Cameras, Photography

Argus C3

The third time, as they say, was a charm. I didn’t get on well with my first two Argus C3s. The first one chewed up my film pretty badly. I had trouble getting accurate focus with the second and something was wrong with my film. Meet my third C3, with which everything finally went well.

Argus C3

Argus manufactured C3s from 1939 to 1966, taking a couple years off during the war. The state of the camera art changed a lot during those 27 years, but demand remained for a capable and relatively inexpensive 35mm camera. So Argus kept on, but made little changes here and there over the years. The features and trim bits present and absent on mine say it’s an early postwar camera, but the serial number (187019) pins it down to 1947. More here if you’re interested.

Argus C3

Using a C3 is just nonstandard enough that I’ll explain it. Film loads right to left. To wind you have to move that little hexagonal knob to the left, start turning the winder, release the knob, and then wind until it stops. You set aperture on the lens barrel by pressing your finger into one of the two pips and rotating the dial. My C3 has an accessory lever fitted to make that easier. To set shutter speed, turn the dial on the camera face next to the viewfinder. To focus, look through the rangefinder, which is the round hole on the right. It’s a split screen; turn the lens barrel until the subject lines up in the top and bottom windows. Then you move your eye to the left hole, the viewfinder, to frame. Push down the black lever on the front to cock the shutter, and then press the shutter button.

Argus C3

My C3 has seven shutter speeds from 1/10 to 1/300 sec., copuled with a 50mm f/3.5 Argus Coated Cintar lens. It uses the standard f/3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16 aperture scale. One of the things I didn’t like about my first C3, just a year older than this one, was its odd scale that moved from f/5.6 to f/9, 12.7, and 18. My light meter didn’t support those f stops, so I had to do some guessing. It was nice not to have to mess with that on this C3.

I loaded some Fujicolor 200 into the C3 and metered with an app on my iPhone. Quickly I discovered that ISO 200 film was a little too fast for the blazingly bright day on which I shot this roll, given that the fastest shutter speed and minimum aperture are 1/300 sec. at f/16. You’d think that’d be right enough given the Sunny 16 rule, but my meter kept wanting me to close down one more stop. Fortunately my film’s exposure latitude was wide enough that it didn’t matter much that I was slightly overexposing. The shots were usable as scanned, but I made them all a little better by reducing exposure by a half stop in Photoshop.

Scratch Kitchen

The C3 handled as C3s do, which is to say clumsily. Focusing is stiff. The rangefinder is tiny and hard to see through. The viewfinder is pretty tiny, too, but at least it’s bright. The camera’s strong spot is its strong, sure shutter, which fires with a crisp snap and a ping.

Flowers

I take a lot of photos now of downtown Fishers, Indiana, since that’s where I work. Just five years ago downtown wasn’t much: a few older buildings plus a lot of little houses. The houses are systematically being demolished in favor of apartments, office buildings, and shops. Come, modern urban density. For the time being, the old Nickel Plate tracks pass through Fishers. The city wants to tear them out and make a trail out of the railbed.

Xing

I shot this from the balcony of the building in which I work. A little house used to stand where the mound of dirt is. I hear an apartment building is going up there and will soon block the view of the restaurant beyond.

Parking Lot

I guess they’re going to build right onto what is now our parking lot, and we will all have to park in this garage.

Garage Under Construction

Honestly, given my poor experience with my previous C3s I didn’t expect much from this one and didn’t take great care in choosing or framing subjects. So naturally, the shots all look great.

Fire Station

I did take the C3 into the shade to see what I would get. That let me back off f/16, though not by much, just down to f/8.

Patio

I even tried one quick throwaway shot at my desk, inside. I don’t remember what my exposure settings were but I’ll bet they were something like 1/30 sec. at f/3.5. It reveals a tiny bit of creamy bokeh in the background.

At my desk

The coated Cintar surprised me with the subtlety and detail it can capture. I’ve seen it in photos others have shot with their C3s, but there’s just something about experiencing it yourself.

