A Difference of Opinion
“It was crap then, and it is crap now”, states an article found elsewhere on the internet. I strongly disagree. I have had only positive, memorable experiences with my Vivitar 250-SL (and similarly made 220-SL). In fact, I often choose to bring along this camera over my Nikorrmat 35 mm SLR cameras…I just love this camera. But as is the case with anything regarding self expression, my opinion is subjective.
Why do I love this camera? Let me explain.
Upon first glance, the Vivitar 250-SL appears quite unremarkable. It is quite unremarkable. In the hand, the camera feels heavy. It is. The camera lacks a pop-up flash. Thank goodness it does (I cannot stand those flashes). The camera is in essence, void of any bells and whistles–unless the battery check button counts. No frills here.
Reliable. Steadfast. Consistent. Nominal. Perfect: just how a well-maintained mid-1970’s all-metal Japanese SLR should perform. Once acclimated to the camera, I found the camera to operate efficiently. Loading the film on the take-up spool is relatively easy (I recommend practicing with an old roll of film before using a new, expensive roll). The shutter release button is solid, allowing a certain amount of hesitation before the shutter trips. The film advance lever is smooth and well placed for the thumb. Switching shutter speeds via the dial is intuitive. I can discern no major difference between the operation of this camera to say a Nikkormat FT-N or FUJICA ST-701.
Best of all though, that shutter release lock! I cannot even begin to fathom why ALL SLR’s did not come with this feature (manufacturing costs?). Given that the cost of film photography is not by any means inexpensive, a shutter release lock is a necessity. In my experience, I waste 2-3 frames a roll with film cameras lacking this lock. The lock becomes invaluable, when constrained to 24-36 exposures per roll of film.
35mm SLR’s are unique in that the quality of the final image is largely influenced by everything else except the camera body itself. Given that the camera is working properly, image quality is left to the choice of film, lens and development/printing/scanning.
However, a camera body can influence the outcome of the final image in regards to clarity (sharpness). A well-balanced, sturdy body will prevent any possibility of camera shake during an exposure. A firm understanding of exposure also aids in image quality (depth-of-field, shutter speed, aperature, ISO/ASA).*
In the Field
The Vivitar 250-SL performs admirably in the field. As a landscape photographer, it is important that a camera can withstand freezing temperatures, scorching sun, high winds (During high winds, the reassuring heft of the camera on a tripod maintains a tack-sharp focus, preventing camera shake, throughout the entirety of the exposure) and even becoming saturated by rain and/or snow. This camera has withstood anything I put it through (including being dropped in sand numerous times).
Many reviewers of this camera note immediately how loud the camera is once the shutter is tripped. This ‘loudness’ is often deemed as a negative quality to have in a camera. I agree and disagree. If one is hoping to use this camera for candid images, I would find a different camera (digital with the sound turned off). But for landscape photography and general everyday use, the ‘loudness’ of the camera is of little consequence. I find the sound of the mirror inside the camera body moving reassuring. It lets me know the exposure was successfully completed.
The following images were captured with Ilford XP-2 Super 400 film and a Tamron 28mm lens. The images were edited to the final product-sepia images- via Microsoft Windows 10 photo editing tools.
I love this camera. It just works. I have no other film SLR that has provided such consistent, reliable results. I knew this camera was special the moment I picked it up. I feel inspired to work at my craft, to continue to grow as a photographer. A camera that makes one happy also captures the most personal, moving images. A camera must connect with the user, such as this one has with me.
As can be seen in the images of the camera above, this camera is by no means in ‘mint’ condition. Aesthetically, the camera is scratched and dented. The viewfinder framing plastic is chipped, and the mirror inside the camera body has specks on it. Despite these flaws, I am always ready to load a roll of film inside, grab my hiking boots and gear, and head out to destinations unknown.
Highly recommended for the avid landscape photographer.
* Image quality is very subjective: myriad other factors are at play. This post seeks to address only a select few. Thoughts expressed in this post are of my experiences alone.
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