Neilson Abeel: Blog en-us (C) Neilson Abeel (Neilson Abeel) Sat, 17 Jun 2017 14:10:00 GMT Sat, 17 Jun 2017 14:10:00 GMT Neilson Abeel: Blog 120 91 The Olympus XA2

As I’m sure some of you can guess from reading my previous posts, I own way too many cameras. Due to lots of cheap film cameras popping up on eBay, I’ve accumulated a large collection over the last 3 years. I haven’t done a count but I’d say it’s easily over 40. I stopped buying new ones, partly because I was running out of space to store them, but also because the collecting was becoming a distraction from actually using the cameras. I also found that I had a lot of overlap in terms of camera size, lens focal length, and lens speed. I decided it was time to start selling off or giving away the cameras that I don’t use. It also became apparent to me over the course of the last three years, which of my cameras were keepers, the ones that I used consistently and got good results from.


The Olympus XA2 is one of those cameras. I bought my first one very near the beginning of my camera-buying streak, which was also when I was starting to move away from Lomography cameras. I had bought an Olympus Trip 35 and was amazed by how much better the lens was than that of Lomography’s flagship camera, the Lomo LC-A, not to mention how much cheaper it was. Since the Trip, like the LC-A I’d been using, was a zone focuser, I found it very easy to operate and it quickly became my favorite camera. The only problem I had with the Trip was the fact that its lens focal length is 40mm, while my personal favorite for walking around is 35mm. There were times that I’d be shooting with the Trip when I just couldn’t get everything I wanted to in the frame, particularly in situations where backing further away from my subject was not an option.


Enter the Olympus XA2. I’m not going to recount too much of its history, that’s been well covered elsewhere. The short story is that in 1979 Olympus came out with the XA, which is an extremely small rangefinder camera with a sharp 35mm lens and aperture priority auto exposure. Not only was the XA small enough to slip into a pocket, it was (as far as I know) the first camera to use a “clamshell” design. Instead of having a lens cap, part of the front of the camera slides to the side to expose the lens and then can be slid back to protect it.


The XA was fairly expensive when it was first released, so in 1980 Olympus came out with the XA2 as a cheaper alternative. The XA2 features a 35mm lens and the same clamshell design as the XA but has a zone focus system instead of a rangefinder and completely automatic metering. The XA2 only has 3 zone focus settings, as opposed to the Trip’s 4, and automatically resets itself to the middle setting, 9 feet, when you cover the lens, making it the default setting when you open the camera. The lens on the XA is supposed to be better than the XA2 but after having shot both, I can’t really see any difference.


The things that make the XA2 a keeper for me are its size, quickness of use and lens quality. The fact that it’s so small and you don’t have to worry about a lens cap falling off means I can always have it in my pocket when I don’t want to carry a larger camera. The default focus setting is the one I use the most for street photography, so most of the time all I have to do is slide the camera open, point, and shoot. I’ve gotten many shots with it that I would have missed if I’d been trying to focus and meter. I’m consistently impressed with the quality of those shots. The XA2 is also incredibly discreet. It’s small, black, and has a pretty quiet shutter. Film advance is manual; there’s no loud auto-winder. The clamshell design was so ahead of its time that in 2017 it looks contemporary. Most people just assume it’s a digital camera and hardly notice it.


So those are the pros, what about the cons? Not being able to use filters or a lens hood are pretty minor drawbacks for me. The biggest one without a doubt is that the XA2’s shutter and meter are completely controlled by electronic circuitry, which means if any of that fails the camera becomes useless. Some people I’ve communicated with on Flickr and Instagram say they haven’t encountered any problems with theirs but I’m currently on my 4th one! I’ve had two become permanently stuck in self timer mode and the shutter button on a third often takes 2 or 3 pushes to work, causing me to miss lots of shots. When I first started using an XA2 they were selling for $20-$30, so I just replaced each one that broke. Now the prices are creeping up, you can expect to pay closer to $60 for a working one. The other thing I’ve noticed is that on some of them the metering seems a bit off. If there’s a small part of your subject that’s bright, the camera will sometimes meter for just that part, leading to a frame that’s largely underexposed. The fact that the XA2’s widest aperture is 3.5 certainly doesn’t help.


