Film Photography

35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A

The 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A is one of my favorite workhorse lenses.

I have any number of terrific 50mm lenses for the three SLR systems I use (Pentax, Nikon, and Olympus). For my Pentax SLRs in particular, my 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens is superb. But when I’m on the street photographing the built environment, as I’m wont to do, 50mm is often too constraining. I usually have to stand in the street to put my subject fully in the frame. Sometimes the building behind me blocks me from backing up enough.

This looks like a job for a wide-angle lens!

First I tried the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens that came with one of the old SLRs I bought along the way. It’s optically very good, and it let me fill the frame with my subject in most cases. But the exaggerated perspective inherent in any wide-angle lens was sometimes too much, making my subjects look strange, even grotesque.

I bought this 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A to see if it would ease the perspective exaggeration while still fitting enough in the frame. The SMC Pentax-M version of this lens would have been a good choice, too — it is optically identical. None my Pentax bodies support the program and shutter-priority modes that the A lenses enable anyway. I just happened to find this SMC Pentax-A version first at a price I was willing to pay.

With six elements in six groups, this lens is wonderfully sharp and free from distortion. It’s also incredibly compact — almost, but not quite, a pancake lens. Paired with a small SLR body like my Pentax ME, this lens makes a light and easy-to-handle kit.

Not long ago I extolled the virtues of a compact short zoom for built-environment photography. I stand by those words! Unfortunately, Pentax never made such a lens. Their most compact short zoom was the 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A, but it’s nowhere near as small or light as similar offerings of the day from Nikon or Canon. I own one but use it only occasionally.

The reasons I use this lens put me in daylight most of the time, so its f/2.8 maximum aperture is fine. For those who need extra aperture margin, Pentax also made a 35mm f/2 lens in the SMC Pentax-A and -M series. It’s a less compact than this 35mm f/2.8, but there’s always a tradeoff, isn’t there?

These images show this lens’s good optical qualities. I applied some perspective correction on the first image to correct keystoning created when I pointed the camera up a little to fit the brutalist building in the frame. Otherwise, my post-processing was limited to color and contrast adjustments.

Minton-Capehart Federal Building, Indianapolis
Pentax ME, Agfa Agfaphoto APX 100 expired 7/1998
On St. Clair St.
Pentax ME, Agfa Agfaphoto APX 100 expired 7/1998
House on the Canal
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200
Federal Courthouse
Pentax ME, Film Washi S

I love it that I can move in reasonably close to details with this lens and if I get any perspective distortion, it’s minimal. A 28mm lens yields results up close that remind me of a funhouse mirror.

Oh my gourd
Pentax KM, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400
2022-08-07-0027 proc
Pentax ME SE, Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow, HC-110 Dilution B/i
Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200

It’s easy to create a little drama with wider apertures. This 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens is no exception.

Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis
Pentax ME SE, Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow, HC-0110 Dilution B
Perrin Historic District, Lafayette, IN
Pentax ME, Fujicolor 200 at EI 100
Bridge on State Road 225
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 (at EI 200)
Underpass
Pentax ME SE, Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow, HC-0110 Dilution B

This lens delivers a smooth blurred background when aperture and shutter speed are right. I’ve never pushed it to the limit to see if I get little hexagons or circles in the background light, but when I want to do that I’m reaching for a nifty fifty anyway.

Lanyards
Pentax KM, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400
At the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200

I’ve used this lens for casual portraits, too. When I mean to make portraits I reach for my long lenses. But when this 35mm lens is on the camera and I want to make a portrait, it works well enough.

Damion
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200

These are the reasons why the 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens is my choice when I’m doing my usual documentary work with one of my Pentax SLR bodies. It lets me travel light while always delivering terrific results.

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Camera Reviews

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

A reader offered to sell me his Pentax Spotmatic SP II with a 50mm f/1.4 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens attached. He wasn’t sure the Spottie’s meter was reading correctly, and said that the bottom plate was a replacement after the original was damaged, but otherwise the camera was in good cosmetic and functional condition. Even if the body wasn’t fully functional, I don’t own a 50/1.4 Takumar and I’ve long wanted one. Because it’s the Super Multi Coated version, it includes the pin that lets it meter on my Spotmatic F without the need to stop down. We struck a deal, and he sent it straightaway.

