Believe you can’t fly

(A scheduled rant because who knows what Wednesday will be like.)

This is precipitated by a blog I read wherein the writer postulated that film cameras will still be going after digital cameras have quit. Initially it looked like a claim that we’d all go back to film, but the actual point was that digital cameras individually are doomed to die within a few years whereas there are film cameras that are still functioning after more than a century.

Boy don’t I know it! I have several examples myself, from the handful of digital cameras that have passed on to the recycling bin to the 100+ year-old Brownie that I’ve taken pictures with – including using a digital camera as ‘film’ for it.

Of course everyone who reads my drivel knows my prejudice against smart phones. Can we add to the standard complaints the fact they are designed to land in the bin before they’ve even stopped working due to Planned Obsolescence on Steroids?

Let’s just look at film versus digital for a moment. Again.

What are the main drawbacks of film? It costs a fortune to use as supplies dwindle and the chemistry involved becomes ever-more expensive and scarce. Whereas digital uses cheap, reusable technology. Also film has that ‘wait’ factor where you have to shoot the whole roll and process it before you see what you got. Digital is nearly instant. Film is fixed in its results, digital is variable at several stages from changing the ISO frame by frame to post processing with the click of a button.

What are the main advantages of film? A good film camera need not be dependent on batteries and is unlikely to fail as a result. Indeed it can be “always on” and at the ready, with no lag between spotting the shrike in the bush and grabbing the shot. Some digital cameras are really slow to start up, or even capture after pushing the button. I’ve got a lot of pictures of where birds were a fraction of a second before the camera actually fired. True it can happen with film, but it’s less likely. And as mentioned at the start the film camera may still be functioning long after the digital one has given up. Most film cameras, even many of the cheap ones, are built like tanks. On the other hand digital cameras are generally built to be replaced in a couple of years (that ol’ obsolescence thing again).

I’m not going to discuss film image quality versus digital image quality as that really is a moot point and one that’s purely aesthetics.

Can you get a digital camera that will last? Sure. Got a few thousand dollars to spend? And then we still need to define “last” because a 150,000 shutter count can go by faster than you think, even when you are paying a small fortune per frame.

Is there any point to this post? No, not really. Certainly no conclusions. Just observation. But yes I would still use film if it were at all practical because I really like the way some of the old film cameras work (I often set my digital ones to imitate the functions, although not to the “simulation recipe” extreme). But I would use it alongside digital because both have advantages when it comes to getting the results you want.

B&W in colour

The digital zooming thing

Or more accurately the “post-shoot digital zooming thing”. Or the “making use of 24MP” thing.

The premise is that with a high resolution sensor you can crop quite a small portion out of the full frame and still have a reasonably sharp image to present. This is the opposite of demonstrating why high MP sensors aren’t any advantage once the picture is reduced to ‘normal’ size. Let’s see how it works.

The camera: Sony a6000 with 24 MP sensor. The lens: Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 (the sharpest lens I own). The subject: a dollar store decoration cardinal standing in for a real bird because it won’t fly away while I’m photographing it. The distance: approximately 50 feet.

This is one picture cropped four ways and ending up at 1500 x 1000 each time.

Full frame, shrunk down to size. Bird is a red spot.

 

One quarter frame: 3000 x 2000 crop, centered on the bird. Still a red spot.

 

Approximately one eighth crop. You can almost tell it’s a bird.

 

One sixteenth. This is a 1500 x 1000 segment of the full frame.

As you can see, 1/16 of the full frame is about the maximum limit. It is already “soft” and it still doesn’t reveal the bird very well. Of course 50mm isn’t much focal length (about 75mm equivalent) so for actual birding a longer lens would do better. What we’re studying here is the cropping effect on resolution. This size is slightly larger than my ‘normal’ image presentation, and it is noticeably soft even to my eyesight. Applying the “unsharp mask” doesn’t help.

So what do we learn? We learn there is no substitute for being close to the subject in the first place, whether in actual distance or by use of telephoto lens (which adds its own problems due to looking through increased atmosphere). You can make use of some digital zooming this way, but don’t expect it to be a substitute for multiples of focal length.

