P.S.

After I posted my review of the Minolta X-700, I realized that I had neglected to add the final frame I shot that day as I headed back up from the beach towards home. As I walked through the parking lot, I spied an old friend from my past; a Buick Reatta.

 Blast from my past: The Buick Reatta Coupe

Blast from my past: The Buick Reatta Coupe

For a decade beginning in 1989, I managed the in-house advertising department for an automobile dealer group in the the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.  One of the perks of the job was I got to drive a demonstrator or "demo" vehicle as we called them. Over the 10 years I worked for this company, I got to drive lots of different new cars. We had multiple franchises including Chrysler, Jeep, Subaru, Hyundai, Isuzu, Hummer, GMC, Pontiac and Buick. The demo policy was that you could select any vehicle you wanted, but as the odometer crept near 5,000 miles, the car had to be sold before you could get a new one. If it hit 5,500 miles, you had to park it until it did sell. I was always careful to choose vehicles I knew would easily sell before the 5,000 mile mark, selecting popular color and option packages and even offering a $100 "spiff" to the salesperson who sold my demo. V-8 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limiteds and Isuzu Troopers were always my favorites.

Shortly after I arrived at this company, Buick sent us our first Reattas. The Reatta was intended as Buick's "statement" vehicle. It was a low volume two seater built mostly by hand in the Reatta Craft Centre in Lansing, Michigan. The car came in either a hardtop or convertible and the most popular color was red with tan leather interior. 

Buick really tried to make the Reatta special. I remember that each one came with a leather book inscribed with the signatures of every GM employee who had worked on that car. Fit and finish was excellent, which was unusual in a time when GM's quality control on other models was suspect.

Other than hand assembly and more attention to quality, there was nothing special about the Reatta. Power came from Buick's 3800 V-6 engine which was also being dropped into most of their vehicles including Century, Regal, Riviera and even the big Park Avenue.

As soon as the first Reattas rolled off the transports in Scottsdale, the owner of our company selected a red convertible as a demo and drove it for a few weeks before deciding that it was a no go fitting his two Golden Retrievers and himself in the little two seater. His office was across the hall from mine and one day he walked in and asked if I wanted to take over his demo. Of course I did!

I remember the Reatta as being a tame, pleasant and very comfortable car to drive...pretty much like a Riviera that had been left in the dryer too long. The 3800 engine had more than enough power for the little car. Visibility was good, seats were comfortable and it was fun dropping the top after work and piloting the car through Echo Canyon on the way home each night.

 The Reatta only lasted a few years and was considered a failure at Buick. The assembly process pushed convertible prices well over $30,000 and that was a lot of money for a car in the early 90s, especially one this impractical. Production ceased while we still had new Reattas on the sales floor.

The old Buick I snapped with my X-700 has been well taken care of. I hadn't thought about the Reatta in years. It was a nice memory.

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iPhone Camera Degradation

I hope you will indulge me as I go off on a bit of a rant.

I bought my iPhone 5s in the fall of 2013 for $199. I got it to replace an older iPhone that I placed on the roof of my car while talking to an associate in the parking lot at work and, like an idiot, drove off without remembering that I had left it up there. That old iPhone clung to the roof of my car with all its might until I swung onto the freeway on ramp. That's when I heard the clunk as the Apple phone bounced once onto the trunk lid then spilled its guts across the highway.

If it weren't for the iPhone's excellent camera and the ease of which I can shoot a picture with it and have that image seamlessly and immediately available on my MacBook, I wouldn't have one. I rarely use it as a phone. Since new, I have just over 5 hours of total talk time on it. Looking at my monthly bill, I average about 22 text messages a month. Most of them were unnecessary and any situation addressed in them would have self-resolved.

Co-worker:  "The meeting is starting, Where are you?"

Me:  "Coming down the hall. Be there in 10 seconds."

I have the most minimal data plan my carrier allows and my monthly usage hovers a fraction over 0%. I think that is the amount needed for the phone to keep its heart beating since I have cellular data turned off everywhere I can. I have just one app installed for my bank and only use that when I have access to a trusted wi-fi connection and then only a few times a year.

I treated myself to a late model used car last month to replace the 13 year old one I had been driving. The new car has navigation and Sirius XM, so I don't need the iPhone to tell me where I'm going or provide music during my commute. When I'm home, I prefer quiet or listening to a great old vinyl record on my Technics turntable, McIntosh amp and Klipsch Heresy speakers (all three of which are nearing 50 years old and working just fine).

