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Instamatic 500 by Kodak AG

Posted 2011.10.11 8.28 in Hobbies, Photography

After the Autopak 700, I thought I was finished collecting 126-format cameras. I thought I had found the best and therefore didn’t need any more. I thought wrong.

The Instamatic 500 was produced by Kodak AG (Germany) and was their top-of-the-line instamatic camera. Made in 1963, it features a solid metal body, quality German optics, and fully manual operation. It is smaller than the Minolta, having no built-in rangefinder. The Instamatic 500 uses guess-focusing, with a distance scale on the top of the lens and zone icons on the bottom. Interestingly, the lens has detents for the zones, so it ‘snaps’ into place for Portrait (4ft), Group (~8ft), and Landscape (~20ft).

The lens also has a Depth-of-Field scale printed on it, so it’s actually very handy on a bright sunny day – set your aperture to f/11 or f/16, set your shutter speed according to your film ISO, and set the focus on ‘Group’ and you’ll have good sharp focus from 4 feet to infinity. Great for street photography or casual snapshots.

The Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar lens has a 38mm focal length and the aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/22. It is mounted on a Compur shutter with speeds from 1/30 through 1/500, plus Bulb. The shutter has X-sync through its entire range, with flash available through both a hot-shoe and PC socket. Finally, the lens is retractable, when not in use. A small button on the base of the camera allows the lens to be pressed back into the body. The lens is spring-loaded and pressing that button again lets it slide back out into place. While the lens is stowed, the shutter-release is locked, preventing accidental snaps.

To top it all off, the camera is equipped with a Gossen selenium meter. This works without requiring any batteries at all, and after almost 50 years, it is still working correctly! The meter is visible through the viewfinder, indicating if the exposure is off or if it is correct, with +/- 1 EV indication.

The only flaw on my camera is that the faceplate has been lost. Normally there would be the indication ‘Kodak Instamatic 500’ on the face of the camera, above and left of the lens.

It is, in my opinion, a nearly perfect camera. It works without batteries. It’s fairly compact. It’s solid. It takes square photos! It has an exposure aid, though it’s still a manual camera. There’s still that pesky problem of the film being nearly impossible to find, but that can be worked around. The lack of focus-aid, such as a rangefinder, is a problem when you can’t estimate distances very well. But the inclusion of a DOF scale helps make up for that.

The Instamatic 500 is a definite keeper, and certainly has a place in my collection. The Minolta Autopak 700 has the rangefinder, and the Rollei A26 is smaller. The Instamatic 500 fits right in between – the size is right, the feel is right, fully manual and doesn’t need batteries. It’s a winner.

The following pictures were taken on an OEM Fuji colour negative film. 35mm respooled into a 126 cartridge. This has two quirks: the sprocket holes are visible along one edge of the images, and sometimes there are feeding problems, which can lead to occasional overlapping images.

Also a quick point on using 35mm in the 126 cartridges: I do have a precious cache of genuine 126 film, so why am I using 35mm instead? When I get a new camera, I don’t know how well it’s going to perform, and I would hate to waste a real cartridge only to find out the shutter wasn’t opening or something stupid like that. So before using a real 126 film on a new aquisition, I’ll test with a reloaded one. Also, the colour 126 cartridges are all very expired, so there is a trade-off. Good colours / predictable results with sprocket holes, or completely unpredictable results but no sprocket holes?

This was the last roll to be souped in my exhausted C-41 chemistry. Processing at room temperature has gone from 18 minutes up to 25 minutes, my blix is exhausted, and I suspect the stabilizer is going too. So I’ll let some colour films pile up a bit before I make up a new batch of chemicals to resume processing. Maybe I’ll do some B&W in the meantime.

Compact Camera Quest (Part 3)

Posted 2011.07.18 12.31 in Photography

In Part 1 of my quest, I started to identify what I was looking for in a classic compact film camera. In Part 2, I found a camera that was very easy to love – except that you can’t get film for it any more and the batteries it uses have been banned.

