CamerAgX

October 1, 2012

Welcome

Filed under: Welcome — Tags: , , — xtalfu @ 11:04 pm


Welcome


Paris- Garden of the Pont Neuf - April 2009 - Nikon F3; Nikkor 24mm

Paris- Garden of the Pont Neuf - April 2009 - Nikon F3; Nikkor 24mm

This blog is about photography. About old film cameras, and the pictures you can still make with them.

Like anybody else, I use digital cameras. They’re convenient. But I also love shooting with film cameras. It’s a different experience, and using different tools make you see the world differently.

Nobody makes new film cameras anymore. But there is such an ample supply of nice second hand cameras that finding one you like is not a problem.

Film cameras are now extraordinarily cheap, and as long as you’re in no hurry to see your images and don’t take too many pictures, using SLRs or rangefinder cameras from yesteryear is a rewarding experience.

In the nineteenth century, photography did not kill watercolor painting and cars did not drive horses to extinction. In the nineteen eighties digital watches did not kill mechanical watches, and vinyl records are making a comeback 20 years after CDs were launched.


People paint, ride horses, wear mechanical watches and play vinyl records for a multitude of reasons, some of them unsuspected 150 or 20 years ago. And they will still be shooting film 10 years from now.

I love taking pictures, I love old cameras, and that’s all it is about. If you’re in the same frame of mind, welcome.


March 18, 2010

An alternative to eBay? shopgoodwill.com

Filed under: Gear, How to — Tags: , , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 12:01 am


eBay has been here for 15 years now. Buyers and sellers had ample time to learn all the tricks of the trade, and if reasonably careful, they face little risk of a really bad surprise.


A significant percentage of the sellers on eBay are professionals, or experts in their field. Others have been using a product for years and can write about its history. Most know the value of the products they’re selling, and how to attract the attention of their audience. They take good pictures of the items they want to sell, and because they want to preserve their hard earned feed-back, they won’t provide blatantly misleading product descriptions.


But if the risk is somehow limited, the odds of scoring big are also getting pretty slim. With more than 200 million registered users, 2 million new auctions a day, and all sorts of search and reporting options, eBay is as transparent as a market can get. If the seller did his home work and followed the rules of the game when posting his listing, more than one buyer will notice, a small bidding war will take place, and the final price of the item will be very similar to the average of what similar items sold for during the weeks preceding the auction.


Shopgoodwill.com – the online auction site of Goodwill Industries – is a much smaller marketplace. Founded in 1999, it “provides a safe and secure venue for Goodwill® member organizations to sell donated items through an online auction“.


The photography related auctions of the day

The photography related auctions of the day


On Shopgoodwill, the cameras and lenses presented for auction have been donated, and the people describing the products know very little about their past. Most of them are not specialists of photographic equipment, either. They do not want to raise false expectations, and will stay extremely conservative in their assessments. In the best case, they will write that the product “appears to be in a good condition” or that it “appears to be working”, but all items are sold as is.


The item descriptions are sometimes very generic (“Nikon Camera”) or written by someone who can’t tell the difference between a filter and camera (“Hoya 49mm camera made in Japan”). The quality of the pictures of the items improved significantly lately, but they are still low res, and it’s often difficult to find out what’s really being sold.


While not as large as eBay, the number of potential buyers is far from small, and the odds are that a rare and valuable item will be discovered by more than one buyer. I’ve seen a few Leica cameras for sale on Shopgoodwill, and they all fetched good prices. But I’ve also seen nice vintage cameras stay unnoticed.


So where is the fun? Shopgoodwill is like a garage sale or a flee market. Tonight 27,000 film cameras were listed on eBay. Less than 300 were listed on Shopgoodwill. You have relatively few items to look at, and you can go rapidly through the list of cameras or lenses being auctioned. The product descriptions are not always very good, but lovers of old equipment will raise to the challenge and put their geekiness to good use, with the hope of discovering a true gem.


Example of a listing on Shopgoodwill.com


Buying a camera or a lens at Shopgoodwill is a bit of a gamble. The intentions of the sellers are undoubtedly good, but their expertise is somehow limited, and the buyer will know little about the true condition of the item he’s bidding for. I never had the guts to buy a really expensive camera or lens on Shopgoodwill, and I never spent more than $30 on an item.


