Lemonade from a Lemon: The Mamiya Auto-Lux 35

At what point is a vintage camera review no longer a review?  Perhaps when your main objective is simply trying to get an image under when the camera you have in hand has only a fraction of its functionality.  I would say the following qualifies...

The Middletown Goodwill used to be such a treat.  It seemed as though each visit to this location always brought me a cheap and fun new toy with which to play.  I've gotten a number of lenses from this store, some nice sub $5 point and shoot cameras such as the Samsung Maxima Zoom 105, and even the Mamiya MSX-500.  

In hindsight, it's easy to think I had a perfect string of luck with my cheap scores at this location, but this isn't quite the case.  Even the all-star Home Run Derby hitter eventually lands short of the outfield wall.  Such was the case with this interesting piece.  

It looks like an SLR, and in fact it is an SLR, but not quite in the way that most people tend to think. 

Priced at about $8, and seemingly working at first glance, this seemed like a unique piece to add to the stable.  I had never heard of this model, and never expected to see one available in person again, so it seemed like an easy decision to snap it up while the opportunity existed. 

Mamiya's 1963 vintage Auto-Lux 35 is a camera that looks like an SLR, and feels much like the SLR cameras so many photographers know.  This is because it technically IS an SLR camera. But it has a few modifiers that make it a bit of a downgrade from even the more basic cameras in the SLR camp.


Fun with Film: Ultrafine Extreme 400

Choice can be a wonderful thing, even if the details of some choices can be troublesomely obscure. One need only look at Ultrafine Online's "Extreme 400" film in 35mm format to get a good example of this.

A private label film of uncertain origins, Ultrafine Extreme 400 is a film option available in 35mm format in both long and short rolls for a very reasonable price.  I was generously bequeathed a small number of these 12 shot rolls by my buddy and fellow camera buff Mark who features his collection at The Gas House, and have really come to like this film.

Questions linger, most notably "who makes this film?" One might presume it is Ilford Private label film, which may make sense.  As I seem to recall, a known Ilford product marketed as "Kentmere" has similar dot-matrix style film edge markings.  Still, I've tried Kentmere 100 before and found it didn't have quite the contrast that I've noticed in the Ultrafine product.

Below is a test roll, shot on the Darth Vader camera, the Konica Aiborg, showing this film in action in various lighting.  

In bright light, highlights can be hard to tame on the Ultrafine Extreme 400.  However, in this case, the result is a very nice glow to this swan at Hagerstown City Park. 


A Breath of Fresh Air: The Airesflex Model U(T) TLR camera.

Though I have been familiar with their usage for the better part of 25 years, and have owned several, I can't say that TLR cameras have ever really been a mainstay of mine. Instead, these cameras have usually tended to supplement other types of cameras in my collection.  True, I've had occasions where TLR cameras were the ideal choice (at least on my budget) for specific projects such as portraiture and wedding photography, but I could never see where a TLR would be my primary photo taker given their bulk, shutter speed limitations, and the reversing of the image in the viewfinder.

All this negativity stated, did I mention that I love TLR cameras?  When it comes to a camera that delivers superb output and precisionate focusing onto a medium format negative at a modest price, nothing quite beats a TLR camera.

For the past couple of years, I'd been largely content to keep just two TLR cameras in my collection: namely the Seagull 4A-103 and the Yashica 12.  Both have rewarded me with some of my favorite images over the past three years, and are called upon periodically when I want to ensure that I can trust a camera to deliver excellent results.  I did have a little indiscretion last Spring when I picked up the Silverflex Model S, but was quickly dismayed by the results from that camera.

So with my TLR quota largely filled, one might wonder why I elected to purchase this one evening...

The Airesflex offers a basic, yet still somewhat elegant look to it, as an example of a well-built 1950's Japanese TLR camera. 

With a price tag of just $25 compared to a value that is at least three times that, I would think a more apt question would be "Why would I NOT add this camera to my collection.  It took mere seconds to arrive at the decision that the Airesflex would be coming home with me.


Agent Double-0-Thirty Five: The Minox 35ML

Just yesterday, I posted an article covering one camera that I'd hoped might be a 35mm version of my beloved Bantam, and here, a mere 24 hours later, I'm posting an article on another similar camera, at least when it comes to size, form factor, and country of origin.

Typically I deliberately try to keep my articles staggered.  An SLR camera review isn't followed with another SLR camera review, Rangefinders don't follow other rangefinders, and so forth.  However, in this case, two cameras of a different build type, but both offering some features to make them something of a 35mm Kodak Bantam, have managed to pace behind each other.  

