• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). There are daily reviews of audio hardware and expert members to help answer your questions. Click here to have your audio equipment measured for free!

Classic cameras

JJB70

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 17, 2018
Messages
2,898
Likes
6,020
Location
Singapore
The mirrorless design thread seems to be morphing into a discussion of classic cameras, so it might be nice to have a thread for the subject.

I love classic cameras. To be clear, I'm not going to try and claim classic film cameras are better, and I'm certainly not going to pretend I want to return to film photography other than as an occasional indulgence. I love digital photography and my personal opinion is that the advantages are so compelling it would be crazy to even have the argument. But, what I will say is I love classic film cameras and although I am under no illusions over what is better I like classic cameras more than digital I guess it's like an automotive enthusiast recognizing that something like a Tesla 3 blows classic cars apart in every way except styling but still wanting something like an E-Type, classic Mustang, Lamborghini Miura, Ferrari 275 etc. I love the tactile feel, I love the sense of mechanical precision and I just find something wonderful, especially truly mechanical cameras like the Nikon FM, Olympus OM-1, CONTAX S2 etc. My 35mm system was CONTAX, and I've never owned anything which came close to the sense of pure quality exuded by the RTS iii.

So in case anyone shares my love of old things (and please, I'm not trying to start an argument that old film cameras are better - they're not) here is my top 5:

1. CONTAX RTS iii - this one is not so classic as it was a 1990's design and with the exception of being manual focus was a very advanced design and fully featured. It had a vacuum film plate, a fast built in motor-drive, mirror lock up, spot meter, built in vertical grip, data back and a wonderful viewfinder. The real selling points though were the Carl Zeiss lenses and the build quality and tactile feel, it had a sense of absolute quality of a sort which is very rare.

2. Olympus OM-1, the Olympus OM system was a true design classic. Very compact, lightweight and with wonderful build and handling. Putting the shutter speed selection around the lens mount was one of those ideas that after I'd used it I couldn't help wondering why nobody else did it as it worked really well. The matching Zuiko lenses were superb and the OM system was extremely comprehensive. The OM-1 was a true mechanical camera, the lightmeter was battery powered but if the battery died the rest of the camera was unaffected. The OM-1 wasn't the best of the OM line (I'd say that was the OM-4) but as the daddy of the line and as a classic design it is probably my favourite. The only criticism I have is the plastic flash hot shoe which after a while goes brittle and breaks apart from tightening. As an aside, the OM-1 was originally the Olympus M-1 but Leica weren't happy about them calling it the M system.

3. Nikon FM/FM2, probably the ultimate 35mm SLR cliché as it was a camera that survived in the Nikon catalogue as the original FM and later FM2 for years and even had a final hurrah as a mechanical - electronic hybrid FM3. Nikon never bettered the industrial design in my opinion, the things were pretty much bomb proof, the elegant simplicity was just perfect and of course it was supported by an immense system. A story, in my youth I worked for British Antarctic Survey and the Nikon FM2 was their standard camera as experience had led them to value its utter dependability in extremely challenging conditions. It was the only camera body they had any confidence in, which interestingly included the more expensive Nikon F professional series bodies. Someone once started a rumour that Nikon had ended production (prematurely) and they rushed out to buy any FM2's in stock in the local camera stores so they'd have a plentiful supply for many years into the future.

4. Pentax LX, this one is a bit of an odd one as the LX was the great forgotten high end 35mm camera. The LX was Pentax's contender in a market segment dominated by the Nikon F2/F3, Canon F1/new F1 and with the Olympus OM-1/2 then OM-3/4 enjoying a fair bit of acclaim. The LX shared the exchangeable prism feature with the Nikon F family and Canon F1 but was a much smaller, lighter camera and was closer to the slim and light OM family than the battlecruiser like Nikon and Canon bodies. Despite being compact and light it lost nothing to Nikon and Canon in terms of build quality and durability (if anything I always thought the Pentax was the benchmark against the others should have been assessed). While Pentax enjoyed a high profile in the medium format professional segment their 35mm contender was always seen as the poor relation of more successful rivals.

