The Minolta Hi-Matic E, a Short Review

The Minolta Hi-Matic E is an advanced consumer, fixed lens rangefinder camera from the early 1970s. When it was  introduced in 1971 it featured, what was then, some fairly high end technology. While being a fixed lens rangefinder, a form factor that was common to the period, it features a rather good 40mm f/1.7 lens constructed of six elements in four groups that offers reasonably good quality though it is somewhat subject to flare and chromatic aberration. It has a Seiko leaf shutter with speeds from 2 – 1/1000 seconds and manually set ASA/ISO from 25-500. The aforementioned 40mm f/1.7 lens has has a focal range of 2.6’ to infinity. The camera has a coupled rangefinder with parallax correction and frame lines to match the lens’s 40mm focal length. The rangefinder patch in my example is somewhat age faded and I am certain it was easier to see when new. 

My HI-Matic E. – all dressed up and no place to go.

It was not a budget camera when introduced which, was reflected in its price at the time of about $900.00 USD in today’s money. Today you can find these cameras used for anywhere from $40.00 USD to around $100.00 USD dependent on condition. 

I paid around $50.00, including shipping, for mine about two years ago.

The competition in its time would have been cameras like the Canon QL17 and Yashica Electro 35 GSN, just to give you an idea of its position in the market.

Realistically, however, in retrospect, this camera, like the others mentioned above, is really an early point and shoot that offers none of the simplicity or convenience of point and shoot cameras from the 1980s and 1990s and none of the creative control of more advanced cameras from its time. 

Then there’s the batteries. This is one of those cameras that was designed to work with the now banned PX640, 1.35 volt mercury cells. Which makes powering the camera a little bit of a hassle, and since there are no manual functions, the camera is completely bricked without power, the film advance lever wont even work. Battery options include using 640 alkaline equivalents or buying an adapter online to use LR44 type alkaline batteries. There are also some things online to show you how can “jury rig” a couple of LR44/A76 type batteries to work which is what I did (and breaking a tiny nub off of the plastic battery compartment door in the process – which is now held in place with electrical tape). Yes these are all slightly higher voltage options, but don’t worry it really doesn’t effect things enough to worry about considering the exposure latitude of both color a and B&W film. Trust me.

I don’t know if I missed focus or had some camera shake in this one.

For some reason, I developed an interest, or more accurately, curiosity about this general type of camera a couple of years ago which for me is odd because I am an SLR person through and through. I purchased this camera from an online auction site and received it in the condition it’s in (minus the lens hood and red soft release) and have just given it nothing more than a general surface cleaning. After shooting it I am pleased that it has no light leaks and the exposure seems accurate so far, but then I’ve only run two rolls through it.

This back yard shot is more indicative of the lens’s quality and the cameras abilities.

This is a difficult review to write. I understand completely where it fit into the market when released, but today this camera serves no purpose in my collection other than a typical example of a higher end consumer camera from the era.

Ergonomics weren’t much of a consideration when this camera was designed so, its shape is basic with little thought to fit. Haptics are so-so, and the overall shooting experience is kind of boring. Battery issues can be frustrating.

While this general type of camera has experienced quite a bit of popularity in the last few years, I honestly don’t get it. On the other hand, if you are interested in these older fixed lens rangefinders, I suppose this is as good as most. Maybe a little better in some respects (like the lens).

So that, of course begs the question; Who is this camera for? Well, for me that’s difficult to answer. One area that I can see that it would be useful is for street photography. There are some things that would be advantageous to a street photographer. Being a manual focus camera, you can set it for zone focus and combined with its very quiet shutter it would, indeed, make a very stealthy camera that could be “shot from the hip” so to speak, and with practice, I would imagine you would have quite a high ratio of keepers.

Then there is the idea that working with a single camera and lens combo will, over time, make you a better photographer. It might be useful to that end as well.

Lastly, it could just be a curiosity that’s fun to run a roll through from time to time. Which is what it is for me and, ultimately, why I haven’t sold it on to someone else or tossed it in the bin.

Stay safe and see the world your own way.

Thanks for reading.

The Value in a Snapshot

As Photographers, we put ourselves under a lot of internal pressure. This applies if you use the term Photographer in any way to describe yourself, even only in your own mind, and is not dependent on whatever word you put in front of it, beginner, amateur, semi-professional, serious amateur, hobbyist, whatever. You still identify on some level as being a Photographer, or put another way, someone engaged in the serious pursuit of making good (or better) photographs. Unlike the average person with a point and shoot camera (increasingly rare these days), or shooting on their phone. They do not identify as a photographer. They see themselves as “just taking pictures”. Whereas we as “Photographers” strive to make the best possible image. In fact, most average phone shooters would never refer to their pictures as “images”. when those folks get a “good one” they are happy, when the don’t, it’s “no big deal” for the Photographers among us it’s a blow to our psyche.

