You Want To Use An Old Camera ?
Questions to ask yourself
Quick questions: 1. does the camera work ?
35mm: Battery case is clean, you can wind and fire (some need batteries to fire), rewind knob is there, the back opens and foam edge is not sticky, battery cover and rewind knob is there (no replacements, impossible to find for any make). Light meter working ? (battery ?)
Late folding models: they can take 35mm film, lens is clean, shutter fires (usually you can fire multiple times with no film), film area is clean.
2. Older Folding: Type of film available (only 120, 620 (can make 120 work), 127 (Kodak Vest Pocket) is very expensive, and 828 (Kodak Bantam's and Pony) film is very expensive , 116, 616 film: can use 120 with adapter.
Lens is clean, bellows is good - no tears - no pin holes, shutter works (you have to load it, then fire), film area is clean.
35mm cameras (60s, 70s to 2000)
1. If you found an old 35mm from your parents/uncle or want to use one, there are many 60s to 2000s camera available. If you buy one used, how do you know it will work. Hopefully the camera has been used in the page 4 years. If not the batteries to run it or the battery in the meter may have leaked. All those batteries that run the newer auto focus cameras are still available. If the camera turns on, a big step forward. Some of the older cameras that use AA batteries may need cleaning on the battery terminals. If the contacts are badly rusted, problems already. A pencil rubber end with sandpaper glued to it can help. Depending on the age of the camera, the light meter is the only battery. If you have a early 70s camera, they may take a mercury battery. There are Wein Air Batteries that will replace them for pretty cheap. Get a few, they only last 4 - 6 months. The old cameras had power winders, again AA batteries and possible bad contacts.
Sorry to say if a 35mm camera is dead...it's gone. Many need to be powered to fire, if the electronics are bad that's usually it. Older electric meter only cameras will work without batteries but you can use them without the meter system. If the camera needs a battery to fire, you may just need a new battery with cleaned contacts. Older non battery camera that won't wind, big problems.
APS cameras: They came out in 1996 - the batteries for the cameras are still available. For some reason the film is still available, but I read Kodak and Fuji dropped APS in 2011. You can find processing places on the web, but that is a different machine then 35mm film. So how long they will keep running them is anyone's guess.
2. The light proof back of the older 60s to 80s camera were foam. That is the foam in the edge of the back body. Some may be fine, others may have turned to mush. There are ways to replace it, it is messy, not too expensive because you have to do the labor. Replacement foam and instructions are available on-line.
3. Film should be no problem, if you can still find 35mm film and processing. If you Google, you can find the harder part, someone to process it. Most drug stores just send the film out, back in a few days. WARNING: some processing places are only scanning and sending you a CD or location were you can download the images. Some processing places will scan then destroy the your negs.
There are lots of places doing film processing on-line, and may follow the above warning.
4. Lenses are another problem. If they were stored in high humidity, fungus can attack the lens. Open the aperture and look through it at light. Fine lines in a circular pattern, you have a fungus. Photos will be blurry. Plus check the aperture, it should snap back quickly. The lens or zoom should turn smoothly. A dropped lens with a bent front may be hard to turn. It will work, but there is no economical way to fix it. Ebay and various on-line camera stores have thousands of used lenses.
Yes, they still make film for these, not sure why. The instamatic cameras were made by every company. There is another film make called RAPID. It was out for a couple of years trying to compete with the cartridge film. Guess who won. Too bad, as many of these cameras have very good lenses and automation. Still the RAPID film never caught on. It was 35mm film in a special cartridge. Those 127 and 110 cameras were never made well or with quality lenses. It would be a waste of money to try to revive them. There were a FEW that had decent lenses and automation. A couple 110 camera actually came out with interchangeable lenses and highly automated. Pentax 110 and Minolta 110 which only had a zoom lens attached.
