Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pentax Spotmatic, the race to offer it for free began yesterday

Quite often, I get an extra film camera or two thrown in on an auction or flea-market sale. The seller tries to sweeten the pot and it always works with me. Something for nothing. I think nothing of it at the time. I do now.

The Spotmatic offered ground-breaking technology in 1964
That's how I came to have a very nice Pentax Spotmatic with an equally nice Super Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens. It came with a camera that I was really after. The seller reached down and offered the Spotmatic as a deal-maker. It worked. The Asahi offered was without a case, caps or battery. In fact, the battery door is dinged so badly that the electrical contacts for the meter are severed. No matter, this old guy will work without a battery. I had to have it only because it was "free" to me.

The Spotmatic is one of the legendary "first" type cameras for some very familiar technology. The lens is stellar and always proved to be sharper than the film that was available, then or now.

But I turns out I don't need to own two Spotmatics. I have another, purchased on its own, that is in slightly better shape and has the same exact lens. Clones so to speak, of each other. So I decided to sell one on a major online free bulletin board. Has a guy's first name listed in the domain name. No big deal, done this many times before.

As I didn't really pay a lot for it (OK, free), I thought asking for $20 would be a fine low price to generate a quick sale. In that way, I would pass forward a great vintage camera, cover my time marketing it, and get some cash for a nice lunch somewhere.

Nope.

Even at a sawbuck, the only folks that were interested wanted to score on a pristine model and at an even lower price. Some wanted me to cut the price by half and drive the goods over to their house. A couple folks really only wanted the lens and thought it should go for less than the price of the complete set. I got emails asking about tiny aspects of condition and operation.  I was waiting for someone to have me place the lens in a petri dish to test and see if any mold grew.

Hey, it's only 20-bucks! It costs less than some stupid Blu-Ray vampire DVD at Wal-Mart. Is that a lot of money nowadays? I guess for excellent vintage camera equipment, it's becoming that way.

I shouldn't, I can't get mad, though. I've caught myself getting all giddy scoring on someone else's old camera for a few dollars. I've been the predator, too.

So, I've learned two things I'll apply to my collecting: first, don't accept any camera you don't want to live with forever, even if its free; second, when you and your fellow collectors are helping to actively drive down the price of scarce vintage pieces, it's time to carefully re-evaluate your base reasons to participate in collecting and the motives of your fellow collectors. The word "hoarding" is beginning to rear its ugly head with some of us. That scares me to the bone.

I won't sell this camera for less than what I've got it listed at. If no takers, it goes to Goodwill with my blessing. Farewell little Asahi. Go, be free, be free!

Monday, September 6, 2010

In fact, they DON'T build things like they used to, at least at Nikon

I just threw my third Nikon Coolpix digital camera in the kitchen garbage can. It was one of our family take-along cameras. Took the rechargeable battery out and tossed it in there right on top of last night's cassarole scraps. After using Nikons since the mid-1970's, I'm done with this brand.

This little red point and shoot camera suffered the same damage as the other two similar Nikons, broken rear screens. It ended its usefulness to me not by being dropped, not from a sudden impact, not from freezing, boiling, radiation, or bad thoughts. Its screen simply broke as I carried it in its protective, soft foam-insulated case to a family gathering.  Just like what happened to the other two (different models purchased over three years apart).

The cost of repair being too high in comparison to purchasing new, I'm once again electing to fill my local landfill with busted electronics and left to consider acquiring another eventual candidate for disposal under my kitchen sink. 

There are ten old film camera Nikons sitting on my collection shelves right now. Any one of which has withstood some harsh shooting environments over many years. I've done weddings with one, photo-journalism with another. At no time did I every worry that these cameras could be damaged by simply holding it. Nikon enjoyed a well-earned reputation for heavy-duty reliability. That ended when I shut the cabinet door under my sink.

Here's the part where I rant like an old guy. How did this happen? How did Nippon Kogaku go from the top of the mountain of photographic status and preference to the pits of crappy commodity hell? Money. 
Welcome to the global marketplace. Over six billion people on the planet and only one country and perhaps six manufacturing facilities in that country are producing goods just barely functional enough to operate but made by enough exploited labor to generate scads of profit for the eventual marketers of those products.

(Sigh) We're all to blame, including me. We want too many things too soon to pay for better things that last. I bought those disposable little Nikons 'cause I wanted a good camera cheap. And I wanted the name and the nostalgia of the brand. Well, I guess you can't have it all. Proved that.

I still need a small digital camera to take to personal events. I'll buy a used one for now. I'll save my money, do my research and buy a better camera that I intend to keep and use for a very long time. My wife's pocket-sized digital camera is a Canon. It has been dropped, frozen, jangled in her purse and soaked with rain. It's never failed to work. I'll start there. Hopefully, whatever I end up with won't wind up covered with potato peels and coffee grounds again.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Living with older Retinas - Kodak Retinas, that is

Kodak Retina cameras go 'way back in my family. My dad spend a puddle of cash and bought a Retina Reflex camera outfit back in the early 1960's. A WWII veteran, he liked the combination of German technology and American marketing. That Retina was treated it like a precious gem. A special case, routine and gentle cleaning, and it was never exposed to inclement weather.

Dad's gone, but that Retina lived on with my brother as part of a camera collection he had started. The theme of his collection? What else, Kodak cameras, especially Retinas.

Well, it came to pass that my brother died quite young of a freak infection to the lining of his heart. His collection passed over to me. I could have just stored the many examples of his cameras, but no. Apparently, camera collecting is also infectious. But it turns out a good kind of illness to catch. I was hooked and on my way.

My idea of a camera collection is much wider in scope than my sibling's. As I have told many folks, "I have a low level of appreciation." Just about anything photographic is interesting to me. I've been involved with marketing and engineering for decades, so I can appreciate objects from many angles.

Recently, I found a nice Retina I (010) 35mm camera and its original leather case. The camera is post-war, about 1947-47. I know this because of the plentiful and accurate Retina data Chris Sherlock keeps on his web site.

The model I bought features a slower-speed Kodak 50mm f/3.5 Ektar lens, which also looks a bit on the small size when set in the Compur-Rapid shutter. Retinas could come with a variety of lenses, I suppose depending on how the supply chain went after the war.

This model has no rangefinder, you view your subject directly with a very small eyepiece. What's amazing is how large the image appears with this small viewfinder. You'd swear it was an Olympus OM-1 viewfinder, the image is so big and clear. Without the rangefinder assistance, you guess your best for focusing the lens. All distances are marked in meters, no feet. That's OK, I'm pretty sure you could be off a bit and still get an accepable image.

