Thursday, December 15, 2022

Spotlight: Fujifilm GW690III Professional


A few weeks ago I was in Galesburg, Illinois for an art opening, where my friend Tom was kind enough to lend me his newly purchased Fujifilm GW690III Professional camera for a day. Released in 1992, the GW690III is the third and final 6x9 medium format rangefinder camera that Fujifilm produced in the GW line. It's completely mechanical, and doesn't even have a light meter, not that a Professional (a la the camera's moniker) would require a light meter, anyways. I don't understand why Fujifilm included the Professional subtitle under so many of their cameras. It's honestly a bit cringe -- like they're pleading with professional prhotographers to buy their cameras. 

Anyway, the GW690III is a complete beast of a rangefinder. I mean, as one might expect from a camera that produces a 6x9 negative, the thing is frickin' huge. That said, though, it isn't too heavy (I think it's made from some high-quality plastic), and it's not really a pain to carry around if you have a decent strap or bag. I took Tom's camera around with me to a few different bars and barely noticed it slung around my shoulder. The grip on the camera is comfy, and there are even two different shutter releases-- one on the top of the camera, and one on the front. Not really sure why the extra release is necessary, but it's pretty cool! 

Aperture and shutter speed are both controlled via two dials around the tip of the lens, and are easily adjustable with your left hand. Unlike some dumb German and Swedish cameras, the shutter speeds and apertures thankfully don't interlock. The lens is a fixed 90mm f/3.5 lens, which with the 6x9 format, provides roughly a 40mm field of view in 35mm terms. It's a great angle of view, perfect for general photography. The lens focuses as close as 1 meter, which is pretty par for the course when it comes to rangefinders. I was impressed by the sharpness of the lens, though I did pretty much only shoot in the middle of the aperture range. 

One cool little detail about the GW690III is that it keeps track of its mileage! On the bottom plate there is a little counter that keeps track of how many shots the camera has taken. If you're buying one of these Fujis used, the counter gives you an idea of how much use and abuse the camera's been through. 

Once again, I am impressed with the image quality of this 6x9 monster. It sucks that you only get eight shots per roll, but each frame is packed with incredible detail. The negatives are so big, that even just the contact prints are big enough to display and frame. I loved trying this camera out, and am thankful to Tom for trusting me with his new toy. We had a lot of fun at the bars in Galesburg drinking drafts and talking about photography. Below are a few photos I took on that night, as well as a couple of shots taken the next morning. The flash was a Vivitar 283, and the film was Ilford HP5.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Spotlight: Canon A35F


Released in 1978, the Canon A35F is a fun little auto-exposure rangefinder camera, and one of the first Canon cameras to feature built-in flash. I bought mine as part of a huge lot of cameras from an auction, and decided to test it out before selling it. 

The A35F comes equipped with a fairly fast and decently sharp 40mm f/2.8 lens. 40mm is my personal favorite focal length, providing a standard, if ever-so-slightly wide field of view that I find to be extremely versatile. At f/2.8, the A35F can give you some nice shallow depth of field -- not that you have much control over the aperture of the lens, since the camera is entirely automatic. 

The viewfinder!

Based on the amount of light in the scene, the camera automatically selects a shutter speed and aperture combination to best expose the film, which can be rated anywhere between 25 and 400 ISO. Shutter speeds range from 1/60 to 1/320, while apertures span from f/2.8 to f/20. With your eye to the finder, a little needle points to the aperture the camera will use, depending on the intensity of the light. If there is not enough light for the camera to make an exposure, the shutter will refuse to fire.  There is no option for long exposures with the A35F. Instead, the pop-up flash must be utilized. The flash is popped up manually via a little switch on the back of the camera. Once up, the flash turns on and begins to charge, which takes around 7 seconds or so. A little orange light turns on when the flash is ready to go. The camera then automatically selects the correct aperture for the flash to fire at based on the distance at which the lens is currently focused. All my flash photos were nicely exposed! 

