This was the first camera I ever got. Don't get me wrong, I'm not that old! :-) This camera was already old, and retired from active service, when I got it. It had a bad shutter, and having spent several decades in a damp basement, was rusty. I repaired the shutter (replacing a broken spring), but there was a huge practical problem using it: This camera needs type 120 films, exposing them in a format of 9x6cm, and taking photos in this style is extremely expensive, specially considering that my only "income" at that age (11 years), was an allowance sized to buy an ice-cream once a month!
I never used this camera. Maybe someday I buy a 120 film and try it. After all, nowadays my salary is large enough to buy several ice creams a month!
Like most low cost cameras of its day, this one had fixed shutter speed (plus time exposure), and no coupling between the shutter and film advance, so it was totally possible and even normal to forget winding the film and making unwanted double exposures, or winding the film without shooting, thus loosing a frame.
The lever at the left side of the camera (right side on the photo) moves in two different aperture holes, giving the photographer the choice of "sun" or "cloud" exposure. It also had a third position, where it moved in a small close-focus lens aimed at about 1 meter. Otherwise, the focus was fixed at infinity.
People in this time loved the sound of camera shutters. This Agfa is
justly named "CLACK"!
Still in the range of onomatopoeic cameras, this one is an Ansco "Clipper". The front telescopes out for taking photos, and in for storage, making this camera rather compact. Like the Agfa, this one has a fixed shutter speed plus time exposure, but it has no choice at all of aperture or focus. It seems to have been made in 1952.
Despite the fact that this camera is in good condition, I have not been
able to try it, because it needs type 616 film! Anyone ever heard of that?
The label inside the back cover even insists on using Ansco brand 616 film!
The picture format is a vertically oriented 5x6cm.
Or perhaps I will complain anyway: A 20-exposure cassette film cost more than a 36 exposure 35mm one. And slide films in this format were hard to find locally, so much that in some cases I had to ask someone to bring me films from elsewhere. I could not be picky about brands, either, the only slide film available was the Agfa CT-19. Later a Kodak Ektachrome 64 became available, but its color rendering was abysmal. I basically stuck to the CT-19 as long as I had this camera, despite the very coarse grain of that film.
The coarse grain was not so much of an disadvantage. The fact of having no focus control, plus the other fact that cassette films have no backplane and thus the emulsion floats around, never being at a constant distance from the lens, guaranteed grossly unsharp photos, to which the coarse grain actually added detail rather than obscuring it! :-)
The "X" in this camera's model number stands for type X flash cubes, also known as "magicubes" in their time. For the younger among my readers, who never in their life have seen them, I shall explain that these were simply four single-use flash bulbs, each with its own reflector, arranged in a cube. These bulbs were filled with magnesium wire and oxygen, and probably some other igniting substance. The cube was plugged onto the top of the camera. When pressing the shutter, a small pushrod shot out of the camera, and disengaged a spring in the cube, which knocked against the flash bulb's stem, setting off an explosion that would burn the magnesium, produce a flash of light, melt down the bulb, reflector and front diffuser, and release a cloud of smoke and smell. When advancing the film, the cube turned 90 degrees, bringing the next flash bulb in position. After four flashes the cube was discarded. This was a development of the older spring-less flash cubes, which were triggered by a battery inside the camera. This "X" system worked without batteries.
The system was reliable, the light was good, but the cost of using a flash doubled the total cost of picturetaking, as five flash cubes cost as much as a 20-exposure slide film. Bad news for my stressed pocket...
I would love to put a photo of such a flash cube here, but I don't have any old magicube left! And they are found only in museums nowadays, if at all!
As the fixed focus was too much of a limitation, I mounted a lens salvaged from a toy telescope into a cardboard sleeve that fit on the camera's objective. This lens had a focal distance of 39 cm. So I cut a copper wire to that length, and this was my focusing device! For shooting a close-up, I would stick the lens onto the camera, use the wire to place the camera at 39 cm from the object, estimate the parallax correction, and shoot. I made many quite usable flower and insect photos employing this trick.
I used the Balda for almost 5 years, shooting almost 800 slides with
it. Most of my allowance went into photo material. In the "Early Masterworks"
section are some of the photos taken with this camera.
That camera had focus control, 0.9 meter to infinite, wow! And the shutter was adjustable, it provided 1/200, 1/50, 1/25 and B! WOW!!! And the aperture, can you believe it, was fully controllable from 2.8 through 22! TWO WOWS!
