Will I ever find the perfect compact camera?

I’ve written previously about my love for the Olympus Trip 35, though unfortunately the shutter seized on me and I haven’t sent it in for a CLA yet (though at least it can be repaired…I’m looking at you, Contax).  Instead of spending a cool hundred bucks on repairing a camera that cost me about $8, I went back to my roots, shooting cheap-as-shit cameras I’ve happened to snap up at my local thrift store.  Another rule for me: I wanted to only buy cameras I knew I could make a profit from later on.

First was the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 ($4) which has an annoying design flaw in a circular light leak.  It also has all the other failings of its ilk, including iffy autofocus, a flash that needs to be turned off every time one activates the camera, slow zoom, zoom at all with the accompanying drop in lens quality.  I also bought a few more zoom models at the same time but decided it wasn’t worth it to burn a roll of film in one.  Oh, some more downsides: the CR123 battery cost me about $12 and there’s no manual ASA setting or exposure adjustment.

I then lucked into an Olympus Infinity Stylus ($5) with its 35mm f/3.5 prime lens.  Sure, I’d prefer the Epic with is faster f/2.8 aperture but I’ll take what I can find at a bargain price.  And there are a few nice improvements over the Zoom 80 version.  For starters, the prime lens makes this camera truly compact.  The ’90s rounded styling make it easy to fit into a pocket though it’s light enough (read: plasticky) to fit around my neck where it hung all of Fall 2019.  Having shot the Zoom 80 I already knew many of the failings though this one has at least a couple more: the fiddly shutter release that occasionally doesn’t fire, as well as a truly horrendous shutter lag.  The camera doesn’t shoot until the lens is fully extended and it makes a rather loud mechanical whir in doing it.  I lost quite a few shots due to this little problem.  And the lens flares at the drop of a hat.  It’s a camera I found useful for my photo project but it’s something that I will never be able to love unreservedly.

The newest acquisition is a Canon AF35M II ($4) and I’ve got to say I’m happy with just how manual this automatic camera is!  I suppose being older had a bit to do with it, but the design philosophy is so much closer to being something that I approve.  For starters, the flash needs to be engaged to work, something I don’t ever imagine using.  But thank God I’m not having to push another button every time I turn on the damn thing.  Another plus is its manual ASA setting from 50-1000, a wide range to handle not only different films but exposure adjustments for things like backlighting, snow, etc.  And it has an AE lock mode as well, though admittedly it’s slow, requires both hands, and makes one depress the shutter release twice. The shutter is responsive though, and there’s no ambiguity surrounding pushing that shutter release.  It shoots quickly and though battery-dependent, it’s the most ubiquitous battery of all, the humble AA.

The Canon AF35M II is the antithesis of the Olympus in nearly every way which is simultaneously its greatest asset and worst flaw.  For starters, it takes not one AA battery but two, which not only increases its weight but also its size by a considerable margin.  And most glaring of all, the motor drive makes a horrible and loud noise that would wake the dead.  If you want to draw attention to yourself during a quiet meeting, this is definitely the camera for the job.  But for now this camera works well for me and ensures that when I drive it’s easy to keep a camera at the ready.

And now that I’ve deconstructed all these cameras and their failings it’s time to bring it back to the Olympus Trip 35, a camera that has caused me many a failed photo due to its lack of automation.  Its zone focusing system can be a bit tricky at full aperture, and while it has two shutter speeds, the slower one at 1/40 second is nearly always preferred.  I find that I have to be very careful shooting it because if I’m too fast the shot will be blurry.  Giving the camera to a stranger to get a picture of me has almost never turned out a good result.

One thing that I’ve discovered along the way is that the longer time went on the more camera design would go toward making cameras so simple even an idiot can figure it out.  Well actually, I already knew this.  But we’ve come a long way from the days of Grandpa shooting Kodachrome slides with an all-manual camera (something which took a bit of skill).  The more they try to make something foolproof, the more I tend to say “Don’t overestimate the fool.”  So customers “demanded” simpler cameras that would give them the ability to expose pictures like a pro and this has led to the average photographer being a complete idiot.  Take away their iPhone and make them think for any length of time to see that it just keeps going downhill still today.

So the end result: the Olympus cameras went on the ‘bay and I made quite a lot of money off them.  I’m keeping the Canon for the moment, as it seems to be less annoying than the others, plus it’s not worth as much.

A shout out to Nicholas Coyle Film and Video

When I was originally compiling my list of best prices for buying/processing/scanning super 8 film, Nicholas Coyle reached out to me on Facebook and let me know about his scanning house prices which are still the best I’ve found for a 2K scan, and I just used him myself for the first time.  He’s about to be the best price for a 4K scan.