Back yard late light

To see more photos from all the C3s I’ve owned, check out my Argus C3 gallery.

Now that I’ve had a positive experience with a C3, I see why these were popular. It was a lot of camera for the money. Once you got past its quirky usage, you could take lovely photographs. I imagine these were heavily used to make color slides back in the day. The Cintar lens probably made slide film just sing.

Even though I’m happy to finally have had a good experience with a C3, I’m not in love. If I shoot this camera again I’ll try ISO 100 film, or even ISO 50. But more likely, I’ll sell it and the other two C3s I still own.

To see the rest of my camera collection, click here
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Where can you still get film developed? (Freshly updated for 2017)

Just a few years ago you could get film processed almost anywhere: Walgreens, CVS, Target, Walmart, Costco, Meijer. No more.

Digital photography did them all in. It also led Kodak and Fujifilm to kill several film stocks. But film has survived its long dark night. People born into the digital age are discovering what we longtime film shooters have always known: film is special.

And so I see more people starting film-photography blogs, sharing their film shots on Instagram, and scouring thrift stores and eBay for that next camera to try. And astonishingly, several new films are being introduced this year, including Kosmo Foto Mono, JCH Street Pan 400, Ferrania P30, and even a reborn Kodak Ektachrome. It’s a great time to shoot film!

But where to get it processed? If your town has a camera store, it might process film. I live in Indianapolis, where Roberts Camera still processes 35mm color negative film. I never order prints, just scans, which Roberts burns to CD. The scans are generous, 3130×2075 pixels at 72 dpi. I like generous scans! And the price is right, at about $8. And they turn orders around within two business days.

But what if you aren’t close to a camera store? Or if you shoot film they can’t handle, like black-and-white film or medium-format (120) film, or an uncommon format like 110 or 127? That’s when I turn to one of several by-mail labs around the United States. I’m going to recommend the ones I use. I’d love it if you’d share the ones you use in the comments, especially if you live outside the United States.

Old School Photo Lab

I’ve used Old School Photo Lab of Dover, NH, the most. Their Web site is oldschoolphotolab.com. They proces, print, and scan 35mm, 120/620, 110, 126, 127, 828, APS, and 4×5 sheet films. They handle color and b/w negative and color slide films.

You order through their Web site. Processing a roll of 35mm or 120 color negative film and getting their standard scans costs $16 shipped both ways. (You can print a prepaid shipping label on their site.) Prices for other formats vary. They give discounts if you send several rolls at once.

I love OSPL because their standard JPEG scans are a generous 3072×2048 pixels at 72 dpi. You can order even larger scans, at 6774×4492 pixels at 72 dpi, for an extra $7 for JPEG or $17 for TIFF.

When your scans are ready, they email you a link to where you can download them. If you want a CD of the scans, it’s 3 bucks extra and you have to wait longer to get them. OSPL prints digitally. I occasionally order 4×6 prints and they’re fine.

I love OSPL’s service. I’ve gotten scans in as fast as four days after mailing them film! But it normally takes about a week. Quality is consistent and good. The owner personally responds when you contact them. The lab is active on Twitter and the feed is often a hoot.

Dwayne’s Photo

Dwayne’s in Parsons, KS, is perhaps the granddaddy of all by-mail labs. Their Web site is dwaynesphoto.com. Dwayne’s processes, prints, and scans 35mm, 120/620, 220, 127, 110, 126, Disc, and APS films. They process color and b/w negative and color slide films.

Dwayne’s is great, except that ordering is complicated. You have to print a paper order form from their site, the right one for the kind of film you’re sending, and fill it out. When you send them more than one kind of film, you have to fill out multiple order forms.

Processing and scanning a roll of 35mm color film costs $14 including return shipping. Other services’ prices vary. They don’t offer a prepaid label to mail your film to them. But if you send more than one roll of film, they steeply discount shipping.

Their scans are 2740×1830 pixels at 72 dpi. You can choose to download your scans or have them mailed to you on CD; the price is the same for either service. I’ve not ordered prints from Dwayne’s.

