CamerAgX

March 17, 2017

Added to the Pages menu….the Index of CamerAgX’s camera reviews

I probably should have added it much earlier….

the Index of all cameras reviewed in CamerAgX,

including group reviews and  side by side comparisons.


 

May 20, 2017

Should we start collecting digital cameras?

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

Collecting is different from hoarding junk.

I’m sure we all have a few compact digital cameras stored in a drawer somewhere, that we don’t use anymore because, let’s be honest, any decent smartphone will do a much better job at taking, editing and publishing pictures than a dedicated compact digital camera sold 10 years ago. It does not make us digital camera collectors. We’re simply consolidating our inventory of obsolete electronics before a future trip to the recycling center.

Samsung Digimax 35 (0.3 MP, 2001), Nikon Coolpix L14 (7 MP, 2007) , Sony DSC-T20(8 MP, 2007), Canon Powershot S400 (2003, 4 MP)  and the Palm Treo 600 (0.3 MP, 2004) in the fore plan. Are my old digital cameras collector items, or just drawer-ware?

Collecting implies an intent.

A collection tells a story. The collector assembles objects which are significant for him or her, because of their esthetic or sentimental value, or to satisfy some form of intellectual curiosity. He or she may hope that, over time, objects in his or her collection will gain value, but financial gain is not the primary motive (if it was, he or she would not be a collector, but simply a speculator, a scalper).

We have the benefit of hindsight, and it’s easy to see what makes a particular model of film camera a better collectible than another one. I will group the criteria in three categories:

  • what the camera was in its early days: its technical significance, its build quality, its beauty, its performance, its cost, its rarity,
  • what it can do for you now: its usability (are film, batteries and lenses still available for that type of camera), its reliability over the long run, its ability to help you get great pictures, and the satisfaction you derive from using it,
  • the legend around it: is the brand prestigious, was this model of camera used to shoot a  famous picture, or used by a whole generation of war correspondents or reporters, did this particular item belong to a star or a famous criminal?

Obviously, by all three groups of criteria, a Leica M3 will be a better collectible than a mass produced, entry level, plastic bodied and unreliable APS camera from the late nineties.

Venice – Dec 2011 – Sony DSC-T20 (Photo: Valerie M.) A good digicam could take good pictures. A modern smartphone could probably do as well today.

What if we apply the same list of criteria to digital cameras?

  • what it can do for you now: that’s the biggest issue: older digital cameras are not as good as modern ones. A film camera has the benefit of being different from a modern digital camera with which it can not be directly compared (it’s a different user experience, a different workflow, and the outpout is somehow different), but an old digital camera can directly be compared to a modern one, and it’s not to its advantage: the resolution and the ability to shoot in low light are massively inferior, and the dynamics of the sensor is much narrower. And to add insult to injury, old digital cameras are also outperformed by smartphones in many casual shooting situations.
    Older digital cameras may not be as durable as film cameras – they’re full of electronics, and are generally powered by proprietary batteries that may not age well, and will require specific chargers, specific cables thatwill rapidly become difficult to replace.
    Some of the most original (and therefore interesting) digital cameras like the Sigma cameras using Foveon sensors or the old Fujifilm S1, S2, S3 or S5 cameras using SuperCCD sensors require specific software to process or get the best of their raw files – but the software may not work with current or future versions of Windows and Mac OS.
  • what the camera was in its early days: it has to be put in perspective with what it can do now. Does it really matter that a Panasonic compact camera was considered the best compact camera for enthusiasts in the fall of 2005, when it’s in any case outperformed by an iPhone 7 Plus?
    By that measure, only a few cameras that made history technically are worth of attention : you can argue that the Nikon D3 changed the way we take pictures in low light and made flash  photography obsolete – and as a consequence deserves be part of a collection focused on important digital cameras. Similarly, cameras of an unusual design like the Nikon Coolpix 995 or equipped with a unique sensor that helps create different pictures (like the Sigma Foveon cameras) could become interesting curiosities.
  • the legend around it: I don’t think any digital camera has reached the legendary status yet.  Some cameras may be of special interest to collectors of equipment from a legendary brand – the first digital M camera from Leica, or the last digital camera made by Contax. But so far, I can’t see any digital camera that defines its generation, the way the Leica M3, the Nikon F or the Olympus OM-1 did in their heyday.

What digital camera would I collect?

Pinup and Naomi playing – The oldest jpeg file on my computer’s hard drive – taken in 2002 with a Samsung Digicam 35 camera. 640 x 480 pixels (0.3 Mpx). Does it  qualify as a collector, or as junk?

What is  important to me is not necessarily what’s important to you. To me, a camera has to be usable for casual photography, at home with my dogs, on a stroll in my neighborhood or while traveling. That’s why, when I shoot with film, I prefer cameras from the late seventies-early eighties to their ancestors of the fifties or sixties, too complex and too slow to operate for my taste.

In the world of digital cameras, I would not buy anything not capable of providing a good 8 x11 print, which places the bar at 6 Megapixels. I would also want the digital camera to be better at doing its job than a smartphone (if it was not, I would never use it and it would collect dust on a shelf):  it would need a viewfinder (optical or electronic), and would have access to focal lengths ranging from  24mm to 135mm. I’m not necesserily willing to invest in a whole new system: if the camera accepted interchangeable lenses, I would prefer some compatibility with the lenses I already own (through an adapter, possibly).

Lastly, I’d like the camera to represent a significant step in the evolution of digital cameras, and to have a few unique characteristics that would differentiate it from the mass of the me-too products of its generation.

What camera would qualify? A few Nikon pro cameras from the mid 2000s (D1x, D3) because they pushed the boundaries of image quality and  low light capabilities and made the film SLRs and flash photography obsolete, their cousins from Fujifilm (a S5 Pro, maybe) for their original SuperCCD sensor and the unique images it captures, or the Epson R-D1, the first digital rangefinder camera, or one of the most original bridge cameras from Sony, the F828.

Your choice would be different. Up to you.


More about using old digital cameras today: Ashley Pomeroy’s blog – http://women-and-dreams.blogspot.com with interesting reviews of  the Fujifilm S series (Fujifilm S1 Pro, Fujifilm S3 Pro, Fujifilm S5 Pro) and its competitors from Nikon (Nikon D1, Nikon D1x).


Venice – Dec 2001 – Sony DSC-T20- Photo Valerie M.

May 19, 2017

Welcome

Filed under: Welcome — Tags: , , — xtalfu @ 12:01 am


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.


May 8, 2017

A final word about the Fujica “X” cameras of the eighties

Filed under: Fujica Cameras, Gear — Tags: , , — xtalfu @ 12:04 am

When new, the Fujica AX cameras did not make a huge impact – the attention of the press and of the buying public was focused on the cameras of the big four, and on the duel between Canon and Minolta.

