Sunday, May 14, 2017

The MVP- 35mm Plastic Camera from Taiwan

Introducing the MVP Camera, AKA The "Optical Lens" plastic cameras, also known as Taiwan-35s.

Whether it started with the TIME camera, or any number of plastic cameras that have that SLR/Rangefinder look, the cameras share similar features.  They have an aperture range of f/6-f/16, one fixed shutter speed, no adjustable focus, and the bezel around the front of the lens says "Optical Color Lens" or "Optical Lens".  The cameras are plastic, and often have some sort of metal weight in the bottom to give them more heft, and therefore, the "appearance" of quality.  Make no mistake, there is not a lot of quality in these cameras, but they are pretty much on par with a Holga.  Some models have a chrome shutter release that accepts a remote cable, and all have a standard ISO flash shoe.  The viewfinder is just a window that gives you an estimate of what may appear in the frame.  Use a small auto flash, and you'll be able to shoot indoors.

With my recently-acquired MVP camera, I was pretty sure that the shutter speed was around 1/100 sec., but in tests with the Phochron Shutter tester, the speed is around 1/250 - 1/300 second.  So, assuming you are following the sunny-16 rule, ISO 100-400 is fine for sunny days, as C-41 color film has a pretty wide exposure latitude.  I shot some 100 ISO Svema B&W film in my MVP camera, and on a sunny day the exposures looked just fine. Yes, that IS a Ford logo on the lens cap. I guess Ford had some promotion in the late 1980s.

Are these serious cameras?
Um, no.  Most of these cameras were given away in promotions.  Some factory (or factories)  in Taiwan must have made millions of them during the 1980s.  While yes, they are cheap and inconsistent in quality, they are a lot of fun.  You can find series 6 filter adapters (48mm)  that push into the front of the lens that allow you to use filters, providing you with even more possibilities.  It's too bad that these cameras don't have a B setting, since they do have tripod sockets.  Nonetheless, your results may be somewhat dreamy, they may resemble a Holga image, or may just be low-contrast and somewhat blurred -- it all depends on the camera.  McKeown's 12th edition lists the TIME camera as a "minimum-quality 35mm camera from Taiwan."  The 2006 "value" is listed at $1-$5, which is pretty much unchanged today.

What to look for
Since these plastic cameras are becoming less common, they have also become somewhat collectible (low-end collectibles, at that.)  Due to them being offered in promotions, there are a variety of logos printed on the front, but there are basically just a few "typical" models that share the same features. The appearance of a grip on the right side was a good thing, enabling better holding of the camera.

TIME - The Time camera was a 1985 promo camera from Time-Life to induce people to subscribe to the magazine. I am sure there are several camera variations, and the best examples will have the "LAVEC OPTICAL GLASS LENS."  That should be a minor improvement over the "color optical lens."   One variant of the Time camera is actually branded LAVEC, produced by Lavec Indsutrial Corp., Taipei, Taiwan.  In fact, a Google image search turns up a slew of cheap plastic cameras with Lavec branding.  The MVP camera shown here is also branded as a "YUNON" camera.  There are all kind of variants of this main theme.

HACKING - One site - Instructables - has a page on hacking the Time camera, and while the ideas there are worth exploring if you have more than one of these cameras, the best thing one can do is put a 48mm diam filter adapter on the front so that you can use any number of filters that are suitable for the effect you want.  The double -exposure feature would be the one thing that would appeal to quite a few people. These cameras are also easy to hack if you want to put a vignetting mask in the back, or even make the frame mask 24x24mm.  Easy to to with black tape or cardstock.

There is another class of cheap plastic 35mm cameras that attempt to fool people into thinking they are getting a modern auto-focus camera with a big "pro-style" flash.  They are usually branded with names like Canon, Olympia, etc., that sound like a legit brand, but alas, they are not.  I have not used any of them, but I know a few people that have, and they pretty much give the same results as the Time cameras, but with more bulk. Also, these counterfeits are made in China, not Taiwan. They usually show up at flea markets in showy packaging. Alas, they might be worth $5, but not more.  Of course, there are plenty on eBay.  I suspect that the "single-use" cameras that appeared and proliferated  in the 1990s was the end for these Taiwanese cameras.  While there are other promotional cameras, they just don't exude the cheesiness of the Time-style cameras.

To summarize -- the Time-style cameras can be a lot of fun, and a way to get a Holga-like experience in 35mm.  Because of their size, you can have several in a bag with different films, ready for the next adventure.  Used within their parameters, you'll get images that are certainly different from your typical 35mm camera.  They are cheaply-made, in several styles that emulate a small SLR or a rangefinder. Don't pay more than a few bucks for one.  Have fun!

