Monday Mystery Camera: The Minolta X-600

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Just when I thought that, as Bob Seger might say, I had nothing left to burn and nothing left to prove, I have another camera to profile for you 🙂

THE MYSTERIOUS MINOLTA X-600

In 1994 there was an article in Popular Photography magazine regarding the “mysterious” Minolta X-600. In fact the title of the article was “The Mysterious Minolta X-600.”

In that article, I remember the late, great Herbert Keppler wrote of how in 1983 he received an express package from Minolta Research and Development headquarters in Osaka, Japan. He went on to say that in the box contained a camera he had never seen or heard of before: the Minolta X-600.

Now before I continue, let me just say that I really loved Mr. Keppler’s articles and his candid and sometimes brash way of writing. I’m can’t remember if he was Pop Photo’s editor or associate editor, but if you read the magazine long enough, you can tell that he was “The Boss” or “The Man” at that publication.

He was a legend in the photography business and to me, his articles were the main reason I was reading Popular Photography. I was somewhat awestruck actually when he sent me a hand written response to a question I sent in, back in the 90s.

I also have to say, I’ve read over the years, so many people bashing that magazine. To me though, it was better than a lot of other photography magazines out there, but that’s a topic for another day.

Now back to the X-600. After reading the Pop Photo article on it, I got the impression that this was not a production camera and I never thought about it again until I came across one, quite unexpectedly, from a local seller’s collection.

WHAT MAKES THE X-600 SO MYSTERIOUS?

Ok, there’s not a lot of information about this camera on the web, but there is some. So I will try to break down what I have read and what I know of the camera, now that I have one.

The camera was produced as far back as 1983. Contrary to what I deciphered from the Pop Photo article, which gave me the impression that the camera was never released to the public, the X-600 was actually sold/given/leaked to the public, perhaps up to 10,000 units (according the the great Rokkor Files website), and sold in Japan only. Obviously, some have made it around the world 🙂

Now what makes the X-600 special? Now you might have a little chuckle when you read this because we’re so used to it by now…

The X-600 was a manual focus camera that had focus confirmation via a green led dot in the viewfinder that appeared once you have achieved focus. That’s it!

So what’s the big deal you say, all my Nikons have done that for years. In fact, nearly all serious cameras, and even non serious cameras have some kind of focus confirmation. It’s a prerequisite. But back in 1983, this was a BIG deal. In fact, if I recall correctly, they made a big deal about focus confirmation in the Contax RX, a manual focus SLR, and that was in 1994, more than ten years later.

No one knows for sure why Minolta abandoned the X-600 project. If you search around the web you may come across something about patent infringement, but I could not confirm this in any way so I can’t state that as truth.

Anyway, the X-600 was apparently a “pre-autofocus” experiment by Minolta, an experiment that may have led to the creation of the very successful Minolta Maxxum 7000 of 1985, the runaway first hit of the autofocus era of SLR cameras.

The success of the Maxxum 7000 ushered in the era of autofocus to the masses, with Canon and Nikon following shortly thereafter.

HANDS ON

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“The X-Man” aka the “Ghetto-Blaster” hands on with the X-600. Not a narcissistic selfie, only trying to show that the X-600 is out there in the hands of the public 🙂

I’ve only had this one for a short time, a few months, still have film in it. Based on my limited experience, and allow me to say that this may change with time, here are my impressions:

The initial impression upon seeing and handling one is that the camera looks and feels like the X-700. But after you hold it for a short time, you realize that this is NOT the X-700.

The X-700 was my first “real” camera which Mom bought for me in 1985 as a geeky teen with a thirst for photography. I used it for almost ten years straight before I got into all this G.A.S. stuff, and I still have it 31 years later so the X-700 is a camera I know a little about 🙂

The good news for most folks? The X-700 is a much better camera. Not only in looks, but in ergonomics and operations. The X-700 is cheaper and easy to find. The bad news about the X-700? It’s not an X-600 🙂

The X-600 is a much more basic camera, which can be a good thing, but it doesn’t have some of the things that made the X-700 so nice. For example, it doesn’t have a shutter speed dial on top as in the X-700. Instead, the shutter speeds appear in a counter on the top right plate of the camera and appears much like a film counter, which under certain conditions can be hard to see and hard to read.