Taking a photo with this Retina is a deliberate event. You must set everything yourself; shutter, f-stop, film-counter number, lens focus distance: everything. So, you tend to compose a shot long before you prepare to cock the shutter and let the light shine through the Ektar. Using this camera is a lot of work. But that's what makes the Retina a joy to use.

Huh?

I know, in our digital age, we can easily snap shots as fast as our camera's buffer can go and for as long as the batteries hold a charge. Pow, pow, pow. It's great.

The Retina is photography at a much more stately pace. You observe and regard at first. Then, if sufficiently interested, you capture the image after carefully preparing the instrument. You and your image are completely engaged prior to releasing the shutter. It helps to have a gin and tonic first before taking a stroll with the Retina. Settles the nerves and soul a bit

Now I'm hooked on Retinas (again). Kodak's German camera arm was famous for a variety of slight variations to every design. This makes them endlessly fascinating to collectors. There's so much to learn, sooooo much to acquire! Just figuring out or remembering the three-digit code for the model numbers is a great stretching exercise for the old brain-box (is this camera a (010) or a (013)?). 

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Semi-Minolta II, a rare treat

I don't have a great affection for eBay. Kind of a necessary evil for camera collecting. Don't like Paypal either, and I'm kinda scared of some of the "don't know much about cameras" postings (if it's broken, just tell me). Once in a while, I find something interesting and take a stab at it.

A few weeks ago, I saw a blurry photos of something listed as "Old Minolta". Vague description, but offered from a more than occasional seller. One photo showed a closed case, the other an image of the opened camera, a folding camera. I knew it was one of the very first type of Minolta cameras made and expected it to go for a decent chunk of change. I put in a bid and waited for the outbid notice to arrive in my mailbox. I got it. Very surprised.

Less than a week later, I opened the box shipped to me and was delighted to hold what I could finally tell was a Semi-Minolta II from around 1937. It is surely the rarest item in my camera collection.

First impressions regard the size and quality of the camera. The Semi-Minolta II is a die-cast body folding camera that uses 120 film (hooray, I can still get that!). The image size is the 6 x 4.5cm format, which makes the camera body much smaller and far more pocketable than the full 6 x 6cm cameras of its day. This camera is the first model series badged with the name Minolta. Prior to that, the badge was the "Molta Camera" company. This is a mark II due to the faster 75mm f/3.5 lens as compared to the original f/4.5 lens.

Lens openings are marked in a distinct series, different from modern cameras: 3.5, 4.5, 6.3, 8, 12.5, 18, and 25. The little Coronar lens (Nr. 87207) is clear and fungus-free even after 70+ years probably in someone's closet. The viewfinder is the direct type with guess-your-best focusing settings for the lens (all in meters).

Let me come back to the size of the camera. It is wonderfully compact, rivaling the small size of modern digital point-and-shoot cameras! For its day, it must have been about the equivalent of a "miniature" camera build. This would be a fine camera to have taken on vacations, outings or other personal uses.

The leather is missing here and there on my example. I don't care. It only adds to the charm of the camera. The way wear appears on the Minolta, it looks as if whoever owned it, used it. That adds more value in my book. To know that I'm the rest home for a camera that participated in someone's life connects me to the instrument in a personal way.

I'm off to find some 120 film. Before this beautiful Minolta lives out its last days on my shelves, I'll put one last roll of film through it. In honor of its proud Japanese heritage, it'll be exposed to the colors of a nearby flower garden and maybe a family portrait or two. The Semi-Minolta II is a rare find for me at a ridiculous low price. It skirted just under the radar of the cigar-chomping, griseled old camera collectors out there. So I imagine. Truth is, I got lucky. For me, it's a rare find of something even rarer; a fun afternoon outside in the sunshine quietly composing images.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Praktica Nova IB: Not even the Berlin Wall could stop them

I, like many other photographers, have a Flickr account. I really enjoy seeing all the great images people from around the globe post for viewing. I also belong to many Flickr camera collecting groups; people like myself showing off their goodies.

Seeing all the European collectors and what they chose to feature often exposes me to photo manufacturers who were uncommon in the US years ago. Praktica is one such manufacturer. There are many, many photos of various Praktica cameras on Flickr with captions extolling their rugged construction and reliable operation. So, when I happened to find an example of a Praktica camera at a local antique store, I decided to try one.

Now, mind you this is the experience of one camera model out of dozens the company offered through the years, and I don't know how well the previous owner cared for the instrument, but I gotta say, "what's the big deal here?"

The Hanimex Praktica Nova IB I purchased has one significant reason to exist: it makes even the sickliest of the other European or Japanese cameras in my collection look robust and well-designed. Wow, what a dog.

While it has a shutter speed dial, the speed indicated has no relation to the one you get. Wind and shoot two times in a row and you get two different speeds. Rotate the dial in any direction and you never know what speed it will land on. Now, I know, this is a repair issue. But I have never seen this in any other camera I've owned or known about going back over 30-years.

Everything on this camera is cheap. It's so bad, it was worth buying just to keep finding short-cuts and compromises. The body finish is bad, the controls seem to be machined by high school students. The Selenium meter (hopelessly out of date for 1967, the year this camera was introduced) is hidden behind the front nameplate. So, we know that they knew it was a negative selling point from the get-go. As to the Oreston 50mm normal lens, I'll have to mount the lens on my Spotmatic II to see if that at least it was well made (having my doubts). With its machined focusing and f/stop ring grips, it looks more like a lens for a darkroom enlarger than a camera lens. Plus, you can file your nails on all that exposed metal. Ever heard of rubber grips guys?

So why do Europeans love these East German Prakticas so much? Must be the price when available. Europe has had periods with high VAT taxes on cameras. Perhaps the Prakticas were still a value even when saddled with the extra government charges. I mean, they do LOOK heavy-duty and rugged all right. But if this is an example of 1967 East German camera skills, they had a long way to go. I used to think that we didn't get Prakticas in the 'States because they were a product of a communist nation and we didn't want to trade with such folk for political reasons. (Not like now where we have fully embraced trading with communists as long as we can exploit their workers to fill our super-stores with cheap TVs and socks. I'm kidding and yes, I'm deviating from my point.)

It turns out the main reason is that even the worst Japanese maker, someone like, oh, say, Petri could have made a better shooter than what I've seen in these Prakticas. We may have been saved from countless repair bills and millions of ruined photos.

