Saturday, March 22, 2014

“One Roll – One Week,” or “A Week in the Life” of a Film Shooter

In my last blog post I talked about the cool little 35mm Olympus Stylus Point & Shoot camera and I ended the post with a question, “what about the pictures?”

Well, just about the time I put the first roll of film into this little jewel my buddies at “RAW Live,” an active Facebook group for photographers came out with a challenge for everyone to shoot one roll of film in one week to try to capture a “Week in the Life” on a roll of film. 

The photo above is one of my favorites from the week long challenge and shows that the Stylus has no problem with colors or exposures although I have noticed a slight tendency, at least with the 400 film I used so far, towards overexposure. This is usually not a problem with Kodak Portra but could be a problem with other films, especially transparency or slide film.

I was out dress shopping with my wife and saw this most amazing chair. I just couldn’t resist sitting in it (did I mention my feet and back both hurt by this time!) and asking her to take the shot. I really wanted her in the chair and the picture but these days she’s not usually a willing model. She says she looks like a Grandma so you’re stuck with Gram paw in the photo instead.

In any case I am pretty happy with my $7 point & shoot camera so far.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Olympus Stylus – Son of XA2?

As you may have deduced I am a “vintage” kind of guy when it comes to some things, especially cameras, but I do appreciate modern technology. One of the things I appreciate most about modern cameras is the auto-focus. Yes, auto-focus. The bane of DSLR’s when they first came out (for me anyway) and the thing that made me hate them more than anything else has become one of my favorite features.

How can this be? Well, as we get older a strange thing happens to our eyes. They just don’t work as well as they used to. Where I notice it most is shooting cameras and guns. Both require the ability to very quickly switch back and forth between seeing far and near in order to properly sight or aim and compose and focus. If you wear glasses with bi-focals or progressive lenses this ability is complicated even further.

It is mainly for this reason I have been experimenting with various 35mm film cameras over the past couple years and I think I have finally found the perfect camera for me, but that’s a story for another blog post. 

The Olympus Stylus introduced in the 1990’s, is an unassuming but surprisingly advanced 35mm point & shoot camera that reminds me a lot of the Olympus XA2, introduced in the early 1980’s. Both cameras are fully automatic with incredibly sharp 35mm f3.5 Zuiko lenses that can handle a wide range of shooting situations with little or no thought required from the photographer. The XA2 requires that you set the ASA or ISO whereas the Stylus takes care of that for you. The big difference though is that while the XA2 is zone focus, which is easy enough as long as you can properly estimate the distance from the subject (and remember to do it), the Stylus is a true and very accurate auto-focus camera.  Oh, and while the Stylus comes with a decent built-in flash you have to attach the dedicated A-11 flash unit to the XA2 if you need it.

…but what about the most important part – the pictures? 

That will be the subject of my next blog post.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why I switched to Pentax

I recently participated in a Flickr discussion in the “Film Photography Podcast” group entitled “Why I’m absolutely sold on my Olympus cameras.”  Here’s the link if you’re interested…    

I was for many years a dedicated Olympian and my Olympus OM-1N was my constant and only camera for 30+ years until the great flood of 2005 washed it away so I enthusiastically agree with the premise of the discussion. It started me thinking about the whole transition thing where I switched from Olympus to Pentax and I thought it appropriate to comment further on it.

In my August 7, 2011 post, “Why Shoot Film” I tell the story of my first camera, my early experiences with photography and how I ended up with Pentax after so many years with Olympus but I did not really explain why. The short answer is that I am pretty frugal about most things and my wife had a Pentax already so by getting into Pentax too we could share equipment.

The back story and longer answer is that by the time I had become disillusioned with digital photography and went looking for another 35mm camera we (the family) had bought two Pentax digital bodies, three lenses and a dedicated flash to replace the cameras and equipment we lost in 2005. 

My wife had been a life-long Pentax user having shot a K-1000 with a 35-105mm zoom for about as long as I had shot my Olympus OM-1N with the three prime lenses. So when it came time to replace lost cameras in 2006, Olympus looked to me like they had gone a little nuts with their digital line and didn’t have anything that appealed to me. This was before the now popular OM-D was introduced or I might have bought it instead. This little jewel became an instant classic and cult camera in spite of its diminutive four-thirds format.