Of course it had no exposure meter, and no focusing device, so I would have to estimate both the exposure and the distance. I had no problem with that and brought back almost 300 slides from the trip! I messed up only very few. I used Agfa CT-18 material, which despite having almost the same sensitivity as the CT-19 used for the Balda, had much finer grain. And the colors of that ancient CT material were more natural than anything I have seen ever since.
I have no photo of this camera. Back then I did not take photos of my
equipment, being too poor to waste material on that, and now the camera
is no longer with us, because years later my brother used it, and left
it in a parked car, tempting someone to break in and steal it. I hope the
thief enjoys it as much as I did.
I had spent quite some time hanging around in photo shops, learning about reflex cameras, making friends with the clerks, etc. And at one shop this second-hand Chinon had shown up. It was in perfect condition (not as battered as it looks in this photo, taken two decades later!), was cheap for its features, and it provided all I needed to fulfill my wildest dreams: Manual exposure from 4 seconds to 1/1000, automatic exposure over an even wider range, multi-exposure, memory exposure, self-timer, viewfinder exposure display, depth of field preview, flash connection both in hot shoe and cable jack, and on and on! The lens mount was the standard Pentax-K, so there was a wealth of low-cost lenses available, even locally! The clerk told me that the camera was "as is", without a case, no instruction manual, no strap, nothing, just the bare camera with a Pentax 50mm f/2 lens. I didn't care for a manual or straps. Hey, this was a reflex camera, a real reflex! For a price that looked within reach!
Well, thanks to my mother I got it. It's still my main camera. One month
after buying it, the former owner dropped by the store and delivered the
original box, instruction manual and shoulder strap, which he had finally
found! I got it when I stopped by the store some days later to buy
some film! So now it was complete.
In order to protect the camera, I wanted a leather case. But there were none for this camera's exact size, so I made one. I used a small drill to make the holes before sewing the leather. But the thread I used was too weak, and soon ripped, so I replaced it by enameled copper wire. That kind of thread holds up! The homemade leather case is still in perfect shape, after almost 20 years of use, as you can see in this photo.
The case fits the camera snugly, but has a little extra space in front, so I can put the 50 or 28mm lens on the camera, with a filter, and the hood still closes.
But even leather has its limitations. One day I was traveling into the mountains in an incredibly overloaded rural bus, the camera in front of my stomach, carefully guarded. I counted about 110 people jammed into the 44-seat bus. Suddenly a very fat lady stepped on my foot. I tried to get her off, but she stepped on someone else's foot, who also shook her off. The fat lady lost balance, and crashed against me, leading to a chain reaction that put 5 people to the ground in the aisle of the bus, jammed and all. The lady ended up on top of me. That is, on top of my camera! My bones escaped unbroken, I don't know how, but she broke the multi-exposure lever off my camera.
After the trip I disassembled the top of the camera, drilled a 1mm hole into the proper spot of the multi-exposure mechanism, and used cyanoacrilate glue to install a new lever made from steel wire. It has held up well.
After this fix, the Chinon worked flawlessly for 12 years, until one day the shutter got stuck. This happened in the desert, during a mountain trip, and left me without a camera! I feel helpless when traveling without one! Once home, I disassembled the camera, only to see the shutter snap back and resume working... I couldn't make it fail, so I assumed it was a one-time event, and reassembled the camera.
And as soon as I started using it, it locked up again.
This started a black period of time, lasting for a year, during which I disassembled the camera a total of 11 times, searching for the cause of the trouble. Always the camera would resume working before I had fully disassembled it, keeping me from finding the reason of the problem. So, on the 11th try I went for all of it, and disassembled the entire camera mechanics to the level of individual pieces, intending to wash out any hardened grease and put in fresh one. I left absolutely nothing assembled. And deep in the shutter mechanism I found a tiny grain of sand...!!! After reassembling it, the shutter never again failed.
It's a bit troublesome to do such a radical disassembly. You can loose adjustment settings. I drew plans of everything, counted the amount of turns some springs were wound up, etc. I returned everything to original condition. Only the viewfinder focal plane position was impossible to keep adjusted that way, and I had to readjust it later in a painstaking work, after noticing that my pictures were unsharp even if I focused very carefully.
