Monday, 28 October 2013

Minolta Autocord. Second Impressions

I put a roll of FP4+ film through the Autocord last week to see how it handled compared with the Rolleicord (and Rolleiflex since it has a lever wind).

First though I replaced the piece of felt on the inside of the door and a circle of leatherette that was missing from the upper spool holder. Milly’s Cameras (order from the eBay site) supplied the materials very quickly indeed. Compared to the Rollei, the back fitting to achieve light tightness is pretty crude.

Arrow shows the replacement felt
I didn’t find the handling so convenient as the Rolleicord. Focusing involves moving one hand (and sometimes two) under the lens board in order to move the lever from side to side. I really found the lack of a concentric depth-of-field scale a hassle. Situated around the lever drive with tiny knobs to move an inner wheel, I gave up on it and used my iPhone depth-of-field app instead. I also found that the position of the shutter did not feel quite right.

Depth of Field Scale
In using a TLR I usually use the magnifier and hold it at eye level with my forehead resting on the hood rather than low down like a box camera. But as I did so the magnifier moved out of the way and so I had to keep my eye a distance from the magnifier. This doesn’t happen to me with the Rolleicord or with any Rolleiflex I have owned.

Magnifier in viewing position
I do like the solid metal lens cap and, once I got used to it, the way it attaches to the bayonet fitting of the viewing lens.

In terms of handling the Rolleicord wins easily. However, when it came to the results, the lens on the Autocord did live up to its reputation. I found it the equal of the Tessar in terms of sharpness. It seemed to have more contrast than the Tessar but I would really need to do a side-by-side comparison to be sure.

This Autocord has certainly lasted well; the mechanisms seem robust and the lens looks and behaves as good as new. I will give it another try soon with infra-red film. I wonder for what wavelength the infra-red focus point was set.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Rondinax, Rondix, Essex, Kent: New Blog and Resource Site for Daylight-Loading Developing Tanks

I have just launched a new blog/website on daylight-loading developing tanks. It includes links to videos which show how easy it is to use these tanks for developing 120 and 35 mm film, downloads of instruction manuals, tips on buying and something of their history. It is still a work in progress and more material is being added.

For those wanting to develop films without a darkroom as well as experienced users, I hope readers of this blog will enjoy the new one.

It is at:

Magazine Bias to Canon and Adobe?

In successive weeks, Amateur Photographer has been accused of favouring Canon over Nikon and Adobe Photoshop (the full fat version) over other editing software. The former was stoutly denied by the editor but I am surprised to see the letter now. A couple of years ago there was a clear bias towards Canon, subtly and not so subtly, in AP – to the point at which several family, friends and former colleagues (all very satisfied Nikon owners) would e-mail 'did you see that in AP' stories to laugh about.

The writer of the letter stated quite rightly that Canon for a short time held the lead in DSLR technology in terms of the performance of the sensors fitted. A number of professionals swapped to Canon at that time. Canon marketing was also clever. The distinctive colour of their long lenses shows what sports photographers are using and the generally sheep-like amateur camera buyers did what sheep do – they followed. Two high-profile professional wildlife photographers I know are provided with top of the range telephotos on long-term loan. Their cameras and lenses are noticed and copied. The distinctive colour helps again of course. Since then, of course, Nikon have come back with a vengeance in the DSLR stakes.

The obvious bias towards Canon in UK photographic magazines shifted most noticeably after the Olympics. The photographs of Usain Bolt with that Nikon must have been worth a fortune in marketing terms. Interestingly, the photographers who infest Wimbledon were sporting a greater proportion of black-and-gold lenses last year (an interesting diversion from the tennis and on the same level as looking for the binocular brands on BBC's Springwatch).

Both Canon and Nikon obviously make (or assemble) excellent cameras and the competition between them has generated rapid progress over the past 10 years.

The writer on Photoshop made the point that there are other software suppliers while Mac Aperture users (the premium end of the computer market) do not even get considered. We all know that the professional graphics package is the full version of Photoshop but that it comes at a very high price with a new selling strategy that stinks. Software specific articles in magazines are a pain because non-users are paying for content that is often completely irrelevant. If I were the editor, I would advocate a problem-based approach and then deal in outline the steps that would be needed in a variety of software packages. Generic advice on such controls as levels, curves etc that are common to lots of packages would also be useful.

