Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tracking my missing negatives

What do Walgreens and CVS drug stores do with the film negatives that aren't returned?

Mystery solved. But hardly satisfying. .

I've probed this since my Aug. 2016 post. When I asked Walgreens why they don't return negatives with photofinishing orders, a manager called me. He explained that his store sends all film processing orders to District Photo, a Maryland wholesale lab. They send nothing back to the stores -- prints or negs, he said. Image files scanned from negatives are transmitted to the store, where prints are produced and the files are written to a CD.

This led me to District Photo, where a polite woman named Ruth informed me that District's contract with Walgreens specifies no return of negatives. That's at Walgreens' request. District retains the negatives for 30 days, then destroys them.

So, Walgreens says it's District's issue. District says Walgreens tells them not to return the negatives. Amid the online finger-pointing, the photographic consumer ends up a loser.

What triggered this investigation? Check out the images below.

Nearly every frame (shot with Kodak Ektar 100 film) shows lateral white lines that indicate scratched negatives. The scratching likely took place in the lab. Or, it's my camera -- a Fujifilm DL Super Mini -- although I've seldom seen harsh scratches as severe as these from inside a camera's film chamber.

If I had the negatives, I could determine whether the camera or a dirty film gate at District is at fault. But that's not an option, since District obliterated my negatives a few weeks ago.

Maybe Walgreens' new billionaire CEO will be interested in this story. Maybe he won't. Either way, if you like to shoot 35mm film, please ask if the lab they're using will return your negatives.

And walk out if you don't like the answer.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The camera I didn't buy

I ran across a Nikon N2020 in a thrift store last week. It would make a great doorstop, or maybe a prop in a war movie.

By dw_ross from Springfield, VA, USA (20121213_1371)
[CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)],
 via Wikimedia Commons
The bottom plate was partially unscrewed. A thin patina of dust covered its surface. You couldn't read half of the control labels on the body. Nikon made many rugged 35mm single-lens reflex cameras. The N2020 wasn't one of them, despite being the company's first autofocus SLR model.

I'm a long-time Nikon SLR owner. But I let it go.

Some owners baby their cameras. Others toss them in a backpack and neglect them. And there's no hard-and-fast rule about which holds up better. SLR cameras of the 1970s and 80s were built with metal frames, but plastic soon took over. If you find a $10 Nikon in a thrift store, it's likely to need more than a dusting off and a fresh battery.

Compact point-and-shoots are a mixed bag, however. My $5 Canon Sure Shot Supreme operates as good as new. Earlier Nikon point-and-shoots, while seemingly more rugged, don't appear to withstand as much neglect. Almost none of the thrift-store film cameras I've found are water-resistant models; if they weren't damaged by sea water, sand in the mechanism is a likely deal-breaker.

Brands worth considering:
  • Olympus Infinity and Accura models seem to hold up well. Canon Sure Shots are also fairly rugged, but are known for noisy film-winding mechanisms. 
  • Ricoh and Pentax point-and-shoot cameras are less durable. Yashicas, Minoltas, and Konicas are all over the map in terms of build quality. Polaroids are generally trashworthy; unless they use 35mm film, you should just skip them. (Ricoh built a slew of cameras for Sears to sell under their own brand. The Sears models are no better.)
  • Nikon: not sure. Their later point-and-shoots were well-regarded. Earlier models seem to show their age.
  • Fujifilm made some great lenses for their point-and-shoots – and then built some models with hard-to-replace batteries. If you can’t access the battery compartment, it’s not worth buying.
  • A few early Kodak 35mm cameras (K12, K14, VR, etc) were built to last. Some K-series cameras may require hard-to-find batteries. Later Kodak cameras (S, KE, and Star series) were a little less sturdy and had cheaper lenses, and may not be long for this world.
  • Not worth considering: Ansco, Concord, Jazz, etc. These were $10 cameras when new, and almost none of them will operate as intended. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Silver theft on Aisle 3

If you shoot film and have it processed at a drugstore, watch out. Walgreens and CVS are trying to steal your silver.
By Eastwind41 (Own work) [Copyrighted free use],
via Wikimedia Commons

That's the only possible explanation as to why they no longer return your negatives when you develop color negative film. Instead of giving you prints with negatives in your photofinishing envelope, they give you prints and image files on a CD. You don't get your negatives back.