As Photographers, we have been conditioned to abhor the snapshot. We use every technique we know, from lighting and composition to exposure control to create a picture that cannot be called a snapshot. To this end we invest in the best equipment we can afford and try to find the time to pursue the “craft” of photography. Indeed often we refer to what we are doing as “a personal project” or “personal work” as if this verbal talisman somehow lends a sense of importance to our picture making. We avoid, at all costs, making snapshots, and are severely disappointed when our “images” end up being snapshots. We view snapshots as what they are, photos made in a hurry with little regard for proper technique. To eschew them as inferior though, is the ultimate disservice.

Some of my better snapshots … or so I think.

My first encounter, as a Photogapher, with the unintended snapshot was in the early nineties. There was an area at the southern end of California’s Eastern Sierras that I passed through two or three times a year. I eventually noticed a meadow with an old barn and a range of low mountains in the background. A very bucolic, though cliche scene. The first few times I drove past it I did not have my camera. The next time through however, I made sure to take a camera.

I do not remember exactly which camera I took, I know it was one of my Canon EOS models, I just don’t remember if it was a Rebel, or my EOS 630. I don’t remember which lens either, but it was probably a 35-80 kit lens. I was just a beginner.

When I arrived at the scene, I parked on the shoulder of the highway. The barn was quite far away, and I couldn’t get closer due to a barbed wire fence at the highway, but the barn was meant to be the focal point of the shot. It was nearly noon and the light was extremely flat and there were no clouds or anything to add interest to the sky. I was loaded with color print film (likely Kodak Gold 100) and I remember bracketing three exposures. I was so focused on the barn that I though I had a great image, a real “banger” so, on with the rest of my day.

After getting back home I hurriedly dropped the film off for processing. I picked it up the next day and couldn’t wait to see my “incredible” landscape image. After looking through the prints, I couldn’t find it. Sure, there were some crappy snapshots of the barn in question, but no wonderful image to ooh and ahh over. Well, that was disappointing. The disappointment was that the photo was not representative of what I saw- though it was an absolutely objective representation of the scene that was before me that day.

So what happened? Simple, I was so enamored of the scene that I didn’t take anything else into account. I didn’t think about the lousy light, I didn’t think that my lens was wrong, I didn’t stop to think that the composition was off. I didn’t think about the complexity of shooting a brown subject against a darker brown background. In short, I didn’t think. I just shot like any other non-photographer. I turned the image in my mind into a snapshot.

I don’t know whatever happened to that photo, I kept it for several years though, and I can still see it with clarity in my “mind’s eye” with no problem whatsoever. That photo, more than any other drove me to try and improve my photography, and I am sure a similar experience has happened to every serious photographer ever. I wish I still had that photo, not because it represents a failure, but rather because it represents an evolution in my photography,

So I, like many other Photographers, have had a built in prejudice toward any image that can be called a snapshot. Likely because we want to differentiate ourselves from the common “picture taker”. Though it has recently occurred to me that the snapshot might just be one of the most valid forms of photography and is due as much respect as more serious “images”, regardless of who made it.

Snapshots are the backbone of our personal history. The inevitable box or album of old family photos is, almost always, full of snapshots taken by someone in the family with a camera. Taken at every family event, vacation or occasion imaginable, they are our individual historical record.

In fact, historians have learned more about the daily lives of past generations through casual snapshot photography than they ever have with formal images. Snapshots are, most often, made as remembrances not as a form of art. They are the penultimate document of our lives, and, when viewed, usually a cause for nostalgia and reminiscence. In short, by and large, they are a big part of our humanity, as individuals, and as a society.

As Photographers, we should celebrate the snapshot instead of making it the object of our derision. That doesn’t mean we should not use whatever acquired skills we have to make better snapshots, quite the contrary, but we need to remember, that not every photograph should be art. Some (if not most) should be allowed to just be photos.

Ultimately I am better off for having left that company.

I’ve been on a break of undetermined length due to a confluence of events, like self inflicted unemployment starting last August (2020). Really, quitting your job in the middle of a pandemic and a crashing economy is not a good idea. However staying in a position with a toxic management team is not really a viable option for the long term.

After finding a position that was in my field and, career-wise, a lateral move, it turned out that the company was a complete administrative mess and after about a month and a half we agreed that the relationship was not a good fit for either of us so I moved on. I moved on into a ridiculous position that was in a completely different industry and completely beneath my skillset and abilities – I made it about three weeks before throwing in the towel after taking a long look at myself and wondering what exactly was I doing.

Then, after a few more applications, a recruiter reached out to me and I finally landed in a position in my industry at a slight increase in compensation over my last position, with what, so far, appears to be a good company with some pretty good perks and benefits too. So, hopefully I am over that hump.

While I was unemployed, I tried to make a little side money with photography, which I have done before. It didn’t work this time and I have to say the “pandemic economy” probably played a large part in that situation. 

I threw myself into that venture with intensity and with no reward, in the situation I was in, I quickly reached the burn out point with photography. Which led me to sell off my entire Sony kit. I did so with the intention of using the money to help out with expenses, even though my wonderful wife assured me that it wasn’t necessary. Ultimately though, without photography, I was able to concentrate on my job search and it did pay off so, there’s that.