Even though some of the more obvious bias in AP has gone, I must support the two letter writers. Some of the recommendations and comments have been outrageous over the years, not just by AP but by many magazines. Even when pictorial and graphic evidence was presented to the contrary and there for all to see, one brand was favoured in comparison articles.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Digiscope or Superzoom Bridge Camera for Birding?

A correspondent who sells secondhand optical equipment for birding on eBay tells me that the prices of digiscoping adapters for major brand telescopes are falling. He thinks the rise of the Superzoom ‘Bridge’ cameras I have discussed in this blog is the reason. The extra focal length gained by using a scope (see my Post of 19 August 2012) is now of marginal advantage when we can get the 35 mm equivalent of 1200 mm focal length from a superzoom. Add the large number of pixels captured and the fact that there is image stabilisation in the superzoom, then I can see why the digiscoping may become a thing of the past fairly quickly.

It is obviously much quicker to point a superzoom camera at a bird than it is to mount the scope on a tripod, aim and focus the scope, attach the camera by whatever attachment you have and then press the shutter.

Another correspondent says he has just had a rare bird accepted from a photograph at 1000 mm equivalent with his Nikon P510 handheld.

Over the next few weeks I will eventually get round to comparing my two systems (Nikon P50 Superzoom vs Leica Televid and Panasonic Lumix on adapter) side by side at the mouth of the river and in the garden.

Minolta Autocord versus Rolleicord Vb. First Impressions

For current users of 120 film, the Minolta Autocord has an almost cult following that rivals that of the Rolleiflex and Rolleicord. The lens is argued to be the equal of and sometimes better than the Zeiss Tessar in the latter cameras.

Having read the stories, I was keen to compare the two cameras. It is, of course, not fair to compare the performance of two cameras, both 50 years old, picked at random from those on sale. Conditions of storage, amount of wear and servicing could all be different and affect the original design and construction differently. Unfair, yes, but I will do it anyway.

I bought the Autocord from a UK seller on eBay. As soon as it arrived I realised it was in excellent condition and identified it as the RG 3rd version of 1963. That same day, I checked the shutter speeds electronically and found they were consistently about ½ stop slow and not worth applying a correction when using films like FP4+.

Please bear in mind that the Minolta Autocord was very different in price from the Rolleicord. In Amateur Photographer of 15 February 1961 I found one advertisement for the Autocord at £53-9-6d. In another advertisement on 14 February 1962, the Autocord was £50-7-10. Rolleicords at that time were about £85.

Please also bear in mind that Japanese cameras were very slow to gain acceptance in Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They were regarded as cheap, unreliable and inferior imitations of German products. The trade was still locked into the British agents of German manufacturers. As one camera shop owner said to me in the late 1950s while looking down his nose at a Japanese TLR, ‘I have to sell these because of the price but I hate having to do so. Real photographers will always use German cameras.’ I do not recall ever seeing an Autocord in a camera shop; Yashica, especially the 4x4 yes, Minolta no.

So, without having used it yet, these are my first impressions.

The Autocord is heavier than the Rolleicord Vb (930 vs 1000 g). In general, the construction of the Autocord is crude compared with the Rolleicord. For example: screw heads are on show (anathema to premier German manufacturers); the opening mechanism is very crude and closure of the back relies on felt seals in places. The hood is non-removable and the sports finder release mechanism somewhat unreliable.

In terms of focusing, I prefer the side wheel of the Rolleicord to the front lever of the Autocord. I also prefer the split-image centre of the Rolleicord screen to the plain ground glass centre of the Autocord. I can see no difference in brightness.

The depth-of-field scale is around the focusing knob of the Rolleicord which makes it easier to use than the one on the Autocord. In the latter it is around the winding crank and the focused distance has to be read off the front scale and then applied to the depth-of-field scale. The Autocord but not the Rolleicord has an infra-red focusing mark.

Setting the shutter speed and aperture I find easier on the Autocord. I hated the exposure value system when it was introduced and I hate it now. Having to unlock a lever to change shutter speed and aperture was, and is, infuriating.

A major difference between the two cameras is the winding crank of the Autocord, thus making it comparable with a Rolleiflex like the T model.  For the type of photography I do with TLR cameras, I actually prefer the winding knob of the Rolleicord but I can see that, in its day, a rapid wind lever would have been an attraction.

The next job is to load a film and try the Autocord in action.