A huge selling point for cameras in recent years has been their video capability. This is a result of the megapixel war being over, and manufacturers perceiving the need to sell their products with some magic number. For a while it was “full HD” (high definition) video, but now it’s “4K.”
For those of you who don’t know, 4K doesn’t express resolution the same way “megapixel” is supposed to express resolution in a still camera; it represents the fact that the long dimension of the recorded and projected image is approximately 4000 pixels.
Cue the eager reviewer in Hong Kong or Istanbul or Las Vegas, talking about bit rates and autofocus and color styles and F-log. Cue millennial in skinny jeans and pretentiously-ironic Fedora, leaping from the railing in a parking garage in super-slow-motion, super-high-resolution. The reviewer’s voiceover says something like, “If it weren’t for the better XYZ in the PDQ, I could recommend this camera for it’s striking 4K video.”
What’s missing from all of these reviews? All of them? A script.
Essentially, 99.99% of all 4K video is demo reels that don’t tell any story of any kind. It’s another seriously misplaced priority in the imaging world.
Take the following video as an example: In 1992, I bought some surplus VHS video cassettes at the Ada Public Library. Three of them were called Best of the Fests, which were collections of films from film festivals. On one of those was a 1988 short film called Spartacus Rex. It was the best of the Best of the Fests, and I have been enjoying it and occasionally quoting ever since. It was made by Loch Phillipps and Caroline Skaife. It’s brilliant, not because it’s HD or 4K (I think it was 16mm actually), but because it has a script…
Long-time webizens know that the controversial Ken Rockwell has a lot to say. He is both revered and reviled on the web, but remains popular in any case.
One concept he explored years ago was “futuretrash,” the idea that technology is inherently inclined to advance so fast that almost all tech machinations will be obsolete in a short period of time, like months or just a few years.
The article is ten years old, but it’s just as relevant today, particularly after I half-jokingly got on Ebay and bought 22 untested old digital cameras for just $10. They arrived a couple of days later, and my wife Abby and I have been playing with them ever since.
The oldest camera of the bunch appears to be from 1998, a Kodak DC210 Plus. The front of the camera brags “MegaPixel,” and the web confirms that yes, it is a one megapixel camera. The web also indicates that this behemoth originally cost $899. No, I am not making that up; that’s almost $1400 in today’s dollars.
Just for the record, one of these cameras, a Nikon Pronea S, is a film camera from the APS era.
The price of digital cameras fell for years, in accordance with Moore’s Law, so by 2008, this camera had been replaced with much better, much cheaper technology. Still, even the newest and best of this batch of untested cameras must have cost at least $300. To get them all for just $10 says this: what was once valuable is now garbage.
About a third of these cameras work. Some of them take AA batteries, while some require proprietary batteries I don’t have. Most of them use the ubiquitous SD card, while a few take CF cards. Two of them take SmartMedia, which I don’ t have, and one requires an SD Picture Card, which was in it when it arrived. A Sony Cybershot had a Memory Stick in it.
But I didn’t buy them to take pictures. I certainly have enough modern cameras for that. I bought them to ponder what we really value in a capitalist/merchentilist society from the perspective of someone in my area of expertise. Are we really asking the human race to throw away college savings, mortgage payments, health care, retirement, and any number of other once truly valuable things so we could take 20 or 30 1.2-megapixel digital photographs of our niece’s graduation?
Flash forward 20 years to now, and the real reason these cameras are in a pile in a box at the bottom of the coat closet is this: we have been brainwashed to believe we need to take tens of thousands of photographs of our lives with increasingly complex and sophisticated tools (iPhones for example), instead of living our lives?
Yes, I see this all the time: people watching their children grow up on the screens of their phones. And I can’t be certain, but my guess is that only a tiny fraction of these images and videos are ever seen again.
So, Richard, photographer and photography instructor, what is your bottom line? Quality over quantity? That we should all be artists? That we should turn off our phones and smell the marigolds once in a while? All this and more. Life is worth living instead of watching, and while photography can be a powerful tool for recording our lives, it shouldn’t take the place of our lives.
When I bought my D700, it was missing the rubber grip for the right thumb. Some weeks later one of my D200s died, and I stripped it for parts. The thumb grips aren’t the same, so I trimmed it with a scissors and glued it on, and it worked fine.
Ten days ago, though, it came unglued, so I decided to glue it back, only more aggressively than before. I put a fair amount of Gorilla Glue on the spot, pressed the rubber grip into place, and put a book on it to hold it down while it dried. Apparently, the pressure from the weight of the book caused the glue to ooze out at a couple of spots.
I laughed hard when I saw the result. Of course, I can just cut off the extra glue with a razor or sharp knife, but I’m halfway tempted to leave it on and tell people it’s some kind of an accessory, like the glue spots are pressure points or massage balls or something.
My wife Abby owns a 1986 Toyota MR-2 mid-engine roadster. She is its only owner. It’s not her main vehicle, and she doesn’t drive it very often: parts on it are worn out, its technology is a couple of generations old, and it doesn’t do very many things better than her current vehicle, a Nissan Frontier pickup.