The camera I bought (a Praktica camera sold under the “Cavalier” name in the US) was cosmetically nice, and ended up working after some TLC, in spite of its old age. I also bought a lens, on a separate occasion. Although a bit dirty, it was in good general condition, and proved to be a very nice item once cleaned. A good experience overall. Try your luck too; it’s for a good cause.



More about Shopgoodwill.com
The presentation of the Shopgoodwill site by Goodwill Industries
A review of Shopgoodwill by Time: 50 best Websites 2009: Shopgoodwill.com



Olympus OM-1 / Praktica LTL - The Praktica (sold as a Cavalier in the US) was bought on Shopgoodwill.com.

January 17, 2010

Single Lens Reflex or Rangefinder Camera? A few days with a Leica CL

Filed under: Gear, Leica Cameras — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 12:50 am


I was back in Paris for a few days at the end of last year, and since there was still room in my equipment bag, I pulled my old and battered Leica CL from a drawer and took it with me. A good opportunity to check whether I could get acceptable results out of it this time.


I never was a rangefinder guy. When I started being interested in photography, semi-automatic Single Lens Reflex cameras (SLRs) were already the norm, and Leica an expensive brand of obsolete cameras. My formative years were spent with a Pentax MX, and I’ve always found natural to see the world on the matte focusing screen of a reflex camera. But I was intrigued by the Leica legend, and one day, purchased a Leica CL. Over the last 15 years, I used it rarely, but being light and compact, it could find a slot in my equipment bag from time to time.

Leica CL with its two lenses

Leica CL with its two lenses

The CL was a sort of entry-level rangefinder camera, designed by Leitz in Germany and built by Minolta in Japan from 1973 to 1976.


From a technical point of view, it is a miniature M5, and very advanced for a Leica of its time. A semi-auto camera with through the lens metering, it used a mechanism very similar to the system used in the much maligned M5′s.


After the CL and the M5 were abandoned in the mid seventies, Leitz reverted to fully manual cameras with no metering capabilities, and aficionados had to wait for another 10 years before a semi-auto rangefinder camera was proposed again by the German firm.


With its M bayonet mount, the CL could use the 50 mm lenses of its bigger brothers, but Leitz had also designed two lenses specifically for the CL, a 40mm Summicron (F:2) and a 90mm Elmar (F:4).

Using the Leica CL


A true Leica, it also used a focal plan textile shutter (1/2 sec up to 1/1000 sec). The rangefinder has a short base and is not as accurate as the M6′s, but is good enough for the 90mm Elmar.


A class at the Louvres Museum- Jan.2010. Paris

A class at the Louvres Museum- The CL is small and silent, and nobody paid attention to me or to the camera.


With its mechanical shutter, the CL only needs a battery for metering, and uses it sparingly. Mine still has the mercury battery I bought it with, but I suspect it must be at the end of its life, because the recommendations of the metering system were so bizarre that I decided to forget about it and apply the “sunny 16″ rule. With a battery in working order, the determination of the exposure is very simple (a match needle at the right of the viewfinder).


On the CL, the image in the viewfinder is large and clear. The viewfinder has a greater field of view than the 40mm lens normally mounted on the camera, and projected bright lines show to the photographer what the actual picture will look like. There is little difference between the respective field of views of the viewfinder (similar to a 35mm) and of the 40mm lens, but the bright frame projected of the 90mm lens will seem minuscule at the center of a viewfinder, whose enlargement factor does not change. Disconcerting, but not dramatic.


What really requires adaptation is focusing. On a manual focus Single Lens Reflex camera, the image of the subject is projected on a matte ground glass, and the photographer can see immediately whether the image is in focus or not. Similarly, with tele-zooms used at large apertures, the effects of the reduced depth of field are easily visible, and the photographer can visualize what will be in focus, and what will be pleasantly blurred.

The back of the Leica CL

The back of the Leica CL - Note the viewfinder at the top left corner of the body, leaving ample space for the nose of the photographer


On a rangefinder camera, the finder does not provide any feed-back when it comes to focusing. Every element of the image seems in focus: it’s very easy too forget to set the focus, and very difficult to predict the depth of field.


The coupled rangefinder is materialized by a small window at the center of the viewfinder. It’s extremely accurate, but the focusing ring on the small lens is narrow and rather stiff, and you get the impression that you could have reacted much faster with the large focusing ring of the 50mm lens of your SLR.


