Good Cameras

In my previous post about the X-Pro2 and 56mm I wrote, “I feel like I could actually make some decent images with this combination.” That sounds suspiciously like a belief that specific gear is required to make a “decent image” and could start a whole thing about it’s-the-photographer-not-the-camera or the best-camera-is-the-one-you-have-with-you trope.

To be clear, I of course believe that a good photographer can make good photos with any camera. But other than to prove a point, who would would want to?

On the other hand, I’m not a terribly good photographer. I just don’t have the creative vision for it. I enjoy making photos so this is fine with me. Much of the joy I derive from photography is in playing with various cameras and processes. I can make shitty photos with any old camera, and often do, but I prefer to use good cameras whenever possible.

I love cameras, but what do I mean by a “good” camera? For me, a good camera is about how it looks, feels, and functions. By “feel” I don’t only mean touch. I also mean how the camera makes me feel when I’m using it.

 

Leica M4

Leica film cameras are my idea of the perfect camera. Picking up a vintage Leica M is a tactile experience that no other camera can replicate. The feel of an M is perfect. The size, shape, texture, and weight are all ideal. Beyond that, there’s the emotional “feel” of a Leica. It’s impossible for me to separate Leica from its storied history. I’m sentimental that way, so using a Leica feels good in every way that a camera can.

 

Olympus OM-1n

My old, beat up Olympus OM-1n is a good camera. It had fallen down the side of volcano, so the previous owner gave it to me. It was a mess. The bottom plate literally required a hammer to get it back into shape. It’s tiny and barely works but I always remember where it’s been and I love it.

 

Olympus Stylus Epic

And yes, sometimes, a good camera is the one you have with you. I’ve been carrying a little Stylus Epic, on and off, for years. I paid $10 for the one in the photo. It’s plastic and cheap, but I love how it works. I can reach into my pocket, open the camera, and take a photo with one quick, smooth movement. And I don’t worry about dropping it. It’s a very good camera.

 

Fuji X-Pro2 with Fujinon 56mm f/1.2

And then there’s the camera that got me thinking about all this again. The Fuji X-Pro2. It handles similarly to a Leica M. It feels good in the hand. The controls are designed and arranged the way I like them. Finally, the images are technically very very good.

When I wrote “I feel like I could actually make some decent images with this combination” what I meant was that using the X-Pro2 feels good, works well, and helps me create the kind of photos I enjoy making. Therefore, like the others, it’s a good camera.

 

Around the yard with the OM-2n

I was cleaning out a closet and found my bag of unused Olympus gear. I couldn’t remember why it was unused so I grabbed one of the OM-2n bodies with a “silver nose” Zuiko 85mm f/2.0 and shot a roll of Tri-X. I’ve found the 85 to be a bit prone to flare. Like this…

Demonstration of flare with Zuiko 85mm f/2.0. Leeloo (2015)

Generally, though, I still like the OM-2n. My favorite is the OM-1n but auto-exposure sure can be handy. Here are a few other images from the roll (scanned on the Pakon and basic curve adjustment in Lightroom).

Peters Camera Repair

Mr. Peters of Peters Camera Repair

An institution in Grand Rapids since basically forever. He’s fixed many cameras for me, my father, and my grandfather. It’s comforting to know he’s still there.

Replacing my Olympus Stylus Epic

You will almost always find an Olympus Stylus Epic on or near my person. The unassuming little Stylus Epic is in my opinion the best compact film camera for carrying everywhere. It easily fits in my pocket, is weather resistant, has a very nice f/2.8 lens, a spot meter, and goes from pocket to photo about 25 times faster than my iPhone.

I’ve been carrying an Epic for about 10 years now, and the second one I’ve owned finally stopped working consistently. Occasionally it just doesn’t fire, and there’s a hairline crack somewhere which affects the top center of every frame. Not ideal, so I began looking to replace it.

Today on Craigslist, this showed up…

Olympus Stylus Epic

A nifty, like-new condition Stylus Epic Deluxe. In the box with all original paperwork, case, strap, etc. It’s not black, but the champagne color is pretty nice.

I paid $10. How great is that! This is undoubtedly the best ten dollars I’ve ever spent on photography gear.

Color Film Photography Isn’t Worth the Trouble

Tractor. Olympus OM2n. Kodachrome.

I just don’t get on well with color film photography. Getting color right is hard. There are so many pieces to getting a good color image that I’m considering giving up on it altogether.

