CamerAgX

January 22, 2017

How much did SLR cameras cost in 1985?

1985 is an interesting year, a turning point for the market of single lens reflex cameras: Minolta launched the first technically and commercially  successful auto-focus SLR, the Maxxum 7000. In a few years, manual focus SLRs would be relegated to the status of entry level models manufactured by subcontractors such as Cosina. Brands like Olympus or Contax would fail to impose their autofocus cameras on the marketplace and would become largely irrelevant, while vendors like Fuji would not even try to launch an autofocus line of bodies and lenses, and would leave the market altogether.

Old issues of Popular Photography have been scanned and indexed by Google, editorial content and ads. I compiled the table below from Adorama’s and Cambridge Photo’s ads.

Price of Cameras - 1985

Price of Cameras – 1985

A few interesting points….

Minolta Maxxum 7000 - source Wikipedia

Minolta Maxxum 7000 – source Wikipedia

  • the models most popular with enthusiasts  (Canon AE-1P and Minolta X-700) were in the $150 price range (body only).
  • Beginners could buy “a learner’s cameras” – with semi-auto-exposure – or a spec’d down aperture priority automatic cameras for less than $100.00.
  • Very few models were competing in the $300 price bracket: serious or wealthy enthusiasts and pros could buy the Nikon FA, splurge on an OM-4, or spend even more on modular cameras with interchangeable viewfinders  (like the Nikon F3, the Canon F1 or the Pentax LX).

The Minolta Maxxum 7000, priced at $300 (when you could find it), completely changed the equilibrium of the market. Targeted at the enthusiast photographer crowd (there was a more expensive Maxxum 9000 for the aspiring pros), it moved the average price of a camera a few notches upwards.

In a few years, the major vendors had converted their product line to autofocus, and relegated what was left of their manual focus SLR lines to the status of  low margin items targeted at impecunious customers. Minolta and Pentax moved the production line of their  manual focus SLRs to China, while Canon, Nikon and Olympus  commissioned companies  like Cosina to design and manufacture entry level manual focus cameras for them (Canon T60, Nikon FM10 and Olympus OM-2000 respectively).

On a side note, the Maxxum product line was so successful that Minolta leapfrogged Canon to become the #1 vendor on the market. It took Canon a few years (and the EOS series) to take their crown back.


Charleston, SC - Shot in 2009 - Nikon FM - Kodak CN400

Charleston, SC – Shot in 2009 – Nikon FM – Kodak CN400

January 21, 2017

The AV-1: probably Canon’s cheapest entry in the Canon FD lens family

Filed under: Canon cameras, Gear — Tags: , — xtalfu @ 1:51 am

The AV-1 is a variant of the A series developed as an entry level model to compete with the myriad of spec’d down SLRs of lesser brands (Chinon, Cosina, Ricoh, Vivitar and the private label cameras sold by Sears and the like). It was primarily designed for the US market. It’s an aperture priority auto-exposure camera, which is stripped of any ability to control the exposure manually or in semi-automatic mode, or to pre-visualize the depth of field. But it will accept most of the accessories of its bigger A series brothers (winder, flash, …), and of course Canon’s FD lenses.

Canon AV-1 with a Canon 35-105 zoom.

Canon AV-1 with a Canon 35-105 zoom.

Canon AV-1 - the photographer can not select the shutter speed. (no semi-auto mode)

Canon AV-1 – the photographer can not select the shutter speed. (no semi-auto mode)

The shutter speed selected by the camera is indicated by a needle in the viewfinder, and a button on the left side of the camera can be used to adjust the exposure if the subject is backlit. A trained photographer will feel deprived of control on the camera, but in simple situations, it’s good enough.

Most AV-1s I’ve seen have a broken battery door. The one I found is not different. But it does not prevent the camera from operating, and delivering good pictures in the standard situations that an amateur would face.

Because it’s an automatic-only camera, the AV-1 is not a very sought after item, and it can be found for next to nothing – I bought mine as part of a bundle of 4 cameras, for the princely sum of $8.95.

Canon AV-1 - the button on the top plate is the battery check. The button on the side of the reflex chamber is for exposure compensation

Canon AV-1 – the button on the top plate is the battery check. The button on the side of the reflex chamber is for exposure compensation

Canon AV-1 - The battery door is broken, but it does not prevent the camera from working.

Canon AV-1 – The lock on the battery door is broken, but it does not prevent the camera from working.

Canon FD Lenses

The Canon FD lenses are abundant and, because they could not be mounted on modern Canon autofocus bodies, they remained cheap.   With the advent of full frame mirrorless system cameras (the Sony A7 family), it became easy to use an FD lens on a modern camera, and the most sought after lenses (mostly the “AL” or “L” fast prime tele objective lenses) are now selling for prices in excess of $1,000. Zoom lenses are not as highly valued, the most expensive ones selling for $500 to $700.

Canon FD Zoom 35-105 f/3.5 (3 rings)

Canon FD Zoom 35-105 f/3.5 (3 rings).

