Rant

Standard Madness…

Image

I have had mail suggesting that I don’t actually posses this beautiful trio of three amigos – Canon 5D2, Sony Nex 6, and Pentax Q.  Well, for the doubters, here is a portrait of these amazing picture making machines.  They are all pictured with my favourite lens – the so-called “standard” lens. On the Pentax this is an 8.5mm f1.8; on the Sony, a Sigma 30mm f2.8; and on the Canon, my favourite piece of glass in the universe, the Canon EF 50mm f1.2 L. They all have a similar field of view, if very different apertures and bokeh. With this trio, I feel that I can just about do anything…

I lime the standard lens view so much that I have a bag full of normal lenses that I use (collected over the years), and each is extraordinary in its own way, They range through many eras, from a late 1940s 50mm f1.9 Serenar (Canon), to a Leitz Summicron collapsible (1950s) , to a modern Summicron M (1990s); through Canon’s brilliant f1.2 LTM (1960s) ; to all of the Canon 50mm EF series (f1.2 / f1.4 / f1.8) and a Canon 40mm f2.8 just to mix it up; plus a wad of M42 Takumars of all sorts (1950s-60s, including some zebras). Oh, and many others too too numerous to mention. I just love them all. Most of these lenses can be used on all of these cameras with cheap adapters.

The Nex 6 signage is blacked out with tape as this is primarily a street camera. The Canon is too big to hide so there’s no point for this one, and the Pentax is so small there’s probably no point.

For the doubters, this image was shot with a Canon 5D classic, with the Canon EF 100mm f2.8 USM Macro, another classic

Enjoy them. Just don’t doubt my word.

Goodbye, Fuji X100. Goodbye Canon G12. I hated you equally….

_MG_8070

I’ve been both too busy and too lazy to get involved in posting here for a while, so let’s hope this posting breaks the drought. Please forgive my absence.

EDIT – Image of Nex 6 and Voigtlander 15mm f4.5, with brand identity taped out. Image added 30/09/13

My current photography chore has been thinning down my digital kit so that I have no more than I need (or perhaps I should make that “no more than I want in light of my needs”). Along the way I want to share a few of my observations regarding choice. I have been very busy in this space over the past couple of months.

Goodbye Fuji X100…

I didn’t bond and therefore like this camera.

I used a Fuji X100 for the past six months for my walk-around camera, but I never really got into it as an image making machine. I found that it was far too easy to screw up in too many areas with it that would spoil the images it was capable of capturing – exposure (via the easily rotated +/- compensation dial); focus (as things were very rarely in proper focus thanks to its inflexibility, but they looked great on the LCD only to be a huge let-down in processing); the high ISO performance was not as good as it’s been made out to be by the sympathetic (non-owner/user?) press; and any number of things related to its unique menu structures that could lead to getting lost in the controls and thereby missing a great image opportunity. Even the top retro chrome housing of the camera wasn’t really that great – it was just silver-painted, not chromed, and this finish began to wear off where I held it.

The genuine Fuji lens hood was weird and wouldn’t accept a lens cap, and the filters screwed on backwards. Design clue that led me to believe that Fuji wanted to force an owner into buying only genuine accessories.

I waited months for the promised v.2 firmware update that might resolve my focus issues to no avail. No image stabilisation and no face detect were also spoilers for my snapshot use, so the internet’s favourite pin-up unit has now been disposed of. Maybe its new owner is smarter than me….

Goodbye Canon G12:

I also had a Canon G12 for snapshots, but again I couldn’t get along with it, and ultimately its IQ was not up to scratch because of the tiny-sized and therefore noisy-when-pushed sensor. It was so similar to the disappointment that was the Canon G10 that I also hated. It is also now gone to a new home. I have a Canon A650 IS stuffed in my driver’s door pocket that I like a lot better than either of these cameras, and it only cost me thirty bucks. I also have to confess that I keep a Canon PowerShot A650 IS (apparently a close cousin of the venerable Canon G9) in the car for those moments when I want a chance of shooting something with camera that won’t die from being cooked in the interior of our mobile ovens in Australia over summer – and if it does die from heat exhaustion, well then I have only lost about $30 I guess. It uses AA batteries so I don’t worry about charging it, as you will know that having children means that you keep buying a never-ending supply of batteries.

Both of these cameras I had desperately hoped would be a worthwhile tool for me, but alas, neither of them lived up to the over-hyped expectations I had for them. I am glad they are gone.

But they left a couple of holes that needed filling.

Tiny P&S – Pentax Q:

A while ago you will recall I got hold of a tiny Pentax Q with just a standard prime lens. I was a doubter at first, but I am pleased to say that I have used it sporadically over the past six months, and I am now convinced it’s a great leap forwards on my old Canon PowerShot G12 as a P&S tool even though I don’t have a zoom for it. I love the IQ it can generate, and the standard f1.9 prime lens is outstanding for my needs. Equipped with a super-cheap viewfinder in the hot shoe this is a wonderful tool and is getting a beating now. The killer mode is “bold monochrome” for this one, and mine stays set to it. I understand these cameras are hugely popular in Japan, and I can see why.

