October 4, 2010

Smart phones and photography – a follow up

Filed under: Gear, Smart Phones, Weird cameras — Tags: — xtalfu @ 4:50 pm

A few weeks ago, I was commenting that the market segment of low end digital cameras (let’s say anything not equipped with a zoom) was in danger of extinction, being superseded by smart phones.

Camera of the Nokia N8

The lens of the Nokia N8 - it bears the glorious Tessar name and as a true Tessar lens incorporates 4 elements, all aspherical this time. The Xenon flash is positioned above the lens.

Nokia’s previous high end models were already fitted with a “Carl Zeiss lens” and a 12 Mpixel sensor. A review of the new Nokia N8 by cnet shows that smart phone photography has reached a new level. With its 4 elements lens (all aspherical) and a Xenon flash, the Nokia N8 is in a class of its own, somewhere between the other smart phones and good point and shoot cameras. And Zeiss was obviously very proud of its contribution at the latest Photokina.

According to DPreview, Panasonic has started a teaser campaign to prepare the launch of “Lumixphones“, with a Lumix digital camera built in. Of particular interest is the fact that the camera section will include a mobile version of the “Venus” image processing engine. I suppose it is relatively easy to order and integrate a tiny image sensor and a small lens in a phone, but good digital images are created by good processing algorithms much more than by good lenses. The image processing section is the real differentiator and that’s where Panasonic may shine. When will we see smart phones with Canon Digic 4 or Nikon Expeed 2 image processors?

At the same time, Motorola and T-Mobile started releasing information about the DEFY, a rugged smart phone using the Android operating system. Scratch and water resistant, it boasts a 5 Mpixel camera with autofocus capabilities. It is not suitable for underwater photography, but another model may be in a few months.

The iPhone 4, with a 5 Mpixel sensor coupled with an autofocus lens (focal length: 3.5mm, equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm film camera), gives surprisingly good results on close-ups and when shooting relatively well lit interiors. It is also very good at taking pictures of big objects like cars and trucks. It is more difficult to get good results when shooting people – it is not as good as a regular camera at finding the right color balance; getting decent action shots is even harder. As for landscapes and low light situations (the “flash” is a joke), it’s bordering the impossible. Dedicated and talented iPhone users like Xeni Jardin can take incredible action shots with an iPhone 4, though, so the limit is obviously the photographer.

The focus of this site is film photography, and I will keep on shooting film and writing about film cameras. But using a film camera (or a regular digital camera) is not always a practical proposition, and sometimes a smart phone’s camera can save your day.

The Pool Table - Graceland (Memphis, TN)

The Pool Table - Graceland (Memphis, TN). Shot with an iPhone 4 - HDR activated

Hood ornament - Chevrolet - 1954

Hood ornament on a Chevrolet Police Car from 1954 - Shot in Tunica, MS with an iPhone 4 - HDR activated.

September 28, 2010

Browsing CamerAgX from the iPhone

Filed under: How to — Tags: , , , — xtalfu @ 12:58 am
Cameragx blog page

Cameragx blog page

No. I did not write an iPhone app.

I’m just suggesting that you take advantage of a great function of WordPress, the blog engine behind this site.

The “appearance” of a WordPress blog is controlled by “themes“. WordPress developed a “theme” for small form factor devices like the iPhone, and automatically translates blog entries designed for full size devices into pages adapted to a small screen. Just launch the iPhone browser (Safari) and enter in the address bar. The most recent posts of this blog will be displayed. If you want to see one page in particular, select it with a touch of a finger, and you will get it. Cool!

Now even better.

Let’s say you’re a fanatic supporter of CamerAgX. You can ask the iPhone OS to create a new icon, which will link directly to the CamerAgX web site. Press the + sign at the bottom of the browser screen, and select the “Add to Home Screen” option. A new icon will magically show up on the Home Screen.

By default, the stylized W of WordPress will be displayed – as is the case for (shown in the third screen shot)

If the administrator of the blog created a logo for his/her site and uploaded it on the WordPress server, the Home Screen’s icon will be the site’s logo, as is the case for CamerAgX on the third screen capture.

Tools anyone?