My first results with the MVP, using Svema 100 ISO b&w film.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Point and Shoot Review - Canon Sure Shot A-1

I recently saw one of these at a local thrift shop for $20, and passed. It's still there. Then, I found one for $3.00 at the Kiwanis sale, and picked it up.  I have always been intrigued by the looks of the camera, as it has a toyish, non-threatening appearance.  Of course, it is also water-proof, at least to a depth I would be happy with (no more than 6 feet), and is therefore perfect for canoe trips, rainy days, and the shore.  I thought it might also be good as a street camera, and as you know by now, I am always looking for a good, but cheap "street camera."  Based upon the quietness of the camera, its toy appearance, auotofocus, autowind, and the somewhat wide-angle 32mm f/3.5 lens, I would think it's a good candidate. But, what about the photos?

I took it along on Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day and shot a roll of Kentmere 400.  Results were fine, and right now I have a roll of Fuji 64T chrome film in it.

Caveats - it uses DX codes to set the ISO, so no hand-loaded cassettes unless they have an DX code on them. No external flash ability. Best at objects over 1 meter away.
I like the ease of handling, the bright viewfinder, and the quietness of the camera.  I also like being able to turn off the flash.  It's a bit Fisher-Price looking, but that's okay!  Nobody will take you seriously. The single 32mm focal length is quite good for the street, too.

Specifications- the camera appeared in 1994, so it's not terribly old!

  • Lens: 32mm, f/3.5 (6 elements in 6 groups)
  • Programmed shutter: 1/250-2s.
  • Viewfinder: large and bright for use with swimming mask, autofocus frame, ready light, flash warning. Especially good for glasses-wearers
  • Flash: Automatic, but can be disabled. GN: 7.5m at ISO 100.
  • Automatic winding.
  • Waterproof: To five m, using rubber seals and O-rings.
  • Power: One 3V CR123A battery
  • Dimensions & weight: 133x88x56 mm, 385 g (with battery)
  • DX-coded ISO cassettes, 25-3200

Rather than go into great detail on the camera, there are other reviews out there that provide that perspective, including shooting under water, so check out Forgotten Charm,  Film Advance and 35mmc.   Of course, you can find a manual online at!

Saturday, May 06, 2017

WPPD 2017 in Ann Arbor

The Ondu pinhole cameras - Kat's 6x6, and my 6x9
Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day was held on April 30, and this year a bunch of us got together in Ann Arbor instead of some other location.  Given the weather, we made a good choice.  Last year we met in Fostoria, OH, which turned out great. This year, it was a gloomy, cold, and then rainy day. Despite that, I felt we made the best of it, as we met on the University of Michigan campus. There is no lack of possibilities using pinhole cameras there.   I used my ONDU 6x9 pinhole camera for the first time, and realized that partway through the first roll, I had loaded the film on the wrong side, as the film spool should be loaded on the right side, not the traditional left side.  Therefore, the frame numbers will be proper for 8 6x9 images. Duh.  I should have realized that by looking at the arrows on the top of the camera.  With that out of the way, everything worked fine and I feel I got some good images.  Tim and Kat were also there, and always have been stalwart pinhole day attendees.

Since it was graduation weekend, we saw quite a few UM grads there, especially around the Carl Milles fountain.  From there, we went over to Nickels arcade, and then over to Regents Plaza.  I have always wanted to photograph the cube while it was rotating, and the pinhole camera surprised me with the result.

From there, we went over to the UM Law Quadrangle and got some shots in, at least until it started to sprinkle.
After that, we headed home!
The rotating cube.
and.. now for the pinhole result.

Inside Nickels Arcade 

Carl Milles fountain. About a 20 second exposure.

one last video...


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Chicago's Central Camera - They Do Film Right