But it does do one thing better: it’s fun to drive.
I tell you this because all winter I used my “SUV” cameras, matching Nikon D300S digital cameras, for everything, and when things started to get sunny and green, I decided to give them a break for a few days and shoot with the much older Nikon D2H cameras I have locked up in my office. I don’t use them very often: parts on it are worn out, its technology is a couple of generations old, and it doesn’t do very many things better than the new cameras.
But like Abby’s roadster, the D2H does something very well: it’s fun to shoot. It features perfect, lightning-fast autofocus and an effortless eight frames per second frame rate. Nobody needs the speed and handling of a sports car, but it’s fun. The D2H is also one of the best-built cameras and feels great in-hand.
It’s also fun to make really powerful photos with outdated cameras because it shows the “upgraders” that it really is the photographer, not the camera, making pictures.
I know at least one gearhead out there is going to want to chime in with, “but it’s only a 4.1-megapixel camera, Richard. What if you want to print big?”
I always hear this talk from people who never actually make big prints.
You need to come to my office and look at my big prints… 24×36 inch… and tell me which ones were made with the D2H. You won’t be able to.
So what doesn’t the D2H do well? It doesn’t do well at ISO 1600 and above. It doesn’t have a big, luxurious viewfinder, and it doesn’t have a big, bright monitor on the back. Otherwise, though, this camera does pretty well for 15-year-old technology.
In the month since the end of the basketball season, the D2H has been my main camera for baseball and softball, sunny sky sports, giving the D300Ss a nice rest period, and allowing me to make great pictures and have great fun doing it.
Welcome to another in my series of older cameras that were once great but have been relegated to the dustbin of photographic history. Here is the Sony Cybershot DCS-F828.
Introduced in 2003 and shipped in early 2004, this replacement for Sony’s DCS F717 all-in-one fixed-lens digital camera was very expensive when it was introduced, and plagued with problems. At the time, my bridge/travel/all-in-one camera was the excellent Minolta DiMage 7i, which was still going strong, so I passed on the Sony.
This class of cameras is known as bridge cameras, crossover cameras, or even walk-around cameras, and feature a permanently-attached, very-long-zoom-range lens. They are a favorite of mine and of my wife Abby because they are so easy to integrate into activities like travel, hiking, and family reunions.
I got my hands on the Sony F828 years after its heyday, for about a tenth of its original retail price.
Positives for this camera:
Mechanical zoom lens that allows tactile access focal length.
Distinct 7-bladed aperture that creates 14-point sunstars.
Well-balanced with a good in-hand feel.
Many of the important controls use buttons or switches on the camera/lens body rather than hidden in a menu.
It’s a great-looking, sexy camera that never looks like a toy.
Negatives about the F-828…
The zoom lens’s images are very prone to purple fringing. Apologists for this camera had to whitewash this flaw with phrases like “under certain circumstances” but the truth is that my Minolta DiMage 7i never once did this.
Shooting RAW files locks the camera for ten seconds, ensuring a missed follow-up frame, even in continuous shooting mode.
The JPEGs out of this camera have an odd purple undertone even with white balance set correctly. I expect this is a combination of purple fringing from the lens and Sony’s weird four-color “HAD CCD” with its RGBE layout, the E being “emerald,” but really meaning something akin to cyan.
The hinge between the camera part of the body and the heavier lens part of the body gets loose, and soon either requires partial disassembly to repair, or putting up with the lens flopping into a straight-down position when holding the camera by the grip.
There is a tiny switch to change between the electronic viewfinder and the LCD on the back of the camera. Every other bridge camera I’ve owned has an eye detector and switches this automatically, including the Minolta DiMage 7i that came out two years before the Sony.
The Auto/Manual Focus switch moves too easily, sometimes resulting in the lens not autofocusing, with little indication in the viewfinder.
Although it will take both a CF card and Sony’s proprietary memory stick, the video frame rate is cut in half when shooting to the CF card, which I assume is to bully the buyer into purchasing the always-overpriced memory stick.
The menu system is a mess; some critical functions are accessed by pushing the “Menu” button, while others require setting the exposure mode dial to “Set Up.” Then within those dialogs are another mess. While this was common to cameras in the early transition from film to digital (and the migration of menus from film cameras to digital camera), I guess I expected more from a $1500 camera.
A couple of years ago I half-decided to dedicate this relic to infrared photography, but a couple of weeks ago it killed a CF card, so now I only trust it as a conversation piece. I also don’t care much for Sony as a corporate entity – almost every Sony electronic I ever owned, tape decks, DVD/Blu-Ray players, and amps all died untimely deaths.
I know, I know. Sony is at the head of the line in camera development at the moment, but I still don’t trust them. If they sent me a sample of their new mirrorless to shoot, I would, but it will take a lot of trust-rebuilding to ever make me a Sony customer again.
