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Old Mar 19, 2006, 11:30 AM   #1
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<Greets all... Long time no speak, and I hope all the "old-timers" who might remember me on this terrific forum are doing well. I see that Panasonic cranked out another 15 digicams since my last post, and will soon be releasing a DSLR with Leica and Olympus. And, I see, the skills of many of the members here still never cease to amaze.

Anyway, over the last few months I "fell in love" - with a camera of course. No, silly, not a digicam or a DSLR - it's a film camera, so this is more than a bit off-topic. I hope nobody minds.

But if you're getting tired of chasing megapixels, having the camera you just bought last year be obsolete, tired of spending hours in front of Photoshop tweaking pics, making 48 prints at a cost $30 in ink an paper (as opposed to dropping off a roll of film at a pharmacy and have doubles to share within an hour for $9.50) or you love photography, cameras, and pics and are willing to part with say, $40 to $60 dollars on eBay for a fully functional 30-40 year old wonder in order to play with a "little different" photographic toy, I thought I might share a little about these very highly recommended beauties, I along with many others are rediscovering...

So, over a Sunday morning cup-o-joe, here goes my rant...

How It Started
My father used one camera, and one camera only, all the time we grew up. He loved the thing. He shot mostly slide film and would project his photos on a carousel projector. I never appreciated just how good those pictures were, how careful you must be shooting slide, and how great a camera he used to take them. That camera was the (now legendary) Canon 17 QL III, a fixed lense rangefinder he bought dirt cheap in the 60's while on a trip to Japan. My father retired in 1988. In 1987 after a couple decades of faithful service, documenting me and my sister growing up, and my father's life and times and memories, his Canon bit the dust. He's not an emotionall man, but I knew he was crestfallen. So, when he retired the next year, my sister and I bought him the latest photographic wonder of the times - a Minota, fully automated, autofocus, TTL flash, autoexposure, auto everything SLR kit, a 50mm prime lens and a zoom, with a flash - the works. I remember it costing around $600-$700 at the time. He opened the package and was grateful and appreciative. He scolded us for spending the money (we were in college at the time).

That camera became a closet queen. He used it only a couple times. It was one of those gifts you display out of obligation to the gift-giver, but don't really like.

Years Later
As I grew in my understanding of cameras and photography, I realized that dad wasn't an SLR shooter. He was a "rangefinder man". Specifically, he loved shooting slide with a rangefinder camera. And, as any fool knows, except me it seems, you just don't go giving an SLR, especially an automated one. Too busy. Too many dials, settings, infrared lights to set autofocus, motors whirring... You don't need six different lenses. Want wider angle? Move two steps back. Want to take a close up? More closer to the subject. Some of the best photographers, like famed street photograher Henri Cartier Bresson, used but one focal length their entire careers.

What's a Rangefinder?
For those that don't know, a rangefinder - unlike an SLR or most modern digicams, use a seperate lens - "the rangefinder" for focusing, and another lens for capture. There are many variations of rangefinder, older ones are "uncoupled", you must manually read the distance from the rangefinder and transfer the number of feet to the capture lens. Most, however, are "coupled", focusing the rangefinder also focuses the taking lens. There are also "fixed lens" rangefinders and others, like those made by Leica, have interchangeable lens systems. The rangefinder has a double image in it, and you adjust the capture lens until both images merge. When the two images merge, your image is in focus.

Why a Rangefinder?
Rangefinders have traditionally, to this day, been the prefered tool of street photographers since the inception of 35mm photography. Unlike SLRs and DSLRs, which use the capture lens to reflect the image into the viewer, there is no mirror that crashes inside the camera when you take a picture. There are several advantages to this:

1. The cameras are "thinner", smaller, and lighter than their (D)SLR counterparts.
2. Rangefinders use an outline area in the viewer what enables you to see beyond what the taking lens sees.
3. For engineering reasons I won't bore you with, smaller lenses can be constucted. (Basically, the lens goes further into the camera, closer to the film plane, because there's no mirror it has to "clear", so the lenses don't protrude out as far...)
4. Because there's no "mirror slap" you can use a rangefinder at slower shutter speeds, hand-held than an SLR or DSLR without image stabilization
5. They're very quit - barely an audible click.
6. FAST prime lenses.