Fujica AX-3, AX-5 and AX Multi Program

There is not much information on the Internet about those cameras (and even fewer pictures), and since I’ve been enough of a fool to buy a few of them recently, I’ll go through a quick comparison of three models – with plenty of pictures.

Fuji launched the “X” bayonet mount in 1978-79,  with 4 models:

  • Fujica ST-X – a close derivative of the semi-auto ST605 of the previous m42 screw mount generation, updated with the new bayonet and full aperture metering. Designed for a low price point, with a shutter speed limited to 1/700 sec., it shares very little with the AX models (except for the bayonet, of course)
  • Fujica AX-1 – if it was a car, we could say that it shares its platform (or chassis) with the other Fujica AX cameras. Designed for people with no interest in the technical aspects of photography, it offers a simplified set of controls, and only works in a fully automatic program exposure mode, with no manual or semi-manual override.
  • Fujica AX-3 – a conventional “enthusiast” SLR, with all the functions needed by a knowledgeable photographer (aperture priority automatic exposure, semi auto and manual modes, depth of field preview, aperture and selected shutter speed information in the viewfinder). The AX-3 is a good surprise – it’s a compact and light camera, with well thought ergonomics  (an embryo of  control wheel replaces the conventional shutter speed knob) and all commands grouped on the top plate. All the features a photographer will need (depth of field preview, AE Lock, semi-auto mode in addition to the aperture priority auto exposure) are present and easy to find. It’s one of the easiest cameras to use without a manual. The compactness and light weight of the camera come at the cost: the viewfinder. It’s informative: shutter speeds with corresponding LEDs on the left, periscopic view of selected aperture on top, but a bit dark, with a short eye point and a strange barrel distortion if you wear glasses. The viewfinder is worse than what you find on Canon cameras of the same vintage, and than its Fujica predecessors (such as a the ST801).
  • Fujica AX-5 – the top of line, it adds a shutter priority mode and a program to the AX-3. The aperture and the shutter speed information are displayed in two columns on the left of the viewfinder, which is a bit confusing at first. The Fujica AX-5 was analyzed in detail in the comparison with the Canon A-1 recently added to this blog.    In my opinion, it draws a bit above its weight. The underpinnings of the camera (shared with the AX-1 and the AX-3) are more suited to a beginner’s or an enthusiast’s model, and the AX-5 feels (and probably is) too small and fragile to compete with the Canon A-1, and too limited technically (its shutter speed can’t exceed 1/1000sec, the viewfinder is the same as the AX-3’s) compared to the multi-automatic cameras that Nikon or Pentax proposed in the last years of its sales career.

In 1983,  Fujica cameras were rebranded as “Fuji”, and the the STX-1 was replaced with the STX-2 (the same with a black body, a 1/1000sec shutter and exposure information provided by LEDs instead of a galvanometer’s needle).

The Fuji AX Multi Program – here with the 43-75 f/3.5-4.5 zoom. The body shell is in plastic.

The three AX cameras were discontinued, replaced by the AX-Multi Program, a derivative of the AX-1, supposedly designed for people totally ignorant of the basics of aperture and shutter speed determination. To make their life easier, it offered 3 different program auto exposure modes, and no manual or semi-auto mode. Having 3 programs (one normal, one for action scenes, one for landscapes) was not a bad idea, but the execution was sure to alienate the very type of user the camera was trying to reach:

  • the 3 programs were not designated by a symbol corresponding to the intended use (normal, sports, landscape), but by obscure initials (P, DP, HP) and the possible aperture/shutter speed combinations were only documented on a diagram printed on the back of film loading door.
  • there was absolutely no indication of the shutter speed in the viewfinder – a single LED was supposed to blink when the shutter speed was too low, but what constituted “too low” was never clearly defined, and the camera could take pictures at 1/30sec with a tele-objective without a warning for the photographer.
  • There was not even the +2EV push button proposed by many simplified cameras to help photographers with back-lit scenes.
  • The camera used many more plastic parts than its predecessors, and was shouting “cheap” very loud.

The three programs (DP to maximize the depth of field, HP to maximize the shutter speed, and the default P) are described by this diagram on the back of the film door. Not very beginner friendly.

The AX-Multi Program was one of the many over simplified SLRs launched at the beginning of the eighties. The sales of SLRs had been going down for a while, and the camera makers, seeing that potential buyers were attracted by easier to use point and shoot cameras, tried at first to make the SLRs less intimidating by removing controls – but by doing so they did not make their  cameras more “intelligent”, they just deprived photographers of ways to override the basic automatic systems when they were obviously off the mark.

The fantastic success of the Minolta Maxxum 7000 proved that cameras had to be made more accessible to the public at large not by removing features and  controls from the photographer, but by adding better automatisms that made it easier to get good pictures, even in the most difficult situations.

For Fuji, the writing was on the wall, and they left the SLR market in 1987.


The viewfinders:

Fuji AX-3. The viewfinder shows the selected shutter speed. The aperture value is displayed at the top (not visible on this picture).

Fujica AX-5 – The viewfinder shows the aperture value (left column, yellow LED) and the selected speed (right column, red LED).

Fuji AX Multi Program Viewfinder – the LED only shows which one of the three programs is being selected.

 

The top plate

The top plate of the AX Multi Program is simplified – the three programs (DP, P, HP) are the only choice left to the user

 

The AX-3 and the AX-5 share the same command layout. The AX-5 represented here is in Program mode (Automatic Exposure on the control wheel, and diamond position on the lens)

The bayonet mount

The mount on the AX-5 is almost identical to the AX-3’s. A tiny sensor is added at the bottom right of the flange.

The mount is almost identical to the mount on the AX-5

The bayonet has been simplified on the AX Multi: the aperture value selected on the lens can not be transmitted to the body.

The FM and DM lenses

Fujinon 50mm DM (on the left) and FM (on the right). They look the same but the aperture ring of the DM has an extra position for the shutter priority and program modes (marked by the orange diamond). It is protected by a push button lock.

The X-Fujinon FM was bundled with the STX-1 and the AX-3, the DM with the AX-1, AX-5 and AX Multi Program.

One last picture…

Fujica AX-5 with the X-Fujinon 43-75mm zoom. The zoom is identical to the screw mount model sold with the AZ-1. Good lens but with a very long minimal focusing distance (1.2m or 4 ft)


More information about the Fujica “X” system on CamerAgX

User manuals and catalogs for the Fujica cameras (and many other cameras of the same vintage) on butkus.org

A thank you note to The Casual Photophile – for telling me how to take pictures of the inside of a viewfinder – the answer? use an iPhone.