5. Olympus OM-3, this was the mechanical sister camera to the OM-4 and the claim to fame of these cameras was what was for the time an extremely advanced light metering system with multi-spot metering and highlight/shadow functions. It all sounds a bit primitive today, but at the time it was transformational and if people are willing to make the effort to learn how to use multi-spot metering it remains a superb system. As with older OM cameras the OM-3 was compact, superbly built and a joy to hold. This is my personal preference, if looked at logically the OM-4 was the better camera but I like the mechanical OM-3.

I offer an honorable mention, the CONTAX AX. The AX is unique, I know the word "unique" is devalued by overuse and most things touted as unique are anything but, the CONTAX AX really was something special. As AF took over the market Zeiss wouldn't build AF lenses for Yashica/CONTAX despite Japan being desperate to move CONTAX into AF. Without the Zeiss lenses CONTAX was stuck (Yashica developed its own AF SLR, the 230). Thinking laterally, CONTAX questioned whether if they couldn't use the lens to auto-focus, could they move the film plane instead, the result was the AX. The precision needed to make such a system work speaks volumes for the precision and production quality standard that CONTAX worked to, it offered AF using manual focus lenses. The body was pretty similar to the RTS iii (though it lost some of the higher end features of the RTS iii) but the extra depth needed to accomodate a moving film plane made it a bulky body. The AF couldn't match competing Canon EOS or Nikon AF bodies but it did function, and the focusing was much quicker and more accurate than I would ever get close to focusing manual. The CONTAX AX was a truly remarkable achievement and one of those things that if looked at logically was a futile attempt to re-invent a wheel which didn't need to be re-invented (AF), but which was glorious. Sadly, Zeiss's refusal to make AF lenses until it was far too late with the CONTAX N system left the brand up the proverbial without a paddle.
 

Jim Matthews

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Mar 25, 2021
Messages
1,063
Likes
1,276
Location
Taxachusetts
Never warmed up to my F2, I always preferred something smaller.

The Leica M3 was my "everyday carry" in the 1980's.
Paired with the Summicron 35mm f2 (what I could afford) it was excellent.
 
OP
J

JJB70

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 17, 2018
Messages
2,898
Likes
6,020
Location
Singapore
Never warmed up to my F2, I always preferred something smaller.

The Leica M3 was my "everyday carry" in the 1980's.
Paired with the Summicron 35mm f2 (what I could afford) it was excellent.

I often thought of buying a Leica range finder but they have always been expensive and as much as I like range finder cameras I preferred SLRs. The low cost option was something like a Zorki which was a reverse engineered pre-war Leica. People always sneered at Russian and Ukrainian cameras but if you got a good one they were very solid and durable cameras.

On the F2, it was a classic camera but it was quite big. It's rival which seems to have been forgotten was the Topcon RE Super (Super D), which was a tremendous camera. Those really did feel bomb proof.
 

mhardy6647

Master Contributor
Joined
Dec 12, 2019
Messages
5,596
Likes
11,248
OP, you're not alone :)

Between my son and me, we've got... a few. Well, OK, I have a few. He has, a few more than a few.
We use 'em, too. Well -- he more than I, but we do use them.




Said son's (dormant) photoblog:

His real thing, though, is glass. :)

 

Prana Ferox

Senior Member
Joined
Feb 6, 2020
Messages
382
Likes
759
Location
NoVA, USA
I started out on an old Minolta, I forget the model but it was black and it was a very early SLR with aperture priority. I've been an aperture priority shooter ever since. One of these days I'll dig it out of my dad's basement, at the least I can adapt the glass.

I really, really liked shooting with that camera but I have zero nostalgia for the film workflow. Darkroom work is a great way to take a day's worth of good shots and turn them anywhere from mediocre to ruined. With digital I can just clickclickclick thousands of pictures and have the good ones post-processed that evening. I understand the romance of the tools and processes, but my collection of good personally-developed prints fits in a thick manila envelope, and I can get more solid shots than that walking around with a digital camera in one day.
 

mansr

Major Contributor
Joined
Oct 5, 2018
Messages
4,419
Likes
9,745
Location
Hampshire
I've been an aperture priority shooter ever since
I mostly use aperture priority too since it is usually more important for the result than exposure time. Specific circumstances can of course shift the balance in favour of other modes, including fully manual.
 

