Let's begin with a universal truth: scanning film fucking sucks. It's just the biggest time sink and nothing ever looks as good as you want it to and you spend hours removing dust spots and trying to color balance to your ideal for that film stock and it eventually looks sort of ok so you move on because you have 10 fucking more rolls to get through before you can finally post these damn shots on Instaflickr or whatever. (run on sentences are fun, fyi)

Let's talk about my current scanning setup. I run an Epson v500 and scan with the Better Scanning holder and ANR glass for flatness and because I can get more frames scanning at once. I cut my film into strips of 2 or 3 shots depending on the format/camera, painstakingly try to remove dust whilst wearing archival gloves to guard against fingerprints. I scan using Epson Scan at a decent resolution but nothing too crazy because I'm just seeing these shots for the first time. I can always scan at a high resolution later. It takes about 3 minutes per frame, so 6-9 minutes per strip, and I'll have about 4-5 strips. Plus the 3-5 minutes in between, which basically means that I can scan a roll of 120 in about an hour. I generally edit as I'm waiting for the next strip to scan, so that's not much of an additional time investment, fortunately.

In short, it sucks. I just don't have the time or desire to sit at my computer for 3-4 hours at a time doing scanning, since the only time I have to do that is on the weekend. That's when I want to be shooting, not stuck inside!

This is why DSLR scanning is so intriguing to me. If I can get a one shot per frame proof of each frame that is good enough for web/small prints, then I can save a ton of time, I think. I feel like shooting an entire roll of film will take 10 minutes at most when dialed in. The conversion and editing might take me 3-5 minutes per frame but once I have a workflow I should hopefully be able to automate. Moreover, if I can get some batch processing going, then I can spend 30 minutes shooting 4-5 rolls at once and then just have my computer do the batch processing while I go do something else. This is ideal but may be a pipe dream. Stay tuned, I guess.

Inspired by my man Michael Fraser's brilliant post on DSLR scanning, I decided to do some sharpness and ease of use testing. Unlike Michael, I don't really care about wringing every last bit of resolution out of my shots, I only want this to go faster. I'm looking for Good Enough, not perfect.

My testing consisted of scanning a frame with the v500 and leaving it at the Epson Scan defaults. Then I found my light table, grabbed my Epson film holder (no need for ANR glass for DSLR scanning, i think), and a tripod. Then I shot that frame using my Sony RX100 III and my wife's Nikon D610 at various apertures and focal lengths. Note: the colors will not in any way match. I literally inverted the colors and then clicked Auto Tone and Auto Color in Photoshop. ColorPerfect testing comes later. The resolution of each camera is slightly different so these aren't exactly 1 to 1 comparisons either. Results below.

Epson v500 vs. Nikon D610 - Center of frame
Epson v500 vs. Nikon D610 - Corner of frame

You can already see a big difference. I was pretty blown away. Also, it literally took me 3-4 minutes to shoot, copy the file and get it inverted. If it's time savings I want, I can already see how I can get there easily. With the notable exception of Digital ICE/dust removal, I genuinely don't see a reason to keep using the v500.

For shits and giggles, here's the Epson vs. the Sony RX100 III.

Epson v500 vs. Sony RX100 III - Center of frame
Epson v500 vs. Sony RX100 III - Corner of frame

The Sony handily beats the Epson in everything but corner sharpness (and it's close), and that's because in order to shoot in macro mode with the RX100 you have to use the widest part of the zoom lens (24mm equiv). The Zeiss glass is good but nothing's /that/ good.

Finally, the Nikon vs. the Sony

Nikon D610 vs. Sony RX100 III - Center of frame
Nikon D610 vs. Sony RX100 III - Corner of frame

So there you have it. DSLR Scanning. Pretty good stuff. My next steps are to figure out what the deal is with ColorPerfect or other programs to use for properly inverting and color grading my shots and then figuring out how to batch process/automate the workflow. Once that's all done I'll write it up in another post.

Today, we have a mid-century shoot-out between a pair of very popular cameras that were both introduced in 1951, the Argus C-four (as it's written on the barrel of the lens) and the Kodak Signet 35. Both of these cameras were made from 1951-1958, and both cost around $85-90 when introduced (about $850 in today's money).

They are both rangefinders with decent lenses (for the era), reliable shutters with very similar speeds (B, 10-300), manually reset film counter and removable backs for reasonably simple film loading. However, choosing a winner of this shoot-out wasn't that tough even though I liked them both.

