Posts filed under 'Photography'

The Golden Era of the SLR


I was thumbing through some old Popular Mechanics magazines recently and came across a bunch of ads for Japanese SLRs from the late ’70s. For those only versed in the language of megapixels and memory cards, there was a time when cameras captured images on film (how novel!). SLR stands for single-lens reflex — basically, a camera with a mirror in front of the shutter that would flip up when a photo was taken to expose a frame of film. SLRs were a big deal back in the day since they allowed the photographer to see through the same lens that was capturing the image. You see before the SLR, the rangefinder was king. The rangefinder didn’t allow a person to see through the lens taking the picture, so the photographer had to rely on a parallax viewfinder to get a shot in focus. SLRs gained in popularity among professional photographers in the late ’60s, but the amateurs were largely ignored until the mid ’70s. One of the early consumer SLRs was the Minolta SRT-101, but this was still a fully manual camera, meaning the photographer had to set the exposure time and f-stop using dials and rings. But with advances in technology, microprocessor computing power was harnessed for use in SLRs. The real breakthrough came in 1976 when Canon introduced the AE-1. This camera allowed the photographer to shoot automatically by letting the camera choose the appropriate shutter speed and/or f-stop based on data from the light meter. The AE-1 also incorporated copper plated acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) in the camera body, which reduced the overall weight and brought manufacturing costs down. Interior mechanics were also given a modular treatment, bring the total number of internal parts down and further reduced manufacturing costs.

My favorite SLR of the late ’70s and early ’80s is the Minolta X-570. This camera is similar in many respects to the AE-1 which I also like very much, but I feel the Minolta has a more refined designed. In particular, I like the simple arrangement of controls on the top of the X-570 which are well marked. The viewfinder is also nicely implemented with an LED display for shutter speed. Also, while Canon made great FD mount lens for the AE-1, I like Minolta’s MD lens just a little better. Plus, with an adapter, I can use M43 lens on the X-570. If you are looking a great SLR, both of these cameras are worth considering.

Add comment October 2nd, 2012

Mini Camera Review: Canon T2i

I’ve been thinking about getting a DSLR (digital single lens reflex camera) for a couple of years now. This isn’t a sign that I’m abandoning film or the prelude to an impending apopalypse — I’m just looking for cheaper and faster alternatives to what has been a 100% focus on 35mm and 120mm photography. The push that finally made me pull the trigger on a DSLR is my ongoing Cold War documentary film. Up to now, everything has been recorded in standard definition video on a Panasonic DVX-100. While it’s a great camera in many ways, the DVX-100 is not HD and that was becoming an issue. I tried up-converting my SD footage to 1080p during the holiday break using a number of methods, but was really unhappy with the the results. Over the last couple of months, I’ve seen some really nice HD footage from Canon DSLRs, both here at work and online at websites like Vimeo. I started doing some research and found the Canon line of DSLRs are very popular HD film makers. Monte Hellman of Two Lane Blacktop fame supposedly made his latest movie using a Canon DSLR. I’m kind of a Nikon guy for the most part, so my first inclination was to look at that brand since I already have a couple of Nikon lens for my F100 sitting around. However, Nikon doesn’t offer audio input jacks on their DSLR, so that ended up being a deal breaker for me. So I started looking at the lower end Canon DSLRs, which are still pretty expensive, but offer a good value for the performance if you can get over the cheap build quality. I settled on the T2i because it was the best camera I could afford after selling my DVX-100. What really sold me on the T2i is an alternate operating system called Magic Lantern. This OS is open source, user installable, and opens up a number of video features not available using the standard Canon OS. For example, Magic Lantern allows for audio monitoring with the LCD viewer, variable bit rates for video encoding, zebra stripes for exposure, and time lapse photography (among other things). After spending an entire Sunday trying to install the Magic Lantern OS, I can attest that it’s not an entirely easy process, but well worth the effort.

I don’t have any Canon lens, but I do have a bunch of m42 (screw mount) lens I’ve been using on the T2i via an adapter. The only lens that has worked well has been my Super Takumar 55mm F1.8, which is not a very fast lens by today’s standards, but is one of my favorites anyway. One of the great things about DSLR photograph and video is the shallow depth of field when a prime lens is opened all the way up, which will be great for interviews when I want the background blurry. I’ve also discovered I can better focus on a subject using the built in digital zoom, which has two handy buttons on the top right side of the grip. With my DVX-100, I use to always manually zoom all the way in on a subject, set the focus, then zoom back out to my desired framing which was a hassle. This weekend I’ll give the time lapse feature a try and post the results. If anyone has tips for using Magic Lantern, please post a response. I would love to hear from other ML users.

