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.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Spotlight: Minolta Autocord

The Minolta Autocord is a 6x6 medium format twin lens reflex camera from 1955. I bought mine off Craigslist from a nice dude named Alan. Though similar in looks and operation to Rolleiflex cameras of the era, the Autocord has a few unique features that help it stand out and remain desirable even to this day.

Firstly, this thing is small, yet sturdy. The Autocord is light and a joy to carry around with me on long walks, yet the build-quality is robust enough to make me think this thing could survive a small nuclear explosion. I don't think there's a shred of plastic on this sleek metal monster. The Automat is strictly mechanical, as you'd expect out of a camera from the 50's. No light meter here. Shutter speeds range from 1 second through 1/400th (later models could go to 1/500th), and the fixed 75mm f/3.5 lens can stop down to f/22. Like on a Rolleiflex, shutter speeds and apertures are adjusted via two little levers on either side of the taking lens, and there are little windows above the viewing lens to show you the camera's currents settings.

From a camera nerd's perspective, the most exciting and distinct aspect of the Automat is its focusing lever. Almost every other TLR ever made focuses via a knob on the left side of the camera. The Autocord, however, focuses with a lever that sits directly beneath the taking lens. It feels... different. The instruction manual claims that thanks to this "exclusive" feature, you can hold the camera and focus with your left hand, while the right hand is free to hold a flash gun, or eat snacks. I think one-handed operation is a bold claim, but I will say that the Autocord's lever can move through the focus range faster than a traditional knob. The minimum focusing distance is 3.3 feet, which can be a bit limiting (though pretty much standard for fixed lens TLR's of the time). I'm sure there were close-up filters available, but those are a damn hassle and everyone knows it. While still on the subject of focusing, I have to say that the focusing screen is a tad dark for my liking, and there are no focusing or compositional aids to speak of. While there is a flip-down magnifier inside the hood, the Automat's plain matte screen can make photographing anything moving towards or away from you a near impossibility.

Film loading is super easy, but a little different than on other TLR's that I've used. New film is loaded into the top, and then fed to a reel on the bottom. Weird. Once properly loaded, the Autocord automatically stops at each frame when wound. No little red window here, people. This camera's a professional. Multiple exposures are possible! To do it, after you make your first exposure, hold down the little metal tab next to the crank, and turn the crank backwards to cock the shutter without advancing the film. Do this as many times as necessary. This feature makes the Autocord a better choice for me versus the Rolleiflex, as I'm pretty sure Rollei cameras of the time didn't let you do multiples, for whatever reason.

Overall, I really like the Minolta Autocord, and enjoyed making pictures with it on a walk through the Glenview forest preserve. Below are a few photos from my roll. I used Kodak TMax 400 film.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Spotlight: Pentax 645

The Pentax 645 is a medium format SLR from 1984. It has a battery operated shutter that requires six (!) AA batteries. I was excited to test out this camera, as it's the first dedicated 645 format camera I've ever owned. For those who don't know, "645" translates to 6cm x 4.5cm, which is roughly the size of the negative you get on a roll of 120 or 220 film.

In the past, I shied away from 645 systems. I felt that if I wanted to go medium format, I should get the maximum amount of quality and use a 6x6 or 6x7 format camera. I was being silly. Though you do lose a bit of quality due to the smaller negative, a 645 negative is still nearly 3 times larger than a 35mm negative. The Pentax 645 is also way less of a pain to use than a cumbersome 6x6 TLR or a bulky 6x7 camera like the Pentax 6x7. Another added bonus of the 645 format is that you get 15 frames on a roll of 120, rather than the 12 on a 6x6 or 10 on a 6x7. The shooting experience feels very 35mm-esque, with only a slightly heavier build.

Like the Nikon F4, the Pentax 645 is one of those 80's cameras that appears hideous in photographs, but is beautiful to look at and a pleasure to hold in-person.

Ergonomics are excellent. The angled grip is comfy and balances the camera perfectly in my grasp. Shooting at eye-level feels great, which is good, because the prism is not removable. I've heard people complain on the internet that the Pentax 645 has a dark viewfinder, but I found the opposite to be true. The finder is huge and bright with the standard 75mm f/2.8 lens attached. I was pleasantly surprised! The split-image/microprism screen makes focusing super easy and quick. Both the digital displays in the finder and on the body are easy to read in all lighting conditions and intuitive to use. Though I usually hate using cameras with removable film magazines, loading film on the Pentax 645 is pretty simple and hard to screw up.

Features are pretty standard for an electronic 80's camera. The shutter goes from 15 seconds to 1/1000th, plus bulb. In manual exposure mode, shutter speeds are changed with the little arrow keys on top of the camera. In addition to manual mode, aperture priority, shutter priority, and program modes are available. To access these automatic modes, you must first switch the aperture on the lens to the "A" setting. Film winding is automatic after each exposure. You can cancel the automatic winding and do multiple exposures by twisting a recessed knob on the side of the camera. With the continuous exposure mode, you can rattle off a cool 2 frames per second.

One feature curiously absent on the Pentax 645 is that of a self-timer. Kind of a strange omission, but the release can be activated by a traditional cable release, so it's not really a big deal. I also don't think there's a mirror lock-up mode, which makes me think this camera may not be ideal for precision tripod work. That being said, the camera does have two tripod mounts!

One annoyance with the camera is how it only takes proprietary detachable strap lugs. If you don't have a pair of these Pentax lugs, it's impossible to attach a strap to the camera. Mine came without lugs, and I thought I was SOL, but then I realized the detachable lugs from my Pentax 6x7 fit on the camera perfectly.  Life's kinda cool sometimes.

All in all I'm really diggin' the Pentax 645. Here are the results from my first outing with the camera. Katie and I discovered a nearby nature preserve we'd never been to before. I used Kodak TMax 400 film.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Plate: Plate: Alleyways

An 8x multiple exposure photograph depicting my daily walks through the Evanston alleyways.  I typically grab a coffee from the local shop and hit these alleys for a few miles. Helps keep me sane. Made with my Nikon DF and 50mm f/1.8 lens.