Saturday, June 01, 2019

The Canon AE-1 Program - just shoot!

Even though I am a committed Nikon user, I do enjoy testing and shooting with  other camera systems. About a decade ago, I somehow got on a Canon SLR kick, and shot a number of Canon SLRs from the 1960s-70s - Canon FTb QL, Canon TL, Canon AV-1, Canon EF, Canon AL-1, Canon T70, Canon Pellix, the A-1, and the F-1.  I really liked the A-1, and it was every equivalent of the Nikon FA, but lacking in the simple control system and metering ability of the Nikon.  I never used a Canon AE-1, as popular as they were, but I recently acquired a Canon AE-1 Program.  I have been shooting with it quite a bit in the past month, and I want to share my thoughts on the camera.  This won't be a complete review of the camera's specifications, history, and operation, as they are easily found elsewhere.

First of all, the Canon AE-1 Program (or AE-1P) appeared in 1981, as a successor to the very popular AE-1 that came out in 1976. At the time, few cameras had full automation, or Program mode, which made the AE-1P an improvement over the AE-1, which, like many Canon SLRs, were shutter-priority in the automated mode.  The AE-1P also has manual and shutter-priority too, but I'll bet most users shot in full program mode, with the camera choosing the right shutter speed/aperture setting, allowing you to focus solely on your subject. For frame of reference, the Nikon FE2 came out in 1983, and it replaced the Nikon FE that appeared in 1978. Both of those cameras are Aperture-Priority and Manual mode cameras that are among my favorite manual Nikons. The user still had to select an aperture, and the camera the shutter speed.  The Canon AE-1P basically did away with that user choice thing, because dammit, the metering is VERY good, and in full program mode, I have found every exposure to be what I wanted.

This particular example of the AE-1P is all black, making it look like a sleek and professional camera.  It uses FD lenses, and I shot it with a Canon 50mm f/1.8, Canon 85mm f/1.8, and a Canon 24mm f/2.8 lens, as well as a crazy Sigma 16mm semi-fisheye lens.  When the Canon AE-1P was new, it was selling for around $300 in the US. I bought a Pentax MG around 1983 at a Service merchandise store, and had I chosen a Canon AE-1P instead (or a Nikon FE2), I wonder what directions my photography may have gone.  While the Pentax SLR was a pretty competent beginner SLR, it was aperture priority only, with no real manual control, except at 1/100 sec.  It's obvious to me now that the AE-1P was a game-changing SLR, coming out at a time when competitors were also exploring automation, but not all at the same level of excellence.

Initially, I found that I was overthinking when I shot with this camera.  Without reading the manual,I assumed that the S setting was for Shutter-priority, but then realized it was for the Self-timer.  I was always wondering if it was working properly, of course.  The shutter has just a bit of a wheeze, but seems to work just fine.  I see the aperture reading but not the shutter speed in the readout in the viewfinder, which was initially disconcerting.  After I developed the first roll of b&w film, my fears were laid to rest, and I just composed and shot with the camera in full Program mode.

Viewfinder - The viewfinder of the AE-1P is bright and the center focus area is easily used, with the split image rangefinder surrounded by a microprism rangefinder.  That's a good thing in a camera that has been designed to move the attention to the composition, and not the controls.

Handling - I can't find fault with the camera's ergonomics, as the right-hand grip is well-placed and not too big. The film advance lever is smooth and easy to operate, and the shutter button is well-placed.

Controls - Everything is where it needs to be. However, the S setting on the top deck still wants me to think that it's not for self-timer. Usually, the self-timer is located on the front of an SLR, but of course, Canon likes to confound people by moving things around.  The A-1 also had the same feature with controls around the advance lever.  The stop-down lever on the front is rather awkward in use, and I'll bet few people actually used it. If there is a control that is missing, it would be exposure compensation. 