Yes, due to the "Impossible Project" they found a way to make instant cartridge film as well as other instant film. It'll cost you, but a SX-70 can come alive again. You can go way crazy and buy a refurbished SX-70 from a few places. Fuji just came out with an instant camera... old is new again ! And they sell film too. As of 2017 Polaroid is under new owners and is selling a new (old model) One Step-2 instant camera. Film is currently $9 for 8 shots. One of the founders of the "Impossible Project" bought out all the Polaroid licenses and intellectual property in 2017.
Forget them, they were not good to start with. Yea, there are places that will process it if the film is found in a camera. No guarantee anything will come out. Film is no longer available for this size.
Older cameras and those not taking 35mm film - click here for adapters for older cameras to take current film. Also...see bottom of page.
1. FOLDING CAMERAS
I am now talking about your grandparents camera.
Folding types. There are small Kodak and other folding cameras that take 35 film. The problems with them are their age. The bellows (if it has them) will most likely be brittle. If they have cracks in them or pinholes, you will have ruined film. Again, the light sealing material needs to be working around the film door.
Lenses that are clear and a shutter that is still working after some 40+ years are a positive. Years of dust on the inside/outside of these lenses can be cleaned with Windex and a swab if needed. Almost none of these lenses are coated. Many of these folding cameras have a specific way to close them, hence my PDF files to assist you on that. Be aware, that if the shutter does not work, check the manual as they may have some strange behaviors. But again, 30, 40 60+ years with many users or just age can cause these simple shutters not to work.
Standard folding camera start from the first cameras to the 1950s. Except for the "box" cameras. The first thing you have to realize, there were no "enlargers" at the printing companies way back when. So the size of the negative is the size of the print. They were "contacted printed" the negative against paper. A one to one relationship. So the bigger the image, the negative had to be the same size hence these gigantic size cameras because the prints were bigger. Some of the cameras took 120 film, still available. Then there is 620 film, no longer readily available but check on-line for ways to make a 120 roll film fit a 620 camera. This method may not work in very 620 camera. It's not that hard and you still have the easy and ability to shoot and process standard 120 film. May other variations of large film were used.
These camera are rocket science to operate ! No automation at all. You must figure out the shutter and aperture depending on the film speed. Old films used for these camera were terribly slow, like 10 ASA. Current films are 100 ASA, 200 ASA and even 400 ASA. These cameras had slow shutter speeds, due to the old film speeds as well as the shutter being just a spring. So a standard exposure in full sunlight is the ASA of the film at F16. This can be easily adjusted for different setting and get the same exposure to the negative. Hopefully you have F-stop settings. Some camera have their own lens numbers, back to searching on the net to figure them out. So the old 10 ASA is 1/10 at F16, or 1/20 at F11 or 1/40 at F8, all giving the same exposure. But with modern film ASA 100 is 1/100 at F16, 1/50 at F22 or 1/25 at F32 or 1/15 at F64. Slower shutter, smaller aperture. Faster shutter, wider aperture.
Most older folding cameras can barely get to 1/100 sec exposure, so the fast film can be a problem. Forget ASA 200 or ASA 400 film. Exposures in clouds 1/100 at F11, heavy shade 1/100 at F8. After you figure out the crazy exposure, you must figure out the accurate distance to the subject, bring a ruler ! You then turn the front of the lens to the correct distance. Or there is a scale on the slider bar where you physically move the camera from closer to the film or further away to focus. Since you are allowed fast film, you're not shooting at 1/8 of a second trying to hold the camera very steady. If not, you'll see the blurry images from your grandparents photo album. After all this fuss, fire the shutter. Again, some camera you have to wind the shutter, then fire it. You will hear a teeny, tiny click. Then, did I expose this frame or not. ALWAYS wind to the next frame after you shoot. If your camera has the right film, you can wind to the next frame by using that hidden red window. EASY ! Practice this before trying real film, get used to all the prep. Then remember, you only get some 8 shots ! Then take out the film, change reels, load, wind to #1. Rocket Science !
