Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Argus A2B

Most people who are interested in cameras know that the Argus A was the first successful 35mm camera intended for the masses. The Argus A2B is almost exactly the same as the A with the addition of a early type of exposure meter called an extinction meter.  There also is a different shutter in later models.  And the lens is coated in the models made after WWII.  The A2B was made from 1939 to 1950.  The model here was one of the later ones since it has a coated lens.

One thing that has always interested me with Argus is how they came to make cameras.  I think it is fairly well known that they started out making radios.  So why did they decide to get into cameras?  It turns out that back in the 1930's that radio sales were very slow in the summer. Demand for radios was very low in the summer because people were not interested in sitting in their hot houses during the evening listening to radio.  Back in those days people sat out on their porches in the evening waiting for their house to cool down enough to go inside to sleep.  That was before air conditioning.  So the Argus A was thought to be a good product to make in the summer when people would be out taking pictures.  And the Argus A and the later C3 succeeded beyond the companies wildest dreams.

The Argus A2B is capable of taking fairly sharp images.  I think the main difficultly is in avoiding camera shake.  I at least find it difficult to keep this small camera steady while pressing the shutter.  The original instructions suggested holding the camera upside down pressed against your forehead to keep it steady.  I don't think this caught on.  Still I imagine even these sometimes somewhat shaky images looked good to a lot of people. I remember reading somewhere that while these old cameras didn't always yield a totally faithful reproduction, they still could record the essence of a memory.  And that essence was probably good enough for most people.

It certainly was a different time when the Argus cameras were conceived.  In a way it might be said that a lack of AC had something to do with it.  I am old enough to remember the last few years of when people sat on the porch at night.  I remember us kids playing in the street and the adults going from porch to porch for a visit. Once AC came in all that stopped and I don't think that I am that only one who thinks the effect on our culture was profound.  At least it seems to me that there are a lot of people now who spend too much time wondering what kind of threats are outside their climate controlled cocoons.

Well back to the Argus A2B. My main opinion of the camera is that if I was willing to take the time to master it than it is capable of taking good images. However for that to happen I would have to be limited to a lot fewer camera options than I now have.  Still just for that connection to an earlier time in photography I think the Argus A2B or any of its brother Argus A's are worth a go.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Yashica ML 50mm 1:1.7

A couple of years ago I bought a Yashica FX-3 Super at the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival.  The FX-3 came with a Sakar 35-200mm lens which I wasn't real impressed by. So I had been hoping to find a Yashica lens in the C/Y mount.  I found one last fall at the same Covered Bridge Festival.  It came on a Yashica FX-2 for a price that I would have been happy to pay for the lens alone. Then for some reason I forgot about the purchase till a short time ago.  Once the Yashica ML 50 f/1.7 again came into my awareness I decided to give it a test. Now the snowy, cold conditions here in Illinois don't make it as pleasant to pop out and take some photos as it usually is.  For some reason I don't feel very creative when walking in a foot of snow with wind chills near zero. Probably the milder winters here in recent years have spoiled me.  Anyway my experience taking these photos has put me off doing any camera testing until the conditions outdoors improve.

One new thing that I did learn about this lens is that there may be two versions. The older version says "YASHICA LENS ML 50mm 1:1.7 YASHICA MADE IN JAPAN".  This version is probably a Yashica DSB lens.  The newer version says "YASHICA LENS ML 50mm 1:1.7 MADE IN JAPAN".  That lens is said to be made with a Zeiss design and glass.  Now these two versions might be the reason why there seems to be such a different in experience that people have with this lens.  It looks like my version is one of the older design.

