photo of olympus OM20 camera, flash, lens and case

Six of my Best Freebie Cameras – Part1: The SLRs – By Rock

This is about six cameras that I now own; great cameras I might add. Why, because they are classics? Are they the best of their class? Great performers? Valuable? To be honest, none of these reasons. It is because they were given to me – they were free!

The best things in life are free, right? I’m sure many followers, contributors and readers of 35mmc can recount stories of being handed over cameras for nothing – “I’ve got an old camera in the cupboard, would you like it?” –  I do like to tell people I’m into old cameras!

The purpose of this post is not a comprehensive review of these marvels but more like a way of offloading some guilt. The kind that comes with having too much gear. I have too many cameras, although I do try and use them all. Being given stuff for free just adds to this burden, so maybe by recounting the stories of their acquisition along with some photos will help me find some peace. I will start with the SLRs here and part 2 will feature three others.

Olympus OM20

First up is the Olympus OM20, the lightweight and small SLR from the early 1980s. This was handed down to me from a deceased relative some time ago now, actually at a period when I had aborted film photography. Along with it’s flashes, filters and lenses it remained in it’s aluminium Helios carry case for at least ten years. I got it out, I think in 2013, to use the Zuiko 50mm lens for reverse lens macro work with my DSLR. Every now and then I run a film through it, but in all honesty it’s not a camera I particularly like to use.

I can see how the whole OM system would have been great for serious amateurs and professionals in the past. Indeed, Maitani Yoshihisa’s designs continue to have a mass fanbase today, and I feel I should like it. But alas, not really for me: I prefer something heavier and robust feeling and very mechanical and goes clang. OM20s have been reviewed many many times, so I’ll just skip to some of my frames with it using the 50mm prime.

close-up photo of black metal chains
Chatham Maritime – the Zuiko 50mm was handy for this close shot of hefty quay chains (Kodak 200)
photograph of oak leaves with countryside background
Ranscombe Farm – sessile oak I think? (Kodak Ultramax 400 expired 6 years)
a photograph of a train whizzing through the countryside
Ranscombe Farm – turned to the right to capture a train whizzing through (I like the composition of lines formed via track, bridge, train, horizon etc)
photograph of beach groynes as sun sets
Leysdown Beach – early evening shot of the groynes and rip wrap wall sea defences (Agfa Vista Plus 200)
photograph of green space plus housing
St Marys Island – the space was re-developed following the closure of the Royal Dockyard and cessation of all Naval activities (Kodak 200)
photograph of trees and railings in a london park
Bloomsbury, London – one of the many squares in Bloomsbury and their ubiquitous London Plain trees (Kodak Ultramax 400)
Olympus OM20 camera
Olympus OM20 – the first of six cameras to be given to me

Minolta Dynax 505si Super

Next up is the Minolta Dynax 505si Super, which is on long term loan so I can’t show you a picture of it. This was an absolute bargain: my father in law brought it back from a boot fair about three years ago for the sum of just £2! It included 28-80 and 70-210 zooms, a camera bag, booklets and some Konica expired film. Yes, £2 the lot.

This is kinda ironic for me. In my youth days as a photographer (late 80s to early 90s), the latest Minoltas were way out of my league, especially price wise. Their SLRs were the kings of auto focus but as I’d never be able to afford one, I never gave them serious consideration. I certainly never thought I’d own one.

As you’ve guessed no doubt, this is an auto focus SLR. It was released in 1998 and is fully featured with multiple program modes, top shutter speed of 1/4000, spot metering and eye start function where the auto focus starts as you put your eye towards the viewfinder. It’s all very good, accurate and easy to use. A very likeable camera that I’ve been lending out to colleagues and not using too much myself. Here is a favourite photo

photo of young child sitting on steps
My granddaughter – the efficient auto focus is ideal for taking pictures of children who tend to move a lot (Fuji c200)

Canon FT QL

The final SLR for this post was recently gifted to me by my wife. It had been her high school camera when she studied art, and then put away. Well, actually it saw more use as a bookend and I can see why. Weighing in at one kilo, the body and combined 50/1.8 is a tad hefty, and even feels heavier than that when first handled. But after a while, it just seems to become lighter in the hand. This camera feels like quality. This camera is the Canon FT QL. This camera is currently my favourite camera!