Availability

The first and most enjoyable color film over the past 70 years has been Kodachrome. Transparency film in general is fun and vivid and interesting, but only Kodachrome looks like Kodachrome. And now it’s gone. Same for Polaroid. Same for my long favorite Kodak Portra NC. And so on. With the fun emulsions disappearing, so is my interest in color film photography

Processing

Minilabs are disappearing faster than film stocks. The quality of the few that remain is so hit and miss that it’s generally better to ship color film off to a pro lab. Pro labs like Dwayne’s or North Coast or any number of others do a great, consistent job. The problem is cost and timing. If I wanted to see my photos right this second I’d shoot digital, but waiting 10 days or more is not something I enjoy. Figure in the cost of shipping and it gets expensive pretty quickly. If I were more patient and cost was no object, I’d ship everything to a pro lab and have them do high resolution scans for me. Processing black and white film at home is so easy I can’t figure why more people don’t do it. To be fair, color processing doesn’t look terribly difficult, but I haven’t been motivated enough to try it.

Scanning

Speaking of scanning. Scanning sucks generally, but scanning color film sucks hardest. None of the software is anything but horrible to use. This makes getting consistently decent scans impossible. I’m sure others have figured it out, but I’m never happy with my results. Between iT8 targets, color profiles, and horrible software, I’ll take a pass. Scanning black and white negatives is more a matter of watching shadows and highlights. That I can usually manage.

Printing

Inkjet printers are damn good these days. Getting good color out of them is still too hard. I don’t want to spend time calibrating monitors or finding custom RIPs or buying ridiculously over-priced inks. Even if I get it right, it’s still a computer-generated image on inkjet paper. I’m old-fashioned and a real wet print made with light and chemicals, by hand, is much more interesting. Color printing in the darkroom isn’t worth the trouble to me.

Aside from the above, I rarely find that color adds much to most images. Unless the image is about color, I say leave it out.

Olympus OM – 1 and 2

Leica M7 and Olympus OM-2n

A few months ago I picked up a bag full of beat up Olympus cameras and lenses from a guy on Craigslist. (See http://jackbaty.com/2009/08/olympus-om-1n/”>this post.) I was told that the OM-2n was not repairable, but I continued to use the OM-1n and have become very fond of it. I like it so much I bought a working OM-2n to go with it – and it’s beautiful. I chose the 2n for its automatic exposure option and the ability, to use its off-the-film metered TTL flash.

The above photo shows the OM-2n (with an 85mm f2) next to my black Leica M7. The Olympus looks smaller, because it is. That surprised me too. It also costs about 10 times less. It may be just the novelty, but I’ve been grabbing the OMs on the way out the door more often than the Leicas. This little discovery could end up saving me a lot of money.

To see what an OM can do in capable hands, take a look at http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jane-bown“>Jane Bown’s work. Good stuff.

Olympus OM-1n

Olympus OM-1n

When you think of SLR cameras what’s the first manufacturer that pops into your head? That’s right, it’s Nikon or Canon. It’s been that way for a long time. Today, though, we’re talking about one of the minor players – Olympus.

If you spend any time listening to people who still use film cameras, you’ll hear the Olympus OM system mentioned frequently. It seems to have an almost cult-like following. Of course anything with a cult-like following piques my interest, so I started looking more closely at the old OM series of cameras.

The OM-1 was announced in 1972 and seems to have been very well received. The camera was http://www.olympus-global.com/en/corc/history/camera/om.cfm”>designed to solve 3 problems: size, weight, and shutter noise. All sorts of magical engineering went into making a small, light and quiet SLR. Yoshihisa Maitani is the man behind the design. He was quite famous for the Pen and XA series of cameras at Olympus. There are not too many rock star camera designers, but Maitani was one of them. I read somewhere that he carried a diamond-tipped pen in his pocket so he could sign his name right into the bodies of cameras when his fans would stop him on the street asking for an autograph.

Anyway, I bought an OM-1n, OM-2n and some lenses off Craigslist for next to nothing. The OM-1n, according to the seller (a geologist) had been dropped down a volcano, and it looked like it. The bottom plate was smashed in and barely fit onto the body. The mirror was stuck – half-way retracted. I wrote it off, but brought it into a local repair shop (Peter’s Camera) along with the OM-2n, which I planned to have CLA’d. It turns out the electronics on the OM-2n were not repairable. With an electronically controlled shutter, there was no fixing the camera. Surprisingly, Pete gladly accepted the challenge of the OM-1n.

I just got the the camera back and it works perfectly and looks great. I guess there’s not much you can’t fix on an all-mechanical camera. Pete straightened out the bottom plate, adjusted the shutter speeds and meter, and cleaned everything up nice. I ran a roll of Tri-X through it today, and it’s drying now. So far, it’s impressive. The body is no bigger than a Leica M, and not much louder. The viewfinder is bigger than I expected. I’m still getting used the shutter speed being on the lens mount but that shouldn’t take long. Overall, it seems to be a great camera, just like they said it was. Tomorrow I plan to shoot a roll or two of color film and try out the other lenses.

Cameras are fun.