My mother’s camera: the Minolta XG-A

This is the camera that I grew up using, for as far back as I can remember…considering that it’s older than I am and my dad got it for my mom before they were even married, I suppose that makes sense.  Now, she didn’t use it much, really after 2004 when she got her digital camera; I got her to use it once about 5 years ago and that was it as far as I know.  Just like most people of the earlier generation, they were mystified by the high technology as well as the convenience of DSLRs and never went back to film.  Most of the cameras I use are much older and less complicated/electronic than this one.  Minolta had an entire series of X cameras of which this was the simplified model with aperture priority only; with a full range of manual speeds as well (as the X-700 has) I would find this camera more useful but did bring it out occasionally back when I was shooting the MD mount system back in my early college days.

If you follow my blog regularly you might know that my mother died recently.  For her memorial service and as a tribute to her, I wanted to take pictures and of course take them with her camera.  Also included are some valuable time spent with friends/family before/after the service.

Three rolls of film, in order: Cinestill 800T, Kodak T-Max P3200 (both expired), and Kodak Tri-X pushed to 1600.  There are a lot of photos here that have some technical problems and I don’t know exactly what the problem is because there are too many variables.  I used a 3v lithium battery when I think before it was always alkaline.  Two of the three rolls I shot were expired high speed film that had been in my mom’s freezer for years.  I dropped off the film and expected it to be ready in a week but I guess they ran into staffing problems or something, and had to rush process the film for me, a mistake could have been made there.  And of course it could be that the shutter speeds are off, though usually they tend to get slower with age; of course it could be that the electronics are failing.

What it comes to is that the film all looks underexposed and shadow detail is often lacking, even with overexposing the expired film by one stop.  The better-exposed shots were ones that I took outside or near an open door, which brings up another possibility: that it just doesn’t read dim light correctly.  And of course I’m not sure how much having light sources in the frame might have affected exposure as well. When there is too much light the shutter won’t fire, so there were times I missed shots because of this, going from one part of the church to the other where the light changed too drastically.  After having used shutter priority with the Canon AE-1 I find it much more freeing setting at 1/60 and having the lens stop down as much as needed, it made it easy to set and forget whereas with the aperture priority I was forever worrying about whether the aperture I had it on would make the shutter speed too slow.  It was more an unfounded fear as nearly everything doesn’t show motion blur but I also wanted to give myself as much depth of field as possible because the lens would be focusing in the opposite direction from what I’m used to.  What it boils down to is that I was using a camera that is now unfamiliar to me after having shot Pentax and Nikon for most of the last decade and more.  I don’t know that I will use it much or ever again for that matter but being a family heirloom like my grandfather’s cameras I of course can’t let it go.

No need for the Nikon Shuffle

Not that it necessarily matters, but it occurred to me that I’d made a few posts about the other cameras I’ve been using (here, and here) and this camera had been pretty much the middle child so I thought I’d write a post about it, as my other Nikon F2.  It was in the background of this post and I’ve been shooting the camera for a lot of the 2021 season, from the time I completed the construction job and went back to Jeep tours all the way until the Fall when I sent off both my F2 cameras to be serviced by the great Sover Wong.

So here is the camera in the basic setup that I’ve been shooting it since August 2021.

I acquired a chrome DE-1 finder from a generous guy on a Facebook group and have to say that I like the look as well as the lighter weight that comes from using a non-metered finder (I already linked to the earlier post regarding the non-metered finder on my F Apollo above).  Going back to a photomic finder just seems a bit clunky by and bulky by comparison and checking the meter slows me down sometimes.

I’ve even considered buying a black DE-1 to go with my black F2 though I do like having at least one camera with which to test my guesswork on exposure for difficult lighting situations or film that I don’t use too often.

