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.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Shooting the Bad Guys With a Ricoh

Back in October I was in Tucson, AZ, and my daughter suggested that we go to the local Antique Mall. That’s something that we always enjoyed doing together whenever we were on road trips, and part of the fun is that we never know what we’ll find that attracts our interest. Usually for me, it’s cameras, but pickings have been slim at any antique stores that I have visited in NC. An antique mall in Arizona should certainly have some different and unusual items, so off we went. Jorie found some animal skulls (that’s her thing), and pointed out Zuni fetishes and other local art that was there. A few aisles over, I saw what looked like a camera up on a high shelf. I took it down, and was immediately interested. It was an inexpensive 35mm camera with an electric stepper motor and armature connected to it. Also inscribed in multiple places was Tucson Police Department (TPD)! Hmm. I’ve never seen anything like that before, and the price was $35. I thought it might be on sale for 20% off, but it wasn’t in a display case. To compound the idea that I was going to purchase it, their credit card machine was down. So, I had them place the camera and a typewriter that I also wanted on the shelf behind the register and I’d return the next day to try again when their credit machine would be working. The next day, I went back and still no credit card operation, so I walked a block to an ATM and got cash. I got everything back to the vacation rental we were staying at, and took a better look at the camera and the gizmo it was attached to. I could see that the focus and manual control on the barrel of the Ricoh 35 ZF were taped so that they wouldn’t easily be changed, so my first thought is that the camera was used for something like mug shots or interview-room photos. I posted a photo of the contraption on Instagram and got some suggestions about what the camera might have been used for, and then I got a direct message from Kikie Wilkins, who knows a guy that was in the TPD.

The outfit that I purchased - front


It turns out that the camera was used in convenience stores and gas stations in Tucson under the Robbery Surveillance Program, which ran from the 1970s to 2008. The program installed these cameras into the majority of convenience stores throughout Tucson, and had an arrest rate of 80%! The Crime Scene Unit serviced the cameras. Once video surveillance became more common and affordable, these cameras were removed and sold off as surplus

In use, the camera was hidden behind a speaker grille and faced the counter where the transactions were made. In case of a robbery, the clerk would remove the "bait money" which allowed two contacts to touch in the cash drawer, sending a signal to the remote camera, activating the AC circuit, which powered the stepper motor, and the camera would generally shoot 22 frames of 35mm black and white film. The Crime Scene Unit officers would remove the film and replace it with fresh film. Back at the station, the film was developed and printed, and I assume that the images were good enough to capture the perps in a short time.

Robbery Camera inside speaker case

speaker case

front of speaker grille pulled down

view through the mesh

final image 

transmitter with bait money

transmitter with bill removed

We are so used to CCTV cameras in stores, gas stations, banks, and on the street that we generally don’t give them a second thought. Compared to the camera shown here, they are remarkably compact, quiet, and can save the information on a tape or a hard drive, and perhaps relay to a station what’s going on in real time.  While it might seem somewhat archaic, the TPD system was successful, and unless the camera was activated, it required little maintenance.

The camera is a Ricoh 35 ZF, a fairly inexpensive camera with auto and manual exposure control. The camera had no battery inside, so I am guessing that the TPD figured out the ambient lighting and adjust the camera to a setting that gave a good exposure, taping the barrel controls so that it would not get "readjusted." The Ricoh 35 ZF is a competent little Zone Focus (hence the ZF?) camera with a 40mm f/2.8 lens, shutter speeds from B to 1/8- 1/500 sec, and focus from 3 feet to infinity. The ISO settings range from 25-800. The Ricoh ZF was manufactured in 1976 in Taiwan. It can be operated without the mercury cell in manual mode, or with power, be used in A mode as a shutter-priority camera. As I said above, the camera was used in Manual mode. I don’t know if other camera models were used in the Robbery Surveillance Program, but I would not be too surprised if there were. The stepper motor and actuator could have been customized for any similar-sized camera. 

