Mar 18, 2017

30-30-30 : Day 15 : Contax T2

Setup for Day 15 (Mar 1st, 2017):

Camera: Contax T2
Lens: Carl Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f/2.8
Film: Agfa APX 100

Mini-review of the setup:

Camera: Pocket powerhouse! Viewfinder is good even with my glasses, film loading is a snap and manual focus implementation is great and I found it very accurate. AF worked fine for my purposes, fast enough but might not be fast enough for others that are tracking actively moving subjects a lot. One of those you'd need to practice with, rather than it being intuitively timed.

These things have retained their value from when they were at the top of the heap, which is no surprise given that they are basically one of the top options still to this day for top quality compact cameras. The T3 came out later, obviously with some changes and is a good deal smaller but not everyone likes those changes including if you use the manual focus a lot (turned into menu item, basically).

Lens is a bit close to the grip and I wish it could take filters like the Contax T3 for better black and white without doing some sort of hack to keep filters on it. Part of me wishes there was a way to override DX but I never do that and DX labels are easy enough to spoof so bulk rolling can still be used with this cam with just one more step.

Overall verdict: Great

Lens: Carl Zeiss is basically as good as it gets when it comes to lens manufacturers. Who beats them, really? There's no reason to expect anything but excellent IQ from this Sonnar even with it's tiny size taken into account. Remember, small size is just another constraint for the optical designer to work with, so all things being equal, a larger lens should have less issues.

Overall verdict: 

Film: I've very much liked the APX 100 I've shot before this project, loved it here.

Overall verdict:
 Great setup for excellent image quality when you don't want to have to think too much about making the images. I will be using this for travel for sure. Wish the AF was a bit faster of course but if you have time to pre-think the shot, there will be less of a limit to hit and with some more practice it would be less and less of an issue.

After seeing scans: As expected, the lens is a winner. One frame showed slow shutter speed shake so I'll have to watch better for slow shutter times. A very small and lightweight travel tripod could be very useful with this. 35mm focal length is versatile and through this project I've started to like using moderate wide angles more than I did in the past. It won't give you tight headshots and it won't give you giant expansive scenics like an ultra-wide angle would but neither of those could be done with pretty much any camera/lens combo that can be thrown in a jacket pocket and/or shot on full auto with great results.

Mar 15, 2017

30-30-30 : Day 14 : Minolta Autocord

Setup for Day 14 (Feb 28th, 2017):

Camera: Minolta Autocord (non-metered export version)
Lens: Rokkor 75mm f/3.5
Film: Ilford Delta 100

Mini-review of the setup:

Camera: I've been waiting to get this one into the cycle for another angle on the TLR genre. On the surface, it's just another Japanese twin lens reflex but as you dig deeper, it does some very interesting things. Typical B-30 or Bay 1 filter mounting for the lenses so that's easy and cheap, automatic film counter and double-exposure prevention so my film had no errors. Focus/viewing system is the same as most other TLRs with a flip up magnifier inside the hood and works to block light quite well. This one has a plastic ground glass with a built in split screen and fresnel lens so the corners are bright. Maybe not as good as the Yashica but the Yashica had a new mirror and I hadn't mounted a new mirror when this test was done.

The focusing is different than most other TLRs which use knobs on either the left or right panel. This has a lever along the bottom of the front panel just beneath the lenses and shutter assembly. I found this to be a nice change, very easy to use and could be faster with practice than a knob.

The back door opens different than pretty much every other TLR, it has a locking clasp on the top (pull it straight out) and a hinge at the bottom front of the camera. Seems a bit sturdier to do it this way than to have the hinge at the top of the back and slightly delicate lock on the bottom where it can be impacted during a drop or mashed against tripods in use.

Overall verdict: Excellent camera. Falls to hand easily, controls are easy to adjust and everything works as it should. Nicely made changes to the fairly standard TLR layout and I like the built in shutter lock, saves from making images in your camera bag where it is awfully dark...

Lens: The Rokkor 75mm f/3.5 is a 4-element Tessar copy of the famous and widely used Zeiss standard lens formula. The early Rolleiflex and all Rolleicord models all had either Zeiss Tessars or Schneider Xenars which were the equivalent design. The later Rolleiflex models had Planar or Xenotar lenses which were the next evolution in quality.

As you may have noticed, the Yashicas have 80mm f/3.5 lenses so are a bit narrower in field of view. The Rolleiflexes with f/2.8 lenses were also 80mm so are "better for portraits" but all of the other models had 75mm lenses. This is purely personal preference, one is not inherently better than the other. I can notice a difference in use but you'd really have to have both in hand to decide for your uses which is better.

The last images in the film roll were used to test flare resistance, this is a very good performer in this regard. Any of these TLRs are old enough (unless you are looking at a $2-3000 modern Rolleiflex like the 2.8FX or GX) that the coatings are not up to modern standards but they still do a very good job for most uses.