So, now that I am appropriately employed again it’s time to delve back into photography. Of course, this also means picking up where I left off in the blog because suddenly, I. Have an brain full of topics that I want to write about and share.

First and foremost is assembling another kit. This time it will be all about the micro four thirds format, for very specific reasons both objective and subjective. Ive already purchased a (new) camera and lens. So there will be a user review coming soon. Also despite my dire predictions for film photography, I am gong to use and talk about some older and interesting film cameras. I have a goal in mind for that medium too.

JPEG from an upcoming film camera review

I’m also thinking about some educational posts too, regarding the technical side of photography, and we’ll taking a deep dive into home printing, which is something I do quite a bit.

I will be continuing a series I started based on the idea “photographers you should know” and have a few in mind, but those posts require a huge amount of research, especially if you are writing about a living person. So, that will probably be awhile before I can get back to that.

So I guess for those of you who read and comment on my blog, stay tuned, I think you are going to like the new direction.

Let me know if there’s anything you would like to discuss or read.

As always, stay safe, and see the world your own way.

Thanks for reading

Shooting Film – The Olympus OMG

In a recent post I forecast the death of film photography. I still stand by that thesis. However that doesn’t mean I don’t like to play around with it from time to time. I am actually kind of happy that film didn’t become completely extinct around 2008-2010. That, however doesn’t mean I think it is here to stay in perpetuity either.

Since film cameras are reasonably inexpensive, though steadily increasing in price, it’s fun to use them occasionally. About a year ago I picked up an Olympus OMG. Now some of you that haven’t heard of this camera are going to laugh at the name and I assure you that OMG then didn’t mean what OMG does now.


feel free to skip ahead if you like…

The Olympus OMG was from Olympus’ amateur line or what we now call the consumer or entry level line up. All Olympus cameras with two digit model numbers; OM- 10/20/30/40, are from the amateur line. The pro models are, of course; OM-1/2/3/4. The OMG introduced in 1983 was an upgrade from the OM-10 adding a manual mode in addition to the aperture priority mode of the OM-10. Also added was a PC flash sync socket and contacts for an auto winder or motor drive. The OMG is a reasonably standard camera from the era. Features include a horizontally traveling cloth focal plane shutter with speeds from 1 – 1/1000 plus Bulb and with flash sync at 1/60 or lower. Like all Olympus cameras, the controls are placed differently than as is common on other cameras of the time. The shutter speed is controlled via a ring on the lens mount instead of the more common dial on the camera’s top plate. Because of this, the aperture ring is relocated to the front of the lens. The rewind knob is in the normal place on the left side of the top plate, but to engage it you use a switch on the front of the camera body instead of the more normally encountered release button on the bottom plate. It has an exposure comp dial on the right side top plate with an external ring to set ISO/ASA. The power switch is on the left side top plate with settings for AUTO/OFF/MANUAL/BULB and a position for battery check. Speaking of batteries, the OMG takes commonly available SR44/AS76 batteries, so there is no need for a special battery or adapter. However, the camera will become totally inoperable without batteries and will lock up. The view finder is a standard pentprism affair with a built in hot shoe for flash and internally it offers a split image focusing screen.

Back to the story…..

I paid around $45.00 USD for mine including taxes and shipping. When it arrived it was, typically, a little dirty, and the batteries were dead. It came with the inevitable 50mm f/1.8 lens as you would expect.

This is not my first time owning this model. In the early 1990s I found one in a pawn shop that included the camera with a 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko, a 75-150 zoom and a Vivitar 28mm, along with a bag, tripod, motor winder, and an assortment of filters plus a few other miscellaneous bits of kit Including an Olympus flash. All for $120.00 USD (About $217.00 today). A difficult deal to pass on at the time and I didn’t (ironically it would probably be about the same price today). Sure it wasn’t a real OM pro model but that wasn’t necessary as I wasn’t really an Olympus fan at the time. Aside from my main Canon EOS kit, I also owned a Nikon FG in addition to the OMG. I will tell you this, there is no comparison with the Nikon. In build quality, operation, and fit/finish, the Olympus OMG is a far superior camera to the little Nikon FG. 

I don’t know what ever happened to that camera, I am sure I sold it, I just do not remember where or when. Periodically, though, I thought I might like to own another one, then digital became the dominate format and the threats of a film apocalypse were real and present, and, anyway, I was pretty busy with life. So I forgot about it.

A couple of years ago I started browsing around the internet looking at old film cameras just for fun. I started looking for cameras that I used to own, thinking it might be fun to have a collection of the cameras I have owned in the past. So when I started looking for an OMG, I found there weren’t many to be had and the ones that were available were in terrible condition. I am sure this rarity is because they were relatively low end consumer type cameras not because of any sort of overt desirability or collectibility. I would imagine most were thrown out or sold at yard sales then thrown out, or still are packed away in someone’s attic or basement. 