I guess it gets better with experience, but it’s very frustrating for a beginner.


If you can get over the idiosyncrasies of the viewfinder, the Leica experience is very rewarding. The camera is virtually silent, and being small and black, gets totally unnoticed. The pictures are sharp, with a lot of micro-contrast, and give the impression of being of higher quality than the images taken with most of the SLRs (provided you could master the focusing system). Your success rate will be lower than with a manual SLR, and far lower than with a dSLR of the latest generation, but when the images are good, they’ll be very good.


Buying a rangefinder camera


Rangefinder cameras are markedly different from SLRs, and will not produce good pictures without some serious practice. The first attempts will be frustrating, and there is no point in spending a lot of money in a Leica M9 if you discover after a few days that you’re totally allergic to this style of cameras.


The Leica CL is one of the cheapest options for a photographer who would like to try rangefinder cameras. Good Leica CL are rather easy to find in the US or in Europe. Even in a pristine condition, they never cross the $1,000 threshold, and nice items can be found between $300 and $600. In Japan, the CL was sold as a Leitz-Minolta camera, with no other difference with the “Leitz only” CL than the logo.


A few years after the production of the CL was stopped, Minolta launched the CLE, an automatic exposure version of the CL, and the first camera to propose On the Film (OTF) flash metering. There is no semi-auto or manual mode. The CLE contains much more electronics than the CL, and it can not be repaired if the main circuit decides it had enough. The CLE is much more difficult to find than the CL. Expect to pay $600 for a nice one, and thousands for collector editions.


Full size M series Leica are either more primitive (no exposure metering) or more recent and significantly more expensive than the CL. Even in poor condition, a Leica M6 can not be found for less than $1,000. Cosina is still producing a line of rangefinder cameras, sold under the Voigtlander brand, and available with Leica M lens mount as well as less common mounts such as the Nikon and Contax rangefinder mounts. Amongst all the the rangefinder cameras from Voigtlander, the Bessa R3M is the closest to the CL (it accepts the same 40 and 90mm lenses), and can be found between $400 (used) and $600 (new).

The light chamber of the Leica CL - In this picture, the shutter is not armed. As a consequence, the CdS sensor of the exposure meter is not deployed.

The shutter is armed; the CdS sensor of the exposure meter is deployed. It will retract when the shutter release is pressed, just before the shutter opens.


References and links


A specialized source for rangefinder cameras (Leica, Nikon and modern Voigtlander): http://www.cameraquest.com/leicacl.htm


Canal St Martin - Paris - Located between the Gare de l'Est and the Bastille, the canal was a favorite set of the French film makers in the thirties. Using a Leica with B&W film seemed appropriate.

Canal St Martin - Paris - Located between the Gare de l'Est and the Bastille, the Canal was a favorite set of the French film makers in the thirties. Using a Leica with B&W film seemed appropriate

November 21, 2009

The Nikon FE2: one of the very best manual focus SLRs ever.

Filed under: Gear, Nikon Cameras — Tags: , , , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 3:24 pm


Launched in 1983, the successor of the FE had a relatively short sales career, but a long legacy. It can be argued that the Nikon FM3a, sold from 2001 to 2006, is much more a descendant of the FE2 than of the FM2.


Nikon FE2 - The titanium blade shutter was the most advanced at the time of the camera's launch, with a top speed of 1/4000 sec and a flash sync speed of 1/250 sec.



In 1977, a few years after Olympus initiated the compact SLR revolution, Nikon presented the FM. Like the Olympus OM-1, the FM was a compact semi automatic camera with a mechanical shutter, which could be equipped with a motor drive. But contrarily to the OM-1, which still relied on a CdS light metering system and on mercury batteries, the FM used modern gallium photo diodes and silver oxyde batteries. It also benefited from a vertical blade metallic shutter, and the exposure metering was relying on 3 LEDs instead of the more conventional match needle arrangement of the OM-1. Solidly built and reliable, the FM was very successful commercially, and the ancestor of a large family of models whose production only stopped in 2006.


The FE from 1978 is the automatic exposure version of the FM. It looks very similar to the FM, but instead of LEDs, it uses two needles to show the shutter speed selected by the photographer (semi-auto mode) and by the automatic exposure system (aperture priority auto mode). In 1982, the FM became the FM2, receiving a new mechanic shutter with titanium blades, which could reach 1/4000 sec and had a flash synchro speed of 1/200 sec.


