I don’t know what came over me

While I fairly frequently purchase old film cameras, I can’t remember ever buying an old digital camera. So why did I buy this one?

Recently I’ve come across a few articles on the internet talking about how cameras have become too complicated – with resolution and functionality that we don’t really need, and that it might be worth taking a look at older cameras to see what they can do. For example: Digital classic: Robin reviews the original Canon 5D in 2018; Why do I still have warm, fuzzy feelings about the old Nikon D700? I guess it’s because the photos I shot with it eight years ago still stand up today. Can’t say that about some other cameras I’ve bought….; Is 4MP Enough In 2018? (Three Part Series – Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.) etc.

So I decided to try to find an older digital camera to see what the experience would be like. The Nikon D700 (example one above) and the Canon 5D Mark I (example two above) were a bit more than I wanted to pay for what after all was pretty much a whim. The cameras in the three part series were all a bit too “low end” for me.

A secondary factor was that my use of digital cameras has been so far limited to Canon compact digital cameras; Panasonic compact digital cameras; and most particularly Minolta/Sony DSLRs. Apart from briefly trying out my son-in-law’s camera I’ve never tried Nikon digital cameras.

In the end I settled on this camera, which met my basic criteria:

  • A Nikon DSLR so that I could get familiar with the Nikon digital experience – even if a rather dated one.
  • A resolution appropriate for my normal use i.e. posting to this blog, social media sites, and occasional prints up to 8×10 inches.
  • Outrageously inexpensive (I already had the 35-80mm lens, which I’d used on some of my film Nikons).

It’s a Nikon D80, which co-incidentally is the same model as the one my son-in-law has.

It came out in August 2006 and according to Nikon it has the following key features:

  • 10.2 effective megapixel Nikon DX Format CCD image sensor
  • High-speed continuous shooting: 3 frames per second (fps) in bursts of up to 100 consecutive JPEG (FINE M-size or smaller) or 6 RAW (NEF) images
  • Advanced high-precision, high-performance imaging processing engine with color-independent pre-conditioning
  • 3D-Color Matrix Metering II with 420-pixel RGB sensor delivers consistent and dependable automatic exposure for ideal results in most lighting conditions
  • Refined 11-area AF system with new Auto-area AF mode and center sensor that can be switched to wide-frame operation for broader coverage
  • ISO AUTO mode automatically adjusts sensitivity between ISO 100 to 1600, maximizing available light to help achieve optimal exposure
  • Seven automated Digital Vari-Programs (Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close Up, Sports, Night Landscape and Night Portrait) optimize white balance, sharpening, tone, color, saturation and hue to match the scene.
    User-selectable choice of Normal, Softer, Vivid, More vivid, Portrait, Custom and Black-and-white image optimization options
  • Near-instant response with 0.18 sec. power-up and approx. 80-millisecond shutter release time lag promotes fast handling
  • Top shutter speed of 1/4,000 second and flash sync speeds up to 1/200 second
  • Fast image transfer via USB 2.0 Hi-Speed interface and SD memory card
  • Creative in-camera effects and editing functions consolidated under the new Retouch menu, including D-Lighting, Red-eye correction, Trim, Image Overlay, Monochrome settings (Black-and-white, Sepia, Cyanotype) and Filter Effects (Skylight, Warm filter, Color balance)
  • Multiple Exposure shooting option automatically produces an effect that resembles multiple exposure techniques used with film
  • Large 2.5-inch LCD monitor with ultra-wide 170-degree viewing angle for clear image preview and easy access to settings and information, including RGB Histograms
  • Selectable Slideshow function (Standard or Pictmotion)
  • SD memory card storage, SDHC compatible
  • Lightweight, compact body
  • High-energy EN-EL3e rechargeable lithium-ion battery delivers the power to shoot up to 2,700 pictures on a single charge and provides detailed battery status information. (Battery life figure determined by in-house test parameters)
  • Built-in Flash with i-TTL flash control and full support for Nikon’s Creative Lighting System
  • The D80 supports more than 43 AF NIKKOR lenses in addition to the growing family of DX NIKKOR lenses
  • Includes Nikon’s PictureProject software for easy control over image adjustment and management
  • Support for Nikon’s new Capture NX software, which provides easier access to powerful and visually intuitive enhancement tools that help tap the full potential of NEF images

While I’ve taken a few pictures with it already I don’t think I’ve used it enough to be able to say much at the present time so I’ll save my thoughts for a future post.

Film Camera 2018/2 – Minolta STsi

I wasn’t really interested in another Minolta body, but what caught my eye was what came with it: A Minolta AF 50mm F1.7 Lens; Minolta AF Zoom 28-80mm f3.5-5.6; Minolta AF Zoom 70-210mm f4.5-5.6 plus other assorted goodies – all for an extremely low price. I have an old A-mount camera (specifically a Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D). I’ve been thinking of giving it away to one of my grandkids (if any of them are willing to accept such old technology of course), but I didn’t want to sacrifice any of my Sony/Minolta lenses. These seemed to be a good solution.

