Halfway To Heaven – Why I Sold All My Minolta Cameras And Lenses

When I first held my first Minolta – an SR-1s with MC Rokkor-PF 55mm f/1.7 lens – it was as beautiful as any camera I’ve held before or since. 

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Minolta AR-1s, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 55/1.7 lens

In use too, both lens and camera felt well built, smooth and oozing class.

Its simplicity was as alluring as its handsomeness – no meter, just the pure essentials need to make the photographic experience enjoyable and beautiful from start to finish.

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Minolta SR-1s, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 55/1.7 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film

So, as a result, this camera surely remains at the heart of my collection, correct? Er, no. 

After the SR-1s whet my appetite for Minolta, I explored a handful of other lenses. The pinnacle of these was quite probably the big brother of the lens on the SR-1s, a Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4.

This gem remains the most gorgeous lens I have ever owned, and quite likely the most beautiful object I’ve ever owned. 

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Minolta X-700, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4 lens

Other thoroughly excellent lenses I tried were the very capable and silky smooth MD Rokkor 50/1.4…

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Minolta X-700, Minolta MD Rokkor 50mm f/1.4 lens, Ilford XP2 Super expired film

And the highly impressive MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro, which single handedly made me look at zoom lenses in a whole new light, and led to me using my best zooms as a replacement for a prime.

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Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro lens

As well as a humble later era MD 50/1.7 that despite its diminutive size, weight and plastic feel, optically held its own against any other Minolta SR mount lens I’ve owned.

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Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens

So again, surely I’ve kept all these gems too? Er, no. Again. 

Whilst with Minolta I was indeed halfway to heaven, and thought – and still think – many of their lenses are fantastic (and indeed now have a couple of arguably even better vintage Minolta AF lenses for my Sony a100 DSLR), the bodies just didn’t match up.

Yes, the SR-1s was a lovely camera, and for fully manual and meterless film photography it’s as good as anything I’ve used.

But, for 9 out of rolls of film I shoot with an SLR, if not more, I like to use Aperture Priority mode. So I sought out a Minolta body to accommodate this, and settled on the X-700.

The X-700 had the best viewfinder I’ve seen on an SLR, and was breathtaking to look through.

But otherwise,  whilst competent enough, it somehow always felt faceless and unremarkable.

I also tried the X-700’s simpler sibling, the X-300, which I actually liked a lot more.

It took the over complicated and over featured (in my view) X-700, stripped away everything you don’t really need but kept the compact size, big bright viewfinder and of course fantastic range of lenses. It yielded some very pleasing images.

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Minolta X-300, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 expired film

So why didn’t I keep the X-300?

The answer is, which one? The first one that lasted a roll and half then seized? Or the second one that was dead on arrival (despite being sold as fully working)? Or that one’s replacement, which lasted a glorious seven shots before also seizing?

My confidence in the reliability of Minolta electronics, and the lack of personality of their bodies anyway made me wonder if I’d ever get to use my beautiful Rokkors on film again. 

In the meantime, the discovery of the divine Contax 139 Quartz which is a whole other world of class to the Minolta equivalents I tried, was the final aperture pin in the coffin.

So I sold my last remaining working Minolta body – that original SR-1s – as it was gathering dust, knowing if I wanted an old school all mechanical experience I had my Asahi Spotmatic F and a wonderful Super-Takumar 55/1.8, amongst other fine M42 lenses.

Ultimately, my Contax story has proved to be almost the opposite of the Minolta one – amazing bodies, the best I’ve used, but somehow disappointing lenses, not so much in the final image, but mostly in feel and pleasure to use.

The epilogue to this tale is that I’ve returned to the best combination of film bodies and lenses I’ve tried – Pentax.

Whether the M42s, like the aforementioned Spotmatic F with a fabulous Takumar 55mm, or K mount, like the later M or A series (my current K body is a Program A) with the excellent, light, smooth and very well built Pentax-M lenses.

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Asahi Spotmatic F, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, FujiFilm Superia X-Tra 400 expired film

The moral of the story? 

For me, with my love of the tactile experience of vintage kit, having just one piece of the puzzle – body or lens – was not enough.

A ten out of ten lens with a six out of ten body, or vice versa, is just frustrating, and gets in the way of fully enjoying either.

Whereas eight or nine out of ten for each is a far better balance and experience overall.

Which is your favourite system? Is it because of the lenses, the bodies, or, like Pentax for me, the most satisfying unison of both?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

How I Shoot Manual Vintage Lenses With A DSLR

My experience with film and digital cameras over the last five years or so culminated recently in the revelation that it doesn’t matter so much whether I’m hunting for beauty with film or pixels.

What’s far more valuable to me is the hunting itself, plus the vintage lenses I love to use.

This post is the extension of that – How I use manual vintage lenses with a DSLR. 

For the purpose of the following explanations, let’s go with my Sony a100 DLSR, plus a Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Flektogon Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens.

2017_03_12 Sony a100 ZeissFlektogon

Other lenses – especially other M42 mount lenses – follow a very similar process in use.

Initial set up

First, I ensure the M42 > Sony adapter is on the camera, then screw in the lens. I set it to minimum focus, as most of my photography tends to be up close.

The camera I try to set as neutral as possible.