By SkywalkerPL (Own work) [CC BY 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Why? The film contains tiny particles of silver, which can be extracted and recycled, usually benefitting the photo lab. Companies used to offer kits that allowed labs to recover the silver, and you'd get your negatives back.

But that technology likely isn't widely offered, since film processing declined. This page of Kodak's website talks about the process.

The labs want to keep the silver. So you don't get your negatives back. And they're yours.

Trouble is: image files scanned from your negs onto a CD contain only a small amount of image data. Your negatives store more details than a compressed JPEG file allows. Some estimates suggest that a frame of 35mm film contains the rough equivalent of a 20-megapixel photo from a higher-end digital camera. Brad Templeton has devoted much more thought to this topic.

The image file on a CD from Walgreens? It's closer to what you'd get from a five-megapixel camera. It has less detail -- less photo data than the latest iPhone camera captures.

Without getting deeper into techno-babble: I no longer use film developing services that won't return my negatives. Period. I'll pay more for film developing that includes prints, a CD, and my negatives. Currently, Rite Aid returns my negatives with my prints and a CD. So do independent labs, which I still visit.

Because they're my negatives. And it's my silver, should I one day choose to have the precious metal extracted from those negatives.

You should demand your negatives back. Or go elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Three things to know about the Canon Canonet 28

Rangefinder cameras from the 1970s had fast lenses and enabled you to control the lens aperture. They were quiet. And, if you were confronted by muggers, a weighty Canonet on a neck strap could be used as a defensive weapon.

The downside? They used mercury batteries that were outlawed by the 1990s. Their foam light seals dissolved into gunk by the early 2000s. They didn't have built-in flashes. And some owners struggled to load the film correctly.

These photos came from my Canon Canonet 28, shot on very expired Kodak 200 print film. I hadn't seen the camera for years. (The Parkside photos were shot years ago; the flower images are more recent.)

The photo processing was questionable, too. See that white squiggle in the price list shot? Dust on the negs.( More on drugstore photo processing another time.)

You'll find Canon Canonets on eBay and thrift shops. If the shutter and rangefinder focus work (they don't need a battery), buy one. But, keep these three things in mind:
  • Don't hunt for long-outlawed 1.35-volt batteries. Instead, buy a package of inexpensive 675 zinc-air hearing aid batteries. They hold a constant 1.4-volt current, and can be fitted in place with a small rubber band or O-ring.
  • Your film choices are limited to up to ISO 400. With the Canonet 28, you set the film speed manually, and 400 is as high as you can go. Luckily, the fast lens means you'll have ample light.
  • Canon built these Canonets 40 years ago, so the light seals will probably need replacement. It's not complicated; buy the kit here, and watch the video below to see how it's done.
By Filippo C from stockholm, sweden (camera 005)
[CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)],
 via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

10 Pretty Good Five-Dollar Cameras

Your iPhone or Android might take pretty good photos. For $500+, it ought to take photos Annie Leibovitz would buy.

But it doesn't. It's more like the world's most overpriced point-and-shoot camera. 

Compact 35mm film cameras from the 1970s-1990s are my Kryptonite. I find most of them in thrift stores, next to audio devices with old 30-pin iPod docks. Those film cameras have better lenses than a smart phone. Flashes that actually light up a scene. They make me think about composing a picture that tells a story. And if I drop a camera I bought at a Godwill or Salvation Army, I'm out a whole $5 -- not $500 plus a pricey screen replacement.

I can live with that. 

Here's a brief guide to real 35mm cameras worth looking for when you're garage-sailing or cruising thrift stores. You can go retro for just a few dollars, and see if you remember how to compose a photo with a real viewfinder pressed against your brow.

10. Olympus Infinity Twin - a somewhat boxy but weatherproof camera that avoids zoom-lens failure via a clever mirror system that switches from 35mm to 70mm just by pressing a small button. One downside: it uses two CR123A lithium batteries, which often cost more than the camera itself.

9. Yashica Microtec AF Super - a semi-stylish camera with a wide-ish 32mm lens. Uses AA--size batteries, available everywhere.

8. Olympus Stylus Zoom 80 - small, sleek, and affordable. I'm not a fan of zoom point-and-shoots, which have slower lens optics. A 2X zoom like this, however, is okay. They made a bazillion of them, and $3.99 is a good deal.

