cameras

Rediscovering the Canon S90 in 2018

I came of age in the early 2000's when digital cameras were a necessity and not an add on to a smart phone. We all carried around small digital point and shoot cameras that could take some video (badly), had a strong flash and dedicated modes that you selected with dials and buttons. When we all went to smart phones we traded in the convenience of always being able to take a picture with all those photo dedicated buttons and settings small point and shoot cameras had. I enjoy shooting with my iPhone but deep down know that it's always awkward and something I never really love.

Luck has it that I live next to a Goodwill that sells old digital point and shoot cameras for 4-5$. I started to buy a couple and take them home to shoot and was instantly hooked. The cameras served a very clear purpose during the 00's and still serve that purpose today. They were smaller than film cameras, took great images and had all the functionality you could want or need.

If there was one crown jewel of that period it had to be the Canon S90. It had some very simple functions and a really intuitive click wheel that you could use to change your focal length (my fave), ISO or aperture. On top of that it was the first camera at the time to take relatively great photos in low light settings and had a F2.0 aperture throughout the entire focal range.

I've been shooting with it for the past couple of weeks and having a blast. It slips seamlessly into my front pocket and weighs close to nothing. In the hand it feels extremely well made, perfectly proportioned and simple to use. I can fire it up and take a picture in less than three seconds and with the dedicated camera functions and dials doesn't feel like your losing control over your image.

Negatives, the images don't have the greatest dynamic range and low light images leave a lot to be desired but I find myself just shooting a lot more in places I wouldn't be shooting: at work, in the car and going to and from work. The images are fun and simple, and I'm slowly building up the discipline to not just take a quick snap but to really frame my scene.

As much as I love shooting film it can also be a crutch at times to take "special" images due to the added cost of shooting on acetate. With a small digital camera you can experiment a little more and be a little less disciplined with the fear of blowing through frames and dollars. I'm glad I started with film first and learned that discipline, even with digital I shoot largely with no photo review out of habit, but I'm happy to bring back digital into my shooting style to allow me to take more photos.

At the end of the day we have a lot of reasons not to shoot. Cost, portability and image quality are all things we juggle with in our modern photographic landscape. With the very old and still capable Canon S90 I really don't feel like I'm sacrificing anything.

Canon A-1 Review finally...

I hate to admit it but when I was reviewing a majority of the cameras for my Youtube channel I rarely shot with them. Most of the cameras were purchased rather cheaply and didn't work, or had enough issues it wouldn't be fun to shoot with. Now that I'm not in a position to turn out a camera review weekly I can rent cameras and shoot them at my own pace. 

The Canon AE-1 was always a camera I steered people against. It had issues with an electronic shutter and was usually more expensive than the Pentax K1000, which I loved. What if I was wrong? I wanted to shoot with it at least once before I steered more people against the AE-1. When Austin Camera had a copy of the A-1, a slightly upgraded AE-1, in store I jumped at the chance to be able to see how it performs.

The A-1 is feature rich. It can shoot in full auto, exposure priority and shutter priority mode. I never understood why the AE-1 chose shutter priority over aperture but it wasn't an issue here. 

The layout of the camera is extremely clean and intuitive with the program modes being easily accessible and labeled. The exposure compensation on the left side of the camera is easily readable and adjustable as well. In terms of camera design and functionality it was a real joy to use and shoot with. 

Beyond design build quality here is great as well. Where the AE-1 had always felt a bit light and fragile everything with the A-1 is solid and tight. Film advancing, removing lenses, changing shutter speeds and rewinding all felt accurate and smooth. It feels like a camera that was designed to last a long time and many copies have survived due to this great engineering. 

One feature really surprised me, the double exposure lever. When this camera was originally released in 1978 was double exposure so prominent that they needed to add dedicated lever for it? Were photographers clamoring over this and willing to pay for it? Even today I would find it hard to see any manufacturer adding a double exposure button to a digital camera. 

I ended up shooting a few rolls with the double exposure lever. It works like this, you take an image and then activate double exposure lever. When you advance the film advance handle it will now only cock the shutter and not advance the film, allowing you to get a double exposure. While I appreciate the feature, it wasn't always a smooth process and I had few double exposures end up being weird singles because the latch didn't catch. Not a big deal if you're not shooting a lot of double exposures but something to be aware of. 

The images that came back were fine. The Canon FD lens  is one of the most widely produced lenses of all time and performs well here. I did get a higher volume of shots out of focus but that has more to do with me getting used to zone focusing on a SLR and not being familiar with a camera.

Shooting with the A-1 was a fun experience. I can also see why people gravitate toward cameras like the AE-1 and A-1. They allow you to take a step back and just shoot. They are good enough to get out of the way and the controls are straightforward enough to allow you shoot without fussing around too much. When a camera can get out of the way, be reliable and produce results its a great camera and the A-1 falls here too. I'm glad I finally gave it a chance and would be happy to recommend it as well.