2. BOX CAMERAS
Kodak as well as others made box cameras. Very simple, many used 120 film. Some use other types no longer made without paying $18 a roll. You can find non standard film on line, just be wary the costs will be high. And technology comes to the rescue, a 3D printer has allowed people to make adapters that will make 120 spools fit the spaces and different film ends fit these cameras. You can find these adapters on-line by searching for "spool adapters".
3. Cameras with film no longer available.
Very old cameras up to 1902, each camera had it's own film and film size. This is where Kodak made their mark by just having a few sizes of film for all of their cameras. These outdated film sizes includes 616, 116, 620, 127, 828, 101, you have the possibility of using 120 film with adapters or you can buy these films from special places that serve needy photographers. All the other film sizes on the link above will have a very difficult time getting something to work. This does not means people haven't tried, but they are very knowledgeable about photography and had to try many rolls to get images to come out.
Older cameras did not have any automation, when you pressed the shutter, you had to turn the film spool knob until the red window on the back showed the next exposure number. Even cameras that used 120 had different negative sized. These exposure numbers were printed on the back of the paper that held the film. On 120 the frame numbers were printed in different areas, so And with adapters or completely different film, these numbers will not match up. So a lot of guess work has to be done as you are working blind to wind the film to the next blank spot on the roll. If not you will get overlap of images. With cameras that need "guess work" to find the next blank frame many places will suggest to wind extra. This way you will not overlap, but if you were suppose to get 10 shots, you will only get 8 or so while leaving lots of space between frames.
There is a lot of information out there to help if you want to use a film camera or older folder / box camera. If it uses film you can find, that is a big help. There are a lot of cameras that used 127 and 828 film. If $18 for film plus processing is fine, you can give it a try and see just how the grandparents did it in the "old days". A number of film only web site have popped up and good old Google can help you find an awful lot of information.
Good Luck !
Your Go-To sites
If you find any more - tell me.
The frugal photographer - common and strange films
Drug stores - They will process many modern films for cheap
Ritz Camera - film and processing
Places for non-standard film -
Films for Classics is working with B and H Photo in NYC
Making 120 film fit a 620 camera
Just a Google listing
You can BUY 620 film for some $18 a roll
Kodak Classic website
Help on getting film to fit various Kodak cameras
Like 616 or 828 film
You can now buy a 616 film adapter pretty cheap - Amazon / Ebay
116 / 616 film
You can try this site, it sells adapters for 120 to fit in older cameras
Remember you have to wind past the standard numbers as these negatives are larger.
B&H photo and Video (closed Saturdays)
Old School Photo Lab
Weird films developed - they returns negs
There are now a variety of instant film sizes and cameras
Amazon, E-bay, just Google it
If you found old film and really want to try
to find out what's on it. The only place to really try.
It may cost ya, It'll take lots of time, but this is their specialty - Film Rescue.
Film cameras for "artsy prints"
Square images, pin hole, printing film sprockets
Holga or Lomography
Back to my Camera Manual Page - www.butkus.org/chinon
Back to my main information page - www.butkus.org
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Sporting an elegant exterior design, the sleek EOS Rebel 2000 gives photographers unprecedented creative control, including 7-point autofocus, 35-zone AE metering and a variety of other improvements. With its convenient built-in retractable flash and 11 versatile shooting modes, the EOS Rebel 2000 lets you get great photos of vacations, sporting events, landscapes, portraits and more.  Smaller and lighter than ever before, the EOS Rebel 2000 incorporates a full range of basic features including depth-of-field preview, scale-metered manual exposure and 10 other shooting modes. Advanced features include a choice of evaluative or partial metering patterns, AE lock, Auto Exposure Bracketing, multiple exposure and more. The EOS Rebel 2000 is also fully compatible with all EF lenses and EOS Speedlites, including Canon¹s EX-series with E-TTL, FE Lock and High-Speed Sync modes for incredible flexibility in creative flash photography.