Interestingly, no weird tool or utility was needed to create this blog entry. The screen copies published in this blog entry were captured directly on a regular (non jailbroken) iPhone, using a function of the iOS: to capture a screen copy, you just have to press the Home button, then press briefly the on/off switch at the top of the phone. The screen copy will be saved as a PNG file, and will be presented in the Photo Roll of the Photo application. From there it can be emailed to a PC, or transferred through iTunes.

WordPress also publishes an iPhone app for blog administrators, who will compose new entries, moderate comments and perform edits from their iPhone or iPad, but it is not necessary to download it to visit a WordPress blog (a similar application has also been published by WordPress for Android phones).

One last thing…The CamerAgx logo is a close-up of the top plate of a nice camera. If you’re a regular visitor of this site, you will have recognized it.

Cameragx iphone page

a Cameragx blog entry rendered on an iPhone

Wordpress home screens

The home screen of the iPhone - how WordPress sites are represented

Cameragx icon

The icon of CamerAgX in WordPress


More about WordPress at

More about the iPhone at

There are thousands of books about the iPhone, and probably hundreds of thousands of blogs about the same subject. “iPhone 4 Portable Genius” from Paul McFedries is a good book, and I check The iPhone Blog regularly for updates about the iPhone and the iPad.

September 19, 2010

Gone fishing?

Hilton Head (SC) - Labor Day Week-End

On the beach - Labor Day Week-End. Hilton Head, SC - Olympus OM-2 - 28mm f:3.5 - Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 ISO

Well, not really. I’m working on the next series of blog entries: evaluations of the different options for having film processed and scanned, now that the minilabs around the corner don’t “do” film anymore. I didn’t reach a definite conclusion yet, but I already know one thing for sure. It’s not going to be cheap. It will for sure change the way I use film.

As long as processing and scanning were relatively inexpensive, I tended to take some risks – testing old cameras of unknown quality and bracketing a lot. Expensive lab services will bring me back to a more prudent approach – using better equipment, and paying more attention to my images while I’m shooting.

I started testing my latest acquisition, a very nice Olympus OM-2n, on a quick trip to Hilton-Head (South Carolina) a few weeks ago. But I have very few pictures to show at the moment, because of issues with the quality of pictures coming back from the labs I’m trying to evaluate.

The Photokina is about to open in Cologne. The most interesting innovations are coming from Sony and Fujifilm. Sony’s SLT-A55 still looks like an SLR, it still uses the Sony-Minolta-Konica A-mount lenses, but its conventional reflex mirror has been replaced with a semi transparent film. Reflex cameras with a semi transparent mirror are no news: Nikon and Canon have used this type of design on multiple occasions, when they wanted to propose high speed cameras (up to 13 images per second for the Nikon F3 High Speed) while getting rid of the finder black-out during exposure. But the motives are different this time. It’s about adjusting the focus when shooting videos.

Sony SLT-A55 Pellicle Mirror

Sony SLT-A55 Pellicle Mirror

There are currently two ways to control the focus on a digital autofocus camera. The simpler and cheaper way is to measure the contrast of the image directly on the sensor. The contrast of an image is supposed to be at its maximum when the image is in focus. So the camera moves the focusing elements of the lens forward and backwards until it finds the focusing distance which maximizes the contrast. This method is used primarily on Point and Shoot cameras, because the focusing process tends to be frustratingly slow and unacceptable for action photography.

Autofocus SLRs have been using another method, named Phase Detection. Specialized components (semi transparent mirrors, micro-lenses and dedicated sensors positioned under the reflex mirror) calculate the optimal focusing distance and then “ask” the lens to position its focusing elements for that distance. Focusing is much faster and less prone to errors, but it requires more hardware and – in the conventional SLR design – it can only operate before the photographer presses the shutter release and the mirror has started moving out of the light path – which makes it unsuitable for video.

Here comes Sony. The semi transparent mirror of the SLT-A55 camera is only used to direct enough light to the Phase Detection autofocus system, because there is no conventional optical viewfinder anymore. It is replaced with a good (by current standards) electronic viewfinder, fed directly by the camera’s main image sensor. Of course, the semi transparent mirror is taking 33% of the light from the main imaging sensor, but it’s an acceptable drawback in the current state of technology.