When the camera was 20 years old, it had the first and so far only failure that can be attributed to the camera proper, not to external events like dirt or fat ladies: I started getting small specks of undeveloped area on my pictures! After a lot of detective work I found the reason. This camera, like most, uses a self-adhesive black foam material to seal against unwanted light, all around the back cover and at some other places too. This foam material was decomposing, turning into a sticky, chewing-gum-like substance! When opening the camera back, some of this stuff stuck to the back, fell off and landed elsewhere, and some of it finally got stuck to the film, keeping the chemicals from acting at those spots!
There was still no light leaking in, but it was clear that the seals had to be replaced. I removed them by mechanical means, followed by alcohol (for the camera, not for me!), and used a self-adhesive black velvet material made by a German company to replace the original seals. Problem solved!
The last "repair" of my camera was done yesterday: After scanning these photos, I judged that the camera was looking too bad, and so I gave it a bit of attention, replacing the black vinyl covering at the two sides of the lens. The original vinyl has hardened and shrunken, no longer covering the metal parts, and in addition the glue also was dissolving, like the black foam. I cut new vinyl coverings, cleaned away the old glue, and glued on the new ones. The camera looks much better now!
By far most of the pictures on this web site were made with this camera.
It has shot almost 10,000 slides by now.
These are the ones I use today. The second largest is the one I got first after getting the camera. It's a Vivitar zoom that goes from 75 to 205mm, at a constant aperture of f/3.8. Focusing and zoom controls are separated, as they should be. It focuses down to about 20 cm when at 75mm focal length, being a moderate macro lens too. It gives good optical quality and excellent color rendition. Its main disadvantages are large size, and the fact that the front lens turns with the focus control, making it a bit messy to use a polarizer. But this is just a small disadvantage. My father bought this lens for me on a special sale of "second choice" items. The flaw this one has is a 2mm long scratch on the front lens. For that reason it cost just a fraction of the standard price! I closed the scratch with a drop of black paint, and have never seen any effect of it on the photos.
The small lens in the middle is the one I got next. It's a 28mm 1:2.8 wide angle lens, from the brand "Cosina". It was very cheap and looks low quality. Indeed on time the iris mechanism got loose, requiring disassembly and a few drops of glue, but it has a surprising optical quality! In a test I made on ultra fine grain B/W film, it came out as my sharpest lens, with a resolution in the range of 2 to 3 microns!
I spent some time using just these three lenses, covering 28 to 205mm, before deciding to take a step further. I bought a 2x Kalimar teleconverter, which is the smallest thing in this photo. This expanded the zoom to a whopping 410mm focal distance, at an aperture slightly better than 1:8. Because of increased aberrations, in fact it must be stopped down to 5.6 at least on the zoom, which is a real f/11, in order to get usable sharpness. This limits the range of application quite a lot, but still I have done a considerable number of good bird shots using the combination.
A very welcome feature of this teleconverter is that the entire optics can be unscrewed, transforming it into an extension tube for close-up work. In fact, I use it much more often as extension tube than as teleconverter!
Several years later I found the thing at the right side in the photo. It's a Marumi semi-fisheye adapter that is mounted in front of a normal lens. Combined with the 50mm lens, it gives a super wide angle view, with some fisheye-like field distortion that can be concealed or emphasized, depending on where you place the horizon and other straight lines. But combined with the 28mm one, it gives a perfectly round full fish-eye image that can be used for special effect photos.
This adapter is labeled "for video use". It's so unsharp in the corners that in fact it should not be used even for video! In photography, which requires better optical quality than video does, I can use it only by dramatically stepping down. At f/11 it starts becoming acceptable, but usually I go all the way to f/22, where it becomes decent... Still, for the odd effect photo it's quite usable, and it was dirt cheap. One good aspect of such a small focal distance is that you can shoot pictures at very low shutter speed without needing a tripod, so the need to stop down is not a large problem.
In my desires to get closer to my preferred models, the birds, I bought
the large russian Maksutov telescope at the left of the photo. It's a 1000mm,
f/10 catadioptric tele. It came with a removable screw mount for Zenith
cameras, so I designed an adapter for the Pentax-K bayonet, and a good
friend in a good mechanical workshop manufactured it for me. The adapter
even couples to the camera's aperture lever, so the automatic exposure
stays fully functional. Design and manufacture of the adapter were so accurate
that the focusing is precisely where it should be! This is not trivial
to achieve at such a focal distance.
The bad news is that the optical quality of this Maksutov is poor. It's rated at 27 microns resolution, which is ten times worse than my best lens. And while normal lenses improve when stopping down, the Maksutov has no iris! Maybe I add one in the future. For now, the only thing I did was disassembling the lens and loosening the fasteners, to relief any tension on the optical elements. This was recommended by several people who claim to have improved their Maksutovs that way, but mine did not improve.