Mid-size street-shooter – Hello Sony Nex 6:

The mid-size dilemma was a very tough one to solve. I have used Micro 4/3 kit since its release, and although it is capable of getting the goods, I also picked up a Fuji X100 to give this much-hyped camera a workout. I had begun to suspect that I could do better – a lot better. I loved the Olympus E-P2’s accessory electronic viewfinder, but I had tired of it falling off whenever I carried the camera over my shoulder. I tried an old Leica M8 and hated it, so I kept on looking. My daughter uses a dated Lumix G1 body (she’s 11 and has already won a couple of school photo contests – I am so proud of her), and so my dilemma was solved by just keeping this kit with its lenses for her use, and sourcing a Sony Nex 6 with the bog standard kit lens and the wonderful Sigma 30mm f2.8 prime for my use in this very important street-shooting space.

I am going to service my extra lens needs as and when they arise through my existing 35mm manual lens pool and a couple of super cheap-but-perfect adapters for Leica M bayonet (and therefore M39 screw mount too) and M42 screw mount lenses. The 1.5 crop factor of the industry-leading true APS-C sized sensor allows them to work almost as intended on this body. So far I am liking the Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Heliar (see the photo above), and the 28mm f2 Ultron.

The Nex 6 is capable of fantastic quality results (spectacular 3D quality images jump off the print and screen alike even just from using the JPG setting and the kit lens, far better results from my first day of Nex 6 shooting than I ever got with the Fuji X100, period), and in the kit form I have it is a small, discrete unit with few issues – no-one looks at you when you are using it, just like with the retro-looking X100. Fabulous features abound for my use – RAW files (although I had to update to Photoshop CS6 to use them, many thanks Adobe for the endless upgrade cycle forced on us – I will NEVER use your cloud solution, BTW); great auto sweep panoramas; and multi-stop auto exposure bracketing that was absent from my Nex F3 (also gone!) and also in a usable from from the X100.

About my only gripe with the Nex 6 is that it is too easy to accidentally change exposure settings through bumping the rear selector wheel, although this camera isn’t in the same league as the Fuji X100 for this annoying problem. It seems a bit slow to start, but I suspect that’s from my use of a huge 32 gb SD card so far – I need to try a smaller one. The Fuji X100 also suffered from slow starts with a big memory card fitted.

Full-size camera – the Canon 5D2 is still my favourite:

I also have a Canon 5D Mk 2 which I continue to absolutely love and always look forward to using as I know the results will always exceed my expectations. Although it is big, it is so easy to use that it never gets in my way, allowing me to not worry about the camera at all and to concentrate on the image instead. The Canon L glass is brilliant and never loses its value once acquired. The Nex will get a workout when I don’t want to take a big DSLR kit.

These three cameras are now the backbone of my image making toolset – the Pentax Q for pocket duties, the Nex-6 for bulging pocket duties when I want flexibility and quality, and the mighty Canon 5D2 for anything needing ultimate quality and guaranteed results, or when i need to use studio-style lighting.

However, I am still looking for the ideal kit bag(s) so that I don’t have to think about which one to grab when the urge overtakes me as I know they can all cut the image quality mustard, and are also fun to use to boot!

What is your photo kit comprised of, now we are well into the second decade of consumer digital cameras? Do let me know by leaving a comment.

Ricoh R10 – the GRD’s little brother

Let me say right off that I like Ricoh products. A lot. It is a quirky manufacturer off on its own direction in a sea of identical hardware with features copied from each other now providing almost no differentiation between makers’ offerings. I own a brace of old Ricoh 35mm cameras that go back a fair way, and I like them for the same reasons – for example, my old 500G has a back door that covers the whole of the rear of the camera, having a cut-out for the viewfinder, a very individual (and functional) approach to solving this problem instead of the me too! approach taken by everyone else in Japan in the 1970s for film doors. Ricoh seems to be a quiet achiever, and with little fanfare it has produced about 50 successful compact digital cameras in the past decade with almost no outlets through which to sell them, at least in my city, the capital of Australia.

A while ago I got my hands on a GRD II to try it out and see what all the fuss was about with the evolution to digital of the classic GR film cousin. Sadly, I never really got on well with it. It was a case of being (for me) too slow and not having a great deal of utility in poor light situations. I got rid of it, but then I regretted this move almost immediately. I was increasingly haunted by the wonderful user interface, its sheer usability, its tiny size, and above all its incredible build.

