Ken Rockwell writes the Nikon F2 was a Leica killer. While that may be a bit extreme (Leica is alive and well), he makes a strong point about the quality and robust nature of the F2. Built for professionals and with Leica clearly in their sites, Nikon set out to make a camera that was virtually bullet proof. It’s all metal body is apparent when pick it up. Unlike earlier 35mm cameras the F2 is a modular camera. Interchangable lenses and viewing screens which can include a needle type light meter make it easy to take it anywhere from a newsman’s primary tool of the trade to the backpacker who wants to take alone a smallish camera with wide angle and telephoto options.
I recently picked up an F2 and put it through its paces. I
used a variety of apertures and shutter speeds to make sure everything worked
correctly. The meter worked well with fresh batteries and the split prism meter
makes for easy focusing. I checked the on-board meter with a Minolta Auto Meter
III F. The negatives came out sharp with good contrast. Overall using the
camera was a good experience. It weighs enough that you can’t forget it in your
hand and with that reminder it’s easy to dedicate time to making those 36
frames count. After using the camera it’s easy to see how the 1970’s filled up
with good reliable 35mm cameras that shared most of the F2’s features like the Canon
A-I, Pentax K1000, Olympus OM-1 and so many others that stood toe to toe with
the Nikons. The emergence of the SLR with through the lens focusing and exposure
help either by the needle or lighted f stop/shutter speeds in the viewfinder was
a game changer for many people.
All things considered a used F2 would be a good buy if everything
worked right. While some would argue for it in favor of the other models
mentioned above, I’d be happy with any them.
I suspect some of the readers of this blog aren’t big on
film. I must confess that when I do the math for a film camera and factor in
how long it will last compared to a digital camera that will work well for
years but is outdated in about 18 months, I come out ahead with film. Consider
the cost of a new Nikon D3500 (or a Canon T6). On sale at Costco it is about
$500.00 with two lenses. If you stay with the Nikon system, the lenses will
stay with you to the next camera should you decide to upgrade later. A good
35mm SLR camera will cost you about $50.00. That leaves you with $450.00 to
develop and scan or print your film. At about $15. For developing and $7 per
roll of film that’s $22.00 for 36 frames. It ads up to 20 roles or 720 frames
of film. There are trade-offs, however. The 35mm will be used. You can’t take
300 pictures when you go out on a weekend and there’s not instant feedback on
your pictures. The benefits include becoming a better photographer because you
only get 36 pictures at a time (making your selection and “eye” more
discerning), you will never loose your photos because of a software or media
card update, and no one will hack your photos. But this isn’t about trying to
get you to toss out your digital camera. In fact, it is just the opposite.
My search for a good small, portable unassuming street
camera took a turn last summer when I was preparing for long motorcycle trip.
Space was at a premium and I wanted to be able to do video (can’t do that with
your 35mm SLR) and post pictures to friends and social media. Fuji has some
very nice offerings but the prices set me back, so I passed. I really like the
look of the X-T1 and the APS-C sensor. It’s retro look and larger sensor in a
compact size was attractive. The have other cameras in their line up that
looked good but the price was a stop sign. While examining the Fuji line up at
my local camera store the clerk suggested I look at the Olympus OMD-10, a micro
four-thirds (MFT) camera. Initially I rejected the advice due to the small
I bet you can figure out I ended up buying an Olympus. I am
crazy about the options I get with the MFT system and this little camera. It
does everything I was looking for above, small, video, high quality digital
photos, completely manual or shutter or aperture priority shooting modes. Like
every consumer camera it has preprogramed shooting modes for macro, sports etc.
but I never use them. The dynamic range is excellent and it is both small and
very comfortable in my hand.
I don’t do camera reviews in the traditional sense. If you’re
looking for a technical review of the OMD-10MII or MIII go to DP Review or
maybe Ken Rockwell has looked at it. In this blog I’m more concerned about what
it does for me as I make choices about photos for personal use and occasional sale.
