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.

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.

 

How To Discover Your Ideal Film Camera (The Test / Best / Rest Plan)

My hunt began some four and a half years ago with a birthday gift of a Holga 120N, my first film camera.

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Holga 120N, Fuji Velvia 50 film cross processed

Little did I know that now over 50 months later I would have shot at least one roll of film with over 120 film cameras and owned maybe 50 more.

I didn’t set out to be a collector, but what happened with film was that using the equipment came to equal, maybe even eclipse the final photograph.

Pre-film, I shot first with phone cameras, mostly Sony (Ericsson), simply because it was the camera I always had with me.

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Sony Ericsson C902

A few years later I invested in a fantastic little Nikon CoolPix.

Like the phone cameras, the compact Nikon was really just a tool, something super pocketable that I could take with me when out walking and capture something of the beautiful things I found.

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Nikon Coolpix P300

But even from the early days using the humble Holga, the sensations of unwrapping and loading the film, winding it on after each shot, then having to wait to see the results, were all new to me and tremendously engaging and exciting.

And still are.

Add to this the side of my personality that loves shiny new (to me) toys to play with, and I soon found I was seeking out new possibilities of film – the greater convenience, compactness and affordability of 35mm, plus all the different cameras to shoot it with.

As I write this I feel as settled with my small arsenal of film cameras as I have ever done.

At the heart, five SLRs (Contax, Contax, Contax, Asahi Spotmatic, Canon EOS), accompanied by a handful of compacts, including arguably my favourite I’ve used, the humble Olympus Mju-1.

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Olympus Mju-1, Ilford XP2 Super expired film

For further variety I have a Kiev-2A (the oldest camera I have ever, c1956) and a not much newer Voigtlander Vito B.

The little I use the latter two, I could easily sell them too, relying on the wonderful Spotmatic for when I wanted the unplugged all manual mechanical experience.

But, as I mentioned when we began, I didn’t get here quickly!

The system that has worked for me in finding the film cameras (and lenses) I love most, has been pretty simple, and can be summed up in three words -Test, Best, Rest.

To expand a little –

Test

We all have to start somewhere. The first 35mm film camera I bought was a Lomo Smena 8M, surprisingly manual in retrospect – I could have chosen something far more automated.

My first SLR was a Praktica BMS Electronic, a solid and serious leather coated chunk of German engineering and electronics. The pictures from my first roll were a revelation – I had discovered (unintentionally!) shallow depth of field and bokeh!

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Praktica BMS Electronic, Prakticar Pentacon 50/1.8 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

This opened the floodgates and I went on various voyages of exploration with my reading and browsing images online to find the next port of call, seeing how cameras of a similar style (eg, SLR) differed between models and manufacturers.

In other words I just set about testing different kit to find what I liked. Which leads us to the second word and stage – Best.

Best

After a while (and indeed even after trying two cameras), you can make an informed decision about which camera you like best. It can’t be a judgement based on all the cameras in the world, because no-one has used all the cameras in the world, but only what you’ve used thus far.

Plus sometimes, indeed often, it’s not a decision based on the spec sheet or technical prowess of the kit, but more about how it makes you feel when you hold and use it.

With me for example, after trying Praktica, Konica and Canon, I found I much preferred Pentax, especially the M range – ME, ME Super, MV et al. I just really liked how it felt to hold them, wind them on and shoot film with them.

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Pentax ME Super, SMC Takmar 55/2 M42 lens, Tudorcolor XLX200 film

Each time you try something you like better than anything you’ve liked before, you have your new yardstick. 

These of course become the cameras you keep, the ones you can’t wait to use again, the ones that seem to call you from the shelf they sit on each time you pass…

Rest

So what happens when you compare two cameras and like one better than the other? You have a choice.

If one is amazing and the other is even more amazing, but slightly different, you might want to keep both.

But if one is clearly preferable, and you feel that every time you picked up the “inferior” camera you’d be wondering why you weren’t shooting with your favourite, then it’s probably time to let it go.

It becomes one of “the rest”, that don’t quite make the grade for you, but might become someone else’s new (old) favourite camera. You can either sell it on, and use the funds for a future purchase, or donate to a charity shop, or photographic friend.

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Olympus OM40 Program, Olympus OM 50/1.8 lens, Solution VX200 expired film

So that’s the methodology I use, and the journey I’ve been on over the last four and a half years, very simply.

Test, test, test, keep the Best, sell/donate the Rest. 

There are still I’m sure thousands of cameras I’ve not tried and never will. But I’m ok with that.