And the F-828? If you find one at a garage sale, offer $25 and have fun, but don’t count on this machine as an image maker.
In the months and years following my first year at a full-time newspaper internship, I had a pretty clear idea about what kind of photographer I wanted to be. I wanted to be in the trenches, shooting football games in the rain, house fires in the middle of the night, perp walks on the courthouse steps, and the crowd going wild when the three-pointer hits at the buzzer.
To do all these things, I needed tough cameras with big, fast lenses. I started with a Nikon FM in 1982, and slowly added to my system. On the occasions when I had a little extra money, I often hit the pawn shops at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where E-1 soldiers tended to blow all their pay on payday, then pawn what they bought two weeks later when they needed to make rent.
At several points in my camera shopping I came across nice Nikkormat cameras. Nikkormat was Nikon’s 1960s and 70s effort to manufacture less-expensive Nikons for amateurs, mostly by limiting their features. By the late 1970s, Nikon and Nikkormat had largely merged, and most Nikkormats had a fair amount of features.
All the cameras made by Nikon during that era were built like tanks: steel frames, brass mounting rings, real glass pentaprisms, engraved and painted markings. It was a golden ago of camera-making for most camera makers, including Nikon.
At one time or another I owned…
Nikkormat FT, the original 1965-design without auto aperture indexing. I eventually sold it after discovering a significant focus calibration error.
Nikomat (brand name sold only in Japan) EL chrome top. I often carried this as my second-camera, usually with a wide angle lens on it, when I would be in the field all day, like at the annual Fourth of July festivities. It died, and I gave it to someone (I don’t remember who.)
Nikkormat EL. For years this camera had a place in my bag, and it remained healthy into the digital era. It has an auto-winder, which is slow and bulky, and is difficult to hold due to a lack of handgrip. In 2002, I handed it to Jamie for our hiking trip to Utah. She had a great time using it, and ended up keeping it in her collection on permanent loan. I borrowed it this week to photograph, but I consider it hers.
The Nikkormats were Nikon’s last effort to create something that was both well-crafted and affordable. Starting in 1981, Nikon introduced the Nikon EM, their first SLR that was mostly plastic, and in keeping with an overall trend in camera manufacturing, never made anything like the Nikkormats again.
Five years ago, one of my best friends, Jamie, received an unusual gift, a Pentax Auto 110 SLR (Single Lens Reflex) film camera, and brought it to me to size it up.
To say that this camera is “rare” is a double-edged sword: from my perspective, this camera is rare enough that Jamie’s is the only one I have ever seen. However, with Buy It Now prices on eBay hovering between $40 and $150, it’s obvious that quite a few were manufactured. My guess about this combination is that many cameras were sold and few were actually used to make pictures.
Photographers who remember the 1970s recall that the 110 film cartridge was one of Kodak’s efforts to reinvent film. Supposedly responding to a perception that roll film was difficult to load and manage, Kodak brought out the 110 cartridge in 1972.
Almost all of the cameras made for 110 were slim point-and-shoot cameras with fixed focus and exposure, relying on negative film’s latitude for exposure control. Many of them used flash cubes, which would fill a room with blinding light.
110 film frames are officially half the size of 35mm frames, so with the state of film in the 1970s, it was difficult to get decently detailed images with such a small film area, which is why 110 remained an amateur format.
The Pentax was an effort to cash in on the ubiquity of the 110 format, but came along just as the format was dying. The Pentax was nicely made and nicely accessorized. I got this list of lenses for the Auto 110 from Camera-wiki.org…
Pentax Auto 110 lenses
Pentax-110 18mm F2.8 Wide-angle lens, 6 elements in 6 groups, filter Ø30.5mm
Pentax-110 24mm F2.8 Standard lens of 6 elements in 5 groups, filter Ø25.5mm
Pentax-110 50mm F2.8 Telephoto lens of 5 elements in 5 groups, filter Ø37.5mm
Pentax-110 70mm F2.8 Telephoto lens of 6 elements in5 groups, filter Ø49mm
Pentax-110 20mm—40 mm F2.8 Zoom lens of 8 separate elements, filter Ø49mm
The camera is so miniature that it feels like a toy in my longish hands. The viewfinder is large and clear, with a split-image focus aid in the center. The lens mounts in the same direction as most SLRs (lefty loosey righty tighty), and focuses in the same direction as my Nikon lenses. Focus is smooth, but the focus throw is a little long. Exposure is set entirely by the camera (Program mode), with ISO being set by the film cassette. That’s a shame, since the driving force of a great camera is allowing the photographer to run the show. The Auto 110 has no manual exposure mode, and doesn’t even have exposure compensation.
I know we owe a lot to Pentax, particularly for the K1000 and its role in teaching a generation of broke college students how to run an all-manual film camera, but the Auto 110, despite its innovation, came at the wrong time in history and with the wrong feature set. Still, it’s neat for Jamie to have it in her collection.
For many years of the later film era, Japanese camera maker Olympus specialized in building very compact 35mm film cameras. Hardware like the original OM-1, for example, was thought to be the smallest you could practically manufacture an SLR camera.
