Camera Reviews

Nikon N70

When you talk to other film-camera collectors about the Nikon N70, discussion quickly focuses on its infamous “fan” user interface. Most people don’t like it. But they miss its point. This advanced-amateur/semi-pro camera includes a pop-up flash that offers variable flash fill, flash bracketing, and red-eye reduction. Nikon called it a “built-in Speedlight,” referring to their family of versatile external flash units. Nikon designed the “fan” to ease access to all of the flash’s modes. Trouble is, then Nikon overloaded all of the camera’s functions onto it.

Nikon N70

More about the “fan” in a minute. First, let’s talk specs. The N70 offers the same autofocus and metering as in the more advanced (and contemporary) N90s: wide and spot crossfield autofocus; and matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering. Matrix metering is linked to focusing. Its electromagnetically controlled vertical focal-plane shutter operates from 1/4000 to 30 sec. It reads the DX code on the film canister to set ISO from 25 to 5000. You can also manually set ISO as low as 6 and as high as 6400. It features programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority autoexposure. There’s even a camera shake warning in the viewfinder, and continuous film advance at either 2 or 3.7 fps.

Nikon N70

It also features eight exposure modes, which the literature called “Vari-Programs” — portrait, hyperfocal, landscape, close-up, sport, silhouette, night scene, and motion effect. These are all things a skilled photographer can achieve without special modes, but the N70 was marketed to the amateur.

Nikon N70

The N70 lets you set and save for later “quick recall” (or QR) three different combinations of film advance mode, focus area, focus mode, metering system, exposure mode, flash sync mode, and exposure compensation. To do this, select all of those settings as you want them, then press the IN button. Then rotate the dial on the back of the camera to select 1, 2, or 3 in the yellow QR window on “the fan.” To select a QR mode, press the OUT button and rotate the dial to select 1, 2, or 3 in the QR window.

Two CR123 batteries power everything. The camera won’t operate without them. List price was $842 in 1994 when the N70 was new.

The N70 was optimized for the then-new D-series AF Nikkor lenses. Earlier AF Nikkors and non-AF Nikkors generally work on the camera, but without some metering modes.

To load film, open the back, insert the cartridge, pull the film across until the leader is in the takeup area, close the door, turn the N70 on, and press the shutter button.

All right, let’s talk about that dreaded “fan” UI. It’s different for sure, but it’s not hard to use.

  • First, select the function to adjust. Press the Function button and rotate the dial on the back of the camera. When the arrow points to the function you want to adjust, release the Function button.
  • Then set the value for that function. Press the Set button and rotate the dial to cycle through that function’s options. When you find the option you want, release the Set button.

The challenge with “the fan” is that every function is at the same level, even ones you use all the time. For example, I like to switch between programmed and aperture-priority modes. A separate PASM dial would place this control out front where it’s easy to access. All of the options would be clear by inspection, too. On the N70, I have to do the Function/Set dance to switch modes. I also can’t see all of the modes unless I cycle through them while holding down Set.

But this doesn’t make the N70’s interface unusable. It’s just not optimal, and it takes a little getting used to. But it’s consistent and uncomplicated, and therefore learnable. People who hate it protest too much, I think.

By the way, if you like auto-everything SLRs, also check out my reviews of the Nikon N50 (here), N60 (here), N65 (here), and N90s (here). Also see my reviews of these Canons: the EOS 630 (here), the EOS 650 (here), and the EOS A2e (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

In Program mode, the N70 is a perfectly good point-and-shoot SLR. That’s almost exclusively how I used it. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6D AF Nikkor lens and loaded some Kodak Max 400. This is an old auto service station in Thorntown, Indiana.

Getting lubricated

I imagine most people who bought an N70 back in the day wound up using it at factory settings. I sure did. Here’s an alleyway in Lebanon, Indiana.

One Way Alley

The N70 handled well. It’s almost as large and as heavy as my Nikon N90s, however, and I like that camera a whole lot more.

