Olympus Trip 35

Earlier model of the Olympus Trip 35 with the chrome shutter button (left) and later model made after June 1978 with the black button (right)

The Olympus Trip 35 was an extremely popular camera. Over 10 million units were sold from 1967 to 1984. It is a fully automatic 35mm camera and simple to use but ingenious design. With the aperture ring set to “A”, the camera operates as a programmed automatic. There are only two shutter speeds, 1/40 and 1/200 of a second. The combination of aperture and shutter speed that the exposure mechanism chooses depends on the amount of light available – 1/40 in low light situations and 1/200 when there is bright light. The camera will refuse to fire if the light is too low even for a 1/40 sec, f2.8 exposure. A red plastic flag will also appear simultaneously in the viewfinder in those situations. Its simplicity made it popular with the masses of people who just wanted to point the camera and shoot without worrying about exposure settings.

The 40mm f/2.8 Zuiko lens that the Trip packs has a reputation for being extremely sharp, even in the corners. Coupled with its small, light weight, inconspicuous design, makes the Olympus Trip 35 an excellent street photography camera.

Over the years, I’ve acquired several Olympus Trips of varying conditions often bundled with other old cameras that I wanted to buy. The chrome version of the Olympus Trip 35 are more readily attainable and can generally be acquired for cheap. The black Olympus Trip 35’s are rarer, making these more desirable among collectors.

A couple of mine had been neglected and suffered from minor corrosion and deterioration. The grey-black plastic covering of the Trip is fairly durable and protects the main body from further damage however suffers from wear as a result. They are also easily removed and replaced. These can then be used as templates for new “skins” for the Olympus Trip. If you are not good with your hands, Aki-Asahi Camera Coverings offer reasonably priced coverings for the Olympus Trip 35 as well as other camera makes. As these already have adhesive backing, you don’t have to mess around with adhesives/glue and can easily just put them on. I replaced mine with Aki-Asahi coverings and they now have a new lease of life!

Red and yellow lizard embossed (cowhide) leatherettes from Aki-Asahi Camera Coverings

Fruitful day at the flea-market

This weekend’s trip to the flea-market netted 4 nice little pieces of photographic equipment.

It was a fairly large flea market located in a multi-level car park. My wife seemed to be finding more things to her liking than I was with used cameras. I was almost resigned to going home without anything, when at the final level of the flea-market at the top of the carpark, someone was selling old photographic prints and mounted photographic slides. Other items strewn around the table included some really junky old cameras from the 70’s and 80’s.

Well, junky to most people but interesting to others. They were a plasticky Russian Zenit 122 SLR with a 58mm f2 lens mounted on it, a Pentax ME super SLR with a SMC Pentax-M 50mm f2 lens on it, a Chinese Seagull 4A-109 TLR and finally a super cheesy plastic Nishika N8000 camera. Lucky for me the other person rummaging through the stuff on the table was not interested in these Russian, Chinese cameras. The only camera there with some quality was the old Pentax ME. The Nishika sounded Japanese but it was made in China and marketed by a company based in Nevada!

Why were these interesting to me?

Let’s start with the Zenit 122. Really not a remarkable camera. Made mostly of brittle plastic, it will break the moment you drop it. Only 6 shutter speeds on the shutter dial: B, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 and, drum roll, a top speed of 1/500. At the bottom the words “Made in USSR” – the USSR was defunct since Dec 1991. However what made me pick this up was the lens. Yes, you guessed right, it was a Zenit Helios-44M-4 58mm f2 lens. This is a later version that was multi-coated (MC). Probably among one of the last to come out of production from the old Soviet Union – its serial number was 90xxxxxx. The first 2 numbers to my understanding denoted the year of manufacture. As noted in my previous blog, the Helios 58mm f2 lenses while not the most advanced of design and manufacture, had a most peculiar quirk that give the photos it took a swirly bokeh under the right conditions.

As for the Pentax ME super, it was to bundle the purchase to get a better price overall. Really didn’t need to have the camera but the price bundled up was too good to let go. Furthermore the camera and the SMC Pentax-M 50mm f2 lens were in good condition.

The Seagull TLR is trashed by many people in various chat groups, mostly comparing it to the Rollei and Yashica TLRs. I doubt a majority of these people have ever used a Seagull TLR. I had a Seagull 4A-103 TLR and it gave me pretty good quality 6×6 slide photos. At f8, it was pretty sharp edge to edge. The 4A-109 is the last 4A TLR model that the Shanghai based Seagull company was to make, as a consequence of declining sales from the digital revolution. Other than its collectible value, I will be sure to give this TLR a test run.

