Good morning awesome war-torn camera geeks! Last night I was going through a bunch of photos I haven’t seen in a long long time. They were all stored in boxes I haven’t opened in years.
Today I want to share some of them with you. These pictures are basically just snaps from a New Year’s Eve party all the way back in 1986!
Our parents had a rich doctor friend who often threw New Year parties in his New Jersey mansion. He had an elevator in his house! He had a Mercedes, a Range Rover and even a DeLorean.
We were poor kids who lived in NYC and we always appreciated a chance to get out of the apartment. No jealousy, we loved the doctor and loved seeing all his toys 😀😎
If this was in today’s world I probably wouldn’t share these photos especially if shot on a phone camera but due to the passage of time and the technical information on the photos, I thought some of you may find it of interest.
So to set up the story for you, I was a geeky teenager in 1986 and looking back now I was lucky to be shooting a Minolta X-700 that Mom got for me & my brother. The X-700 has become one of the most desirable Minolta cameras on the used camera circuit.
The lens I used in these pictures was the 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD lens which was a lens I would use for the next ten years. Simply because Mom didn’t want to waste money on more camera gear because cash was tight. But it’s ok. I learned a lot using one lens 99 percent of the time. And it’s probably why even to this day I still prefer using prime lenses.
Anyway the film is the star of the show here. It’s a Kodak film and it’s ISO 1000! Now back in those days “High ISO” was nothing like we know it today and high iso film were few and far in between. Surprisingly or not high iso film is few and far even today!
The film used in these pics was Kodacolor VR 1000 color film. Based on my research it was the only Kodak ISO 1000 color film that would have been available in 1986.
The general consensus back then was that these high iso films would be grainy, not very sharp, and intended to be used for low light or dimly lit shots. Back then the compromises were not objectionable to me because the high iso film gave me the chance to take photos without the Minolta flash I used for all my indoor party photos.
Kodacolor VR 1000 apparently used the same T-Grain technology used in some of Kodak’s Disc Camera films. No wonder the big grain looked familiar to me!
If some of you may remember I reviewed the Kodak Disc Camera here. You may find it by using the search bar.
So what do you think? I personally love the grain and grit! I wish I had more photos to show you. I might but I have to look around. Seeing these photos actually made me wish a similar film was around today but alas there isn’t.
In today’s world you could take pictures way better than these with your cell phone but then again what fun is that?! 😀
As I always tell people, try not to throw away or delete your photos, no matter how trivial. You may look back on them one day and find memories that are priceless.
The “Wacky Bunch” wishes you the best for a safe and Happy Holiday season! Stay in touch with us on social media:
Good September morn you war-torn, hardcore camera geeks! Continuing on from our last article, here is Part Two of my YouTube series on “The Lonely Art” of film developing.
This video focuses on the “fixing” part of bw film development. It is a very important process that makes your images permanent and protects the film from going bad, ie, fogging up, etc.
Incidentally, the fixer is also the part of bw film developing that “smells” the most! All the fixers I have used have had this really pungent, sour smell to them.
Some of you may remember the Flickr group with the brilliant name of “Film Is Not Dead It Just Smells Funny.” Personally, I believe the fixer is what they’re talking about. If I am wrong, let me know!
Anyway, this video is a little more technical than the last but my main point is still NOT about teaching bw film developing. Many people already have videos up that show you how to do it way better than I can.
What I have learned over the years is that, even though there are guidelines as to what to do for whatever film or developer you’re using, there can be variations and people sometimes do things a little differently but as long as you don’t stray too far from the formula, your results should be ok.
The point of this video is to show how tedious the process can be. There’s a lot of downtime involved, a lot of counting minutes. It reminds me a lot of when I worked overnight security for a big tech company. I did in the 1990s so I could go to school during the day.
There was a lot of downtime, free time with that job. Often I would read books, eat, call friends, exercise or get lost in thought. Anything to past the time. And the same goes for developing film.
When I started relearning the process over a decade ago, it was fun, fascinating and I did a lot of it. Today, I still find the results fascinating but I don’t quite enjoy the process as much. My mind wanders.
And even though it doesn’t take all that long to do one roll of film, it feels like forever sometimes but no it’s not. Actually yes, when you factor the scanning and processing thereafter, it does feel like forever!
In the video, I exaggerate some of the things I might do while waiting but there’s a lot of truth to those exaggerations. It is a deeply personal process. Some people put music on, some might do their bills, meditate, etc. It takes a patient person to want to develop film but the results, especially when good, are most worthwhile.