I use ISO400, which gives a little more noise/grain in the final image than ISO200 or ISO100, a personal preference, and a leaning towards the grain I love with shooting film. I don’t like digital to look too clean and clinical.

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Sony a100, Jupiter-37A 135mm f/3.5 M42 lens

Also, a higher ISO means in lower light I can shoot at smaller apertures without resorting to too slow a shutter speed and the increased potential of blurred shots.

I shoot RAW files at the maximum size (10MP with the a100), set the colour to “standard” and all the other colour, contrast, saturation and sharpness settings to neutral/zero.

For metering I go with centre weighted, which I’m most used to from shooting film cameras.

White balance is usually daylight as I only really shoot in daylight and this seems to give most consistently realistic colours, to my eye. I’ve found auto white balance can be a bit erratic with the a100. I turn off any other “enhancements” like noise reduction.

These settings I adjusted when I first got the camera, and now don’t need to touch them.

It’s not something I have to (or feel the need to) fiddle with every time I pick it up.

I want the camera to be as simple to use as possible.

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Sony a100, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Sonnar 135mm f/3.5 M42 lens

So after this initial set up, the only adjustments I make shot to shot predominantly involve just two settings – the aperture and the focus.

Talking of focus, it’s worth mentioning here to check your diopter adjustment. It can make a huge difference to how easy (or not!) it is to focus with a manual focus lens on a DSLR.

Look through the camera towards a bright light source with the lens set to infinity (or even better, no lens). Note how sharp and clear the central AF rectangle in the VF is.

Adjust the diopter up and down until you get the clearest picture. It should be quite obvious when you have the right setting, as moving a couple of notches either side will make the image significantly more fuzzy.

If this is a few notches out it will be very difficult to focus accurately.

Initial set up covered, let’s move on to using the camera shot by shot.

With film cameras, whilst sometimes I like to go meterless and Sunny 11, 95% of the time I use Aperture Priority mode (Av) mode. It’s the same with the a100, though it’s marked A on the mode dial, rather than Av.

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Sony a100, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Sonnar 135mm f/3.5 M42 lens

My default aperture is f/5.6 with a lens like the Flektogon, and indeed any reasonably fast lens.

This gives me, most of the time, the kind of depth of field I like, plus as a rule the lens is likely to be performing better (sharpness, colour, contrast) two or three stops down than at its maximum aperture.

The viewfinder (VF) on the a100 is bright enough in good lighting to be able to focus at f/5.6. If I need to be more precise with focusing I will open the aperture to the maximum of f/2.4, focus, then stop down to the required aperture.

To make stopping down easier, use the Auto/Manual (A/M) switch found on most M42 lenses.

If the aperture you want makes the VF too dark to focus, and/or you don’t want to be stopping up and down a lot, make use of the little switch like this –

Set your chosen aperture, ensure the switch is on A. Look into the lens and you’ll see the aperture wide open, ie you can’t see the blades.

Compose, focus, then when you’re ready, flick the switch to M, so the blades close, the camera can automatically set its shutter speed, then shoot.

Switch back to A, ready for the next shot.

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Sony a100, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens

Shot to shot, step by step, this is my process – 

  1. Find something interesting to capture.
  2. Compose and focus.
  3. Adjust aperture, if needed, to adjust depth of field, either manually stopping down or using the A/M switch.
  4. Half press the shutter button so the camera’s meter activates and shows the shutter speed.
  5. If shutter speed is ok (not maxing out, or not too slow a for hand held shot), press the shutter button all the way to take the photograph.

I do tend to check the screen most shots afterwards, for one main reason.

Whilst with fully auto lenses like the excellent Minolta AF series, the a100 seems to meter very accurately, with manual vintage lenses it tends to slightly underexpose.

I have found by setting the exposure compensation (the button is marked AV +/-) to +0.3 as a base setting, most shots come out well.

As with any photography, when the light is tricky, you may have to compensate.

With digital we have the blessing of the screen to check, then adjust the exposure compensation a little if needed, and retake the shot.

If you’re really concerned about precise exposure (I’m generally not!) then use the Exposure Bracketing mode most DLSRs have to take three shots then pick the best exposed afterwards. The a100 cleverly shows the three exposures it will take on the sliding scale in the VF and you can still use this in conjunction with exposure compensation too if you wish.

Personally, I’d rather get it right with trail and error using the Exposure Comp feature than have three of every photograph to look through at home.

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Sony a100, Industar-61L/Z 50mm f/2.8 M42 lens

And that about it.

Hopefully, as you can see, after my modest initial set up, using the a100 with M42 lenses is very similar to using my Contax or Canon EOS film cameras with the very same lenses.

Set to Aperture Priority mode, compose, focus, adjust aperture, half press to check shutter speed, shoot. Repeat as required.

For me this provides the ideal balance between the pleasure of handling and using vintage lenses, yet the camera being invisible enough and the process simple enough, to not get in the way of me enjoying the exploring and the picture taking.

Hopefully this has encouraged you to try a DSLR with manual vintage lenses, or if you have already, how it can be reduced to a refreshing simple process, despite the many buttons, modes and switches at our disposal with these devices.

Do you shoot vintage lenses on a DSLR?

Let us know your experiences in the comments below.