According to camera-wiki.org The STsi was:

…an entry level autofocus 35mm film SLR camera using the Minolta AF mount, manufactured by Minolta and released in 1999. In the Americas it was known as Maxxum STsi and in Japan it was called α Sweet S (Alpha Sweet S).

The electronic controlled shutter is vertical travelling with speeds from 20s to 1/2000 sec, plus bulb and a flash sync of 1/90 of a sec. The metering is a TTL based system using a 8 segment silicon photo cell. It has a sensitivity of 1 to 20 EV and in spot mode 4 to 20 EV (ISO 100, 50mm f/1,4. Metering is based on using DX encoded film, which can also be manually set from 6 to 6400 ISO in 1/3 inc. The exposure modes include, program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual exposure along with settings for portrait, landscape, close-up, sport, night. The film transport has a motorized drive with film automatically advancing after exposure. Drive modes includes single frame, continuous for up to 1 fps, self-timer and multiple exposure. The built-in flash has a GN of 12. The camera is powered by two CR2 batteries.

For a full list of specifications see here.

As you’ll see from the specs it’s quite small and light, somewhat ‘plasticky’ feeling (as I suppose were most of the cameras from this era) but nonetheless with quite a solid feel. A dial on the top left of the camera allows you to select from various options: manual ISO selection; Flash options; Exposure modes – it has the usual array of exposure modes including Programme, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual selected by using the ‘func’ button in the center of this dial in conjunction with the dial on the front right of the camera. Options for drive mode and wireless flash are also controlled from here. Scene modes are available including: portrait, landscape, macro, sport and night. There’s also an option for spot metering. If you get stuck and want to return to the programme mode just press the large button marked ‘P’. On the left near the lens barrel there are two buttons, one to pop up the flash and the other for exposure compensation. On the bottom left you find a switch to toggle between manual and autofocus. The fairly large and bright viewfinder displays the following information: Autofocus frame; LEDs for AE lock, aperture, shutter speed, flash ready. On the left side of the body there’s a dial to switch between regular and panorama mode. Mine has a date back, which I’ll never use.

Although this might be an entry level camera there’s plenty of functionality to play with. It’s much less spartan than the Canon EOS 888 I looked at last September (see September Film Camera – Canon EOS 888).

So now to try it out.

Picture taken with a Sony A77II and Tamron A18 AF 18-250mm f3.5-6.3.

HP Photosmart 433

I generally use either fairly recent generation digital cameras (e.g. Sony A77II; Sony RX-100; Sony NEX 5N) or any of a quite large number of old/vintage film cameras. In this case the camera is also fairly old (I don’t know exactly how old, but the date on the accompanying manual is 2003), but rather than being a film camera it’s digital.

It’s a HP photosmart 433 and it was given to me by a friend. It’s quite small (4.6in x 2.2 in x 1.5in deep) and light (0.44lbs) and has a 3.1 megapixel, 1/27 inch CCD sensor and uses standard AA batteries.

Floating dock at Spur Beach.

It also has a tolerably large and bright optical viewfinder and a tiny (1.5 inch diagonal, 61,600 pixel screen). The lens is fixed focus with an f4.0 aperture. Shutter speeds range from 1/1.5-1/1000 seconds. The camera also has a built in flash with a range of 8ft.

Quality settings are: Super-fine JPEG 2048 x 1536; Fine JPEG 2048 x 1536; Normal JPEG 640 x 480. It also has video capture (.avi) at 320 x 240 – 15 fps. ISO ranges from 100-400.

Fisherman at Spur Beach.

Exposure compensation in the ±2 EV range, in 1/2 EV steps is available view a menu option.
Exposure is fully automatic and action and night (via the flash settings) modes are also available. There’s also a black and white mode and a self timer.

The camera does not offer an optical zoom. Instead a digital zoom (up to 3.0x) is provided.

Lake view from our house.

Images are stored in memory (16mb) and on an SD card.

Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) support is also provided.

Floating dock at Moon Beach.

Why did I even try this antediluvian digital camera? Well, I like a challenge and I truly believe that it’s not the camera that makes a picture – it’s the photographer. I believe a reasonably competent photographer should be able to get a decent picture from any camera. How did I do? Probably I’m not as competent as I sometimes think I am and I wasn’t too pleased with the results. I didn’t really give myself a fair chance though. I took the camera with me while walking the dog and just took a few snapshots while walking around my neighborhood. I didn’t read the manual and I didn’t even go through the various, but few menu options available.

Tennis court.

The LCD is so small and has such a low resolution that it’s virtually useless. I hate digital zooms and so didn’t use it. The optical finder wasn’t bad, but I had to be careful to keep my finger away from the lens. The camera seems to have a very poor dynamic range: anything the least bit “contrasty” and the highlights were badly blown. Perhaps the exposure compensation could have helped here had I only known that it existed. I was also a bit frustrated that the camera resets a number (but not all) of the settings when you turn it off. I was particularly annoyed that the flash reset to auto when I always want it to be set to off (shades of the Olympus Infinity Stylus Epic). I only discovered later that by holding down the ‘OK’ button while turning on the camera will retain the settings from the previous session.

Guardian Lion.