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A normal person’s guide to buying an old film camera
Pentax K1000 film camera
Today, Kodak announced it was bringing back one of its iconic black-and-white films, TMax P3200, which has been out of production since 2012. It’s a monochrome film that’s extra-sensitive to light, so you can shoot with it in dark settings, and it will give you a gritty, grimy look that so many smartphone filter apps have tried to replicate. But that’s not the only good news in the film photography world at the moment. Kodak is still preparing another iconic film called Ektachrome for market later this year, and a new film SLR from a company called Reflex slated to ship later this year camera just had a crowdfunding run that raised 150 percent of its goal.
In short: Right now is a really great time to try out film photography. Of course, it’s not as simple as your smartphone camera, but that’s the point. It’s a process—and that’s a large part of what makes it great.
Of course, the first thing you’ll need is a camera. Luckily, there are still lots of old film shooters waiting to you take you to hipster photography heaven in thrift stores, garage sales, and online auctions. Sadly, this renaissance has pushed prices on the secondary market up from rock bottom a few years ago. But, if you know what to look for, you can find a shooter that will hold its value while churning through roll after roll of cellulose acetate (the material from which film is made).
Pick your perfect old camera
There are three general types of film cameras: SLRs, compacts, and rangefinders. The type you should pick depends on lots of variables including your budget, shooting style, and even aesthetic preferences. If you see something you think you like, check it out on a site like Camerapedia, which offers tons of useful knowledge about old gear.
What are they? This is the classic form factor many people imagine when picturing an analog camera. They have interchangeable lenses in the front and a viewfinder that lets you look out through the lens and into the world with some help from a mirror inside. That’s where they get their three-letter name, which stands for single-lens reflex.
Advantages: SLRs are typically the most durable option and, if you’ve ever used a DSLR (which stands for digital SLR), the whole experience should seem familiar. They typically offer manual controls to help you learn, and you can swap the lenses if you get really into it and want to expand your collection.
If you already have a DSLR from a company like Nikon or Pentax, your lenses might even work (a quick Google search for compatibility will confirm it). If you have a modern Canon camera, however, it’s worth noting that their newer lenses won’t work with older film models.
Disadvantages: They’re the biggest cameras out of all the options, and some older models don’t offer much in the way of assistance when it comes to figuring out exposure, so brush up on your aperture and shutter speed knowledge.
Some models to check out: The Pentax K1000 and the Canon AE-1 Program are both iconic film cameras that are perfect for learning. They were extremely popular, so the companies manufactured millions of them, many of which are still around. I’ve paid as little as $5 for a K1000 at a garage sale. The Minolta SRT-101 is another iconic camera you can find on the cheap, but it’s big and heavy compared to those two.
If you want to step up to a slightly higher-grade camera, the Canon A-1, the Nikon FM2, and the Nikon F3 are also excellent choices. Expect to pay well over $100, and sometimes much more depending on condition, for one of these.
All the SLRs mentioned to this point have been manual focus, which means you have to rotate the lens yourself in order to get things sharp. There are plenty of modern autofocus SLRs out there, but they typically aren’t as affordable as their manual counterparts.
One note about old manual-focus SLRs is that the zoom lenses you sometimes see with them are terrible in terms of build and optical quality. If the camera comes with a big Vivitar, Sears, Quantaray, or another third-party lens, be prepared for soft focus and a clunky user experience. Sticking to a lens that matches the camera’s maker is your safest bet until you learn the intricacies of picking out new glass.
Olympus Stylus Epic
What are they? They look like black or silver bars of soap, but this segment of the film camera market has taken off over the past two years. They’re also called point-and-shoot cameras, because they don’t offer much in the way of manual controls.
Advantages: If you just want to get the film look without having to learn lots about exposure and other photographic concepts, compacts are a great solution. They’re much smaller than the other types of film cameras, and they often use batteries that are cheaper and easier to find. They’re also conspicuous than a big camera, too.
