Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Minolta Hi-Matic 7

Fishers Construction

This Minolta Hi-Matic 7 was one of the first cameras I bought when I restarted my collection in 2006. I had decided to collect 35mm rangefinder cameras, and this was the first one I found at a price I was willing to pay. I happily kept buying rangefinders right up to the day someone gifted me a 35mm SLR. Right away, through-the-lens composing charmed me and my rangefinder predilection went right out the window. But I’ve kept this camera nevertheless.

Minolta Hi-Matic 7

I’ve shot it but twice before: once Sunny 16 without a battery, and once with a PX-625 battery inserted to take advantage of its onboard metering. That metering couldn’t be easier: twist the aperture and shutter-speed rings to A and the camera chooses both aperture and shutter speed for you. It does so on a linear scale from 1/30 sec. at f/1.8 to 1/250 sec. at f/22 — this camera biases toward the greatest depth of field possible. This was a mighty advanced system in 1963 when this camera was new. Here’s a photo from that latter session, on Fujicolor 200.

Bug light

I’d never shot black-and-white film in my Hi-Matic 7 so I loaded some Kodak Tri-X and headed out on a full-sun June day. Right away there was trouble in paradise. Inside the viewfinder a needle points at the exposure value (EV) the meter calculates, from 5.6 to 17. On that bright day I expected to see that needle point at EV 15 or maybe 16. Instead, the needle was in the red zone above EV 17, meaning it was underexposing by a stop or two. Drat! At least the meter functioned — they often don’t in cameras this old.

Reflected vinyl

What I didn’t do, but should have: set the camera to EI 200 or 100 to compensate for the underexposure. I don’t know why I always think of such things only when I sit down to write about my experience with a camera. Sigh. Fortunately, Tri-X’s incredible exposure latitude — up to 4 stops in either direction — mostly covered for me. Where it didn’t, a nip and a tuck in Photoshop usually did the trick.

Cars

Despite being large and heavy, the Hi-Matic 7 is pleasant to use. A lever on the focusing ring is well placed; my finger always found and moved it without me needing to move my eye from the viewfinder. The rangefinder patch is bright enough even for my middle-aged eyes (and was probably even brighter when it was new). I was able to move fast enough with it to capture my son playing a game at the dining table with the family.

Damion

The Hi-Matic 7 is a lot of camera to carry. Mine has its original leather “everready” case so I slung it over my shoulder, camera inside, as I carried it around. Or at least I did that until the leather shoulder strap broke.

At Rick's Cafe Boatyard on Eagle Creek

I finished the roll at Rick’s Cafe Boatyard, a seafood restaurant on Eagle Creek Reservoir in Indianapolis. It was the site of one of Margaret’s and my early dates, so we like to go back sometimes and reminisce.

At Rick's Cafe Boatyard on Eagle Creek

We always sit on the outdoor deck. Therefore, we only dine at Rick’s in the fair-weather months.

At Rick's Cafe Boatyard on Eagle Creek

One finds few opportunities to make dockside photos in landlocked central Indiana. The Hi-Matic 7 was up to the task. These photos needed little Photoshoppery to look good.

At Rick's Cafe Boatyard on Eagle Creek

See more photos from this camera in my Minolta Hi-Matic 7 gallery.

I had a hard time deciding whether this camera would stay or go. I’m emotionally attached to it as one of the first cameras in my collection, I enjoy using it, and I love the images it returns. But I can’t escape the fact that I’ve put only three rolls of film through it in 12 years. I’m unlikely to use it more than that in the next 12. As I shrink my collection to just the cameras I’ll actually use, I have to let pragmatism win over sentimentality.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Progress report

What’s been remarkable about Operation Thin the Herd is the clarity it’s bringing me about what I want my photographic future to be.

That future is SLRs from Pentax and Nikon. They strike that right balance among image quality, usability, and reliability. Also, SLR shooting just suits me.

Canons are usable and mostly reliable, but the images I get from them seldom wow me even though they are technically very good. Minoltas deliver wonderful images and feel great in my hands but I’ve had too much trouble keeping them working. The few SLRs I own from other manufacturers are all fine in their ways, but I know I won’t use them enough to justify keeping them.