There is no exposure compensation dial. No ASA/ISO indicator. Shutter speeds range from 1s to 1/1000 plus B. There is an Aperture Priority mode which can be engaged via the AUTO settting in the shutter speed selection dial.

The camera uses two AAA batteries, which I actually like better than the usually hearing aid type batteries seen in the X-700 and other cameras.

One great thing I noticed is that the X-600 does not drain the batteries the way my X-700 did. I have accidentally left the X-600 in the “On” position for days and it still doesn’t show battery drain.

The viewfinder shows shutter speeds with red line indicators. The focus “window” is a long slit right in the center of the viewfinder. There are right and left red arrow focus indicators and a green spot in the middle which will light up once you have achieved focus. Anyone who has used the focus confirmation feature on Nikon cameras will be familiar with this method of manual focusing.

The “special” focus confirmation feature works, but it needs good light to work well. According to info I have read on the web, the camera needs later MD lenses with an extra pin or post on the rear lens mount which was apparently needed by the X-600, which has two focus aid sensors in the body.

But wait…I am using the X-600 with three lenses, one which has the pin and two which do not have that extra pin, yet the camera is giving me a focus confirmation signal on all three lenses when I achieve sharp focus! Whether this is reality or not, I will have to report back when I am finished with the film. Only then will I know if the focus confirmation system actually worked with these lenses.

BOTTOM LINE

In today’s world, I must say that there is nothing outstanding about the X-600 as a camera, other than its rarity and its history which I have tried to relay to you here.

I’m not trying to take anything away from the X-600. It’s a very basic camera that uses batteries. Usually a no-no in my book. And focus confirmation is something so basic now that we just take it for granted.

But we must, in respect to Minolta, remember that this was new stuff back in 1983 and they should be given credit for doing something that moved the camera (as a species, not just the X-600) further up the ladder of evolution.

The X-600 is the missing link, the “Lost Testament” of Minolta’s development and refinement of autofocus. The Maxxum 7000 autofocus SLR of 1985 changed the world forever, but to get to the 7000, Minolta had to create the X-600.

Just as the Apollo astronauts who did the test runs never got the glory of the astronauts who landed on the moon, the X-600 is a rare and largely unknown camera, but just like those forgotten astronauts, without the X-600, it’s safe to say there would be no Maxxum 7000.

The Minolta X-600 is most certainly a Camera Legend. It is a camera pioneer. To appreciate that, you must take into account its history. Once you do that, you can then realize that this is indeed a very special camera.

WHERE TO BUY?

The X-600 is a rare camera, based on the low production numbers and the limited information that there is on this camera.

The good news is that they show up every now and then on eBay and I have seen it once at KEH camera. And even better news is that when they do show up, they do not cost a lot. The bad news? You never know when they show up. It could be tomorrow, it could be six months from now. That’s the nature of rare collectibles.

I’m not sure how to say this. You may think I’m just a guy with no life who does nothing, but seek out these odd cameras, and you might have well been justified in your thinking, but honestly, and I’ve said this before…I don’t seek out these cameras, they come to me! 🙂

Seriously! As with so many other cameras and lenses I’ve come across, I found the X-600 when I wasn’t even looking for it. This is a camera that no one hears or talks about simply because not many know about it. When you don’t know about it, you’re not looking for it.

Based on the fact that this is a rare camera, if and when you do find one, you’ll probably come across it the same way I did…when you’re not looking for it.

But assuming you do find one, based on my research, prices are trending at $90-135 on eBay, but you might do a little better if you find one locally. I got mine for $60 with a little haggling 🙂

If you have one of these Camera Legends, I’d sure love to hear about it!

Note: As this is already a late posting, you can safely assume that there won’t be a “Tuesday Titans” tonight 🙂

All content are © 2014-2016 CameraLegend.com

 

 

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Photo Of The Day: “Magic of Ramen Noodles”

 

“Magic Of Ramen Noodles” 2011. Minolta CLE with Canon 50mm f/1.5 Serenar ltm lens on Kodak Tri-X 400 developed in T-Max developer in 2011.