Old house in Lebanon

I photograph the entrance to the former Boone County Jail a lot, but always in black and white. It might surprise you to find that the door is turquoise.

Boone Co. Jail

I kept going with a roll of Kodak T-Max 100 I found forgotten in the freezer. I spent a partly sunny Saturday afternoon in Bloomington after having lunch with my children, all of whom live in or near that college town. Ohio State’s football team was in town to play the Indiana University team, and Kirkwood Avenue was full of fans. Many young women were walking around in these red-and-white striped pants.

Striped pants on Kirkwood

The N70 is hardly an inconspicuous camera, but nobody seemed to care that this middle-aged man was out photographing people.

Cafe Pizzaria

It probably helped that I wasn’t the only middle-aged man, as the group at the table below shows.

Nick's English Hut

The N70 performed well on this mostly cloudy day. If some of my favorite functions weren’t buried in “the fan” I might have done more with the N70 than leave it in P.

The Von Lee

When people ask me how to break into film photography, I tell them to start with an auto-everything SLR from the 1990s or early 2000s. You can shoot in P mode just to get a feel for film, and when you’re comfortable, try more advanced settings. The trouble with the Nikon N70 is that it’s hard to discover those advanced settings, especially if you don’t know what you want to try.

Puzzles in the window

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Nikon N70 gallery.

If you’re interested in one of these late film-era SLRs, the Nikon N70 isn’t a bad choice. But you will probably be happier with one that has a proper PASM mode dial rather than this multi-step function selector interface.

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

Boone County Courthouse
Kodak VR35 K12
Ultrafine Extreme 400
Ilford ID-11 Stock

I don’t like Ultrafine Extreme 400. I’ll be glad when I shoot through my stash. No matter what developer I try it in, I get muddy images with unattractive grain that obscures fine details.

The Kodak VR35 K12 I used for this photo was a recent impulse purchase. It’s not a bad camera for what it is, a mid-80s 35mm point-and-shoot. A review is forthcoming.

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Film Photography

single frame: Boone County Courthouse

The courthouse in Lebanon, Indiana, on b/w film.

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Camera Reviews

Minolta XD-11

My hopes were sky high when I bought this Minolta XD-11 as so many prominent film-photo sites give it such high praise. Developed in cooperation with Ernst Leitz, this camera is supposed to exude quality to nearly Leica levels. The two companies worked together so that Minolta could better compete in the luxury rangefinder market and Leitz could build a cost-effective SLR platform. Leica built its R4, R5, R6, and R7 SLRs on this chassis.

Minolta XD-11

You might also see this camera called the XD-7 or just the XD; those were this camera’s name in Europe and Japan.

This is the world’s first SLR to offer full manual exposure with both aperture-priority and shutter-priority autoexposure. It features a vertically traveling metal-blade shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 sec, plus a 1/100-sec manual speed (the O setting on the shutter-speed dial) and bulb (B). In automatic modes, that shutter operates steplessly — if 1/218 second is the right shutter speed, that’s what the XD-11 chooses. The camera also features a mechanical self timer. Two SR44 batteries power the XD-11.

Minolta XD-11

You choose the exposure mode with a switch around the shutter-speed ring: M, A, and S, each meaning just what you’d expect. You can set ISO from 12 to 3200; press the little button and twist the collar around the rewind crank. You can also add or subtract one or two stops of exposure. Press in the tab on the rewind crank and move it to the amount of exposure compensation you want.

Minolta XD-11

The selected aperture is always visible in the viewfinder; a little window shows what you’ve dialed in on the lens. In shutter-priority and manual modes, the viewfinder shows the selected shutter speed. (For shutter-priority mode, first set the lens to its minimum aperture, e.g., f/16 on the 50mm f/1.7 MD Rokkor X lens that came with my XD-11.)