By the way, this is the third experiment I did like this. I’m using the examples from this one because they present the best demonstration with the best lens. I have also done it with the 135mm Vivitar, with similar results. If anything the longer focal length adds to the drop-off in sharpness because longer lenses tend not to be as sharp. In other words the digital cropping will not only magnify the image, but any flaws in it as well.

The third experiment utilized the Soligor 85-205mm zoom and a Pentax 2X extender as I was trying variations to see how having an actual long lens would affect the field of view. Or to put it simply, to see if buying the 50-210mm Sony zoom would give enough focal length to make birding pictures possible. The result was “no”. Disregarding the softness of the lens, the field of view was not magnified sufficiently to make for good identification of the bird.

From 60 feet, taken with the Soligor at 205mm (307mm equivalent).
Same spot, but this taken with the Nikon at 1440mm equivalent.

As you can see, for birding a long focal length is desirable because you probably won’t be able to get close to them physically. In fact having the wide zoom range is valuable because you never know how far away you will be when you spot something. This is why I like the Nikon P610, although it needs a faster zoom control and better viewfinder. Hence my recent reference to the desirability of an actual DSLR with a tiny 1/2.3 sensor. But that’s not going to happen. Nor will any manufacturer come up with a digital “sport finder”: a wider frame of view with a centered square indicating the actual image area so small objects can be spotted more easily and brought in close. Perhaps some camera has this, but I haven’t seen it.

I’m still at sixes and sevens about the Sony a6000. It is a very good camera and does produce excellent results. For the most part it’s easy to use and has great lens adaptability. There are only a few flaws, and I can’t quite decide if they are too much to put up with. I think I need to use it more before determining whether it’s worth sinking additional money into or selling it off for whatever I can get.

As best we can

“Brigadoon”

At this time I am jealous of Eric L. Woods. His adventures with the Foveon-sensored Sigma cameras are the kind of fun I’d like to have. I could have bought one of the early versions, but e-Bay killed me instead. That fun, like so many other types, has been denied me. C’est la vie.

I read also the many film simulation recipes created by Ritchie Roesch, even though I know I’ll never afford a Fuji X camera. The film-like experience on digital cameras intrigues me, and yes I have made my own ventures into that realm.

If it were up to me, some company would create a digital camera specifically for “film photographers”, and it might even have that Foveon X3 sensor in it. It might be mirror-less so it can adapt classic glass easily. But what it needs mostly is to be simple: inflicting the limitations of film on photographers is a good way for them to really learn photography.

What would it be like? For starters it would have a ‘film selection dial’ that would give you a choice of high, normal, low, and monochrome colour saturation. You don’t really need a thousand different recipes. There would be an ISO dial that could go down to 50 and no higher than 800 or 1600 depending on how large a sensor it has. Beyond those points you gain more noise than EV value so there’s not much point. Besides which, this is ‘film simulation’ and film never really went above those ‘speeds’. To that end colour temperature, I mean white balance, would either be fixed at “daylight” or offer a limited range (i.e. “tungsten” and “flourescent”). Along with the sensitivity there would be built-in gradients for contrast and grain, following the nature of film (higher ISO, greater contrast and grain).

Oh don’t go thinking this is “too limiting” and insisting there be overrides. You can have a jack to connect your smartphone to it to make changes with an app, okay? Wusses. I don’t want to see an LCD display on it at all. No gaze chimping here!

For exposure control we’ll have the PASM dial all right, but no need for anything like “scene selection” or any of that other AI takeover garbage. Learn to use the camera. In ‘M’ it should give you light meter readings not coupled to the control settings. Then we want a shutter speed dial and of course an aperture ring around the lens. EV compensation control would be okay too.

Autofocus? Well I can’t focus at all anymore so I’m inclined to want that, providing it’s good. That gets tricky as we have all seen AF fail either in accuracy or speed. Put a manual lens on and the issue disappears.

What we do not want to see is a lot of extra ‘features’, most of which are just there because they can be not because they enhance the photographic experience.

Ah well it doesn’t matter. Such a camera would be as commercially successful as the Edsel and no company would ever build it because they don’t seem to understand photography, just technology.

As for me … I don’t know. It’s evident my eyesight will not improve and doubtful I will acquire any more equipment or reduce the inventory I’ve got. At the moment any further pictures I may produce will be done with the equipment on hand.