Overall verdict: Excellent performance, this is the best non-Rolleiflex TLR lens I have had the pleasure of using. I believe it also beats the Xenar on the Rolleicord that Chelse has but I need to put more film through that to confirm. Comparing to other systems, the 80/1.9 on the Mamiya 645 is more modern looking of course but no better for sharpness at equal apertures. Of course, it opens quite a bit more so does the blurry background/dreamy portrait better.

Film: Getting to like Delta 100, nice tonality but I would like it more with a yellow or red filter which effectively drops it's speed down to 25 or 50 ASA. I'll have to try this with a polarizer to get darker skies, that may be more effective than a color filter.

Overall verdict: Solid option. Still not sold on it vs. Acros but I could use this as my sole medium speed film quite easily.

After seeing scans: That lens is a giant killer! No wonder the Autocords are going up and up and up in price for quality examples. Very good in all respects. This camera has been sold and will be missed.

Really nice combination.

Mar 10, 2017

30-30-30 : Day 13 : Canon 7

Setup for Day 13 (Feb 27th, 2017):

Camera: Canon/Bell & Howell 7
Lens: Canon 35mm f/2.8 (34mm filter version)
Film: Ilford PanF+ 50

Mini-review of the setup:

Camera: I've had a Canon 7 for a couple of years now, so operation is pretty much second nature at this point. It's a simple camera to learn though, nothing too far from the oridinary. The meter is one that I have largely ignored as it is a selenium cell and I never know exactly what the coverage is. So, I use Sunny 16 or I have an app on my iPhone to meter with.

The viewfinder is lower magnification than the earlier Canon rangefinder I reviewed, the P. That means focusing accuracy is slightly down on this model, but I can see a wider view and actually use a 35mm lens. The 7 has projected frame lines so they are pretty bright and easy to see. With my glasses, I can just barely see the 35mm lines. I chose the 7 and a 3-lens kit to go with me to Spain in 2015 with no accessory viewfinders and never felt limited.

The build quality on the 7 is a bit *lighter* feeling than any of the earlier Canons. It's still solid but not as dense, not as likely to be used as a hammer and come out fully working. The earlier ones are decidedly closer to the feeling of the early Leica M cameras.

If any of you readers play guitar and have experience with vintage amplifiers, the 7 is a late silverface Fender Bassman 100 whereas the earlier Canons are an early blackface Bassman head. Neither is a Line 6 solid state modern amp (Voightlander Bessa, I'm looking at you!) with many more features and versatility.

Overall verdict: Good enough feeling, very usable (back door loading, YES!!!) and versatile. And cheap enough that actually using it doesn't become an anxiety attack.

Lens: The 34mm filter thread version of this lens is TINY. It's got a focusing tab/infinity lock, thank Dog so there is something to grab onto to focus. If you had to try to focus with just the lens itself, I think I'd throw this into the river and let some fish deal with it.

Internet lore says that this early wide angle is nice and sharp in the middle of the frame, with terrible corners and overall low contrast. I would agree with this assessment. Right at the very corners of the frame, you can see the contrast drop off and everything just blurs into mush. I rather like the effect but if you're trying to get every last bit of image quality out of a 35mm film setup, this isn't your lens.

When I got this lens, it had a bit of wobble so I pulled it apart, cleaned up the optics and tightened a few screws. Now it's back in fighting form and will be tough to beat for moderate wide angle usage. The original hood with 34mm screw-in adapter is as big as the lens itself, but seems to be quite effective.

Overall verdict: Very good lens, definitely not 'modern' in it's rendering but I like that. I like the flaws it has.

Film: You saw an earlier example of Ilford's PanF+ in this series, but this time, I developed it properly instead of letting it stand by itself for too long. This shows in better sharpness, lower grain levels and more even development (no banding in skies or weird halos).

Overall verdict: I like this film more and more as I use it. The low speed helps get wider apertures if you are shooting in bright light, and it's got character. A good contender for the low speed, sharp, low grain black and white film race. I'll have to try more fresh Ilford Delta 100 to compare.

After seeing scans: I'm quite pleased with this result, a low contrast lens paired with a high contrast film and given a more moderate development. It could be punchy and it could be a bit dreamy, depending on camera settings (wider apertures = lower contrast and less punch) and what kind of light you photograph in. I also tried wet mounting for these negatives, which helps keep the film flat on the glass of the scanner. Image quality is significantly improved and you can actually see a bit of the character of the film rather than just mush as in earlier scans in this 30-30-30 series.

This above image shows the artifact created when there is a bubble when wet-mount scanning. I've removed these artifacts where they occurred in the rest of the images from this set. This is a wider aperture example, and it shows in the reduced contrast. This could get punched up in post production but is another look all its own. 

This is at minimum focus distance and I believe f/4. Most of the rest of the images are f/5.6 or f/8. 

Clearly shows the artifact from wet scanning bubble right in the building. The quality increase on my Canon Canoscan 9000F is definitely worth the mess and extra time, I will be trying some different techniques to reduce the bubbles.