Argus A-FourI’m going to keep a couple medium-format cameras, too, especially one of my Yashica TLRs. Good gracious, but do I love those things. I will also keep a handful of other cameras that I enjoy or that have sentimental value. I’ve already committed to keeping my Olympus XA, for example — it’s a stunning performer and slides right into a side pocket. I’m sure to keep one of my big fixed-lens rangefinders, too; maybe my Yashica Lynx 14e if I can get its meter calbrated. Even though I haven’t shot it yet as part of this project, I’m betting I’ll keep my Argus A-Four, too. Its lens does lovely black-and-white work, and I have a wonderful memory from my high-school days of shooting a roll of Plus-X in one of these and then processing it in the school’s darkroom with a buddy.

I don’t know how far I am through this project but it doesn’t feel like I’ve hit the halfway point yet. Fatigue is starting to set in — I want to just get on with shooting my forever cameras. As a result, I am now more likely to say goodbye to a camera when I do shoot one — or even to sell one on without shooting it again.

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Rollei A110

Sunburst

So much about this tiny camera is compelling, first and foremost that it is, as I said, tiny. Super tiny. It’s barely larger than two stacked rolls of 110 film which, not coincidentally, is the kind of film it takes. It feels like a single, solid piece of metal with a silken finish. You feel like CIA or MI5 as you expand the body to reveal the viewfinder, touch the shutter button to make a photo, hear the shutter’s seductive “snick” sound, and compress the body again to wind to the next frame.

Rollei A110Rollei A110

The Rollei A110 packs a Tessar lens, 23mm at f/2.8, to wring every possible bit of performance out of the wee 13x17mm frame 110 film offers. Check out the sharpness and resolution this lens delivered on expired Fuji Superia 200 film the last time I shot my A110. If it weren’t for the odd aspect ratio of 110 film images, you might believe me if I told you I took this with one of my 35mm SLRs.

West Park Christian Church

For this outing with the A110 I bought some fresh Lomography Color Tiger film. I tip my hat to the Lomography people for keeping this old format alive. I shake my fist at the Lomography people, however, for a fault in the backing paper that allows light to leak onto the film. It appears as red splotches on images, as below. I should have covered the film-counter window with electrical tape. I hope they correct the problem as they manufacture the next batch.

Home

My A110 isn’t perfect. It has a few minor nicks in the paint. The winding mechanism moves a little roughly — I’ll bet it was buttery smooth when new.

Park road

Also, its lens cover is loose. It’s supposed to slide out of the way when you open the camera and cover the lens when you close the camera. On mine, before I make a photo I have to tilt the camera to move the cover out of the way. I usually forgot to do this and got eight black photographs for my error.

Orange

Finally, even at moderate distances parallax is a problem. Standing 15 feet or so back from this entryway I centered the scene in the frame. This is what the camera saw.

Orange entrance

But none of this is so bad as to make my A110 a pain to use. It was easy as a breeze to carry in my pocket as my wife and I took a long hike through Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis.

Eagle Creek Reservoir

That Tessar lens is pretty sharp, as the carvings in to that tree trunk show nicely.

Carved

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Rollei A110 gallery.

Despite this camera’s charms, as I worked my way through this 24-exposure film cartridge I soon wished it would be over with already. I didn’t hate using the A110, but I didn’t find joy in it either. It was a novelty, and the novelty soon wore off.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography, Old cars

Operation Thin the Herd: Canon AE-1 Program

Chevelle nacelles

Who doesn’t like the Canon AE-1 Program? It’s universally praised, and with good reason. It’s a capable tool with good features. A photographer could make great images with it indefinitely.

Canon AE-1 Program

I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD lens and loaded up some Agfa Vista 200, which I shot at EI 100. This is the lens I commonly use on this camera, as I did a few years ago on a photo walk Downtown when I had some Arista Premium 400 inside. That’s Circle Tower, a gorgeous building in the Art Deco style.

Circle Tower

Old buildings, old cars, and old roads — these are the things I photograph most. No old roads in this post, however, as I took the AE-1 Program to a “cars and coffee” gathering and shot two rolls there. It’s all old cars up in this joint for the rest of this post. I think my favorite car of the day was this late-70s Firebird because it was in rough, original condition. This is what all ’70s Firebirds looked like in the mid ’80s when I was in high school: rusty and rough. The school parking lot was full of them. This parking lot had just this one.

They're only original once

The AE-1 handled perfectly, as expected. Mine has developed that annoying squealing shutter that is common to this camera. But it doesn’t affect function, and it got quieter and quieter as I kept shooting. This Cadillac’s delightful tail was the first photo I made at the event. The shutter howled.

Cad fin

Color and light play make car shows a wonderful place to test gear, especially on color film.