“Filmulation”

It’s World Photography Day! What better day for an old fool who doesn’t know anything about anything (me) to palaver on about some of which he does not know?

Or something.

Anyway, today’s pictures are a result of using a digital camera as though it were a film camera. It’s easy with the right equipment. Now for some people the “right equipment” is a Fujifilm X camera which has some pre-set film simulations as well as a host of programming capacity to vary all sorts of settings. Lots of fun, for lots of money.

For me the fun comes from getting film-like results without spending a lot of money or experimenting endlessly with settings. Part of the charm of film is the slightly unpredictable results, and I have achieved that using some sub-par equipment and a little know-how. Or maybe no-how.

The camera is the always dirty Pentax K100D Super. It has the advantage of a CCD sensor which produces better colour tonal range than the CMOS sensors (in my opinion as well as that of several others). Plus the limited 6MP size is something of a bonus here as it is not crazy-sharp. The lens is the very sharp Pentax Super Takumar 35mm f2, whose glass is stained yellow due to the thorium content. This is an all-manual set-up too; no auto exposure or focus.

Settings are the same as with Mini Manual Manual, save the added adjustment of fixing the white balance at daylight. I think leaving off that step is one reason why so many film simulations don’t have that random variation that film gives us. Remember film has fixed sensitivity and colour temperature. On a digital camera these are two more variables. So we set it like film and shoot it like film: ISO 200 (lowest possible on this camera) and Daylight colour balance. Here’s what we get:

Marley on the beach. This looks exactly like a typical colour print from the 1960s.
The yellowing of the lens does show up in the images and needs to be compensated for in the final processing. But here we see the side effect of it enhancing cloud contrast just like a K2 filter would.
The cabin. Rich, saturated colour.
In the woods. My eyesight got me in trouble here on exposure, but not so much that I wasn’t able to ‘save’ it.
This could be the beach at Wakiki.
“You can’t control natural light.” Unless you learn how.

I was going to do some more shots in the same manner only using the T100 as the camera, but I haven’t got to it yet. It’s been a busy and tiring week, and that as of Tuesday.

Meanwhile my redesigned Master Plan continues to take shape and unfold. Slowly.

3D’s new meaning: Dated Digital Devotees

Jet into the sun. (Kodak P850)

Are you one? Do you prefer the images from older digital cameras? Do you prefer using the older digital cameras? Maybe they’re all you can afford. There’s no shame in that. In fact you should be more ashamed if the first digital camera you buy is some ultra-expensive, loaded-with-everything, professional grade unit of which you won’t use a fraction of its capabilities.

Using obsolete, I mean classic, digital cameras has become “a thing”: the preference for CCD over CMOS sensors, an absence of techno-glitz like wireless connections and touch-screens, and the realization that the picture is what matters, not how you achieve it. So we sacrifice megapixels in favour of colour gradients. Most digital images are seen at less than 2MP anyway (on a computer screen).

As is often the case with my posts, this one started out going somewhere else so it’s bound to be a little incongruous at times. I was looking around at camera offerings (which is almost a pastime in itself) and noticed one or two (or ten, or twenty) interesting cameras that didn’t actually fit my current equipment needs but were nonetheless intriguing. I’ve got and sometimes use some older digitals, mostly the Kodak P850 – even though it has quite a few operational quirks these days (like a bad habit of resetting to +3 EV and not co-operating with changing this back to zero). I really don’t need any more old cameras. I am no longer collecting cameras. Say it louder: I AM NO LONGER COLLECTING CAMERAS! Nevertheless …

Let’s look at a few anyway. There’s no harm in looking, right? They can’t make you buy.

First let me say there are hundreds of models you can dismiss out-of-hand. Maybe thousands. All those ordinary ‘cookie-cutter’ compact cameras that have #MP and #X zooms and look like they’re all made in the same mold with different names slapped on afterward. It’s not that they aren’t adequate, it’s that they aren’t exceptional. If you’re going to use classic equipment it should be something with at least one unique property that makes it stand out from the run-of-the-mill production.