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

The 1971 SP II improves the original 1964 Spotmatic SP with some stouter internal parts, a hot shoe and flash sync, and the ASA range increased from 1600 to 3200. The camera otherwise looks and operates the same as the original. It uses a focal plane shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 second. Its onboard CdS light meter needs a 1.35-volt PX-400 mercury battery to function. Mercury batteries are no longer made. Fortunately, the silver-oxide 387 cell is the same size and shape, and it doesn’t matter that it puts out 1.55 volts because all Spotmatics include a bridge circuit that adjusts to the needed 1.35 volts.

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

Except for the light meter, the SP II is entirely mechanical. It takes M42 screw-mount lenses, of which Pentax made a huge range. Even though the SP II came with the Super Multi Coated lenses that included the pins for open-aperture metering, only the Spotmatic F and the Electro Spotmatic/ES/ES II cameras could take advantage of those pins. On the SP II, you still had to stop down to meter.

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

That’s what the big switch on the side of the lens mount is for. When you’re ready to meter, push it up. The needle at right in the viewfinder comes to life. Then to set exposure, adjust aperture (on the lens barrel) and/or shutter speed (with the dial atop the camera) until the needle is horizontal, or at least within the small empty space between the upper and lower black vertical lines of the meter scale. Then press the shutter button to make the image.

If you like Pentax SLRs, also see my reviews of the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), the ES II (here), the H3 (here), the venerable K1000 (here), the KM (here), the ME (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

Pro tip: Don’t leave the stop-down switch on overnight. It kills the battery. Ask me how I know.

I tested this Spottie with two rolls of film, using the already attached 50mm f/1.4 lens. First I loaded some Kodak T-Max 100, which I developed in Rodinal 1+50. I had occasion to be in Washington Park North cemetery in Indianapolis, which was right by my previous house. It was nice to be back. This replica of the Liberty Bell has found itself in my viewfinder dozens of times.

In Washington Park North Cemetery

The person who sold me the camera thought that one of the two CdS cells must be dead in the meter, as he didn’t get accurate readings. But I checked the camera against my phone’s light meter app, and the two meters lined up well enough. I got good exposures right down the line.

In Washington Park North Cemetery

I had a few days off from work, so one afternoon I had lunch at The Friendly, a pub that is an institution here in Zionsville. Here are some of my usual photographs from Main Street.

Black Dog Books

I’m lukewarm on T-Max 100. I love its ISO 400 brother. I shot ten rolls of that stuff in Ireland in 2016 and got gorgeous exposures. I’ve yet to make a photo on T-Max 100 that grabs me. I wish its blacks were richer. At least its sharpness is outstanding.

Downtown Zionsville

I continued with a roll of color film. Some time ago I found some expired ISO 200 Ferrania film that was branded Kroger, which is a prominent grocery chain in the US. I’m not in love with the stuff, which makes it a great choice for testing old cameras. My wife and I took a photo walk through Lockerbie, an old neighborhood in Downtown Indianapolis. This is Lockerbie Street, the only street in town still paved with cobblestones. The Spotmatic’s meter is center weighted, despite the word Spot being in the camera name. It had a little trouble with the sun on the cobblestones as it appropriately exposed the houses. No amount of Photoshoppery could save those cobblestones. It didn’t help, I’m sure, that this film is at least 10 years old.

In Lockerbie

This Spotmatic’s light seals are either missing or gummy, thanks to age. Fortunately, the channels they rest in are deep. Closing the film door creates enough of a seal that no light leaked in.

In Lockerbie

The 50mm f/1.4 lens is delightful, and I’m very happy to finally own one. If I ever pass this Spottie on to its next owner, I’m keeping the lens.

In Lockerbie

I owned an original Spotmatic SP many years ago, and back then I did not enjoy stopping down to meter. But nine years have passed. I’m considerably more skilled with an old camera now, and I don’t at all mind stopping down. This former gas station stands on the Michigan Road on the north edge of Michigantown, Indiana.

