Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon FA

Necklace

I own more Nikon SLR bodies than I can possibly use, but each one of them offers its own wonderful characteristics. Also, many of them were gifts to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, and remembering the gift-giver makes it hard to want to say to goodbye.

Nikon FA

This Nikon FA is the body I received most recently, and I’d shot just one roll through it. I liked it for its compact size and excellent capability. Here’s a photo from that roll, which was Fomapan 200, through my 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens.

Wet hosta leaf

The FA is part of the FE/FM/FA family of semi-pro 35mm SLRs that Nikon introduced to replace its Nikkormat line. The FA was last to the party, introduced in 1983 as a technological tour-de-force. It is the world’s first camera with matrix metering, which Nikon called automatic multi-pattern (AMP) metering. I believe it is also the first Nikon SLR to offer programmed autoexposure, setting both aperture and shutter speed. It also offers aperture- and shutter-priority autoexposure and manual exposure.

The FA is also small and lightweight compared to Nikon’s flagship cameras like the F2 and F3. That makes it great for a long weekend of shooting, as when my wife and I recently visited bourbon country in Kentucky. I started with Arista EDU 200 on board, which is rebranded Fomapan 200.

Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*

My 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor lens was mounted. Ken Rockwell calls this one of Nikon’s 10 worst lenses ever, but except for noticeable barrel distortion at the wide end I like it. I use it like three primes: 35mm, 50mm, and 70mm, all of which are marked on the barrel so I can dial them right in. For that convenience I’m happy to spend a little time correcting distortion in Photoshop. The photos above and below are from the Maker’s Mark Distillery near Loretto, KY.

Maker's Mark Distillery *EXPLORED*

I shot in program mode at first, but the in-viewfinder display kept telling me 1/250 sec. and I wondered whether something was amiss. I switched to aperture-priority mode after that. But every photo I made came back properly exposed. Perhaps the FA’s program mode just biases toward midrange shutter speeds. This photo is of the spring house at My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown.

My Old Kentucky Home

I blew through the Arista EDU in a day and switched to Agfa Vista 200 for the rest of the trip. In challenging late-afternoon light the FA did a good job of exposing so the Talbott Inn in Bardstown wasn’t lost in the shadows. This tavern and hotel has been operating since 1779.

Talbott Inn

Bardstown is charming, especially for people like Margaret and me who like old houses. We walked around town a lot just photographing homes and buildings.

Old Talbott tavern

I have one peeve with the FA, and I became more and more annoyed with it as the weekend rolled on. To meter, you have to pull the winding lever out to its first stop. With the camera at my eye, that lever poked right into my forehead. I wished for a different way to activate the meter. Also, my FA has a strange fault: the mechanism that prevents you from winding past an unexposed frame is broken. Otherwise, the FA performed well. Its size, weight, and feature set make it a great everyday manual-focus SLR.

Pointy signs

The 35-70 zoom also includes a macro mode. What a versatile lens this is.

Spring blooms, macro

It’s taken me most of the last 10+ years of collecting and using old cameras to internalize that the lens is the critical component of any camera. But I do believe the FA’s matrix metering made a real difference in mixed and challenging light. My beloved Pentax ME would likely not have done as nuanced a job exposing this mid-evening light.

Bardstown street

We drove out to Bernheim Forest on our trip to see the giants, these wooden sculptures just completed by artist Thomas Dambo. I’m sure I’ll do a whole post about them soon. Light reflecting off the smooth wooden surfaces made for a challenging exposure situation, with lots of bright and dark areas. I had to tone down highlights in Photoshop.

The giants at Bernheim Forest

The FA’s 1/4000 sec. top shutter speed lets me blur the background in dimmer light, compared to my 1/1000 sec. Pentax ME.

Smoking bear

Want to see more? Check out my Nikon FA gallery.

Let’s take an inventory of my manual-focus Nikon SLR bodies.

I’m not getting rid of my two Nikon F2s or my Nikon F3, no sir, nuh uh. I own two Nikkormats, an FTn that’s big and heavy like the F2, and an EL which is smaller and lighter like this FA. I also own an N2000.

The Nikkormats will have their turns in Operation Thin the Herd soon. But I don’t see me keeping either of them over my F2s and F3.

