So it goes. You push yourself a bit beyond the comfortable, but sometimes it’s a bit too far.
That was the case with my Yashica Electro 35 GS rangefinder, an eBay pickup that I thought would be a fun dip into the camera repair pool. I got it for a great price, not knowing what was wrong with it. But the idea of a fixer-upper appeals to me, after all the work I did repairing and upgrading my Macs and Newtons over the years.
So I bought a Yashica thinking it would be DIY project, like the old days.
None of those resources, however, helped me with the basic problem: fear. Or at least nervousness.
You see, digging into one of these rangefinders feels like taking apart a mechanical watch. These are delicate instruments, with tiny screws and interlocking parts that are engineered within a millimeter of precision.
It’s different that opening up a PowerPC-era Mac and swapping out the RAM. With those, there was plenty of room to work in.
The problems with these older Yashicas, though, are often solved with a soldering gun and precision screwdrivers. The old batteries leak, the wires become corroded, the shutter doesn’t fire. All that information is out there.
Mine? It seemed to be an electrical issue, because the battery check light didn’t come on, even after a fresh battery. There was a bit of leakage from an old expired battery, but nothing too messy. I cleaned the battery compartment, cleaned the contacts, took the bottom plate off to make sure everything looked fine. Nothing.
Then I moved into the top plate, to see what the wiring situation looked like. Sure enough, there were two white wires, one connected to the battery compartment and another from who knows where, hanging loose. To get to the battery wire, I’d have to take a lot of the view finder apart. The other? Who knows.
Eventually, I got to feel like one wrong move and I’ve ruined the darned thing.
So after buying a specialty screwdriver, ordering the custom battery thingy, and taking a look inside, I can reasonably say I have no interest in pursuing this repair further. My comfort level only goes so far.
The good news is that the camera shutter still fires at 1/500, so with a bit of math and some 400 speed film, I can get a good exposure using the Sunny 16 Rule. I loaded a roll of Lomo 400 just for testing, to see what the limits are.
My limits? I think I just found them, thanks to this little Yashica.
After toying around with the mirrorless camera world, I got to appreciate the conveniences – what I call the throw-it-in-the-car effect. Mirrorless cameras like the Fuji X100 are light, small, and not prone to bang into things with a lens sticking out of the front.
Just $300 for a small, portable camera with a prime pancake lens and a Rebel T4i-caliber sensor. Touchscreen controls. Firmware update that speeds up the autofocus.
The only bummer? The white one was discontinued. Otherwise I would’ve (and believe me, I tried) purchased that one in a heartbeat.
As it was, with just the black model, I did think about the purchase for a few days. Did I need this camera? Would I put it to good use? Was the quality enough that I wouldn’t be frustrated with it?
No, yes, and maybe.
After the Canon EOS M arrived, it was pretty fun to unbox it. There’s lots of stuff that Canon packs in that box – and the minority of the material was the actual camera.
The camera itself is a solidly-built little instrument. It feels dense, but not heavy, so that it feels like a good, quality hunk of camera.
The 22mm lens is light and well-built as well, although I’m not a fan of the sound it makes as you screw it into the camera. It feels like it’s rubbing or scratching agains something it shouldn’t be.
The back screen is large and bright enough to be seen in most situations, although with screens of this type, it does get tough to see what you’re shooting in bright sunlight (more on this later).
Canon includes a thin camera strap with little metal hooks that slide into the rivets on the camera – a nice system. Putting the EOS M around my neck helped me appreciate how small and light it is.
Touring around with the Fuji X100, and my Canon T1i, I had weak expectations for the image quality on the EOS M.
Happily, this camera beat those low expectations handily.
Bright scenes, dark scenes, color and contrast – they’re all great, and I was shooting mainly JPGs. I found the image files flexible enough to grab the details I needed in Lightroom.
The 22mm focal length is a bit wider than I like, but it does make the M flexible for most situations: landscapes, architecture, street-type scenes, macro, even portraits. Pairing the EOS M with a quality 35mm or 40mm prime lens would be perfect for the way I shoot.
So the quality of images isn’t where this camera gets annoying. Not at all.
I felt it was a good exercise to get used to the camera, and to learn its ins and outs.
Given that, this thing was perfect as an everyday carry-around camera. I could swing it over my shoulder heading out the door, throw it in the front seat, and carry it with me wherever I went. When I did go out and shoot, it was light and small enough to not get in the way.