Old gas station, Michigantown, IN

This Spottie handled beautifully. The controls felt substantial and sure. The lens focused with a feeling of heft. The shutter made a sweet click; the mirror didn’t shake the camera as it flipped. Here I was on the Michigan Road just south of the tiny town of Deer Creek. This grassy flat spot was State Road 218 a long time ago. The current path of SR 218 connects with the Michigan Road immediately north of Deer Creek.

Old SR 218

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Pentax Spotmatic SP II gallery.

If you find a Spotmatic — any Spotmatic, the SP, SP II, 500, 1000, or F — in good condition, buy it. These cameras are supremely satisfying to shoot, and the Takumar lenses are uniformly good. I like the Spotmatics slightly better than the first K-mount cameras (e.g, the K1000) that followed them. Those cameras were heavily based on the Spotmatic, yet mysteriously they don’t feel as good under use as any Spotmatic. It’s the great Pentax mystery.

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

35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor

In action on my Nikon N2000. Fujifilm Provia 400X (expired)

The 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor was a lens of its time. By the mid 1980s, more and more amateurs were buying SLRs and the major camera manufacturers were building more entry-level cameras to oblige them. The industry noticed how amateurs liked zoom lenses for the casual photography they were likely to do.

Major manufacturers designed inexpensive short zooms — 28-80mm and 35-70mm were popular — to put in the kit with their lower-line SLR bodies. This lens came in 1984, Nikon’s first inexpensive short zoom. The lens was popular enough that Nikon made it for 21 years.

This lens is small and light. Nikon made it with a lot of plastic to keep its weight and cost down — the mount is plastic, as is most of the body. Nikon purists recoiled in horror, and then retreated to their built-like-a-tank Nikkor primes. But amateurs were pleased enough with the lens, especially since it was an Ai-s lens, which enabled Program mode on their cameras. It also has a macro mode, making this lens kind of a Swiss Army knife.

Optically, the lens has eight elements in seven groups. It noticeably vignettes wide open, but that reduces the narrower your aperture and the deeper your zoom. This lens also delivers barrel distortion, which is barely perceptible at 70mm but obvious and strong at 35mm. Thankfully, with modern digital workflows that’s quickly remedied in Photoshop. Here’s an image straight off the scanner that shows the distortion. I didn’t keep notes on this roll, but I probably shot this at or close to 35mm.

Nikon N2000, Kodak Ektar

But like I said, a couple of clicks in Photoshop and the distortion disappears.

Entrance to our cabin
Nikon N2000, Kodak Ektar

This lens has plenty of detractors, most notably Ken Rockwell, who puts it on his list of the 10 worst Nikon lenses. He points readers toward a couple other 35-70mm Nikkors with better performance. But in the eight or nine years I’ve owned this lens I’ve used it a lot, and I’ve always been very happy with its sharpness, color rendition, and contrast. Correcting barrel distortion in post-processing is the only downer I experience with this lens.

Everything else is upside. The lens is tight. Controls are smooth. They don’t have the luxurious heft of my Nikon primes, but I don’t care about that when I’m in the world making images. It handles easily and focuses fast. What more could I want?

A short zoom like this is perfect for subjects that are moderately far away to moderately close. For the kind of photography I do, largely images of the built environment, that keeps me from needing to step into the road as much to frame my subject. I made this image on a road trip along US 40 as I surveyed the stunning homes on that road in Casey, Illinois. I was able to make this image from the sidewalk across the street by zooming in just a little. With a 50mm prime, I would have had to walk out into the street.

Main Street, Casey, IL
Nikon F2AS, Fujicolor 200

The 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor isn’t exactly a bokeh monster, but you do get a blurred background when the light, aperture, and shutter speed are right.

Coffee and Macbook
Nikon N2000, Kodak Ektar

Sharpness is good to very good, but never outstanding. Even on this expired slide film, the lens delivers gobs of detail.

The Depot
Nikon N2000, expired Fujifilm Provia 400X

Because of this lens’s small size, light weight, and versatility, I travel with it a lot. This is My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown, Kentucky.

My Old Kentucky Home
Nikon FA, Arista.EDU 200

I’m a big fan of moving in close with my camera, and it’s wonderful that this general-purpose lens’s macro mode lets me do that.

