Warning about Vancouver Contractor - Timeless Homefix Solutions Ltd.
Note - I have updated this post, because of a successful legal action we had against Mr. Amisano and Timeless Homefix Solutions. The update is at the bottom of the post.
If you live in Vancouver, read the following before considering hiring a home renovations contractor named Mario Amisano or a company called Timeless Homefix Solutions, Ltd.
Last year, when we bought our condo, we had 40 days possession before we had to move in. We wanted to completely renovate our kitchen, so we hired a contractor, Mario Amisano of Timeless Homefix Solutions Ltd, to do the job after receiving 3 estimates from different companies. It was a horrible experience, one that left us living in a construction zone for most of last summer. Our dog became ill requiring over $500 in vet bills. Both Beata and I suffered through clouds of drywall dust, and did repeated massive cleanings of our furniture and possessions because of unskilled labour and “couldn’t care less” workmanship.
Here’s a precis of the kind of work Timeless Homefix Solutions Ltd. did on our renovation project:
Lied about experience in building Ikea cabinetry, resulted in a) damage to our expensive cabinetry while being built, b) improper assembly and installation of the cabinetry resulting in structural issues, and c) me building approximately 40% of the cabinetry myself, even though we technically “paid” Timeless Homefix Solutions to do this work.
Incorrect installation of kitchen sub-floor. The original installation was so uneven, our range and refrigerator could not be levelled. Torn out, tiles ruined, repaired and replaced, and still uneven.
Incorrect installation of kitchen counter base support. Installed onto a floating floor laminate. Has repeatedly “sunk” since then, resulting in uneven cabinets, uneven countertops. Had repaired twice by outside contractor, still has problems.
Timeless Homefix Solutions Ltd. spent literally over $1000 on cans of ceiling stucco spray to spray ceiling to cover up a botched ceiling repair (a wall was taken down). In the end, Mr. Amisano’s crews had to remove all of that, and ceiling had to be resprayed with a commercial machine. Ceiling still uneven. Tried to charge us not only for the original materials (cans of spray) which were all removed by his team, but also for the repair work to fix his team’s mistakes.
His workers sliced materials right on our laminate floors (then brand new), causing massive cuts in the floor near our doorway. Had to be all pulled and replaced with several newly acquired boxes of the same laminate (which we paid $300 for).
Workers would show up late, or show up for an hour or two then leave. Workers would go for extended lunches and come back drunk.
His workers would operate machinery improperly, ending up blowing drywall dust throughout our condo, outside of the sealed work area. We literally spent over 60 hours cleaning drywall dust from everything, including our clothing books, shelving, beds, desks, photographic equipment, the works.
Workers did unauthorized work, requiring additional repairs to be done by other crews Mr. Amisano brought in.
The project was supposed to take 30-40 days. It ended up being dragged out over 3.5 months. We finally called it quits (even though some repairs we had to do with other companies) and told Mr. Amisano we no longer wanted him or his workers in our home.
I made a mistake by paying Mr. Amisano and Timeless Homefix Solutions Ltd. 90% of the estimate before even half the project was completed. Work went to a crawl after that and the quality of work ground to a very low level.
At the end of the project, Mr. Amisano tried to present us with a final bill. It was for around $3,000. It was full of errors (including a fraudulent request for additional taxes not owed), and didn’t take into account the monies we spent on outside contractors to repair his crews’ work. We presented him a counter bill where we were actually owed some money back. We also had a diary of the project, photographic evidence, and all the bills we paid which we made copies of for him He just walked away from the meeting, not even taking the paperwork. Because the amount we figured he owed us was small (under $500), we just let the project be and chalked it up to a very bad experience. We thought we were done with him, and because of this, I didn’t post much about this experience online, other than a few tweets.
Well, apparently in January of this year, Mr. Amisano filed a small claims suit against us for over $4,000. But we only got it in the mail today. Needless to say we were shocked.
