The Cinderella Dilemma – Finding A Camera That Fits

When you know, you know.

The moment your fingers first close around the body and it feels like they were meant to be here from birth.

The instant your eyes meet the viewfinder and the view seems even more big and bright and colourful than if the glass wasn’t even there.

And then, when you click the shutter button and it sounds reassuring, sensual, indestructible and exultant all at once.

That’s when you know you’ve found the camera you’ve been looking for your whole (photographic) life.

Unfortunately, whilst finding just one of the above experiences isn’t especially tricky, finding them all simultaneously in the same camera is very much harder.

Here are a few of the near misses in my experience, followed by the one that’s come closest of all to being a Cinderella for my prints. Sorry, prince.

Minolta Dynax 7000i

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After sampling this Dynax, plus its more chunky and crude (but still charming) predecessor the 7000, and its more refined and feature laded successor the 700i, it was this, the 7000i, that ticked most boxes.

The handling is fantastic, thanks almost entirely to the contours of that right hand grip and how it subtly curves back away from the lens. I don’t think any film camera has felt better in my right hand.

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The viewfinder is also very good, especially for an AF camera. This shouldn’t be a great shock really, as the X-700 and X-500 from the last line of manual focus Minoltas had class leading viewfinders, and remain the best I’ve used in any camera before or since.

The sounds it emits are, well, whiny and electronic mostly.

There’s loads to love about this Dynax, and the Minolta AF lenses I’ve had have been outstanding, especially the 35-70 “Baby Beercan” and 50/2.8 Macro.

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So why do I not still have it? 

I’m just not an AF kind of guy, nor do I much like auto wind film. The Dynax, through no fault of its own, felt a kind of halfway house between film (it uses 35mm film with all its delights) and digital (auto focus, auto wind, program modes) I just didn’t enjoy shooting with it that much. Despite its tactile joys, when I want to shoot film, I prefer it to be a far more manual experience.

Pentax MZ-5N

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I’ve been a Pentax lover from very early on in my film photography adventure, the ME Super being the first I tried. Since then I’ve had a couple of dozen Pentax bodies and enjoyed all of them in some way or other.

The MZ-5N is one of the last film bodies Pentax made, and as such it makes use of the technological advances of the time, and Pentax’s decades of experience.

It’s very light, and probably as compact as an SLR can be before it starts to feel uncomfortable and cramped.

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It of course has access to a vast range of Pentax K mount lenses from 1975, both manual and auto focus. And all the program and shooting modes you might need.

With that glorious glass available to me, I’ve actually made a handful of my favourite photographs made with ANY Pentax with the MZ-5N.

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So where did it fall down for me? 

Partly, the same overly automated issues I had with the Minolta. You don’t really have to do much with your hands to use it, making it more point and shoot than SLR.

But a much bigger flaw for me was the viewfinder – usable, just, but incredibly disappointing with manual focus lenses compared with its late 70s and early 80s siblings like the ME Super through the A series (Super A, Program A) to even the P30 and P50 line, which still have great viewfinders.

Plus all that plastic may be light, but it makes it feel, well, plasticky. Again I prefer more heft and metal between my fingers.

Sony a350

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After shooting a substantial amount of photographs via almost as substantial amount of different lenses with my mirrorless Sony NEX 3N, I realised it just didn’t compare with using a camera that felt like a camera, not a device, and had a proper viewfinder.

Enter my explorations into Sony Alpha mount, and the highly promising a350.

At this point I’d decided that the majority of my favourite lenses I owned were M42 mount. This was a crucial decision in purchasing the Sony – a simple M42 to Alpha mount adapter was widely and cheaply available.

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A little further down the line I discovered the delights of Minolta’s AF lenses from the mid 80s. When Sony bought the camera arm of Minolta (then Konica Minolta) in the mid 2000s, they kept the AF mount Minolta had invented over 20 years previously. So these lenses fit straight on Sony Alpha mount digital bodies. And perform excellently.

The Sony was in some ways like the Dynax, but digital. Same lenses, plus the option to use M42 manually. But the convenience and immediacy of digital compared with film.

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Why didn’t the affair last this time?