There is an even better way to solve the problem tough. A few weeks ago, Fuji presented a new point and shoot camera, the FinePix F300EXR, whose Hybrid Autofocus system operates most of the time in Phase Detection Mode, with the option to roll back to Contrast Detection in low light situations.

dpreview wrote a very well documented subject about Fujifilm’s Hybrid AF. To make a long story short, some of the photodiodes of the FinePix’s imaging sensor serve double duty: they contribute to the production of the overall image, but they also feed a Phase Detection focus determination algorithm. It may still need some work (read this review from AKIHABARAnews), but on paper it’s a simple and elegant solution. Not surprisingly, Sony has a patent for an equivalent technology, and Panasonic is rumored to be working on another variant of the same idea.

10 years after the introduction of the first mass produced dSLRs by Canon and Nikon, digital photography has reached maturity. For the first ten years, manufacturers focused their attention on the sensors and on the processing algorithms, and retained the architecture of the AF SLRs from the mid eighties, which was itself derived from designs of the thirties. Now that the basic problems have been solved and that the consumers are happy with the equipment they own, manufacturers have to explore completely different routes if they want keep their production lines busy. Interesting times ahead.

Fujifilm Phase Detection AF (Hybrid AF)

Fujifilm Phase Detection AF (Hybrid AF) - Image Courtesy of Fujifilm

September 1, 2010

An update about film scanners: the Plustek Optic Film 7600i

Shutterbug-Sept 2010 cover page

Shutterbug-Sept 2010 cover page

Somebody in the PR department of Plustek must have done a good job: three leading publications, the paper magazine Shutterbug (in the September 2010 issue) and the on-line magazines Luminous Landscape and Imaging-Resource just published detailed reviews of the Plustek Opic Film 7600i scanner.

Now that Minolta (a few years ago) and Nikon (very recently) lost interest in 35mm film scanners, the Plustek 7600i and Epson Perfection V750-M are two of the few remaining options for amateur photographers looking for quality results in the $500 to $1,000 price range. Simpler and cheaper models are more gadgets than photographic tools, and the Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED currently sells for more than $2,000.

I’m not going to paraphrase the reviews. The best is to click on the links and read what the testers thought about the Plustek scanner and its software dotation:

  • Luminous Landscape: a review by Mark Segal. Mark published a short summary of his review in Luminous Landscape, and made a much more detailed review available as a downloadable PDF file. In his detailed analysis, he included a very interesting comparison of the Plustek with the Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED and the Epson V750-M Pro. A must read if you’re looking for a scanner right now.
  • Imaging-Resource offers a detailed review of the scanner, and also includes a comparison of two scanning applications, Vuescan and Silverlight.

  • Shutterbug is primarily a paper magazine, available in kiosks and in libraries such as Barnes and Nobles or Borders, but the guys at Shutterbug also make their archives available on line. They regularly publish reviews of scanners and tutorials about scanning. I recommend a very interesting article on how to scan Black and White film, published two years ago. As recommended by the author, I’m using chromogenic film (Kodak CN400) when I shoot in Black and White, and I’ve never regretted it. Interestingly the scanner used by the author, David B. Brooks, was a older Plustek model, the 7200.

    Luminous Landscape Plustek Scanner test

    Luminous Landscape Plustek Scanner test

    August 29, 2010

    It’s getting harder to have film processed around here

    Ferrari 250 GT Comp./61 SWB (1961)

    Ferrari 250 GT Comp./61 SWB (1961) - The Allure of the Automobile - Atlanta (Olympus OM-2s - Processed and scanned at Costco, in May 2010)

    So far, I was lucky. My local Costco warehouse was still processing film: I could drop a 35mm cartridge and have it processed, scanned and transferred to a CD in less than 60 minutes, for less than $5.00. The scanning was done on a good Noritsu machine, correctly tuned, which produced 3000 x 2000 digital images, equivalent to what a 6 Mpixel sensor would capture. The color balance was right, the accentuation minimal, and the saturation was kept within reasonable limits.

    Last week, the Noritsu was gone. The employee at the counter directed me to another Costco warehouse, in another part of town. They could develop the film, they could scan it, but could not transfer it to a CD because the CD burner was out of service. I had to come back two days later to get my CD, on which the pictures happened to be over saturated with a rather narrow dynamic range. Not encouraging.

    I’m afraid I will have to find another solution. I will try different options (other local minilabs, mail to order, pro labs), and I will report on my findings.