In the final analysis the pros of the XA2 outweigh the cons for me. It’s one of my favorite street shooters and I like the results I get from it. I’ve started to hear about repair services going for about $80, which for me would be worth it, given how much use I get out of this camera.

Below are some of my favorite shots that I've taken with an XA2.

]]> (Neilson Abeel) analogue film olympus olympus xa olympus xa2 zone focus Sat, 17 Jun 2017 14:10:17 GMT
Rediscovering the Nikon FM2n In 1994 I needed a new camera. I should mention that at that time in my life, unlike now, I generally only owned one camera at a time. My first “real” camera had been a Pentax K1000, which I used all through high school and college only to have it stolen right after graduating. I then bought a Minolta X-370 and used it for a few years, but I was never very happy with it. This may have had more to do with the cheap third party lens I bought with it than the body, but still I was ready to get something sturdier and more professional. I was, after all, working as an assistant and printer as well as doing my own gigs.


I bought my Nikon FM2n at a camera show from the table of a mom and pop camera shop. It came with a beat up but serviceable 50mm Series E lens. I also bought a Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AI lens, which I promptly stuck in a box and forgot about. More on this lens later.


I was immediately struck by FM2n’s beautiful simplicity. No screens or menus like my boss’s Nikon F4 or N90s. Three LEDs in the viewfinder for the light meter. Extra features included a self-timer, depth of field preview button, and a multiple exposure switch. Nothing else. I was also impressed by the compactness and durability of the FM2n. Everything on the camera felt sturdy and well made. I wouldn’t appreciate this until later after I’d used other SLRs, but the shutter on the FM2n sounded softer and the shake from the mirror flipping out of the way seemed minimal. Shortly after I bought it I realized that the light meter was off by 2 or 3 stops, so I had the camera serviced. It’s worked like a charm ever since.


I used the FM2n constantly for the next 5 years. The only other camera I bought was an Olympus Stylus Epic, which I carried with me when bike riding. When I lived in Portland, Oregon during the 90’s this was not an insignificant amount of time. In 1999 I saved enough money to buy a Nikon N90s, which I used for the next few years. Then I started using digital cameras. I eventually returned to analogue cameras, first by getting into the Lomo LC-A and other Lomography cameras and then 1960’s and1970s compact rangefinders and zone focusers. Many of these cameras were inexpensive so I accumulated a lot of them. With so many cameras to choose from, my FM2n sat unused on the shelf for a long time.


The thing that made me pick my FM2n again was the 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor lens that I had bought with it. I had inherited some photo gear from a relative including a Nikon F and a different version of the 105mm Nikkor lens. The gear hadn’t been taken care of well and was battered up but I realized that some of my favorite family photos had been taken with that lens.


The Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AI or AIS has a reputation as being Nikon’s classic portrait lens. As I discovered from looking at my family photos and the rolls I shot with it, this reputation is well deserved. It’s unbelievably sharp and relatively fast. When paired with the FM2n, which has a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second, it’s possible to shoot with the lens wide open with almost any film and in bright light, guaranteeing a tack sharp subject and out of focus background. I started using the 105mm for portraits as well as shooting things like signs, carvings and frescoes on buildings that were a flight or two up.


I then became curious about other manual focus Nikkor lenses, the wider ones in particular. I’d shot with a 21mm lens before and I knew that this was a little too wide for my taste, but I’d read good things about the Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 AI or AIS lens. I found an AIS version at B&H for $200. It was well worn but had perfect glass. It turned out that for me 24mm is a sweet spot, wide enough to capture a lot in a frame, but not so wide as to look wildly distorted. The fact that the Nikkor lens is tack sharp didn’t hurt either. Suddenly all these shots I’d been unable to get before because my lens wasn’t wide enough and/or I couldn’t back up far enough to get everything in the frame were within my grasp. The Nikkor 24mm became the lens I use the most on my FM2n.