But the thing is, I’m learning my light pretty well and there aren’t too many times when I miss a shot due to under/over-exposure.  I’ve modified the old Sunny-16 rule and when shooting outdoors try to keep the lens at f/8 the entire time, switching from 1/1000sec in direct sunlight to 1/125 under clouds or in the shade.  Indoor lighting will be f/2.8-f/1.4 at 1/60sec.  I’ve been shooting this way since at least the beginning of 2019 on Tri-X (and later Ilford XP2) and it just works; anything I’ve shot since then that’s black & white is a testament to that.  And it makes me want to tell everyone…you don’t need to get some latch-on meter for your unmetered camera, just try it out a couple times!  Nor do you need to pull out a handheld meter every time you want to take a shot.  It doesn’t matter if the built-in meter dies, your camera isn’t ruined or useless!  I always used to think that someone using a Leica from the ’50s with no meter was unusually ballsy but the reality is that it’s not that hard.  Learning how to properly expose ASA400 film has given me one less thing I need to worry about and allows me to work quicker and just get the shot.

My grandfather’s camera: the Kodak Bantam f/4.5

Back in 2009 I picked up a few of my grandfather’s cameras from his house, right before I moved out to Colorado.  I finally got around to shooting a roll in June when I was staying at a vacation rental in Fountain for a few months (I wrote about that here and here; this could be considered Old Cars, Pt.II).

The top-of-the-line model of 828 film cameras back in the late ’30s, I’ve always liked the look and feel of this camera.  It’s sleek and compact, with things that snap into place at the press of the button or just a flick of the thumb.  Everything about this camera cries “Quality!” with every ounce of its rather hefty weight.  This was one of three cameras I brought from my grandparents’ house when I left Ohio in 2009 and whereas the Kalimar A was a camera that I used out of necessity, this was the one I really wanted to use.  The trouble being that it took 828 film which is fucking expensive.  I bought a roll ages ago from B&H Photo because they’re nice enough to roll some Tri-X down to 828 size but it costs $20 (now $24) and you’re only getting 8 exposures.  127 film is looking pretty good now, at only $13 per roll.  I did find this which has inspired me to at least try to load some 35mm film to give this a shot.



Back in the day Kodak had an annoying history of introducing proprietary film formats for use with Kodak cameras ensuring that they could only be used with Kodak film.  Then when the film stopped selling well Kodak would discontinue the film size rendering these cameras, if not completely useless, then very expensive.  And this was a camera that cost the equivalent of $500 in 2021 dollars.  While I might champion their cause today, Big Yellow did have some rather questionable practices back in their heyday.

The roll of 828 film only gives you 8 exposures, with quite a lot of space in between; I have no idea why.  But here are a few of the cars and Jeeps that Regan my landlord has lying around his property waiting for restoration:

Here’s frame No. 1:

It has a better composition than its duplicate, but the rudimentary flip-up sights don’t really lend themselves to precise framing.  This film was spooled using 35mm film and unfortunately several of the perforations were torn; this one in particular was a very large flap that hung over the film and blocked the light from the top of the frame.  There was enough film left for me to get a bit more in:

I haven’t seen it for years, but my grandpa kept a war diary all the way through World War II where he served under General Patton.  From what I remember the pictures he pasted inside were small and square so I don’t think they were taken with this camera, but it is of the right vintage and I wonder if I’ve seen everything.  It’s a credit to the manufacturing standards in Depression-era America that this 80-year-old camera still functions as it should when its last servicing was before the birth of my parents (see header pic).  I wouldn’t vouch strongly for the accuracy of its fast shutter speeds, but besides that I can’t complain.  I can imagine some pretty good things might have come along in the 1960s if Kodak and others had tried to compete with Germany and Japan in the manufacture of fine cameras.  Instead we got shit like the Instamatic.