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

How I Shoot Film With A Digital Sensor

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Konica Autoreflex T, Konica Hexanon 52mm f/1.8 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

Film photography is one of the greatest joys of my life. 

But how much of this pleasure can be experienced and enjoyed equally via a digital sensor, rather than on 35mm film?

To explore this, let’s start with the five biggest reasons I love film, in reverse order. 

5. The look of film.

4. Using vintage cameras.

3. Using vintage lenses.

2. The immersive experience.

1. The freedom.

So (how) can each of these be recreated with a digital camera?

Specifically, I’m going to be talking about the digital camera I have come to enjoy using most recently, the Sony a100 DSLR, launched around 2006. I picked mine up this year used for a shade under £60.

Let’s look at each reason in more depth, and see how much the digital experience fulfils the needs I’ve found film photography satisfies.

5. The look of film

Film is unique in its look, and the warmth, grain and vibrant colours of film cannot be equalled, in my eyes. Also the sometimes unpredictable results add an extra variable and delight. Shooting expired film, for example.

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Asahi Pentax ES, S-M-C Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Konica Centuria 400 expired film

This being said, I’ve found a handful of film presets for LightRoom that, whilst they don’t recreate entirely the look of film, do give a softer and more endearing feel to my digital photographs. Often these have me smiling almost as much in the final image.

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Sony a350, Minolta AF 50mm f/2.8 Macro lens, LightRoom preset

Plus, using the same vintage film lenses on digital bodies help get closer to the overall feel of shooting film. More on those later.

4. Using vintage cameras

No digital camera can compare to using an all metal and mechanical classic 35mm film camera like an Asahi Spotmatic F. Or the seductively smooth wind and shutter release of the wonderful Contax 139 Quartz. Not to mention its amazing, big bright viewfinder.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens

What I can say about my Sony a100 is it’s as close to a film camera as I have used, in that I enjoy the handling, plus everything is at hand.

The viewfinder is very usable – even with vintage, manual focus lenses, and its technology is intuitive and doesn’t get in the way of the experience of seeking and finding beautiful things to photograph.

3. Using vintage lenses

This reason has been absolutely pivotal in me learning to embrace and love digital photography. Discovering that adapters existed to shoot my old lenses on digital bodies was probably the biggest game-changer in my photography adventure.

My favourite vintage lenses (which are mostly M42 mount Takumar and Zeiss) can be used very easily on the a100, in the same Aperture Priority (Av) mode I use 90% of the time with my film bodies.

The delicious quality and handling of the Takumars, and the biting sharpness and close focus of the Zeiss Pancolar 50/1.8 and Flektogon 35/2.4 are just the same on the a100, meaning half of my pair of hands is just as happy as when using them on film.

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Sony NEX 3N, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 lens

Yes, there is the crop factor of 1.5x, meaning a 50mm lens for a 35mm film camera gives an equivalent field of view of around 75mm on the a100 with its APS-C sensor.

But I have a range of focal lengths that fits my needs with the 35mm Flektogon (52.5mm field of view on the a100), 50mm Pancolar (75mm), 55mm Takumar (82.5mm), 58mm Helios 44-2 (87mm), 105mm Takumar (157.5mm) and 135mm Zeiss Sonnar and Jupiter-37a (202.5mm).

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Sony a350, Jupiter-37A 135mm f/3.5 M42 lens, LightRoom preset

Plus, because the digital sensor only uses the central part of the lenses, where they deliver their optimum performance, you’re eliminating all of the outer edge weaknesses the lenses may reveal on 35mm film.

Also, since exploring Sony Alpha cameras, I’ve also bought three mid-80’s vintage Minolta AF lenses.

These lenses share the same mount (which Sony inherited when they bought the photographic arm of Konica Minolta on the mid 2000s), so fit straight on and are usable with all exposure modes.

I’ve been blown away by their performance, colours and sharpness, something I would not have experienced had I not gone down the Sony route and stuck purely to M42 lenses.

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Sony a100, Minolta 35-70mm f/4 lens, no post processing

2. The immersive experience

Using a film camera with a large bright viewfinder like the Contax 139 Quartz literally sucks one into the VF. Everything in the world except what’s in that rectangle is blocked out and forgotten.

Add the experience of focusing and adjusting depth of field (DOF) whilst using that larger than life VF immersion, it becomes a major highlight of my favourite film cameras.

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Fujia ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

The a100 can’t claim to have as big or bright a VF as the cream of my film cameras.

But it’s more than adequate to provide a very similarly immersive experience, and with a DOF preview button for native lenses (and of course the manual stop down of vintage M42 lenses which provides a constant DOF preview anyway), again it provides those same visual reward and engagement whilst shooting.

Or in other words, I still forget everything else but what’s in that little rectangle.

Which brings us on to the final, and most vital experience film photography brings me.

1. The freedom

Being able to grab a camera and head out to the sticks and wander around for an hour or two, hunting out beauty, gives me a huge sense of freedom and escape.

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Minolta Dynax 700Si, Minolta AF 50mm f/1.7 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

I’m very fortunate to have all I do have in my life, but this need for escape is still strong.

Packing a camera with me, with its immersive experience (see no4) via vintage lenses (no3), enhances that hunt for beauty further and deeper, and helps me see and appreciate things I might not otherwise notice.