The pancake lens simplifies things, too. Just one focal length, with a wide enough aperture to do what I like to do. All I have to think about is taking the lens cap off.
It’s not quite iPhone camera simple, or point-and-shoot simple, but it’s more simple than choosing a lens, lugging the DSLR around, etc. My DSLR is a pro tool that gets me exactly what I see in my head. The EOS M is what I carry around with day to day that’s convenient enough to be useful.
That’s been the breakthrough for me with this camera, and the Fuji X100 before this. The portability, the convenience, and the image quality make these mirrorless cameras the equivalent of the iPad: in between the iPhone’s race car and the Mac’s utility truck lies just the right touch of Good Enough.
And, it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun to carry this thing around and just have it there, being simple, and grabbing nice images.
I’ll say that my number one issue with this camera is the random exposures it takes because of the touch shutter. In the bottom left of the screen is a Touch Shutter Enable/Disable button – but seemingly at random, it switches modes. It could be because of an accidental touch, but I get enough random exposures from the camera bumping into me that it gets annoying. Quickly.
If I could turn off that entire area of the touchscreen, I would.
Also, the 22mm lens will sometimes search endlessly for focus, especially for macro-type shots. I find that switching the camera off and on again helps, but sometimes it doesn’t and I need to take the lens off the camera.
Finally, the touch-screen buttons seem randomly and frustratingly placed. I have to stop and think about where I need to put my finger to change the white balance, say, whereas with DSLR canons my fingers can go automatically to some dial or button for instant access.
More On the Touchscreen
Yes, the touchscreen is hard to see in bright sunlight (especially if you wear sunglasses). And yes, that touch-to-take-a-phone feature is a downer for me.
Overall, the touchscreen is just a big ball of frustration. Touching to focus, so easy on an iPhone, is cumbersome on this thing. I find the focus point randomly moves around because of accidental touches, and changing settings like aperture and ISO are clunky.
And trying to focus on something below or above you, with the screen barely in view? I agree with others: make it a swivel display and you could solve a few of these problems.
Hitting the “Info” button, I’ve learned, helps to help with some of those accidental touches, since the “buttons” on the screen disappear. And pressing the delete button on the scroll wheel helps place the focus point back at center.
But trying to do all this while holding and the camera and pressing the shutter button – maybe it’s just going to take some getting use to. I find I often take too many accidental exposures fumbling with the settings and getting the camera ready to shoot.
The Canon EOS M was the first step for Canon in the mirrorless world, and with a few needed firmware updates, they’ve made their initial product a decent one – especially at $300.
I can see going fully mirrorless someday, should these cameras become as practical and fast to use as a DSLR (and if they stick around). Until then, these cameras are a lot of fun to use – and I think that counts for a lot, especially for a hobbyist like me.
Adding a nice portrait-length prime lens to the EF-M lineup would be killer, especially fast lenses in the f/2 range like the stock 22mm.
Rumors are that a new EOS M model is headed our way, so we’ll see what Canon does. I’m happy that I pulled the trigger on this first model, no matter what comes.
It’s added a new dimension to my hobby that’s been a lot of fun to explore.
Renting a camera is the perfect way to try before you buy. It’s also the perfect way just to try – and that’s why I rented a Fuji X100 for two weeks. Just to try.
I see other photographers that I admire doing fantastic work with the Fuji system, and speaking its praise as the Next Big Thing. Being a Canon guy, it was tempting to see what all the fuss is about.
I also rented it because I was covering a wedding for two co-workers, and thought it would be fun to take it to their destination ceremony in Petoskey, Mich.
There, it performed very well. I had to make sure to keep it on a setting that worked for whatever situation I was in, but from there I just pointed, framed, and shot.
The things this camera can do with mixed light situations, dynamic lighting, and low light is spectacular. And sharpness? Just perfect.
There were times when I felt lost. That feeling probably comes from knowing my Canons so well. I also like having things like ISO and white balance ready at a button push. Too often, with the X100, I had to dive into the menu system to switch up the settings.
I’ve read that people use the X100 as a slower device. Take your time, adjust your settings, frame your shot, click. So maybe throwing it into a fast-paced wedding situation wasn’t entirely fair.
For those instances where I could take my time, it was perfect. The size, too, made it a handy carry-around camera. It’s a throw-it-in-the-front-seat-of-my-car camera – a walk-around-the-neighborhood camera. And it was light enough to feel like a regular accessory to the day.