Zoom lenses (even those with a very good reputation when new like the three ring 35-105 F/3.5 I’m using for this blog post) are somehow disappointing today, even when mounted on a old film cameras: they’re large and heavy,  sensitive to flare, and three rings (zoom, focus, aperture) is a lot to play with for photographers used to working with modern autofocus bodies. That being said, this particular zoom is a very beautiful piece of glass.

It was Canon’s  first  35-105 lens. It is a true (or parfocal ) zoom which stays in focus when magnification/focal length is changed, with a constant F/3.5 aperture. The front element of the lens is rather large, and the zoom requires 72mm filters.

It was replaced a few years later by a much more compact lens,  with a sliding aperture (f/3.5-4.5), an aspherical element and a 58mm filter ring. Canon derived an autofocus version of that lens, and it’s the precursor of the consumer grade trans-standard zooms still sold with digital SLRs today.

I  bought my copy of the lens from a Japanese store on eBay. Their description of the articles is sometimes difficult to understand (poor translation in English), but in my experience, Japanese resellers tend to have very nice items at a very reasonable price.

Japanese resellers generally ship with Chronopost. This global service is extremely efficient and works seamlessly with the US Postal Service:  you typically get your purchase delivered to your door step by the USPS in 3 to 4 days.


Deer - Atlanta - Canon AV-1 - 35-105 Zoom.

Deer – Atlanta – Canon AV-1 – 35-105 Zoom.


January 15, 2017

The Canon A-1: there’s no better film camera for Canon’s FD lenses

Filed under: Canon cameras, Gear — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 12:00 am

In 1976, Canon launched the AE-1, an automatic camera with  shutter speed priority automatic exposure. It was a very capable, judiciously priced camera which sold in excess of 1 million units. It was driven by a microprocessor, and Canon took advantage of the flexibility of its architecture to derive rapidly more models – the AT-1 (semi auto) in 1977, the AV-1 (aperture priority automatic in 1978), the AE-1 Program in 1981, and the AL-1 (a camera with an electronic focus assist system) in 1982. The A-1, launched in 1978, was the top of the “A” line, and was the first system camera to combine 3 types of exposure automation modes – shutter priority, aperture priority and program, in the same body.

Canon A-1. Still impressive after all these years.

Canon A-1. Still impressive after all these years.

Until the launch of the A-1 (and of Minolta’s XD-7 at about the same time), an auto-exposure camera only operated in one mode. Minolta, Nikon and Pentax were in the  “Aperture Priority” camp  (the photographer selects the aperture, the camera sets the shutter speed automatically), while Canon and Konica were defending “shutter priority” (the photographer selects the shutter speed, and the camera sets the aperture automatically). Each camera manufacturer was presenting the solution it had picked as the best, but the truth is that a photographer could have benefited from Aperture Priority one day (if he was shooting landscapes, for instance) and from Shutter Priority another day (when he was shooting sports events, for instance). With the A-1, Canon not only offered Aperture and Shutter Priority modes (which required the user to pick the most appropriate mode and set the aperture or the speed accordingly), but also a program mode, where the camera automatically selected the Aperture and Shutter speed combination, without any intervention from the photographer.

Canon A-1 - battery check, exposure memorization, depth of field preview - buttons, switches and cursors

Canon A-1 – battery check, exposure memorization, depth of field preview – buttons, switches and cursors

Today, most of the “A” series cameras of Canon are still abundant and cheap – they were manufactured in huge quantities, and they have withstood the test of time much better than most of their less reliable competitors. With the exception of the A-1 which has a stronger personality, the cameras of the “A” generation are rather unremarkable. They’re not big  (but not as small as the Olympus OM cameras), their build quality is good, but not exceptional (compared to a Nikon FM or FE of the same vintage, they feel plasticky), the view finder is large and luminous enough – but … not exceptional (you guessed it right). They need a battery to work, but the battery is an easy to find a 6v alcaline or silver oxyde battery. They’re easy to use, and in the hands of a moderately competent photographer, will produce good pictures.

The A-1 is a bit different. It was designed as Canon’s top of the line, and it was intimidating when it was launched (there had never been so many buttons and switches and cursors on a camera). But the controls were very logically implemented and the learning curve must have been short. Canon’s implementation of the controls for the three automatic exposure modes was very clever and was a decisive step towards the modern ergonomics (control wheel and LCD) of the Canon T90 and its EOS successors.

In order to operate in auto-exposure mode, first set the lens’ aperture ring  to “A”. Then move the mode switch to “Av” (Aperture priority) and select the aperture with the control wheel, or set the mode switch to “Tv” (Shutter priority), and use the control wheel to select the shutter speed (from 30 sec to 1/1000 sec.). The Program Mode is accessible from the “Tv” position – there is no dedicated position of the mode switch for the Program Mode.

Canon’s implementation of the multi-mode auto exposure is more user friendly that Nikon’s. When they launched the FA (5 years after the A-1), Nikon kept the conventional shutter speed knob next to the mode selector. In the picture above, the camera is set in Aperture Priority Mode (the photographer selects the aperture and the camera picks the shutter speed, that could be anything from a few seconds to 1/4000 second), but the shutter speed knob still shows 1/250, which can be  misleading.