Speedster

This Porsche Speedster was mobile during the event. I saw it in two or three different places, including coming out of the host’s garage.

Speedster on the move

People from all walks of life came to show and see the cars. Our shared interest created opportunity to talk to people we might not normally interact with. I bumped into one other fellow shooting film, someone whose clothes marked him as being in a much higher economic class than me. When he heard my AE-1 squeal, he whirled around and said, “I know that sound!” He then showed me the Canon T60 SLR he had picked up in the used section at our local camera store. We chatted for several minutes about the relative merits of Canon film gear.

Cop and camaro

What I concluded with that fellow is this: every Canon SLR I’ve ever shot has been competent enough, and the lenses are technically excellent. But the cameras never spark joy when they’re in my hands, and the images I get never give me “wow!” moments. In contrast I’ve swooned, and hard, over Nikon and Pentax SLRs and the images I’ve received from them.

Stang

I enjoyed my car-show morning with the AE-1. I got good results. But as I reviewed the photos, I felt certain that I would have gotten better color from the delightful 50mm f/2 lens I keep for my Pentax bodies. I know that my little Pentax ME would have felt better in my hands.

Celica GT

This, really, is what Operation Thin the Herd is all about. Now that I have built skill as a photographer and have experienced so much gear as a collector, which gear hits that sweet spot of feeling great in my hands and returning images that delight me? That’s the gear I want to keep.

Triumph tail

Yet the AE-1 Program handled everything I threw at it this sunny Saturday morning. I can’t really complain.

Lotus tail

If you’d like to see more photos from this camera, check out my Canon AE-1 Program gallery.

My heart beats for Pentax and my mind pines for Nikon. I own plenty of their gear, enough to keep me busy and happy for the rest of my life. Because my Canon gear just doesn’t grab me in the same way, because I’m unlikely to use it very often, I should probably let it go. Perhaps I’ll keep one body, maybe my mechanical TLb, and a couple of my older lenses. Perhaps not; this isn’t the day to decide. But this is the day to decide about the AE-1 Program, and I know it’s time to let it go.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon N90s

Church door

Sometimes a person needs to just get out and shoot for the joy and fun of it. At such times, a great choice is an auto-everything SLR and a zoom lens. You’ll be ready for pretty much anything you encounter. Especially when the body you choose is as robust and capable as the Nikon N90s.

Nikon N90s

I’ve had great luck with this camera every time I’ve shot it, no matter the film or lens I chose. Here I used the well-regarded 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor on Arista Premium 400.

Anthem

And here I used the 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor that came in the kit with the Nikon N65 I used to own, on very expired and poorly stored Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.

High West

Ken Rockwell calls this plastic-bodied zoom lens one of Nikon’s 10 best lenses ever. I marvel at that a little bit, as Nikon had to have made ten superior F-mount primes. But this lens turns out to be a good performer, sharp edge to edge anywhere in the zoom range.

Lebanon front door

It does have some barrel distortion at 28mm. The shot below shows it a little. That’s its major flaw. But I’m not much of a 28mm guy anyway. 35mm is as wide as I normally go, and the distortion is largely tamed when you zoom in that far.

Union Station

The lens also had some difficulty focusing close. I tried to capture some magnolia blossoms but the lens would only hunt. It also tended to wash out the image a little if the sun wasn’t directly behind me, as this shot of the Slippery Noodle bar shows. I’ve meant to go to the Slippery Noodle ever since I moved to central Indiana in 1994. They say they’re Indiana’s oldest bar, operating since 1850.

The Slippery Noodle

But this should be a referendum on the N90s and not on that lens. So let’s get to it: this camera is large and fairly heavy. Also, its controls don’t follow the modern “mode dial” SLR idiom. But I didn’t experience its weight as a problem. And those controls, specifically a bunch of buttons and one unlabeled dial, are not hard to discover and learn.

Lucas Oil behind the old houses

For example, I was pretty quickly able to figure out how to manually set ISO. The camera accurately read the DX coding on the Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 I had loaded, but I wanted to shoot it at EI 200. A few button presses and I was set. But on this cloudy-day photowalk Downtown along South Meridian Street I might have been better served leaving the film at 400. Meridian Street is the city’s main north-south drag, but some street reconfiguration in this area isolated a couple blocks and the lovely old homes on them.

South Meridian St.