In the case of this review, this similarity comes in the form of the Minox 35ML, a tiny and amazing piece of machinery in 35mm format that, for lack of a better descriptor, is best termed as a modern day compact folding camera. 

While not entirely spy-worthy, the Minox 35ML is an amazingly small device.

The Minox 35ML comes from a photographic icon famous in the photographic community for its smaller "Spy Cameras" utilizing tiny devices to record 8x11mm images on small size film.  The Minox name brings to mind the thrilling world of James Bond movies from the 1960's and 1970's, as a means to discretely take images of documents. These cameras still have a following to this day keeping the medium alive and well.

Less known however are Minox's 35mm offerings, which stay very true to the maker's tendency to create amazingly compact devices with a surprising amount of functionality.  I had never noted the presence of Minox in the sphere of 35mm film photography when I suddenly stumbled upon one for sale at a local Goodwill for a modest $25.  I picked it up and could immediately see what a unique gem of a camera this was.


Kwentisentially Kompact - Agfa's Karomat 36

For as long as I have successfully been able to use it, I have loved my Kodak Bantam Special 4.5. Its incredibly compact design and intuitive manual controls make it one of the easiest fully manual cameras I have yet to use. Add in that it is a family heirloom and this basic little camera that few employ today in their photo taking regimen sits uniquely as a favorite of mine.  
And while I do like the quirky and unique attributes of the 828 film format, even I can admit that I'm not always eager to cut down 120 film to respool to fit into my small cadre of 828 film cameras. Yet, with no Kodak-made 35mm equivalent to this trim Bantam model, I elected to look about to see if there was an affordable Bantam-like imposter made by anyone. So when this camera showed up on my radar for about $20, I knew I had found a contender for my 35mm Bantam. 

The look of the Agfa Karomat 36 is in some ways simple and elaborate at the same time. 
The Agfa Karomat's structural resemblance to the Bantam is certainly not just coincidence, as both cameras have their origins rooted in compact design practices of the era. With the Bantam, this came in the form of the 828 film, among the smallest of roll film sizes at the time of its introduction in 1938.  With the Karomat, the lineage reaches back to the use of Agfa "Rapid" cartridges, a spool free cassette using 35mm stock that was the basis for some of Agfa's earlier attempts at 35mm.  Coincidentally, Ansco, with which Agfa would collaborate, also used a similar cassette for their Memo box camera.  


Fun with Film: Kodak Supra 100

The world of Color Negative Film has gotten to be a bit dull to me - not dull as in "unsaturated," but more so dull in that there are not a lot of fresh options when I care to see if I can try out a new palette. 

Fortunately, there are, at the moment, a number of expired film stocks still found today, under 15 years old, that can still produce good results.  While these films may not be readily available, or even consistent from roll to roll, they can at least make for a fun new shooting exercise to throw into a trusted camera to see what you get.

One such film is Kodak Supra 100, an emulsion that appears to have shown up on the market around 2000, just as the world of digital photography was about to take off.  The introduction of a slower 100 speed film during an era when compact point and shoot cameras (that tended to need faster speed films) had gained so much traction in the market is an interesting and refreshing thing to note.  I'd presume that this film was marketed towards serious amateurs using SLR cameras or similar equipment.  

Information on Supra's selling points today can be a tad scant given that many web pages contemporary with the period the film was sold, have since vanished into cyberspace.  It seems that this film's main strengths were a vivid color and fine grain in comparison to the Kodak Gold and Royal Gold products at the time.  Supra was discontinued in all speeds around 2003, and remaining stocks of the film appear sporadically on eBay and other sales outlets, often in quantities of 5 rolls or less.

I happened to snap up a small lot of expired film from an ebay auction that included one roll of Supra, and was curious to see what this film could do, though the most recent examples of the film I could find on the web were a bit too "Lomo" for my tastes.  I elected to set out close to home with this film loaded in my Exakta VX, swapping from the Domiplan 2.8 to the Primotar 3.5 lens, and then finishing the roll in the Minolta A5 in order to see what sort of color the latter camera might provide.   

At the onset of the roll, the Supra provides a look that certainly doesn't look like a roll of film that was likely 15 years old, offering up bright colors that embody the vivid morning on which I rambled about.  Grain increase is evident in the sky, but is by no means distracting. 


