Camera Reviews

Ansco Viking Readyset

Slim when closed, folding cameras were intended to fit in the pocket of a man’s jacket. The front of these cameras opened to unfold a long bellows with a lens at the end. Folding cameras were popular for several decades, but by the 1950s their popularity faded as other camera types supplanted them. One of Ansco’s last folding-camera gasps in the 1950s was its Viking line, at the bottom of which sat the Ansco Viking Readyset.

Ansco Viking Readyset

Produced from 1952 to 1959, the Viking Readyset features an f/11 Agfa Isomar lens of unknown focal length. This single-element lens sits behind the shutter. If you’re wondering why an Ansco camera features an Agfa lens, it’s because these two companies had been intertwined since 1928. They were one company until World War II, when the U.S. government broke them apart due to Agfa being German. After that, Ansco still often turned to Agfa for resources. Agfa made Viking cameras in Munich for Ansco.

Ansco Viking Readyset

The Viking Readyset offers two aperture settings, “Bright,” which I’m guessing is f/16, and “Hazy,” which is the full f/11. You choose this setting with a lever at the bottom of the lens housing. The shutter has two settings atop the lens housing: I (instant) and B (bulb). An old ad I found said that the shutter operates at at 1/40 sec. The shutter button is the long lever along the inside of the front door. Press it down to fire the shutter, which is a simple single leaf on a spring that does not require cocking.

Ansco Viking Readyset

The camera offers two focus zones, 5 to 10 feet and 10 feet to infinity, which you select with a lever on the side of the lens housing. The viewfinder is a simple pop-up “sports” type, on the same side of the body as the winder. The body is metal with a water-resistant coating that feels like it’s made of plastic. There’s a tripod mount on the faceplate, which is a nice touch. The camera also features a flash sync port. The Viking Readyset makes eight 6×9-cm images on a roll of 120 film.

“Readyset” was Ansco’s way of identifying a folding camera as being simple to use. You could buy far better specified Vikings than the Readyset. The top-line Viking featured an f/4.5 lens; the next one down an f/6.3 lens. Both were set in a shutter with a top speed of 1/200 sec. The Viking cameras cost $48.65, $34.95, and $19.95, respectively, when new. $19.95 is equivalent to about $215 today. In comparison, an Ansco box camera could be had for as little as $4.95, or about $55 today.

I’ve reviewed a couple other Agfa and Ansco folding cameras, including the Standard Speedex (here), the B2 Speedex (here), and the Isolette III (here). I’ve also reviewed the folding Kodak Monitor Six-20 (here), Tourist (here), and giant No. 3A Autographic (here); as well as Voigtländer’s original Bessa (here). You can see all of my camera reviews here.

I bought this Readyset Viking for $45 shipped, which is a fairly high price for such a simple camera. I took the plunge because this one appeared to be in very good condition. Unfortunately, the bellows turned out to be full of pinholes. This is a common malady among old folders. I dabbed a little black fabric paint on each hole to make the bellows light tight again.

To open the Viking Readyset, pull out the chromed tab on the front, and then pull the front open. To close the camera, press in the joint on both of the door’s struts, and then push the door closed. Closing the camera resets the focus to 10+ feet.

My test roll in the Viking Readyset was Ilford FP4 Plus, expired since December, 1994, but always stored frozen. To load film, first open the back by sliding the entire top plate (with the carry strap) to the side. Then lift up the chromed, hinged arm , place one end of the film roll on its post, and lower the arm as you place the other end of the film roll on the fixed post. It’s harder to explain than it is to do it. Then thread the end of the backing paper through the slot on the takeup spool, wind the camera a few times, close the back, and wind until the number 1 appears in the red window on the camera back.

Brick Street Inn Hotel

I shot all eight exposures at Zionsville’s annual Brick Street Market in early May. They close the main street and invite art and food vendors in.

Brick Street Market

It was a sunny day, so I left the Viking Readyset on its Bright (f/11) setting. I relied on FP4 Plus’s good exposure latitude — you can underexpose it by 1.5 stops and overexpose it by 6 stops.

Cover band

It’s easy to make a vertical image with the Viking Readyset thanks to the pop-up viewfinder. I found the viewfinder to be reasonably accurate, too. What you put in the center of the viewfinder shows up in the center of the image, and the lens “sees” only a little more around the edges than the viewfinder does. This is true when you focus beyond ten feet, anyway. The two images I made focused in the 5-10 foot range suffered from some parallax error. That 1/40 sec. shutter speed sure makes it easy to get blurry photos from camera shake, as here.

Kettle Korn

The 1/40 sec. shutter also won’t freeze action, as the two people walking in this image prove. The lens is reasonably sharp except in the corners, and as you can see there’s a little barrel distortion.

Flower Shop

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Ansco Viking Readyset gallery.