April 26, 2017

Tamron’s Adaptall interchangeable lens mount

Filed under: Gear, Tamron Lenses — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 12:00 am

Two Tamron “Custom  Mount Adapters” and a Tamron Adaptall lens in the middle. The lens can receive Adaptall and Adaptall 2 mount adapters.

Lenses with interchangeable mounts were developed primarily to solve the inventory management problems of the photo equipment retailers of the late 50s.

After Asahi launched their “Pentax” single lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses in 1957, German and Japanese camera makers jumped on the band wagon and started releasing their own lines of SLR bodies and lenses.

They formed two camps – vendors like Mamiya, Petri, Ricoh, Fujica, Chinon, Yashica followed the example of Asahi and Practika and adopted the 42mm “universal” screw mount – with the promise of inter compatibility between brands. On the other hand, Canon, Exacta, Leica, Minolta, Miranda, Nikon, Topcon and a few others brands each decided to develop their own proprietary bayonet mount.

Those were the early days of the SLR, and the pace of progress was fast. Manufacturers had to revise their lens mounts every few years, in order to support new features such as the automatic diaphragm, full aperture metering and various exposure automatism implementations.

Imagine the nightmare for a retailer – having to stock expensive lenses for each variant of each of those mounts.

There was an opportunity for an inventive manufacturer to produce a line of universal lenses designed to be fitted with the lens mount adapter needed by the customer at the last minute, in the store, when he was ready to buy. The retailer could serve almost any customer need with only one copy of each universal lens, and one lens mount adapter per camera brand.

Tamron Adaptall lens and the Adaptall 2 lens mount – pairing or unpairing the two parts is not easy – it’s not something you want to have to do in the middle of a photoshoot.

Of course, the photographer buying one of those “universal” lenses could also play Lego himself – and use his lens with camera bodies of different manufacturers (if he happened to be transitioning from one camera brand to another one, for instance).

Tamron is widely credited for being the first to market such a solution in the late 50s (with their T mount lenses), but Soligor and Vivitar also adopted the T mount and developed their own lines of lenses.

In order to keep up with the increasing complexity of the lens mounts, they regularly launched new lines of adapters and matching lenses : Tamron with the Adaptamatic (in 1969), Adaptall (in 1973) and the Adaptall 2 (in 1979), Soligor and Vivitar with the T4 and the TX system.

Two Tamron “custom mount adapters” on the camera body side – left: Pentax KA (with the electrical contacts); right: the Fujica AX Bayonet

The progressive generalization of automatic cameras with multiple auto-exposure modes made the lens mounts much more complex and delicate. The growing use of electronics and the autofocus revolution of the mid 80s presented technical challenges of increasing difficulty that could not be overcome at a reasonable cost. And the concentration of the autofocus SLR market into a handful of players (Canon, Minolta, Nikon and Pentax) made inventory management easier for the retailers. As a result, the interchangeable lens mount system was gradually abandoned by its manufacturers in the 90s.

Today, does it make sense for a photographer using manual focus SLRs to buy interchangeable mount lenses ?

  • Canon and Nikon users should not be too concerned: their cameras were often used by professional photographers who had to invest in a large set of good lenses to stay competitive. Today, Canon FD and Nikon F lenses are abundant (and therefore comparatively cheap) on the second hand market, in any focal length.
  • but photographers using cameras of other manufacturers are not that lucky: the original buyers of those cameras were primarily amateurs, and the 50mm standard and the 135mm tele-objective seem to be the only lenses that they bought 40 years ago. They are the only ones easy to find on the second hand market today. When an OEM wide angle or a short tele-objective lens shows up on eBay, its  price rapidly reaches insane levels.
  • For those photographers using cameras from second or third tier manufacturers, Tamron or Vivitar lenses are an interesting alternative: the interchangeable lens mounts are still easy to find and cheap (some of them New Old Stock), and the lenses are more abundant and not as expensive as most OEM lenses.
  • Zoom lenses from the 70s and early eighties generally have a bad reputation, and those with interchangeable lens mounts are not better than the rest. But some prime lenses from Tamron are very well regarded, and constitute interesting purchases on their own merit (the Tamron 90mm f/2.5 Macro lens in particular)
  • Users of digital mirrorless cameras have an extra option – some vendors propose direct Adaptall to mirrorless adapters (for the most common mirrorless mounts: Sony, Fujifilm and Micro 4/3). Since mirrorless cameras don’t need to control the aperture of the lens to operate in some of their automatic modes, the adapter does not need to provide any linkage between the camera’s mount and the lens. It can be extremely simple – and cheap.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-mount

http://www.adaptall-2.com

http://www.tremyfoel.co.uk/photography/Adaptall/TamronAdaptallInfo.html

http://mattsclassiccameras.com/lenses/adaptall-2-system/

and specifically for the Fujica X bayonet (manual focus SLR bodies: ST-X and AX-1, AX-3, AX-5): tamron adaptall 2

https://www.photo.net/discuss/threads/t-mounts-t-t-2-t-4-tx.245015/


View of the Atlanta skyline – Fujica AX-5 – Tamron 28mm f/2.5 lens. Kodak Ektar.

April 15, 2017

Scanning 35mm film – is high-res scanning worth its cost?

Most photo labs propose scans in 3 resolutions: 1000×1500, 2000×3000, 4500×6700. The scans  are saved as jPEGs, with some labs also offering to save 4500 x6700 scans as TIFF files.

In theory, those resolutions correspond to an image of 1.5 Million points (1.5 MP), 6 MP, and 30  MP respectively. In general,

  • 1000x 1500 scans – when available – are virtually free (they’re included in the processing costs by some labs such as thedarkroom.com )
  • 2000 x 3000 scans cost roughly $5 for a full roll (in addition to the processing costs), or .50 per individual image scanned
  • 4400 x 6700 scans cost roughly $11 to $12 per full roll (in addition to the processing costs), or 3.00 per individual scan
  • 4400 x 6700 (TIFF) are the most expensive at $21 per full roll (oldschoolphotolab.com)

Storage constitutes an indirect cost – which doesn’t hurt until you run out of disk space, and have to upgrade your PC, your home NAS  or you online backup plan. But if storing 36 images at 1.5 Mbytes will not break your storage budget, 36 high res TIFF images represent almost 3 Gbytes. The exact size of a JPEG file is difficult to predict (JPEG is a lossless compression format), but in general, the file size of each type of scan falls within those brackets:

  • 1000x 1500 – JPEG -1.5 to 2 Mbytes
  • 2000 x 3000 – JPEG – 3 to 4 Mbytes
  • 4492 x 6776 -JPEG – 12 to 16 Mbytes
  • 4492 x 6776 (TIFF) – 80 MBytes / image
Scan_2000x3000_Piedmont

Atlanta Piedmont Park – Shot with Canon A-1 – Canon FD 35-105 f/3.5 – Fujicolor 400. Scanned at a resolution of  2000 x 3000 – the pictures of this roll are not really better than when scanned at 1000 x 1500 – probably a limitation of the lens (a 35-105 zoom of the seventies)

The tests

I wanted to have a few pictures I had taken a long time ago scanned, and I asked the lab to scan some images in 2000 x 3000, and some in 4400 x 6700. The pictures had been taken with a Minolta 7xi and the famous Angenieux 28-70 f/2.6-2.8 zoom, on Fuji Reala film (the 100 ISO “professional” color film Fujifilm were selling at that time). The pictures had originally been enlarged on photographic paper, and I expected the scans to be good.