Suddenly, along came a Ricoh R10, just about the bottom of the species from Ricoh, with no pretensions to greatness, but my Ricoh hunger came flooding back and I thought I would give it a go and see if it had anything to offer to me. What a surprise it has turned out to be! It’s actually great!

It is tiny.

It is extremely well built.

It has a wide lens, starting at 28mm.

It has a long zoom – more than 7x range.

It has anti shake built in via sensor agility.

It starts up quickly.

It is fast in operation.

It has brilliant ergonomics.

It seems to be invisible as it is black and tiny and therefore probably not a threat as a street camera.

It is exceptionally cheap (brand new in Australia they cost just $149, or about US144…, a long way down from the original $450).

Best of all, it produces quality images pretty darn quickly. Here’s a snapshot from it taken at a local burger van, shot with absolutely no care:

Gritty realism (above)

Smooth (below)

And its just, oh I don’t know, just so cool.

It has a 3 inch screen, and seems to be able to shoot from shot to shot pretty quickly. JPEGs only though, unfortunately. Rich has provided good support for firmware updates over its three year market lifespan. It reeks of good design – the 7x zoom collapses almost entirely back into the surprisingly thin body. It has (laser engraved?) lettering describing it embossed into the top metal cover instead of gaudy metal foil stickers all over it. The body seems to be predominantly metal. The list goes on – and remember this is a mass-market utilitarian model camera.

Although I am not a big fan of P&S cameras, I have been hankering for a cheapie to keep in a pocket and not worry over much about. It seems that the R10 ticks all of the obvious boxes for me, and it best of all as it seems to be on an end-of-life run out making it now cost about a third of what it was 2 years ago. It’s so inexpensive that it won’t cause me any grief it it eventually gets damaged by being taken everywhere. And this is the real point I am making, I guess – it is a perfect camera to have to get those shots we all miss by not having a camera with us. I am prepared to put aside my loathing of small sensors and their endemic infinite depth of field on the basis of my chance meeting with the R10.

It is also a lot of fun. I wonder what a GRD III might have been like? Here’s a lifted promo banner from the Ricoh web site to further whet your appetite, accompanied by some tasty specifications:

r10

28-200mm 7.1x optical zoom Effective 10 million pixels Large 3.0-inch HVGA LCD monitor CCD shift image stabilizer 1cm macro Face recognition mode High- sensitivity ISO 1600 Long operation approx. 300 pictures 54 MB internal memoryPRINT Image MatchingExifPrintPictBridgeSDHC

Breaking News (8 November 2012) – The price on new R10s has dropped yet again – now A$128 at Officeworks. Incredible. 

 

Olympus 35 SP

Olympus 35 SP

This is another great find, but this time I paid $10 for it instead of my customary five dollars. “Why so expensive?” you might be thinking. Because it is a very special Olympus rangefinder, possibly the best fixed lens 35mm rangefinder camera that was ever made. This one dates from between 1969 and 1974.

The Olympus 35 SP  has two unique features, raising it head and shoulders above the common herd – switchable light metering that provides a spot meter facility as well as three more common center-weighted averaging method, and a seven element G Zuiko 42 mm f1.7 lens with unit focusing. This combination – of an exquisitely sharp and contrasty distortion-free prime lens combined with very precise metering – has made it a very sought-after little camera. I say little, but it has grown a fair bit beyond the 35 RC’s svelte form. It is perhaps a quarter-inch longer than the mighty Canon QL17 GIII recently featured here, but it has a better lens making the slightly bigger size well worth putting up with. Here it is:

Left to right, here’s the relative sizes of the SP – DC – RC:

The 35 RC on the right is absolutely tiny. The comparative sizes displayed  in this image makes the 35 SP appear as a behemoth, but trust me, its not. It’s still small in comparison with a Leica M. Talking of Leicas, the spot meter on the 35 SP appeared in 1969, years ahead of the spot meter in the Leica M5, which doesn’t have a center-weighted alternative mode. Score 1 to the SP. The purists will cry, but the G-Zuiko is every bit as good as glass of the same era from Wetzlar. The G designates seven elements, as it is the seventh letter… The camera that came after the 35 SP, the again lusted-after 35 RD (yes, I want one too) was a great camera, but it only was given an F Zuiko – yes, a 6 element lens. The SP has a 7th correcting element, making this one absolutely outstanding and just about unique. (The middle camera above – the 35 DC – is the same size as the RC version.)

The viewfinder is pure Olympus rangefinder. However, instead of displaying aperture and/or shutter speeds, the viewfinder top line shows – exposure values. Arcane in this digital day, but to anyone who grew up with an exposure meter this is pure gold. All you do is set the EV reading from the viewfinder onto the scale on the lens barrel. The pairing of exposure against shutter speed is fast and accurate – open the lens one stop, reduce the exposure by half – the same EV results. My first SLR, my dad’s Zeiss Icon Contaflex Super had the same system, and it worked very, very well.

