Sunday, August 2, 2020

Spotlight: Canon A-1

The Canon A-1 is an enthusiast-level 35mm SLR camera that was first released in 1978. The A-1 is a manual focus camera, and accepts all FD-mount lenses. It's fully electronic, and requires a 6V PX-28 battery in order to function. I bought my A-1 off Craigslist from a nice lady named Barbara, who was the original owner.

Essentially, the A-1 is an advanced version of Canon's amateur-focused AE-1 model. The AE-1, released a couple years earlier, featured a shutter-priority automatic exposure system, where the user picked a shutter speed, and the camera automatically selected an aperture at the time of exposure. The A-1 adds to this by including an aperture-priority mode, as well as a program mode. With program mode, the camera decides both the shutter speed and aperture for the user, based on the selected ISO speed. The A-1 is the FIRST SLR camera to feature such a program mode.

For a first-time user, the controls of the A-1 can be pretty overwhelming. I've used many different film cameras over the past ten years, but the A-1 had me scratching my head at times. The most confusing aspect of the A-1 is how it has two overlapping dials next to the shutter release. These dials, selectable by a switch beneath the release, are marked "Av" and "TV." These two dials interact with the lens aperture ring to give you the A-1's four different exposure modes: manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, and program. Here is a quick guide on how to access each exposure mode:

Manual Exposure: Set top dial to "TV." Use the "TV" dial to select the shutter speed and the aperture ring to select the aperture.

Shutter Priority: Set top dial to "TV" and the aperture ring to "A." The camera will automatically select an appropriate aperture based on the shutter speed you select.

Program: Set the top dial to "TV" and the aperture ring to "A." Then, turn the top dial until "P" is selected. The camera will now choose the aperture and shutter speed for you.

Aperture Priority: Set the top dial to "AV" and the aperture ring to "A." You must select your desired aperture via the top dial (feels weird, I know) and the the camera will automatically select the correct shutter speed.

The TV dial (left) is used for manual, shutter priority, and program. The AV (right) dial is only used for aperture priority

This setup, in my opinion, is an unintuitive mess. But, as the A-1 is the first SLR to incorporate four different exposure modes, I'll cut it some slack. Once you get used to the quirky mode selection, the A-1 turns into a very capable camera.

Shutter speeds range between 30 seconds and 1/1000. The light meter works with films sensitive between 6 and 12,800 ISO. There's an exposure compensation dial that adjusts to +/-2 EV. Multiple exposures ARE possible (Hooray), via a little lever below the advance lever. There's a self-timer with a two second option (for when you forget your cable release) and a ten second option (for when you want to get in the picture).

The viewfinder is extremely clear and bright. The focusing screen has a split-image/microprism assist, and is not interchangeable. In the finder, exposure settings are viewable below the focusing screen. The settings are displayed with red LED digits. The display is only viewable while the shutter release is half-pressed. These LED's can be a tad bit hard to see when using the camera in harsh sunlight. The readout system works fine for the A-1's automatic modes, but isn't well-suited for manual mode. In manual mode, the meter LED shows the selected shutter speed, as well as the aperture it thinks is best for the current lighting situation. However, there is no way to tell what your current aperture setting is while looking through the finder. So, to shoot manually, the process looks like this:

Choose your shutter speed, look through the finder, half press the release, see the aperture the camera wants you to use, take your eye away from the finder, match the aperture setting on the lens to the suggested aperture setting, then look through the finder and shoot.

Pretty annoying. This could have been fixed by adding an aperture window to the finder (like in the Pentax MX or Nikon FM), or implementing a separate over/under meter for when the camera is in manual mode. It kinda feels like Canon didn't intend for the A-1 to be used in manual mode. I mainly used the camera in aperture priority mode. I wonder, is the Canon A-1 the first interchangeable-lens SLR to have aperture controlled by a dial on the body, rather than by the lens aperture ring? It could be.

Overall, the A-1 is a quality camera, but not one I would suggest for beginning photography students, due to its complex controls. Here are some photographs I made with the Canon A-1. I used a 50mm f/1.4 lens and Ilford HP5+ film.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Flatlands: Part One

Flatlands is my new photography series that I plan to one day present in book form. In Flatlands, I explore how time, degradation, context, and cropping can change the connotation of images. There are three rules I follow when creating Flatlands photographs:

1. The subject must be a flat image
2. No text describing the original context of the image can be present in the final photograph
3. The image must exist in the physical world (that is, no images can be rephotographed off a computer or television screen)

Here is a selection of Flatlands images I have made so far:

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Spotlight: Rolleiflex Automat (Type K4/50) with Rolleikin Adapter

The Rolleiflex Automat is a professional twin lens reflex camera from 1949. It makes square 6x6cm negatives on 120 film. HOWEVER, if used with a "Rolleikin" kit, you can adapt the Rolleiflex Automat to use 35mm film. This is how I used the camera, mostly because I had just shot a roll with the very similar Minolta Autocord 6x6 TLR, and wanted a more unique experience.

The Rolleikin kit comes in a cute little box with all the parts you need to turn your camera into a 35mm shooting machine:
Yep, some assembly is required, but it's pretty intuitive. I only had to look up instructions once or twice. The most noticeable piece is the interchangeable back, which sports a 35mm frame counter. There's a little 35mm film-plane adapter that must be stuck into the film chamber, and various metal twiddly bits that must replace the 120 reels to allow 35mm film to advance and rewind properly. Once everything is installed, the mechanism works well.