It might not be the best thing for you, but it sure feels good in the tummy 😀

Yes, it’s instant ramen, the ultimate poor man’s comfort food. Perfect for those times when you’re absolutely starving or when you have very little time to concoct a fine meal. Once the craving is satisfied, hunger is gone 🙂

Tuesday Titans: The Mighty Minolta XK Motor

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The Legendary Minolta XK Motor of 1976. Sorry for this funky Instagram pic, I’ll probably replace it 🙂

Hi everybody. Let’s start 2016 off with a bang with this ultra-rare Camera Legend, where info is scarce even on the best Minolta/Rokkor sites…

Somewhere in the deep, dark corridors of my camera memory lurks a giant. A giant that frightened and fascinated me at the same time. That giant is the Minolta XK Motor.

The XK Motor is a 35mm SLR introduced by Minolta in 1976. It was marketed as a professional camera and was Minolta’s answer to the Canon F-1 and Nikon F/F2.

The XK Motor is ultra-rare and hard to find in today’s market.

MY MEMORIES AND DREAMS OF THE MINOLTA XK MOTOR

As a kid, I still remember seeing this gigantic brute of a camera in magazine articles and ads. It was a camera that seemed frighteningly large, muscular, and complicated to a young boy. Yet at the same time, for a skinny young kid, this camera’s muscular build signaled “power” in my mind.

I wanted it bad, but I knew I’d never get one. Or so I thought…


HOW I CAME ACROSS THE MINOLTA XK MOTOR CAMERA

Fast forward some thirty plus years. About four years ago in 2012, I saw two XK Motors listed on KEH Camera in BGN (bargain) condition, priced at about $500 each. Right away, knowing the rarity of these cameras, I had to get one!

Fortunately, it was one of those rare times when I actually had enough in the bank. Sure it still hurt to part with $500, but hey man, this was the Minolta XK Motor! Gotta have it! 🙂

So I got one, and if I had the funds, I’d probably have gotten the other too, but I didn’t have any funds left and it quickly went to someone else.

Though I can’t check 24/7, I do check KEH’s site fairly often. I’ve never seen the XK Motor before or since on KEH’s site. My theory is someone sold these two from their collection to KEH and it quickly went up for sale.

THE XK MOTOR BODY

When I first got the camera, I was in awe. This thing was solid, heavy, and just as in my dreams, seemingly powerful.

The body feels blocky, much like other cameras of its time such as its slated competitors, the Nikon F/F2 and the Canon F-1.

Unlike those two cameras, the motor drive is permanently attached on the XK Motor. The motor drive was capable of a (then) “high” of 3.5 frames per second at its top speed.

The camera required two EPX-76 or S-76 alkaline or silver batteries for the body and ten, count ’em, TEN AA batteries for that motor drive. With batteries installed, this camera got heavy fast!

The camera had electronic shutter speeds of 16 seconds to 1/2000th of a second and mechanical shutter speeds of 1/100 and B.

ISSUES

Shortly after I got the XK Motor, I realized it is not without issues. While my first roll of film went off without a hitch, I quickly realized there was one glaring achilles heel (or heels in this case) with this giant.

That fault is…the battery clips that hold the epic ten batteries are brittle and worse, they eventually break rendering the great “motor” portion of the camera virtually useless. They broke off on both sides of my XK Motor and believe me I did not do anything rough to cause it.

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“Chipped Clips” The battery clip issue is the main thing that ruined my XK Motor experience. If seeking one of these cameras, be aware that this is an unfortunately common thing with these cameras.

And if that wasn’t enough, trying to find a replacement for these clips is harder than finding a needle in a haystack!

Sure, I have tried the old fashioned method of taping the broken clips. As you can see from the pics, that is exactly what I did but it didn’t work well. The tape would eventually come off and one time the battery compartment on one side got incredibly hot and I had to quickly remove the batteries for fear of fire.

If you think the broken battery clips were just my error, take a look at this link from KEH BLOG from 2011.

They had an XM Motor for sale in EX+ condition for $1950 with one catch…”battery door broken” 🙂

WHY I SOLD THE XK MOTOR

I recently sold this camera to a private buyer who was willing to buy it as is for the same price I bought it for. The great thing about these old legendary cameras is that you could almost always sell them without much of a loss.

It may seem unscrupulous to sell the camera in worse condition for the same price I bought it, but these babies are rare and the last one I saw was on eBay where it was sold as a parts camera. Bidding went over $500, so I definitely think I gave a fair price.

It became an unusable paperweight for me and the climax of a dream that became a nightmare.

This camera could have easily become one of my “Best Cameras I Never Knew” but it’s such a rare camera that I was honored to have had a chance to hold and use one in the flesh, fulfilling one of my childhood fantasies.