But fortunately, we are quite prepared. I kept a detailed diary and photo journal of the entire project after it started to go sour. We kept all receipts. We have also been in contact with some of the workers Mr. Amisano hired as day labourers to do this project, and found out Mr. Amisano has not paid them, even though he had well over $12,000 of our money (labour only!).
We’ll be filing a counter claim, and this time, asking for damages as well. I’ll keep readers updated.
But in the meantime, if you or anyone you know is doing any kind of reno work in Vancouver, bear this in mind should you come across a company called Timeless Homefix Solutions, or Mario Amisano.
Here’s a flickr gallery showing some of the shoddy workmanship his workers did during our reno.
It took almost a year and some shenanigans on Mr. Amisano’s part to drag out the case (and get our defense / counterclaim information in his hands before he filed his written arguments!) but in the end, as they say, “justice was served”. We went before an adjudicator in the BC Small Claims court system, and presented our case. Mr. Amisano presented his. The Adjudicator agreed with our side and awarded us nearly everything we asked for and counter claimed against Mr. Amisano and Timeless Homefix Solutions.
We never denied owing Mr. Amisano money once we kicked him and his team out of our home. But we felt we were owed money, and more money than we owed him. Since that meeting at the forced end of the renovation project, we’ve incurred additional costs. We had those costs in our counter suit. And with only one or two exceptions, the adjudicator agreed with our side, agreed with our case, agreed with what we felt we owed Mr. Amisano vs what we felt he owed us, and pretty much dismissed Mr. Amisano’s claims.
We are happy with the result, but I will leave this warning and review of Timeless Homefix Solutions online to provide information for people considering hiring of this contractor and their services.
Canadian Photographers will be paying the music industry soon...
How many of you are aware of the Canadian Private Copying Collective (“CPCC”) which is trying to slam a tax/levy onto memory cards sold in Canada, so they can give the money to the music industry.
Well today, I got an email from the CPCC’s representative. I won’t go into details about what he wrote, (basically the CPCC wants the new money grab, and are trying to make it as difficult to oppose as possible) but how he wrote it.
This raises two big concerns. First of course is privacy. I wonder if anyone consented to this kind of public airing of their contact details or their stance on this tax/levy proposal. I certainly didn’t. When I wrote in my formal letter of opposition, I was communicating with the government body that was studying this new tax/levy. I didn’t expect my email address to be abused this way. I am sure there are several folks on that public mailing list who did not want their information shared with others. Apparently the CPCC doesn’t care about privacy.
He sent a public (all email addresses easily viewable) email to everyone who has written into the government to oppose the new tax/levy. I can see the names of every person who opposes this tax/levy, and their email addresses.
Second, and possibly more important - there aren’t that many people on that mailing list for a country of over 30 million people. 37 people in fact.
THIRTY SEVEN people took the time and effort to lodge their formal complaint to the new tax/levy that will affect literally millions of consumers in this country. A levy that will affect hundreds of thousands of photographers who will be forced to pay money to the music industry every time they buy a memory card for their camera.
Un Fucking Believable.
You know, when the news about this cash grab first started spreading in May, I remember many up in arms about this move by the CPCC. They wrote angry comments on Michael Geist’s blog, took to twitter, ranting and raving and frothing at the mouth. For all those who complained - on Geist’s blog, on twitter, on Facebook: I see very few, if any of those same people on this mailing list of people who actually took the time and effort to write in a formal complaint to this cash grab by the music industry.
This makes me pretty angry.
I’ve always felt we are sheep in this country when it comes to excessive government, excessive taxation, excessive government control over our lives. Canadians love to complain about things (you can see it in the 100+ comments on Geist’s blog), but very rarely actually do anything about it. This kind of proves that. I sincerely hope not. I hope that perhaps there’s 10 dozen of these blast emails from the CPCC, each one going to a different group of 30-50 people. But the email list I saw is pretty complete A-Z. It has only 37 people on it. Unbelievable.
I guess we get what we deserve. If Canadians - especially photographers - don’t care enough about the music industry putting a cash levy on the memory cards you buy for your photographic equipment to actually take the time to write your member of parliament (I did); How many wrote into the government guy who is making this decision? I did. Here’s my letter to him.