Focusing is manual, via a rangefinder system. The rangefinder patch in the viewfinder is nice and bright, which made focusing easy, even in dimly lit interiors. The lens can focus as close as 0.8 meters (2.62 feet), which is pretty good for a point and shoot! Film loading, advancing, and rewinding are all done manually. The rewind crank is nicely designed, featuring a little indicator to show if your film is properly advancing out of the canister. 

Overall, the A35F is an enjoyable camera to use for casual snapshots. The only annoying thing about it is that it takes those old 1.35 volt mercury cells, which are not available anymore. Instead, I used an Exell 1.35-Volt Zinc Air Coin Cell Battery, which can be bought off Amazon here. The A35F was soon replaced a year after its release by the high tech autofocusing AF35M camera (which I looked at here), so the poor A35F is rarely talked about these days. That said, if you want a fun point and shoot with manual focus control, the A35F could be the camera for you! Below are a few photos I made with the A35F at my sister-in-law's birthday party. The film was Ilford HP5+. 

Thanks for looking! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Spotlight: Canon Pellix

1965's Canon Pellix is a fairly standard 35mm SLR with one unique gimmick: the viewfinder doesn't black out when the shutter is fired! To manage this, The camera makes use of an ultra thin, semi-transparent pellicle mirror (hence, Pellix) that simultaneously transmits light to the film and to the finder. The mirror is fixed, so it doesn't flip up when the shutter is tripped, and you don't lose sight of your subject during the moment of exposure. The lack of mirror movement also limits vibrations during operation, which might help reduce camera shake a little bit. It's pretty weird when you've used SLR's your entire life, and you're used to the momentary blackout and mirror slap. At first it feels like the camera is broken! 

There are a few drawbacks to the pellicle mirror system. Since light entering the camera is effectively split by the mirror, the finder is a bit darker than with a typical SLR. Focusing can be a little difficult in lower light, but it's not horrible with a fast prime lens. I can't imagine using this camera with zooms, though. The mirror also causes less light to be transmitted to the film, resulting in half a stop of light loss, which you need to compensate for if you're using an external meter. I totally forgot to do this, so some of my negatives came out looking a little thin. The mirror is also very fragile since it's so thin, and nearly impossible to clean. If it gets dirty, it can conceivably affect image quality, since it's always between the lens and the film. I bought my Pellix for super cheap because it had a dirty mirror. Image quality still seemed fine, but I was using very wide apertures for most of my shots. Dust and grime on the mirror might affect images when using a narrow aperture.

The gross mirror in my Pellix didn't seem to affect image quality much, if at all. 

Shooting with narrow apertures also pretty much gets rid of the pellicle mirror advantage, because the finder still gets very dark when the lens stops down. If you're shooting at f/5.6 or narrower, you may as well be using a tradition mirror. But, for shooting subjects at wide apertures, the Pellix is a fun, gimmicky camera. 

Aside from the mirror, the Pellix is a typical SLR camera, with all the basic features you could expect to find on a mechanical camera of the era. There's a standard range of shutter speeds (1-1/1000 plus B), a match-needle exposure meter, and a self-timer/depth of field preview switch. The finder and focusing screen are fixed. The Pellix does feature Canon's QL (quick load) system, which makes loading film extremely simple.

Overall I would not recommend the Pellix to anyone except for collectors or geeks like myself. The finder is just a bit too dark. Pellix finders are also prone to de-silvering, which adds to composing and focusing woes. I had to buy and return three Pellix cameras before I found one that didn't cap at speeds above 1/125th of a second, so their shutters don't seem very dependable. All that said, I still enjoyed using the Pellix, if only for the pellicle mirror novelty. Below are some photos I made with the Pellix using a 50mm f/1.8 Canon lens and Arista EDU 400 film. 