One year later, the FE2 was launched. Its titanium shutter is an improved and electronic version of the FM2′s, with a X synchro speed now reaching to 1/250 sec. The FE2 also benefits from a modern on the film (OTF) flash metering system (that the FM2 never got). The FM/FE range of products was extended the following year with the presentation of the Nikon FA, which added matrix metering (a world premiere), a programmed exposure mode and trade the brass prism cover of the FM/FE models for a polycarbonate one. Both FE2 and FA were discontinued in 1988. The FM2 lived longer, and was ultimately replaced by the FM3a, which merged the mechanical shutter of the FM2 with the electronics of the FE2.


Using the FE2 as an every day camera


Reasonably light and compact, the Nikon FE2 is very solidly built, and very nicely finished. Compared to a previous generation model like the FM, the FE2 has smoother commands. The viewfinder is typical from a pre-high eye point construction – the enlargement factor is high (0.86) for a good focusing precision, but the frame coverage is limited (93%), and the eye point is very short (14mm), which could be an issue for photographers wearing glasses. Even with thin glasses, it’s impossible to see 100% of the image projected on the focusing screen without having to move one’s eye ball right to left and left to right: you only perceive 90% of the focusing screen when you look straight into the viewfinder, which compounded with the rather limited frame coverage, ensures that you’ll have a wide safety margin on both sides of your prints.


Nikon FE2 / Olympus OM-1n - The FE2 is larger, but not significantly.



The determination of the exposure is very conventional for a camera of its generation, with a center weighted measurement provided by two silicon photodiodes. In automatic mode, a needle indicates the speed selected by the exposure system of the camera on a large scale at the left of the viewfinder. The photographer has multiple ways to override the automatism: he can memorize the exposure (pushing the self timer lever towards the lens), apply a correction factor on the film speed selector (from -2 up to +2EV), or switch to semi-auto mode. In this case, a second needle – larger and transparent – appears in the viewfinder, showing the shutter speed selected by the photographer. In a very simple matching needle arrangement, the photographer just has to align the meter needle with shutter speed needle. The shutter speed knob is much smoother than on the FM (in the FE2 the shutter is controlled electronically), and surprisingly the camera is more pleasant to use in semi-auto mode than the FM. No wonder that Nikon derived the exposure control system of the FM3a from the FE2′s and not from FM’s.


(more…)

September 30, 2009

Nikon F3

Filed under: Gear, Nikon Cameras — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 5:09 pm


Nikon’s F3 was the “pro” camera of the early eighties, but it kept on selling until 2001. A dwarf compared to current mid-level digital SLRs, not to mention monsters like an EOS 1DS or a D3. Incredibly simple to use compared to anything digital sold these days. Aperture Priority Automatic or Semi-Auto exposure. Center weighted metering. That’s all. It worked. And it still works today.

Nikon F3

This Nikon F3 is far from perfect cosmetically - but it works


Consider all the changes that took place in the SLR design between 1980 and 2001. Multi mode exposure, spot and matrix metering, integrated motors, autofocus, DX coding, the F3 had none of that, but it outlived two or three generations of newer-better-faster pro bodies from Nikon or Canon. The F3 had the elegance to hide its real technical advances under a classical skin, and to let the photographer communicate his instructions through smooth and oversized controls. Of all the pre-autofocus SLRs of Nikon, the F3 is the most pleasant to use, and probably the one which will yield the best results.


The F3 is an exception in the Nikon F lineup. It’s compact, smaller than its predecessors, and way smaller than its successors, the F4 and F5. In fact, its size is very comparable to that of the FM, itself hardly bigger than the yard stick of compact SLRs, the Olympus OM-1. The F3 is also easy to use, without the idiosyncrasies of the F and F2s with their Photomic finders and manual aperture indexing, and without the myriads of commands of an F4 or the menus and submenus of an F5.


Olympus OM-1n / Nikon F3

Olympus OM-1n / Nikon F3 - The F3 is larger, of course, but not that much. Compact and not very loud, it can be used for street photography, among other things.