I can see why this camera was so popular. Put in a roll of 35mm film, select the ISO setting, and start shooting.  Compose and shoot.  While this camera's Nikon equivalent is the tiny Nikon EM, the EM did not have any sort of useful manual mode.  The Canon AE-1P is heftier, and in most aspects, a far better camera.  The Canon AE-1P was made for those that want to shoot images with great results, and I have to say that the camera achieved that.  I am no Canon fanboy -- Canon was awful in flash technology, and could never be consistent with control design and placement, even in the EOS film era. However, with the AE-1 and AE-1P, Canon hit a price point and performance point that was ahead of Nikon's offerings - at least in the consumer market.   In the end, though, Canon's complexity was a problem, and cameras like the AE-1 and AE-1P suffer from the effect of age on electronic components, and squealing shutters.  I believe that Canon should have gone with the well-proven and very reliable Copal-Square vertical metal shutters (used on the Canon EF!) that Nikon used.  It wasn't until the T series that Canon abandoned the horizontal cloth shutters for good.    Overall, the Canon AE-1P is a great SLR, and if you find one that works well, buy it.  It's a great street and travel camera, since all you have to do is focus and press the the shutter button to get the shot.  Is it a good learning tool for a class? No.  A Canon FTb QL is a great camera to learn on.  However, it's a great camera to give a kid to shoot with, as the learning curve is very short.

I hope to shoot more with this body, and with some Ektachrome later on.  I'll be busier than ever in the coming weeks as we prepare for our move to NC, so it may be a while before the AE-1P gets any use. I'll probably not be blogging a whole lot either, but we shall see!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

TechPan Test with Highly dilute Rodinal

If you have looked through this blog, you'll see that I have long been a fan of Kodak Technical Pan 2415 film.  A few years ago, I acquired a bulk roll of Kodak Technical Pan film that was already in a bulk loader. It has sat around in my basement since then.  Two months ago, I rolled it all up into individual 35mm cassettes, with the intention of selling it on eBay.  But before I can do so, I need to test the film. The expiration date was March, 1990.  So, that film is 30 years old at the very least.  My experience has been that films like TechPan and Kodalith keep pretty well. The low ISO and low grain really helps.  But, unless one develops the films in a low-contrast developer such as POTA, you'll end up with high-contrast black and white negatives with little gradation of gray tones.  In the case of TechPan, I always used the Technidol developer which gave me lovely tonality at ISO 25, with no discernible grain.  Since I have packed up most of my chemicals for an impending move, how could I go about testing the film?  Earlier this week I decided to go ahead and shoot a test roll in my Canon T60, and today, I finally developed the film.  To achieve a low-contrast and keep the gray tones, I used Rodinal.  I used 2 ml of Rodinal in 498ml of water.  I developed for 13 minutes, agitating every minute.  I used a water stop, and fixed in FPP fixer, and the usual water and FPP Archival Wash after fixing. 

As I opened the developing tank, I could see that yes! I did get images.  As I figured, the negatives were "thin", but I knew they should scan pretty well.  This wasn't a stand development, which has been suggested for TechPan in Rodinal.  I wanted to mainly see if the dilution would give me a negative I could scan, and also to see how the film has aged. 

The negatives were scanned on my Epson V700 Photo flatbed scanner, and in post, I was was able to clean the images up and tweak them in my go-to editing software, Corel Paint Shop Pro.

As you can see, these are not too bad, given the TechPan quirks.  I detect some grain, but still, very low. What I do note is some edge fogging, which could be due to the development, my handling, or at worst, the entire roll is like this.  I'll do some more tests to see what is going on.  I think I'll test another roll using Caffenol as a developer, and shoot it with the idea that I want to have a high-contrast negative.   If I find that the next roll is without any problems, I'll probably just sell or trade them direct from here. 

Kodak's Technical Pan Brochure is here.
The Photographer's Formulary sells Developer TD-3, which is a replacement for Kodak's Technidol developer. It does not contain Phenidone.

The formula for POTA is:
Sodium Sulfite - 30 grams
Phenidone  - 1.5 grams
Distilled water to make 1 liter     - heat the water to 30°C to make the Phenidone dissolve.
Develop the TechPan at 20°C 

Develop time is 15 minutes, with 5 seconds of agitation every 30 seconds.  Use water stop bath, and typical fixer.  The suggested ISO is 25, but an ISO of 50 may give acceptable results. 
POTA should be used as soon as possible, and make a new batch each time you want to develop film.
Be careful with TechPan film, as it is a thin emulsion on a Polyester base.  Light piping will occur, so load the film indoors and store in black plastic cans.   TechPan can be an amazing pictorial film, and I hope that I'll be able to make the film available to others.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Comrade, Can I Interest You in a Zenit?