In fact, the Petriflex I own that died in my hands one day has better build quality than this operational Praktica. It's a toss-up for last place in my collection, a Petri paperweight or the "guess what shutter speed you have now!" Praktica. Well, at least the German tank has a M42 lens I can maybe use for snapshots. The Petri's lens, with its proprietary breech-lock bayonet mount, is now only good for burning ants on the sidewalk on a sunny day. Which still makes it more useful than the Praktica Nova IB.

Minolta XE-7: You never forget your first camera love

I needed a job after high school back in the mid-1970's. At that time, there was a large, successful Midwestern department store chain called Dayton's. It was a very highly regarded place where you could get anything from airline tickets to fine china to a good suit or bath soap. Old-school department store variety. Dayton's eventually died as the family that owned it sold it to new investors, and they in turn sold it to other investors. Now, the same store is a Macy's; a chain we stodgy prairie types are not fond of.

Anyway, among the many departments Dayton's maintained was a camera counter. I got my first real job selling film and processing as the part-time number two clerk at our out-state store. Eventually, I got the chance to sell cameras and lenses. It was the big leagues of camera sales in our town and I loved that job.

Dayton's was very selective about which vendor brands to feature. Their policy with customer service was very liberal and they needed to partner with companies whose products offered reliability and a certain panache that fit in with the store's brand image. Along with other manufacturers, we sold Minolta products; their cameras, lenses and binoculars. Since we a more rurally placed store than the main metro locations, they did not offer the high-end stuff where I worked. You could get Nikons and Leicas from Dayton's, but only from a trip down to the main big-city stores. Minolta would do fine for us hard-scrabble farm types. And they did.

I didn't really need much of a camera in those days, an Instamatic did fine for most occasions. I was a long-haired nineteen-year-old with visions of moving out to the Rocky Mountains someday, man. Then we received a shipment of the (then) new Minolta XE-5 and XE-7 cameras. At first, we could only have a scant few as these popular cameras as they were being rationed among the many other stores. It was a game changing moment in my desire to own a really nice camera. Nothing felt so solid, so smooth, so ,well, sexy as that Minota in your hands.

The XE series of Minolta cameras were developed in conjunction with E. Leitz, the maker of the Leica camera line. Leitz was suffering greatly in those days. Their labor-intensive manual technologies lagged far behind Japanese makers and the prices they charged were far out of line in the days of gas shortages and high mortgage interest rates. It was truly a different time. Leitz selected Minolta to help drive down the cost of their new R3 SLR camera by doing the manufacturing in the orient and not in Europe.

It was a huge win-win for both companies. Minolta got to work with the god-like inventors of the Leica camera and have their quality shine rub off on them. Leitz got access to fabulous mass manufacturing facilities, cutting-edge electronics systems, and to work with a Japanese vendor who still made their own glass (most makers, other than Canon and Nikon, subbed-out their lens glass-making at the time).

The XE-7 had a decidedly European design look, a remarkable new metal shutter, and the fit and finish was far better than the company's long-lived SRT series. It wasn't a Leica in terms of snob appeal, but it was a match in operation and construction.

Oddly enough, what seemed to help sell the camera like hotcakes at our camera counter was a typically overlooked feature on cameras of the day, the film-advance mechanism. With other makers, this function was merely to advance the film to the next frame. Minolta and Leitz made you WANT to advance the film. The action was so smooth and sure, completely unlike other cameras of its day. A Nikon F2 had a stiff, geary feeling to the advance. You knew it would last forever due to it's over-the-top industrial feel. Not so with the XE-7. People surmised that if the simple film advance had so much attention paid to it, well then surely the rest of the camera must have that Leitz attention to detail, too.

I had to have one of these cameras, had to. I remember that the camera body, leather case, Minolta Electroflash 25 and 50mm f/1.4 Rokkor-X lens camera to just about $425. A fortune in those days of $2.35 an hour wages. I applied for and got a Dayton's charge card and made endless payments. Who cared? I owned what I thought was the poor-man's Leica. Which it was.

The lens was superb. Loaded with Kodachrome, what you got back had excellent resolution, contrast and color. Even snapshots looked better. I made Kodak a lot of money buying film the summer of 1976,

Minolta always favored their own type of light metering pattern. Their CLC or Contrast Light Compensation system on the SRT series was very reliable under most conditions amateurs encountered. The CLC tended to over-expose a bit, which was easier to correct in the darkroom than under-exposed negs. The XE-7 didn't claim to use the CLC system, but the results were pretty much like other Minoltas. Reliable as sunshine.

I would have been happy to own the less expensive XE-5 version, except for the silly decision on body finish. This camera did not have an all-black finish. They left on the black prism area on the XE-7, but opted to go with chrome on the body. It looked odd then, odd now. And, as I recall, the price difference really didn't amount to a deal-maker over the sexier-looking XE-7. Too bad, it shot just as well as it's bigger brother.

I sold my old XE-7 in the late 1980's. Nikon took over my photo needs at that time. Bad idea. I should never have sold that fine Minolta and its lenses. I was fortunate to find a clean version of an XE-7 recently. It's a time machine. Everything about this camera is smooth and precise. The near vacuum tube electronics technology inside still performs faultlessly.

When I have a free moment, I still use the Minolta for quiet moment photography. With the loss of Kodachrome and those delightful days of slide shows with a gently whirring Kodak Carousel projector long gone, it's not the same. Still, I still regard the Minolta XE-7 as a pinnacle machine; the engineering talent, the manufacturing excellence that went into that department store camera could not, will not be available ever again. That's why I keep one close on hand. You just can't let go of your first love.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Vintage cameras and vintage aircraft: birds of a feather?

I no longer shoot images with film. I collect scads of old film cameras, but I no longer find shooting film to be pleasurable or even necessary. I gave up this winter, or I should say, I found my use of film dwindling down to nothing - zero frames. No, I don't see myself ever going back. No need. I have no nostalgia for silver halide image-making. Cameras were always the fun part of photography, film never was. It was about capturing the moment, not adoring the thin light-sensitive metallic goo spread on sprocketed cow hoof gelatin ribbons. What a waste of resources. Sorry.

Thus ends nearly forty years of film consumption. The transition to digital is complete and quite satisfying.

We have four digital cameras in our home. Three point-and-shoots and one DLSR (never mind the brand for now). Even the cheapest of the point-and-shoots takes far, far better images than my old Nikons ever did. The little digitals work under any level of light, any color of light and fit in my shirt pocket. If the images are a bit soft in sharpness, there's a filter in Photoshop to correct that. I can send images across the room or over continents within moments. No more expensive processing of images I may not want anyway. Just hit the delete key and fill up the media over again.

