Rolleiflex 3.5F

Rolleiflex 3.5F

It all happened in slow motion. The aged leather strap broke unexpectedly in two places. I watched helplessly as the camera fell from my hip to the concrete. “Oh shit!” I heard myself saying, as it bounced, and then bounced again, stopping finally to rest on its side.
In disbelief, I looked at my once flawless camera resting peacefully on the concrete. Each bounce felt like a punch in the gut! “Will it ever be the same?” I wondered.

Still Life

The fall crushed the side meter housing, and the focusing knob now hesitated about midway going and coming. I carried my poor camera home carefully in my arms as if it were a wounded puppy.

Back home, I searched the internet for a good Rolleiflex repairman and found Harry Fleenor of Oceanside Camera Repair. I sent him my camera for a complete overhaul. Harry told me he didn’t have replacement parts for the camera meter readout so I asked him to remove the meter altogether, sensor and everything. Who needs a meter anyway, right? Well, I suppose I do, since I use a nice little hand-held job called the Gossen Digisix. Eight weeks later he returned it looking brand spanking new. Now, I’m not in the habit of dropping cameras, but if you ever drop your Rolleiflex, send it to Harry. You won’t be disappointed.

WCC Chair

Taking photographs with the Rolleiflex 3.5F is pure pleasure. First, it’s a mechanically precise instrument. The focus is smooth as silk and the film advance feels like creamy butter. I’d say the Rolleiflex 3.5F represents German camera engineering at its finest.
(By comparison, the Yashica Mat 124G, a great camera in its own right, sounds a little tinny, feels a little clunky, and its film advance lever ratchets like the crank on a Jack-in-the-Box.)

Nikon F3T

Nikon F3T

If ever a camera has achieved iconic status it is the Nikon F3T. Coveted by collectors, used heavily by photojournalists in the 1980s and 90s, the Nikon F3T was easily voted “Camera most likely to be working after having been beat to hell.”

Dog Toys

The first thing you’ll notice if you find a nice one for sale is that they’ve managed to hold their value fairly well. In average condition they sell on EBay for around $600. This price has held fairly consistent for the past several years. A mint F3T in its box can easily fetch $1,600.00 or more. What will your digital camera be worth in 25 years?

Elephant Ears

The most impressive feature associated with the F3T is the cool factor. Yes, it’s made with titanium. Yes, it’s virtually indestructible. Yes, it looks like a million bucks slung around your neck. But it’s that “T” that follows the “F3 that really pumps your ego. I mean, who the hell really needs a camera made out of titanium? Yes, it’s lighter than the ordinary (pronounced in the fashion of a sleepy southern belle: orrrdinnnarrry) F3, but unless you’re a finely tuned balance scale, you won’t be able to tell the difference. At least I can’t tell the difference. If you add a lens and the MD4 motor winder then what’s really the difference between 1 brick and 1.1 bricks?


I like my digital cameras for their convenience but digital cameras leave me cold. It’s the difference between drinking tea and enjoying a tea ceremony. The digital camera revitalized the photography market and changed society forever. But didn’t photography do the same thing to the world of art when it was first invented? Yes, but I digress. I enjoy the process continuum employed to coax a fine image from a film negative. I own every Ansel Adams book and have read each several times. I enjoy the feeling of opening the developing tank after the fixer stage, slowly unwinding the film from its reel, and seeing the images scroll past one at a time. I just don’t get that same feeling when I upload a thousand digital pictures to iPhoto. If you feel the same way, please send me an email and I’ll be happy to post your thoughts on this site.

Flower Bed

What I’ve come to believe as a personal philosophy is that film and digital photography will coexist and in fact engage in a symbiotic relationship for many decades to come, if not forever. Here’s why: They each serve unique purposes. For the same reasons the 35mm camera did not kill large format, digital will not kill film. (Well, digital killed Kodachrome, sadly.) The 35mm camera invented by Leica introduced convenience. (Sound familiar?) Yet many photographers, including myself, still reach for their large format cameras simply because the unique images they are capable of producing cannot be reproduced with a fixed-image-plane camera be it film or digital. It’s a matter of aesthetics.


Actually, the most impressive thing about the Nikon F3T is that it will still be around and working 25 years from now. And your digital camera? Where will it be?

American Flag Truck

Toyo 45AII 4 x 5 Field Camera

Toyo 45AII 4 x 5 Field Camera

The Toyo 45AII is a 4 x 5 inch format field camera made by Toyo. It’s a nice, heavy duty, precision engineered camera. The first impression that strikes me when I pick up this camera is how robust it feels.  When folded up it reminds me of a turtle withdrawn into its armored shell.

Dusty Miller

Unfolding the 45AII reveals a finely-crafted instrument capable of a wide range of easily-controlled motion and adjustments. In addition to the usual tilt and swings, it has a rotating back that makes it a breeze to switch between portrait and landscape view.  It supports front rise and fall and the back extends to accommodate long focal length lenses.