Happy Halloween! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Beetle Boy


I made this pinhole photo of my Beetle as an example for my Evanston Art Center darkroom class last weekend. I'm a fan of how it turned out! 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Darkroom Photography Promotion


A promotional poster collage I made for my darkroom class this spring at Carthage College. All material taken from vintage photo magazines. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Day By Day

"Day By Day"

A multiple exposure self-portrait collage spanning two months. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Triptych: Mom's Memorial Garden

My dad planted a flower garden in honor of my mom in Three Oaks, Michigan. The flowers are all her favorite colors. 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Spotlight: Nikon F100


The Nikon F100 is a high end, enthusiast-level 35mm SLR, and was first released in 1999. It's essentially a smaller, stripped down version of the F5, Nikon's top professional model of the period. The F100 cost about $1600 when it came out ($2700 in today's money), which was a bargain compared to the F5's original $3000 asking price ($5150 today). Though lacking some features of the F5, the F100 is still a very capable professional tool, and even improves on the F5 in a few areas. 

A few weeks ago, I lucked out and won a Nikon F100 at a local auction for a decent price. Slowly but surely, I've migrated away from mechanical 35mm cameras and toward newer autofocus models. After all, I'd rather blame a camera's focusing system for soft negatives rather than my eyes and fingers. I owned an F5 for about a year, and while I liked using it, I found the thing way too much of a hassle to carry around due to its massive size and weight. To my delight, the F100 supplies (most of) the performance of the F5 at a fraction of the burden. Could it be my ideal autofocus 35mm camera? Perhaps! 

Like the F5, the F100 does away with the traditional shutter speed knob and aperture ring controls in exchange for twin command dials and an LCD screen. The F100 goes one step farther than the F5 and removes the manual film rewind crank, replacing it with a mode dial and trio of buttons. On this mode dial you can choose between single and continuous frame advance, as well as select the self timer and multiple exposure modes. I tried to buy two other F100's in the past, both of which had these mode dials broken in some way. It seems like a common point of failure. One camera refused to shoot in multiple exposure mode, while the other camera would randomly activate the self-timer even when it wasn't selected. So, I suggest you closely examine this mode dial if you're looking at an F100 to purchase. Above the mode dial sits three buttons -- there's flash mode, bracketing mode, and manual ISO selection. All-in-all, I don't mind the lack of a rewind knob, but I do miss seeing it spin after each exposure... it was a fun reminder that I was still shooting film. 

Shooting the F100 feels very much like using a digital SLR. I can switch between it and my D780 with relative ease -- a lot of the buttons and dials are in the exact same place! My wife, seeing me carry around the F100 for multiple days on our trip to St. Louis, was surprised to see that I had film to develop upon arriving home. She asked, "When did you shoot film?" So, I suppose some of the magic is lost when using the F100. It doesn't have that same nostalgic feel as using a Nikon F or Pentax K1000. But, if you want to shoot action, or just want an extremely advanced 35mm camera with wonderful autofocus and autoexposure, the F100 does not disappoint. 

Though the F100 autofocus system is pretty much the same as the F5 (five focus points), the user interface is much improved. Upon selection or halfway depression of the shutter button, the focus points in the F100's finder light up. This makes sports photography, where I am constantly changing the focus point, much easier. Focusing seemed pretty accurate in my tests -- the only shots that came out soft where when I did silly things, like shooting through glass or shooting very close up at f/1.4 combined with slow shutter speeds. The camera did not let me down while photographing my baseball team. The accurate autofocus combined with the 4.5 fps shooting speed netted me some great shots!

So, I sold my F5 right before buying my F100. Do I miss any features exclusive to the professional F5? Well, mostly I miss the vertical shutter release, which made things easier on my wrist while shooting portrait-oriented photos. The removable finder on the F5 was a cool touch, but not something I ever took advantage of (I own waist level finders for a number of my cameras and almost never use them). The slower fps rate on the F100 (4.5 fps vs. 7.4 fps) didn't make much of a difference when shooting baseball, but it might for other sports that involve more unpredictable action. All things considered, I'd say that the F100's smaller size and better focus point interface makes it a better camera than the F5, for me

If you take photography seriously and don't want to look like a total hipster while out shooting film, the F100 is the perfect camera. People will think you're just using a DSLR, and will not try to stop you to talk about the good ol' days of photography. On the other hand, people might feel more threatened by the F100 than a mechanical camera, because it's a bit large and appears modern. So, it's a double-edged sword. Overall, I quite like the camera, and will keep it around for whenever I want to make sports photos on film. Below are a few photos I made with the F100 and Arista Edu Ultra 400 film. I mostly used a Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 D lens, though a few of the shots were made with a 50mm f/1.4 D. 

