter. I recorded hundreds of childhood memories with it, but most of the prints are blurry.

By the mid 2000s you could get an entry-level digital camera for about the same money, adjusted for inflation, which works out to about a hundred bucks. And that’s what I paid for this Kodak EasyShare C613 Zoom when I bought it as a gift for my youngest son.

Kodak EasyShare C613

This camera was introduced in 2007, the same year as the iPhone. That first iPhone’s camera couldn’t hold a candle to this Kodak, but as we all know smartphone cameras soon became good, even brilliant in some ways, and put an end to the entry-level digital camera. While there is no substitute for a wafer-thin camera that’s always with you and connects seamlessly to social media, I do regret the loss of Kodak’s digital camera business. You see, no other camera maker renders color as appealing as Kodak. Oh, I know appeal is subjective. Hang in there with me; photos from this camera follow. You’ll see.

Kodak EasyShare C613

On the surface there isn’t much to the C613. You get a few modes, 3x optical zoom, and built-in automatic flash. It’s meant not to confuse the casual snapshooter. That’s definitely what my youngest son was when I bought it for him. But it’s been a reliable performer all these years.

Kodak EasyShare C613

The 6-megapixel C613 packs a 36-108mm f/2.7-4.8 Kodak AF Optical Aspheric lens. (If you’re a Millennial or younger, you’re probably chuckling that this lens is Kodak AF.) Most users probably just left the C613 on Auto, but this camera also offers an image-stabilization mode, a macro mode, and a host of scene modes such as snow, beach, and sports. It also takes 640×480 QuickTime video. If you dig into the menu, you’ll find a surprising amount of control including the ability to set ISO (80, 100, 200, 400, 1250); adjust white balance; choose among multi-pattern, center-weighted, and spot metering; and choose multi- or center-zone autofocus. The C613 stores images on an SD card, but also offers limited built-in storage. Two AA batteries power it.

In 2009 I borrowed this camera from my son for a day. My church had a concert in its parking lot and I was on the crew. I wanted to photograph the event in spare moments, but my comparatively bulky Kodak Z730 wouldn’t fit into any of my pockets. My son’s svelte C613 did, though.

And then wow, did this little camera perform! It delivered excellent sharpness and candylike color. This is Nancy, who organized and hosted the event.

Praise and Music Festival

We rented this stage. The C613’s lens was probably at its widest angle, 36mm equivalent, which added good drama to my easy camera angle.

Praise and Music Festival

In spare moments I pretended to be a concert photographer, even though I’m sure I looked ridiculous with this little plastic camera. This bassist went along with the charade, deliberately posing for me as he casually fingered his instrument.

Praise and Music Festival

That concert was a remarkable experience for reasons that have nothing to do with the C613. I told that story here.

Eight years on my youngest son is preparing to leave for college and I’m preparing to move in with my new wife. These big transitions for both of us made it necessary to clean out his childhood room. We sorted his things into three piles: keepers, things to donate, and things to pitch. He put the C613 onto the donate pile, thanks to a capable camera on his Android phone.

I palmed this little camera and later installed a spare SD card and fresh batteries. I first photographed flowers in my yard. I love macro photography. But the C613 often struggles to focus in macro mode, especially when the lens is at all zoomed. I frequently had to do a little dance with the C613, repeatedly adjusting framing and pressing the shutter button halfway in hopes the autofocus system could grab onto something. Sometimes it simply wouldn’t. And of course you have no control over depth of field. But when it manages to focus, it does reasonable work.

Basket o' flowers

The autofocus system works best on high-contrast subjects, like this yellow flower on a dark green background.

Yellow

Most of the time I shot the C613 at the wide end of its zoom range simply because that’s where it goes when you turn it on. 36mm is a great focal length for everyday walk-around photography. Or drive-around photography, as is the case in this photograph.

Wrecks

But shooting wide reveals the C613’s fatal flaw: barrel distortion, gobs of it. These two photos are certainly not interesting in and of themselves, but the first shot shows this barrel distortion well. The second shot shows it corrected, which I did easily enough in Photoshop: open the RAW editor, set distortion to 14, set scale to 104%. At 36mm, those settings worked every time.

Window awaiting painting Window awaiting painting

That distortion goes away more the farther out you zoom. None is evident on this max-zoom (108mm) photo off my deck.

Back yard

I checked the flash’s performance in a few photos. It appears, appropriately, to be optimized for shots across a room in your house, such as of your kid on his birthday. This photo of my Kodak Monitor is about as close as you dare get when using flash. Any closer and the flash washes out the subject and creates a spotlight effect. This post is already too long or I’d show you that flash also did a good job illuminating a shadowy close-up subject against a well-lit background. The C613 sets flash to “auto” every time you turn on the camera and guesses when flash is needed. Sometimes the C613 guesses well, other times not. More than once I shot a scene twice because the C613 thought I needed flash when I really didn’t.

Monitor

I did take these recent photos into Photoshop to correct distortion, fix little exposure sins, and tweak color to my liking. But every one of the photos I’m sharing here were plenty usable right out of the camera. The concert photos far above had no post-processing and look great.

View through the hosta

This shot of the oak in my front yard is my favorite from my test. Sure, I had to notice this scene and the subtle light play to be able to photograph it. But the C613 captured it well.

Oak

You can see more shots from this camera in my Kodak EasyShare C613 Zoom gallery.

The C613 a passable little digicam. It’s not perfect — on top of the barrel distortion and fussy macro-mode autoexposure, the screen washes out entirely in direct sun and its color fidelity is terrible, so you are never sure you got the shot. But compared to any camera of this inflation-adjusted price class forty or even thirty years ago it’s a stunning performer. I would have died and gone to heaven as a kid for a camera this good at this inflation-adjusted price.

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