Dwayne’s pretty consistently emails me a link to my scans within a week. Quality is consistent and good. And I’ve had good, if impersonal, experience with Dwayne’s customer service.

Willow Photo Lab

Willow Photo Lab of Willow Springs, MO, is far and away the price leader. Their Web site is willowphotolab.com. They offer processing, printing, and scanning of 35mm, 120/620, and APS negative films, in color and black-and white, through their Web site. They process b/w film by hand!

With your first order they’ll include a list of all of their services, which includes 220 and 4×5 sheet films, the ability to specify D-76 or T-Max developer for b/w film, and discounts for large orders. When I order from this list, I pay directly through PayPal, print the receipt, write on it what I want, and mail it to them with my film. They always figure it out.

Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm costs just $7. Other services are similarly inexpensive but prices vary widely. Shipping costs depend on how far away from Missouri you are; most of my orders have been $3. They don’t offer prepaid mailing labels.

Scans are skinty at 1536×1024 at 72 dpi, sent to you on a CD. The last time I ordered their higher resolution scans, 3089×2048 pixels at 72 dpi, it cost me an extra buck. But that’s available only on their full service list. Willow still does wet-process printing on light-sensitive photo paper.

Willow is a small lab of just a few technicians. Send them film when time is not of the essence — they try hard to turn orders around within a week, but it can take longer. I hate to say it, because I really like Willow, but quality is uneven. I’m giving them extra chances because early this year a lightning storm took out a lot of their equipment, and it’s taken them time to get everything back the way they want it.

When you email them with questions, the owner responds cheerfully, personally, and promptly. A couple times we’ve struck up long email conversations about lab life and film photography, which is fun.

The Darkroom

The Darkroom, of San Clemente, CA, is the SEO king of by-mail labs. Google “film processing” and see where they show up! Their Web site is thedarkroom.com. They process, scan, and print 35mm, 120, 126, 110, APS, single-use cameras, and 4×5, 5×7, and 8×10 sheet film. They handle color and b/w negative and color slide films.

The Darkroom offers online ordering and payment. You can download a prepaid shipping label from their Web site, or they will send you a prepaid mailer if you ask.

Processing, standard scans, the scan CD, and shipping both ways for a roll of 35mm color film costs about $17. Prices for other formats are similar. Scans come with every order, both via download link and CD.

The Darkroom’s standard scans are puny, 1536×1024 pixels at 72 dpi. You can order larger scans, 3072×2048 and a whopping 6774×4492 pixels, for an extra $4 or $9 per roll, respectively. I’ve never ordered prints from The Darkroom.

Scans are usually ready about 7 days after I drop the film into the mail. It takes up to a week longer for my negatives and the CD to arrive, but I expect that they’d arrive faster if I lived closer to California. I’ve never needed to contact The Darkroom for customer service.

Film Rescue International

Any lab can process expired b/w or C-41 color film. But sometimes you’ll find some very old, very expired film in a camera. That film can be fragile. Or perhaps the expired film is newer, but it’s crucial you get the best possible quality images from it. Send it straight to Film Rescue International. They process any film, no matter how old, and use creative darkroom and Photoshop techniques to coax the best possible images from it. Their Web site is filmrescue.com. They’re expensive, and they’re not fast, but they do outstanding work.

I’ve used Film Rescue just once, for a roll of Verichrome Pan I found in a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. That film had been in the camera for more than 40 years in unknown conditions, so I was afraid it might have deteriorated badly. They got good, high-contrast images from that film. They lacked “that Verichrome Pan look” but were crisp and clean.

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Cameras, Photography

Pentax Spotmatic F

At last: open-aperture metering on a Pentax Spotmatic.

It’s not like stop-down metering is hard. It’s just an extra step, and a quick one: flip the switch. Yet to be free of it! Exposure information in the viewfinder at all times! This feeling of ease makes the Spotmatic F more compelling than any stop-down Spotmatic that preceded it.