Today, the A-1 is still a very good tool. It offers all sorts of controls (exposure memorization, depth of field preview, multiple exposure of the same frame) and its only limitation is its shutter. Film is now significantly faster than in 1978 (200 or 400 ISO is the new normal), and a shutter with a fastest speed of  1/1000 can be a limitation.

The “T” models that followed were ugly plastic bricks controlled by push buttons – with the exception of the T90 which is a beautiful precursor of the EOS models, but suffers from reliability issues (a condenser has to be changed every 10 years).

In my opinion, the A-1 is the last great camera using FD lenses that can still be used today. It is not a beautiful piece of classical photographic machinery like a Canon F-1, but it’s a solid and very capable tool, that a photographer trained on modern “control wheel” SLRs will learn how to use easily.

Canon A-1. The control wheel is used to change the lens aperture or the shutter speed in auto mode

Canon A-1. The control wheel is used to change the lens aperture or the shutter speed in auto mode

Canon A-1. The mode switch is in the

Canon A-1. The mode switch is in the “Av” position – the photographer can only pick the aperture and that’s what’s displayed on the mode dial.

Canon A-1 - Shutter Priority Mode and Program Mode. The photographer can not pick the aperture, so the aperture dial is hidden and only the shutter speed values are shown.

Canon A-1 – Shutter Priority Mode and Program Mode. The photographer can not pick the aperture, so the aperture dial is hidden and only the shutter speed values are shown.

Nikon FA detail of the shutter speed knob and PSAM selector

On the Nikon FA, the value displayed on the shutter speed will not necessarily be used to take the picture. The camera is set in “A” (aperture priority) mode and the shutter speed will be determined by the electronics of the camera.


What were the competitors doing when Canon was launching the AE-1 and the A-1?

The Nikon cameras of 1978 were conventional semi auto and aperture-priority auto exposure cameras.

  • Nikon was selling three models, the F2, FM and FE, with AI lenses.
  • The AI bayonet mount could not have supported Shutter Priority and Program modes. A new variant of the Nikon F mount, the AI-S,  was  launched in parallel with the FG and FA, the multi-auto cameras of 1983.

In 1978, Pentax was selling the ME/MX cameras with the K mount (not capable of supporting Shutter Priority and Program modes).

  • The bayonet mount was revised in 1983 to become the  KA for the launch of the Pentax Super A.
  • The Super-A was Pentax’s only manual focus reflex camera supporting the same 3 auto-exposure modes as the Canon A-1.

In 1978 Minolta was selling the XD-7 and its derivatives (dual auto, but no Program mode) in addition to a line of Aperture Priority cameras.

  • Minolta’s MD lenses  (launched in 1977) benefited from an updated version of the SR mount and could support cameras with Shutter Priority auto-exposure in addition to the Aperture Priority mode that the MC lenses already supported
  • The first Minolta SLR to offer also a Program Mode was the X-700 in 1981.
  • Interestingly none of those newer generation “X” models offered the 3 auto-exposure modes of the A-1: the shutter priority mode was missing.

With its 3 auto-exposure modes, the Canon A-1 was definitely unique among the system cameras of the Big 4.

Midtown Atlanta from Piedmont Park - Canon A-1 - 35-105 Zoom -

Midtown Atlanta from Piedmont Park – Canon A-1 – 35-105 Zoom – My father in law is the original owner of the camera. Nice gift. Thank you.

January 12, 2017

A more serious comparison – iPhone 7 Plus vs dSLR

Filed under: Gear, Smart Phones, Sony Cameras — Tags: , , , , , — xtalfu @ 12:23 pm

For three years now, Arstechnica has been comparing images of a same scene taken with a high-end smartphone, and with two good full frame dSLRs. By the way, one of the two cameras they tested was Sony’s A7 II, which is a full frame mirrorless camera, not a dSLR, but we’ll ignore this detail . They just published the latest iteration of their tests:

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2016/12/mini-shootout-can-iphone-7s-bag-of-tricks-compete-with-a-real-dslr/

Just a quote: “phones long ago left “good enough” territory; images produced by a modern smartphone like the iPhone 7 Plus or Google Pixel can be flat-out excellent when the images are constructed to play to the smartphones’ strengths.” (Lee Hutchinson)

No wonder the camera maker are now preparing Full Frame or Medium Format digital cameras with 50 MegaPixel sensors. Trying to maximize the advantages of a conventional camera for the situations when the smartphone is not good enough.


Chicago - iPhone 5S

Chicago – iPhone 5S

January 5, 2017

Fuji X-T1 vs Apple iPhone 7 Plus – should we still carry a conventional digital camera with us?

Filed under: Fujifilm Cameras, Smart Phones — Tags: , , — xtalfu @ 10:11 pm

A few weeks ago, I was visiting the Taos (NM) area with friends. One of them – a pretty good photographer – had decided to travel light and had left his full frame DSLR at home. He only had brought his smartphone, a brand new Apple 7 Plus. I had brought my Fujifilm X-T1 with the standard 18-55mm f/2.8-4 lens. Along the day, we took pictures of the same scenes (natural and urban landscape for the most part), and at the end of the day, we compared our photos. Let’s use two pictures taken from the Rio Grange Gorge Bridge, on Route 64, a few miles from Taos, NM, as an example:

Rio Grande from Taos - iPhone 7 Plus

Rio Grande from Taos – iPhone 7 Plus. Photographer: L.C.