In any case there I was looking for a 35mm film camera. I had a bag full of Pentax gear at home and two of my three only choices had a Pentax K-mount – seemed like a “no-brainer” to me.  I bought the Promaster with the Pentax mount and a lovely 50mm f1.7 lens and lived happily ever after – well not quite,  but that’s another story that is told in my August 7, 2011 post.

Fast forward a few years to the present where I now have six 35mm K-mount bodies, three prime lenses and three zooms. I also have four Pentax K-mount digital bodies, one prime and three zooms and the glass for any and all of these is fully interchangeable. The only exception is the otherwise wonderful Pentax ZX-30 which can mount any K-mount lens but cannot shoot with a fully manual lens (it must have an “A” setting on the aperture ring) for some reason.

As much as I loved my old Olympus OM-1N, sadly Olympus succumbed to the dark forces of the universe and changed their lens mount sometime after the OM-4 was released. Pentax on the other hand can now boast that with just a couple exceptions all their cameras can mount and shoot with any of the K-mount lenses manufactured over the past 40 years – without the need for adapters. With adapters they can mount and shoot almost anything. In this day of planned obsolescence this is nothing short of amazing!

On the practical side, it means that all my old glass can be used on the new cameras, even digital. The glass bought specifically for the digital cameras can also be used on the old film cameras but some vignetting may occur due to the smaller format.

And as if that weren’t enough incentive, when using the old manual lenses on the newer auto-focus capable bodies (film or digital), there is a built in feature that will tell you when the lens if in focus. The camera can’t focus a manual lens for you of course, but it can tell you when you have it in focus. How great is that? This is especially reassuring for us older folks who are starting to have a little trouble focusing, particularly in low light situations. 

As for the Pentax cameras themselves – they are every bit as good as anything out there. Pentax has always enjoyed a reputation for being a little different (I happen to like different) and for building innovative and well-made equipment that leads the industry in features and technology. Most of their top level cameras have targeted the advanced amateur market but they frequently challenge the pro versions of other manufacturers in both quality and capability.

Many of the Pentax lenses over the years have been “farmed out” to mass producers and are of average quality but the glass actually made by Pentax easily compares favorably to the best around and most third party lenses that are available in a K-mount configuration.

Finally, one of the intangible but none-the-less important things for camera aficionados is the fact that Pentax pretty much spans the gamut of popular photographic formats. I of course have the 35mm format covered adequately. I also have a Pentax Auto 110, one of the finest 110 format film cameras ever made. Then there are the wonderful Pentax 645 medium format cameras in all their various versions and models and the massive Pentax 6x7 and 67 SLR’s which look like a 35mm SLR on steroids.

On the digital side of things there have been and continue to be a host leading edge DSLR’s in the APS-C format and one of the few medium format digital cameras, the pro level 645D.
I would like to think that in time I will have a Pentax in each of the available formats but available funds and simple practicality may prevent that, especially in the digital versions. I would however, like to at least acquire a Pentax 67. These massive cameras have always intrigued me and the combination of superior optics and a 6x7 negative has to produce amazing enlargements.
Yes, I know many think Canon and Nikon represent the epitome of photographic equipment technology but for the non-Kool-Aid drinkers there are a few other options available. Pentax is one of them.

The photo of the Pentax 67 shown above was borrowed from the Wikipedia page on that subject. Please see the link below for additional information on the subject.

…and if you happen to have a Pentax 67 laying around you don’t want please let me know!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Midsomer Murders: A Picture of Innocence

Back in November Michael Rasso opened the Film Photography Project (FPP) Podcast internet radio show  ( with the now infamous “Film vs. Digital” sound byte from  Midsomer Murders  (A Picture of Innocence - Season 10, Episode 6). This is a BBC detective drama that has been watched on TV in the UK for many years and is available here online.  I watched it on Netflix but here is the Acorn Media link if you’re interested in watching and don’t have Netflix.

This show was highlighted on the FPP podcast of course because of the hilarious battle between the gallant forces of film photography and the evil evangelists of digital photography which forms the backdrop for the otherwise typical and always entertaining British murder mystery. 

For a camera buff, especially film cameras, this is the stuff great evenings are made of and I highly recommend it to you. The show remains objective regarding the film vs digital issue but does at times portray the digital folks as somewhat sinister. I won’t spoil the outcome for those who might actually watch the episode except to say I knew the murderer from the very beginning. Maybe I have watched and read too many murder mysteries!