The ones I do have are special enough to make me not want to use anything else, or to seek any further.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50/1.7 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

Have you found your ideal film camera(s)? How did you go about it? 

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

The UnCompacts

What are the key features of a compact camera?

Surely there is one above all others. It’s compact!

In the few years I’ve enjoyed film photography and film cameras, I’ve evolved into enjoying two main types of cameras – the compact, and the SLR.

In the SLR world I’ve settled on Contax/Yashica bodies (mostly Contax) as my favourites, using both native C/Y lenses and M42 lenses via a simple adapter.

In the compact world, the range is still far wider. 

I’ve spoken recently with great enthusiasm about the mighty little Olympus Mju-1, and its siblings the LT-1 and AF-1 Mini. These three, especially the first two, have come to epitomise for me what a compact camera should be – small, light, fast to use, and with a very capable lens.

That they also focus more closely than virtually all other compacts is a major plus for my kind of photography too – 0.35m for the Mju-1 and LT-1, 0.5m for the AF-1 Super.

The capabilities of these little marvels have blurred the boundaries between the kind of photographs I can make with a compact versus an SLR.

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Olympus Mju-1 plus AfgaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film desaturated to b/w
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Olympus LT-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Always contemplating how my core kit can be honed and improved, I started thinking about comparing something else between so called compacts, and SLRs.

Their compactness. Or otherwise.

Aside from the Olympus trinity, I have very few compacts this small. The Olympus XA, Minolta AF-C and Ricoh R10 are the only ones that come to mind.

Most of the 35mm lensed “compacts” I have – and have had – are simply far more bulky, and could only be called pocketable if you’re talking about spacious coat pockets.

There are dozens I could name as examples, but a prime example is the Nikon L35 AF, a camera that has had much written about it.

Here it is next to my favourite Contax SLR, the 139 Quartz.

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Contax 139 Quartz with Super-Takumar 35mm f/3.5 M42 lens, Nikon L35 AF

The Nikon is typical in size of most 35/2.8 compacts of this era. In height and width, it’s within just a few millimetres of the Contax SLR.

The L35, with batteries, weighs 400g. The Contax with the 35/3.5 Takumar weighs 690g, somewhat more, but not hugely so.

In terms of carrying them around, the Contax for me is more comfortable and lighter with a strap across my chest than than the Nikon with a hand strap or in my hand, or swinging around my neck. 

If you wanted to go a little lighter still, with a similar set up and the same lens, the Yashica FX-3 is the same size as the Contax 139, but weighs a shade under 600g with the Takumar 35/3.5 lens. Across your chest, you can barely feel it.

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Nikon L35 AF, Yashica FX-3 with Super-Takumar 35mm f/3.5 M42 lens

This kind of thinking has helped me make some decisions about paring down my collection further. 

If a so called “compact” is virtually the same size as an SLR, weighs only a couple of hundred grams less, can’t be stowed in a pocket, and is actually less comfortable to carry around and handle, then why use one?

You might put up a case for speed of shooting, and with an AF compact with AutoExposure, being able to point and shoot within a second or two. 

But with my Contax on Aperture Priority mode, and the Takumar 35mm lens set to f/8 and 5m (both conveniently highlighted in orange on the barrel) everything from around 2.5m to infinity is in focus and it becomes just as quick a point and shoot machine anyway.

(The DOF Master website shows that with a 35mm lens and f/8 the hyperfocal distance is 5.14m, at which everything from 2.57m to infinity is in focus. On a sunny day, use f/11 with the hyperfocal distance of 3.64m, and everything from around 1.8m to infinity is in focus.)

Which kind of makes a whole league of uncompacts like the L35 AF pretty much redundant for me, and only the true pocketables like the Olympus trinity and those other few previously mentioned being worth having.

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Olympus Mju-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film desaturated to b/w

What do you consider a compact camera, and when do you use them? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

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The Minimalist Dream

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Contax 139 Quartz with Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, Olympus LT-1

Currently I’m thinning down my camera collection, and it’s smaller than it’s been in a couple of years. 

I experience an ongoing internal tussle between the photographer who wishes to evolve and to do so feels he needs a very small, focused kit, and the camera collector that loves trying new (old) cameras at the rate of one or two a week.

If the photographer won out, and had just one SLR and one compact, this is what he would choose. This, if you will, is the minimalist dream.

Contax 139 Quartz with Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens

Discovering Contax as a brand was a revelation, and the first one I had was a 139 Quartz.

It’s quite simply my favourite SLR I’ve ever used.

The compact size, super smooth controls and spacious bright viewfinder put it in a different class to cameras I’ve previous tried.