Rio Grande from Taos Bridge - Fujifilm X-T1

Rio Grande from Taos Bridge – Fujifilm X-T1

To our surprise, the pictures were virtually indistinguishable when displayed on a smartphone, an iPad Pro or a laptop screen. We did not expect the resolution to be differentiator (at 12 Megapixel, an iPhone 7 has more than enough resolution for pictures shared on social networks). The biggest surprise was the dynamic range of the iPhone 7 Plus, which appears to be better than the Fuji’s on a very difficult subject (black rocks, snow, sun reflections on the river).

At the top of that, the iPhone can publish photos in seconds after they’ve been shot (on iCloud or on the major social networks). The Fujifilm is relatively good at this exercise – for a conventional camera. But you still need to bring up WiFi on the camera (it becomes a WiFi access point), launch the Fujifilm app on a smartphone, connect the smartphone to the camera, and upload the selected pictures to the Photo application of the smartphone. Only then you can edit and share your pictures. Definitely not as fast.

Our goal was not to conduct an exhaustive scientific comparison – we were tourists and just shot landscapes under daylight. There are areas where a dedicated digital camera probably still has a marked advantage: action or wildlife photography, low light or night shots, for instance. And a dedicated camera has a viewfinder, and gives to the photographer a much greater ability to control the technical parameters than the Photo app of a smartphone. But the iPhone, now with a second short telephoto lens and a portrait mode simulating the shallow depth of field you would get with a 55mm f/1.2 lens on a dedicated digital camera, is getting closer to what a dedicated camera can do with every new generation.

October 17, 2016

Old lenses on new gear – manual focus lenses on mirrorless cameras

One of the most remarkable changes brought by the advent of mirrorless camera systems (micro 4/3rds, Fujifilm X and to an even larger extent Sony E and FE) is the ability to mount and effectively use almost any old lens designed originally for a 35mm camera system.

With SLR and dSLR camera systems, it was pointless to try and mount lenses designed for another system, and very often, lenses from a

Two mount adapters: Canon FD to Fuji X, and Nikon F to Fuji X. Those Fotasy adapters are not fancy but they're cheap and they do the job.

Two mount adapters: Canon FD to Fuji X, and Nikon F to Fuji X. Those Fotasy adapters are not fancy but they’re cheap and they do the job.

previous generation of the same camera system:

  • SLRs and dSLRs have optical viewfinders – the photographer needs all the light he/she can get for focusing and composing the picture, and the cameras are therefore designed to work at full aperture with aperture pre-selection – which used to require rods and springs and cams, and since the Canon EOS mount opened the way, now requires electronics. There is no simple way to emulate the pre-selection mechanism of one SLR system  with a lens designed for another one.
  • There are also physical limitations:
    • The adaptor designed as the interface between a lens of System A and a camera body of System B is more or less a cylinder with the female part of the mount of System A at one end, and the male part of System B at the other end. Such an adapter would necessarily have a depth of 5 to 15mm, which adds to the flange distance. Unfortunately, all cameras derived from 35mm SLR systems have a very similar flange distance (from 42mm for the Canon FL/FD mount up to 46.5mm for the Nikon F), and there is not enough room for an adapter (the adapted lens would sit too far from the camera’s film plane, and would not focus to infinite).

Mirrorless camera systems don’t have such limitations:

Canon FD to Fuji X (left) and Nikon F to Fuji X (right).

Canon FD to Fuji X (left) and Nikon F to Fuji X (right). The Nikon mount range distance is a bit higher than the FD’s. Therefore the adapter is thicker.

  • They have electronic viewfinders – and offer a clear and bright view of the subject even stopped down at f/16. If fact, most of the mirrorless cameras operate at stopped down aperture even with their native lenses.
  • The flange distance of mirrorless systems is much shorter (17 to 20mm for the most common systems), which leaves plenty of room (almost 30mm ) for the adaptor if you want to mount a lens designed for a SLR or DSLR system.
  • Thanks to their electronic viewfinders, mirrorless systems have multiple ways to assist the operator trying to focus manually (magnifier, zebra, focus peaking).

The use of CAD and CNC is now widespread and it’s easy and cheap to manufacture mechanical mount adapters: users of each of the big mirrorless camera systems have access to adapters for :

  • Most pre-AF era mounts for 35mm systems: (39mm and 42mm, Canon FL/FD, Konica, Nikon F, Minolta MD, Olympus OM, Leica M and R, Topcon, …)
  • Stranger or more exotic mounts (C mount, Holga, medium format cameras)
Canon FD to Fuji X adapter, and Canon FL 55mm

Fuji film X-T1, Canon FD to Fuji X adapter (Fotasy), and Canon FL 55mm. The X-T1 is a pleasure to use even with old lenses.

Even if it’s physically possible, mounting recent AF/all electronics lenses is generally pointless – not only you can’t set the aperture for lack of an aperture ring, but you can’t focus the lens because modern lenses are devoid of any mechanical connection between the focusing ring and the focusing mechanism of the lens. Unless a third party vendor develops an adapter which embarks the complex software required to translate the communication protocols of a lens of Brand A into something the body of Brand B will understand.