All these factors make rangefiders probably, arguabley, the best tool for ambient light candid photography. Load a rangefinder with 400, 800, 1600 or higher speed film with a fast 1.7 45mm lens and there is hardly a lighting situation you could encounter where you would need a flash. No blinking eyes, no "red eye", no people need to coax people to let you take their picture - no flash means no pre-white balance preflash, autofocus infrared beams, and blinding flash. ...Just nice, natural light candids, with subjects acting naturally, very often not even knowing you took their picture. Much of the advantage of the rangefinder is psychological. These are usually unobtrusive cameras, silent, seldom requiring a flash. Subjects don't react as if they're "on camera" even when they know you're taking their picture.

You're not jabbing a big camera with a long imposing lens, whirling motors, pre-flashes, infrared autofocus beams, autofocus assist beams, then blinding flashes at people. Once you get it down, you can focus quickly under adverse lighting conditions. In the case of the japanese fixed lens variations, no warning lights means the camera can take the picture hand held without motion blur or camera shake. Once you master it, you can compose, focus and shoot in seconds. They're quit too. The first picture I took of my 8 year old son, he said, you took my picture already? That camera's more quiet than your other one (the SLR I usually use).

These cameras excel at candid, ambient and low-light photography, street photograhy, and general photography.

Leica and the Japanese Fixed Lens Wonders
Leica systems, regarded by many as the best cameras (and, of course, lenses) produced mainly rangefinders. I'm sure they're wonderful but I can't afford them. However, from the 50's up through the 80's, the Japanese camera companies - Nikon, Canon, Yashica, Konica (no slouches either) and many others competed with Leica by mass-producing absolutely wonderful fixed lens rangefinders that the average man can afford. Adjusted for inflation, these cameras would have cose $350 - $400 US in today's money, so they were considered "prosumer" items. These cameras all had one thing in common - KILLER FAST LENSES, and SOLID CONSTRUCTION, which is why many are still going strong, with a little TLC, after 35 years.

I got my first Yashica GSN as a gift for my dad. A couple years ago, I thought I might surprise him by purchasing a working Canon 17 QLIII. I found that fully functional, "CLA'd" (cleaned, lubed, adjusted), restored versions on eBay were somewhat rare and commanded a surprisingly high price with many bidders. So, I opted for a downmarket Canonette (not that dad's not worth it, but in his mid-70's, I wasn't sure he would use it even if it worked). Unfortunately, the Canonette was DOA.

Flash forward a couple years, and I began researching cameras in my quest to get dad a decent rangefinder, when I stumbled upon some sites that talked about the Yashica GSN. The Yashica GSN. Yashica made essentially the same camera for 17 years. The mighty GSN rangefinder boasted a terrific 45mm F1.7 lens, chrome top. Unlike the Canon, it runs off non-mercury batteries that are still available. The original battery size isn't around anymore, but a ball of aluminum foil in the battery compartment works just fine, or you can buy a $12 adapter available from "The Yashica Guy's" website.

So, I bid and won a fully functional, CLA's, Yashica GSN with new light seals for $42. When the camera arrived I was astonished at how it looked. Gleeming chrome top, beautiful lens, clean, like new. I had a battery (and aluminum foil) ready for its arrival. I inserted the battery, and the camera worked. Just as billed. The Yashica is an "aperture priority camera". Unlike the Canon, it has no fully manual option, which is why the Canons cost more. Depress its shutter 1/2-way and if there's not enough light, a warning arrow telling you to adust the aperture appears in the viewfinder and on the top of the camera (great if you're using a tripod) telling you to open the aperture more. Too much light, and an arrow lights up telling you to stop down.

By today's standards some might consider this simple system crude. Guess what? It's simple, elegant, fantastic. Exposures are spot on. Once you spend some time with a rangefinder, and get used to it, there's no faster way to compose, focus, and set exposure than this elegant semi-automated method, and that includes today's digital marvels.

To quote Matt Denton from his excellent classic camera website, "holy crap these take nice pictures! I can see now why they have a cult following." This is my exact reaction after loading a test roll of film.

The camera is a thing of beauty that could be on display in an art gallery. It feels marvelous in your hand. It makes you want to take pictures:

In addtion to the spectacular lens, and better in many ways than the Leica system, this camera is a leaf shutter design that syncs at all shutter speeds, this is excellent for using a fill-flash in daylight. Also, it will shot in virtually any lighting. The warning arrows mean advise you to use a tripod, rather than hand held. If virtualy darkness, mount this camera on a tripod, and shoot. The camera will leave the shutter open up till 30 seconds to take a picture, automatically. Not bad for 1960's technology. This camera is simply amazing in low and ambient light picture taking. Throw some Fuji Supreria 800, or Neopan 1600 (BW), or Ilford Delta 3200, and you can shoot virtually anywhere, sans flash. I know, I've done it.

