Saturday, January 17, 2015

More K-Mount Madness - The Pentax ZX-M

The other day, another package appeared with a K-mount camera, but this time it was actually a Pentax.  A ZX-M, to be precise, with a 50mm f/2 Pentax KA lens.  It was a Goodwill auction item, for $11.03 and with shipping, cost me about $25, which is less than what the lens goes for, which is why I bought it in the first place.   I have had other iterations of the plastic-bodied Pentax SLRS, but not this model.  I previously reviewed the Pentax ZX-5, which is an AF version, whereas the ZX-M is totally manual focus, but does have Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual modes. It must be the lightest SLR I have picked up thus far.  Unlike the comparable Nikon N65, the ZX-M meters with non-AF lenses, and should be thought of as a replacement for the venerable Pentax K1000.   It has exposure compensation settings of +/- 3 in half -stop increments, and an ISO range of 6 to 6400 if you set it manually.  There is an exposure lock button that lasts for 10 seconds after you push it.  Shutter speeds of B, and 2 sec to 1/2000 sec, and in aperture-priority mode you can get times exposures as long as 30 seconds.  The electronic shutter is stepless in A mode, so, shoot away!  The camera has single shot mode, continuous (2 fps) and self-timer.  There is also a depth of field preview button... something that is often missing on inexpensive cameras.

The camera is incredibly light, and with the 50mm lens, batteries (2 CR-2) and a roll of film, weighs just a bit over a pound. The penta-mirror keeps the weight down, and the relatively low-profile of the camera makes it easy to tuck into a bag.  I have a roll of the FPP 200 b&w film in it now, and will post my results later.

While many people give the advice to start with a 35mm SLR camera like the Pentax K1000,  Canon AE-1, or Nikon FM, there is no reason not to use a camera like the ZX-M.  The features are more advanced than the K1000, which is now getting on in years, and it's also a fraction of the price.   It's certainly cheaper than a 4-pack of Fuji Superia film at Walgreens.  It uses every K-mount lens, and can certainly be used to take wonderful photographs.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Noteworthy News Regarding Street Photography

Union Station, Chicago, 2012.
Usually, my blog posts are all about me.  Today, I'd like to share a couple links to some other sites and both of them happen to involve street photography.
 From Toronto -- the Stephen Bulger Gallery has acquired the Vivian Maier negatives from the Jeffrey Goldstein collection.  This effectively protects them from the clutches of anyone in the Cook Co. IL government that had silly ideas of claiming copyright on them, and also facilitates their protection and continued showing via a legitimate gallery.  The interview on CBC radio is excellent, and it is quite interesting to hear from a gallery owner.  I have hope that the legal challenges will be tossed out or resolved soon so that we can all see more of Maier's work.

The Lomo LCA 120 camera is making the news. The Phloblographer has a review of it.  I like what I see so far, except for the price.  However, consider this -- the 38mm on 6x6 equals about 21mm in 35mm format.  The only 6x6 medium format camera with a 38mm lens is the Hasselblad SuperWide, a camera which I have actually used.  The Lomo LCA 120 is a pocket camera, has a glass lens, auto-exposure, and zone focus.  The Hasselblad SWC will set you back over $1500 for a used model, and it has nothing auto about it and does not fit into a pocket.  As street photography goes, I see the Lomo LCA 120 as a winner, and I sure wish I could get one to test out.  I was not enamored with my Lomo Belair, and frankly, was very disappointed with it.  The Lomo LCA 120 is a different beast.
Lomography's LCA 120 (image from

Based upon the images I have seen and some other online comments, I believe Lomography has found a niche with this camera.  Anyone that loves shooting 120 film for street photography ought to rejoice.  It's not supposed to be a crappy  toy camera, and it fits in a pocket. It shoots very wide.  It has auto-exposure.  What's not to like? Just the price.  HOWEVER... it's actually in line, given the paucity of new film cameras.