As far as I know, it has only been attempted with some level of success between a few lenses with a Canon or Sigma mount and a few Sony bodies (the A7R II or the A6300).

Therefore, the best candidates are lenses from the manual focus era (up to 1985), and the Nikon and Pentax autofocus lenses designed before Year 2000 – they all still have aperture rings.

Even if it is possible, mounting an old manual focus lens on a mirrorless body is not necessarily the best thing to do:

  • in spite of all the focus assistance mechanisms, it’s much slower to get the focus with an adapted vintage lens than with the native autofocus lens – adapted lenses are not a good fit for mobile subjects, unless you adopt old school focusing techniques (pre-focus, wait for subject to be at right distance, and shoot)
  • Older lenses were designed for 35mm film cameras, and are unnecessarily large and heavy when mounted on M4/3rd and APS-C cameras
  • Lots of older lenses were not that good in their heyday, and become really bad if mounted on a camera with a high resolution sensor. It’s true in particular for zooms and to a lesser extent for wide angle lenses.

As a conclusion, why mount old lens on a modern mirrorless body?

  • Because you can (of course)

    Leica Summicron C (40mm f/2) mounted on Sony NEX 3 with Metabones adapter. It worked pretty well.

    Leica Summicron C (40mm f/2) mounted on a Sony NEX 3 with Metabones adapter. The Nex 3 was surprisingly easy to use with a manual lens. The Metabones adapter is really stiff, and it’s one step above the Fotasy in terms of quality. Not sure it’s worth the price, though.

  • If you already have the lens… Considering adapters sell for $20.00, it’s tempting to buy one to use your old lenses, as a stop gap until you buy a modern equivalent in the mirrorless system, or even permanently
    • All macro lenses are a very good fit because macro photography does not require to focus fast, and old macro lenses are still up to the task, when compared to their modern equivalents
  • If you want to experience really exceptional glass
    • Canon FD Aspherical or “L” lenses (50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2) for instance, or some of the gems that Leica, Minolta, Nikon, Pentax and others have produced in the past…
  • If the modern equivalent does not exist…
    • a 55mm f/1.2 lens – it doesn’t exist for the Sony E/FE mount
    • a teleobjective with Defocus Control – only Nikon has them
    • a tilt and shift lens (only Canon and Nikon have them)
  • or exists but is crazy expensive
    • can an amateur afford the new Sony 85 f/1.4 FE GM?

As a result, old lenses of good reputation hold their value extremely well. Some of the  Canon and Nikon lenses I mentioned above sell for more than $700.00 on eBay.

Jules - Fujifilm X-T1 - Canon FL 55mm f/1.2

Jules – Fujifilm X-T1 – Canon FL 55mm f/1.2



 

October 5, 2016

And what about film?

Filed under: Gear — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 11:11 pm

Film as a mass market phenomenon is dead. And will never come back.
Sales of film have stabilized to a level representing between 1 and 2% of the volumes reached at this peak, in the first years of the 21st century.

  • sales of color print film are very low (maybe 0.5% of what they were in Y2000)
    • color print film was a product used primarily by consumers on the mass market
    • those consumers have defected to digital cameras or smartphones and social networking apps

      Demand for photographic film - 1992 -2010

      Demand for photographic film – 1992 -2011

    • mini labs/drugstore labs are all closing. The only option for color film users who don’t dare process and scan film themselves are a few mail to order labs but the whole process is slow and it’s getting increasingly expensive.
    • the low sales have generated double death spiral – low volumes translate into higher prices and into a reduced product choice for the customers, which further reduces the sales volumes.
    • Fujifilm have said publicly that they believed that at some point the infrastructure supporting film (manufacturing plants, labs) would disappear – their estimate is that it will happen in the next 20 to 25 years.
  • B&W film sales are holding much better
    • It was not a mass market before the digital revolution – it was and still is targeting enthusiast photographers with some form of artistic ambition.
    • Minilabs/drugstores generally refused to touch true Black and White film (films like the Kodak Tri-X or the Ilford HP-5), and their disappearance has no impact on the fanatics of B&W film.
    • Compared to color film, B&W film is relatively low tech – easier to produce by small outfits, and  far less intimidating to process.
BMW Concept Car "Gina" - Dream Cars Exhibit. Atlanta (Kodak CN400)

BMW Concept Car “Gina” – Dream Cars Exhibit. Atlanta (Kodak CN400)

Interestingly, B&W film is still attracting younger users, who had never tried film before: 30% of film shooters are younger than 35, according to a survey from Ilford, and  60% of those younger users have started shooting film less than 10 years ago, when a relative or a friend gave them an old film camera. What is more, 49% of the respondents to Ilford’s survey develop and print their images in a darkroom. (source: http://www.ilfordphoto.com)

  • Instant film is experiencing a rebirth. There are many motivations to shoot with instant film cameras – (a good summary by The Wirecutter)  but you can add a few to the list: convenience (you can get your color prints without the hassle of sending a 35mm film roll at the other end of the country),  and authenticity (the picture will remain as it was when it was ejected from the camera, no crop, no HDR, no filter, no artificial bokeh – the unadulterated reality).
Sales of film cameras - 1965 to 2008

Sales of film cameras – 1965 to 2008

A new life for old gear

Nowadays, almost nobody manufactures film cameras anymore.

