Friday, December 14, 2018

Minolta Hi-Matic AF2 - Review

It’s interesting how one changes an opinion about a camera over time.  What was once considered a modest point and shoot camera that was neither full-featured nor extremely compact, now is a desirable camera that has a good lens, and is possibly a “sleeper” in terms of being a street photography camera.  Such is the case with the Minolta Hi-Matic AF2!  I had one of these cameras come my way over 20 years ago, and did not think much of it.  It certainly was not as good as my SLR, and I wanted a camera that would allow me to have CONTROL over what I was doing.  Point and Shoot was not what I was looking for at the time. 

Now, it’s 2018, and cameras like the Minolta Hi-Matic AF2 are in demand by people that want a camera that fits the street photography ethos - not threatening, no flash unless you really need it, and relatively quiet.  A good lens is a bonus.  No DX coding, so that you can use weird films, and your home-rolled stuff.  The ability to use a filter, and a not-quite-wide but not-really-normal lens that gives you a bit wider view.  No motor drive to make noise.  Easy to hold in the hand.
That pretty much describes the Minolta Hi-Matic AF2. 

This Minolta AF2 came my way as a “not quite working” donation to the FPP's school donation project.   Any cameras that we send to the schools have to be fully operational, anything otherwise becomes a problem for someone learning photography.  For those of us experienced folks, we can find work-arounds, but that doesn’t mean that a 7th-grader can do so.  After some fiddling with this camera, I decided to bring it home and see what I could do with it.  It turns out that the camera works fine, except -- the pop-up flash is dead.  Maybe it’s nothing more than a corroded wire somewhere, but I am not going to tear the camera open to find out.  The 2 AA batteries power the camera just fine, and all other functions work. It just cannot be used in flash mode, so most indoor or evening photography is out.
clean layout on top

in case you forget how it works

Camera Specifications

Release date - 1981
Original price - suggested retail was $248 according to May 1981 Popular Photography.
Shutter Speeds - ⅛ to 1/430 second, auto-programmed by the camera with the appropriate aperture according to the ISO setting.
Aperture - f/2.8 - f/17
Flash sync speed - 1/40 sec
Lens - 38mm f/2.8 - 4 elements in 3 groups, filter ring diameter is 46mm
Exposure - determined by a CdS sensor next to the lens, with range of EV 6 to EV 17
ISO range - 25-400
Focus - Auto-focus, 1 meter to infinity, parallax-correction in viewfinder, red LED in viewfinder to indicate focus.  Pre-set AF by pressing shutter button halfway.
Power - 2 AA cells
Self-timer and tripod socket included
Size - 2 ⅛ x 3 x 5 1/16 inches, weight 14 ounces with batteries.

Impressions and Results

Overall, fairly average specifications, and nothing that stands out as unique.  It’s not too dissimilar in specifications from the Canon AF 35M (1979)  or the Nikon L35 AF (1983) that came out before and after the AF2.  However, one thing that I find attractive about the camera is the lever-wind film advance, and not a motorized drive that eats up batteries, let alone the noise that they make.   The camera is certainly not compact, but it isn’t fiddly, either.  The AF is based on infrared, meaning that it may have a problem properly focusing on really bright objects in a scene.  Since the AF is center-based, you’ll need to pre-focus if your subjects are off to one side if the background is at infinity.  Easily done if you press the shutter button halfway and you see the red LED indicating focus.  Then, recompose and press the shutter all the way.

After I was sure that the camera was pretty much working, I loaded a roll of Ultrafine Xtreme 400 to give it the test.  I walked around town for an hour and shot the roll.  The next day I processed the film in Rodinal at 1:25 for 7.5 minutes.  The negatives were scanned on my Epson V700 Photo scanner.

Overall, I am happy with the results.  There were a few times that I felt the camera was having difficulty achieving proper focus, which may have had something to do with the bright sun that was at a low angle in the December sky.  The camera is certainly easy to use, and while the flash did not work, it was not a hindrance shooting in the day.  Of course, with ISO 400 film, you can shoot indoors at 1/8 sec at f/2.8, so have a tripod handy. I have put a roll of color film in it, and will see how that does in the near future.