To me, shooting images with vintage film cameras and continuing to develop film are akin to maintaining and flying vintage aircraft. The technology of flight has moved on dramatically since, say, WWII. The old camouflaged warbirds have a strong retro appeal due to their complexity, form, function and inestimable value in world history.

But most of us would never dream of flying one to attend a business meeting nowadays. Nobody is going to use a Boeing B-17 bomber to go to a regional sales meeting in Utah. I mean, finding just ONE operating model of this airplane these days is rare, even more so finding an owner open to its use in personal cross-country travel. The amount of care it takes just to keep an old bomber like this aloft makes its every use very expensive to operate and thereby far to valuable to waste on anything other than special events. Also, a flight on a venerable old craft like a B-17 would take far longer to accomplish than compared to using a modern Boeing commercial airliner operated by a major airline.

Still, there are many people who derive deep satisfaction in keeping old warbirds flying. And good for them. Countless happy hours are spent on research, locating scarce parts and discussing the various details, memories and shared knowledge about these old mechanical machines across the internet. Sound familiar? Thought things might "click" for you.

That's cameras for me. I love the mechanical construction, admire the optical excellence and pour over history and specs. Just don't care to load 'em-up with film and take 'em outside.

Besides, no one in my neck of the woods develops film anymore. No one-hour processing available anywhere, except through the mail, which kinda kills of the one-hour part. Shoot, wait a week then send back in for enlargements. Or shoot, look at the screen, print out at home. Guess which way I've gone.

If you shoot film with vintage cameras, I admire you. If it makes you happy, go with it. In a year or so, maybe less, you won't find film available - at least easily. There will always be a place for hobby film use, just as there will always be a place for reverence of any outdated technologies. So keep on shooting while you can, or should I say, "keep 'em flying."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The other side of the discount: When push comes to sell

Many vintage camera web sites and blogs (including this one) love to trumpet how they acquired some beloved piece of photo technology at an amazingly low price. "I got this OM-2 for $30!"  Stuff like that. I've even got an article about getting my Contax for less then $13. For many of us thrift store scroungers, it's the thrill of this low-buck kill that keeps us looking behind dusty shelves and going to yet another garage sale on Friday night.

There is a downside to all of this discount buying. What happens when you're the seller?

I'm finding out the hard way. With over 150 cameras in my collection, there comes a point where you exceed the amount of shelving and curio cabinet space your spouse will allow you to maintain in order to slake your collecting "habit". So, I've begun to cull the herd. Actually, that's been quite a good experience.

I've come to terms that I simply can't own it all. I've determined which items I absolutely can't part with and have begun to earnestly offer the rest for sale. It's all got to fit into my new camera collecting focus (pun intended). And, er, the profits will go to buying yet more camera stuff. Of course.

The problem is, no one wants my old equipment. Not anybody, not at any price. I've tried for six months. Maybe it's the economy, but mostly, I think it's the technology. Digital reigns, film is dead. I get it.

Even when offered as deals approaching a sawbuck - including shipping - no one bites on classic old film cameras.  The few inquiries I do get always seem to fall into the "so, like, what mega-pixel is it?", or "will that Soligor lens from 1974 fit my new Samsung D-SLR I just got at the Wal-Mart Superstore?" After replying "neither, dudes, it's film camera stuff" the emails quickly go silent.

Selling online works, but is spotty, inconvenient and cumbersome. And sometimes it just plain old sucks to do. If you try something like Craig's List, suspicion runs high that you're fencing stolen goods or are luring them into some deadly situation where they get robbed trying to buy from you. Hey, it's only an old Petriflex, folks, not drugs, relax.

I have met some very, very nice local folks online who have purchased some cameras from me. There are a scant few who still admire photo equipment. I've had some very pleasurable transactions mixed with interesting conversation and insight. These people are the ones that keep me going. But, alas, they are the (welcome) exceptions.

I'm left with finding the dwindling number of collectors like me who still value the vintage stuff. But again, like me, they're usually most interested in getting a great old camera for a steal to tell a story.

I now see the folly of my self-destructive ways. Instead of collecting a few very good pieces at rational prices from discerning collectors, I ran around digging in moldy cardboard boxes at the local Goodwill, hoping to score the wheat of a Kodak Medallist II from all the chaff of the plastic Time Magazine subscription bonus cameras. So far, I've eluded the high of getting a Leica for $10 doing this. Ya think?

So now I'm the garage sale guy putting all the good stuff out that's going for pennies on the dollar. Follow on to the next photo blog over, I'll bet there's a great-looking, recently acquired Nikon featured in it that came off my shelf right over there.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pentax Auto 110: An Instamatic Love Affair

My uncle long ago decided to buy a digital camera to document his granddaughters. He decided that his old 110 instamatic cartridge-type camera should go. He knew of my collecting habit (mania) and dropped over to my house to deliver a small carrying case with his old camera.

Turns out, he had a Pentax Auto 110 camera, the Pentax flash and two other lenses. Now, I'm not a Pentax fan. Oh, sure, I respect and acknowledge the contributions of this company to photography over many years. They just never hit a chord with me. I have a couple of Spotmatic SLRs and a couple extra lenses. They sit on an honored part of my collection's shelving. But I never run film through them, seldom even look through the viewfinders.

The Pentax Auto 110 has turned me around. What a beauty.

As the Kodak 110 Instamatic cartridge craze was ending in the late 1970's, Pentax came out with what must surely be the most amazing compact camera ever built. The Auto 110 is a jewel. A true SLR with through-the-lens metering done in miniature, it measures only about 3-1/2 inches long! A camera, flash and two lenses could easily fit in your right hand. While entirely plastic, it still manages to feel tight and well-built. I can only imagine the difficulty in manufacturing something this small. Even a millimeter of misalignment and the camera is worthless. Hats off to Pentax; bravo.

You only got automatic control over the camera at this small size, but who cared? The point to Instamatics was ease of use, not fiddling with controls. All you get is a shutter button and a wind lever.

My model came with a 18mm f/2.8 Pan Focus wide angle lens. Like it sounds, no focusing required. Point-and-shoot. The 18mm format converts somewhat similarly as an APS format digital camera's lenses do. So this would be around a 35mm wide-angle on a regular 35mm camera.

The two lenses I also received (with their original bubble cases) include a 70mm f/2.8 telephoto (about a 135mm on a 35), and a marvelous 20-40mm f/2.8 zoom (40mm-80mm). All lenses have a bayonet mount that's only about 20mm across. There's a metal baffle inside the lens mount and you can just make out the tiny mirror inside. The word "cute" creeps into any description of parts of this camera.