Also from this company were the point-and-shoot class of cameras, which, without the need of a pentaprism for the viewfinder, could be made smaller still. One such camera I coveted was the excellent Olympus XA.
I had one for years, and in spite of my fanciful imaginations about the kinds of pictures I would make with it, I actually shot very few images with the XA.
The XA uses a two-window rangefinder focus system, creating the faint yellow image in the center of the finder: double-image is out of focus, and making the images come together is in focus.
Exposure is controlled using aperture priority, meaning you pick the aperture, and the camera selects the shutter speed based on how much light it sensed and the film’s ISO rating.
In hand, the XA is not particularly easy to use. The focus lever, just below the lens, is tiny and hard to reach with the camera to the eye. The aperture selector is out of sight unless you point the camera toward you. The ISO dial requires a fingernail to operate.
The clamshell design is a good form factor. When it is closed, the camera is smooth and well-protected from pocket stuff like keys.
All this is put together to achieve true pocketability . The XA is so small, in fact, it had a wrist lanyard instead of a strap. It’s likely the XA is the smallest you can make a camera that will hold a roll of 35mm film.
I like to imagine that if I had a digital conversion kit, I would use this camera, but the truth is that I have an Olympus point and shoot that I almost never use. So the XA remains an amusing but unutilized item in my collection.
I have been adding more photographers to my social media list lately, hopefully to inspire my work, but also in an effort to distance myself from the young white girl latte scene. One of those photographers posted a link on Petapixel about long-time photojournalist David Burnett’s recent switch from Digital Single Lens Reflex (DLSR) to mirrorless.
First of all, despite its apparent surge in popularity, when most people hear this news, they ask, “What’s mirrorless?” In simplest terms, mirrorless cameras are interchangeable lens digital cameras that use their sensors as viewfinders, reading data instantly and showing it to us on the back of the camera or in an electronic viewfinder, eliminating the need for a mirror to redirect light into an optical viewfinder. No mirror = mirrorless.
Name that Product!
I find this choice of name to describe an entire class of photographic tool to be flawed: it’s named after what is isn’t. It’s like saying my car is dieseless, which it is, but that doesn’t describe anything about the car. I can rattle off a couple of better names (for example Direct-to-Sensor (DTS), but my impression is the name, like it or not, is here to stay.
In some important ways, these cameras are a fusion of the DLSR with the bridge/crossover/point-and-shot cameras we’ve had for years, which use the electronic viewfinder, but with a fixed lens. Smartphones use the same viewfinding scheme.
The reason we have so many DSLRs instead of mirrorless is that electronic viewfinder technology has, until the last few years, lacked instantaneous feedback. There was a lag between the scene and the viewfinder; even a small lag can result in a completely missed photo. With a consumer point-and-shoot, lag wasn’t an issue because those kinds of cameras weren’t tasked with shooting action of any kind, so a little lag matched the photography.
Electronic viewfinder technology has caught up, and these viewfinders are virtually instantaneous.
A lot of web authors assert that mirrorless is taking over, but so far, I don’t see it in the field or in the classroom. Of the dozens or hundreds of photographers I know, only a few like Tina Davis and Doug Hoke seem to be shooting mirrorless every day. I had good talks with both of them about their mirrorless experience and both seem to love everything about them.
A surprise bonus of mirrorless is that because the distance from the lens to the sensor is much shorter, it allows many more lenses to be used with an adaptor. Beautiful optical glass that went idle at the end of the film era can have new life breathed into it on these cameras.
When I first wrote about mirrorless in 2011, those cameras of that era typically had micro 4/3 sensors, which were roughly half the size of a 35mm film frame, and in that infancy had some growing pains. Today, however, we are seeing surprisingly fast, capable mirrorless cameras with 36x24mm sensors, or in the case of Fuji and Hasselblad, 44x33mm sensors. Coupled with better viewfinder technology and faster hardware in the cameras, I am ready to retract at least some of what I said seven years ago about mirrorless, and proclaim that its era is, or is about to be, at hand.
Fellow photographer Robert and I were musing on the phone yesterday about the demise of “digital film,” a product that tried to gain traction in the late 1990s when the future of photography was still hazy. The idea of digital film was to manufacture a cassette that could be inserted into existing film camera so they could make digital photos.
For my birthday one year, my wife Abby bought nearly a dozen antique cameras and hid them around the house for me to find like Easter eggs.
It turned out that one company, Silicon Film, got as far as a prototype before camera makers managed to get the price of purpose-built digital cameras into the affordable range.
Why would anyone have gone this route instead of just buying a Nikon D1? Well, we all had tons of great 35mm film equipment sitting around, for which we paid a lot, and which was still working fine. What if, instead of shelving all those Nikon F100s and F5s and Canon ESO-1s, and shelling out $5000 for a D1 or 1D, we could insert a cassette with a digital sensor in place of a film cassette?
