I was bored. There was nothing on Netflix or Amazon Prime, Apple TV or Hulu, or HBO Max that I wanted to watch. To distract my mind from boredom, I rummage through a set of negatives from my early college days with 35mm film photography.
In college, the chemistry for developing a 35mm colour film was expensive. As a student on a limited budget, black-and-white photography was an attractive option. I had access to the darkroom at the Media Centre at Drew University, spending hours experimenting and developing Kodak Tri-X Pan, Ilford HP5 and Kodak T-Max.
Kodak T-MAX Professional is a black-and-white film known for its high resolution, sharpness, and fine grain for decades. It has a nominal sensitivity of ISO 100 or 400, making it a versatile choice for various lighting conditions.
One of the key features of T-MAX Professional is its T-Grain emulsion technology, which produces extremely fine grain and smooth tonal gradations. This makes it a popular choice among photographers who want to achieve a high level of detail and sharpness in their images.
T-MAX Professional also has a wide exposure latitude, allowing for greater flexibility in various lighting conditions. It can be pushed to higher ISOs without sacrificing image quality, making it a useful tool for low-light situations or for creating dramatic effects.
In addition to its technical features, T-MAX Professional is known for its classic black-and-white look, with deep blacks and bright whites that create a striking contrast. It has been popular among fine art photographers and documentary, portrait, and landscape photography.
After four surgeries and other health problems, my eyesight is not excellent. I can see the computer screen and drive safely even at night, but using a manual focus lens is challenging. When I adapt manual focus 35mm lenses to my Fuji X digital camera, I often use the digital focus peaking feature to help me get sharp in-focus images. I don't have this helpful focusing aid with a manual focus lens on a 35mm film camera. I can't quite see where the parallax lines meet when focusing. Many of my frames are slightly out of focus. I realised that many of the 35mm frames I exposed over the last few years are slightly out of focus. I’m struggling with nailing focus when using my manual focus 35mm lenses on my Minolta cameras. It’s not the equipment; it’s me.
I asked a film community member for help finding a solution. I wrote:
I’ve searched Google, but I’m struggling to find a solution. I want to continue with film, but I need a camera with autofocus. I want something compact with a fixed focal length between 38mm and 45mm. Do those exist?
I got a helpful response, but it wasn't what I had hoped.
Am I reading you right that you want a small fixed-lens camera, like a point-and-shoot? You will find such cameras with single-focal-length lenses. 35mm is the most common focal length by far. You might get lucky and find one at 38mm, but I haven't encountered one yet in my travels.
You might also consider a compact AF SLR. My Minolta Maxxum 5 is small and handles beautifully, but the primes available are the typical 28, 35, and 50. I've owned a couple of consumer Nikon AF SLRs, the N60 and N65; they handle great. Same trouble with the primes, but I own a 28-80 zoom for those bodies, which is a terrific lens. I use it on my Nikon Df all the time.
I did a Google search using the search term "autofocus 35mm rangefinder". Google returned links to reviews recommending Contax G2 and Konica Hexar AF, both popular range finder cameras. Dependingly on the camera's condition, the used prices on eBay and elsewhere were well over $1500.
Why am I so hung up on finding a compact camera with a 40mm lens? The 40mm focal length feels purpose-built to be perfect for general-purpose photography, family snapshots and street photography, the only type I think makes sense for a 35mm film camera. The MD Rokkor-X 45mm F2 pancake lens feels purpose-built for my XD-11 and X-700 cameras. I wish my eyesight were better. I do enjoy using my Minolta cameras.
I found a cheaper, but not cheap compact, autofocus camera when I checked the box for 35mm lenses—cameras such as the Nikon LF35AF or LF35AD. The Nikon has a 35mm f/2.8 and is made of much too much plastic, but I like the look of the camera. I also looked at the Nikon 2020 (F-501), one of the first autofocus SLRs from Nikon. It is readily available on eBay but finding an inexpensive 35mm lens is challenging.
I also found that the Canon Sure Shot (AF35M) might be an option. I found a review on lomogrpahy, implying that the AF34M is heavy and clunky. I'm looking for other reviews before I decide. Another option is the Konica C35 AF, another rangefinder with a 35mm lens. Or I could spend a little more (my budget cap is $150) and get a Nikon L35AF2, Nikon's first autofocus range finger.
I discovered the compact Canon EF 40mm prime lens, and the compatible Canon SLR bodies are plentiful and cheap but bulky.
I have the XF27mmF2.8 R WR lens on my Fuji X-T3. It's the APS-C equivalent to a 41mm lens. I have other lenses, but that one is almost always attached to my camera. I'll keep looking. I'm looking for this package https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pofcxdh4eU but in analogue form.
Typical for my "on the spectrum" brain, I suffer from paralysis of analysis.
Unlike my Minolta XD-11 SLR, my Fuji X-T3 MILC has few mechanical parts.