Footnote – The background to these images is the cover of the vinyl version of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. I thought it appropriate as it is from the same era as the 35 SP. It’s a classic, too.

They’re both worth more than ten bucks. I love them.

Postscript – See a later blog entry – 25 August 2011 –  about the rehabilitation of this beautiful camera, covering many, many issues – wobbly lens, light seals, rangefinder alignment, removing the top, light meter, and batteries.  If you have one of these cameras in less than perfect condition, don’t despair – either consider getting it fixed, doing it yourself (but be very careful), or contact me and I might take it off your hands.

From Genesis (Canonet) to Revelation (QL17 GIII)

Another five dollar beauty – and it works

The five dollar Canon Canonet QL17 GIII in all its glory

This is the Canonet QL17 GIII I scored at the same time as the Nikon FM I have blogged about a week or two ago. It is a great little camera, and  it is in absolutely perfect condition – the lens is clear, the shutter works, all speeds seem OK, the auto exposure side functions properly, it is cosmetically perfect, and it even came with the original printed book and the correct lens cap. Those of you that know me understand that I have a particular lust for Canonets, and the GIII is the daddy of them all.

I like small rangefinder cameras for a special reason – this class of camera has become a favourite of mine, as they represent Oskar Barnack’s ideal small pocketable camera which can easily be taken everywhere. According to Canon, the development of the high-grade 35mm camera had been its great milestone from the start of the 1950s constituting Canon’s mission – these cameras are typified by the Canon P and 7 Leica screw mount bodies. During the late 1950s there was an effort made inside Canon to produce a simpler camera that could be used by anybody. That effort would be the development of the 35mm lens-shutter camera.

It all began in 1958 when there were heated discussions within Canon as to whether the company should take the route confined to the manufacturing of high-end cameras typified by the then-current Canon  VI-L and VI-T models, or whether it should also enter the market for intermediate-class cameras. Gradually, the voices of young engineers expressing the opinion “we want to make cameras we can afford” gained strength. This resulted in a tentative decision to produce a prototype of an intermediate-class camera before the company’s overall policy guidelines could be developed. With this background, the development of the 35mm lens-shutter camera started. This camera was the “Canonet,” which swept the entire camera market with the slogan “anyone can buy it ,and anyone can an take pictures with it“.

Although the plan was to market the Canonet camera in August 1960, its debut was delayed until January l961 because of strong criticism from Canon’s competitors complaining that the price of under 20,000 yen was too low to compete with. When the camera was introduced for the first time at the display and sales counter on the 7th floor of Mitsukoshi department store in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, the number of people interested in seeing the camera was so great that they overflowed onto the staircases. The total inventory for one week was gone within 2 hours after the sales counter opened. Its sales were so astronomical and its customer acceptance so overwhelming that the February 6, 1961 issue of Shukan Bunshun (a popular weekly magazine) covered the sensation in the article entitled “Go To Hell!! Canonet.”

The Canonet was a mid-priced camera that could be manufactured at high volume and low cost; the 1961 sales price was ¥18,800 or $55. The Canonet was technologically superior to any other Japanese camera at that time, and given that it was mass produced it was a technological marvel. Amateur Photographer (in October1960) called it “one of the most ambitious” cameras introduced at the 1960 Photokina Show in West Germany. Canon challenged accepted production methods through the use of new mass production techniques. Precisely because the process innovation used to make the camera dramatically cut total production costs, the market for the Canonet, and thereby high-quality cameras, was significantly broadened due to the increased affordability of the new Canonet. Canon in effect challenged other firms to follow suit or lose market share.

The other firms did not let the Canonet challenges go by unnoticed. They criticized Canon claiming that the Canonet’s retail price was in violation of the manufacturers’ agreement of October 1959 to fix prices industry wide. This behaviour – that of a cartel – surprised me when I learned of this fact. It was brought about as competition among the JCIA member firms had intensified throughout the 1950s to such an extent that between 1957 and 1961 ten firms were forced to declare bankruptcy. Part of the problem was an incessant proliferation of new camera models and aggressive retail price cuts. The instability that this had caused motivated the JCIA – with the support of MITI, the all-powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry, to agree to fixed retail prices. Canon’s competitors were also highly critical of Canon because the Canonet was introduced in West Germany at Photokina, not at the Japan Camera Show in Japan. The JCIA member firms, including Canon, had agreed to biannual product introductions at the Japan Camera Shows beginning in March 1960, meaning that new products were to be introduced in Japan, not overseas. This upset the photographic cartel.

To settle things down, in a show of good will and in the spirit of cooperation, Canon agreed to withhold the camera from the Japanese market for six months while the other JCIA members caught up. When on January 24, 1961, the Canonet was finally introduced at the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo, all 300 units sold within 30 minutes. Despite the efforts of the JCIA, Canon succeeded in scooping the market changing the competitive playing field.