So in the category of compacts let me suggest a couple that I have: the Canon PowerShot A70 and the Fujifilm F80 EXR. They don’t have to be those exact models as there are many similar ones which will perform as well or in some cases even better. Why I like the Canon is that in addition to an excellent glass lens it has an optical viewfinder. Nothing like it for shooting in the sunlight. In fact that’s one area where the Fuji fails. Canon made several PowerShot cameras with optical finders, some up to 16MP and 5X zoom. Well worth it if you can find one in a thrift store for $5 or $10. Why I like the Fuji is the EXR processor function. It is exceptional. Again there are several Fuji EXR cameras, including the very nice (but rare and therefor expensive) HS20 through HS50 series ‘bridge’ cameras, which have significant zoom capacity.

Duncan the dog. (Canon PSA70)

Now let’s talk about some more advanced cameras. There are a few models I’ve come across recently which have caught my interest. If I were free to indulge myself however I wish, I would definitely buy these (or something similar).

1). Olympus Evolt E-300. This is a micro four thirds camera with pentaprism and interchangeable lenses. It’s only 8MP, but unlike the newer Evolt models it has a CCD sensor (one seller referred to it as a “Kodak sensor”). Some specs from Camera Decision: Olympus E-300

2). Pentax K100D. A mere 6MP APS-C DSLR using the Pentax KAF lenses, it has in body image stabilization (IBIS as it is known). An affordable way to use a huge number of quality lenses. Some specs from Camera Decision: Pentax K100D

3). Samsung GX-1L. You want something different? Samsung is a name you won’t see on a camera often. This one is a 6MP APS-C DSLR like the Pentax, but without the image stabilizer. The one I came across had a Schneider-Kreuznach 18-55mm lens which is bound to be sharp (the S-K on my Kodak sure is). Some specs from Camera Decision: Samsung GX-1L

4). Nikon Coolpix 4500. This is a weird little 4MP (in some versions less) camera with a twist: literally. You twist the body to move the lens into shooting position. They made several similar cameras, known as the ‘Coolpix 950 series’. Functionally it’s no great prize, but the body design certainly isn’t the usual motor-driven-extend-o-lens of other compacts! Wikipedia entry: Nikon Coolpix 4500

Antiquated technology. (Fuji F80 EXR)

Those are just some examples of classic digitals I’ve come across which intrigued me. There are many variations of these, and you have to look up which models have which features (for example the Fujifilm HS10 does not have the EXR processor whereas the HS20 through HS50 do, and the Pentax K110D doesn’t have IBIS like the K100D).

Now we have to talk about prices. For one thing, you may be choosing a classic camera because you’re no relation to Bill Gates and can’t afford multi-thousand dollar Fujifilm, Sony, or Leica machines. Even if that’s not the case it’s too easy to overspend on an old one. Always remember the camera that is working today may not be working tomorrow, especially if it isn’t new. The cameras I mentioned above range from $6 I spent on the Canon to $60 on the Fuji, and the ‘numbered’ ones were all listed for between $100 and $200 CDN (that’d be a lot less in the US, believe me). Ultimately the price should be what you feel you can afford and not a penny more. Beware auctions like Ebay: make your maximum bid and then stop; there will be another one along if you miss out. Patience is a virtue. So is frugality.

Side note: I’ve seen offers of groupings along the lines of “20 untested digital cameras for $60 – plus shipping” (shipping often being as much or even more than the price). You know what 20 untested digital cameras are worth? Right: $20. It isn’t that hard to test a camera, so assume “untested” means “not working”. I tested a couple of dozen that my Dad had picked up cheap and found all but one – which happened to be a Fuji and the best in the bunch – did work once you stuck batteries and an SD card in them. I still had to give them away. It’s not like fixing one of these is a practical option, after all.

If there are a lot of photographers near you, get together and form a club. That way the group can more easily afford a larger selection of cameras to work with. Just watch out for people hogging one model to themselves! Most importantly, have fun.

Ol’ Olds. (Kodak DX3900)

As for me, I will continue to “put the brakes on” when looking at old cameras. Especially as it looks like I will need a Canon SX70 to replace the ailing Nikon P610: since it is my “main” camera replacing it with another used machine is courting disaster, and the Canon best fits the specifications – aside from being pricey at $600+.

But hey; you never know when the ‘brakes’ will give out, eh?

