Sunday, January 09, 2022

Minolta Hi-Matic G2 Review

The Minolta Hi-Matic G2 was the next-to-last of the Hi-Matic line, appearing in 1982.  It's a zone-focus camera that is fully automatic, and while it has the Hi-Matic name, it has a largely plastic body, and yet retains a classic appearance. It's similar in controls and appearance to the Hi-Matic G, which was released in 1974.

I don't mind fully automatic cameras, so long as I feel comfortable with them and have some idea about what settings the camera has chosen for me.  The Hi-Matic G2 has shutter speeds from 1/60 - 1/250 sec. (and I am not sure if its 2 shutter speeds or if there are others between 1/60 and 1/250), and the 38mm lens has apertures from f/2.8 to f/22. Like almost every other small camera of its type, the CdS light sensor resides just inside the front of the lens bezel, and turning the ring around the lens adjusts the ISO setting from 25-400. The zone focus has 4 icons, with the closest focus at 1 meter. It no longer says "Rokkor" lens on the front, just "Minolta Lens."  It accepts 46mm screw-on filters, and since the light meter sensor will be behind the filter, it will automatically compensate the exposure.  Next to the Auto setting on the lens, are a series of setting with guide numbers that are to be used with a flash.  The flash will sync at any shutter speed. Other than the focus scale, ISO setting, and guide number setting, there are no user-adjustable controls (see below).  This is truly an automatic exposure camera.  Although the camera does have a tripod mount, there is no B setting or way to attach a remote shutter release to the camera. It slips easily into a jacket pocket, though.

Power-wise, the camera originally called for a  Mercury PX-675 cell, but using a modern alkaline 1.5V equivalent does not seem to be a problem, as the exposures I had looked just fine.  

 In use, the camera is very compact and is really easy to shoot with.  I suppose one might call it a good snapshot or street camera, and they would be right.  You can make the Hi-Matic G2 an even more versatile camera if you wish to turn the Guide Number markings into something like a limited manual exposure.  By turning the camera from AUTO to the Guide numbers, the shutter speed stays at 1/60 sec, and the guide numbers set the aperture at f/2.8 (GN10), f/4 (GN14) f/5.6 (GN20), f/8 (GN28), and f/11 (GN40). Without a battery, the default shutter speed is 1/60 sec, so you could make it work pretty well with no battery and ISO 50-100 film, and adjust the aperture by the guide numbers.

Since there is no on/off switch, keep the lens cap on when storing the camera so that 1.5v cell doesn't discharge.  

Overall, I was happy with the images that I got from the Hi-Matic G2.  It's one of those cameras that has an appeal to people that value well-designed, easy-to-use cameras that can be ready to shoot with in an instant.  The only drawback for me, is the relative lack of control over the exposure settings, but the camera did okay with the conditions that I used it in.


The color shots are from a roll of Fujifilm Superia 200, shot in 2021, and the b&w shots are from Fomapan 100, which I shot in January 2022.

Waynesville, NC

Waynesville, NC

camera geekery

Long's Chapel, Weaverville, NC

fence and barn, Buncombe Co., NC

Great place to eat, Biltmore Village

All Souls Cathedral, Biltmore Village

All Souls Cathedral, Biltmore Village

Angle Street, Biltmore Village

Sale, Biltmore Village

It's certainly an easy to carry-around zone-focus camera that might be just the thing for many photographers that want something better than a Harman 35 simple-use camera.

Friday, January 07, 2022

The Cooldark V102 Light Meter - The tiniest of them all?

Back in September of 2021, I received a package from Cameractive, an online store based in China.  In it, were two light meters for me to test and review.  The first one, the Doomo-D was reviewed several months ago here on RCB.  The second meter, a much smaller unit, the Cooldark V102 light meter, took me some time to get around to testing it. 

Cooldark V102 light meter mounted in the hot-shoe

If you do any searching for shoe-mount light meters, you’ll come up with quite a few new meters that have only recently been available.  I have already reviewed the DOOMO-D which features analog dials to get a reading, much like the Voigtlander VC II.  A different class of light meters, which seems to have originated with the Raveni Labs light meter, utilize a small OLED screen with the controls being several buttons on the top, with a front-facing sensor.  When I say tiny,  they are barely larger than the flash shoe they mount to.  A good review of a series of  shoe-mount light meters is on 35mmc

My primary concern over the Raveni Labs meter was the fiddly nature of the controls, and of course, their size, and the price.  It’s bad enough that I have a problem with texting.   Second, was my fear that the display would be hard to read in full sun. So, I put off buying one when they first appeared.  When the Cooldark 102 meter arrived to review, I was soon away for a long trip to the Southwest, and didn't test it right away. Finally, in Nov./Dec. 2021 I had the time to test the meter and give it a whirl.