It's a real problem to use a lens this long. Despite being an f/10,
the real amount of light that gets through is roughly equivalent to an
f/16. At ISO100 and full sunlight this usually requires 1/125 second exposure
time, which is about 10 times more than what could be done free-handed!
So, all work with normal sensitivity film invariable requires a tripod.
And not just any tripod! It must be really beefy to hold this baby
still! So, using this lens means carrying along the lens itself, weighing
6 or 7 kg, and a sturdy tripod weighing twice as much. All that for a result
that can almost be matched by enlarging a section of a frame shot free-handed
through the zoom/teleconverter combination! You probably will understand
that I haven't used this lens very much. When I bought it, I expected better
performance to justify the bulkiness.
So, this is the better approach to bird photography. 410mm f/8, and a flash for lighting up the shadows, as birds are most often to be found against the sky! This is the setup I used for most of the bird photos I have ever made.
This flash is an Agfa having a guide number of 22 for ISO100, while being compact, and the beam is broad enough to be used with the 28mm lens. It has no kind of automatism, but gives great color balance, much better than that of some others. It takes 30 seconds or even more for recharging, so it can not be used in situations requiring quick recycling. It's not the case with birds, anyway they fly away after the flash fires...
I built a high power flash, that delivered a 100 Joule discharge into
a spiral-wound flash tube in a highly polished reflector. That one gave
a guide number of around 70 to 80! It used a rechargeable 12 Volt battery
and weighed 4 kg. It worked well, but was messy to carry around, and the
poor birds almost fell from the trees in shock when I took their portrait,
so I stopped using it.
You can buy such lenses under the funny name of close-up "filters", but that's unnecessarily expensive. I used a children's loupe instead. It has a focal distance of around 8 cm, so with the standard 50mm lens shown here it gives about 0.6 magnification. Unlike the extension tube, it looses no light! And the optical quality is really good! Any aberrations get diluted in the shallow depth of field, and thus are masked by the small aperture used to get enough depth.
Of course this is not nearly the limit! I often use a combination of
this loupe with the extension tube. Just with the 50mm lens this gives
a magnification much greater than unity, and combining the zoom in macro
position with the extension tube and the loupe, I get frame-filling photos
are usually employed for black-and-white photography. But I do color slides
almost exclusively! Anyway I got some sheets of low-cost Kodak Wratten
gelatin filters, and mounted them in cardboard frames with one open side.
So I can hold them in front of the lens to tint a section of a photo. Used
sparingly, this is useful for effects. The distance, position and aperture
setting control the effect. More often I use them in front of the flash,
to tint the flash light used to clear up a shadow. This can correct blue
casts quite well! In addition, the dark filter you can see here is a blue
one that can correct the color temperature of incandescent lighting, for
use with daylight film. All these filters fit in a cardboard box 10mm thick.
- It is totally rainproof. You can pour buckets of water over it, no
- Thrown into a river, it floats.
- The latch can be opened even with gloved fingers, but it will never rip open by engaging in a shrub branch.
- It's strong enough to sit or stand on it.
- The four hooks are attached in the vertical and horizontal center of gravity, eliminating swinging.
- It can be used with one strap as a simple bag, or with two straps. In the latter configuration, one choice is passing each strap from one upper hook over one's shoulder and back to the lower hook on the other side. This gives a very comfortable setup, with the box firmly in front of your stomach, with no swing at all, and no straps cutting your neck. But when trekking with a backpack, I pass one strap from both upper hooks over my shoulders to the backpack, and the other strap goes between the two lower hooks and behind my back, to avoid bouncing. This pulls the backpack forward, making for very comfortable carrying of both the backpack and the photo box!
Using two straps gives the added advantage of safety, should one strap rupture or disengage.
Inside, everything is held in place by subdivisions, cushions and elastic straps. The box was made for the exact things inside it, so I could tailor it precisely to the proper size. Very little space is wasted. The box holds the Chinon camera encased in its leather box, the 28mm, 50mm and 75-205mm lenses, the teleconverter and the fish-eye converter, the flash, the close-up loupe, polarizers for all lenses, the set of color filters, a miniature tripod, a cable release, an extension cable for the flash, spare batteries for the flash and the camera, and a spare film. Space is available for loosely throwing in more spare films, if needed. When taking out the camera, there is plenty of space for lens caps, lens combination assemblies, leaving films and canisters when changing films, and so on.
