Mama, don't take my Kodachrome (a lovely screen
name, by the way) left this comment on the “Olympus Auto Eye”
Wow, funny thing finding your Blog while searching Google for
Olympus Auto Eye. I too live here in Tulsa, and just bought one
yesterday while working in Dallas. I found it on Craigslist for $10.
It appears to be in almost mint condition, complete with cap, case,
strap, manual, and flash bracket. The meter is about one stop off,
but that is easy to fix by just setting the ASA to half of the film
rating. Hoping to run a roll through this weekend. It's a lovely,
solid, and clever camera.
I'd love to see your Auto Eye images, as they wont load on this
page. Do you have a Flickr account or other photo hosting site?
This is a brief summary of what I've
learned from tinkering with vintage rangefinder cameras. There's no
attempt at scientific method, just my subjective opinions, so take it
with a grain of salt.
I've included a sample photo taken with each camera listed. More
are available on my Google+ page
. They're small, low resolution
images, but if there's one you particularly like, contact me for a
high-res version. Also, you should know that most of these photos
have had some minor editing in Zoner Photo Studio. I almost always
adjust the levels and the gray point, add some color saturation and
contrast, and sharpen them slightly. This works well for nearly any
photo, including digital ones. When I have lots to do, like after
photographing a bike race, for instance, the batch editing tool is my
very best friend.
Here's my usual process for evaluating and buying old cameras –
whatever the type. It's a given that old cameras will have gummy,
rotting seals, so it's also a given that they'll need to be replaced.
On SLRs, this includes the bumper that the mirror contacts as it
flips up. If you decide to replace this yourself, take pains to avoid
dropping any of the gummy pieces on the mirror or inside the camera.
Trust me, they're a PITA to clean up.
Most door seals are foam strips that measure 2mm by 2mm in
cross-section. I cut them from sheets of foam that have an adhesive
backing on one side. After removing the old seals with a sharpened
chopstick and cleaning the channels with alcohol, I carefully set the
new seal in place, using a small tool to push it down.
I open the camera and watch the aperture leaves and shutter for
proper operation. I'm not overly concerned with the shutter
calibration as it's common for the slow speeds to be off. Just cock
the winding lever and fire the shutter. Go through the whole range of
speeds and apertures. In an SLR, the aperture blades should stop down
consistently and shouldn't be slow or sticky.
The deal breakers are: broken or missing parts, inoperative
mechanisms, lens fungus, and corrosion. Parts for old cameras can be
difficult to find unless you have a second, donor camera. An
inoperatve shutter, broken rangefinder, or stuck wind lever can be
fixed – often at a price that exceeds what the camera is worth
unless it's a high end model such as a Leica. And if you have a
Leica, you shouldn't be working on it yourself. Some cameras require
a working battery in order to fire the shutter. More on them in a
Corrosion is the big deal killer. Old
batteries leak acid with devastating results. If the battery
compartment will not open, there's an excellent chance the cover is
corroded in place. Give it a pass. Acid can wick along the internal
wiring, reaching parts that are far from the battery compartment.
Corroded cameras are good for parts, but that's about all. I'll spend
five bucks for a non-working camera, perhaps ten if I really need it,
but no more.
My favorite rangefinder camera is the
Yashica Electro 35GT. Yashica allegedly made more than 8 million of
these cameras, perhaps making them the Norway rat of photography.
This is my “go to” camera for many situations. It's quiet and
unobtrusive, but the truly outstanding part is that lens. The camera
has numerous flaws, but make no mistake, the lens is superb and the
photos are crisp.
Here's what I've learned about individual cameras:
Olympus Auto Eye
This is a shutter-priority camera. You set the shutter speed and
it picks the aperture. I was impressed by the build quality of this
one. It simply feels solid in the hand and the controls have a
precision appearance. The shutter release is a long shaft. Push it
halfway while looking through the viewfinder, and you can watch the
aperture wheel spin in the bottom of the rangefinder window. There's
no battery. Instead, the camera uses a photocell that supplies the
necessary voltage for the exposure.
That photocell is a problem. When exposed to light over a long
period, it will deteriorate, and since the camera needs it to
operate, a blown photocell leads to an inoperative camera. It doesn't
have any manual settings. The photocell can be replaced, however, and
with a little digging I can probably find the web page with the
instructions. Fortunately, mine seems to be working OK. When not in
use, I store it in a dark place.
Olympus XA and XA2
These two little cameras – and by little I mean possibly the
smallest 35mm rangefinders in existence – share the same basic body
but have some major differences. The XA is a true rangefinder with a
split image focusing mechanism. The XA2 is a zone focus camera. In
use it hardly matters because the 35mm lens is a semi-wide angle with
great depth of field. Someone said that the XA tends to vignette
while the XA2 doesn't, but I never noticed it.
I gave the XA2 to a friend who'd had one back in the day, and I'm
sure she'll cherish it. I still have 2 Xas, but someone who looks
remarkably like me fumbled both of them. The crashes resulted in one
inoperative rangefinder and another broken exposure mechanism.
Perhaps I can graft the parts together to make one working camera,
but it's not high on my priority list.
Canon Canonet GIII QL17
This camera has a cult following, but in all honesty I don't
understand why. Sure, it's another solidly built camera like the
Olympus Auto Eye and probably has a better lens. It's ten years
younger too, so that's undoubtedly a factor. But I'm underwhelmed
with the photos.
This Canonet operates in both manual and shutter-priority modes.
It has a big, easy to use rangefinder that appeals to those of us
with eyeglasses. And despite being dropped a few times – a common
theme for me – it continues working. Like some other old cameras,
it was originally equipped with a 1.3 volt mercury cell. Replacement
alkaline batteries are 1.5 volts, so the ASA dial has to be offset to
compensate by about 1/2 stop. With 400 speed film, that means I set
the dial at 320.
apr 11 2011_ejwagner_013
Konica Auto S2
I was carrying this on a photo walk once when someone asked, “Is
that a medium format camera?” It's a 35mm rangefinder, but it's a
big, burly, masculine one. It's a heavy SOB too. The Konica has both
manual and automatic mode, but I've never tried a battery in it, so I
don' t know if the auto mode works. It has a good lens with a
integrated hood and it's built like a tank.
Yashica Lynx 14
If the Konica is a tank, the Yashica Lynx is a battleship. This is
a massive camera. If you were lost in the wilderness with this on
your shoulder, it would force you to walk in a large circle, but you
could club a bear to death with it. The lens is a monster, a 45mm
f1.4 that isn't found on any other consumer grade rangefinder camera.
It's supposed to be optimized for shooting wide open with low light,
but in all honesty, I haven't used it extensively.
Yashica Electro 35 series
Last but clearly not least, the Yashica Electro 35 series offers
tremendous value. They were inexpensive cameras in their day and can
be found on eBay for very little money. The big feature is that lens.
It's a 45mm f1.8 that offers wonderful sharpness and contrast. It's
color corrected, too, so it performs better with color film that some
of the older models.
These are aperture-priority cameras that will operate without a
battery, but only at about 1/400th
of a second. Some auto
cameras, like the Olympus Xas, will not work at all without a
It's common to find extensive corrosion in these cameras, so if
the battery compartment cover won't come off or it any corrosion is
visible inside the compartment, don't buy it. Likewise, if it doesn't
make the “Yashica clunk” when advancing the film, don't buy it. A
good camera has a characteristic clunk that is absent when the
so-called 'pad of death' is worn or missing, and it's a particularly
difficult part to repair as it requires extensive disassembly. Rule
of thumb: no clunk = no deal.