And so, we come to the title of this post, and the revelation I had – that the top three of the five most important reasons I love film photography are almost (say 95%) as rewarding with my digital Sony a100.

No, when shooting with the Sony, I don’t have film, its emotive nostalgia, tactile experience and unique grain and feel, or the pleasure of using a smooth highly crafted mechanical machine like my Contax 139 Quartz.

But I’m not giving these up, just using them alternately, in conjunction with digital.

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Chinon CE-4S, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, FujiColor C200 expired film

Plus digital, with its instant feedback and cheaper ongoing cost (as long as we don’t get caught up in forever chasing the latest and greatest digital wonder and its ever increasing cost – as I said my little a100 cost me £60 used, about the same as my Contax bodies) offers some benefits film can’t.

I’m still a die hard film lover.

But thanks to using the same vintage lenses on my Sony a100, I’m loving digital more than ever before too.

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Sony a100, Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 lens, no post processing

Combining the two is allowing me to create not only a consistent experience, but also, I hope, a coherent and congruous body of work, which transcends which camera I used to make the pictures.

What are your favourite reasons for shooting film and digital, and how much do they overlap?

Let us know in the comments below.

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

The Fall Of The 50s Philanderer (Or How I Found The Perfect 50mm Lens)

I’ve shot far more photographs with 50mm lenses than any other focal length. But switching 50s more often than underwear can become an exhausting and hollow experience.

Here’s why my 50s philandering days are done, and how I’ve settled on my ideal.

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Pentax MZ-5N, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

It took me a while to realise, but after something like seven or eight different mounts and over 50 lenses, I realised that in the final image, there’s not a huge amount of difference between one 50mm prime and another.

Some of the lenses I considered humble and expected little of, impressed me greatly.

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Minolta X-300, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So when so many 50mm lenses can produce very satisfying results, should we just pick the first decent one we come across and look no further?

If so, why didn’t I do this four years ago?

This wouldn’t be a bad plan at all. But the curious and lustful side of me kept want to try more, to see if they were different.

When the basic optical performance is more than good with even the most mundane sounding lenses (like my three underdogs mentioned above), I started to look further at what separates them.

What makes one lens a forgettable fling, and another destined for a lifelong romance?

Photography for me is very much about how the equipment feels, the whole sensory and tactile experience. The final image is only a fraction of the appeal, for me.

Also, this is as much a reason (probably bigger) as to why I use and love vintage film cameras over digital, in comparison with the end look film photographs have compared with those made via megapixels.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens

So I started looking for two things.

First the luxuriousness of the lens, for want of a better word.

And second, some indescribable aspect of the final image that made a particular lens stand out from the pack.

This led me to the two favourites I have now.

Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8, M42 mount

On the luxury front, the Pancolar is ordinary, at best. But in the final image it delivers something special.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 film

For a long time I was sceptical about Zeiss, and thought that any decent lens would give similar results. Which is true. But, somehow, the Pancolar has something more.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 film

Two other Zeiss I have in M42 mount – the Sonnar 135/3.5 and Flektogon 35/2.4 – bear this out too. Neither are the smoothest or best built I’ve used, but both give a secret something to an image not seen in their rivals.

Arguably these three are the only three lenses I ever need.

Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8, M42 mount

The Takumar is in a different league to the Pancolar in terms of feel. It’s just delicious to use, and oozes quality and charm. It’s quite probably the smoothest lens I’ve ever handled and used.

In the final image, it’s one of the best too.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

With the Takumar, it’s not down to drop dead sharpness. The Pancolar in my experience outguns it in that area.

But, similar to the Zeiss, the Takumar images have something special that I don’t see with other lenses.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

Conclusions and Recommendations

If you’re relatively new to film photography and/or vintage lenses, what would I suggest, based on my own 50s philandering experience? Would I recommend you rush out and get a Pancolar and Takumar?

Well, not necessarily. What works for me might not for you.

If you’re keen to shoot film and you’re not too fussed about the camera you use, as long as it takes decent, well exposed photographs, then any of the major brands have a body and a standard 50/1.7 or 50/1.8 lens that will give great results.

Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Pentax, Olympus, Konica and Yashica all qualify.

If you’d like a camera that’s small, light, and don’t mind having a later, more plastic body, the Canon EOS are very hard to argue against.

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Canon EOS 300V, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 C/Y lens

They’re compact, light, ergonomic to handle, offer reliable metering with a very usable viewfinder, if not as big and bright as some of the 70s SLRs.

The major trump card with the EOS system is their adaptability.

With cheap adapters (around £10) you can use M42, Contax/Yashica or Pentax K lenses, to name just three.

They offer tremendous value, and combined with something like a Super-Takumar 55/1.8, Carl Zeiss Pancolar 50/1.8 or Fujinon 55/1.8 in M42 or a Pentax-M or Yashica ML 50/1.7 or 50/2 lenses can give you stunning results.

You can read in more depth why I like them and how to get started in film photography for just £27, with a Canon EOS at the heart of the set up.

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Canon EOS 500N, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

If you go with the EOS system, you can then also add a digital option at a later today (early EOS digital bodies are currently £50 upwards) and use exactly the same lens(es) and adapter(s).