The third thing I want to mention is that I found out last night that Camera Shopper is still being published.  For years, I picked up copies at camera shows in the Detroit area.  For those of you that have never seen an issue, Camera Shopper was a small publication that catered to collectors and always featured fun articles on classic and collectible cameras and accessories.  The buy/sell/trade ads were there, of course, but I really enjoyed the articles.  Then, with most of the shows gone, I had assumed that the magazine went under, a casualty of ebay and the web.  Not so!  It is still being published and a yearly online-only subscription is only $15/10 issues.  A bargain.

...and the last thing... A wonderful overview on the history of the Eastman Kodak Brownie, and how it democratized photography is up on the BBC website.  Check it out!  I have owned a number of Brownies at any given time, and although the name kept being applied to more than cardboard box cameras, simplicity and utility was the hallmark of the cameras that bore the Brownie label.  I think they reached their apex with the Brownie Hawkeye Flash, a wonderful Bakelite-bodied camera from the fifties.
Brownies at George Eastman House

Saturday, January 03, 2015

My Fantasy Camera Store

Over the years, as the local camera  stores dwindled down to one, and then none (see my previous post), I and my photography friends would amuse ourselves with what we would do if we won the lotto and wanted to open a camera store, etc.   Obviously, it would require something like that, because nobody expects to make any money at it.  However, here are some main points to consider:
1. It should be a gathering place for people in the arts, and especially photographic arts.
2. Film and alt-process materials would be available.
3. C-41 Film lab with scanning services for 35mm and 120.
4. Used equipment for sale.
5. Coffee shop and gallery space included.
6. Darkroom/studio space.
some cleaning needed...

That's the short list, of course.  It doesn't have all the details in how the place would be operated.  It would have to find a niche and be a place that adds value to its customer base.  For one, such a place would offer a series of workshops from basic photography to specific techniques and methodology.

A library of sorts is a useful thing to have.  Especially when sipping a coffee.   The gallery space would rotate on a 60-day basis.   A coffee shop/photo store isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. Bookstores have been doing it for years.
Exhibit openings are a great place to be.
 Film is and will forever be a niche market.  Leave the digital thingamajigery to the online world.  We have great online resources, too for film, and one of those is well-known -- Free Style in California.  Another is the Film Photography Project store --  the other place to go for film, and in my opinion, a very cool place for film lovers.  However, if you want to  serve the local community, my fantasy store would be something like Leslie Lazenby's store in Findlay, OH.    Her store, Imagine That! serves the local college students in their photography class needs, and while requiring some extra work in assembling student kits, provides a real service and value for them.  It can be done in the Ann Arbor area, too, with WCC, EMU, UM, and various high schools.  Guess what?  There IS a demand to have film-based classes, and such a store could more readily enable that.
Cameras and coffee!

The darkroom and studio space could be rented, of course.   Studio space is especially necessary, as it frees people to try some projects and be creative without having to actually have to own a space and all the lighting that is necessary.

Beginner SLR
Used equipment would of course, be fairly priced somewhere in line between ebay and KEH prices.  Sometimes a $5 camera is just a $5 camera.  I suppose consignment sales would be an option, too. It's pretty tough for beginners to buy a film camera without some guidance.  There is no reason that a Nikon N65 and similar cheap Canon EOS cameras can't be used by beginners. Put them in Manual mode, and you are good.  The idea that they should use a Pentax K1000 is a myth.  Have them use a camera that is similar to the DSLRs that are out there.  Of course, having older cameras is also a good thing, but they are not always the best choice for a beginner.
Partnering with LOMO not a bad idea.

This fantasy store obviously can't be in a town with high rents like Ann Arbor. It would have to be in a place where the rent is cheaper and lots of unused downtown spaces.  Since this IS a fantasy store bought with Lotto winnings, I guess owning the building is a better choice.  Adrian, MI would be one such place, but closer to Ann Arbor would be better. Ypsilanti, perhaps.  It would have to be run by people that love photography, and are willing to do the outreach and build the customer base.  So, yes, it would require one to win the lottery to be able to finance this imaginary store.  Or else, it could be a co-operative venture, but that still takes money.

Anyhow, that's the bare bones of my fantasy photo store.  It's always fun to dream.  It takes hard work to make dreams a reality, and sometimes a bit of luck, too.

