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.

Autofocus at its finest

Early 1980s autofocus, too.  I love autofocus.  Except not really.  This is a number of attempts with the Canon AF35MII.  I thought I’d use that a lot more last year than I ended up doing.

And comparing the Canon’s to the Olympus’ which was designed over a decade later, it’s definitely not as advanced.  It does have two very helpful tools though, which make up for it:
-A focus scale that tells one just what the camera thinks is the subject of the picture
-A button that allows the photographer to set the autofocus first (note, not manually focus) and then take the picture.  It’s slow but does in fact help.

And the Canon just can not focus all that well with dark subjects, so what I had to do above is set the focus outside before getting into the Jeep.

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.

Why I love the Olympus Trip 35

RIP 1968-2018.  Unfortunately after shooting this camera for 3 years the shutter is now stuck halfway open and I haven’t gotten around to fixing it yet.

It will happen though, because it’s small, light, easy to use, gives me spot-on exposure, and has an absurdly sharp lens.  The Olympus Trip 35 and it’s my favorite mirrorless camera.  Reading about some of my photo friends’ experiences with the Trip and also finding this fantastic store made me want to sing again the praises of this mechanical wonder that I found at the thrift store for all of $8.00.

It needs no battery: it has a selenium meter which gives perfect exposure, something I tested by shooting slide film in it.  After reading about “night tripping” (which basically means using high-speed film in the Trip manually set to f/2.8 and its slower speed of 1/40sec), I’ve felt comfortable using the Trip in all kinds of situations indoors and outdoors.  One thing that I’ve talked about a lot (though never tried yet) is putting a few rolls of Cinestill 800T through it; or now that T-Max P3200 is back that might have to happen.  Either way I’ve yet to test the extremes of film latitude yet, but it will happen.

And the Trip 35 does indeed live up to its name: it travels so well!  I took it to Wales where it was my camera for color film, and threw it into my bag for a last-minute trip to Ohio.  Though the lens sticks out a bit it still easily fits in a jacket pocket without getting in the way.  Speaking of the lens and its zone focusing, you do have to be careful when shooting inside, but made it perfect for shooting my William Klein masters’ study.  Since then focus doesn’t mean as much to me as it used to, though most of the time I’ll get it right.

When looking through all the shots I’ve taken with this camera I couldn’t believe just how much I’ve used it in the last few years!  It’s a large gallery–in order we have: Tri-X (6), Velvia 100 (3), Double-X (4), Provia 100F (3), T-Max 400 (4), Fomapan 100 (2), Kodak Gold 200 (2), Fuji Neopan Acros 100 (2), and Ferrania P30 (2).  There will be other films shot in this camera one day, but for a while now I’ve been concentrating on the Spotmatic for my photo project that’s been going on since January (and long before).

I would definitely recommend this camera for people who don’t want the bulkiness of an SLR, don’t like relying on batteries, but still want an AE camera.  My camera’s shutter still had accurate speeds after nearly half a century.  Zone focusing can take practice but is doable, so don’t let that dissuade you!

Color negative film in the Trip 35

I’ve shot color film in the Trip before, but it was always slide film.  I was a bit afraid that the lens wouldn’t be contrasty enough for color negative film, remembering my experiment with the Leitz Summarit.  But I went ahead and risked a $3 roll of Gold 200, and I’m glad I did, because I think these pictures look pretty nice.

So main point to take away?  You won’t know what works until you try.  And now I know that the Olympus Trip 35 is a more versatile camera than I had originally imagined.  I can shoot damn near anything in it and be happy with the results.