Blumlein 88

Grand Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Feb 23, 2016
Messages
14,729
Likes
23,938
My first camera with adjustments and forcing me to learn about how to use them was an old Argus C3 which is a range finder camera. I used it until I eventually managed to acquire a Canon SLR. I still have it though I've not put film thru it in 20 years at least. Nothing too special other than it isn't too hard to find them around even now more than 50 years since any were made.

6243679920_e9328d13d0.jpg
 

Kal Rubinson

Major Contributor
Industry Insider
Joined
Mar 23, 2016
Messages
4,111
Likes
6,685
Location
NYC/CT
This was my first camera with adjustments. It was a birthday gift (i 1954) and I was initially disappointed because it was old, used and not 35mm (like the Argus C3). However, the gift was from Harry Finke (of Haber and Finke) and he knew that I would learn how to take, develop and print photographs with it and, later, move on to something else.
2584010941_80ac83419d.jpg
 
OP
J

JJB70

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 17, 2018
Messages
2,898
Likes
6,020
Location
Singapore
I mostly use aperture priority too since it is usually more important for the result than exposure time. Specific circumstances can of course shift the balance in favour of other modes, including fully manual.

A lot of program modes are effectively very similar to either aperture priority or shutter priority as one of the input dials or buttons generally lets you shift aperture/shutter speed. At one time cameras were getting all sorts of program modes with pictograms but on enthusiast cameras at any rate they seem to have realised you only need one mode if you can move up and down through the aperture and shutter speed range.
 
OP
J

JJB70

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 17, 2018
Messages
2,898
Likes
6,020
Location
Singapore
I think there is a certain cross-over with audio in that people can have a passion for gear or for the art associated with that equipment, or a passion for both.

I see nothing wrong with having an interest in gear. I also see no inherent contradiction in having an interest in gear while thinking it doesn't really matter. In audio I really don't think audio gear matters much, a smartphone with IEMs meets my needs to enjoy music if it is music I like, or wireless speakers. Similarly smartphones give great results if well used. And of course plenty of people are passionate about both the gear and the art of music or photography.

A camera is just a tool, you don't need much of a camera to take great photographs (just look at the photographs our forebears took with very primitive equipment) and I am certainly not advocating a return to film as I love digital. But, I do love old cameras and view it as a parallel hobby to photography, there is obvious cross-over but I do see them as separate interests.
 

mhardy6647

Master Contributor
Joined
Dec 12, 2019
Messages
5,596
Likes
11,248
My first camera with adjustments and forcing me to learn about how to use them was an old Argus C3 which is a range finder camera. I used it until I eventually managed to acquire a Canon SLR. I still have it though I've not put film thru it in 20 years at least. Nothing too special other than it isn't too hard to find them around even now more than 50 years since any were made.

6243679920_e9328d13d0.jpg
aah, a Brick! :)
An interesting little, quasi-sophisticated camera which sold in large numbers and served its users well.
My father took a remarkable series of Kodachrome slides at Bryce & Zion Canyons in Utah in the early 1950s with an Argus like that.
His is long gone, but, thanks to my son, I have an adorable one, in grey.
Here's my Brick.
 
OP
J

JJB70

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 17, 2018
Messages
2,898
Likes
6,020
Location
Singapore
OP, you're not alone :)

Between my son and me, we've got... a few. Well, OK, I have a few. He has, a few more than a few.
We use 'em, too. Well -- he more than I, but we do use them.




Said son's (dormant) photoblog:

His real thing, though, is glass. :)


I love the model 707 too!!
 

rdenney

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Dec 30, 2020
Messages
1,798
Likes
2,823
Damn, this could get out of hand.

No list of classics could be complete without including the Rolleiflex. Widely copied by the Japanese, but most successfully by Yashica with the YashicaMat 124. My Rolleiflex is an early 50’s 3.5 MX2 with a Schneider lens. Still works perfectly.

And the Hasselblad—ubiquitous with event pros for decades, and defined the box-SLR concept followed in the pro-camera world since then. Even my Pentax 645z owes its basic shape to the ‘blad.