Most of what I use my smartphone for is taking pictures of old cameras for this blog and for the various analog photography Facebook groups I'm a member of. I love the way I can take a photo and immediately crop it and drop it into a blog post I'm writing or drag it into a Facebook post. But over the nearly five years I have owned this phone, I've noticed the quality of the images it produces are slowly getting milky. There's also a very apparent loss of sharpness. Here is an unprocessed photo from the first week I got the iPhone 5s.

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Here's another from about 8 months later with just a bit of vignetting added post process.

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And here are two recent images taken with my 5s.

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All of these photos were taken in the same physical location, on my kitchen counter near a big window facing east. I place the cameras on a large white cutting board. There's a big fluorescent light overhead that mixes with natural light coming in through the window. Not a totally controlled environment, but consistent enough to prove that something is going downhill with the iPhone's camera.

When I was at the Apple Store a few weeks back laying down some serious cash to replace a stolen MacBook, I asked about my phone. The very helpful young woman who patiently assisted me with my laptop smiled when she saw my generations ago 5s, suggesting that it might be time for an upgrade. A nearby Genius looked at my camera's lens and noticed it had a bit of crazing on it. He said this happens with constant use and carrying it around in pants pockets or scraping it across a table in a restaurant. I told him that I hardly use my phone, rarely carry it, that it has never been in my pocket or even on a restaurant table. I told him that for most of its life, my phone has slept in the comfort of a felt pocket in my laptop bag. He shrugged his shoulders.

It appears my little Apple camera is dying and I must do something about it. If the whole phone were failing it would be easier to justify the expense of a new one, but for the few minutes I talk on it or for the small number of text messages I engage in, everything else on it works just fine. And other than the camera lens, it looks brand new.

The cheapest iPhone, the SE, is like three and half bills. Move up to any of the current models and you're paying a lot more. Even that would be ok if these things lasted. Used to be if you bought something and took good care of it, the thing would serve you well for a long time. Not so with today's devices. They are truly disposable.

It may sound like it, but I'm really not a luddite. You should see the technology I am harnessed to at work. I'm not cheap either. I have no problem spending serious cash on a Leica Summicron because I know it will last me a lifetime and if I decide to sell it down the road, I'll get my money back and usually more.

I wish Apple made just a simple digital camera I could tether to my iCloud account, but they don't.

I might look and see if there are some digital point and shoots with wi-fi capability, even though that adds several steps to my workflow.

Or maybe I should consider how many images I have gotten out of my $199 investment, hustle my butt down to the Apple Store and just pony up.

End rant. :-)

 

 

My Favorite Camera

"What's your favorite camera?"

I've been asked that question a number of times, mostly by my non-photo hobby friends who think my analog photography passion is quaint and are somewhat amused by my desire to use old film cameras when it's far easier and more convenient to take pictures with a smartphone. No matter if they're just making conversation or are truly interested, it is a question I find difficult to answer. I will try here.

Nikon F2

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The Nikon F2 is a favorite because it has real sentimental value to me. It's the 70 era SLR that I dreamed of owning as a teenager and it's the first SLR that I bought when I started getting serious about film photography again in 2010. But as I've started to hike more and carry a camera with me all of the time, the F2 is a bit big and heavy. And, after my cataract surgery and a return to better eyesight, I am having difficulty with the F2's standard diopter setting. This can be easily remedied with a screw on diopter lens, I just have to get serious about finding the right one for my new eyes.

Contax RX

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I bought my RX because it was the most affordable way to try Carl Zeiss lenses. I didn't expect that I would like shooting it as much as I do. The RX is a 1990s era technical marvel and I worry that if its electronics start to fail, it might be too expensive to fix. That'll mean either picking up another body or finding another platform for my Zeiss Planar lens.

Olympus OM-2n

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I'll put my OM-2n cameras aside for nearly a year and sometimes even think about selling them. Then, I will read a review or user report online and it'll get me excited about shooting mine again. Every time I use the OM-2n it's a hoot and I'm glad I've kept them.

Pentax Spotmatic

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Ok, I'll admit it. I have a bit of a Spotmatic problem. I have, I think...like a dozen or so now and one by one, they're all going off to Eric Hendrickson for CLA. My addiction is fed by my Pentax pusher, a friend who used to work for the factory and, over the years, assembled a nice collection of hardly used Spotmatic and other film-era Pentax bodies. Somehow, he knows just the right cadence of when to send me an email with a photo or two of yet another wonderful old Pentax that needs a new home. So, as he wisely thins his own herd, my shelves fill. This simple Pentax SLR has been the most pleasant surprise of my film photography adventure. A joy to shoot. Simple. Dependable. And the M42 mount Takumar lenses for these bodies are superb! No one in their right mind needs so many of the same thing, so I will be selling off some of these. If you or someone you know wants a very, very nice fully serviced Spotmatic, drop me a line.