Finally, the Nishika. It is completely made of plastic except for the base. All the features like the pentaprism, powerwind handle, LCD screen and electronic hotshoe contacts are fake! Reminds me of toy cameras from the 80’s and 90’s. It also has a weird lens arrangement or lenses – four of them in fact. For most people this is junk. But for other people, including me, this is a unique quirky camera from the past. It is essentially a point and shoot camera with four plastic 30mm lenses. It has 3 apertures – indoors (f8), cloudy (f11) and sunny (f19). Only one shutter speed of 1/60 sec. No film ISO dial – you are advised to use ISO 100 or 200 film. But ISO 400 film could be used too, unofficially. The only control you have are the 3 apertures and a non-TTL flash can be attached for very low light shooting. The hotshoe is a hotshoe and nothing else. It doesn’t communicate with the camera. If the light is too low, the camera projects a big red dot in the viewfinder to tell you. But you can still take a photo despite this.

What the four lenses of the Nishika N8000 does is it takes 4 photos of the same scene at the same time from slightly different horizontal angles. It does this on 2 frames of 35mm film. So if you put in a 24 exposure roll of film, the Nishika will give you 12 “3-D” photos. When the company was still in existence, you could send your exposed roll of film to them and the company will produce lenticular 3-D image cards where you could view the “3-D” image as you tilt the card horizontally from side-to-side. Unfortunately the company went bankrupt and was investigated by US federal authorities for illegal marketing practices.

These days the Nishika still has a use for film enthusiasts. Taking the four images produced, one could superimpose them into 1 gif image and produce quirky moving 3-D images.

As a bonus to this bundled purchase, there was a roll of exposed Lomo-film in the Zenit. I exposed the last few frames of the undeveloped roll to sunlight when I opened the back thinking that the film chamber was empty. I don’t know how long it has been in there. After developing, it turns out these were photos of someone’s visit to the Naksansa temple in South Korea at dawn and early in the far east morning – with weird colors from the old film and me partially opening the back! Enjoy!

Helios-44 58mm f2 Lens

I must admit I love the swirly bokeh of the Helios 58mm f2 lens. It suits portraiture best when the right conditions are met for the bokeh to swirl around the subject.

The right conditions usually mean the right camera to subject distance, in this case from about 2 to 4 metres for the camera to subject distance.

The right background needs to be chosen. The swirling effect of the bokeh seem to come from imperfect formation of light circles from the center of the frame (where they are round) to the edges of the frame (where they are elliptical). So the background should have many points of light. For example, light coming through leaves or light coming from the many buildings in a city background at night or light coming from a lighted Christmas tree. It is a unique imperfection of the Helios lens design. With modern lenses perfectly designed through the aid of computers, you only get perfectly round light bokeh.

Lastly, you need to open up the lens to its largest aperture – f2. The subject matter is best placed in the center of the frame as that is where the lens is sharpest at full aperture. The sharpness falls off steeply toward the edges at this aperture.

The Helios-44 lens comes in many variants and were made by several different former Soviet eastern bloc manufacturers. Camerapedia has a good description of the many variants.

Recently I conducted a quick and dirty comparison of four Helios-44 lenses for their swirly bokeh and center sharpness. They are, in order of manufacture year, the Helios-44-2, Helios-44M, Helios-44M-4 (2 lenses).

These were attached to a Kipon M42-FX BAV-Eyes 0.7X adapter and mounted on a Fuji X-T1 to have full lens coverage with no crop (and hence full extent of the swirly bokeh) on the APS-C sized Fuji sensor. All shot at their widest aperture of f2.

The comparison photos below:-

Helios-44-2 (8 blades, stepless aperture)

Helios-44M (8 blades)

Helios-44M-4 (6 blades)

Helios-44M-4 (6 blades)

The verdict? Seems like all have a similar bokeh effect and more or less the same center sharpness (handheld). Colour is warmer from the Helios-44-2. Perhaps this difference is from the coating of the lens – single coated vs multi-coated lens. I am not the expert here. Perhaps someone could tell me.

The 44-2 and older 44M-4 (SN87405245) do not focus to infinity. Hence the only usable ones to me for photography are the 44M and newer 44M-4 (SN88158346). This was the primary reason I did the test.

These lenses are fun, relatively cheap and have a cult following. In fact so much fun, I am taking one out for a spin in the near future and hopefully post more swirly bokeh photos in this blog.