GILLES MCDOUGALL Secretary General 56 Sparks Street, Suite 800 Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0C9
Mark Prince Mark Prince Photography (address removed)
I am writing to you with my strongest objection to the Private Copying Tariff, 2012-2013 proposed by the Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC) with regards to all media they want to charge a levy on, but especially with regards to the levies proposed on digital memory cards. Specifically:
3(b) 50¢ for each electronic memory card with 1 gigabyte of memory or less, $1.00 for each electronic memory card with more than one gigabyte of memory but less than 8 gigabytes of memory, and $3.00 for each electronic memory card with 8 gigabytes of memory or more.
I am a professional photographer and a consumer of electronic memory cards as part of my business. These memory cards are used in no way, shape or form for the storage or transport of music or commercial video; they are used exclusively for content I create, both in still photography and in video creation.
In a given year, I purchase approximately 15 to 20 memory cards for my equipment. Some are purchased for my clients, some purchased to replace lost or damaged cards, and some purchased because of increased speeds and/or storage.
Under this proposal, and given that the average memory card I do purchase is over 8 gigabytes, I would be paying the lobby for musicians and film makers in this country upwards of $60 per year for something that I vehemently believe they have absolutely no right to.
Memory cards in this day and age are overwhelmingly used in consumer and professional photography and in videography. I can’t think of the last time I even saw a MP3 player someone owned that used a memory card. Compact Flash cards, Secure Digital Cards, and other types of memory cards are used almost exclusively with photographic and video equipment owned by Canadian consumers and professionals. I challenge the lobbyists for the CPCC to show what percentage of these memory cards are used in the copying or reproducing of commercial music or commercial video. My guess is, it’s probably less than 2% of all memory cards sold.
I find this proposed tariff to be unreasonable, unrealistic, and nothing more than a cash grab for an industry that is looked for every possible way to milk Canadian consumers out of more of their hard earned money.
This is my money, and I expect the Copyright Board of Canada to protect my interests as a Canadian citizen and consumer.
I urge you strongly to completely reject this proposed tariff - not only for memory cards, but for all recordable media.
Okay… maybe that should read “the best damned camera bag for me”. But I like flashy titles.
This is a tumblr review of this beast of a camera bag:
The Billingham Hadley Pro Photography Bag
Let me get this right out of the way. This isn’t a cheap bag. In fact, it is one of the more expensive camera bags on the market today (all the Billinghams are). For what this bag costs, you could buy a half dozen LowPro Adventura camera messenger bags and still have money left over for several rolls of film. In Canada, it’s difficult to find this bag under $300. I bought it during a very brief sale at B&H Photo where I got it for $189 USD.
I’d been admiring Billingham bags for nearly a decade. I saw my first one about 10 years ago, and marvelled at the stealthy look of it - I forget the model but it didn’t look like a camera bag at all. Price sticker shock always kept me away. When I saw the Hadley Pro last fall in person, I really, really wanted one, but again, sticker shock plus a growing inventory of camera bags kept me away.
Yeah - a growing inventory of camera bags. I have six different bags of a big enough size to hold more than just a body and lens, and three additional ones for smaller cameras. Nine bags. And I really never liked any of them. My most expensive one was the Kata 3N1-20 sling bag. I bought it because I thought a sling bag with nice side compartments and quick-access would work for my shooting and travelling style. But what they don’t tell you is sling bags work great on 150lb guys; not so much for bigger people. It certainly never worked well for me. I’d get tangled in it. It never felt comfortable. And accessing the side compartments was never easy for me. Plus it looked completely stupid on my frame.