Also to keep it fun, I reveal in this video a camera I’ve been shooting with a lot the past couple of months. Can you guess what it is? 🙂
Thanks for watching and feel free to leave a comment about your experiences, I love to hear from you!
“Quiet Town” 2018. Incheon, Seoul, South Korea. Contax T3, Kodak Gold 200
The businesses and buildings of Incheon are amazingly colorful. Yet, for some reason this part of town was very quiet even during midday. I believe this was a Saturday, though I’m not 100 percent on it. All I know is that most restaurants were closed and it was already past noon. Very few people were out. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone! 🙂
If any of you guys out there know exactly where this area and why it was so quiet here, feel free to drop a comment. I’d love to hear about it!
This was shot last July as I wandered through this outskirt of Seoul, South Korea, on an unplanned layover due to airline delays. The camera in my hand was the Contax T3, loaded with Kodak Gold 200.
It’s funny, whenever I’m here in the States my preferred film stock is usually at ISO 400 or above but whenever I’m on an overseas trip, I prefer a film like Kodak Gold 200. The main reason is that I anticipate doing a lot of outdoor shooting in hot and sunny weather whenever I’m in Asia. In New York, I prefer shooting indoors or when the Sun goes down. It all makes sense!
I’d love to explore Seoul again, this time for an extended period. I want to try more of the food and photograph more of the sites, especially at night.
On the camera side of this article, which I know you guys have come to expect… 🙂
You guys know how I feel about the Contax T2 especially in light of the dramatic price increases. I used to recommend the T2 over the T3 because only three years ago you could find the T2 for $300-500 but today, the prices for the T2 have gone so sky high that it is approaching T3 prices which is anywhere from $1500-1900.
At these prices I no longer recommend either. That’s mostly due to the potential electronic issues these cameras have demonstrated, both personally on my copies and from other accounts. The prices are too high now for such a risky buy!
But, if you have your heart set on a T2 or T3, today I will say that if you could find a T3 for not much more than a T2, get the T3! Why? Much sharper optics. Less finicky focusing.
Sure, I remember in my 2016 review, I stated that I liked the T2 better because even though the lens is softer than the T3, it was sharp enough and has “character.” Yes, I said that but it was more charming when the camera was like $300-500! 🙂
At the prices the T2 commands these days, you might as well go for broke and get the T3 if you must have one of these Contax cult cameras.
Ah man, I hate doing this! I hate doing this so much that it’s been almost three years since the last time I wrote one of these “worst camera” articles. Most of you regular readers know that I am proud and fond of saying I love all cameras right?
Well, I do, I really do! That said, we can’t always have winners, not even in the camera world! So today we have another candidate for worst camera of all time, and again, as a prerequisite for me, it is another camera I have used.
Our first recipient of this distinction was the Nikon N70 film camera with its “FAN” shaped thingy! The reason I feel bad writing this today is that when I first wrote the article on the N70 in 2016, I never expected that the article would still show up on Google’s front page whenever someone types in “Worst cameras of all time.”
How could I have known that nearly three years later it would still be there?! It makes me feel bad. It makes me feel like I have “wronged” the Nikon N70 in some way!
It’s not the worst camera ever, but it might just be the worst designed Nikon and so I stand by my writings.
Today, we will take a look at a camera that I think most camera nuts and historians would agree should certainly be on this “distinguished” list and that camera is the Kodak Disc Camera.
The Kodak Disc Camera system was introduced by Kodak in 1982. There were several different models, of which the best known was probably the Disc 4000, the cheapest model. Other models included the 4100, the 6000, the 8000, and even a telephoto model called the Tele Disc.
If you want specifics on any on these models, please do a search on them. It is not my intention to review each model here.
MY RECOLLECTION & EXPERIENCES WITH THE KODAK DISC CAMERA
The year was 1983. My Mom, perhaps noticing my budding interest in photography got me a Kodak Disc 4000.
Now I’m not sure if I was pestering her for it or she did it herself, but somehow she brought home a Kodak Disc 4000 camera one day. As Mom had no photographic inclination, I would imagine me and my brother nagging her about it!
I remember well, Kodak had a big television and print advertising campaign on this camera! They even used celebrities if I recall correctly. It was indeed their next big thing…or so they wanted us to believe.
Using the camera was the simplest thing in the world. You drop the film in and the camera did the rest! You press the shutter and the camera winds, rewinds, decides whether or not to use flash, etc. It’s a straight up point and shoot in the best sense of the word!