The third camera I came across on this journey was the Minox 35GT. Minox is mostly known for their sub-miniature ‘spy’ cameras – tiny little things you’d expect to see in a James Bond movie. Their 35mm line is not as well-known, but seem to be quite popular among the sub-compact enthusiast crowd.

Unlike the two Rolleis I looked at earlier, the Minox is a real lightweight – it’s made of a dense plastic, possibly ABS. Like the Rollei 35B, the Minox lens collapses into the camera body when not in use. Unlike the 35B, the Minox has a fold-up door which covers and protects the lens (and the front of the viewfinder) while the camera is closed.

One of the features that attracted me to the Minox 35 series was that they use aperture-priority AE. This was the mode with which I first learned about automatic exposure, and it remains my favorite kind of AE. With aperture priority, you select your desired aperture and the camera sets the appropriate shutter speed. This allows you to control the depth-of-field of your shot.

Minox 35GT

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Compact Camera Quest (Part 1)

Posted 2011.07.14 16.14 in Photography

“The best camera in your collection is the one you have with you when you need it.”

I don’t know who originally said that, but they were right. The fanciest gear and finest lenses in the world won’t do you any good if you’ve left them at home because they’re too big / heavy / bulky.

Granted, every cellphone now has a “camera” in it. Or the latest Canon or Nikon digital P&S is about the size and weight of a deck of cards… but that’s not what I like. I like film. I like old-school. I like classic cameras. I do like convenience though, and I don’t always want to have to stop to tinker with my camera before taking the shot.

At one point, I had thought my Canonet GIII QL17 was the perfect 35mm camera. And my Zeiss Ikon Nettar is a nearly-perfect medium-format. Problem is, I don’t carry them around everywhere. The Canonette isn’t all that bulky but it is a bit heavy, and doesn’t fit in a small purse or jacket pocket. And the Nettar is a fantastic folding camera, but it’s an antique in great condition, so just a bit too dear for me to lug around everywhere day after day.

Then I learned about the Rollei 35 – a full-frame 35mm camera that some referred to as “sub-compact”. Intrigued, I soon found one available online at a good price, and took the plunge…

Rollei B35

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It’s Film!

Posted 2009.08.29 13.31 in Hobbies, Photography

So I’ve been messing around with film the last week or so – 35mm film. I ran two rolls through my old Minolta X-370 manual camera, and one roll through an old-ish Canon EOS-3000 auto-focus that I got for cheap on eeeebay. Using the Minolta was fun, a blast from the past, it brought me back to when I was 14 or so and first received the camera for X-mas.

The Canon EOS body is much more modern, maybe 10 years old or so, and I mainly bought it to take it apart and see how it works. But I figured, before I destroyed the thing, I’d run some film through for fun. And the most fun I had with it was with my Sigma ultra-wide angle lens. This lens is designed specifically for a crop-sensor digital camera, the image it throws is not large enough to cover a full-frame sensor or film, which leads to vignetting. On the other hand — 10mm is so awesomely incredibly wide on a 35mm frame that I just had to mess with it. But enough talk, on with the pictures!

Camera / film specs: The Minolta is an X-370 manual camera, I shoot mostly set to aperture priority (I set the focus and aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed.) The two lenses I used were a Minolta 50mm f/1.7 and a Magnicon 28mm f/2.8 Macro. The Canon is an EOS3000 (aka EOS88) autofocus and I was using it with a Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 DC EX HSM lens. I mostly used the Aperture Priority mode on the Canon, although I did let the autofocus do its thing. In both cameras I have been using Fujicolor Superia ISO 200 film.

I have 3 more rolls of film, but will be trying to choose my shots more carefully in the future, due to the cost of buying & processing the film.

Cheers!

Focus, Focus, Focus

Posted 2009.08.28 9.32 in Photography

Some time in the past 20 years, auto-focus became a big thing. And appearantly the camera makers decided that auto-focus was so big, that nobody ever used manual focus any more. So the manufacturers decided that since nobody used manual focus, there was no point including any focusing aids. Kit lenses don’t have distance scales on them any more, and more alarmingly, when you look in the viewfinder all you get is a matte screen for focusing. No fine-tuning aids like microprisms or a split-image.