Thanks for reading!

Why I like lenses from the 70’s and 80’s

Recently I acquired a Nikon SLR with an AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f1.8 G lens attached to it. While I was not planning to get the lens, I thought this was a bonus.

This particular Nikon lens was released in Feb 2009 primarily for Nikon’s DX range of DSLRs (digital SLRs). The lens was primarily targeted as an inexpensive, large aperture option for users of the entry-level (D40 / D40X /D60) series of DSLRs. It is small, light and cheap and had relatively good reviews. It had the silent-wave auto-focusing system, meaning that the autofocus mechanism was in the lens and not the body, theoretically making it faster to autofocus.

When my lens arrived, it looked in good condition. The glass was clear, the focusing ring was smooth. However, when I attached it to the camera, it could not focus fast enough. It kept hunting for focus. I thought it was the camera body, so I changed the body. Same issue. Cleaned the electronic contracts, tried it outdoors in bright light and larger apertures, no difference. The lens still hunted for focus.

Eventually I looked to the internet to see if anyone else had similar problems. There were a couple of posts mentioning focus hunting issues with this model of 35mm lens. One poster, disassembled his lens and cleaned the gears of the silent-wave mechanism. Apparently that got rid of the problem. I decided to do the same.

Starting with the rear of the lens, I unscrewed the 4 small screws securing the mounting ring.

Next 3 screws to come off were the ones holding the black plastic part of the lens mount in place.

Before the metal lens mount ring could be detached, the lens contact points had to be released from the mount. This was held in place by 2 small screws. The lens contact points are connected to the lens CPU by a cable, hence the contact points have to be detached before I could remove the lens mount ring completely.

Care should be taken when removing the lens mount ring from the barrel, as there are several rings of different thickness below the main ring that can fall off if you remove the mount quickly. All these rings are held together by an outer rubber ring which also comes off when the mount is removed. This is the first of many inferior aspects of this G lens construction that I noticed. Nikon lenses of higher quality do not have all these rings and there is no rubber holding rings together. In the higher quality Nikon lenses, the lens mount is one solid block of metal.

Once the lens mount ring and all the other rings are removed, the next step is to unscrew the single screw holding the focus selector switch in place. After this screw is removed, the lens barrel cover can be slowly slid out to reveal the inside of the lens. However, the focus selector is connected by wires to the CPU, hence, the lens barrel needs to be removed slowly leaving the focus selector dangling by the wires still connected to the main barrel.

Once the inside of the lens is revealed, you can see the silent-wave motor and focusing mechanism (top left picture), the contact points for correct autofocusing of the lens (top right picture), cables to the lens CPU (bottom left picture) and the lens CPU (bottom right picture). All these are held together on a plastic barrel frame. There is hardly any metal in the barrel. The use of brittle plastic for the barrel frame is another inferior construction feature to keep the cost of this lens low. Even the lens elements are held in plastic frames.

To access the silent-wave motor next, the focusing ring needs to be removed. In the pictures above, the lens is held by the focusing ring.

Turning the lens around, the first step is to remove the cover ring to expose the screws holding the focusing ring in place. Initially I was confused as to how to remove it as there is only one notch on the cover ring. Usually there are 2 notches directly opposite each other so that you can use lens ring wrenches to unscrew them. For this cheaper construction this cover ring is held by double-sided tape! All I had to do was to slowly pry it off with a small screw-driver.

There are 2 sets of 3 screws that can be seen once the cover ring is removed. Not sure which ones hold the focusing ring in place, I proceeded to unscrew the metallic screws. Wrong ones! Those hold the plastic frame that houses the front lens element. This is a first time I have seen lens elements housed in plastic frames! Another cost cutting construction by Nikon.

Removing the black screws finally released the focusing ring, which has plastic gear teeth that locks into the focusing gear (plastic as well) of the barrel.

With the motor mechanism exposed, I cleaned the motors and gears with 90% alcohol. After which I reassembled the lens mount but not the barrel cover to check if the lens focussing issues were resolved. Unfortunately, the lens performed no better.

Puzzled, I examined the barrel closer with my loupe. Sad to say, I noticed a crack in the plastic gear that moves the brass auto-focusing contacts. In fact the crack was more extensive, extending diagonally from the base of the focusing ring to the base of the lens mount. What!

The crack completely separates the ring that forms the plastic gear for the auto-focusing contacts. This was obviously the problem.

This lens must have suffered a knock previously and while the damage was not obvious externally, it caused a long diagonal crack in the internal all plastic frame of the lens barrel.

