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Shoot Film Co. — Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Konica C35 AF2 35mm Autofocus Film Camera

The Konica C35 AF2 is the successor to the original C35 AF, history's first production autofocus camera. It uses the "Visitronic" passive autofocus system invented by Honeywell, which detects contrast inside the autofocus frame to achieve optimum focus--to put it simply. There's a lot of other science-y talk about it all over the internet so you can find that stuff elsewhere if you're interested.

The main difference between the original AF and the AF2 are said to be only cosmetic, and in use that seems to be largely true. The lens is a 38mm f/2.8, with a programed leaf shutter using three speeds: 1/60, 1/125, and 1/250. Exposure is fully automatic, and ISO sensitivities range from ISO 25 to 400. ISO speeds are set by turning a ring on the front assembly of the lens, and the set ISO speed will show in a small window at the bottom of the lens. The nice thing about being able to set ISO manually is that you can manually rate films differently from their DX codings.

Other more modern cameras will rate film automatically based on their DX codes--the silver/black patterns on the film cassettes. This can be useful if you're shooting with expired film, as I did in this test. I shot a roll of Kodak Max 400 expired in 2004--11 years beyond it's expiration date. The general rule is to overexpose one extra stop over the film's box speed to compensate for loss of sensitivity for every 10 years past its expiration date. So even though the film is rated at 400, I manually rated it at 200, and the results came out great. The negatives are a bit more grainy than fresh film, but this is to be expected with expired film.

The viewfinder has brightlines, and features an underexposure warning light (a red light visible in the upper right hand corner of the frame), parallax correction lines to correct for subjects that are closer than 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) It has a flash that is activated by a switch that pops up the the flash unit. Turning off the flash is as easy as popping the flash back down into place. The Guide Number of the flash is 14.

For some reason there is a warning inside the battery compartment warning against use of rechargeable Ni-Cd batteries, although when I tested the camera, I used rechargeable Ni-Mh batteries which seemed to work fine. I guess use Alkalines to be safe, and Alkalines will recycle the flash faster anyway. There is a self timer. It's about 14 seconds long. Not much more to say about that. So the exposure is automatic, the focus is automatic, and the two things keeping this from being a fully automated camera are the manually-set ISO speeds (discussed above) and the film advance and rewind mechanisms. The film is advanced by the classic lever that sits in the top corner of the camera that you ratchet with you right hand thumb. I personally love the tactile feel of manually advancing film. The lever is metal and feels sturdy, not like it's going to snap off when you ratchet it. The film chamber door is opened by a switch on the door with an indicator arrow of the direction to push the switch--simple.

Cosmetically unique in this camera is the film rewind lever--it doesn't have the protruding "wheel" dial as seen on many cameras with a manual rewind--the lever is recessed into the body and flips out to be turned when you're finished with the roll. It makes the top profile of the camera look fairly sleek, as far as late 70's design goes. The flash exposure works quite well, and I shot a few flash pictures that exposed nicely. Despite being new technology in it's day, the autofocus works quickly and accurately.

My one main nitpick about the camera is that there is no focus lock feature--you can't grab focus on something then recompose the frame. Focus will always been on what is inside the center autofocus frame. I show a picture in the test gallery that shows the background is in critical focus--but my daughter in the foreground, who is not centered in the frame, is slightly out of focus. It was daylight and the camera used a fairly small aperture, so most of the shot was in fair focus, but you can still tell where the camera chose to focus right in the center of the frame. The camera I found came with a full leatherette fitted two-piece case and was in great condition, overall a very nice thrift store find. It's fun to use and for folks interested in the history of what is, these days, technology that we take for granted like autofocus, it's a nice piece to have in the collection.

Gear Review: Yashica FX-3 35mm Film SLR

The Yashica FX-3 35mm Film SLR is the first film SLR I've ever owned. I've had a bunch of point and shoots before and since, but this model was the first all-manual, all mechanical film SLR that has ever come into my posession, and it was very special because it was given to me by my sister, who used it in her photography classes in high school in the 1980s.

I had been shooting digitally for many years, shooting exclusively digital since getting my first digital point and shoot in 2002, graduating to a Digital SLR in 2004, and never looking back. Knowing that I was doing photography and spending more time on it, and even making some money at it, she decided to give me her old Yashica.

Though with digital, I knew how to expose a frame completely manually and had been doing so for years, the Yashica felt somewhat alien to me in it's all-manual workings, but at the same time I felt connected to a heritage and history of photography, to a time and craft that came many years before. I was instantly drawn to it and intrigued by it, and after fiddling with the knobs and levers for only a few minutes, I had a solid understanding of how it worked--which was not difficult, because this is a dead simple camera model that was sold and marketed to students!