    If you can recommend a good lab in the Atlanta area or a good mail to order service, please feel free to do so.

    Thank you

    August 27, 2010

    Lobbying to make the use of film mandatory?

    Filed under: Gear, News — Tags: , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 1:47 am

    White Elephant - Hollywood Boulevard - Los Angeles

    The symbol of an industry? Two white elephants sit at the top of columns on Hollywood Boulevard.

    You may have read about this last week – the immensely popular RIAA and the always forward looking NAB, representing respectively our beloved recording industry and the owners of radio stations, are teaming to lobby the US Congress in order to make FM radio receivers mandatory on every cell phone or smartphone sold in this country.

    Cell phones have been available for more than 15 years now, and the few manufacturers who tried to sell cell phones with built in FM radio did not see any explosion of their sales volume. Ten years ago, the buyers of cell phones didn’t see the need of an integrated FM receiver, and now that Internet radios and Pandora are available, there are even less reasons to place a good old FM tuner in a brand new 3G smartphone.

    By the way, what’s the justification for putting an FM receiver in a cell phone? Public safety. According to the NAB, cell phone users would be able to listen to emergency messages on their favorite FM radio station.

    Too bad the photographic film industry did not have the same imagination. Or they could have imposed 35mm Film Cameras in candy bar cell phones, and Instant Film cameras in smartphones. Cell phone carriers would have obliged the film industry by proposing two year agreements including two new cartridges of film per month. And the justification would have been national security, of course.

    Imagine the business opportunities. Apple negotiating a 5 year exclusivity with Polaroid, Verizon smartphones printing two copies of the same picture for the price of one. And another carrier imposing hefty fees for the consumers who did not burn their 48 pictures during the last 30 days.

    We really missed something.

    August 19, 2010

    The end of point and shoot digicams?

    Filed under: Gear, Weird cameras — Tags: — xtalfu @ 2:41 am

    What do digital watches, portable navigation systems and point and shoot cameras have in common?

    Their sales are shrinking. The fact is little known beyond the narrow circle of watches aficionados, but sales of Japanese digital watch movements have been going down for a few years now. Digicam sales reached their peak two years ago, and you just have to look at the price of stand alone GPS units to see that a firesale is going on.

    The cause for all of this? Cell phones in general, and smartphones in particular.

    I remember my first “smartphone”, a Palm Treo 600, and its dreadful VGA camera (0.3 Megapixel). Not only was the resolution of the sensor hopelessly low (640×480), but the quality of the lens itself was abysmal. Unusable. Period.

    Nowadays, top of the line smartphones don’t necessarily have high resolution sensors (the iconic iPhone 4 only packs a 5 Megapixel chip), but their lens quality is significantly higher and the image processing software much better than a few years ago. Look at the picture below, taken in Rome with a very simple Nokia XpressMusic 5530. It was my first day in that beautiful city, I did not have my “serious” camera with me, and I used what was available, namely my cell phone and its tiny 3.2 Megapixel sensor.

    Rome - Piazza de la Repubblica - Dec 2009

    Rome - Piazza de la Repubblica - Nokia XpressMusic 5530

    Not bad, at least for Web postings.

    Higher end Nokia phones (like the recently announced N8) are equipped with Carl Zeiss branded lenses and 12 Megapixel sensors, and promise much better results. It is true that the sensor and the flash integrated in smartphones are too small, and that their reactivity is still too low to allow them to compete with high end point and shoot cameras or with dSLRs. Particularly in low light situations or with very mobile subjects.

    But low-end and medium of the range digicams are obviously under the threat of the more ubiquitous and versatile smartphones. That’s one of the reasons why camera manufacturers are launching a bucket load of waterproof cameras at the moment. Underwater photography is a niche that cell phones have not penetrated yet. Until October, if this rumor about an incoming Motorola Jordan has to be believed.

    July 13, 2010

    Underwater adventures – digital cameras make more sense

    I recently had the pleasure to spend one week snorkeling and scuba diving in the Caribbean. True to my calling, I had decided to bring a film camera, and purchased a Nikonos V on eBay a few weeks before the departure.