I regularly contemplate selling all my SLRs (currently down to six, less than I’ve had in about three years) and keeping just my EOS 300v plus M42 and C/Y adapters and lenses. It’s all I/you really need.

After a while, the endless chase for 50s became tiresome, and the urge waned.

Now I’m down to five manual focus 50mm lenses.

Seven, if you include my 55/1.8 Super-Takumar (which I have), and my Minolta AF (AutoFocus) 50/2.8 Macro.

I don’t need any others, and each of these gives something unique in user experience, the final photographs, or both.

If I had to pick one, for the final image it would probably be the Carl Zeiss Pancolar 50/1.8.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, Ferranis Solaris 200 expired film

For the joy of using, the Super-Takumar 55/1.8 is a delight, and up there with the best for the end result too.

My days as a 50s philanderer seem to be coming to an end.

Partly because I’ve realised that virtually every 50mm lens I’ve ever used was capable of more than decent pictures, and partly because those that remain are so enjoyable to use and to make photographs with.

Where are you on your adventures with 50mm? Have you tried one, two, or 2002?

Let us know in the comments below, and feel free to make your own 50mm recommendations.

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

How To Start Film Photography For £27

One of the major reasons people are afraid to explore film photography is the perceived expense.

They’re concerned that to even get set up you need to spend hundreds of pounds on a capable camera and lens, and that’s before you even think about buying and processing film.

This is largely a myth, and this post is to show you how to get set up and started with some super capable kit for less than £30.

First, the camera. 

Whilst I love Pentax and Contax bodies, if I was starting out with film again, based on the knowledge I’ve gained over the last four years and 100+ cameras, I’d buy a Canon EOS.

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Canon EOS 300V, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 C/Y lens

No, they’re not the most glamorous or exciting to look at, nor do they have the luxury of the aforementioned Contax, or a huge bright viewfinder like a Minolta X-700.

But here’s a list of reasons why a humble EOS makes more sense than anything else. 

  1. Affordable. My first EOS, a 500, I bought for 99p plus a couple pounds postage. The 300V above, one of the last models made around 2002, was around £15.
  2. Plentiful. I just searched EOS in the film cameras category on eBay UK, from UK sellers, under £20 and found over 300 results. Obviously some models are better spec’d than others. I really like the super cheap 500. There are currently 35 of these for sale under £10.
  3. Small, light, compact. The advantage of a plastic (though pretty robust feeling) build is light weight. The EOS bodies are small too, especially examples like the 300V above. Cleverly though, they don’t feel cramped to hold, with a good sized ergonomically contoured handle.
  4. Adaptable. EOS are the compatibly kings, with simple adapters available for any number of other vintage lenses. These typically cost £5-10 each. This means you can have one EOS body and the pick of lenses from Zeiss, Asahi/Pentax, Minolta, Olympus, Yashica and many more, just by using a different adapter.
  5. Ease of use. The EOS bodies are easy to handle and easy to use, especially if you’re coming from digital cameras. Most have a similar mode dial, and later ones like the 300V have an LCD display on the back to show the major settings. Film loading and ISO setting is all automated. You can pick up an EOS and starting shooting in minutes, yet still have a depth of options you can explore as you become more experienced and adventurous.
  6. Features. The EOS 300v has an ISO range from 6 to 6400, shutter speeds from 30s down to 1/2000s, +/-2 exposure compensation and excellent metering. Pretty much all the options you’ll ever need. If you don’t know or care what most of this means, just note point 5 above – they’re easy to just pick up and use!
  7. Forward compatibility. If you invest in a film EOS, an adapter or two and a handful of lenses, at a later date you can get a digital EOS SLR and all the lenses and adapters will fit straight on. It’s the same mount. So with two EOS bodies – one film, one digital – and a few adapters and lenses, you you can have a tremendous range of shooting options at your disposal. But let’s get back to this 35 film set up.
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Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So we have our bargain body. Next, the lens. 

I would suggest starting with a 50mm lens. On the whole, prime (ie non zoom) lenses tend to give better quality images than zooms. You could go for an AutoFocus (AF) lens in the native Canon EF mount that the EOS cameras use. But I would go for a more vintage option, via one of the aforementioned adapters, which are cheaper, much more satisfying to hold and use, and more fun.

There’s little to choose between the 50mm lenses of the major brands.

And as mentioned above, the EOS bodies are hugely adaptable. Personally I’ve settled on M42 and C/Y (Contax/Yashica) mounts.

In M42 you have a vast range of fantastic quality lenses available, such as the Asahi Takumars, Helios 44 series, Fujinons, Yashicas and Pentacons. Any of these can be had for around £20.

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Pentax MG, Yashica Yashinon-DS 50mm f/2 M42 lens, FujiColor C200 expired film

I paid £7 for my Helios 44-2 and have had excellent Pentacon 50/1.8s for less than £10. Yashicas can be brilliant buys too, again less than £10, like the one I used to shoot the photograph above.

A Takumar 55/2 can be bought for £15 – many turn their nose up at the f/2 version in favour of the f/1.8, but the truth is they are the same lens, just with the max aperture slightly disabled on the f/2. I’ve had both and can’t tell the difference in the final image.

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Pentax MG, Pentacon Auto 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

In C/Y mount the Yashica ML range are a very good buy.