7. Any Pentax IQ Zoom. Overly complicated, but usually tank-like construction. Not quiet.

6. Nikon One Touch 100 - features an f3.5, four-element glass lens, dual self-timers, and it'll use one lithium or two AA-alkaline batteries. Mine cost $1 at Goodwill. A disposable camera costs five times as much.

5. Kodak Cameo Zoom (below) - Kodak made few memorable 35mm cameras in the 1990s. But the Cameo zoom had a very wide-angle 25mm lens that doubled to 50mm. Plus the patented "cobra" flash that really cut down on red eye -- and served as a lens cover. Mine set me back $2.

4. Canon Canonet 28. The less-pricey brother of the hard to find Canonet GIII QL17, but still indestructible and retro-looking. Buy a cheap pack of hearing aid batteries and you're in business. Use a neck strap, and look like you're posing for a Burberry's ad.

3. Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim. A simple plastic camera with a unique 22mm wide-angle lens. No battery needed. Pay no more than $3 for this cutie. Be sure the spring-loaded shutter and thumbwheel film advance work. And prepare to be amazed.

2. Canon Sure Shot Supreme - features a coated, four-element, f2.8 glass lens. Must use a small plug on the neck strap to block the light-sensor so the flash fires in tricky lighting. Bring a jeweler's screwdriver to change the battery. At $4, a steal.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Street shooting with the Olympus Infinity Twin

The Oldsmobile of Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Olympus Infinity Twin. (c) DKassnoff, 2016
It's a gray brick. Press the shutter button, and you hear the workings of your Aunt Stella's sewing machine. It's a 1988 relic from a time when Olympus believed you only needed two focal lengths: 35mm and 70mm.

That's the Olympus Infinity Twin, a thrift-store find that consumed $3.99 and promised a photographic experience comparable to driving my Uncle Arnold's Olds Starfire F-85 around the narrow streets of Bayside, NY. It did the job, but felt clunky in the execution, like the ball joints were shot.

The Infinity Twin (known as the Olympus AF Twin in some regions) had a twin-lens design. The 35mm lens was the default, but a button atop the camera activated a mirror that doubled the focal length to 70mm. The 35mm, f3.5 lens was sharper and faster than the 70mm.

I'm fond of Olympus' clamshell lens cover design, which first appeared with the Olympus XA film cameras, and really ushered in an era of pocketable 35mm cameras. But the Olympus Infinity Twin remained bulky, and required two CR123A lithium batteries to do its job, That meant a heavy bulge in one's pocket. And led to other problems.

(c) DKassnoff, 2016
In 2006, the cameras were recalled due to incidents of the flash circuitry overheating and burning the user's hands.

By then, of course, the move to digital photography became a stampede. Olympus was slapping its well-regarded Stylus branding on countless mediocre pocket-sized digital point-and-shoots. Most Twin owners parked their cameras in a desk drawer or donated them to Volunteers of America.  New CR123A batteries for the camera became more expensive than shipping it off to Olympus America for repairs.

How did this model do? With 10-year-old ISO 200 film, not too badly. The color shift is pretty obvious, even in the post-processed shots from Toronto, below.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Ghost hunting: Kodak Star 1035Z camera

At $2.99 in the Goodwill thrift store, the Kodak Star 1035Z camera seemed like a great deal. As long as I didn't think too hard.
But I thought twice. In the realm of thrift store camera bargains, I could do better.

The Kodak had a slow, 38-80mm zoom lens. And a choice of two flash options: auto or auto with red-eye reduction. No flash-defeat button. Still, at $3, with a case and owner's booklet, and a clean, scratch-free body and lens, was it worth it?


Kodak already sold a version of this camera in the 1990s. I owned one. Its auto-focus had all the accuracy of a Trump speechwriter. The zoom lens trudged to its maximum focal length at snail speed. The infant you wanted to photograph would've learned to crawl, walk, and drive a Big Wheel to kindergarten by the time the camera was ready to fire.

And the shutter lag -- the moment between pressing the big gray button and getting the shot -- rivaled that of some older digital cameras.

Overall, the Kodak 1035z was more sluggish than the Minolta Freedom model from which it was re-badged. That's right; in the mid-1990s, Kodak had already started jobbing out production of some 35mm point-and-shoot cameras to Minolta.

I've found some intriguing 35mm cameras in thrift stores, in need only of a new battery and a quick wipe-down. I'll be writing about a few in the coming weeks. But this Kodak-Minolta camera wasn't one of them.

If you find one, I recommend leaving it on the shelf.