Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Minolta SR-T 101

State Theater

My Minolta SR-T 101 is from the first year or so of its 1966-75 manufacturing run, making it about as old as I am. It was a mighty advanced kit five decades ago and remains a competent machine today. I hope the same can be said about me.

Minolta SR-T-101

Before its turn in Operation Thin the Herd I’d shot this SR-T but once, and I was impressed with the sharpness, bokeh, and color its 50mm f/1.7 lens gave me on workaday Fujicolor 200 film. Really impressed. Wowed, even. Yet on that first outing I didn’t enjoy how heavy and clunky it felt.

Squirrel

This was the first old-school all-mechanical SLR I’d ever shot. My prior SLR experience was a Minolta X-700, an Olympus OM-1, and Pentaxes K1000 and ME. All of them were far more agile in my hand, even the K1000, which was closest in size and spirit to the SR-T.

Since then, however, I’ve experienced two dozen more SLRs, including early ones like the Pentax H3 and beasts like the Nikon F2. These experiences put the SR-T in proper perspective and let me use it with greater confidence and competence. On this outing, with Ferrania P30 Alpha loaded, it felt satisfying in my hands.

Distillery

When I put a battery in (an alkaline 625 cell), the meter needle jumped up and down, never settling in any light. My heart sank. I was so looking forward to trying this camera but I wasn’t willing to invest in sending it out for repair first. I know, I know, I can shoot Sunny 16 or use an external meter. But daggone it, onboard metering just makes an SLR so much more pleasant to use!

First Source

I asked about it on a forum I follow. One fellow suggested I remove the bottom plate (easy, just a couple screws) and make sure the wire was well connected to the battery compartment. I did, it was, and I figured I was out of luck. But when I screwed everything back together the meter gave consistent readings! Happy day! It read about a stop under, however. I set camera ISO to compensate for the meter’s underexposure and got to shooting.

Steps

I brought the SR-T along on a day trip to South Bend, my hometown. I haven’t spent much time there since my parents moved away four years ago, and I miss the place. Or at least I thought I missed the place. As I wandered downtown’s streets I encountered entirely too many men just hanging out on corners with nothing to do. Several of them approached me. I’m sure they would have eventually hit me up for money, but really, they mostly seemed bored and looking for human connection. I’d never experienced anything like it before in South Bend and it made me sad for the city’s current state.

No parking

I’m disappointed in how the P30 Alpha performed on this full-sun day. Images were so high contrast that subjects stood in full silhouette. Fortunately, in Photoshop I was able to coax out some shadow detail and tone down the highlights. Only a few photos couldn’t be made usable.

Jefferson Blvd. bridge from Howard Park

I didn’t think it through when I chose P30 Alpha. Testing old cameras is best done with forgiving films, which is one reason I shoot a lot of Fujicolor 200. That stuff can take a lot of abuse in exposure, processing, and scanning, and still return usable images. The P30 Alpha needs more careful handling in exposure and, especially, processing. My lab admitted that they did a lot of P30 when it was first released, but my roll was the first one they’d seen in a while. Perhaps they’ve lost the touch.

St. Joe River

But just check out the detail in texture in the St. Joe River above as it makes its way past the Jefferson St. bridge and the di Suvero sculpture. That lens’s excellent characteristics came through! And it did solid documentary work as I photographed this building that’s part of South Bend’s outstanding farmer’s market. Memo to other towns: study South Bend’s market and replicate it.

Farmer's Market

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta SR-T 101 gallery.

This camera operates well within the typical mechanical-manual SLR idiom. I’m fluent in the idiom, and so in operation everything fell right to my hand. With a CLA that includes a calibration of the meter, this camera would be stellar.

Yet I’m not keeping it. I’ve already decided that I’m going to focus my SLR collection on Pentaxes and Nikons. If I get rid of none of those bodies I will still own a ridiculous number of SLRs, more than I can use. For an SLR from another manufacturer to stay in the collection, it has to have strong sentimental value or be head and shoulders better in some way than my best Nikons or Pentaxes. This SR-T 101 is very good. But it doesn’t clear that bar.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Canon TLb

Hudsonly

It doesn’t surprise me one bit that the one Canon SLR I like is the most mechanical, most metal one of my bunch. It’s also typical of me to like the simplicity of entry-level gear, which the TLb certainly was upon its 1974 introduction. Its 1/500 sec. top shutter speed is the tell. More expensive cameras go to 1/1000 sec.; top-tier cameras to at least 1/2000 sec.

