Tim's Photo Magazine

Timely editorials on the world of photography plus camera and equipment reviews from a "user" rather than "technical" viewpoint.

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Location: Bovey, Minnesota, United States

My interest in photography goes back to my first camera, a crummy plastic Diana that took 120 roll film and took horrid photos (who knew these bad photos would be considered "art" years later). Then I swiped my Mom's Instamatic when she wasn't looking. Dad was/is a photo buff which I'm sure had a big influence on me! I was the only student in my high school shooting for the yearbook, went on to shoot semi-professional since, doing it more as a hobby business than anything else. I've used thousands of different cameras, collect them today, and enjoy both film and digital. I still use and maintain my own black and white darkroom. I've got lots to say about cameras, the business, copyrights, and all this fancy digital stuff.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Pointless Warranties

I've come to the realization that for the most part warranties are worthless, and I'm sure that manufacturers are aware of this (oops--here they come now waving their data sheets showing how many millions of dollars in warranty repairs they've given away). I don't know about you, but the very few times I've had something conk out on me, the warranty was not a viable option.

My example. We had a nifty eMac. Bought it brand new. Let me right off the bat say we have had an Apple computer in our house since 1998 and have only this one time had ANY repair needed. After 14 months of household use (and we used it a LOT as a lot of my work is done at home, and we had three teenagers using it too) it went bonkers. Short version of the story is there were some defective components in the power supply that were provided by a third party to Apple. My warranty had expired by two months. But alas! knowing of the trouble Apple offered some sort of extended coverage for this problem. A call to Apple verified my computer was covered, I was given a case number, and informed that if I would get my machine to an Apple service location they would fix it free! Yahoo! (I said to myself, not intending to promote the Yahoo! corporation). Of course the nearest Apple service location is 200 miles from my home. My choices were spend $50 or more to ship it off for repairs, or deliver it 200 miles away. Since shipping it all over the country didn't seem like a good idea, and since we visited the city where the repair center was on a regular basis I decided we'd just tote it along on one of our trips and get it fixed. So I called the Apple store that had their Genius Bar (or whatever it's called) guys on hand. They checked my number, said they could fix 'er up, and to bring it in. OK, well to do that I have to schedule a day in advance to leave the machine. Then wait. Wait for them to take it apart and verify the problem. Then wait for the parts to come in -- which of course were back ordered due to the demand-- then wait while they fix it, then get a chance to go pick it up. So, bottom line is, this would take a month or two or more. A month or two of being without my machine. Without my stuff. A computer, like most of the devices we own today, become part of our life, without which things are a pain. I wouldn't be able to update my or my employers web page. I wouldn't have all my audio and photo work at hand. Oh, sure I had it all backed up. But what good will the backups do without a machine to use? They don't give out loaners. Any computers I had access to didn't have the programs I use on them, not to mention the work involved in getting things rolling on a temporary machine. Then, I got to thinking (which is, I'm sure manufacturers master plan) it's already "old" technology (heck, since they put that machine out they had moved to the G5's then the Intel machines) so I said to heck with it, and bought a new iMac. Basically showing that getting something repaired of a technological nature is silly. A warranty doesn't help if you can't do anything for weeks or months.

Similar experience for a friend of mine. His less than a year old digital camera went kaput. He was about to go an a road trip. Repairs would have taken a couple weeks plus transit time to and from, and the cost of insured speedy shipping. Even though it was fully covered by warranty it wasn't feasible to ship it out, wait weeks, miss photo opportunities and have this time and money invested in repairing what was an already outdated camera. So, he bought a new one, and the broken one sits in a drawer.

As far as I'm concerned the only type of warranty that is REALLY a warranty is one that says "If your device stops working correctly bring it to ANY retail location that sells our product for immediate replacement of the same or similar model". So, if your Powershot or Coolpix goes kaput on vacation, you just walk into the nearest Ritz Camera or Wal-Mart or where ever they might sell them, hand them the busted one, and walk out with a new working one. THAT is a warranty that is useful. If that model is no longer available you trade it for a current model with the same value as your original retail price. "Send it in and fix it" warranties are pretty much a bust unless you've got a spare to use in the meantime, and I don't know about you but I don't have another equal computer or camera laying around.