The effect of Canon’s move was to intensify efforts among the Japanese companies to cut production costs and increase production levels. The result of this effort was clear by the end of the 1960s. Manufacturers that did not begin to use mass production methods but instead sought to compete using traditional and far more labour-intensive production methods lost market share. Canon set the trend for decades to come, and in doing so, just about doomed the German camera industry.

The original Canonet, and the Demi – note the bottom level wind on the Canonet

While the boom sparked by the Canonet had not quite cooled off yet, the “Canon Demi” camera was introduced in February 1963. It was a compact and lightweight half-frame camera that permitted twice as many pictures per roll of film. This camera was also a hit with its catch phrase “let’s draw our ‘Demi’ from our pocket.” Also released in October of the same year was the “Color Demi,” which was popular among users because it was available in three different colours: red, blue and white. With the debut of the Demi”series, the variety of the lens-shutter cameras increased. The important thing was that the technologies acquired during the development of these 35mm lens-shutter cameras were fully fed back into the products that followed.

The original  Canonet was well-featured – it had a very fast 1.9 lens, EE shutter-priority auto exposure and full manual operation, and a price tag consumers could sink afford – it was priced at 18,800 yen, which was about fifty 1961 dollars, a price low enough that it actually angered other camera companies! No wonder then that the Japanese camera industry went into an uproar upon learning that Canon, maker of high-end cameras, was to introduce a mid-class 35mm camera with a fast f/1.9 lens for less than 20,000 yen. When the Canonet went to market in January 1961, and a week’s worth of stock was sold out in only two hours, it marked the start of the Canonet boom. Two and a half years later, a million Canonets had been sold.

Many models appeared in later years, all sired by the original Canonet, leading to the introduction of the final model – the venerable QL17 GIII – in 1972.  The “G” in the camera designation stood for “Grade Up” which referred to the quality improvement, although surprisingly, all were made in Taiwan. The “III” indicated the third-generation of the series, following the original Canonet and the New Canonet lines. Manufactured from spring 1972 to summer 1982, it was a long-selling bestseller over 11 years. About 1.2 million units were made.

There’s a reason why Canon sold so many of this particular model in their long line of successful 35mm rangefinder cameras: this is definitely a high end camera, and a breathtaking lens and rich feature set are only two factors in its success. Introduced in 1972, the GIII designation indicated the third in a series of successful compact rangefinders of this type; this is one of the models most avidly sought after by collectors and users of fine compact 35mm rangefinders of the ’70’s era. It was the most refined and improved of the three, being the culmination of continuous enhancements and strengthening to produce one of the slickest cameras of its time, one that was justifiably referred to more than once as “a poor man’s Leica”. It’s not without its quirks, however, as you’ll see shortly.

The camera is noticeably larger than the really compact 35mm rangefinders of that time, along with the Konica Auto S2, Olympus 35 RD and Olympus 35 SP: each of these cameras was aimed solidly at the high end market, professionals wanting a second camera without compromises, and serous amateurs wanting the best, most full featured cameras they could afford as non-working photographers. These cameras all distinguished themselves to that end with lenses that were typically a full f-stop faster than more compact ones (F/1.7 or 1.8 were the norm for these lenses); the larger physical diameter and length of these lenses in made them distinctive in appearance (they also provided aperture, shutter speed and focusing rings that were easier to grip and move with certainty). The faster lenses, coupled with the typically longer range of working shutter speeds on the low end made these cameras wonderful low light shooters, greatly enhancing their desirability. The camera bodies themselves were correspondingly larger too, as more features were packed into them, and beefier, stronger parts for long life and rugged reliability were used: all this required a larger body to make it all work. Still, the cameras are not that much larger, and remain very light: at the end of the day, you still barely notice their presence hanging from your shoulder strap.

The lens itself is the heart of the camera: a slightly wide, 40mm F/1.7 optic composed of 6 elements arranged in 4 groups gives razor sharp and nicely contrasting photographs, with a very nice focusing range of 2.6 feet to Infinity (most cameras of this type normally close focused at 3 feet). The metering cell is located at the 12 o’clock position in the lens barrel, offering automatic filter factor compensation with 48mm screw thread filters mounted. The lens barrel becomes the “control centre” for the camera, in a sense, as 90% of the operating functions are selected from one of three rings mounted on the outer periphery: (from outside in toward the camera body) shutter speed selection ring, aperture/guide number selection ring, and focus ring.

The Copal leaf shutter offers speeds ranging from a low of 1/4 of a second to a top end of 1/500th of a second, with a B(ulb) time setting included. The shutter speeds are click stopped along the ring, marked in white, with the 1/30th of a second position marked in blue. The Bulb setting has a stud lock further along the lens ring to prevent accidentally selecting this setting when working with the camera at your eye: press and hold the lock in while rotating the shutter speed ring to the B setting.