It turned out the idea was mostly vaporware, and while most people believe this was due to technical hurdles, I believe it was at least as much the fault of marketing and profitability obstacles: why sell accessories at small margins when we could be selling new cameras at huge markups?
Today we see more attempts at the concept like PSEUDO, I’m Back and Frankencamera (though RE-35 was a branding experiment and April Fool’s joke) and I wish them luck.
A Call to Action?
One concern that remains difficult to solve even after all this time is how to trigger the sensor so it knows when to record. My idea, which I haven’t seen iterated on the web, is a tiny infrared beam striking the shutter blade that switches on the sensor when the shutter begins to move.
Finally, with excellent, affordable digital cameras in abundance all around us, why would even be of interest in 2018? Answer: for the same reason lomography has it’s niche, to allow us to expand artistically. There are millions of idle film cameras sitting on shelves from our own home here in Oklahoma to the towering apartments of Hong Kong that could be put to use in some worthwhile endeavor.
As an artist, I find this idea very compelling. As Robert and I talked, one question he asked was, “So are we talking about shooting with old glass?” Yes, I think so. Old lenses, though often not as sharp (since they were designed and built by hand in a bygone era) can create images with a unique and engaging character. Oklahoman photographer Doug Hoke does this all the time when he shoots 40-year-old lenses on his mirrorless cameras. Filters in smartphone applications like Instagram mimic the look of film and old lenses.
I love this idea, and not just for 35mm. My wife and I have more than a dozen old cameras sitting around of various formats, including a beautiful, working 100-year-old Kodak No. 2A Folding Cartridge Premo 116 format conventional film camera making a 4.5 x 2.5 inch image, and a couple of Polaroids that make 4 x 5 inch images. If there were a way to make digital pictures with any or all of these machines, I would happily do so, and in doing, hopefully open up another artistic avenue for my work.
For Christmas when I was 13, I wanted a camera. My parents, with the caution of those who don’t know where their children’s lives will go, bought me an affordable Yashica Electro 35 GSN rangefinder camera. With it in my hands I started to learn and yearn about photography. It featured a fixed 45mm f/1.7 lens that was well-made and very sharp. Of course, I wanted one thing this excellent camera couldn’t give me: interchangeable lenses.
So, with some cash sent to me from my grandmother for my 15th birthday, I dug into the seedy underside of the back pages of Modern Photography Magazine to Cambridge Camera Exchange, a discount camera seller run in a rathole in New York City. In July 1978, I owned my first single lens reflex camera, a Fujica ST605N. I paid $127.
In 1981, I sold the Fujica to a janitor named Junior, and switched to Nikon.
Flash forward to 2018, and enter the nostalgia of Ebay, where a savvy shopper can get almost anything for almost nothing. I poked around and found a really nice ST605N, and paid for it with my PayPal balance.
In the package was the original green box with the original multi-lingual instruction manual, the camera, the lens, a lens cap, a rubber eye cup, the original leatherette carrying/storage case, and the original black shoulder strap with one of those funny leatherette film canister holders.
When it arrived yesterday and my wife Abby and I unboxed it, she said, “It looks like it’s never been used.”
When review sites and trade magazines talk about “entry level,” this is the camera at the bottom of that rung.
Some of its specifications include…
A horizontally traveling cloth focal plane shutter with speeds of a very peculiar 1/700 of a second to 1/2 second, plus bulb.
Stop-down match-needle metering, meaning that to take a meter reading, you push the stop-down lever, darkening the viewfinder to the selected aperture while you adjusted aperture and shutter speed to make the needle on the right side of the viewfinder move up and down until it was centered.
A selectable ASA (the precursor to ISO, at least in America) with settings from 25 to 3200.
A hot shoe that would fire an electronic flash, and a PC port that would do the same.
The viewfinder includes a green shutter speed pointer and scale on the left side, the match-needle +/- on the right side, and combination split image rangefinder surrounded by a microprism collar, surrounded by a lighter ground glass area, surrounded by the regular ground glass. Focus is smooth and bright in the viewfinder.
The standard lens for this camera is the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2. It has a plastic barrel, clicks at full aperture values, and stops down to f/16. It focuses smoothly, like the day I bought the new one in 1978. It focuses and stops down in the same direction as my Nikon lenses.
Whatever It Takes...
Here’s a fun trick from the film era: if your camera didn’t have a multiple exposure lever, you could push and hold the rewind release on the bottom of the camera and crank the advance lever, which would cock the shutter without (hopefully) moving the film.
One of the best things about this camera, that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time I owned it, is how small it is compared to its contemporaries. Nikons, Canons and Minoltas of the era were much larger. This camera is almost as small as the legendarily small Olympus OM series.
In my review of the Fujifilm S200EXR, I said that an unused camera is a fetish object. I didn’t buy the ST605N to take pictures with it, but for the memories, so I guess it is a fetish object. On the other hand, I made quite a few pictures with it when I owned it the first time, some of which I have included in this entry.