X-1 XK XM DIFFERENCES

There is actually a non motor driven version of this camera. The ones sold is the USA are known as the XK and known elsewhere around the world as the XM or X-1.

While the XK Motor is ultra-rare, the standard XK/XM/X-1 are not as rare. Many people mistakenly buy these thinking they are the XK Motor, but they are not, and they do not command the same high prices.

Cool you say, couldn’t I just buy an old motor drive and turn my XK/XM/X-1 into an XK Motor? In theory, you could’ve, but sorry there was no motor drive option for these cameras which is one of the reasons the XK Motor still holds its place among the Camera Legends of Minolta.

BOTTOM LINE

The Minolta XK Motor was a dream camera for a young boy that turned into hard reality for a grown man.

It was Minolta’s answer to the Canon F-1 and Nikon F/F2. Unlike the Canons and Nikons, the Minolta XK Motor had one glaring and seemingly incomprehensible fault…weak battery clips!

Despite their ability to make some of the world’s finest cameras and lenses, there IS a reason why Minolta never made it to the top in the world of Canon and Nikon pro bodies. A flaw such as weak battery clips is totally unacceptable for a professional grade body such as this.

If you search the internet for the XK Motor, you will find precious little information from actual users. You will not see much on the battery clip issue either. Why? Because there is not much info on this camera in general, it’s that rare.

In usable form, the Minolta XK Motor is a dream camera to hold and use. It was a culmination of Minolta’s dream to rule the professional camera world. It was a dream ruined by flawed execution, but that doesn’t matter in the end. The Minolta XK Motor represented the power of Minolta and what could have been. It is, without a doubt, a Camera Legend.

WHERE TO BUY?

If looking for an XK Motor, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea, prices are very hard to calculate due to its rarity on the market.

I got mine for $500 at KEH Camera in Bargain condition. But they also had one five years back in EX+ condition for $1950. The last one I saw on eBay was an “as is” parts camera which went for over $500 in 2013.

So I would say in pristine working condition, these cameras could easily fetch anywhere from $1500-2000 and maybe more.

If you want a taste of the XK Motor without using a fine toothed comb, you could easily get the ‘regular’ XK/XM/X-1. Prices for these can go anywhere from $50-300. I would not pay more than $100 for one. In fact, I got one of these for $56 bucks! 🙂

Note: I do have pics from my test roll with this camera and the 50mm f/1.2 Rokkor. But it’s not on a hard drive, it’s on a photo CD and I can’t find it. I do not think these test pics are worthy of your time, but I am still looking for them and may or may not post them. But it is proof that at one time, the Mighty XK Motor worked and gave me some nice pics!

 

Tuesday Titans: The Canon EOS-1 Pro Film Camera

 

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The Canon EOS-1 professional 35mm SLR of 1989. The EOS-1 is a titan with a tank like body, super speedy AF, and a futuristic design.  A true Camera Legend among 20th century cameras.

The Canon EOS-1 is 35mm SLR introduced by Canon in 1989 as the flagship camera of their (then) two year old EOS system.

Canon is no doubt one of the legendary names in the camera world. Despite non Canon fans (usually Nikon fans!) attempting to take jabs at Canon by saying things such as “Canon’s main business are its copiers and not cameras” or “Canon’s bodies are made of plastic and feels cheap” everyone that I know equates Canon to cameras first and foremost.

And the camera division is apparently a source of pride for the company. Even though, yes, they make way more selling copiers and other stuff to corporations, they do put a lot of that money back into creating awesome cameras that are often on the cutting edge of technology.

One of the greatest things about loving all cameras is that I’ve never been accused of being a fanboy, not that I know of anyway 🙂

Anyway, I’m rambling a little bit here, but the main point is that since the 1930’s Canon has had its share of legendary cameras. The Kwanon of 1934, the Canon II of the late 40s and early 50s, the Canon 7 and 7s rangefinders of the 60s, the A-1 and F-1 of the 70s, the T90 of 1986 just to name a few.

Canon is no stranger to making all kinds of cameras. However in 1987 Canon set out to do what many of their loyal customers thought to be the unthinkable; create a whole new series of lenses and cameras and letting go of their FD system which enjoyed a tremendous following and passion from professionals and enthusiasts alike. And with the introduction of the EOS-1 in 1989, Canon set out to create a new legend. Would their plan work?