I finally found and bid (successfully) on the one I currently own. Like I said, when it arrived it was in pretty decent cosmetic condition if a little dirty, and after installing new batteries, everything seemed to work as it should. On the other hand, the light seals were just goo, and someone tried tape to fix the problem. There was some funk of some sort in the lens and some sort of detritus floating around in the viewfinder.

I ordered and installed a light seal kit – a deceptively frustrating task that appears fairly easy at first look, and ends up being a bit more difficult but isn’t too bad, it just requires a certain amount of patience and dexterity to do right. Cleaning out the old seal material and installing the new seals took me about 45 minutes. The job is technically correct but could be better cosmetically.

I managed to remove the focusing screen and extract the piece of whatever the heck it was, and reassemble everything. The last step was to clean the lens. I successfully got it apart and clean, but on reassembly, the aperture ring was stuck. That’s when I discovered I lost a tiny spring and detent ball during disassembly. So… I ended up getting another lens online for $35.00 (it came to about $48.00 with shipping). It’s not as mechanically perfect as the first (the aperture ring feels a little “spongy” when opening to f/1.8) but is perfectly clean internally and works fine.

At that point, with fresh batteries, everything seemed to work properly.

So I loaded a roll of FujiFilm 400 from Walmart and snapped a few shots around the house and garden and at the local park. Nothing fancy, just running a roll to check the light seals and see if the meter actually, really worked, and if it was reasonably accurate.

After a little hassle getting my film back from Walmart (I really cannot recommend them) it appears as if everything is in order. So that’s good news.

Surprisingly many of the shots have a strong magenta/purple cast that is easily fixable in light room. I researched the film and it doesn’t seem to be a problem with this film, and I have never seen a lens do this, to this extent. So I have to conclude this is a problem with the processing. I also noticed the camera overexposed one or two shots that were really contrasty with a broad dynamic range. I can’t really blame the camera – these older cameras cannot meter with total accuracy for that type of scene.  I will, at some point, run another roll and send it to a better lab in the future. Also, right now, I am running the same stock, as a test roll, through a Canon EOS A2. We’ll see what happens – I am not using Walmart this time.

Before with magenta cast and after with Lightroom adjustments

At the end of the day, I think this camera is a good choice for a basic film shooter based on its relatively standard set of features, even considering the oddly placed controls. It offers the tactile experience of a vintage camera while using modern batteries. All in, including the camera, new lens, light seal kit, and power winder, it comes to about $135.00 USD (Which would have been around $75.00 in the early nineties). Not bad for a camera you can have some fun with.

Stay safe and see the world you own way

thanks for reading.

Photographers You Should Know

This is the first post in what will be an occasional series titled;

Photographers You Should Know.

Featuring brief overviews of photographers from the past or present that have had a profound impact on photography and have either influenced or informed my own development as a photographer. 

What brings this first photographer to the forefront in my mind is the recent attention on former Obama administration photographer Pete Souza. Heralded for his intimate access to the Obama administration and also for his nearly unrestricted access to the President himself and to the First Family. Now, Souza is an amazing photographer and photojournalist, but he wasn’t the first. So let’s meet:

David Hume Kennerly

I originally discovered Kennerly around 1983 through his first book Shooter essentially a career retrospective that I read (for the first time) in the early 1980s having been first published in 1979. The book had a pretty profound effect on me at the time and defined, for me, what a photojournalist was and should be. Despite the lack of concrete proof, I have often though that the photographer portrayed in Mel Gibson’s We Were Soldiers was a lightly veiled Kennerly. Maybe, or maybe not.

David Hume Kennerly is an extraordinary photographer who, in 1965, after working as a photographer on his high school newspaper, got his professional start as a staff photographer with a relatively small daily newspaper – The Oregon Journal. Then after a stint in the National Guard, he was hired as a staffer at The Oregonian in Portland. It was probably symptomatic of the times, or maybe just f/8 and be there, but during his time at The Oregonian, he was fortunate enough to photograph Robert F. Kennedy, Miles Davis, and Igor Stravinsky among others. On his Wikipedia page it’s mentioned that his photography of Robert Kennedy is what first ignited his interest in photographing the political scene.

By 1967 he had moved to Los Angeles where he became a staffer for UPI (United Press International). While in Los Angeles he photographed RFK on that fated evening at the Ambassador Hotel shortly before he was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. Kennerly got the photo of Ethel Kennedy that night in the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital with her husband.

The next stop for Kennerly was in 1970 at the Washington DC bureau of UPI, where he eventually became a member of the traveling presidential press pool assigned to Richard Nixon. He was 23 years old.

In 1971 he was assigned to UPI’s Saigon (currently known as Ho Chi Minh City) Bureau in Vietnam Nam where he eventually became Bureau Chief. In 1972 Kennerly won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography based on a portfolio of work from Vietnam Nam and Cambodia as well as other images including shots from the Ali-Frazier prize fight in Madison Square Garden and photos of Pakistani refugees in Calcutta. After his time with UPI, he became a contract photographer for Life Magazine in Saigon. Unfortunately, shortly after taking the position, Life Magazine folded. His contract was picked up by Time Magazine (the parent company of Life) and, for the time being, he continued his work in Southeast Asia.