For those of you who prefer watching videos, here’s our video on the Kodak Disc Camera. The only thing missing in this article that’s on the video is me explaining how I feel about Kodak in an era where a rap star “Kodak Black” is more well known than Kodak the film company! That’s nuts! 🙂
THE KODAK DISC FILM
I don’t want to jack some picture off the internet so please do a search if you’re interested. I’ve always told people that the Kodak Disc film reminded me a lot of those circular slides they used in the children’s ViewMaster toys. You know, that classic red binocular looking toy that would illuminate slides of animals and such for children.
The disc/film itself was quite solid and thick. It didn’t bend like a 35mm negative would. It felt like a plastic disc. Apparently the thickness of the Kodak Disc film was comparable to 4×5 sheet film though it felt more solid to me, if I recall correctly.
The negatives were about 10mm x 8mm and you got 15 shots per disc. To get the best out of this film the labs had to utilize special Kodak lenses for printing, but apparently a lot of places did not use these special purpose Kodak lenses which may or may not account for lowered quality in the final print.
Here are just a few shots I took using the Kodak Disc 4000 circa 1983-1984. A lot of these images are like a 1980s time capsule! They are not artistic masterpieces. However, if you look at the photos you will see quite a few legends of the era in there! Plus I also think this camera helped me learn how to capture “the moment” so to speak.
Ed Koch, NYC Mayor, 1983. Kodak Disc Camera. I shouted “how am I doing?” to mimic Ed Koch’s famous slogan and he repeated it back to me! Haha!
You got to remember this was like a 13 or 14 year old kid with his first camera living in a time, pre iPhone, pre digital camera. I could not take a thousand photos and edit them to find the ones I liked best.
“Daddy Boombox” 1983. Kodak Disc 4000. Just like Archie Bunker, Dad sits on “his” couch and plays around with the new Panasonic Boombox he just bought us. The 1980s were an awesome time for electronics!
I was shooting not to post online because there was NO online! I was learning photography and shooting the moments in life, the “Kodak Moment” and I loved it! 🙂
Science Fiction Legend Isaac Asimov, 1983. Kodak Disc Camera. I shot this at a little known event in Manhattan called the “Comic Convention.” Today I believe this has grown into a huge mega-event called “Comic-Con.”
“Roddy Piper vs Jimmy Snuka” 1984. Kodak Disc Camera. The Pro Wrestling boom started in the 1980s and here Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka is about to unleash on “Rowdy” Roddy Piper!
“JC & Hoss Funk” 1983. Kodak Disc Camera. Ah I miss the 1980s. Fun and friends, that’s what it’s all about!
“Brothers” 1984. Kodak Disc Camera. Do you know any of these guys? 🙂
“Mom In D.C.” 1984. Kodak Disc Camera. The soft grainy image works well for this photo of Mom in Washington, D.C., I think.
WHY IS THE KODAK DISC CAMERA ONE OF THE ALL TIME WORST CAMERAS?
I loved the photos I got from the camera, I really did! But on a technical level, yes, I’d have to say the Kodak Disc Camera was one of the worst!
And it’s not so much the cameras themselves. The cameras were thin, sleek, automated. In many ways they were a precursor to today’s digital point and shoots.
Just like the APS Camera System, the main drawback of the Kodak Disc Camera system was the film. The 10x8mm was much smaller than 35mm film. You only got 15 shots as opposed to 24 or 36 shots with 35mm. Plus development costs were high, certainly no cheaper than 35mm.
All these factors added up to another thoughtfully designed but ill executed product. The images were soft and full of BIG GRAIN. They did not enlarge well.
And so most of the Disc cameras were off the market by 1990, though Kodak continued to produce the film until 1999. Personally, I cannot recall anyone past 1988 or so using one!
The power of hindsight is a great thing. As horrible and grainy as those images were, I loved the shots I got out of the Kodak Disc Camera!
It may be part nostaligia; yes Mom gave me the camera. Yes, it was kind of like my first “official” camera that I used regularly.
But at the same time, living now in a world of beautiful, noiseless, grainless, homogenized digital images, I can appreciate the Kodak Disc Camera images more.
I would even say that if someone made this camera today, it would be a hit with a certain niche market. Lomography, lo-fi, Polaroid enthusiasts, etc. You know the crowd!
I like that stuff too but not all the time. But yes, I can appreciate it!