Leica probably still makes a few hundreds of film cameras every year, Nikon still has an inventory of new F6 cameras available (and they say they can restart the production lines if needed), and  Lomo will be happy to sell you their plastic toy-cameras at a good price – for them. But in the grand scheme of things, the quantities must be negligible because the industry official body stopped counting in 2008.

The film camera market is a used equipment market, where enthusiast photographers rule. The prices on the second hand market are determined by a combination of 3 factors:

  • Scarcity
  • Usability by enthusiast photographers
  • Repairability and expected life span

Scarcity: mass market SLR bodies from the film era were produced by the millions. For each model, there are still tens of thousands in good shape, many more than potential takers,

Usability: Enthusiast photographers tend to prefer cameras that will give them plenty of control – semi-automatic exposure and manual focus cameras rule (if they wanted auto-exposure/autofocus cameras, they would also want the convenience of digital). And semi-auto/manual focus cameras that belong technically to families of products that have successfully transitioned into the digital era have a big advantage: the ability to share lenses, flash cobras and other accessories between film and digital bodies. It makes the bag of the photographer lighter, it reduces the overall spend, and it’s the main reason I bought Nikon film cameras after I had bought into the Nikon digital line of products.

Repairability, expected life span and build integrity: cameras made of aluminum and brass, easy to repair and built to withstand the use by professional photographers will fare better than cameras equipped with fragile electronics mother boards and flimsy plastic components.

Basically, an Olympus OM-10 (mass market, orphan system, automatic with plastics construction and electronics of suspect reliability) will be worth $25.00 at best. At the other end of the scale, a Leica M6 or a few Nikon professional models (F3, FM2, FM-3A, F6) will still command prices in the hundreds if not thousands of $.

Jules-French Bouledogue-Fujifilm X-T1 - Canon FL 55mm f1/2

Jules-French Bouledogue-Fujifilm X-T1 – Canon FL 55mm f1/2


October 2, 2016

Fujifilm and the instant film bonanza


The Photokina took place in Cologne a few weeks ago. To a large extent, it was a Fujikina. Fujifilm announced a brand new medium format digital system, and presented a black and white version of their Instax Mini film. And they pre-announced a square (6cm by 6cm) version of their Instax Color film. And special editions (Michael Kors, Colette, ..) of their Instax instant film cameras. At the same time, Leica was showing a Leica branded Fujifilm camera (the Leica Sofort), a clone of the Fuji Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic, with Leica branded black and white and color instant film.

Instax Mini Film - Holga 120 CFN camera with Holga 120 -IB back

Instax Mini Film – Holga 120 CFN camera with Holga 120 -IB back.


Fujifilm has been in the instant film business for a very long time – with their own technology and through cross licensing agreements with Polaroid. Until April 2016 Fuji was still producing peel apart film compatible with Polaroid pack film cameras and backs, years after Polaroid themselves had ceased to manufacture instant film. As a sidebar, the conventional Polaroid film was called peel-apart film, because the photographer had to wait for the image to be processed, and then had to peel a sort of negative apart from the developed picture on paper. A more modern implementation of instant photography is the “integral” film, in which  the picture itself contains all the chemicals needed for an automatic development of the photo.


Fujifilm’s integral film success story started at the end of the nineties, when they introduced the Instax Mini, a new small size instant film system in Japan (the Instax Mini image size is approx 6 x 4.5cm, and as a consequence the size of the cameras can be kept reasonably small). The system was adopted with enthusiasm by  pre-teen and teen age Japanese girls, and Fuji has been very intelligently building on this initial success to convert foreign and older customers (first in Asia, and more recently in the West). In addition to the Instax Mini film, Fujifilm also introduced Instax Wide films and cameras. The Instax Wide image is larger than the Mini’s (twice the size at 10cm x 6cm), but the cameras are anything but pocket friendly.


The growth has been phenomenal (3.8 Million cameras sold in 2014, 5 million in 2015, and on target to 6 million in 2016).

sales_Instax_other

Sales of Fujifilm Instax cameras – 1998 to 2014. The sales volume in 2014 is 3.87 million. Source: Fuji film

 
Those volumes are far from being negligible if compared to the 40 million digital cameras  sold in 2015.


More important still for Fujifilm’s bottom line, instant film photography is a repeat business:  each camera consumes film, and a pack of Instax Mini film which costs approximately US$ 10.00  is only good for… 10 pictures.


On the instant film market, Fuji has only one competitor: The Impossible Project, aka TIP. TIP took over a Polaroid plant in the Netherlands when Polaroid left the film business, and started manufacturing their own integral films (they don’t have the original Polaroid recipes, their films are their own creations). I had tested their first black and white integral film just after they started their business a few years ago – and I had not been impressed. They have improved their products massively in terms of predictability and usability, and they’ve extended their product line to include color films and to support more models of Polaroid cameras; I’ve seen really beautiful pictures made with their current line of films. However, compared to Fujifilm, they remain a small scale operations with expensive products and a very limited distribution network. As opposed to Fujifilm, The Impossible Project can only propose one model  to people who want to buy a new camera. Their customers still  primarily use very capable but old SX70 and 600 Polaroid cameras – which are still abundant on the used market, but don’t have a reputation for aging gracefully.

holga2

Holga 120 with 120-IB Instax back.


