5.15.2017

Trying not to GAF with the Memo EE

Ever shot a photo with one hand with the other bracing a pole?  Over a blind fence? Panning a moving subject due to a slow shutter speed? Or how about simply using a scale focus camera and no meter to shoot a roll of film?  

Sometimes one best shots are taken in situations where there may be little in the way of guidance or control.  And sometimes, photography can be at its most fun when it's not a cake walk of perfectly metered exposure and/or easy focusing.

In the Summer of last year, as my frugality was ramped up to about the same degree as my Gear Acquisition Syndrome, I stumbled across a cheap listing for a compact little rangefinder camera produced under the GAF name, and couldn't resist.  For about $14.50 total, I snapped up the GAF Memo EE rangefinder in unknown working condition and not knowing just what to expect from this model.

Admittedly, I knew I was flirting with danger with this pickup.  Unlike some compact rangefinder models of the 1960's and 1970's, the GAF does not offer a manual mode, so snapping one up in an "as-is" condition leaves one at the mercy of the longevity of the rather primitive electronics within its confines.  And neither that mercy nor any luck were on my side when the GAF arrived.  I discovered a dead meter in this budget pick up.

The particularly tiny GAF Memo EE is loosely related to the Konica C35, and also has some near-identical twins with various other nameplates. 

For many classic cameras, the story would end here with the dead meter, but this camera's story with me was just beginning.  Despite the electronics being toast on this camera, the shutter on this camera DID work, thanks entirely to this model being equipped with a flash mode that actually was manual in nature.  

I generally try to adhere to a "policy" where I manage a photo from any camera in my collection that is even nominally functional, and I was certainly curious to what this little camera could do, so I did a little experimenting to try to see just how adjustable of a camera I had in my employ.  Beyond that, I was also curious to see just what this little camera could do, if anything,

Modeled largely after the Konica C35 model of camera, the Chinon-made GAF Memo EE was also marketed as the "Point Five," and was also sold directly with Chinon badging as the Memo EE was well.  In normal daylight usage, a working example of the camera is simply set to "A" with a simple "program" mode employed that changes both aperture and shutter speed based upon available light conditions, and displays these settings on the right side of the viewfinder window.  Aperture range goes from f/2.7 down to about f/14, while shutter speeds range from 1/30 down to 1/650.

A separate bulb mode is available by switching the main dial to "B" and appears to open the aperture all the way up to f/2.7.   Meanwhile, a small array of flash settings can be accessed by rotating the main dial beyond the "B" setting to align a "Guide Number" setting with the "flash" symbol sharing the same ring as the focusing scale. While I don't typically use flash much, I can get the basic understanding that when used properly, the camera is generally going to stop down the aperture more for closer subjects and open up more for distant subjects, the thought being to avoid burning out close subjects that a flash may overpower, while trying to allow as much natural light to permeate scenes with more distant subjects in which a flash may prove to be overwhelmed. 

Armed with this bit of knowledge, and having some time to play with the camera before loading it with film, I began to discover ways to trick this camera into possibly taking some usable exposures. With a little practice, I was able to devise the following guidelines with which I could take some test shots:
  • Presume the shutter speed to be between 1/30 and 1/60.
  • Focus the subject using the rangefinder with the main dial set on A
  • Stop down the lens by moving the main dial past the "B" setting to the flash guide number area.
  • For bright scenes: move it as far as it will go.
  • For moderately lit scenes, move it about halfway through the Guide Numbers.
  • For dim scenes, simply leave it on the "A" setting and let it shoot wide open.

The somewhat laborious methods of overriding the GAF into a pseudo-manual operation involved focusing on the (short throw) focus ring first before turning the inner most dial to align the dot at right with various "guide numbers" seen on the inner ring. 

Rather than dedicate an entire roll of film to this potential folly, I simply saved a few shots from a roll from another camera and shot a few samples just to see what the GAF could do. This would allow me to adhere to my "policy" without expending an excess amount of time or effort in the process, while also permitting me to still get some yield from the roll of film should my efforts with the GAF prove to be a complete, well.... gaffe! 

I was pleased to discover upon developing the Fujicolor 200 that my little experiment worked to some degree, and moreover, realized upon scanning the images that the Chinon lens was actually pretty sharp!  Time may not have been kind to the full functionality of the GAF, but it still managed to shine beneath the decades of dust. 



