Camera Reviews, Film Photography

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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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon N2000

In Starkey Park

Nikon fans had to be disappointed in their favorite camera manufacturer in 1985 upon the introduction of the N2000. It was the first Nikon SLR ever to have a plastic body. Polycarbonate, to be precise. It was also first to lack a winding lever — automatic winding was built into the body. Perhaps that luxury feature softened the blow for dedicated Nikon shooters.

Nikon N2000

Does Nikon even make a metal-bodied camera anymore? The N2000 pointed toward the future. And when I came upon mine, I found it to be a robust and highly capable tool. Here’s a shot from my very first roll of film in it, Fujicolor 200, through a 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens. This is my most-viewed photo on Flickr, by the way, with 36,838 views as of the day I am writing this.

Every step of the way *EXPLORED*

I liked this camera so much that I shot it all over Ireland a couple years ago. I was gifted a 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens that was just right to take in Ireland’s sweeping vistas. I shot Kodak T-Max 400 all over that country.

At Kylemore Abbey

This gives me a great chance to plug my book, Textures of Ireland, which collects the best of my black-and-white Ireland photos. They’re all as beautiful and as deep as the one above, of Kylemore Abbey in County Galway! I’d be thrilled if you bought a copy today: $14.99 plus shipping for paperback and $4.99 for a PDF. Click here to order one!

The N2000 handled beautifully all over Ireland. It proved fully Nikon tough when I fell hard on some slippery rocks — the camera banged right into them, leaving a dent in the bottom plate. It kept working as if nothing had happened.

It was with this memory in mind that I loaded some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 into it for a hike through Zionsville’s Starkey Park. It had rained the day before and the trails were wet.

Backlit leaf

I had mounted a 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens that I picked up somewhere along the way. I like this lens a lot, except that at its widest end it has wicked barrel distortion. It shows right up in any shot with straight lines. I corrected this photo’s distortion in Photoshop with a few clicks.

Bridge

I did have some trouble getting good exposures this late afternoon. The sun was low in the sky, casting deep shadows. But by the end of the roll the winder was sounding sickly, meaning that the batteries were weak. Drat! That had to affect the meter’s accuracy.

Stalk

This little zoom lens offers a macro mode, too. I love macro lenses!

Berries

There was plenty of autumn foliage to get close to.

Flowers

I shot this whole roll in Program mode, letting the camera choose all the settings for me. With its automatic winder, all I had to do was focus and press the shutter button. At the end of the roll I did have to manually rewind the film — automatic rewind was one nicety that Nikon wasn’t ready to offer the world yet in 1985.

Rocks

The N2000 was an eager and versatile companion on this hike. If only I had thought to put fresh batteries in before I left the house!

Pond

To see everything I’ve ever shot with this camera, check out my Nikon N2000 gallery.

I just love this plastic Nikon SLR. I love most of my other Nikon SLRs, too, especially my two F2s and my F3. I sure as hell don’t need them all. But it’s good to have a reliable F-mount body that, if damaged or lost, would not reduce me to tears. I can buy another N2000 for under $30. Try that with an F2 or F3.

Verdict: Keep

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Pentax Spotmatic F

Around Zionsville

I decided that I’d own but one Pentax SLR body for the M42 screw lens mount. It was easy enough to discard a Spotmatic SP with a dead meter and a rough winder. But I still had to decide between my ES II and this, my Spotmatic F, both of which offered open-aperture metering with Super-Multi-Coated and SMC Takumar lenses.

Pentax Spotmatic F

It was a tough choice. My ES II is an aperture-priority camera and that’s my favorite way to shoot. It was in very good cosmetic and functional condition. The Spotmatic F has a match-needle exposure system, which is a half-beat slower for me than aperture priority. But it had been a seldom-used sales demonstrator and had been CLA’d when I got it. It was, essentially, new. And what a performer it is! Here’s a favorite shot I made with a 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens on Kodak Plus-X.

Ol' propeller nose

I loaded some Ektar 100 into the Spotmatic for this outing, and screwed on my 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens. I love the 35mm focal length for everyday walking-around photography, which is the kind of photography I do most often.

Around Zionsville

The SPF felt wonderful and performed flawlessly in my hands, just as it always had. The Ektar beautifully captured the September colors.