Canon F-1

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I expected this Canon to come and go, but each time I use it, I like it a little more. The metering is really precise and I am quite blown away by the sharpness of these affordable Canon FD lenses. Like the Nikon F2, it is a bit heavy to carry all day in the field, but once you see the images this camera produces, it makes carrying it seem worthwhile. As I Nikon guy, I had always looked down on Canon. This camera changed my mind.

Pentax MX

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I bought an MX early in 2017, took it on Carmel photo shoot and sold it a few months later for a nice profit on eBay. As I was going through images for my Lightbox Wednesday project, I went through those Carmel photographs and realized how nicely this simple little manual everything SLR with an inexpensive SMC 50mm f/1.7 lens performed. The MX is the first camera that I bought, sold, regretted my decision and then went and found another. Well, I found two. When I reached out to my Pentax friend he offered up both a chrome and black body. Of course, I couldn't resist.

Nikon FM2n

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Here's a little secret I've never shared before. Whenever I take one of my serious photo adventures to Carmel or Yosemite or even back to New York to visit my family, no matter what other camera I bring, I always throw my Nikon FM2n in the bag as a back up. I guess I know in the back of my mind that this is just a really dependable, never let you down, simple, mechanical Nikon. I am reminded in writing this that after serving so faithfully as my trusted back up camera,  the FM2n really does deserve some time of its own in the Fogdog Blog spotlight.

Minolta XD

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What a delight the Minolta XD has been! Small, light and feature-packed. An amazing viewfinder--in fact the only SLR that comes standard with the famous Acute-Matte focus screen that Hasselblad owners pay big bucks to upgrade to. When I had my Hasselblad, I paid more for just an Acute-Matte screen than I did for this XD, lens and a CLA. With this camera, you get three shooting modes; manual, shutter-priority and aperture-priority. The XD accepts an affordable accessory motor drive and an really outstanding selection of Minolta Rokkor lenses. I can't believe I waited so long to try a Minolta.

Nikon F4

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My only autofocus 35mm camera, the F4 is big, heavy and beautiful! I've reduced the battery configuration down to the smallest available in the MB-20 power grip and still, this is a big camera. The F4 can accommodate most every Nikon lens ever made and is packed with features I'll never use. Because of its size and weight, I only use it a few times a year, but could never see myself selling it. Truly a revolutionary camera that I could've never afforded when it was new!

Pentax LX

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I'm shooting my LX as I write this blog post. Some call this camera the culmination of everything Pentax learned after decades of building film SLRs. The LX is just the right size and weight to be the camera you carry with you everywhere. Big, bright viewfinder with a great analog display. Weather-sealed controls. Ability to use a wide array of affordable Pentax K-mount lenses. The only negatives are high repair costs and a very weird strap lug arrangement that causes your camera strap to twist up as you carry and use the camera. If your LX stays healthy and you don't mind untwisting the strap occasionally, this camera just might be one of the best film SLRs ever!

Pentax 645n

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As a photographer who loves small and light cameras, finding a good fit for me in the medium format world has been difficult. I've tried Rolleicord, Mamiya 645 and Hasselblad. I'd about given up when I was offered a Pentax 645n at a good price. Of all of the medium format cameras I have tried, this one handles most like a 35mm SLR. Its built in grip makes holding the camera comfortable. Without the option of a removable film back, Pentax created a smaller and lighter package that just feels right to me. The viewfinder is big and bright. You get several shooting modes plus an auto-everything mode that turns this Pentax into a medium format point and shoot. And the 645n can use autofocus or manual focus lenses. I have an autofocus 80mm lens and focus is fast and precise. I need to use this camera more.

There are more cameras on this list. Like my lovely little Pentax ME, my nifty Canon P rangefinder, Pentax ES, the Canon A-1 that I'm still finding my way around, Minolta XE-7 with its sublime shutter sound, and my Pentax K2 that's off for a CLA. 