The final straw for me - the one that made me decide to get the Hadley Pro was a few months ago when, using the Kata 3N1-20, I dropped a camera because I got tangled up in the bag. Fortunately, it fell on grass and wasn’t damaged, but I nearly had a heart attack. I decided then and there I would never be frustrated by a camera bag again so I asked my friend with the Hadley Pro if I could borrow it for an afternoon of shooting, just to try it out. He lent it, and it was a complete eye opening experience for me. I couldn’t believe how well the bag worked for me. I’ll get into why later in this review, but that was the straw… I decided to buy one. Fortunately, I hit upon a sale and coupon situation with B&H, and scored the bag at a great price.
The Billingham Hadley Pro
This is pretty much a no-comprise, exquisitely designed, hand made bag from the UK. All the materials are top of the line - metal bits are usually brass. Leather bits are just that - leather. Stitching is almost perfect. And while many Billingham bags are made with a very advanced canvas (with extreme waterproofing), my particular bag is made with another material exclusive to Billingham - its called Fibernyte. If you didn’t know that, you would swear it was natural canvas - it is that realistic. But it is also better than canvas: it is 10% lighter; it is more waterproof than Billingham’s canvas waterproofing system; it holds dye colours better, and it is even more supple and pliant than new canvas (mimicking well worn canvas).
The bag is full of ingenious designs. For instance, the outer top flap is designed to easily fold back and out of the way without much resistance thanks what Billingham calls a “darted flap corner design”. I can’t believe how well it works. If you want this flap out of the way, it gets out of the way and tucked in behind the bag.
Another great design element is the removable insert. The insert is what protects and sorts your camera gear, and unlike most other camera bags that have foam padding built into the walls, with velcro everywhere, the Hadley Pro has a completely self contained insert with minimal velcro usage; once you set up the insert for your style of photography, you’ll probably never hear the tear of velcro, ever again. This insert is also great because by simply removing it, you’ve converted the bag into a full blown messenger bag with a heckuva lot of room inside. It’s not an overnight-travel bag size, but definitely a day tripper size for travel.
Another design trick: the top handle on the Hadley Pro? It looks like it is anchored to the top flap by four brass pins, but in fact it is anchored, invisibly, to a stiff bar underneath the fabric which runs across the top. This pretty much guarantees the handle will never tear off the top flap, even after 30 years of use.
One thing I really like about the Hadley Pro is that it has space behind (or in front) of the removable insert for a slim notebook computer. My Macbook Air fits perfectly with heaps of room to spare, and I barely notice it in there when out and about. It will also fit the 13” MBA in a pinch.
There are many other great features on this bag: here’s some photos to walk you through some of them.
Two layers for sides The Hadley Pro’s insert can be configured for a three pocket setup, but the left and right pocket can also be two layer, thanks to two included flaps that have velcro on one side. Here in this picture, I’ve set up the left side to hold a lens in the bottom, and set up the flap so it is about 2/3 of the way down in the insert. Click the picture to see the larger version on Flickr.
Flap Down With the flap down, I can still fit a flash, a second, larger lens, or any compact camera, including lens. I can easily fit a Leica rangefinder with lens, Hexar RF with lens, or a Fuji X100 into this pocket with the flap down, and a lens below it. Click the picture to see the larger version on Flickr.
These next two pictures show the front pockets. They hold a lot of stuff, and can hold even more if you unsnap the expander fold. The parts are all brass and metal. I typically get a half dozen rolls of film, several filters, a notepad, pens, cleaning cloths, batteries and other accessories in the front pockets.
The pocket flaps are perfectly stitched and feature solid snaps and details.
The side area where the main strap attaches is very solidly connected. That is a big chunk of leather, and it is also designed to work with Billingham Avea accessory outer pockets, which attach completely securely through the leather sides.
Around back is a zippable pocket that, on the Hadley Pro, is big enough to (barely) hold a A4 sized magazine. It can also take a super slim netbook, but I prefer to put my Macbook Air inside the bag, just behind the removable insert.
The Bottomless Bag
When I borrowed my friend’s Billingham Hadley Pro, I couldn’t believe how roomy and spacious the bag was despite it’s seemingly slim profile. I was able to get the monster Canon 5D MkII with a 24-105 lens into the bag with only a bit of a bulge, and still get a 580EX II flash, the Hexar RF with a 50mm lens, and a 28mm f1.8 Canon lens into the bag and it looked… slim. It was amazing.