I then bought another 139 as a back up, which had very tatty leather, and recovered it. This is the one pictured above. It feels like new.

Also soon after came a 159MM and a 167MT, and just this week I’ve purchased a 137MA. I also have a Yashica FX-D, a sibling of the 139 (Yashica and Contax combined forces under Kyocera to create both), which is simply the best SLR I’ve used that doesn’t say CONTAX on the front.

The Carl Zeiss Flektogon I managed to acquire in a job lot of stuff, and was lucky to find one in excellent condition.

The aperture blades were a bit lazy though, and I just got it back from being serviced (the first time I’ve ever had a lens CLA’d!) and it also feels like new.

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Yashica FX-D, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, Fuji Neopan 400CN film

Whilst I’m most comfortable and experienced with 50/55mm lens on SLRs, the 35mm Flektogon instantly just felt right. I love its close focus (<0.2m) and it’s unbelievably sharp.

It feels the best made Zeiss I’ve had too, as in the past they’ve not been as smooth to use as something like a Takumar or Minolta MC Rokkor. This Flek is now in touching distance of those mentioned.

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

The colours are lovely too – the above and below photographs were shot with humble and very cheap AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200.

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

The keen eyed will have noted that the Contax 139 Quartz is Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount, and the Flektogon is an M42 mount lens.

My arrival at the Contax bodies originally came mostly through looking for the best body available to shoot M42 lenses with, as after trying Pentax K, Minolta SR, Canon FD, Olympus OM and Konica AR lenses, I had already decided that M42 offered the most interesting and capable lenses at the most affordable prices.

Two M42 bodies remain in my collection – an Asahi Spotmatic F and a Fujica ST701. I shoot Sunny 11 with both of them, and they’re equally excellent.

But most of the time I’m more lazy, and wanted an aperture priority body, one that is lighter and more compact than the M42 bodies above.

The Contax 139 with a very simple M42 > C/Y adapter is an excellent option, and the adapter only cost around £12.

This set up also gave me an opportunity to use wonderful Carl Zeiss lenses, without paying the heady prices the C/Y Zeiss models seem to fetch.

I could have also chosen the Contax 159MM as my sole camera for this theoretical experiment, as it’s possibly even better than the 139, though somehow the latter has a greater charm for me. Maybe because it was my first.

Even the Yashica FX-D would serve me very well and cost less than half what the Contax bodies did.

Lens wise, the Takumar 55mm f/1.8 is gorgeous, still smoother to use than the Flektogon, and capable of wonderful photographs. But right now the Flektogon is my favourite.

Olympus LT-1

On the AF compact front, I recently finally “got” the Olympus Mju-1, after a few false starts. From that revelation, I discovered the same lens was used in a couple of other models, the LT-1, and AF-1 Mini, and bought examples of both.

The Mju-1 is an amazing compact and quite probably the purest AF point and shoot I’ve ever used.

Very small and streamlined, super simple to slide open and shoot, and once you find what it likes, the humble 35mm f/3.5 3 element lens is capable of quite superb results.

Oh and it focus closer than any other 35mm lens I’ve experienced in a compact – 0.35m.

The LT-1 though, might be even better. 

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Olympus LT-1, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Essentially it’s the same lens, AF system and innards as the Mju-1, but in a slightly different shaped body, and dressed in leather. 

The round, pebble like shape is very tactile and comfortable to hold, and the leather certainly adds to the quality feel and assured handling.

The leather flap that covers the lens, looks like it might get in the way and be a case of style over function.

But actually, typically for Olympus, it’s superbly designed. 

The flap has a magnetic button to fix it closed, which is strong enough both to locate itself securely when its vaguely near, as well as to keep it safely covered when in your bag or pocket. Yet it can easily  be flipped up with your thumb when you want to use it.

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Olympus LT-1, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Whereas with the Mju-1, the camera is powered up by just opening the sliding cover, the LT-1 has a separate switch by the lens. Again, like the flap, at first you might think this is awkward and makes it slower to use.

But cleverly (again!), Olympus have designed to LT-1 so this switch is exactly where your fingers expect it to be.

Even more cleverly, even when the camera is switched on and the lens has popped out a couple of mm, because the glass itself is safely recessed, it’s still easy to close the flap securely.

Which means when out and about on a photowalk, I leave the camera switched on, then just flip the flap open with my thumb when I’m ready to use it, compose and shoot.

It’s just as quick and pure in its “point and shootness” as the Mju-1.