    The Nikonos V

    Nikonos V

    The Nikonos V (source: eBay)

    The Nikonos V, launched in 1984 and sold until 2001, is an underwater viewfinder camera with interchangeable lenses. It can operate at depths of 50m (150ft), beyond what is considered the limit for recreational scuba diving. Some lenses were specifically designed for underwater use, but the “standard” lens (a 35mm W-Nikkor) could also be used above the water, for white water sports or for photography in all sorts of very humid environments. A special “camouflage” version was even manufactured by Nikon for war correspondents following conflicts in some remote jungle.

    Technically, the Nikonos V – which is a viewfinder camera – is more or less aligned on the Nikon SLR bodies of the mid eighties: Through The Lens (TTL) exposure, aperture priority automatic shutter, and – importantly for an underwater camera – Through the Lens flash metering. I uses the same W and U/W Nikkor lenses as the previous Nikonos bodies, and provides no focusing assistance to the photographer, who has to guess the distance between the camera and the subject, and set the lens accordingly.

    I could not test the Nikonos V in its element. The one I bought on eBay happened to have a defective metering system, and the seller did not know enough about the camera to understand it did not work as it should have. I returned it and go my money back, but I was back to square one, with no camera for my vacation.

    Lesson #1: if you really want to buy a Nikonos V, buy it from a store specialized in underwater equipment. You will pay more (a good Nikonos V costs between $250.00 and $350.00) but the seller will be able to certify that the camera really works, and has not suffered from an unplanned bath of salt water in the past.

    The Nikon Action Touch

    Nikon Action Touch (source: eBay)

    Nikon Action Touch (source: eBay)

    When I bought the Nikonos V, I decided I needed a backup camera. I found (on eBay again) an old Nikon Action Touch, an autofocus Point and Shoot from the eighties, designed for use in depths of 10 ft (3 meter) or less. I had read good reviews of the camera, and since I could have it for less than $8.00, the risk was minimal. I tried it in a swimming pool. It seemed to work. On the first dive in the ocean, it died. Salty water had found its way in the film chamber, making the camera unusable.

    Lesson #2: old waterproof cameras do not necessarily stay waterproof over time, and a dip in a swimming pool can not be compared to a dive in the ocean.

    Lesson #3 is to take the claims of the manufacturers regarding the water resistance of their products with a grain of salt (no pun intended). Cameras manufacturers now use the IP code (International Protection Rating) to define the water resistance of their products in different circumstances (sprays, water jets, immersion, for instance), but the performance of older cameras was more loosely defined, and important safety margins have to be taken.

    The Canon Powershot D10

    Canon D10 (source: Canon)

    Canon D10 (source: Canon)

    With two old film cameras out of commission, I had to admit that underwater cameras do not age well, and that buying a new digital Point and Shoot camera was the safest solution if I wanted to bring back at least one picture from my trip. The Canon Powershot D10 was the winner of a dpreview test last summer. It is rated “IP8X” equivalent at 10m (33 ft), making it appropriate for beach activities and for snorkeling. The Canon D10 is a typical middle of the range digicam – with a 12 Mega Pixel sensor, a 35-105 equivalent zoom, and 18 different “special shooting modes”, including “underwater” and “beach”. Selecting a special shooting mode is the only thing the photographer can do: the camera will take care of the rest. It does a good job at it – most of the time – but the inability for the photographer to really control the exposure parameters can be frustrating in complex lighting situations (sunsets, for instance).

    Rated for depths up to 10 meters, the Canon D10 can not be used for scuba diving, but can be brought along when snorkeling. Its “underwater” special shooting mode is very good at finding the right color balance, but the shutter lag is typical of a point and shoot camera (far to high), the autofocus reacts too slowly – or not at all, and pictures of mobile subjects are very difficult to take. The LCD monitor has to be “on” all the time, which drains the battery rapidly. That being said, a good diver should be able to bring back decent pictures of relatively static subjects located in shallow waters.

    Lesson #4: even dpreview comparative test winners can not overcome the limitations of their middle of the range point and shoot origins. Waterproof digicams are small and light, and will be faithful companions of white water or snorkeling adventures. But they offer little control over the pictures and are limited to a few feet of depth, which explains why dedicated diver-photographers use high-end digicams or SLRs, that they protect with massive (and often massively expensive) underwater housings.

    What good diver-photographers do

    While on vacation, I had the pleasure to meet Dr Alain Feulvarc’h – he’s an MD, a passionate diver and amateur photographer who was volunteering as the scuba-doctor of our little group.