The F3 is much more modern and usable in everyday life than a semi auto camera like the FM: its commands are larger and smoother, and the automatic exposure system is faster to operate; thanks to the center-weighted metering and a memory lock button, it does not deprive the photograph of his control on the exposure . When a flash is needed, the FM still requires the user to concern himself with Guide Numbers. The F3′s flash system is modern: following the path opened by the Olympus OM2, the SPD (silicon) cell is housed under the main mirror, and provides On The Film flash metering. But the Nikon engineers avoided loading the F3 with complications like multi-mode auto-exposure or multiple metering patterns. The F3 has few commands, and they’re so easy to understand that no manual is needed.

Nikon F3

Nikon F3 - a view of the commands - add the exposure memory lock and the backup shutter release on the front, you have them all.


All the commands are generously sized, and very smooth to operate (the film advance mechanism is mounted on ball bearings). The view finder is wide, bright and clear, making focusing easy. After a few years of production, Nikon replaced the viewfinder with a high eyepoint (HP) model, which could be used more easily byglass wearers. The viewfinder is the only part of the camera which is really larger than what you would find on contemporary advance-amateur SLRs.


Of course, the F3 is not perfect. It may be compact, but it’s heavy (approx. 750g). Its OTF flash system may have been advanced for its time, but the shutter only syncs at 1/60sec, and none of the viewfinders of the F3 system has a standard flash hot shoe: the F3 requires a specific flash adapter, to be inserted at the top of the rewind lever. But if I had to own and use only one film camera, that would be the F3, without any hesitation.

Nikon F3 - Viewfinder

Nikon F3 and its DE02 viewfinder at the front - Note that the exposure metering system and the LCD showing the selected shutter speed are on the body, not on the removable viewfinder (the little windows at the front of the viewfinder are aligned with the LCD and the aperture see through when it is in position on the body)


How much for a Nikon F3?


The price of an F3 is extremely variable. The F3s were produced over 21 years, and some of them could be fairly recent, when others could have been used and abused since the early eighties. F3s were built like tanks, but they were used as their everyday work horse by legions of professional photographers, and they may have had a rough life.


Old and scruffy models in perfect working condition – like the 1983 model represented on those pictures – can be had for a little more than $70.00. Nicer and more recent models with the HP viewfinder and a motor drive will cost you at least $300.00. Beyond the standard F3 and F3 HP, Nikon also produced many derivatives of its flagship camera, for specialized applications or to test new technologies like the autofocus system they showed in 1983. Some of them are relatively rare collector items and will command a much higher price.



Nikon F3 in CF-22 case

Nikon F3 in its CF-22 case. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the F3 had to show some italian bravado. The body design is classical, but the leather everready case is bright red.



More about the Nikon F3


Photography in Malaysia – the Nikon F3
Shutterbug: the Nikon F3 (2007)


Nikon F3 - Nikkor 24mm AF

Lunch Break along the Seine. Paris-April 2009. Nikon F3 - Nikkor 24mm AF

September 20, 2009

The Minolta Vectis S-1: APS done right?

Filed under: Gear, the APS format — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 3:20 pm


I don’t have this camera anymore. I’m afraid it ended its life in the trash can – not economically repairable – a few years ago. But I used it for years, I liked it a lot, and it’s too bad that no digital SLR available today is as light and portable as the Vectis S-1 was.


The gun metal version was sold in Europe.

Minolta Vectis S-1 - The gun metal version was sold in Europe, but not in the US.


Launched in 1996, it was the only SLR system designed from scratch for the APS format. It inherited the best features from the Minolta mid-range 35mm cameras of its time, and exploited the new functionalities of the APS format to its full advantage. Built around a new, specific and very modern mount, the Vectis cameras and lenses were far more compacts than conventional 35mm SLRs, and than the APS SLRs developed by Canon and Nikon.


Single Lens Reflex cameras (SLRs) need a moving mirror, and the moving mirror needs room, which imposes a flange focal distance of approximately 45mm on 35mm cameras (44mm for the Canon EF, 46.5mm for the Nikon F mount). The diameter of the mount, on the other hand, is closely related to the size of the film (it’s roughly equal to the diagonal of the film – 44mm for the Nikon F mount, for instance). Both Canon and Nikon decided to make their APS cameras compatible with the large range of 35mm lens they had been selling for 10 years or more, and designed their APS SLRs around the same dimensional constraints (flange focal distance, mount diameter) as their standard 35mm offerings. Logically, the cameras could not be significantly smaller than their 35mm counterparts.