Disadvantages: Since most compact cameras were designed for mass audiences, many of them are terrible in terms of image quality and build. Again, they don’t offer much in the way of manual controls, which may be a negative depending on your outlook. Also, because of the way their lenses are constructed, they often have to rely on the built-in flash to get the proper amount of light in the photo. Shooting a flash in 2018 immediately draws a lot of attention. You also can’t change lenses if you get sick of the same field of view.
Some models to consider Unfortunately, the demand for any truly excellent compact cameras has spiked hard over the past year or so, thanks in part to their stylish nature. Kylie Jenner, for instance, recently touted the virtues of her Contax T2 (a truly iconic camera), and the average price on the second-hand market spiked several hundred dollars to around $1,000.
Olympus made some excellent point-and-shoot cameras under the Stylus series, and the zoom lens versions are still pretty affordable at less than $100. There’s another version called the Stylus Epic (or the international name, the MJU II), which has an exceptionally sharp lens, and doesn’t zoom. It’s getting more difficult to find them all the time for anything below $200.
If you go thrifting, keep an eye out for pretty much anything made by Contax, Olympus Stylus compacts, or anything in the Ricoh GR family.
If you don’t want to go bargain hunting or drop hundreds of dollars, the Nikon L35AF, which you can often find at estate sales and on eBay for under $100, is an underrated camera that’s bigger than most point-and-shoots, but has a great lens attached.
Minolta Easy Flash camera
What are they? The rangefinder resides somewhere between the compact and the SLR. You compose and focus using a viewfinder held up to your eye, but you don’t actually see through the lens of the camera, as you would with an SLR. The lens is coupled to the viewfinder so it knows when something is in focus. Shooting with a rangefinder is likely different than anything you’ve experienced with a digital camera, unless you’ve used something like the Fujifilm X100F. Try it before you make the leap.
Advantages: Some rangefinders allow you to swap out your lenses, while others opt for a fixed lens system that tunes the glass for that specific camera. They’re typically smaller than SLRs, but offer more manual controls than a compact. They’re also often some of the best-looking cameras around.
Disadvantages: The focusing process will likely take a little getting used to. The good ones are fairly expensive. Many of the older models don’t have a built-in light meter, so you’ll have to get a separate one or use a digital camera as a benchmark.
Some models to consider The Leica M series is often considered the gold standard against which all other rangefinders are judged. Unfortunately, that means most of them cost absurd amounts of money. A Leica M6, for example (which is desirable because it was the last all-mechanical M camera before the company introduced electronic elements in the M7) typically costs more than $1,000 before you add a similarly pricy lens.
In the world of the more realistic purchases, the Canon QL17 ($25-$100) is a great option for a beginner because it has a very sharp fixed lens. It’s small and relatively easy to use as well. The Yashica Electro 35 ($40-$100) is another good, stylish option.
If you want to get the most out of each roll of film, you can opt for a half-frame rangefinder like the Olympus PEN (roughly $150). It shoots photos that are only half the size of a typical 35-millimeter picture, which means you get 72 images on a single roll that usually only holds 36. You’ll lose some image quality as a trade-off, but if you’re going for the low-fi look, it could actually be a benefit.
Making sure it works
Now that you’ve found a perfect picture machine, it’s time to inspect it and make sure everything is in working order. There’s a chance that any dusty, neglected camera you pick up now has been sitting around for a while unless you get it from a shop—and that can lead to problems.
The first thing to check is the battery compartment. Storing a camera with a battery inside often leads to corrosion, which can literally eat away at the inside of the camera as the acid liberates itself from the cell. If you open the battery door and find green gunk, it’s definitely a warning sign, but it’s not necessarily a dealbreaker. Check and see if the parts look intact and make sure nothing is falling off. If it’s just a little battery gunk, you can typically clean the majority of it with some rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab.
If you have a chance to test out the camera before you purchase it, bring a spare battery with you to try it out. Many newer cameras won’t work at all without a battery inside, so you can’t test to see if you can trigger the shutter with the button. Camera batteries aren’t necessarily easy to find anymore, so don’t be surprised if you have to order one from Amazon or another camera shop after googling which one you’ll need. Typical batteries include CR123 and CR2 cells.