This will never happen in a lens constructed in the 70’s or 80’s, which have far superior metal construction. While the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f1.8 G lens looks nice, I wouldn’t recommend it for its cheap all plastic construction. An accidental knock on a wall, or a knock on a lamp post or a drop from the camera bag to a concrete floor will likely render the lens non-functional!

I am sticking to pro-level lenses or old metal lenses even if they don’t have fancy autofocus. The Nikkor of years gone by were quality “glass in metal”!

Nikon D2H Digital SLR

Some months back there was a lot sale of 4 Nikon D2H SLRs on eBay. The seller was a warehouse store based out of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. They were described as former journalism cameras and the batteries were dead. The seller did not know if they worked or not. No battery charger with the lot. One in the lot looked in reasonable condition and all were dusty. The paint on the other three looked like they were used in wartime journalism!

Fearsome foursome!
The Terminator

The Nikon D2H is the fourth out of Nikon’s line of professional digital SLRs, after the D1, D1H, D1X. It was introduced by Nikon in 2003 with an off-the-shelf price of $5,000. Intended for professional use, the D-series are made for heavy duty use and weather resistance. They all have tough magnesium alloy frames and thick rubberized coverings.

The D2H uses Nikon’s own digital sensor with a 4.1-megapixel resolution. This was more resolution than the D1 and D1H but less than the D1X. 4.1-megapixel is low by today’s standards but for an amateur like me, this is more than enough resolution. This lower resolution is optimised at that time for sports and action shooting and is capable of capturing 8 frames per second (fps) for up to 40 frames. The D2X, while identical in appearance to the D2H, had more resolution (12.2-megapixels) and is optimised for more detailed photos.

Nikon F that took a bullet in Vietnam. Probably still took photos looking at where it got hit!

Knowing that these were journalism cameras and they are beat up meant that they have had heavy use over the years. However, I have great faith in Nikon pro-level cameras. They have been used by journalists and professional photographers all over the world, have been abused, dropped into raging rivers, knocked around in weightless space, dropped from heights and they still kept taking photos. They have even saved lives of photo-journalists.

After the cameras’ arrival and charging up the batteries with my own MH-21 battery charger, 3 of the of the D2H’s worked as they should but the fourth was completely dead.

One of the cameras had a sticker with the words “Intelligencer” on it. Curious as to what newspaper this was, I searched the internet for newspapers around Willow Grove. The Intelligencer is a daily newspaper published in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (12 miles from Willow Grove). These D2H’s have had a good working life and I guess the newspaper felt it was time to retire them. Also I guess the photo-journalists now prefer to use today’s newer full-frame D4’s and D5’s.

Digital cameras are like laptops, once a new model comes out with better specs (higher mega-pixel count, larger buffer, faster frame-rate), the price of the older model goes down really quickly. After cleaning and retouching the paint on the working D2H’s, I must say that I am very pleased with my $35 D2H’s!

Nikon D2H with a manual focus Nikkor AI 50mm f1.8 lens (taken by another D2H)
Everything functions as they should!

Yashica MG-1 Rangefinder

Went to the fleamarket for a second weekend in a row. Hot and humid today. It was already near boiling at 9am in the morning. Not much to see today, lots of knick-knacks but not anything interesting for me. There were some cameras but not anything that appealed to me. Mostly compact digitals, some Polaroids from the 80’s and 90’s and also a Yashica FX-3 SLR but the condition was bad. As with all Yashica FX-3’s and later Yashica SLRs, the fake leatherette flaked off with use over time and this one was no different. It had a Yashica 50mm lens attached to it. I was surprised when I picked it up, it was very light and felt plasticky. I was expecting it to be all metal and heavier. The seller wanted $25 for it, so I passed it off.

My black Yashica MG-1
(note that the black version does not have the “atom” logo)

Walking further on I saw another Yashica. This was made earlier than the FX-3 and a rangefinder. Yashica rangefinders are excellent and available for cheap ever since the digital revolution. People were selling them off for AUD$15 to $20 in Australia a decade ago. Prices now have stabilized to around US$25 to $50 nowadays on eBay. This particular rangefinder was the Yashica MG-1 in chrome finish. As I already have an MG-1 (in black finish), I wasn’t planning on acquiring another one. “How much?”, I asked the seller. $5 was the answer. Without much further thought, I took out my wallet and handed her the $5.

Examining it more closely at home, this particular MG-1 is in excellent condition. It looked like it just came out from a camera shop from the 70’s. The chrome body is pristine and mint, the Yashinon 45mm f2.8 lens is super clear.

