"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Monday, December 31, 2012


This is a Ricoh Singlex TLS (Through the Lens System) single-lens reflex 35mm camera ...

This model was developed in 1967. In early 1972, I bought one very much like it (along with a 300mm telephoto lens) for the events I posted about in Adventure of a Lifetime, and its sequel The Adventure - Continued (about my trips to Cape Canaveral to watch the launches of Apollo 16 and Apollo 17). 

I used it for fourteen years, until mid-1986 when I had to sell it during an extended period of unemployment.

It was totally manual, with the only electronic part being a built-in light meter, using the match-needle exposure system.  Other than the rewind knob (with folding lever) on top of the camera, at the right end of the picture above, the main controls were here ...

You'd open the back, thread in the film (up to 36 exposures on a roll), close the back and thumb the advance lever to move the film (one frame each time) and cock the shutter.

The shutter speed and film speed controls were combined on a single knob. You'd pull out on that knob (I think. It's been over 26 years now) and turn it to the ASA number for the film you are using (I favored Kodak High-Speed Ektachrome, at 160 ASA). The camera in the picture appears to be set at 100 ASA; that's a 64 showing below it). With the knob back in its normal place (it's spring loaded), turn it to the shutter speed you want (in the picture it's set at 1/500th of a second).

With the match-needle system, a combination of aperture (lens opening) and shutter speed control the exposure.  While looking though the viewfinder, adjust the aperture (set with a ring on the lens) and/or shutter speed until the needle visible in the viewfinder is centered.

What I liked so much about it was that the controls were relatively simple, becoming instinctive with practice, and easy to use just by feel. The shutter button I've pointed out above is actually a top button that presses on the real button inside the camera. The part that protrudes above the rest has a tapered threaded hole in it, to which various release cables or timer devices can be screwed in that use a rod to press the button (or lever or whatever) inside the camera.

That button, with that raised part is easy enough to find by feel, but it can be improved even further with a screw-in "soft button", like this one ...

i had a black version screwed into mine, and it allowed for a more sensitive touch when trying to shoot without unduly disturbing the camera, especially at slow shutter speeds.

As you can see from the picture below (of a different camera) ...
It would also make it even easier to locate by feel.

For an air show, I would use the telephoto lens I mentioned above, presetting my exposure by picking an airplane on the ground that showed a good combination of light and shadow, setting the slowest shutter speed I could get away with using that lens (around 1/30th of a second). I did that because a lot of the planes I would be shooting had propellers and really fast shutter speeds would freeze those props.

I preferred color slide film because, with it, "What you shot was what you got."  When shooting an airplane in the sky, you got a lot of very bright sky in the background. With color negative film, automatic processors would interpret that as overexposure, and would "correct" it when doing the prints. The only way around that with negative film and prints would be to pay for custom developing, trying to explain just what you were after (surprisingly difficult; I'll get back to that in a bit).

With that old-fashioned manual antique, I could even take shots while driving. Just preset the exposure and focus and, if something interesting showed up, pick up the camera with one hand, thumb the advance lever and shoot. Piece of cake.

Ok. So much for past history. What do I try to take pictures with today?

At the moment, I have two cameras. An Olympus D-520 ZOOM pocket camera I've used for some blog pictures recently. I've had it for years, but nothing at all instinctive about it. And, a Canon Power Shot SX-10 IS (IS is for Image Stabilization) that I bought around late October of 2009.

I liked it a lot, but in late 2010 I began experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome leaving very little feeling in my finger tips. It was (and still is) like trying to do things with gloves on.

Both of the cameras have very small controls and shutter buttons that are flush with the camera body. I simply cannot operate them by feel alone.

This became glaringly obvious when I took the Canon to an airshow in October of 2010. I vented about it in Airshow, after not being able to get even one decent shot, because I had to keep taking my eye out of the viewfinder to make sure my fingertip was even on the shutter button.

If you want to to try and preset either one, you have to wade through several menus, and your settings only remain while the camera is switched on.

As for quick shooting, you look through the viewfinder, press the button halfway down (really fun when you can hardly even feel it) and wait a second or two while the camera automatically tries to work out exposure and focus, and finally tells you it's happy and you can finish pushing the shutter button.

Such is progress. :(

(And, YES! I'm actually considering going for an old 35mm camera. Scanning the slides (especially if there are a lot of them) can be a nuisance, as is waiting a day or two to even get the slides back. I'll have to find out what services are available -- and affordable.)

The thing I said I'd get back to was about explaining things to people. The most frustrating thing about this is talking to camera salesmen and seeing in their eyes that I might as well be speaking in South Martian -- They haven't a clue as to what I am talking about.  Never, never think that just because they sell the things they actually know something about them. That is an assumption; all too often unwarranted.

What I'd love to find would be a digital version of that old Ricoh Singlex, as manual and mechanical as possible, and of course with controls I can actually feel.

Any ideas?

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