How much?  Although the 1981 list price was nearly $250, I am pretty sure the camera sold well below that, especially after the revised AF2-M version came out in 1982 with a motorized film advance, which brought it more in line with Canon and then Nikon's AF point and shoots.  Today, prices are all over the place.  I'll bet you can find one in a thrift store for less than $10, but on eBay, prices seem to be climbing over $50 for one that is tested and working perfectly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

One Roll Review - Kodak Vision3 50D film

image courtesy of the FPP 
If you have been following the Film Photography Project or Cinestill, you have undoubtedly heard about the Eastman Kodak Vision films. The Vision3  films are ECN-2 process color negative films designed for movie-making.  Each film is designed for a particular need, and there are daylight (D) and tungsten (T) versions to impart the proper color palette and balance for the movie filming.  As they are designed to be used in cine cameras, the film has a remjet layer on the base side, to allow lubrication of the film in the movie cameras.  Remjet is a layer of mostly fine carbon.  ECN-2 process removes the remjet layer in the processing sequence.   There are subtle differences between ECN-2 and C-41 processes, and if you wish to process the Vision films you can do it yourself in a C-41 kit.  What you can’t do is send the film to a lab that does not do ECN-2.  Don’t try and trick your local lab, either. You will be persona non-grata when they realize that your roll of film contaminated their chemistry.  When you develop it yourself the best way to remove the remjet is before the processing steps, not after.  I use water at the same temp as the developer - 39°C.  I dissolve 1 tsp of Sodium bicarbonate in 500ml of water and presoak the film in it -- shaking it vigorously like a cocktail shaker.  Shake for 30 seconds, stopping to burp the gas released from the tank.  Pour out the water - it will be gray with the dislodged carbon from the remjet layer. Refill with water at the same temp and shake vigorously for 10 sec and pour out the water. Repeat until the water looks clear.  Then, continue with the C-41 processing. After the stabilizer step at the end, wipe the base side with a microfiber cloth to remove any remaining remjet.  You can elect to remove the remjet after processing, but you'll end up with more carbon in your chemistry than doing it beforehand.

Who sells it?
Cinestill has already treated their films to remove the remjet before you shoot them.  Of course, that figures into the price of their film.  The Film Photography Project Store  sells the Vision Films just as they are (in 24 exposure rolls), without any remjet removal.  That brings the price down, but you will have to send your film to an ECN-2  lab like Blue Moon Camera or do it yourself.

A while back, I picked up some Vision 50D from the FPP, and finally finished the roll in my Yashica FX-7 Super back in October.

My Results

Kodak’s Vision3 50D film is daylight-balanced for 5500K sunlight.  It’s a rather slow film at ISO 50, but the consequence of that is that it is practically grainless!  It’s a wonderful film that renders colors - especially the greens, in a very true to life manner.   I have used other Vision3 films - 100T, 500T, and 250D.  Of all of these, I like the results from the 50D the best.   There is a Flickr group for the Vision3 films.

If you look carefully at the images below, you can see some lines and markings where I didn't get all of the carbon removed before I scanned the negatives.  That can be remedied by using one the Pec film cleaning pads. Remember to only treat the base side, not the emulsion!

shade, at Knight's Restaurant

morning sun on chairs, Jones Mansion

Mural in Holly, MI

Holly, MI

Holly, MI

Bev, in shade

Adrienne, in shade

sunlit interior, Jones Mansion FPP meetup, August

window light, Holly, MI

Holly, MI

I asked Mike Raso about how the 50D fares in comparison to the other Vision films at the FPP store, and he said that the 50D doesn't get any love, as everyone seems to want the 500T.  Well, I love this film.   The Vision3 50D is a fantastic, nearly grainless color negative film with lovely color rendition. 

Thursday, December 06, 2018

An apology to my readers

If you left comments and did not get a response from me, please accept my apologies. For some reason, I had not realized that Google had changed some settings that I did not fully understand.  This morning I saw that there were about 60 comments that I had not seen because the notification was not sent for them to be moderated.  I have fixed that, and sent away the spammers, and posted the real comments.  I am touched by the responses to my tribute to Marc Akemann.  I know that he influenced many people during his life, and he was always helpful to anyone that asked.  I still think of him regularly, and grief has given way to acknowledging that he would want us all to be happy with our lives, and to be good people.