Canon FT camera
Canon FT QL – now this is a camera I like

Following in the footsteps of the Canon Pellix, the FT is a mid-1960s SLR offering several useful features. I really like the FL mount: align the bayonet and turn the breech lock. Lenses seem to go on very nicely. Equally simple is the film loading – QL stands for ‘quick load’ – as you just line it up, shut the door and let the special hinged system do the rest. There is a handy mirror lock up lever, something often missed out on mechanical SLRs. Exposure is TTL and seems to be spot on (I use a Wein Cell). My favourite part is the standard prime that comes with the camera. The look you get with vintage glass of this era is something that I have missed and one of the reasons why I like film photography. Hopefully you can see this to a degree in some of the photos

photograph of shop front
Rochester High St – this antique store is ideal for highlighting the retro look of the vintage optics, just ignore the modern ebay ad and you have stepped back in time (Ilford HP5 Plus)
carved stone on cathedral
Rochester Cathedral – decent sharpness and okay contrast of this 900 year old detail carved in the Caen stone (Ilford HP5 Plus)
close up of oxeye daisys
Oxeye daisy – also called the dog daisy, moon daisy, horse daisy or moonpenny, it symbolises ‘patience’ (Polaroid HDF 200 expired 12 years, rated at 100)
photograph of poodle puppy
Our puppy – Noodle the Poodle arrived during lockdown, Tamron Adaptall 1 28-80 (AGFA APX 100 expired 7 years, rated at 64, home developed in Bellini FX6a monobath)
photograph underneath a marina jetty
Cuxton Marina – the clay here was once used for brick making in the industrial past (Polaroid HDF 200 expired 12 years, rated at 100)
photograph of head and shoulders of a person wearing sunglasses
Julia – the previous owner of my new Canon FT, now happy to pose in front of it (Ilford HP5 Plus)
photograph of camera among shelf of ornaments
My Canon FT – an excellent SLR as well as book end on a shelf of knickknacks

So there you have part 1 of my camera collecting conscience. I am actively using the Canon, trying different films to see what combination I like with the 1960’s glass. Hope you enjoy the photos and thanks for reading. Look out for part 2 coming soon, with three more freebies featuring medium format.

Cheers, Rock ( )


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7 thoughts on “Six of my Best Freebie Cameras – Part1: The SLRs – By Rock”

  1. Very fun article! I have a few cameras with similar stories of them being passed on to me. They are the cameras that are in the must keep category, meaning that they are not sold to buy other gear. Some come with a sentimental story to it which makes the even more valuable.

  2. Lovely frame for an article, Rock. I found myself the owner of an FTb this year, and I’ve grown to adore it as you have the FT. I love a heavy, well-made camera, and the Canon FT, FTb, and F-1 are all impressive in that regard. You mentioned you use a Wein cell for your FT meter. Do you have to compensate for additional voltage—or a voltage deficit—on the ASA dial, or do the Weins have the proper voltage the meter requires?

    1. Wein Cells have a reputation for not lasting very long and are comparatively expensive compared to say, alkaline or silver button cells. I think I paid about £6 for mine and seems okay nearly 6 months on. It appears stable and consistent, and no adjustment needed to exposure. So I think they are worth it. They are 1.35v which I think is what the obsolete mercury cells were.

      Apparently if I remove the Wein Cell from the camera when not in use and replace it’s sticky tab, it will last even longer. Justin, if you appreciate a heavy SLR, then the Chinon Memotron (especially the first version) is one to consider

      1. Thanks for that info, Rock. I’ve been using a 1.5v battery, a PX625A, but that means I have to rate film -2 stops to get the meter to work properly (so I rate Tri-X I want to rate at 1600 on camera at 400 ASA). It works, but I have some expired film I’d like to play around with that’s decades old, and I don’t think I can rate low enough given that issue. I guess I’ll just meter handheld with my Sekonic for those. I’ve heard there’s an easy fix for those cameras that allows them to accept 1.5v batteries, but I’d never trust myself to do it.

        Thanks for the Chinon Memotron recommendation! That’s a new one to me, but I love what I see. I’ve got a few m42 lenses I’d love to use on a body with a meter, so I’ll be on the lookout. Cheers, Rock!

        1. It can be baffling sometimes. I have a GAF/Chinon 35EE rangefinder camera that is auto exposure only requiring the old mercury batteries. Whatever batteries I have tried thus far, it always seems to underexpose – Wein Cells, alkaline, silver oxide. I tend to take a meter reading off the grass and adjust the ISO until it indicates what I think is a good sunny 16 exposure, making sure I hold down the exposure lock button. Re-compose with lock still on and shoot. All too fiddly. Could just be a crap camera! Gonna try hearing aid batteries next (PR44).

  3. Pingback: Six of my Best Freebie Cameras - Part2: The Others - By Rock - 35mmc

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