Make sure to try out all the moving parts, as well. If there are knobs, twist them. If the lens has a ring used for focusing, turn it and make sure it doesn’t groan from internal friction (if a lens is making a sound like Chewbacca, it won’t be fun to shoot). If there’s a film advance lever, make sure you can push it, because they often jam up; if it’s frozen, you won’t be able to advance your film.
One crucial element of your new camera is the light meter that measures the illumination in a scene and tells you which settings to use for your shot. Light meters usually engage when you push the camera’s shutter button (the button you use to take the picture) halfway down. When activated, you’ll typically see an indicator through the eyepiece like a needle that fluctuates or a light that moves around an exposure scale to show you what settings to use. Life will be hard if you try to learn without a working light meter, so make sure it’s operational.
Lastly, check the optics. Use your phone’s flashlight to look through the glass of the lens. If you see little tentacle-like streaks inside—especially around the edges—that’s likely lens fungus, which is extremely difficult to remove and might affect your photos, and not in a good, Instagram-filter way. Some lens glass will also yellow as it ages and, which is similarly hard to treat and can add a tinge to your snaps. (If you’re shooting black-and-white film, however, the yellowing is actually less of an issue, for obvious reasons.)
You also might notice a bunch of dust. While that can be annoying, it’s typically harmless. Film cameras employ a focusing screen, which is a piece of glass underneath the viewfinder. It’s often simple to open and clean out the dots of junk. Little bits of dust inside the lens itself are often inconsequential when it comes to image quality, as long as they’re small.
Get some film
By now, you’ve noticed that pretty much every one-hour photo place on the planet has disappeared, which means you should plan on sending your film away for development unless you want to do it yourself (which is totally fun and you should definitely try it, but the subject of a different article!).
If you want to shoot color, start with Agfa Vista (now discontinued), Kodak Gold, or Fuji Superia. They will set you back less than $4 per roll and give you a semi-grainy, and very film-esque look. Expect to pay roughly $11 to have each roll developed and scanned. No, it’s not cheap, but that’s part of what helps the process feel more precious and fun. Labs like The Find Lab and The Darkroom do an excellent job.
If you want to shoot black-and-white, pick up some Kodak T-Max, Kodak Tri-X, or Ilford HP5 (The new TMAX P3200 film from Kodak is aimed at more advanced users since it requires careful processing, which costs extra if you’re sending it out.) All of those stocks have been around forever and there are lots of guides (like ours!) online to help you develop it on your own. You can also send it away to the labs mentioned above, but expect to pay a little more.
Right now, things are relatively great in the film world, but there’s no telling when the boom will end. Film stocks are still going out of production here and there, but it’s easier to shoot film in 2018 than it was five years ago, and that’s a good thing. Let’s hope it lasts.
Are mechanical film cameras better than electronic?
|The electronic Pentax ME Super can be picked up for a bargain price compared to the mechanical Pentax MX. |
There are a lot of mechanical film camera snobs out there, and I’m one of them. There’s something about the way a mechanical camera feels, that sensation of meshing gears and tightening springs that you can feel right in your fingers, which is just magical. To me, a camera that goes 'KA-CLACK!' will always be superior to one that goes 'bzzzt.'
But I also know that electronic film cameras have key advantages over mechanical cameras, and those advantages don’t always get proper recognition. In fact, I’d argue that for many photographers and many situations, electronics are better. Here's why.
Mechanical vs. Electronic: What do we mean?
Before we begin, some quick definitions: For the sake of our discussion, an all-mechanical camera is one that has no electronics in the shutter, exposure or film-winding mechanisms. It may have a light meter, but mechanically speaking, it's fully functional without a battery.