Addendum: CCD means Charge Coupled Device, whereas CMOS means Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor. They are the two types of image sensors you will find in digital cameras. The former is usually fewer megapixels in resolution, but generally has a greater tonal range. The value of this is subjective. One curious side effect of fewer MP for a given size sensor is that it is more sensitive to light as each pixel covers a larger area. So a lower MP but same-size sensor can yield better low-light results.

Also, be aware of what kind of memory card your used bargain camera takes. Not every one uses the now-standard SD card. Olympus and Fuji, for example, often used xD cards which are now somewhat hard to find. There are adapters for these to use micro SD, but the reviews on them are mixed as to fit and quality for any given camera. Likewise Sony used a variety of “memory sticks”, and in the Mavica 3.5″ computer disks – good luck finding those or a machine to read them. Even the Compact Flash cards can be difficult to obtain at a reasonable price these days.

Remember too that a working used camera may not work as good as it originally did. The screen/EVF may have faded, the sensor may not deliver full contrast/correct colour or may have hot/dead pixels, and the exposure may be off or inconsistent. All this in addition to the fact it probably did not perform to the high expectations of today in terms of speed and accuracy in focusing – or even snapping the shot (a lot of older cameras have quite a noticeable delay between the button being pushed and the image being captured). You have to expect these things.

Well that wandered a bit!

Since writing this I note that the camera offerings mentioned above have all sold but one, so I guess they were pretty good deals for someone!

Frying Friday

I don’t even know if this will get published, but it’s a rant (a little tongue-in-cheek too) anyway so maybe it’s just as well.

Three blogs I read this week caused me to grumble. Let’s take the mildest one first.

It’s about film recipes. There’s this person that does them and does them well, except that they all kind of look alike when you get right down to it. Proudly promoted as “Kodacolor” or whatever, they’re all low-saturated, cool-toned, and bluish. I guess no one but me remembers Kodak’s standard of rich, warm colours meant to please the average consumer. Most of these digital recipes look like they should have the “Ekta-” prefix, not the “Koda-” one. If you don’t know the difference, that’s part of the problem. In later years Kodak literally toned down their colour experience because too many people couldn’t remember Uncle Bob spending so much time in the sun that he looked like he was part lobster. Whatever. Save it for post processing is my advice. The same with the cyan prints, which can easily be done that way. Oops! Did I just give something away?

Second complaint: someone said forget about getting a Pentax Spotmatic for a first film SLR. SERIOUSLY? Must be the STUPIDEST photographer on Earth! You want fantastic film photo results, get that Spotmatic with its incredible Takumar lenses – if you can. The idiot was recommending only newer, electronic film cameras. Yeah, right. Good luck finding one that still works or doesn’t break down two frames after you start snapping away. They weren’t dependable when new. You’ll learn more about photography with the manual camera, people. A lot more.

Complaint number three is rooted in someone once again declaring all cameras save pro DSLRs and smartphones are dead. Kind of misses the fact smartphones suck six ways to Sunday. Go ahead; change my mind. I’m waiting. I know lots of people who have and use them and think they’re fine. I should video their performances as they constantly swear at the things and repush touch-spots on the tiny screen trying to get the damn device to do what they want. Yeah I had that with the Lumix and it’s my #2 complaint about the camera. Frankly anyone managing to get a smartphone to do anything right is just plane lucky. The things are pure techno-trash. Undependable, unreliable, and unimpressive.

You can see I’m in a good mood. No, really I am. I’m actually having fun with my good cameras and have a few quite remarkable shots coming up to share. In the meantime here’s a “bleach-bypass” version of a picture taken with the cursed ZS60*:

P1000479B

Better times ahead!

*Footnote: the Panasonic Lumix ZS60 actually seems to work better in 3:2 ratio rather than 4:3. I don’t know why, and it’s not a major improvement.

Toy Camera

Inspired by Ritchie Roesch’s Digital Holga experiment.

Since my Panasonic Lumix ZS60 takes lousy photos anyway, it’s the perfect choice for turning on the “toy camera filter” and giving it a try. The Canon also has this “feature”, but it’s a bit silly to downgrade the quality of its lenses when the Lumix is pretty fuzzy to begin with. The Lumix results are A-okay, and simply a matter of whether or not the style is to your taste.