Lomography (the promoters of Lo-Fi photography and makers of the Lomo, Holga, Diana and Belair cameras) have developed two lines of instant film cameras,  one for the Instax Mini film, one for the Instax Wide, as well as add-on backs for the Holga, the Diana and the Belair.  They offer more control to the photographer but they don’t have the reputation of being user friendly or to offer consistent results. More about it below.


Lastly, a cottage industry has been busy refurbishing old Polaroid cameras (for use with The Impossible Project’s film or with Instax), and converting old medium format cameras – in particular the Mamiya Press – to Instax film. For all sorts of reasons, Fujifilm recently stopped producing the conventional peel and apart instant film that many lovers of high quality instant photography were using. Since Fujifilm’s  own Instax Wide cameras are rather basic, the best option for serious photographers is to convert old medium format cameras to accept Fuji’s integral film. At the moment, it’s a very limited market – the  cameras capable of taking advantage of the size of the Instax Wide film are necessarily very large,  heavy, and difficult to use, and the conversion is as expensive as the camera itself. But the release of the Instax Square film in 2017 will open the door for the conversion to integral film of smaller 6×6 and 6×7 cameras. If the Instax Square cartridge is designed like the Instax Mini, cameras with a deep interchangeable back will be the easiest to convert. It’s time to buy a good medium format SLR system before the prices go up.

holga_1

Holga with 120-IB Instax back (with add-on viewfinder and Neutral density filter)

Jules (French Bouledogue). Holga camera with defective shutter.

Jules (French Bouledogue). Holga camera with defective shutter.


A few weeks ago, I wanted to have a feel for the Instant film phenomenon, and I mounted an Instax Mini back (the Holga 120-IB) on the Holga 120 CFN  I had brough with me to Rome a few years back. I bought the kit from a on-line store in Hong-Kong. It is composed of the back itself, a corrective lens  to place at the front of the Holga’s lens, and an additional viewfinder. It’s very simple – there is no battery as the picture is processed and extracted when the photographer turns a crank hidden under the bottom of the back.


My first test was not devoid of issues: either the back was poorly assembled, or I did not insert the pack of film properly, but I could not extract the pictures from the camera with the crank as I was supposed to: after each shot, I had to go to a dark room, open the camera and extract the picture manually. I finally solved the problem, probably by brute force, and the back worked flawlessly with the subsequent packs of film. Then with  the second pack of film, the shutter of the Holga decided to misbehave. I had to disassemble  it and lube it. The third pack of film gave better results, but almost all of the pictures were over or under exposed:  the exposure latitude of the Instax film is rather narrow, and nailing the right exposure is very difficult: don’t believe the specs sheet, the Holga only has one aperture (there is a sunny day/ cloudy day selector, but the aperture is F/13 in both cases) and the shutter is inconsistent and unreliable. Not the best recipe for success. Overall, it’s a frustrating experience as you feel you are wasting a good film in a poor camera.

But as always with an Holga, some of the pictures – while technically flawed – have an almost surrealistic quality.

Fuji bicycle - Instax Mini film - Holga camera with Instax back (AFAIK Fujifim is not in the bicycle business. It's a coincidence)

Fuji bicycle – Instax Mini film – Holga camera with Instax back (AFAIK Fujifim is not in the bicycle business. It’s a coincidence)

More about Fujifilm’s instant photography adventures:


Fujifim and Instant Photography (camera-wiki.org)


September 11, 2016

The rise of the smartphone, and the fall of grace of digital cameras

Filed under: Gear — xtalfu @ 11:43 pm


When I started this blog, my focus was “old-gear”, and by “old gear”, I meant film cameras. I would not have imagined that 7 years later,  digital cameras would have started joining the ranks of the old gear.


At the turn of the century, at the peak of the photographic film era, approximately 85 billion photos were taken every year. In 2012, we took 380 billion pictures. And since the growth is not slowing down, the total is probably well over 400 billion now. Basically,  10% of the photos ever taken since the invention of photography were taken last year.


Obviously, this massive growth was made possible by the switch from film to digital technologies. Hundreds of millions of photographers bought digital cameras ( 120 million cameras sold in 2010 alone). But the engine of growth is now the smartphone. Smartphones are ubiquitous, easy to use and supremely convenient. They are produced by the billion (1.5 billion last year) and the user base passed the 2 billion mark 2 or 3 years ago.

Pictures taken

Pictures taken by type of device in % (Source: Infotrends)


Photography is with messaging (and probably in combination with messaging) the most popular use of the smartphone. 92 % of the users of smartphones take pictures with them, and 80% send or upload the photos from the phone. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. As a means of sharing pictures, our smartphones are also much more convenient than digital cameras. And with 12 MP (megapixel) sensors, image stabilization, good image processing algorithms, large screens and great apps to edit the photos, they produce better pictures than most of the point and shoot cameras that were still selling by the millions a few years ago.


