Regarding Cameras

Pentax iQZoom 120mi and Expired Kodak Porta 160 VC: Richmond and Wilmington

Recorded on December 1st, 2016

Here’s a roll I shot a few weeks ago and just got the low-res scans of from The Darkroom. The colors were a little faded, which I guess is because the film is 10–15 years old. About all I did to fix it was to press the Enhance (“Can you get in a little closer? Enhance!”) button in Apple’s Photos app to nudge up the contrast and saturation. Besides that, it held up pretty well. These are from Richmond, Va., Wilmington, Del., and I-95 between there and here.

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The Olympus XA Is Here

Recorded on November 9th, 2016

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This travesty of an election is going to cost me a ton of dough in attention-diverting photo equipment. So be it.

This tiny, tiny, 30+ year old Olympus XA rangefinder arrived from Adorama today. It is so much smaller than it looks. It is fast, responsive, the viewfinder is clean, and rangefinder focusing is slick.

I just loaded a roll of Tri-X 400 in it and will shoot some stuff tomorrow. I will post photos as soon as I make some.

The Olympus XA Rangefinder; Dorothea Lange

Recorded on November 5th, 2016

One important thing to know about the original Olympus XA vs. the others in the XA series: The first XA (i.e. the “XA”, not the “XA1”), was the only one with a true rangefinder. The rest were either fixed-focus or scale-focusing systems. This is hugely important to know because it gives you precise control over what you want to focus on.

While reading the XA review and reprinted test report on the brilliant diaxa.com site, I saw this quote by Dorothea Lange:

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

Wow. That’s what I find myself doing now. Noticing more stuff, thinking in a 50mm field of view even when I have no camera close by. So I looked for some more about her (she of the beautiful and haunting “Migrant Mother” portraits).

Here are some more of her quotes from PBS and Wikipedia:

“You put your camera around your neck in the morning, along with putting on your shoes, and there it is, an appendage of the body that shares your life with you. The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”

And:

“One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. To live a visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable. I have only touched it, just touched it.”

And this one, which is the most challenging:

“It is not enough to photograph the obviously picturesque.”

I am a fraud!

Three Konica Rangefinders to Watch For

Recorded on November 2nd, 2016

The hotbrain continues. I will find a good, old CLA’d rangefinder eventually. These are near the top of the list:

The Konica IIIA and IIIM

It is very, very difficult to find any fixed-lens rangefinder that is as fluid in use and as easy to corral as these two are.

The Konica Auto S3 (also sold in Japan as the C35 FD)

I have over 50 film cameras. Many of them I sell off to try new ones out. The Konica Auto S3 will never be sold.

Used Cameras from Adorama, B&H and KEH

Recorded on November 2nd, 2016

In a rare moment of clarity, I realized today that apart from happening upon a camera at a thrift store or yard sale, the least headache-inducing way to shop for a used camera and pay any significant amount of money for it is probably through one of the major used camera retailers. Adorama, B&H Photo, and KEH are all reputable places to shop from, and they all have some sort of grading system to give you an idea of what you’re getting. Once you start digging into their listings, it’s hard not to pull the trigger on every good-condition Nikon F3 or Olympus OM-2n body you find.

KEH is my favorite because they’re so singularly focused on used gear. I especially like this chart that compares their rating values to other shops:

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There are other places to get used cameras, for sure, but I’m just getting started with this. The world is truly your oyster when you realize what’s available for so cheap outside of the digital fence.

Nikomat Film Rewind Crank Replacement

Recorded on October 31st, 2016

Last night, the film rewind crank loosened and came off my Nikomat FTN and fell on the floor during a show at my friend’s bar (1984 Barcade in Wilmington). I didn’t know it at the time, in the dark, but a small metal spring must have also popped off from the underside of the rewind crank “cap”. That spring holds the rewind lever down in the crank assembly when it’s not in use. Without it, the lever flops around whenever the camera isn’t positioned straight up.

I just ordered a junked FTN body from eBay for $6 plus shipping. It looks to have a proper rewind crank on it. We’ll see how well it works to swap in the missing spring when it gets here.

Also, last night was the first time I didn’t post an entry to this blog since I started my daily posts back in February. Well, that sucks, but I’m gonna keep going from here. Maybe I’ll tack on an extra day at the end like when school kids have to make up snow days at the end of the term.

