Category Archives: Cameras

80 Year Old Camera Explores the World Again

This Voigtlander Bessa rangefinder accompanied me on a recent business trip to Sri Lanka, and although I didn’t have much opportunity to use it there I did get to take a few frames (on an overcast day..) which is better than nothing, and then took a few more back in Japan.

These old cameras are handy for travel due to their compact size- when folded and stowed away they are slimmer than your average 35mm slr.  Of course without automatic winding stops you have to watch the number in the window for each frame, and when framing be careful not to crop things out of the top when in close range due to parallax (like I almost did in the portrait of the three friends in below), but this is all part of the experience.  A speed camera it is not.

Slave Island Fellows

These two friendly guys were enjoying the afternoon in this narrow alley in Slave Island with their beautiful cat. They jokingly offered to give me the cat to take back with me to Japan (the cat went along with it for the sake of the joke, but wasn’t that keen on it I don’t think). 

I did ruin a frame due to the bag of lychees I was carrying in my left hand contacting the shutter tensioner while taking one exposure thus slowing it from 1/100th to probably around 1/15th and causing the camera to shake slightly. This is something I like to do with my thumb on my Superb as well.  It generally takes one frame of doing this I’ve found and then I am ok for the rest of the time using the camera:-)  Then I forget again when it is put away for a few months..

slave island alley lychee dream

Doh! Darned lychees. They were delicious though (and cost only about ¥100 for 20pcs).

The Voigtlander Bessa RF was made from 1936-1951 I understand (according to Camerapedia). They were fitted with Skopar, Heliar, Heliomar, Helomar, and Color-Heliar lenses.  I like the 5 element Heliar 3.5/10.5cm, but I have heard good things about any of them.  It does get soft in the extremeties below f8, and swirly opened all the way up. This can look pretty cool for portraits etc if that is what you are going for. It has a yellow filter attached which conveniently flips up and down.  I don’t have a lens shade for it yet so have to watch the flare though haven’t noticed anything too shocking yet.

This high contrast photo of an old Japanese farm building would have benefitted from the zone system (and a tripod) in order to get more detail in the shadows and some more depth of field, although I like all the shapes, textures and shadows as it is.  Probably around 1.5 more stops exposure and then n-1 development?  Next time..

japanese rustic

Film was Arista Edu 100 (Foma 100) shot at ei200 just to get a little more speed for better handheld use. Development was HC-110 E 8 minutes/20C (recommended was 6 min at 20c at box speed).

This camera also is able to shoot square format which would give 12 frames instead of 8, and centralise the image to the area where the lens performs best.


Acros/HC-110/and the trusty FM2

I purchased this FM2 at a camera fair around 25 years ago and it has served me without fail ever since. It is my most “nostalgic” camera.  It hasn’t gotten as much use the last few years due to my growing collection of cameras, but I always take it out again eventually.

Usually I have the 50/1.8 attached which is compact and a wonderful portrait lens, however this time I grabbed the 55/3.5 macro, which is a great macro lens and a fine all rounder.

I used Acros pushed one stop to ei200 developed in HC-110 dilution E (1:47), developed for 7 minutes at 22 degrees C. For Acros at ei100 I would normally develop for 7 minutes at 20 C, and I saw on the Massive Dev Chart that someone recommended 7 minutes at 24 C for ei400 so this was a guess but it worked out fine I think.

I am cognisant that since getting this bottle of HC-110 my use of caffenol has nearly stopped.  I also have the ingredients for D-23 waiting in the wings but alas, the corruption of convenience.  I think some of it has to do with my concern about the HC-110 expiring before I get through it.  Due to the dilutions this stuff goes a long ways!





YK Cemetary

Ilford HP5+ (ei1600) / Caffenol stand developed / Summaron f2.8 35mm / Leica M3

This shot was taken as the sun was going down over Yokohama.  Perhaps I should have saved this for Halloween, but I took it only a month or so ago so decided not to wait.  I like the similarity of the structures in this scene as well as its symbolic contrast.

My M3 had been languishing due to my preference for the smaller, lighter and simpler screw mount lllf, however I don’t have a 35mm for the screw mount and really like that focal length so have been using the M3 a bit more recently.

I guess it doesn’t need to be said, but the M3 really is a great camera in every way.  I think the large, bright view finder is its best attribute.  Like all older Leicas it is built so well and looks so nice that you just feel good using it.  Call it Leica therapy.  They may be a bit expensive but are still a lot cheaper than a therapist:-)  The M3 is so nice you could carry it around just to hold and show people (and some people do just that..).


Perspectives on Death

The West has such a dark and dismal approach to death- cold and lonely for all eternity, the worms nibbling at our flesh, etc.  While I enjoy the gothic Edgar Allen Poe flavour of it in stories, Halloween and whatnot, I don’t subscribe to it at all in my personal philosophy.

We cling to life and fear death, which is referred to as attachment in Zen, but as I understand it they compliment each other a bit like night and day. Without night you do not have day and vice versa, like yin and yang or the tides of the ocean.  If we are not attached to living so much I think we can enjoy it more.

In the last few months 3 people in my family have passed on.  My daughter was also in the hospital for a week with bad bronchitis and asthma.  This has caused me to reflect perhaps a bit more deeply about life recently.


“The essence of your mind is not born, so it will never die. It is not an existence, which is perishable. It is not an emptiness, which is a mere void. It has neither colour nor form. It enjoys no pleasures and suffers no pains.”

~ Tokushou Bassui (1327-1387) in a letter to a dying disciple




Is that an XA in your pocket?


If you like film and want a great little travel camera, then this is the one for you.