Last weekend, my wife and I visited Chicago together for the first time in many years.  We stayed at the Palmer House Hilton, a most fantastic classy hotel that has been in operation longer than any other hotel in the USA.  While I didn't plan the trip, it just so happened that Central Camera is a block away on Wabash.  Central Camera is equally as qualified for a longevity award as Palmer House.  I last shopped there in 2002, and bought a Tamrac backpack, which I still have.  Since then, I have been able to photograph the front of the store during quick Chicago visits, but it was always on Sundays, so it was closed.  This time, I stopped by on a Friday afternoon and a Saturday morning.  They open at 8:30, which is when I stopped by after breakfast Saturday. The nice thing about getting there early - is to be able chat with the folks behind the counters.
First of all, Central Camera is the photo store that is so archetypical of  the genre. Old-school, with glass cases filled with used gear (and new) that will induce a severe case of GAS.  All kinds of delectable cameras and accessories.  Of course, they have digital gear, too. If they don't have it, you can have them order it.  They have film. Lots of film. I haven't seen that much film in a store -- ever.  They also process film.  Vivian Maier used to buy her film there, too.   I am sure she didn't chat up the folks at the counter, though.
I bought s bunch of Kentmere 400 b&w, and some C-41 film while I was there. I don't NEED any more cameras, and it's a good thing I don't live in Chicago, or they would be getting a lot more of my money.
Speaking of film -- Yes they DO film.
Katherine Greenleaf and Charles Ezaki at the film counter.
I had a good time talking with the folks there, and told them about the Film Photography Podcast.  I hope they listen in.  Stores like Central Camera are few and far between these days, and to walk into the store is to feel like it's a place that is welcoming and also a bit like a piece of history.  Yes, you can buy the latest digi item, but I'll bet that they have a lens hood that will fit that vintage Contaflex in your bag, too.   I know that if I were doing photowalks in Chicago, Central Camera would have to be a stopping point -- or maybe a starting point.   Anyhow, it was fun to shop there and talk photography.  It was just a year ago that I visited another iconic place -- Looking Glass Photo in Berkeley, CA.  Definitely a difference between the two locales, but no difference in their love of film photography.  You have to be passionate and knowledgeable about what you sell, and they have the right folks there.
So, if you are in Chicago, check out Central Camera. It's a destination, and a shrine to all things photographic.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Some Aged Scotch

Several weeks ago I received some 35mm film to test.  My contact at Ultrafine Online sent me a couple of rolls of Scotch ATG 400 C-41 film.  I was of course, intrigued, and there was some speculation that it may be the same film stock as the recently released Lomography F2/400.    From Ultrafine's web site is the description of the Scotch ATG 400 film:

"This is a rare film and this series was unique from back in the day as Scotch was trying to set themselves apart from the field and did some R & D, which mainly resulted in this ATG Series of films, which were originally meant to assist with underexposure and exposure compensation. This has resulted as the film has aged to a nice tone, which has been a favorite among Lomophiles, Holga shooters, and dedicated film shooters, who love have fun, shoot film, and experiment with different types of emulsions."

The ATG 400 film was tested by Popular Photography back in 1993, and came in behind 400-speed films from Kodak, Fuji, Konica and Agfa beating it out.  However, the review by Michael McNamara "400 Revolution" [Pop.Photo. September 1993, pp. 28-37] tested a number of attributes of these films, at a time when 400 ISO C-41 films offered users many choices.  Interestingly, almost all of the results looked best at ISO 200, but in most cases, acceptable results were obtained between ISO 50 and 800. The Scotch film was the lowest-priced emulsion, and was designed to have better rendition in the shadows.
From 9/1993 Popular Photography

Okay, this film has been in Ultrafine's freezers for a while, so I knew that I wasn't going to shoot it at ISO 400. I figured it was worth a try to shoot it at 200 and hope for the best.  I loaded up my Pentax K1000 with the 55mm f/2 lens, and shot the roll on an overcast dreary day inside Matthaei Botanical Gardens. I figured it would offer me plenty of color and I could photograph things I am very familiar with.

I processed the film last night using the Unicolor C-41 kit.  It was fresh, and I had only put 2 rolls through the 1-liter kit since I mixed it up.  Processed as normal.  When I took the film off the reel I thought perhaps it had not even developed as the emulsion side looked brown.  However, after drying, the film has a noticeable blue base, and the emulsion side looked "normal."

Results?  I am thrilled with the results from this film.  It has a soft grainy look that is pleasant.  It makes me wish the weather was warmer and I had a model outdoors.  It would really be interesting to see how it would do for portraits and figures.  I chose well picking ISO 200. 100 may be even better, so I'll try that next time for part of the roll.  Reds looked red, the shadows were not too bad, and while I think the greens are muted, tending a bit blue, it could also be the muted light that day. Full sun would be the next challenge.

Here are some scans from the negatives. Minimal post-processing has been done, and there may be dust spots that I have not cleaned up.

So, I am impressed with the results from this forgotten film. Maybe like whiskey, aging does it good. At $3.95/roll it's cheaper than vintage Scotch. You may want to give this film a try.  I don't think it's the same as the  Lomo F squared/400 film.  The Scotch film is probably close to 20 years old.