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, 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

Shooting Agfa CT Presica 100, original emulsion, cross-processed

While I had my Nikon N90s out I decided to shoot one of the rolls of expired slide film that Stephen Dowling of Kosmo Foto gifted me some time ago. This time I chose Agfa CT Precisa 100, expired since January of 2006. This is another of the Agfa films that survives, zombie-like, after Agfa stopped making its own films. The film sold as CT Precisa today is made in Japan, and by all accounts it’s not the same.

Word on the street is that this stuff loves to be cross-processed — that is, developed in the C-41 chemistry used for color print film. So that’s what I did. Roberts, the photo store Downtown, still has a minilab and they cheerfully processed and scanned my roll.

Stout's

I shot part of the roll Downtown after I got a good barber-shop haircut. I’ve bought shoes at Stout’s — it’s like stepping into 1942 in there, with the same technology and the same service.

Downtown Indy

I aimed my camera (with the 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor lens) at anything colorful as I walked along Delaware Street and on the first block of Massachusetts Avenue. The entrance below was to a Burger King when I worked in a building across the street more than 20 years ago. Today it’s a tapas joint.

Barcelona Tapas

I made the photo below to finish the roll before dropping it off for processing at Roberts. I’m a little disappointed that the sun washed out the hood and snout of the Camaro so strongly but I’m showing the photo anyway because of all the colors I got otherwise.

Corvette snout

I also brought the camera to Zionsville Village and made some of my usual shots.

In Zionsville

I really liked how cross-processed CT Precisa rendered the greens of grass — so supernaturally vibrant.

Black Dog Books

Look around online for people who’ve cross-processed this film and they’ll all tell you it really brings out the blues. Sure enough, that’s what happened here.

In Zionsville

After my last roll of expired slide film was so washed out, I researched online whether exposure compensation could help. The wisdom I came upon over and over was that if you weren’t sure how the film was stored, overexpose — but only by about 1/3 stop given slide film’s narrow latitude. So I did. And I didn’t need to; everything was slightly overexposed. Photoshop rescued every shot. This stuff must have been stored frozen until I got it.

Checkers

Shooting this roll of CT Precisa was great fun. Maybe I’ll come upon another someday.

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Cheveux

Cheveux
Yashica Electro 35 GSN
Kodak Tri-X 400
2018

I’ve been applying what I learned from Berenice Abbott’s New York photography (which I wrote about here). This shot shows it, a little: you can see some of Zionsville Village’s context even though I focused on this store’s entryway as my subject.

It’s great fun to try to recreate some of what I see in other photographers’ works, and then see what I think and feel about the results. What I think about this particular photo is that I didn’t get enough intersecting planes in it to add interest.

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Film Photography

single frame: Cheveux

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Image
Photography

Sunny day photos from the Canon S95 in Positive color mode

Southern Fancy

I’m still experimenting with Positive color mode on my Canon PowerShot S95. Last time I experimented the skies were cloudy. So when I got some rare bright sun one recent Sunday afternoon, I took the S95 into downtown Zionsville. Above and below: a colorful Grumman van, at 50mm and 35mm, respectively.

Southern Fancy

Given that my goal is easy digital shooting, I’m happy to report that these photos needed minimal processing. Like last time, I used Lens Profile on each photo to correct barrel distortion. Man, I wish the S95 did a better job of it in the camera. But this time I got smart and created a macro that does the job in one click.

Noble Order

I also chose to tone down the highlights in a couple of these photos, as the S95 didn’t navigate strong contrast as well as I would have liked. If I had shot RAW, I could probably have rescued those highlights even more. But then I would not have gotten these great colors. At the moment, I think I made a fair trade.

Huffy

The bicycle amuses me. It’s been here so long that the chain has gone rusty.

Bench and Steps

I didn’t have a lot of time; I was on my way somewhere. So I just made some quick snaps of anything colorful.

Wine Shop

Positive color mode does saturate the reds.

Red Vans

I like this enough that I think I’m going to make it my default setting. I look forward to taking my first road trip with the S95 set this way. The colors and details are good, and the post-processing is minimal. I’ll love both the first time I come back from the road with 400 photos to sort through.

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