My copy of “Shooter” (1979) David Hume Kennerly

He returned to the States in 1973 where, for Time magazine, he walked right into the middle of the Watergate scandal. He photographed the resignation of then Vice President Spiro Agnew, and the selection of Senate Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford as the new Vice President. Ford’s first appearance on the cover of Time was also Kennerly’s first cover for Time (he would go on to shoot over 35 covers for Time and Newsweek). Thus began a long personal relationship between Ford and Kennerly. Kennerly became Chief Official White House Photographer after Mr. Ford ascended to the Presidency (at that point, only the third civilian to ever hold that position), he was specifically requested for the position by President Ford. During his tenure, Kennerly and Ford, along with the First Lady, and the rest of the First Family, became exceedingly close and Kennerly enjoyed unprecedented and unlimited access to The White House, both officially and unofficially. He photographed the President during formal occasions and during more personal moments and he developed a very close relationship with First Lady Betty Ford and photographed her in very quiet and personal situations that normally were not seen by the public. Ultimately these photos gave a very human feel to the Office of the  Presidency, and, I think, acted as somewhat of a salve for the wounds suffered by  American people during the Watergate scandal. His photos and negatives from this time are now in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor Michigan.

Interestingly, Kennerly had a long relationship with Ansel Adams and invited him to the Whitehouse to meet President Ford in 1975. Kennerly later photographed Adams for a Time Magazine cover that ran on the September 3, 1979 issue – the only instance that Time ever ran a cover photo of a photographer. 

Cover of Time Magazine September 3, 1979 Time Magazine/David Hume kennerly

Kennerly went back to Time Magazine where he covered some of the most important stories of the time. The following are just a few of the things he covered, in and of itself it’s an impressive list, but they are just some highlights.

  • Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s trip to Israel
  • The People’s Temple suicide in Jonestown Guyana
  • Reagan and Gorbachev’s first meeting in Geneva

In 1996 he became a contributing editor to Newsweek where he photographed president Clinton, Senator Bob Dole, the 2000 elections, and the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon.

In 2016 Kennerly provided election coverage for CNN and photographed President-Elect Donald Trump for their book Unprecedented.

His life is probably best summed up in a quote from James Earl Jones -“David Hume Kennerly is like Forrest Gump, except he was really there”. 

In the mean time he had also entered private professional life and worked for years as a corporate photographer for Bank of America covering their Social Responsibility programs and The Girl Scouts where he created new photos for the cookie boxes (sweet job!). These are but just two on a long list of corporate clients.

He has been associated with various universities especially the University of Arizona where he was named the university’s first Presidential Scholar. 

Currently his archive of over one million images and other memorabilia are in the custody of the Center for Creative Photography.

At this point he has been exhibited extensively, has several film credits and has written several books after Shooter, including Photo Op detailing his time with the Ford administration and recently On the iPhone a volume dedicated to mobile photography (really showing what a smart phone camera can do in the right hands), as well as others, some outside of the realm of photography and politics.

Writing a piece about a living person is dangerous territory. I have made every effort possible to ensure complete accuracy in this post. As this is not a comprehensive biography and is meant to be an introductory piece to incite the reader to further investigate Kennerly and his work for themselves, I have not covered every detail of his amazing work and life.

A note on sources: All information in this article has been sourced from Wikipedia, Kennerly’s web site, or the three books mentioned; Shooter, PhotoOP, and On the iPhone. 

A note on photos: All photos used in this post are used under Fair Use guidelines for editorial and educational content, or are in the Public Domain,

 and are credited to David Hume Kennerly unless otherwise noted.


Shooter by David Hume Kennerly ISBN 0-88225-265-8

PhotoOP by David Hume Kennerly ISBN 0-292-74323-8

On the iPhone by David Hume Kennerly ISBN 978-1-939621-13-9

Wikipedia – David Hume Kennerly

Website –

Stay safe and see the world your own way

Thanks for reading

Single Image Sunday

Recently I had just about enough of quarantine and isolation. Though my wife and I don’t really go out to eat all that much. Having a good meal in a restaurant is a simple thing that we have missed greatly. Not to say that during the recent months of quarantine we haven’t had the occasional take-out or drive through fast food.

Sometimes, enough is enough. Fortunately, we live in an area where COVID-19 has not been all that bad as far as active cases or mortality. Common sense being our guide though, even after restaurants were allowed to reopen with limited seating, we took our time and gauged the risk, waiting to see if there were going to be any spikes or hotspots.

About two weeks ago in our first real foray to an actual dining establishment, we picked a local Noodle House, that we had been wanting to try before the pandemic.

I am pleased to report that the staff and customers were reasonably observing social distancing and all of the staff and most of the customers were wearing masks, greatly increasing our comfort level.