Again though, despite its appeal, ultimately the Sony (and it’s even more usable predecessor the a100) fell by the wayside when I realised I didn’t much like using AF lenses – however capable – and the viewfinder was, like the Pentax MZ-5N, miles away from my favourites I’d experienced with film cameras.

Plus, again, the plasticky feel put me off. It wasn’t exactly flimsy, it just didn’t feel robust or well made enough to inspire much confidence or affection.

Would Cinderella ever appear?

Pentax K10D

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After the Sonys failed to tick enough boxes for my fickle prince, I went back to what I knew best. Pentax.

I’d had a K-x DSLR some years back, but had been disappointed in it for much the same reasons as the Sony Alpha DLSRs. But I couldn’t help wondering if if Pentax had made something I’d like more.

Surely the same company that had made at least a dozen different film cameras I’ve used and loved was capable of making something as appealing to me on the digital front?

After some research, I somehow stumbled across much talk about the K10D, the flagship semi-pro Pentax at the time of its release in 2006.

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There was much talk of its CCD sensor rendering images with a “film-like” quality, and so many happy owners, not least of all on the epic PentaxForums thread devoted to the K10D and still going strong 11 years after the camera’s release. After reading a few hundred comments and seeing as many photographs made with a K10D, I decided I needed to try one.

When it arrived, the first touch was just like I wrote about right at the start of this post. It felt like the camera I’d been searching for for years.

Added to the contours and comfort, the weight and heft of the body, whilst maybe a turn off for some, just made it feel even better, and more confidence inspiring.

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The K10D is weather sealed, and this further enhances its robustness of feel.

Though it’s largely plastic on the outside, it’s very well made and just from picking one up, you can see why there are still so many happy K10D shooters eleven years after the camera debuted.

The viewfinder is far superior to the Sonys, with 0.95x magnification and a 95% view. It’s not up there with the very best film cameras, but highly usable, especially with any lens with a maximum aperture of f/3.5 or faster. Plus it has a visible (and if you wish, audible) focus confirm, which works just as well with manual focus lenses, and has proved to be very accurate when lighting is challenging.

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Of course I can also use all my M42 lenses with a simple adapter, as well as that vast range of K mount glass that began in 1975 and, yep, is still being made today. The K10D can use any of that 42 years’ worth of fine Pentax K glass.

No, it isn’t a film camera, but as many have raved about, that 10MP CCD sensor does have a charm and ability to render colour and to some extent texture that is reminiscent of film, and generally much more appealing to my eyes than newer, cooler, more clinical CMOS sensors.

It helps to keep the K10D’s sensor at its native ISO100 to optimise this look, which suits me just fine – it reminds me of shooting my very favourite film – FujiFilm Superia 100.

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There’s little about the K10D to complain about. 

Yes it could be smaller and lighter, as many subsequent Pentax DLSRs were. But when something feels right in your hands, the weight becomes a non-issue. And if you’re like me, you want to know the camera is there, your reliable partner in photographic adventures. You want the reassurance of that heft.

I love it so much I recently bought a back up – a Samsung GX10 that is almost identical, and a product of the Pentax/Samsung collaboration at the time. Aside from slightly different software, and fractionally different shaped buttons on the rear, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. The viewfinder and sensor are identical.

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So is the K10D the last camera I’ll ever buy?

No, I’m sure there’ll come a time when I’m curious about what Pentax made a few years later.

But until both my K10D and GX10 break down beyond repair, and all other examples out there follow, I can’t see myself not continuing to use them to make photograph after photograph, for many months and years to come.

Have you found your Cinderella camera, be it film or digital? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Joy In A Leather Jacket

Of the compact 35mm film cameras I’ve tried in the last few years, many have given decent results, but only one has combined quality images with genuine pocketability, and close enough (for me) focus.

That camera is the Olympus Mju 1 (or µ[mju:]-1), aka the Stylus in some territories. 

Well, I say only one camera. In truth, it’s not the last Jedi in this compact galaxy. No, Luke, there is another. Except it’s the same wolf. In different clothes.

Before my analogies become even more muddled, let’s introduce the Olympus LT-1. 

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On the functionality side, it’s essentially a Mju 1. Same cracking little 35mm f/3.5 lens with a close (auto)focus of around 0.35m.