How a Vertical-Travel Shutter Works in an SLR

Recorded on October 22nd, 2016

No matter whether you have a film SLR or a digital SLR, the shutter probably works something like this. The key is that the speed at which the top and bottom curtains travel is the same at every shutter speed. What determines the shutter speed (how long the film is exposed) is the delay between the two. It just blows my mind that this mechanism was developed long before computer-aided design was a thing.

Pentax IQZoom 120Mi 35mm Camera

Recorded on October 17th, 2016

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Dad gave me a ton of his old photography equipment yesterday. A very nice flash, very nice light meter, filters, camera bag, darkroom equipment (enlarger!), and a Pentax IQZoom 120Mi point-and-shoot 35mm camera (also known as the Espio 120Mi). I don’t have a battery for it yet, but they’re widely available. I’ve been reading about it and it has tons of fans on Flickr and in reviews like this one. The lens appears to be a bit slow, but people love its sharpness. It also does panoramas, has an adjustable diopter on the viewfinder, and has a metal exterior. Once I get a battery, I envision taking this with me everywhere so I’ll always have a film camera handy.

My Photographic Crutches Laid Bare

Recorded on October 11th, 2016

It’s hard when you read something that points out the bad habits you’ve picked up by acquiring better camera gear. Jeremiah Rogers has single-handedly (see?) dismantled some of my most closely-held tricks and exposed them for what they are in his Tie One Hand Behind Your Back post.

I love the Panasonic 20mm prime that goes on the GX1, but I have totally fallen victim to the trap of using it to take pictures of boring things and using blurry backgrounds to make them look important or interesting, when really they were always neither.

A modern camera with a fast lens can shoot in almost any light, can blur away a dull background, can stop bullets in mid-flight, and its raw files can be post-processed to create dreamlike high dynamic range landscapes. It can make a nice looking photo out of almost anything, but unless it’s used carefully those photos won’t be good enough to hang in any room except a hotel room.

And:

I’ve talked before about how fast lenses make me worse at photography. Fast lenses encourage me to focus on getting awesome blurred bokeh-rich backgrounds instead of finding interesting things to photograph.

And:

Each time I make my camera more simple to use my pictures improve. Shooting with prime lenses taught me how to see in fixed framelines and walk to get pictures. Shooting in manual only mode taught me to meter for exactly the part of the scene I cared about. Shooting at narrow apertures and in black and white further improved my photos by really making me focus on subject matter and composition — not fancy color and selective focus tricks. You might like to try this as well.

All the bad parts above have been me! For years! I need to get better at shooting the Nikkormat in straight manual mode, with its 50mm lens, with black and white film, and not with aperture opened up all the time.

Film Photography Is a Way to Get Amazing Images for Cheap

Recorded on October 11th, 2016

Thanks to Phil Kneen and his post, The £1000 film look, I’m finally waking up to the potential still just sitting there in all the film cameras in the world. Instead of shelling out many hundreds of dollars for digital camera bodies and then hundreds more for the lenses for those, you can find used film cameras for unbelievably low prices out there. I keep looking at eBay and I see SLR after SLR, many with 50mm lenses included, for $100 or less. Well-regarded cameras like the Minolta X-570 or the Olympus OM-2n. To get the equivalent image quality out of digital gear, you’d need to spend almost 10 times that amount. And it still wouldn’t be film in the end.

My GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) is kicking in, but at these prices, I can’t afford for it not to!

PSA: Do Not Leave Old Batteries in Cameras

Recorded on October 6th, 2016

Well this is embarrassing. Now that I’m hopelessly obsessed with reviving old film cameras, I pulled out one that I had stashed in the basement. I won’t say which model this is, because it’s too nice of a camera to let this happen to. But behold:

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If you think that looks bad, you should see the one I took with the flash on. I’m mortified. This is tangible evidence of years of neglect on my part.

My research says that a cotton swab dipped in vinegar should dissolve most of the corrosion. Since we’re out of vinegar and fresh AA batteries, I won’t pursue it any further tonight. My hope is that the goo leaking out of the batteries didn’t damage the electronics inside the camera.

Lesson to everyone: Yank those old batteries out of all your gear, especially the gear you care about. Don’t end up like me.