The Pentax flash is equally small. It has its own screw-thread mount to the camera. This nails it down securely to the body. The controls are equally spare. On and off. That's all.

I'm not sure if I'll ever shoot film in this camera. 110 film is rare to find and harder still to get processed. That's too bad. It always seems that just when Kodak ditches a new film format, the manufacturers get it all together. With modern film technology, this camera could, should produce very fine images.

Until I can work out some shooting arrangement, this camera now occupies a prominent place on my shelves of camera wonder. It has also turned may opinion of the Pentax line around.

Now, you'll have to excuse me, I'm going to look for the little motor winder Pentax made for this camera. I'll be happily searching the internet till late at night. Happy collecting!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Canon F-1: I Find My Valentine

OK, I used to sell cameras back in the late 1970's. Paid my way through college. I worked in this drug store in my small(ish) hometown in the upper-Midwest. The drug store was more of a wonderous Turkish Bazaar marketplace than a counter where you got your medications. We sold everything and anything that anyone wanted. Loved working there, great memories.

Our camera department rivaled camera stores in major cities. We sold photo equipment across several states and were the destination for hundreds of die-hard photo fans. If you wanted an Instamatic or a Leica, we had it in stock and at a good price.

While sales were slow, usually before closing time, I got the opportunity to fondle equipment from almost every brand. I thought of this as my product knowledge time, but really it was just playing.

A couple of cameras were the first to get their springs wound and shutters released. I liked the sound of a Konica SLR's shutter. Had a crisp sound that actually seemed to convey a sense of confidence in your choice of their stuff. Then I'd play with the Olympus stuff. Still like the compactness and generous viewfinder images of OM series equipment.

I left the Leicas completely alone as people who bought that kind of equipment - doctors and such affluent types - had a strong desire to own cameras untouched and unobtainable by simple folk, including sales clerks at camera stores. You could look, but don't touch unless you were selling one.

My hands ended up holding a Canon F-1 most of the time. It was the professional camera response to the big Nikons back in the day. Nikon always had the market on swagger and overbuilt brass cameras. Owned it. Canon had some innovative new ideas for pros. The Canon FTB could not match what pros wanted from Canon. Their response was to build the F-1, a rock-solid instrument with an integrated system of accessories.

They started by putting the light meter in the camera body, not the finder. Go look at old Nikon F Ftn finders and you'll see just how big a prism could be (and weigh). Even with the Nikon F2, the successor to the F during the Canon F-1's reign, Nikon just didn't get it. Those Nikon F2 finders were huge, too. Pros learned to live with the extra weight and size, maybe they even liked the "big boy" look of them, who knows?

Canon then spend considerable time and resources to improve their lens line. The result were optics that were as good or better than Nikon's. Still, the folks at Nippon Kogaku (Nikon) held Canon back from universal acceptance by the professionals of the world. That all changed when the revolutionary Canon EOS autofocus systems arrived. That's another story.

I loved those F-1s. Wanted one, badly. But they required far too much cash from a college student's camera counter commissions. I had credits and books to pay for.

Today, Valentine's Day, I sold a camera from a listing on Craig's List in another town. I had some extra time after the sale before I drove home, so I stopped in one of my favorite used camera haunts. Saw a beaten-up old Canon F-1 for $100. Just sitting there. Ignored. People scurried about next to me, fretting about which of the cookie-cutter black digital cameras would be the best to buy.

I asked the clerk if I could see the F-1. He lifted the body off the glass shelf from the counter in front of me, blew off some dust (thank you for helping to keep the flu season alive, sir) and handed it to me. Suddenly I was back in 1979. It felt . . . perfect. Closing time is coming up soon and I'm a kid playing with stuff I couldn't afford.

This example had just enough brass showing through the paint to let you know this guy was used by a pro to keep bread on the table. Not too many scratches or gouges to let you know they cared for this when they owned it. The meter worked fine, no wrinkles on the shutter blades and the view in the finder was sharp and clear. Sold.

I knew I had a 50mm FD-mount Canon lens at home; I did the deal and walked out. So it's Valentine's Day and I'm in love all over again. The years show on both the camera and me, but in my eyes, the F-1 is still young and good-looking.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Vivitar 20mm f/3.8: A really wide-angle

Back in the late 1970's and early 80's, if you wanted a lens with a wider angle of view than, say 24mm, you had to look to the original equipment manufacturers such as Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Olympus and such. Only they had the technical ability and financial resources to provide such lenses. Most people did not require such lenses, so the main audience was with the professional photographers. Since they earned money from providing new and exciting images, the cost of buying expensive lenses could be justified.

Vivitar Corporation was not a manufacturer but a re-brander of other manufacturer's equipment. Vivitar's people would spec a product and then shop the orient for someone to build the product. Sound familiar with what goes on today? Same thing.

The good folk at Vivitar knew that hobbyists love all things new and denied to them. A really wide-angle lens that was affordable was something lacking in the general market. Never mind how sharp it was, what people wanted was just the ability to get the whole Grand Canyon in one shot.

The result in this case was a fabulous 20mm f/3.8 optic. Much wider than a 28mm or 24mm lens (things get geometrically wider with a couple millimeter's drop) and priced at only $81 out of a New York City camera store in 1976! That's over a $300 optic in today's money (still not bad).

As you can see, the lens is not compact. That front end takes 82mm filters and forget about a lens shade. The OEMs could hone the optical formulas to produce the same angle of view lenses without the bulk. Vivitar opted for economy, hence the bulk of glass to bend the light.

I love this lens for a variety of reasons, but mostly for its ability to focus down from infinity to under 6 inches. Super wide-angle view with close-up abilities. Wow. That's what photography used to be about; happy hobbyists exploring the world around them with fresh perspectives.

I got this guy for less than $50 at an ailing camera store. It was a Minolta MC/MD mount type, not suited for any Maxxum or Sony autofocus camera use. I guess manual focus  = bad, autofocus = good. Whatever, all the better for me and my collecting mania.

This well-built lens is going on my Minolta XD-11 with some fresh Kodak film inside. Maybe I'll post a few examples soon.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kodak Retinette IA: is this how I look?

As a collector, the thought sometimes hits you, "what was I doing in the year in which this camera was manufactured?" Kind of a perspective thing. You try to place how things where in order to gain insights on how people might have used the camera. For me, a Kodak Retinette IA camera's time period would correspond with me in diapers. Ouch. Thanks for reminding myself how old I am. Good job, Jim.