The image above is the only one I was able to get with the lens wide-open.  It may not be as sharp as it could have been since I may have been shaking from the cold.  Despite the cold it does look like the Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 is a competent lens.  I probably will use it again when the weather is fairer. I also think I will be on the look-out for one of the newer versions to make my own comparison.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Yashica Electro 35 GSN

Back in the early 1970's the concept of the discount store was fairly new. I can still remember when the local or chain department store was the dominate force in retail. Where I grew up there was a small discount chain called K's Merchandise Mart that was very popular.  They had a catalog which would show the normal price for an item and then show K's discount price.  In a more trusting time and with a lot less price info available than today, K's prices looked pretty good. And I did find when I went looking for my first serious camera that K's prices for cameras beat the local merchants.  They actually compared well with the big mail order camera stores once shipping was considered.  So K's was the place that I hoped to find a camera that I liked. The selection was somewhat limited in that they only carried Yashica and Minolta. Still I remember being enamored with the Yashica Electro 35 GSN. I was fascinated by the low light potential of the Electro 35's f/1.7 lens.  That seems funny when looking back on it, since the kind of photography that I grew to prefer seldom needed a large aperture.

In the early 1970's there still was some debate in 35mm circles about if a rangefinder or an SLR was the better choice.  As far as cameras that professionals were buying the SLR had already won. Leica was the only company still making a rangefinder aimed at professionals.  Still there remained a market for fixed lens rangefinders for the consumer that wanted something better than a Kodak Instamatic.  The Yashica Electro 35 GSN and the earlier Yashica Electro 35's were in this class.  And the Yashica Electro 35 was very successful. Around 8 million were sold from 1966 to 1977. The Yashica Electro 35 GSN automatic exposure worked great for the casual photographer, however its lack of a manual option and fixed lens didn't appeal to my photographic ambitions. 

So as I learned more about the limitations of the Yashica Electro 35 GSN I decided to pay a little more and go with an SLR.  And with that I forgot about the Yashca Electro 35 GSN.  That was until a few years ago when I got to looking at film cameras on Ebay.  It is pretty hard to look at the film cameras on Ebay and not come across one of the versions of the Yashica Electro 35.

Seeing one bought back the memories of pondering that camera years ago.  When I saw how cheap they were I had to get one.  I think it may have been my first Ebay camera purchase.  The one I got seemed almost brand new and it included a battery adapter.  I believe that I may have experienced as much pleasure in getting my hands on this camera as I have with any camera that I have acquired since then. 

Which is why it came as a surprise to me to find that I had not written anything about the Yashica Electro 35 GSN.  Probably this was because by the time I started doing this blog I no longer was using the Yashica Electro 35 GSN much.  While the camera gives excellent results, along with being mostly a pleasure to use, I found that when it came to rangefinders that I preferred the more compact ones. Still I do believe the Yashica Electro 35 GSN is a film camera to be experienced.  And there are not many 35mm film cameras that can give such good results for so little money.  If you do look for one be picky and look for one in excellent condition that the buyer will guarantee to work. It shouldn't take long to find one for a good price.

If you want more details on the Yashca Electro 35:
Yashica 35mm Rangefinder Chronology & Specifications
From Matt's Classic Cameras

Lastly some pictures. One thing I have to add is that the colors that the Yashica Electro 35 GSN gives are some of the most true to what I saw of any lens that I have used.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Spiratone Portragon 100mm f/4

I found this in a box with a bunch of filters that I got a while back.  What it turned out to be is a lens that seems to be aimed at doing portraits.  It only has one aperture f/4, and only keeps some focus toward the center.

The Portragon is a T-mount lens.  The one here had a adapter for Olympus. So a couple of days ago when we had some temperatures close to freezing I mounted the Portragon on an OM-1 and popped out for some quick pictures.

From what I could find the Portragon appears to be a single element lens.  It doesn't necessarily feel cheap, however it seems to be all plastic.  One source said that it originally sold for $19 back in the 1960's and 1970's. The lens is so simple that I can't think of much else to say about it.  I did like the initial results enough that I will probably give it another try.

Spiratone, the company that sold the Portragon is an interesting story.  I imagine that anyone who was doing photography 30+ years ago has heard the name.  Spiratone was a large mail order seller of mostly photography accessories.  A lot of their stuff was aimed at the amateur market.  They usually had large ads in the major photography magazines. I can remember reading their ads in Popular Photography and Modern Photography.  The company has been gone since 1990 although it had been run into the ground before that by companies who had purchased Spiratone earlier.  Anyway I found some links if you are interested in knowing more about the seller of the Portragon lens.

The New York Times Obit for the founder Fred Spira.

A Facebook page with a lot of info about Spiratone.