I also had a series of images taken recently with a zoom from the early seventies, that had been scanned by the lab at 1000 x1500, that I asked the lab to rescan at 2000 x 3000.

Once the jPEGs were ready, I downloaded them in iPhone and iPad photo galleries, in Photoshop and Lightroom on a laptop, and on WordPress, in order to compare the perceived quality. A reminder of the resolution of a few devices compared to print.

  • iPhone 5 S Retina photo gallery : 1136x 640 (720,000 points) at 326ppi
  • 9.7 in iPad Retina Photo gallery:  2048 x 1536 (3,000,000 points)  at 266 ppi
  • Print 8 x 10: 2400 x 3000 points or 7.2 million points at 300ppi
  • the pictures of this blog are generally saved for the “Large” format proposed by WordPress, at 1024 x 680, corresponding to 600,000 points.

Paris – The Seine – scanned at 2000 x 3000. Minolta 7xi – Angenieux Zoom 28-70 – Fuji Reala film (1992). No visible difference in quality with the 4492 x 6700 scan (look at the details of the Eiffel tower compared to the glass house of the Grand Palais in the image below)

Conclusion

  • Scan at 1000×1500 or 2000×3000 ?
    • on an iPhone, on a 4×6 print, or in a blog supporting 1024 x 680 images (such as this one), there is no visible difference between 1500 x 1000 and 3000 x 2000 scans.
    • For all larger screen or print formats (9.7′ iPad Retina, laptop, 8×11 print, blogs offering to view images at native resolution)  the difference between a scan at 1.5 Million points and a scan at 7 Million points is very visible, unless the original is very poor (low lens resolution, very grainy film, subject slightly out of focus, operator shake at slow shutter speeds). It’s even more visible if you crop the image, even slightly.
  • Scan at 2000×3000 or 4400×6700 ?
    • on an iPhone, iPad 9.7′ Retina or on a 8×11 print – the difference is not really visible.
    • Above that (13 x 20 prints, for instance), the theoretical difference in resolution does not  necessarily translate into a difference in print quality: a 13 x 20 print  represents 24 million points at 300 ppi and the 6 million of points of a 2000×3000 scan should theoretically be overwhelmed, but practically the resolution of the film and of the lens play their part, as the technical limitations of the photographer (focus, shake) do. Large prints are often framed and hung on a wall, and you don’t look at a picture on a wall the same way you look at a 8 x 10 print you hold in your hand. And all technical considerations taken apart, with some subjects, images scanned at 2000×3000 may look as good as images taken at 4492×6770 – it depends on the contrast and quantity of fine details in the subject.

Scanning at 2000×3000 is a good compromise for 35mm film, and my choice when I have film processed. It works fine with any support I use day to day (iDevice, laptop, 8 x 11 prints), is not too expensive and generally produces a visible difference with the 1000×1500 scans.

If I wanted to print a really great picture, an image compelling from an artistic point of view and almost perfect technically (fine grain film, sharp lens, subject in focus, no shake), I would have it scanned at the 4492 x6776 resolution, and saved as TIFF. It would give me no guarantee that the print would be great (there are so many variables), but it would give me the best chances of success.


Scan_4492x6770_Paris-22

Paris – Scan 4492 x 6770 – Shot from the Pont Neuf -Minolta 7xi – Angenieux zoom 28-70 F/2.6 – Fuji Reala (July 1992)

April 5, 2017

Canon A-1 or Fujica AX-5?

Filed under: Canon cameras, Fujica Cameras, Gear — Tags: , , , — xtalfu @ 7:03 pm

cameras-2-19

Launched in 1978, the  A-1 – the top of Canon’s  A line of cameras, (also composed of the AE-1, AE-1 Program, AV-1, AT-1 and AL-1), was the first single lens reflex camera to offer  three auto exposure modes (Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Program) in addition to the semi-auto mode. The A-1 accepts all Canon FD lenses and (stopped down) can also work with older FL  lenses. A feature loaded and intimidating camera with a very “muscular” design,  it was in fact well thought and easy to use. It sold in the millions.

The AX-5 was the top of Fujica’s new line of bayonet mount 35mm film cameras, launched in 1979 to replace the ST605, ST705 and AZ-1 screw mount cameras. Coming one year after the Canon A-1, the AX-5 offers almost the same feature set, but in a smaller and much more restrained package.

cameragx--5898

Fujica AX-5 (with Tamron 28mm f/2.5 lens).

The AX-5 accepted all Fujica’s newly launched “X-Fujinon” bayonet lenses but could only access the Shutter Priority and Program auto exposure modes when paired with  X-Fujinon “DM” lenses (which have the “A” position on the aperture ring). Lesser camera models (the AX-3 and the STX-1) were usually bundled with “FM” lenses, deprived of the “A” setting.

Back then: how did the two cameras compare?

  • cost and availability
    • the  “A” line of SLRs from Canon was a best seller (probably more than 10 million units were sold), the A-1 representing approximately 1/4th of the total volume. The cameras were widely distributed and competition between retailers played its role: the prices were very similar from one store to the other one, and moderate when compared to the AX-5.
    • Fuji’s retailer network was narrower than  Canon’s, and the AX-5 was the least successful model of Fujica’s “X” line. Retailers did not seem particularly interested in stocking or promoting it, and as a result it was significantly more expensive than the Canon A-1.

Canon A-1 vs Fujica AX-5 – the Canon is bulky and looks “professional”. The Fujica’s design is a bit toned down.