Despite buying a cheap 28mm and getting a 75-200mm one Christmas, I kept coming back to the 55mm. The class of lens has been in my idiom ever since.
The Fujica ST605N was a beginner’s camera for when I was a beginner, and I learned a lot of important lessons about my craft from this small marvel of film technology from a very different era.
In 2009, I was hungry to get my hands on a bridge/crossover camera that would change my game when I was hiking, camping and exploring, mostly in the desert southwest. It was intended to replace my aging Minolta DiMage 7i. I knew from experience that portraiture and sports action photography weren’t in my list of top features sets, nor was the weight and complexity that comes with such endeavors.
In October 2009, I bought a Fujifilm S200EXR digital camera.
I wanted a one-camera solution for times where I wanted to get away, far enough that I felt lost and alone. Part of this strategy was that I needed to carry less; less gear, less weight, less photography equipment. A single compact camera with a versatile lens could do that, since trying to carry many lenses and the accessories can clutter such a strategy. For every lens or flash or pouch or tripod I could leave behind meant more water and food and shelter I could actually carry, thus travel farther and photograph more.
I started photography in the film era, when a decent film camera, a Nikon or Canon or Hasselblad, could be expected to last almost indefinitely. In fact, all my film cameras were working fine from when I bought them in college or early in my career until I sold them in the early 2000s as I migrated to digital. It’s frustrating that we regard a perfectly working digital camera as “outdated” after four years in the case of the S200EXR, or seven years for the DiMage 7i. Ken Rockwell dubbed this concept “futuretrash“.
As with all Fujifilm USA products, the S200EXR is built to excellent, precise standards, and is a great-looking camera.
In fact, in recent years, Fuji has positioned itself as an innovator and leader, particularly in mirrorless. Last year they introduced the GFX 50S, a medium format mirrorless camera that I would absolutely love to use.
Some of the S200EXR’s positives are…
Great handling, especially that it has a standard PASM exposure mode dial, a real zoom ring (as opposed to motorized or “zoom-by-wire”), and an electronic viewfinder augmenting the back-of-camera monitor.
Controls like exposure compensation, ISO, and white balance are on buttons on the body instead of buried in menus. Although you have to re-memorize where they are when switching from Nikon or Canon, once you do, your can get right to them.
The Fuji Velvia slide film simulation mode creates absolutely gorgeous color.
Solid grip and body; this camera feels good in my hands. It’s a good-looking camera.
The lens is sharp at most focal lengths and focuses reasonably fast.
Some of this cameras negative aspects are…
30.5mm (equivalent) is the widest lens setting, and although there are workarounds, like stitching two images together, it’s often just not wide enough.
The RAW files are huge (26MB) and missing markers, so they require a lot of editing to create what you see in the camera. The S200EXR is one of the few cameras with which I shoot JPEGs.
Despite its best intentions in giving us a selectable dynamic range option, the camera actually doesn’t do very well in that regard.
The lens has a six-bladed aperture, and makes ugly, fanned-out sunstars.
I semi-retired the S200EXR in January 2013, when my wife Abby and I found matching Fujifilm HS30EXR cameras on sale. The new bridge camera did almost everything better than the 200, especially being lighter, smaller, and having a more versatile lens.
For web presentation, I often prefer the 4:5 aspect ratio of cameras like this Fuji over the 2:3 ratio of DSLRs. They seem to command a better portion of the computer screen.
I still pick up the S200EXR once in a while, but last year I discovered the left button on the four-way selector was dead, meaning I could no longer access the setup menu or macro mode. Fortunately, I had saved two user presents in C1 and C2 on the exposure mode dial, so it wasn’t completely dead. I decided to throw it in my car as a “grab cam,” and it serves me well on occasions when I want to roll down my window and shoot something by the side of the road, like deer, sunsets, or funny bumper stickers.
Finally, a camera is just a fetish object if you don’t use it, so I am happy to include many of my favorite images made with this camera.
Despite the fact that is regarded as outdated and that one of the controls on it is broken, it’s still a camera I was glad to have experienced.
By now we all know the Kodak narrative: an innovative company has incredible success in the film era, then gets bloated with old management ideas and an arrogant “people will always need film” paradigm, then goes belly-up when they can’t compete. It’s a good lesson in the idea that no entity is immune to the fortunes of economics.
I thought about this when I recently came across a web post about a camera system that crossed my path some years ago, the Kodak DCS. The article delves all the way back into the 1990s with the intro of the first-generation of digital cameras, the NC-2000 based on the Nikon N90, and talks about how much photographers hated them compared to film. Fortunately, I didn’t come to the digital party until 2001, when these primitive beasts had been retired.
Readers might recall that on occasions I get out my ancient Nikon/Kodak DCS-720x and play with it. On at least one of these occasions I speculated my DCS 720x might be a candidate for infrared explorations, and though I was able to create a few interesting experimental images, I seldom dig it out of the box to do that, and later had better luck with a Sony F828.