Same compact size. (It’s a bugbear of mine to have had so many cameras that claim to be compact, but have the bulk of a small SLR. Very few have been truly pocketable, as in a trouser pocket, not the centre kangaroo style pocket of a very oversized hoodie. But back to the pros of the LT-1…)

Same ability to astonish when you get your scans back and wonder if you mixed them up with photographs shot with an SLR (especially when shooting colour film as black and white).

The main difference with the LT-1 is its shape and outer shell. 

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Left to right – AF-1 Mini, Mju-1, LT-1, all sharing the same 35mm f/3.5 lens

The Mju 1 is known for its curved, ergonomic shell, and the ease at which you can slide its clamshell cover open with a swift motion and be ready for shooting in an instant.

For me the original Mju perfected this, and where later Mju descendants tried to repeat the trick, they didn’t quite get it right.

The now ridiculously hyped Mju 2 (Stylus Epic) I found too small and too slippery, and if it wasn’t for the wrist strap I would have seen it meet a violent end against the pavement two or three times in just one roll of film. Way too pokey viewfinder too, but that’s another story.

I’ve had a couple of later zoom models in the Mju series and unfortunately the added bulk of the body required to house the zoom lens meant it was no longer pocketable.

Those curves, whilst near perfect on the original Mju, just made it even more uncomfortable when you did try to force it into your pocket, where a more typical smoothed brick shaped compact camera of the same depth would slide in and out with much greater ease.

The closest I’ve found was ironically another sibling in many ways to the Mju-1, the AF-1 Mini, pictured alongside its family above.

Same lens again, and a weatherproof body, but just slightly less pocketable than the Mju-1 – comfy in a coat, too tight for trousers. Oh and didn’t focus quite so close, more like 0.5m.

Back to the LT-1 and there’s (gasp!) no clamshell cover to slide open.

Instead we have a flip over leather flap that folds up over the lens, plus an on switch right next to the lens itself.

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Initially I was sceptical and expected this to be slow and fiddly.

But Olympus cleverly designed the lens so even when the camera is on and the lens housing protrudes a couple of mm, the leather flap can still be over the lens without touching the glass.

Which means by keeping it switched on, on a photowalk it’s virtually as instantaneous as the Mju-1 – just flip the cover over with your thumb, point and shoot.

When the flap is closed, it reassuringly relocates itself in a second, thanks to the magnetic clasp. A clasp that is magnetic enough to stop it flapping open unwantedly, but not so strong that it can’t be flipped up quickly with your thumb tip when you’re ready to shoot.

Unlike the shiny smooth plastic of the Mju-1, the LT-1 has a fancy leather jacket. Sophistication indeed.

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The shape is much more symmetric and rounded too, like a well washed pebble on the beach that you pick up and feels just right in your hands.

This curvy edged shape plus the extra grip of the leather surface make it handle at least as well as the Mju-1. 

These kind of details – the tactile leather, the on/off switch round the lens perfectly placed to operate with your middle finger, how the lens housing protrudes when switched on so the flap can be closed without touching the glass, and the perfectly weighted strength of the magnetic clasp – are not happy accidents.

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Especially given Olympus’s track record (not least of the Mju-1 itself and its father/grandfather/godfather, the original XA), we can safely assume these were features specifically designed to make the LT-1 a very easy, almost invisible camera to use, yet at the same time that leather providing a hint of luxury unusual in a compact, unless you want to pay many hundreds of pounds more.

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In short, for those seeking a very capable, close focusing, genuinely compact film camera, it’s joy in a leather jacket. 

So would I crown the LT-1 as my AF king compact?

Well I certainly wouldn’t be upset if I was told it was the only compact (indeed the only film camera) I could shoot from this point on.

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Given its greater rarity, and the way those design features make me smile at Olympus’s intelligence and attention to detail each time I pick up, the LT-1 might just be my favourite compact, even trumping its older sibling the Mju-1.

Indeed my discovery of the Mju-1 , and then later the LT-1, feels very akin to being a teenage boy and finding a beautiful girl you spend a few months with and really start to think you might spend the rest of your life with her, gulp, only to discover she has an even cuter, quirkier and equally friendly younger sister.

In that irresistible leather jacket, of course.

