The Minolta AF-C

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The Minolta AF-C is a compact, autofocus point and shoot 35mm film camera introduced by Minolta in 1983.

The AF-C comes from the late 70s/early 80s era of small, boxy compact cameras such as the Nikon L35AF or Pentax PC35AF, and just like those cameras, it features a fixed 35mm f/2.8 lens.

The camera most closely resembles the Lomo LC-A or Cosina CX-2 and like those cameras, the camera is turned on when you open the sliding cover which protects the lens. Unlike the Lomo or Cosina which rely on scale focusing, the AF-C is an autofocus camera.

THE AF-C CAMERA

As a camera, the Minolta AF-C is completely automatic. It is a point and shoot camera where to take pictures you simply point and shoot 🙂

As I’ve said in previous articles, today’s advanced point and shoot digital cameras can do almost everything. From 4k video to in-camera editing to wifi sharing. Many of these cameras have astonishing lenses, such as the Leica Q, and price tags to match. However, it seems to me that they’ve lost the soul of what it means (or meant) to be a point and shoot camera.

And what is that you might ask? Well, for me, a point and shoot camera has to be simple. It has to be humble; all you need is a good, decently sharp lens, not a lab chart killer with an astronomical price tag. And lastly, it has to be cheap. By having a good/great little lens and not a lens with some “premier” name on it, they can do that.

And they did all this with the Minolta AF-C. It meets all the criteria I stated: Simple, humble, good/great lens, cheap. The lens on the AF-C is a 35mm f/2.8 Minolta lens and it is a very good, even excellent one. There is no “Rokkor” or “Rokkor G” designation on the lens, so it has no pretenses of being anything more than it is 🙂

The lens is a 6 elements/6 group design and has an aperture range of f/2.8 to f/17 and again, all automatically chosen by the camera.

Don’t let any “premium” designation fool you. It’s not that hard for any decent camera/lens manufacturer to make a great 35mm f/2.8 lens so it’s not necessary that it be expensive. I’ve used the Nikon 35ti and it’s a better looking camera, but I do not think the Minolta lens on the AF-C gives up anything to the 35ti.

The Minolta AF-C relies on active infrared autofocus. There is no way to manual focus this camera, so tinkerers and gadgeteers get that out of your mind.

If you want some control of the camera, it will let you wind/rewind it using a thumbwheel on the rear of the camera. The camera has no autowind/rewind function. Additionally, you can adjust the ISO in 1/3 values.

The Minolta AF-C runs on four SR44 or LR44 button batteries or two CR1/3N batteries. I used the cheaper 675 hearing aid batteries bought at CVS and they worked fine, no exposure problems.

PERFORMANCE

The Minolta AF-C is small and compact, perhaps not as small as many of today’s digital point and shoot cameras, but still pocketable as long as you don’t have the accessory flash attached.

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“Princess Of Messy” 2016. Minolta AF-C, Ilford Delta 400, D76 developer. This is a crop from a larger picture. The AF-C displays good sharpness despite the film grain.

The AF-C has two leds in the viewfinder. The green light, which indicates correct focus and the red light, which is a low light warning.

When shooting with the AF-C, the autofocus is so quiet, I wasn’t sure the camera was working properly, whether it was actually focusing at all. But knowledge is power and I have read before acquiring one that this is exactly how the camera focuses and you simply have to learn to trust it.

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“Redrum” 2016. Minolta AF-C, Ilford Delta 400, D76 developer. Check out the nice contrast and range of b&w tones. It seems no one is safe from harm in NYC! Ouch, love hurts! 🙂

When I developed my first roll, any fears I had were laid to rest. Indeed, the majority of the time, the camera achieved correct focus. The shots that had blurriness were due to movement and the camera correctly choosing slow shutter speeds in low light (something I have a habit of doing to challenge my cameras and myself).

Even better was that nearly every shot on the roll was correctly exposed. Not surprising for me as I’ve always known Minoltas to provide excellent metering.

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“That Funky Building” 2016. Minolta AF-C, Alford Delta 400, D76 developer. This is the IAC (InterActive Corp building) as seen from NYC’s West Side Highway. This has always been an intrigueing eye sore for me whenever I see it.

BOTTOM LINE

The Minolta AF-C is a brilliant example of beauty and simplicity that represents the best of the early 1980s era of compact autofocus cameras.

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“The Evil Camera Boy” 2016. Minolta AF-C, Ilford Delta 400, D76 developer. He’s evil and he loves cameras. The Evil Camera Boy is back! 🙂

It delivers excellent results most of the time under the right conditions. I guess you could see the slick caveat right there “under the right conditions.” What does that mean? That means if you use the camera as it was intended, the right amount of light, the right film, flash if necessary, then the camera will generally deliver excellent results. If you try to challenge it too much, i.e., low light, slow film, you might get less than excellent results 🙂

I read somewhere that it was thought of as the ultimate film street camera by some European magazine and I can’t disagree. While some will of course refer to the Ricoh GR-1 (which I love and have reviewed here) as the “Ultimate” I have to say the AF-C betters it in some ways. The AF is much quieter and the manual winding and rewind  makes it even quieter still, both of which are benefits for unobtrusive shooting.