An all-mechanical camera is fully functional without a battery
When we talk about electronic cameras, we either mean cameras with an electronically-controlled shutter, which still have manual focusing and winding, or cameras with electric/electronic everything, including shutter, exposure control, winder, and (usually) autofocus. Some electronic cameras will work at one shutter speed (usually the flash sync speed) with no batteries; for others, no power means no pictures. (Note that some cameras, like the Canon EF and Pentax LX, use a hybrid shutter with mechanical timing for fast speeds and electronic for slow speeds.)
Some electronic cameras will work at one shutter speed (flash sync) with no batteries; for others, no power means no pictures
Got it? Good! Let’s dive in and talk about the advantages of electronics, then we’ll revisit a few of the arguments in favor of mechanicals.
Why electronic cameras are better
You'd be hard-pressed to spend more than $75 on an electronic Ricoh KR-10 with lens.
Electronic cameras have fewer moving parts than mechanical cameras.
This is one of the main reasons camera manufacturers moved to electronics in the first place: The complexity of the mechanism is greatly reduced. Mechanical cameras are clockwork marvels, filled with minuscule gears, levers, springs, cords and chains – moving parts that can wear out, disengage, clog up or break. Electronic cameras replace a lot of these intricate bits with non-moving solid-state electronics, which are simpler, more robust and generally more reliable. From the manufacturer’s perspective, electronics make the cameras cheaper to build. From the photographer’s perspective, electronics mean fewer things to go wrong.
From the manufacturer’s perspective, electronics make the cameras cheaper to build. From the photographer’s perspective, electronics mean fewer things to go wrong
Electronic cameras rarely go out of adjustment.
One of the problems with a mechanical shutter-timing mechanism is that it’s subject to wear, degraded lubrication, and temperature variations. After a while, your 1/250 shutter setting no longer delivers a 1/250 second exposure. (Hence the 'A' in the common CLA service – cleaning, lubrication and adjustment.) With an electronic shutter, the timing is done by solid-state bits that are not prone to such discrepancies.
That’s not to say electronic shutters are always perfect; they still have moving parts that can be affected by dirty electromagnets or dried-up lubricant. But they tend to stay pretty darn close to the mark. If a forty-year-old electronic camera is working, it’s probably working correctly – and will likely be shooting more accurate than an older mechanical camera that hasn’t been serviced.
Electronic cameras can deliver more precise exposures than mechanical cameras.
With a mechanical camera, you’re generally locked into pre-set full-stop shutter speeds – 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, etc. Same with an electronic camera in manual mode. But electronic cameras with an automatic exposure setting can take advantage of one of the key benefits of an electronic shutter: Infinitely variable speed settings. If the meter decides the ideal shutter speed is, say, 1/300 of a second, that’s how long the shutter will stay open. 1/75 sec ? No problem. 1/854 sec? Sure! They can fine-tune your exposure in a way that a mechanical camera can’t, which is especially critical if you’re shooting with slide or technical film.
The electronic Nikon FE2 sells for about half the price of the mechanical FM2.
Electronic cameras have faster top and sync speeds than mechanical cameras.
The camera with the fastest purely mechanical shutter I know of is the Nikon FM3A, which tops out at 1/4000th of a second, but that’s atypical; most mechanical cameras stop at 1/1000 sec, and some 'pro' models at 1/2000 sec. So did early electronic cameras, but advances in electronics and curtain materials meant faster speeds, and many electronic cameras top out at 1/4000 or (in very high-end models) 1/8000 sec. The speed champ is the Minolta Maxxum 9, which can snap off an exposure in 1/12,000 sec.
Fast shutters are usually associated with action photography, but they are handy for casual shooters as well: If you’re running 400 speed film and the sun comes out, you can still shoot at wide apertures. Electronic shutters also give you faster flash sync speeds, typically 1/125 sec to 1/250 sec versus 1/60 sec for most mechanical shutters. Again, that’s one or two more stops of flexibility, allowing you to use a wider aperture for outdoor portraits with fill flash.