  •  size, weight, features and ergonomics
    • The AX-5 was available with a black or a silver finish, and is smaller and lighter than the A-1. It looks almost “feminine” next to the black-only and larger A-1, with its removable hand grip and its multitude of switches and levers.
    • The feature set of the two cameras is largely identical, with the Fujica only missing access to low shutter speeds (slowest is 2 sec, as opposed to 30 sec for A-1)
    • But the Fujica has far fewer switches and buttons and seems simpler to use. The implementation of the Fujica’s shutter speed and auto mode selection is inspired by the Canon’s, but marginally different:
      • in both cameras, the shutter speed knob has been replaced with a control wheel and the selected shutter speed is shown on a disk, visible through a small window on the top plate.
      • With the A-1, the aperture ring of the lens has to be set on the “A” position to operate in any of the automatic exposure modes (Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Program). There is a toggle switch on the front plate of the camera to chose between the Aperture Priority or the Shutter Priority and Program modes. When the photographer switches to Aperture Priority, the desired aperture is selected by rotating the control wheel, and displayed through the same small window on the top plate.
      • To operate in Aperture Priority mode with the AX-5, one has to set the aperture ring of the lens on the desired value, and select the Auto Exposure position with the control wheel. To operate with Shutter Priority or Program modes, one has to set the lens on the  “A” position, select the shutter speed (Shutter Priority) or a full Auto Exposure mode (understand Program) with the control wheel. .
    • On the AX-5, there are two positions on the control wheel for the Auto Exposure command: AE – the camera adjusts the exposure until to the last second, and AEL (auto-exposure lock): the camera will keep the exposure setting determined by the photographer as long as the shutter release button stays half pressed. Very convenient. The Canon A-1 has an exposure lock button on the left of the lens mount to the same effect.
    • The commands of the AX-5 don’t feel as solid as the Canon’s (and the Fujica’s control wheel is too small and protected by a tiny push button lock – not  pleasant to use).

a battle scared Canon A-1 in program mode (lens aperture ring on “A”, mode selector on “Tv”, control wheel on “P”

  • Viewfinder
    • Canon: numeric LEDs – easy to read even in the dark
    • Fujica – strange barrel distortion when wearing glasses – noticeable but not really penalizing when shooting pictures. speed and aperture scales and LEDs intertwined on the left of viewfinder – legible but a bit confusing at the beginning.
viewfinder

Canon A-1 – viewfinder (source MIR)

Fujica viewfinder (source: the Fujica brochure – 1979)

  • Shutter and metering system
    • horizontal cloth – comparable – 1/1000 sec synchro at 1/60e. A-1 goes to 30sec, Fujica up to 2sec only.
  • Lens selection:
    • Canon – uses Canon FD lenses (or FL stopped down). Canon’s catalog of FD lenses was very wide and had something for all types of photographers – from amateurs looking for zooms, up to pros looking for the lens that will make “the” picture that will differentiate them from their competitors. Naturally, compatible lenses of all levels of quality were also available.
    • Fujica X – Fuji’s catalog of lenses included 20 different models, primarily primes lenses from 17mm to 400 mm, and three zooms. The AX-5 could also use screw mount “universal” lenses with an adapter; most of the big vendors of third party lenses (Tamron, Makinon, Soligor, TOU, Komine…) manufactured lenses for the “X” mount, but if the scarcity of lenses today is any indication, anything other than the standard 50mm and the 135mm tele-objective sold in extremely low volumes.
cameragx--5900

Fujica AX-5 – here in Program mode (AE set on the aperture ring of the lens, AE set on the shutter speed control wheel). Note the little shiny button on the left of the control wheel. It has to be pressed to leave the automatic modes.)

Now

  • reliability
    • Canon: built more solidly than the rest of the “A” series, – not only on the outside, but also inside (people who have opened both can testify that the A-1 contains more metallic components than its lesser brothers). The textile shutter may require some TLC (the cameras are almost 40 years old now)
    • Fujica : reliability was questionable back then, with an electro-mecanic shutter release that did not age well at all  (capacitor issues after a few years). Today, unless you’re only looking for a paper weight, only buy a camera tested by the seller, with fresh batteries. The batteries are of a very common type, and “not having a battery to test” is not a valid excuse.
  •  scarcity
    • Canon A-1 – relatively easy to find – they were produced in huge numbers and have been reliable – there are still plenty of them waiting for you.
    • Fujica AX-5 – difficult to find in good condition, in particular in the US. More abundant in Germany and central Europe, sometimes under a retailer’s label such as Porst (the AX-5 is the same camera as Porst’s CR-7). Because the market is so small,  prices for models tested and in working order can go up to  $150.
  • battery
    • Both cameras use the same 6v battery- still widely available today in alkaline, silver oxide and lithium variants. Silver Oxide is probably the best compromise.
    • None of the cameras works without a battery – no shutter release, no film advance – lots of people must have believed that their camera was broken when it was just asking for a new battery.
  • Lens selection
    • Canon: Abundant offer of great lenses at reasonable prices (Canon FD). Equally abundant offer of third party lenses, including in very exclusive brands like Angenieux.
    • Fujica: The AX-5 was launched in parallel to a new line of lenses, and none were really successful on the marketplace. Today, it is difficult to find anything which is not a 50mm or a 135mm lens. When you can find them, original Fujica X-Fujinon lenses with the renown EBC coating are expensive. Wide angle lenses or fast zooms are even more scarce and reach Leica R or Contax price levels.

Conclusion:

  • For an active film  photographer, it’s a no brainer – Canon A-1 cameras are abundant, lenses are easy to find and relatively cheap, and the A-1 is not inferior to the AX-5 in any significant way. The A-1 is the most satisfying pick in Canon’s “A” line, and the best choice in today’s comparison.
  • Fuji is a respected brand in the photography business (their medium format cameras and their current digital offerings have a cult like following). But Fuji’s aura does not extend to the Fujica AX cameras, who have lived an obscure life. For the collector of anything Fuji, the AX-5 is an interesting challenge: finding one that works is not super easy, and buying lenses is outright difficult. For an active photographer, the Fujica AX-5 has good sides: the camera is perfectly usable, it is light and compact, and presents simple and logical commands – but it does not feel as solid as the A-1, and looks more like a souped-up mid level SLR than a true enthusiast or pro camera. And in any case, because of the scarcity of X-Fujinon lenses,  – the real good ones have even become an object of speculation – none of the Fujica “X” cameras can be considered a reasonable choice for an active film photographer.

The Canon A-1 has a serious fan club, photographers who consider it the best film camera ever built. A few examples:

http://lewiscollard.com/cameras/canon-a-1/

https://www.casualphotophile.com/2015/04/20/canon-a-1-camera-review/


Rooftop terrace – Atlanta skyline – Fujica AX-5 – Tamrom 28mm f/2.5 – Kodak Ektar

March 23, 2017

The most expensive manual focus SLRs of the 1980 generation

Film cameras are interesting objects. They appeal to collectors who will desire them for their historical importance, their pleasant esthetics, and for their scarcity, and to active photographers, who make their purchase decisions based on the feature set, the availability of good lenses, and the quality of the user experience.

The least desirable cameras (and therefore the cheapest) are characterized  by an abundant supply of working but unremarkable bodies with a meager selection of lenses, the most desirable by a limited availability of cameras in working order, combined with an interested set of features,  a pleasant user experience, and a broad selection of good lenses: in other words, cameras of great systems (Canon, Contax, Nikon, Leica, Olympus, for instance) that are scarce because they sold in small numbers, and/or because they did not age gracefully, with few of them surviving in working condition.

