Stopping at the local Salvation Army store whenever I find myself in Kenai has become a regular tradition for me. I go there looking for the underappreciated film cameras of years gone by. Typically, I walk away empty-handed but my track record of finding very useable vintage cameras keeps me coming back. On this particular day though, I left with not one, but two 35mm camera bodies complete with lenses. They were both manual focus bodies but they each represented a different generation of cameras.
The eldest of the two was an Argus/Cosina STL carrying a Cosinon 55mm f1.4 lens, the other a Minolta x-370s with a Minolta 35-70 lens. The total cost for the pair was just under $6. Both of them came home, were inspected for function, and then dutifully placed on the shelf. By all accounts the Minolta seemed nearly as good as new. It powered up and all functions seemed, well, functional. I made a mental note to one day put a roll of film through it.
The Argus/Cosina, on the other hand, had seen better days. At some point in its history it had obviously been dropped; the corner of the body adjacent to the winder was deeply dented, the frame counter winder was broken out, and the counter no longer worked. Adding to this, the lens had its own problem. Thankfully, the focus ring was smooth and the apertures clicked in nicely. Unfortunately though, about a third of the interior of the glass had a very fine spider web of haziness. What would have probably been a fine lens was in less than stellar condition. To the camera’s credit, the shutter still wound and fired with the wonderful sound of an SLR. Winding and firing a mechanical SLR is one of life’s simple joys so it was placed on a shelf within easy reach where it would serve as a sort of “fidget” for me when I was working at my desk and needed a distraction.
The Decision to Shoot
It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt but that ongoing proximity often breeds desirability. Most certainly the latter was true with my proximity to the old Argus. The more I handled it, the more I wanted to shoot it. Honestly, the camera was in quite excellent condition despite the previously mentioned damage. The glass was quite a mess but I wondered if that would just add some “character” to any pictures shot with it. It took a few weeks but finally the decision to shoot a roll through it was made. It was here that Fomapan 400 enters the picture.
My film stock consisted of several rolls of Portra and a roll of FP4, none of which I wanted to potentially waste on an exploratory roll through a camera that had a significant chance of ultimately being defective. I needed something affordable which would be good enough to produce useable pictures with while at the same time not a film I’d really care about if the roll was a bust. I had previously shot with Fomapan 200 and for the price I had been quite impressed with it so I looked into what was in stock at B&H. Ultimately, I decided on their 400 speed “Action” film as I wanted something a bit faster so that I could stop down a bit (I don’t fully trust my manual focusing skills and like some margin) while still maintaining useable shutter speeds and at under $5 a roll how could I go wrong?
Time to Shoot
Shortly after the film arrived, we had our first snow of the season which wasn’t exactly the conditions I was hoping for but as this was Alaska, I knew it was now or wait 5 months for the snow to be gone. Over the course of the next couple of days I trapsed around the area where I live shooting whatever caught my fancy. The new snow had eliminated any plans I had made for the test roll so I decided to just shoot. I completed the roll and sent it off to be processed, not sure with what to expect. A week later, I was notified that my scans had been uploaded, ready for viewing. I opened them to find a very nice surprise. When I did my part, the shots looked good. The pictures were suitably sharp with nice contrast and a tasteful amount of grain. The lens resolved very nicely and if I hadn’t known differently I never would’ve thought it to be less than pristine.
Will I shoot the Argus again? Probably not. It was fun giving it a whirl but it doesn’t measure up to the experience of my “regular” shooters. I will, however, be buying more Fomapan 400. It is an ideal film for testing the random cameras I find at a price point that doesn’t make me wince.