Pentax Spotmatic F

Introduced in 1973, the Spotmatic F retained the original 1964 Spotmatic’s chassis. I expect the works are the same, too, except for changes enabling open-aperture metering. To power that meter the SPF got a bigger, more powerful battery: the dreaded, banned PX625 mercury cell. (Earlier Spotmatics used a battery that isn’t made anymore, though other special-order batteries can be adapted to fit.) But that’s not all bad, as highly available alkaline 625 cells fit and work fine despite delivering a little less juice (0.2 volts, to be precise) because Pentax added a bridge circuit to adjust voltage. It’s the only Spotmatic so equipped.

Pentax Spotmatic F

Well-known Pentax repairman Eric Hendrickson cleaned, lubed, and adjusted this SPF, so it works like new. And it may well have been essentially new, serving briefly as a sales demonstrator before falling into the hands of a Pentax employee who kept it without, it seems, ever using it.

Pentax Spotmatic F

The SPF is a 35mm SLR with a cloth focal-plane shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 sec., with flash sync at 1/60 sec. The SPF takes M42 screw-mount lenses, but open-aperture metering works only with SMC Takumar and Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lenses, which have a pin that lets the camera read the selected aperture. With those lenses, the stop-down lever (on the right of the lens barrel) provides depth-of-field preview.

SPF_TTL

Inside the viewfinder. Meter needle at right. When it’s horizontal, you have accurate exposure.

The SPF meters through the lens using a CdS cell and a match-needle system in the viewfinder; it accepts films from ISO 20 to 3200. There’s no on/off switch, but at and below 2 EV the meter deactivates. Keeping the lens capped effectively turns the camera off.

The focusing screen includes a microprism patch. You twist the focus ring until everything looks sharp and the patch stops shimmering. The older I get the harder it is to see the shimmer, and so I prefer split-image focusing screens. This is the only serious thing I wish were different about the SPF, because otherwise mine is just a joy to shoot.

This SPF came to me with a 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens. I love 35mm for everyday walking-around photography! Confident in my just-serviced camera I skipped over the inexpensive films with which I normally test cameras and loaded a roll of Ektar.

I took the SPF to Nashville, Indiana, where I attended a conference. My day was pretty packed, but I slipped away at lunch for some photography.

Nashville, IN

35mm lenses are just made for walking around and capturing scenery, of which there is plenty in Nashville. And this Takumar is sharp and renders color well.

Nashville, IN

Downtown Nashville is all little shops and restaurants. It’s a fun day out, easily reached from Indianapolis.

Madeline's

Nooks and crannies throughout Nashville provide plenty of interesting subjects.

Confusing Temptation with Opportunity

On a sunnier day I visited the cemetery near my house. This monument went up in the last year or so but I’ve already shot it many times. The Ektar handled the brown well.

Roman numerals

But wait…what’s that? Up there, in the trees? A little bokeh?

At Washington Park North

Yes, and it’s interesting bokeh, a constellation of little points. If only the subject (those leaves) was more interesting.

Bokeh

I walked through the neighborhood one afternoon with the SPF. This isn’t a neighborhood of picket fences, this one neighbor notwithstanding.

Picketing

Another neighbor recently started parking this mid-1970s Ford Thunderbird curbside. It’s not plated. In a tonier neighborhood the HOA would be all over this Bird’s owner like stink on a garbage truck. Here, we have no HOA. His car can sit there for as long as it wants.

Thunderbird

A lonesome highway makes a pretty good subject.

Old 52

To see more photographs, check out my Pentax Spotmatic F gallery.

I waited until the end to say that the Spotmatic F is essentially the same camera as the 1976 Pentax K1000, except the K1000 uses the then-new K bayonet lens mount. Every other SPF review says that up front and I didn’t want to be tiresome. But I’m mentioning it now because I’ve owned a few K1000s, fine and competent cameras the lot. But I experienced real joy shooting this SPF, a feeling I’ve found elusive with any K1000.