What would your fantasy store look like?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Last One Standing...Closes. Huron Camera, RIP Dec. 2014

Huron Camera, Dec. 29, 2014.
Huron Camera is no more.  The last brick and mortar camera store in Washtenaw County, Michigan,  closed its doors for good on Tuesday, Dec. 30.  For those of us that freqented the store, it's like losing an old friend.  An old friend that has been on life support and slips away, quietly, into the night.  
The store's spot right on Main Street for the past 40+ years was an invitation to come and browse.  I know that I first visited the store around 2000.  During the 1990s and into 2002, Huron Camera also had satellite stores in Saline, Battle Creek, and Jackson, MI.  I also saw their extensive sales tables at area camera swaps into 2003 or so.  The store had a good reputation for camera repairs, and of course, the one thing most people noticed was the large stock of used cameras and accessories in the glass cases.  Prior to the deluge of digital, Huron Camera was the place to go for many things.  At one time, the Ann Arbor area had at least  7 stores that catered to photographers.  Around 2004, there were but 4.   I have previously written the obituary for Big George's, which closed its doors in 2008.  Ritz Camera closed in 2008, Adray Camera in 2006, and Dave's Photo Emporium (formerly Studio Center Photographic) closed in 2005.   All of the above stores had different reasons for closing,  and Big George's was especially a huge loss to the local photographic community.  That left only Huron Camera as the sole place to locally buy photographic supplies.  Therefore, we film users went to Huron Camera.  It was a 20 minute drive from my house if I took the expressway.  Okay, note that I said "film users."

The digital onslaught was in full force by 2007.  Not just the impact of digital cameras, but the online retailers were eating the business from the brick and mortar stores.  Now, if you are purely shopping based on price, you are most likely to buy a new camera or lens online because yes, it is generally cheaper.  The selection is also likely to be better.  However, nobody at Amazon or B&H will be there to answer a question for you on your new camera... or your old one, for that matter.  There lies part of the value of brick and mortar stores.  Not big chains like Best Buy, either.  Locally-owned stores that have staff that can answer a question.  Smaller independent stores do not have the purchase power of the big chains from the warehouses, can't share as well in manufacturer sales promotions, and can't stock new items in quantity or have every model available.  It's just impossible from a business  perspective, especially in a small town.  The old "we can order it for you" may work for some, and it did, but for the younger, more internet-savvy, it is well, "I can order it myself."  So, like  the aperture on a lens, the opportunities for stores like Huron Camera went from f/1.4 to f/8 in the span of a few years.  What else happened in 2008?  The largest economic crash since the depression.   So, the downturn really hurt the smaller stores harder. I will leave the autopsy of Huron Camera for someone else to analyze.   I want to  talk about the store and its people, and what it meant to me.

Back in 2001, I was teaching 4-H kids about photography, and I called Huron Camera to see if I could get some expired film for the children to use in the projects.  Not only did we get expired film, we got a lot of it, and of course, it was all still fresh by my standards.  It really helped the kids out, and I never forgot the store's generosity.    My daughter Jorie and I occasionally drove out to Dexter on photo jaunts and I think we went in there in 2000 for the first time.  The bins in the back were the place to look for "treasures" and in those years, we were looking for Argus cameras and accessories, and Huron always had them.  I don't care how much ebay finds you get, nothing beats handling an item, or combing through a bin of "stuff" and finding something special.  It's that moment when the blood rushes to your head and the money flies from your wallet and your new-found prize comes home with you.  That's what made those forays to Huron Camera fun.

If you were a long-time customer of Huron Camera, you undoubtedly remember when Milt Cambell ran the store and Eason, one of the salesmen that was usually there. My friend Bill Brudon told me to hold onto your wallet, because Eason was slick and would try and sell you something expensive and make you think that you were getting a deal.   I know I was not the first nor the last potential customer that the guy tried his "charm" on.    However, it was a game, and I know I came away with some buys later on that I knew were good deals in MY favor.   There is no doubt that the people that worked there loved photography and knew their stuff, and the personalities of the people there were part of the atmosphere.