    He was not on the boat to teach underwater photography, but he shared a few tidbits of information: like most of the diver-photographers, he’s using a digital SLR enclosed in a metal underwater housing, and equipped with a very wide angle (10mm) lens. He also uses a 100 mm macro for close ups. Most pictures are taken with a flash (one strobe at least), and at close distance from the subject. He does not rely on the automation capabilities of the camera, and operates in manual mode. Underwater photography is a fairly complex activity, and using digital technologies improves the learning curve dramatically. I was surprised to see that even underwater, some photographers took the time to check the histograms of their images, and to adjust their settings accordingly; this trial and error process would be impossible with film.

    You can watch Dr Alain’s stunning pictures on Flickr.

    Star Fish - Turks and Caicos - Canon D10

    Star Fish - Turks and Caicos - Canon Powershot D10 - The star fish was lying on the sand, at a depth of 2m. (6 ft) approximately. It was well lit and static, and the camera had no difficulty capturing its image.

    More about underwater photography

    The excellent published an interesting Underwater Photography Primer more than 10 years ago. At that time film photography still reigned supreme, but most of the principles exposed in the article still hold true.

    The pictures of Alain Feulvarch are on Flickr (aka Alain76 on Flickr)

    The characteristics of the Canon Powershot D10 are on Canon’s official site.

    The Nikonos family on Photography in Malaysia‘s web pages

    And for geekiest of us all, the detailed description of the IP ratings

    July 6, 2010

    More pictures of the Angenieux 28-70 f:2.6-2.8 zoom

    Filed under: Gear — Tags: , , — xtalfu @ 11:41 pm

    When it comes to the Angenieux 28-70 f:2.6-2.8, the visitors of this blog never seem to have enough. I just found two old pictures of my beloved French zoom. Don’t try to buy it from me, I sold it a few years ago.

    Angenieux 28-70 f:2.6

    Angenieux 28-70 f:2.6 (detail of the 77mm Angenieux UV filter)

    Angenieux 28-70 F:2.6

    Angenieux 28-70 F:2.6 - the original packaging

    More about the Angenieux 28-70 f:2.6-2.8

    The original CamerAgX blog entry

    June 23, 2010

    The Olympus OM system and a camera to rediscover: the OM-2s

    Filed under: Gear, Olympus cameras — Tags: , , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 1:37 am

    Take any line of manual focus 35mm reflex camera from the eighties and mid-nineties, Leica R included. Comparable models will be worth less, on the second hand market, than an Olympus OM-4T, not to mention the OM-3 and its ultra-rare and ultra-expensive offspring, the OM-3T. Why, in spite of their very serious limitations, are the single digit OM cameras so sought after? In this test of the OM-2s, the little brother of the OM-4, we’ll try and find out why.

    The OM system

    Olympus OM-1n next to a 35mm film cartridge. The competition needed almost 10 years to introduce more compact SLRs, but they were designed for beginners. In the enthousiast-amateur and pro categories, the OM family remains unchallenged to this day.

    Launched in the early 70s, the Olympus OM-1 and its system of lenses and accessories were incredibly compact, very well designed, and at the same time solid enough to please the pros and the very serious amateurs. The competition (Nikon in particular) needed years to develop models approaching the size of the OM-1, which sold by the millions.

    The OM-2, introduced in 1974 with the same ergonomics and a similar external appearance, was the automatic exposure version of the OM-1. It pioneered the use of direct exposure metering in the film chamber, and was the first camera with Through The Lens Flash metering. The competitors followed Olympus’ example, and almost every SRL cameras introduced after 1985 measures the exposure in the film chamber and offers TTL flash metering.

    The OM-2s, OM-3 and OM-4 which followed in the eighties were relatively minor updates of the previous models. They shared a new body and had much more elaborate metering options, but they retained the relatively slow shutter of the OM-1 and OM-2. Their viewfinders were not as great as the ones of the OM-1 and OM-2, and the first models had some reliability issues. The OM-3T and OM-4T (with titanium top and bottom plates and more reliable electronics) raised the level of quality of the OM line, and soldiered on until Olympus finally stopped the production of film cameras, in 2002.