Add comment January 18th, 2011

Mini Camera Review: Nikon F100

I haven’t used my Nikon F100 much because my old Minolta X-370 is still my go-to SLR. However, as the Minolta quickly ages (it use to be my dad’s for crying out loud), it will need to be retired at some point. I’ve decided the F100 will be my next (and last) dedicated SLR before I move on to a dSLR. I had a Sigma SLR for a while which I liked — it had a compact design and was easy to use — but I never liked Sigma’s line of optics with the exception being my DP1. Nikon, on the other hand, made/makes fantastic prime lens that are generally affordable when compared to my all time favorite Zeiss. I was originally considering an F5, but after talking with other Nikon users, they steered me to the F100 which is similar to the F5, but smaller and lighter. I’ve been using old manual E-Series Nikon lens which are ridiculously cheap and perform quite well despite the bad mouthing they get from purists. Eventually, as my eyesight fails with age, I’ll invest in some auto focus lens, but for now I’m happy focusing manually using the focus assist. Honestly, coming from my little Contax auto focus, this camera is a dream to use.

 I mentioned that at some point I want to get a dSLR. That desire is being driven largely by an interest in high-def video. I’ve seen some really nice HD footage shot by those Canons, but I’ve read Nikon hasn’t quite good HD “right” in their camera. What a shame, since my lens are mostly Nikon at this point. Well, I guess I’ll just wait and see if Nikon can get it together.

Add comment September 21st, 2010

Mini Camera Review: Sigma DP1


Not many people are interested in a single purpose digital camera, which is exactly what the Sigma DP1 is. Designed for wide angle nature photography, this compact digital camera offers few features most consumers would want, like a mechanical zoom lens or the ability to shoot HD video. But the DP1 does include features I find particularly appealing, like a dSLR sized imaging sensor and manual exposure control. I’m especially fond of the long shutter option, which allows for (semi) long exposure night photography — something I haven’t seen on many compact digital cameras. I also like the overall design and construction of the DP1, which has a decidedly old-fashion flair to it. When the lens is retracted and covered with the purpose-built cap, it slips easily into the jacket pocket. The layout of the controls are pretty simple and the camera is relatively easy to learn. There is no optical viewfinder, but I always use the LCD for framing shots, so this isn’t a big deal for me. And while I like the design from an aesthetic standpoint, the ergonomics are really quite bad once you start using it on a regular basis. So bad that I prefer the way my crappy Canon A-70 handles. Once you attach the lens shade/filter adapter, the camera becomes even more awkward to use. But I suspect most fans of the DP1 put up with its quirk because when it does perform, it performs fantastically. I was sold on the camera after seeing example photos on the Sigma website. It’s not easy to produce razor-sharp and highly saturated pictures, but with some practice, it within reach of even the most novice of users. One other thing worth pointing out is the DP1 does export images in the RAW format, which is common for DSLRs for not so much for compact digital cameras. Unfortunately, Sigma forces you to use their software to convert the images to something you can use (like .jpg), but for me, this isn’t a big hassle. I suppose if you had dozens of photos to convert it would be frustrating though.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning the newer DP2 offers some features that might appeal to a wider user-base. Gone is the wide angle lens, which has been replaced something approximating the standard 50mm focal length (non zoom of course) someone would use on a dSLR. But other than the lens change, I don’t know if Sigma made any radical departures from the original design. Would I recommend this camera to someone in the market for a compact digital camera? Probably not. Besides the fact it lacks a zoom lens, most people would be very disappointed with the shutter lag and low light performance. These aren’t really issues for most DP1 users who are taking landscape photos, but casual users are looking for something to take pictures of their kids, which the DP1 wasn’t really designed for. I suppose the DP1 would make a good travel camera due to it’s small size and robust construction — just make sure and bring the battery charger.

For examples shots from the DP1, see my Flickr page

Add comment July 2nd, 2010

Mini Camera Review: Minolta X-570


This SLR was my dad’s and it has served me faithful for about a half dozen years. I think it’s one of the easiest cameras I’ve ever used. It’s also one of the most robust built SLRs I’ve come across. But what about the lens? Minolta use to make great optics in the MD and MC format. I also have an M42 adapter, which lets me use screw mount lens. This opens up a whole range of lens from Japanese Super Takamurs to old East German Zeiss Jenas. I’ve added the Autowinder G motor drive to my X-570, which improves the balance of the camera and makes it operate in a fashion that seems more modern. The X-570 came out in the early ’80s and was a less expensive version of the X-700, but is consider a better camera than its more expensive sibling. I tend to use the X-570 in the all manual mode, so I set the shutter speed and then adjust the aperture while monitoring the exposure LED in the viewfinder. Unfortunately, when I’m using an M42 lens, the view is “stopped down”, meaning a dim image. This isn’t an issue in low light settings, because the lens will generally be open all the way. But when shooting, say, around F16, the viewfinder is very dark. In these cases, I usually compose my shot and then dial the appeture down. Really, it’s not a big deal for me most of the time. Of course when using a Minolta mount lens, this isn’t an issue.

