Mike Connealy wrote an excellent blog post recently about using Soviet made lenses on his Barnack Leica. In the post, he made an interesting observation about shooting with this wonderful ancient screw mount camera…
“Besides adding a nice tactile dimension to the shooting experience, the Leica’s slick operation instills confidence while also some practical enhancement to my shooting results.”
This line resonated with me as I have been thinking a lot lately about what makes me choose one camera over another as I head out for a photography walk. It would be easy for me to say that I select the camera best suited to the type of photography I am going to do that day, but the truth is that I have built up a nice stable of very fine old cameras, any of which are capable of great results when used properly. Also, almost all of my user cameras have now been professionally serviced, so I know that whichever one I select will perform as designed.
Sometimes, a camera’s level of automation moves it to the front of the line as was the case with my selection of the autofocus, auto-everything Nikon F100 SLR as a travel camera when I toured the Northwest last year. I wanted auto focus, programed auto-exposure, auto film loading, motorized film advance--essentially a point and shoot film camera for that trip. The F100 was an easy choice and it did everything I asked of it.
But for my more routine photo walks, I am thinking that Mike’s “tactile dimension” and a camera that “instills confidence” are really the deciding factors for me in selecting one camera over another.
Right now, I am shooting an Olympus OM-1 that just came back from a CLA. There’s so much to love about these little OM wonders; small size, gigantic viewfinder, jewel-like build quality. And so light! You can carry an OM camera around all day and barely notice it. The OM-1 and the OM-2 which I also own, are both quite wonderful to use once you get used to the shutter speed adjustment which is located on the lens mount.
I love the little built in handgrip on my Nikon F3. It’s just big enough to make the F3 feel very secure in your hand. And that big HP viewfinder always impresses. The F3 also has a satisfying shutter sound and pleasant film advance. Add the incredibly sharp and very affordable 50/1.8 and you have a well balanced, joyful camera that some call the greatest SLR ever.
You can sure tell that Minolta and Leica were working together when the Minolta XE and XD series came out. The film advance on the XE-7 is one of the nicest I have ever used and its shutter sound is delicious! The fit and finish of the XD makes you want to hold it and use it. I love the way the shutter speed dial protrudes just a bit over the front of the XD’s body making for easy adjustments with the camera to your eye. And I haven’t met a Minolta viewfinder yet that I haven’t loved—big, bright, awesome!
Back in the Spotmatic days, the Pentax advertising line was “Just Hold One.” There’s a lot of truth to that. Any of the Spotmatics feel just right in the hand and when you screw on one of those amazing Takumar lenses, the whole experience just goes up a few notches. Focusing a Takumar is sublime and these Taks have nice, reassuring f/stop clicks. Find an original Pentax leather case and use just the bottom portion to make the Spotmatic tactile experience even nicer!
My Canon SLRs get pretty frequent workouts, mostly because they just feel so good to use. The original F-1 is substantial with a wonderful mechanical shutter sound. After a Blue Moon CLA, its meter is dead on! My F-1 New and A-1 have little built in hand grips on the front of the camera that enhance the shooting experience. And all of Canon’s FD mount lenses are quite nice, especially the early breech mount chrome nose editions.
I’d rank the Nikon F4 and Contax RX at nearly the top of my list of electronic cameras that feel wonderful to hold. Both have contoured bodies with built in grips covered with a rubber material that gives the photographer a sense of security during use. The F4 has dials and levers that control everything. It’s a wonderful evolution from purely mechanical cameras to electronic technology. Many people complain about the size and weight of the Nikon F4, but if you opt for the smallest battery pack—the MB-20, the camera is very manageable. The RX compares in size to the F4 and has one of the most unique shutter sounds of any camera I have shot. And of course, it mates with a selection of fantastic Carl Zeiss lenses. Who wouldn’t love that!
I love my little Pentax ME and MX SLRs. Simple, easy to use cameras that never let you down. These little cameras, along with the Olympus OM series, started a movement towards smaller, lighter 35mm SLR cameras. And they feel so good in your hand! With a remarkable and affordable Pentax lens up front, you just can’t go wrong.
Sometimes, it’s a lens or accessory that rounds out the tactile dimension of a camera. I prefer Nikon’s old pre-Ai lenses on my Nikon F2 bodies. There’s just something about those old Nikkors. On the F2, the Nikon AR-1 soft release is a nice option.
And while the Pentax LX is a super capable professional grade SLR with an awesome meter, when you add the OEM grip to the front of the camera, it becomes so much more comfortable to hold.
I realize that this “tactile dimension” is mostly the reason I have not bonded with some of the cameras I have tried. My Rolleicord was a way more capable shooter than I am a photographer, but I don’t get along with twin lens reflex cameras. And the Rollei’s shutter release was in a position I just couldn’t get used to. I tried to love Hasselblad in every configuration possible. By the time I got mine loaded up with a metered eye-level finder, it was just too cumbersome to use outside of a studio environment. I didn’t love the Minolta X-700, the Rollei SL35e, Contax 139 Quartz, Canon AE-1 Program or Mamiya 1000s either. And when I think back, it wasn’t because they couldn’t make good photographs. It was the tactile dimension.
I feel so fortunate that I have had a few extra dollars to spend on photography during a time when digital cameras have made analog ones affordable enough to own more than one.
Thanks again to Mike Connealy for the inspiration for today’s post.