The Viking Readyset handled easily, in large part because there’s next to nothing to set. That’s the whole point of any Ansco camera with the Readyset name: all I had to do was select the distance range, frame the scene, press down the shutter button, and wind. While winding, you have to move the cover over the red window out of the way to see the frame number on the film’s backing paper.

I enjoyed using the Ansco Viking Readyset. It was no trouble to carry around by its handle, and it was quickly ready every time I wanted to make a photo. But I can see that the slow shutter is always going to put images at risk of being blurry due to shake, even though I have a very steady hand. I probably won’t use this camera again.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Collecting Cameras

First roll impressions: Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

We had an unseasonably warm and sunny day here recently, so I loaded some film into my new Reto Ultra Wide and Slim and took it on a lunchtime photo walk.

This small, light, all-plastic camera has good structural rigidity — it doesn’t bend or flex in the hand, and under use it makes no squeaking or creaking noises. I can’t say that for some other more advanced and expensive point-and-shoot cameras I’ve owned.

The shutter button feels sure. The winder feels thin and cheap, however.

The general experience of the Reto Ultra Wide and Slim is similar to a single-use camera.

I wanted to shoot ISO 400 color film in this camera, but I was out. I have heard that 36-exposure rolls can jam up, at least in the original Vivitar version of this camera. So I turned to some 24-exposure Kroger-branded ISO 200 color film I recently bought. It’s expired Ferrania stock. It was supposed to have been stored properly, but the images I got back all showed the hallmarks of expired film.

Blue garage

Images from the Reto show some vignetting and softness in the corners, kind of like an old box Brownie. Otherwise, the lens gives good sharpness.

Black Dog Books

I find it remarkable that the lens displays little to no distortion. I’d love to know how they got what’s probably a single-element plastic lens to do that.

Salon G

The viewfinder isn’t perfectly accurate. When I framed the photo below, the alley on the right wasn’t so much in the frame. This is normally a pet peeve of mine, and something that causes me to pass on a camera. But the inaccuracy isn’t terrible on this camera. I want to keep experimenting with the Reto. Perhaps I’ll learn how to compensate for its inaccurate viewfinder.

Green garage

This expired Kroger film didn’t show much exposure latitude. A few photos were so underexposed as to be useless. This one shows classic signs of underexposure — on this full-sun day, I shot a subject in the shade.

Little blue house

I very much enjoy how much context my photos from around Zionsville all have in the Reto’s lens.

On the brick street 2

None of these photos is going to win a prize. But I can tell that I’ve yet to find my groove with this camera. I have some Fomapan 400 in it now, and will keep shooting it for a while. A full review will come later, perhaps in the spring or summer.

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Knight

Not-so-shining armor
Yashica TL Electro X
50mm f/1.7 Auto Yashinon-DX
Foma Fomapan 200
2021

This suit of armor stands watch over a shop in Zionsville that sells jewelry and watches purchased from estates. My wife knows the owners and they’re salt of the earth people.

Every time I look back at the photos I made with the Yashica TL Electro X and that 50/1.7 Yashinon, I’m impressed anew.

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Photographs

single frame: Not-so-shining armor

A suit of armor, on Fomapan 200.

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Jewel Box Jewelers

Jewel Box Jewelers
Kodak VR35 K12
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
2021

This is my favorite image I made with the point-and-shoot Kodak VR35 K12. It was dusk, and light was dim but plentiful. But the VR35 K12 struggled with this light and returned unusably dim images — except for this one. The light from the window and from the lamps above the awning saved the day.

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Film Photography

single frame: Jewel Box Jewelers

A dusk photo of a store window.

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Outdoor seating at Auberge

Outside seating at Auberge
Apple iPhone 12 mini
2021

Auberge is a French restaurant on Zionsville’s Main Street. Margaret and I had dinner here not long ago, sitting on the patio out front. Margaret was eaten alive by mosquitoes, unfortunately.

On another evening, Auberge wasn’t busy and their patio was empty. The light and scene were lovely, so I captured it on my iPhone.

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Photographs

single frame: Outside seating at Auberge

A look at a restaurant’s patio in lovely light.

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Camera Reviews

Minolta XD-11

My hopes were sky high when I bought this Minolta XD-11 as so many prominent film-photo sites give it such high praise. Developed in cooperation with Ernst Leitz, this camera is supposed to exude quality to nearly Leica levels. The two companies worked together so that Minolta could better compete in the luxury rangefinder market and Leitz could build a cost-effective SLR platform. Leica built its R4, R5, R6, and R7 SLRs on this chassis.

Minolta XD-11

You might also see this camera called the XD-7 or just the XD; those were this camera’s name in Europe and Japan.

This is the world’s first SLR to offer full manual exposure with both aperture-priority and shutter-priority autoexposure. It features a vertically traveling metal-blade shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 sec, plus a 1/100-sec manual speed (the O setting on the shutter-speed dial) and bulb (B). In automatic modes, that shutter operates steplessly — if 1/218 second is the right shutter speed, that’s what the XD-11 chooses. The camera also features a mechanical self timer. Two SR44 batteries power the XD-11.