If you've read this far, you're probably asking..."So what IS your favorite camera?" Truth is that I've learned over the past eight years that it kind of changes depending upon a number of factors:

EXPERIENCE:  As I become a more competent photographer, certain cameras that seemed complicated now are intuitive. The Nikon F4's controls at one time looked like the space shuttle cockpit. Now, everything makes sense. Feeling comfortable with your equipment makes you want to use it more. A camera that seemed overly complicated can become a favorite once you know your way around it. When I first used stop down metering in my Spotmatics, it seemed like a real pain. After shooting a few rolls, it became second nature and even helped me fine tune my depth of field.

LOCATION:  A long day on the trail makes a small, light camera a must. Easy film loading is good too. While my Contax RX might be a favorite for a short stroll on the beach, the Pentax ME, MX, Olympus OM-2n or Minolta XD will feel better on a six mile hike.

LENSES:  Sometimes the camera body is secondary and it's the lens that shifts a camera into favorite position. If I have an itch to shoot 85mm, I only have two choices: Nikon mount for my 85mm f/1.4 or M42 mount for my 85 f/1.8 Super Takumar. Some lenses really sing when shooting black and white like my Canon LTM 50. That lens will only fit my Canon P or my Leica M-P with an adapter. And the only telephoto lens I have is for Pentax K-mount.

MY PEERS:  Once in a while, one of my favorite bloggers will write about a camera I also own and share some of their photos and it'll inspire me to get that camera out of the camera bag, check the batteries, load some film and go out and shoot. I've also been inspired after watching a user video on You Tube. If anything I write here ever inspires anyone to get out and use their camera, it's all been worth it.

 

Super Bowl Sunday With The Pentax ME

At least a few times each year, I head up the Pacific Coast Highway out of Bodega Bay, across the Russian River at Jenner and then north to Fort Ross. It's just under 23 miles, but the drive can take an hour or more depending on how much traffic there is and how fast it is moving. On Sundays, it's mostly moving slow, but as you thread your car around the tight curves, the slower pace allows you take in some incredible views.

 Meyers Grade Road just off of the Pacific Coast Highway on the way to Fort Ross

Meyers Grade Road just off of the Pacific Coast Highway on the way to Fort Ross

After a few weeks of stress, including having to unexpectedly and expensively replace my laptop, I needed to decompress and figured that the traffic on the PCH would be lighter on Super Bowl Sunday. It was. The road was wide open. The sun was shining through cloudless skies. Only a light breeze. Perfect!

My destination was the State Historic Park at Fort Ross. I love this place because it has history, it's peaceful, quiet and the ocean views are stunning!  I brought my little Pentax ME and normal 50mm lens with me because the simplicity of the ME fit the feel of this day perfectly; wonderful, carefree photography. I shot Kodak Portra 400 exposed at half the box speed.

Fort Ross was a thriving Russian settlement from 1812 to 1841. After the Russians left, the property changed hands several times until George Washington Call purchased it in 1873. Call housed his family in the various fort buildings for several years, finally building a house in 1878. I'd walked past the little Call house on the property during previous visits, but it was never open to the public. I found out that it was open for docent tours the first Sunday of each month, so on this visit I got lucky and took the tour. Here's a shot of the sewing machine near the front door.

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Call ran several businesses at Fort Ross including a general store, saloon, hotel and a lumber business. He built the first schoolhouse in the area and even strung telephone lines, establishing the first party line phone service on this remote part of the Sonoma coast.

 Kitchen lamp in the Call House

Kitchen lamp in the Call House

The Call family occupied the house until 1972 when son Carlos, the last occupant, passed away. The property was then sold to the State of California. The house sat vacant for many years with many of the family's possessions safely stored in the attic. The Parks Department restored the home and volunteers give tours.

 Kitchen window Call House

Kitchen window Call House

 Tools on the sunny front porch

Tools on the sunny front porch

A house has to be built well to survive the wind and battering rain of the Northern California coast. This house felt solid and safe. With a few modern conveniences, I could feel quite comfortable moving right in to the Call House today.

Out the front door, flowers blooming on the path to the Pacific.

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That narrow strip of pavement you see in the foreground of this photo is a very old alignment of the Pacific Coast Highway which, at one time, ran right through the fort. It's a foot path today. As I headed down to Fort Ross Cove, I looked back to get this shot of the Call House.

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An old fence

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And Fort Ross Cove

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As I snaked my way back down to Bodega Bay, I thought how perfect this Sunday was. The weather was just wonderful. I had selected just the right camera to help me decompress. I learned some new things about Northern California history. I got fresh air and exercise. Photography had brought me back to center again.