If seeking one of these Kodak Disc Cameras, they are plentiful on auction sites and elsewhere for very low prices. The prices are trending anywhere from $3-25 and the films are averaging $8-10.
I wouldn’t pay any more than $10 for either. This is not a product that’s likely to increase in price or regain any appreciation, which is good for us camera geeks!
CAN YOU STILL USE IT? WHERE TO DEVELOP?
Assuming you find a camera in working condition and you’re inclined to take a chance with film that’s been expired for over 20 years, chances are good that you can still get pictures out of this thing!
The development part is a little harder but apparently a few places will still develop Disc film! The one I know off hand is Dwayne’s in Kansas. The shop that famously developed the last official roll of Kodakchrome.
I’ve heard of others developing the discs themselves. I’m not sure if I’ll ever shoot Kodak Disc film again, but if I do, I’d probably try that route.
The Kodak Disc Camera system was an enthusiastic attempt by Camera Legend Kodak to introduce a new film format along with new cameras to take this film.
It offered conveniences such as autoload, autoexposure, and autorewind, all packaged in (then) new and slick looking cameras that explored the wonders of the electronics boom of the 1980s.
It was ultimately let down by poor image quality and high cost per shot. It gave people convenience over quality.
It was yet another example of a big company making a calculated move, assuming they knew what people are willing to accept and in the end they were dead wrong.
People want convenience, but they want quality too. The Kodak Disc Camera did not deliver the latter and eventually became one of Kodak’s biggest photographic flops and earning it a distinction as one of the Worst Cameras Of All Time!
How do you feel about it? Were we too hard on the Kodak Disc Camera?
Did Kodak try their best to deliver a product that offered a good compromise between convenience and quality?
Or was it yet another example of Kodak’s lack of vision and big company greed? Did they not learn from their attempts to sell and capitalize on the proprietary films (and cameras for them) they developed such as the 126mm or 828mm films?
What do you think? I’d love to know! And please don’t be mad at me for bashing Kodak. I did say that on a personal level, I LOVED the Kodak Disc Camera!
“Sunday” 2017. Baby basking in the Sunday morning light with her YouTube nursery rhymes on her iPad. Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar, Kodak T-Max 400 developed in T-Max RS Developer.
Many of you who read these pages would probably know that I’ve always been a huge fan of Rollei and in particular the Rolleiflex TLR cameras. My favorite of course is the glorious Rolleiflex 2.8C with the Schneider Xenotar lens which I wrote about here.
Even though I’ve shot my many various Rolleiflexes and Rolleicords which were f/3.5 models, I admit I have a peculiar fondness for the 2.8 models.
It may even be some kind of unconscious snobbery, but I (as I’m sure many of you) have a thing for fast lenses and in the world of Rollei TLRs, f/2.8 is IT.
Now this is not something exclusive to the Rolleiflexes or TLRs, it’s everything! I mean, think of how many of you will perceive a 70-200mm f/3.5 zoom lens versus a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom? Of course, many will gravitate towards the f/2.8 version. That half stop means alot!! At least in the mind 🙂
But the fondness for fast lenses is not just something we want for no reason. For me at least, I prefer shooting in natural or available light, sometimes in less than ideal conditions. A faster lens would allow me to choose a faster shutter speed, minimizing the chances of blurry images. When you’re shooting at f/2.8 and ISO 400 film in dim or available room light, believe me, you’re going to want all the light you can get. There is a method to our madness, a reason after all!
With that in mind, and being that I already have the 2.8C model, I’ve always kept the 3.5F Rolleiflexes out of my mind. The 3.5F just like the 2.8F is also a top-tier model. Both also offer the option of either the Planar or Xenotar lenses.
However the problem for me was that these cameras are also nearly as expensive as the 2.8 models and if I were going to pay that price, I’d just get the 2.8! Now I got the 2.8 fairly cheaply back in 2008. I wouldn’t be able to get one these days with my current finances 😦
So how did I come across the 3.5F? Maybe a little luck and like I said many times before, the cameras come to me! I was looking for something else entirely when I came across an ad for a Rolleiflex 3.5F in what was described as “user” condition. The party said he was selling for his uncle. I asked for detailed pictures and negotiated a price of $200 which was all I could afford at that time.
When I got the camera, I got the sinking feeling that this might be a piece of junk! It looked a little shabby, but I felt I could clean it up. The main thing that troubled me was the shutter didn’t have a reassuring sound. It seemed all the speeds sounded almost the same, and very weak at that. TLR’s generally have soft, quiet shutters anyway, but this one somehow felt different. On top of that the camera didn’t feel as robust as I’ve been used to from my other Rolleiflexes.