Let’s focus on the 4 Japanese brands I know best.

Canon

Manual focus Canon cameras were mass produced (Canon was the constant best seller except for a few years when Minolta took the lead), and generally reliable. Because the autofocus EOS product line is totally incompatible with the older manual focus cameras, users of autofocus Canon film cameras (and of modern digital EOS models) were not tempted to carry an old manual focus SLR in addition to their modern autofocus camera, and the offer of second hand manual focus cameras from Canon has always seemed to exceed demand. As a result, prices have tended to be low.

    • There is one glaring exception, the F-1, with nice copies proposed above $400.00 (Canon also produced limited editions to commemorate events like its  50th anniversary that command prices above $1,000). Another interesting Canon camera is the T90.

Canon T90 – LCD and control wheel – Source: Wikipedia

  • T90: the poster child of a second hand camera which checks all the marks, but is penalized by its lack of reliability:
    • On the plus side, it’s  very interesting from a historical point of view : it was designed with the input of Luigi Colani’ studio, and its ergonomics study is a precursor of the Canon EOS cameras and of almost all camera currently sold
    • Its sales volume was relatively limited  (for a Canon camera): it was an expensive high end camera, only sold for 2 years, when Canon had no autofocus camera to propose and was getting a beating from Minolta and Nikon on the marketplace.
    • The T90 was part of a very broad camera system, very popular with professional photographers. There is large supply of very good lenses, for cheap. Historical interest, relatively low sales volume, broad system – it should command high prices.
    • But on the other hand, the T90 did not age well: some of the components deteriorate if the camera is not used frequently, others have a limited lifespan, and Canon stopped servicing those cameras a long time ago – in fact, a lot of them display an “EEE” error and simply don’t work.
    • Therefore, there is not a strong demand for the T90. It commands prices starting in the $150.00 range for a tested model, which is less than what is asked for an  A-1 or even a AE-1 Program.

Fujica (the AX bayonet mount line) 

Fuji’s screw mount cameras sold in respectable numbers in the 1970s, and aged relatively well.  They were replaced in 1979 by a new generation of bayonet mount cameras  that did not sell very well and had reliability issues. A Fujica SLR such as the STX or the AX-3  in working condition is not as easy to find as a Canon AE-1 or a Nikon FE, for instance, but at the same time it does not qualify as exceptionally difficult to locate. The truth is that those cameras don’t seem to be interesting collectors (lack of aura) or active photographers (lack of lenses). Except maybe for the AX-5.

  • AX-5 – it was the full featured top of line, and was proposed at prices higher than the Canon A-1 it was supposed to compete with.
    • On the Plus side, it’s really a scarce camera. At any given time, no more than two or three are offered for sale on eBay, worldwide
    • On the Minus side, it’s not a very “interesting” camera: it’s a me-too product largely inspired by Canon’s A-1, with a toned down and more “feminine” design
    • the whole Fujica “X” product line has a reputation for being fragile (electronics)
    • there is very limited supply of lenses (good or bad), and the ones you can find are seriously expensive.
    • the market of second hand AX-5 cameras is too small – and there is not enough sales volume to establish a price of reference: I’ve seen working copies proposed above $150.00 but actual sale prices seem much lower.

Nikon

Nikon FA detail of the shutter speed knob and PSAM selector

Multi-Mode Automatic models tend to scare the active film photographers – they tend to prefer simpler models (here, the Nikon FA – which does not sell for more than the simpler FM2).

Very few Nikon cameras qualify as “scarce”. Nikon cameras generally sold in high volumes (within their class of products)  and are extremely reliable – a lot of them survived. Some of the cameras designed for professional photographers (the F3, the FM2) had production runs of almost 20 years. You will have to look for specific variants of a mainstream model such as the F3p or the F3AF to reach the level of scarcity that commands high prices (above the $1,000 bar). That being said, Nikon cameras of that vintage are very pleasant to use (they ooze build quality), they benefit from a huge supply of lenses and accessories (Nikon have been using the same bayonet mount since 1959, and the current flash system is downwards compatible down to the FE2 of 1983), and they take great pictures. They have a great usage value, but a limited collector’s appeal. A few exceptions:

  • F3: a regular F3 camera is becoming expensive – $200.00 to $400.00 for a nice one. The  F3P (a derivative for Press Photographers) sells in the $400.00 to $500.00 range, and the AF models of 1983 (with their dedicated viewfinder and lenses) can easily reach $1,200.00.
  • FM2 – the workhorse (or the perfect backup camera) of generations of Nikon photographers. Usable models are available below $200.00, while models popular with collectors (the FM2/T with a titanium body) start at approximately $500.00 to reach up to $1,500.
  • The FM3A was only produced for a few years, in small quantities. It’s a recent product with a high usage value (it’s an automatic which can also operate without a battery at any shutter speed) and it commands prices between $300.00 and $600.00.

Olympus

The Olympus OM-4 exposure controls – Source Wikipedia

In the 80s, Olympus had a line of low end “two digit cameras” (OM-10, OM-20, OM-30, OMG..) for amateurs and a line of single digit cameras (OM-2s, OM-4) for the discerning enthusiasts. The two digit cameras are extremely abundant, but unremarkable. The OM-2s and OM-4 are relatively easy to find, but are plagued by lousy battery management issues that limit their attractivity. At the end of their production life, the “single digit” cameras were upgraded to become “T” or Ti” models, which solved the electronics issues of their predecessors, and switched their brass top-plates for Titanium ones. Those T and Ti cameras are highly attractive for the active photographer (small size, unique light metering capabilities, broad system of lenses and accessories) and for the collector – they’re beautiful and are in limited supply. The OM-3Ti – the semi-automatic version- was produced in very limited quantities (6,000 units according to zone-10.com) and was selling at the same price as a Leica M6. The OM-4t and Ti had a long production run, but they were launched in the middle of the autofocus craze, when the large majority of the enthusiasts were busy converting their equipment to Minolta Maxxums, Canon EOS or Nikon N8008.

  • OM-3ti – proposed for any price between $1,200 and $4,000.
  • OM-4ti – proposed for any price between $250.00 and $800.00

Except for commemorative models (they often never leave the box they were shipped in), Leica SLRs models of all generations typically sell in the $200.00 to $800.00 range (the R4 are the cheapest, the R6.2 the most expensive). Contax models benefit from the aura of the Zeiss lenses, and sell in the same range as the Leicas.


Jules – French Bouledogue – Nikon F3 – Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 AI lens – Fujicolor 400

 

 

 

March 15, 2017

The Fujica X cameras – the bayonet mount SLRs (1979-1987)

Filed under: Fujica Cameras, Gear — Tags: , , , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 12:00 am

Fujica AX-5 (left) and AX-3 (right). The bodies were identical – the AX-5 just had more auto-exposure modes.