The box is made from 1mm aluminum sheet. The outside is covered in brown vinyl, and the inside in dark red velvet, padded by foam where needed. The hooks are brass and steel. The straps are the same vinyl used for the covering. The empty box weighs a half kilogram, the contents weighs another 4 kg.
This box, exactly as shown here, is what I used to carry along on most photo safaris. Nothing more, nothing less. Only in the last few years have I added some more equipment on specific trips.
Did you notice something? Among all the equipment in this box, there
are no two things of the same brand! The camera is Chinon, the lenses are
Pentax, Vivitar, Cosina, Kalimar, Marumi, the filters are Soligor, Ampro
and Kodak, the flash is Agfa, the extension cable is Braun, the batteries
are Maxell and Duracell, the film is a Fuji, while the tripod, cable release
and loupe are unmarked but surely of different brands too! That's the great
thing about standards. It all fits together nicely.
Until managing to repair my Chinon's shutter, I used this camera as
backup when the Chinon got stuck, but since then it has seen little use.
On a few trips I have taken it along loaded with negative film, or with
high sensitivity slide film, but the fact is that everything worthwhile
I have done in photography has always been on low sensitivity slides, so
it was of no use to complicate matters with a second type of film. Nowadays
I take this camera on all mayor photo trips, empty, just as a backup.
So, here is what
I would recommend to aspiring reflex photographers, to get in due time:
Two compatible camera bodies, a set of lenses covering as much focal distance
as reasonable (8 to 410mm for the equipment in this picture) with good
aperture, a close-up loupe, polarizers, a reasonably powerful flash with
extension cable, tripod and cable release.
One thing was clear: As a long-time reflex photographer I was accustomed
to having different focal distances, lots of control, etc. I was spoiled,
you may say. In any case, if I was to buy a simple, compact, automatic
camera, it would have to be a rather good one. After looking over what
the market offered, I settled for what seemed to be the best choice, even
if at about US$600 it was rather expensive: A Minolta Freedom Zoom 135
EX. You may have heard the old joke: Nikon makes the best lenses, Minolta
makes the best bodies, Canon makes the most money. So I hoped that the
Minolta P&S would be well designed and soundly built.
Unfortunately I was wrong. This camera proved to be a disaster. It spent so much time in repair, and so little in use, that I think it would be unfair to show it off in any other condition than disassembled.
From the very first roll of film on there were problems with the autofocus. On two or three frames out of each roll the focus was totally off. I don't mean that the autofocus locked onto something else than I expected, as such a case would be normal and common for many simple autofocus systems. No, I mean that the focus was absolutely, totally, grossly away from any object in the picture, so much that absolutely nothing was focused. I asked for warranty service, but they told me that nothing was wrong and that my camera was in perfect condition. I wonder if they did put in a film at all. I don't think so.
The problem kept getting worse. When the warranty time (6 months) was nearing its end, and I had shot 6 or 7 rolls of film, I was up to 5 or 6 frames out of a roll that were totally defocused. I brought the camera in again, but they again told me that it was fine! I showed them the pictures, among which I had some that showed in obvious ways that it was bad focus, not shaking, what had blurred everything. Even then they did not accept my point that the camera was faulty. So much for warranty.
With time I came to recognize the sound the camera made when focusing
wrongly. The focus motor ran for much longer than for any correctly focused
picture. Clearly it was running the lens to the closest focus position,
regardless of the real object distance! So, when I heard the characteristic
noise of bad focus, I shot that picture again. Using this method I managed
to loose little photo opportunities, but of course I was wasting film material.
The first big fault came 3 days after the warranty expired. I was climbing the Chillán volcano, and when switching on the camera, I heard a sizzling noise, followed by a blinking display. That means "error"! I switched off and on, the blinking continued. I remembered the camera's manual advising to reset the microprocessor in such cases by removing the batteries. So I did. The blinking was gone. I switched on - ssssst - blinking again. Clear enough, I had no camera for the rest of the mountain trip.
Back at home, and checking that the warranty had indeed expired, I opened the camera myself. I had little hope of repairing such a problem, but I had decided to give it a try. The photo gods were merciful, and the problem was plainly visible: There had been high-voltage arcing at the pins of the flash charge transformer, completely charring the printed circuit board in that area! The carbonized material had become conductive, and high voltage from the transformer was wreaking havoc.