Perhaps some of that joy comes from my SPF’s like-new condition. Buttery operation never fails to impress. But most of it comes from an indescribable quality, something special that got lost in the K-mount translation. If you know your way around apertures and shutter speeds and want to break into film SLRs, just get a Spotmatic F. Pair it with the astonishing 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens and you’ll never fail to have great fun.

 

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Cameras, Photography

Photographing old cameras

Fellow film-photo bloggers: how do you like to photograph your old cameras?

Kodak Retina Ia

Reviewing old gear on this blog as I do, I need to show the cameras. When this blog was new a decade ago I’d just set them on my deck’s railing and aim my digital camera at them. But if I shot at midday or in the afternoon, the sun was overhead, leading to harsh shadows and bad reflections. If I shot late afternoon or in the evening, the sun was behind my subject, leading to silhouetting.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

I had so much to learn. I shot handheld, and camera shake was a problem. And I shot my digital camera, a simple Kodak EasyShare Z730, at its default focal length of 33mm (equivalent). That led to my cameras looking a little off square.

Argus C3

Morning-only shooting was too limiting, so I brought it inside. I stuck cameras on a little table in my office and turned on every light in the room. I was still using Corel Paint Shop Pro to edit my photos, and I couldn’t adjust white balance with it.

Olympus Trip 35

It did help considerably when I upgraded my digital camera (Canon PowerShot S80) and put it on a tripod. Zooming in to about 50mm equivalent gave the cameras a more natural look. A switch to Photoshop Elements gave me more tools to make colors look natural.

Pentax KM

It helped even more when I moved to my living room, opened the blinds on the big picture window, and shot cameras on the coffee table. The colorful backgrounds added interest. I also upgraded my digital camera again, to a Canon PowerShot S95. It can zoom directly to common focal lengths, including 50mm, no guessing. That feature is so useful.

Minolta SR-T-101

Because the light varies, in automatic mode the camera sometimes gives me too little depth of field. So I switched to program mode and set ISO to 100 to get a slow enough shutter speed to bring all details in crisp. That sometimes left the shutter open so long that shake from pressing the button would ruin the shot. So I started using the self-timer to delay the shutter.

Kodak 35

I don’t remember just what led me to switch to photographing cameras on my family room coffee table. I probably wanted to shoot a camera well after daylight had passed one day. My family room has the best artificial light in the house. I figured out how to position the camera so that only the coffee table’s surface served as a background, which I find to be a clean look.

Canon EOS A2e

When I shoot during the day, natural light from the nearby window renders the surface red-brown. At night, with every lamp in the room lit, the table looks dark brown. By not I had started shooting RAW, and I had upgraded to full Photoshop, for even greater control.

Yashica-12

Photoshop can’t fix everything, though. With tall cameras I have to raise and tilt my camera such that the images look top heavy.

Yashica T2

Half the time I forget to clean up the camera before I shoot it. I don’t notice the dust until I bring up the image in Photoshop. It’s enough hassle to set up to shoot these cameras that I just shrug and use the images anyway.

Kodak Retina IIc

Keeping the coffee-table surface as the background sometimes leads me to shoot from angles that obscure some of the camera’s details. This Retina’s exposure scale is on the bottom of the lens barrel, not that you can tell it from this shot. The photo below, which I made in seconds with my iPhone, shows these details much better.

image1

My camera photos work well enough to use in my reviews, but I’m hardly proud of them. So do tell: what tricks have you learned that give you fast, easy, inexpensive, but interesting photos of your gear?

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Kodak Retina IIc

Hi and welcome to my film-photography blog! If you like this post, subscribe to read more in your inbox or reader six days a week.    Click here to subscribe!

You have to wonder what the point of the Kodak Retina IIc was, given that it replaced the very similar Retina IIa in 1954. Both are German-made compact folding rangefinder cameras for 35mm film, with fixed 50mm lenses, leaf shutters, and fine lenses. The IIc differs from the IIa in several ways, but two stand right out. Its winder is on the bottom plate rather than the top. And its 50mm lens lets in less light, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 compared to the IIa’s f/2.

