Five Pointed SLR

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Despite having four more SLRs than pictured here, these are my latest incarnation of the core kit I love and need.

I’m tired of having more, and always switching batteries, straps and lenses around.

Here’s why I love these five, and plan to keep them and sell the rest –

Contax 167MT

As fierce as it is handsome, it does all I possibly need from an SLR, efficiently and seamlessly.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.5 lens, Northern Film Lab Kodak Vision 3 ISO1.6 film

This is the one I reach for if I need a wide ISO and shutter speed range (ISO6-6400 and 1/4000s to 16s respectively), exposure compensation (+/- 2 in 1/3 stops), exposure bracketing (+/- 0.5 or 1 stop), continuous shooting and automated wind on.

It also has the purest viewfinder (VF) of any camera, pure matte, bar the simple central circle.

Though I don’t yet have a Zeiss lens with MM modes, the 167MT supports these so offers shutter priority and three program modes, as well as the fully Manual (M) and Aperture Priority (Av) modes that can be used with an C/Y lens. With the M42 > C/Y adapter I can use any lens I have (I now only have M42 and C/Y lenses!) on the one camera.

Also, this is the only camera here I don’t have any “if onlys” about. It has everything.

Contax 139 Quartz

My favourite SLR I have ever used.

Simpler than the awesome 167MT, but with that comes smaller size, lighter weight and a more straightforward, arguably more immersive experience.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film @ISO125

Excellent VF, Av and M modes, and the smoothest wind on and shutter button I’ve yet experienced in any SLR, make it an absolute delight to use.

With the aperture read out as well as shutter speed in the VF (that remain easy to see, yet don’t obstruct the main composition), plus a depth of field (DOF) preview button, it has all I need for 95% of my photography.

I might argue the button on the front for exposure check is less instinctive to use than a half press of the shutter button, but the 159MM has that, as well as a wider range of capabilities, yet somehow I don’t like that model as much as the 139 Quartz or the 167MT.

Canon EOS 500

This still feels a very strange choice for me, and a real oddball in that it’s relatively modern (1993-96), very plasticky, not made by Contax or Pentax, plus I have no native lenses for it.

But despite my long reluctance – disdain even, at even picking up an EOS, I finally succumbed when this came along and still left me change from a fiver.

For the money it’s an incredibly useful, versatile and easy to use camera.

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Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 film expired 2003 @ISO64

The ergonomics are surprisingly good, it’s very light, and in many ways is even more capable than the 167MT, equalling the ISO6-6400 range of film speeds, plus whilst the top shutter speed is a stop slower at 1/2000s, the max is an impressive 30s!

The VF, if not a revelation compared with the Contax cameras, is really very good for a camera designed purely with AF lenses in mind.

Talking of which, with a native EF lens you have the option of auto or manual focus, Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Program modes, as well as further portrait, landscape, macro and sports modes, and a very fancy A-DEP (Automatic Depth of Field) setting which apparently lets you choose two points between which you want everything to be in focus, then the camera chooses the right aperture to do this. Wow!

I’m very tempted to pick up a 50/1.8 EF lens to explore these modes, and then I’d have an SLR that covers every mode from fully manual (ISO, focus, aperture, shutter speed) to fully auto and everything in between.

Oh and the exposure system is excellent, I’ve been delighted with the shots I’ve got with the EOS and my M42 lenses so far. As well as the M42 > EOS adapter I have a C/Y to EOS adapter so again like the Contax bodies I can use any lens I have on this camera.

Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F

The most classic, most endearing, best built and smoothest to use M42 SLR I’ve tried. Indeed it’s the best mechanical camera I’ve used full stop. Just a joy, especially with the Takumar lenses.

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Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F, Auto Chinon 55mm F/1.7 M42 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

Whilst the meter does work in mine, I just use it Sunny 16 (Sunny 11 in the UK!) and get along fine.

The camera I reach for when I want battery-less old school simplicity, elegance and fine mechanical engineering.

Contax 139 Quartz

Same as the other one, just this one has been re-covered. Aside from that they’re equally delicious to handle and use, and it’s the only camera I love so much I feel I need a back up!

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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film expired 2012 @ISO125

Writing about these five has been enlightening.

It’s compounded the fact that the three Contax and the Spotmatic are absolute keepers and cameras I adore owning and using.

But surprisingly, more than that, it’s reminded me how versatile the little EOS is, and how it’s the lightest and arguable most versatile body of all here. An AutoFocus EF lens (50/1.8 or maybe 35/2) seems very tempting, which would extend its versatility much further still.

Which is almost unbelievable, especially given it cost me about a tenth of what the other four here did!

The conclusion, to my own shock as much as anyone, seems to be that for those who want a light, adaptable, capable and super affordable film SLR, get an EOS and an M42 adapter!