As a reminder, here is our judging criteria:

  • How comfortable a camera is to shoot.
  • How easy it is to use.
  • How good the results are.
  • How interesting the camera is.
  • How much value does it have in today's world?

Comfort: They are both pretty good, which is a rarity for this time period. The Argus C-four seems to be patterned after the Barnack Leica bodies from the late 40's, with some silly Argus C3 stuff carried over, so it's already starting in a pretty nice place - if you're going to steal, steal from the best. The Kodak Signet 35 is pretty unique, and although it feels cramped when you first pick it up, after using it for a little while I found it perfectly fine. The Argus shutter is pretty clacky whilst the Kodak leaf shutter is reasonably quiet. The Signet is lighter than the C-four but the C-four felt better to carry around. Winner: Argus C-four but it's very close.

Ease of Use: Both cameras work pretty much the same way - you load your film, wind it on, set the film counter, adjust settings, focus, shoot. The Kodak requires one additional step: manual cocking of the shutter whereas the C-four cocks the shutter automatically.

The Kodak has a relatively large triangular rangefinder patch, which is novel, although on my copy it's really dim even after cleaning. The Argus rangefinder patch is circular and remains fairly bright today, even with my slightly hazy copy. With 10 minutes of cleaning, I suspect it'd be perfect.

Metering is done manually using your eyes and brain or any other light judgment device. The Kodak comes with a pretty cool slide rule/exposure guideline chart on the back of the camera, though, for those of us still shooting Plus-X, Pan-X, Kodachrome or Super-XX.

The Kodak has some very nice click stops for the speed/aperture rings as well as tabbed focusing (!), which I quite liked. The Argus can be focused with the ridiculous rangefinder wheel that came from the C3 or directly on the lens. There are no click stops with any of the C-four settings, which means it's easy to knock your settings out of whack, something I did a few times during this test. Winner: Kodak Signet 35.

Results: Keep in mind that these cameras are around 60 years old and with the exception of a half hour's effort to clean up the rangefinder on the Signet 35, have never seen a servicing. My expectations going in were pretty low, and I was pleasantly surprised:

Argus C-four / Acros 100
Kodak Signet 35 / Acros 100
Argus C-four / Acros 100
Kodak Signet 35 / Acros 100

Pretty good, I think. Both days I shot with these cameras were pretty overcast, and I was using slow speeds on cameras with slow shutters. I was throwing my apertures all over the place and got pretty decent results throughout. 

Here's a comparison of similar subjects at minimum focusing/aperture:

Argus C-four
Kodak Signet 35

I think I slightly prefer the Kodak's rendering of this scene. The corners aren't as crazed and the center is a bit sharper. Winner: Kodak Signet 35.

Interestingness: The Argus C-four has only two interesting things about it: the stupid rangefinder wheel from the C3 and the fact that it actually has a functioning hotshoe (that still works and fires my flashes today!), which was rare in 1951. Unfortunately, hotshoes are cool but not really that interesting. By the way, I don't have one, but there is an aftermarket modified version of the C-four called the 'Geiss-modified c-four' which has interchangeable lenses, and that's cool as hell. I'd love one of those.

The Kodak Signet 35, on the other hand, is really a pretty camera. It's mid-century modern to the core, and although it falls into the category of "Cameras with shutter/lens assemblies stuck on the front" like so many cameras from the 40's and 50's, it is small and cute and has honest to god design happening. I love the big wind/rewind wheels on the top. I adore the red Kodak dot. I dig the art deco/streamline moderne aesthetic and the Signet 35 is just right up my alley. Your mileage may vary. Winner: Kodak Signet 35.

Value: As of this writing on March 30th, Kodak Signet 35's seem to be going for around $25-30 in decent shape whereas Argus C-four's are around $5-15. I think this that's pretty good value for both of these cameras and I wouldn't spend much more on either. The Signet 35 is better optically and certainly cooler to have on a shelf, even if it's not quite as comfy as the Argus C-four, so I think it's the better buy. Winner: Kodak Signet 35.

Conclusions: The Argus C-four is a pleasant camera. I think it's good looking, and it's certainly comfy enough and easy to use. They sold 300,000 of these things so people obviously liked it at the time. The Kodak Signet 35, however, is just better in most respects. I have no idea how it sold (thanks for failing me, internet!) but since it was the top of the line Signet, I'd assume it didn't sell that well. That's a shame, as it clearly outperforms the Argus C-four in the field and on the shelf.