If 10 years ago, photos were printed on photographic or ink-jet paper, now they stay on the phone – the new pocket-size photo album – or they’re uploaded to hundreds of social networks. 350 million photos are uploaded on Facebook every day, 58 million on Instagram.


As a result, the market for cheap point and shoot cameras has almost disappeared, and the big cameras manufacturers are desperately trying to drive the market towards a range of increasingly expensive “expert” cameras with always larger sensors, as far as possible from the competition of the smartphone industry.


This trend is visible not only on the few remaining models of point and shoot cameras, but also for mirrorless and DSLR cameras, with the push towards “full frame” and now medium format sensors.


But higher unit prices can only do so much in a shrinking market – the digital camera production fell from a peak of 120 million units in 2010 to 40 million units last year. The camera makers are feeling the pinch, and the more fragile and the less committed – such as Samsung – have started leaving the sector altogether. We’re at the beginning of a new phase of consolidation in the industry.


Will digital cameras become collectible?


If 5 or 10 years from now, smartphones have kept on making rapid progress in image quality, almost all the pictures will be taken with phones or tablets, and “cameras” will only be used by enthusiasts. People will start looking at digital cameras with nostalgia. And the most original of them – the most different from smartphones in terms of ergonomics and output, will start gaining value. Maybe.

 

Sales of digital cameras - 1999-2015

Sales of digital cameras – 1999-2015

But digital cameras are different from film cameras: their value is to a large extent driven by the quality of the images they produce, and in that regard, a 10 year old digital camera can not compete.

In the film days, images taken with a 30 year old camera were indistinguishable from images taken with a brand new one, provided you used the same film and the same lens on the two bodies. The ease of use and the depth of the automation were better on the more recent camera, which  produced good pictures with  a higher rate of success in the hands of average photographers. But really good images were not different.


In the digital world, image quality is ultimately function of the sensor and of the image processing engine. And a 10 year old digital camera – even a top of line professional model from one of the big manufacturers can not keep up with a brand new entry level DSLR in terms of low light sensibility and image resolution.


In the silver halide days, film performance was the key factor. In the digital days, it’s the electronics in the camera’s  body, and 10 year bodies are simply obsolete. 


Interestingly, lenses are holding their value much better. And the advent of mirrorless cameras has sparked a renewed interest for all sorts of  lenses, even from older generations or from orphan systems. More about this in a coming post.


Gas Station - Rome, Georgia - Sony A6000 and Nikkor 135mm

Gas Station – Rome, Georgia – Sony A6000 and Nikkor AI 135mm f/3.5 – Metabones lens mount adapter.

5 Years later

Filed under: Fujifilm Cameras, Gear, Intro, Sony Cameras — xtalfu @ 11:06 pm

I started this blog in 2009. And wrote most of the entries between September 2009 and Sept 2010.

Between 2012 and 2015, I did not do much in terms of photography. I did not use my film cameras anymore – too cumbersome – forgot about my DSLR – too large, too heavy. I bought a Nikon V1 mirrorless camera – and got rid of it rapidly, very disappointed by the image quality. In fact, I spent the last four years taking pictures with my iPhone.

At the end of last year, while travelling for business, the desire to take better pictures than what an iPhone could do came back. I bought a $200.00 point and shoot Sony camera, and was so impressed by its technical abilities that I … returned it immediately to buy a second-hand Sony mirrorless camera – a rather scruffy NEX 6 with the tiny 16-50mm Power Zoom. I liked the NEX 6 so much that I decided to invest seriously in the Sony system. The week after I bought it, I returned the NEX to the vendor, and upgraded to a clean and shiny A6000 with a Sony-Zeiss prime lens. In the process, I sold my old Nikon DSLR and a few Nikon F mount lenses.

Old lens - new life

Atlanta- Centennial Park – Shot in June 2016 with a Sony A6000 and a Nikon 24mm f/2.8 AF (non D) lens

Unfortunately, I could never adjust to the ergonomics and idiosyncrasies of the A6000 (it’s made by engineers specialized in electronics under the guidance of marketing people, not by photographers). The sensor is really great, but I did not like the APS-C Sony zooms – too much distortion with the cheap ones, fear of quality control issues with the expensive ones. I did not like the cost of their prime lenses (the real good ones are very expensive), and had doubts about the commitment of Sony to its APS-C line of products – it’s all about the A7 and its full frame sensor nowadays. Looking for something totally different, I bought a Fujifilm X100. I liked it. A camera designed by photographers for photographers. Comforted by the experience, I decided to bite the bullet, and sold all my Sony equipment to pay for a second hand X-T1 and its 18-55 zoom. I positively love my Fujifilm cameras, and I should keep them for a long time.

With my passion for photography re-ignited, I’m re-activating this blog.

In the first entries, I’ll focus on what changed in the world of photography in the last 5 years – the rise of the smartphone, the disappearance of color film as a mass consumption product, and the parallel rebirth of true black and white and instant film à la Polaroid. Then I will go back to what constitutes the core of this blog – giving old gear a new life.


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