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The Canon T90 of 1984 and the EOS-1D Mark II of 2004. The predecessor and successor of the EOS-1 respectively.

This was a very risky move. To take (in 1987) the nearly twenty year old, proven FD system and not only replace it with a whole new system, but also to convince their huge and loyal customer base that they should buy into the new system.

And the new EOS lens mount was NOT compatible with the FD system and vice versa. So in essence, Canon had to say…’Guess what guys? You can’t use all those lenses and accessories you’ve acquired for your A-1, AE-1, F-1, etc, etc if you buy the new EOS system’

As to be expected, it was a hard sell at first. From all I have read on this, many loyal FD fan were totally bummed, even angry at this move. They felt betrayed that their gear would now be “obsolete” and unusable on the new EOS system.

And you have to remember back then was not like today where you could use your legacy lenses on many different cameras with the right adapters. Adapters that allowed the use of one mount to a different mount were precious and few back then. I know of people who switched to Nikon because they were so outraged!

WISDOM OF FORESIGHT AND THE POWER OF TIME

Despite the initial outlash, now nearly thirty years later, I believe that time has proven Canon right in their decision to change from the FD mount to the all electric EOS mount.

With the EOS mount came cameras with super speedy autofocus, and such innovations as quiet USM “ultrasonic” motor lenses, cameras with electronically controlled wheels and dials, offering sophisticated levels of control customization. Many of these features we see on almost all serious DSLRs today. The EOS lens mount was also large enough to make way for some very unique L lenses such as the EF 50mm f/1L, the 85mm f/1.2L, and 200mm f/1.8L.

I believe Canon, as well as Nikon and other manufacturers saw the promise of the future with the runaway success of 1985’s Minolta Maxxam 7000, the first truly successful autofocus 35mm SLR.

Looking back, you have to give Canon, its camera designers and engineers credit for having the courage and foresight to create a whole new system that not only embraced the technology that was available then and but would also be able to take advantage of technology yet unseen in 1987.

THE EOS-1 FILM CAMERA

Two years after the introduction of the EOS system and the enthusiasts’ friendly EOS 650 camera, Canon decided the new system was successful enough to introduce their new pro flagship, the EOS-1 professional system camera.

The EOS-1 is a big brute of a camera and was very much reminiscent of the T90 of 1986 in its design.

However, being designed with professional photographers in mind, the EOS-1 was built to a much higher standard with an extra tough aluminum frame wrapped inside a polycarbonate plastic shell, and weather proofed with o rings, seals, and gaskets.

I remember in the mid 1990s reading an article on the Canon EOS-1 vs the Nikon F4s. I can’t recall if it was Modern Photography or Popular Photography magazine, but it was a great article on the pros and cons of both cameras, and included opinions from two professional photographers who used these cameras for their livelihood.

I also remember at that time, opinions and doubts about Canon’s use of polycarbonate materials on their pro bodies, especially from “heavy metal” camera lovers and pros.

Today, with the power of time, polycarbonate and other hard plastics have been proven to be as durable, if not more so, than the all metal bodied cameras of yore.

The EOS-1 is an all electronic camera and it operates on one 2CR5 battery. It will not operate without a battery. The electronics in the EOS-1 series of cameras have stood the test to time. The shutter speeds range from 30 secs to 1/8000th of a second and the camera can do a maximum of 5.5 frames per second with the optional Power Booster E-1. The viewfinder has 100 percent coverage. The camera had only one autofocus point which was cross-type and in the center of the frame.

USER EXPERIENCE

I got my first EOS-1 in the mid 90s. I still remember vividly the first time I held the camera. It was one of those magic moments on my camera journey!

I remember the sense of pride and amazement that I had in my possession this huge and powerful pro Canon in my home. Holding my first pro grade body ever was a feeling that, many many cameras later, comes very rarely today. It would take a lot to excite me these days 🙂

After I got over the initial excitement, I was quickly disappointed to find that the EOS-1’s AF, which was very fast and speedy outdoors and in good light, struggled and hunted in low or even moderately bright indoor lighting.

On top of that, the single central point AF did not have the red light indicator. That feature came with the EOS-1’s 1994 successor, the EOS-1n.

After a few months of use, I quickly sold the camera and moved up to the EOS-1n which was a much better camera in all aspects.

