Recommended Reading 7/31/20

Today’s featured review is a camera that most everyone who might stumble upon my site likely already knows about, yet I’ve never reviewed.  The Canon A-1 was the “top dog” of Canon’s A-series with features such as full Programmed AE, plus Shutter and Aperture Priority AE, full manual control, and one of the coolest red LED viewfinder displays of any vintage camera.

New blogger, John Hanson from 35mm Retro Photo takes a good look at this highly spec’d, but often overlooked camera in Canon’s lineup.  Despite having way more features and supporting the same lenses, the Canon AE-1 is recommended far more often than the A-1 which is a shame as it was the pinnacle of Canon’s camera development in the late 1970s and early 80s when it was first released.

In his review, John uses the words “effortless” and “clinical” on more than one occasion describing the ease at which the A-1 delivered perfect pictures every time, which touches upon one of the reasons I haven’t reviewed this camera yet.  As John explains, some cameras are so perfect in what they do, shooting them feels more like documenting rather than creating, and that’s exactly how I feel.

The Canon A-1 is an attractive and technically excellent camera with good build quality and an excellent selection of lenses, yet, every time I’ve considered picking one up for a review, I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say about it, so for that, I owe John Hanson a big thanks!

Here are more great posts from some of my favorite sites:

For those of you who digitize your own negatives and slides and follow Kickstarter/GoFundMe projects, you’ve probably heard of the Pixl-latr, a device that is intended to solve the biggest problem of digitizing in the simplest way possible.  Now, 22 months after it was first scheduled to ship, the first reviews are coming in and Peggy Marsh from Camera Go Camera got her hands on one of the first samples and used it, along with a bedside reading lamp and her cell phone to “scan” the first images.  In her review, she showed samples of 4×5 and 35mm negatives photographed with her cell phone and a DSLR with macro lens.  If digitizing is something you think you want to try, you really owe it to yourself to give the Pixl-latr a try.

While I certainly don’t have any sort of monopoly on writing camera reviews as these Recommended Reading posts are my way of highlighting the great work others are doing, but on occasion I pick up an obscure camera that there’s very little info out there about and I get excited thinking I might be first with an in depth contemporary review.  Such was the case of the Zeiss-Ikon Voigtländer Vitessa 1000SR, a camera as cool as it’s name is long.  I shot the camera, photographed it and put it in “the queue” awaiting a review, but then Nicholas Herrmann from Casual Photophile beat me to it.  This week Nicholas takes a look at this wonderfully boxy, but high quality mashup of two of Germany’s longest lived camera brands in a pretty capable little leaf shutter rangefinder with automatic exposure, a top 1/1000 shutter speed, and a quality Tessar lens.  Nicholas’s wonderfully written and even more wonderful sample images share a lot of the things I would have said about the camera but just haven’t gotten around to yet.  I will still review this camera eventually, but at least now I know what I’m up against!

Half-frame 35mm cameras gained popularity in 1959 and into the 60s when Olympus launched the Pen, reminding people of the economic benefits of 18x24mm images.  In the decade that would follow a huge number of half frame cameras were released, and people loved them for their ability to get twice as many images on a single roll of film, but difficulties in developing and printing the images, plus a loss of detail and increase in grain made them unappealing to some.  Today, many of those half-frame stalwarts are still out there and people still like using them.  This week, Javier Martínez Delgue from 35mmc takes a rather in depth look at the economic and grain issues with half frame cameras, using an uncommon Ricoh Caddy.  A compact and fully manual half frame camera with an uncoupled light meter, Javier’s practical approach to shooting half-frame is unlike any I’ve read online.  With images that are thoughtful to the image size and minimizing grain, Javier’s article is as much an exploration of the half frame format as it is a review of the Ricoh Caddy.

I tend to suffer from something I call HCCD, (HC-110 Comfort Disorder) wherein I’ve fallen so much in love with this black and white developer, that I don’t ever bother to try any of the other excellent options out there.  Thankfully, I have my friend Alex Luyckx who constantly reminds me of other options, such as Kodak’s TMax Developer.  A specially developed black and white formula that is said to optimize sharpness in what Kodak calls “T-Grain” in it’s TMax films, Alex starts off by thinking TMax Developer is a one trick pony, but quickly learns it is an adept option for other films as well.