Around Zionsville

Every photo on the roll came out a little overexposed, though. I’ve noticed that on the Pentax bodies I own that were CLA’d by Erik Hendrickson (as this one) I always need to reduce exposure in Photoshop by a half stop or so. Perhaps I should set the cameras that way. Perhaps I should test this SPF’s exposure readings against a known-good light meter.

Around Zionsville

I felt mighty lazy the day I took this photo walk — I couldn’t be bothered to move in closer to a number of subjects. This one would be helped by a closer crop. When was the last time you saw a Chevy Citation parked curbside, though?

Around Zionsville

I took two walks through Zionsville to complete this roll. Zionsville is simply charming.

Around Zionsville

To see more of my work with this camera, check out my Pentax Spotmatic F gallery.

Using the SPF cemented my decision. Before I even sent this roll of Ektar off for processing, I gave the ES II to a fellow film photographer. The ES II remains a lovely and capable camera, and there will be times I wished my SPF would let me shoot aperture priority. But this SPF is just too compelling on its own to let go of.

Verdict: Keep

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Minolta XG 1

Garrett at the bridge

Minolta SLRs and I have not gotten on well. They are unfailingly delightful to use and return great images — when they work. Which, in my experience, is seldom. I’ve owned two X-700 bodies that developed the well-known stuck winder problem. The fix involves soldering new capacitors. I’ve owned two Maxxum 7000 bodies that developed the common failure of the aperture-control magnet, meaning every photo was taken at f/22. There’s a fix but it involves major disassembly and considerable luck. Even the SR-T 101 and 202 I’ve owned had issues, though less catastrophic. The one reliable Minolta SLR body I’ve owned is this one: an XG 1, from the late 1970s.

Minolta XG-1

This was an advanced amateur camera in its day, chock full of electronics to make the photographer’s job a breeze. It’s an aperture-priority camera, too, which is my favorite way to shoot. Mine came with a 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X lens, a good lens with interesting characteristics. Here’s one of my favorite shots on this kit, of my son in his room, on Fujicolor 200.

Garrett, down the hall

For this outing I mounted my 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD lens. It came with the first X-700 I owned and I’d shot it just once before that camera bricked. I’ve kept meaning to shoot it again, so onto the XG 1 it went. I loaded a roll of Agfa Vista 200 but shot it at EI 100. It did lovely work. Minolta’s manual-focus lenses are just so good.

Phlox

My sons were together over my birthday weekend and we took a hike through Starkey Nature Park in Zionsville, where we came upon this old railroad bridge.

Bridge

There are some lovely trails inside Starkey. Zionsville really is a lovely place to live, with a charming downtown and amenities like this middle-of-nowhere getaway right in town. The rents are not for the faint of heart, however. Or the taxes. My inner skinflint wants to run right back to much-less-expensive Indianapolis.

Trail

The camera and lens handled nearly perfectly. The shutter button is electronic — placing your finger on it activates the meter, and a light touch fires the shutter. It’s so light that twice I accidentally fired the shutter and wasted a frame.

What is this?

I sure do love my sons. They’re both back in college now. I really miss the years they were still in public school because I got to see them all the time. They’ve got some of the growing-up troubles typical of entering your 20s, but I think that the big picture looks bright for both of them.

Boys

I carried the XG 1 to work a few days. The building going up next door to my office looks like it’s starting to wrap up. It was hard to frame things in the viewfinder — a line of black schmutz obscures the view in there. I’m not sure when that happened; I don’t remember it being that way the last time I used it. I’m sure it wasn’t that way when I got it. The mirror is clean so it’s got to be inside the prism. I wonder how hard it would be to get in there and clean it up.

Construction

There were just a few shots left on the roll when Damion and I made a quick trip to Thorntown. I wanted to tell him the story of the time his mom got me out of a speeding ticket here largely for being young and blonde and beautiful. It was good to share a happy memory of his mom with him, from a time before he was born. I’m not sure we would have had that moment without “taking a photo walk” as an excuse to get out.

Welcome to Thorntown

Here’s a gallery of the photos I’ve shot with this Minolta XG 1. Check it out!

Standing on Thorntown’s mean streets, I extolled the XG 1’s strong reliability to Damion when the meter stopped responding. I was at the end of the roll; could that have been why? Or was it a weak battery? I’d used those two LR44s in several cameras before. When we got home I swapped in fresh batteries and the meter still didn’t respond. I rewound the film, dropped in a fresh roll (Ultrafine Extreme 100, photos to come). The meter came right to life and was strong through the roll.