For manual and aperture-priority modes, a shutter-speed scale appears in the viewfinder. (Or it’s supposed to; it didn’t switch over on mine. A fault!) In shutter-priority mode, an aperture scale appears in the viewfinder. LED dots appear next to the scale. In manual mode, they show the aperture you need to choose for proper exposure. In aperture-priority mode, they show the shutter speed the camera has chosen, and in shutter-priority mode, they show the selected aperture. One dot means the camera has chosen that value exactly, while two adjacent dots mean the camera has chosen the proper value between the two marked values.

The XD-11 features “green mode” — set the camera to shutter-priority mode, choose minimum aperture, and choose 1/125 second. Notice that all of these settings are marked in green. In green mode, if 1/125 sec. is too fast, the XD-11 reduces shutter speed until it gets proper exposure.

Under use, the XD-11 is light, smooth, and pleasant. The viewfinder is bright and gives a great view. Its electromagnetic shutter button needs only an easy touch to operate. The wind lever is light and luxurious. My only ergonomic complaint is that there’s no on-off switch. To stop the meter from operating and thus draining the battery, you have to cap the lens.

If you like Minolta SLRs, you might also enjoy my reviews of the X-700 (here), the XG 1 (here), the SR-T 101 (here), and the SR-T 202 (here). I’ve also reviewed some autofocus Minolta SLRs, including the Maxxum 7000 (here), the Maxxum 7000i (here), the Maxxum 9xi (here), and the Maxxum HTsi (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I’ve had a lot of bad luck with Minolta manual-focus SLR bodies, and it continued with this camera. To be fair, I picked up a body at far below market price that the seller couldn’t represent well, and hoped for the best. I’ve already mentioned that the shutter-speed scale doesn’t appear in the viewfinder when it’s supposed to, but there’s more wrong than that. I tested the camera with a roll of Fomapan 200, and on three frames the shutter stuck open. Switching the shutter-speed dial to O, the one mechanical shutter speed, immediately closed the shutter. But those frames were entirely washed out, and the adjacent frames were partially overexposed as well.

I shot the Fomapan at EI 125 and developed it Ilford ID-11 1+1 at the ISO 200 time as I usually do. This was my first time developing in ID-11. It turned out great.

Boone County Jail

The XD-11 feels great in my hand. It’s got enough heft to inspire confidence, but not so much that it feels heavy. The materials all feel nice; the controls are all smooth and luxurious.

Details

The 50mm f/1.7 MD Rokkor-X lens that came with this camera performed as well as any 50/1.7 Rokkor ever does; that is to say, brilliantly. This is a wonderful lens.

Bike parking

I drove up to Lebanon, Indiana, just to make some photographs with the XD-11. Lebanon is my county’s seat. I photographed the courthouse on the square, but I wasn’t thrilled with the images. Therefore, you get photographs of things around the square.

One Way

Lebanon, like most Indiana county seats, features a courthouse square with sturdy old buildings living their fourth, eighth, or nineteenth small-business life. Truly, the photo below could be from any of a hundred small Indiana towns.

On the square in Lebanon

This is the point in the review where I’m supposed to heap giant praise onto the Minolta XD-11. I’ll refrain. I liked this camera, but I like my Olympus OM-2n far better. Camera reviews like this one are highly subjective — what tickles my fancy might turn you right off. So just know that the XD-11 is a fine camera and you should try one someday if you can.

Rocket Liquors

I stopped finding interesting things to photograph in Lebanon, so I headed back to Zionsville, specifically to Lions Park, which is always good for a few frames.

Zionsville Little League

This little lion is a drinking fountain, and it’s on the edge of one of the park’s many playgrounds.

Lion drinking fountain

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta XD-11 gallery.

Minolta considered its XD-11 to be its premium SLR in its day, slotting it above the full-program X-700. I can see why; this is a very solid and smooth camera. That mine isn’t fully functional is a shame, as I wouldn’t mind being able to do more than a one-roll review of this well-regarded camera. Instead, I did something I’ve never done before: after writing this review, I asked the eBay seller for a refund.

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

Old house
Argus Argoflex Forty
Kodak Verichrome Pan (expired 6/1980)
2019

One more from the Argoflex Forty as I finish writing my review. I was in Lebanon on an errand and brought the camera along.