The Mju-1 is revered (rightly) for its excellent egonomics (whereas in my opinion its successor the Mju II handles like a bar of wet soap), but the LT-1 is even better.

The combination of the curved pebble shape, the leather body, the raised thumb rest at the rear of the camera, and the size and position of the shutter button, make holding it pretty much as perfect as I’ve ever experienced in a compact camera. 

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Olympus LT-1, Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

As you can gather, I love both the cameras I’ve featured here, they are as close to the ideal SLR and compact I have yet found.

It is very tempting to just stick with these two and sell off everything else I have to just invest in film and processing for the coming months and years. 

Whether that happens, or the ever curious and insatiate camera collector within me continuous to wield significant influence, only time will tell. I’ll keep you posted…

If you had to choose just one, what would your favourite SLR, lens and AF compact be? 

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

Why I Share My Photographs

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Minolta AF-C plus Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

A few conversations recently have made me rethink why I share my photographs, and how that has evolved over the last few years.

The places I share are pretty few.

Here on 35hunter, on my Flickr, and occasionally on Instagram.

Offline, I rarely share my photographs with anyone.

Here are the major reasons I share my work –

  1. An underlying need to remind myself and others that the world is beautiful. 

    Much of the time the world feels chaotic, busy, out of control, even ugly. By seeking out tiny pockets of beauty and wonder, then immortalising them in a photograph, it helps shift my focus and remind me that there is always something beautiful and interesting to be found in the often overlooked details.

    I seem compelled to share this with others to try to remind them too.

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    Olympus LT-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w
  2. To connect with like minded photographers.

    We can’t really find other photographers (and camera collectors, in my case), unless we have something to share ourselves.

    Yes, I could just follow other people and even comment on their blogs and work, but it seems more genuine, and completes the circle if I’m creating and sharing my own photographs too.

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    Contax 139 Quartz with Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens plus Truprint FG+200 expired film
  3. To inspire others that they can make similar photo with the same cheap humble kit.

    Ansel Adams said 12 great images is a good achievement for any year. I share somewhat more than that, and I don’t claim to be anywhere near the legend of Adams! The reason I don’t just share what I consider my very best work, is so others can see what is possible with various cameras, lenses and film. in the same way others have done for me.

    If I come across a new (old) camera/lens/film that looks interesting, the first thing I’ll do is seek out images online made by others to see what it’s is capable of. I hope when others do the same, by having my images well tagged, they find photographs by cameras/lenses/film I have used and are inspired enough to try that particular one themselves.

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    Canon EOS500 with M42 Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 lens plus Fuji Superia 100 expired film
  4. To create a natural extension to my hobby.

    I love using old film cameras to make photographs, and whilst this is the major element of my photographic hobby, sharing online is a natural and enjoyable extension.

    Times in the evening when it’s not feasible to be out photographing due to darkness, weather, family etc, it’s good to have the option to still focus on something directly connected to my photography, and deepens and enriches my enjoyment of the art.

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    Olympus XA plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film
  5. So people tell me I’m a good photographer.

    I’m not beyond the reach of ego, and yes it’s great sometimes when someone you admire and respect (or even a random stranger) lets you know they like your photographs and are pleased you shared them.

    Obviously if I kept them entirely to myself this couldn’t happen.

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    Contax 167MT with Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens plus Truprint FG+200 film

Why do you share your photographs?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

The Zoom Assume

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Minolta Dynax 7000i, Tokina SD 28-70mm, Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

Since I first picked up a 35mm SLR around four years ago, I can count the number of zoom lenses I’ve used on one hand. Well, actually probably on one hand that’s missing a couple of fingers.

My reluctance to use zooms is rooted in a number of reasons, which I’m gently exploring.

Firstly, the widely cited knowledge that prime lenses simply offer a better quality of image, because their entire design is optimised just for that one focal length.

Following on – and this was even more relevant a few years ago when I knew nothing about what all the dials, knobs and levers of an SLR did – it was one less variable to wrestle with.

I knew that even though I could adjust the focus of the lens, what I saw through the viewfinder was fixed in dimensions and composition, unless I physically moved myself or the camera.

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Minolta Dynax 7000i, Tokina SD 28-70mm, Kodak ColorPlus 200 expired film

I’ve had a large number of compact 35mm film cameras, and again whilst I prefer ones with a fixed prime lens (usually 35mm), more often than not they have been zooms.

So I have selected these with my eyes only on the lowest number (ie the widest focal length), and bought 35-70mm zoom compacts and 28-80mm zoom compacts to use exclusively at 35 and 28mm respectively.