The Cooldark V102 Light Meter

I wasn’t familiar with the name, but I was intrigued by the small size.  It’s barely over an inch wide, and what’s immediately apparent is a small USB port on the left side.  This meter has a rechargeable battery that is charged via the USB-C port.  Great idea!  The manufacturer claims 20 hrs of continuous use on one charge.  Since I only need it on for a few seconds at a time, that’s going to work fine for me.

There is no instruction manual with the meter, but if you point your smartphone at the QR code on the package, it takes you to an online manual, which I printed out.  The page at Cameractive also has a diagram that shows the controls – which are pretty easy to figure out.  


    • Metering Angle: 30 degrees

    • Aperture Range: F1-F64

    • ISO: 6-6400

    • Shutter Speed: 8s -1/2000s

    • Dimension: 27mm x 30mm x 13mm

    • Battery Capacity:120mAh

    • Battery Life: 20hrs non-stop

    • Weight: 12 grams

Of course, it weighs next to nothing!  After I charged it up – I pressed the metering button (lower L) and the display sprang to life.  Setting the ISO, mode, etc., are accomplished by pressing the upper L button and the right side buttons adjust the settings.  Pretty simple.  The small metal buttons are easy to operate for me.  The meter has aperture and shutter priority modes, which is really all you need.  When it’s in Aperture Priority, the arrow is on the aperture setting, and if in Shutter Priority, the arrow is on the selected shutter speed.  It’s reflective metering, which is pretty much what we do most of the time.  This tiny meter also is priced right - $45, not including shipping.  

I mounted the meter on my Ricoh 35 ZF, and was very pleased with the display being easy to read in most conditions – in really bright sun, I needed to shade the screen to read it.  The readings were consistent with my iPhone metering app, as well as with my Nikon FE2 that I was using.  I was originally concerned about the placement of the screen on the top and not the rear, but in use, it was perfectly fine.

For a small camera, the Cooldark 102 meter is really perfect, as it doesn’t get in the way of anything. The only downside to such a small meter is that it could easily be lost – but as long as I keep it on a hot shoe, it’s not going to fall off.  I think it's a great choice to mount on a camera such as an Argus C3 or C4, Kodak Retina, and all those old fully manual cameras that have either a cold-shoe or hot-shoe and either a non-working meter or no meter at all.  At the current price, you may want to buy a couple of them.  Thanks to Zhang at Cameractive for sending this delightful little meter!

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Review - FPP Blue Ultra Color Film

It seems that as film photography has roared back from the almost-dead, we are seeing some quite oddball emulsions popping up that we would never have seen pre-digital era.  However, while black and white film choices have expanded, color film choices from the big companies have shrunk, as Fujifilm has reduced the number of its color emulsions, and Kodak's color emulsions are much fewer than a dozen years ago.   Offsetting that of course, is Lomography and its stable of oddball films.  In addition, access to ECN-2 chemistry has brought some really wonderful color cine films from Kodak to the fore.  So, while the pre-digital era C-41 and E-6 films stressed color fidelity, we now see a number of unusual films such as Lomochrome Purple and Lomo Metropolis that do the opposite. In that vein, here is a color C-41 film from the Film Photography Project that is sure to be of interest.  

FPP Blue Ultra film

FPP Blue Ultra is a low-ISO (ISO 3) color film with a pronounced blue shift and muted colors that is unlike anything I have shot. It's much like a duotone with the blue -purple and popping reds. Since it is so slow, it's a challenge to shoot without a tripod, but believe me, you can.  On a sunny day you can shoot wide open at 1/30 sec, giving you an opportunity to exercise your creativity.  The film comes in 24 exposure rolls, and it's obvious just by looking at the unexposed film that blue is dominant.  The film appears to be on a polyester base.  The sprocket holes do not look like cine sprockets, but normal 35mm film. There is no antihalation layer or remjet. 

Mike Raso sent me some rolls of Blue Ultra to test, and I shot my first roll with my Nikon F100 and my 50mm f/1.4 AF-D Nikkor lens.  The FPP suggests trying an orange filter, which I did also use, but more on that later.  I set the ISO to 6 (as low as it goes on the F100) and set the exposure compensation dial to +1 to give me an ISO of 3.  I went for a stroll in downtown Weaverville to test the film on a partly cloudy December afternoon.   Shooting at apertures of f/1.4 - f/2.8 allowed me to shoot without a tripod, and of course, I tried to choose objects and scenes that were well-lit by the sun.  I also went for shooting colorful compositions to see what I'd get.  I typically shot a scene with and without the orange filter to see the difference. 