Purple crock
Nikon F3, Kodak Gold 400 expired 1/08

Here’s one more image in macro mode, just because I like macro so much. I’ve never had any issues with flaring or ghosting when I’ve used this lens, by the way.

Produce
Nikon FA, expired Kroger 200 at EI 100

I shoot a lot of color film with this lens, but it does great work in black and white, too.

0 mph
Nikon Nikkormat EL, Foma Fomapan 100

Because of its smallish maximum aperture, you need faster films in low light. I shot Kodak T-Max P3200 here — I shot most of this roll inside, but made a few photos outside because that was the film I had in the camera.

7th & Wabash, Terre Haute
Nikon FA, Kodak T-Max P3200, HC-110 Dilution B

Now I’m just showing you some images that I liked seeing again as I put this post together. I’ve made hundreds of images with this lens and have plenty of keepers from it.

SoBro homes
Nikon F2AS, Kodak Tri-X expired 2006
Heating the coals
Nikon F3, Kodak Gold 400 expired 1/08
Holly on the holly trees
Nikon FA, Agfa Vista 200
Downtown Bardstown
Nikon FA, Agfa Vista 200
Corner Wine Bar
Nikon F2AS, Fujicolor 200

The measure of a lens is whether it delivers the results you want. I can think of all kinds of photographers who would never use a lens like this 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor. But I walk around and photograph the things I find interesting, and a light and small short zoom like this is often just the right tool. It is sharp and contrasty enough, it mounts to every manual-focus Nikon SLR body I own, and it keeps me from needing to step out into traffic to photograph the built environment around me. To get these things, I’m willing to post-process images I made at the wide end of this lens to correct barrel distortion, when it’s noticeable.

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Camera Reviews

Pentax ME SE

You have to wonder why Pentax went to the trouble to offer the Pentax ME SE. After all, it was the same camera as the Pentax ME save two tiny details. One of those details is obvious by inspection: smooth brown leather on the body instead of textured black leather.

Pentax ME SE

The other differing detail is inside the viewfinder: on the focusing screen, the split screen is canted at -45 degrees. The regular ME’s split screen is horizontal. The canted split screen eliminates needing to rotate the camera when the subject’s lines are primarily horizontal, which is nice.

Pentax ME SE

Otherwise, the ME SE’s specs are identical to the ME’s. It works with films from ISO 12 to 1600 and allows exposures from 8 seconds to 1/1000 second through its electronic shutter. You can adjust exposure up to two stops in either direction by setting a dial around the rewind crank. Its hot shoe syncs at 1/100 sec. Two silver-oxide SR44 button batteries power the ME SE. Without them, the shutter operates only at 1/100 sec and at bulb.

Pentax ME SE

Also like the regular ME, this camera operates only in aperture-priority autoexposure mode, and it lacks depth-of-field preview. This camera was aimed squarely at the amateur.

To use the Pentax ME SE, turn the dial atop the camera to AUTO. Set your aperture on the lens. Then look through the viewfinder, frame your subject, and focus. Press the shutter button down partway. A red light appears next to the shutter speed the ME SE’s meter chose. If the red light appears next to OVER or UNDER, adjust the aperture until the meter can select one of the shutter speeds. Of course, if you get a shutter speed slower than about the inverse of your lens’s focal length, you should mount the camera on a tripod to avoid shake.

Pentax produced these cameras from 1976 to 1979, but you could buy them new out of existing stock through at least 1984. They commonly came in a kit with the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens for a street price of about $120. That’s equivalent to about $330 today, making this camera a solid bargain when new.

If you like compact SLRs, see my reviews of the original Pentax ME (here), the Olympus OM-1 (here), and the Nikon FA (here). If you like Pentax SLRs, see my reviews of the K1000 (here), the KM (here), the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), the ES II (here), and the H3 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

My regular Pentax ME has long been my favorite SLR. It’s so light and easy to carry, and I strongly favor aperture-priority shooting. When I found my ME’s meter to be dead last fall, I faced a choice. I could either have my well-used, somewhat battered body repaired, or buy a lightly-used, working body. I decided upon the latter, and soon came upon this clean and minty ME SE. The seller had even just replaced all of the light seals. I paid $105, including shipping, which is a lot more than I normally pay for any camera. But I am entering into a long-term relationship and was willing to pay for a body in very good nick.