Even though I’ve already decided to focus on Nikon and Pentax SLRs, I thought I might keep this XG 1 in case I came upon good Minolta Rokkor glass in my travels. But then I inventoried just those Pentaxes and Nikons and counted fifteen bodies. While doing that I came upon my two Olympus OM-1 bodies and the great set of lenses I have for them, all donated to me by the father of one of my closest friends, and knew I could not part with those either. I just don’t have room for Minoltas after all.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Argus A-Four

In Faytette

I have a deep affection for this little bit of Bakelite, aluminum, and glass. The first argus a-four I owned, in the 1980s when I was a teenager, was the first camera I ever shot that let me set aperture and shutter speed. It generated the little spark for photography that, in my 40s, would finally burst into flame.

Argus A-Four

I put several rolls of film through that a-four, including a roll of bulk-loaded Plus-X that I developed in my high school’s darkroom. The photo below came from a roll of drugstore Kodak color film that I shot around my neighborhood. My brother made this shot of me leaning on the family car. It was the summer I turned 16.

Me, Van, July, 1982

I set aperture, shutter speed, and focus for my non-photographer brother — this is a viewfinder camera with no onboard light meter, so you have to guess and then set all of those things before every shot. You also have to cock the shutter by pulling the cocking lever atop the lens barrel. You’ll never make a quick shot with an a-four. But in the 1950s, when this camera was new, it was a solid step up from the box cameras amateurs otherwise used.

As my first marriage crumbled away I did a few regrettable things, including selling my entire camera collection. I owned a couple hundred cameras then, mostly junk excepting that a-four and a handful of others. My life eventually settled down and I started collecting again. I searched for and eventually found another a-four. I took it along to a muscle-car auction with some Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros loaded. Just check out the resolving power and sharpness of that 44mm f/3.5 Coated Cintar lens.

67 Ford LTD

This a-four hasn’t given me such great results on every roll, however. It seems like one roll turns out great and the next not so much, kind of like Star Trek movies. This was a not-so-great roll as too many shots turned out soft. I don’t think I focused wrong on so many shots, and I used apertures of f/8, f/11, and f/16 most of the time, so I should have had plenty of depth of field. It’s not so evident at blog size, but if you look at any of the photos at full size you’ll see that softness. Unfortunately I burned my last roll of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros for these results.

Zionsville house

The a-four’s viewfinder isn’t precise. When I made this photo every bit of that arch was visible in the viewfinder.

Oak Hill

The camera is roughly the same size as a compact SLR like the Pentax ME or the Olympus OM-1, but is much lighter. The shutter button is awkwardly placed, but after a few shots you get used to it. The winding knob is this camera’s big usability disappointment. It’s too close to the body to really grab it, so to wind it on you make a whole bunch of short turns with just your fingertips. Mine turns stiffly, as though it could rip through the film sprockets.

Flowers

When I finished the roll and started to rewind, the film immediately tore. I’d been meaning to buy a dark bag anyway, so I bought one, put the camera in, spooled the film into a black 35mm film can, and sent the film to Dwayne’s. They processed it no problem.

Oak Hill

The lens is also prone to flare when the sun isn’t behind you. Or perhaps the lens is dirty. This a-four was on display in my home for nearly a decade and who knows how much grease and dust landed on the lens over the eyars. A swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, applied gently, would have been a good idea before I shot this camera. I regret not at least checking its condition.

John Hume

The shutter’s 1/200 top speed makes it challenging to shoot fast films on sunny days. I shot Tri-X 400 in this thing once and even on a cloudy day my external meter wanted exposures this camera can’t give. I shot everything at smallest aperture and fastest shutter (f/16 and 1/200 sec), relying on Tri-X’s famous exposure latitude to cover. Pro tip: use films of no more than ISO 200 in this camera.

Pleasant Hill Cemetery

The argus a-four was Argus’s answer to Kodak’s Pony, and unfortunately the Pony bests it slightly in every way. Its shutter is slightly faster, its lens is (in my experience) sharper and less prone to flare, and it’s a little easier to use.

Durango

Yet the whole roll through, I felt good when I brought this a-four to my eye. It connected me with my photographic beginnings and that just felt great.

Mail stop

To see more from this camera, check out my Argus a-four gallery.

I’m going to move on from the argus a-four, however. I’ll never shoot it again. Yet my first a-four introduced me to photography’s possibilities, and for that reason this camera has a special place in my heart. I reserve the right to change my mind.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Camera Reviews

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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