Could I interest you in a slightly used eMac? I didn't think so. I dismantled it, sold the parts on ebay (just like an old car, the parts are worth more than the assembled machine) and turned the case into a playhouse for the cat!

Three Needed Photo Inventions

There are three things I constantly believe some manufacturer will introduce to the photo market any day now. Trouble is, I've been thinking about these things for several years now and apparently no one else has either thought of them, or thinks they're a good idea. So, I toss these out to you, fellow photo buffs and equipment makers.

Number One: Digital for your classic camera. I'm sure we have the technology, we just need to convince someone there is a market. Imagine being able to pick your trusty Leica, Nikon rangefinder, heck even your Argus C3, and go off shooting digital photos! It just seem to me that in this day of full frame 35mm sensors that someone could make a device that would fit in a typical 35mm standard camera. I don't know all the mechanics of how a sensor works but I suspect that it is possible to place a full size sensor in the spot where the film lies in a typical full frame 35mm camera. Most cameras I know have quite a bit of spring-loaded pressure plate space between the back of the camera and the film plane, and they all have the same amount of space where a normal 35mm cassette would go. The electronics, battery, etc go in the cassette area, the sensor hangs out like a film flap. Drop it in. The sensor "flap" could be designed to slide in and out of the electronics cassette to facilitate cameras that have different spacing between the cassette chamber and the film frame opening. You even have the possibility for some control of mechanical switching in the device with the rewind knob -- two taps to the left for on, one tap for off, etc. I should think this would be a big seller to classic camera fans. It would be just like shooting film, as you'd have to choose your ISO when you load and wouldn't see the photos till you download them from the device since your Minolta rangefinder won't have an LCD on the back. I suppose it will never be developed since if we can shoot digital with the millions of existing cameras sitting in closets, why would we buy some new fangled digital camera, so it's probably counter productive to todays manufacturers. But still I dream. Same idea could be applied to vintage 2 1/4 TLR's, etc.

Number 2. A simple device for the consumer/photographer to put digital images onto traditional slide film. Why would you want to do this, you may ask. I can think of many reasons. You want to give a slide show to a large group of people. To do this the modern way, you would need a laptop and a computer projector. A couple grand investment at the very least, which will give you crummy images on the screen, and greatly limit the size of the room you can work. Plus you'll have to wrestle with a computer, all the associated cords, and all the rest of potential problems. You probably already have a slide projector in your closet. If not, buy one on eBay for about eight dollars. Remember the good ol' days when you could simply plop the Kodak Carousel projector on the stand, flip the switch and put bright, clear, amazing Kodakchrome slides on the screen? Wouldn't it be nice if you could have in your desk drawer a device that would let you load up the slide film of your choice, plug into your computer, pull up the images of your choice, press a shutter button, and put that image on real slide film? A full frame size high resolution LCD screen with a fixed lens and shutter arrangement should do the job. Make your own slides from digital for presentations. Compare the image on the screen from even a cheap department store slide projector to that of a decent expensive modern computer projector and you'll be amazed at the vintage machines brightness and clarity. The other good reason is the chance to archive your images on the most stable and versatile medium we've ever come up with. I've got Kodachromes around here from the 1940's that are still crisp and clear and colorful. I've got floppies with images put on them at a lab 10 years ago that no one can figure out how to access!

Finally the BIG NUMBER THREE: A digital camera with traditional camera controls. You know, with a shutter speed dial on top, a real lens aperture ring on the lens, real focusing, a film speed dial, and all the rest, the way it was for 75 years. OK, sure, they DID do this with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L. This camera looked like a real camera should look, with traditional controls and everything. But it was expensive and sadly the reviews were not that good in the image and useability department. It was an SLR with a lot of shutter lag, slow flash recycling, slow live view, and a few other drawbacks. but it was a step in the right direction. I don't know about you, but after 40 years of shooting with traditional cameras the whole menu driven method of camera control still doesn't sit well with me. Lets get someone else out there to bring us some digital cameras with normal controls. All the other goodies they slop into a camera these days can be in the menus for those who want to diddle with them -- things like white balance, special modes, flash modes, all that beyond the basics stuff, and let us have cameras where the basic controls are right there, connected to real knobs! Of course, if someone comes thru with Number One we won't really be needing this one I guess.

There you have it, manufacturers and developers. I challenge ye.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Review - Kodak 828 Flash Bantam

I can't believe how long it's been since I updated this blog! Promise- more updates in the future. Really.