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“The One” 2012. Canon EOS-1, EF 50mm f/1.8 lens.

THE LEGACY AND LEGEND OF THE EOS-1

Despite my disappointment with the EOS-1, I eventually got another one when the prices became real cheap.

As with many other cameras, I can now appreciate its strengths while avoiding or trying to avoid its weaknesses.

Armed with a very strong selection of Canon EF lenses, the EOS-1 helped Canon to finally take over their rival Nikon in the 1990s as the professionals choice. It would take Nikon many years later to catch up and regain equal footing.

With the EOS-1 came many innovations such as dual input dials, wheels, and the use of polycarbonate and hard plastics on a professional grade body. All these features have made its way to many mid and high end cameras that came after the EOS-1.

The Canon EOS-1 is a true Camera Legend of the modern camera world. The EOS-1 is not only legendary, but has historical significance as the first pro body of the EOS line.

All the pro film EOS bodies that came after the EOS-1, including the 1n/1V/3 are all much better performers having taken all the best features of the EOS-1 and refining it to much higher levels, but if you want to experience that early EOS experience, warts and all, and want to pay the lowest price you can for a pro EOS film body, then the EOS-1 is a great choice, even if only to appreciate its design and/or to appreciate the technology of its day.

Note: The Tuesday Titans series was created to profile the huge “Big Guns” or monster sized cameras.

WHERE TO BUY

If shopping for an original EOS-1 film camera, prices are trending from $50-150 with an average under $100.

For a safe purchase with a good return policy, both Adorama in their USED section or Amazon periodically have the camera in stock.

IF YOU’RE JUST READING THIS AND PREFER MODERN CANON CAMERAS

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The Minolta TC-1

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The Minolta TC-1 is a compact “luxury” point and shoot camera from 1996. It features a brilliant Rokkor-G 28mm f/3.5 lens. The lens is superb, and a rare version of the lens can be found in Leica screw mount, but that lens is scarce.

The camera can be quite fragile in my opinion. I had one that died on me in four months. Fortunately, the shop in Japan where I ordered it from gave me a prompt refund.

I loved the size and jewel-like feel of the camera, but prefer cameras I can toss in my pocket and not have to baby.

Prices are trending from around $450 to over $1000 for the rare black version. Most of the vendors selling this camera on eBay are from Japan. Don’t let that put you off; I have bought many items from Japan and have always found the items to be as described, and the shipping prompt, less than a week to the USA in many cases.

I am currently looking for another one of these to give it a proper workout. I did get some great shots from the one that broke down on me, but the photos are mostly family stuff and boring test shots, so I won’t bore you with these.

The TC-1 is a beautiful camera to look at and to use, but the finish scratches easily, and again, I feel the camera is quite fragile. By that I mean the electronics, motor, and moving parts seem quite delicate. And let’s not forget, this is an older camera that may be in need of a CLA. I’ve heard that Konica/Minolta in Japan may still service the TC-1, but that it would cost close to the price of just buying another one.

All that aside, the TC-1 is one of the most desirable and collectible Minoltas ever made and a point and shoot classic.




The Instagram Society And The Age Of The Ugly

Did you take a perfectly good photo or even a bad photo and “funk it up” using one of those cool Instagram filters? Come on, admit it…Yes, we’ve all done it! 🙂

In the past few years, there has been a resurgence of what I’d like to call “ugly” photographs. No disrespect intended to any one photographer, I myself have posted many “ugly” photos!

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The Diana F+ “Toy Camera” by Lomography. Worn out and missing its plastic lens.

So what do I mean by “ugly” photos? Well, I’m talking about photos that are blurry, have lots of digital grain or noise, vignetting, fake scratches, funky colors, HDR, and a myriad of other things that try to accentuate the actual photograph.

When I started taking an interest in photography in the early 80’s, we’d always send out our film for developing and prints. The “good” photos were sharp, clear, and well exposed. The “ugly” photos were blurred, under/over exposed, and the colors were funky. The ugly photos were relegated to the trash bin, or for me, the bottom of the stack since I never throw away photos.

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“Family Classic 1985” Minolta X-700, 50mm f/1.7 MD lens. What a “real” vintage print from nearly thirty years ago looks like. Dirty, scratchy, colors getting funky, but wonderfully nostalgic…to me anyway 🙂

In the film days, I don’t remember many people looking at a blurry print with wonky colors and thinking it was beautiful. Yes, you had the occasional odd print that was technically horrible, but looked pleasing to the eyes. However, there weren’t many of them.