The Minolta AF-C takes you back to a time when “point and shoot” cameras were point and shoot cameras. Give it a little love and faith and this little camera will produce. Today, the AF-C enjoys a cult following among camera lovers, but is largely forgotten by the masses as are many of its peers. But should you come across one, get it because you will have in your hands a point and shoot Camera Legend that will deliver the goods without a lot of fuss or headaches.

WHERE TO BUY?

If seeking one of these, prices are trending at $20 to $100, with $100 being a bit on the high end. The most abundant place for the Minolta AF-C is obviously eBay.

However, you may also find them in flea markets, garage sales, and Craigslist. If you’re lucky, you may even find one for $5 or maybe free 🙂

***NEW CAMERA ALERT***

The hot new 24mp APS-C AA-less Pentax K-70 is now available for pre-order.

Pentax appears to be really upping the ante with their hot pro K-1 and now the K-70. We will keep an eye on this new Pentax, but just from the specs it appears to be an awesome new camera!

 

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Photo Of The Day: “The Sea”

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Baby Z playing in the water off the beach in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey. 2012. Contax 645, 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar, Kodak Portra 400.

In my Contax 645 review I stated that I would be uploading pics from the camera if I found them, so here’s one from 2012 when I still had the camera.

As with most American families, we typically start our summers on Memorial Day Weekend, which is considered the unofficial start of the summer season here.

For a quick getaway, we travel a few hours to the Jersey Shore. The beaches are generally clean and the towns are usually family friendly.

While I wouldn’t consider it very exciting for singles looking for a hookup, the Jersey Shore makes a quiet and relaxing getaway. The kids enjoy the beach, the pool, and the boardwalk. I do too, if I were to be honest. I realize these will be my kids’ memory of summers past when they are grown, so I always bring some kind of camera with me, even if my iPhone will do most of the time.

I remember taking this shot. The Sun was shining down brightly and while I normally aim for a fast aperture for shallow depth of field in portraits, I think I stopped down the 80mm f/2 Planar to maybe f/2.8 or f/3.5 and still got the top shutter speed of 1/4000 on the Contax 645 in AV mode.

Still, the lens I think provided a distinctive look and good exposure. It was a great camera/lens combo and I do miss it!

This also marked the last time I took such a big bulky camera to the beach and the last time took such a camera so close to the water.

This year I took an Olympus OM-D EM5 with me. Did it give me technically better, sharper, less grainy pictures? Yes, yes indeed. Did it give me images with that 80mm f/2 Zeiss and Kodak film look? No, no it didn’t. But what’s “better” really comes down to personal preferences.

Have yourselves a great weekend good people, and if you’re going to the beach, be sure to bring that camera along, but take care because the sand and water are camera killers! Anyway, take your best shots because these are the memories your family will return to again and again.

Photo Of The Day: “Classic Junker”

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I shot this a couple of weeks ago. I was driving to see some friends when I spotted this “classic” junker underneath some spring blossoms. The contrast of the old car and the color of the buds struck my eyes. Right away, I said HO! I have to get some shots! 🙂

I actually had to turn the car around to come back and take the shot. I’m not so good on cars, but it looked to me like a Ford? If any of you out there can identify it, please do so! I did not come out of my car to take this shot. I respect people and did not want anyone freaking out! I know I probably would be disturbed if I saw someone coming up and taking shots of my car. But this is a vintage old car and it stands out in today’s world, so if I were the owner, I would probably have to expect it.

I shot this with my trusty and old Epson R-D1 and 40mm f/2 Summicron-M. I got this camera in 2006 and if you had told me then that ten years later I’d still be shooting with it, I’d probably say you were crazy! For one, I didn’t think I’d hold on to it for this long. Secondly, I didn’t think it would last this long. But I still have it, and it’s been surprisingly reliable.

I guess I’m still one of those crazy guys (and there’s lots of us out there) who still carries a camera with them everywhere, even when a good cell phone camera will do. I don’t know, I guess I’m still old school.

The Epson R-D1 is the world’s first digital rangefinder camera. It was introduced in 2004. Somehow, Epson beat Leica (well known as THE rangefinder icon) to the punch with this digital body which was made by Cosina and based on their own line of Voigtlander Bessa rangefinder film cameras.

The R-D1 sports a 6.1mp sensor. It is, or is a variation of the very popular Sony sensor found in the Nikon D70/D70s, Pentax *ist D series, Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D/5D series and more. It may be digital, but no it’s not like an outdated computer where it’s unusable. It is a very dated sensor, but it was one of the best of its era and it still produces beautiful pictures.