Slightly hindering the process even further is what looks like a small wad of gum obscuring part of the rangefinder window, but what is more likely a shriveled up seal for the window housing.  The result, seen below, is a rather oddly shaped but still usable RF patch in the viewfinder.  Note the scale of exposure data at right, as well as the needle stuck in the red "canyon of darkness" at the bottom of the scale. 



I briefly entertained trying to see if I might actually be able to fix the GAF.  From what I could discover, the "program" mode of this camera really wasn't very electronic in nature, but actually seemed to involve some sort of direct electrical linkage from the photo cell to the aperture plates and shutter that both stopped down the simple pair of "V" shaped aperture blades and sped up the shutter. Given that I had encountered mixed luck with my D-i-Y camera projects as of late, I did not want to reduce this semi-functional camera to a pile of parts.  

Poor processing and exposure aside, I'm actually able to glean a decent enough image to show the capabilities of the Chinon lens, and those capabilities are quite decent. 

Properly stopped down, the lens again shows a sharp result, this time mired by a light leak. 


Less impressive were results using the "B" setting.  The aperture defaults open to f/2.7 which makes details mushy and indistinct.


But add in a little light, and stop the lens down a little, and the GAF produces a particularly decent image. 

Focusing on near subjects shows decent sharpness in marginal light...


...but drastically improves with a but more light.  The sharpness and detail on the limbs and leaves in foreground (which was where I was focusing) is impressive.  Bokeh on the Chinonex lens isn't good at all. 

Instead I elected to load up this little guy with a roll of long-expired Kodak Plus-X that was about as old as the camera itself, and see just what sort of images I could muster, doing my best to work within its limited confines.  It seemed a potentially fun experiment that could range from vastly rewarding to hideously disappointing given the variables involved and the limited ability to control the images.  I figured that the film would be fine exposed at about ISO 50 or so, and that the camera would be able to accommodate most lighting situations.

This "project" actually crept along from December of 2016 through March of 2017 as other items of interest grabbed by photographic attention, but gradually, I got back on track and worked through the roll.  Though of appreciable age, the Plus-X developed more or less decently in my HC-110 stand dilution, though grain was particularly noticeable.  Still, I was really pretty pleased at what this camera was able to do with a slight bit of innovation on my part.  

Honestly, I thought I'd focused this to be on the distance, but may have moved the focal point in adjusting the aperture.  As such, the near parts of the scene appear better defined than the tree in the distance. 


Another sunny day scene with distant details that don't quite render as hoped. 


Here, the overall scene is a bit soft, but passable. 


Not as tack sharp as I'd have hoped.  I stopped this down a good bit given the bright sun. 


Scenes like this seem to be the strong point for this hobbled camera.  The rendering is good on the near details, while the overall scene looks quite nice on the Plus-X film. 


Again, a good result with good sharpness.  The limbs on the nearest tree display good detail and sharpness. 


Another try to get something resembling bokeh in dim light.  The sharpness is good on the subject, but the background rendering is lacking that special something. 


Marred by very poor light, this shot came out pretty fair given the circumstances. 


A chance available light shot taken on the "A" setting.  About the best bokeh I was able to get from this camera. 


Yet again, focusing on near subjects seems to yield the sharpest results.  I'm beginning to see a pattern emerge on the sophomore roll. 


A futile battle with fading light does at least yield a rather atmospheric result on the slow Plus-X film. 


Surprise! An indoor shot, while hardly tack sharp, does reward me with a reasonably snappy image when using the "A" setting. 


Battling some backlight, the GAF didn't do the best job of isolating the focal point, the lamp at right, from the background.  The contrast of the film didn't help matters either. 


Truth be told, I won't be taking this GAF Memo EE out to capture once in a lifetime scenes on color transparency film, but as I have numerous other devices suitable for that task, that is perfectly fine. As it was, this camera did a particularly decent job of snapping up a decent range of scenes with generally good, and sometimes excellent results.   If there was one theme that emerged, it was that close subjects rendered with better sharpness than landscape scenes.  

The question that may get begged in this instance is "why." Why take the time and effort, and deplete money and resources to take photos on a camera that doesn't function as it was intended and for which a number of workarounds have to be employed to get a usable image.  Given that this is a camera which really didn't allow true manual operation in its design, and which also manages to render some really decent results, I have to counter: "Why not?"