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.
Show me some leg Olympus OM-2n 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro Ilford Delta 400 LegacyPro L110 B 2021
Before the Marion County Courthouse was torn down in downtown Indianapolis, statues of six Greek goddesses stood in that building’s tower. Someone decided the statues were worth saving. I know where three of them ended up: one in Crown Hill Cemetery and two in Holliday Park, flanking The Ruins. This is a detail of one of the statues at The Ruins.
This statue lost its head at some point; see the whole thing here.
I like to learn things by trying them. It would be a lot more efficient if I could learn things by reading about them, or hearing about them, and accepting the information as fact. But I always have to find out for myself.
The blogs and forums all say that Fomapan 400 looks best when shot at EI 160 or 200. But the box says 400. I’m stubborn about this: why the heck would a manufacturer rate a film at a particular ISO if they don’t mean it? Call me stubborn, but I always shoot a film for the first time at box speed. If the results demand it, the next time I shoot I adjust exposure up or down as appropriate.
It was time to give my Spotmatic F some exercise. I chose my delightful 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens for this roll. I developed the film in LegacyPro L110, dilution B.
I got okay results from most of the roll. I’m pleased with my bathroom-mirror selfie above. Everything is so sharp, you can almost count the hairs on my head. I’m reasonably pleased with these next four photos. They show good detail and a reasonable tonal range, and good contrast after I boosted it in Photoshop. My Minolta ScanDual II scanner delivers mighty flat scans, so punching up the contrast is a must. If you pixel peep you’ll see lots of pleasant grain.
The main challenge I had with this film at EI 400 that shadows looked underexposed. This photo shows this reasonably well; look under the front bumper and around the wheels. The negatives looked to have good density to me, though I’m still developing my eye for that.
A few shots on the roll looked flat and lifeless, no matter what I did to them in Photoshop.
A couple of the flat shots benefited from reducing exposure in Photoshop, at cost of enhancing the grain.
It was lovely to shoot my Spotmatic F again. It’s such a wonderful SLR. Every time I use it, I wonder why I don’t use it more often. Then I remember that I own about 15 very nice SLRs at the moment, plus about 20 other lovely cameras. I’d have to shoot one roll of film every week to be able to use each of my cameras about once a year.
I bought several rolls of Fomapan 400 (and 200) when Freestyle Photo had it on sale not long ago. I’ll shoot another roll of the 400 again soon, but I’ll set my camera to EI 200 and see what happens then. Because I’m an experiential learner.
When I bought my previous house, I had next to nothing. A futon, a bunch of end tables, a TV. I had to buy everything else. I bought some lamps at Target. One of them has a wooden tripod base, which I thought was cool for what are probably obvious reasons if you’ve read my blog for more than five minutes.
For years it stood on the table next to my easy chair. Since moving in with Margaret, it’s been on a table next to my desk. Given that I usually load film into cameras while sitting here, and I usually need to burn off a shot or two after closing the film door, I photograph this lamp a lot now.
I made this particular photo in my Spotmatic F on Fomapan 400, a film I’d never shot before. This being the first photo on the roll, half of the negative was blank from being exposed to light during loading. I cropped that part out and boosted contrast in Photoshop, which brought out the lampshade’s two textures. I find the tonality, softness, and grain of this image to be pleasing.
As 35mm SLRs transitioned to autofocus, it took a few iterations before manufacturers settled on the controls we all know. The Nikon F-801s is an early camera in that transition. Also known as the N8008s, and manufactured from 1991 to 1995, it supplanted the F-801/N8008, but added only improved autofocus and a spot-metering mode to the earlier camera. (Read my N8008 review here.)
This camera represents Nikon’s second iteration of autofocus cameras. The first was the F-501/N2020, which had a much more square body. The F-801s generation of cameras introduced The Blob as the dominant SLR shape.
The F-801s was in Nikon’s semi-professional range, sitting just below the F3 and F4 in the pecking order. As such, it was a robustly built camera, solid and heavy. It also offered a ton of features, including depth-of-field preview, multi-exposure, a two-shot self-timer, matrix or center-weighted metering, programmed autoexposure, and film setting by DX code with manual override from ISO 6 to 6,400. The F-801s’s shutter operates from 30 to 1/8000 second. Finally, three focusing screens are available, including the standard matte Type B screen, as well as a gridded Type E screen and a microprism Type J screen.
