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. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Spotlight: Olympus Stylus

The Olympus Stylus (known as the Mju in Japan) is a fully automatic, full-frame 35mm point-n-shoot from 1991. This thing is seriously small - it can fit into the front pocket of my slim-fit shorts, with my wallet already in there! The Stylus has gotten ridiculously expensive within the last few years, so I was pretty pumped to find one at an estate sale for the small sum of $20. While most estate sales and flea markets have caught on to the popularity and value of film cameras, you can still usually find 35mm point-and-shoots for pretty cheap, as many people still believe them to be useless. Every once and a while you can snag something valuable for peanuts.  

The main reason why the Stylus is so sought after is because of its lens: a sharp 35mm f/3.5 prime. There are versions of the Stylus that feature zoom lenses, but the fixed focal length models such as this one are much more popular with film enthusiasts (and fetch a lot more $). 

Operation of the Stylus is fully automatic. There is no exposure compensation feature -- you can't even manually change the ISO to trick the camera into over or under-exposure (the light meter relies on DX coded film). You do, however, get a good selection of flash modes. By default, the camera is set to auto, where the camera will decide for you whether the scene needs flash or not. Auto-S mode eliminates red-eye in color photos by emitting a mini rave's worth of flashes before the main flash. Fill-In mode is used to fill in harsh shadows when photographing outdoors in bright light, or if your subject is back-lit. I used this mode the most while photographing my baseball team outside in harsh afternoon light. You can also just turn off the flash entirely. 

I was impressed with how fast the Stylus starts up once you slide open the lens cover. It's pretty much instantly ready to take a photo! The flash is also immediately ready to go when used with a full battery. But it's not all sunshine and rainbows -- because the lens moves in to focus after you fully depress the shutter button, there is a noticeable delay between when you click the release and when the shutter actually fires -- about 1/3 of a second. This is obviously not a problem when photographing still subjects, but capturing any kind of movement can be frustrating. Because of this slight delay, a lot of my baseball action photos were taken just a liiiiiittle bit too late. Focus seems to be pretty accurate for a 90's camera, and all of my exposures (with and without flash) came out looking nice. 

Overall, I enjoyed using the Olympus Stylus. Its teeny tiny size is its most impressive asset to me. I would routinely slip the camera into my pocket and forget it was even in there! Below are some photos I made with my Stylus. The film is long-expired expired Arista II 400. 

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Spotlight: Canon AF35M


Last weekend I lucked out at the flea market and picked up this Canon AF35M for a measly five bucks! Needless to say, I was elated

Released all the way back in 1979, the AF35M is Canon's very first autofocusing camera. It uses an infrared system that works pretty well, even in low light. While not all of my photos came out sharp, the majority were acceptable, and for 1979, I consider that a win. 

I love early autofocus point-n-shoot cameras like this, because they usually had fast prime lenses, not like the plethora of 90's point-n-shoots with boring slow zooms. The 38mm f/2.8 lens on the AF35M is a great focal length for a fixed prime-- not too wide and not too tele. It's pretty dang sharp, too, if the focus is on point. 

Loading the camera is a little awkward. Auto-load wasn't a thing yet for electronic cameras, so you still have to stuff the film leader into a take-up reel. Film also isn't automatically advanced to the first frame when you close the camera, so you gotta manually fire off three shots or so (until the frame counter reads 1). Also, the ISO must be set manually via a dial on the front of the lens -- no DX compatibility here! The camera can handle film speeds between 25 and 400. 

Once the camera is loaded and your ISO is set, the camera is very simple to use. It's a point-n-shoot, so exposure is completely automatic, with no manual override. I suppose you could change the ISO on the front of the camera to intentionally over or under expose, but the ISO dial does not turn easily, so it'd be a pain. Exposures, both with ambient light and flash, turned out basically perfect in my experience, so I wouldn't worry about the lack of control. Like, seriously, this 40+ year old point and shoot exposes more accurately that my DSLR. 

Exposures are made by pressing the massive shutter release button on top of the camera. The shutter can fire between 1/8 and 1/500 of a second. If you half-press the shutter, a red light will come on in the finder if the camera thinks the scene is too dark for handheld operation. There is also a distance scale in the finder, but it's almost useless. When you fire the shutter, a little indicator shows you the distance the lens focused at. While this is cool, I wish it happened BEFORE the picture was taken, and not after.  So, you'll have a good idea if the camera missed focus, but only AFTER you wasted a frame of film. The Nikon L35AF later fixed this issue by showing you the focus indicator when the shutter button was pressed halfway, before exposure. The AF35M's scale is better than nothing at all, but still disappointing.  

The viewfinder with focus point, distance scale, and frame lines

The camera will try to focus on whatever the center icon in the viewfinder is pointed at. If you want to shoot an off-center subject, it's a little tricky. You have to flip down the self-timer switch, press the shutter button to pre-focus, recompose, then finally press the shutter button again. This process is cumbersome, and pretty much requires you to use a second hand. There is also no way to cancel the exposure or change the focus once the shutter is pressed for the first time. Oof. 

Once an exposure is made, the camera automatically winds the film to the next frame with a charming "UURRRR!" noise. This camera is by no means quiet! At least the camera does not wind until you take your finger off the shutter button, so you can control when the camera screams. At the end of the roll, you must rewind the film by pressing the sprocket release on the bottom of the camera while simultaneously holding down the rewind switch on the top of the camera. It's a true test of dexterity! During rewinding, you are treated to a different, but equally pleasing "WUHoooWUHoooWUH" sound. The frame counter counts backward during the rewind phase, which is fun to watch. 

The only other feature to talk about is the flash, which does its job well. It's activated with a little switch on the front of the camera, which causes it to pop up and into action! It takes about four seconds to charge up with a pair of fresh AA batteries. Like I said before, the flash exposures turned out perfect. No blown out faces, even at close distances. 

While Canon's AF35M certainly has a lot of eccentricities, I found most of its issues excusable given it's one of the first autofocus cameras... ever. These point-n-shoots were primarily designed for capturing family moments, so that's what I did with mine. I mostly shot pictures while hanging out with friends and family, as well as the process of moving my brother-in-law into his new apartment.