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.