Of course, I bought one for myself...

Then I did a little research on other Yashicas. In a fantastic stroke of auction site luck I won a 'later' model Yashica, the rare and sought-after Yashica Electro 35 CC (compact camera) for $36. (They usually go for $200+ if the seller claims it's mint and fully functional)

This camera is about the size of your hand, and its claim to fame is an amazing 35mm f1.8 lens. Lenses this wide and this fast are a rarety. Leica has one that costs thousands, and another by Voghtlander/Cosina costs around $400. This is my desert island camera, a street shooter's dream.

Finally, on its way, for $19.50 is the Yashica Lynx 14. This camera's claim to fame it its f1.4 45mm lens. This lens lets in 2x as much light as the f2.8 on the Panasonics and has is fully manual, unlike the other Yashicas. This camera has "Saigon" etched in it, so it seems it belonged to an American soldier in Vietnam back in the late 60's. Fixed lens rangefinders, especially the Canons, were the cameras of choice of US during this (sad) era.

Back to Dad
When I gave dad the GSN, he inspected it, and he mumbled "...just like the old Canon". Last week I saw dad snapping away pictures of his grandchildren with his GSN. $42 very well spent.

If you would like to learn more about these wonderful old cameras, here are some links:

Matt's Classic Cameras (wonderful site): http://tinyurl.com/cupur

The Yashica Guy (devoted just to the Yashicas). He also sells a better adapter for them ($12): http://www.yashica-guy.com/

Photoentography.com is an "excellent" site made my a professional photographer-anthropologist (fancy name for "street photographer" 'cept she gets paid for this fun), Karen Nakamura. Excellent resource: http://tinyurl.com/6njvj

Well, it's been fun chatting with you all again. Next time I'll post some pics : )

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Old Mar 19, 2006, 11:53 AM   #2
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Hi Nick !!!

Glad to see you posting on the forum and I hope you'been having a heck of a time with the MF camera too! I'm going to finish reading your post ... just couldn't help but say hello mate first !



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Old Mar 19, 2006, 11:55 AM   #3
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I've been wanting to convert to film before because of the Holga. :blah:

But then I've realized how costly film is and the subsequent steps that have to be taken before you can see your photograph.

The 'best' way to use film IMO isn't w. a scanner but w. a darkroom.
And I know that seeing what unfolds in a darkroom is just pure euphoria.

However, this approach isn't available for everyone. Like me for example, who is a jobless college student.

You'll need plenty of chemicals, an enlarger for later on.
You'll need to develop your negatives before that.
Plus film.

If you do plan to delve into film photography, you should try to experience everything that that world has to offer.

No scanners and no trips to the supermaket.

So..yeah. I mean, I'm guessing most of you here are middle-aged--- 40s? I say go for it if you've got the money. But for the jobless bums like me..sadly it's not a reality.
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Old Mar 19, 2006, 12:33 PM   #4
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HarjTT, my brotha! How are you? Thanks for the well-wishes : ) Great to hear from you m8t : )
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Old Mar 19, 2006, 12:37 PM   #5
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hey, Nick! long time no see! not too many of the old crowd left here... haven't heard from Boyzo or Hiroshi in a long time, and some of the others who were here when i joined seem to have simply vanished. life goes on, i guess, and people develop other interests... but there are a lot of new folks on the forum, and it still seems to be one of the best around.

anyway, sounds like you're doing well, and having fun with film in the bargain. love to see some shots from your Yashica when you get a chance. me, i'm still poppin' away with my FZ20 - never bought into the FZ30, it wasn't enough of an improvement to be worth the cost for me - but i do have a Canon 30D on order that should be here middle of next month.

stop by more often. it's good to hear from some of the "old-timers" now and then!
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Old Mar 19, 2006, 1:11 PM   #6
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Yes, I have a darkroom and shoot black and white. However, if you like prints, I find film and digital to be about the same cost. If you just display your pics on the Internet, or computer, yeah, that costs nothing.

BUT, if you like prints, you would be surprised.

1. An used 35mm enlarger costs about as much as a photo-printer. I paid about $75 for mine including shipping.

2. You don't need a darkroom. You need a dark (as in NO light) AREA for making prints. I used my basement at night (and only at night), and cover the three small windows with blankets. No problem.