One big advantage in the MFT world is the agreement by the manufactures to not
make lenses proprietary. Any MFT lens from any manufacturer will fit any other
MFT camera. I bought a Panasonic 25mm f1.7 lens immediately (50mm equivalent)
to get the additional low light and prime lens sharpness.
After the trip, which included three national Parks and 3,000
miles, I put the camera in the car as the always-have-a-camera-with-you model.
It’s small size and full control seemed to want to hide in the corner of the
trunk. After a couple of months, I happened to be playing with the Voightlander
Vito B mentioned in the last post. Surprise! The two cameras are nearly identical
in size. Really, look at the photos above. Quite by mistake I fell into the
perfect digital street camera. As an extra bonus the rear screen tilts making
above the head and shoe top pictures a snap (if you’ll pardon the pun.)
There you have it. If you’re looking for a small, high
quality, mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera for small spaces and vacations
where an obvious DSLR would get in the way, check out the Olympus OMD-10MII or
MIII. Added bonuses include a built in Wi-Fi antenna that will let you both
activate the shutter from your smart phone or tablet and download to your
One last thing, I write this blog because I have this crazy
voice in my head that tells me do it. I don’t have any sponsors and don’t receive
any commission when I mention one of my new finds. If you try out the Olympus
and buy one, I recommend you find a local camera shop to do business with. It’s
good for you and your community to have an independent camera shop nearby.
Until next time. I’m playing with a Nikon F2 SLR. Even
though it’s 60 years old it looks like a winner. I’ll keep you posted.
I used to think I needed one camera. One that would be just right for portraits in the studio and outside. The same camera needed to be perfect for landscape and nature photos. Of course, this meant it had to have interchangeable lenses for wildlife, and it needed to be weather sealed. It also needed to be suitable for discrete street photography, something small and inconspicuous. No compromises, just one camera. Just one camera-and a bag of accessories.
I’m not sure when the idea of street photography seeped into thoughts. When it did I was back in the “one camera” trap. Street photography required a small and discreet camera, not the big portrait/ landscape camera system I was building. And so began the search for a single purpose camera that could hide in plain sight while I walked the streets.
My journey for this camera started in earnest with a Fuji 645. I was attracted to the larger negative, approximately two and a half times larger than the 35mm format. It wasn’t what I was looking for, so I sold it about a year later. While I continued to look for the right camera I returned to my trusty Canon AE-1.
What isn’t to like about the AE-1? Although it is an 80’s era manual focus camera, it is easy to wield in a crowd and with the stock “nifty fifty” lens isn’t large. I’ve owned the camera for a long time so there was no cash investment and I didn’t think the lack of autofocus would be an issue. It worked okay but the search continued.
Then I fell into a cash of old film cameras. I mentioned them in this blog before. I’ve had a wonderful time looking at the old manual cameras. I put film through some of them. The previous owners cared for some of the cameras like I do. I’ve sold many (that was the reason I agreed to take them.) It was in these boxes I saw an old Rollei 35, marketed as the smallest 35mm camera made. It sold quickly and for a reasonable price. It made me think about a 35mm with a small footprint that would feel right in my hands, have a quality lens, and likely be an old rangefinder.
Enter the Voightlander Vito B. The Vito was made in West Germany in the 50’s. Measuring 5” x 3” it is smaller than the AE-1. It had one issue, however. It is a viewfinder camera. A viewfinder has meter/foot markings on the lens to help in your guess-to-focus. Guesstofocus means you can’t see through the lens to focus the camera, instead you view area the lens is pointing at. It isn’t a blind exercise as there are distance markers on the lens. Combined with an understanding of depth of field based on f stop, it was state of the art for consumer cameras since the turn of the last century. Nearly every kodak folder uses the same system. I have a couple of folders, so I was ready to give it chance.