That revelation aside, the late 1950's were a golden age for camera gear. All the Japanese, German and American makers were happy supplying newly rich post-war consumers with just about anything they could throw at them. Soon the withering of brands in the coming turbulent decade would wipe out many venerable names or see them sold to vaporous holding companies.

This was a good time for Kodak. Unscathed by WWII, they built up their lead in their homeland and basked in brisk sales. The Retina lines of cameras were the upper-end of the amateur market. Made by Nagel in Germany starting back in 1939 or so, the Retinas were class-act cameras, usually overpriced for the typical US family. Rather than cheapen the name Retina, they gave it a renewed sales lilt with a downward engineering emphasis on features and a new brand name: Retinette. A junior Retina.

They were great little cameras. The lenses were not as big or as fast, the guts were not as complicated with additional features. But they took fantastic photos, and were offered to consumers well within the price limits of thrifty American shoppers.

If you can find a Retinette, you'll first be surprised at the highly reflective finish on the body even after 50-years. Secondly, they feel very good in your hand. German leather from these days is different from Japanese leather. How? Um, smoother. The Japanese seem to have preferred a roughened surface for better grip, the Germans liked embossures of logos and a more gentle, velvet touch.

The major draw-back to Kodak Retinas is the Compur shutter they used. Over time, they just die. It's like they have a maximum number of clicks to go before they break. By contrast, Seikos and Copal shutters on most Japanese cameras fare much better. I'm no expert, but when I look at vintage German cameras, I tend expect two common occurrences: the shutter will be slow or not work; and/or the shutter's self-timer will not work or have helped to jam the shutter.

One last thing about 1950's cameras like the Retinette, more are in good shape than comparably-priced cameras from later decades. Why? People were very good about keeping the camera protected in its big leather case. Remember, the war had just passed and these good folk had survived a depression, too. They know how to take care of something that set them back a month's wages. No credit cards in those days, you paid cash from money you saved.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Olympus 35mm f/2.8 Shift Lens: Do One Thing Well

Before Photoshop, if an image captured on film needed to be corrected, you had two options: fix it in the darkroom or shoot it correctly right away. The darkroom offered many tools to alter images but had many limitations, too. Photographers usually opted to remove doing work later by doing things right first.

One common challenge was shooting architectural assignments where there would be perspective control problems. As you stood in front of a building and shot photos, you would get unappealing convergences of lines that would show up as a distortion of the true state of the structure. Sure, in the darkroom you could easily tilt the easel with it's photo paper under the enlarger to correct for a tall building looking like it was falling over. But in doing that process, you could also converge the edges of your photo so that the borders would creep into your usable image area.

View camera users had an ample 4 x 5-inch negative area and a flexible bellows between the film plane and lens board to twist an image around to precisely place areas of focus and correct any image distortions. The 35mm types of cameras generally did not offer this ability. Most major camera manufacturers, including Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Pentax and Olympus (and others) offered a few specialty lenses to emulate a few view camera abilities. These lenses carried designations such as PC (perspective correcting) or, more commonly, shift lenses.

I happened recently to find an example of an Olympus OM-series 35mm f/2.8 shift lens at a local camera store (we still have one in my town). The clerk assumed that since the lens had no digital abilities, it was therefore useless and let it go to me for $50.

Back in the day, say about 1979, this lens would have fetched about $290 to take home. Not too bad for an Olympus Zuiko lens? That's around $1,100 dollars in 2010 money. I did the math. Yeah, you better have had a real need for one of these lenses. Most people obviously didn't and sales of these lenses could be regarded as occasional. 

Other manufacturers, particularly Nikon, had several versions of shift lenses. All shift lenses were usually wide-angle types, as most of the uses that anyone could conjure up for owning one would be used for taking snaps of buildings. Telephotos aren't much use for that purpose, and the effect of distortion control is lost on such lenses, too.

This lens is a really fine piece of optical-mechanical engineering. You can shift the whole front portion of the lens in two directions, even at once. Typically, you only need to correct for distortion in one direction. The ability to go in either direction had more to do with whether you shot vertically or horizontally than with combined effects. This shift lens does not need some kind of mechanical stop or knob to prevent the front element group from sliding around as you correct for distortions. Olympus engineers somehow made sure enough pressure would be available to keep the lens in place no matter which angle you pointed in.

All lenses cast a "circle of confusion" image area toward the film (or sensor nowadays). It's a circular area of even light distribution and equal optical sharpness. This lens had to be designed to throw a larger area of illumination so you could move the front elements around and not have a "vignetting" or darkening of the edges on your film.

The lens differed from the rest of the OM series of optics as you have to manually close the iris to meter and make sure it was closed to the shooting f/stop before you hit the shutter release. As the lens moves about in its shifting abilities, there was no way for a mechanical link to be able to connect to the exposure system. A large push-lever under the lens does this for you.

I haven't shot with this lens yet. I'm certain it will be as sharp as its other cousins in the Olympus line. As for now, I can do the same thing in a moment or so in Photoshop. Time marches on.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A little Honey(well) of a camera: Dacora Dignette

A classified ad listed two vintage cameras for sale for a very low price. I opened the photo of the two and saw a Honeywell Electric Eye 35R (really a Mamiya EE) rangefinder and a Heiland Premiere. The first camera dates from around the early 1960's, while the little Premiere a bit earlier.

After meeting the owner, I was told that both cameras belonged to his father, a Honeywell employee. His dad picked both of them up at the company store in St. Paul, MN. We had a nice chat by our vehicles. A short one, as most conversations in sub-zero weather normally are. My examination of the cameras was only momentary. At home, I cleaned and inspected my new finds.

The Mamiya is nice, it's the camera that I thought I most wanted as I had not heard of a Heiland Premiere. But I found that the more I handled each, the Premiere was fast becoming a more comfortable instrument in my hands. I had no idea about this camera, and, ta-da, the internet provided some insights.

Turns our the Heiland Premiere was really a Dacora Dignette; a direct viewfinder camera made by the Dacora-Kamerawork in Reutlingen, Germany. Teutonic sounding enough for you, eh? From other readings, it appears the Dacora was one of those many "me-to" camera manufacturers destined to die-out as the Japanese photo juggernaut gained speed. Too bad, it's really not a bad little shooter.

Even fifty years later, the leather is good and the metal surfaces are still smooth and shiny.  You set everything with the camera: focus, shutter speed and lens opening. Without a meter or rangefinder, it's guess your best at everything.