The N90s gives you a lot of controls to keep track of. Apparently I set the camera to center-weighted metering the last time I used it, and forgot to reset it to matrix metering for this roll of film. I think that might have contributed to the problems in this shot of St. Elmo’s, a steakhouse operating since 1902. Pro tip: before shooting an N90s, press in the two green-dot buttons atop the camera for a few seconds to reset the camera’s settings.

St. Elmo's

But for this full-sun shot, everything worked perfectly. The Union 525 was originally a high school but is now a space where startup tech companies can begin to build their businesses. There’s quite a tech startup scene here in Indianapolis.

Union 525

The callery pear were in bloom this day. They smell like rotting shrimp.

Rolls-Royce

I’ve shot this camera often. See everything I’ve photographed with this camera in my Nikon N90s gallery.

A couple years ago I chose this N90s as my Nikon auto-everything body over the entry-level N60 and N65 I used to own. Those more basic bodies certainly demand far less of me than the N90s and could certainly have taken every photo you see in this post. But among these cameras the N90s was the only one built to last.

As I’ve been thinning this herd I’ve already decided that my main SLRs will be metal, (mostly) mechanical, and manual focus. I’ll never leave my first love, Pentax. And I have some truly great Nikon gear that will always have a home here. I might keep a Minolta and a Canon body in case I come upon an interesting lens for those mounts.

But I like the N90s. It’s a smashing companion to my 50/1.8 AF Nikkor and my wife’s 35/2 AF Nikkor lenses. With this zoom lens attached it’s a fine, but heavy, photo-walk kit. If in a few years I find I just don’t use it much, I reserve the right to change my mind — but for now…

Verdict: Keep

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

Dad and Sons

Margaret and I met my sons for dinner during their recent Spring Break. She photographed us with my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK, a viewfinder camera with a coupled selenium light meter. Before I handed it to her I matched the needle to set exposure, using an aperture narrow enough that it wouldn’t matter whether I guessed distance wrong.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

It performed, of course, delivering good sharpness, contrast, and detail even on this overcast day. That’s the goodness inherent in a Tessar lens! This camera was my first experience with a Tessar. I first shot seven years ago when my sons and I spent our Spring Break in a cabin in the Tennessee woods. Here’s the fencepost in front of our cabin, on Fujicolor 200.

Fencepost

This time I spooled in some Ultrafine Extreme 100 and brought the Contessa along everywhere I went for a few weeks. That included my recent trip to Logansport for a Michigan Road board meeting. Margaret came along; here she is photographing the State Theater. I do love her long gray hair.

The State Theater

I’d never shot the Ultrafine film before and didn’t know what to expect. The seller is mum on who makes it, but Ilford is the most common guess I’ve found. Some even say it’s Kentmere 100. The last time I used this camera I shot the Kentmere in it (as you saw in yesterday’s post). The results look similar.

Welcome to Logansport

The Contessa was a lovely, willing companion when I took it for a walk along Meridian Street in Indianapolis. If you’ve never walked or driven our Meridian Street, put it on your list: it is lined with stunning homes. I’ll share more photos from that walk in an upcoming post.

Steps

I also took the Contessa to the places I usually go. I keep thinking I’m going to find a new, more interesting angle on my church, but I seem never to.

WPCC

Some views always work photographically, and I suppose it’s no sin to keep revisiting them.

WPCC

I’m not blown away by this film — it’s fine, but not fantastic. But the Contessa brought feelings of delight every time I composed, exposed, and pressed the shutter button. I even liked the winder’s long-travel action. Everything about this camera is light and easy, yet still solid and sure.

WPCC

I drive past a nearly derelict mall on the way home from church. This used to be its Sears Auto Center. I remember when Sears closed here. I bought a ton of stuff cheap at their closeout sale. I also remember when this mall was bustling and vital. When I started my career I drove to it all the way from Terre Haute to buy a young careerman’s wardrobe in one of its men’s stores. Harry Levinson’s, I think. But that was almost 30 years ago. Times change.

Dead Sears Auto

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK gallery.

Its taken me most of a decade to figure out I should use a camera for what it does best. The Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK is brilliant at medium-distance group shots and does pretty well for landscapes and, if you back up enough, architectural work. The lens just adores black-and-white film. Its only flaw is that whenever I load a 36-exposure roll of film, it tears during rewinding. That’s kind of a bummer. But I always have 24-exposure rolls of film in the fridge. And this camera is just a pleasure to carry and shoot. It’s hard to say goodbye to a camera like that.

Verdict: Keep

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