Planter In Snow

If you’ve never used a view camera you’re probably wondering what they’re good for. Good question. They’re good for taking photographs that require precise lens positioning to achieve your desired photographic vision. Many of the adjustments offered by the Toyo45AII or similar camera are simply impossible with fixed film plane cameras.

The use of a field camera lends itself to a different mindset from that of a digital SLR. The former requires time and contemplation while the later offers convenience and speed.  I tote my Toyo 45AII around in a backpack along with lenses, filters, focusing cloth, ground glass magnifier, and film holders.  If it has been a while since I last used the camera, I give it a thorough inspection and practice loading and unloading the film holders with a sheet of ruined film before committing to a live run. I also review my system for keeping track of exposed and unexposed film.



Leica O: History In The Palm Of Your Hand

Leica O: History In The Palm Of Your Hand

The Leica O is a modern reissue of Leica’s second prototype camera. It is a precisely machined instrument and you’d expect nothing less from Leica. It’s a nice little hunk of nostalgic metal and optics that take you back to a bygone era.

Frosted Grass

This is absolutely one camera you cannot operate unless you read the user manual. There’s a trick to everything, from loading the film to taking the picture. Setting the shutter speed and aperture should not be attempted by the weak hearted. The forgetful will soon discover all their pictures ruined because they failed to put the stopper in the lens before advancing the film.

Frosted Planters

Fun? This camera dishes it out in barrelfuls. After you’ve flubbed a few pictures, you start to get into the spirit of the instrument and the time and while you’re at it, you realize you can take a beautiful photograph without all the fancy auto focus and whirligigs now so de rigueur.


If you’ve known only the realm of the digital camera, you will be hopelessly lost with this instrument, and more so if you suck at estimating distance. But if you know the relationship between f-stops and shutter speed and you can guesstimate the length of a meter, then you hold in your hands an instrument capable of remarkable imagery. The only thing missing is a suitable subject upon which to focus its lens.

Spiral Tree

Most remarkable of all is the realization that the distant cousin to this camera sparked a photographic revolution. You hold history in the palm of your hand.

Nikon F3HP

Nikon F3HP

Ever faithful, virtually indestructible, I affectionately refer to this camera as “The Tank”. I purchased my first F3HP in the early 1980s and it served as my constant companion during deployments aboard the USS Norfolk (SSN-714), the USS America (CV-66), and the USS LaSalle (AGF-3). Every photograph I made from 1982 through 1994 I did so with a Nikon F3HP.

Fiery Sunset

The Nikon F3, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, seduces your eye and instinctively, as if driven by a primordial force, you want to pick it up and hold it in your hands. The F3, more than any other camera I am personally aware of, is so ergonomically well built it gives one a feeling of pure power.


I never remove the camera from the motor winder. Together they form a synergistic one. If two mechanical components were ever meant to forever bond it is the F3 and the MD-4. Even when I don’t need automated film advance the MD-4 still serves as the camera’s power source. And the added heft aids in camera stabilization as well as fending off an attack.

Still Life

What I like best about the F3HP is its big, bright viewfinder. I like to wear sunglasses when I’m out and about. I can, with the HP viewfinder, see the complete image from nearly an inch away.

Flight Deck

I prefer to use an architectural focusing screen with the F3HP. (Focusing screen E) These have grids and no center prism.

K Street Blur

Voigtlander Bessa L

Voigtlander Bessa L

The Bessa L is an odd fish. It feels cheap and plastic and comes without a view finder. Yet none of these minor issues limit the amount of fun this camera provides. On the plus side it sports a built-in exposure meter, a metal, vertical leaf shutter, and uses Leica-type screw mount lenses. You may wonder, initially, how a camera with no viewfinder can be any fun. I say it’s all in the lens.

Chipotle, Rosslyn, VA

On this Bessa L I use a Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide-Heliar Aspherical lens. One does not need to carefully aim a 15mm lens. Simply point it in the general direction and practically everything within sight is in the lens’s field of view. You can attach a viewfinder to the top of the camera via the flash shoe, but having one there is like having an extra leg. I find it just gets in the way. The case won’t fit unless you remove the viewfinder. I prefer going without.

Fairview Park

To focus, I set the aperture to between f8 and f22 and chose an appropriate shutter speed, depending on the light, estimate the subject’s distance, then back off to the hyper focal distance. At f8, everything from about 5 feet to infinity is in focus. I also tend to use this lens for what it seems best suited for, and that is landscape photography. Closer subjects tend to get rendered with a pleasing distortion inevitable with such a wide lens. Actually, everything gets rendered with a pleasing distortion!

Fairview Park

In spite of the Bessa L’s apparent low quality, it does pack some nice features. The exposure meter is conveniently located on the top of the body so you can see it when taking a picture at waist level. It has a maximum shutter speed of 1/2000th of a second plus a bulb setting for long exposures. Its vertical shutter gives it a 1/125th flash sync speed, and it has a self-timer, which I have yet to use. The hot-shoe is not hot. If you use a flash you must plug it into the sync jack located on the left side of the camera body, just below the film speed dial.