I appreciate the comments on film and camera reviews -- I will try and answer those as much as I can, when I can.  Old cameras come our way, usually without a history attached to them.  If a camera isn't working properly, it may be why it was sold in the first place.  For others, it can sometimes be a simple fix, and others... a quagmire of possibilities and sometimes there is no fix.  My basic rule is, do no harm, and don't force anything.  But sometimes a quick bang on the bottom of the camera against my desktop can do wonders.  I am not a camera tinkerer, and certainly do not consider myself a repair person.  I have gotten bolder lately, as more people post fix-it solutions on the web. 

For film reviews, I am not doing extensive tests, but shooting/developing the film as I normally might.  A one-roll review is like that.  For films that I shoot a lot with, I use them because they satisfy my concepts of what I am looking for, whatever that may be.   They must also be easy to process.  If I have to resort to buying some special developer to get the optimum results, then it's pretty unlikely that I will use that film.  My usual developers are HC-110, D-76, Rodinal, XTOL, and Caffenol when I am so inclined.  For C-41 I use the FPP C-41 kit, and E-6 I usually send to The Darkroom because I don't shoot enough of it to fully utilize the E-6 kit. 

I am glad that you enjoy Random Camera Blog, and please keep the comments coming.  I'll reply to the backlog of your comments as soon as I can. Again, I apologize for not replying sooner.

Here is an image from a recently-developed roll of the FPP-spooled  Kodak Vision 50D.  I developed it in the FPP C-41 kit, and will have a film review of it soon.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The UniveX Minute-16 camera

Yesterday's visit to a local thrift store resulted in an interesting find and a purchase.  I spied a plastic bag with a blue box among a pile of cameras in a case at Treasure Mart.   Curious, I asked the clerk to retrieve it so that I could take a look.  The little box contained a minty Universal Minute-16 camera with all the documentation.  The price was $18!  Normally, I might have passed it over, but after seeing Mark Dalzell’s Tynar 16mm (discussed in FPP Episode 190), I figured it was worth a look.

What is the Minute-16?  Although it looks remarkably like a tiny movie camera, the Universal Minute-16 is actually a still camera that uses 16mm film in special cassettes to produce 11 x 14mm negatives.  Yes, a “spy camera”, which was a popular post-WWII niche camera.  While many people know of the German Minox spy camera, and the Mamiya -16 and Minolta-16, which are quality sub-mini cameras from Japan, the Minute-16 is not well-known, and certainly not up the the standards or complexity of the imported cameras.  Before I go on, let me say a few things about Universal Camera.

A Brief  History of Universal Camera

My brief history is extracted from my reading of the excellent book, The Univex Story by Cynthia A. Repinski.  ISBN # 0-931838-17-7, published in 1991 by Centennial Photo Service, 272 pp.

Universal Camera was started in 1932 in NYC, and was immediately successful with their first camera, the Univex  Model A.  Imagine trying to start up a camera company during the Depression!  The Univex Model A was a plastic-bodied tiny box camera that used a size 00 film made by Gevaert to produce 6 images of 1 ½ x 1 ⅛” per roll.  Certainly not an outstanding camera, but at 39 cents, Universal sold millions of them - 15 million, in fact.  The film spools had a v-shaped notch that meant Univex only supplied the film.  Sort of like the razor model of retailing.  While the Model A cameras were simple, the negative was large enough to produce acceptable prints, and at that price, it was the first camera for many young people.

UniveX Model A

After the Univex Model A, Universal designed and sold several different cameras that were more advanced than the Model A, as well as an 8mm movie camera and projector that were priced well below other manufacturers’ offerings.  In 1938, They released the UniveX Mercury Model CC camera.  The camera vaguely resembles a parking meter, and pre- WWII models used a proprietary Univex film load.   Post-war Mercury II cameras used 35mm and produced half-frame images.  From 1938-941, Universal produced a bunch of “candid” cameras, such as the UniveX Iris, UniveX Zenith, UniveX Corsair, and more cine cameras.