Voightlander knew a thing of two. They put two marks on the lens to help the user. One mark signifies focus for 12’ or less and another, located before the infinity symbol, is for everything between 13-20’. Using these two marks and the “sunny 16” rule the camera becomes a point and shoot camera. In addition to making the exposure math easy (match the film speed and shutter speed at f16 in midday sun) the sunny 16 rule allows for a large depth of field making nearly everything in the frame in focus. In the future I’ll go into more depth about the advantages of sunny 16, but for now it’s enough to say the two marks on the lens combined with sunny 16 turned this camera into the perfect street camera! So much for a single camera to meet all my needs.
So, there we are, a perfect sized street camera that fits into a large pocket or the side pocket of a backpack, doesn’t require a lot of messing with, will shoot in black and white or color, didn’t cost an arm and a leg (under $20 if you can find one), and is amazing sharp.
Update: February 10, 2019: I found this rangfinder accessory that mounts to the cold shoe. It lays a transparent image over the view for focusing ala a rangefinder camera. The focus dial has a distance scale. After achieving correct focus with the rangefinder, adjust the lens to match. Amazing.
Next time we’ll look at it’s modern day digital equivalent in size and quality.
Voitghlander Vito B specs:
35mm, viewfinder, 50mm f2.8 lens, count down film counter, all metal, all manual. Approximately 5”x3”. Manufactured between 1950-1957. A few quirks of the camera: it has a wheel over the focal plane to cock the shutter and prevent double exposure. It is nearly impossible to confirm the shutter will fire without film in the body. The frame count counts down not up and must be set each time a new roll of film is put in the camera. Cold shoe, a flash will only work with a cable connected to the lens. Some people I’ve handed the camera think it is too heavy for its size.
Have you ever wondered what it was like “back in the day” with those old cameras? Remember the black box you grandparents had that took pictures? The ol’ Kodak Brownie was sold by the hundreds of thousands in the 50’s and 60’s. In fact the name Brownie was used by Kodak throughout the over 100 year life of company. It seems any box with a lens and a shutter was called a Brownie. The premise of the camera is simple, put a hole in a box and with the help of a mechanical shutter expose a frame of film. If a ground lens is put in the space for the little hole all the better!
Recently I have fallen into a large cash of antique cameras. Most of these gems are going to be great wall pieces. Old cameras make great art. The material is foreign, the cameras with bellows never fail to look old and evoke memories of lost loved ones or old pictures from magazines, family photo albums, or movies (always in black and white.) If the lens looks like it might take a good photo I’m likely to load a roll of film into the box and push the shutter. Of course, it’s not quite that easy. First the 120 film from the retailer needs to be re-spooled onto the old Kodak 620 spool. The film is the same but the Kodak stem is smaller making it impossible to load the 120 film. In a few moments I’ve made the necessary transfer and into the camera it goes.
I came across the camera pictured here in the boxes and it looked too good to be true. The leather cover and camera looked showroom perfect. The leather was so untarnished it was a little difficult to remove it from the camera and load the film. In the day this original “point and shoot” camera was designed to be easy to use. There is no focus, no shutter speed, and no aperture ring to mess with. To a teenager of the 2010’s this is all as it seems it should be, after all this is how the phone camera works. Even to the 40 somethings who used a point and shoot 35mm camera or one of those disposable cameras at the department store or pharmacy, the Brownie is a fancy version of that camera. The Brownie of the 50’s and 60’s was molded of an early plastic substance called bakelight. Over time the material becomes brittle but back in the day dropping the camera was unl
ikely to do any real damage. With this very clean “new” camera I decided to explore what kind of photo it would take.
Take a look for yourself. The photos came right out of the camera via an Epson 700 scanner that scans and reverses the negative. I didn’t clean up scratches or make any adjustment other than to do minor exposure adjustments, if necessary.