Shooting with the Zenit 12XP

Over the years, I have owned a few Zenits.  My introduction to this line of Russian SLRs was with the Zenit E (made in the 1970s), which came in a leather never-ready case that smelled fairly awful. That was around 2001.  I probably paid less than $20 for it.  The viewfinder was a bit strange as well.  I later had a Zenit EM (made in the 1970s-80s), and then a more modern, but plasticky Zenit 122 (1990s).  That Zenit was certainly not as ruggedly built as its metal-bodied counterparts. The Zenit 12 XP that I have is now my only M42-mount camera.  I bought it at an antique store in Negaunee, MI for $20 about 5 years ago.  It came with a Helios 44M-4 58mm f/2 lens which is one of those lenses that seem to have a special endearing quality.

The Zenit E - my first Zenit, ca. 2002

My second Zenith, the Zenit EM, ca. 2006

Feature-wise, the Zenits are certainly not innovative, by any means.  The 12XP features B, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, and 1/500 sec shutter speeds.  It might be the Volkswagen of 35mm SLR cameras.  It does feature a standard hot-shoe as well as a PC socket, self-timer, and a meter with diode indicators in the viewfinder.  Metering is stop-down style -- a partial press of the shutter release will activate the meter and actuate the aperture.  If the two diodes are lit simultaneously, then you probably have a correct exposure. The flash sync is at 1/30 sec!   ISO ranges are from 16 to 500.  The all-metal construction of the camera makes it tank-like, but even so, it’s easy to use. The 12XP was manufactured from 1983-1992, and over a million units were produced.

Back to the lens -- since the Helios 44M in its various incarnations was put on the Zenits, it may be the most common “normal” lens from a manufacturer out there, at least in M42 mount (made from 1958-1992).  Renowned for its interesting swirly bokeh, rugged construction and affordability, it’s a copy of the Zeiss Biotar 58mm f/2 lens.  Many users praise the lens for it’s buttery bokeh on closeups, and for portraiture.  At 58mm, it’s certainly less wide than a 40mm.    The close-focus of the lens is 18”, and it’s a real pleasure to use. This lens is multicoated (MC), but early versions of the lens may be uncoated or single-coated.

My take on the Zenit 12XP is that it’s a no-frills camera with a  great lens that will allow you to concentrate on your subject.  The basic controls are very basic, and with the limited shutter speed selection, it may seem a bit antiquated.  Everything is fully manual, and it also makes it a great camera to learn photography with.  Given the price of Pentax K1000s, a Zenit 12XP ought to be a bargain of you are looking for a basic SLR.  The M42 screw mount has a huge number of lenses available for it, and they usually go for far less than other mounts.

Today, the prices on eBay are all over the place.  A 12XP with the Helios 44M lens in very good condition will range from $20 - $90.  The body only for a Zenit TTL - 12 series runs from $15-$40. All excluding shipping, of course. I figure that I did well for what I paid! Since it was made in Russia, it's going to be a more common camera in Europe than the USA.  Some Zenit Es were re-badged under the Kalimar label as the Kalimar SR200.

ZENIT Resources:

Images!  I really do like the results from this camera and lens combination.

Polypan 50

Polypan 50

Polypan 50

Polypan 50

Fuji 200 color

Fuji 200 color

Fuji 200 color

Svema 125 color

Svema 125 Color

Svema 125 Color

Svema 125 Color 
Svema 125 Color

DerevPan 100, flash

DerevPan 100

DerevPan 100

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Using Vintage Cameras. Some Tips to Follow.

So, you have acquired a bunch of old film cameras from an estate, an attic, or some basement.  Perhaps you know their history of ownership, or perhaps you are totally clueless when and where they came from and how they were stored, and for how long.   You are curious about using them again.  Before you start, five  main factors have to be addressed when using older cameras that might have been sitting unused for a lengthy period of time.

  1. Shutters
  2. Light-tightness
  3. Batteries (if needed)
  4. Film
  5. Overall condition

The old Kodak ball-bearing shutters seem to
last forever!