Five Dollar Deal : Canon FTb

Most film camera collectors may dream of hitting a yard sale or thrift store and finding a Leica priced for a nominal $5 or so.  I'm not even a Leica-phile, but would gladly welcome such luck in my sojourns through the various places in my area where I might spot film cameras for sale.

Still, I certainly can't complain.  I've been fortunate to encounter a few very reasonably priced acquisitions at some of my favorite local haunts.  These include the Tower 60, the Ricoh Five·One·Nine, the Olympus OM-2, and the Yashica T2.  Still, while all of these were great pick ups, I think one camera stands out as the most stellar deal that I've ever stumbled across...

Handsomely clad in all-black, the Canon FTb is a well built and handsome model for its time. 

On the way home one evening, I capriciously elected to stop in a Goodwill near me at which I had never previously seen anything film related, save a fixed focus point and shoot... once. My cynicism was obviously high, expecting it to be wasted time and effort, but as the entire effort would take no more than five minutes, it wouldn't be a huge loss.

To my sheer surprise, a pair of SLR cameras (one manual and one auto focus) were haphazardly tossed onto the shelf in the electronics section, both priced at $4.99, having just been placed there judging by the price stickers having been printed and dated on the same day.  I wasted little time in quickly snapping them up and getting in line to pay.


Point and Shoot Pity Party Part 7 - Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 80

This is Part 7 of a recurring series on basic point and shoot consumer cameras, the details of which can be found here.

It was in the midst of my point and shoot hysteria that I paid a visit to a favorite Goodwill one afternoon, determined to get my hands on nearly anything cheap to try.  The selection today was both good and not so good.  A little over half a dozen point and shoot cameras, most offering autofocus, awaited me, but nothing really jumped out as a unique addition. Not wanting to leave empty-handed, I picked what seemed to be the neatest, and most compact of the lot, and thought I'd give it a try. . 

Name: Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 80
Format: 35mm
Type: Autofocus Compact Camera
Year: 1998
Features: Infinity Focus Mode, Auto Slow Speed Flash Mode, Force Flash on and Off, Red Eye Reduction, Self Timer, Early Rewind Button, Panorama Mode.
Lens: 38-80mm asperhical Macro Zoom, f/5.0-9.6, 5 elements in 5 groups.  
Battery: 1 x CR-123 cell.
Manual: http://cdn-10.nikon-cdn.com/pdf/manuals/archive/LiteTouch%20Zoom%2080%20-%20LiteTouchZoom%2080%20QD.pdf


Glee with Gadgets Pentax ME Super Dial Data Back

I'm not a photographer.  Though I may occasionally use my "Spidey Senses" and put forth some wonderful results, I'm not a 100% true, dyed in the changing bag cloth, "photographer."

I'd best describe my make up as one part photographer, one part history buff, one part collector, and one part "gear head."  The result is a quirky guy who likes using multiple classic old cameras to take photos.

The "gear head" aspect of this takes me down a geeky path where I find myself drawn to things that some other true photographers could care less about.  I might pay attention in particular to something as relevant as the intuitive nature of a viewfinder, but then also put an extra level of attention to the typefaces used in that viewfinder.

As I'm also a "data nerd" of sorts, I find that I like to know and keep track of things such as dates or exposure data at times, and have often looked at specific camera models that can accomplish the data recording in particular.  So when I discovered that a model for which I'd already developed a great fondness actually had such a capability, I simply had to give it a try.

And this is the story behind how I acquired a Pentax Dial Data Back ME.

The "Dial Data ME" back works by manually setting the three dials to the desired values to print, or to null values to disable printing.


The Box Camera Baby: The Agfa-Cadet A-8

Surprises can be a very good thing, particularly when they fill an unmet need or want.

I had just won one of those "bulk" camera ebay auctions which somehow closed for surprisingly less than I'd have expected.  In fact, I considered by bid to be a mercy bid that would soon be sniped as the auction drew to a close.  Perhaps I had a little luck on my side, or perhaps traffic was light on this afternoon before a three day weekend, but I now had a motley collection of about 8 cameras that also included the Ansco GoodwinRolls, and the Pickwik.

As I surveyed my surprising win, I could see that one of the cameras headed my way would be a more modern Agfa box camera with a lot of patina on its face plate.  Doing a quick look about online, I spotted a very similar looking Agfa-Box B2 camera, and presumed this was what would be in that package on delivery day.