The body is quite a common model seen in the 80s, as it was actually designed and manufactured by Cosina, and branded and marketed by Yashica, using the Zeiss-designed Contax-Yashica Mount, also know as the "C/Y" mount. The Yashica FX-3 is essentially the least expensive way one can get into using the highly desirable Zeiss T* optics that were created in the C/Y mount, although Yashica and many other third-party manufacturers created lenses in this mount as well. Other companies such as Vivitar also marketed the same body manufactured by Cosina in other mounts, such as the Pentax PK mount, as a way to attract beginners, students, and photographers on a budget into the camera market as a less expensive alternative than buying the "bigger" manufacturer's bodies.

The FX-3 is known to be very durable and dependable camera, owing a lot of that to it's dead-simple, all mechanical design. While it has a light meter that requires batteries to operate, the camera can still expose a frame without batteries, since the shutter is mechanical and requires no power source to fire. It has a metal chassis with a plastic top, and while it feels nice and solid, and fairly heavy, it is quite small and I certainly wouldn't have too much confidence in it holding together if I were to drop it, especially onto its plastic top portion.

Yashica FX-3 - Top

Yashica FX-3 - Top

The film advance lever is plastic and does feel like given enough force, it might snap off, but I've used mine plenty with no issues. Making the top and advance lever metal certainly would have added to the cost of this model, so it's only natural that some corners are cut in construction to keep it as a budget model, but I've never had any real issues with those things in practical use when shooting with this camera.

The camera does have some widely known weak points. The leatherette covering was known to flake off after some years; when my sister gave me this camera in 2010 the leatherette covering could be brushed right off, leaving behind some gooey adhesive that has broken down over the years. It's best that this stuff get removed and replaced. I bought a great, easy-to-apply kit from Aki Asahi. Also, like virtually any camera of this age or older, the light seals got gummy and and left an oily, black residue that is potentially damaging to the internal chamber of the camera were it to fall off and get in the shutter curtain--not to mention possible light leaks with poor seals.

It's advisable to replace the light seals right away, either by doing it yourself (here's a great guide to do that) or by having a camera repair shop could do it. It can be a laborious task but can be considerable savings over having a repair shop do it; at the time, I didn't have the confidence to replace the seals myself, so I had a repair shop do it at a cost of $60. Doing it yourself can cost you an hour or two of your time (most of that time spent removing the old light seals) and about $9 to $12 for a replacement kit from Ebay.

My final nitpick would be that the meter is a + or - LED readout in the viewfinder, not the more helpful match needle type found in other manual SLRs.

The Yashica FX-3 is a spectacular camera considering it's budget/student model origins and a fun, simple camera to use. The fact that it fires completely mechanically without the need for a battery, and the fact that it has a built in light meter makes it a great all-around package for someone looking for something cheap and reliable. Any FX-3 you buy on Ebay or wherever will very likely need a little bit of TLC in the way of a replacement covering and light seals, but once you take care of those using better materials than originally used in manufacturing, you'll likely never need to do it again. Because the shutter is a metal-bladed curtain, it is a little loud and can introduce some camera shake a lower shutter speeds. It doesn't have mirror lock-up but again, that's not what this camera is for. Oh, and it's small. It's not Olympus OM-system small, but it's tiny compared to the Canons, Nikons, and Minoltas of the same era. Many of these can be found with it's commonly paired "kit" lens, the 50mm f/2, and while it's doesn't have the sexy-fast f/1.4 aperture, it's still plenty fast and very sharp, even wide open.

Find one, shoot one, you won't regret it--and keep it around to pass on to your kids.

Gear Review: Minolta XE-5 35mm Film SLR

The Minolta XE-5 is a 35mm film SLR that uses Minolta's manual focus SR mount, also commonly known as the MC mount, or simply the "Minolta mount." It is the same mount used by the famous SRT-type cameras and also the XE/XE-1/XG-7 series. The system was generally referred to as the MC system, with a whole range of compatible bodies, lenses, and accessories. First, a little about the original XE-1, which was the original in the line and the descendent of the XE-5. The XE was the first electronically controlled Minolta SLR that was targeted for advanced amateurs. It features metered manual and aperture priority shooting modes. Perhaps the most interesting part of the the XE heritage is that it is the first SLR that Minolta designed and produced in association with Leitz, the maker of Leica cameras. The XE-5 carries on most of these features, but since it is a lower end model than the original XE-1, there are some features that don't carry over. The viewfinder does not display the current aperture and shutter speed settings; there is merely a needle that shows the suggested shutter speed to which you should set the camera to depending on the your ISO and aperture setting. The focusing is achieved through a diagonal split prism.