In the 70’s, the MG-1 operated with a 5.6V mercury battery. These are no longer available. When I pressed lightly on the shutter button, the orange and red exposure indicator lights flashed meaning that there was power supply to the camera. The MG-1 is an aperture-priority camera and the CdS light sensor on the lens barrel needs power to work. Opening the battery chamber, a working new looking Duracell 6V PX32A battery popped out – an extra bonus! Not sure when this battery was put in but apparently Duracell stopped making the PX32 batteries in Jan 2000. No worries, the Yashica Guy sells battery adaptors for the Yashica series of rangefinders.

The camera is missing the lens cap and currently a 57mm diameter Yashica lens cover/cap cost 3 times more than what I paid for the MG-1. So I’ll make do without a cover until such time one comes across for cheap!

Yashica-44LM TLR

Yashica-44LM

Driving out on a Sunday morning to buy some bedding, the Waze navigational app took us to some back roads that my wife and I have never driven through before. Turning round a corner, we spotted a sign that said “Flea Market” pointing toward a field where some sellers have set up their wares on portable tables. We turned in to take a look as I always love bargains on interesting stuff at flea markets.

Keeping a look out for old cameras, I came across a seller who was selling mostly electronic stuff (speakers, amps etc). On one corner of her table was a collection of old cameras – chrome Minolta SRT101 with a non-Rokkor 50mm lens, chrome Pentax K1000 with a non-Takumar 30mm lens, Canon Rebel camera. $25 each. Nothing interesting I thought. Decided to dig through some of the old camera bags. First one I opened had what looked like a TLR (twin-lens reflex) in its brown leather case. It was a Yashica-44LM! There were other accessories in the bag:- 2 boxes of blue flash bulbs, a Honeywell flash where these flash bulbs attached, a mechanical cable release and the 44LM instruction booklet. “How much?”, I asked. The seller replied, “$25”. Sold! No bargaining.

The contents of the camera bag
The 44LM with flash and bulb attached

Not knowing much about Yashica-44’s, I looked it up back home. The Yashica-44, 44A, and 44LM are a series of small twin-lens reflex (TLR) cameras, designed to give 12 exposures of 4×4 cm on 127 rollfilm. (Later I realised I had the Yashica-44A back in Australia instead of the Yashica-Mat that I thought I had – the photo below, taken in 2011, exposed my lapse in memory)

The Yashica-44A (right) next to the Seagull 4A-103 (left).
The Yashica-44A has a film advance knob instead of a lever crank and there are “teeth” extending down from the name plate. This distinguishes it from the Yashica-44.

This 44LM looked like it had been well-cared for or hardly been used. The paint work looked pristine. Both the Yashinon 60mm f3.5 lenses were crystal clear. All shutter speeds and apertures seem to work as they should. The Copal-SV shutter opened and closed smoothly. The only thing is – 127 rollfilm is hard to obtain today.

Luckily with some modifications, the Yashica-44 can take in 35mm film. Possibly a project for the future. In the meantime, enjoy the photos of the Yashica-44LM below.

Doing some research on converting Yashica-44 TLRs to fit 35mm film, I found that the modification involved a simple unscrewing and removal of the top roller in the film chamber. However all these examples were done on the Yashica-44 model and not the 44LM. Comparing the film chamber of the 44LM to pictures of that of the 44, it looked like there were more components in the 44LM film chamber. Furthermore this 44LM I acquired is in almost mint condition with the light meter still working! Plus it seemed that they also have collectible value on eBay, so modifications may not be a good idea.

I ditched the 35mm modification idea but instead sourced for 127 rollfilm. Searching again on the internet, I came across this site: https://filmphotographystore.com . They sell a great variety of photographic film including 127’s! I ordered the ReraPan 400 B&W and ReraChrome 100 Color Reversal film ($13.99 each) made in Japan by Kawauso-Shoten.

My only experience using TLRs is with the Seagull TLR pictured above. That was bought new in Singapore for SGD$120. For a cheap introduction to medium format photography, the Seagull 6×6 TLR was ideal! It surprisingly produced very, very sharp 6×6 photos – likely helped by me using a small aperture but still the photos below bear testament to its sharpness!

MacRitchie Reservoir, Singapore. Jul 2002
Seagull TLR, f8 1-15s, taken on Fuji Velvia50 120 color reversal rollfilm
Clarke Quay, Singapore. Aug 2002
Seagull TLR, f11 20s, taken on Fuji Velvia50 120 color reversal rollfilm

With these pleasant memories from the Seagull, I look forward now to taking the Yashica-44LM TLR for a spin when those films arrive!