1Shutters.  Shutters might be as simple as a sector shutter found on a box camera, or as complex as a focal-plane shutter on a single lens reflex camera.  Any camera that hasn't been used in a long while, especially those with between the lens leaf shutters, may need some TLC to get them working acceptably.  Sometimes all that is needed is to repeatedly fire the shutter at a moderate setting, and work the slower shutter speeds in gradually until the shutter appears to be working appropriately.  On  medium-format folding cameras, you can usually unscrew a front lens element to reach the aperture blades  and the shutter,  and a drop of lighter fluid (Ronsonol) or white naphtha will help get things moving. Remember that old rule -- DON'T FORCE ANYTHING!   Brute force will often render a camera useless.  Look for repair examples online, as many people have encountered the same problems, and there may be a step-by-step repair guide available.  Cameras that have sat unused for many years can't be expected to suddenly be fired up without some hesitation.

 SLRs with focal plane shutters are usually very reliable, but some models that have rubberized silk curtains in the shutter may have problems as they are now getting upwards of 60 years old. I have seen Exaktas with the rubberized curtains in tatters.  In contrast, the focal-plane shutters of 100-year old Graflex large-format SLRs are often just fine.  It all depends on the storage conditions and usage history of the camera. The 35mm SLRs with copal-square shutters are typically less prone to problems over time.  However, if a camera requires batteries for the shutter to function, that provides another avenue of failure. See Number 3.
Cloth focal plane shutter, Asahiflex

This is a lovely Nikon SP rangefinder...

with a hole in the shutter! Caused by leaving it in the sun with
the f/16 aperture allowing the sun to burn hole through it.

Bellows need to be checked on all folding cameras.

2. Light-tightness.  Light-tightness is important, or you'll have light leaks on your film.  Bellows cameras should be examined for pinholes.   Shine an LED light into the bellows area in a dark room and see if you can detect any pinholes. Black electrical tape can cover holes in bellows, but it's only a temporary fix. You can dab some black liquid rubber (sold for coating tool handles) or black fabric paint into the bellows material to fix small pinholes.  While I have never done a bellows replacement, there are people that make replacement bellows for old folding cameras and large format view cameras.  If you like origami, you might try to tackle it yourself, as there are online resources for DIY bellows.

Cameras with foam in the seals should be checked and the foam replaced if it has hardened or turned into a gummy mess! You can buy adhesive-backed felt or black foam at craft stores, and the thinner the material the better.  Black electrical tape can cover gaps in the back of a camera, but avoid it if possible. Black gaffer's tape is preferable, as it does not leave a sticky residue.  Light seal material for the backs of cameras can easily be made from adhesive backed black felt or thin black foam from the craft store.  Some old cameras merely need a strip of black yarn in a groove. Remove old gummy foam with lighter fluid on the end of a cotton swab and a toothpick, scraping the material away.   Make sure you cover the shutter or lens with a small piece of cardboard taped over the film gate while the back of the camera is open. You don't want residue or tools in there.

3. Batteries. Batteries are often the culprit in preventing the use of some older cameras.  Many cameras from the 60s and 70s used mercury cells, which are no longer sold.  The PX-625, for example, was used in many 35mm cameras and light meters,  and supplied a constant 1.35v.   The modern replacement is a PX-625A or LR-9.  Using modern-day cells provide 1.5 volts, which in many cameras, will give inaccurate meter readings.  PX-27 cells delivered 5.6 V, and the modern replacement is a PX-27A or 4LR43, which delivers 6v. With color print or b&w film, you can usually be “close enough” in your exposure that the voltage difference is not significant. You can use the zinc-air hearing aid batteries to use the camera meters, or, better yet, if the camera is going to be used a lot, C.R.I.S. (online) sells an adapter that allows the use of silver batteries.  Their MR-9 adapter might seem pricey, but if you buy one, you can really extend the life of these older, fine cameras.  It also pays to buy the LR-44 1.5v cells online in bulk.  There are other oddball battery types from the past that have no current alkaline or lithium equivalent.   You may have to clean battery contacts that have become oxidized or corroded.  A pencil eraser may not be enough to clean the contacts.  A swab dipped in vinegar and rubbed on the contacts will loosen the crud.  Wipe off the vinegar with another swab and clean with isopropyl alcohol.
With the X-700 and related models, a dead capacitor will incapacitate
the camera, even with new batteries.