Minolta XE-5 viewfinder

Minolta XE-5 viewfinder

Unlike the XE-1, there is no viewfinder curtain, double exposure lever, and no safe load "flag" that shows proper film advance, although you can see the rewind lever spinning when you advance the film, telling you that the film is in fact advancing and being taken up on the take-up spool, so that's a fairly minor concern. The pentaprism housing (the SLR "bump" on top of the camera) is all black, unlike the black/chrome prism housing of the XE-1. The front panel features a self timer lever, an X-sync flash socket, a locking depth of field preview button, and the lens release button. The "Minolta" logo is engraved and painted white onto the front of the black plastic pentaprism housing. The XE-5 badge is engraved and painted black onto the upper chrome portion to the left of the Minolta logo. The grip is a stiff, slightly rubbery material. The top panel has a hot shoe, rewind crank, underneath which is the ISO dial with a locking pin (labeled "ASA"), which ranges from 12 to 3200, in 1/3 stop increments. On the same dial is the +/- exposure compensation dial, also with a locking pin, ranging from -2 to +2 in single stop increments. On the right hand side of the top panel is the shutter speed dial, including X, Bulb, and 4 seconds all the way to 1/1000th of a second in one stop increments. There is also the shutter release button with a threading for a remote release cord and the familiar film advance lever.

DSCF6800 Minolta XE-5, top plate

The rear of the camera has an on/off lever. The camera will not fire in the off position, as the shutter is electronically controlled and cannot fire without battery power. So that means dead batteries = dead camera. There is also a frame counter which goes up to 36 and stops if you have any more frames on the roll. You can still keep taking pictures, but the frame counter won't go any higher than 36. The left side profile of the camera has a tiny little lever that is easy to miss, which is a battery check lever. When you activate it, there is a red LED that lights up to let you know the battery is functioning.

DSCF6799

One particularly convenient feature about this film camera is that it uses the very common LR44 batteries (two of them), which can be found in any grocery or drug store for very inexpensively, or online for even cheaper. You can generally buy 10 of them for just a few dollars. Many older generation cameras use battery types that are either expensive or worse, no longer available. The camera is not exactly light. While not as heavy and considered more compact than the professional level Canons and Nikons of the day, it's still larger and heavier than the similarly priced and competing Olympus OM cameras. However, it is still very comfortable in the hand. The rewind lever is nice and smooth, with a somewhat long throw distance, but still advances the frame in a single stroke. The mirror slap is nicely dampened as the entire body is nice and solid. The shutter button depresses very smoothly in one motion; it does not have a half-press function to activate metering. The camera is always metering as long as the power switch is in the "on" position.

Personal experience

The camera is solid feeling, and I felt very confident in its operation in the few rolls I shot with it. The lens I had for it was a bit of an odd focal length: 58mm, but it had a very nice fast aperture of f/1.4. The lens is not particularly sharp at wide open apertures but by f/2.8 it was sharp and contrasty. Because of it's somewhat long focal length, it can be susceptible to some user misfocusing at wide open apertures if you use the focus/recompose method, which can change the plane of focus, so you have to be careful with that if you're shooting fast. The camera feels really good to me, something I'd be happy to use as an everyday shooter if it was my only choice. If I had owned more lenses in the system, I would most definitely keep it, as the example I had was in very nice cosmetic shape. I certainly wish I had some wider lenses to test with it. The meter was accurate and I shot half of the roll using the built in meter, and the other half using a handheld Sekonic meter, both of which yielded fine results. Like many manual 35mm film SLRs, the appeal with this camera is the fact that you have so few choices in how you expose a picture. Shutter, aperture, and film speed--that's it. I found that this lack of choice kept me in tune with the subjects I was shooting and the shooting experience itself, and not so worried and engaged (or distracted) by the gear in my hands. I feel that the single biggest drawback this camera suffers from is that, due to it's electronically controlled shutter, it cannot be fired without batteries, like other film SLRs that can fired mechanically and only need batteries for metering (the Yashica FX-3, for example). It's construction feels hefty and durable, despite the fact that the top pentaprism housing is plastic. I would highly recommend this camera to anyone who is looking for a manual SLR, with an aperture priority mode. It certainly fetches a far lower price than Canon and Nikon models of the same level in used markets, because Minolta was simply a less popular manufacturer in the 70s and 80s, but no less of a viable option then as it is today when it comes to 35mm manual focus SLRs. Sample images below. Shot on Kodak 5279 500T color cinema film, scanned on a Pakon F135 film scanner.

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner

Sample Image, Minolta XE-5, 58mm f/1.4, Kodak 5279 500T cinema color negative, scanned on Pakon F135 film scanner