The film modes are fun (like the Velvia setting above), but were an extra step in the process. I found taking the RAW files and adjusting them was more my style.
At first, I blanched at the idea of using the Electronic Viewfinder. But the rangefinder-style Optical Viewfinder missed focus points just enough to get pretty annoying, so I switched as time went on fairly easily.
Switching to Macro Mode, however, to get those close shots was not easy. I never quite got the hang of it, and would often forget which mode I was in and shoot in the wrong mode.
The picture files? Glorious to work with. Plenty of flexibility to lift shadows or pull back highlights – again, especially in those mixed lighting situations. Skies, especially, were lovely. For a lot of my shots, using the VSCO Film Fuji profiles worked well.
All in all, using the Fuji X100 really was like shooting with a film camera. The photo files had personality, and flexibility, and were a lot of fun to play around with.
The camera itself was an adjustment. I feel like, with more time, I’d get used to its particular quirks. Maybe not.
But sometimes it was nice to set the setting and not touch them, and just worry about making nice photos.
All of my “Things I Like” photos were taken with a Canon EF 50mm F/1.4 lens, pictured here – except this one, obviously, which was taken with an 85mm.
But the 50mm is my favorite. I, like a lot of beginning photographers, cut my teeth on the 50mm prime lens. Originally, I had the f/1.8 model that served me well for two years. In fact, I took a lot of my favorite photos – hell, maybe a majority of my photos – using that “Nifty Fifty.”
Over the holidays, I found Canon dropping the price on the f/1.4 model by $100 or more. I thought about it, and thought about it, and finally pulled the trigger in January. Canon has been updating – and raising the price on – their other primes, like the 28mm. I figured with the recent 50mm price drop, Canon would refresh it next. So I pulled the trigger and took advantage of the deal.
I use a 50mm f/1.4 almost exclusively at work, with a Canon 7D. It’s my go-to portrait and classroom lens. I love the quality, the color, and the contrast the lens produces. And I’m super glad to have one of my own now.
There are tradeoffs to having a 50mm lens on a cropped-factor camera like my T1i: you need space to work in, and you can’t capture a whole lot in the field of view. But I find it often takes intimate photos that can’t be beat.
The dream is to someday hook it up to a full-frame Canon. Some day.
For now, though, it’s still my go-to and favorite lens.
People that know me know I’m a bit of a shutterbug. Always have been – ever since those cheap-o disposable cameras hit the scene. As bad as those cameras were, they were inexpensive and put a camera in my hands.
They also sparked something. It’s evident in the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the years – mostly hobbyist portraits and travelogue photo diaries. Taking photos has been a way for me to document life. I’m the guy with the camera at social functions and family gatherings and work events. I’ve taken this distinction with pride, and a grain of salt (because mostly people don’t like to have their picture taken, especially if they’re not looking directly at the camera, posing, and smiling).
Over the past few years, as I’ve learned more about photography, and especially since my last trip out West, I’ve wanted more. Or better. I’ve craved the top-notch (but still affordable) tools to take pictures, and develop it into something beyond a casual hobby. I’ve wanted to get beyond the advanced beginners stage and into the realm of know-how and expertise.
That takes time and practice, but even with a great point and shoot I feel like you can only get so far. The drawbacks of consumer cameras, issues like slow shutter speed and poor low-light shooting, provide a brick wall. To climb that, I need to use what the pros use. And learn what the pros know.
And get this: thanks to Canon’s holiday season rebates and discounts, I ended up with $200 off a $210 telephoto zoom lense, a free memory card, and a free UV lense filter. It all came with the Rebel T1i, which was on sale too, and not with the T2i. With all that, I pulled the trigger on the T1i last Wednesday. It was too good of a deal not to.
Over the next month I’ll invest in some sort of fancy camera bag – because man, this stuff is delicate. It’s not like a simple point and shoot that I throw into my jacket pocket on the way out the door. This stuff takes preparation.
Also, a prime lense. Just a simple, affordable version, something to take great potrait-type shots with. The idea of the prime lense excites me because there’s no zoom. If you want a closer shot, you have to move closer. The thinking is it trains you to be a better photographer – to think in terms of composing the shot and developing an eye for a good photo.
There’s a lot to learn. But that’s always the exciting part, right?