“Brother Fro” 2017. Gotta love the hair on Brother Fro! Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar, Kodak T-Max 400 developed in T-Max RS Developer.
I came to the conclusion that the shutter speeds were not accurate, but I decided to pop some film in it and give it a try. Not expecting much, I just shot randomly around the house using my usual “kid test” that I’ve mentioned before. I didn’t think I’d have anything worthy of posting for you good peeps! I said might as well try some film in it before I put it on the shelf while saving up for a CLA.
When I developed the roll, I said…WOW! This lens is SHARP!! It may even be better than my beloved 2.8C.
“Sunday” 100 percent crop of the top image. Unaltered, sorry for the dust! But note the detail on the baby’s shirt and the fabric. It’s probably better seen on a computer versus your smartphone.
It’s not all positive though. I believe I was right about the shutter speeds not being accurate. They all appear to be a little slower than their rated speed. How much I can’t determine. Many of the images that should’ve been good were underexposed.
“Kodak” 2017. Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar, Kodak T-Max 400 developed in T-Max RS Developer. An example shot showing the typical underexposure I experienced testing this camera. Admittedly, this is a bit of a tough lighting scheme and I’m probably to blame for my “guesstimation” exposure. But note the studio light to the right and the spoon on the table to the left. They are sharp. Oh, as a result of my imperfect development, somehow the word “Kodak” from the film strip is etched into this image, and seemingly in the right place for it! 🙂
But the ones that came out sharp, man they were sharp! And contrasty too. This lens made a better impression on me than the 2.8F Planar I tried back in 2004.
I’m going to try another roll in it. Maybe shoot some street with it. I think this lens would be great for that. Will keep you all posted. Till then, Happy Sunday! 🙂
***BLACK FRIDAY AND CYBER MONDAY DEAL ALERTS*** Cell phone cameras have gotten incredibly powerful these days. If I were in the market for a phone right now, it would have to be the Huawei Mate 9, seen below. In addition to the beautifully huge 5.9″ screen and all the other goodies you would expect in a modern smartphone, the crowning glory is the unique Leica dual cameras built in, one of which is a 20mp MONOCHROME sensor!! If you know how much a Leica Monochrom rangefinder camera cost with its unique monochome sensor, then you know what a bargain this is. And this weekend, the phone is only $399 ($100 off) through our affiliated link. Check it out if you’re a b&w or Leica fan!
As much as I love the Huawei Mate, I would have to think the Apple iPhone X is this year’s hottest phone gift. It’s probably the hottest smartphone of 2017! Check the link below and seek out the best prices. Hope you score a deal on the ultimate Apple gadget!
For you traditional photographers, and I know you’re still out there, the hottest camera of 2017 has got to be the Nikon D850. If there’s one camera that can do everything, this is it! Check the link below and compare prices today to score a deal on this year’s Ultimate Camera gift. Your loving photographer will love you for it!
The Fuji Instax Square might be this year’s “got to have it” photography gift! It combines a digital camera with analog prints. The printer is built into the camera! And at $229.95 and up, it’s affordable! I’m tempted to get this one myself!
If you really love your significant other, and I mean REALLY love them, this would be that “above and beyond” gift! It’s the Fuji GFX 50S Mirrorless Medium Format camera. It offers image quality beyond reproach. Your loving photographer should not be asking for anything else after this one, and if they do send them to me and I’ll set them straight! 🙂
“Sunrise” Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand, 1995. Canon EOS 10s, Sigma 28-70 f/3.5-4.5 UC, Kodak Ektachrome. The return of Ektachrome. Perhaps the dawn of a new day for film lovers?
I’m sure many of you hardcore film fanatics have heard by now of Kodak’s decision to bring their Ektachrome slide film back from the dead.
That is the best thing I have heard out of Kodak in the past ten years!! A snippet from Kodak’s press release: “Sales of professional photographic films have been steadily rising over the last few years, with professionals and enthusiasts rediscovering the artistic control offered by manual processes and the creative satisfaction of a physical end product…”
I used Ektachrome film mostly in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was a great slide film, but also considered a lower cost alternative to Kodachrome which was Kodak’s gold standard for slide film.
If memory serves me correctly, I remember Ektachrome to produce neutral colors with perhaps a shift towards cool, strong on the blue and greens.