The most obvious difference when shooting 35mm film with the Rolleiflex is field of view. With 120 film, the Rollei's 75mm lens provides a standard, even slightly-wide viewing angle. Since 35mm film is much smaller than 120, that 75mm lens gets cropped and turns into a short-telephoto, which totally switches up how the camera can be used. With the Rolleikin installed, the Rolleiflex is turned into a portrait machine. To help compose with the tighter field of view, the Rolleikin comes with a little mask you can slide on top of the focusing screen:

Since 35mm film is transported vertically with the Rolleikin, all photographs must be composed vertically. This was fine for me, since I pretty much only used the camera to make portraits (plus, vertical compositions > horizontal compositions). I found working under the restrictions of the Rolleikin to be a fun diversion. I mean, when's the last time you used a camera with a fixed telephoto lens? I enjoyed myself.

So enough about the Rolleikin, what about the Rolleiflex Automat itself?

Well, it's a fine twins lens reflex for its time. This K4/50 model is the second Rolleiflex to utilize the twin aperture and shutter speed dials set to the right and left of the lenses, which work beautifully. It's really easy to adjust and view aperture (f/3.5 ~ f/22) and shutter speed ( 1/500 ~ 1 sec). One small annoyance is how the 1/500th speed MUST be selected before the shutter is cocked. But hey, at least it's there. Most leaf shutters of the time maxed out at 1/300 or 1/400. The shutter release is lockable, and has a thread for cable releases.

The shutter is cocked and the film is advanced by turning a crank on the side of the camera. The film advance mechanism automatically stops on each frame. Double exposures and NOT possible, unfortunately. This camera comes from an age when multiple exposures were mostly only thought of as mistakes.

A major downside of this camera is its focusing screen. Ugh. It's extremely dim and dull, with no focusing assists (it has a plain matte screen with grid lines). Even under bright light, finding exact focus is extremely difficult and frustrating. With newer cameras, subjects POP into focus on the screen, but not so with this older model of Rolleiflex. While using the camera, I would continuously crank the focus back and forth, back and forth, and then ultimately just take an educated guess. A lot of shots turned out a bit soft, as a result.

Okay, so only after shooting a complete roll with this camera did I learn its strangest feature. On the back of the focusing hood is a magnifying glass, and if you flip down the hood's sportsfinder, there's a mirror on the underside of it. You can look through the magnifying glass, into the mirror, and actually view the focusing screen at eye-level. It's super cool, until you realize the eye-level view is inverted (upside-down), and heavily cropped. In the end, it's useless, but still a neat little party trick.

Below are some photos I made with the Rolleiflex Automat and Rolleikin adapter. I used TMax 400 35mm film.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Drawing: The Cats

Two portraits depicting our cats, Merry and Furiosa, set in a vintage frame. Made as a gift for my wife for her 30th birthday. 5"x7", artist pen on paper.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Drawing: Katie Working

An observational drawing of Katie working a voice shift. Artist pen on paper, 5.5 x 8 inches.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Spotlight: Olympus OM-3

The Olympus OM-3 is a 35mm SLR camera from 1983. The camera is fully manual, and requires batteries only for the light meter. In fact, I believe the OM-3 is the final completely mechanical camera Olympus ever made. These OM-3 cameras did not sell well at the time, most likely because photographers either flocked to the more advanced electronic OM-4 (which also came out in 1983), or saved money and bought a mechanical OM-1(n), which remained on the market while the OM-3 was sold. The lack of sales led to a limited production run, which makes the OM-3 a pretty rare camera today.

The OM-3 has an advanced light meter that it shares with its OM-4 brother, which includes spot, multi-spot, and average metering. I just stuck to average metering during my time with the camera, cause I'm basic. The meter is a horizontal digital display that is viewable at the bottom of the camera's finder. It's easy enough to read in most light, and lights up at the press of a button if your surroundings get too dark. It's not my favorite display ( I prefer my meters vertical), but it gets the job done.

Besides the metering, the OM-3 is a relatively simple, no-frills camera. Since the OM-3 is mechanical, there are no automatic exposure modes to speak of. Unlike the OM-1(n), which this camera was meant to replace, the OM-3 does not have a mirror lock-up mode, or even a self-timer function. Like nearly all Olympus cameras, multiple exposures are not possible to perform with the OM-3. Boo.

The shutter on the OM-3 is pretty quick, maxing out at 1/2000. Like all other mainline OM cameras, speeds are changed via a dial around the base of the lens mount. I like this setup. With OM cameras, you make adjustments to the shutter speed, aperture, and focus with your left hand, while all your right hand has to do is grip the camera and press the shutter release. At first the lack of a shutter dial on top of the camera is odd, but you get used to the OM method pretty quick.

Other features include interchangeable focusing screens (of which there are many), a built-in diopter for different types of eyes, and a battery-check button that pleasantly screams at you when battery power is sufficient.

Overall, the OM-3 is a fine camera, perfect for a student of photography. Unfortunately, the rarity and high price of the OM-3 will keep it out of the hands of most 35mm enthusiasts. Below are some photos I made with my OM-3, together with a 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko lens and Tri-X 400 film.