Kodak Retina IIc

But that front lens element interchanges. It just twists right off, and available 35 and 80mm front elements twist right in. Confusingly, some IIa bodies had Schneider-Kreuznach lenses while others had Rodenstock lenses. Schneider front elements wouldn’t mount on the Rodenstock rear elements and vice-versa.

That’s why the IIc existed: to move the Retina line toward being a system camera. Because what system camera doesn’t have interchangeable lenses? Retina accessories already existed out the wazoo: finders, meters, auxiliary lenses, lens hoods, flash holders, even stereo attachments.

Kodak Retina IIc

That’s not all that changed. The body was rounder. The front-cover latch moved to the edge where the cover opens. Its main shutter bearing and cocking rack might have been made more robust.

Kodak Retina IIc

The IIc also changed the way you set exposure from straight aperture and shutter-speed settings to exposure values (EVs). An EV number represents an exposure level. EV 15 is f/8 at 1/500 sec. — and f/11 at 1/250, f/16 at 1/125, and so on. And EV 14 lets in a “stop” more light than EV 15.

The IIc assumes you can convert light to EVs in your head, or you have a meter with an EV scale. Either way, you set EVs along the bottom of the IIc’s lens barrel. Pull down the metal lever and move it until it points to the right EV. You might have to adjust aperture or shutter speed to access some EVs. From there, turning the knurled dial moves the Retina through all the aperture/shutter-speed combinations that represent that exposure level so you can get the depth of field you want.

The meter app on my iPhone can output EVs, so I used this system. Except for the EV scale being awkwardly placed on the camera, it worked remarkably well. EV 13½? Click it into place and shoot. Nothing to it. On the other hand, the IIc’s EV system complicates setting aperture and shutter speed directly. So if you aren’t using EVs you will find this camera to be frustrating. Get a IIa.

Kodak Retina IIc

The IIc still has all the usual Retina quirks, chief among them being that you can’t close the cover until you set focus to infinity. After you’ve done that, to close the cover you press in the buttons on the top and bottom of the lens board simultaneously.

The other quirk is that the frame counter counts down, and when it reaches one, the Retina stops winding. So set that counter when you load the film! Or do what I did: forget to do it, shoot until you hit one, press the button next to the frame counter, and scoot the slider on the camera back repeatedly until you get enough frames to finish the roll. The winding tension at the end of the roll will tell you you’re done.

What’s not quirky is the shutter’s 1/500 sec. fastest speed. It makes the Retina IIc quite versatile. Someday I ought to drop in some fast film and shoot Sunny 16. But for my test roll I used good old Fujicolor 200.

Back yard log fence

I happily shot the rest of the roll, but when the film came back from the processor only the first frame, above, was exposed. Such a disappointment! I opened the camera back and fired the shutter at all speeds. I watched as it let in light every time. And the winder was clearly turning the takeup spool properly. The negatives showed no sign of sprocket-hole tearing. So I shrugged and loaded another roll of film, this time Kodak Gold 200. I blew through most of the roll in twenty minutes in my front garden.

Orange flower

I shot these around the 4th of July, when my flowers were really starting to go to town. Busy subjects like this one did tax my IIc’s rangefinder. I wish it were brigher; it might have been when it left the factory. But it’s also small. These conditions made it hard for my middle-aged eyes to focus on busy subjects.

Pink

It’s easy enough to focus when you back up and want lots of depth of field, however. My hosta were all in peak bloom when I shot this. I’m ambivalent toward hosta, but I have a lot of them in my yard because Verna, the woman who built this house, planted them.

Front yard

I took the IIc over to Juan Solomon Park to finish the roll. The city is replacing a bridge on one of the roads I take to get there.

Road closed

I’ve photographed this building on the park grounds many times because it is so handsome.

At Juan Solomon Park

This park has been a frequent subject because of its color and its varied shapes. This neighborhood is fortunate to have such a wonderful playground. It’s much nicer than the playground that was here when my sons were small and we used to visit all the time.