If you look to at the brick wall to the right of the car, you can see very nice and subtle shadow detail transitions. Very smooth, not harsh. This might have more to do with the 40mm Summicron as well, but I have to give the sensor credit too.

So if you don’t have an R-D1, don’t worry. Just get one of the above mentioned cameras cheap and you’ll have pretty much the same sensor. The thing you won’t have is the ability to use Leica M lenses and the wonderful tactile feel of the R-D1, plus its glorious optical viewfinder.

I’ve spoken, written, referenced this camera many many times, though I’ve never done a full or even partial review of it. As I’ve told many people, this camera truly feels and looks like its film camera equivalent (the Bessa R/R2/R3). It’s kind of funny because compared to a Leica, the Bessa film cameras do feel kind of cheap.

Yet, in digital form, it feels better and more substantial than most digital cameras out there! It’s just normal with digital/analog camera comparisons, and I’ve come to accept it. As an example, take the Olympus OM-1 film camera and then hold a OM-D camera next to it. As much as I love the OM-D’s image quality and shooting capabilities, there’s just no comparison. The OM-1 feels solid and hefty, the OM-D feels light and dinky. And the OM-1 was actually one of the lighter film SLR cameras.

The 40mm f/2 Summicron has always been one of my favorite performers. It provides beautiful sharpness and tonal range. The lens is beautifully small, much like a pancake lens. Normally I find the 40mm focal length, especially the pancakes a little boring, but that’s because most pancakes start at f/2.8. The 40mm Summicron gives me an extra stop of light which opens up more possibilities, not only for the low light shots I take, but for the shallow depth of field I need for portraits. On the R-D1 it’s equal to around 60mm which makes it a little longer than a 50mm standard lens.

It was introduced with the Leica CL, which was a collaboration with Minolta in the 1970s. The Summicron is made by Leitz although a Rokkor-M version, made by Minolta in Japan, is also available. Due to this collaboration, there has always been some debate among camera nerds as to whether the lens is really a Minolta or a Leica? All I can say is that it’s a great lens and that’s all I need to know.

As you can see, I’m actually shooting more than I’m writing, which I guess is a good thing in some ways. If this was ten years ago when I was a single man with no family or responsibilities, I’d probably be doing this blog like crazy. These days, I do it when it strikes my fancy, though I really should be doing it more. Ah, sorry for the rambling. Have a good day friends and happy shooting always! 🙂

***IN STOCK ALERT***

I have been notified by my good friends at Adorama that the Nikon D5 and D500 are now in stock!! If you’ve been waiting patiently for these awesome cameras, here’s your chance to grab one before they sell out the first batch. You may find them in the links below. Thanks for supporting Camera Legend and enjoy your new camera, I’d sure love to hear about it!

Nikon D5 (CF Version)

Nikon D5 (XQD Version)

Nikon D500

Nikon D500 with 16-80 f/2.8-4E VR lens

 

 

The Worst Cameras Of All Time Part I: The Nikon N70

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The Nikon N70 film camera of 1994.

In this new series, we will take a look at cameras that somehow didn’t make the cut, but beyond just that, they had something about them or their design that made them less than pleasurable to use.

What separates this from “The Best Camera I Never Knew” series? I don’t know, it’s a thin line between love and hate as the song says! 🙂

First up…

THE NIKON N70 CAMERA

The Nikon N70 (also known as the F70 overseas) is a 35mm SLR film camera introduced by Nikon in 1994.

At the time, it was Nikon’s top enthusiast model. Indeed, I think this camera set the stage for future “Number 7”  enthusiast’s models from Nikon, such as the Nikon D70/D70s digital slr of 2004, the pro/semi-pro D700 full-frame DSLR of 2008 and the D7000 of 2010, just to name a few as the “7” naming scheme continues to this day with Nikon.

As a camera, the N70 is an autofocus film camera which offers a shutter speed range of 30 seconds to 1/4000 plus bulb. The camera has a built in drive capable of 3.7 fps in high speed mode. It has matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering.

The camera is powered by two CR123A batteries.

MY RECOLLECTION OF THE N70

I got one of these in 1995 and I remember being smitten by this new toy. It came at a time when my interest in photography had been renewed after using my Minolta X-700 for ten years previously.

The N70 looked and felt nice and feels good in the hand. But that’s where it all ends, ergonomically.

The N70’s claim to fame was its unique “fan” wheel of sorts. It is actually a control panel that has become known as the FAN. But this is also its achilles heel. Now before any N70 fans (yes, there are some) out there start bashing me, I will say that once you do get the hang of the FAN it works pretty well and some like it.

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The Nikon N70 is distinguished or perhaps cursed by its very unique, very funky electronic FAN control panel. Once you can figure it out, it will “allow” you to take good pictures 🙂

I remember being very happy with the results. The camera provided speedy AF and seemed to deliver perfect or near perfect exposures.

