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.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Spotlight: Nikon N2020

Since it's the year 2020, I thought it appropriate to take a look at the Nikon N2020! The N2020 was released in 1986, and is the first Nikon SLR camera with in-body auto-focus. It's also the last Nikon camera to use their superior, non-italicized logo. I assume the "2020" moniker references the camera mimicking the human eye's ability to focus, or something. My dad owned an N2020 and used it to photograph paintings for the many years that he was an art dealer in downtown Chicago. He gifted me his N2020 a couple years ago, but unfortunately it was in a state beyond repair. I bought the above N2020 from KEH in great condition for a little over $40.

I love the design and layout of the N2020. No LCD screen bullshit, just a beautiful arrangement of tactile knobs and dials that do everything you need a camera to do. I always prefer dials over screens, not only because I'm a bit of a hipster, but because dials let you see your camera's current settings, even when the power is off. The N2020 is around the same size as a Nikon FM or FE, but with a nice little added grip that makes handling the camera a bit more comfortable.

The auto-focus works fine for still subjects, but has difficulty tracking moving subjects. AF works like any modern camera: half-press the shutter release to focus, full-press to make an exposure. There's only one AF point in the center of the focusing screen, and it's pretty big, so it can be difficult to tell the camera exactly where you need to focus. Luckily, the screen is big, bright and sharp, so manual focus is easy to pull off if the AF gives you trouble. The default screen is all matte, but you can buy ones that have focusing assists, like a microprism or split-prism screen.

The shutter goes from 1 second to 1/2000, plus bulb. Aperture priority mode is also available, which I used for pretty much the entire roll that I shot. I think there's also a program mode, but I don't bother with that crap. Exposure compensation ranges from +2 to -2 EV. Film sensitivity can be set between 12 and 3200 ISO, or automatically via the DX mode. Unfortunately, there is no way to perform multiple exposures with the N2020, which surprises me, because this is supposed to be a semi-professional camera. Lame. The film advances automatically after every exposure, whether you want it to or not. If you set the exposure mode to "C," the camera will continuously make exposures for as long as you hold down the release, at the blazing speed of 1.7 frames per second. Somewhat hilariously, despite all the automatic features of the N2020, film rewind is still done manually via a traditional crank.

The N2020 is powered by four AAA batteries, which are inserted by removing the bottom plate of the camera. In my experience, AAA batteries like to bleed and cause massive corrosive damage. Every N2020 I came across before this one (at flea markets, estate sales, etc) were inoperable because of battery compartment damage. So, be careful when buying this camera used, and make sure to take the batteries out of your N2020 if you're not gonna use it for a while.

Below are some photographs I made with my N2020 while on a walk with my wife and her sister. I used a 50mm f/1.4 D lens and Ilford HP5+ film.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Plate: Walk Through an Underpass

4x multiple exposure of my walk through an underpass. Made with my Nikon Df and 50mm f/1.8 Lens.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Spotlight: Minolta Maxxum 9000

The Minolta Maxxum 9000, released in 1985, is as unique as it is monumental. The 9000 is the first professional-grade 35mm camera to feature built-in autofocus. It is also the only camera ever made to have both autofocus and a manual film advance lever. I suppose Minolta didn't think pros at the time would trust a fully automated camera, so they created this anomaly. From what I can tell, the 9000 is essentially the link between the eras of mechanical and electronic 35mm cameras. I had my eye on this quirky SLR for a while, and finally got around to purchasing a working body off Ebay after a friend gifted me a compatible 50mm f/1.7 lens.

First off, the Maxxum 9000's autofocus is pretty damn slow. I was surprised, because the AF in the amateur-level Maxxum 7000 is pretty zippy, and that camera was released in the same year. It's also not super accurate.  Even with static subjects, the focus was a bit off in some of my shots. But since this is one of the first SLR's with autofocus, I'll cut it some slack.

I was a bit confused by how exactly the autofocus on the 9000 worked, at first. If you lightly touch the shutter release, the camera will continuously hunt for focus. Even when focus is achieved and the little green dot shows up in the finder, the focus will not lock until you press the release down about halfway. I was at first frustrated when I tried to focus and recompose, and the camera kept continuously focusing because I didn't quite push the release down far enough. My solution was to turn on the focus-confirm beep for extra confirmation on when the focus was locked.

The above procedure is not explained well in the original manual. I only completely figured it out after shooting about half of my roll.  So in short, focusing and shooting is a three-step process:

1. Lightly touch shutter release to focus continuously
2. Press shutter release halfway to lock focus (listen for the auditory beep)
3. Press shutter release completely to make exposure

Ergonomics on the 9000 are solid, and besides the autofocus, operation is intuitive. I love the funky mode dial that surrounds the top LCD panel. On the panel, your selected aperture and shutter speed are displayed. I've noticed that just about all surviving 9000 cameras have some sort of minor LCD bleed, which isn't an issue as long as you can still read the settings, and exposure settings are also readable inside the viewfinder. Shutter speed is changed via a spring-loaded switch below the mode dial, and aperture is adjusted with an identical switch to the side of the lens mount. Shutter speeds range from 30 seconds to a speedy 1/4000th.

I found myself constantly forgetting to manually advance the film, because the camera looks and feels like it would do this automatically! Haha. Though a bit disorienting at first, this lack of a built-in auto-winder most definitely saves on battery power. The 9000 only needs two AA batteries to operate, which also makes it quite light. In comparison, the auto-winding Nikon F4 takes four AA batteries, and is a heavy monster of a camera. I took my 9000 on multiple walks with me and hardly noticed it slung over my shoulder. Speaking of carrying the camera, I love how the 9000 has three strap lugs, so you can let the camera hang vertically or horizontally. I wish more cameras incorporated this simple, yet convenient feature.

What else? Oh. The 9000 has the weirdest looking rewind knob ever. I mean, just look at this thing:

Overall I enjoyed using the Minolta Maxxum 9000. Besides the slow autofocus, it's an all-around solid camera that'll please any photography student or film enthusiast. Below are some photos I made with my Maxxum 9000. I used a 50mm f/1.7 lens and Kodak Tri-X 400 film.