To test the camera I mounted the delightful 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens and loaded some Kodak Ultramax 400. I set the camera’s ISO to 200 because I love the look of Ultramax 400 overexposed by a stop.

Autumn in the suburbs on the Pentax ME SE

The ME SE feels just like the ME in the hand, except that the ME SE’s smooth leather feels a great deal nicer than the ME’s nubby black leather. It gives me an “ahhhhh!” moment every time I pick it up.

Metamora, Indiana on the Pentax ME SE

I kept going with a roll of Fomapan 200, which I rated at 125 and developed in Ilford ID-11 stock.

Rushville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

Just like the regular ME, the ME SE’s winder feels a little ratchety. The similarly sized Olympus OM-1 or -2’s winder is a lot smoother. The shutter button feels good, however, with a smooth, short travel.

Rushville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

The ME SE’s viewfinder is surprisingly large and bright, which adds to the joy of using this camera.

Brookville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

Next I mounted the underappreciated 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens and loaded some expired Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400 film. I shot it at box speed — I should have rated it at 200 or 100. This was the best-exposed image on the roll.

Construction scene on the Pentax ME SE

I shot the ME SE all over Indiana on various trips. Because of its size and weight, it’s an easy companion.

Carmel statue on the Pentax ME SE

Finally I took the ME SE along on a trip up the Michigan Road toward South Bend, fresh Fujicolor 200 aboard. I mounted a 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A lens I had just bought.

Rees marquee on the Pentax ME SE

This fat lens made the ME SE front heavy and thus less pleasant to shoot. Mount a prime onto the ME SE (or the regular ME) and you have a light, balanced kit.

1949 Buick Super on the Pentax ME SE

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax ME SE gallery.

I love the Pentax ME SE, just as I have loved the Pentax ME for many years now. I recommend these bodies every chance I get. They’re still relatively inexpensive on the used market, and they let you mount the entire range of terrific Pentax manual-focus lenses. What’s not to love?

Postscript: I got out my regular ME the other day to decide what to do with it. I decided to try another fresh battery just for the heck of it — and the meter lit right up. The camera works just fine. I have no idea why I couldn’t make it work before. Now I have two working ME bodies!

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

Minolta Maxxum 5

When a reader offered this Minolta Maxxum 5 to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, I had no idea how tiny it would be. Indeed, upon its 2001 introduction it was billed as the smallest and lightest autofocus SLR of all time. I happen to favor compact SLRs, so I was excited to give this diminutive Minolta a try.

Minolta Maxxum 5

The Maxxum 5 was introduced in 2001. Typical of late film SLRs, this camera has a list of specs as long as your arm. I’m not going to try to list them all, as the Maxxum 5 does everything you’d expect. It loads, winds, and rewinds film automatially. You get programmed, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual exposure modes. It has a built-in pop-up flash, and also a shoe for Minolta’s proprietary external flashes. Its shutter operates from 1/4000 second down to a full 30 seconds.

Minolta Maxxum 5

The Maxxum 5 uses a seven-point autofocus system and a 14-segment honeycomb-pattern meter that emphasizes the chosen focus point. There’s a switch on the front to turn off autofocus when you want to focus manually. There’s also a button on the back that turns on spot metering, which uses only the center metering segment.

Minolta Maxxum 5

The camera reads the film cartridge’s DX code to set ISO from 25 to 5000. You can override that, however, and set ISO as low as 6 and as high as 6400. The camera even has an “eye start” feature — when your hand is on the grip, and you bring your eye to the viewfinder, it begins metering and focusing immediately. (I found that feature to be annoying, so I turned it off.) 2 CR2 batteries power this camera, without which it is inert.

It says a lot about the 2001 state of the SLR art that the Maxxum 5 was considered an amateur’s SLR. The advanced amateur Maxxum 7 and the professional Maxxum 9 offered even more functionality.

The Maxxum 5 was a ton of camera for its price — $403 for just the body. I’m sure almost all of these came with the 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 Minolta AF Zoom kit zoom lens, however. Mine came to me with an almost certainly superior 35-70mm f/4 Maxxum AF Zoom lens.