Readers will also recall that my Kodak DCS 760 died years ago, and in August 2016, I took it apart, which was very fun and revealed a lot about how they were made. It’s worth reading if you have a minute (link.)
I originally got the 720x in 2003 when Kodak discontinued it and dumped the remaining supply of them on Ebay, for a tenth the original list price. In 2006 I saw a 760 on Ebay for just a couple of hundred dollars and thought it would be worth at least experiencing.
Even Kodak’s slick literature can’t make up its mind what these cameras are called. The one I have remaining, for example, is variously called the Nikon/Kodak DCS720x, Nikon/Kodak DCS-720x, the Kodak DCS720x, the Kodak DCS-720x, and the Kodak DCS 720x.
Kodak’s vision of digital photography by 2001 was to produce two very different cameras in the same Nikon F5 body: a slow, low-ISO, low-frame-rate, higher resolution (6MP) 760, and a faster, very-high-ISO, low resolution (2MP) 720x. The Canon versions of these cameras were the 560 and the 520.
One fundamental issue with Kodak digital cameras, particularly with their digital SLRs, is reliability. Although my 720x is still operable, both 760s I’ve knows, mine and Robert’s, died years ago with zero possibility of repair because of Kodak’s vacancy. Ken Rockwell also notes this in his review of the Kodak DCS 14n.
Despite this, it’s still fun to dig out the behemothic DCS 720x, charge its clunky battery, and squeeze off a few frames.
Of note on the bad side for both the 760 and the 720x:
The buttons on the back are fundamental to the operation of the camera, yet are small and hard to push; I sometimes hurt my thumbnail using them.
Due to a long-expired capacitor or button battery, the camera can never remember the date, and interrupts every startup with a message that says, “Date/Time is incorrect,” which requires a reply of “OK.” It thereafter thinks it is March 2023.
In the 2017 world of huge viewfinders and three-inch back-of-camera monitors, the tightly cropped viewfinder of the Kodaks and their dim, two-inch monitor are hard to abide.
The front-to-back depth of the camera is huge, and though I have long fingers, I can barely reach all the controls. Coupled with its weight, this contributed to some tendonitis in my right elbow when I was using this camera a lot.
Battery life with the huge, heavy nickel metal hydride batteries was terrible. I always had to carry an extra battery.
The camera is covered in awkward, large ports for AC power, Firewire, and a 15-pin shutter release.
The media cards are PCM/CIA-based; I never owned such a device, and have adaptors that allow me to use Compact Flash cards.
The 600 and 700 series cameras had two card slots, but once when I was using both cards, it got into some kind of feedback loop, and each card had a folder inside called FOLDER01, each of which had a folder in it called FOLDER01, and each of those had a folder in it called FOLDER01, presumably forever until I turned off the camera or removed the cards. I never found the images, and had to reshoot the event.
Although you can program it to convert its RAW files into JPEGs, the JPEGs are uselessly noisy and flat.
These RAW files are best edited with Kodak DCS Photo Desk, which was never supported by Mac OS X, meaning any computers in the last 15 years (I can’t speak for Windows). They will open in Adobe Camera RAW, but look pretty shabby.
Instead of the now-standard RGB Bayer pattern array, this high-ISO DCS cameras (the 620x and the 720x) had CMY arrays in an effort to increase sensor sensitivity by using less-absobative dyes, meaning that even the best editing favored some colors and ruined others. The 720x, for example, makes gorgeous purples, but not once was I able to get an orange tone to look right.
The infrared filter is mounted in front of the mirror so it can be easily removed or replaced with an anti-aliasing filter (which was not cheap), so the camera was prone to some unexpected reflections between the sensor and the filter that weren’t visible in the viewfinder, usually pink.
On the other hand, I made some great images with these cameras, so here are the good things about them…
High-ISO images from the 720x were always very clean, thank to the Photo Desk software. I often shot sports at ISO 4000 or 5000 when the occasion called for it. The camera’s contemporaries like the Nikon D1H didn’t do as well in the ISO stratosphere.
Since there was no anti-aliasing filter in either of these cameras, pixel-for-pixel sharpness was unchallenged by anything else in the era.
Focus was super-fast and on-the-money thanks to these cameras being based on the excellent Nikon F5 film camera. I thought building on the best film body of the era was a smart move, but Kodak’s next, and last, digital SLR, the SLRn/Pro 14n, was based on the cheap, consumer F80.
The overbuilt quality of these cameras made them feel very rugged.
Despite their shortcomings, I was able to make memorable, high-quality images for my newspaper that still look great today, using both the 760 and the 720x.
One characteristic of a really great camera is to do its job in the background and get out of the photographer’s way so we can do our jobs, and some aspects of the Kodak’s failed to do that.
I will continue to pull out the old Kodak once in a while and play around with it. But I will probably never do photojournalism with it again.
Some years ago I wrote “HD Garbage” in which I talked about the commercialism of imaging and filmmaking, particularly the urge to buy more products to replace perfectly good products because their tech, especially their resolution (and by extension their perceived quality), is regarded as outdated. It’s part of a bigger aspect of mercantilism that insists we make foolish financial decisions in order to “upgrade” whether it’s really an upgrade or not.
