Does a photo have to be good to be good?

Scanning my way through a bunch of my parents old negatives I came across a couple of curious but dreadful shots. They were a pair of scuffed and fuzzy shots of a tv screen. They were taken on a 126 camera, so no choice of shutter speed or focus and the aperture probably fixed around f8. Hardly worth a second glance. Except they were of the first moon landing. My mum had taken pictures of the launch of the lander top section at the end of the mission, on its way to meet up with the command module. So the pictures are low quality snaps of low-key video on an old mono tv. And they are wonderful.

moonshots

I was young at the time, but I remember how excited my mum was by the landing and mission. So I have something that reminds me of both a momentous event and my mum’s enthusiasm. Who cares about technical perfection?

It’s the same with old family photographs: sharp, well-framed or well exposed are immaterial. There are pictures of my dad doing his national service, my granny in her nurse’s uniform, great grandparents and all the cousins of various degree. The key thing is not whether the picture is any good, but if you can name who is in it. Old prints are good if a kind relative has written on the back. Negatives are more difficult. The best thing I have found is to scan them or even photograph and invert them, then put them on your phone. Any family gathering is the chance to ask about the pictures. Why bother? Because family trees can send branches in all directions. One of ours went to America and became (a former) president. He was a cousin (probably not a first cousin) to my grandad. They actually looked alike, too. Not that I supported either of their politics.

Dan and great gran
Dan and great gran

So I think the conclusion is that I could have wasted my time and money on cameras and lenses when all I really needed was snaps of family and friends. Really? No – I have more and better pictures of the people who matter, so at least some of the investment was returned with interest. Pictures of people or special events are treasure.

I suppose I’d better print them and write names on the back for my own kids.

This is one of them.

danlips

Tell me you were looking at the tonal rendition and bokeh…

Konica Genba Kantoku Wide 28

This is one of the site foreman’s cameras built for the Japanese construction industry in the late 80s and early 90s. They made a variety of these, some with a 35mm or 40mm lens, one with a zoom and a twin-lens (switching) version. My one has a 28mm lens.

It’s a big, chunky package but not heavy. It’s not waterproof to the extent you could take it in a pool, but enough to survive rain and being dropped in the pool. More to the point, it is dust, sand and muck proof and will take a bit of a beating.

I have written about it before, but not shown what it can do. This is a look at the output.

Konica 1

What you can see on the front of the camera is, to the left and around the logo, a pair of autofocus rangefinder windows, then the viewfinder and finally the flash. The viewfinder is unusual that it follows a folded path. This lets the eyepiece site quite high on the camera body, while the viewpoint is lower down and closer to the lens.

Konica 2
There is a tripod thread if you really need one, below the battery cover.

The lens is sharp and contrasty and reminiscent of a Lomo LCA in that it shows some vignetting. The colour pictures here were shot on expired film, hence the colour cast.

Fence 2

The mono picture of the Chevy was developed using a semi-stand method, which has evened-out the corners nicely. In use the viewfinder shows a central circle which is the autofocus spot. It’s actually quite fast to use – a half-press on the shutter finds and locks focus, a quick reframe and shoot. The viewfinder also has some parallax marks for closeups, as it has a macro mode.

Chevy

What I was not expecting from a wide angle lens was smooth bokeh, but this has it. It’s probably difficult to see at this scale, but the books to the right of the dog are smoothly blurred with no repeating patterns.

Charlie

The controls are simple – you have an on/off button and a mode switch. The mode switch cycles through the options of auto focus with auto flash (the default); flash on; flash off; self timer; flash off with infinity focus; macro with flash on.

Flag
Nice blend from sharp to out of focus.

The only thing I have found to be careful of is the protective front glass, which can catch the sun and cause flare. This is not the camera for sunny days though: this camera is for British summers.

In case you can’t be bothered to go back to the earlier review, the technical specs are:

Fixed 28mm F3.5 lens of 8 elements in 7 groups. Minimum focusing distance of 0.5 meter. Shutter speed range from 1/4 to 1/280 second. Metering by a CdS sensor with a range of 5.5 to 16.5 EV (ISO 100). The built-in flash has a range up to 5m at ISO 100 and 10m with ISO 400 film. Film loading and advance are automatic with a motor drive. Film speed set by DX coding.

OK, so it’s not a Pentax Espio 928, but I would rather take the Konica on a windy beach.

 

 

The Olympus Pen EE

I’ve written previously about the fun you can have using a camera with very few controls. I have a camera which, despite being much more modern than my bullet-hole cameras has even fewer controls. Even better, it uses film like I spend money.