I have three setups for this bag. First one is “street photographer, day bag” setup. I can get my Macbook Air, a Leica M6 with a 35mm lens, a 50mm Hexanon-M lens, a Nikon FM3a with a 85mm f2 lens, and a Fuji X100 into this bag and still have room for a soft drink can. And to most people, it looks like I have a messenger bag with a few books in it.
Second setup is my travel setup. I get a Canon t2i body, a 28mm f1,8, 50mm f2.5 macro, 100mm f2.8 macro, and the 18-55mm kit lens in the bag. I also fit in one of my rangefinders (now usually the Leica) with a 50mm lens. Or I can ditch one of the lenses for the Canon and put in a 430 EX II flash. I still have room in the pockets for chargers, filters, rolls of film and more.
Third is my assignment setup. I get the Canon 5D MkII with a 35mm f1.4 L lens in the middle. The 24-105 L and a 50mm macro goes on one side, my two flashes (580 EX II and 430 EX II on the other side. Chargers, spare batteries etc up front in the pockets. Casual observers have no clue there’s almost $6,500 worth of pro equipment in this bag.
That there is one of the great things about this bag. It does not look like a camera bag. It looks like an upscale, Yuppie style messenger bag. I feel vulnerable at times, in certain situations, with my other camera bags - not at all with this one.
Here’s two pictures showing the “street photographer” setup - with everything out of the bag, and with everything in.
This next picture shows the side profile of the bag with everything above placed inside the bag. I’ve photographed it with the diminutive Leica IIIf to show you how wide the bag is.
The slim nature of this bag is also one of its bigger perks. It is designed so that most of the weight is inside, closest to your body - the slim profile helps with this. The result is a bag that, even when fully loaded, wants to hug close to your body instead of always tugging outwards and leaning outwards, which happens often with wider (front to back) bags. Even fully loaded, this bag stays in tight next to you.
I have found the perfect camera bag for my styles of shooting, my level of comfort with a bag, and my means of accessing the equipment inside. The Hadley Pro from Billingham is versatile enough to handle different needs for me. It can be my portable office and still carry a few lenses and bodies. I can put my lunch and a water bottle inside, and still fit a rangefinder and an SLR in there. Something very important for me: it has space for my notebook computer. And if I want a day tripper luggage bag, it converts to that use in seconds.
The construction and materials are first rate - seriously, the best I’ve ever seen on a bag, camera bag or luggage. Even with all that, the bag weighs in at 990g with the insert in, and around 750g with the insert out - it is extremely lightweight for all it offers. The slim profile is fantastic, and the expandability of the pockets and options for outrigger pouches make it even more versatile.
Sure, this is an expensive bag. But you know what? I’ve got a closet full of camera bags, with over $400 invested in them over the years. If I had bought a Billingham bag 10 years ago, I would have probably saved over $200 of that money, and had much less frustration with the thing that carries my photography equipment around. Billinghams are built to last for decades, and their guarantee and warranty service completely backs that up - there’s no “end” to their warranty for original owners. Who else offers that kind of warranty? Not Kata. Certainly not LowPro.
The bag looks and works great with a wide range of cameras. But I think it looks best with the Leica.
You know this twitter type: the twitter follower whore? They’re super easy to spot: usually have very similar following / follower numbers and those numbers are oftentimes in the four digits (ie 7,000ish) and sometimes in five digits (like 18,000ish). You read their streams and it is either a giant collection of retweets or entirely one way conversations, linking here, linking there. Many times, you can spot the words “marketing” or acronym “SEO” in their twitter bio.
My most common follower type on twitter after people genuinely interested in coffee, cocktails or photography is the twitter follower whore. Many of them will follow my twitter feed and generally unfollow after 48-72 hours if I don’t reciprocate with a follow back. This happens about 50 times a day on a slow day.