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As a confused adolescent male in that situation, which sister would you run away with?

What’s your favourite 35mm film compact? Please let us know in the comments below.

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The Lomo Itch (And How I Scratch It)

Lomo photography is an itch I periodically get and have to scratch. Here’s how I came to it, the allure it has, and how I scratch that itch these days…

Though I was using camera phones to intentionally make photographs from the mid 2000s, my first film camera, in 2012, was about as Lomo as it gets, a Holga 120N.

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My initial disbelief that this simplistic toy hunk of plastic could make any kind of image turned to wonder and delight I had the first roll processed. Then another, and another.

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Finding that shooting medium format 120 film was pretty expensive, I followed this by adapting the Holga to take 35mm film – considerably more affordable to buy and have developed.

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Realising that the Holga exposed 35mm film across its whole width – and that the cost to have this scanned was ridiculous – I invested in my own scanner and modified one of the scanning masks/frames.

I also experimented with some close up filters, and again got some surprisingly pleasing results.

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This in turn was soon followed by the first genuine 35mm film camera I bought, a possibly even more Lomo, er, Lomo Smena 8M.

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Most of my cameras since (and there have been many!) have been less lo-fi, and I eventually expanded into the sedate control of SLRs, and some five years later, DSLRs.

Other notable plastic fantastic cameras I’ve had are the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (UWS) clones – I’ve had a Black Slim Devil and an Olive San, both made by Superheadz – the Konica Pop, a Pentax PC-330, and a couple of Miranda and Halina panoramas.

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Though these days I shoot mostly digital with vintage manual lenses, that Lomo urge still periodically reappears.

Why?

Because not having to think about anything but pointing and shooting, and knowing that the final photograph will be high contrast, overly saturated, soft at the edges (if not all over), and have significant vignetting (if it comes out at all), and be a little bit unpredictable, is somehow very attractive and addictive.

But, ironically, the most Lomo images I make these days aren’t on film at all, but with my iPhone, plus the Hipstamatic app.

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After taking a few hundred shots with the iPhone and finding them good enough for snapshots but overall a bit dull, I tried the in built filters, like Noir, Chrome, Instant and, my favourite, Transfer. The latter makes for especially appealing spontaneous portrait shots, in my opinion, and it’s my default setting for family outings.

Keen to explore further (and after stumbling across it via another app I already had to use my iPhone as a lightmeter for my oldest 35mm cameras), I downloaded Hipstamatic.

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The range of options available via changing the “film”, “lens” and “flash” in any combination is quite dizzying. I’ve managed to find a handful of combos I really like, and recently settled on just one.

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Hipstamatic offers seven different aspect ratios, but the one that I use most is the pure 1:1 square. I sometimes use 3:2 as I’m so familiar with it from shooting 35mm film and with my Pentax DSLRs.

And occasionally too I’ve been dabbling the widescreen cinema apsect of 16:9, which can work well for landscapes and adds drama.

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The iPhone plus Hipstamatic pairing gives me results very similar to my favourites I was getting with probably my favourite 35mm plastic fantastic, the Superheadz UWS clone.

As I can do this with no expenditure on film, a way higher hit rate, and the convenience that my iPhone is always with me, it’s pretty much resigned my Holga and Superheadz to a dusty shelf.

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Plus the whole process of scanning was unbelievably time consuming, and for me at least, just not worth the time and frustration. I fairly quickly reverted to having my film developed and scanned to CD again, and let the lab do their best.

The time saving and the relief was a major revelation, not unlike my recent giving up of eBay to gain more time for other aspects of photography.

More often than not I love the control and image quality that SLRs/DSLRs with vintage manual lenses give, not to mention the tactile experience and the immersion of a good viewfinder.

It’s these that get me closer to the majesty and wonder of the world that’s too easily overlooked.

But for when I feel that Lomo itch, and want a quick and dirty image that’s a delicious hyperreal dream take on reality, all I need do now is reach in my pocket, swipe right, open Hipstamatic, point and shoot. And that has a great appeal.

What are your experiences with lomo/lo-fi photography? Let us know in the comments below.

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Why An iPhone Can’t (Yet) Be My One And Only Camera

Ever wanting to minimise my camera kit, it’s crossed my mind more than once than a camera phone could be the only one I need.