So the true surprise came upon opening the box and discovering the tiniest of box cameras awaiting me.  I had become the unexpected owner of an Agfa-Cadet A-8 camera, a true box camera for 127 film!

Pictures do lie. This seemingly imposing brute of a box camera is likely smaller than the box your last mobile phone was packaged in. 

This adorable little box camera dates from about 1940, and is a bit of an update over previous versions of this camera with a more ordinary leather front.  This model has a metal front with a more Art Deco style to it, with geometric lines inside of the box case and outside of the lens opening, all punctuated by the diamond "Agfa" script logo.  Atop the camera, which measures roughly 3" x 5" x 7", is a leather carrying handle.   


Spell it Out: The Ricoh Five·One·Nine

Camera model designations are a curious mix.  There are numbers, combinations of letters, names, and amalgams of any and all of these.  There is also the occasional camera model that actually spells out a single digit number, such as the Olympus Six.  However, I've never seen any other camera model that spells out a multi-digit number than the handsomeness that is the Ricoh Five·One·Nine.

Adorned with a lovely script face for it's logo, this camera has one of the more unusual model names among cameras, and is said just how it is written.  This is not a "Ricoh Five-Nineteen."


Fun with Film: Cross Processed Ektachrome Professional Plus

It seems to be a common problem with me to have an excess of out of date slide film.  Sometimes, I will take the chance and try to process it in E6 and see if I can do some tweaking in post processing to get an image that is fairly neutral.  While this generally works to some degree, I'd much rather shoot fresh (or recently expired) E6 film for conventional photography.

Which leaves me to use the building stockpile of 20-30 year old slide film for experimentation.  And what would be easier than cross processing some of it in C-41 chemistry in the midst of a color negative run.  

Such was what I did with a roll of "Ektachrome Pro Plus" that I had in my possession.  Loading it up in my more recent variant of a Gevabox camera, I fired off 8 shots handily on a return trip home on a fairly sunny afternoon.  This would be my first color photography in a Gevabox, and while I didn't expect a faithful rendition, I did look forward to seeing what it could manage.

In Mount Airy, MD, I took a snapshot of the former train depot with the caboose in the distance.  Teh result was pretty decent for a fairly limited camera on an expired film with a narrow exposure latitude. 


Overshadowed Overachiever: The Minolta Maxxum 5

A few months ago, I waxed poetic about an oft-overlooked Minolta camera model, remarking of its many charms, and insisting that it was a great sleeper find that was overlooked due to all of the attention of its slightly more capable siblings that hog the spotlight.

Well, prepare yourself for more of that.

Like a Hollywood reboot brought 30 years forward from its original setting, I'm once again here to espouse the virtues of an oft-overlooked Minolta camera model that I feel to be a phenomenal bargain in the marketplace today.  

To those of us either discovering or re-discovering film, the myriad of Minolta Maxxum models and their generational successions can be a daunting learning curve.  However, the one most novel standout from the procession of about 15 years of Minolta "Maxxum" film SLR models is the Minolta Maxxum (Dynax) 7, an amazing machine that uses an intuitive LCD display on the back to display settings.  It is a film camera that can easily be mistaken for a DSLR, and regularly fetches upwards of $100 on the used market.  It has, to this date, retained a certain degree of cult status that is only reinforced by the scarcity and price in the used market.

But for a mere fraction of the price of a Minolta Maxxum 7, a comprehensively featured alternative in this same line up can be readily found in working condition: a light weight camera excellently suited for advanced film photography on a budget. This my friends, is the Minolta Maxxum 5.

Unlike the dated look of many Maxxum line cameras of the 1980's and 1990's , the 2000 vintage Maxxum 5 presents a fairly contemporary look in comparison.


Instamadness: The Ricoh 126C Flex

The morning of May 26, 2017 dawned in Frederick with a surprising amount of sunshine compared to the days which had proceeded it. Today was my mother's birthday, and I'd been busy preparing late the evening prior.  There would be no festive celebration, but instead remembrance.

Today would have been my mother's 81st birthday.  She passed away in the beginning of May 2014 just a few weeks shy of her 78th birthday.  The last three advents of May the 26th had been challenging to say the least, but this year, I had elected to spend it a bit differently.  At nearly the last minute, I'd elected to begin a new tradition of sorts,

My mother enjoyed photography in much the same way as I do,  But while I've always enjoyed approaching photography from new angles, armed with a varied plethora of different photographic devices, she remained fiercely loyal to a single photographic companion - her Kodak Instamatic X-35.