So why do I appear to be bashing it now? It all comes down to, once again, that FAN my friends!

Ok, yes, in 1994 I was twenty-two years younger and enjoyed fiddling around with electronic gadgetry trying to figure out how to work this camera. In 2016, I am twenty-two years older and have very little patience to try and figure this camera out again. Ok, that’s not the camera’s fault 🙂

And more so today, when you can get a camera like the Nikon N90s from the same era or even the older N8008s for the same price, anyone actually wanting to use the N70 I think has too much time on their hands!

I could try to break down how to use this “fan” shaped thingy, but that would take way too much time and I’d have to write a whole book on it!

BOTTOM LINE

Ok, it’s not the worst camera ever, I will give it that. It delivers great results, I will give it that.

I think the Nikon N70 came at a time when Nikon was facing some very strong competition from Canon’s all electronic EOS series and they allowed its designers some very liberal creative freedoms.

As I said a few times before (as in my Rollei A110 and Rollei Rolleimatic reviews), being creative is a good thing, but being too creative might not be such a good thing. And this time, I can’t even blame it on Heinz Waaske!

Nikon is known for cameras with great ergonomics that are easy to use and quick to figure out. This is one of the reasons pros love Nikons. The N70 is radically different from any Nikon economically. Its design was never seen before or since, which makes me think that even Nikon knew it was too funky!

I’ve said many times, one of my prerequisites for a good camera is a camera that you can figure out how to use without an instruction manual. Maybe not for everything, but for at least 80 to 90 percent of its functions. You will need a manual if you want to figure out all  the Nikon N70/F70 can do. That says everything!

The Nikon N70 is a camera that actually will allow its users, indeed reward its users with the ability to take a picture once you can figure it out. For that “FAN” design alone, I would call it a Camera Legend, but maybe not in a good way 🙂

It is one of my contenders for the “Worst Camera Of All Time” and indeed, it might be the worst designed Nikon ever, but being that I have a soft spot for Nikons, I don’t think it’s the worst camera I’ve ever used.

If you like funky cameras, you can’t do much better than a Nikon N70. Buy one if only for that FAN! 🙂

WHERE TO BUY?

If seeking one of these to use, and again I’m repeating to use, I’m not sure that’s a good idea, but prices are very good! They go anywhere from “free” to $50.

I recently picked up one for nostalgia’s sake for $3 dollars. I don’t intend to use it. I just marvel at the FAN 🙂

If you want one to use, you may find a good selection HERE.

***DEAL ALERT***

There are some great deals going on now on CANON gear. Interesting to me is the hot new Canon EF-M 28mm f/3.5 macro for the EOS-M series with built in ring-light! This is one lens that I’m interested in getting for myself. Check it out in the links for great deals and prices.

SPECIAL NOTE

I would like to apologize to my fellow bloggers and readers of this site. I know I come on sporadically and I know it’s slowed down quite a bit.

The truth of the matter is that I never meant this to be a daily blog. I wanted this to be a long term project, which is what it is. When writing about Camera Legends like the Polaroid 180 or the Canon T90 or the Nikon F5, for example, I realize this information will be out on the internet for a long time and with that in mind, I try to take care on what I write and what I say.

As the body of articles build up, these pages become more like a book on cameras, which is closer to my original goal.

I do want to thank the small, but loyal folks and friends who read this blog. I do this blog for me, and I do it for you too. Thanks 🙂

 

Tuesday Titans: The Polaroid 180 Land Camera

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“Cat’s Meow” 2016. The Polaroid 180 Land Camera with Portrait Lens kit attached, is an instant film Camera Legend and to me, the Cat’s Meow! 🙂

I was debating to myself whether this camera belongs in the “Tuesday Titans” series. Half of my mind says no, but the other half says, well, this IS a rather big and awkward camera to use, once unfolded out of its protective shell. However, it is not heavy, where most of the Titans reviewed before are. Ah well, what’s done is done I guess.

I’ve wanted one of these for a long time. I’ve played with them, seen prints from them, but never owned one till recently.

I got one through a trade deal which involved me getting rid of some digital gear and a lens. Now it would seem perplexing, maybe even dumb to get rid of digital gear which I could use for a long time for an instant film camera whose main “food” is the recently discontinued Fuji FP-100C, which was the last remaining production instant packfilm made.

But most of you who follow this blog already know I have a habit of doing things that you, nor I, would ever expect. Not that this is something to brag about, it’s just the way I do things.

THE POLAROID 180 LAND CAMERA BODY

The Polaroid 180 is much like other Land Cameras that came before it. It’s a simple but delicate mix. The bellows is probably the most delicate part of these cameras.

I used a Polaroid 360 that was given to me by a friend in college many years back, but I never really liked it. The fiddly operation, the slow f/8.8 lens was disadventageous to me as someone used to 35mm, medium format, and digital cameras.