I cleaned away all blackened material, and installed some bridges, reinstalled some components, in order to reconstruct the circuit. The result can be seen in this photo. The hole at the right of the diode (the part with the "R" on it) is where the arcing happened. The transformer is on the backside of the board. As a size reference, this picture shows an area of about 18 x 22 mm.
After this repair, the blinking was gone and the camera again worked,
but the autofocus problem kept getting worse.
In november 1999 I went to Germany. As the main purpose of the trip was professional, I did not take along my reflex gear, and rather took just the Minolta. I should not have done that! The autofocus problem had a crisis, and 2 out of every 3 pictures were misfocused. In addition, the camera developed a new quirk: when pressing the shutter, it would move the focus motor to the end of range, then move back - and shut the camera off, leaving the lens open, not taking any picture! It made a characteristic sound, like a "flop - - - flop". I lost so many photo opportunities to this new "feature", that it almost drove me crazy! Of the 11 films shot in Germany, I rescued about 150 pictures. The other 250 were totally out of focus. Add this to the lost opportunities when the camera simply shut off, and you will understand that my photographic results of this trip were very limited. On the last day in Germany I bought a new camera, but it was too late to save the trip, photographically speaking.
Once back home, I decided to give the Minolta a last try. My guess was (and still is) that for some reason the focus encoder is not functioning properly, loosing pulses. Maybe some grease from the gears spilled into the encoder. So I disassembled the camera to the point shown here, so I had the lens assembly free of the rest. This forced me to unsolder a lot of cables, and remove almost everything else from the camera. I drew and wrote down where everything goes...
After taking this photo, I took apart the zoom assembly, as the focus mechanism is of course inside the lens. But, I was stopped by a nasty surprise: The only way to get at the focus mechanism is by removing the front lens from the tube, and this one is firmly cemented in place! The only way to remove it seems to be breaking or cutting something. I tried to loosen the cement, both mechanically and with solvents, to no avail.
Cutting the tube would make it almost impossible to assemble things back in proper position, so I gave up. I reassembled the camera. It works exactly like it did before disassembly, so at least I did not introduce further trouble. But as it is unusable, I stored it away.
I have posted pleas for hints and help at several web sites, and have
tried to contact Minolta. Nothing happened. So it seems that I will never
bring this camera back to usable shape, and of course will never again
buy any Minolta product. It's a pity, because on the occasions when it
did work, this camera produced very sharp and well-exposed photos.
Here you can see four trays holding the pieces: The lower right one has the shell and other big parts; the upper right one holds the film advance and rewind gears, zoom motor assembly, and some other pieces; the upper left one holds the main inner structure and most of the electronics. I had to unsolder a lot of wires. Only when all this was off, could I remove the lens assembly. The lower left tray finally holds the lens - disassembled! I discovered three tiny hooks, very hard to make out, that hold the lens together! So, after all, it was NOT necessary to take the front element away!
After removing all the zoom mechanisms, I finally reached the core of
the lens, with the shutter/diaphragm and focus mechanics. Hooray!
In order to find what was happening, I installed the lens core on this test setup. The flat connection strip was taped to a board, and thin, pointed wires were soldered to the board and bent in the proper way to make contact on the extremely narrow connection strips. After decoding the circuit diagram, I connected a few resistors to properly power the encoder LED, and bias the two encoder sensing elements. Then I hung my oscilloscope from the outputs and, moving the encoder wheel by hand, observed the signals. I got two waves, nicely phase shifted by about 90 degrees, which looked perfectly normal. I changed bias values. All stayed normal. Then I applied a little coolant spray. EUREKA! One of the signals went flat, the other one continued! I tapped at the lens. The signal came back!
You have to get an idea of the scale to understand this well. The lens element you are seeing here is the inner focusing element, and is a lot smaller than the (removed) front lens. Look at the gear-coupled, slotted encoder wheel. This is similar, but a lot smaller, than the typical encoders used in computer mice. So, having the size reference, let's move to the other photo, the closest I have of the big fault that caused me so many grief:
This image was scanned and then computer-enhanced from a macro shot. look at the solder joint in the foreground: Notice how the solder has properly wetted the board, flowing out to a very thin rim. This solder joint is technically fine, even if it looks a bit rough. But then look at the other one, in the back: It looks nice and smooth, but notice the rim of it, which is rounded, showing improper contact to the board! This is what we electronicians call a "cold solder joint": when it was made, the board did not receive enough heat to deoxidize and melt the solder. So, the solder only bonded to the component wire, but did NOT bond at all to the board! Rather it formed a little mound of solder, without any intimate contact. There is conduction when the board happens to touch the solder, and the conduction ceases as soon as the board lifts off. The slightest bending, stressing, vibration, etc, made this connection conduct, or become an open circuit. If it conducted, the camera worked. If it went into open circuit, the camera autofocus system never saw the lens moving, and thus drove the motor and the lens until the end, and back, sensing that something was wrong, shutting the camera off. And if the contact was intermittent during the autofocusing, the camera would miss some encoder pulses, drive the lens a little farther forward than it should, and make a totally defocused photo!