Minolta XD-11

You choose the exposure mode with a switch around the shutter-speed ring: M, A, and S, each meaning just what you’d expect. You can set ISO from 12 to 3200; press the little button and twist the collar around the rewind crank. You can also add or subtract one or two stops of exposure. Press in the tab on the rewind crank and move it to the amount of exposure compensation you want.

Minolta XD-11

The selected aperture is always visible in the viewfinder; a little window shows what you’ve dialed in on the lens. In shutter-priority and manual modes, the viewfinder shows the selected shutter speed. (For shutter-priority mode, first set the lens to its minimum aperture, e.g., f/16 on the 50mm f/1.7 MD Rokkor X lens that came with my XD-11.)

For manual and aperture-priority modes, a shutter-speed scale appears in the viewfinder. (Or it’s supposed to; it didn’t switch over on mine. A fault!) In shutter-priority mode, an aperture scale appears in the viewfinder. LED dots appear next to the scale. In manual mode, they show the aperture you need to choose for proper exposure. In aperture-priority mode, they show the shutter speed the camera has chosen, and in shutter-priority mode, they show the selected aperture. One dot means the camera has chosen that value exactly, while two adjacent dots mean the camera has chosen the proper value between the two marked values.

The XD-11 features “green mode” — set the camera to shutter-priority mode, choose minimum aperture, and choose 1/125 second. Notice that all of these settings are marked in green. In green mode, if 1/125 sec. is too fast, the XD-11 reduces shutter speed until it gets proper exposure.

Under use, the XD-11 is light, smooth, and pleasant. The viewfinder is bright and gives a great view. Its electromagnetic shutter button needs only an easy touch to operate. The wind lever is light and luxurious. My only ergonomic complaint is that there’s no on-off switch. To stop the meter from operating and thus draining the battery, you have to cap the lens.

If you like Minolta SLRs, you might also enjoy my reviews of the X-700 (here), the XG 1 (here), the SR-T 101 (here), and the SR-T 202 (here). I’ve also reviewed some autofocus Minolta SLRs, including the Maxxum 7000 (here), the Maxxum 7000i (here), the Maxxum 9xi (here), and the Maxxum HTsi (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I’ve had a lot of bad luck with Minolta manual-focus SLR bodies, and it continued with this camera. To be fair, I picked up a body at far below market price that the seller couldn’t represent well, and hoped for the best. I’ve already mentioned that the shutter-speed scale doesn’t appear in the viewfinder when it’s supposed to, but there’s more wrong than that. I tested the camera with a roll of Fomapan 200, and on three frames the shutter stuck open. Switching the shutter-speed dial to O, the one mechanical shutter speed, immediately closed the shutter. But those frames were entirely washed out, and the adjacent frames were partially overexposed as well.

I shot the Fomapan at EI 125 and developed it Ilford ID-11 1+1 at the ISO 200 time as I usually do. This was my first time developing in ID-11. It turned out great.

Boone County Jail

The XD-11 feels great in my hand. It’s got enough heft to inspire confidence, but not so much that it feels heavy. The materials all feel nice; the controls are all smooth and luxurious.

Details

The 50mm f/1.7 MD Rokkor-X lens that came with this camera performed as well as any 50/1.7 Rokkor ever does; that is to say, brilliantly. This is a wonderful lens.

Bike parking

I drove up to Lebanon, Indiana, just to make some photographs with the XD-11. Lebanon is my county’s seat. I photographed the courthouse on the square, but I wasn’t thrilled with the images. Therefore, you get photographs of things around the square.

One Way

Lebanon, like most Indiana county seats, features a courthouse square with sturdy old buildings living their fourth, eighth, or nineteenth small-business life. Truly, the photo below could be from any of a hundred small Indiana towns.

On the square in Lebanon

This is the point in the review where I’m supposed to heap giant praise onto the Minolta XD-11. I’ll refrain. I liked this camera, but I like my Olympus OM-2n far better. Camera reviews like this one are highly subjective — what tickles my fancy might turn you right off. So just know that the XD-11 is a fine camera and you should try one someday if you can.

Rocket Liquors

I stopped finding interesting things to photograph in Lebanon, so I headed back to Zionsville, specifically to Lions Park, which is always good for a few frames.

Zionsville Little League

This little lion is a drinking fountain, and it’s on the edge of one of the park’s many playgrounds.

Lion drinking fountain

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta XD-11 gallery.

Minolta considered its XD-11 to be its premium SLR in its day, slotting it above the full-program X-700. I can see why; this is a very solid and smooth camera. That mine isn’t fully functional is a shame, as I wouldn’t mind being able to do more than a one-roll review of this well-regarded camera. Instead, I did something I’ve never done before: after writing this review, I asked the eBay seller for a refund.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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