The term “remastered” is one that’s been thrown around by Hollywood studios for the better part of 20 years, with “remastered” DVDs, “remastered in HD” Blu-Rays, and “remastered in 4K” all as gimmicks to get you to spend more money on the same crappy movies.  Sometimes remasters of old films are quite good, other times, they’re upscaled messes.  This week, EM from EMULSIVE interviews Andy Saunders about a tireless project he’s worked on remastering many of NASA images from their Apollo and other early space programs.  Thankfully, Saunders’s attempts are far more than a simple upscaling as he’s been able to pull amazing amounts of detail from old images of moon rovers and astronauts on the Apollo missions.  I won’t pretend to fully understand the methods he employed, but I don’t have to as the results speak for themselves.  Take a look at the image to the left of a moon rover from the Apollo 17 mission that was shot on 70mm slide film in one of NASA’s Hasselblad cameras.  The level of detail is impressive.  Check out the article for more.

2020 was supposed to be an Olympic year in Japan and the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but sadly, only one of those two things will come true this year.  To celebrate though, Stephen Dowling from Kosmo Foto takes a look at the large number of Soviet cameras that were released to commemorate the 1980 Olympics.  From Zenits to Lubitels, FEDs, and Kiev rangefinders, there were a dizzying array of cameras released to celebrate the 1980 Olympics.  In this article, Stephen briefly touches on the controversy behind the Games of the XXII Olympiad, but instead shows samples of many of the different variants available.  Including a chart showing the different models and logos used, this is a fascinating resource for the completist collector who has to have one of every variant of a camera made.  If you like Olympic commemorative cameras, this is the article for you!

It’s no secret that some late 20th century point and shoot cameras were quite capable of making excellent images, but the question is, which ones, and should I waste my time?  Thankfully, we have guys like Theo from photothinking.com who take the time to give in depth reviews to little known gems such as the Pentax Espio 80V, an attractive little point and shoot that Pentax advertised at the time as a ‘companion’ camera.  Theo uses the little point and shoot as it was likely intended, as a tag-along camera on a family trip and as promised, got some pretty terrific images.  I’m not suggesting the Espio 80V will be the next Yashica T4, but if you stumble upon one of these in a discount resale shop, you could do a lot worse for whatever they’re asking for it.


Combining both a blogger and a podcast I admire is a surefire way to get mentioned in one of these Recommended Reading posts, and that’s exactly what happened this week as Bill Smith from the Classic Camera Revival podcast sits down and talks with Alyssa Chiarello from alysvintagecameraalley, and talks to her about how she got started with film cameras, writing about them, and some physical disabilities that Alyssa has bravely faced.  Bill and Aly’s chat is very casual and a quick listen at a mere 39 minutes, it’s over before you know it!  Definitely worth a listen.

Does the world need another review of the Olympus OM-2?  Yes. Yes, it does!  For those of you living in a cave the last 40 years, the Olympus OM-2 is a constantly praised automatic SLR that is every bit deserving of the adulation it’s received.  This week, Jim Grey writes what amounts to a love letter to the Olympus OM-2, using the camera to capture images of COVID-19 locked down Indiana.  Jim’s review isn’t very long, but it doesn’t need to be as the images he posted speak for themselves.  If you’re in the market for a 1970s automatic 35mm SLR, and somehow have managed to avoid Olympus’s OM-series, this camera needs to be your next purchase.

The Kiev 60 has gotten quite a bit of coverage on these Recommended Readings as I’ve shared a couple articles about them but here’s one more from Kosmo Foto’s 80 Cameras 80 Cities project in which Hunter Benbow shoots his Kiev 60 in his hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand.  The highlight of this article is Hunter’s many exposures, some shot with an 80mm Volna-3 on Kodak Aerochrome CIR film, and others using a 30mm fisheye lens and Kodak Verichrome Pan.  It takes someone who really loves their gear to shoot such completely diverse photos, and that’s what has happened here.  Just look at that color!

I’ve always hated the term “Poor Man’s” anything.  Usually this label gets attached to some cheaper variant of a luxury item like a Leica.  In this case, we have a review of the Zensa Bronica ETRS by Graham Rogers from EMULSIVE.  Graham pretty much dispels the Hasselblad comparison with the Bronica’s 6×4.5 exposure size and extremely good build quality.  How can this be a Poor Man’s version of a camera that doesn’t even shoot the same size images, and also is built to an incredibly high standard?

My friend Mark Faulkner from thegashaus.com isn’t known for very wordy posts, but on occasion he shares with us a quick thought or two, some specs, and sample images of a camera that isn’t often talked about on the Interwebs, and this time, it’s the Mamiya Crown, a camera more well known for it’s Sears Tower variant.  The Crown was a quality 35mm camera with a fast f/1.9 Mamiya-Sekor lens, and is capable of some really terrific results…if you can find one!