The lens is a 45mm f/2.8 Cassel from Steinheil Munchen. No idea yet if it's any good, I'll have to finish the roll inside someday. It's hard to see, but the lens is a tiny button of a thing, about the size of your thumb. Actually, the whole camera is very compact and can easily fit in your pocket. Given that miniature form factor, it's good that the shutter release is on the front bezel of the camera. A much better, more natural spot for your fingers. Top shutter speed is 1/250th of a second. You only get speeds down to 1/30th and then the "B" setting. No matter. This is obviously a camera made for shooting outdoors in bright Bavarian sunshine.

The only main detraction in use is the viewfinder. Unless you actually press your eyeball on the finder's glass itself, you can't get close enough to compose within the whole frame. I guess the intention was just to center everything and snap away.

I really like the Dignette. There are few things as elegantly simple as this instrument. There isn't a wasted millimeter or feature on the unit. Perhaps in its day it may not have had the added design styling as more expensive versions or of those from other manufacturers. Somehow, the Dignette appears almost modern in its looks. No, take a gander at it. Without the wind lever, you could almost, almost pass this thing off for an older digital camera (if such a thing exists).

Oddly enough, I keep the Dignette close by my desk. Like a metalic stress ball, I wind and snap it during my periods of contemplation. The also-ran of my dual camera purchase has become a favorite to me. It's a Honey(well) of a find.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Canon Photura: Now There's an Idea!

I work in marketing. Have for more than two decades. Whenever a client or boss presented a clinker idea during a meeting, we'd all nod and say, "Now there's an idea!" We didn't say it was a GOOD idea; just an idea. Usually a bad one.

Back in 1990, the Canon camera company had a brave idea. "Let's redefine the shape of how 35mm cameras are made. Why should we be constrained to the architecture of a mid-1950-s camera layouts? I mean, who says cameras can't be shaped along more functional lines? It's the 1990's for gosh sakes!" To increase sales of high-end point-and-shoot cameras, and to further Canon's lead in consumer's minds as being the undisputed, most technically advanced leader in camera technology (they had just released the wildly popular EOS 650 auto focus SLR in 1987), the company unveiled the Photura, a flop so major, it remains solidly ensconced in the "untouchables" caste of collectible camera gear.


The Photura looked like an SLR but it wasn't. It looked solidly built, but it wasn't. It appeared to be the "next thing" in cameras, but it was usually the last camera sold on clearance. It's got so many things wrong with it, designed with the best intentions, that I simply had to have an example for my collection. It's like having an Edsel in your garage along with a Mustang and a Model T. You gotta love the runts of the litter, too.

First off, these things are bigger than a 35mm SLR. It's the Budweiser beer can shape. I suppose the Photura had to be larger because, as the designers opted for a new layout, they probably had to give themselves plenty of internal "wiggle" room to work out all those new locations for apparatus and mechanisms. Their long experience with traditional camera assembly requirements just wouldn't apply.

At the time, most cameras were either black or silver/gray in color. Tradition. Canon opted for this "champagne bronze" color. The paint didn't go too deep. Even a simple scratch gets you down to the dark gray base plastic color. So, um, why not just have made it dark gray, eh?

Next they went over-the-top in their overall plastic construction. Not too surprising. The EOS, "T" and "A" series cameras had established in the photo public's mind that strong, economical plastic coverings could work fine. With the Photura, this devotion to petroleum structures went mad. Again, without much time or experience to tweak the construction, what they ended up with felt more like a cheap transistor radio in your hands and not an optical instrument. It creaks. Just sitting on your shelf, it shifts and pops. The construction did not feel like it came from the same people as the F-1.

You do get this huge wrist strap. So now an overly large camera looked even bigger with this broad handhold which you couldn't remove (not "handy" for gloves in cold weather). Then, there's a neckstrap connected to the rear of the camera body. There's more strappage than camera here.

Its 35-105mm f/2.8-6.6 lens covered a decent, but limited range. A 28mm to 135mm would have been better for scenics to portraits, but that might have increased the length of this guy to make it an even longer looking champagne-colored cigar. The lens has a hinged lens cap that you swing out of the way when you're ready to snap photos. It makes the camera look like the top of the exhaust stack on a Mack truck. The lens cap includes the electronic flash with an absolutely indescribable matched zoom magnification/flash direction fresnel lens system. How clever to tie it all together. When you zoom the lens out, the clear flash lens moves away as well to focus the pulse of light farther out. The word "dopey" suddenly comes to mind once again. Plenty of opportunity to break this stuff off by the average consumer. Yep, that's what's missing on most examples that are still around.

The Photura does nothing manually. Nothing. Everything is motorized. You really don't do anything but point and shoot. The zoom is powered in and out with a loud grinding noise. Guaranteed to get you heard at your kid's once in a lifetime music recital. As with the EOS, focus is done for you by a complex computer system. You take it on faith it hits the right subject. In the viewfinder, you get plenty of nothing. At best, it tells you when you're about to screw up. A green light means go, red means stop. As in stop using the camera.

One good point is how you hold the camera. Score here. You slip your right hand (sorry lefties) into the handstrap and your index finger falls comfortably on the shutter button on top while your other digits rest on a simple fingerhold. Not bad. You need to stretch your index finger rearward to move the zoom lever, but it's not too bad.

But then you try to look through the viewfinder. Pick either eye and your nose rests on the back of the camera. Keep a tissue handy for cleaning. Ew. Again, you don't actually look through the lens, you look through another tiny porthole with a zoomed approximation of what the prime zoom is doing. The face of the camera has more eyes than a tarantula, what with all the lenses for the auto focus system and viewfinder port. I'm no engineer but it would have seemed to have been cheaper to have made this thing a full-fledged SLR.


The back of the camera remains a mystery to me. It features controls that require you to stick your fingernails into small oval-shaped areas to change settings. The small LCD panel provides scant information. Anything shown could have been put in the viewfinder. I suppose they had to fill the space on the back of the camera with something.

Loading the film is the absolute reason you need to have one of these dudes in your collection. Hand a Photura to an old film photographer and ask them to open it up to put in a new roll of Kodacolor. They'll turn the camera all around and eventually get bored. As with the lens, flash, grip and shape, nothing is where you'd expect it to be. Does that sound like one reason sales didn't exactly catch fire with this Canon?

If you persist in looking for the film chamber, look under the camera right next to the tripod socket. The tripod socket. There's a small RED latch marked "Open". It's the only thing red on the body but you'll still miss it. If you can get your fingernail into the very small slot (always with the fingernails with this beast) and move it forward, the whole freakin' bottom of the camera pops open. Scares ya at first. You're supposed to drop in the film and close the door; the Photura does the rest. The problem is, you're not sure at first where the film goes. Instead of a left to right path, your Fujicolor will take a "S" turn to the take-up spool.