When the N2000 had its turn in Operation Thin the Herd (here) I decided to keep it. I travel with it, as if it is damaged, lost, or stolen, replacements can be had for as little as $20. And I just plain like it.

A working FA costs at least $100, but it’s a far more capable and sensitive performer than the N2000.

On this Kentucky trip either camera would have been fine, though the FA nailed exposure in some of these shots where the N2000 would probably have only done okay.

It comes down to this: The Nikon FA’s wind lever pokes me in the forehead. It’s really annoying.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Yashica Lynx 14e

Down a Zionsville sidewalk

The 1968 Yashica Lynx 14e is a fixed-lens rangefinder camera that packs an incredible lens — 45mm at a whopping f/1.4.

Yashica Lynx 14e

I first shot the Lynx 14e on a road trip with Kodak T-Max 400 inside. The results blew me away. Just look at those creamy tones, that crisp detail! Even four years after making this photo, looking at it still floods my brain with pleasure hormones.

No Smoking

Here’s one more past photo from this camera, which adores being shot inside on fast black-and-white film. This time I used Arista Premium 400 (discontinued; I miss it). I photographed this Auburn Model 654 at the factory museum in Auburn, Indiana. Just look at this excellence. Look. At. It. So good!

654

All is not perfect with my Lynx 14e: it underexposes by a stop. It’s not the end of the world, because I just set exposure a stop lower (say, EI 200 when shooting ISO 400 film) and all is well. But if I keep the camera, I’ll send it for CLA and have the meter calibrated.

Its meter is powered by two PX640 batteries, of the mercury type that has been banned for years. I own no other camera that uses this battery. Fortunately, you can buy alkaline batteries of this size on Amazon for a few dollars. The voltage is slightly different but if you’re shooting negative film it shouldn’t matter.

Since I wanted to see how this lens likes color film, I loaded some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. Also, it was the dead of winter and the gray days called for fast film. I started shooting stuff around my house.

Drying dishes

This lens finds whatever’s interesting about the light, and enhances it.

Centerpiece

These images are short on shadow detail. I tried to bring it out in Photoshop but it just wasn’t present.

Graflex

We got a rare day of full sun in early February so I took the Lynx into town to make a few photos. I dropped the camera’s ISO setting another stop for these photos, for two reasons: this film loves to be overexposed, and I wanted a little exposure flexibility as otherwise every shot would have been at 1/500 sec. and f/16.

Brick wall with iron stairs

I’ve never seen Superia X-tra 400 look this good. I got Portra-like color from it.

Florist

Other reviews of this camera have panned how you activate the camera’s meter: you press the amusingly named “Switch” button on the front of the camera. The consensus is that it’s awkward. But I’ve never had any trouble.

Colorful storefronts

What I did have trouble with, on this full-sun day, was reading the red OVER and UNDER indicators in the viewfinder window. They light when exposure is wrong; you adjust aperture and shutter speed until they disappear. They blaze bright in muted or inside light. Direct sunlight washes them out.

Zionsville house

See more photos from this camera in my Yashica Lynx 14e gallery.

When I evaluate a camera, I like to take it on a solid photographic assignment so I have a chance to bond with it. Unfortunately, cold and snowy February is the worst month of an Indiana year for photography. It took me weeks to get through the roll, sneaking in a shot here and there as I could. It didn’t create the best experience with this heavy camera.

Moreover, even after thinning my herd as far as I have, I still own more cameras than I can shoot regularly. It is just a flat shame to own a good camera I seldom or never use. I’m not sure how often I’ll get around to shoothing my Yashica Lynx 14e.

Still, I continue to be bowled over by the sharpness, detail, and tonal range this lens delivers. This camera deserves more of my time.

Verdict: Keep

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

Operation Thin the Herd: Konica Auto S2

Church entrance

Some old film cameras have become very popular on the used market. Just try buying an Olympus Stylus Epic or a Canon Canonet QL17 G-III for bargain prices anymore. Yet plenty of highly capable cameras never catch on among modern film photographers and languish in relative obscurity. Like the Konica Auto S2.

Konica Auto S2

This 1965 camera has everything you need to make lovely photographs today: a 45mm f/1.8 lens set in a Copal leaf shutter with top speed of 1/500 sec, a coupled CdS light meter driving shutter-priority autoexposure, and a rangefinder. You might consider it a limitation that it accepts films up to only ISO 400, but I don’t; that’s as fast as I normally go. It returns lovely results, as here on Kodak Gold 200.