Canon TLb

On earlier TLb outings the 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C. lens that came with it delivered creamy results on consumer color film like Kodak Gold 200, as here:

Allied Van Lines

Not one to mess with success, I loaded more Kodak Gold 200 for this outing. This time, however, I exposed it at EI 100. I like Kodak Gold 200, but sometimes its highly saturated colors are a little much. Exposing at EI 100 softened them beautifully.

Super Bird

Something is wrong with my 50/1.8 lens — when I adjust its aperture, the viewfinder dims or brightens. This doesn’t happen with other FD-mount lenses I own, so the mechanism that keeps this lens wide open for composing is broken. It made for some frustration on this full-sun day, as shooting at f/11 or f/16 made for a dim view. I took to composing at f/1.8 and then setting aperture and shutter speed as I wanted.

Mustang dash

You have to set both aperture and shutter speed yourself on the match-needle TLb. Even though I prefer aperture-priority shooting for its ease and speed, I never felt frustrated or hindered setting exposure on the TLb. It does what every good camera does: performed well and got the heck out of my way.

Another dashboard

To begin this TLb outing I met my buddy Jim at a cars-and-coffee gathering. I met Jim through writing for Curbside Classic, the site for old parked cars. He lives across town. He brought his little red Miata out for the occasion,

Buddy and his car

We spent the most time lingering over a lovely blue 1972 Lincoln Continental. Here’s my favorite photo of it, with a Mustang reflected in the paint.

Mustang reflected

Jim knows his Lincolns: his dad owned a few during Jim’s childhood. Here’s a story of Jim, his dad, and a ’72 Mark IV.

Continental

The event was at a dealer of classic cars, and of course they invited us inside to see their inventory. I bumped the camera up to EI 200 to get more depth of field.

Camaro light

The TLb functioned well and was a pleasure to use. Yes, I said it: a pleasure. You might know that I haven’t been a giant fan of Canon SLRs, but this metal, mechanical camera feels and works great.

bloom

I shot two rolls with the TLb, finishing up the second roll on some usual subjects around Fishers, where I work. I’m so impressed with how this lens rendered color and bokeh. This 50/1.8 FD S.C. should be optically the same as the later 50/1.8 Canon FD lens I shot on my Canon AE-1 Program, but I like the results this older lens returned much, much better. If I were going to keep my Canon gear, I’d invest in another one of these FD S.C. lenses.

McD's

To see more from this camera, check out my Canon TLb gallery.

I guess I’ve tipped my hat: this camera is not long for my collection. I made the choice easily, with my head: I’m planning on using my Pentax and Nikon SLRs going forward, meaning this TLb will get little or no use. It deserves a new owner. But my heart aches a little, because this camera is such a gem. I use a simple heuristic when judging a camera: if the rest of my cameras vanished, could I just get on with making great images with the one that remained, and be happy? The answer for this TLb is hell yes.

Verdict: Goodbye

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K1000

Pentax K1000 fresh from CLA
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M
Kodak Gold 200 (at EI 100)
2018

Last winter I loaned my K1000 to my son with the promise that if he enjoyed using it, I’d let him keep it — but first, I’d send it to Eric Hendrickson for a complete overhaul. When he came home from college in the spring, he gave me the word: he’d had a great time with it and would enjoy keeping it.

Along the way I picked up an ME body at a good price. I love shooting my ME — its aperture-priority shooting suits me, and its smaller size makes it more pleasant to carry. I figured my son might like one, too. So I sent both cameras to Eric, who returned them to me recently, smelling factory fresh, ready to serve for at least another 20 years.

Both cameras are in my son’s hands now. A longtime reader of this blog offered me a spare 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-A lens that he no longer wanted, for my son’s ME. It was a generous gift, and my son gratefully accepted it.

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

single frame: Pentax K1000 fresh from CLA

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Expired film in a new-to-me old camera — what could go wrong?

It all started because I gave my 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens to my son to use on the Pentax K1000 I also gave him. I didn’t think I needed that lens anymore, as I own a 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M lens. How many 50mm primes does one need, anyway? But that 50/2 imparts a wonderful warmth on color film that the 50/1.4 simply does not. I came to miss that 50/2 look.