Which would be ironic, as this is how I began photographing with intention over a decade ago, years before I discovered film, or knew what any of those intimidating and multiple numbers dials and buttons on an SLR were for – with a series of Sony Ericsson camera phones.

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Could it be, that after shooting my way through literally hundreds of cameras and lenses, and making tens of thousands of photographs, I’d arrive right back where I started, albeit with (I hope) a better understanding of and greater competence in the dark mysteries of the art?

Well, almost, but not quite.

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On the plus side, here’s what I like about my iPhone (5C), the most capable phone camera I’ve used –

1. It’s compact, convenient and always with me. The best camera you have is the one you have with you. That’s always the iPhone!

2. The images are more than acceptable, especially shot via an app like Hipstamatic. I don’t make huge prints, and any “defects” of the lens/sensor/app I see as a specific character of the device.

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3. I have plenty of control. Again Hipstamatic allows me to manual adjust shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, zoom, focus and white balance.

4. The phone works very well as a point and shoot, on Auto everything. For when I want to relinquish all that manual control that Hipstamatic offers. Which is 90% of the time.

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5. It’s not much different to using a digital compact. Especially when using 3:2 ratio with the phone on its side and the volume button(s) as the shutter button.

6. Different aspect ratios are readily available. Especially with Hipstamatic, though I confess that I only really use 1:1 (which just seems right for iPhones, the seemingly obvious modern digital successor to the classic Polaroids) or 3:2 (as I’m so used to this ratio from 35mm film, my Sony NEX, and my Pentax DSLRs).

7. I don’t feel the need for further uploading, processing, etc. Keeping processing simple is vital for me with film or digital. With the iPhone I just use the images as they come out of the phone (granted I have a Hipstamatic combo of “film”, “lens” and “flash” that I tend to use for most shots, so they’re rarely straight out of camera/phone).

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On the minus side, there is very little, but they add to the reasons why I can’t abandon all other image making devices for the iPhone yet (or maybe ever) – 

1. It might not feel much different to a digital compact, but it does feel very different to even a DSLR with a vintage lens. Let alone a 35mm film SLR. The tactile experience of holding and using a “proper” camera and those beautiful old metal and glass lenses remains a vital factor in my enjoyment of photography. The iPhone just feels like a device, a gadget, albeit a very capable one. I never pick it up and smile at the beautiful ergonomics and glove-like fit in my hands.

2. The screen is pretty good for framing and focusing, but I miss the viewfinder experience of a “proper” camera. That sense of being immersed in the confines of those four straight sides and everything else in the world evaporating can’t be replaced when holding a device with a screen at arm’s length. (This is also a major reason why my Pentax DLSRs have almost entirely replaced my previous main digital Sony NEX camera, which despite its many outstanding qualities, also lacks a VF).

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3. Storage seems very limited. My iPhone is also my iPod, my main email and messaging device, my portable internet browser, YouTube viewer/listener and more. Although I have very few apps, music or anything else overall, it always seems to be close to full, and I can only shoot maybe 40-50 photos before it maxes out. It doesn’t help that Hipstamatic is doubly storage hungry, keeping an original copy plus the filtered/processed version of each photo. I’ve toyed with the idea of upgrading to a new phone for everything but photography, then stripping everything but Hipstamatic from my current iPhone and using it purely for photography. But then I wouldn’t want to always be carrying two phones around, I may as well be using a “proper” camera.

4. Because it’s digital and so easy and instant, the pictures always feel disposable. This perception then extends so I feel I can’t/don’t make any images worth keeping, in the way I can with other cameras, even other digital cameras. Even though I have indeed made some photographs I really like with it. This is a state of mind I know, and maybe could be overcome in time.

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5. I have very little emotional connection with it. This is similar to no 1 above or maybe a combination of 1 and 2. It’s just a clever little device – and has a huge range of uses of course, aside from being a very competent picture maker. But beyond that it has very little charm or attraction, and doesn’t evoke any particular affection. I’m not one for adulation of objects, but I can say that even my Pentax DSLRs bring a smile to my face when I pick them up – they feel like a comrade or companion in the quest to capture beautiful images.