So that’s how I rediscovered my FM2n. Keep in mind that it’s just one of a series of cameras Nikon released starting in the late 70’s, many of which have overlapping features and are all capable of using the same Nikon lenses. While the FM2n is completely manual, the FM3a and the FE series have an aperture priority auto exposure mode. For more information on this series of cameras I direct the reader to this article by Ken Rockwell.

Below are some of my favorite shots I've taken recently with my FM2n.

]]> (Neilson Abeel) AI AIS analogue film nikon nikonfm2n Sat, 04 Mar 2017 14:54:53 GMT
The Yashica 35 MF

As I mentioned in my last post about the Yashica Electro 35 CC, I use a lot of fixed lens rangefinder and zone focus cameras, most of which were made between the late 1960's and mid 1970's. After the mid 70's the design of these cameras started to change. Several manufacturers were developing autofocus cameras, of which the first mass produced was the Konica C35 AF, released in 1977. By the early 80's autofocus point and shoots would be fairly common. In the mid to late 70's several cameras were released that were transitional models, they didn't have autofocus yet but did have auto exposure and built in flashes. These cameras are not well remembered today, possibly because they lacked the manual exposure controls that many of their predecessors had. I own two of them, the Canon A35 F and the Yashica 35 MF but I suspect there were many more.

At some point I stumbled across this incredibly informative review of the Yashica 35 MF. As the author states, there is very little information about this camera online.

My interest was piqued and I bought one for about $35 on eBay. I was immediately struck by the handsome design, in particular the decision to put the rewind knob on the bottom, making the top appear very smooth and uncluttered. The camera has the typical 4 zone focus settings: 1 meter, 1.5 meters, 3 meters and infinity. Exposure is completely automated, you see the F stop the camera selects in the viewfinder but there's no shutter speed information. The range of shutter speeds is 1/60 - 1/250, which means that like the Yashica Electro 35 CC you run the risk of overexposure when using 400 ASA film in very bright light. To enable the flash you need to simultaneously press the button on the front of the camera while turning the knob on the lens barrel. It sounds cumbersome but is actually very easy once you know it.

I've shot 9 rolls with it so far and my conclusion is that it's a great little camera. The lens and metering are very good and the flash works well, particularly in dim light where it would be hard to focus. One word of caution, I'm not sure if this is true of the camera in general or just my model but when I load the film in mine the rewind knob will turn when advancing to frame one but not after that. I wasted part of my first roll because I rewound the film mid-roll not knowing if it was advancing. When I got the film back I saw that it had advanced properly. Going forward I've been using the rewind knob to remove any slack in the film when loading and then trusting that the film is advancing. It's worked well so far.

Below are some are the best shots I've taken so far with the Yashica 35 MF.


]]> (Neilson Abeel) analogue film yashica yashica 35 MF zone focus Thu, 08 Sep 2016 17:20:03 GMT
The Yashica Electro 35 CC - One of my favorite cameras. It was about three years after beginning to use film again that I discovered the world of 1960's and 1970's fixed lens rangefinder and zone focus cameras. The cameras that first lured me back to film were of the low-fi variety (specifically the Lomo LC-A and Holga), but that's a topic for a different post.


Fixed lens rangefinder and zone focus cameras have been widely discussed online but I'll give a brief summary. In the 1960's and 1970's many camera manufacturers sold fixed lens rangefinder and zone focus cameras as a cheaper alternative to Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras or rangefinder cameras with interchangeable lenses. These cameras were marketed to amateurs and were mostly fairly compact and simple to use. They all have limitations due to cost cutting measures, but some are capable of taking great pictures. For those who've never seen one, a zone focus camera is one without viewfinder focussing, you estimate the distance to your subject and select that distance on the lens. The viewfinder is used only for composition.