Plus I have to admit, I was never a huge fan of the Polaroid lo-fi look. I think it only works well for certain subjects, and for a select group of artists of which I am not one of them.

I started enjoying instant cameras more in the late 2000’s when I got myself reacquainted with the medium through the Polaroid 600SE which is probably one of, if not the most desirable packfilm cameras. I really enjoyed the prints I got with this camera and Fuji FP-3000B, also now discontinued.

The Polaroid 180 is also very high on the list of desirable Polaroid cameras. The camera body is genuine Polaroid unlike the 600SE which is really a Mamiya Universal clone, but with an incompatible lens mount to the 600SE.

The 114 f/4.5 Tominon lens on the 180 however was made by Tomoika of Japan. It is roughly the equivalent of a 35mm lens on  full frame camera. At f/4.5 the lens is one of the fastest available for instant packfilm cameras. Only the f/3.8 Tominon on the Polaroid 190 and 195 is faster. Needless to say these lenses are still no f/1.2 speed demons, but in the Polaroid world of f/8 and up, yes these lenses are “fast.”

While many see the 195 as the highest model, I prefer the 180 due to its integrated rangefinder and Zeiss finder. The 195 has separate viewfinder and rangefinder windows, much like the old Leica screw mount cameras, which to me makes it more inconvenient, certainly less speedy to use although I’ve heard some people say they prefer the 195’s arrangement because framing may be more accurate.

The 190 is probably the ultimate because it combines the 180’s finder with the 195’s faster lens.

All these cameras are fully manual and do not need a battery conversion, which a camera like the heretofore mentioned 360 Land Camera does.

The 180 offers aperture settings from wide open at f/4.5 to f/90, shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/500 plus bulb. There is a lever near the lens for M (bulb), X (flash), and V (self-timer).

IN USE AND ISSUES

As mentioned earlier, the 180, while well built has a bit of a delicate feel, but this is due to the nature of the beast, as with many folding cameras. To open the camera, you need to pull out and extend the top “arm” until it makes a noticeable click. You need to be careful not to poke or damage the bellows in any way or you will have light leaks.

The Polaroid 180 uses rangefinder focus and many of you are probably familiar with this, but for those who are not, you simply move the sliding focus bars on the camera until the image in the center is aligned to achieve focus. You cannot focus by physically moving the lens on this camera.

Especially if buying from eBay, you should right away upon receiving the camera, check the overall structure of the camera to ensure that there is no physical damage. Next check the rangefinder and see if it’s aligned. It should give you a good idea, although the real test is with some film in the camera. Check the aperture and shutter speeds, make sure they’re working properly. And check that bellows for any pits, holes, or wrinkles.

It’s a simple camera to use, although somewhat awkward at first if you’re not familiar with the Land Cameras.

As I completely forgot about the way these cameras worked, I lost a couple of shots due to film jamming in the camera back. That seems to be the main issue with this camera. If you run into this issue, this remedy works nearly all the time…

After you take a shot and pull the film tab, if there is a lot of tension, do not force it or you will most likely break the tab and lose the first and/or second shot. Instead, if you pull hard and it does not seem to be moving, open the bottom of the camera very slightly, then pull again until you feel it move. Once you do feel that movement, close the back again and pull until the film comes out. You need to close the back because the film has to come out through the rollers to “distribute” the chemicals that will develop the film.

Do not be afraid that you will ruin the film by opening the back slightly. If you do it right, there won’t be any issues. Admittedly, this requires some practice so be ready to lose a few shots. I know it’s not easy as packfilm is now so expensive! For extra safety measures, you can try to do this in the dark or subdued light if you’re really worried, but I’ve done it in daylight with no light leaks or film fogging.

The problem with film jamming apparently has to do with the metal clips inside the film back putting so much tension on the plastic that Fuji’s packfilms are encased in. Some have had success by pushing the clips in and in some cases, completely removing the clips. I really didn’t want to butcher the camera.

Also, when pulling out the film, I prefer to collapse the bellows back into the camera before proceeding as it keeps the bellows safe during a potentially “violent” experience of pulling out that film 🙂

A good practice is to clean the rollers with a napkin before loading each pack of film. No need for super wet cloth, just a dry or slightly damped napkin will do. This should keep film coming out smoothly.

When folded, the camera is very compact for a camera of this size, and it’s not a heavy camera the way the 600SE is.

IMAGE QUALITY

I’ve been shooting the 180 with expired FP-3000B. I have yet to put FP-100C in it. I find the lens quality of the Tominon to wonderful for what I want, probably very good to excellent if you want a more magazine friendly description.

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“Baby Is Here” 2016. Polaroid 180 Land Camera, 114mm f/4.5 Tominon wide open. I did add contrast to this image, perhaps too much. The original image is of much lower contrast, but this is just to give you an idea of how you can adjust contrast to your tastes.

