Camera Reviews, 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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Camera Reviews, 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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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Olympus Trip 35

Arches

A handful of film cameras have cult followings. The Olympus Trip 35 is in that exclusive club.

Olympus Trip 35

Rave reviews of the Trip 35 by its devoted fans convinced me that I needed one. Yet in the nine years I’ve owned this camera I’ve shot it but three times. Here’s a photo from my previous outing with it, in 2015. It’s one of my all-time favorite photos. (I drove through Kirklin just two weeks ago, and that Oldsmobile wagon remains parked in front of this building.)

Downtown Kirklin

When I shoot the Trip 35, I always enjoy both the experience and the photos I get. Why, then, don’t I shoot it more often? Probably because I have just too many great cameras to choose from. But that brings up the point of Operation Thin the Herd: to narrow the collection down to a set of cameras I will use frequently. And the Trip 35 is worth using frequently. Check out the excellent color I got on Agfa Vista 200 as I walked around suburban Fishers.

Famous for Steakburgers

I think making consumer-grade film look great is part of this camera’s essential value proposition. As an easy-to-use camera a family might take on vacation, it needed to make memories look great.

Buggy Parking

I’m not sure I needed permanent memories of a walk I took near my office when I needed a mental break. But I have them nevertheless. This photo required a little Photoshopping to bring out shadow detail. The Trip 35’s meter appears to bias for the bright areas.

Service is our Business

Same with this photo. I also corrected many of these photos for perspective, as on this outing I proved incapable of holding the Trip 35 level. Otherwise, these photos needed little or no Photoshop work to look great.

Parked

This camera is just great for walking around and photographing the built environment, something I do frequently. For all of these shots I just left the zone-focus control at infinity. (The other three zones are 1, 1.5, and 3 meters.) There was nothing to think about but to compose and shoot.

Red Umba-rellas

I did set the Trip 35 to one of the closer focus zones for this shot in my neighborhood, since I was so close to that rocky post. Even then I gave focusing minimal thought. I guessed “group” (3m) and counted on the camera biasing toward big depth of field to make up for any misjudgment on my part.

In Royal Run

Its 40mm lens made it easy to get wide things into the frame, but without leaving lots of useless space above and below the subject.

Fence

To see more from this camera, check out my Olympus Trip 35 gallery.

I do not need this camera. I really prefer to shoot SLRs for their versatility. My favorite SLR, the simple Pentax ME, is not so much larger and heavier than the Trip 35 to give it a serious disadvantage for walking-around photography. And when I shoot SLR I can do things I can’t with a Trip 35, such as get in close.

But I like my Trip 35. It’s light and easy to carry, and it’s almost point-and-shoot simple. As I shot it this time I thought maybe I should shoot a road trip with it, or take it as my only camera on my next vacation. When I have thoughts like that about a camera, I know it needs to stick around.

Verdict: Keep

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Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Yashica Electro 35 GSN

One Nine Five

I’m supposed to like this camera, right? Everybody else seems to. I expected to — I committed to a 36-exposure roll of Tri-X in it. No 24-exposure bet-hedging for me, not this time. But then I didn’t find pleasure in using my Yashica Electro 35 GSN.

Yashica Electro 35 GSN

I liked it the last time I shot it. See my review here; see a sample photo from that shoot below. It is among my very favorite works ever. But that was a solid six years ago, and in that time I’ve discovered that I’m just happiest behind the eyepiece of a mechanical SLR. Using this classic (large, heavy) rangefinder camera seemed awkward to me.

Wall

Its size and heft weren’t the problem, as I happily shoot beasts like the Nikon F2 SLR. It was the controls. I fumbled with them through the roll and never reached that nirvana-like state of being one with this camera.

Flowers

My number one challenge was my inability to find the focusing ring on the lens barrel without removing the camera from my eye. A lever on that focusing ring would go a long way to making the Electro 35 more pleasant to use.

House

Obviously I got usable images from this Electro 35, all in focus and properly exposed. I shot most of this roll on a late-winter walk through downtown Zionsville.

Noble Order

Unfortunately, since I last shot this camera the light seals started to fail. Or maybe it’s just lens flare, but my gut says no, it’s those seals. Half the shots on the roll show leaked light along the top edge. You can see it pretty well as a light haziness at the top of this photo.

Buffet Everyday

Yet when you look past that, the 45mm f/1.7 Color-Yashinon lens returned good sharpness and detail. So it’s no wonder that this camera is so honored and costs so much on the used market. It’s too bad that it and I just didn’t bond on this outing.

Garage

I finished the roll in Fishers. Here’s the room in which I work. My workstation is right up front and the monitor on a pole is part of my brother’s standing workstation. It’s still great to work with my brother every day.

Office

Somebody taped this paper plate to a torchiere lamp last Halloween and it’s never gone away. It is right behind my head as I work, always watching.

Skull

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Yashica Electro 35 GSN gallery.