The RERA films arrived in the post today!

RERA Chrome 100 (left) & RERA B&W 400 (right)

After some deliberation, decided to load in the Chrome first and head out later in the evening to take some shots!

Nikon EN-4 Battery Lithium-Ion Conversion

I used to have two Nikon D1-series cameras – a Nikon D1 and a D1X. These, along with the D1H, were the first Nikon pro-level digital cameras – essentially Nikon F5 bodies with digital innards. These cameras were powered by the Nikon rechargeable nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) EN-4 battery.

Large and heavy, these batteries were also infamous for not keeping a charge after they have been used for a while. They were a bane for photographers using the D1 series cameras as they had to carry 3 to 4 of these heavy batteries on a photographic outing as these batteries were, on an average, good for about 300 shots each.

That was 20 years ago, the D1 series have long been superseded by newer models of Nikon pro-level digital cameras – D2 series and the latest of the pro-models, the D5. Nikon, cognizant of the shortcomings of the NiMH batteries, replaced the batteries of the new models with more reliable lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries.

I recently bought a 2.7 megapixel Nikon D1H camera on eBay for $50. $50 is a cheap way to shoot with a pro-level Nikon camera, albeit 2.7 megapixels. It came with 2 Nikon EN-4’s and 1 after market EN-4. One of the Nikon EN-4’s was dead – the charger couldn’t revive it anymore. I had seen another seller on eBay offering a Nikon D1X with a Li-Ion converted EN-4 battery. First time I had seen one of these and it looked like a good way to extend the shooting stamina of the D1H. I decided to play Dr.Frankenstein and revive the dead EN-4 that I had!

Scouring the internet, I came across a few posts describing how these batteries could be converted. The EN-4 could be configured in different ways but fundamentally the NiMH batteries in the plastic EN-4 casing had to be replaced with two 18650 Li-Ion batteries. 18650 batteries are so called because they are 18mm in diameter and 65mm in length. Each are rated at 3.7V with varying capacity (mAh) depending on the manufacturer. The Nikon EN-4’s were rated at 7.2V and 2000mAh. Two 18650 batteries will provide 7.4V which is enough to power the D-series Nikon cameras.

So I set out to buy the 18650 batteries and charger on Amazon. I settled on 4 Samsung 18650 Li-Ion batteries rated at 3.7V and 2500mAh each. While I waited for the items to arrive from Amazon, I started disassembling the EN-4.

Using a Stanley knife, I started scoring along the joint lines of the EN-4 casing on the sides, being careful not to cut myself. After scoring for about 15mins, I could start seeing the blue NiMH batteries inside the casing.

Finally able to open up the casing by cutting across the battery compartment, the NiMH cells were exposed. The NiMH cells (six of them) were stuck firmly to the casing with double sided tape. Needed to remove those slowly.

The six batteries are connected in series. To unravel the battery arrangement, I cut the black wire near where it is soldered to the last cell at the negative end of the series.

The six NiMH cells arranged in a line on their series connections. The cut black wire (on the left) is connected to the negative terminal of the EN-4 battery pack. The other wire is connected to the charging socket of the EN-4 battery pack. I left this alone.

Next I set out to disconnect the piece of metal strip soldered onto the positive end of the cell series. This was corroded (white corrosion) as seen above, rendering the EN-4 battery pack dead. Interestingly, despite this first cell being dead, the remaining five battery cells were each carrying an approximate 1.2V charge.

I slowly scraped off the corrosion and cut away the micro-solders of the metal strip from the cell. This metal strip will serve later as the positive terminal connection of the 18650 Li-Ion cells.

After cleaning up my work space, I am left with 2 halves of the EN-4 battery shell. This will form the “battery holder” for the two 18650 Li-Ion cells.

While waiting for the Samsung 18650 Li-Ion cells and charger to arrive in the post, I decided to disassemble a “dead” Nikon EN-EL4a Li-Ion battery pack that I had. The following day embarked on opening up the EN-EL4a.

Removing the Li-Ion cells from the EN-EL4a casing was much more difficult because of the tight space within this compact battery pack. Lo and behold, there were three 18650 Li-Ion battery cells in a EN-EL4a pack giving it an 11.1V 2500mAh rating, as I suspected (3.7V x 3).