While you've got the back open, you can change the battery. It takes a 6V battery that you'll be needing to change quite often, given all the motors you use to get your shots taken. But, if your batteries die while a roll of film is loaded, there's a separate battery door on the film door. Doors and straps.

OK, enough. I still like this camera. In a world of conformity and tradition, it stands out. It's like Canon had to get this thing out of their engineering systems. I'll bet they blame the consumer for not "getting it". Using a Photura back in the early 90's must have been the photographic equivalent of getting a snapshop only after solving a Rubic's Cube. The camera is too much trouble to use, even with all the automation. And, it looks weird to use at your kid's baseball game; there, I said it. No one wanted to draw attention to themselves taking a picture. That's why there's only one Photura from Canon. If you're a collector, you gotta get one.

So, Canon, when it comes to your Photura, "now there's an idea!"

I'm 4/3rds of the way old-school

I bought a used Olympus Evolt E-500 DSLR camera kit a couple of years ago. Partly because I wanted to jump into a good digital camera, but mostly because I found out I could still mount vintages lenses to the camera. Wow. For a guy with a rather sizable investment in old lenses, that was a huge, huge plus. Now I could have the best of both worlds: digital capture and the ability to keep playing with well-made old optics.

I have some very fine Olympus Zuiko lenses: 24mm f/2.8, 28mm f/3.5, 35mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2.8 Shift, 50mm macro, 135mm f/2.8, 200mm f/5, and two Olympus zooms: a 35-70mm and the quite common 70-150mm. All very nice, compact lenses. I also own a couple of off-brand lenses: a Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm zoom and a Tokina 500mm f/8 mirror. I have used all the lenses with my collection of OM cameras. The Olympus brand is one of my favorites as they are/were quite compact and easy on the shoulder to take along.

The old OM lenses don't mount directly on the digital Olympus' 4/3 autofocus mount. The mounts are close, in fact I've mounted OM lens caps on the Evolt by mistake more than once. The body of the Evolt is not as thick as an OM film camera as well. What's needed is a transitional mount; something that provides the spacing distance and the appropriate coupling for the two lens systems.

You can get one of these adapters for around $20 (plus shipping) on eBay. Olympus makes a very well-made version themselves but charges about five times as much. Since I'm doing this for occasional play and not professionally, I opted for the less expensive generic version. It is designed to allow completely normal lens focusing from close-ups to infinity just like when used on a film camera.

You need to know right now that things are done very manually to shoot images. The lens will not have an automatic diaphragm. You focus with the lens wide open and then close the iris down to the shooting aperture required or desired. That means the camera must be set on aperture-preferred or manual operation. Mostly, I just use aperture-preferred.  The camera selects the shutter speed as I dial the aperture open and closed. Obviously, focus is manual, these are manual lenses. Duh.

Now for the fun. The general sequence is to mount the OM lens on the adapter first and then mount both on the Evolt. This is done as it's harder to grip the small adapter ring and remove it on the body. Since the Evolt uses the 4/3 system sensor, the magnification of any vintage OM lens is doubled. A 24mm becomes a 48mm. A 135mm becomes a 270mm. And here's the fun one; a old 500mm mirror becomes a whopping 1000mm telephoto (that's a 20x magnification on a 35mm camera!) at the same aperture (a 1000mm f/8). Way cool.

So that's the combination I've been playing with. Since the aperture is fixed on the mirror lens, I don't have to do anything but focus and shoot. Um, but first I have to mount everything on a tripod. At twenty-power, camera shake, even minute vibrations, is terrific.


How's the image quality? Who cares? You're lucky if it's only lousy. It's the effect you're going for. At f/8, you get a small sliver of "sharp" image to move back and forth. This lens really only shines at sharpness set at infinity. Landscape, mountain range image stuff.

I have read and seen a lot discussed about lens "Bokeh" a Japanese word used to describe the quality of out-of-focus areas produced in a photo. Smooth Bokeh is most desired. With a cheap mirror lens, save yourself the translations. You get out of focus doughnuts. Light, fuzzy, unnatural looking doughnuts everywhere. You either love 'em or hate 'em. Most people hate 'em, they did when film was king, too. I think they're funky enough to be fun. In the words of Homer Simpson, "Doughnuts, is there anything they can't do?"

Check out the doughnuts going on in this next image of some pine needles. Nothing's sharp, not even the doughnuts. But if you know that, you can choose your subjects better. I wouldn't do a High School portrait this way, but light glittering off snow or a summer's day at the lake might yield some soft-focus images of a gentle nature. And, um, thankfully Photoshop has that fabulous unsharp mask function to clean everything up a bit.

The focus screens on modern digital DLSRs, particularly this Olympus model don't make using lens magnifications this high easy. The Evolt E-500 is always like looking down an optical tunnel. My OM-1 has a viewfinder on order of 100x better and brighter (rant ended). As the camera leaves everything up to the auto focus system, if you do choose to shoot old-school, the focus screen is about the same as those offered years ago without the fresnel or split-image focus aides we took for granted. Guess your best, shoot a bunch and chimp images right away for sharpness.

Why no focus help in the viewfinder nowadays? Most lenses, zooms,  are way slower in transmitting light than years ago. Anything slower than f/4.5 and the split-screens aides wouldn't work. The zooms we use today are glacially slow compared to the common f/2.8 and f/2.0 lens of film cameras. But with dial-in ISO values in digital cameras now going over 100,000 (yes, that's right) who needs to worry about having fast lenses? OK, my rant is done.


But for the cost of a $100 Olympus mount mirror lens from the 1980's, you can get SERIOUS telephoto reach. Honestly, very few people have a consistent use for this kind of magnification. Going this route saves easily a thousand dollars (or more) over buying a modern digital optic at this power.

I have shot with other Zuiko lenses, particularly the 50mm macro lens. Results have been far, far better. I'll be doing a kinda unscientific shoot-out with the other old lenses I have in springtime. I'll post the results.

The new Olympus EP-1 and 2 have the ability to add old OM lenses on them, as well as other mount types. At least that's the rumor about upcoming adapters. If so, that opens up millions of perfectly fine old lenses to a new life as digital gadget items. I'm fine with that. Part of the attraction of photography from the beginning for many of us was the fantastic variety of tools and techniques to explore.

Sony, Nikon and Canon all can mount auto focus film camera lenses (with some limitations). As far as I know, only Olympus can mount and use the old manual focus stuff. Let's hope this is the start of a wider trend of recycling vintage lenses back into service with the latest digital stuff.

In the meantime, I'll be enjoying my doughnuts.