Say hello to the Olympus Pen EE, which burst upon the world in 1961. Fixed focus. Fully automatic exposure. Tiny. You get to point it and press the shutter button (which locks if it’s too dark) and the camera does everything else. At least 72 little frames of goodness on a 36-shot film. The EE branding obviously shows that this camera meets with the official approval of the Republic of Yorkshire for its parsimony.

Pen 1

Part of the joy of this wee thing is that there is nothing you can do with it but frame and shoot. And since it sips film like a maiden aunt takes sherry, there is no reason not to shoot, then try something a bit different and maybe again. A pair of shots takes up the same space as a 35mm frame, so it’s tempting to combine shots in pairs. As you hold the camera, the next frame when you wind-on comes in from the right. So if the first shot of a pair has something facing right and the second one facing left, they will be looking at each other.

The camera itself started the trend for the way the later Olympus Trip worked: there are only two shutter speeds of 1/40 and 1/200 and an automatic aperture. The camera starts out in dim light using the slow speed and then jumps to the faster one when the automatic aperture hits f8. Going from bright to dark it holds onto the faster speed until the aperture hits f4, and then it drops. The lens on mine is the f3.5 Tessar design of 28mm focal length. This gives you an angle of view of around 46 degrees across the long dimension of the frame, so about the same as a 42mm lens on full-time 35mm.

Pen pic 4

The lens is fixed focus, so is probably set for a tad less than 2m, which is the hyperfocal distance at f22. This means you can usually ignore it except when it gets dark. Then your sharpest subject will be about 2m away. Remember that and it works well. In the midst of this coronavirus, you shouldn’t get closer than that anyway.

Pen pic 3
The default portrait orientation means a lot of your snapshots will be too.

Mine is the later EE-2 model, which has a hinged back rather than removable. One less thing to drop. It needs no batteries: the light cell around the lens powers and controls the aperture. The shutter locks and shows a red flag in the viewfinder if there is insufficient light. So by keeping the lens cap on you both prevent accidental exposures and prolong the life of the light cell. Take care though – the lens cap on mine is a bit loose and is knocked off easily.

The camera is tiny: 105mm wide, 68mm tall, 46mm deep. You can carry it easily in a pocket or your hand. The leaf shutter is quiet and discrete. The best thing though is that, even though you are shooting little 24×18 negatives, the lens is sharp. It’s capable of quite surprising results, given a bit of care and reasonable light. And as you get 72 shots to a roll of film you feel free to just try things out. Being tiny and portable means you are more likely to have it with you, too.

Pen 3
We will miss you, Olympus.

This little camera is definitely a glass half-full.

A Pen EE for your thoughts? (Sorry).

Testing a camera

“I’m going to run a film through it to test it” is what people say. But what do they do? If you stumble across the apocryphal 50p Leica or Nikon in a flea market or charity shop, how do you even know it works?

The first thing, even before putting film in it, is to check that the shutter works. Always wind-on the camera before changing shutter speeds. You really only need to do this with Russian and some other old cameras, but it is a good habit to get into. Teach your hands the habit and you might avoid breaking something in future.

With focal plane shutters, you are looking for both curtains to move smoothly without binding. When you wind-on the camera, the gap between the shutter curtains or blades should be closed as the shutter is re-cocked. The different shutter speeds should sound different. It is not unusual for the slower speeds to either not work or to be much slower than they should be. Your decision – it might free-up with use, you could pay to get the camera serviced, or you avoid using the slow speeds.

Open
Needs a clean. The mark on the shutter is due to it being left uncocked. No obvious holes.

With leaf shutters, the ones that are built into the lens, you can listen to check that the speeds sound different. The slower speeds on old cameras can often be either very slow or frozen. Again, they might loosen-up in use or you could avoid using the slow speeds. Don’t bother trying the self-timer. It has probably never been used and will stick part-way through its run. If it does you will have to try persuading it to finish so that you get control of the lens back.

What shape are the light seals in? If they are sticky, broken or absent, it’s pretty straightforward to replace them.

Does the camera back (or base for that old Leica) fit properly? If not, the camera may have been dropped. Check the lens mounting at the front as well, this might get damaged if the camera was dropped.

Take a look through the front of the camera with the lens off as you work the shutter. Do the internal bits all move as they should? Does the mirror on an SLR swing up and return? Does the aperture-closing plate on a screw-mount SLR swing forward and back? Take another look at the shutter – can you see any wrinkles, bald spots or holes?

Take a squint through the lens. Threads of fungus needn’t be the end of the world: some lenses are simple enough to clean yourself and some can be serviced. Or plan to throw the lens away. Lenses can also be cloudy, scratched, dusty or have the glued elements separating. However bad it is, at least try shooting through it to see what sort of effect you get.