P1000410
Dreamscape
P1000411
Nebulous Moon
P1000412
The tall tree
P1000413
Distant flight
P1000420
This one hardly looks affected
P1000423
Marley hurries into Spring

Due to the erratic nature of the Lumix’s exposure control, all of these had to be adjusted a bit post-shoot in order to look ‘right’ – although what ‘right’ is under the circumstances can be debated.

So it’s quite the artistic little camera, but it does bring up a point I often try to make: why spend money to get soft images (as in buying certain low-quality lenses) when you can come by them so easily? Getting a good, sharp, realistic picture is the difficult bit. If your camera can achieve that, changing the look ‘downward’ after shooting is easy. The Lumix, alas, does not manage to make good pictures to begin with. It’s like buying a digital Holga – when you hadn’t intended to.

Film recipes and why I don’t use them

Warning: boring shed pictures again.

There are a number of people creating film-simulation ‘recipes’ for digital cameras, with good reasons and results. Especially note the fine efforts of Ritchie Roesch of Fuji X Weekly. Fujifilm cameras are particularly set-up for this sort of thing, but other ‘better’ cameras have similar settings adjustments in them. My Lumix ZS60 in fact has some specific film simulation settings, albeit buried deep in the touch-screen menu system. I’ve done some such setting changes with my Canon as well; it is in fact defaulted to a Kodacolor simulation with rich, warm tones and slightly elevated contrast – because that’s how I like to shoot.

Film has four basic characteristics: speed (ISO 100-800 as not many cameras can truly go above that level), colour type (including white balance [temperature] and saturation), contrast (one of the simplest variables), and grain. Only grain presents difficulty for digital simulations unless you have a camera (like certain Fujifilm models) that has a specific setting for that. Otherwise you’ll just be varying the resolution, which is the “digital equivalent” (“grain” introduces a fine noise effect).

Now here’s the thing. One of the advantages of digital over film is that you’re not stuck shooting 12/24/36 exposure on all the same ‘film’ type. You can easily change from shot to shot, as you see fit. The film recipes can allow you some preset choices to go with, providing your particular camera makes is easy to keep the simulations easily to hand. My old Kodak P850 has three “user defined” selections right on the main function dial, and all I had to do was remember what I had them set for. It’s somewhat more difficult with the other cameras, as the custom settings are notoriously menu-accessed and therefor not the easiest to get at – or remember.

So failing memory and increasing laziness affects my own choices, and I resort to some pretty simple solutions. Namely not making the changes in the camera. I’m notorious for warning against shooting in B&W, and that’s not just because the shot might look better in colour. My experience with digital B&W is the out-of-camera results tend to be rubbish. Perhaps something like the Leica Monochrom can produce fantastic results (it had better for the price), but the average camera trying to assemble a black-and-white image from the RGB detection under a Bayer filter tends to come up short. More often than not I find the contrast lacking, and if I crank that up the dynamic range goes ‘poof!’ (or other humorous sound effect of your choice). Thus I shoot colour and desaturate if I think it will look better in B&W.

I have adopted a similar stance for other versions of film recipes. Basically, shoot what looks best to you as full colour coming out of the camera, and then adjust the individual picture on the computer if you think it will look better rendered a different way. Sounds weird coming from someone who also boasts about not doing a lot of post-processing, but for end results – which are all that matter – it’s a good way to avoid missing a shot that would look better under different settings. The other option is to shoot it over and over in all kinds of ways and then pick the best from a dozen images. Ergh. Who wants to do that? If you post-process you can also have pre-set film recipes and not fiddle around endlessly adjusting settings by tiny amounts and wondering if that’s ‘perfect’ or not. Film has latitude; let your digital images have it as well. Perfection is not required for art.

Examples time. Here is the infamous red shed shot with the Canon T100 set with my Kodacolor recipe:

shedA
“Kodacolor”

One picture, incorrectly exposed I admit, and now we will process it to look like different film types. First, how it would look with the settings “normal” for the camera. This is not a different picture, just different processing to look like the standard output from the camera.

shedF
“Normal”

This one is simply desaturated to black-and-white:

shedB
Monochrome

Now let’s look at some colour variations. Starting with the silvery-blue, low saturation appearance that some people like.

shedC
“Bleach bypass”

Or you can crank up the warm tones (red, yellow, and magenta):

shedD
“Warmed”

Or crank up the cool tones (blue, cyan, and green):

shedE
“Cooled”

Which changes you make and how extreme you make them is up to you. What the subject is will also determine what effect you use, of course.