Now the actual size of the pictures is larger than a standard frame from 35mm film, and went into the sprocket holes on each side, but my Pakon scanner can’t deal with that, so I worked with what I had and ended up with images that were 1.7:1 (cropped very slightly on the sides) as opposed to 1.5:1. I had to use TLX Client Demo to alter the frame width and then recropped using Affinity Photo.  This flexibility is one of the great advantages of the Pakon over other scanners, and makes it if not easy, at least workable to scan frames that are a non-standard size like this, or panoramic, etc.  I’m glad I have this camera that belonged to Grandpa, it’s a family heirloom to me, though the camera is a bit more dated than those I usually shoot.  It has all the handling of other medium format cameras of that era but with the disadvantage of a smaller frame size, plus the film is very expensive.  At $24 (now) per roll and only 8 frames, you’re looking at $3 per image, so you’d better really make them count.  I didn’t, I just wanted to use that roll up so I could put the camera back into storage for the rest of its life.  I’ll probably never use this camera again.

The endless accessorizing…

Man, do I love the look of the Nikon F with a prism finder, especially a black body with a lot of wear!  I’m now of the opinion that it’s the most beautiful camera in the world, or at least the most beautiful 35mm SLR.  And since my F Apollo’s Photomic finder was:
1) chrome, so not the original finder for a black body
2) far too early to be paired with a post-1972 Apollo body anyway
3) non-functional
4) ugly
I decided it was time to get something much sleeker, lighter, and better-looking, hence:


(I actually bought one in mint condition first but it just looked too new for the rest of the camera)

Now all the beautiful brassing can be appreciated more!  This camera as it looks above is what I’ve been shooting nearly all of 2020 for my photo project.  This thing has already taken a beating over the last half a century so I’m less careful about where I take it and how gently I treat it; every ding is a story and if this camera could talk I’d buy it drinks all night to hear its history.  I’ve never been one to buy camera equipment purely on aesthetics alone but I confess it’s happening more now that I’ve been delving into the Nikon system.  This finder came with the chrome-bodied F in the picture below:


(and the system has continued to grow with more lenses as well)

Not pictured: my original F2A which is taking the picture sporting the 55mm AI-s Micro-Nikkor. I suppose that using one camera means it can’t be in the picture so I’ve yet to get a complete family portrait but since I shot about 5 rolls of color film around September/October, I would keep Black&White in the F and color in the F2.


(I’m not going to add any more tags, but this one’s Fuji Superia 200, for completeness’ sake)

I was also generously given a chrome DE-1 prism finder recently, which has now gone on my chrome F2 (the DP-1 finder wasn’t working; it seems to be a common failing). The chrome F prism finder came off a parts body I bought cheap. I suppose Nikon should be commended for the foresight to have removable finders as it allowed for continuous upgrades of the F from 1959 to 1968.  And of course over the course of the last 50+ years the electronics on those old finders have a pretty high failure rate, so the people who bought the prism finder now appear far-sighted as well as more ballsy.  Now that people are catching on though, their prices keep going up.  But besides the lens, the right finder is an accessory that I’ll go out of my way to find.  I’ve also acquired film doors, soft-shutter releases, focusing screens, finder eyepieces, finder covers, filters, a speedlight setup, the possibilities and combinations seem endless for creating just what I need to shoot on any given day.  For the photographer with a bad case of GAS, a job, and money to “invest” in new equipment, Nikon’s F system always had something else he didn’t have yet.

In fact from talking to people online it would appear that the common definition of a “professional camera” is one with removable/interchangeable finders.  I’m definitely a fan of the non-metered prism finders, as they’re lighter and just look better.  I shoot primarily Tri-X and know it well enough that Sunny-16 doesn’t bother me, though I should probably get a good handheld meter at some point.  Hmmmm, something else to buy…

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.

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.

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.

Super 8 camera: Bauer A512

We interrupt your regularly scheduled cowboys to bring you this gear porn post.  As it’s the time of the year when I try to get another short made I’m thinking about super 8 film and cameras again.

