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.


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.

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:


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



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.

Old glass, part three

In this installment I’m using two different but near identical Kodak Petite cameras from the 1930s. Whereas the Hawk-Eye used 120 film these take 127. The significant part is that one of them is the first camera I ever had (when I was 7), and it had been the first camera my Dad had:


The other is a nearly identical blue one that I picked up later in life. It works somewhat better than the ‘original’ as alas the green one’s bellows have gotten very stiff over the decades. Still I like the Petites over the Hawk-Eye as they are smaller and thus somewhat easier to manage and the focal length of the lens is more suited to the Canon’s tiny sensor (although there is still some significant change in the focus required).

First let’s look at a shot ‘as-is’ and then with the white balance corrected:

These lenses do not have any colour correcting on them as B&W was pretty much it for film in the 1930s. Marley in the snow shows the natural tendency for a slight magenta cast to everything. Exposure info for these photos is: ISO 200, 1/60, US Stop 4 (about f8). In some cases I had to do some ‘lightening’ post-shoot as the exposure swings wildly depending on the scene variations and adjusting any of the settings gets a bit tricky out in the field as I was trying not to let the camera be open to get dust in it. You soon run out of hands handling two cameras at once!

The wild rose in winter, one with each of the two Petites. There’s little difference between the two, I’d say. You can see some slight colour difference despite both images having been processed the same. Also in these two of the fir trees:

As I said before, whereas this is a fun experiment it is hardly a practical way to make pictures. Without a fixed connection between the two cameras it is awkward to handle and dust gets inside. The lenses are sharp, but not astoundingly so (unlike the Takumars). Exposure is a challenge, as is focusing. And every shot needs colour correction to give accurate tones. I think I’ll stop with this now, unless I find another interesting old lens to try out, and actually clean off the Canon’s sensor.

The End?


Shooting with old glass

If you’ve read much of these blogs you’ll know how fond I am of the old Super Takumar lenses. They were one of the driving forces behind selecting the Canon T100; it could, via an adapter, use those lenses in manual mode. The experience has not been disappointing.

Having owned and used literally hundreds of cameras there are things about the old film machines that I’m quite fond of. It’s why I look longingly at the terrific retro styling of the Fujifilm X100; it looks like an old rangefinder 35mm. Looks alone, however, can not justify my spending $1,500 +/- on one. Way out of my budget.

Unfortunately for me I was forced to unload my massive collection of photographica last year, including numerable classic lenses. Had I to do it over again … but that never happens. The few items I was able to keep are not exactly in keeping with adapting to digital photography. Unless you’re crazy. Well, no problem there!

Here are the results:

They are all close-ups due to the nature of the shoot: these were done with the T100, lens off, and the ancient original Kodak Brownie used as the glass. Since this moves the ‘film plane’ about 50mm back from where it should be (hand holding the open back Brownie in front of the lens-less T100) it put the equivalent of a significant amount of extension tube into the formula. Thus, close-ups. The little candlestick and the figurine are about 38mm high.

I did not have sufficient light on this day to do this properly, so the exposure is rather stretched (ISO 400, 1/60 @ whatever f stop the Kodak is). It really needed more light, so I did a little post-processing to bring things up. The first image is a segment of a vase, and the last one the front of a toy Isetta car.

The downside to the experiment is that the Canon took pictures with no lens on and … now I have to clean the sensor. That has put me off the idea of mirrorless cameras, as every time you change a lens you are risking such a fate. With a mirror in front the sensor is safer from dust.

Still this has encouraged me to try this some more, possibly with a less rare ‘front’ camera (the Brownie is basically priceless as there are only 7 of them known now). I’ve got a folder or two which might prove interesting, as the bellows slide on tracks which could compensate for the focus limitations.

Those who know me know I’m an engineer and are probably now thinking “he’s up to something”. Well, you’re right. Following the Zen, if the right circumstances fall into place I am up to something.

The Chimney Series

Recently I had the opportunity of looking at an old farmstead (the story behind this is complicated). I didn’t have much time because of all the other things I needed to do that day, but I had an hour to look about. The one thing that struck me was the site where the newest house (built in the 1960s) had burned down leaving only the chimney. Well it was more than just a column of bricks, and I shot a few photos of it. If I’d had more time I would have shot more – and come ready with other gear. Different times of day or of year et cetera would have yielded more results just from this one mass of miscellaneous masonry. As it was I took a dozen photos with the camera I had, the T100, and about half of them turned out nice with little effort. I haven’t even tried desaturating any yet. But here are the ones I think came out good.







That last one I believe I’ll get a print made of it and hang it on the wall; it’s a great image of colour and texture and shape.

Perhaps in the future I’ll have the chance to return there and shoot some of the other old log buildings. Or perhaps not.