Again most go for the faster lenses, the 50/1.4 (as pictured on the Canon EOS 300V in the first image above), or the 50/1.7. They’re still cheap (I paid about £30 for my 50/1.4, and a shade over £20 for a 50/1.7) but the bargain of the range is again the f/2. Performance is near identical to the other two, and the very common 50/2 can be had for less than £20, even less than £15.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens, Fuji Superia 200 expired film

The Pentax K mount also offer a fantastic range, and the Pentax-M 50/1.7 or 50/2 won’t disappoint. Also very impressive in this mount are the Auto Chinon 50/1.7 and Rikenon 50/2.

Minolta made some very fine lenses in their day too.

If you want a luxurious, weighty feel, go for an older 50, like an MC Rokkor-PF – they’re smoother than virtually all other vintage lenses I’ve used, bar except the Takumars.

If you want comparable performance but in a smaller, lighter package, try one of the cracking later era Minolta MD 50/1.7s. I got one a few months back attached to a Minolta X-300, both fully working, for £15.

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Minolta X-300, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So to recap our (lack of) spending so far.

At the cheapest end, a Canon EOS body is available from around £5, and something like an M42 or Minolta or C/Y to EOS adapter start at around £7. If you’re patient, you’ll find an M42 Yashica Yashinon 50/2, C/Y mount Yashica ML 50/2 or Minolta MD 50/1.7 for £15.

This takes your total to £27.

If you want a slightly later body, say a 300V or 300X (though the 500 is stunning value), you might need to spend £15 or £20.

If you want a faster, more sought after lens, like a Pentax-M 50/1.7 or Takumar 55/1.8, you might need to invest £25.

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Pentax MZ-5N, Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

The choice is yours, depending on your budget and interest.

This post is primarily about getting you set up with some quality, highly usable and enjoyable kit to shoot film with, so I don’t want to go into depth about film and processing.

I would point out though that a cheap and very capable film over here in the UK is AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, available for £1 a roll from Poundland.

Expired film can also be very cheap, and give fantastic results.

I get my film processed and scanned to CD (no prints) either at Asda for about £3.50 a roll, or at my photo store up the road which is around £4.50-5 a roll. Having three or four rolls processed at the same time and burned to the same CD saves a few pounds.

It’s not as cheap as digital per shot, but with film, as I hope I’ve shown here, getting set up can be very cheap indeed – under £30.

After that, with a modest budget of £20 a month you can shoot a film a week. Or for £10, one a fortnight.

Which, for virtually all of us, is still a very affordable, and infinitely pleasurable hobby indeed.

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

If you have any questions, or any tips of your own, please join the conversation in the comments below.

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

 

The Mindful Merge Of Mood And Mode

In my quest to find the perfect camera and lens, I’ve been overlooking something obvious.

That is, our moods and feelings are not a static flat line free of undulation, but a rather more mountainous territory, with peaks and valleys, whims, rushes and tides.

After close to five years of shooting film, I thought I’d found the ideal set up.

A Contax 139 Quartz SLR paired with my favourite M42 lenses – a Super-Takumar 55/1.8 plus the mighty Zeiss triumvirate of Flektogon 35/2.4, Pancolar 50/1.8 and Sonnar 135/3.5.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50/1.8 lens, Ilford XP2 Super

And indeed it remains a near perfect set up for me.

But only when I want to shoot film.

With an SLR.

Where I manually focus the lens.

And manually stop down the lens before shooting.

Overall, this is my preferred way to make photographs, but I cannot deny there are others.

Hence, the need to cater for, if not an endless kaleidoscope of moods, then at least a modest rainbow.

In writing this I’m hoping to figure out these different modes my brain (/heart /soul) has, and how the combinations and modes of my cameras and lenses fit. Or don’t.

Let’s start with the most manual set up of all, and work up to the most automated.

1. 35mm film, manual focus, manual metering, manual load and wind on, all mechanical.

In my arsenal – Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F, M42 mount.

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Asahi Pentax Spotmatic, Super-Multi-coated Takumar 50/1.4 lens, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400

This is arguably the epitome of film photography, the pure essence.

No batteries, no electronics, no metering. Just metal, glass and your own judgement.

Shooting like this reminds of the raw wonder and sheer sorcery of photography, and gives the most rewarding end result – simply because I know every decision and adjustment was purely down to my own judgement.

Alternatives – Kiev-2A with Jupiter-8 50/2 lens, Voigtlander Vito B with Color-Skopar 50/2.8 lens.

The Kiev takes the experience even further into the past – my example, plus the Jupiter-8 lens, dates from 1956. When I shoot with this I know it’s little different to how its original Ukranian owner shot with it over six decades ago. Which is pretty incredible.

The Voigtlander – also from the late 50s – is a little more compact but not so much you can conveniently pocket it, so it really offers little over the Kiev or Spotmatic, aside from its own character and feel.

2. 35mm film, manual focus, aperture priority (Av) mode, manual load and wind on, manual stop down, semi-electronic camera.

In my arsenal – Contax 139 Quartz, Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount, plus M42 adapter.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Helios 44-2 58/2 M42 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100

The aforementioned Contax 139 is the pinnacle of the some 50+ 35mm SLRs I’ve used.