A second factor (or is it third now?), is my observations of the casual every day snapshooter (usually at a family event or child’s competition of some kind).

No-one ever moves into position to get the best composition. Instead, they just stand rooted where they are, pivot at the waist, zoom their camera/ phone/ tablet (usually with shaky pinch of the fingers) until their subject fills the screen, then shoot.

In principle, the idea of having your main subject (relative/ child) fill the composition is a sound one.

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Minolta Dynax 7000i, Tokina SD 28-70mm, Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

The problem is when someone is using a camera that is perfectly competent at its widest focal length, but unfortunately as it zooms headlong towards it ridiculous full telephoto setting, the quality of the lens and the maximum aperture plummets just as quickly.

Added to this of course, when you’re shooting at say 100mm, it’s far more difficult to keep a steady hand a capture an unblurred photograph than at say 35 or 50mm.

We were somewhat disappointed last year when a relative was snapping away on their (again perfectly competent) camera phone at an important family gathering, and promised to send us the best shots afterwards.

The quality of the final images was atrocious. The phone had obviously been used close to its maximum zoom and not a single shot was free from blur, and in fact most you could barely make out who the subjects were! And these were supposed the best shots!

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Minolta Dynax 7000i, Tokina SD 28-70mm, Kodak Colorplus 200 expired film

I digressed a little, and obviously a phone camera lens is vastly different to an SLR lens, but the point remains that for the vast majority of zoom lenses, they are sharpest and fastest at their widest focal length.

So, when I recently picked up a Minolta Dynax 7000i – one of the second generation of AutoFocus SLRs from Minolta, who were it seems somewhat pioneering the field – and it had a Tokina 28-70mm attached, I was ready to sell the lens on and get myself an AF prime lens as soon as possible.

But, so charmed was I by the Dynax, I couldn’t resist shooting a couple of test rolls with the only lens I had for it, the Tokina 28-70mm.

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Minolta Dynax 7000i, Tokina SD 28-70mm, Kodak Colorplus 200 expired film

On a multitude of fronts, the Tokina impressed me.

It has a proper, solid, metal and glass feel to it, not like the flimsy “sneeze and they’ll blow away” plastic zooms I’d had previous experience with.

Indeed, it felt not unlike a vintage prime lens, just a bit longer and heavier, and with a less obvious manual focusing ring.

Back to the point about not using a zoom at whatever length arbitrarily fits the scene, I decided to specifically set the Tokina at 50mm and shoot as if it was a 50mm prime.

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Minolta Dynax 7000i, Tokina SD 28-70mm, Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

They only slight downside to this plan was that most 50/55/58mm primes I use tend to focus down to 0.45-0.55m, a distance at which I spend much time shooting. The Tokina’s minimum AF focus is 0.7m, but handily it has a manual “macro” focus much closer beyond this. The only payoff is that this is only available at the max telephoto length, ie 70mm.

In practice though, this actually worked well.

I would begin with 50mm, and if I could not get close enough with the AF to capture a scene, I would switch to 70mm and manual focus, to see if I could find a smaller part of the scene that I could still capture and make a photograph of.

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Minolta Dynax 7000i, Tokina SD 28-70mm , Kodak ColorPlus 200 expired film

At both 50 and 70mm the Tokina was more than competent in the final image, and I was pleasantly surprised.

I have since purchased a Minolta AF 50mm f/1.7 lens and not yet returned to the Tokina, but it remains a lens not without virtue.

If I was interested in shooting say 28mm, or, more likely, at 70mm, especially with that added close focus, the Tokina would be an excellent and satisfying choice to reach for.

So where does these leave me with zooms and my previous assumptions?

Well, most of them are plasticky, tacky and horrible to use, and feel like they may break at any moment. They offer next to zero tactile pleasure compared with the best vintage all metal and glass primes.

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Minolta Dynax 7000i, Tokina SD 28-70mm, Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

But nonetheless, amongst this sea of faceless mediocrity, there genuinely lie a few zoom gems that are well built, rewarding to use, capable of a very decent photograph, and are well worth having in your collection. Just like the Tokina SD 28-70mm.

My preferred way of using a zoom remains unaltered too.

I simply set it to a chosen focal length ahead of shooting, then find the compositions that fit that focal length – exactly the same approach I use with prime lenses.

It still, for me, offers too many options and too much confusion to point and zoom until the scene fits the viewfinder, and distracts me from the simple, stripped down pleasures of film photography, and getting to know and enjoy the specific perspectives on the world that 28, 35, and 55mm lenses, for example, present to us.

What are your thoughts and experiences on zoom lenses?