Dad bought his first camera, an Asahi Optical Co. Pentax Spotmatic II SLR, circa 1973, when I was a kid. Dad was still a junior manager at Barclays Bank at that time. He was raising a family, so I expect that the camera was a luxury purchase, especially given how high import taxes were (are) in the Caribbean. I don’t know that he enjoyed photography as much as I do, but I remember he brought that camera on my family adventures. Dad took many photos on family vacations or when he drove us around the islands1, up into the mountains or to a remote beach. I wish I had some of his photographs to share2. I know what it's like to be a new parent and wanting to capture every moment of your child's early life. I don’t have the memories, but I imagine Dad running around behind me or my younger brothers (or maybe Mom) taking photos of us playing on the beach in Bequia or riding our bikes for the first time. I'm sure my mom has those photos hidden away somewhere.
Dad passed away in April 2019, a few years after he gifted me his Pentax and his only lens, an SMC Takumar 50mm F:1.4. Dad most likely kept the camera in a damp basement. The Pentax is in good mechanical shape, but the pentaprism and lens are occluded with fungus. But old things have significance beyond mere utility value. This camera is a memento of Dad. I keep the camera on a window sill behind my computer. I keep it clean and dust-free.
Some of the greatest classic cameras of all time have been mechanical SLRs. These cameras were built like tanks with minimal electronics. At 681g, the Spotmatic II is about 142g heavier than my Fuji X-T3. The camera's operation is entirely mechanical except for a spot metering system (hence the Spotmatic name). Aperture and focus are set manually on the SMC Takumar 50mm F:1.4, while shutter speed and film ISO are set on the camera body. The photographer chooses the aperture and shutter speed and the spot meter provides feedback on whether the exposure is correct. The lenses use the very popular M42 screw mount.
In 2020 on the 2020 commemoration of Dad’s passing I bought a silver bodied Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II. I don’t recall if it was from eBay or Etsy but this one worked and I exposed a few rolls of 35mm film.
In order for auto exposure to work, the Spotmiac has to know which aperture is selected on the lens before it can calculate an appropriate shutter speed. Some camera companies used a mechanical linkage between the lens and the camera that would communicate which aperture was selected on the lens. The problem with the mechanical linkage was that the position of the linkages needs to be exactly the same each and every time. The camera has to know exactly where the position of the linkage is to get an accurate idea of which aperture is selected. Since all Pentax cameras up until this point had used screw mount lenses, there was no easy way to mechanically link the lens to the camera as there would be slight variances in rotation between different lenses.
Then after that, I bought a Pentax ES (Electro Spotmatic) II and a few more prime lenses. The Pentax ElectroSpotmatic (ES) II was the most advanced camera in the Spotmatic family. This is an extremely well-built camera with excellent ergonomics. It also featured a dual electronic/mechanical shutter that would fire electronically in Auto mode, but would also have a limited number of manual speeds that would work without a battery. The electronic shutter was stepped less from 1 second all the way to a maximum of 1/1000 second.
I was bitten by the mechanical 35mm camera gear acquisition syndrome (GAS) and soon bought another 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, a Minolta X-700 which I found via Facebook Marketplace. The Minolta X-700 is a mechanical camera that uses the Minolta Bayonet SR Mount which came in two variations, the MC and MD. The previous owner was retiring and moving to Florida to be near her grandchildren. For $70 I had the camera, an MD Rokkor 50mm f/1.7 lens, a Minolta Auto 132FX Speedlight, a Minolta 20 Speedlight, and a JC Penny Multi-Coated Optics 80-200m f/4.5, and an expired roll of Kodak 800. I enthusiastically enjoyed using the Minolta X-700. On the first weekend after purchasing the camera I exposed two rolls of 35mm film one day at the beach.
The GAS increased and so did my love for classic Minolta 35mm SLR cameras and lenses. Near the end of 2020, I sold my Spotmatic II and ES II and all my Takumar lenses (except for the 50mm) and soon I was in possession of a work of art, a black XD-11 (of course) body.
The Minolta XD-11 was produced from 1977 to 1984 in collaboration with Ernst Leitz of Germany, the company that makes the highly valued Leica cameras. The first product of this joint cooperation was the Leica CL and Minolta CL. The Minolta CL and Leica CL are essentially the same cameras with different labels and prices. Leica sold about 35,000 Leica CL units in the first year. The story is that Leitz was unhappy with Minoltas success and was reluctant to work further with Minolta. However, Leitz later relesed the R4 which was also built in collaboration with Minolta. Minolta brought the XD-11 to market by themselves. It was the first SLR camera to offer both aperture and shutter-priority auto exposure, plus manual control. It has classic styling, excellent ergonomics and performance. I love my Fuji X-T3 but I wish it looked more like the XD-11.
We moved around while Dad climbed the corporate ladder. We moved around the British West Indies quite a bit. We lived in St. Vincent, Bequia, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, and St. Kitts. ↩