After I was done with the roll, I developed it in the FPP (Unicolor) C-41 developing kit.  I really did not know what to expect, and after seeing the negatives, I have to say that I really like this film.  It is extremely fine-grained, and after scanning the negatives with my Epson V700 scanner, I'm even more impressed.  You want a different look? This film has it.  On top of that, shooting wide-open changes a lot about a scene.  

contact sheet - non-filtered shots are yellow-ish

The film renders a scene bluish to purple, and reds are really nice.  Yellows are not seen. It sort of has a faded look to it, and using a photo editor to restore faded film won't work here, because part of the colors are actually lacking. When I used an orange filter, the colors are somewhat more punchy, but you also lose almost 2 stops of light when you need it most.  In addition, white areas look almost sepia, but more like a dark yellow, but not so much when in bright sun.   Another time I'll try a K-12 (yellow) filter to see what happens.  Saving the color images as grayscale to give you lovely black and white images isn't too bad a thing, either.  However, I really liked the results without any filtration the best.

Here is a selection of images from the first roll.  This film is certainly worth a try! I do advise use of a tripod if you are shooting at smaller apertures. 

no filtering

No filtering

orange filter

no filtering

orange filter

no filtering

no filtering - the yellow mustard container seems light blue

orange filter. Another stop of exposure would have helped.

without filter

orange filter

orange filter with strong sun. Definitely better with the sun at your back

Friday, December 24, 2021

The world’s first auto-focus camera - Konica C35 AF

Introduced in 1977, Konica manufactured the first auto-focus 35mm camera, the C35 AF.  It was followed by the C35 AF2 in 1980, which really only differs cosmetically, with all features being the same.  I picked this camera up from a box of cameras that my brother-in-law gave to me in July.  All of them had been purchased at an estate sale by him for about $25, and he only wanted the Minolta AF lenses.  There was a variety of cameras ranging from a Nikon F to Instamatics, and all had been stored in a garage, with lots of accumulated grime.  This Konica C35AF2 was fairly cruddy, and had a severe battery corrosion problem.  At first I was going to toss it, but after a while I sat down with it, cleaned it up, and was able to remove the corrosion and battery gunk.  I was pretty surprised that it started working, and after a few months, shows no signs of unreliability.  

About the C35 AF and AF2:

Considering that this camera broke new ground in compact 35mm cameras, the price reflected that.  In 1981, B&H listed the Konica C35 AF2 for $115.95 Compare that to a Pentax K1000 with a 50mm f/2 Takumar lens that was listed by B&H for $139.00.  [January 1981 Popular photography]


 The Konica C35 AF is an auto-focus auto-exposure 35mm camera with built-in pop-up flash

    • Lens: Hexanon 38mm f/2.8, 4 elements in 3 groups

    • Shutter: Programmed leaf shutter with 3 speeds-- 1/60s, 1/125s & 1/250s

    • Exposure: Fully automatic, 25 - 400 ISO,  ISO set by turning ring around lens.

    • Meter: CdS

    • Sensitivity: EV9 - EV 17 with 100 asa film

    • Viewfinder: Bright Line 0.41 Magnification

    • Underexposure warning light, Parallax Correction Mark, Focus measuring square

    • Flash: GN14,  Exposure determined by range measured by auto-focus

    • Film Winding: Manual lever-wind + rewind crank

    • Dimensions: 132 x 76 x 54mm

    • Weight: 375 grams

In Use

Of the many AF point and shoots that I have used over the years, the Konica C35 AF stands out as bridging the gap between the manual focus automatic exposure cameras such as the Minolta Hi-Matic G, and the auto-wind, auto-focus, auto-exposure cameras such as the Nikon L35 AF.   It was the first AF camera, and focuses from 1.1m to infinity.  It really does fit comfortably in the hand and is very quiet, due to the manual film advance lever.  If you are in a low light situation, a red led lights up in the viewfinder to alert you to use the flash.  I like that the pop-flash requires one to manually select it.  The viewfinder is bright with easy to see frame-lines and parallax correction markings.  I like that the body is sturdy metal and it has a bit of heft to it.  The filter ring on my camera is dented, otherwise I would use a skylight filter or a yellow filter with b&w film.  It normally takes 46mm screw-in filters, and since the CdS photo cell is within the front lens bezel, it would accurately meter with filters in place.  

Okay, so how has this 40 year old camera worked for me?  I’ve shot two rolls of film with it -- a roll of Tasma NK-II 100 ISO b&w film, and a roll of really expired Kodak Royal 400 rated at 80 ISO.  Every image came out quite satisfactory, even the old Kodak Royal 400 (though I had to adjust the color for fade correction).    It’s not as full featured as one might hope, with only 3 shutter speeds, but under most situations it would work just fine, and the 38mm Hexanon lens is quite good. Right now, I have a roll of expired Kodak Plus-X in it.  It’s definitely a camera to have as an extra in the bag, and yes, it could be a pretty good street camera.  The only downside is that there is no automatic override or B setting.   However, it does what it is supposed to do quietly and competently.  