We’ve been in touch for about a year and a half so I knew this was coming: he’s finally upgrading to a Lasergraphics 6.5K Scanstation and is running a special crowdfunding campaign to help with expenses.  So if you were waiting for the right time to get some film scanned, there will never be a better one.  $50 for 3 rolls of super 8, or $100 for 6, or $200 for 12, or $400 for 24: that comes out to $16.67 per roll for a 4K/6.5K flat scan; if you just want to scan 1 roll it’s $15:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-preserve-super8-8mm-16mm-and-35mm-at-6-5k#/

Once he’s up and running the price goes up slightly but I like how it’s tiered: $15 for 2K/3K flat scan (the larger file if you’re want an overscan instead of cropped), $20 for 4K/6.5K, and then $5 more for a one-light transfer, $10 more for a best-light transfer.  Simple and still incredibly affordable compared to the competition: FPP comes close with 4K scans for $35 but there is no information on what the scans will look like, if they’re flat or color-corrected, things of that sort.  At least Coyle’s information is all out in the open and also shipping from him to me is incredibly cheap; he’s only 2 hours away from me.

I already chatted with him so the scanner is coming one way or another in the next couple months, the campaign is to help him pay off some of his initial expenses.  So please consider supporting him, as the price will be hard to beat.  I plan on using Coyle to scan all my film from now on.  Here are a few recent scans:

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Trying to dispel the perception of Super 8 as the “crappy” format

Recently I’ve seen some new Super 8 films come out that are by some pretty prominent artists, like Spike Lee’s quarantine music video and Katy Perry’s pregnant music video.  And I look at their footage and I’m not that impressed by what I see there: pixelated footage, colors that make me cringe occasionally, nothing in focus, just on the whole not too fond of this style yet these videos are probably going to end up with millions of views (edit: since my first draft the Katy Perry video has become the most successful super 8 music video ever).  And that is what people are going to think of when they think “Super 8,” which also makes me cringe.

But then again whenever the format has been used in movies in the past it is with this mentality, and when movies have been put out on DVD, blu-ray, etc, it is I think in every case scanned with 35mm elements, however many generations removed from the original negatives/positives.  With the technology having improved so much in the last few years digitally scanning super 8 can look better than ever but it’s almost never used to its full potential.  I was reading an article recently from Criterion where the head of the restoration went to painstaking lengths to make the crappy ca.1999 digital video footage look as good as possible instead of just scanning the 35mm film-out, the way they would have done if it were a super 8-originated footage.  I just hope that in the future small-format film will get the same kind of loving treatment from Criterion and others that 20-year-old digital files currently enjoy.

Until then try to get the best out of the format, don’t settle for crap with the reason that “it’s just super 8,” see what the format can really do: it’ll surprise you!  edit: Now that’s more like it: Spitzbergen: Guardian of the Arctic (trailer)

I don’t dance but I learned the Nikon Shuffle

Because I just happened to find a camera that requires it, at a thrift store, for 1/8 the price that the F2 had cost me.  Had I waited another day I might have gotten it for half off, but then again someone might have snatched it up before me.  A bird in the hand, right?

The Nikon F Apollo (the meter doesn’t work but hey, the shutter speeds are “surprisingly accurate” according to my guy at Cameraworks when he checked it out).  So a camera that can at least do Sunny-16, this will make a good backup/secondary body for the time being.  And once again, I’m not doing the Nikon Shuffle.  As a bonus it came with a (very dirty and scratched) pre-AI 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor-SC lens.  I suppose that if I wanted to put the money into it, I could buy a working Photomic finder (it’ll cost me nearly twice as much as I’m into it for right now) and send the whole thing out for a CLA.  I’ll definitely do a CLA at some point, I hear that Cameraquest is the go-to for the Nikon F.

I found this camera about two weeks after I put my F2A on layaway so I was already committed to the Nikon system, but this is officially the first fully professional camera that I’ve ever shot.  Ironically (or maybe not), I used it as a hammer before I ever put a roll of film through it.  Not too different from the Uzi as it’s a bit “loose” in some of its parts but the manufacturing tolerances are such that it just works.  I felt the same thing about this Nikon F: there’s quite a bit of play in the finder, winding lever, and film door, so I shot a few tests to confirm that it is in fact still light-tight.  And considering that the shutter speeds are still accurate after God knows how long since its last CLA, I have to say that I’m pretty damn impressed.