The lens has a good soft/sharp quality wide open and becomes very sharp as you stop down, as with most lenses.

The Tominon seems to have lower contrast than many of you may want, especially when compared to modern lenses, but this actually works very well for black and white images. Plus you can always add more contrast during your post processing workflow if you’re planning on posting your images online or just like a higher contrast look.

The results on FP-3000B have that classic look that I’m a big fan of. Again, this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I fell in love with photography by seeing black and white prints from my parents photo albums back in the 70s and 80s and a camera like the Polaroid 180 is capable of giving me that look straight from the camera.

BOTTOM LINE

Why did I get rid of digital gear for the Polaroid 180 which could be a camera living on borrowed time? Because I have other digital gear which makes it redundant.

Plus, I have hope that even if packfilm goes extinct, these cameras are too good not to have someone come up with something to keep them running.

As many of you know, Impossible film’s co-founder Mr. Florian Kaps (who is no longer with the company) recently met with Fujifilm’s representatives in Japan trying to save Fuji FP-100C. While I don’t believe there is a definitive answer yet, I’m not really holding out for Fuji. I thinking of new companies and new films for the future.

The Polaroid 180 Land Camera is an instant film Camera Legend and as I said, this camera is too good to let die.

Just like the innovative Cubans who drive around in classic American cars of the 50s and 60s, I do believe someone will come along with a solution to keep these cameras running. Whether it’s new packfilm or modifying them for convenient use with Instax film, I believe it may take some time, but it’s going to happen. Fingers crossed, of course! 🙂

WHERE TO BUY

If seeking one of these prices are trending on eBay at $200-600, with $600 being on the high end, and $300 being average. On the low end of the price spectrum, it seems to be for body only. On the high end, it seems to be the complete kit with the add on portrait and close-up lenses, plus case and extras. I’m talking about a genuine Polaroid 180 Land Camera, not one of the many modified “tribute” clones you see on eBay.

The most abundant place for these cameras is eBay. You may also find them from time to time HERE.

The gear I traded for this camera comes down to under $300, and for that price I got the whole shebang, portrait/close-up lenses, case, so I’m very happy with this trade. I could easily make this money back if and when I sell it.

But make no mistake, this is not an easy camera to sell as it serves a niche, but very dedicated market. I know of camera dealers who slashed prices on these cameras the week that Fuji discontinued FP-100C film. On anonymous dealer told me: “It’s very hard to sell a camera that they don’t make film for.”

So unless you’re foolish and a hopeless romantic like me, this is actually a very good time to SELL your Polaroid 180. Even as I hold out for hope, there is still the very real possibility that there will be no film left for these cameras in the not so distant future.

If that happens, well, I got my stock of packfilm and I will use it with reserve until it finishes. That means no test shots of brick walls, no focus test on trees or nearby buildings. I will most likely use the camera for portraits of my kids because they are my most precious gifts in life and I would like them to someday look back on these prints and know their images were made on something classic and historic and hopefully relive the magic of instant photography. And if you’ve got one of these babies, don’t forget to stock up on that film before it’s all gone!

 

 

Tuesday Titans: The Contax 645

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The almighty Contax 645 and 80mm f/2 Carl Zeiss lens. I took this shot when I had to sell this dream combo. Perhaps one of the greatest camera systems ever made?

Wow, what can I say about this one?

The Contax 645 is a Medium Format autofocus film camera introduced by Kyocera in 1999. It was part of their 645 system, an ambitious foray in the (then) professional portrait and wedding world where medium format was king.

I got the Contax 645 in 2008 and had the pleasure of using it for a few years, but eventually had to sell it. I’d always say that I would only sell this camera if I had to pay the rent. Guess what? I had to pay the rent 🙂

I had actually gotten the camera initially because I had done a couple of weddings, was thinking of going down the weekend weddings path, and was thinking of adding something different and unique to my wedding portraits. Looking back now, it was just another excuse for G.A.S. but man, if you have to have an excuse for another camera, the Contax 645 is IT!!

I apologize for not having more photos of the camera. When I sold it years back, I never thought I’d be writing about it one day on a blog 🙂

This is by no means a complete review of the Contax 645, just my memory and experience with it. I do have photos made with this camera and will be updating this article, once I can rescan and put them together. I couldn’t write enough to do the camera justice.

THE CONTAX 645 BODY

The Contax 645 is a modular system with removable backs, prisms, and lenses. You can even add a nice (but expensive) accessory battery holder/vertical grip (the MP-1).

The body when fitted with AE prism and film back feels very solid and is as beautiful to look at, as it is to shoot. The viewfinder is beautifully bright and contrasty. I believe there was actually a waist-level finder for this camera.

From the shooter’s perspective, the top right of the camera contains the shutter speed (32-1/4000 in AV mode) and exposure compensation dials. The mode (B/X/M/TV/AV) dial and AE lock is also located on the top right.