Fuji Photo  was a late entrant in the single lens reflex market – they launched their first SLR,  the ST701,  in 1970. It was followed by a line of innovative high end models (ST 801, ST901), and by good entry level cameras (ST601, ST605, …). But those cameras were still using the old M42 “universal” screw mount that almost everybody else had abandoned.

In 1979 Fuji had to bite the bullet and finally launched a new line cameras with a new proprietary bayonet (the “X” mount),  and a series of new X-Fujinon lenses (not to be confused with Fujifilm’s current XF mount, which is designed for digital cropped sensor cameras, is completely different and totally incompatible).

Fujica AX-3 – the bayonet mount.

The “X” cameras had to face a tough competition (Canon’s AE-1 and its derivatives in particular), and were not helped by a reputation of poor reliability.

  • The STX, STX-1 and STX-1n cameras were just an update of the venerable ST601 with the new bayonet mount and silver-oxide batteries. They were entry level semi-auto cameras, with a spec’d down shutter (1/2 sec to 1/700 sec). Being based on proven components and on a simple mechanical design, they were probably the most reliable of the new line of  “X” cameras.

The AX-1, AX-3, AX-5 were well thought and compact  cameras, but they were plagued by reliability issues (the electro-magnetic shutter release was a particular weak point, followed by the  electronic components in general). The three models shared the same body, and while the AX-1 was a bit stripped down, the AX-3 and the AX-5 were full featured cameras, and looked virtually identical.

  • The AX-1 is a simplified Aperture Priority automatic exposure camera, a successor of the Fujica AZ-1 and comparable to the Canon AV-1 I recently tested (there is no semi-auto exposure mode and the photographer cannot impose a specific shutter speed).
  • The AX-3 is designed for the “enthusiast”: in addition to the Aperture Priority mode, it also operates in semi-auto mode, has a depth of field preview lever and supports older M42 screw mount lenses with the help of an adapter.
  • The AX-5, designed to compete with the Canon A-1, it adds a shutter priority and a program mode to the feature list of the AX-3.

In the important West-German market, local constraints obliged Fuji to team with a chain of photo stores – Photo-Porst, and the cameras were relabeled and sold as the Porst CR-1 (the STX), CR-3 (AX-1), CR-5 (AX-3) and CR-7 (AX-5).

Fujica AX-5 – here in Program mode (AE set on the aperture ring of the lens, AE set on the shutter speed control wheel)

In 1983, the Fujica cameras were rebranded as “Fuji”, and the product line simplified with only the STX-2 (a limited refresh of the STX-1n  with a black body and 1/1000s shutter) and the AX-Multi, an evolution of the AX-1 offering only three program modes (normal, optimized for fast moving subjects, optimized for small aperture)  and no other way to control the exposure parameters.

Minolta launched the Maxxum 7000 in 1985, and made medium level manual focus cameras like the AX series immediately obsolete. Fuji finally pulled the plug on its SLR line of products in 1987.

Unless you’re an avid collector of anything Fuji, there are few reasons to look for Fuji’s X cameras:

  • Fujica AX cameras may seem abundant on eBay or on the web sites of charities like Goodwill, but few of them are actually in working order.
  • when new, those cameras were generally purchased by people who did not feel the need for other lenses than the standard 50mm lens that came with the camera. As a result, lenses other than the 50mm are hard to find and yes, surprisingly expensive.
  • The best lenses were without a doubt the copies labeled “X-Fujinon EBC DM” – as they benefit from the EBC multicoating treatment – which had a very good reputation when it comes to reducing flare and increasing contrast, and from the “DM”  version of the X lens mount (supporting all auto-exposure modes).
  • But Fuji was eager to multiply the price points, and also sold non multi-coated lenses as well as one version of the 50mm standard lens (the F/1.9 FM) which did not support  Shutter Priority or Program auto-exposure modes. Fuji also included in their official line-up lenses made by third parties such as Komine, under the X-Fujinar and X-Kominar labels.
  • Their German distributor Photo-Porst relabeled a few of the Fujinon EBC DM lenses (sold as the “Porst UMC X-M” lenses), but not all Porst lenses were made by Fuji: Porst also relabeled lenses from miscellaneous third party manufacturers: they were sold as the Porst GMC X-M).
Fujica AX-3 - the bayonet is designed to support stopped down metering with 42mm screw mount lenses (the lever on the right controls the diaphragm of a Fujinon bayonet lens, the lever on the left controls the stop down mechanism of 42mm screw mount lenses (if mounted with the Fujica 42mm to X adapter).

Fujica AX-3 – the bayonet is designed to support stopped down metering with 42mm screw mount lenses (the lever on the right controls the diaphragm of a X-Fujinon bayonet lens, the lever on the left controls the stop down mechanism of 42mm screw mount lenses (if mounted with the Fujica 42mm to X adapter).

Fujica’s m42 screw mount lenses can be mounted on the Fujica X cameras with an adapter (they have to be used at stopped down aperture), and Fujica’s “X-Fujinon” lenses can be mounted on modern Fujifilm “X” cameras such as the XT-1 or the XT-2 via an adapter (Kiwi and Fotodiox have one, I’ve not tested them yet).


Buying a Fujica X camera today

Fujica AX-5 (left) and AX-3 (right). Unless you absolutely need Shutter Priority or Program auto modes, the AX-3 is the best pick.

The AX-3 appears to be the most widely distributed of the Fujica AX line, and is relatively easy to find on eBay, very often in the $30.00 to $70.00 range (for a fully tested camera). The STX and AX-1 are marginally cheaper – while the top of the line AX-5 is really hard to find, and can be proposed for prices in excess of $150.

Considering the well known issues of the AX cameras with the electronics and the electro-magnetic shutter release, it is advisable to buy only cameras that the seller has tested with a battery.

Except for the 50mm f/1.9 FM standard lens  which is fairly common, X-Fujinon lenses, in particular the multi-coated EBC models, tend to be rare and very expensive ($200 to $600). Lenses from third party manufacturers such as CPC, TOU, D-Star, Hanimex and Porst’s GMC lenses are far cheaper (in the $25 to $50 price range) and easier to find. An interesting option is to use Tamron Adaptall 2 lenses – the Adaptall mount for Fujica X film cameras is still available (sometimes it’s New Old Stock), and Tamron lenses are generally easy to find at prices much more reasonable than original Fujinon lenses.