So I turned to eBay. I had my selection of good ones for very little money. Mine cost $20.

But while searching I also found a 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens. I’ve heard good things about this lens, but have never tried one. It is an optically better lens than the 50/2. So is the 50/1.4, however, yet in everyday shooting I prefer the look I get from the 50/2.

Would the 50/1.7 be more like the 50/1.4 or the 50/2? I decided to find out, since finding out would cost me just $40. It didn’t hurt at all that at that price the lens was attached to a Pentax ME body.

When the kit arrived I put some Kodak Max 400 through it. This film was left over from the end of my wife’s film-shooting days; the expiration date was October of 2007. I found it in the fridge, but I couldn’t say for sure it had always been there.

So: I put film of iffy provenance through a new-to-me old camera which could have any number of faults. At least the lens was obviously clear and clean, and its aperture and focus rings functioned properly. It was the only variable in the equation that I felt sure about!

The results show the muted colors and pronounced grain of poorly stored old film. So this wasn’t the best test roll to show the 50/1.7’s capabilities. At least the ME body appears to be functionally sound where it counts: the meter and the shutter both seem accurate.

I’ve been taking long walks a lot more lately, trying to regain some lost physical stamina and drop a few pounds. My wife shared her two-mile neighborhood loop with me. This fire plug is on it.

Plug

That loop takes me down an old alignment of State Road 334, past a fallen State Right-of-Way marker. I photographed it twice, once wide open and once stopped down to the minimum aperture the poor light would allow. It’s hard to tell for sure because of the expired film’s condition, but it looks like this lens may be capable of some lovely bokeh.

ROW

ROW

I forget where I made this leafy photograph, but it, too, suggests that this 50/1.7 is a lovely performer. Next time, fresh film for sure.

Leaves

I also took a walk through Indianapolis’s Broad Ripple neighborhood one morning before meeting a colleague for coffee. I loved how the sun played across this terraced garden.

Sunlight

I also strolled through Daubenspeck Nature Park on Indianapolis’s far Northside one day before stopping by my mom’s nearby home for a cup of coffee. I’d never been in there before and didn’t know it had lovely views.

Daubenspeck

Just for giggles I shot this on my desk at work. Every time our young company reaches a milestone, or when an individual participates in a key project, a Lego is issued to commemorate it.

Legos

Last and least, this Zionsville cop car with lights flashing. I had stopped at my nearby Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee on my commute, and a community event there had the chief of police shaking hands with folks. The car was probably supposed to announce his presence, but rather it made me wonder if a crime had gone down at the Dunk.

Popo

I don’t need this lens. But since I’m doubling down on my Pentax SLRs, both screw- and K-mount, I might as well own the trifecta of 50mm SMC Pentax-M lenses. And the Pentax ME body this lens came with worked fine, except for a shutter button that sticks the first time you press it after you turn the camera on. Since I already own (and love) a like-new Pentax ME, I’ll probably send this one out for CLA and to get that shutter button repaired and then give it to my son. If he’s anything like his old dad, he’ll like the ME better than the K1000 too.

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Nikon FA

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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 who shied away from anything not mechanical and manual in their cameras.

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 Nikons more-mechanical, more-manual cameras. Perhaps its high price (within spitting distance of the pro-level F3) helped push buyers away. But certainly its high advancement 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 operated from 1 to 1/4000 second. It synchs 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.

IMG_4407 rawproc.jpg

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

IMG_4408 rawproc.jpg

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

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

This FA was a gift from John Smith to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. John has my tastes pretty well pegged at this point! 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 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens would look balanced on it, and I was right.

I like this little clock. I got it at Target for my office at work four jobs ago. But I don’t have an office anymore, so it announces the time to nobody in my seldom-used living room. I keep thinking there’s a good photograph to be made of it on my bookshelf. I’m not sure this is that good photo. I’ll keep trying.

Clock on the bookshelf

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.

Vertical blinds

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 eyebrow. Because I’m right-handed I tend to rotate my camera so the shutter button is up top, where it’s easy for my right finger to reach. When I rotated it so the shutter button was on the bottom, the winder stopped poking me, but the button became awkward to reach.

Shutter

An LCD in the viewfinder reads out your shutter speed. When it reads C250, you know you just loaded film and haven’t would 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! And 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.