It's so ridiculous: I lost hundreds of photos, spent many hours of time,
and at the end the repair was as simple as touching this spot for one second,
with a properly heated soldering iron!
Three hours later, the camera was back in one piece. I tried it without film for about a hundred shots at all distances. All seemed perfect. Then I put a film in, shot through it, developed it: All photos were perfectly focused! So, after all, this camera has gained the right to be portrayed in assembled condition on this page!
Anyway, having the Ricoh, which is so much more practical, I gave away the Minolta. I don't think I could trust it anymore, even if my mother, who is using it now, has had no further problems with it.
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This is the camera I bought on my last day in Germany, as a replacement for my first P&S. It's the Ricoh GR1s. Look at this: :-))))))))) So large is my smile! This camera is a delight! It was expensive too (about US$500), but it has worked flawlessly, perfectly, delivering excellent pictures, and it has a number of uncommon features!
It was a cold and snowy november day when I visited Foto Sauter in Munich. I asked a young salesman for a compact P&S camera that would work well, and told him my problems with the Minolta. In addition, I asked if, being the best photo equipment distributor in the bavarian capital, they had a compact camera that had some means of manual control, for focus and exposure. Or at least some way to know what the autofocus and exposure automatism is doing! And that had a lens with good aperture, as I had noticed that the Minolta's zoom lens was too dark for winter-time europe on ISO100 slide film... The clerk thought for a moment, then asked me if I was willing to pay dearly. I said, I was, as long as I could. He showed me a Leica. It has a 40mm lens, f/3.5, if I remember it correctly. It had manual aperture control, and a lot of other niceties. But it cost about US$1200. That was a bit hefty. More hefty than what my pocket, grossly thinned by the exuberant hotel prices in Munich, was able to produce. I simply couldn't. The clerk told me he had nothing else in that line, sorry.
I was about to leave, when a lady from that same section of the store came up. She mentioned the Ricoh. The clerk brought it, telling me that it was a demo camera, freshly arrived from the manufacturer, brand new model, and that he really didn't know its capabilities. He couldn't sell it yet, but in a few days he would have some for sale.
I looked at the camera, played with it, asked to see the manual, checked specs... This was a dream! The only backside was the lack of a zoom. Instead this camera has a fixed wide angle lens, 28mm, with a full f/2.8 aperture! Really, few compact cameras sport such an aperture!!! It has program and aperture priority exposure, with full aperture control. Shutter speed is shown in the viewfinder, focus distance too, and a frame for parallax correction that activates according to distance. The camera allows unlimited time exposure, a rare find among such small cameras! When shutting off itself by timer, it keeps the settings, so shooting can resume at any instant. There is an ample range of exposure compensation. A focus-set mode allows something very close to manual focus, when needed. And, and, and... And the size! 117 x 61 x 27 mm. I don't think there is a way to make a much smaller 35mm camera! The height and thickness is set by the film cartridge, and the width by the cartridge, frame size and film take-up area. It's stunning how they could make it so small! And even while it is entirely metallic, it weighs about 200 grams with battery and film... Take that!
The bad thing: The guy would not sell it, it was a demo camera and not yet registered in the computer. He told me to come back in three days. But in three days I would already be back in Chile, I told him. Like Elvis Presley said, "it's now or never"! To make it short: Customer service in Germany is proverbial. They did go the extra length, made all paperwork, entered the camera into the computer, removed the half-exposed test film from it, put in a fresh battery, and sold me the camera! The first slides I took with it were on the flight back to Chile, the next day, early morning, out of the airplane window. Sunrise over the Andes mountains, gorgeous!
Soon later I added the micro tripod with flexible legs. This go-anywhere combination soon later let me take my first lightning photos ever! The compact Ricoh achieved what my reflex cameras missed several times!