The vast majority of these cameras have lenses with a 40 or 45mm focal length, the Yashica Electro 35 CC is one of the only ones with 35mm lens. I prefer 35mm for street photography, so I sought out this camera. It's relatively uncommon in the US but I was able to buy one from a Japanese seller on eBay. Initially I wasn't that crazy about the CC.


The Electro 35s have a somewhat odd metering system. You select the aperture and the camera selects a shutter speed. The first twist is that the shutter speed is stepless. Most cameras have a set array of shutter speeds. These are typically (in seconds) 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500 and 1/1000. A stepless shutter means that the selected shutter speed doesn't have to be one of these fixed speeds. The camera can select 1/28, or 1/236 etc... The speeds can be anything in between 1/250 of a second to 8 seconds. 


The second twist is that the camera doesn't display the speed it selects. Instead it shows you whether your shot will be overexposed or if it will have a slow shutter speed. 


In the viewfinder there are two arrows that will light up depending on the light and your settings, one pointing to the left and the other to the right. When composing a shot you depress the shutter button half way. If the arrow pointing left lights up it's an indication that your aperture is too small, thus making your shutter speed too slow. You then turn the aperture ring to the left, opening up the lens. After making the adjustment you press the shutter button halfway again and if you've opened the lens enough to ensure a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second or faster, the arrow won't light up again. 1/30 of a second is considered to be the slowest shutter speed at which you can take a handheld shot with a rangefinder and not have it be blurry. 


If the arrow pointing right lights up when you press the shutter button it means that you need a smaller aperture so your shot won't be overexposed. You then turn the aperture ring to the right and if you've selected a small enough aperture, the arrow won't light up when you press the shutter button halfway again. 


As you can see, this is a pretty quirky system. If your exposure is correct the arrows don't light up at all. One thing to watch out for is the battery dying, in which case the arrows will also not light up. You may think your exposure is good but you just have a dead battery. There's a battery check button on the back of the camera and I use it quite often. You can still use the camera without a battery but the exposure time will always be the maximum, 1/250 of a second. If you're shooting in bright light, you might be able to get away with this. 


This brings me to the first big drawback of this camera, the maximum shutter speed of 1/250. All the other Yashica Electros have a maximum speed of 1/500; I have no idea why the CC is the exception. This missing extra stop can make a big difference when you're shooting 400 ASA film in bright light. You'll find that the arrow pointing right (indicating overexposure) will light up even when you've stopped the lens all the way down to f16. One solution to this is to use 100 or 200 ASA film. Another is to carry a neutral density filter when shooting 400 ASA film. This filter (often called an ND filter) cuts the amount of light entering the lens without affecting color or contrast. I use a .6 ND filter which cuts the light by 2 stops. When I use this filter with 400 ASA film I can use the same aperture settings as I could if I was using 100 ASA film. Since the light meter is mounted on the lens barrel of the CC, you don't adjust the ASA setting on the camera. 


The second drawback is that the maximum ASA setting on the CC is 500. Again, I have no idea why this is, most of the other Yashica Electros from this period go up to 800 and the Yashica Electro 35 GL even goes to 1600. It would be so nice to be able shoot Kodak Portra in this camera at either 800 or 1600 in low light! Unfortunately there's really no way to get around this limitation. 


So why use this camera? The first and most important reason is that the lens is really good. I'm always amazed by the results I get from this camera. The second is size. It may not be as small as a point and shoot but it's smaller and lighter than an SLR. Third and lastly is price. Although the CC is hard to find in the US it's fairly easy to find on eBay from Japanese sellers going for about $100 or less. 


I highly recommend the Yashica Electro 35 CC to anyone who wants to try film photography at a pretty low overhead or just loves fixed lens rangefinders. Below are a few of my favorite shots that I've taken with it. Happy shooting!




]]> (Neilson Abeel) analogue camera film japanese rangefinder yashica yashica electro yashica electro 35 yashica electro 35 cc Fri, 20 May 2016 19:45:51 GMT