“The Sun Never Sets” Krabi, Thailand, 1995. Canon EOS 10s, Sigma 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 UC, Kodak Ektachrome. Colors shifting a bit, but this photo is almost as vibrant as that day I took it twenty-two years ago. The two beloved family members, on the far left and far right are gone. And so too did we think Ektachrome was gone. But Kodak is bringing it back from the dead. Unbelievable news in many ways.
The reasons I didn’t use Ektachrome more was because I was and am a negative shooter rather than a slide shooter. And when I did shoot slides, I always went with either Fuji Velvia or Kodachrome. I tried Ektachrome just because. Not because I wanted to, or didn’t want to, just because I had to try it.
But with Kodak’s announcement of the return of Ektachrome, I’m itching to try it again. It was an iconic film in its own right.
Again, this is the best news I’ve heard out of Kodak in ten years and it is awesome news for film in general. With the demise of Fuji’s FP-100C packfilm, this was certainly unexpected.
People, including myself, have been quite hard on Kodak in recent years. This time, let me say that they are doing something amazing. Now if they would concentrate in this direction, they might have a chance of not only reclaiming their legendary name but maybe even be the king of the hill for film again. Kodak is doing what they do best…make film. Kudos Kodak, wishing you the best of luck on this!
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.
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.
“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.
“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 🙂
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.
It’s that time of the year again. Especially for those of us in the Northeastern part of the country, the autumn leaves are at or approaching their peak. In some parts, they may even be past their peak.
While I haven’t gotten my foliage pics yet this year, I hope to soon. Maybe this weekend or next.
Anyway, I thought this would be a good time to post some fall foliage from years past. Many with gear I no longer have, but how I miss them!
This is a great time to photograph and use some of those Camera Legends in your closet. Don’t miss it!
Update 10/17/15: I did get some shots today, but only have one to post so far. It is the top photo using the EOS-M I reviewed HERE.
“AutM Leaves” 2015. Canon EOS-M, 22mm f/2 STM.
“Change” 2007. Canon EOS 5D, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS.
“Fall Fashion” 2014. Nokia Lumia 1020.
“Red, Green, and Gold” 2008. Nikon D700, Hasselblad 110mm f/2 Planar via adapter.
I had so much fun going down memory lane last night, I decided to do it again, one more night. This time the focus is on people and portraits. Back to reviewing cameras soon, I promise 🙂
Again, captioned with these images are equipment that I have profiled or am planning to profile. Most of the gear I no longer have, except for the negatives and memories I have of them.
And again, while I love reviewing equipment, I love the equipment even more if it helps me take a decent pic!
Also as mentioned in the last article, a lot of these photos were posted for photo sharing sites long before I started blogging on WordPress. As such, some were resized much smaller than I’d like, but it would take me forever to locate the originals and work on them again. I thank you kindly for taking a look.
“Separate Your Colors” 2011. Contax T3, Fuji Reala. Manila, Philippines.
“The NWA” 1990. Minolta X-700, miscellaneous brand 80-200mm. No this is not Dr. Dre and the “West Coast” NWA. This is “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and the original NWA 🙂
“The Young & The Restless” 1988. Minolta X-700, 50mm f/1.7 MD lens. Los Angeles, California. I was at the Farmer’s Market in L.A. and checking out magazines at a newsstand when I spotted two (then) very popular soap opera stars, Tracey E. Bregman and Doug Davidson, who were also checking out magazines. They must have been on a break from their show which was being filmed at CBS Studios nearby. I asked them for a photo and they graciously obliged. I was most impressed that they had no movie star “issues” and smiled for a geeky teenager with a camera 🙂
“The Gentle Giant” 2011. Nikon F4s, 28mm f/2.8 AIS Nikkor, Kodak Portra 160. I ran into NYC icon Louis Mendes, a photographer well known for his old school Speed Graphic camera and sharp retro outfits. Lou takes unique Polaroid portraits and has made a living and a legend out of it. I’ve bumped into Mr. Mendes a few times over the years and he has always been a willing a gracious subject for my cameras. Thanks Lou!
“Bangkok Bride II” 2005. Olympus Stylus Epic, 35mm f/2.8, Kodak High Definition 400 film. Bangkok, Thailand.
“Native New Yorker” 2015. Leica M4P, 50mm f/2 Summicron-M, Kodak T-Max 400 developed in D76. NYC is a melting pot of cultures. No matter where you come from, you can quickly transform into a New Yorker!