I’m not saying this is the way everyone should do it or even the way you should do it all the time; it’s just presenting an option to trying to get the film simulation right in the camera. You may find it easier to do this way than to adjust camera settings, or you may not have the camera settings to adjust. Likewise what software you have can limit your post-shoot processing. I just use the very simple GIMP program, and my files are JPEGs not RAW. As such there are certain effects not available to me on the computer which are available in the camera (or with the camera in the case of using colour filters). But it works for my “professional snapshot” style of photographic art.

By the way, one of the most fun things I’ve done with my Canon T100 was simulate a Kodak Brownie 127 camera from the 1960s: Shooting with the Canon Brownie. That’s not just film simulation, but camera simulation and even photographer simulation!

Collecting Cheap Cameras?

After playing with my inexpensively acquired Canon PowerShot A70, I got to wondering about the viability of cheap digital cameras and how they might fare as collectors’ items. Thus I did a bit trolling on Amazon and came up with a little information, some of which is presented here.

First of all, there is a huge number of brand new low-dollar not-really-brand-name and not-named-at-all offerings starting at about $12. With prices like that and specifications that can only be called “suspect” you can readily understand why you probably shouldn’t put your trust or dollars in something called “YTGOOD” or “Cobra” or “TEXXIS”. Many of these cameras are cookie-cutter copies of one another, and there’s no reason to expect any of them to work at all, much less work well.

However, a few old familiar names popped up too.

Argus

Argus. The name that brought us the venerable C3 35mm camera that every film photographer must have had at some point in their lives. Of course the company that built those cameras went bankrupt and obviously the name got passed along. The name, but not the quality. No matter how much lipstick you put on a pig it will never look like a horse.

Bell

Bell & Howell. In the days of film this name was best known for projectors found in schools, movie cameras, and a few clunky still cameras. Industrial strength and styling, and tractor-like quality – in a world that wanted sports cars. I had a few myself and they were not overly impressive in operation or image quality. Here we see the fine old name hung on more of those cookie-cutter cameras. They kept the worst aspects, and threw out the best.

Poloroid

Polaroid. Edwin Land must be spinning in his grave. The first self-developing cameras were quality units that worked. As years went by efforts to maximize profits saw metal bodies and glass lenses replaced with plastic everything, to the detriment of quality in both cameras and images. (Side note: while the instant camera market was clearly dying, Kodak saw fit to introduce their own. That was a not-smart move that didn’t help them at all.) Again we have a familiar name attached to regurgitated industrial rubbish. Besides, I can’t help but read that second model name as “Sociopathic”.

Vivitar

Vivitar. A company that used to make top-quality and reasonably priced photographic accessories such as lenses, filters, and electronic flash units. I’m sure I have one of their flashes in a box around here, and it probably still works. I know my 135mm M42 lens with their brand on it does! But alas, here is another great house that has sunk to the level of street beggar.

Should you buy any of these? In my opinion, no. The fact is even when they don’t look identical the specifications are so bland that there’s nothing really interesting about them. Largely these are the basic “Instamatics” of the digital world. Some may claim to be waterproof, some of the weirder ones come in odd shapes or colours, but on the whole they are quite frankly cheap plastic crap. Not even Diana F quality.

What should you look for instead? A name brand like Canon, Fuji, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus, or Pentax. But beware of the odd image storage methods like xD cards, Sony  sticks, and Compact Flash as they can be difficult or expensive to obtain if not included with the camera. Even then you are up against the “Plain Jane” aspect for most of these cameras: the same X MP and Y zoom capacity without much else to say for themselves. Also, trolling through Amazon shows a large number of such cameras available for what we can only call ridiculous prices, as they meet and in some cases exceed the cost of brand new offerings that are better cameras. Look around a lot, and be careful with your money.