Everything just feels right, and it oozes class and quality.

I originally came to the 139 in searching for an Av camera to use M42 lenses on, when I didn’t want to use the all manual Spotmatic. After experimenting (extensively!) with Pentax K mount cameras (I’ve owned at least one K2, KX, KM, K1000, ME, ME Super, MV, Super-A, P30, MZ-5N and about a dozen others), I also debated using a Minolta X-300 or X-700, because of their fantastic viewfinders.

But something was missing, and after trying the Contax, it all came together. That indescribable lacking was no more.

With the M42 > C/Y adapter I use Av mode.

This means, in practice, this happens – I open the lens wide to get maximum light in the viewfinder (VF), compose and focus, then stop down the lens until the image looks right in terms of depth of field, quickly check my shutter speed isn’t too slow, then shoot.

The advantage of stopping down manually is you see exactly what the lens sees, and can fine tune the depth of field.

With open aperture metering, you have to press the depth of field preview button/lever (if the camera has one), which can be awkward if you then want to adjust the aperture further.

Some time ago I decided my M42 lenses were my favourite lenses (a major reason in selling my Pentax K cameras and lenses – I was only really ever using M42 lenses on the K mount bodies, and the Contax 139 does a better job of this than any Pentax), so my small collection of these M42s are what I use with the Contax.

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Alternatives – Er, my other Contax 139 Quartz.

3. 35mm film, manual focus, aperture priority (Av) mode, manual load and wind on, auto stop down, semi-electronic camera.

In my arsenal – Contax 139 Quartz, Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50/1.7 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200

As above, but here using C/Y lenses, which gives the following additional automation.

First, they’re open aperture metering, so the lens is always wide open, whatever aperture it’s set to, meaning maximum light into the VF for focusing.

Added to this, the aperture is displayed in the VF, along with the shutter speed the camera will choose, so you are fully informed before making a shot.

This is less “hands-on” than using the Contax 139 with M42 lenses, and sometimes that’s exactly what I want.

Most of the time I shoot at f/5.6, give or take a stop, so having to keep opening up then stopping down with the M42 lenses (and having to either take my eye away to look down and see what aperture I’m at, or to remember the number of clicks of the aperture ring to get to the required aperture) can sometimes be tiresome.

Plus with this method I can use the excellent C/Y lenses I have like the Yashica ML 50/1.4 and 50/1.7, and the Carl Zeiss Planar 50/1.7.

Alternatives – Again, my other Contax 139 Quartz.

4. 35mm film, manual focus, aperture priority (Av) mode, auto load and wind on, auto stop down, semi-electronic camera.

In my arsenal – Contax 167MT, Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica 50/2, FujiFilm Superia 200

The 167MT is just fierce, there’s no better word. Except maybe brutal.

And yet it’s beautiful and elegant and at least as well made as the 139 Quartz. In fact it’s probably the best built SLR I’ve ever had.

The main difference in using the 167MT over the 139 Quartz is the automation of the film transport. But although this the only real difference in how the cameras operate, the 167 feels far more like a ruthless photographic machine, ravenous for dozens for films a day.

Aside from its eagerness and efficiency, it also offers some very handy features like a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000s, a wide ISO range (ISO6-6400) and exposure bracketing.

Another subtle difference with the 167MT is the VF, as I’ve fitted a pure matte screen with no central prism. Looking through this camera’s VF provides an immersive bliss as yet unrivalled in my photographic experience. Which makes it quite probably my favourite VF in any camera I’ve ever used.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50/1.4 lens, Northern Film Lab Kodak Vision 3 film

Alternatives – Canon EOS 300V.

The EOS is in some ways a viable alternative to both the Contax 139 Quartz and 167MT. With simple adapters I can use M42 and C/Y lenses, though on the EOS I have to stop down manually with both types.

The 300V offers Aperture Priority and the metering is excellent.

The main advantage over both Contax bodies is the sheer compactness and light weight of the Canon.

Despite its plasticness, you can’t help smiling when it’s in your hands. Everything about it is very easy and intuitive to use. With good reason – the 2002 released 300V was one of the last EOS film bodies Canon made, after dozens of models over the previous 15 years fine tuned their approach to the ultimate 35mm consumer SLR.

The VF isn’t amazing, especially compared with the Contax cameras, but it’s very usable. And the Canon’s plus points overall make it well worth having.

That sums up the film options I have, without getting into film compacts, which is a whole other world.

More similar are digital bodies that can use the same interchangeable vintage lenses, so let’s take a look at those.

5. Digital, manual focus via Live View screen, aperture priority (Av) mode.

In my arsenal – Sony NEX 3N.

The NEX is an incredible camera. As much as I adore film and the tactile luxury of the Contax three (two 139s and the 167), the little Sony is undeniably a remarkable photography device.

The wide range of adapters available, plus the two key features of its tiltable Live View screen and focus peaking, make it formidable.

Not to mention its very capable sensor.

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Sony NEX 3N, Helios 44M 58/2 M42 lens

I’ve had half a dozen adapters for the NEX, and it’s allowed me great freedom to test and explore different lenses and lens mounts before committing precious film to them.

But the Sony has risen above being just an electronic sandbox, to being a genuinely enjoyable photograph making machine in its own right.