No big deal if all you use are auto-focus lenses and your auto-focus works perfectly and you never want to get artistic. But what if you want to play? What if you want to get funky with your photos? What if you want to use manual-only lenses? The plain matte screen is not much help.

And seriously – I got the DSLR because my point-&-shoot camera didn’t have a manual-focus function. I got the DSLR because I want to manual focus! It’s not good enough for manual-focus to be a sort of after-thought, something they included but didn’t expect anyone to take seriously. It has to be accurate, it has to work!

Just line up the vertical elements and it's in focus!

Enter Dr. Haoda and his aftermarket focusing screens! It’s just like the good old days, a split image in the middle, surrounded by a circle of microprisms.

Focusing is easy – just find a vertical line in your subject and dial it in so the top and bottom halfs line up. Or use the microprisms, when out-of-focus they are all nubbly, when in-focus they go smooth.

(This is a close-up of the middle of the focusing screen, just the very centre. Most of the screen is still the matte view that shows you the full image.)

Haoda ScreenDr. Haoda’s kit includes tools (tweezers & a special plastic tool) and little finger-gloves along with the actual focus screen. Installation was a bit hairy – basically you’re working in the delicate optical guts of the camera, going in where the lens goes and removing the existing screen then putting the new one in. If you take it slowly and are careful not to get the parts mixed up or turned around, you should be ok. I somehow managed to get things upside-down and backwards, and consequently I had to redo things a few nervous times before I figured out what I had done wrong.

When I got it right though, it really felt good! Suddenly my DSLR is a real camera! Auto-focus still works of course, now I can even see that it’s accurate, but more importantly, manual focus is now fast and easy. This is how I learned photography and it feels good to have it back.

Package and old screen

When the operation is complete, it’s a good idea to keep your old focusing screen ‘just in case’. The package you get from Dr. Haoda is a good place to store it.

WTF is with Big Cameras?

Posted 2009.08.26 5.20 in Photography, Pointless Blather

Although I’ve been having a lot of fun with my new DSLR over the past several weeks, I can’t get over the fact that it’s, well, big. I mean, it’s a big chunky body, then my prime lens is a big chunky lens. The lens is almost a pound and the body is probably 3/4 pound. Put them together and hang them from a strap and you’ve got yourself a significant weapon.

It wasn’t till I set my new camera next to my old, that the size difference really hit home. I’d like to show you the difference but that’d require yet another camera to get the picture, so that will have to wait for now. Suffice to say, my old manual 35mm SLR is significantly smaller and lighter – yet it also feels more solid as it’s mostly metal while the new DSLR is mostly plastic.

What makes this even less understandable is that the new camera captures a smaller image – it’s a “crop sensor”, APS-C size sensor. The camera body feels about twice as heavy, and is about twice the size, and all this to capture an image less than 2/3 the size of a 35mm frame. Ok maybe you say, but the new camera has all the technology in it and the old manual camera doesn’t? Well sort of. The old camera has a light meter, electronic shutter and all that, just no auto-focus. But then, we all know how big and bulky technology has gotten over the last 20 years, right?

DLSR on the left, old manual SLR on the right.

DLSR on the left, old manual SLR on the right.

Then the thing that really boggles my mind is these guys on the photography forums, who comment that the consumer DSLRs like mine are too small, that they like the big pro bodies that are larger and easier to handle. WTF?

Even the lenses are gargantuan – below are the two normal prime lenses, without the cameras. The 30mm f/1.4 that I use on the DSLR is a 1-pound monster, compared to the 50mm f/1.7 that I used for years on the old Minolta.

30mm DLSR on the left, old 50mm on the right.

30mm DLSR on the left, old 50mm on the right.

And before anyone starts ragging on me about how I should stop fussing about the equipment and learn to take better photos, I’ll point out that I can’t take crisp clear photos of both of my good cameras side-by-side, without using a third camera! These two pics were taken with my cellphone, in a dark room using only my computer screen for illumination. So thpppppt!