All in all then, I can’t see that my iPhone will become my sole, even my main camera any time soon, if ever. 

But it still makes an excellent back up for those spontaneous images when I don’t have another camera – or the time to get it out.

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Addendum – I realised after publishing my last post about using just one camera and lens for a month, that I’ve also been using the iPhone, and even included images made with in that recent post!

But it hadn’t even crossed my mind that this had broken my one camera one lens run with the Samsung/Miranda combo!

More than anything else I think this shows how I don’t even count the iPhone as a “proper” camera…

Would you ever consider using a camera phone as your only camera? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Cheap Seats At The Widescreen – The Halina Panorama

My fellow photographer and cheapskate Alan Duncan, who writes at Canny Cameras, challenged me to shoot a roll with a mystery film camera he’d send in the post.

I agreed, always interested in trying a new toys, and eagerly awaited the postman’s arrival with A Leica M series, Contax III or maybe at least a Pentax AF SLR.

What arrived was not Germany or Japan’s finest, but this little beauty made in Thailand, the Halina Panorama.

IMG_3207Told you Alan was a fellow cheapskate…

It actually made me smile, and ironically only a few weeks earlier I’d bought a near identical Miranda Solo Panorama.

The challenge was to shoot a roll of film (kindly supplied with the camera), then share my favourite photographs I shot with it and some thoughts on using it, so Alan could repost on his blog too. 

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Halina Panorama, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film

What I liked about the Halina Panorama.

It’s very simple.

There are no frills whatsoever, with its fixed focus, fixed aperture (I’d guess at f/8) lens and fixed shutter speed (1/125s would again be a fair guess). You just compose and shoot.

Like that old saying about photography, the only two choices you have are where you stand and when you release the shutter. Arguably as pure as photography gets.

This was really liberating, especially shooting it in between my favoured camera of the moment, a semi pro Pentax DLSR which I’m slowly figuring out using a range of different lenses and modes.

It got me back to the raw essence of composition.

The panoramic perspective.

Cleverly with the Halina, you can remove the panoramic mask very simply. Well I say cleverly, more likely it was cheaper to manufacture this little mask and insert it into a standard plastic full frame 35mm camera mould that already existed. Though I chose not to.

Also cleverly (genuinely this time), the viewfinder is the same widescreen aspect ratio as the film mask, so when you’re composing you can’t help but be looking for the kind of shoots that work well at the apparent 5:2 ratio (as opposed to 3:2 for full frame).

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Halina Panorama, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film

The shutter button lock.

Yes I know I said it had no frills, but it does have a useful twin function lens cover/ shutter button lock. Slide the cover across the lens and it not only keeps the dust out but also prevents the shutter from being accidentally pushed and a frame of film wasted when in your bag or pocket.

I’ve had a number of far more expensive cameras that don’t have this precious film waste prevention mechanism built in. Neat touch!

 

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Halina Panorama, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film

It’s plastic, but good plastic. 

What I mean is has some of the best qualities of plastic – cheap to make, very light (110g), easy to wipe clean, without being so flimsy you feel it will implode at any moment. Like the Superheadz Slim cameras for example. This Halina I happily chucked in a bag without fear of it getting damaged.

The film wind on was surprisingly robust too, again much better than many “lomo” cameras I’ve used. It really wasn’t much different to the wind on wheel of the fantastic Olympus XA series, and if anything quicker to wind on.

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Halina Panorama, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film

Ergonomics. 

The more time you spend with the HalPan, to give it its little known pet name, the more you realise perhaps first impressions didn’t give it enough credit and in fact for its purpose it is almost perfectly designed.

The ergonomics you’d think would be not existent, essentially a black block of plastic. But the curved cutout for your thumb at the rear (with that thumbwheel to wind on the film ideally placed in the centre), and the subtle but very useful little raised bump on the front of the camera to rest your finger make it surprisingly reassuring to hold and use.

Even the film door has a separate switch to pop it open (and one that works instantly, unlike the Superheadz cameras) and which is far more practical and confidence inspiring that the swift pull up on the rewind crank that the majority of 35mm cameras require.

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What I didn’t like.

Annoyingly, there was some debris or hair or something inside the camera which intermittently announced itself in the pictures. This could be avoided on the future with a clean before loading film, and of course could happen with any camera, it wasn’t poor old HalPan’s fault.