As you'll notice, for this series I will try to compare cameras that I feel share some common traits that make them natural competitors. Today we have a couple of wacky trapezoidal cameras with weird ergonomics. One of them is in great shape, the other isn't. One of them is a TLR with a built-in rangefinder, and one of them is an SLR with interchangeable viewfinders. Both are really interesting.

First, the Exa:

And the Bolsey Model C:

Like I said, trapezoids:

Our judging criteria:

  • How comfortable a camera is to shoot.
  • How easy it is to use.
  • How good the results are.
  • How interesting the camera is.
  • How much value does it have in today's world?

Comfort: Well, truthfully, in my hands, neither of them are that comfortable. The Exa is heavy. There isn't a ton of room to actually grip the camera and the way it's designed, you have to move your hands around a lot. This means you definitely need a strap or else it's liable to slip out of your hands. The Bolsey is smaller and lighter with a very nice short throw focus tab in a very nice position for my hands. Winner: Bolsey.

Ease of Use: These cameras don't have a ton of features. You get aperture, shutter speed (from B-150 on the Exa and T, B-200 on the Bolsey), a waist level finder and a manually reset frame counter. The Bolsey has the very interesting built-in rangefinder/viewfinder. It's basically a Bolsey B2 with a TLR added in. It's really cool if you're into quirky cameras (and I am). And the Exa has the ability to have interchangeable viewfinders from the larger Exakta line (along with lenses, obviously), which is a great feature itself.

I find the Bolsey to generally be slightly easier to use. The dials are right in the front for shutter speed and aperture, you use the convenient tab to focus, and you look through a very disappointing, dim and quite small waist level finder to focus. There is a magnifier but it's not very good. Also on the negative side, you have to lift the film winder knob to actually get it moving, which is a pain.

The Exa, on the other hand, has a glorious, large and bright waist level finder. I went out shooting for this test and fell in love with it. It seems to give everything I see a warm tone that I just adore. The magnifier is fantastic as well, giving what feels like a medium format size view. It's wonderful.

See for yourself:

Bolsey Model C

While the Exa is a handful to actually use, it is "easy enough" and the viewfinder makes all the difference when shooting. Winner: Exa

Results: I have to caveat this with the fact that the Bolsey I have needs work. It needs a CLA, and although everything works, it's just not in perfect working order. The lens is in pretty decent shape, so I think the results you'll see below are valid, but I just wanted to put that out there. The Exa, as far as I can tell, is perfect.

These shots are entirely unedited and come straight from my scanner.

Bolsey Model C - Acros 100
Exa - Acros 100
Unintended multiple exposure - Bolsey Model C - Acros 100
Exa - Acros 100

Here's a similar composition from both cameras:

Bolsey Model C - Acros 100
Exa - Acros 100

Winner: Exa. Obviously.

Interestingness: The Bolsey is fascinating. It's a rangefinder/TLR combo. That is about as unique as you can get. The Exa is cool and quirky and beautiful, but the Bolsey is just flat out weird. Winner: Bolsey.

Value: The Exa cost me about $40 with lens. It can take any Exakta mount lens (of which there are many) and offers a compelling experience even today. They aren't particularly rare cameras, but it's nice to know I can buy the Exa's big brother Varex and swap viewfinders, lenses and accessories. The Bolsey cost me $38.50 and doesn't offer a great experience even if I love how cool it is. The viewfinder is small and dim and the rangefinder is Argus C3 level tiny (but not Kodak RF level tiny). It's more comfortable to hold but that's only because it's lighter and smaller. My particular copy is in rough shape, so I'm either going to have to spend a bunch of time CLA'ing it or I can send it off, which will add hundreds to the price. And viewing the results, I'm not sure why I'd bother. Winner: Exa.

Conclusions: The Bolsey Model C is a weird, quirky, cool camera to have on a shelf. I like it. I'm happy with the money I spent. I probably won't ever shoot with it again. The Exa, on the other hand, is a treat. It's heavy and harder to use, but the waist level finder is gorgeous and will make you fall in love with photos before you take them. It's a machine for making the world beautiful. In the battle of wacky trapezoidal cameras, the Exa is the clear winner.