To complete the experience, the food was great. While today’s image is a cell phone shot that wasn’t really well composed, and I had to explain to my wife “yes I am taking a picture of my food” (lol) the photo still means something to me – a simple bowl of noodle soup might just be the beginning of better times ahead.

Stay safe and see the world your own way.

Thanks for reading

Film Photography is Dead!

Many years ago, I heard an older friend of mine refer to another really old guy saying “he’s dead, but he doesn’t know enough to lay down”

So it seems is the situation with film photography despite the film photography supporters and pundits constantly declaring a rebirth and renaissance. Film photography may not be actually dead yet, but it’s going to figure out how to lay down pretty soon. It’s not from the lack of film either, it’s the cameras

Back in the early 2000’s we all thought film was really dead. You could buy flagship film cameras from the eighties and nineties for $50-$60 or thereabouts. I passed on a few Nikon F3s in great condition that were well under a hundred bucks. Because I, like many others thought film would be completely gone before 2010 and the cameras would be nothing more than paperweights. Despite popular expectation and prognostication, film is still here 10 years later in 2020. It seems there are a few folks keeping it on life support. Fuji, Kodak, Ilford, and a few others are still producing and selling film. While you really can’t drop it off at the corner drug store for processing, in most cases, there are enough mail-in labs, easily found online, to accommodate most shooters. Of course, there is always the “develop at home” option for the hard-core hobbyist. Rest assured, the film manufacturers will continue to make and sell film as long as there is a profitable demand. The demand will wane when the cameras begin to really increase in price due to rarity, ultimately leading to disuse.

The price increase is already under way. That $50.00 Nikon F3 from 2005 is now (in the same basic condition) a $500.00 camera and they are increasing all the time. Unfortunately the supply of serviceable examples is decreasing and that is partly what is causing the price increase generally seen across the board in film cameras. The supply is decreasing due to unrepairable problems. It is cheaper to toss the broken camera than to have it repaired, as a rule, even if it is reparable, no one is making replacement parts anymore. The repair people have to cannnibalize another camera to get parts to repair the first one. The extinction of a certain camera model only depends on the rate of attrition.

The problem will reach critical mass when shutter mechanisms start failing at rapid rate. In some cases certain parts can be made by various machining processes, at a price. Shutters and light meters are really the only things that cannot be made individually for anything resembling a reasonable price. As to the light meter? Ok you can use “sunny 16” or an external meter. However, if the shutter fails, you are done. The major manufacturers no longer make those old film camera shutters and you cannot adapt a shutter from a digital camera. Your only option is to take one from another camera of the same model (that has had a different failure). Since no new film cameras are currently being produced, it’s only a matter of time before we run out of donor cameras. Then, as the remainder fail, the amount dwindles until that particular model has gone the way of the DoDo bird. Thus it will continue across models until only a few cameras exist in working order, and their use will not support the film manufacturers at a level that will maintain profitability. At that point it’s over.

Of course there remains the hope that someone will start making film cameras anew. An independent company cannot do that. The engineering and pre-production costs are too high to make it a profitable venture. Recently Nikon cancelled the F6 (their last remaining film camera) which was pretty much prohibitively priced at some $2600.00 USD and a while back Canon discontinued their EOS 1v in 2018. Yes, supposedly the Nikon FM10 is still available but, a cursory Google search does not produce any new options for purchase, only used. So we can surmise that it is also out of production at this time. The major camera companies just do not see demand for new film cameras. When they do, they just end up competing against themselves. Take the Nikon F6 at $2599.00 brand new. A lightly used F5 in generally good condition can be found for less than $500.00 USD all day long. There is just no market share there. Besides, film aficionados are really not looking for modern cameras. They are looking for vintage cameras. They enjoy the haptics of manually focusing, setting the exposure, and advancing the film. Modern “do-it-all” film cameras from the late 1980’s onward do not offer that experience. They are more akin to shooting a DSLR which does not align with the “film experience”.

The only film option that may remain for the longer term is large format – 4×5 and 8×10. Those cameras have always been made by smaller companies and, indeed, there are new companies making them as I write this. They are, essentially primitive simple machines that rely on zero technology. lenses are readily available and replaceable. However, since the shutter is generally in the lens, we might run into the same shutter problem as we do with other film cameras. The shutters in view cameras, though, should have more life left as view cameras are not shot near as much as SLRs or other roll film cameras. We will see.

So, for now, if you shoot film, just enjoy it,  don’t pretend it’s not dead or it will really surprise you when it decides to lay down.

As always, stay safe and see the world your own way.

Thanks for reading.

5 Reasons I Shoot Sony and Maybe Why You should Too

In the modern world of digital cameras, there are myriad choices for the average photographer. The decision becomes more complicated every year with the release of multiple new camera models (and, indeed, new lenses) from the various manufacturers. So why choose Sony in 2020, when Canon and Nikon are seemingly surpassing Sony in the mirrorless camera space?