Just behind the shutter speed ring, a small window appears in the lens barrel sleeve displaying the selected film speed in ASA. This is one of the quirks of this camera: the film speed is indicated only in ASA: no metric DIN equivalent is indicated. Even odder is the fact that the guide numbers offered are indicated solely in meters, not in feet: very unusual for a camera of this quality and particularly in light of the extensive attention to detail given to numerous other features throughout the design. Further along the lens barrel sleeve is a small, notched stud protruding from a slot cut in the sleeve: slip a finger nail in the notch, press down and hold while sliding the stud one way or another to line up the desired film speed against an indicator in the film speed window. Release the stud to lock in the setting (it is click stopped). The range of ISO speeds available to be selected is a broad 25 to 800 (many cameras offer only 25 -400), further enhancing the Canon’s ability as a low light shooter.

The aperture ring immediately behind the film speed selection window allows you to select apertures from F/1.7 down to a standard F/16. An “A” for automatic setting sets the camera into shutter preferred exposure mode: you select the shutter speed, the exposure system automatically selects the best aperture. Bear in mind, as with most cameras of this type, when selecting the aperture manually, the exposure meter is disengaged; only the “A” setting provides exposure control and indications. Further along the ring are 3 numbers marked in blue:28, 20, and 14, all metric guide numbers for the built in, flashmatic flash exposure control system (American equivalents are 92, 66 and 46, respectively, for ISO 100 film). Just to the left of the F/16 aperture setting (looking down on the lens barrel, as in the photograph above) is a small lever protruding from a slot: the self time actuator. Slide it to the other side of the slot with the shutter cocked, press the shutter release button and it will count off approximately 9 seconds delay before opening the shutter. Like most cameras of this type, the mechanical self timer cannot be cancelled in mid-operation. There is no “Off” position for power to the CdS exposure metre photocell, so, as with most cameras of this type, the lens cap serves as the “off” switch to conserve power by covering the lens.

The inner most ring is the focus setting ring, the thick black index mark for which is actually engraved in the metal of the camera body itself, just below the left end of the rangefinder element glass. Distances in feet are marked in an eye-catching forest green, while metric equivalents directly underneath them are marked in black. The silky smooth focusing is aided by a thick, half-inch long lever protruding from the focusing ring on the left side (as you’re holding the camera in shooting position). The idea is to grip the lever between two fingers and simply rock it up or down; with a minute or two of practice, you can quickly “snap” focus with spot on accuracy in a split second. This is an enormously attractive feature; if you’re new to cameras, you’ll fall in love with it, and miss it on other cameras that lack it. In actual use, though, I found it downright disconcerting: I’ve spent years using cameras without it, and have grown strongly accustomed to the traditional, Single Lens Reflex (SLR) method of focusing whereby you cradle the camera in your left hand, with the tips of your thumb and forefinger gently pinching the focus ring. The focus lever on the Canon makes this almost impossible, so if you’re at all like me, it will take a wee bit of getting used to. Fast shooting photographers and journalists love it, however, and it remains a unique and extremely useful feature.

The viewfinder is a joy to work with (or through, as the case may be), being roomy, bright and clear with a large, easy to pick up yellow rangefinder focusing patch dead centre. A yellow vertical strip on the right side shows the F/stops, indicated by a floating black needle; red over- and under-exposure warning patches at the top and bottom of the scale give you a good indication of why the shutter won’t trip in Automatic exposure mode: if the needle is in either of those areas, the shutter release button locks to prevent badly exposed photographs. There is no indicator in the viewfinder when the flashmatic system is engaged, which is a bit disappointing on a camera of this calibre; not having shutter speeds indicated is also a puzzling omission, given the level of sophistication that went into the design and engineering of this dream camera, but then again, I did indicate at the beginning of this article that this camera is not without its quirks. On the other hand, this is one of the very, very few compact 35mm rangefinder cameras ever made that had bright frame lines that moved with the focus lever to provide automatic parallax compensation: kudos to the engineers on this one!

Many relatively small things, at first glance, seem to have been thoughtfully designed to provide the easiest to use camera Canon could make; they grow on you quickly as you begin to realize exactly how fully featured and comfortable a camera this is to use. Take the top deck, for instance: beginning on the far right side, the film advance lever has a large, comfortable black plastic extension for fast and reliable film advance. The “stand off” position is more than adequate, and the single stroke, short throw lever is very smooth; the lack of a ratchet film advance, while unusual, is not a major factor here. There is a tiny bit of side to side slop in the large shutter release button (threaded for a universal cable release), although it releases the shutter crisply at the bottom of its stroke. The button is noticeably stiffer than other cameras: you won’t take a picture accidentally with this camera. The metal ring concentric to the release button provides a very comfortable rest for the entire pad of your fingertip.