On the contrary, Minolta took the risk of making the Vectis S-1 totally incompatible with its own 35mm lens system – and opted for a shorter focal flange distance (38mm) and for a smaller mount diameter, without any mechanical linkage between the camera body and the lens. The body and the lens could be made much smaller, but Minolta had to develop a whole range of new lenses, and ended up supporting two totally incompatible product lines.



Lighthouse of the Pointe St Matthieu (near Brest, France)-by default APS cameras shot in APS-H format (16x9 proportions)

Lighthouse of the Pointe St Matthieu (near Brest, France)-by default APS cameras shot in APS-H format (16x9 proportions)



One could debate endlessly about who did the right thing, Minolta or Canon-Nikon. Minolta’s risky strategy did not pay off – the sales of the Vectis cameras proved disappointing, Minolta lost its independence and had to merge with Konica. But Canon or Nikon’s more prudent approach did not work either, altough they did not lose as much money with APS as Minolta did. Learning from the experience, Canon, Konica-Minolta and Pentax all decided to retain their 35mm mount on their new dSLRs with APS-C sensors. Only Panasonic and Olympus, with no legacy of 35mm AF SLRs, decided to use a smaller form factor with their Four-Thirds and Micro-Four-Thirds formats.



Minolta Vectis S-1 (rear view). Courtesy of www.collection-appareils.fr

Minolta Vectis S-1 - Rear View - Viewfinder on the left. The film door is on left side of the camera (not visible on this picture). Courtesy of http://www.collection-appareils.fr


The design of the S-1 was very innovative in two important areas: it was not using the conventional central pentaprism, but a series of mirrors leading to a viewfinder implemented at the very left of the body – leaving space for the nose of the photographer, and the camera, its lenses and its accessories (such as the external flash) were all weatherproof, forming a compact, lightweight and reasonably rugged system that could even be brought in mountain expeditions.


The rest of the camera was in line with the advanced-amateur class of products of the time (P, A, S, M modes, Matrix and Spot metering, passive autofocus) and took advantage of all the new functionalities brought by the APS format – the ability to pre-select one of three print formats when taking the pictures being the most important. Some compatibility existed between the accessories of the 35mm cameras of the manufacturer (Maxxum or Dynax) and the Vectis: the flash system and the remote control could be used indifferently on both lines of cameras.


The user experience was very pleasant. Minolta cameras of the AF era have always been very pleasant to use, and the Vectis was no exception, provided you put the right lens on the body.


Unfortunately, the kit lens – a 28-56mm f:4-5.6 zoom, was not something Minolta should have been proud of. Poorly built, if proved fragile, and the quality of the pictures it produced was far from impressive. Mine broke rapidly, and I replaced it with a much better 22-80mm lens, which was correctly built, and could produce great pictures – with the right film in the body. APS’ promoters had decided that 200 ISO would be the “normal” sensitivity, but APS used a smaller negative than 35mm, and the quality of the enlargments from 200 ISO film never convinced me. The 100 ISO film, on the contrary, was very good. On a good bright and sunny day, with a good lens and 100 ISO film, APS could compete with 35mm.


My Vectis was defeated by one of design flaws of APS: the fragile automatic film loading system. A tiny piece of plastic broke in the camera, preventing the film door to open. Having it repaired was not an option. I sold the lens, and trashed the camera.


Today, the Vectis S-1 still has fans, ready to pay prices in excess of $150 for a camera. I liked mine as long as it worked, but with 100 ISO APS film now unavailable, I would not spend my money trying to get another one.


Good camera, flawed format. RIP.


More about the Minolta Vectis S-1
camerapedia.org: la page du Vectis S-1
collection-appareils.fr (site in French)


Portsall harbour low tide (near Brest, France)

Portsall harbour at low tide (near Brest, France)

September 17, 2009

50 years of lens mount evolution (Part II of VI)

Filed under: Gear — Tags: , , , , , — xtalfu @ 5:42 pm

The introduction to Through The Lens (TTL) Light metering and its consequences on the lens mount


Now that the instant return mirror and the preselection mechanism of the diaphragm had made SLRs usable for action photography, the manufacturers managed to address the next challenge: the determination of the exposure.

(more…)

September 12, 2009

Leica, Witness to a Century (book review)

Filed under: Books and magazines, Leica Cameras — Tags: , , , — xtalfu @ 12:00 pm


“What camera took these pictures?”