I’ve been lusting after one for a while, thanks to Ignacio Benedeti’s blog.  In fact a year ago just after I finally took possession of my S609XL I’d bought one off the ‘bay, but it ended up being broken.  So I kept looking at others waiting for the right deal and finally pulled the trigger.


Say hello to my little friend!

I’m so happy to finally have this one.  It will be going to Andre Egido for CLA and modification, but it is fully functional and ready to shoot.  In fact, it looks like it just came out of the box!  There were a few dusty spots and it’s probably been in someone’s attic since the early ’80s, I don’t think it was used much.


Made in Germany.  Deutschland uber alles!

So what’s different about this model compared so my S609XL?  For starters, it has a slower lens.  Actually from what I’ve read is has a sharper lens.  It’s all metal, and unlike the 609 which was made to a certain price point in Bauer’s Malaysian factory with a lens made in Japan, the A512 was made in their German factory and I’m sure the build quality is second to none.  It has a variable shutter, ostensibly for creating fade ins/outs but can be used as an exposure compensation, or to create some really strange motion if the shutter angle is closed way down, a la Gladiator or Saving Private Ryan.  I won’t be able to take full advantage of that until I get a manual ASA selector installed, but it’s coming at this summer.  The shutter angle is at 150 degrees (sometimes erroneously listed as 180 degrees) so it automatically gives sharper images over any of Bauer’s XL models.  I suppose it would have been nice if they had given us a variable shutter opening to 220 degrees, but I wasn’t asked.  The last interesting feature is an automatic bulb setting for very low light–the camera will expose every frame for as long as it needs to, and changes with the light, allowing for some great timelapse shots at night.

There’s no such thing as a best super 8 camera but this one is another great tool to have for most applications.

Jeep tours 2018, Part II

2018 was the year I shot Canon gear.  It’s hard to remember back this far…but I had a lot of Double-X that I’d bought from the Film Photography Project and I wanted to use it all up, so it was all put through the Canon 7 (Part I) and Canon AE-1, which is below:

After shooting all these I decided to go back to what I know best, Tri-X in my beloved SPII, especially with the Yellow 50 (and now Yellow 35 too).  I think that being used to the Takumar lenses with Infinity to the left, it was hard for me to use the Canon (and for the Canon 7, the Leitz) lenses because they’re the opposite and it caused me to slow down too much and miss shots, or get out-of-focus results.  I’ll admit that the M42 system does have its shortcomings when it comes to camera body features, etc, but sometimes you just have to go with what you know.  While the Canon AE-1 can give me fine pictures (and it’s my go-to camera for slide film), I’m too familiar with the layout of the Pentax lenses.  So if I do ever abandon the M42 mount for something else, it’ll be Nikon I go to, not Canon.

Rafting the Arkansas River

One of the services our company provides is a Jeep tour through the mountains from Colorado Springs to Cañon City for a half-day rafting trip on the Arkansas River.  I’d been down there several times and wanted to experience the trip myself, which I have to say is way more fun than just sitting around for 3 hours like we usually do.  I put a roll of Tri-X through the Weathermatic:

I definitely had a good experience, and as this half-day trip only goes over class-3 rapids, I didn’t feel particularly challenged; there was plenty of respite between the tricky bits which means I had plenty of opportunities for pictures (maybe Spring would be different).  Most of what I’ve shot with the Weathermatic has been ASA100 film and just occasionally the pictures have been a bit blurry.  I hoped that Tri-X’s extra 2 stops would keep that problem under control, but sadly it didn’t.  Not only was it cloudy but we ended up having some pretty heavy rain, and with the jostling of the boat there were a few unusable images there, though most weren’t too bad.


One of the worst offenders, though I still like the picture.

The Weathermatic only reads DX markings for 100 and 400, so other speeds will be overexposed.  It is a bit disappointing that the camera doesn’t prioritize faster shutter speeds for the 400 speed film.  I suppose for critical work, one would need a Nikonos but for what it is, the Weathermatic does well.