Long time blogger, Mike Conealy’s site remains one of my favorite to read as not only was he an early influence on my site, but I’ve always enjoyed his photography.  His articles are short and straight to the point, but his sample images show a level of skill clearly higher than mine.  Recently, Mike picked up a really nice Leica IIIc kit with several lenses, an awesome leather satchel, and some other accessories.  This week he’s posted three short articles about his pickup, the first announcing it’s arrival, the second with a quick film test of it and an Elmar 3.5, and a Jupiter-8, and one more shooting with the Hektor 135mm f/4.5 telephoto.  I won’t guess what Mike paid for this lot, but it clearly looks like money well spent, and I’m very happy that whatever life this kit has had, it is in the hands of an enthusiastic and capable owner.

It’s getting harder and harder to find a non-camera related recommendation in these posts as COVID-19 has ground new music, movies, and TV show releases to a halt, and I want to stay away from politically charged posts, but this week I walk the line with a recommendation of a little known TV show on a little known streaming service called Mythic Quest, which streams on AppleTV.

All nine episodes of Season 1 of this show were released back in February, and follow a computer software company that makes an immensely successful online role playing game called, Mythic Quest.  The show was created and is largely written by Rob McElhenny and Charlie Day, both from the immensely successful (and funny) FX show, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”.

McElhenney stars in the show as the company’s CEO Ian (pronounced eye-an) and has a character similar to his role as Mac, in that he’s very arrogant and self centered, but this time less stupid.  The show also features Danny Pudi from NBC’s “Community”, and F. Murray Abraham as a retired science fiction writer, that works for McElhenney’s company writing back stores to the online game’s characters.

The show is worth a watch as it’s a really faithful look at the software industry and the world of online gaming, but that’s not the reason for my recommendation here.  Filming for season 1 ended last year, and the entire show aired in February, but when the COVID-19 lock down began, the show creators had the idea of creating one extra episode, called “Quarantine” using all of the actors of the show, in character, as if they were working from home.

The entire episode is filmed in each of the actor’s real homes using only an iPhone and cleverly edited together like one big Zoom call.  Although this is a standalone episode that can be enjoyed without having seen the first season, I do recommend checking it out as there are inside jokes that will make more sense if you see all of it.

What’s so great about this one episode isn’t just in how it was made (and edited), but that it touches upon the stress and health issues of people being forced to work at home, showing a touching scene of one of the show’s characters having to deal with her loneliness and lack of human contact.  Although this is a comedy show, the scene is done really well, and with respect to the many people suffering from the same challenges.

This being a copyrighted show owned by Apple, there is no link to the full episode, so you’ll have to find it yourself, but there is this clip below, showing the end of the episode, where each of the characters build their own Rube Goldberg machine, Zoom style.  The fact that they really did this from their homes, without being in the same room as each other, and it all worked out is impressive.  Check it out, and if you can, watch the whole first season as there’s nothing else like it out there today.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks, Mike, for a fine article – covering many interesting topics. Regarding the Pixl-latr: I supported Negative Supply’s new 120 film carrier on Kickstarter. Its production is also running behind schedule, but the product is now shipping. I’ll be getting both the new 120 carrier and the existing 35mm unit in a single shipment … tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow … and will send you a “review” of it. Negative Supply’s approach is about 180 degrees away from Pixl-latr: NS’s carriers are works of machine shop art, with overkill metal components produced by CAD-driven tooling. Some folks say that makes them more expensive than necessary, but the upside is that the 35mm unit has proven, in commercial use, to be as well-designed and as reliable as a Leica M-series camera body. Here’s a video showing how fast the 35mm unit is in use: https://www.negative.supply/blog/2019/7/6/video-scanning-demonstration-with-the-film-carrier-mk1

  2. The “Poor Man’s Hasselblad”? That would be the Kowa Six series of 6X6 SLR cameras of the late 1960’s to early 1970’s. I did consider the Kowa Six, but a test roll left me unimpressed. A handheld 6X6 SLR vs. a Rolleicord V wasn’t a fair test, but that was what I was familiar with.
    A brief look at the Kowa Six/Six MM/Super 66: https://filmphotographyproject.com/content/reviews/2016/05/kowa-six-medium-format-film-camera/
    I eventually settled on a Bronica ETR-C, which delivered very good images with the 50/75/150mm lens trio.

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