A Few More Rollei Blackbirds

Bruce Robbins on his blog theonlinedarkroom recently raised some interesting ideas about one of my favourite films – Rollei Blackbird. Having been concentrating far too much on digital (especially video) lately it seemed a good excuse to get out the OM2N and shoot off a few rolls. It was pure heaven!

Rollei Blackbird, OM2N

OM2N, Zuiko 85mm F2, closed down to f16 to give a shutter speed of 1/30th, plus some panning.

All shots at 100 ISO (25 ISO is too contrasty for me), developed in ID11 stock (identical to D76) for 10 minutes.

Rollei Blackbird, OM2N

OM2N, Vivitar Series One 70-210mm F3.5 Series One

Interestingly these two rolls seemed a little less contrasty than normal, and the developer didn’t turn end up with a dark fine sludge after use – in fact it turned yellow. This may be due to old developer (4 months old) or possibly the formulation of the film has been changed. Whether this confirms the speculation on Bruce’s blog that Rollei Blackbird is re-branded Rollei Retro 100 is open to debate, though it does muddy the water (if not the developer).

Rollei Blackbird, OM2N

OM2N, Vivitar Series One 70-210mm F3.5 Series One

There was a mixture of lenses used here. The Vivitar Series One 70-210 performed wonderfully as it always has, but I’d forgotten how heavy it was. The day became increasingly overcast which made focussing at F2 with the 85mm easier than the 70-210mm at f3.5.

Rollei Blackbird, OM2N

OM2N, Vivitar 70-210mm F3.5 Series One

All of these were taken on one day at a local fair, the vintage cars and carousel horses being the best subjects around.

Rollei Blackbird, OM2N

There’s something very attractive about some of the lines of old cars. New ones seem bland by comparison. 85mm F2.

Thanks for the link Bruce. I’m not sure I’ve answered the Blackbird/Retro question, but to me at least it doesn’t matter. Blackbird is still a favorite (along with Ilford PAN F) which produces results which are difficult to accurately ‘fake’ in digital, making its continued use worthwhile.

A few more examples of Rollei Blackbird shots are here and here.

Hope you like these – thanks for looking.

 

How to Improve an Olympus OM1N – an OM2N?

Well, it’s just possible to improve an OM1N – Yoshihisa Maitani put an auto exposure mode in a body of the same size and weight but kept to the same design ethos. Olympus didn’t just put a simple ‘aperture priority’ mode in the OM2N, they put the most advanced exposure control system for its time in place – more sophisticated than most even today.

_MG_8269s

Basically the same as an OM1N from the front – the film rewind release to the left along with the self timer ratchet.

Flick the top plate switch to ‘manual’ and the OM2N is essentially the same as an OM1N. Push it into ‘Auto’ mode and the  OM2N’s ‘Off the film’ (‘OTF’) exposure control takes over. The exposure indicated in the viewfinder is an approximation – the final exposure is determined in ‘real time’ by the OTF exposure system. Variations in light during exposure, from natural or from multiple flash systems is all taken care of. Exposures of from 1/1000th of a second to 120 seconds will be used – however film reciprocity failure is not catered for (how could it be?) so beware. Pretty amazing nevertheless.

_MG_8266s

Standard OLY 35mm controls – from top to bottom – aperture, focus and shutter speed. The blue shutter speeds indicate the risk of camera shake which is a bit superfluous but looks pretty. Exposure compensation/film speed dial and film winder on the left of the pentaprism, main mode switch to the right.

So what changes were made? The basic controls stay the same. The film speed dial is incorporated into a dual ISO/exposure compensation dial on the top plate – in ‘auto mode’ you might need dial in exposure compensation. The only unfortunate omission is the lack of a mirror lock up – something which is useful on the OM1N but wasn’t possible with the dual metering system.

OM2 Metering Display

The 3 metering mode displays available in different exposure modes. The displays seem to be transparent plastic and slide in and out of view as the mode switch is moved.

One significant feature is that it’s possible to use the camera even when it’s mode switch is in the ‘off’ position. The ‘OTF’ exposure system trips in and sorts it all out , limiting  the shutter speed to shorter than 1/30th of a second as a safety mechanism against battery drain during accidental activation. The ‘B’ mode is only available via a release switch and is the only mechanical shutter speed.

If you plan on using slow film – Adox CMS20 for example – the lowest ISO rating is 12 which is one of the recommended ‘box speeds’.

As the shutter is electronically controlled and is dependent on battery power, there’s a check/reset setting on the main control lever just in case the batteries run out, the shutter is tripped and the mirror locks up.  When the batteries have some charge this setting provides a battery check from an LED on the back plate. As an added extra there’s somewhere to push the card film box top into to remind you what film’s loaded – very sophisticated!

_MG_8267s

Back plate showing – well not much other than wear and tear! The battery check LED is to the left of the viewfinder, and the film reminder thingy in the centre of the back plate. This pic shows the black paint wearing through to the metal body under the film winder – I hadn’t noticed that before…

The OM2N is 100% compatible with the OM1N – the complete range of small and fast OM lenses, motor drives and focus screens etc. It shares the same massive, clear viewfinder, smooth shutter release and lovely handling.

Problems?

None really other than those of an obsolete system. The seals may need replacing which is a cheap and easy job. I’ve got two OM2Ns, and they both just keep going faultlessly – bought not as collectors items but as working cameras ‘earning’ their living.

The batteries are cheap 2xSR44’s silver oxidies – don’t use alkalines as their charge drops slowly over time. If they run out of power the OM2N is dead – unlike the OM1N. Rumours abound that the camera will still fire at 1/60th of a second without power – I’ve tried it and it’s not true on the OM2N but is apparently on the OM2SP (which is where the confusion has arisen). The dependency on batteries isn’t really as much of a problem as I used to think it was – I change them every year and have had no problems.

So all in all a real pleasure of a camera to shoot with. Put it into ‘auto’ mode for average scenes or when you’re feeling a bit lazy. Where the lighting is more tricky switch to manual or stick to ‘auto’ and use the exposure compensation dial.

Cheap, simple and rugged, adding a bit of sophistication to an OM setup – though for some reason I still prefer the OM1N but only by a whisker! For those who dislike ‘pure manual mechanical’ cameras it’s worth a look, and at under £100 for a good working example definitely worth a try.

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful if you’re considering one.