So now that I’ve handled both for months and shot rolls through them what do I think?  As you might imagine there’s not a whole lot of difference between them, they’re both solidly built fine pieces of machinery, and just look at the picture to see how similar they are.  But I will say: everything that the F did the F2 does better.  It’s a refined design in every way, from the placement of the shutter release, the improved mirror lockup, the faster shutter speed, the swing-out film door, the light meter switch, light meter sensitivity.  I’ve seen a bit of discussion online about the F vs. the F2 and really there’s no reason to choose the original F…unless you happen to find a screaming deal on one like I did.

The one advantage that this camera has for me over my F2 is its look. It might be more evident if these were color photos but this F has some beautiful brassing on nearly every corner.  These two Nikons aren’t the first black cameras I’ve had but this is the first where I’ve paid attention to the patina, evidently it’s something very much desired.  I don’t think much of people who pay to get a camera looking like this (and I’ve seen it done a few times) but I’m happy to inherit its bumps and bruises.  While the F2 looks nearly pristine it’s very obvious that this F has seen some history and if it could talk I’d buy it several drinks to hear what it’s seen.

Shipping Super 8 film

Ok yes I already figured total cost of shooting super 8 film…but I didn’t figure total total cost, as there are some additional costs: shipping, and the time it takes!  But it’s so subjective depending on how far you’re shipping, how many rolls at once, what courier, how fast you want it to get there.  I sent off some super 8 to Pro8mm, USPS Ground cost $11.05 shipping from my local post office in Colorado to Burbank, CA, and shipping from there to Nicholas Coyle in Denver (plus insurance) came out to $9.74.  So that’s a total of $20.79, and then the film has to be shipped from Coyle back to me at some point which will cost $4 more (he’s holding the footage until he gets his 6.5K scanner so I can compare/contrast with his current 2K setup).  So the grand total there is just under $25.  But let’s talk about X-rays:


How well do these work?  I don’t exactly know. 

USPS Ground took exactly one week; I use Ground usually because if it goes on an airplane the chances increase that it will pass through an X-ray and/or CT scanner no matter what is written on the package.  I talked to a nice young lady at FedEx about that a few years ago and she said that the handlers at the processing centers will usually honor stickers with official branding like Kodak’s, but there are no guarantees there.  I sent that package FedEx express because I needed film processed for a class and needed it there and back ASAP but talked to other shipping professionals for their opinion.  From what I’ve been told, USPS Ground is the only service guaranteed not to pass through an X-ray or other scanner, because it never travels on an airplane.  I still tape several of these on the box, just in case.  If I were in a hurry, I would use FedEx but only as a last resort: I’d rather it take a few days longer to get there and be completely safe.

I’ve written about avoiding x-ray scanners before, and I’ve even sent a roll of Tri-X through the scanner twice to see what would happen.  But I’m not about to take the chance with movie film.  If you need the “Do Not X-ray” stickers look no further:
DO NOT X-RAY label
I rarely send undeveloped film through the mail, thankfully have never had a problem, and I hope you don’t either!

There’s an additional additional cost: hard drives.  And I just bought another for my Mac (this one in fact) that cost $300 but that was to hold sound libraries, etc.  Thankfully I have a couple so if I have to send one with the film so it can be scanned this won’t be a big problem, because the last thing in the world I want right now is to drop more money on another hard drive.  But you should know that if you don’t send in a hard drive your scanning house will probably charge you for one, depending on where you go.  Now I’ve touted Nicholas Coyle Film & Video before (and will continue to do so!) because it’s the best-priced 2K scan that I’ve found, and I’ve done a lot of research on that front.  Another great thing about Coyle is that he’ll let you download the footage online for free which means no messing with hard drives!  For the larger projects you’d want to send one though, as it might be many Gigabytes.  This is the first time in 3 years that I’ve shot/processed/scanned super 8 film so it’s good I’m writing this as it’s fresh in my mind.

Now for the time aspect: I dropped the film at the post office on Monday 04/20, it arrived at Pro8mm a week later 04/27, was shipped out Thursday 04/30, arrived in Denver on Monday 05/04, and I was downloading scans 2 days later, so turnaround time was just a little under 2.5 weeks.

