Film Photography

Cold days, suburban neighborhood, expired Agfa APX 100

Royal Run clubhouse

I don’t know why I thought an ISO 100 film made sense during the gray days of an Indiana winter. I need to tattoo it on my film-loading hand: fast film in poor light, you kook!

Rural scene

But I liked the results I got on original-emulsion Agfa APX 100 (expired 7/1998) so much the last time that when I came upon another roll in my film fridge I let impulse rule.

Snow-tipped bush

It had been an age since I shot my Nikon F2AS. A 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens was already attached so I just went with it. It was good to catch up with my old friend, even if I was relegated to slow shutter speeds and wide apertures and the resulting need to stand stock still or brace myself against fixed objects to avoid camera shake.

Snowy pine

I shot these images just before Christmas, during the loose-ends phase of my recent unemployment. I took a lot of walks on the two-mile main-road loop of our neighborhood. It was something to do and it burned the extra calories I was taking in thanks to always being near my refrigerator.

Pine on the walking path

Much of December was white around the edges, but a warm spell the week before Christmas erased all that.

In the subdivision

The bare trees are the only clue to these photos’ time of year. But even they can’t narrow it down all the way.

In the subdivision

I’m getting to the point in my photography where I almost don’t care what my subject is, as long as I can arrange an interesting composition or capture interesting light. That’s a good thing, because this vinyl village subdivision I live in is anything but interesting.

In the subdivision

On one walk I got a little direct sun. APX 100 goes all silvery in direct sun — it’s this film’s endearing charm. The soil in this flowerbed reminds me of those old TV commercials for Folger’s Crystals, all sparkling and rich.

In the subdivision

One more from before the snow melted. This road near our subdivision is an old alignment of a decommissioned state highway. It dead ends just behind me.

Side street

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Olympus Stylus

Carrying a jug

Olympus’s Stylus line is well known to deliver the goods, with fine lenses and easy pocketability. The granddaddy of all Styluses is this, the ∞ Stylus (aka the μ[mju]: in markets outside North America).

Olympus Stylus

I’ve put a lot of film through this little camera. Here’s one of my favorite shots from it ever, on expired Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.

Garfield Park

I hadn’t shot black and white in my Stylus in a while, so I spooled in a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 and slipped it into my winter-coat pocket. It went everywhere with me for a couple weeks.

House at Coxhall Gardens

That’s the beauty of a camera that’s about the size of a bar of soap — it’s so portable. Anywhere I happened to be, I could quickly photograph anything I thought was interesting.

Chevy Citation

All was not skittles and beer with my Stylus. Several shots were marred by a little leaked light, a problem this camera has previously not had.

Rushing water

I like to focus close sometimes, but the Stylus doesn’t. I suppose someday I should read the manual and find out its closest focus distance. This subject isn’t exactly easy for autofocus to figure out, either. What was I thinking?

Berries, out of focus

And then there’s the infernal flash. Every time you turn the Stylus on (by sliding the cover out of the way) it goes into the mode where the camera decides whether the flash should fire or not. You can override it, but it’s so easy to forget to. I get at least one shot on every roll with flash reflecting harshly in something. Here I shot the sun poking through the trees and reflecting onto the creek, first with flash, and after I dropped an s-bomb, without. The effect turned out to be negligible.

Reflected on the water 1
Reflected on the water 2

Its meter struggles with high-contrast scenes. I shouldn’t be surprised; it probably meters near the center, which isn’t going to result in nuanced work. Nothing a little Photoshop can’t rescue, though, as here.

Lion graffiti

Finally, it requires films that are DX coded, and you can’t manually override the ISO. I like to shoot color-negative film a stop fast sometimes, and you can’t do it with the Stylus.

Black Dog Books

But when the Stylus hit, it hit big. Look at the great tonality and contrast it delivered.

Branches

Its 35mm lens grabs lots of the scene, which I like for general walking-around photography.

Decorated fence

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

I want to own a solid, extra-compact point-and-shoot 35mm camera. Ideally I’d keep film in it all the time and always carry it in my coat pocket. The Stylus’s feature list ticks every box for me, and it has loved every film I’ve ever thrown at it. It’s a brilliant little camera.

I know I sometimes ask too much of it, which leads to most of my wasted shots. But I do have a legitimate gripe with its automatic flash. I almost never use flash and want a way to leave it off by default. Every time I use this camera I waste shots thanks to that infernal flash.

Perhaps I haven’t found my perfect point and shoot yet. Or maybe I have: my zone-focus Olympus XA2 is no bigger, can be used like a point and shoot under most circumstances just by leaving it in the middle focus zone, and lacks any frustrating behaviors. Perhaps it should be my carry-everywhere camera.

This has been another tough-call camera, where I’ve waffled for weeks about whether to keep it. The sheer number of rolls of film I’ve put through it says I like it a lot. Despite its troubling light leak, I’m going to hold onto it for now. Its fate will be sealed only when I finally decide on a carry-everywhere camera. I look forward to trying more of them on the road to deciding.

Verdict: Keep

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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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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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Collecting Cameras

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

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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