Until very recently, Huron Camera was the place to go for darkroom chemicals, and I know I spent some $$ there for developer and fixer.  Once Big George's closed, Huron Camera was IT locally.  They usually did a great job with C-41 film processing, and it was the last local lab that could process 120 film.   Sometimes I would pop in on a Saturday morning, and my film would be ready by lunchtime.  My buddy Marc Akemann and I often met at the store on a Saturday, and then went next door to Joe and Rosie's cafe for coffee and a bite to eat, sometimes talking for a couple of hours.  I'll miss those mornings, and the excuse to go to Dexter.
Cheryl, waiting on Marc.

When the store changed ownership (2006?), I was in part, pleased that it didn't close right then, and also wondered about the future.  I made new friends, as Cheryl and George were often there working the counter, and Mike was in the film lab.   George is as knowledgeable a camera person as I know.  I don't think I was ever able to stump him with a question.  If anyone called or came to the  store with questions, he was the one there that could always give an answer.    All three are good photographers,  good people, and fun to be around.   In the end, I think about the people and the connections that were made there, and in my fantasy world of camera stores, there are elements of Huron Camera playing a big part.  I'll miss the place, and  like it or not, the place had character, charm, and its loss will be felt as one less gathering place for people with shared interests.  
Mike, probably showing Marc a recent orchid photo.

Thanks to all the people that made Huron Camera a special place. Good luck with whatever endeavors that follow.

George. Camera guru.
Looking out the front.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sears and Ricoh SLRs

Many years ago, when I was using K-mount cameras, I had a Ricoh KR-5 that I used in addition to my Pentax MG.  It was a robust camera that was not especially feature-rich, but it served its purpose.  I know that I purchased it on ebay and probably paid something like $40 for it.  That was before the digital deluge.
More recently, I have been buying a few Sears and  Ricoh SLRs.  All of the K-series Sears SLR cameras were made by Ricoh, and were certainly a good value for the time, and are still to be recommended if you want a K-mount SLR.  The Ricoh-branded versions are also good, of course, and compared with bodies made by Pentax of the same period, are, in my opinion, better cameras.
Sears KSX - with 135mm Takumar 
Take the Sears KSX, above.  It features manual and aperture-priority exposure with match-needle. +/- 2 stops exposure compensation by full stops, ISO 12-3200 film setting, X sync of 1/125 sec., shutter speeds of B, 4sec - 1/1000 sec.   I think it is the equivalent of the Ricoh KR-10. The KR-10 was a popular camera and sold well in the 1980-82 time frame.

Sears KSX Super with 50mm f/2 lens
The Sears KSX Super is the equivalent of a Ricoh KR-10X (Not the KR-10 as described elsewhere online).  It features a lock setting on the shutter speed dial, surrounding a flush-mounted shutter release, A and M modes, with shutter speeds ranging from B, and 16 sec to 1/1000 sec.  A self-timer switch is to the L of the prism on the top deck. Exposure compensation dial is +/- 2 stops in 1/3 stop increments. A PC socket for strobes is also located on the front of the camera.

Ricoh XR-7 with a the very good ACCESS 35-70mm F/2.5 zoom.
My latest purchase, the Ricoh XR-7 is very similar to the KSX Super, but also features a multiple exposure button on the back  of the camera, depth of field preview button, an AE lock button, as well as a meter switch button on the front.  That's pretty full-featured, and I paid 9.99 for it.

So, what does all this mean?  Basically, the Ricoh /Sears k-mount bodies are a bargain, and perform well, and while the Pentax logo may have more branding power, the Ricoh bodies often have more features and are better-made.  I have seen several K1000 cameras with de-silvered mirrors and wonky electronics in the Pentax ME and ME super.  You can frequently buy a Sears KSX or a Ricoh for less than a large pizza, including the lens.  They make great cameras for those wanting to use film in a reliable 35mm body.  All of the models take current silver-oxide or alkaline button cells, so no worry about that.  Based on my experience, I rate them a "best buy" and highly recommend them for the shooters out there. there are no lack of K-mount lenses from Pentax, Ricoh, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, and a host of other no-name brands.  If you need a manual, be sure to check out Mike Butkus' camera manuals site, and be sure to pay for his hard work.

I am way behind in developing and scanning in the negatives, so be sure to check my Flickr pages.