Saturday, March 28, 2015

Thrift Store Adventures

Today I decided to visit the Saturday morning Kiwanis sale in Ann Arbor.  I haven't been there is a few years, and a photography contact told me about a couple of Miranda SLRs that were in the glass case there.  So, Adrienne and I went downtown and I immediately head up to the second floor with Tom, one of the volunteers that works with the cameras.  Sure, there were two Mirandas (a brand which I have not previously used), and I picked up the more recent one, a Sensorex II. I also picked up some other items very cheaply.  A cheap Argus 35mm outfit for $1 and the original K-mart sticker on the back listed it for $24.99!    A neck strap for $2, some 1 GB CF memory cards, and a Bogen quick-release plate for $2.  Over a decade ago, my daughter and I would occasionally visit the sale, and like any operation of this type, it changed from week to week.  I know I got some bargains back then, and with many people abandoning their film cameras or seeing little value in them, they end up in places like Kiwanis.  Today's visit at least made me more aware of what they have -- and depending on what one is looking for -- there is something for everyone.  Light meters, expired film, plastic cameras, vintage Kodaks, modern and vintage SLRs, lenses, lots of flashes, books, etc.  It's certainly worth stopping in from time to time to check it out.
Lots of stuff to look over.
 Because the Kiwanis folks have volunteers that look over the items, you are more likely to find that things actually work.  It's a good place to browse, but since it is only open on Saturday mornings, it can be quite packed and busy, too.

The Miranda Sensorex II I purchased is in great shape. I put in a battery and turned on the meter, and it sprang to life.  It all looks very clean, so I am going to shoot a roll of b&w this weekend, to see how it works.

Later on, we stopped at the Ann Arbor Recycle/Reuse center, which is open every day, and things can come and go very quickly.
Tom Nighswander, local photographer and Kiwanis volunteer
 I have purchased many books there over the years, as well as some camera gear.  It's all very spotty though, and things don't sit around too long unless they are really awful.  All I saw there was a Dacora-Matic 4D camera from 1960.  Dusty and probably with a non-working Selenium meter, I left it on the counter.  It was interesting to see, though.  An instance where the push-button craze just went too far!

The fun thing about thrift stores is the hunt -- and finding something that you think is a bargain, versus the wait and see atmosphere on ebay.  Browsing is serendipitous, which can also lead to some very interesting finds.

We all have stories about great thrift store finds.  What's yours?
in the glass case

The Miranda Sensorex II is a beauty.

Dacora-Matic 4D.  An odd one.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Look at the Konica TC-X

Sometime last fall, I found a nice example of the  Konica TC-X SLR, which appeared in 1983.  It has been termed the first "all plastic-bodied SLR" and was manufactured by Cosina for Konica.  The one I purchased came with a gaudy Konica strap, which certainly is attention-getting!  The TC-X is typical of Konica's autoreflex line of cameras in that it features shutter priority operation, and much like the Autorflex TC it replaced, the shutter speeds range from 1/8 to 1/1000 sec., + B.  While the camera does offer DX-code reading to set the ISO, it can also be manually set for a range of 50 to 1600.  The on-off switch on the top deck next to the film winding lever is easy to use, and the shutter button has a threaded recess for a cable release.  There is a self-timer switch on the front of the camera.   That's pretty much it for features.  Oh, and it has a very plastic body.  I suspect it has a pentamirror rather than a pentaprism, as the image through the viewfinder is nowhere near as nice as that found on an Autoreflex T.   However, it does have a split image circle at the center microprism, which does aid in focus.

So far, I have only shot a roll of expired Tmax-100 which I recently developed.  The exposures look good, and with the 40mm 1.8 lens as pictured, the combo makes for a very light, fairly compact SLR.  The body uses 1 AAA battery for the metering and auto-exposure.  If power fails, you can still use the camera manually by setting the aperture and shutter speeds independently.

Like all the Konicas that I have used, the shutter-priority operation is an acquired taste.  I prefer aperture-priority, but it's not a big deal making the adjustment.  The Konica glass is very good, and the body very cheap.  I see no reason why this would not make a pretty good camera for street photography.  It takes up little space, and ought to give good results.

All of the images that follow were taken during the A3C3 photo meetup in Clinton, MI last November.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Fun Packed Like Sardines

Last week one of our A3C3 members brought an upscale Lomography camera to the meeting.  It was the brass-bodied La Sardina camera with the matching side-mounted flash.  I was enchanted with the fact that it has a 22mm wide-angle lens, and certainly is a toy camera, based on its feature set.  The next day, I went trolling online and snagged a La Sardina "Marathon" model that cost me $21 when I added in my Amazon rewards.  Not a bad deal, really.  While the Marathon La Sardina is all-plastic and not brass, it works the same.  If I am going to buy a toy camera, it better cost me less than $50.

One thing that has always impressed me with Lomography is their packaging. True to form, the package was a delight, and most of it was easily recyclable. The box contained the camera, lens cap, instruction sheet, and a nice little colorfully-illustrated book that espouses the Lomography philosophy, and has hints for using the camera.    I am not going to do a full review on the feature set, as there are other reviews out there.  Basically though, it is a 35mm camera with a fixed shutter speed of 1/100 sec (and Bulb) and a fixed aperture of f/8.  It can focus in two zones - close-up - 2-4 feet, and far - 6 feet to infinity.  The 22mm lens gives a reasonably wide-angle of view.  The camera is able to do multiple exposures on the MX setting.  It has bottom and side-mounted tripod sockets, and a film counter.  When rewinding the film, you just twist the rewind knob, as there is no extra release to press.  The lens collapses into the body for transport, and telescope back out for use with a twist.  A printed reminder on the top of the lens barrel tells you when you can shoot with it.  A cable-release socket is built into the shutter button.