What are your favourite SLRs? Have you had any of the above, or similar? Let us know in the comments below.

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Zwei Kameras

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Or, why you should own at least one Voigtländer Vito B.

A few months back I stumbled across a Werra camera. It was intriguing, but ultimately didn’t work, and the innovative twist of the lens barrel to wind on the film ended up being the downfall of this example.

Allured by the distinct taste of this vintage of German camera, I researched alternatives, and top of the pile came the Voigtländer Vito B.

I found a large finder model for a ridiculously reasonably price, was amazed by the big bright view it gave, shot a roll of film, and was even more impressed with the 50mm f/2.8 Color-Skopar lens.

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Voigtlander Vito B, 50mm f/2.8 Color-Skopar lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

But as it didn’t fit in my collection of Contax SLRs and plastic AF compacts, I decided to sell it on.

Something made me reconsider at the last moment, and a couple of weeks later, a random browse on the auction site unveiled one of the smaller finder models, with a 50/3.5 Color Skopar.

I put it in a low bid and to my surprise won it, for an almost criminal £2.20 plus postage.

So I now have the pair, and both have the Prontor SVS shutter, though the speed markings are different.

Despite being the same camera at the core, the models do feel rather different. Here’s some reasons why each of them appeal.

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Voigtländer Vito B, large finder, Color-Skopar 50/2.8

Pros – 

  • Huge 1:1 life size finder which has to be seen (through) to be believed. It’s almost like the camera isn’t there.
  • Smooth contours make it very tactile.
  • The long throw and pleasing feel and sound of the wind on lever.
  • Clever linked shutter speed and aperture rings, so once you’ve decided your exposure, you can move up or down the aperture or shutter speed scale without changing the overall exposure.
  • Color-Skopar lens gives surprisingly lovely pictures.
  • Completely manual, so full control and no batteries.
  • Very quiet in operation.
  • Elegant looks and finish.
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Voigtlander Vito B, 50mm f/2.8 Color-Skopar lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

Cons – 

  • Though not a wide camera, the deep lens makes it rather bulky and cumbersome overall – too chunky and bloated to be a compact, yet too small to be as comfortable in the hand as an SLR or larger rangefinder.
  • Not especially light at 620g – again it falls between stools, being a bit heavy for just a wrist strap but too small for a neck strap.
  • Distance scale in feet needs translating for those of us used to metric, though a simple division by three works well enough.
  • Limited top shutter speed of 1/300s might be an issue in bright light with faster film, though the aperture goes down to f/22.
  • Completely manual, so needs some knowledge and experience to get reasonable results.

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Voigtländer Vito B, small finder, Color-Skopar 50/3.5

Pros – 

  • Just look at it. Surely one of the most handsome and beautifully balanced 35mm cameras ever made.
  • Smooth contours make it very tactile.
  • The long throw and pleasing feel and sound of the wind on lever – the part your thumb rests on is larger and even better to use than the big finder model’s.
  • Smaller lens barrel than the big finder model (I don’t know if this is because it’s the small finder model, the slower f/3.5 lens, or both).
  • Simpler layout of aperture, focus and shutter speed rings are more logical and easier to use than the big finder f/2.8 model.
  • I’m assuming the Color-Skopar 50/3.5 will give equally lovely pictures. I’ve seen some excellent examples online, and some say it’s better than the f/2.8 version.
  • Lighter than the big finder model at 480g, and small and light enough to use comfortably with just a wrist strap.
  • Completely manual, so full control and no batteries.
  • Very quiet in operation.
  • Elegant looks and finish. Though the big finder version has a great finish, the looks and shape of the smaller model make it feel so much better overall.
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Voigtlander Vito Bs, small finder model on left

Cons – 

  • Distance scale in feet needs translating for those of us used to metric, though a simple division by three works well enough. Plus the distance scale and depth of field scale are actually easier to see and use on this small finder model.
  • Limited top shutter speed of 1/300s might be an issue in bright light with faster film, though the aperture goes down to f/22.
  • Completely manual, so needs some knowledge and experience to get reasonable results.

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Overall, whilst the bigger finder makes me 50/2.8 model very appealing to compose with, in every other aspect where there’s a difference between the two models, the smaller finder model is the clear victor. 

It’s so much better balanced, it looks stunning, and the controls are a little more straightforward.

If you really value the viewfinder above all else and don’t care what the camera itself looks like then the big finder model is likely the best option.

But despite my own love of big bright viewfinders, the small finder model had my heart from the moment I saw and held it.

Assuming it all works to the point of processing a film, it’s the only one I’ll be keeping.

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Have you owned either of these Voigtlander Vito B models?

Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.