Playground

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

As you can see, the Retina IIc performed well on the second test roll. I did goof one thing up: I had my meter set on ISO 100 for this ISO 200 film. But fortunately Kodak Gold 200 has good exposure latitude. I adjusted exposure in Photoshop on several images to tame wild highlights and bring out best color, but every frame was usable as scanned.

The verdict: as long as you’re metering in EVs, the Kodak Retina IIc is a delightful camera.

To see the rest of my camera collection, click here
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Cameras

Inspecting vintage film cameras before you buy, part 3: Research

Recently I told you how to assess a camera’s condition, first by checking basic features and then by checking advanced features. Now I’m going to tell you about the powerful tool in your camera-inspection arsenal, especially when it comes to all- (or mostly-) electronic cameras: your smartphone.

That’s right. Because wherever you get a good signal, you can research the camera.

Minolta Maxxum 7000

Failed aperture-control magnet

I didn’t do that at the counter of my local camera shop, where I was hot to buy this Minolta Maxxum 7000. It wasn’t until I took it home and shot a roll of film in it that I learned it suffered from a very common Maxxum 7000 fault: a failed magnet in the autoexposure system. When it goes, the camera shoots only at its smallest aperture. To test it, drop a battery in, go into low light (but not so low you can’t see the camera well), look down at the lens, and fire. In low-ish light the camera should select a wide aperture. If you see a tiny aperture as the shutter fires, the Maxxum has this problem.

I had a great mobile signal while I stood at that counter. A quick search for “Maxxum 7000 fault” could have spared me the disappointment.

Canon EOS Rebel

Failed shutter

As electronics crept into cameras, so did intractable problems. That’s not to say used electronic film cameras are inherently a bad deal. I own several that just keep on trucking. But when they do fail, they can appear to be functioning properly. More than once I’ve happily shot an entire roll only to find every shot spoiled by some internal gremlin. I’ve owned two Canon EOS Rebel-series cameras, for example, with failing or failed shutters. It’s the number one problem these cameras develop. But the camera sounds like it’s working as you shoot it. (Tip: look at the shutter curtain. If there’s any goo on it, or an arc of marks, the shutter is failing or has failed.)

Minolta X-700

Jammed tight

Sometimes the failure is as subtle as a brick to the forehead. My aunt Maxine gave me her Minolta X-700 kit a long time ago, and I managed to shoot one roll of film before its most common failure happened: a rogue capacitor breathed its last. When that happens, the winder locks tight. My friend Alice later gave me her X-700, which had already suffered the same fate. This can be repaired with a new capacitor, but it’s major surgery and expensive to have done. Such is the case with most failures in electronic cameras.

Yet it’s not just electronic cameras that have quirks and common failure points.

Kodak Retina Reflex IV

Wind to fix this cameras main “fault”

The fully manual Kodak Retina Reflex series has a quirk: the mirror stays up after you press the shutter button. You see black in the viewfinder until you wind, which raises the mirror again. If you come upon one of these and find you can’t see through the viewfinder, if you don’t know this you will think the camera is broken.

The Argus A-series cameras and some of the Kodak Pony-series cameras have collapsible lens barrels.  They don’t work right unless the barrel is extended.

And many folding Kodak Retina cameras might appear to be broken, the winder being stuck. But when the frame counter atop the camera counts town to zero, the camera locks the winder. Moving the frame counter off zero frees the winder.

For many cameras, you can find the original manual online as a free download. The best and best-known site is butkus.org, but there are others. It can be a little tricky to read a manual on your phone, but it can mean the difference between not buying a camera because the winder’s stuck, or realizing that moving the frame counter off zero frees that winder up.

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The point is that many cameras have quirks, common issues, and known failure points. And others have gone here before you. They like to write about their woes with old cameras, either in their blogs or in the photography forums. A quick Internet search often reveals all.

And now you have a complete camera-evaluation toolkit. First check fundamental functions. Then test advanced features. Finally, research the camera’s quirks and known failure points. If you do these things, you’ll greatly reduce the risk of bringing home a dud.

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