Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Magic Square... The Bronica SQ-B

There is something about shooting in square format - whether it's 35mm or medium format.  While one can crop an image to be square, it's the composition in camera that makes the difference.  For one, you don't have to worry about an image being in portrait or landscape mode -- it's all the same. I think the first camera that I owned that shot square format may have been an Ansco folder. Then, I acquired a Rolleiflex for $75 back in 2002.  There are a lot of fun little square-format cameras out there, too. Some use 127 film. Getting used to the advantages as well as limitations of a TLR was quite educational and opened up a new way of seeing for me.  In 2004 I bought a Mamiya 645E that was new at Adray Camera in Ann Arbor, and while I owned it for 6 years, I never was comfortable with it -- the boxy body was cumbersome for vertical shots. I also owned a Kiev 60 for a while, and that SLR was quirky, as the frame spacing wasn't predictable.  However, i did take some decent images with it. I bought a nice  Kowa Six, and that lovely camera was nice, but a bit fiddly. Later, I acquired a Hasselblad 500C, back when they were selling used for really cheap, and people were ditching their film cameras for the latest DSLR.  I sold the Mamiya 645, of course. I enjoyed using the 'blad and had a number of lenses for it, and for some reason, sold it all after I acquired a like-new Mamiya C330 Pro with 80mm and 135mm lenses in March 2014.  The Mamiya is a bit of a beast, but I do enjoy shooting with it, as it close-focuses, which is something the Rolleiflex could not do without a special diopter , etc.   Having full control of my exposure and focus is important, but then, a camera like the Great Wall SLR from China is pretty much the opposite -- I owned one for a few years, and while I got some images from it that were somewhere between a Holga and an Argoflex, I found that it sat on the shelf a lot, so I sold it for a bit more than what I paid for it. While I sometimes regret selling my Rollei, the Yashica A that I have had for quite a while takes satisfactory images, and I paid $30 for it. The Mamiya C330 is a great system camera, and I use it regularly. How many TLRs does one need? (Don't answer that!).
At this point, you are wondering "When is this guy going to get to the topic in the title?" I'm getting to that. Really.  What this all leads up to is over time, I realized that I sometimes have a camera crush, and what I really want is to be able to use a certain camera for a bit, not necessarily own it.  I have had a sort of revolving door when it comes to square-format cameras. Last fall, I realized that the one camera system that I had NOT tried was a Bronica SQ (I have no interest in shooting any more 6x4.5).  I didn't really want to go and buy one, only to find that it wasn't for me, or it was okay but quirky.  I mentioned that I would just like to borrow one for a while on the Film Photography Podcast, and certainly never thought that anyone would take me seriously.  After all, the FPP gives cameras away, right?

A few months ago, I received an email from an FPP listener, and he offered to loan me a Bronica SQ-B.  It had belonged to his sister, and he needed to have some work done on it, and after that he would send it to me to use for a while.  It arrived on February 18, and after unboxing it and checking it over, I looked online and found a manual. I had a 6V battery for it, and after getting used to the controls and layout, I loaded a long-expired roll of film and shot it at various settings, just to acquaint myself to the camera.  I tossed the exposed roll in the garbage, and loaded a roll of Verichrome Pan which I shot last weekend, along with a roll of Tri-X.  Those were developed the next night, and I am quite pleased with the results.
First of all, the SQ uses an electronic shutter, so unlike the Hasselblad 500C that I once owned, you need a battery for the camera to work (so does my Pentax 6x7).  There is no metering with the SQ-B, just like the 'blad 500C. The SQ-B that I now have is fitted with a waist-level finder, which I do like, and of course, one can add a prism finder, just as with the 'blad.  The controls on the SQ-B remind me of the Mamiya 645E, which is fine.  I wasn't a fan of setting the shutter speed on the lens with the 'blad.  The SQ-B goes from 8 seconds to 1/500, and no B or T.  That works fine for me.  It fits easily into my canvas messenger bag with a compartment insert.   The film loading is familiar, and the use of the dark slide is also familiar, though sometimes results in a  "doh!" moment when I forget to remove it.   Using the camera with an external meter or just using sunny-16 (or the Black Cat Exposure Guide) is fine.  If I were shooting something complex, I might use my Pentax Spotmeter.  In any case, this is a fun camera to use, and I look forward to doing a lot of photography with it over the next few months.  Thank you for the loaner, David Lyon!