The Pyramids

For this camera’s turn in Operation Thin the Herd I chose Kodak T-Max 400. I found a fresh PX625 battery in my stash, loaded the film, and got busy.

Bird is the word

I started Downtown in Indianapolis one chilly, slightly snowy day. I have been getting my hair cut at a barber shop on Delaware St. and then walking about with my cameras after. These electric scooters litter the street corners.

Indianapolis Public Schools

The Auto S2 nailed this gray-day exposure every time. The only thing I had to do with these photos in Photoshop is straighten them, as I proved unable this day to hold the camera level.

Firestone

The more I shoot Downtown Indianapolis, the more I want to capture routine street corners and get as many buildings in as I can. The architecture here is varied and, while common, still interesting.

Indianapolis Musicians

I took the Auto S2 on a sunny-day photowalk in downtown Zionsville. Bright reflections off light-colored surfaces and deep shadows did trip up the Auto S2 a little bit, but generally not so much that a little tweaking in Photoshop couldn’t help considerably.

Black Dog Books

The Auto S2’s controls generate no feelings of pleasure. You know that camera you want to use because everything feels so good under your fingers? That’s not the Konica Auto S2.

Zionsville home

But the Auto S2 isn’t unpleasant to use. It’s neither clumsy nor cumbersome. Everything falls to hand and works well enough. The winder is a little grindy but winds surely. The shutter button doesn’t have too much travel (a common affliction, I find, among fixed-lens rangefinders). The focusing lever is about where your finger needs it to be. Still, the overall tactile experience manages rises only to “meh.”

Zionsville home

What makes the Auto S2 remarkable is its lens, which really drinks in detail. The lens is why I put T-Max into it this time — its minimal grain promised to show me what this lens could do. It didn’t disappoint.

Building

I didn’t shoot anything remarkable on either of these photo walks. I made no art. But every photo on this roll came back properly exposed and bursting with detail. The Auto S2 would make a wonderful companion on one of my road trips.

Main St. Zionsville

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Konica Auto S2 gallery.

I’m surprised that I like the Konica Auto S2 best of the fixed-lens rangefinder cameras I have shot so far in Operation Thin the Herd. What it lacks in refinement it makes up for in consistent, solid results. The question is, do I need a camera like this? Would I shoot it often enough to justify keeping it? Because it never lets me down, I’m going to let time tell.

Verdict: Keep

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Collecting Cameras

Nearing the end of Operation Thin the Herd

I’m in the home stretch, with just a few more cameras to evaluate in Operation Thin the Herd.

I didn’t count cameras before I started, but I’m sure I owned more than 100. As of today, 43 remain in the collection. See my complete inventory here.

Eight of the 43 cameras are new to me and are in my to-shoot queue. They came to me more than a year ago from photographer David Ditta as he shrunk his own extensive collection. (See his collection on his Web site here.) David, if you’re out there, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get to your gear. 2019 to be sure.

Kodak Retina IIc

A few cameras have been “on the bubble,” and I could decide to sell them or give them away at any time. For example, until recently I owned two similar Kodak Retinas, a IIa and a IIc, both wonderful. One belongs in my collection, but I didn’t need both. The IIa has a faster lens, but the IIc offers interchangeable front elements and was owned by the father of an old friend. I was originally not in a hurry to decide, but finally chose to send the IIa to my EMULSIVE Secret Santa recipient as a gift in December.

Polaroid SX-70

Another is this minty Polaroid SX-70. I love this camera and the incredible innovation it represents. It works, but a good CLA would make it perfect. SX-70 CLAs aren’t cheap. I’ve considered splurging on one, but I keep holding back because the available films are stinking expensive and nowhere near as good as the old Polaroid films. I just can’t see myself dumping $150 into a CLA only to get soft, washed out images that themselves cost north of two bucks each. It breaks my heart, but this SX-70 will probably be better going to someone who will use it and love it. Yet I hesitate, because I love the idea of this camera so much.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

Several cameras in my inventory never got a turn in Operation Thin the Herd because there was never any doubt I was keeping them. One of them is my Kodak Monitor Six-20 “Special.” Even though it takes discontinued 620 film, even though the shutter linkage is fussy, I love this camera. It does wonderful work. I will commit to one roll of expensive custom-spooled 620 film in it a year. I just bought some expired Verichrome Pan in 620 for it!