With the ever decreasing sales of digital cameras since about 2012 (coinciding with the increasing sales of smart phones) the camera companies have each endeavored to outdo the others in the performance of their respective models. Yet Sony still remains a driving force in the market.

Much has been made in the last few years about Sony not being a real camera company like Canon or Nikon, but rather just a consumer electronics company. This alone would seem to be one of the best reasons to buy Sony – the diversified product catalog offered by a consumer electronics company tends to offer a certain amount of corporate financial stability. Plus cameras are no longer just light tight boxes that hold and expose film. They are, now, effectively computers in a camera-like body. They are, simply put, electronic devices. If I am going to purchase an electronic device, I think I would be well advised to purchase from a “consumer electronics company”. Similarly Panasonic with its Lumix branded cameras seems to be doing well also, including its recent foray into full frame and partnership in the L-mount Alliance with Leica and Sigma. Leica seems to be doing well also, though as a real camera company, but as strictly a boutique brand with appropriate boutique pricing which puts them well outside of the normal paradigms.

We know that real camera companies are suffering. Olympus recently sold their camera division to a private equity firm for financial reasons, and their future as a camera brand is uncertain at best, at least for the time being. Currently the internet is rife with rumors regarding the suspected financial insolvency of Nikon and that Canon isn’t far behind. I have no idea how true any of these rumors are, but they do make some sense. Even though both Canon and Nikon have just come out with multiple new models each, both based on an entirely new ecosystem, it remains to be seen if this is the cure for their falling sales. FujiFilm is the only real camera company that seems to be doing well right now in the digital space. Sony originally went into the real digital camera space (as opposed to consumer point and shoot models) after purchasing the IP and engineering from Konica-Minolta. You don’t make this kind of investment without making a commitment to longevity.

Sony is not only reasonably healthy at the corporate level but in their camera division as well, and is often a top selling brand globally, doubtlessly due to their budget minded full frame offering we find in the second generation A7II which is typically available with a decent 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens for around $1k (or less on sale) USD. However as most of us know, their lens pricing has traditionally been at the higher end of the spectrum. Canon and Nikon are up there too with the new R and Z mount lenses (excepting one or two budget offerings). The only truly budget offerings in their systems are from the previous EF and F mounts used with adapters. The aftermarket (Tamron, Sigma, and Tokina, as well as others) have fully entered the fray and offer a wide variety of lenses for the Sony mirrorless system. I am certain that they will catch up with Canon and Nikon in the future, provided the market is there. Obviously you can adapt a plethora of vintage manual focus lenses to Sony bodies (as you can to pretty much any other mirrorless camera) giving yet another option.

Phone snap of my ever-growing Sony system

Ultimately, corporate health is one of the best reasons to buy into the Sony system especially in light of the recent developments at Olympus. Many of the other criteria are much more subjective. There have been, for years now, arguments that Sony’s color science is inferior yet in several objective tests “experts”have been unable to discern the difference (much to their surprise). Even more subjective are haptics and ergonomics. Truthfully Sony’s ergonomics could be better especially on the original A7 and the A7II. I own and shoot an A7II – the ergonomics aren’t that good, but they aren’t that bad either. I do enjoy the haptics and the experience of shooting the camera despite those that say they are somewhat “soulless” and feel more like a computer than a camera, a statement that for me does not ring true. By the way, at the end of the day, it is a computer.

Many reviewers have voiced complaints regarding Sony’s menu system. for those who think it is overly complicated, please try Olympus’ menu. Otherwise it is just about like any other camera. Use it and learn it, and in no time it’s second nature. It is not, however, overly complicated.

Design language is another consideration. It forms the basic visual aesthetic of the camera. I, personally, appreciate the visual aesthetics of the standard full frame Sony cameras. The APS-C line with its more compact and rangefinderesque look is not near as appealing to me though I do own and shoot and A6000 too. Interestingly, this same compact design from the APS-C line has transitioned into Sony’s full frame line with the new A7C, a distinct departure from their previous full frame models.

I find the IQ to be exceedingly good and the raw files eminently useable. JPEGs are equally as good and offer options for in camera customization for contrast, saturation, and sharpness.

The only real shortcoming is the lack of weather sealing and dual card slots in some models. While Sony claims splash and dust resistance, they fail to include an actual rating which makes me somewhat skeptical as to the effectiveness. I am, however, reminded that once upon a time, weather sealing in cameras wasn’t even a thing. I am willing to work with this and can use a camera cover of some sort when needed. As to the dual card slots, that is an internet argument with no clear answer. For the working photographer though, it makes complete sense as redundancy is your best friend. Redundancy can be accomplished other ways though and dual card slots, or lack thereof, could be a deal breaker for some, or not.

All in all, Sony cameras are some of the best offerings in the digital camera space right now and have been for some time. They offer:

– Decently priced cameras with specs to fit just about any need.

– Good IQ from both RAW and JPEG files.

– Reasonable ergonomics and good haptics.

– Appealing aesthetics.