When writing this, I have already taken about 10 rolls of film with this camera. All pictures are perfect, not a single autofocus miss! This Ricoh restored my trust in autofocus, so weakened by the faulty Minolta.
It's not a serious problem for using the camera, but it looks really ugly and does make me take longer to properly compose a picture.
The bottom line of my point-and-shoot experience seems to be that compact,
highly capable cameras are simply not reliable.
So, here is the global roundup of all my present photo gear, except only for the Chinon camera and 50mm lens, used to take this picture (but the leather hood is there!), and the large tripod, which does not appear at all on this page because I used it for all photos...
I take the compact Ricoh wherever I go, generally with the flex tripod,
lens shade and spare films. The brown box with its contents goes on serious
photo trips, always within reach and under my watchful eye. The Vivitar
spare camera usually gets taken along too, in the suitcase. The large black
box with the Maksutov, and the large tripod, are added only on long, dedicated
photo trips, when I intend to take bird pictures from near the car. They
are too heavy to be carried further.
And this is
the gallery of retired cameras. The ancient Agfa Clack and Ansco Clipper,
the well-served Balda, and the ill-fated Minolta, disassembled as usual,
some of its guts in a plastic beaker.
Digital "photography" (yes, the term is correct, after all!) has not yet attracted me so much, because of that very computerish syndrome of "pay huge money for it today, and tomorrow it's obsolete". A few years ago the resolution of digital cameras was low. Nowadays (2000) the best of them can actually compete with the more modest levels of chemical photography in terms of resolution, but not yet in terms of dynamic range. Maybe (even probably) in some more years we will see digital cameras that can compete with 35mm photography, which would require about 5000 x 3300 pixels per frame, at a depth resolution of about 40 to 42 bits per pixel. If they come in usable sizes, with usable features, being able to store a reasonable amount of frames, and costing a sensible amount of money, then the moment may have come to migrate to the new technology.
For now, I'm just considering the eventual replacement of my present reflex gear, which is quite aged, and was never of high-end quality to start with. But considering that it is still serving me well, I will invest money in new gear only if I find something that fulfills all of my rather strict desires. The following lists what I would expect of good reflex photography equipment:
The camera body should have:
- Manual exposure in half steps or finer, and continuous auto exposure with either aperture priority (preferred) or shutter priority;
- Vertical metal plane shutter;
- Shutter speed range of at least 30 seconds to 1/2000;
- Flash synchronization at 1/125 or faster;
- Wide light metering range (say, -3EV to 18EV at least);
- Selective and integral metering;
- Light meter should not be sensitive to light getting into viewfinder (a very common problem!);
- Exposure memory;
- Mechanical unlimited time exposure (no battery drain during time exposure);
- Self timer;
- Flash connection both in hot shoe and extension socket;
- Multiple exposure capability;
- Manual film winding;
- A lens mount for which I can get good/cheap/abundant lenses;
- Shutter speed, aperture, self timer displayed in viewfinder;
- 100% viewfinder visibility;
- Depth of field preview;
- Good mass compensation of mirror, and/or mirror lock-up;
- Reasonably silent operation;
- Should allow some basic functionality even with dead batteries;
- Small size and low weight paired with reasonable robustness and longevity.
I DO NOT want:
- Motorized film winding;
- DX reading (it's OK if it can be overridden);
- Date/time imprinting.
For the lenses, I would like the following:
- Reasonable selection of focal distances covering about 20 to 400mm;
- Reasonable apertures (say, 2.8 at 28mm, 1.4 at 50mm, 2.8 at 200mm);
- Small size and weight to the extent possible for given apertures;
- As few different filter mounts as possible;
- Filters should not rotate with focus adjustment;
- In the case of zoom lenses, focal distance and focus adjustments should be separate;
- Best available optical quality!
If anyone knows about a camera and lenses that fulfill these requirements,
while not being absurdly expensive, please let me know. Among all I have
seen, the camera that comes closest to my wishes seems to be the Leica
R8, and certainly there are enough good lenses for it, but it is definitely
a small and lightweight camera, and its price unfortunately does fall into
the "absurdly expensive" category. Except for these two "little" inconveniences,
the R8 with a nice set of Leica lenses would be my dream camera at this
Should you come across any of my stuff, please take the appropriate measures to recover it! I live in Chile, so it's unlikely that my equipment will turn up in faraway places, but my readers in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and perhaps some other countries could get a chance to help me. If you have browsed this web site, you know what photography means to me, and the close relationship I have developed to my photo equipment.