Not another Olympus XA review (groan).. True there are plenty of good ones on the world wide web.  That’s why I won’t bore you with a long review.

What I like:

  • Compact and light; made of durable plastic with a metal (aluminum?) base
  • Has a proper rangefinder focus (3 stage zone focus for XA2)
  • Feels good in the hand and fits right in your jeans or coat pocket
  • It is pleasing to look at
  • 1.5 stop backlight exposure compensation, self timer,  and audible battery check (located on the bottom)
  • Nice f2.8 35mm lens (f3.5 on the XA2)

Maybe not so great:

  • Film selection only to iso 800; 1600 would be nice:-)
  • Fiddly shutter button that sometimes seems to not want to trip when I want it to (I noticed this on my XA2 as well- maybe mine are a bit faulty. Or my technique?)
  • It has a knurled film advance wheel like a cheap disposable- not the fastest and pros maybe didn’t like it much back in the day, but today who cares really?
  • Supposed to take 2 x SR44 batteries. I use LR44 which supposedly changes the meter reading slightly- I have found mine to underexpose a bit so I compensate with the ISO selector switch. The XA2 was designed for the LR44 I understand.
  • The XA2 vignettes a bit more than the XA I think. Depends what you like- I like it.

 Film Advance and Zorki Photo have nice detailed reviews, so check them out if you want to learn more. There is a also a site dedicated to the XA called diaxa.  There is no shortage of love for this little camera, and for good reason.

Because of their size and how much I enjoy using them I often take one with me when I am not specifically going out to take photos, and often this is when I come across something that makes me glad I have it with me. I enjoy using my XA and XA2 equally well.  The XA2 is basically a point and shoot so the aperture and shutter speed are left up to the camera.  You get to set the zone focus.  This can be fun too! You can pretty well guess what the camera is going to do based on the light levels and film speed.

Go get yours today!

Here are a few photos that I have taken with mine over the last year or so that I like.

Agfa Isolette. The best everyday medium format camera?

What do you do when you come across a medium format folding camera that you have always kinda wanted that has been CLA’d and fitted with a new bellows in your favorite color? Silly question- you buy it of course.

Agfa Isolette lll 3.5 Solinor (Tessar type)


How about that symmetrical look?  The button on the left (as we look at it) is the shutter, the right releases the spring door.

I really enjoy using this camera.  It is small, well built, and simple to use.  By small I mean folded up it is probably close to a Leica M5 without its lens, but lighter.  Great for taking along for snaps or whatever.  It even has double exposure prevention that works.  Wow! I have the habit of always advancing the film just before I take a picture to prevent double exposures. This can however sometimes lead to blank frames if you think you are going to take a picture, wind, then change your mind at the last minute and walk off to find another scene only to wonder when you are ready to take a shot later if you have wound it or not.  So you wind it again. Well with this camera you can go ahead and try taking it. If the film hasn’t been advanced it you can’t trip the shutter with the shutter button.

It has a rangefinder which is better than nothing, but it is not coupled which means you have to transfer that distance to the focus ring.  Focus isn’t as critical as you move closer to infinity and most people would probably zone focus with these most of the time anyway.  For close focus or where the light levels don’t allow you as much depth of field (and don’t have your tripod) you definitely would want to be a bit more careful.

It doesn’t have an automatic film advance stop so you have to open the little window and watch for the next number to show up to know you have advanced the film the right amount.  Easy.  What some people would term as inconveniences are what qualifies this camera for a fairly high Slow Photography ranking:-)  If a Nikon F4 would be a 1 (since it has autoload, auto advance, auto exposure, autofocus, etc), and a large format field camera a 10, then this would probably sit somewhere around a 6.

I didn’t have much opportunity to take it out at first due to the rainy season which lasts for around 1 month, so I tried it inside my house on some willing subjects (my children) and a make-shift studio (bamboo curtain shade, umbrella reflector and flash).  Then the other day I took it on a walk out in the Chiba country not too far from a road the Shogun had built several hundred years ago to go out hunting in the country called the Onari Kaido.  We had some rain and sunshine and all sorts of changing light conditions which always makes it fun.

I have been experimenting a bit with HC-110 developer and I am not sure I have it nailed yet.. I think that a lens hood and yellow filter would help a lot.  They’re next on my list..




I remember it like yesterday all those years ago when we spied each other across a crowded, brightly lit smoke free room..  It had a peculiar but elegant design.  A name that dared to be tested. “Are you good enough?”..Intrigued I drew closer to hear more it had to say, but it was silent.  “Yes. No..I don’t know, maybe,” I muttered to myself, retreating a few steps away to mindlessly pick through a basket of picked through filters. Although I didn’t buy it, it was too late already. It was only a matter of time. Well, far too much time really- never a very populous camera even in 1935, they don’t turn up very often!


Here are some interesting features about this camera that I noticed:

  1. It purportedly has parallax compensation (I don’t know how this works yet)
  2. The film travels horizontally (image isn’t upside down in your viewfinder)
  3. There is a level in one corner on the ground glass
  4. The film winder is a lever rather than a knob
  5. There is a mirror to read the shutter speeds from above (the speeds are written backwards on the dial)
  6. The film back has two doors (only one requires opening to take out the film)

Kids wanted to collect some tadpoles so we went out to the rice fields and I grabbed a couple rolls (Acros and Foma).  The camera was nice to use and I didn’t have any issues except accidentally keeping my finger on the shutter charge lever when pressing the shutter lever a few times (causing the shutter to stay open too long and blurring the photos).  I like the results.  Not just for an 80 year old camera- for any camera.  Now just to find some filters and a lens hood for it.  Let’s see, when’s the next camera swap meet in Ginza??