I don’t dance and that includes the Nikon Shuffle

For the last decade I’ve shot M42 and been extremely happy with the results.  However, as I move forward and mature as a photographer I’ve been running up against the limits of the system I’ve built.  I could see this coming for a while which is why I added a list of cameras to my favorite cameras page that lists what I’ve been looking to try out.  Back in the beginning of December I was down at Cameraworks, my local Colorado Springs camera store, and saw that they had a large collection of Nikon bodies just in, and thanks to some Christmas and birthday money I felt comfortable putting one on layaway (thanks, Mom).  So here it is:

The Nikon F2A, and I bought an AI-modified 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor-S lens with it.  So I’ve finally taken the plunge and said goodbye to M42, Takumar, and Spotmatics.  It could have easily have been a switch to K-mount with the Pentax LX but I felt like this F2 just sort of fell into my lap, so Deus Vult!  I’ve been doing quite a lot of research ahead of time and decided to steer clear of anything non-AI, hence the title of this post.  Johnny Martyr’s post about brand new F6 cameras had me thinking about Nikon and things they still make.  If you go onto Adorama’s or B&H’s sites right now you will still be able to buy these manual focus AI-s Nikkor lenses brand new:
28mm f/2.8 ($540)
35mm f/1.4 ($1100)
50mm f/1.2 ($700)
55mm f/2.8 Micro ($400)
105mm f/2.8 Micro ($800)
(Actually there are more but these are the ones that interest me)  It’s just a shame that the only body they make is the F6.  Remember in 2000 and 2005 when they made limited edition reproductions of the S3 and SP rangefinders?  The 50th anniversary of the F2 is in 2021, I say they bring it back.  The Nikon F2C, with updated metering head.  Hey Nikon, are you listening?

So it was on layaway and I put down the last payment in February, and it’s been mainly sitting since then.  I was hoping to start getting a lot of use out of it but have had no work thanks to COVID-19.  I’ve taken a few shots so far and am halfway through my first roll (Tri-X, naturally) but have devoted more attention to super 8 lately.  But as I write this businesses are starting to open up and people are getting out and about again so hopefully that means that the work will continue.

Shooting half a roll of Tri-X I would say that the camera feels very good in my hands, like it belongs there.  Definitely great build quality, though some pieces feel lighter than I would have imagined.  I would say the F2’s reputation is well-deserved and I’m sure this camera will last me a long time.  There is a problem though: the meter is a bit jumpy at a certain EV value if you’re shooting 1/60sec near wide open.  It will be at – when at f/2 and jumps a bit before settling all the way at + for f/1.4; the experts say jumpy meters are a sure sign of a dirty ring resistor.  While it’s still under warranty I intend to have Cameraworks service the metering head, but I also bought this camera fully intending to send it to Sover Wong, the F2 Master.

Spotmatic shutter problems

This is where I start jumping around in time a little.  After shooting ~40 rolls of film summer 2019, I found out that on the last few rolls the camera shutter had developed a problem.  I had already decided that I would start using my Olympus point & shoot, which has the same focal length lens as I’d been using, plus weighing a heck of a lot less, so it wasn’t like I was obliviously using this camera and ruining so many images; it was only the last 2 rolls of Tri-X that I shot with the camera, thank God.  If you look at a lot of the exposures you can see that the right side of the frame is underexposed, to the point of being clear.

Still, it was annoying since I’ve had this exact camera serviced twice in the last couple years, but this time I think it’s my own fault.  I’m extrapolating from what Sover Wong says about the Nikon F2, but seems like it might be applicable, and I’m a guilty offender: I left my shutter cocked for hours, overnight, even several days in a row.  It’s a habit I have that as soon as I take a shot I’m winding for the next shot, I like to make sure I’m cocked and ready to shoot.  And I never thought about burning a frame at the end of the day to let the springs inside rest, so I did this to myself.  The slower shutter speeds are fine and I shot a roll of Tri-X at 1/60 back in the Fall but I’m hesitant to go above 1/125 which means outdoor shooting will be tricky.  I’m smarter now than I was earlier this summer, but this has put me at a bit of a crossroads.


This was a 1/1000sec exposure which should have been a good shot, alas!

I sent my Pentax ESII to Eric Hendrickson a few years back but he couldn’t bring the camera into spec.  My other ES has developed the same problem it had before which means I’d need to take it apart and give it a bit more valve oil.  And despite giving my beloved SPII two CLAs there were still other problems that came up this Summer (outside of the 6-month warranty), namely that the film spacing is starting to become a bit erratic and the film counter has stopped working. Is my local camera tech to blame for not checking everything thoroughly, or is this just the consequence of using a nearly 50 year-old camera?  Until this I’ve had no problem with the build quality of the Spotmatic and the lenses are top-notch of course.  While the shutter problem would require a CLA anyway and is totally my fault, what that means is that I’m looking at another $120-150 repair.  I’ve shot M42 (and this specific Spotmatic SPII) for a complete decade now and I’ve been so pleased with the Takumar lenses but with my current needs I’ve decided that it’s time to move on to a more capable camera system.