    The limitations of OM-x cameras

    The incredible prices reached by the OM-3T and to a lesser extent by the OM-4T on the second hand market could lead us to believe that those cameras are perfect. They have some unique qualities (more about them in the next section), but they also suffer from serious limitations.

    The textile focal plane shutter of the OM-2S is virtually identical to the mechanism mounted in the other automatic OM cameras. In this version it is limited to 1/1000sec. The OM-3 and OM-4 reach 1/2000sec, but the synchro flash speed remains the same for all models: 1/60sec.

  • The textile focal plane shutter.

    The shutter of the OM-1 and OM-2 cameras was in line with what the competition proposed in 1975 (1/1000 Sec, Synchro Flash at 1/60sec), but ten years later, the OM-3 and OM-4 were confronted to the Nikon FM2n, FE2 and FA or the Canon T90, all with metallic shutters reaching 1/4000sec and offering 1/250sec synchro flash. A slow shutter is a serious limitation now that 400 ISO films are the de facto standard (it means that in sunlight you can only work with an aperture of f:16 or f:11), and it reduces the opportunities to use the fill-in flash technique in the open air.

  • The reliability and the power consumption of the electronics

    Olympus experienced some difficulties when the engineering of cameras became almost exclusively focused on electronics. All models suffered from glitches, some models more than others. The first OM-2S cameras, in particular, were plagued with electronics related issues. The bad apples have most probably been eliminated in the past 25 years, and reliability should not be too much of a concern for a photographer buying one of those cameras now. Excessive power consumption affected all the models launched in the first half of the eighties (when using a flash or at rest), and was only brought back under control with the OM-3T and OM-4T models.

  • Olympus missed the autofocus revolution

    Olympus’ first autofocus SLR was really horrible (it had no focusing ring at all) and was rapidly withdrawn from the market. It was so bad that Olympus did not even try to replace it with a better autofocus camera, and just placed the manual focus OM system on life support without any significant upgrade for the subsequent 15 years. Contrarily to Nikon’s or Pentax’s film SLRs, which can still share some lenses and accessories with modern digital SLRs, the OM bodies and lenses have very little in common with today’s digital cameras. If brought along modern Olympus digital cameras on a photo-shoot , they will need their own lenses, which at least doubles the weight and the volume of the equipment to be carried around.

    The unique qualities of the OM series

    The cameras of the OM series also have unique qualities, which gained them the unconditional support of a small group of passionate photographers.

  • The size and the fit and finish

  • When Olympus launched the OM-1, it was the smallest 35mm Single Lens Reflex camera ever made. The competition needed almost 10 years to catch up, but if their cameras were marginally smaller, they were entry level models made of plastic, and could not be compared to the high end “single digit” OM cameras available at the same time. The fit and finish of the OM-1 was impressive, and the black or grey “”T’ and “ti” models remain among the nicest cameras ever made.

  • The Viewfinder

  • Bring an OM-1 to your eye, and you will still be impressed by the viewfinder. With 97% coverage and 92% magnification, it presents a very large image of the subject. They eye relief is short (at 14mm approximately), but since the viewfinder does not provide any information at the periphery of the image, it is not an issue, and even photographers wearing glasses can see all of the scene easily. Only much bulkier and high-end cameras (such as the Nikon F3) offer a better user experience. The subsequent models were still very good, but not as impressive: over the years, Olympus had to shoe-horn LCD displays at the periphery of the viewfinder (in support of the increasingly elaborate metering system of the cameras), and introduced a diopter adjustment mechanism, which led to a progressive reduction of the magnification. But the user experience was still far better than what a Nikon FE2 or FE had to offer.
    (More about the viewfinder of SLRs in this Post of CamerAgx)

  • The ergonomics and the level of control offerred to the photographer
  • The shutter speed command ring is positioned around the lens mount

    Olympus OM-2S. The shutter speed command ring is positioned around the lens mount, and the aperture ring is at the front of the lens. 1/60 and B shutter speeds are mechanical (marked in red). Setting the camera at 1/60 when at rest addresses the battery leak issues this camera is famous for.

    Until the end, Olympus remained attached to the ergonomics defined with the OM-1: the shutter speed selection ring was positioned around the lens mount, and the aperture ring was pushed at the front of the lens. It made a lot of sense in 1970 – when the command of the mechanical shutter was stiff and the ring needed to be as large as possible, and when the settings on a lens were limited to the focus and the aperture. The generalization of (very soft) electronic shutter commands and of zoom lenses made the Olympus ergonomics a bit of anachronic at the end of the seventies.