Like the EN-4 battery that I disassembled, one of the three Li-Ion batteries was dead while the other 2 still carried a charge. By this time, the 18650 battery charger had arrived but the Samsung batteries were still a couple of days behind. I charged the 2 that still carried a charge and fully charged they carried about 4V each.

With the 2 Nikon 18650 cells at hand, I started on completing the project.

First I removed the springs and backing from a couple of AA cell holders. These will serve as the connectors for the 18650 cells in the EN-4 casing.

Soldered the previously cut black “negative” terminal wire from the original NiMH cells to an AA spring and its backing (cut to fit in the EN-4 casing). This wire is connected to the circuit board of the EN-4 battery pack which I did not disassemble.

This backing with its spring is then glued to the EN-4 casing forming the negative terminal. The metal strip that was disconnected from the “corroded” positive terminal of the NiMH cell series forms the positive terminal. This metal strip is also connected to the circuit board.

Throughout the project, I kept on the white terminal plastic cover of the EN-4 casing as much as possible to protect the small protrusion at the end of the casing from breaking accidentally. This small protrusion deactivates a switch in the camera battery chamber. If this is broken, the switch is not deactivated and the battery pack will not work.

The Nikon Li-Ion 18650 battery cells are placed in the EN-4 casing to check the position for the connecting board on the other end.

I cut two 16mm diameter wood dowels to form the base support for the cell connecting board. The board is made up of the plastic backing from the 3-cell AA holder with one spring for the negative end connector and an aluminium metal strip constructed from a Diet Coke can to form the positive end connector.


Each dowel has 2 grooves cut into the base to accommodate plastic protrusions on the inside of the casing. The connecting board fits perfectly between the plastic protrusion (to fit the bottom screw of the EN-4 cover plate) and the adjacent plastic divider in the casing.

This cell arrangement provided 7.86V, higher than the NiMH EN-4 rating of 7.2V. However, this apparently is still safe for the camera circuits from my research on the internet.

Before glueing the pieces together, I tested this battery pack in the D1H. Carefully inserting it into the battery chamber of the camera and turning it on, both top plate and back LCDs show their customary readings and the monitor reads as normal. More importantly, the shutter fires! Hooray!

Taking the pack out from the camera, the dowels and backing are then glued into position with super-glue.

The electrical connection on the board is formed by connecting the aluminium strip to the spring. This worked fine before glueing the strip to the board but once I glued the strip, the connection no longer worked. I surmised this was due to super-glue creeping up between the metal strip and the spring by capillary action and forming a thin “insulating” barrier when it hardened. To restore the electrical connection, I later had to solder in a connecting wire. In future, I would use a small round head screw, screwed to the dowel through the board as the positive connector and connect this to the spring by wire. No glue.

Once the components were glued in position and electrical connections restored, the top half of the casing is readied for re-assembly. Because the 18650 Li-Ion cells are slightly wider in diameter than the NiMH cells, the top half of the casing cannot fit back without removing the sides of the top casing to expose the Li-Ion cells. Once this is done to measurement (and covering the dowels for esthetics), the halves are glued together.

The finished product with the Nikon 18650 cells inserted.

The Franken Li-Ion EN-4 next to another dead Nikon NiMH EN-4.

The Franken EN-4 weighs approximately 150 grams compared to the original EN-4’s 250 grams. Approximately 100 grams less.

Li-Ion Franken EN-4

With the new Samsung 18650 cells and a combined total of 5000mAh of capacity – this Li-Ion Franken EN-4 battery pack has more capacity or juice to last longer and take more photos than the original NiMH EN-4.

Overall, a satisfying project to revive an old $50 Nikon pro-level camera.

Nikon FM SLR Family

My first fully mechanical SLR was a chrome Nikon FM2. I was attracted to the FM2 because of its all-mechanical construction and operation. In the late 80’s when I started taking photographs seriously, the rage was newer electronic models including autofocus. Silicon chips, personal computers and LCD readouts were getting popular. The age of the all mechanical cameras like the Pentax Spotmatics, Minolta SRTs, Canon FTbs, and Olympus OM-1s was now over. I had a Yashica FX-103 Program which was a gift from my mother. It was a fully electronic camera with an electronic shutter. It was idiot proof for a novice like me. Just set it in Program or Program-Hi (for “fast” moving subjects) mode, the camera sets the aperture and shutter speed automatically for a “correct” exposure. Soon I learnt that there was more to capturing light than Program or Program-Hi modes. I became fascinated by those mechanical SLRs of years past.