Immediately to the left of the shutter release button is a large film counter window, and what a pleasant surprise it is to note that the glass in the window slightly magnifies the numbers for easier visibility, a very nice touch indeed. The flash hot shoe has spring clips under each wing to help clamp the flash foot into place more reliably; a second, smaller electric contact in the shoe is for the dedicated Canolite D electronic flash unit that was marketed for the camera: totally automatic flash control was possible with this unit simply by slipping it into place (it used the flashmatic feature of the camera, but the second electrical contact signalled the camera that a Canolite D unit was being used, which meant that the shooter could leave the aperture ring set in the “A” position and not have to set a guide number; removing it returned the camera instantly to Automatic exposure control).

Even something as simple, and almost universally standard as the film rewind lever and knob has been made a touch differently: instead of traditional flat sides, the metal on either side of the fold down crank has been milled away to provide a nicely sloping surface on this large, easy to grip knob. Mere styling? No…should the folding crank ever break off, the easy grip knob will allow you to carry on with minimum fuss; what a wonderful thought for anyone who has ever endured the frustration of a broken rewind crank. Pulling up on the rewind crank/knob assembly unlatches the back cover for film loading and unloading.

On the far left side of the camera body, just behind one of the two extremely sturdy camera strap lugs, is a small, oval, spring loaded plastic cap. Gently pull out on the end closest to the viewfinder eyepiece and swivel it down 90 degrees to reveal the PC flash synch cord contact socket; it will swivel back in place when the cord is removed, providing an efficient dust cover. I believe the Canon was the only one of the classic compact 35mm rangefinder cameras of the ’70’s to ever have this feature.

Just to the left of the viewfinder eyepiece is a small red button with a tiny blue light bulb above it, both centred under the word “Check” in white letters. Press the button in briefly and the blue light will light up to indicate a good battery. Still along the back deck, directly under the tip of the film advance lever, is a small rectangular window with alternating red and white strips showing in it: the band of stripes move as the film is wound, providing positive indication that the film is properly threaded onto the take spool and moving through the camera – another wonderful touch, and one whose utility will become even more apparent in another moment. Just to the right of that is a smaller, square window that shows red when the shutter is cocked; it returns to white when the shutter is tripped, something very rare on cameras of this type.

The bottom deck is graced with a traditional film rewind button (press this in to disengage the clutch prior to rewinding the film back into its cartridge at the end of a roll; it will pop back out again and the film counter will reset to zero once the back is opened). In the centre is a tripod socket, and just to the left of that is another really nice design touch: a spring loaded rectangular battery chamber door that requires no coin or other tool more sophisticated than a fingernail to open. Simply place your fingernail into the slot, slide it to the left and pull down to open. A tug on the clear plastic leader will slide the PX-625 type battery (or it’s equivalent) out for easy replacement. At last: a battery cover that doesn’t need a coin or screwdriver to unscrew, and no more unsightly scratches or mars to the finish when it slides out of the inadequate slot in the traditional circular screw in covers of

I’ve saved the most unique feature of this camera for last, and will now reveal the meaning behind the “QL” designation of these cameras: Q(uick) L(oading). The only camera of it’s kind at the time to have it, the GIII has a unique quick film loading feature that is both fast and positive. When you open the camera back and look to the right side, you’ll notice that the take up spool is covered by a metal plate, and the door only opens out 90 degrees from the closed position. Place your film cartridge in the left side chamber as usual, gently push the door further open to a 180 degree position, and an odd looking take up spool with strange looking, spring loaded lugs on the shaft will appear. Directly under this is a small bright orange rectangular index mark; stretch your film leader out across the lens chamber and lay it across the spool, with the end lined up at least half to 3/4 of the way across the orange index mark. Now return the film back to the 90 degree position, so that the metal plate is closed over the take up spool chamber (a nice little illustration plate secured to the inside of the back cover clearly shows the process involved). Look through the little cut out window in the left side of that metal plate and verify that the sprocket holes of the 35mm film are actually engaged by the teeth of the white plastic film advance spool. Close the door completely until it latches, and you’re set: simply wind the shutter and release it twice to advance the leader to a fresh piece of film (watch the red/white striped band in the film advance window discussed earlier to verify proper film advance) and you’ll be ready to take photographs. This was one of the most innovative features ever put in a 35mm camera, and the Canon was the only one like it in this regard.

In actual use, I find a lot to love about this camera: It’s slightly larger size makes for a comfortable and sure grip, and a slightly faster and more positive operation of the controls. The extra f-stop of speed, coupled with two more shutter speeds than many other cameras provided at the time makes it better to use in lower light situations, as does the extended ISO film speed selection range. The viewfinder is a joy to work with, although the addition of a shutter speed readout would have greatly improved operation. Focusing is faster than I would have thought possible by just the addition of the focusing lever. The QL feature is undeniably superb, as is the overall fit, finish and incredible attention to design details. It’s no wonder this camera was a favourite of working professionals and serious amateurs alike.