    More important is the conscious decision made by Olympus to put the photographer in total control of metering. When most of the cameras manufacturers were trying to make photography less intimidating (using databases and analysis algorithms to make the process of determining the exposure transparent to the photographer), Olympus decided to offer spot metering (OM-2s/OM2-SP) and multi-spot metering (OM-3 and OM-4 bodies). On the OM-3 and OM-4 cameras, the photographer could make up to eight successive spot measurements, whose result were presented in the viewfinder on an analog bar scale showing each individual result and the average. The cameras also had a “shadow” and a “highlight” push button, letting the photographer compose his picture following the principles of the zone system (more about metering in this Post of Cameragx)

    This approach did not get a lot of traction on the marketplace (matrix metering has become the standard) but the small group of photographers who really wanted to be in control of the exposure of their pictures still use OM-3 and OM-4 cameras today. Their unique metering capabilities also explain why they kept their value so well.

    Olympus OM-2S The body of the OM-2S is identical to the OM-3 and OM-4.

    Olympus used the same body for the OM-2S and for the OM-3 and OM-4. They are marginally larger than the OM-1 and OM-2 models, but have a built-in flash mount.

    Olympus OM-2s- the control of metering and exposure modes

    The control of metering and exposure modes of the OM2S. The OM-2S operates in aperture priority and in program mode with a center weighted average metering, and in semi-auto mode with spot metering. Those combinations make a lot of sense.

    Olympus OM-2 S was named OM-2 SP on some markets.

    Olympus OM-2S was named OM-2 spot/program (or SP) on some markets.

    Using the OM-2S
    The OM-2S is not as sought after as its OM-4 or OM-3 brothers. It is true that the latter gained their status of “classics” when the “T” and “ti” versions were launched. The OM-2S never benefited from the titanium parts of the later OM bodies, and remained an entry-level model during its short commercial career. The OM-2S also gained a bad reputation because of power leak issues (the integrated circuit was not properly designed, and when a flash was mounted on the body, it tended to drain the battery of the camera rapidly).

    It’s a very pleasant camera to use, though. Compact, with a large viewfinder, it leaves total control of the exposure to the photographer in the semi-auto mode, which is logically combined with the Spot metering system. The exposure parameters are presented on bar graph at the left of the viewfinder. They’re visual and very easy to read. When determining the right exposure is not too tricky, the photographer can rely on the automatic (aperture priority) mode, which uses a more conventional center weighted average metering. The Program mode is almost useless, because the photographer has no way of knowing the aperture selected by the camera (the selected shutter speed is displayed in the viewfinder, but aperture is not).

    Its biggest limitation is the shutter (its fastest speed is 1/1000 sec). The situation is made worse by lenses which can not be set to an aperture smaller than F:16. When taking pictures on a bright sunny day with 400 ISO film (like Kodak’s CN400 that I use a lot because it’s still easy to have it processed), the photographer can only use a narrow combination of speed and aperture, and can not play with the depth of field as much as he would like.

    Not too common but not eagerly sought after by the Olympus fanatics, the OM-2S is a good pick for a photographer looking for a compact SLR with a big viewfinder and exceptional control of the metering. With unconventional but well designed commands, the OM-2S is simpler to use than the OM-3 and OM-4 with their complex multi-spot and zone system metering functions. The OM-2S can be found for less than $150 (stores specialized in second hand cameras) and even cheaper ($50 to $80) on eBay. Small aperture Zuiko (Olympus) lenses are dirt cheap (a 28mm f:3.5 or a 135mm f:3.5 can be had for less than $30), but wide aperture Zuikos are very rare and very expensive.

    More about the Olympus OM-2S

    Ken Norton’s Zone-10 web site has interesting reviews of Olympus cameras (film and digital) and wrote a few pages about the OM2-S.

    Photography in Malaysia is primarily focused on Nikon cameras, but they have very good pages about the OM-1, OM-2 and OM-2S cameras.

    Historic center of Powder Springs (GA). Olympus OM-2s with OM-Zuiko 28mm f:3.5. Kodak CN400

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