That’s the question that photographers hate the most. Nobody ever asked Picasso what type of brush he was using to paint “Guernica”, and photographers believe they are the ones taking the pictures. For them, their camera is just a tool, that they use it to communicate their vision.


Well, it’s not completely true. Granted, the camera is a tool, and tools don’t create. But the camera’s characteristics, its size, its weight, its ability to withstand adverse environmental conditions, the number of manual steps needed to take a picture, the performance of the shutter, the aperture of the lens, all limit the ability of the photographer to take a usable picture of what he’s witnessing, or to convert his vision into an image. Every now and then, a breakthrough in the design of cameras gives photographers more opportunities to report what they see. Whenever a new generation of cameras hits the market, photographers start experimenting, and in the process, harvest a new crop of pictures, which sometimes, will change the way they show the world to the rest of us, and ultimately, change the way we all see the world.


Few cameras had an impact comparable to that of Leica cameras’ in the first half of the 20th century. The originality of Alessandro Pasi’s book – “Leica, Witness of a Century”, is that it’s an attempt to show how the Leica changed photography, and how photographers still use it today to make different pictures.


Leica - witness of a century (Alessandro Pasi)

Leica - witness of a century (Alessandro Pasi)


Alessandro Pasi’s book is organized is six chapters, each covering a different period, and showing in detail the most emblematic Leica camera of the era, as well as the pictures taken with it by the most prominent photographers of the time.


There will be no striking discovery for the well learned Leica aficionado. The cameras shown here have already been described in detail in many books, and at least half of the photographs assembled by Alessandro are well known “classics”.


But the author also included less known pictures taken by Italian photographers, as well as family snapshots taken by amateurs over the course of the century.


The texts are well written and informative, the layout is clear and the pictures are always given the priority.


This book is a very good illustration of the saying about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.


It’s a pleasant voyage through one century of photography, an homage to the ingenuity of the creators of the Leica, and the proof that sometimes, “what camera took these pictures?” is not as stupid a question as it sounds.


Leica, Witness to a Century, is available in brick and mortar book stores, and also at Amazon . 159 pages. $35.00



For the 75th anniversary of the Leica, in 1989, the Leica Camera Group published “75 Years of Leica Photography”, which showcases more than 300 pictures taken with Leica cameras, from the test shots of Oscar Barnak in 1914 to the fall of Berlin wall in 1989. A very interesting follow up if you liked Alessandro’s book. It can still be found – used – for a bit less than $100.00

August 22, 2009

Nikon FM: compact and rock solid, a good risk-all backup camera for Nikon users

Filed under: Gear, Nikon Cameras — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 6:59 pm


In the mid seventies, a new generation of SLRs hit the market. They were following the example set by the Olympus OM-1 and were much more compact than their predecessors. They also used less mechanical components and more electronics.


The FM was Nikon’s response to the OM-1, and to similarly compact cameras from their main competitors. The FM outlived them all. The FM and its derivatives, the FM2 and the FM3a,  were sold for more than 30 years, and when the production of the FM3a was finally stopped, they were still in such demand that for a while used FM3a’s were selling for more than when their price when new.


Compact, reasonably light and rock solid, the FMs were often used as backup cameras by professional photographers until they stopped using film a few years ago.

Nikon FM

Nikon FM

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August 17, 2009

Nikon Pronea S

Filed under: Gear, Nikon Cameras, the APS format — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 2:54 am


Launched in 1998,  the Pronea S is Nikon’s second and last APS SLR. Nikon rapidly lost interest in the APS format, and refocused its R&D (and sales) efforts on the more promising Coolpix digital cameras. With its smaller image format and lenses, the Pronea can be considered a remote ancestor of the vastly more successful Nikon D40.

Nikon Pronea S (with the built-in flash deployed and a Nikkor 24mm AF lens)

Nikon Pronea S (with the built-in flash deployed and a Nikkor AF 24mm lens)


Apart from the fact it’s using APS film instead of more conventional 135 (24x36mm) film, there is nothing really remarkable about the Pronea S. Its characteristics are aligned on the other mid-level amateur cameras of its time.


It benefits from the advantages brought by the APS format (smaller size than 24×36 cameras, choice of three aspect ratios for the prints) but it also suffers from all the limitations that ultimately caused the demise of the APS format.

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