The left side does not have a top “plate” so to speak, but it contains the dial for drive (single or continuous at 1.6 fps). The camera runs on one 2CR5 battery, but can run on four AA batteries with the optional MP-1 grip.

The Contax 645 is still popular with wedding and portrait photographers today due to its ability to use compatible digital backs and if you’ve got this setup, this would be the ultimate digital portrait system in my view.

PERFORMANCE

Ergonomically, I had no complaints. It’s a Contax and all the controls are well laid out. It’s one of those cameras I could use without a manual and that to me is always a sign of a good camera.

The Contax 645 is an autofocus camera and unlike the Contax AX 35mm camera I wrote about, the AF on the 645 is quite good and definitely usable.

While there were quite a few lenses for the 645 system, I only used the 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar so I speak only to my experience with the camera and this lens. I do not know how it performed with any other Contax lenses.

It was not an EOS or Nikon speed demon, but I did not remember having issues with it, except in very low light conditions. I think you’d be fine with this for those wonderful outdoor wedding portraits.

The 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar is one of the fastest lenses available in the 645 format. I believe only the manual focus Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 was faster.

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The lens, as expected, made for wonderful portraits. The lens was beautiful wide open for portraits with bokeh that seemed much smoother than other Zeiss lenses I have used. Perhaps it was the extra shallow DOF that you can get with medium format, but the bokeh on this lens was not quite as “nervous” as the Zeiss lenses I have used in the 35mm format.


BOTTOM LINE

If you’ve ever read any of my articles on Contax, you will know that while I love Contax cameras, I’ve always blasted their electronics as brittle and unreliable.

I’m happy to report that in the three or four years that I had the Contax 645, I never had that problem. Oh, there was one time when the camera started focusing erratically, but it turned out that it just needed a new battery.

It seemed to me that Kyocera put everything they could into making the Contax 645 the best camera that they could make.

The Contax 645 is a highly desirable camera. With its usable AF system, and an arsenal of superlative Carl Zeiss lenses, it is an incredibly capable image maker. To this day, it is considered one of the premier systems in all of medium format photography. It is a camera that can take film or modern digital backs making it versatile enough for the old school film die-hard or the modern digital artist.

The Contax 645 is without a doubt a Camera Legend and perhaps one of the greatest cameras ever made.

WHERE TO BUY?

If you’re thinking about a Contax 645, I have to burst your bubble a little bit and say that with Kyocera out of the camera business, buying a Contax 645 is a bit of a risky gamble.

The reason for this is that if something goes wrong with the camera, Kyocera’s contact in the USA, Tocad, will no longer repair them. I’m not sure who does.

The good (or somewhat good) news is that there are not many reports of these cameras needing repair, just do a search. However, as these cameras approach twenty years on the market, they are getting older and as with any camera, there’s bound to be many ready for retirement or in need of repair.

I would imagine that since the camera is incredibly popular with pros, there should be someone or some place out there repairing these cameras. But in my research, I haven’t found any. I believe they still repair them in Japan, but I will have to do more research.

When I got the Contax 645 in 2008, I paid $1200 for the whole outfit with 80mm f/2 lens, film back, and AE prism. A complete outfit in the same excellent condition today runs for $3000 or more. I’m glad I sold it when I did and made a little profit from the sale 🙂

A Mamiya 645 AF or AFD system is probably a better alternative if you are looking for a similar medium format system that will still be supported.

Now, if you still have your heart set on the Contax 645 Kit (body, 80mm lens, AE prism, back) is trending at $3000-3500. I have seen the kit on eBay with the 45mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens going for around $2300.

For this camera, with its delicate electronics, I would definitely recommend buying from a place with a good returns policy. For that you may try HERE and HERE.

INSTAX cameras on Sale

GoPro HERO on Sale

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Titans: The Contax AX Film Camera

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The Contax AX. A camera that could “autofocus” manual focus lenses. Totally unique, but it didn’t always work well. Note the tripod attachment on the very bottom is not an original part of the camera.

Today, I present to you good readers a double whammy:

“Tuesday Titans” and “The Best Camera I Never Knew” and the recipient of this honor is the legendary Contax AX 🙂

THE CONTAX AX

The Contax AX is a 35mm single lens reflex film camera introduced by Kyocera in 1996. At the time of its introduction, the AX made camera headlines due to its unique ability to autofocus manual focus lenses.

Although probably more technical than this, in a nutshell, AF was achieved by moving the film plane, the distance from lens to film. The official company description of this was “Automatic Back Focusing.” This was a remarkable achievement and still something unmatched in the camera world today.

THE CONTAX AX BODY

The Contax AX is a big, bulky, OX of a camera! The extra bulk was needed to accommodate the mechanism that would drive the film plane to focus.