This photo was late in the roll. Winding had always been uneven, but by this frame there was a spot during winding where I had to turn the knob hard.

For whatever reason the film didn’t wind evenly onto the takeup spool and spilled past the spool’s edge on one side. I didn’t notice that until a few days after I took the film out of the camera, which allowed light to leak onto the edges of some frames, as here.

Nice old house though. I’d guess it dates to before 1850.

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Film Photography, Preservation

single frame: Old house

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Jail

Boone Co. Jail
Argus Argoflex Forty
Kodak Verichrome Pan (expired 6/1980)
2019

Coming soon: a review of the circa-1950 Argus Argoflex Forty. It’s basically a box camera in twin-lens reflex guise, but it has a good, coated Anastigmat lens that’s sharp from corner to corner.

I had a great time with it and a roll of expired Verichrome Pan. I heard that this 620 camera can take 120 film if you snip the edges off the film spool and use a 620 takeup spool. I did that to a roll of Ektar, which is at the processor’s now. As soon as I get scans back I’ll finish writing my review of this camera and share it with you.

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Film Photography

single frame: Boone Co. Jail

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Film Photography

Another try at home film developing

My second try at processing film at home was an utter failure. I was overconfident and tried a roll of Verichrome Pan expired since the early 1980s. The stuff simply would not go onto the reel. After 45 minutes of trying, it got so hot and humid in my dark bag that the film stuck to itself and was ruined. In retrospect, I probably reached too far too fast.

So for my third try I used up my last roll of Kosmo Foto Mono in my Agfa Clack (review here). I probably should have used my Yashica-12 as last time for consistency’s sake, but the Clack takes 8 6×9 images vs. the Yashica’s 12 6×6 images and I wanted to get through the roll as fast as I could so I could get on with the developing.

I had better luck this time, but the results still weren’t perfect. I diluted Rodinal to 1+50, and used the time-temp converter at the Massive Dev Chart site here to adjust developing time to my developer’s actual temperature, which was 23°, not the recommended 20°.

I am surprised by the widely varying directions online for developing black-and-white film. Some of them call for rinsing the film first, and some say that step is wholly unnecessary. They all use the chemicals in the same order, but except for the developer stage the amount of time for each subsequent step is all over the map.

Last time I used the Massive Dev Chart Timer app, and it was great except that it calls for a Hypo Clear step. I’m not using Hypo Clear and I couldn’t figure out how to skip it in the app. So this time I found some instructions online and followed them using my iPhone timer. My stupid iPhone screen kept shutting off and my damp fingers had trouble unlocking the phone — frustrating, and I’m sure some of my timings were off as a result. So maybe I need to invest in an actual timer.

As I searched online to find those instructions again, I came upon a different article that talked about agitation techniques in film developing — and discovered that I’m agitating too much and too hard, and that the results I’m getting are consistent with that. So next time I’ll agitate much more gently.

Below are all eight photos from the roll, from first to last. I put the film into the reel end first, so the last shots on the roll were closest to the reel’s core.

The negatives came out dense and several of them were blotchy, consistent with overagitation. The images closer to the spool’s core appear to be more messed up than the ones farther away. I had to really work them over in Photoshop. I was able to breathe good life into only a few of them.

My goals for developing my own film are to get scans fast and inexpensively. I’m not doing this because I want to fall in love with the process and be some film-processing fanboy. I’m mercenary; this is a means to an end, period. I’m not enjoying the learning curve. I will persist in hopes that I can soon get consistent and acceptable results.

I’m out of Kosmo Foto Mono now. I have a roll of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros left so I’ll shoot it next. Looking around online, people seem to get great results with T-Max 100 in Rodinal. The Film Photography Store sells it for a good price, so a 5-pack is on its way to me now.

Here now, the photographs. All but the first two are from downtown Lebanon, IN.

Passsssssat
TTW
Crick
Jameson St.
Saint Adrian
Knights of Pythias
104
Umbrellas

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