Nikon FM2 sales brochure

I decided to buy a Nikon FM2. After all they were the perfectionist’s Nikon. How could I resist a sales pitch like that? In those days in the 80’s, there was no eBay or even the internet! I scoured the camera shops in Sydney looking for a used FM2. Eventually in March 1989, I saw a chrome one sitting in the window of a shop with a price tag of A$695. I bought it.

Back home, I started tinkering with it. It was light about 540g (without lens). The serial number on the back of the top-plate started with an N (N7634115) making it a Nikon FM2n. Interestingly, the shutter-blades had a honey-comb pattern. I found out decades later that these shutters were made of titanium and because they were thin, the honey-comb pattern was to give the titanium blades a greater degree of rigidity.

Honey-comb titanium shutter blades

These shutters were able to achieve a shutter speed of 1/4000 seconds – very high for the mechanical cameras of the day. Early shutters were made from titanium; however, from 1989, for the FM2n, manufacturing technology had advanced sufficiently to allow for aluminum to be used.

Chrome Nikon FM2

The Nikon FM2 is a delight to take photos with. The viewfinder has red LED lights indicating exposure with +/0/- as you adjusted the aperture and shutter speed. It is very intuitive without you having to take your eyes away from the viewfinder. The mechanical mechanism makes a nice whirling sound especially at low shutter speeds and when using the mechanical self timer. You don’t get this with fully electronic cameras.

Coogee Sunrise, Sydney 1989

In 2002, I bought a black FM2n (serial number N7711819). By that serial number, more than 77,000 production units later, the titanium honey-comb shutter blades had been replaced by aluminium ones without the honey-comb pattern. I sold the chrome FM2n 4 months later.

Later in my photo gear journey, I added the Nikon FM and Nikon FM3A to the Nikon FM family.

Black Nikon FM with a Nikkor AIS 50mm f1.8
Nikon FM3A with a Nikkor AIS 50mm f1.4
The Nikon FM3A on a MD-12 Motordrive

Nikon F3 SLR

The Nikon F3. Step beyond the ordinary.

Inside cover of the Nikon F3 brochure of the 80’s

These words greeted you the moment you turned the cover page of the Nikon F3 advertising brochure of the 80’s. In the background you see a silhouette of a stylish black Nikon camera with the designation F3 and a glimpse of a red line. Almost like a sports car and yes, as everyone in the photo industry knows, it was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, a famous Italian car and industrial designer. Enough to make me drool! I had to get my hands on one.

The Nikon F3 with a AS-4 flash coupler

In 1989, I bit the bullet and got one in the used market for A$799. It is a nice camera to hold and to operate. The moment you hold it, it becomes very evident that this is a quality pro-level camera. The film advance level is silky smooth. Even the shutter firing feels smooth. It had all the features for a pro-user. While it employed an electronic horizontal curtain shutter, there was the ability to fire the shutter mechanically at around 1/60th of a second when the batteries are dead or the camera is turned off. On the other hand, my first camera, the Yashica FX-103 Program, also with an electronic shutter, couldn’t fire if the batteries are dead. This was a difference between the pro-level F3 SLR and the consumer-level FX-103 SLR – the pros couldn’t afford to lose a shot because of dead batteries.

One drawback was the lack of a flash hot-shoe on the F3. To mount a flash, you had to use the dedicated Nikon AS-4 flash coupler mounted over the ISO dial of the camera. This made it cumbersome to access the ISO dial and rewind knob. The flash coupler had to be removed before rewinding the film.

The Nikon F3HP with a Nikkor 50mm f1.4 AI lens

Built for professional photographers, the F3 is modular. The prism housing/viewfinder is easily detached from the body and interchangeable with any of the 5 available: DE-2, DE-3, DA-2, Dw-3, DW-4. The DE-3 is also known as the High-Eyepoint (HP) viewfinder.

Coupled with the Nikon MD-4 motordrive, the camera is capable of a 4 frames per second continuous mode which made it a favourite with sports photographers in the 80’s.

The F3 with the MD-4 Motordrive

In the era of quick digital photography and new digital cameras, the F3 is now more a curiosity for camera collectors or gear acquisition syndrome folks. For a camera that debuted in 1980 with a list price of $1.174.90 (with the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4), in 2019, one can purchase a F3 body for about $150 to $200 on eBay.

Sydney Harbour, Australia 1989 taken with a Nikon F3

Put a roll of film in an F3 and take a walk with it – it is still a tactile pleasure for me to crank the smooth film advance lever and press on the button to release the shutter of the F3. I’ve had great times and pictures with the F3.