The war years were especially profitable for Univex as well as other US camera manufacturers, such as Argus.  Mostly, they were subcontractors to larger companies such as Bausch and Lomb, and produced optical instruments such as binoculars.  While the wars years were profitable, the post-war period saw Univex (as well as Argus and others, but not Kodak) struggle to a degree to provide quality cameras to a more demanding audience.
The Universal Mercury II

Universal’s best camera at the time was the Mercury II, which while odd-looking, was capable of producing good half-frame images on 35mm film.   The other cameras they produced were certainly not high-end.  The Buccaneer was a 35mm rangefinder camera that was supposed to compete with the Argus C3, but at $65, was pricey and not well known.  Universal also tried to capitalize on the interest of those using 120 roll film, and brought to market a series of cameras that were utilitarian and not especially popular - the Meteor, Roamer 63, Roamer I and II, and the Uniflex TLRs.  The Uniflex I and Uniflex II twin lens reflex cameras were actually pretty good, and used 120 film, like the popular (but much more expensive) Rolleiflex.  I had a Uniflex II about a decade ago, and while it worked pretty much as it should, the finish and feel of the camera was certainly not as good as the peer TLRs that came from Japan and Europe, nor as good as an American-made Ciroflex.
Universal Meteor 

Due to a series of unfortunate labor disputes in the late 1940s, Universal’s manufacturing was backlogged with orders, and then, to top it off, a lot of cameras were returned to be fixed.  The company’s reputation suffered greatly, and incurred large debts, loss of some key designers, and the losses mounted as retailers returned unsold merchandise.   For some reason, Universal decided to capitalize on the sub-miniature camera craze (at about the time it started to cool, no less).  They threw all of their capital (raised by selling off a lot of their inventory and parts of the other products) into producing the Universal Minute-16, a “spy camera” that looks like a tiny movie camera, and debuted in November 1949 at a price of $7.95.  A three-pack of the film was $1.00.  By 1952, Universal was bankrupt, and most of its assets were liquidated. However, a tiny remnant of the company reincorporated in Massachusetts and continued to produce the Minute-16 cameras, film, parts, and also do the film processing.  Finally, in 1964, the Universal Company was once again liquidated and all operations ceased.   One thing that had to be a factor in the demise of the Universal cameras - was their non-standard film loads which were made by no other manufacturer than Universal/Gevaert.  Serious photographers shunned the Universal products because of that, and since Kodak, Agfa, and other major film manufacturers didn’t make the Universal films, camera owners could not reap the benefit of the new emulsions from Rochester.  I suspect that a lot of the cameras sold had one or two rolls run through them and the owners put the cameras in the closet and moved onto something better.

Now, back to the Minute-16 (an in minute in size, not minute in time).  
Tiny camera!

First of all, the Minute-16 is tiny. It’s all-metal design gives it some heft.  There is a tripod socket on the bottom of the camera, and the flip up viewfinder is on the top. The shutter speed is 1/50th sec., and the original Minute-16 has three apertures f/6.3, f/11, and f/16.  The later version also has an f/8 setting.  There is no focus adjustment, as the fixed focus goes from 3 feet to infinity.  A lever on the right side is pushed down to advance the film. The shutter release is also on the right side - a simple metal button.   It’s very ingenious, really, and the patented 16mm cassette slips into the camera from the back.  As a tiny camera, the Minute-16 is theoretically pretty good.  There is a tripod socket on the bottom of the camera.   Compare this to the Tynar that Mark Dalzell talks about, and it’s obvious that the Tynar is a bad ripoff of the Minute-16, and even more of a box camera than it looks. The Minute-16 was sold singly, and with various accessories, including a box with every item available for it. I chuckle at the flash, which absolutely dwarfs the camera.

My goal is to find a cassette to load with some 16mm b&w film, just to see if I can get some images from it.  I know that the Minute-16 was plagued with reliability issues, especially regarding the film transport mechanism.  This one appears to be fully functional.  I’ll bet that the original owner ran only the one roll through it, and put it back into the box.  Such was the case for many Univex cameras.  So, if you have a cassette, let me know!