Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mama Mamiya!

I celebrated my 56th birthday on 12-12-12 -- an auspicious date, seeing that I was born in 1956, 56 years before.  A friend gave me a gift certificate from Huron Camera, which of course, might possibly be the best place locally to have a certificate from (at least for me!).  I made my way over to Dexter, and as usual, checked out the "bargain bins" in the back of the store. In one of them sat an SLR camera that I have seen very few examples of -- a Mamiya/Sekor 1000 DTL.  Now, me swearing off buying another camera, especially an M42 mount SLR, went out the window when I saw that the cameras was only 10 bucks -- with a Rikenon 50mm lens.  I checked all the functions, and aside from the battery-less condition, it seemed to work just fine. When I was at the counter, I saw that they had a 55mm 1.8 Sekor lens that matched the camera (including the original cool lenscap) for $29.00.  So, I bought the lens, the camera, some Ektar 100 film, and spent my gift certificate.  When I got home, I read up online about the camera, and sure enough, the  camera uses a modern LR-44 battery!    I cleaned the terminals, put in a battery, and the meter worked.  That was a nice surprise.  I loaded the camera with some Tmax 100 and over the course of a week, shot two rolls. I developed them the other day, and am quite happy with the results.  
Mamiya/Secor 1000 DTL

What is so unusual about the Mamiya/Sekor  1000 DTL is that the metering has a switch that is either "S" or "A" mode - meaning Spot or Average.  As far as I know, it was the the first SLR to offer that feature.  There is a partially silvered area of the mirror where the spot metering area (CdS sensor) is located. The DTL literally means Dual Through the Lens metering. The metering is stop-down, and is accomplished by pushing the wind lever towards the body.  The metering is turned off by pressing on top of the round base of the wind lever, which releases the wind lever against the top deck of the camera. Pretty ergonomic, but certainly not obvious without a manual! Here is where I plug the Butkus web site.  If you download a manual from there, please donate to keep his site going.  The 1000 DTL was introduced in 1968, and my example is in really excellent condition.  You can read more about that line of cameras here.

While Mamiya is well known for their medium-format cameras, their 35mm models never gained the prominence attained by other manufacturers.  I think the lenses are very good, but the bodies may not be as robust as the Pentax Spotmatics that they competed with.  When other manufacturers went away from the M42 mount, Mamiya  later went with a bayonet mount, in the Z-series.  Those SLRs were quite sophisticated, but apparently not as popular as other brands.  Due to issues with a supplier, the series ended in 1984 with the ZE-X. Mamiya stuck with medium format, and were quite successful with their line of professional medium-format cameras.

Okay, on with the pictures! The following were taken at Matthaei Botanical Gardens on Christmas day. All are with Tmax 100 film, developed in HC110-B.  I used the camera's metering exclusively.

bamboo wall

This bonsai tree was donated many years ago by a deceased friend.

Abby shooting water droplets.

I am quite happy with the results, and the metering seems to be pretty accurate.  I look forward to doing more shooting with it, and maybe I'll find a 28mm Mamiya/Sekor lens for it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

More N90s Love

A few posts ago, I discussed my new used Nikon N90s that I bought for $20.  I liked it so much that I bought another one on ebay in like-new condition with the MB-10 battery holder and vertical grip for $51.00.  This one has all the caps for the terminals, the LCD works perfectly, and it's a joy to use.  This is the first time that I have owned an SLR with the ability to shoot vertical with the second shutter release on the grip.  It really makes that a lot easier!
N90s with the MB-10.  It's no lightweight, but it is a pleasure to use.
This got me to thinking about how often others might buy a camera that has a few quirks at a cheap price, only to buy a better one because the first camera convinced you that it was worth having the upgrade.  Or, how many times others enjoy a certain camera model so much that whenever the opportunity came about to buy another, they do.  I know I have 2 Nikon FMs, and if I saw another one cheap that worked, I probably would not be able to resist buying it. 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Vivian Maier -- one of America's greatest treasures.

Yesterday, I received a book in the mail--"Vivian Maier. Out of the shadows" by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams. After reading the text and devouring her amazing photographs, I can say that few photography books have moved me the way this book has.  The horrific idea that her work could easily have gone completely unnoticed, unappreciated, and tossed away had the wrong people bought out the items from her storage locker isn't a thought singular to me.
I first remember reading about finding Vivian's extraordinary cache of images a few years ago.  My initial thought was that her images were really good.  However, were the ones I was seeing just the cream of the crop, with hundreds of lesser ones predominating?  FHer images are empathic, thoughtful, and most of all, engaging, and good.  The authors state that her consistency of many "keepers" per contact sheet is proof that she knew exactly what she was doing, and stand as a testament to her talent.

I went to Chicago in March 2011 to see the Maloof exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center, which was very moving.  The images were wonderful.  They even had some of her cameras and hats on exhibit.  Take any street photographer that's famous, and Vivian is right there in the quality of her seeing, and her craft.