I own a handful of large 35mm rangefinder cameras: this one, a Minolta Hi-Matic 7, a Konica Auto S2, and a Yashica Lynx 14e. I do want to keep one of them, and I think it’s going to be my Lynx 14e for its sublime f/1.4 lens. But as for this Electro 35 — I already sold it.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Canon EOS 630

Louvers

Auto-everything film shooting isn’t normally my bag. I’m more a match-needle, twist-to-focus kind of guy. But even I have to admit, sometimes there’s charm in letting a camera do the grunt work.

Canon EOS 630

This is a very early EOS camera, dating to about 1989. I’ve only shot this camera once before, that time with the pictured 35-80mm lens. I shot my former favorite (now discontinued) b/w film, Arista Premium 400.

Barber Shop

I reached for black-and-white film this time, too: Eastman Double-X 5222. But I used my sweet little 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF II lens.

Footbridge

It was gray and cold most of the time I had film in the EOS 630. I’ve never shot Double-X in those conditions and I was surprised by how muddy everything turned out.

Flowing

These photos are from Flowing Well Park on 116th St. in Carmel. That bridge there carries 116th.

Creek

I got a little sun one afternoon and in a spare 30 minutes I took the EOS 630 out on a walk around downtown Fishers. I’ve photographed this area so much over the last year that if you were to look through the photos you’d watch the area change rapidly. It’s heavily under construction. New buildings go up all the time.

Downtown Fishers

Which means parking is becoming a problem. Fishers is solving it with parking garages. I’m not a fan.

Parking

The EOS 630 kept metering for the shadows, I guess, because the highlights were nearly washed out. Tweaking exposure and contrast in Photoshop helped a little. And lest you think that it’s only new buildings in Fishers, a few of the old houses do remain, tucked into alleyways and along side streets.

House in old Fishers

One old house was converted into a little tea room. This is its gate.

Gate

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Canon EOS 630 gallery.

I wasn’t enamored of the EOS 630 the first time I shot it. But I’ve used several more auto-everything SLRs since then, enough to know that this really is a pretty good tool. Focus was always right and exposure was at least good enough. I wished that the body were a little smaller and lighter, like the later EOS Rebel cameras. If I have to shoot a camera this bulky, I might as well reach for my semi-pro EOS A2e. It’s a much better camera. And for that reason, this EOS 630 must go. There’s room for at most one EOS SLR in my collection.

Verdict: Goodbye

I’m selling some very nice cameras from my collection. See them here.

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak VR35 K40

Lafayette alley

I knew as I loaded a roll of expired Kodak Max 400 into this camera that I wasn’t going to keep it. I was only shooting it one more time, for old time’s sake.

Kodak VR35 K40

My mom bought me my first Kodak VR35 K40 as a Christmas gift in about 1986. I used it heavily through college and in the first few years after. Even though it’s a simple fixed-focus point-and-shoot camera, it was the most capable camera I’d ever owned, returning consistently good results. Here’s a photo I made in 1989 of my brand new car parked in front of the Terre Haute, Indiana, house where I rented an apartment. It was a wonderful place; read about it and see photos here.

My first car

I used that K40 to record the glistening aftermath of a 1990 ice storm that shut down our city. That was such a great day! It was the first time I ever went on a photo walk, just me and my camera, alone, exploring. I wrote about that day here; it’s one of my favorite posts ever.

After the ice storm

I set the K40 aside after I married my first wife, who was a skilled photographer and took most of our family photos. It wasn’t until after we divorced that I started making photographs again. My K40 was nowhere to be found, so I bought a used Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 on eBay and moved on.

Years later I came upon this K40 at Goodwill for a few dollars. I love cheap nostalgia. But it turns out this simple point-and-shoot camera is pretty good, returning bold color on consumer-grade film. Its lens is sharp enough for credible enlargements to 8×10. Here are some wintertime photos I made with it recently.

Whitestown Meijer

I’ve been up to Purdue a lot lately to see my son. This is a great little candy store in downtown Lafayette.

McCord's

This scooter seems always to be parked by my son’s dorm. I love how the K40’s 35mm lens captures so much context. It would be a fine film camera to take on vacation even now.

Scooter at Tarkington Hall

I suppose this camera qualifies as compact. After shooting a couple rolls through my tiny Olympus XA recently the K40 felt pretty large. There’s no way the K40 fits into any pants pocket, but it fits fine in my winter-coat pocket. It weighs next to nothing, but then it’s made almost entirely of plastic. This pocket park is on the block behind my church on Indianapolis’s Near Westside.

Pocket park, Hawthorne, Indianapolis

The K40’s automatic winder is pretty loud. That’s typical of point-and-shoot cameras of the day, but it really attracts attention now. Fortunately, when I made this shot in the foyer of my church, worship had not yet begun.

Stairs and window

I stepped outside on this frigid day for this quick exterior photo. I cropped to 4×5 to get rid of my finger, which got into the frame. A few of my quick outside photos were so marred. It’s not surprising: because the temperature was in the single digits, I was moving fast and not taking my usual care.

West Park Christian Church

You can see more photos from this camera in my Kodak VR35 K40 gallery.

I suppose I’m fortunate to have so many lovely cameras that one that performs this well doesn’t survive Operation Thin the Herd. But nostalgia isn’t enough to keep any of my cameras in the collection.

Verdict: Goodbye

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