(Strangely I still hesitate to call it a camera. Device or machine sounds more apt.)

There are lenses I now preferring shooting on the NEX than on a film camera, just because they seem to make more sense ergonomically, and perform better.

The Sonnar 135/3.5 comes to mind, in fact any 135mm seems a natural fit with tiny NEX, where the lens body becomes almost the entire surface contact area of the camera.

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Sony NEX 3N, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Electric MC Sonnar 135/3.5

Alternatives – Sony α350 DLSR.

The α350 also has a tiltable Live View screen, and is as easily adaptable to M42 lenses.

With its more than adequate optical VF and great handling, it makes the experience of using vintage lenses much closer to that of their original 35mm film bodies than the NEX.

The Alpha is unquestionably in my eyes a “proper” camera.

But the Sony DSLR can only shoot on Manual mode, which is a little more fiddly. And it doesn’t have the focus peaking of the NEX, which on the whole is very accurate and far easier on the eyes than using a VF.

Plus although it is pretty compact, light and ergonomic, it’s vastly larger than the NEX too. Oh and there’s no adapter for C/Y lenses either.

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Sony a350, Minolta AF 50/2.8 Macro lens, LightRoom preset

6. Digital, manual focus via VF or Live View screen, Manual exposure (M) mode.

In my arsenal -Sony α350 DLSR.

I bought the Alpha to try and fill the shortfalls of the NEX, primarily that the latter doesn’t have a viewfinder, and doesn’t really feel like its even a camera, especially compared with my 35mm film favourites.

The 350 is very usable with M42 lenses, via a simple adapter. Plus the sensor is very capable and I like the character of the images it produces.

But where the Sony Alpha has surprised me is with AF lenses, something I never even planned to try.

Which brings us to our final mood/mode.

7. Digital, Auto Focus (VF or Live View screen), Av, Tv, P or Auto modes.

In my arsenal -Sony α350 DLSR.

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Sony a350, Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 lens

To give some background, Sony took on the photographic arm of Konica Minolta in the mid 2000s, inheriting Minolta AF mount first released in 1985 with pioneering SLR cameras like the original Dynax/Maxxum 7000.

Very wisely, Sony decided to keep Minolta’s AF mount, along with their formidable array of lenses, and build their first SLRs and lenses from them. In some cases not even touching the optics, but simply rebranding the outer casing.

Which means for Sony Alpha owners, aside from the expensive modern Sony lenses (as I said, some of them are simply rebranded Minoltas anyway), there exist some 20 years’ worth of Minolta AF vintage lenses to enjoy.

I’ve picked up two – the Minolta 35-70mm f/4 Macro, affectionately known as the “Baby Beercan”, plus the 50/2.8 Macro which focuses down to 1:1 ratio, closer than any SLR lens I’ve ever had.

Both work with all the modes you could wish for on the Sony, plus the camera can switch between manual and auto focus, allowing precision focusing, especially up close.

Using the Sony Alpha with the Minolta lenses has been a revelation, not least of all in the final photograph.

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Sony a350, Minolta AF 50/2.8 Macro lens, LightRoom preset

Which brings us to the end of this exploration of how mood dictates mode, and vice versa.

Although it seems I enjoy quite a range of shooting styles and equipment, I’ve observed a number of underlying commonalities.

  1. The tactile and sensory pleasure of using these cameras and lenses.

    I have stated a number of times that even if you forget to load film (or your SD/MF card!) the experience of using the camera is exactly the same, and to be enjoyed as much as possible. As much as I value and appreciate the rest of my life, wandering the countryside with these cameras is the most joyous escape for me.

  2. The quest for beauty.

    Like the title and tagline of this site alludes to, I’m searching for beautiful things to capture and share with the world, to remind us all that such breath taking sights still exist. These cameras are simply the ones that allow me to do that most effectively, and hopefully most engagingly for others.

  3. A functional uniqueness.

    On a more logical, functional level, the range of my equipment is now actually pretty limited. All of these cameras support interchangeable lenses, and each body can be used with lenses of at least two different mounts.

    I could reduce my lenses down further to maybe three in M42 mount, and a couple each in C/Y and Minolta/Sony AF mount, based on unique qualities. It’s important to me that’s there very little redundancy or duplication – each lens and body offers something special, and where I do have more than one lens in the same focal length say, it offers something different to its direct rivals.

This adventure is of course ongoing, but I do feel my overall arsenal is more compact and honed than any time since I started film photography nearly five years ago. 

As a result I’m seeking different cameras and lenses less than in years too, and instead trying to better enjoy and master what I already have.

What’s also been interesting in writing this – aside from how I’ve fine tuned my favourites – is how much digital has come to feature in my photography now.

By having that connection with the wonderful vintage lenses (my newest lens I think is the Minolta 50/2.8 Macro, circa 1985, and the oldest probably one of the M42 Takumars from the late 60s) I’ve been able to enjoy and embrace the (mega) pixels far more than if I’d have just picked up a NEX or Alpha with a modern kit zoom lens.

How do your different moods influence which cameras and lenses you like to shoot?

Have you found (or do you think you ever will find) one camera/lens that suits your needs whatever you’re feeling?

Let us know in the comments below.

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

 

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.

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