– Fully developed lens library with some reasonably priced lenses and excellent ecosystem of accessories with good support from the aftermarket.

Those are the five primary reasons that I have personally chosen to shoot Sony.

Stay safe and see the world your own way.

Thanks for reading

On Negativity and Decay

I get a bit discouraged from time to time when I realize that a great deal of photography features distress and negativity. I am, of course, referring to the standard images of war, pestilence, disease, and homelessness. I understand that there are socially active photographers that feel they need to bring certain conditions to light in the hope of changing the world and good on ‘em. I also understand the media concept of “if it bleeds, it leads”. Yet I cannot help but think that we, as a society, would be better or if we spent more time than we do with the photography of say, Martin Parr, or DeWitt Jones.

Another bothersome thing, or trend, if you will, in photography is what we can refer to as “decay porn”. This is exemplified by the whole “urbex” (urban exploration) fad of going into abandoned or otherwise restricted spaces and photographing/videoing them. Not to mention that every film photographer ever, has to take at least one photo of an abandoned gas station. Admittedly, I have been guilty of the gas station thing and a few other abandoned and dilapidated structures. I struggle with the psychology behind making these images. What are we trying to document? Is the motivation nostalgia? If so, why are we showing the worst remnants of the past? Why, as a society are we so fascinated by decay and destruction? Perhaps these images demonstrate a certain amount of societal angst, and a sense of “there but for the grace of god go I”? I think it’s worth considering. Perhaps though, on the other hand, it’s a way of rationalizing our future against our past, and dealing with the inevitable mortality of everything.

Even a simple genre like landscape photography has been infiltrated by this phenomenon. It seems we now need to make our landscapes moody and dark because they sell better. Or is it reflective of an ever growing societal inability to fully accept change at the current pace?

Of course, there are plenty of positive images out there, most are taken as a personal memory of a particular time, event, thing, or person. They are soon forgotten and few people ever see them. Except now, maybe on instagram. Which just might be the whole point of instagram. Others are taken as part of a personal documentary project by amateur photographers and may one day be published, or not.

I, myself, have a relatively small Instagram following and don’t really care if it gets bigger. I follow a few photographers and a few photography related hashtags. Ultimately I am among the guilty because I rarely ever give a “like” to a “pretty picture” I usually look for photographs that stimulate a strong inner response. However, not all images that generate this inner response are negative. I do look for positivity, especially in the challenging times we live in. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find though.

Years ago I subscribed to Outdoor Photographer magazine for one reason only – to read DeWitt Jones’ monthly column Basic Jones where he explores the inner and spiritual side of photography. In one of his columns he made the argument for what he called “random acts of senseless beauty” an ideal that is easy to quantify but difficult to execute. The challenge of course, for the thinking photographer is to create a “pretty picture” but with meaning.

Meaning is the core of photography. As a photographer, meaning is possibly the most difficult thing to convey. Authors are free to express their views and concepts in words through a nearly unlimited available vocabulary with which to convey their ideas. For a writer there is a broad spectrum of ways to express themselves. Photographers are not similarly blessed. Compared to writing, the photographic arts have a somewhat narrow palette available. 

Perhaps this is the motivation behind the negativity in imagery. That anger, sadness, and regret are stronger emotions that leave a more profound imprint on the psyche than are joy, happiness, and anticipation.

I have deliberately not captioned any of my photos in this post. The technical details are unimportant and the meaning (if any) is up to the viewer to decide.

In the end, all photography matters and what you create is up to you. Try a few “random acts of senseless beauty” it just might catch on.

Stay safe and see the world you own way.

Thanks for reading.

Single Image Sunday

Here we are on another Sunday. My last few single image posts have had a negative slant or were trying to find positivity in a time when there is so much negativity as a result of current events.

This week I am posting a “found” composition from 2019 that immediately caught my attention. I was fascinated that someone would actually go to the trouble to create this and then display it in public in this way. A pure burst of positivity. I think we need more of this type of thought now and it, basically, sums up a great deal of my own personal philosophy.

If I could say any, one, thing right now, it would be – “don’t ever let the circumstances win, don’t give up, and if circumstances dictate, create a new beginning for yourself”

This probably has a foundation in my personal situation. I recently quit my job – in the middle of a pandemic no less – due to what could only be described as a toxic work environment with a completely incompetent manager. I was going to try to tough it out until the springtime, mostly due to the pandemic, but that didn’t work out. The job was having a negative effect not only mentally, but the stress was causing physical symptoms as well. It was time to go. Unfortunately, my wife and I didn’t have a very long landing strip – financially speaking – so there was that. However I have since found a new position in the same broad industry. The new position is something I have wanted to do, in the industry, but is at a lower pay rate. I guess the pay cut is the price for quitting my last position on short notice. So things are looking up. Here’s to small beginnings!

Of course the message in this image can be taken in either a positive or negative light. What you do with it is up to you.

I hope you see it as a positive and I hope it improves your day.

Stay safe and see the world your own way.

Thanks for reading.