A few images from my Sunday afternoon outing last week. All shot in Ann Arbor, MI.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A P&S SLR- The Minolta Maxxum QTsi

A few weeks ago, I posted about my thrift shop purchase of a Nikkormat FTN and a Minolta QTsi. Since then, I have shot one roll of film in the QTsi, and can now say a bit more about the camera.
If you are looking for a camera that you can control to whatever level you need to allow your vision, this camera is not it.  BUT, if you want a P&S camera that has the ability of an SLR to accurately frame an image and focus on the subject, the Minolta QTsi may be the camera for the job.

The Minolta Maxxum series of cameras started with the Maxxum 7000 in 1985.  It was the first AF SLR with an in-camera lens motor, and started the A-mount series of lenses with contacts in the lens mount to control the lens from the body of the camera.  Other manufacturers shortly followed up with their own models.  It was also the end of Minolta's manual focus SLRs, with the last model being the X-700.  As Minolta progressed with the Maxxum line, they also changed the hot shoe flash connection from the ISO standard shoe to a proprietary Minolta mount.    In Europe, the Maxxum line became Dynax, so the Maxxum QTsi is the Dynax 303si.  Minolta made some great Maxxum camera bodies, as good or better than anything from Canon and Nikon, and certainly better than Pentax. However, their lower-end models were mostly plastics, just like the Canon Rebel series, and over time, Maxxums were never as popular as the big two.  The Maxxum 9 and Maxxum 7 models are amazing SLRs that never achieved the hoped-for market share, as Nikon and Canon were getting most of the business.  That brings us to the QTsi, which appeared in 2000, just at the dawn of the DSLRs.

The QTsi was an attempt to produce an SLR that your grandmother could use, if your grandmother had only used an Instamatic, that is.  But rather than belabor its target audience, I'll look at what makes this an ideal camera for anyone that wants to get a photo without fiddling with controls. Compared to the typical P&S with a small aperture, and slow zooming, the QTsi came with a 35-80mm zoom with a variable-max aperture of f/4- f/5.6, which is certainly comparable to the kit lenses on cameras from the big two.  You can control the flash setting, the program mode, self-timer, and AF or M focus, and that is about it. No aperture or metering shows in the viewfinder, just a green dot for focus confirmation.  A perfect camera for the kids, by the way.  It's lightweight, easily handled, and accepts any Alpha (A-mount) lens.  So, I guess if you could pair the body with a 50mm  A-mount lens, it would be one of those cameras that would be great for street photography.  Just whip it out and shoot.  You can find the manual for the camera here.

I put a roll of Kodak 200 color film in the camera and shot the roll within 24 hours.  I processed the film in the Unicolor C-41 kit (sold by the FPP store), and herewith are the results from the scans off my Epson V700.

I can find no fault with the metering or the focus, and every shot was as good as I could expect.  Like any p&s camera, you do give up some creative control in terms of depth-of-field, aperture priority, etc.  However, if those are not of concern to you, this camera deserves a look.  Yes, I paid $4.50 for the one I found, and there are lots of them around, often without lenses.  They take an easily found battery, and require 2 CR-2 cells.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

2017...The Film Strikes Back

With the recent, head-spinning announcement by Kodak to produce Ektachrome this year, I was not prepared for the release of a new (actually, old) monochrome film from Film Ferrania.  The sample images I have seen that were shot with it are really luscious, with a pleasing richness that you'll never get from a digital.  The 80 ISO is a nice speed, as not all of us want 400 ISO films for everything.