Nearly all of the photographic memories of my childhood were taken through the lens of this basic camera, and while I never recall seeing any photos from this camera that stun me with magnificent sharpness or phenomenal bokeh, the small plastic camera did its job of recording family memories for decades.  My mother's loyalty to this camera was so great that she simply stopped taking photos when the availability of 126 film in local stores dried up in the mid-1990's, despite me getting her what I thought was a perfectly suitable easy-loading Pentax replacement in 35mm format.

A few days prior to the advent of this day, I had been browsing about a few camera articles online when I happened upon a site that detailed some of the more "up-market" offerings in the 126 format, and within a few days, had elected to give one of the cameras featured on this page a try.  My "Why not?" moment for 126 was soon answered by the Ricoh 126C-Flex.

The 126-C Flex seems to be a marriage of parts from the TLS lineup of 35mm SLR cameras and the earlier Ricohflex 35 leaf shutter SLR cameras.  The 55mm f/2.8 lens seems to be the same as that on the Ricohflex, and provides a mild portrait/telephoto perspective for the smaller 126 format. 


Fun with Film: Agfa 100 HDC

When it comes to color film, there have been Kodak loyalists, Fuji Loyalists, and those who just like shooting film regardless of who made it.  I'm certainly one who falls in the latter camp, but I've long admitted a particular fondness for Agfa color films.  I love Ultra 50, used to shoot a bit of my favorite portfolio shots on Portrait 160, and had also liked using their "general purpose" color films as well.

One of those films, not often found today, was Agfa 100 HDC.  It was a very clean and snappy film, and one that I tended to find more neutral than the warm tones of Kodak Gold or the cool hues of many Fuji stocks.  

I managed to come across a short sample roll of HDC not too long ago, and decided to give it another try.  To get as many images from the roll as I could, I spooled it onto my custom 828 backing and shot it in square format through the Bantam RF for which I had the 24x24mm square mask made.  Here is a look at some of the good and not so good from this roll.  

I was quite pleased at how this long expired film had held up over the decade and change since it was made.  Taken in late afternoon light, this image conveys a look that looks just like the scene taken.  The blue-green color of the street posts is actually the shade they are painted.


ME Superb! The Pentax ME Super

Fully aware that I have posted a lot of camera reviews as of late, I feel compelled to offer a "Cliff's Notes" version for those viewers who simply wish to skip down to the photos without guilt...

  • Quirky guy buys cheap "parts only" camera in order to secure a manual focus lens.
  • Quirky guy finds out that camera actually works with no seeming issues.
  • Quirky guy elects to try out the camera on a whim, though worried of its performance.
  • Quirky guy finds a stellar new favorite camera in this "throwaway!"
It's true, and I blame the Pentax K-1000.  And this is why.

As the proud new owner of the Pentax ZX-7 camera that can readily accept both AF and manual Pentax lenses, I got a "bee in my bonnet" to pick up a K-series 50mm lens in order to have an affordable fast prime to fit onto this modern film camera.  With patience not being my strongest virtue at this particular point in time, I scoured ebay "Buy-it-Now" listings for a cheap pickup on such a lens and found the cheapest to be around $35 once shipping was added.  I certainly wanted to see if I could find such a lens for a bit less, so I employed a particular strategy to search for a "parts" camera body that included the lens to see if I could find a worn out camera with an optically decent lens attached.

Knowing that the basic K-1000 cameras were typically running about $50 or more with lenses attached, I tried to jog my brain cells to recall what other models were made by Pentax, and vaguely recalled the LX and ME.  The LX, a known premium model, certainly was showing up at prices reflecting that premium.  However, I was able to find a some worthwhile results on my search using "Pentax ME Lens," the cheapest of which offered an ME Super body and lens for $29 total.  The seller readily acknowledged that the camera likely didn't work, but this was still cheaper than buying the lens alone, and that was really all I wanted.

I knew nothing about this camera model, but by using logic (something that one should really discard in this hobby), I figured that if a bland vanilla K-1000 typically cost at least $50 with a lens, and if an ME Super could be found pretty easily for $30, then it stood to reason that an ME Super was an older, less desirable, less versatile camera than the austere "K-Grand."  I gave little initial thought to the camera at all though - it was almost certainly dead, and even if it worked, I would hardly be elated to have a camera that was the lesser of the K-1000.

This camera can really be summed up in the one in-focus word in this photo.