Use of the camera.  

Really, it's pretty simple to use -- and that is part of the fun.  I put in a roll of 100 black and white film and shot a roll in one morning while at work.  Indoors, I used the camera in B mode and timed the exposures at less than a second to 2 seconds. For most of those I used a tripod.  The viewfinder is fairly accurate.  The cable-release was very handy indoors.  The shutter is very quiet, as well.


For a first roll -- pretty good.  I developed the 100 in Rodinal at 1:25 dilution.  All the shots came out pretty good, and my seat of the pants timing ain't bad.  Yes, there is a lot of fun packed into that sardine can!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Tripods and Quick-Release Plates Will Make Life Easier

I recently posted this image, and it generated some interesting comments.  First and foremost -- what I did mean by it?

What I meant was that no matter how much you spend on a camera system, if you don't also have a decent tripod, you are not going to have the results that the optics and camera body are capable of.  Now, that may seem obvious to many of you, and yet, I see that some people think that because their camera has built-in stabilization they don't need a tripod.   Here are 4 reasons why a tripod is important:
1. A stable platform
2. Repeatable  exposures
3. Better subject framing
4. Hands-off exposures

A stable platform  is perhaps the most important.  While I am capable of hand-holding some cameras at 1/15 sec, it's not going to fly with a telephoto, long exposure times, and low ISOs.   By tripod, I don't mean that you need to lug a 6 pound aluminum tripod everywhere.  Depending on the size of your camera and the conditions, there are all sorts of mini-tripods, clamps, etc. that provide stability.   Find one or two that give you the most flexibility of shooting.  Often, a mini-tripod with a small P&S will be very much appreciated when you want yourself in the photo, or for long exposures.

Repeatability.  A tripod allows you to bracket your exposures, try different filters, etc., without moving your camera from its position.  Pretty darn important.

Better framing.  A tripod slows you down a bit and allows you to try different angles, positions, lenses, etc. to better gauge the effectiveness of your vision.  Sure, it's not going to work for street photography, but it really helps in most other situations.  In the studio, it allows you to go back and forth between the camera and subject (human or still-life) and make scene adjustments without changing the camera position.

Hands-off.  How else can you do really good selfies?   Really, though, being able to use a remote release of some sort is very liberating and sometimes essential for some photographs.  Second, for long exposures or macro work, or telephoto, you may want to use a remote release to avoid camera motion.

All the above reasons are pretty self-evident, but they bear repeating.  My second comment is that while even a crappy tripod may be better than no tripod at all, there is a good reason to use a good tripod and quick-release mounting system. You will simply use it more.  I have had to use tripods with limited movements, non-secure leg positions, etc., and they are not worth the trouble.  They can be frustrating as hell.  So, do not waste your money on a cheap, poorly built model.  You don't need to spend $300, either.
Two RC2 plates in the front, and the hex plate in the back.

hex Manfrotto plate and holder
A quick-release system makes tripod use much more efficient.  You simply attach a quick-release plate to the base of your camera(s) and set them in place in the tripod's matching mount. Some of them click into place, and others use a small knob to tighten them into place.  I favor the ones made by Bogen/Manfrotto as pictured here.  The RC2 plates are what I use for most of my 35mm and medium-format cameras, and the larger hexagonal mount I use for my Pentax 6x7 and 4x5 cameras with which I also use a heavier-duty tripod.  There are other plate designs made by other manufacturers - but the RC2 system is pretty widespread.

I have over a dozen of the RC2 quick-release plates that are on my various cameras, and I never have to worry about if a camera does not have one.  I also keep a spare loose one in the car just in case.  A quick search on ebay will bring up many clones of the RC2 plates for as little as $4 each.  The current RC2 plate sold by Manfrotto are polymer-resin and not metal.  They weigh less, but I don't have any experience with them.

My choice for a tripod head is a good medium-weight ball head, and second choice would be a 3-D head or 3-way adjustable head.

Ball head with RC2 plate holder
I do not recommend 2-way only heads, as they limit the adjustment of your camera.    Of course, this is for still photography only.  I do not shoot video, which has its own unique array of heads.
RC2 plate on the camera

As far as picking out a good tripod -- it's best to try one out before you buy.  Of course, I have long been a Bogen/Manfrotto user.  I also have a Hakuba carbon-fiber tripod that I recently bought used.  I like it a lot, and it is only a bit lighter than my Manfrotto tripod.    Make sure that your tripod has individually adjustable legs that can angle out from the center column independent of the others.  It should have positive-locking segments that are easy to tighten and loosen, and be sturdy enough for your camera(s).  It should also be able to bring your camera to your eye-level, unless of course, it is a mini-tripod!  There are many very good tripods available, but do try one out before you purchase it.  Some tripods have foam-covered upper leg segments so that they are easier to carry and handle in cold weather.  You can make your own from polyfoam pipe insulation and duct tape.
I hope that this helps.