The lens is pretty sharp, even at f2, though it’s best at f4 or f5.6. I was surprised at the detail on some of the shots, even on the Kentmere, which is kinda grainy.
The lack of a split prism and smallish finder makes it quite hard to focus in bad light, which is when you really need it. I almost never miss manual focus on 35mm cameras with a split prism, whereas here I did a few times (I’ve not posted the mis-focussed ones… they’re not awful but definitely out.) So if you are shooting in bad light, make sure that if you miss focus the shot is not going to be ruined e.g. have potential subjects at various distances.
Even outdoors with 400-speed film, in London you may need to shoot at f2.8 to get a 1/125 shutter speed.
It’s weird, but even though you’re just as obvious, shooting with a small camera draws less attention. Maybe people see me, see my silly camera, and dismiss me as just some weirdo not worth worrying about.
Now I want to go back and re-try my Olympus Pen (the first, full-manual compact one, not the Pen EE) to compare. I remember some of the shots from that being surprisingly good.
I bought an Olympus Pen FV and I’ve been shooting with it. I finished one roll of Poundland Plus over the weekend (aka Agfa Vista Plus 200, 24 frames, sold for £1—ideal for half frame cameras as 48 shots is plenty) and am now about halfway through a roll of Kentmere 400.
I’ve wanted one of these for ages. I wasn’t particularly focused on the FV, but one appeared on eBay for a reasonable price at the same time as I got some money unexpectedly. There was an FT (which has a light meter) for the same price but, apart from needing mercury batteries which don’t exist any more, it sounded from research as if the meter is just a pain in the arse, being uncoupled from the aperture and speed, and reduces the brightness of the finder too.
I won’t go into the exact details of what the F(V) is and does—you can google that and be just as informed as I was when I bought it. Basically it’s a compact half frame (i.e. each shot is half the size of a normal 35mm frame) film SLR. It was sold on its size and portability as a whole system compared to contemporary full frame cameras.
Half frame never really took off though; I’m not quite sure why. It might not be a great format if you want huge detailed prints but there’s plenty of detail there—commercial movies were shot in half frame, after all, and blown up to the size of a projection screen. The sort of 4×6″ prints that most people took didn’t need large negatives at all. Perhaps one issue for the consumer market was that it takes forever to use up a roll of film.
Half frame also has effects on depth of field, in that it is larger for the same effective focal length; this is good for street photography, letting you shoot faster or in lower light and get more of the scene in focus, but less good for portraits and other styles where you want to isolate a subject by having other elements out of focus. Swings and roundabouts really.
It is a small camera but not much smaller than my Pentax MX, which is to be fair about as small as full frame SLRs get. It’s small enough to fit into the pocket of a big jacket, anyway, making it handy for street photography. Longer lenses will also be smaller.
It is also heavier than it looks (solid metal construction). It’s maybe slightly lighter than the MX and a lot heavier than a compact. That’s still not very heavy though.
Ergonomics are good. It feels comfortable to hold and shoot. I suppose I will find out how stable it really is when I get the film developed.
It’s not as loud as most SLRs, but it’s not silent either. In practice, if you hold a camera to your eye and point it at things, you will draw attention from anyone looking in your direction anyway. I don’t think it is loud enough to draw extra attention after you’ve taken a shot in any moderately busy place.
It doesn’t have a meter but I’m finding that I’m familiar enough with manual settings for city environments that I don’t need one any more. I’ve shot with the MX (manual, has meter but no auto exposure) for long enough that I’ve pretty much memorised them. Your eyes are the best meter if you can train them properly, anyway—no meter can extrapolate incident light at a distant point or know what it is you want to expose for. In weird light, though, it could be an issue.
While it has no shutter lock I don’t think I’ve triggered it accidentally in my pocket yet.
The shutter speed dial is on the front and this is a really good position for it; it’s on the same plane as the aperture dial but far enough away that it’s easy to operate on its own.
There’s no film box end holder on the back or any way of marking, or telling, what film if any is loaded. I suppose one just has to remember.
Loading film is easy, but you have to close the back before it will wind properly—without the backplate, the teeth don’t advance it.
Focussing is pretty easy even though you don’t get a lot of light through a half frame finder. (A fast 50 on a full frame is easier.) It doesn’t have a split-image focussing screen though, which would be nice.
The “kit lens” is a 38mm f1.8 prime, which is about 55mm equivalent on full frame. This is noticeably tighter than 50mm, but with half frame you do need to concentrate on filling that half frame, and a longer lens encourages that IMO. It would make a great street portrait camera, particularly given that the default orientation is portrait.