Today though, people relish in these things! Why? Well, I’m sure a lot of it has to do with today’s Instagram society. Of course, Instagram provided an easy way to “funk up” your photos by making them look old, faded, blurred, etc, etc, basically all the stuff I listed above.

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The Yashica EZ F521 “Digital Holga” Toy Camera.

The main reason I believe for today’s interest in “ugly” photos and probably one of the reasons why Instagram and “Instagram-like” filters are so popular these days is simply due to one fact…

As digital cameras get better and better, the images look cleaner and cleaner. They look “perfect” at times, and as such the images begin to look homogenized, pasteurized, and sterilized. A technically perfect image begins to look bland because of how clean it is.

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“The Hydrant” Yashica EZ F521. A perfectly bland, unremarkable image from the Yashica digital toy camera. Something that could only be appreciated by the “Age Of The Ugly” society 🙂

And with so many people into photography these days, some try to stay above the crowd by using these filters or techniques that will give that extra “oomph” to their images.

There’s also a bit of nostalgia for that film-like look. Many youngsters today are actually shooting film. Some actually love it, and some are hipsters riding on what they believe is retro cool. I suspect most are in between.

I ran into a teenager recently in Central Park shooting with a Polaroid One Step, and I thought “Dude, seriously?!” 🙂

Anyway, I was happy to see such a young person with a Polaroid, it can only be a good thing.

SX

The iconic Polaroid SX-70. Apologies for the poor quality of this photo. It was a quickie done for my Instagram stream.

Speaking of Polaroids, this is probably where it all began. Let’s face it, Polaroids were never about high technical quality. They were originally intended for quick prints and proofs. The resolution was never really high on small Polaroid prints, except for some of the oldest instant films which have not been made in years.

The Polaroid’s best distinction was the ability to give a unique “look” due to the soft prints, the unpredictable color shifts, and the best of user error. And each and every Polaroid instant print is unique because each print represents that very moment the shot was taken.

SpeedGraphicCam

“Speed Graphic” 2011. A Polaroid print, shot with the Polaroid SX-70 and Impossible instant color film.

The most ironic thing to all of this “ugliness?” Well, since I started shooting film in the 80’s I have seen 35mm film improve year after year with super-sharp films like Fuji Velvia, Kodak Ektar, and a few others. Then you needed to step up to medium format to get even better, sharper images with even less noise. And then, if you wanted to take it further, you had large format film with its superior sharpness, detail, resolution and lack of grain.

All of a sudden, digital photography comes of age in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The cameras and lenses got progressively better and sharper. The images had less and less digital noise, distortion, and we get to cameras and lenses that can take near perfect images in almost any situation, which is where we are at today.

So as a “backlash” to all this progress, we are back to wanting “ugly” 🙂

SamC

“Underdog” 2011. Shot with the Yashica EZ F521 “Digital Holga.” Toy cameras with all their “ugliness” can be lots of fun to use and can produce unique images.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? It can be neither or both. It can be a good thing for creativity, for something different. However, it can be a bad thing because it gives everyone a perfectly good excuse to be a sloppy photographer.

Again, I’m not knocking anybody, but trying to understand the evolution of what I’m seeing in photography today. I’m guilty as sin of posting many, many ugly photos! Personally, if an “ugly” photo is done well, it can be a beautiful thing. Some people do it really well. I am not one of them though, but I try 🙂

Butterfly

“GPS” 2010. Shot with the original 2mp iPhone and Hipstamatic.

But to understand why people would throw all this photographic and technical progress away and funk up their photos with beautiful ugliness, there is no answer. All I can think of is that line of the Michael Jackson song…”If they say why, why? Tell ’em that it’s human nature” 🙂

GinSmok1

“Smoke Daddy” 2011. Shot with the original 2mp iPhone and Hipstamatic.

SXCam

“SX” 2011. Shot with the original 2mp iPhone and Hipstamatic.

Note: This is just one man’s view and commentary. I do realize that art is highly subjective. In fact, I used to say myself, “One man’s art is another man’s junk.” 🙂

However, this is about photography more so than art and when “art” begins taking over your photographs, then you’ve got something different from photography. Thanks for stopping by! I do appreciate the time you spent. Thank you.