Then, Bergger anounced that they will be releasing a 400 ISO b&w film, Pancro 400, which will be available in 35mm, 120, and 4x5! I am less familiar with Bergger, but I did know of their paper.  I wondered if the Bergger film the same as  the JCH Street Pan, which has had very good reviews, but the JCH film was made by Agfa.  I confess that I have not yet purchased any myself.
So, with these announcements, is 2017 the year when film strikes back?  It is no secret that more people have come BACK to using film, for a multitude of reasons, but I believe the most obvious reason is that film is a creative medium.  In terms of market, digital has a large hold over traditional film. However, film remains strong among those that appreciate the art of photography, the sheer joy of the process, and being in control of your image.  Not to mention, that in a world where just about everyone takes photos, film remains a tangible, physical reality that transcends time and digital resources.  I got thinking about this when I scanned in some slides from the late 1970s that I had taken with my Exa 1a SLR.  Mind you, I was using slide film, sunny-16, and never had a meter of any sort. Yet, I have some pretty decent shots from then. I didn't need any software to view them in their plastic sleeves within the binder to appreciate them.  Scanning went well, and also allowed me to do a bit of color correction. Yet, the originals are safely tucked away.
South Beech Street, Syracuse, NY Feb. 1978.

Dave Rosher with his Spotmatic, summer, 1977.

Adrienne, fall of 1978.

 I am not here to bash the digital realm -- it is a necessity of every-day communication, consumption, and path of ideas.  Without the internet and the invention of the magic of HTTP and its subsequent eruption of the web as we now know it, we would be back to using something like CompUServe (for those of you who do not know of a world without internet -- we got along just fine.)  We are a visual culture, and photography is an extension of that.  We can still use film and share online, share via printed works, share via exhibitions, and yes, share via Instagram if we so choose.

I think it would also behoove the primary SLR manufacturers to rethink their marketing strategy.  While sales of DSLRs have dropped due to the smaller size and capabilities of the mirrorless cameras, smartphones have decimated point and shoot sales.  If Nikon, Canon, and Pentax were to release at least a decent 35mm SLR again, it would be a great thing.  All Nikon has to do is manufacture the F100 again-- certainly the best AF SLR that wasn't an F5 or F6.  Canon could produce an EOS film camera (not the plastic Rebels, please), and Pentax ought to have a K1000 made once again.  Do you know how many people think the K1000 is the best student camera ever?  It amazes me.  Yes, there are a lot of used film cameras available, but having a new model would certainly not be a bad thing.

 Look at what people will pay for a cheap plastic Lomography camera.  If Joe Blow spends $500 on a 120 Lomo LC-W, he'll spend $1200 for a new Nikon film camera.

So, maybe it's time to have people petition the camera makers for new film cameras.  I don't know what more digital can offer anyone that it doesn't already.  Meanwhile, we have some new films to try out!

Edit: After writing this post, I found this post by Zorki Photo, which is a very good article.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

An Iron Horse and a Plastic Wonder

I briefly stopped by my local thrift shop this afternoon, and picked up a couple of cameras for less than $15.  A Nikon Nikkormat FTN body for $9.00, and a Minolta Maxxum QTsi in a bag for $4.50. Yes, I have paid far more for a sandwich than I did for the Minolta. I mean, $4.50 is less than even a pizza from Little Caesar's!

The mighty Nikkormat FTN
Let's take a look at the two.  Of course, I added a lens on the Nikkormat FTN for its portrait, because a lens-less SLR just looks pathetic.  I suspect the meter is suffering from a common malady that affects those old Nikkormats. It doesn't matter much, as $9 for a robust body that you can practically pound nails with is a great deal.  It seems to work great otherwise, and I will run some film through it soon.  I have always had a soft spot for Nikkormats. They are basic, no-frills Nikons that usually perform quite well.

Now, in contrast, the Minolta QTsi is a much newer camera, dating from about 2000.  Plastic, yes. It's also about as point-and shoot an SLR can get.  You have various modes, no exposure compensation, and no manual anything (other than focus and selecting the flash mode) -- a real beginner's camera.  On the other hand, it's pretty goof-proof, and is a camera you could give to anyone and they can just shoot with it.  I told myself I was never going to buy any AF Minoltas, because I just don't need more cameras with a different lens mount. Well, for less than $5, I felt sorry for that camera, so I bought it, put in new batteries, and a roll of film.  I'll see how well it performs.  Back in 2000, Tony Sweet gave the camera a very nice  review.  It's no Maxxum 7, but it's still capable of getting some good images.   It weighs 12 ounces.  It is by far, the smallest AF SLR I have held.  Yes, it is a glorified P&S, bit once I shoot a roll, I will have a better idea of its shortcomings.

$4.50. I hope I didn't over pay :)