The F-801s loads the film for you when you insert the cartridge, pull the leader across to the red mark, close the door, and fire the shutter. It winds the film for you, but it doesn’t rewind automatically. If you’re not paying attention to the frame counter, you won’t find out you’re at the end of the roll until you press the shutter button and nothing happens. To rewind, press both buttons atop the camera marked with the red rewind symbol.
The controls were an evolutionary step toward the now-standard mode dial. Press the Mode button and turn the dial to cycle through the modes, which appear in the LCD. There are two program modes, normal (P) and high (PH), which chooses faster shutter speeds to freeze motion. You can also choose dual mode (PD) that chooses normal for focal lengths less than 135mm, and high otherwise. There are also aperture-priority (A), shutter-priority (S), and full manual (M) modes.
If you like auto-everything Nikons, I’ve reviewed several, starting with the similar N8008 (F-801). Also check out the N90s, the N50, the N60, and the N65. You should also check out Nikon’s manual-focus bodies like the F2, F3, FA, and N2000. Or just check out my big list of all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.
I loaded four AA batteries into this Nikon F-801s, without which the camera is inert. I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor lens and spooled in some Ultrafine eXtreme 400, which I developed in LegacyPro L110, Dilution B. This was my first go with this film. I don’t know why I do this to myself, because when I don’t like the way the images look, I can’t tell whether it’s the film or the camera. I wasn’t thrilled with these images. A few that I shot on a walk around the strip mall near my home turned out best.
I knew I was going to enjoy using the F-801s because I enjoyed using the N8008 (F-801) I used to own. This is just a solid, competent performer. The autofocus is dog slow by modern standards, but that never bothers me. I almost never photograph things in motion. I have the time to wait.
But something’s wrong with the autofocus on this F-801s. At infinity, it hunts like mad and half the time won’t focus. When it does, the camera usually won’t let you make a photo. An X appears in the viewfinder LCD rather than the solid circle that means everything’s hunky dory. At closer range, the camera often focuses just behind your intended subject.
I finished the roll around the house. Trying to figure out what was up with the autofocus, I trained the camera on a drawing my brother made for me many years ago. He’s a talented illustrator; his favorite genre is comic-style art. It’s too bad he doesn’t draw anymore.
Our granddaughter was over for a visit that day. She likes it when we make a bowl of soapy water for her so she can play in it. Notice how the F-801 focused just behind our granddaughter’s head.
Disappointed in, but not daunted by, the F-801s’s focusing woes, I decided to try a different lens in case something had gone wrong with my 50/1.8. I thought the lens was unlikely to be at fault, but what the heck. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor lens and spooled in some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. Sadly, the camera continued to whiff focus in just the same ways.
I nosed around the photo forums for tips on what might be wrong. A few others reported this problem, and one fellow said he repaired his by blowing dust off the AF sensor. It’s behind the lens, under the mirror. I tried it, but it didn’t help. Perhaps the AF sensor has just gone bad.
I finished the roll with autofocus turned off. The focusing screen offered no focusing help such as a split image, so I just twisted the focus ring until things looked sharp enough and hoped for the best. It worked out fine.
I took the F-801s on a walk around Lions Park in Zionsville. This is where the Little League plays.
The 28-80mm lens was a fine choice for this walk and it delivered good sharpness. As for the sign in this photo, Zionsville is a wealthy suburb, and families here have high expectations of their experiences around town.
Except for its autofocus woes, the F-801s performed well. Its large grip makes it a little awkward in the hand; the F50 I shot recently felt far more balanced.
This Nikon F-801s was a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, but if you want one, they go for peanuts on eBay all the time. My F-801s’s autofocus problems notwithstanding, these are generally reliable cameras and are a good value in easy SLR shooting. I prefer my Nikon N90s, which replaced the F-801/F-801s and evolved the 35mm SLR’s controls even further toward the configuration that everybody uses today. It feels more luxurious in my hand, and it focuses faster.
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.
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