The ultimate classic press camera of all time was the Speed Graphic—must be included. Yes, I have one—two rangefinders (one for 127mm and one for 8-1/2”), Kalart Focus Spot, windup focal-plane shutter that shouldn’t work but does. Neat camera. The speed graphic was replaced by the Nikon F as the standard press camera, mostly because of Vietnam and Life Magazine.

There were a number of medium-format SLRs in the 35mm tradition of horizontal travel, like the Practisix and the Norita 66. But the Pentax came out with the Pentax 6x7 in 1969 and simply owned that category until the category itself faded away in the early 2000’s. It’s a true classic. I have three and still use them from time to time.

For studio SLRs, the Mamiya RB-67 was a true classic.

The Sinar Norma established the notion of a modular large-format monorail view camera, and became the standard by which others were measured, even brands further upmarket like Linhof and ArcaSwiss. The ownership of the pro view camera category continued with the Sinar P and F models of the 70’s (I have and still use one of each of those). Speaking of Linhof, their Technikardan defined the folding technical camera category basically forever. A true classic. For large format folding-bed cameras, particularly in 8x10, there was Deardorff and then everyone else.

No camera made SLRs safe for casual amateurs like the Canon AE-1. That camera ruled that market and did what the F-1 could never do to make Canon a household name. That said, I still have the F-1 I bought in the 70’s.

Prior to the AE-1, the 35mm SLR for the masses had been the Pentax Spotmatic, surely a classic.

In the digital world, the Canon 10D was the first to really move established film users to digital. And the 5D (the first one) was the first to truly exceed what had been possible with 35mm film. Those are classics in ways the 1D will never be. For casual users, the Rebel was a classic.

There are many others, but each of these shines as the definitive example of their category.

Rick “who owns most of them” Denney
 
OP
J

JJB70

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 17, 2018
Messages
2,898
Likes
6,020
Location
Singapore
I never got into medium (or large) format, over the years I was often tempted but 35mm met my needs and it was quite a jump in price. However, I occasionally felt tempted to buy something like a Kiev 88 or Exackta 66 to try it without breaking the bank.
 

mansr

Major Contributor
Joined
Oct 5, 2018
Messages
4,419
Likes
9,745
Location
Hampshire
A lot of program modes are effectively very similar to either aperture priority or shutter priority as one of the input dials or buttons generally lets you shift aperture/shutter speed. At one time cameras were getting all sorts of program modes with pictograms but on enthusiast cameras at any rate they seem to have realised you only need one mode if you can move up and down through the aperture and shutter speed range.
Sure, but I don't like surprises.
 

aslan7

Active Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2021
Messages
136
Likes
109
Never warmed up to my F2, I always preferred something smaller.

The Leica M3 was my "everyday carry" in the 1980's.
Paired with the Summicron 35mm f2 (what I could afford) it was excellent.
I had an old M3 single stroke with the 50mm Summicron and loved it. That MR meter was fun to use. Later I picked up an M6 which was easier to use but I kept the old lens from the 1950s because the photos were so impressionistic. The M3 was the best.
 

mhardy6647

Master Contributor
Joined
Dec 12, 2019
Messages
5,596
Likes
11,248
My aforementioned offspring likes his Leica IIIf. No... he loves it.

DSC_0525s.jpg


It was a gateway drug of sorts for him into interchangeable-lens rangefinders (mostly of the Japanese, screw-mount kind) -- but I think to date he still has just the one Leica.
He's got a coupla Rollei and Yashica TLRs, though -- and he knows how to use 'em. :)

DSC_6302s.jpg


Any hifi audio & Frank Zappa fans should catch the irony in his pose above. ;)
 

rdenney

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Dec 30, 2020
Messages
1,798
Likes
2,823
I never got into medium (or large) format, over the years I was often tempted but 35mm met my needs and it was quite a jump in price. However, I occasionally felt tempted to buy something like a Kiev 88 or Exackta 66 to try it without breaking the bank.
Now, that is a hole with no bottom.

I still pay a little every month to sustain the largely defunct Kiev Report forum. And I still have three Kiev 60’s, and Arax-overhauled and refinished 88CM, a Pentacon Six, and an Exakta 66. None are really reliable except the best of the 60’s. Fun lenses, though, adaptable to my Pentax 645z.

Rick “not classics in any sense” Denney
 
Top Bottom