By now, anyone following the Vivian Maier story must know that there are two collections of her work, with John Maloof owning about 95% of the negatives and associated materials.  The smaller portion -- still substantial, by any means, belongs to Jeffrey Goldstein with 20,000+ negatives.  I can't wrap my head around that much shooting of a Rolleiflex.  That is a LOT of film.  This book is based upon the Goldstein collection, and Cahan and Williams have put together a narrative that follows the arc of Vivian's life, and the people that she touched.  Vivian was "eccentric" to the families that she worked for, but it is apparent from the interviews that many of the children she watched regarded her as a sort of Mary Poppins.   Vivian's images aren't just shots of a time lost, but a celebration of everyday life, with all its warts and smiles.   The images in Vivian Maier - Out of the Shadows very nearly brought tears to my eyes--partly from the beauty and empathy of her images, but also from the realization that she did this for her own reasons, and that we are so much richer from being able to see what she saw.  I have not previously been moved by a photographic book as much as I have by this one.

If you love good photography, an engaging story, and most of all, appreciate the work and execution that is needed for excellent street photography, you will love this book.  If you love the essence of humanity, you will love this book.  If you love b&w square format photos, well... you will love this book.

Vivian Maier - Out of the Shadows is available online from City Files Press  for $50.   She is not only out of the shadows, she has cast her own across the streets of Chicago, New York, and wherever else she aimed her camera.

Vivian Maier -- Out of the Shadows by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams, 2012. City Files Press, Chicago.

Hardcover: 288 pages; 105lb paper + flood varnish with over 300 duotone images
ISBN: 9780978545093
Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 9 x 1.25 inches

Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Nikon N90s - a Modern Classic SLR

latest acquisition N90S
Back in the 1980s and 90s, Nikon was producing a slew of auto-focus 35mm SLRs, and each iteration had better features, with Nikon gradually introducing their AF SLRs in different tiers, catering to casual shooters, serious amateurs, and pro-level users.  In 1992, Nikon released the N90, their top-of-the-line camera for serious amateurs and professionals.  The F4 was introduced in 1988, and was Nikon's first F-series camera with built-in autofocus and autowind.  The N90 replaced the N8008s as the top non-F series camera in the Nikon lineup,  In 1994, Nikon added some improved features to the N90, including 1/3 stop compensation and a faster AF module, and called it the N90s.  Rounding out the field was the N50 for "beginners" and the N70 for the amateurs.  My first AF SLR was a Nikon N50 that Bill Brudon had given me, and I thought it was an amazing camera.  It was, coming from a Pentax MG that I had been using for 16 years.  The N50 however, had firmly established Nikon's habit of "crippling" the lower-tier cameras by not allowing them to meter without an AF lens, no depth of field preview, no remote release, etc.  Program modes were easy to use, and the camera also had the typical PASM modes that we expect.    The N70 was the next step up, which really was a replacement for the N8008s.  It had a quirky LCD on the top deck and selection mode that really made the camera a real button-pushing wonder.  I have heard that it was considered a "dog" by many users, who preferred the straightforward use of the N8008.  So, with that bit of history out of the way, here is what prompted me to write this story.
I was in my favorite store last week --the dreaded Black Friday -- however, it was Huron camera in Dexter, MI.  A much better place to be than those other stores that were in the news.  I was rummaging around in the bargain bins at the back of the store and saw a couple of AF Nikons SLRs.  There were two N90s bodies, and one was marked $10 (and was very beat-up) and the other was marked $20 and looked to be in pretty nice condition.  Now, I need another AF film body like a hole in the head, but the N90s is a camera with all the features that one can ask for (except for a built-in flash, which designated it as a pro-level camera!).  I borrowed a set of 4 AA batteries at the counter and tested the camera out.  Aside from some elements of the numbers in the viewfinder LCD being faint, the camera seemed to work fine.  So, I bought it and shot a roll of Kodak Gold 100 and dropped it off at Huron the following day to get developed.  I picked up the negatives today, and am quite pleased with the results.

part of the new Dexter River walk, 70-210mm Nikkor AF-D lens

railroad overpass 70-210mm Nikkor AF-D lens

seeking Santa's favor. 70-210mm Nikkor AF-D lens

reading the N90s manual in ways not envisioned in 1994.  

chuck wagon cook - 70-210mm Nikkor AF-D lens

The camera works very well, and I know I got a heck of a bargain.  Even though the N90s does not have 5000 focus points and 10 fps shooting, etc., it has held its own.  It's certainly an excellent camera for anyone that wants a reliable AF film SLR, and because the N90s also can meter with AIS manual and AF lenses, it's far more versatile than say, the much later and crippled N80.   The 10-pin connector on the front allows the use of a remote cord and shooting data was at one time recorded and saved to a Casio PDA.    The PC flash connector is very handy, and the camera also features an eyepiece shutter, a high eyepoint VF, programmable modes, and lots of other features that are appreciated once you need to use them.  These features and the reliability of the camera make it a Modern Classic!  If you get one, remember that G lenses have no external aperture control, so you must use them in P mode on this camera.