Last time around I promised you a review of the Kodak 828 Flash Bantam and now, over two years later here it is! The 828 Flash Bantam is not really a user-collectible. I mean that in the sense that it's not really something you can pick up and go out and use. You CAN use it if you're a hardcore 828 film size fan and are willing to create your own film, as I use one of mine every now and then but sometimes I enjoy doing things the hard way.

828 film was a small roll film size the same width as regular 35mm film, but without sprocket holes. It did however have 8 little rectangular holes spaced accordingly for the little "catch" in the camera to automatically locate the film for the next exposure correctly. Something not really needed since the camera also has the traditional green window on the back to read the exposure number on the backing of the film. The film has been discontinued for years. Every now and then you find a company selling 828 film. My experience has been you get one of two things. Film hand cut and wound into vintage backing paper and wound on a vintage 828 spool, or hand cut, hand wound film on a home made spool made out of a brass tube and two hand cut metal discs for the ends. I have had no good experience with ANY moden purchased 828 film. Two ways I create my own film: 1. Hand wind regular 35mm film into backing paper and wind onto an original 828 spool. Old film and spools can be found on line, in used cameras you buy, etc. Advantages are you don't have to cut the film strips yourself and you have a wide variety of 35mm films to choose from. Disadvantage is you'll have sprocket holes in the image area, and will need to compose allowing for the very top and bottom edge to be cut off from what you see in the finder. 2. You can get 120 roll film, measure 35mm from one spool end, and actually saw the film spool creating a shorter spool of 120 film that is now 35mm wide. This works, and can be done in dim light with a simple jigsaw, etc. You do get a teensey bit of light strike on the edge you cut, but for me it has not encroached into the image area. Now that you have some 828 film, on to the camera itself.

The 828 Flash Bantam is one of the earliest "pocket" cameras. The finder folds down, and the front lens board moves inward to make a camera that you can actually put in your pocket -- although they're heavy and will make your pocket sag! Near as I can remember this was the first "real" adjustable camera I ever used. I was going to the high school homecoming football game -- I was not in high school yet -- only a 6th grader at the time. I asked Dad for a good camera to take with me. He gave me a Flash Bantam loaded with Ektachrome, set the shutter and lens for what I now know was the "sunny 16" rule, set the focus for pretty much "snapshot to infinity" and sent me off to the game. I took my 8 exposures and had my first slides! My Dad had two of these cameras (somehow now I manage to have both of them, don't tell him) and he had used them for a lot of slides since the 50's. You can always tell the 828 slides compared to the 35mm slides as the image area is just a bit wider and taller in the 828 format.

The camera itself offers an f: 4.5 48mm lens (which is a bit more wide angle than you think due to the larger image area compared to 35mm) and shutter speeds of 1/25 up to 1/200 and of course T and B. Focuses down to 2.5 feet. You have to manually cock the shutter for each shot (there is a little cocking lever behind the front lens board on the shutter release side). Like most cameras of this ilk, the shutter is nearly silent and makes for great candid shooting. It's all metal construction with leatherette covering makes them hell for stout little cameras. The short bellows is pretty well protected with the folding metal cross bars top and bottom and I've never found one of these with a leaking or damaged bellows. Many years ago I posted a few 828 photos taken with the Flash Bantam and home made film, and you can find them on an old "vintage" area of my current web site here.

Note that the Flash Bantam has no easy way to affix a flash unit. There IS an old fashioned post connector for a flash cord -- and adapters are around to let you connect a regular PC type cord (although they're getting harder to find). Dad had a flat straight bracket that screwed to the camera bottom into the tripod socket and had a flash mount to which we always put one of those nifty folding fan flash units. (Danged if I don't have THAT now too). Most of which would take M2 style or the #5 or even Press 25 bulbs.

There were several other 828 models of course, including some variations on this model. There were some very basic bakelite body models that fold up small and are much lighter, but of course not as versatile. The film used to come in cute little 828 size metal screw top Kodak film cans, too!

If you like to play with older cameras and don't mind making your own film rolls, consider playing with some of those neat 828 models you find in the second hand and antique stores. Most of these are also basic enough with traditional, mechanical screw and bolt style construction that if you need to disassemble and clean and lube to get it working right, you can!