If you like auto-everything Minolta SLRs, you might also enjoy my reviews of the Maxxum 7000i (here), the original Maxxum 7000 (here), the Maxxum 9xi (here), and the Maxxum HTsi (here). I’ve also reviewed the Minolta SR-T 101 (here) and SR-T 202 (here), as well as the delightful rangefinder Minolta Hi-Matic 7 (here) and later Hi-Matic AF2 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I brought the Maxxum 5 with me on a trip to Chicago in mid-January. I had three rolls of film with me, and I began with Kodak Ultramax 400.

On the Chicago River: Minolta Maxxum 5

Temperatures were in the mid to upper teens all that weekend. I had a hotel right on the Chicago River, in the Loop but right across from the River North neighborhood. I photographed the river’s bridges and the neighborhood extensively, keeping the Maxxum 5 inside my coat until I was ready to frame a scene. The camera performed flawlessly even in such low temperatures.

On the Chicago River: Minolta Maxxum 5

The viewfinder is small, but bright. The focus points the camera chooses light up clearly inside the viewfinder.

Ahead: Minolta Maxxum 5

I walked for a couple hours that night with Kodak T-Max P3200 in the Maxxum 5. I got uneven results. The negatives were very thin — either the Maxxum’s meter is way, way off, or the lab bollixed the development. I’m leaning toward blaming the lab; I think the Maxxum’s meter is right.

Chicago River at night: Minolta Maxxum 5

Several shots had vertical light streaks through them, like this one. Normally I develop my own black-and-white film, and I wish I had done so this time.

Down LaSalle St.: Minolta Maxxum 5

Still, a number of the shots I made turned out well enough, like this one.

Shockingly: Minolta Maxxum 5

The next day I loaded Fujicolor 200 into the camera and kept shooting. Despite all of the Maxxum 5’s modes and options, I never varied from straight-up Program mode. But then, I’m sure, neither did 95 percent of people who bought this camera new.

Fire chief: Minolta Maxxum 5

The 35-70mm zoom lens is on the small side, which befits this small camera. I have 50mm prime lenses that are almost as large. The lens offers macro mode, which I used on a couple shots. I was pleased with this lens’s sharpness.

Graffiti: Minolta Maxxum 5

I had only two minor complaints with the Maxxum 5. First, the strap lugs are right by the door hinge on one end, and the door closure on the other. Every time I loaded film, the strap got in the way of closing the door.

Wrapped in lights: Minolta Maxxum 5

Second, the button to open the camera back is in a nonstandard place: on the back, lower right, below the door. I was a little worried that this would make it easy to accidentally open the camera. But while researching to write this review, I learned that the Maxxum 5 will open only when film is not wound around the takeup spool.

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta Maxxum 5 gallery.

Auto-everything SLRs from late in the film era, like this Maxxum 5, are the great bargains of film photography. You can pick these up on eBay every day for under $40, and sometimes for as low as $20, usually with a lens attached.

On the balance, Minolta made wonderful auto-everything SLRs, and the Maxxum 5 is no exception. I like them more than the contemporary Nikons and Canons that I’ve tried. The Maxxum 5’s small size and rich featureset distinguishes it from the other Maxxums I’ve used. This camera is a keeper.

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

Nikon FA

Nobody could alienate photographers as well as Nikon could in the 1980s. The company did it by leading the way with automation and electronic control. We take all of this for granted today, but then serious photographers were a traditional lot. They shied away from anything not mechanical and manual in their cameras. The Nikon faithful especially looked sidelong at the Nikon FwA.

1983’s Nikon FA was, and is, the most technologically advanced manual-focus camera Nikon ever introduced. Yet it didn’t sell all that well compared to Nikon’s more-mechanical, more-manual cameras. Perhaps its high price, which was within spitting distance of the pro-level F3, helped push buyers away. But its high electronic advancement certainly did.

Nikon FA

The FA offers both programmed autoexposure and Automatic Multi-Pattern (matrix) metering controlled by a computer chip. Its vertical titanium-bladed, honeycomb-patterned shutter operates from 1 to 1/4000 second. It syncs with flash at 1/250 sec., which was pretty fast for the time. Two LR44 or SR44 batteries power the camera. Without those batteries the Nikon FA can’t do very much.