You can decide for yourself what you think. Here’s my view. The photos (all 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches) are not sharp like today’s cameras but they would be acceptable for a family album when printed. It didn’t take any expertise to take a photo, just look down through the viewfinder and push the shutter. The cost of the film and developing came to about $25.00 (assuming you had to buy a 620 roll of film from B&H photo) and the camera can be had anywhere for about $20.00. Compare that to the cost of a new digital camera.
Of course these old antiques aren’t for everyone. For many people they are too much work. But if you’re curious or are looking to see what is was like back in the day…
I was recently asked to help someone sell an extensive camera collection. The cameras represent consumer photography from the 19 teens through the 1960’s. Many of them are display pieces and are no longer useful without being sent out to a shop for repair. Overtime cameras that aren’t used suffer from fungus on the lens, sticky shutters, and overall dust. The old folders are vulnerable to separation of the leather from the metal bodies. The old bakelite plastic gets brittle and is prone to splitting. Most of the cameras have one thing in common, they take medium format film. Back in the day the most common roll film was 120. Kodak, perhaps to push consumers into buying Kodak film, used the same film on a smaller spindle and marketed it as 620. Kodak 620 film was used in everything from the point and shoot Brownie Hawkeye to their early folding cameras. The folders are interesting because the same roll of film was used for 6×6, 6×7, 6×9 and 6×11 frames. In addition to changing the number of pictures a roll of film would hold (12, 10, 8, 7 respectively), the negatives are all huge compared to 35mm film. The smallest medium format film size is 645 (15 frames per roll) which produces a negative 2.5 times larger. From there it only gets better. By better I mean the larger the negative the less it needs to be enlarged to produce a sharp viewable picture. In addition that means that larger prints (above an 8×10) are possible. Since old cameras can be cheap there is an opportunity to get into higher quality film for a low price. The Argus 40 TLR is one of those finds.
The Twin Lens Reflex camera was made famous by Rollei from Germany. With superior optics, ease of use, and packaged in a small metal frame, the Rollei was a favorite of professional and amatuers for over 50 years. The problem with the Rolleiflex is that even today you will have to spend over $500 for one in good shape. It inspired many knock offs by nearly every camera manufacturer. Perhaps the most sought after copy is the Yashica 124. Not the same quality of the Rollei but pretty close and nearly bulletproof, it shares the quality glass lens and metal body of the original. I have one and couldn’t be more pleased. With the combination of a large film size and the lack of a mirror to flop up and down and possibly create camera shake. The lens on top is for viewing only with the bottom lens being used to expose the film. TLRs are capable of very sharp pictures.
The Ansco 40 is a very inexpensive copy of this same format. In addition the Argus is a viewfinder camera meaning the prism does not help the user to focus on the subject. The lens has distance markings for focusing purposes (called zone focusing). I came across this camera among the boxes of about 100 cameras. It looked very clean as did the leather case it was in and when I shined a light through the lens there was no evidence of fungus. So I put a roll of black and white film in it.
Take a look. This is right out of the camera. I cleaned up a few spots but that is it. No adjustments from the software. The camera is like new (40-50 years new). For about $100 US a guy (or gal) could play with this piece of history. Ebay, Etsy, or what ever marketplace you like to frequent has these old TLR’s. Of course let the buyer beware-be sure to buy a camera that is in working condition and if it doesn’t work return it.
Some kinda fun, and you won’t know if you “got it” until the film is developed.
Shoot film, shoot digital, or do both. It doesn’t matter.
Forty one degrees. A great way to start day two of our motorcycle journey to the Pacific
Northwest. When we left the Bay area on Thursday at noon it was warm and sunny with
temperatures in the mid 60’s. The cool Sacramento River seemed to calling us as we stopped at the Sundial Bridge in Redding with the air at 80 degrees.
Not being sure exactly where one needs to stand to use the sundial, we pulled on the cable to make sure the tensions was right, snapped a few photos and on to Shasta Lake, over the border into Oregon and a final stop in Grants Pass at about 10pm. A good day!