3. I buy outdated filmstock on eBay. I just bought 10 rolls of Ilford XP2 (C41 process) for $15 including shipping. So that's 240 exposures for $15. The next thing I intend to do for 35 is "roll my own". A used Watson film roller loader is about $10-ish. 100 feet of tri-X cost about $40. That's 60 or more (too lazy to do the math) rolls of film.

4. Diafine is a two step developer that costs $20. That's reusable and lasts years. D76 is a "one shot" developer that costs $6 for powder that makes a gallon. Chemistry is $5 here, $5 there for this or that. Fixer is cheap and reusable. Stop bath, if you use it is a couple of bucks.

Again, it really isn't too bad, but of course that's relative. eBay is your friend (or foe?). My take is it costs about the same as photo-inkjet supplies - inks and paper, perhaps even a little less.

For color, I pay about $6.50 a roll to be developed. Doubles cost about $9-$10. I shoot a roll or two week.

For some reason, I find it less an annoyance to spring for five bucks for Dektol when I need it, or other chemistry, or $15 for a couple rolls of color development, than shelling out $70 for inks that always seem to run out, and they always seem to run out. You know that if you made 48 color prints on your inkjet, you'll be running out of at least one of the ink tanks. Plus, it would take hours to print 48 prints on an inkjet, as opposed to an hour at a camera store or pharmacy.

Plus, though, like you say, it's magic to watch film develop in the tray.

The reason I brought up the old rangefinders, is that they really compliment a digital system nicely. If you want to load some higher speed film in your camera to take some natural light candids, or take to the streets at night, these are your babies. An F1.7 lens lets in 75% more light than F2.8, and Fuji Superia ISO 800 lets in 4X as much light as ISO 200. (Great color film, available anywhere, and pretty cheap...) They excel at things the digitals struggle with (low light situations), are very durable (still going strong after nearly 40 years) if you get a good one, and one that's billed as "fully functional" costs around $40. If you want to take your chances for an "As Is" camera, it will set you back about $10 to $20.

The implicit recommendation is use an old rangefinder, when you need a higher ISO than your digital is really capable of and a faster lens (the lenses on these thngs are outstanding) for non/flash stuff. Use your excellent big zoom with IS Panasonic digicam for everything else. Between the two, your photographic bases are virtually all covered.

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Old Mar 19, 2006, 1:16 PM   #7
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Yeah, it's a good group of folks, always was. That's what keeps people coming back longer than the rather narrow topic of "Panasonic Digicams" has been exhausted (no matter how many models they crank out...) I'm sure their latest is a very good camera, but more of the same with a few more bells and whistles and more noise(?).

Moving up to a DSLR, I see. I suspect most will eventually. Have fun with it, post some pics, too!

I wanted to post earlier but I wanted to wait until I scanned some stuff I've shot. But, if I waited till my lazy arse got around to it, I would have never checked in.
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Old Mar 19, 2006, 1:28 PM   #8
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Geez... sorry for the jumbled replies. Forgot to use the "quote" tags. Been away too long.
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Old Mar 19, 2006, 1:44 PM   #9
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Hey, Nick. Stayin snap happy? Good to hear. I'm on the off year for upgrading so I'll stick with the fz5 which is a heck of a camera. No need to change. Kept the fz1 for ir. Just waiting for a little foliage to sweeten the pot. I'll most likely get the new 28mm pany fx01 for my 35th anniversary and play with wa some on the street. One of those slim stealth jobs. That should tide me over til 2007 and the fz8/9.

Thanks for the rangefinder background. Epson came out with the first digital RF last fall. Good review and perspective at http://www.luminous-landscape.com/re...pson-rd1.shtml At ~$3000, a little more than your Yashica. Post a couple of shots.


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Old Mar 19, 2006, 4:26 PM   #10
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Hi Nick

Nick, a really interesting and thought provoking post. I'm still on my old FZ10 :? and have finally after what 18 months managed to take a few decent pictures! I like the look of the Yashica GSN - the lens on the cam just looks stunning and its pretty fast at f1.7 too. I think that it would be seriously cool to have as a spare anywhere you go cam but how easy is it to shoot with a range finder ?

I did spot a really interesting thread on Rangefinders a couple of weeks ago but can't seem to find it at all.

Post some pics when you gett a chance, esp some MF shots from that old Keiv MF cam you purchased.



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