At the moment my thoughts are that I didn’t really need this and it will not make much difference to my photography, but that it’s cute enough that I don’t really mind.
The Dynax 9 is easily the loveliest late-era professional film camera I have used—all of its functions are so polished and perfect. Exposure is universally spot-on to the extent of being telepathic; autofocus is precise; the huge, clear viewfinder, like an Evian swimming pool, makes people say “ooooh maybe I should try a film camera”; dials and displays have just the right balance between knob-twiddling and “I don’t care just show me the settings”.
The only problems are:
it is pretty heavy. But not really that heavy when it comes down to it. Toughen up. Carrying cameras is cheaper than the gym.
it eats batteries. Well, not too badly I suppose—a pair of CR123s will take it through a holiday easily. But CR123s are expensive, and the battery grip takes 4 x AAs, which are cheap and last longer.
I bought this VC-9 battery grip on eBay from Japan because that seems to be the only place where they are available. I’m not 100% sold on battery grips for SLRs that are pretty large already but, you know, if you’re going to carry a big camera why not go all the way?
The lens on the Dynax 9 in these pictures is the Minolta 50mm f1.4 (with an ugly rubber hood—sorry) which I know looks absurd on a camera this size, particularly when it’s got a battery grip attached, but works wonderfully.
Me: “Sorry, A900, but I think I’m going to sell you.”
A900: “What? But why?”
Me: “Well, it’s just that you cost loads and I don’t have the money. And, you know, I don’t use you much.”
A900: “But wait, what did I do wrong? You love the Dynax 9, right? That’s why you bought me in the first place! How am I worse than the Dynax 9? Do I take worse pictures?”
Me: “Well, no, but you don’t shoot film…”
A900: “Don’t give me that ‘film’ nonsense, you bought me because you were sick of the quality of image quality from the Dynax 9. Do I or do I not take really great pictures?”
Me: “Yes, you do.”
A900: “Don’t I have a really great viewfinder? Don’t I have all the manual controls that the 9 has? Isn’t my autofocus and everything as good or better? Doesn’t my battery never run out? What have I done wrong here?”
I expect that better writers and philosophers than me have explored what it is that photography teaches us about perception. Certainly it is teaching me that light is not perception. First of all, with black and white film, I had to reconcile the difference between what I was seeing with my eyes when taking pictures, and what actually came out in the negatives. It’s hard to recognise how much levels of light really vary in the real world when just looking at things – eyes, after all, are very well suited to looking at things in all levels of light where there is any at all, and also many different levels of illumination in the same scene.
For instance, I am currently indoors in a not terribly well lit bar, but I can easily see everything around me. If I concentrate, I can tell that I have a lower depth of field here than I would in daytime, and that my eyes have to adjust slightly to see things at different distances. But I have to concentrate to notice that. There is probably 1/1000th of the light in here now than there would be outside in full daytime, but that doesn’t matter to me in practice, except if I am taking photographs, when it suddenly matters a great deal.
There is also the issue of colour. Most of the light here is very yellowish, but I adjust for that pretty well – I instinctively know that the menu by the candle is white, not yellow, and that the plant on the other side has green leaves. When there is more light and the difference is more subtle I barely notice the ambient colours. On the other hand, here are two versions of the same shot taken on Elite Chrome 100 in downtown LA recently.
Note that this is slide film, so there aren’t any of the odd issues regarding colour correction that you get with colour negatives. But the uncorrected picture looks very blue. I googled to see whether this was a known issue with the film (several others from LA at the same time have the same) and saw some people saying “yes, shadows are blue with Elite Chrome” but then also others saying “but shadows are blue in natural light – they’re lit by ambient light from the blue sky, not from the sun”. From my memory, the second picture is closer to what I remember, but look at how the white balance correction in the second picture also removes a lot of the blue from the sky, which really have should stayed. And, you know, it was pretty monochrome in the shadows. Perhaps it did look like that and I’m misremembering?
What helps me get past this sort of rumination is remembering that the point of taking photographs is to produce a good picture. Maybe the camera and film will capture colours and light in a way that won’t correspond to what I remember seeing, but that’s okay – what matters is knowing how they will capture the scene given the settings I choose, what sort of results I want, and matching the two together.
I decided that there was no point not trying to fix my Trip 35 with the focussing problem, but knowing that I don’t have the best record when it comes to disassembling cameras, I also decided to use the least invasive method possible. Here, for the record, is what I did.