Shooting Film

Recorded on September 25th, 2016

Today, using Dad’s old Nikon/Nikomat FT from 1967 or so, I shot 16 frames of Kodak Tri-X 400 film. I have 20 left on that roll before I send it to Photoworks SF to process and scan. I can’t remember the last time I loaded film into a camera. It may have been when we used medium format Holgas at our wedding in 2007. It is fun! Knowing that I had only 36 exposures on a roll and that it costs real money to press the shutter release makes me way more choosy about the shots I take. We’ll see how they look. Sadly, Photoworks will probably be faster at film processing than I am at digital processing in Lightroom.

The Nikon’s meter is acting funny after all these years. I was going to just use the Sunny 16 method to set exposure, but I’m not confident enough for that yet and I needed to be quicker because we were out with friends, so I used the myLightMeter iOS app. I think it works well, but the processed photos will have the final say.

The Nikomat FT is a solid, heavy camera, but it’s so simple to use, and the viewfinder is so bright and big and easy to focus with that it feels fast. If you have one hanging around up in the attic, pull it down and get some Tri-X from Amazon for $5/roll and see what you can do.

Canon P Rangefinder

Recorded on September 16th, 2016

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All it takes to reactivate my latent camera hotbrain is for John Gruber to point to a 2013 article about Henri Cartier-Bresson. I thought, “What rangefinders am I not considering for my imaginary and unnecessary camera wishlist?” Somehow, the Canon P came up.

Mike Eckman has a wonderful page about the Canon P, and his gallery of sample shots should convince any camera nerd to add the P to his or her list. I think it may be even prettier than the Olympus 35 SP. I would love to get one and put a 50mm lens on it.

How the Fuji X20 Got On My List

Recorded on July 7th, 2016

Fujifilm X20

I have a text file called “Researchx - Camera wishlist 2010-10-09.txt”.1 In it, I have the names, models and prices of any cameras that have popped up as notable in the last six years. I also put links to particularly good camera reviews, and sometimes even a short excerpt if there’s an especially enthusiastic quote from someone I trust.

The Fuji X20 is one of those notable cameras. It came out in 2013 and I still don’t have one, but the X20 is what made me start to notice Fuji cameras in general. Adam Riley is a talented photographer (street, wedding, and otherwise), and his Fuji X20 Review was what ultimately got that camera on my list. He goes deeply into what its strengths and weaknesses are, and the stories about the optical viewfinder and the fast focusing are cool. But the images Riley includes in the review are the selling point. Shot after gorgeous shot. I have no illusions that I could achieve the same compositions and light with such a machine — those photos are the result of a skilled photographer who has practiced for a long time. But, still, it means something to know that the Fuji line of cameras can enable those kinds of pictures.

If the X20 appeals to you but you want something newer, keep an eye on the X30 and X70. If you have really deep pockets, go for the X100T.


  1. The filename starts with “Researchx” because all my text files that have any sort of research in them start that way. The “x” on the end is borrowed from Merlin Mann, who I think I heard mention this practice first on an old Mac Power Users episode years ago. He starts text files with words like that as a sort of faux tag he can search on, since any text file isn’t likely to have “researchx”, “agendax”, “listx”, etc. in the body of the note. 

The Olympus 35 SP Rangefinder

Recorded on June 29th, 2016

I’m perfectly happy with the Panasonic GX1 and the toys (strap and viewfinder) I’ve gotten for it recently. But part of me is always on the lookout for the next great new (or old) piece of gear. I was googling the phrase “poor man’s Leica”, and found that rangefinder nerds have a million opinions on what constitutes a poor man’s Leica. One camera that came up consistently in those search results was the Canon Canonet QL17 GIII. It looks marvelous and easy to use. People love it, but, superficially, I don’t care for its looks that much. Something about that trapezoidal rangefinder window over the lens puts me off. (However, a black one instead of a chrome one would would be very nice.)

Canonet QL17

As I hunted around further, I saw more and more mentions of the Olympus 35 SP. Yes, it’s at once cuter and also uglier than the Canonet. Most importantly, its lens is the highly regarded Zuiko 42mm f/1.7, it has dual-metering, and it is supposedly lightning fast at manual focus. I’m not saying I’m going out to buy one on eBay, but if I happen upon one at a yard sale, I will pick it up.

All this searching really makes me want to get a roll of Tri-X 400.

photo of Olympus 35 SP camera