By fully familiarizing myself with the camera; picking my subjects better; choosing to shoot in better light etc. I could perhaps get better results – but why bother. This particular camera is never likely to become my ‘go to’ camera. I might give it one more go before I put it out to pasture though.

Around our tree. An example of the camera’s black and white mode.

One final anecdote to end this post. When my friend gave me the camera he initially wanted to keep the 32 gigabyte card that came with it. Unfortunately, I had to point out the it wasn’t a 32GB card but rather a 32 MEGABYTE card.

A bag full of cameras

A while back I was contacted by friend and neighbor who knows that I collect cameras. Apparently he was at a flea market somewhere and came across a bag of cameras that the vendor was giving away for free. My neighbor decided to take them in case I was interested.

I didn’t expect to find a null series Leica, or even a less rare classic camera. I did expect to find the kind of thing you find at most thrift stores: cheap, plastic point and shoot cameras and sure enough when I opened the bag that is what I found – specifically:

  1. A Ricoh TF-500. Seems to work. I’ve read that this camera has a reputation for having a very sharp lens, and being a very capable picture taker. I’ll definitely try this one.
  2. A Pentax IQ Zoom60. Also working. Also a decent camera. I’ll be trying this one too.
  3. A Canon Sure Shot Owl. Has one very unique characteristic: an exceptionally large viewfinder – larger than anything I’ve ever seen on a compact camera. At first I didn’t think this was working, but after a bit of fiddling around it now seems to work. Even had an old film in it. I’ll try this one too.
  4. Two Kodak Instamatic 104 cameras vintage 1965. One seems to work. One definitely doesn’t. Kodak made and sold millions of these things. They use 126 format film, which Kodak stopped making in 1999 and other manufacturers in 2008. It’s almost impossible to find nowadays so I don’t think I’ll be using either of these. However, the Instamatic is an important Kodak camera and I don’t have one in my collection. So I’ll keep the one that works and toss the other one.
  5. A Lavec-002. It’s a cheap plastic camera with virtually no functionality that’s been made to look like a more expensive single lens reflex (SLR) camera. It does seem to work though and it’s so terrible that I’m inclined to try it to see if it’s possible to get a decent picture from it.
  6. A Kalimar Spirit 35. Another cheap plastic limited functionality camera. Thankfully it seems to be broken (I can’t find a shutter release anywhere, but there’s an ominous looking hole on top where it probably once was) so I couldn’t’ use it even if I wanted to. If it wasn’t broken I probably still wouldn’t try it. It’s bright, fluorescent orange/red color would be enough to put me off.

Vivitar 35ES – Results

This is my October 2017 film camera. It’s taken me a very long time to complete this roll of film. As you can see from the picture above I started to use it towards the end of November, 2017 (today is 6 February 2018)! There a number of reasons for this. First my wife had a serious car accident December 1. Our car was totaled, but thankfully my wife received only bumps and bruises – painful, but not life threatening. However, she needed to be tended for a while so I wasn’t able to get out much. Just as she was starting to recover the weather got really cold and I didn’t feel like going out. Then one day while making a fire I managed to drop a fairly heavy log onto my sock-covered foot. That slowed me down for a while.

It’s still cold, snowy and icy so I’m still not getting out that much, but I’m hoping to do so more in the near future.

Generally I think the camera performed very well. I, however, made a number of “rookie” mistakes. I missed one frame because I forgot to remove the lens cap (I guess I haven’t used a rangefinder camera in a while). Then on a couple of occasions I rested my finger on the top of the camera in such a way that it prevented the film from advancing correctly and caused a few inadvertent double exposures (at least one of which was quite interesting). At first I didn’t realize what was going on. I heard a strange grading noise, but didn’t make the connection with the location of my finger.

As mentioned in the earlier post the viewfinder is surprisingly bright and the rangefinder patch fairly clear. This is not always the case with compact rangefinder cameras of this vintage. Often the viewfinders are dim and cloudy.

The lens is every bit as good as internet reviewers say it is. Exposure was as anticipated.

So the camera did everything asked of it. Unfortunately, I didn’t altogether enjoy the experience. My first serious film camera was a Minolta Hi-Matic 7sii. It was a gift from my wife early in our relationship and I have a very strong emotional attachment to it. When I started collecting cameras I thought I would build a collection of similar compact cameras. I now have a number of them.

I suspect, however, that my aging eyes are no longer up to cameras like this. Even though the viewfinder is bright and the rangefinder patch was pretty clear, I had difficulty using the rangefinder – more difficulty than I’ve had with vintage SLRs.

Moreover, I’m not convinced that rangefinders are the best option for my type of photography either. I think of rangefinders being best suited to genres like street photography where you need something small, light, unobtrusive and where you can see things moving into the frame (think Henri Cartier-Bresson). Unfortunately that’s not my type of photography. I tend to take pictures of things that don’t move: old buildings, old objects, still life, landscapes etc. It’s only taken me nearly 40 years to figure this out.

I’m not going to give up on rangefinders yet though. I’d like to try a rangefinder with a larger viewfinder (e.g. I have a Canon P; A Voigtlander Bessa R2 and some others). If that fails then I can see an autofocus SLR in my future.