P30 Alpha

The matrix metering on my FA was accurate enough, but I suppose there are just some challenging light circumstances it just couldn’t navigate. A little flash would have helped a lot when I photographed my No. 3A Autographic Kodak.

Folding camera in the shadows

I shot most of my test roll around the house, but also took it to work a few times and made lunchtime photo walks around Fishers. Someone in my building drives this lovely Fiat 500c.

500c

The Nickel Plate tracks run alongside the building I work in, and I often walk along them on my strolls. This platform and awning are fairly new, and are largely for show as trains don’t travel this track anymore.

Fishers Station

I wrapped up the roll in my garden after a rain.

Wet hosta leaf

It was here that I discovered a fault in my FA: you can wind it as many times as you want after a shot. I wonder how that gets broken on a camera.

Hosta

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. And my quick eBay research reveals that working bodies 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?

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Photography

Great 50mm lenses I have known

I’d wager most of us 35mm SLR shooters have shot 50mm lenses most often. After all, when you buy an old SLR that comes with a lens, most often it’s a 50. (Or a 55, which is within spitting distance of 50.)

Blogger Dan James recently considered the great 50s he’s shot, and it’s inspired me to do the same. Some of my favorites might surprise you! They surprised me. Because they’re not the 50mm lenses I shoot most often! Why am I not shooting these lenses more?

50mm f/1.7 Konica Hexanon AR

Konica Autoreflex T3

I have got to dust off my Autoreflex T3 just to shoot this lens again. Look at the color, sharpness, and bokeh it delivers! All of these photos are on Fujicolor 200. I like the first photo so much I framed it and it hangs in my home.

Ford F-500 fire truck

Spent tulip

Black Dog Books

50mm f/1.8 Auto Miranda

Miranda Sensorex II

I had no idea what to expect when I got this body and lens; I’d never shot Miranda before. But I was deeply satisfied with the look this lens returned. And I just love how the evening sun played off my vintage bicycle in this first shot. I shot all of these on Ektar.

1973 Schwinn Collegiate

Peonies on the coffee table

Pass and Stow

50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor PF

Minolta SR-T-101

I love the character of this lens, and its color rendition. I also own a much later MD 50mm f/1.7, and while it’s technically very good, it doesn’t deliver this MC lens’s delicious look. I wonder how the two lenses are different. These photos are all on Fujicolor 200.

Linback Garage

Flowers

The barn on Sycamore Hill

55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax/SMC Takumar/Super-Takumar

Pentax ES II

All Pentax 55mm f/1.8 lenses have the same optics. But the Super-Takumar lacks the Super Multi Coating of the other two lenses, and the SMC Pentax is K mount while the other two are M42 screw mount. All of them deliver smashing sharpness and color, however, and are capable of delightful bokeh. The first two shots below are on Ektar, the next one is on Fujicolor 200, and the last two are on T-Max 400.

Tulpen

Old Point Tavern

Tulip

Selfie

Broken window

50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C./Canon FL

Canon TLb

Canon cranked out manual-focus 50mm f/1.8 lenses by the bajillions in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. They made many minor tweaks to them along the way: different coatings, different numbers of aperture blades, different focus grips, different mounts. The look I get across all my Canon 50/1.8s is so similar that I’ll bet they all share their optical design. The first two shots below are on Kodak Gold 200 from my FD S. C. and the second two are on Fujicolor 200 from my FL.

Allied Van Lines

Flower

At the Indianapolis Museum of Art

60 mph

50mm f/2 Nikkor-H•C

Nikon Nikomat FTn

I imagine that one F-mount 50mm f/2 Nikkor lens has much the same design as any other, at least from the manual-focus years. But I find that this Nikkor-H•C lens has character that my more modern 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lacks. These shots are on lost, lamented Arista Premium 400 film.

Allied Appliances

Fencepost *EXPLORED*

Moo *EXPLORED*

50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E

Nikon N2000

Finally, consider this underrated Nikon lens. It is sharp, and it yields color on workaday Fujicolor 200 that is so bold that I have to double check that I hadn’t shot Ektar by mistake. This lens is also light and thin. It lacks the heft and precision under use of the other lenses in this list but these results overcome it. I shot these on Fujicolor 200.

Every step of the way *EXPLORED*

Haunted Conservatory

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