One more note about the F100. Most of these have developed sticky grips over time. Mine was no exception. I found that a few careful applications of Goo-Gone got the grip feeling like new! 

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Drawing: One Hip Cat


One Hip Cat. Micron pen on bristol paper. 

A new profile pic for my Etsy store! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Spotlight: Fujifilm GA645Zi

A few weeks ago I was helping a man, Rob, figure out how to use his new digital camera at his home. When I told Rob that I liked using film cameras, he became excited and pulled out a Fujifilm GA645Zi that he had up in his attic. He didn't know if it still worked, so he let me borrow it to test it with a roll of film since his knowledge on cameras is limited. The GA645Zi is NOT a cheap camera (fetches around $1000 on eBay), so I was excited for the chance to try one out. 

Did the camera work? Well, sort of. 

The GA645Zi is fairly unique in that it is a medium format point and shoot camera with autofocus. First released in 1998, the GA645Zi takes advantage of the 645 image format on 120 film, resulting in a negative roughly 2.6 times bigger than with 35mm. The GA645Zi is proudly branded as "professional" on its top plate, but I highly doubt professional photographers of the era depended on this camera for jobs. No, this camera is most likely intended for the enthusiast photographer who takes their daily family snaps a little more seriously than the average person. 

The build quality of the GA645Zi feels great. It's sturdy, but also not too heavy. However, one part of the camera that's known to fail is the LCD screen on the rear of the camera. Parts of the screen just go dead over time, and refuse to display information. The camera I borrowed is no different (see photo below). Unfortunately, important info such as your current frame, ISO, and exposure compensation are displayed on the LCD, so having a non functioning screen can really hamper your experience. 

Your selected aperture is also displayed on the rear LCD while in aperture priority mode, but luckily it's also viewable in the finder window, which is excellent for a point and shoot. 

The finder displays the current aperture and shutter speed on the left, and the focused distance on the right (once you half-press the shutter button to focus). Framelines show parallax compensation, and the finder zooms in and out depending on the focal length you have selected. Due to the 645 format, the finder is vertical, so to make a landscape style shot, you must turn the camera on its side! 

Like most point and shoots of the 90's the GA645Zi has a zoom lens. It covers the focal lengths of 55-90mm, which is roughly the same field of view as a 35-55mm lens in 35mm photography. So, it goes from a slightly wide to a normal field of view. The lens has a variable aperture of f/4.5 (at 55mm) to f/6.1 (at 90mm). Not very impressive. This lens is one aspect of the camera that really holds it back, in my opinion. A faster prime lens would be far preferable to this slow zoom that has barely any range. 

To help make up for the slow zoom, the GA645Zi has a pop-up flash for darker situations, or when you want a bit of fill. It must be manually activated, even in P mode. In my tests, it exposed my subjects well. 

Though labeled as a point and shoot, the GA645Zi affords a good amount of control. Along with Program mode, there is also an aperture priority mode, and even a full manual mode. You can also focus manually, though the process is very clumsy. 

The autofocus on the GA645Zi is absolutely terrible. Just about every shot I took turned out soft, whether it was a close-up portrait or far-off landscape. This surprised me, as I recently achieved sharp results with the Olympus Stylus and Canon AF35M camera, two significantly older and cheaper autofocus point and shoots. What happened here? Was Fuji behind the times with their autofocus tech? I was extremely disappointed. 

One other major issue with the GA645Zi that I've read about and experienced first hand is its tendency to loosely roll film onto the take-up reel. Apparently this is known as "fat rolling." This fat rolling unfortunately happened to me, and the last 3-4 frames on my roll ended up with light streaks.

So, yeesh. The Fujifilm GA645Zi is not a camera I can recommend, especially given its steep price. That said, I'm happy I got to experience this camera, and I'm very grateful to Rob for letting me borrow it. Below are my results. The film was Kodak TMax 400.