Add comment December 23rd, 2009

Mini Camera Review: Contax G1


This is a camera I wanted to love so much — yet it continues to disappoint every time I use it. Rangefinders are dreamy, and I bought the Contax after feeling nostalgic for my old Voighlander Bessa R. And the Contax should be a great camera simply because of its impeccable pedigree, yet I find the camera maddening to take pictures with due to its bizarre design. The two lonely positives are the interchangeable Carl Zeiss lens and the beautiful fit and finish of the camera body. Just holding the camera in your hand is like handling a piece of art. But back to the aggravating design. The G1 is actually not a traditional rangefinder like the old Leicas. It can operate in auto or manual focus modes. To manually focus, you must turn an awkwardly placed dial on the top of the camera. For me, it takes forever to get the focus just right, even with as much practice as I’ve had. the updated G2 has the focus dial in the front of the camera, which is a little better, but it’s still totally fiddly. Forget auto focus mode, I find it completely useless.

Despite the frustrations the camera elicits, I continue to use it. Quite simply, the Zeiss lens are some of the best lens I’ve ever used. The 45mm Planar is actually considered the sharpest 35mm camera lens ever made, beating the Leica 50mm Summicron. For some reason these lens are magic with black and white film. I also like the camera size. It’s smaller than an SLR, but has a nice heft to it and it auto advances the film unlike my old Bessa R. It’s too bad they screwed up on the auto and manual focusing though. Coming from my Nikon F100 (review coming), the auto focus on the G1 seems clumsy and primitive. Even my cheapo Yashica T4, made by the same company, has a better auto focus system. But I suppose I’ll keep the camera just for its lens. The G series Zeiss can’t be used on any digital cameras, so they can be found on eBay for pretty cheap.

2 comments November 4th, 2009

Plus-X Rocks

I scanned some old b&w film the other day and was surprised at how cool it came out. Sure, you can desaturate a digital camera pic in Photoshop, but I still prefer good old b&w reversal film. Maybe it’s the grain. BTW, these shots were taken w/ a red filter on a Yashica Electro GSN rangefinder.

Photo 1
Photo 2

2 comments April 11th, 2007

Kodachrome Brazil, 1963 — Part Two

You might remember a post from a while back linking to a gallery full of images culled from slides I scanned. Those images were taken in 1963 by an American traveling in Brazil and given to me by my neighbor Tim. I’ve been meaning to digitize more, but didn’t have access to a slide scanner. Well, that has changed since my father gave me a new scanner for Christmas. It’s a flatbed Epson, but it came with an adapter allowing slide and negative scanning. Check the link if your interested in seeing more of the images.

2 comments January 10th, 2006

Kodachrome Brazil, 1963

My neighbor Tim from across the street was cleaning out his garage the other day and came across a box of slides he found at a thrift store a couple years back. Naturally, knowing my obsession with Kodachrome, Tim offered the slides to me. It’s hard to tell what the story is behind the snapshots, but this I know: all the photos were taken in Brazil in 1963. I don’t know anything about the photographer, but from looking through everything, he must have been some kind of American official. My guess is he was on some kind of diplomatic mission — maybe related to trade or education. Anyway, take a look at some of the slides I scanned yesterday. It’s a great little window into the past.

7 comments September 27th, 2005

Mama Don’t Take My Kodachrome

Well, Kodak finally pulled the trigger and announced the end of Kodachrome (K40) super 8 this week. This is a real bummer, since they decided to replace it with the color reversal film Ektachrome 64T (tungsten balanced) instead of the anticipated Ektachrome 100D (daylight balanced). At first I didn’t think any of my cameras would notch these new 64T carts correctly. But as it turns out, two of my lesser used cams should recognize the new carts, so not all is lost. Also, some of my favorite cameras that do timelapse have manual exposure control, so it’s possible I could use 64T and just adjust the exposure by 2/3 a stop or so.

What really bums me out is that Kodachrome was my gateway into super 8. Any super 8 camera out there will notch a Kodachrome cartridge correctly in a plug-and-play sort of way. And Kodachrome was cheap to buy and process. I’m afraid that with the demise of Kodachrome at the end of the summer, less people will find their way into amateur filmmaking like I did.

Kodak claims they’re discontinuing Kodachrome for environmental reasons. I don’t have any issues with that, because Kodachrome does require all sorts of dangerous chemicals to process. However, for some strange reason, Kodak will continue to make Kodachrome for 16mm, so their reasoning for discontinuing super 8 is just bizarre. My only guess is that Kodak wants to transform super 8 into a professional film format by moving us over to negative film.

1 comment May 12th, 2005


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