1:1:1 Mercury II

My second go at the 35hunter challenge.

I probably shouldn’t have loaded this camera, as I was unlikely to finish the roll quickly. I originally loaded it as I was off to the seaside and there would be wind turbines. I wanted to see if the rotary shutter did anything interesting with the rotating generator blades (it doesn’t). But this is a half-frame camera and gets loads of shots on a roll, so I wasn’t going to finish it quickly. But the 35hunter challenge was the kick up the arse I needed. It would also be the decider: do I actually want to keep and use this camera or do I sell it? If I sold it, could I benefit from it being the camera that captured Marilyn? Ok, not the, but a.

Whatever – it’s a strangle little camera that is entirely and prominently mechanical. But it gets loads of shots to the roll so you can shoot it like a paparazzi. It was loaded with Kentmere 100 as I wanted fine grain because of the small frame size. Ideally I would fit a little rangefinder, but the layout of the knobs and the big curved cover for the shutter disk make that awkward. So I carry one instead. Being American the distances marked on the lens are in feet. I’m more used to meters these days, but I do have a non-metric (you can hardly call it Imperial) clip-on rangefinder. Plus there’s always zone or hyperfocal focusing.

The lens is tiny. I don’t have many lenses that take a 25mm cap. I’m so used to wide-aperture primes the size of beer cans that this one feels dainty. Certainly after the Yashinon lens in my previous event, this thing is teeny-tiny. The engravings for the aperture and distance are tiny too, so I need my reading specs to make changes. It’s strange – all of the markings on this camera are tiny and the controls are small. This camera was definitely not made for old blokes with fat fingers.


The focusing is quite stiff – I think Peggy broke a fingernail using it. That’s not a bad thing though (I don’t mean breaking fingernails) – it does stop the focus being changed accidentally. There is a depth of field scale on the arched top, so I find myself setting the lens to the hyperfocal distance for the aperture and varying the shutter speed if the light changes. In that respect it’s similar to the Pentax SV that was first out for this challenge, in that you can’t easily change the settings when the camera is up to your eye. People talk about shooting film to slow them down and these are slow cameras, the Mercury even more so. Where the Pentax has that lovely SLR feature of an accurate viewfinder, the Mercury is nearer guesswork. The tiny viewfinder has no frame lines so I find myself giving the subject a bit more room. This helps with the depth of field but I really don’t want to crop into the tiny negative if I can avoid it.

Having double the number of frames on a film ought to encourage taking more pictures by varying the composition, the distance and so on. But the manual focussing doesn’t encourage moving around and you have to take the camera away from your eye to wind on – no simple thumb lever here, this is a knob on the front face of the camera that you have to twist. I think I had a rant earlier about ergonomics. The Mercury is not quick or easy to use.

Another down side to the camera is that it has no strap lugs. This means I have to carry it in my hand or in my bag. If I do keep it I think I might make a case for it.

I sound like I’m hating it, but it’s actually fun to use. It’s quirky, and having to make decisions about the settings that can’t be changed quickly means that I have to think more carefully about which ones I use. It also looks quite steampunk, not that we carry cameras to impress other people (blush) do we? The shutter also makes a whoosh noise rather than a clack, and that’s fun too.

I was worried about the camera when I was using it. February has been very cold and I took the Mercury out in the thick of it. The shutter sounds like it’s running slow, so I kept putting the camera away in my bag or cuddling it. I needn’t have worried though – the film has a lovely set of evenly-spaced and well-exposed negatives. Not bad for a camera that could be over seventy years old.

Mercury scene

The lens does flare if the sun is in the frame. Also, the depth of field scale printed on the curved shutter housing is a bit optimistic. It may have been ok for small prints but not when you scan. The picture in the woods above should have been sharp to infinity but it’s obviously sharpest on the foreground tree that was at the point of actual focus.

Speaking about evenly spaced negatives – the Mercury spaces them with regular gaps between, unlike the Olympus Pen that creates closely spaced pairs. The result is that the Olympus negatives can be scanned like standard 35mm film but the Mercury ones have to moved around in the negative carrier to coincide with the frame edges. It’s also why the Mercury gets something like 64 shots on a roll of film while the Olympus gets 72.

Do I like it enough though? My Olympus Pen EE is much quicker and easier to use and does the whole ‘shoot loads, see what happens’ thing very well. It’s also easier to carry. I’m coming round to the idea that the Mercury is too fiddly to use, without the compensation of getting special results. So while I have been glad to use it, I think it’s off to a new owner.

Next up – the Pentax Spotmatic.

Author: fupduckphoto

Still wishing I knew what was going on.

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