More about the AX-3 and the AX-5 in a few weeks…


Fuji Photo Film, Fujica, Fujifim, Fujitsu…a bit of history

  • Fuji started its life in 1934 as “Fuji Photo Film”
  • Interestingly, it renamed itself “Fujifilm” recently – although photographic film only represents 3% of Fujifilm’s business today.
  • It’s a diversified group involved in document management, imaging and cosmetics.
  • Fujica: Fuji Cameras were sold as “Fujica” until the mid eighties. After 1985 their film cameras were sold under the name “Fuji”, and now  their digital cameras are branded “Fujifilm” – go figure.
  • Fujitsu is a totally different company and has nothing to do with Fuji or Fujifilm (and so is the company manufacturing Fuji  bicycles)

Mable House – the Kitchen of the plantation (Mableton, GA) – Fujica AX-5 – 50mm f/1.9 lens. Fujicolor film.

March 5, 2017

Having film processed and scanned in 2017

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

You’re shooting film. Assuming you don’t have access to a dark room for film processing, and don’t want to invest time and money in your own scanning equipment, you will have to rely on photo processors to develop and scan your film. Most labs propose the choice between 2 or 3 scan qualities. What should you order?

Our perception of the “minimum acceptable quality” has changed over time:

  • In the old pre-smartphone days (12 years ago), the conventional wisdom was that an image was displayed on a monitor at 72 dpi, and that most amateurs seldom printed anything larger than 5 x 7. A 1500 x 2100 scan was good enough.
  • we now visualize and share most of our images on high pixel density screens (the “Retina displays” of Apple’s products, but also the 4k or 5k screens of recent monitors and TV sets, for instance) which have 3 to 4 times the pixel density of the displays and monitors we used 10 years ago.
  • far fewer of our images are printed (I don’t know anybody who still asks systematically for 4×6 prints) – we only print the best of our pictures, and when we do it, we tend to print LARGE  (coffee table books, 11 x 14 posters). A 2400 x 3600 scan constitutes the new normal.

Resolution of the scan of 24×36 film needed for a print or to fill a screen:

In theory, it’s pure math. Photoshop will prepare images for printing at 300 or 600 dots per inch (DPI). If you want to fill a 10×8 page at 300 dpi, you’ll need an image dimension of W=300 x 8 and L= 300 x 10 that is 2400 x 3000.

Photo processors generally offer scans in three levels of resolution:

  • low res image: 1200 x 1800 – good for 6×4 prints at 300 dpi at best, a standard laptop screen at 100 ppi, or an iPhone with Retina screen (at 366 points per inch). An image size significantly below 1200 x 1800 will only be good for proofs or vignettes.
  • medium  resolution image : (2048 x 3072 ) : good for 7 x 10 prints or a Macbook Retina or iPad Pro display at 250 points per inch.
  • high resolution image: ( 4492 x 6777): 15 x 22 print or a large 5 k monitor (24in or more).

Let’s compare two images taken in the Atlanta High Museum of Art with the same type of film and the same camera, and scanned at different resolutions:

Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France. Original Scan: 3088 x 2048 (Costco)

Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France. Original Scan: 3088 x 2048 (Costco)

BMW Gina Concept (2008) - Original Scan 1544 x 1024 (the Darkroom)

BMW Gina Concept (2008) – Dream Cars Exhibit. Atlanta (Kodak CN400) – Original Scan 1544 x 1024 (the Darkroom)

The lower resolution picture is visibly less detailed (look at the hardwood floor, look at the grain in the shadows). A resolution of 1024 x 1544 is very limited, even for a WordPress blog.

However, the image size alone is not enough to determine the quality of a scanning service.

First, an image with  1200 x 1800 pixels has not always been scanned with a scanner resolution of 1270 Dots per Inch (36mm = 1.42in; 1800 pixels for 1.42 in = 1270 dpi) – it could have been scanned at a lower resolution and enhanced with interpolation.

Secondly, even with the same scanning equipment and the same resolution, images can be massively different, depending on the settings of the scanner and the skill of the operator: as an example, let’s use two pictures taken on the same type of color film and processed and scanned by two different Wolf Camera in-store labs in Atlanta:

Rialto Bridge, Venice. Original scan: 1800 x 1215 (Wolf Minilab)

Rialto Bridge, Venice. Original scan: 1800 x 1215 (Wolf Camera In Store Lab, 2012)

The second picture looks much more grainy than the first one, even if the JPG files delivered by the minilab contain the same number of pixels in both cases.

Canon A1 - 35-105 zoom - Fujicolor film

Atlanta – Piedmont Park – Original scan: 1818 x 1228 (Wolf Camera In Store Lab, Dec. 2016)

I had noticed the same phenomenon with Costco a few years ago – in the same store, you could get very different results from one day to another one, depending on the experience and skills of the operator on duty that day.

The labs, the services, and the cost

Almost nobody operates in-store minilabs anymore. Pharmacy chains or large retailers that used to process film in-store are now contracting the work to a few centralized labs.  They target the amateurs using disposable cameras and 35mm color film.

The enthusiast photographer crowd will be better served by a few large mail to order processing labs such as The Dark Room, The Old School Photo Lab , or North Coast Photo Services (NCPS).  They offer a wider range of services and also process color slide and “true” black and white film (such as Kodak’s Tri-X Pan or Ilford’s HP5), in many formats.

I’ve been using The DarkRoom and the Old School Photo Lab a few times. Their prices are roughly in the same ballpark. They develop and scan a 135 film cartridge for $11.00 (the base price includes postage, and The Dark Room provides low resolution scans for free). Medium and High resolution scans are available at extra cost ($4 to $5 extra for 2048 x 3084 scans, $ 9 for  4492 x 6774 scans). The scans are posted on a Web Gallery (no need to wait for a CD to come back through the Postal Service) and can be downloaded to a PC or a Mac as jPEGs (TIFFs are available at extra cost). A free app is also made available to visualize the images on a smartphone.

The differentiator between those services is what happens to the film after it’s been processed:

  • Pharmacy chains and big retailers typically DON’T return the processed film to the customer (one can assume it is destroyed after scanning). They generally simply return a CD.
  • Services like The Darkroom or Old School Photo Lab return the processed negatives, with or without a CD, but may charge extra fees to cover the shipping cost (The Darkroom) or the cost of the CD itself (Old School).

Other vendors package their offer differently but the prices are roughly in the same ballpark.

A general issue with all those services is the lead time. You seldom get your scans on line in less than 10 calendar days (135 film, negative color film). Speciality items (slide film, black and white, medium format) may take a few days longer.  But we don’t have much choice anymore, do we?

As a conclusion, if your pictures are important to you,  learn to know your lab

  •  if they publish a mission statement, read it,
  • if they describe their process and how their staff is trained, pay attention.
  • and before you send a large order, test them with a single roll of film – you don’t want to discover after it’s too late that they scanned your negatives at the lowest resolution before destroying them.

 


London: The O2

London: The O2 – Nikon F3 – Nikkor 24mm F:2.8 AF –

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