One of the most disappointing aspects of technology is that it leads talentless people to generate content that is misperceived as good, which leads to the “my uncle” paradigm: “My uncle has a nice camera. He can shoot your wedding.”
In the biggest picture, we see commercialism selling us the idea that we need more, better technology to improve our entertainment, while at the same time we are a less-happy, less-healthy people, and most entertainment is not only unworthy of high definition, it is unworthy of being viewed. Another 72-inch super-high-definition television will never be able to make that scriptless $350,000,000 super-hero movie into a life-changing moment.
A friend of mine is a huge brand-name fanboy. He is constantly pining for the next big thing, with still-frame and video resolution being at the top of his list. Yet I’ve never seen a single second of HD or 4K video from him. Not one.
Far and Away...
Last night at the game I saw what I see a lot: photographers with very expensive “full frame” (36mm x 24mm image sensor) cameras with the same lens I am using, a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom. As much as the photography world touts this sensor size as the answer, I find it ironic and annoying that these photographers are always 30 yards farther from the play than I am. I know what they are getting: tiny figures in the center of the frame with lots of grass below and sky above, and I sometimes confirm it by sneaking a peak at the backs of their camera. As far as I am concerned, smaller sensors, in my case 24mm x 15mm, are a solution, not a problem. My stuff looks great.
On a more upbeat note, I love covering local sports, specifically high school sports. The reasons for this is the legitimacy of emotional investment: the chance that a college or professional athlete has any real connection to you is slim. I heard a comedian say recently about professional sports that, “You’re really rooting for the uniform.”
The kids I cover in our community, on the other hand, are the children of the kids I covered 25 years ago, and everyone on the sidelines or in the stands has a dog in the fight.
This video is from a thing Ada fans have been doing since before I came to The Ada News in 1988. At the start of the fourth quarter, the band plays a song called “Light Up,” and the kids all come down and dance, then at a specific point in the song, they rush together with the cheerleaders and cheer…
This video is a memory and a moment. Nothing about it is improved or destroyed by its resolution. The next time you consider if your video would be improved by a new phone or camera, take out your existing phone or camera and shoot with it. Take a film class. Watch how films are made. Learn how to storyboard and write a script. Only when you have accomplished this, and are making films, will you go beyond the fallacy of yearning to buy more.
Readers of our travel blog saw that our trip to my mother’s hometown in Missouri to witness and photograph the total eclipse of the sun of August 21, 2017 was a complete success.
Photographically, the challenge for me was exposure. I’d never even seen a total eclipse before, and could only guess. The solar corona, an aura of energetic plasma that represents the most visible and photographable attraction of an eclipse, is as much as a million times dimmer than the photosphere of the sun. The internet was little help for numbers on this exposure, which surprised and annoyed me.
For this eclipse, the best exposure was f/8, 1/80th of a second at ISO 640.
I used my Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 coupled with its well-matched TC-14 1.4x teleconverter to make a 560mm f/4.5, which I stopped down to f/8 for maximum sharpness and to tame this lens’s slight inclination toward chromatic aberrations. This lens is from the era before autofocus, but was build at a time when quality construction and expensive materials made a photographic instrument of unchallenged capability. In its day, sports photographers often thought and dreamed of little else than this “sweet piece of glass.”
I got my 400mm in 1997 from the long-defunct Photo-Fax.com, a service that catered to us, we who wanted to pay discount prices for top-dollar gear. It’s the longest lens I own.
With the teleconverter, the 560mm focal length was beginning to be long enough to fill the frame with the moon blocking the sun, showing the solar corona…
If you were building an eclipse camera on a budget from scratch, I might consider one of the new Sigma or Tamron 150-600mm lenses. Both companies make 1.4x teleconverters, which makes the 600mm into 840mm, but also robs the lens of a full f/stop of light. (Do the math: f/number = focal length ÷ aperture diameter.) Shooting at f/8.8 results in shutter speeds duing totality of 1/10 at medium ISOs. It’s also worth considering that most telephoto lenses aren’t incredibly sharp at full aperture, and the situation gets complicated.
It probably goes without saying that a sturdy tripod is a must.
Alternatively, you could opt for renting a super telephoto. You can get a Nikkor 800mm f/5.6 AF-S for a weekend for $400 or so.
Don’t bother with the super-cheap 500mm catadioptric (mirror) lenses. They really are junk.
Finally, there are many fine astronomical telescopes with camera adaptors that will do the trick, but their prices are also astronomical.
In less than seven years, another total eclipse will cross the United States, and the path of totality will be even closer to home than this one. On April 8, 2024, Abby and I hope to be in the vicinity of Idabel, Oklahoma, just 148 miles from our home. With the experience I gained from this time, I will plan to expand my goals to include more cameras, more lenses, and more photographic schemes, and hopefully take the next eclipse to the next level.