I bought this unit out of curiosity, and I have high hopes for the Ricoh 35 ZF as a pocket-able camera to take along with my bigger SLRs, etc. The camera did have a roll of Kodak Ultra Max 400 color film inside, but after I developed it, the result was a blank roll.  I have since removed the camera, put in fresh foam seals, cleaned it up and have some film loaded.  I'll review the camera after I have used it in a separate post.

After I returned home from our trip, I decided to plug the AC cord into some power, and lo and behold, the motor turned and it was fascinating to watch the process. The motor operates at 30 rpm, so the exposures are 2 seconds apart. With each revolution, the film advance lever was moved forward and a small projection on the upper arm depressed the shutter button. The process continued as long as I had power to it, so I do wonder of the controller had some sort of timing switch that turned off the device after 40 seconds or so, which would have been at least 20 exposures.

From the photographs from the TPD display, the camera was set at 1/60 sec and f/2.8. I am guessing that the distance was the 15 ft. mark.  It does make some noise, so you know something's going on, though I suspect in the heat of the moment, it probably doesn't register that it's clicking away.

I thank Kikie Wilkins in Tucson for his fantastic help and getting images from the Crime Scene Unit display to me. I like this bit of information: "The crime scene unit has a small display case with their old cameras and other doodads and one of them had one of these cameras in there with the speaker box and a photo they developed of a robber pointing his gun at the speaker box, shortly before he shot the camera. The film was still able to be retrieved and developed."

Now THAT's getting the shot!

Slow Down -- FPP LOW-ISO Color 35mm Film

FPP's LOW ISO Color negative film

If you have been reading Random Camera Blog for any length of time, you have undoubtedly seen some of my posts on slow b&w films, or maybe you read Issue 1 of Monochrome Mania on low-iso film.  Part of the fun with these films is that many were not made for your everyday still-camera shooting.  Some of them have uses in the cine industry that are definitely not what we are using them for.  So it is with the Film Photography Project's COLOR Low-ISO negative film.  Designed to be a color digital intermediate film (whatever that means), it has an ISO of 1.6, which I'll round out to ISO 2, because that's what I shot it at.

This is an ECN-2 film on an Estar base, but does not have a remjet layer, so it can be developed in ECN-2 without using an alkaline pre-bath to remove remjet.  It can also be developed in C-41, which is what I did, as it was sent out to The Darkroom lab to be developed while I was on the road out west in October. It is a Kodak Vision 3 film, and is still in production.  I'm sure that the low ISO rating would put most people off from trying it, but as I said, I like playing with super slow films that were not necessarily designed for still photography.

I shot a roll of this in Arizona, with some shots done on a tripod, late in the day at Saguaro National Park East.  The rest of the roll was shot in downtown Tucson while walking around on 4th Avenue.  I know how I have said that these films are best on a tripod, so it was a challenge shooting handheld.  You can do the math - if I were using sunny 16, it would be 1/2 sec at f/16 in full sun.  To shoot it handheld, I should strive for 1/15 to 1/30 sec. That's f/4 at 1/30 sec - completely doable. (1/2 sec to 1/30 sec is a change of 4 stops, so. f/11, f/8, f/5.6, f/4. - see, you don't even need a meter. Sure, if you want to shoot at f/11 or even f/8. you'll need a tripod.  My shots in the desert late in the day were at f/8 at about 1/2 sec.   I used my Nikon FM2N, because it's completely manual, and I just set the aperture and shutter speed where they should have been, because, the ISO only goes to 12, so metering is out.

When I got my film back and then scanned it, I was amazed at the colors. It definitely has an Ektar kind of look, and overall, I was pleased with what I got.  Sure, it's slow and colorful, so what's not to like? I do wish the FPP would offer these films in 36 exposure rolls, though.  Since it is rem-jet free, you can take it to any lab or do it yourself.  

Here are some examples from Arizona. The first set is from Saguaro National Park East.

And now, from the streets of Tucson the next day!

I really like the look that I got with this film, and I would definitely shoot it again.  If you are looking for some different color emulsions to work with, give it a try!