A film haul from 2007. I wish I had saved the Minolta 16 film!

4. Film.  35mm film isn't a problem, but many old cameras use sizes no longer being manufactured - 828, 116, 620, 616, 126 etc.  You can sometimes use 120 in 620 roll-film cameras, as the films are the same size, only the spools are slightly different.  How you do it depends on the camera.  Most people re-spool 120 onto 620 spools, and some cameras allow 120 spools in the supply chamber, but 620 for the take-up spool.   120 film is easily purchased at a real camera store or online, and 620 (respooled) can be found at the Film Photography Project online store.  The FPP Store also sells the Camerahack adapters for roll-film cameras, allowing you to use 120 in a 122 film camera,  35mm in a 126 cartridge, etc.  There are no manufacturers currently making 126 film, 127 film, APS film, or Kodak Disc film.  Lomography and the FPP Store are currently selling 110 film, so there is a mini-resurgence in 110 shooting.  If you are relegated to shooting old, outdated film in your camera, remember that most films lose a stop of effective sensitivity every decade.  So, that roll of 400 ISO Kodak Max from 2009 is now rated at ISO 200. Black and white slow to moderate speed films age far better.  I have shot 40 year old Verichrome Pan in box cameras with good results.  Panatomic-X that expired in the 1980s works great now at ISO 25. However,  high-speed color films do not fare as well.

Typical Graflex RB - it may work fine, but look for one that
takes currently available film sizes!

Polaroid Cameras - at this point I will suggest to only obtain Polaroid 600-series and Time-Zero series (as in the SX-70) cameras.  Any old pre-packfilm cameras are going to be doorstops, and now that Fuji is no longer making the pack film, cameras such as the Polaroid Land 100 and up are not going to be usable. Kodak Instant cameras (not Instamatic) have been filmless for over 20 years. Polaroid Swingers are objects of curiosity, and not usable.  Cameras such as the Polaroid 80A are not usable.

5. Overall condition
. I have had hundreds of old cameras pass through my hands over the years. It's always unfortunate to see an example of some rare camera beset with grime and crud, mold, cigarette smoke, or rust.  Sometimes it may just need a good exterior cleaning.  However, a camera with lots of dents, mold, and oxidation may indicate that it not worth your time.  It might have been rescued from a lake, a flooded basement, or maybe it was carried off by a tornado.

Other potential problems are fungus growing on lenses, corroded battery contacts, mildew on the camera leather, and of course, user unfamiliarity with a camera.  Sometimes not knowing how something works will leave you feeling like it's broken, but in reality, you may just need to know more about the camera.  Mike Butkus has manuals available online and they can be a great help!  Google is also your friend when it comes to these things.  Don't be afraid to search for help that way -- you'll be surprised at how many sources of information are out there.

This Ermanox was a rare find and cleaned up well

Exterior cleaning -- I use a soft rag with isopropyl alcohol to clean the exterior.  Large cotton-tipped swabs are also useful for hard to reach spots, such as around knobs and dials.  Tape residue or other gooey substances can be removed with "Goof-Off".  An old soft toothbrush is useful for "scrubbing" the leatherette.  For mold on the camera body or on the lens, vinegar or windex can be used to clean the surface.  Old dirty Bakelite can be scrubbed with a paste of baking soda and a soft toothbrush, and rinsed off with water. For old cameras with real leather on the body or with leather cases, you can use Lexol, a leather cleaning solution easily found in the hardware store.  Rub it in with a soft cloth in an inconspicuous spot first to see how it affects the item you are cleaning.

Lastly -- sometimes a camera is just plain broken and not worth fixing, or perhaps it's no longer usable because the film isn't available.  Many old metal-bodied Polaroid cameras fall into the latter category. The classic and even not-so-classic cameras are sometimes art objects on their own, and can be used to decorate, or to create something useful from them.  I have seen Kodak Brownies with their flash units turned into night lights.  The distinctive appearance of old film cameras are something that today's look-alike digital models just don't have.