Put the lens on and try focusing the camera. Does it focus at about the right distance? You can recalibrate the rangefinder on many rangefinder cameras, but I don’t know how you would fix an SLR that didn’t focus correctly (unless it’s due to having the wrong lens on it).

If it has a lens, does it focus smoothly and does the aperture close-down properly? Many SLRs have a method of closing the aperture down to the set value at just the point you press the shutter. Does this work? Does the lens close-down to the same size of hole each time? Does it open up immediately again? Sleepy apertures are a common problem with old lenses. You can pay to have it serviced or put up with it and shoot with a pre-closed aperture. Or throw the lens away and keep the camera body.

Cosmic
Needs a clean. The lens looks OK. The rust is external.

So – all that before you put a film through it. If the camera passes these basic tests then it might work. Now put the film through it.

Try to shoot at all the workable shutter speeds. Shoot stuff at infinity and close up. Shoot some close-ups with the subject in only part of the frame, so you get plenty of out-of-focus background. Make it really obvious in the close-ups where the point of focus was or shoot a ruler or a long fence. Take some shots into the light. At least one interior is useful, with bright windows and lots of stuff in the shadows.

When you get to see the results, the first things to look for are that the frames are about the same density and are evenly spaced. Even density means the camera was exposing correctly at different shutter speeds and that the lens aperture is closing correctly. Even spacing means the mechanical windy-on bits are working. You can also check the film for scratches.

Neg sheet
The spacing is a little irregular but the exposure seems fine.

Did the camera focus correctly close-up? There are ways of calibrating some rangefinders to fix this, but it would be an unusual fault in an SLR. The out of focus background in some shots will give you a sense of whether you like the lens or not. Some will give a sharp subject on a smooth background while others will make the out of focus areas look busy and distracting.

Shooting into the light will give you a sense of how well the lens resists flare. For the interior shots with bright windows, look at any halo around the bright spots and whether there is detail in the shadows or it is hidden by flare. You can improve things with a good lens hood or just call it character.

So there you have it: you now have a fair idea of how well the camera works and if there are any dodgy settings to avoid. Which might be why it was in the charity shop in the first place.

The new instant camera?

I’m a lucky old dog, because for my birthday I was given a My First Camera Insta 2. Rather than APS, this thing ought to be taking on the world by storm.

What you get in the box is basically a mobile phone camera with a thermal printer, in a neat package with big buttons. This has to be the best social camera there is. The camera is cute. It looks like a bear with one eye open. Press the print button and the bear pokes its tongue out.

First 1

First 2
Also available in blue

Instant picture cameras are great, but they have issues. Each picture is unique – when you give away the picture it has gone. And instant film is expensive. But what this camera does is let you take reasonable quality colour digital pictures and save them to a memory card. You can then print single or multiple copies directly from the camera. The prints are on thermal paper, so are contrasty and lack detail. But they are immediate and perfect for sticking on a fridge or in a wallet. The prints have an image area of 83 by 48mm, so have a nice slightly panoramic ratio of around 1.7:1 which is roughly 25% wider than a standard 35mm frame.

Bear set

Specifications? The lens appears to have a horizontal angle of view of around 48 degrees, so the equivalent of a 40mm lens on 35mm. It shoots at a choice of resolutions, the best being 12mp. If set to 12 though it does seem to default to 9 on power-down. But nine is fine: this is not a pro camera. It also shoots video and has a selfie lens. See why it feels like a repackaged mobile phone? There is a clue in the name it gives a memory card when you format it: Dragon Touch. So this is likely to be a little Android tablet at heart.

I fell in love with it immediately. We now have six prints on the fridge, one in each of our wallets and a couple more up around my desk.

The camera comes with two rolls of ordinary paper and one of sticky-backed, and Amazon does a box of 20 for £6.50. At around 60 prints per roll, that’s a lot cheaper than instant film.

Any down sides? There is a bit of shutter lag. But hey, it’s digital – take a dozen pictures as the marginal cost is zero. Print the good ones. On the highest resolution it does some hard compression to the files, so there are jpg artifacts. Leave it on 9mp.

Bear 1
Why do selfie cameras reverse the image? To make it look like what you see in the mirror? I see a handsome fellow, so it must work.

Would I take this out to do ‘serious’ photography? No – this is a people camera. Would I use it for street photography? Yes – it looks cute enough to make people smile and you can give them a print. This camera is putting the fun back into taking pictures of people.

I’d also recommend this to anyone who’s feeling bored with their photography or creativity: get some lo-fi fun back in your life with a pukey bear cam.