The going eBay price for this camera is fairly low -- from $25-$85, depending on condition and whether or not it’s from Japan sellers.  It’s 40+ years old, so seals may need replacing (I did that, too).  If it comes with the original lens cap which blocks the viewfinder, that’s a plus.  That’ll keep you from shooting with a lens cap still attached.

I am glad that I took the time to get this camera working.  It’s easy to use, images are in focus, and the lens is great.


Wednesday, December 22, 2021

What’s old is new again

Unless you have been in a cabin in the woods without internet access, you have no doubt seen all of the hoopla about simple-use  and single-use cameras.  Several podcasts (All Through a Lens and the FPP) have had dips into the world of disposable cameras. 

Kodak's latest

Isn’t it funny that here in the year 2021, soon to be 2022, there is this amazing dichotomy: a huge emphasis in the digital world on mirrorless cameras with ever-pricier lenses that seem to be getting larger all the time, and the film community with announcements about cheap plastic simple cameras, and the Kodak price hikes.  Of course, it’s not quite that simple a divergence, but my point is that at what point does the  path to doing meaningful photography become a choice in spending $10,000 or more to feel that you have have the lens/camera that will FINALLY  allow you to capture great images?  That’s not including the high-end computer  necessary to process the thousands of frames you shot at the park yesterday, and never-mind the fact that you only post them somewhere in the digital realm for others to see.   Meanwhile, some person mucking around with their Holga got a magazine cover.  That’s so unfair.  

Konica B&W from early 2000s

Yes, I am being satirical here, but the truth is that how much the equipment costs does not equal great photographs or meaningful images. You can have a 20 x 30 inch colorful photograph that was shot with the latest and greatest technology, and it can be soulless wall art.  Or not. Great images depend on the person holding the camera making that exposure.  It doesn’t matter if the camera is a one-time use Kodak with Tri-X film, a Leica MP, a Rolleiflex, a Canon A-1, Olympus XA, Nikon F4, a battered Pentax Spotmatic that you bought for $10, or a $2500 mirrorless outfit.  The photo is made between the ears.  

Why is it that young people are wanting to shoot film?  It definitely isn’t perfect. Things don’t always come out the way that you thought they would.  It takes chemicals to process the film, and it’s expensive to send rolls to a lab.  Yet, they persist, because film has captured their imagination.  It’s okay to have serendipity, to have a mistake turn into a successful image.  Using a camera that is always ready because it has no batteries to charge, no start-up delay, and requires only that you, the person using it, has some creative impulse to satisfy.  Even a lowly one-time use camera can be used, within its limitations, to take interesting and meaningful images.  

From an Agfa LeBox dispo camera.

There is something about using a Nikon F with just its plain prism that I am sure the digital folks just won’t get.  That is, the ability to always choose exactly what I want to shoot at. There is no mini-computer telling me what the histogram should be, asking what digital effect would I like, whether or not the person is smiling in face detection, etc. Photography should not have to be about those things.  What do you feel?  What do you see?  How does the scene before you affect you?   How will you commit it to a piece of acetate with a coating of silver salts and dyes?  

As we approach the end of 2021, and I look back on over two decades of committing myself to becoming a photographer, I see how I have changed in my approach and my expectations, and choice of subjects.  In the beginning, I wanted to be able to take really good macro shots of insects, because that was the realm within which I worked.  Along the way, I learned a lot by reading, and shooting hundreds of transparencies, because that’s what the nature pros did.  Slide film.  Just when I got pretty good at it, digital SLRs started to appear, and they became a tool that I used in my work, and made my museum work all the better because of the immediacy and how the images are used. 

Magicicada septendecim, May, 2004

But that work world was different from the creative world that I embraced with film cameras.  In that world, lay the myriad paths one could take, depending on types of film, type of camera, format, type of lens, or not lens (pinhole), genre, type of darkroom process, etc.  In other words, film photography is a rich environment that never stops being capable of teaching us things. You don’t need to spend much to get into the club, and in the film world, everyone has a seat at the table.  From one-time use cameras to wet-plate, from pinhole to Leitz Summicrons, from Kodak Gold 100 to Ilford Ortho 80.    In short, the film world offers creative possibilities that will often lead one to paths that they never knew existed.

Bill Schwab, 2008 and his wet plates

So, this season, buy a kid a Kodak, Lomo, or Harman simple-use camera and see what happens.  Be ready to have an old Pentax or Canon or Nikon to loan or give away once the thrill kicks in.

(Note: Do not take this post as a rant against digital photography.  It's not.)