Nikon F2

Another no-brainer keeper is my Nikon F2A, which was a generous gift to my collection. It’s a lovely camera and a capable workhorse, but its meter is fussy. I’m about to ship it to premier Nikon F2 repairman Sover Wong for a CLA and meter repair. It will get regular use forever thereafter.

43 cameras is obviously still more than I can regularly use. While I consider myself more a photographer than a collector now, I am still a collector. Yet only a couple cameras in the collection will remain as display items. I enjoy using all of the rest and will put a roll through them once in a while.

After I wrap up Operation Thin the Herd I’ll start shooting David Ditta’s cameras. I’ll even buy a camera here and there and review it, because I still love the experience of a new-to-me old camera. But mostly I’ll get on with making photographs with my thinned herd, getting to know each camera much better, and becoming a better photographer as a result.

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Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Minolta AF-Sv (Talker)

St. Paul's

Meet the camera that scolds you. Check distance! Too dark, use flash! Load film! It’s the Minolta Talker, aka the Minolta AF-Sv.

Minolta AF-Sv

This camera came to me from the father of an old friend. He sent me his entire collection, and this was in it. I didn’t expect much from it, but on a sunny summer day Fujicolor 200 delivered slightly underexposed but soulful results.

Golden fence

As a result I’ve been looking forward to this camera’s turn in Operation Thin the Herd. When that turn came it was late November and early December, and the days were dismally gray. The voice in my heart said, “It’ll be fine! Great pics ahead!” while the voice in my head said, “This isn’t going to work out well.” I loaded Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, thinking I’d need the extra exposure margin. Even so, this camera underexposed consistently, to muddy and mottled result. I should listen to my head more.

Artsgarden

Let’s get it out of the way right now: that the camera talks is a useless gimmick. “Too dark, use flash” is all I can get mine to say, and that message would be more effective as a beep or a light. I shut the voice off. Speaking of flash, I’m not sure the one on my Talker works.

Margaret

The camera does work all right inside with enough ambient light, though. This was our Thanksgiving table. The china is Rosenthal from Germany and has been in my mother’s family for three generations. The purple water goblets are from Walmart, because this family knows better than to be too uppity.

Thanksgiving table

The AF-Sv handled all right. It’s a chunky camera so it doesn’t fit satisfyingly into the hand. But it’s easy enough to frame in the big viewfinder and the shutter button is where my finger expected it to be. It slipped right into my winter coat’s big front pocket. I had appointments all over town and up in Lafayette, and it went along on all of them.

Lafayette Theater

I did get about thirty minutes of sunshine in Lafayette, and it made all the difference to this camera. I had bright light when I shot the church door that leads this post, too. The shot below shows the sharpness this lens can deliver.

Your face here

Every last photo needed a hit of Auto Tone in Photoshop to be true to color though — especially shots I made on a drizzly day in Downtown Indianapolis. Here’s where an auto-everything point-and-shoot shines: this ’70s truck came along and I was able to capture it lightning fast.

The heartbeat of America

Lesson learned, though: shoot this camera on a sunny day, and overexpose by a full stop. The only way to do that on this camera is to dial in the appropriate ISO to get that net result, such as ISO 200 for ISO 400 film. The ISO dial is around the lens.

BBQ

This camera also struggled to focus close in anything other than great light. I wanted the fellow in front of this strange sports sculpture to be the subject. He’s farther away than the camera’s close-focus limit. 

Out of focus

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta AF-Sv (Talker) gallery.

I was disappointed in how this camera performed on this outing. Maybe I expected too much of it. It’s got to be hard to make an auto-everything point-and-shoot that gets everything right every time. But I can’t imagine shooting this camera ever again.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

Black Dog Books

When I started collecting cameras again in 2006 I decided to specialize in fixed-lens rangefinders. I expected that in time I’d own one example of each of Canon’s extensive Canonet line, with the Canonet QL17 G-III as their centerpiece. I soon found a good deal on this one.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

My Canonet had its faults. Leading the way was a wicked light leak from degraded seals, an common affliction with this camera. The shot below of my departed friend Gracie (on Fujicolor 200) shows my Canonet’s light leak in full bloom. After this I sealed the camera’s seams with electrical tape after loading film. Also, lower shutter speeds were suspect, the meter was probably a little off, and the ISO selector was stiff. Yet my Canonet always returned good images.