This is a new series of posts where I try to compare a pair of cameras. I'm an avid collector, with over 100 cameras at the moment, and I love different types of shooting experiences. I'm certainly no professional reviewer or anything, so always take my observations with a grain of salt the size of an Alpa. I have very distinct biases and preferences, just like everyone, and therefore, anything I say should be viewed through that lens (heh).

For the record, these are my biases, so far as I'm aware:

  • I'm a large American man, which means I have chunky fingers.
  • I am left-eye dominant, which will mean that any camera that jams something against my nose will automatically be uncomfortable for me to use.
  • I love interesting, quirky, weird cameras.
  • I vastly prefer vintage cameras to new, crappy cameras. I'm far more likely to love a 50's cheapie Argus, Agfa, Voigtlander or Kodak than I am any modern Lomography camera.
  • Above all else, I'm a value hound. I hate spending more money than I have to, and I especially hate brand-fetishism. If a brand of camera is truly better than another, great. But if it isn't, I'm not spending more just because some community of diehards thinks I should. Yes, Leica-philes, I'm talking to you.

These reviews will be done taking into account the following criteria:

  • How comfortable a camera is to shoot.
  • How easy it is to use.
  • How good the results are.
  • How interesting the camera is.
  • How much value does it have in today's world?

So, with all that said, let's begin with a very common "cult" camera and a much-less common competitor, the Yashica T4 and the Minolta Freedom Escort.

Basically, these cameras are the same size, occupy the same market space, have roughly the same features, and both have very sharp ~35mm lenses. The Yashica has a pretty legendary Tessar 35mm f/3.5 and the Minolta has a 34mm f/3.5. 

Comfort: They are both very easy to handle and comfortable to shoot with. The Yashica is slightly more ergonomic, but the Minolta has slightly better shutter release button positioning. The Yashica has a fantastic on/off, lens door switch, which is miles ahead of the Minolta's dinky on/off button. However, the Minolta is a bit lighter. I'd give a very slight edge to the Yashica in this category.

Ease of Use: They are both very easy to use. They have identical film loading, and everything on both is designed to be as easy to use as possible. The Yashica has a very light trigger, which can be a downside as it means accidentally taking photos when you don't mean to. The Minolta, conversely, has a light half-press focus, but heavy trigger, so it's hard to accidentally waste shots. 

They even have the same downside, which is that when you turn the flash off, it won't stay off and instead you have to remember to turn it off every time you turn the camera on. Tie.

Results: Well, see for yourself:

Yashica T4, Tri-X, developed at home in HC110 by my inexperienced hands.
Minolta Freedom Escort, Kodak Gold 200
Yashica T4, Tri-X, developed at home in HC110 by my inexperienced hands.
Minolta Freedom Escort, Kodak Gold 200
Yashica T4, Tri-X, developed at home in HC110 by my inexperienced hands.
Minolta Freedom Escort, Kodak Gold 200

Please excuse the lines and dust on the Yashica scans, I ran these through my Pakon as quickly as possible and haven't spent any time cleaning anything up. None of these scans have anything adjusted, and the fact that they look good at all speaks to how great the Pakon F135 is.

Suffice it to say, I think they're both pretty similar in quality. I think I like the Minolta results a bit more, but that may just be because I was having a better shooting day. Quality wise, they're the same.

Interestingness: They both are equal in terms of being very good point and shoots. The Yashica, of course, has the Terry Richardson connection, which might be interesting to you if you'd like to victimize some women at some point. Conversely, the Minolta is actually a very close cousin of the Leica Mini II, which means you're getting a wolf in sheep's clothing if you're in the bag for Leica. This, by the way, explains why that lens is so good. Edge to the Minolta, IMO, since it's an "unsung hero."

Value: The Yashica T4D that I have routinely goes for $150-200 on Ebay. It's big brother, the T4/T5 Super (which has the so-called "Super Scope") goes for even more, even though it has the same lens and generally the same features. 

The last two Minolta Freedom Escort's on Ebay went for $14 and $2, as of this writing. That being said, there aren't that many copies of the Freedom Escort floating around, so you may have to be patient in order to find one. The Minolta is the clear winner here, and it's not even close.

Conclusions: If you're in the market for a good point and shoot with very little control but good quality, get a Minolta Freedom Escort instead of a Yashica T4 (or Olympus Stylus Epic).