Electronic shutters also give you faster flash sync speeds, typically 1/125 sec to 1/250 sec versus 1/60 sec for most mechanical shutters
Finally, my favorite:
Electronic cameras are usually less expensive.
Electronic cameras are the bargains of the used-film-camera market. Nikon’s all-mechanical FM2 typically sells for twice as much as its electronic-shutter counterpart, the FE2. Same for the mechanical Pentax MX and the electronic ME Super.
And the more electronic you go, the better the prices get. The Nikon N8008, a “prosumer” camera one notch below the vaunted F4, sold for $600-$800 when new, but today you can buy them for $10-$50. Minolta’s excellent Maxxum/Dynax autofocus cameras of the 1990s can easily be bought for $20-$50 in good operating order with a Minolta lens – not just the low-end consumer models, but fully-featured high-end cameras as well.
Why mechanical cameras are better
We’ve covered the advantages of electronic cameras. What about the arguments in favor of mechanical cameras? Let’s discuss a few.
|A Nikon ad from the 80's showing a mix of electronic, mechanical and hybrid cameras. |
Mechanical cameras work without batteries.
This is true, though I’ve personally never seen it as a real advantage (although I can understand how those who have found themselves on the losing end of a dying digital camera battery would). The story I’ve heard is of a professional photographer on a once-in-a-lifetime shoot atop an icy mountain. Suddenly their camera’s battery dies – but they have a mechanical camera, so they can go right on shooting! Fine - but that's a niche use-case. Most of us aren't going to be shooting regularly in situations where batteries degrade fast (like extreme cold) or in places where spares aren't easily available.
The more likely explanation for the cult of the battery-less camera is that pros mistrusted electronics when they first came out, which is a natural human reaction to anything new and unfamiliar. Within a few years, once they realized that electronics were not evil, those same professionals were relying on battery-reliant cameras like the Nikon F4/F5 and Canon EOS-1.
All-mechanical cameras are fabulous beasties and a treat to use. But manual-wind, manual-focus cameras with electronic shutters give you most of that same feel.
Besides, while it’s true a mechanical camera will work without the batteries, its meter won’t, and who wants to shoot without a meter? Sure, you can use an external meter/phone app or 'Sunny 16', but there’s no need for a fallback when spare batteries are cheap and easy to carry. Remember that electronic cameras that use button batteries go years on one set, and autofocus cameras that use AAs or lithium ions should give you a few dozen rolls and a warning before the batteries die. So yes, this argument is valid, but I don’t think it’s very relevant.
Mechanical cameras are more repairable.
There is some truth to this. One of the reasons older electronic cameras can fail is that their flexible printed circuit boards can crack with age. When new parts aren’t available, repair shops rely on donor cameras, which may have the same age-related issues. But not all problems with electronic cameras are insoluble – some repairs require a bit of soldering, and other failures are mechanical, not electrical, and involve the same types of issues to which mechanical cameras are prone.
Even if a given camera cannot be repaired, remember those low replacement costs. I’ve had two cameras cleaned and repaired at a cost of around $100 each– worth it for more expensive cameras. But if it’s my Minolta 400si or Ricoh KR-10 that breaks, for that same $100 I could buy 3 or 4 replacement bodies in working condition.
Mechanical cameras have more 'soul'.
You’ll get no argument from me there. All-mechanical cameras are fabulous beasties and a treat to use. But manual-wind, manual-focus cameras with electronic shutters give you most of that same feel. And while autofocus, auto-wind cameras don’t feel the same, using them is a unique experience that I have grown to appreciate.
|The mechanical Pentax MX (shown with accessory grip) is a joy to shoot with. |
Mechanical cameras are great, and they have their advantages, and disadvantages. Electronic cameras, meanwhile, are the unsung heroes: They are generally cheaper to buy, more likely to give you accurate exposures, and if they aren’t always easily repairable, they are usually easily (and cheaply) replaceable. There’s a reason all camera manufacturers embraced electronics. We, as film photographers, ought to embrace them as well.
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