The G-III QL17 was made in both a brushed silver and a “professional” black finish; they turn up on eBay regularly in mint to excellent condition for between $60 and $120 for silver, while black ones routinely fetch $200 – $300 in the same condition. The matching Canolite D electronic flash unit is a highly recommended accessory, as is the special, made specifically for this model, Canon lens shade (it is uniquely designed to not intrude in the viewfinder area when attached, and will actually lay flat on a table.

Leica IIIf RD DA

Naked beauty
I can’t stop admiring this incredible camera. It is working just about perfectly now, having had its view- and range-finders cleaned following its invasive surgery a couple of weeks ago. It is fitted with one of my absolute favorite lenses – the Canon 50mm f1.2 screw mount. This wonder appeared in 1956, so it is of the right age to fit onto the Leica IIIf, although my copy was made in 1961. An accessory viewfinder is essential as this lens shuts out over half of the viewfinder.
The astute reader will have by now realised that I have a thing for 50mm “standard” lenses. I am ashamed to say I have and use (oh dear) a 1949 Canon Serenar f1.9 collapsible; a 1953 Leitz Summicron collapsible; this wonderful Canon f1.2; a Leica Summicron M from about 1990 (4th version); 3 Super Takumar f1.4’s, as well as a couple of older sibling 1950s Takumar zebra 50mm f2 and f2.2 from well before automatic iris mechanisms appeared; a Tessar from Carl Zeiss Jena (another particular favorite of mine); a box of about twenty other various 50mm M42 mount versions yet awaiting their time; a Nikkor 50mm f1.4 AI from 1981; a Tomioka 55mm f1.2 (the fastest M42 ever produced); several FD 50mm f1.8’s; not to mention my trusty Canon EF 50 f1.4. God help me. Perhaps it’s because my first SLR was a Zeiss Contaflex Super (thanks Dad) that was fitted with a Tessar that could not be easily swapped for anything else, so it became my go-to (read only) lens for a very long while. And that list doesn’t even have regard for the ones I don’t own anymore.
This picture was shot with my five dollar Nikkor 50mm f1.4 lens that was originally fitted to the Nikon FM2n I showed a little earlier. It’s a fabulous lens, now fitted to my Olympus E-P2 (my rangefinder for the digital age) through a cheap and cheerful Chinese made N-to-M43 adapter. That combination shot this image (f5.6, hand held, 400ASA at about 1/30 sec).
If you haven’t yet got into using beautiful legacy glass on a digital camera body, you really do owe it to yourself to trawl the Goodwill shops until you find one, and get an adapter for your particular SLR of choice. They can open up the old fashioned world of think first, shoot second that I believe must only improve one’s image making that is denied to us in the auto-everything non-thinking digital age of cameras.
I am renovating its leather half case now, so a bit more camera pron should appear soon when that little task is sorted out, so stay tuned.

Barnack IIIf (almost) sorted

Back together again

A couple of days ago I posted a shot of a Leica IIIf red dial, with a bit of commentary about what it needed to get it properly sorted. The last thing needed was to fix the shutter timing. Well, I bit the bullet and tore it down. Here is a picture of it in bits on my desk:

Pretty straightforwards, following many of the excellent directions available on the net. I got into a bit of difficultly reassembling the slow speed governor, but thanks to the wonderful Rick Oleson (google him), a brilliant and helpful camera fix-it whiz, I had foolproof instructions on getting it back together. The ripped film (above the knife) was hidden inside, all ready to jam things up as soon as I loaded it if I hadn’t found it by then.

The two images following are sound recordings I made to try and assess the before and after shutter speed situation. They were recorded using a freeware program called “Audacity”, using a microphone poking into the body cavity. Both recordings are of 1/2 second:

The first image shows that the first curtain traveled OK, and the second curtain started to try and close at 0.75 secs. but took another 0.25 seconds to actually close. It was also pretty noisy.

Adjusting the first and second curtain settings has altered this poor situation – the second image reveal a few things after my tear-down, clean and lube – it is much quieter; the timing is just a bit off at 0.55 secs (only a +10% variation); and the second curtain now properly closes the shutter and caps the film. The situation seems to me to be similar across all of the speeds.

It seems to work pretty well now. I will soon get around to properly timing the shutter speeds – they have gone from abysmally slooow to just a tiny a bit fast now, I feel. To get closer, I need access to an old fashioned TV with a CRT to act as a timing device.

Hopefully I will soon have that sorted, and then in with a film. Now all I have to do is find my collection of antique Weston meters. Or should I just guess through the “Sunny 16” rule?

Whatever, I can’t wait.