Obviously there was no control over exposures. So you had to pick days and scenes where the camera would likely expose ok.

I used my experience of shooting without a lightmeter plus the proven exposure latitude of consumer colour negative film (and the assumption that the camera had an f/8 lens and 1/125s shutter speed, based on using similar cameras previously) to figure out that any sunny day should be fine, as long as I avoided the shadows. Which turn out to be fine for at least 75% of the shots.

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Halina Panorama, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film

It could have had a wider lens. I estimate it’s maybe 28mm, maybe only 30mm. I’ve had wider cameras that have given a more dramatic result with the kind of widescreen shots the panoramic frame otherwise encourages.

The insanely wide Superheadz clones with their 22mm lenses, the Pentax Espio 24EW (24mm at its widest), Ricoh R1 (24mm with panoramic mask but this can easily be left open so its full frame), and even a Minolta AF50 which is 27mm, all give that extra interest of a more unusual wider perspective compared with the HalPan.

Er, that’s about it.

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Halina Panorama, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film

In summary

I’m really grateful to Alan for sending me such a simple camera, and with the panoramic option too, something I’d not seriously tried before.

The pictures were probably about as good/bad as I hoped/expected, but of course technically stunning images are never the point of this kind of camera, or experiment.

There’s a somewhat unromantic saying that out of the hundreds of people we meet in our lifetimes, the people you choose to settle down and spend your life with, are not so much the ones you can’t bear to live without, but simply the ones that annoy you least.

And the Halina Panorama is much like that theory.

It’s not amazing, and maybe you wouldn’t consider picking it up at all. But when you do, there’s actually very little that annoys and plenty to like.

Combine that with the challenge of making an image you’re proud of with what’s essentially 130g of plastic with no electronics that probably cost 7 pence to make, and the HP might well be exactly the juicy shot of cheap widescreen thrills your photography (and mine) needs every now and again…

Have you ever used a Halina Panorama or something similarly cheap and plastic?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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Film Photography On A Shoestring

There are still many myths around how much it costs to get set up with film photography.

I want to shoot a few more down.

A while back I wrote about how to start start film photography for £27. Based on at least two of the three rolls of film I’ve just got back from the lab, this amount is hugely generous.

Let’s just look at one set up, a 35mm SLR.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

The caption above kind of gives away the kit I used, but to elucidate further –

Camera – Canon EOS 500

These are abundant on the auction site online and often in charity shops too. Though I also have a more sophisticated EOS 300v which cost a heady £15, the 500 does everything I need and more. It’s great if you’re coming from a DSLR as it looks and feels similar – like a baby DSLR with no LCD screen on the back, simpler controls and that only weighs 350g. It cost me 99p plus a couple of pounds postage.

Lens – Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 Mount

I bought this from a jumble bin at a camera show. It’s battered, bruised, has lots of dust and a couple of bubbles inside. Plus a dent in the filter rim where it was rapidly encouraged to the floor from a table by a three year old. But it keeps on ticking. The dealer wanted £10, I got it for £7. Try these other three underdogs for equally affordable alternatives.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

Film – AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

This rebranded Fuji C200 film is £1 a roll in Poundland. It’s very versatile and I’ve used it extensively to shoot colour, DIY redscale and black and white. Though there are other emulsions I like, this is my Olympian Decathlete film – a fantastic all round champion.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

Of course the Canon EOS isn’t a native M42 mount body.

So I need an adapter.

I actually have three, as a couple of sellers have included them free when I’ve bought M42 lenses. If you do have to buy one, they start at 99p. With free postage. Mine is a simple all metal adapter with no fancy focus chips. On Aperture Priority (Av) mode on the EOS it works a treat.

Adding it up, this set up cost me about £12, including film.

Obviously the film you can only use once, and there are development costs each time.

But there are no excuses on the grounds of cost in getting started with shooting film (or resuming the passion you retired to the sidelines years ago).

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Canon EOS, Helios 44-2, complete with dented filter ring badge of honour

What else does £10 buy you these days?

Are you making excuses about getting started in shooting film? 

Or, like me, do you try to shoot on a shoestring budget?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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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.

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