Very small jeweller’s screwdriver, flat head
One roll of film – in this case, some old HP5+ 400 that I had
A tape measure
Small tripod and cable release (you may not need either as long as you can keep the camera in the same place reliably)
I did take a test roll with the Trip to test the focussing, and it looks like I may have been wrong about the speed and camera shake. This is good in that it means I am not a useless trembling photographer, but bad in that it means that there is probably something wrong with the camera.
I took pictures of a walkway outside my flat using the four different zones, being quite careful to hold it properly. The four settings seem in practice to correspond to:
Fairly close things in focus (this should be 1m)
Things further away in focus (this should be 1.5m)
Everything out of focus (should be 3m – this is the recommended zone for the Trip, I expect it has the most useful depth of field)
Everything even more out of focus (should be infinity). Zones 3 and 4 are actually worse for distant objects than zone 2.
This is not what the distance says, and was confirmed in other pictures, which means it looks like it needs adjustment in some way. I am quite confident in my ability to take cameras apart, but I am not very confident in my ability to put them back together again. Trips are so cheap, though, that it barely seems worth it to send it off to somebody to get it fixed – the cost would be about the same as a fully refurbished one from, say, Trip Man. Plus I really need to spend less on cameras.
I’ve been looking at the results of a couple of test rolls that I put through the Olympus Trip 35. The exposures are all fine, but they are annoyingly inconsistent – some are very blurry, and some are quite nice and sharp. At first I thought that perhaps the focussing was stuck on a particular zone, but that doesn’t work because I have pretty sharp photos at a few different ranges.
Not too bad
Now these aren’t great at all
I am thinking that it may be camera shake. Blur does tend to correspond to pictures where I remember not taking much care. The Trip has a relatively simple program auto-exposure system that mostly alters the aperture for low light, but which also switches the exposure from 1/200 to 1/40 when it feels like it. I found a graph which indicates that it goes down to 1/40 at EV13, which in theory with 400 film should be relatively dark, but, you know, this is London. 1/40 is fine for digital cameras with image stabilisation but without that, you have to be quite careful. I rarely go below 1/125 with other cameras, and am sure to keep myself still when I do.
Of course, it might be something else. I should try another roll, being more careful to keep myself as still as possible, which is always good practice anyway. Some people can keep handheld cameras rock steady for up to half a second, and if you’re that good it means that with image stabilisation you could take huge long exposures with a digital.
I hope that I can make my peace with the Trip, because apart from this issue it’s really a lovely camera to use on the street – really comfortable and natural. Not too big, not too small, everything in the right place. Perhaps it’s too comfortable, and I’m half forgetting it’s there, as opposed to using something like a TLR which constantly reminds you that it is a camera and you should be paying attention to it.
I got a roll of 120 Rollei Retro 80S a while ago and decided, on Friday, that it was sunny enough to try it out – so I loaded it into my Lubitel 2, went out to where the City meets the East End, and wandered about in the Easter Bank Holiday emptiness.
The above were scanned at 2400 DPI, which provides images that are about 27 megapixels, and even then there’s very little grain visible. I don’t think there’s a lot of point in scanning at much higher resolution given the lens, but that’s quite impressive performance. (For the record, the roll was pre-soaked for a bit, then developed in fresh Ilfotec LC29 at 1+19 dilution for 5 minutes, then fixed for 3 in Ilford Rapid Fixer.) This is the first of the Rollei Retro series of films that I’ve tried but it’s a good start. It isn’t vastly expensive, either, and even comes in a nice canister rather than a crushable card box.
I also decided to try using the Sunny 16 rule with it, setting the shutter speed to 1/60 and then altering the aperture, which worked… reasonably, I suppose. I always seem to err on the side of underexposing at the moment which is the wrong way to err. Thank god for curve editing. I’ll get it eventually.
I have three examples from the Olympus XA(n) series – an XA, an XA1 and an XA2. The XA1 is pretty much ignored by “serious photographers” apparently – it doesn’t have the nice electronic shutter (being completely battery-free) and has absolutely no focussing controls at all, just automatic exposure.
There is something about this that makes it an excellent street photo camera. Here are some pictures from a recent roll that I took, using Fomapan 100 (I’m now very fond of Fomapan film but that’s a separate issue). Yes, it has fixed focus, but at just the distance that you would actually want to focus when taking snapshots on the street. These Olympus people weren’t stupid. Plus, do note that you can get an XA1 for about a fiver on eBay.