Here’s an example of something I would buy, albeit I’d prefer a lower price than the $106 it’s being offered for:

NikonS4

I wouldn’t expect it to be a great IQ performer, but the unique design configuration makes it collectible. The one used camera I did buy off Amazon, the Fuji F80 EXR, is unusual and collectible because of the different way it operates – the EXR function.

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I don’t think I’ll be getting back into camera collecting. At least not per se, but I seem to be acquiring them anyway as I try to fulfill my photographic wishes.

What would I buy to fulfill those wishes if I could? I’m not keen on mirrorless cameras, as some experiments with the DSLR I have show how easy it is to get sensors dirty on anything with a removable lens and mirrorless doesn’t have the extra ‘protection’ of the flip-up mirror, nevertheless some of the things I’m interested in come only that way.

Assuming money were no object, the ‘Holy Grail’ would be a Fujifilm X-Pro3. I seriously would like to try one of those because it is so ‘film-like’ in design and function. Using the EXR has really piqued my curiosity about Fuji’s X series.

Otherwise, for my own purposes it would be nice to try a high-MP (at least 24 to have a 1/3 advantage over my current Canon) camera just to see the difference. I know it wouldn’t be much, but just how much it would be intrigues me.

I’d like to have a full-frame sensor for the same reason; not that I expect either to make any spectacular difference in the pictures I take, but to see the subtle effects I expect to find.

Another addition would be something with a flip-up LCD (despite my constantly iterated objections to them) so I could do waist-level view pictures. None of these are great reasons to shell out hundreds of dollars for a camera.

Especially not when you can have fun for a few dollars with a little patience and searching.

The $6 Camera

For $5.99 plus tax I bought a highly used Canon Power Shot A70 out of the thrift store. Add to that a four pack of AA batteries for $1.25 plus tax and a borrowed flash memory card from the old Kodak DX3900 and we have a new shooter for $8.11 CDN.

PSA70

Some (not very impressive) specs: 3.2 MP, 5.4-16.2mm (3X) f2.8-4.8 lens, separate eye-level finder that changes with the zoom, tiny LCD display on the back you can barely read the menu on even with glasses, and a few of the usual controls. All quite worn and weary from years of use. But it is a Canon.

Okay, full image size is 2048 x 1536, still about twice the size of the computer screen or 3X as big as the picture size I usually post. But is it any good? Well it was a bit reluctant to come back to life and a few of the controls are ‘iffy’ at times but I got it up and running on Automatic (it has the other typical shooting modes as well as scene modes and even movie). The biggest problem is a dark bluish line across the top of every image, obviously a failure of the sensor. Hey, this is a camera that dates from around 2003; that’s ancient on the digital camera timeline.

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Duncan at the ready

It was a heavily overcast day and most of the pictures needed some post-processing to help the colour balance and exposure, neither of which was correct in any shot. Here’s how overcast it was:

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How sharp is the lens? Fairly sharp. Not excellent, not very good, just fair. Good enough for who it’s for, so to speak.

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I haven’t tried any of the other shooting modes yet because the picture opportunities are so limited right now. Neither do I see anything in this camera’s functions and features that make it particularly interesting. This was just an experiment in cheap shooting, so to speak.

But here we have an example of … well, digital zooming in the post-shoot I guess. First picture is full frame shrunk down to 640×480, the second is a 640×480 sampling of the full frame:

I will probably shoot some more with this if the sun shines again. I have to say its biggest failing is that the shutter release (push-focus-snap) is incredibly slow. Not “we measured the milliseconds in the lab” slow but “you can miss the shot if the subject is moving” slow. Also the viewfinder is blurred due to the rigors of age. Still nicer than trying to compose on an LCD that appears blank because of the sunlight. Downloading the pictures is an exercise in slowness too, as you have to establish a live link via USB cable and the data transfer is pretty sluggish.

If you’re going thrift camera shopping a couple of things to look out for: the type of memory card (it can be hard or expensive to get the non-SD cards), and the brand of camera. I passed on one that was a make I’d never heard of because it probably wasn’t any good when it was new. But the old standby brands (Canon, Kodak, Fuji, Nikon, Olympus, Sony) are probably okay. Don’t expect to be able to memorize every model anyone ever made nor to find one specific camera you’re looking for. It’s more of a Zen thing.

And especially don’t spend too much money.