Projects and ponderings for film photographers

Archive for August, 2015

The Burden of Zooms

I’ve mentioned before that I always prefer to carry a couple of good single-focal-length lenses rather than a zoom.

That’s especially true for the zooms of the 70s and 80s, which were particularly “challenged” in terms of girth and optical quality. Today’s zooms are much better—although you still typically sacrifice a couple of stops at their widest apertures.

Vintage Vivitar 35–105 Zoom

A large chunk of glass and metal

But there is one vintage Vivitar 35–105 zoom I have somehow hung onto. Its constant f/3.5 aperture is definitely a cut above the norm for its era; plus it’s one of those quirky TX-system lenses by Tokina, offering interchangeable mounts to fit different camera systems (a topic I will return to sometime). The Viv also focuses down pretty tight—you can fill the frame with something ~8 inches high.

But it’s quite a beast, and certainly throws off the balance of most SLRs it’s attached to. the other day it occurred to me to try a quick comparison. How does this lens stack up against three prime lenses which cover the same range?  (more…)

Vintage SLR buyer’s guide: what to avoid

So you’ve decided to get a vintage film camera? That’s great!

If you’re ready for something beyond a plasticky Holga, I’ve said before that a vintage single-lens reflex is where most people should probably start. These are tremendously versatile and capable film cameras, which should rarely cost you more than USD $50 today.

But on the secondhand market, there are a bewildering number of different models floating around. Some had lame designs which vaguely made sense 40 years ago—saving a few pennies in manufacturing cost, or attempting to lure in uninformed shoppers—but which willl just annoy you today. You might put up with a few of these quirks if someone gives you an old camera. But don’t spend your own cash on some half-baked, limiting option. It’s too easy to find a wonderful classic instead.

So here’s my list of SLR features to avoid. (We’ll be back in a few weeks with a rundown of the vintage SLRs you do want.) Click any photo for a larger view.


Oversized, overweight 35mm SLR

This weighs 2¼ lbs and is approximately the size of a barn

What it is: Boat Anchor
Commonly-found models: Nikkormat; Canon FTb, TLb, TX, and A-1; Minolta SR-T series; many USSR & East German models
Why you don’t want it: All SLRs look roughly similar when you’re just looking at photos online; but if you handle some in real life, you’ll soon discover how insanely large and heavy some earlier models were. Olympus introduced the tiny OM-1 in 1972, and eventually this shamed other manufacturers into shrinking and lightening their cameras too. But it took a few more years before most brands of SLR got down to a girth I’d call “reasonable.”
Any exceptions? The pro photojournalist-duty models from Nikon, Canon, or Pentax are all chunky and tank-like. But it’s doubtful you’ll find those models at our sub-$50 price target anyway. (more…)