Gracie

I adored this camera for several years. It easy to carry compared to the much larger and heavier fixed-lens rangefinders I had been buying and the controls all fell right to hand. I loved the sharp, detailed images the lens projected onto any film I threw at it. Here I used Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros.

Indianapolis Fire Dept., Broad Ripple

I suspected I was going to want to keep this camera as part of Operation Thin the Herd, but not in its sickly condition. So I sent it out for CLA, and then put two rolls of Agfa Vista 200 through it. Wow, what a CLA will do for how a camera feels in your hands. Every control worked as smoothly as the factory originally intended.

Open for Men and Women

The fellow who did the CLA sent it back to me with a zinc-air 675 battery inside. It powered the meter accurately. But this Canonet was designed for 625 mercury batteries, which have a different form factor. Alkaline 625 cells share that form factor, but because they don’t deliver a consistent voltage across their lives they can lead to misexposure. The films I typically shoot have enough latitude that it doesn’t matter, and the alkaline 625s last a long time. The zinc-air 675s die after a few months. 

Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park

I pulled the 675 out and inserted a fresh alkaline 625 cell — and it didn’t work. I tried another, and it didn’t work either. Puzzled, I contacted the CLA guy, who apologized and said he’d fix the issue if I shipped it to him, but suggested I just use the 675 cells for their always-accurate voltage. I decided it wasn’t worth the cost and hassle to mail the camera back for adjustment. So I just got to shooting.

Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park

I didn’t stick with rangefinders. One person gifted me a Minolta X-700 and someone else an Olympus OM-1, and I fell in love with the 35mm SLR. That’s where my collection has gone, and as a result I haven’t shot this Canonet in six years.

At Coxhall Gardens

It’s a shame, really. There’s still a place in my shrinking collection for a couple good rangefinder cameras. I love my Yashica Lynx 14e for its sublime lens, and my Konica Auto S2 just feels great in my hands. But this Canonet is smaller and lighter than both of them and delivers quality results through its 40mm f/1.7 lens.

At Coxhall Gardens

Many other fixed-lens rangefinder cameras have passed through my hands, and this little Canonet is the best user of them all. It’s a good size even for my largish hands. The little lever on the focusing ring is right where my finger expects it to be, and it glides precisely. Slung over my shoulder I hardly notice it’s there. I’m more likely to grab it for an impromptu photo walk than any other rangefinder I’ve ever owned.

At Coxhall Gardens

For this camera’s turn in Operation Thin the Herd I took it on several impromptu photo walks: downtown Zionsville, Lilly Lake at Indianapolis’s Eagle Creek Park, Coxhall Gardens in Carmel, and on a rainy day to the hip intersection of 49th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. in Indianapolis. It was a fine companion on them all. I only wish that the rangefinder patch were brighter. In dimmer light I struggled to see the split image within it. Maybe that’s just middle-aged eyes.

At Coxhall Gardens

In the decade since I bought this Canonet I’ve been blessed to use some truly outstanding gear. I have a lot more experience now against which to compare this camera. It’s a nice camera. It feels good to use. It gives fine images. But I don’t experience it as great in any of these measures. For most everyday photography I’m going to reach for something like my Pentax ME anyway, mount one of the many excellent lenses I have for it, and get results no less than equal to these.

49th & Penn

There’s nothing about this Canonet that makes it my best choice for a particular situation. In contrast, my cumbersome Yashica Lynx 14e has a killer use: its giant f/1.4 lens returns brilliant photographs indoors on black-and-white film. I can imagine future scenarios where I’ll be glad to have that camera in my arsenal. Not so this Canonet.

Bathroom selfie

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Canon Canonet QL17 G-III gallery.

Given this Canonet’s cult status, I feel like I should keep it in my collection. When I put film into it I really thought I’d fall in love all over again. I managed, disappointingly, to fall only in like.

I’ve waffled for weeks about this camera’s fate. I’ve rewritten the end of this post four times, flip-flopping between Keep and Goodbye all the way. What I finally decided is that because I’ve become an SLR guy, any non-SLR has to blow my socks off in some way to stay in the collection. This Canonet just didn’t do that.

Verdict: Goodbye

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