One reason why digital camera users may hesitate to make the switch to film--better
quality, proven archival keeping, and lower cost--is that the cameras aren't
complicated enough. For example, my Nikon D70 has around 24 buttons, levers,
knobs, dials, trap doors, and switches, many of them multifunctional, plus an
LCD read-out and a screen on the back. For comparison, my Leica MP has about
a quarter as many, including the shutter release and controls for lens changing
and loading the film. And, of course, no LCD read-out or image viewing screen.
The Varex IIa with meter prism (trap door closed) and Biotar.
If such an excess of simplicity makes you nervous, consider an Exakta Varex
IIa like the one illustrated. The body alone has more than twice as many controls
as the Leica, and while it's not quite in the D70 class, it's still
quite adequately complicated. Suppose, for example, that you have taken a picture
earlier in the day and want to shoot another in poor light. For ease of operation
I'll assume you haven't changed films or film speeds.
Wind the film on (with the left-handed, 270Þ lever). Wind it all the way
in one stroke: trying to push it back before it is fully wound will strip lots
of small and irreplaceable gears. Winding on also winches down the mirror (the
viewfinder blacks out as soon as you take a picture, and stays that way until
you wind on), cocks the shutter, and tensions the shutter regulator for all
speeds down to 1/25 sec.
Winch the lens open (in this case a 58mm f/2 Biotar) with the small lever on
the bottom of the lens. When you shoot, the lens will close to the preset aperture,
but it won't open again.
The bare body with the prism (trap door open) and lens alongside.
The interchangeable focusing
screen is fitted into the bottom of the prism.
Take a reading with the uncoupled meter built into the prism. In low light,
you'll need to pop open the little trap door over the metering cell. You'll
find (let us say) that it is 1/5 sec at f/2.
Set the aperture on the lens, and then set the main shutter-speed dial (to the
left of the prism) to B or T. This is a lift, twist, and drop knob with speeds
of 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250, 1/500, and 1/1000 sec plus B and T. It must only
be rotated one way (anticlockwise).
Now wind the secondary shutter-speed dial (on the right end of the camera) as
far as it will go. Using the black shutter-speed scale, lift-twist-and-drop
the secondary shutter speed to 1/5: the other choices are 1/2 sec, and 1, 2,
4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 full seconds, plus dots for 3 and 5 seconds, plus a red
scale I'll come back to later.
Focus with the surprisingly bright, clear reflex finder. Compose, either with
the reflex finder or the direct optical finder built into the metering prism.
Fire the shutter release (left handed, of course). You'll hear a faint
click as the semiauto diaphragm cuts in; it would be a lot louder if you were
not at full aperture, and you'd see the image darken as the lens stopped
down. With further pressure the shutter fires and the image disappears in the
reflex finder until you wind on again: that's why there's a separate
finder in the prism. OK, it's 50mm not 58mm, but the finder is squinty
enough that the difference won't matter.
Top plate, minus prism. You should be able to see the assorted shutter-speed
scales described in the text; the wind-on/rewind indicator is in
the tiny cutout on the right of the slow speed dial.
Even with all this rigamarole, the Varex IIa offers two advantages--all
right, three, sorry, probably four--over the vast majority of digital cameras.
First, there's quality. Depending on your criteria, and the subject matter,
and the film speed, and the degree of camera shake, a 35mm slide equates to
anything from 10 to 30+ megapixels.
Second, there's price: a camera like this should cost from $200-$500,
depending on where you buy it. Try and buy even an 8-megapixel camera at this
Third, there's longevity. This camera is already the best part of half
a century old, and with a CLA every decade or two it should be good for at least
another half century.
Fourth, though admittedly not as compared with good, modern D-SLRs such as the
D70, there's quicker response time: you get your picture within maybe
60 milliseconds of pressing the shutter release, rather than 1/4-1/3 of a sec
later (250-333 milliseconds--and 100 milliseconds is a long time when it
comes to the decisive moment).