Nikon FA

The FA also offers aperture- and shutter-priority autoexposure. It hedges against your poor exposure judgment with Cybernetic Override. If the FA can’t find accurate exposure at your chosen aperture or shutter speed, it changes either setting to the closest one at which accurate exposure is possible.

Nikon FA

Also, if you don’t want to use matrix metering, you can switch to center-weighted metering. Press and hold the button on the lens housing, near the self-timer lever.

Typical of Nikons of this era, the FA was extremely well built of high-strength alloys, hardened gears, ball-bearing joints, and gold-plated switches. It was mostly assembled by hand.

By the way, if you like Nikon SLRs also check out my reviews of the F2 (here), F3 (here), N2000 (here), N90s (here), F50 (here), and N60 (here). Or just have a look at all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.

This FA was a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. I was in a black-and-white mood when I tested this FA, so I dropped in some Fomapan 200. Given the FA’s compact size, I figured the skinny 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens would look balanced on it. I was right.

Wet hosta leaf / Nikon FA

The FA’s winder glides on silk, and when you fire the shutter the mirror slap is surprisingly gentle. My finger always hunted to find the shutter button when the camera was at my eye, though. That surprised me, as I’m used to everything falling right to hand on Nikon SLRs.

500c / Nikon FA

You have to pull out the winder to turn on the camera and make it possible to press the shutter button. I wasn’t crazy about this, especially when I turned the camera to shoot portrait, as the winder would poke me in the forehead.

Fishers Station / Nikon FA

I loaded some Agfa Vista 200 and took the FA to an event at church. An LCD in the viewfinder reads out your shutter speed. When it reads C250, you know you just loaded film and haven’t wound to the first official frame yet. Every shot until then gets a 1/250-sec. shutter, like it or not. I have other Nikons from the same era that do some version of this and it frustrates me every time. I hate wasting those first few frames!

Church event / Nikon FA

While I’m talking about the LCD panel, it reads FEE when you’re in program or shutter-priority mode but the lens isn’t set at maximum aperture, which is necessary for those modes to work.

Church event / Nikon FA

I brought the FA along on a trip to central Kentucky, where we toured some bourbon distilleries and saw the sights. I mounted the vesatile 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor lens and shot Arista.EDU 200. Here’s a view down into the Makers Mark distillery.

Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*  / Nikon FA

This is a scene from My Old Kentucky Home near Bardstown. The FA was mostly a good companion on this trip, handling easily the whole way. That infernal winder lever kept poking me in the forehead, however.

My Old Kentucky Home  / Nikon FA

I also shot some Agfa Vista 200 on that trip. That versatile 35-70mm lens can shoot macro.

Spring blooms, macro / Nikon FA

Here’s the Willett distillery, near Bardstown. I was growing increasingly annoyed with that infernal wind lever as it kept poking me in the forehead.

Willett Distillery / Nikon FA

I sold my Nikon FA during Operation Thin the Herd (in which I shrank my large collection to about 50 cameras). My collection had more Nikon bodies than I could use, and none of the others poked me in the forehead. Almost immediately, I came across another FA body with a 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens. It was missing the handgrip but was otherwise in good condition. I paid just $30 for the kit, which was an incredible bargain. I figured I’d sell the body and keep the lens.

Nikon FA with 35-105 Zoom Nikkor

But when I tested the kit with some Agfa Vista 200, I realized that I liked the Nikon FA after all. Curiously, I never noticed the winder poking me in the forehead as I tested this body. So I kept it.

Toward the Statehouse / Nikon FA

I guess I was simply meant to own a Nikon FA!

Federal Courthouse / Nikon FA

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

The Nikon FA is a delightful little 35mm SLR. Its compact size, light weight, high capability, and smooth operation make it a fine choice to take along wherever you go. Working bodies usually go for far less than other contemporary Nikon bodies such as the better-known FM2. But that camera lacks the FA’s matrix metering. So why pay more for an FM2, especially now that we’ve all come to embrace the electronics in our cameras?

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