Our forty one degree start was rewarded just outside of Corvallis when we spotted a 747 on top of a building in the distance while scooting down a secondary roads on the way to Portland.
Tempted by the obvious marketing attempt to wrestle some cash out of our pocket, we stumbled into the Spruce Goose at the Evergreen Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. Bike guys, cars guys, airplane guys, to borrow a phrase from Billy Joel, “It’s still rock and roll to me.” Two and a half hours later we were on our way to Portland just in time for Friday rush hour. On to out campsite in Woodinville, Washington, another 10pm close.
The Cossacks Motorcycle Stunt Team and the National event awaits us for Saturday and
Sunday. Like our little Entourage, you too will have to wait.
Is is film or digital and does it matter? For some the debate was settled a decade ago. However, if you’ve noticed film is in a big resurgence. A casual look on eBay will reveal the prices for film cameras is higher than it has been in 6-7 years. While the manufacture of film is limited to a couple of companies and emulsions (Fuji and Kodak), amateurs and professionals alike are returning to the unique look and satisfaction of film. The Film Photography Project, Lomography, and others are introducing a new generation of photographers to the hobby of using old cameras and developing at home. If you’re still in doubt take a saunter over to YouTube and in the search box pop in “developing black and white film”.
I’m not trying to convince you to ditch the digital camera. That would be like me trying to convince you to take all the screwdrivers out or your toolbox in favor of only having hammers, or all the mascara out of the cosmetic drawer in favor of lipstick. How absurd. Each tool has a purpose. When photography was paying the bills I used digital. The benefits of instant viewing and the ease of transferring photos from the camera to the lab were all critical. Film was a luxury I could enjoy alongside my DSLR. These days I have more time to process and submit photos. Relaxed time constraints allow me to shoot more film. Shooting film isn’t like returning to the past, however.
While there are those who will go retro all the way to the darkroom, I don’t want to give up the powerful tools of Photoshop and Lightroom. I’m not alone either. Look at the advertising for Kodak Ektar and Porta films. The boxes clearly point out they were developed to be the best scanning film on the market and I appreciate their efforts. I shoot with a variety of film cameras and scan into the digital darkroom. Scanning was always part of the equation. When I was learning to shoot manual film cameras I used Fuji Velvia exclusively. Velvia is great transparency film for nature and landscape photos and a real challenge to scan. Its over saturated and vibrant colors make scenes pop. Unfortunately, it seems like I have been chasing the image on that piece of film from day one because Velvia doesn’t scan well. You might be thinking, “If you’re going to scan, why not just shoot digitally in the first place?” Different tools for different purposes I say.
First, the number of frames on a roll of film is limited. This means the photographer has to be more selective and careful before pushing the shutter. No more spray and pray-more craft and vision and less hoping. Second, even when scanned, film has a unique look. The look isn’t about sharpness or grain/noise and after the print has been made you may or may not be able to pick out the difference. But I think you can see it.
Scanning ushers me back into Photoshop where after I have made any adjustments I can print as many copies as I wish. In the old darkroom every print is unique and may take a long time to adjust. One and done is the beauty of the digital process.
I’m partial to medium format cameras. I like the larger negative and the feel of the cameras. I’m not limited by any specific brand either. My camera inventory is in constant flux. Currently the choices include a Mamiya 645 Super, Yashica 124G, and a 1936 Kodak Junior. Recently I’ve let go of a Fuji GA645, a 6×9 Mamiya Press, and a Rolleicord (1933). I expect to constantly turn over inventory for no other reason than to have the of experience shooting a variety of cameras.
I’ll keep shooting film. The magic of the image appearing on the plastic strip has a satisfaction that digital can’t capture. A computer virus isn’t going to wipe out my files forever either. But I’m not selling my DSLR. And the new Olympus OMD-E10 MII is perfect for the upcoming series of reflections on the Moto-Seattle trip.