The camera feels well built, sturdy, and again, bulky. Like most Kyocera made Contax SLR cameras, it gives the feel and impression of quality.

Ergonomically, the AX is pure Contax. That is, controls are well placed with knobs and dials, things I really like on a camera.

On the left top plate you have a mode shifter for AV/TV/P/M/X/B and the shutter speed dial which runs from 4s to 1/4000. Also on the left is where you can change ISO values as well as play around with the cameras Custom Functions. I can’t remember these off hand, but I think the only one I used was the function to leave the film leader out.

On the top right plate of the camera you have the on/off switch, the film counter lcd, the exposure compensation dial, the focus switch which includes macro, manual focus, continuous, single af. Also on the right is a dial for drive, i.e., single shot, continuous, even double exposure.

Again, all these are on switches, knobs and dials that are well labeled which I really love on a camera.

WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME?

I tried two of these. The problem? Well, the first one I got couldn’t autofocus to save my life! It would just rack back and forth. Then it would get close, but seemingly give up. I sent that one back. I eventually got another one and it did autofocus…when it felt like it 🙂

Actually, I’m being unfair. Maybe not. Anyway, it did autofocus, and when it did, I got some nice shots. However, the AF was very fidgety. On certain targets, it would be great, but in general, the AF was inconsistent. It would rack back and forth, sometimes never getting the focus, even on easy targets. Sometimes it would be so out of focus and give up. Pre-focusing the lens seemed to help, but again, it wasn’t consistent.

The autofocus was also somewhat slow, but that’s to be expected and I’m not blaming the camera for that. You have to remember this was a camera that was attempting to autofocus manual focus lenses.

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“Olympians” 2011. Contax AX, 50mm f/1.4 Zeiss Planar lens, Kodak Tri-X 400 developed in HC-110. When the AX managed to focus, it focused well, but it was inconsistent. Shooting in daylight seemed to help.

And speaking of manual focus, you can do that with the AX and if you use the camera that way, it’s a pleasure to use, but maybe not to carry around due to its bulk.

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“Fix My Hair” 2012. Contax AX, 50mm f/1.4 Zeiss Planar, Kodak T-Max 400 in HC-110. Aside from trying to capture the moment, I was actually testing the autofocus system on the AX. The problem is that, with the AX, I always seemed to have to be “testing” it 🙂


BOTTOM LINE

So why does this “Titan” of a camera get a “Best Camera I Never Knew” badge? Because autofocus was its selling point. It was an admirable attempt by Kyocera, and like I said, if and when it worked, it’s great. But most of the time, for me, it didn’t hit its mark.

Ultimately though, I just could not rely on the AF to get the shots I wanted and decided that the AX was better as a manual focus camera. And if I wanted a manual focus Contax, I much prefer the (also big, but more portable) RX or the smaller ST (my favorite Contax body).

The Contax AX was a titanic attempt by Kyocera to bring autofocus to their fine line of manual focus Carl Zeiss lenses by doing something no one else had ever done before. It was made at a time when AF had already become the standard for 35mm SLR cameras.

However, company was not ready to join the AF race and wanted to keep their loyal customers happy. They eventually came out with a true autofocus SLR cameras, in 2001 with the introduction of the Contax N1 and the NX in 2002. Unfortunately, the company folded in 2005.

Kyocera and their Contax/Yashica line were something unique in the camera world. They were innovative and sought to bring the philosophy of high quality cameras and lenses to the masses and market themselves as an alternative to a “luxury” camera market that was ruled by the German giant Leica.

Kyocera and their Contax brand were the Lexus/Acura/Infiniti of the camera world. Unfortunately, many of their cameras, such as the AX, while beautiful, did not deliver the expected performance nor were they as reliable as a Lexus or Acura, or in this case, Leica.

They do, however, hold a special place in my heart and in the hearts of millions of camera fanatics around the world. The Contax brand still has a huge and loyal following. The AX may not have lived up to my expectations, but as I said it was an admirable attempt by a Camera Legend. In some ways, it was ahead of its time with technology that wasn’t quite ready for prime time. If only it worked better than it looks 🙂

WHERE TO BUY?

Due to its unique technology, the Contax AX is still quite popular among camera collectors.  I think most people will seek one out based on curiosity, as I did, only to find its headlining autofocus abilities clunky in real world use.

If seeking one of these, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea, prices have been trending steady at $200-300 dollars. Mid to low two hundreds are a good price on the AX. I got my first malfunctioning one about five or six years ago at around $300. As mentioned, I sent it back for a refund. I got my second one, which was sold as a parts camera because the battery chamber lock was broken, for $80. I replaced the battery chamber lock with a lock from a tripod and was more than happy with my $80 AX 🙂

If seeking one make sure your seller has a good return policy because I’ve said many times that the electronics in Contax cameras DO NOT age well. For a safe purchase try HERE and HERE.