I don’t follow many folks on twitter because I like to read the main page stream unfiltered. I like the dialog aspect of twitter and pretty much every person I do follow engages in two-way conversations (very few exceptions - for instance, I follow @nytimes, and the boys at @StumptownCoffee and @Intelligentsia rarely do two-way dialog).
And though I don’t follow many people, I make it a point to try to engage in a dialog with anyone who @’s me something; if they ask questions (even if it is a question I’ve gotten 50x before), I try to answer. If they make an observation on something online and point me to it, I’ll respond with some thoughts or commentary. So while I barely follow 200 people, I try to engage with many more, via twitter.
This is why I really, really don’t like the twitter follower whores. People who only see one mission with twitter, and that is to get the maximum follower count. They don’t do it through dialog or actually having something interesting to say; they do it through constantly following people and hoping for follow-backs. They’re in the same league, as far as I’m concerned, as spammers.
I usually stay on top of my growing list of twitter followers; believe it or not, I usually read a page of every new followers’ stream - or at least glance at it. And this is how I usually find new people to follow (or add to my Twitter lists). I also have gotten into the habit of immediately blocking twitter follower whores the moment I spot their accounts. In my little brain, it’s my way of thinking I’m helping keeping twitter a bit less noisy. Over the years, I’ve probably blocked around 7,500 or more accounts this way. (and by the way - I almost always block and report spammer twitter accounts).
The cool thing is, I can proudly claim that the vast majority of my nearly 8K followers are genuine folks who like the social aspects of twitter. Many have interests in coffee, photography, cocktails or just the social nature of parts of the Internet. Going through my list of twitter followers shows an abundance of mentions of either coffee or photography (or many times both!) in the bios. Many of those folks are not people I follow back directly, but do have in my Twitter lists, organized somewhat so I can get an unfiltered flow of coffee geeks, or photo geeks, if I just want to cruise a massive tweet stream once in a while.
So what do I wish Twitter had built in? I wish Twitter had better filters and automations on dealing with the two worst things about twitter: spammers and follower-whores. I’d love an automated switch that you could flip on that would automatically block anyone with a set number and ratio of following to followers who follow, then unfollow you within a set time. I’d set mine to >5,000, with 15% follow/following ratio, and a 72 hour time period. Bam - blocked! If twitter had controls like this and spammer controls, can you imagine how “cleaned up” and less noisy Twitter would be in a few months?
Now, I know this is not a big thing to complain about, and there are much worse problems in the world. I wholeheartedly agree. I was just thinking about it today.
(ps - just in case some people might perceive me as a “twitter following whore” (ie someone who likes having a high follower count); if I wasn’t so aggressive in my blocking / reporting etc, I’d probably have around 15-20K followers today! I’m still blown away and surprised that I have almost 8K followers after 3 years).
Was thinking about camera makers today. Specifically Nikon and Canon, with a bit of Fuji tossed in.
See, professionally I am a Canon shooter. I use Canon dSLRs and glass for 95% of the photos I shoot. I also have two Nikon film cameras (F4, FM3a) and am now up to 6 pieces of Nikon optics. I visited a camera store yesterday (Kerrisdale) and it got me thinking once again about how Nikon is vs. how Canon is.
Now, this may seem like a “grass is always greener” kind of post, and perhaps it is; but I did shoot Nikon film for almost a decade before jumping over to Canon in digital, so I have had some experience with Nikon. I’m not just looking over the fence to see what they’re doing.
Nikon Cameras and Lenses
Nikon is 2nd best in optics. Even many die hard Nikonians will grudgingly admit Canon has an edge in glass quality. But that is the only place Nikon falls behind Canon IMO. Here’s the great things about Nikon:
Their ergonomics, esp. on their flagship / high end dSLRs (and SLRs before them) are awesome. A Nikon camera just feels “good” in the hand. Best of all time had to be the F4 - just a perfect “feel” for a camera, and every control was either a switch or button accessible - no menus to dive into.
They hire actual designers to design their flagship products’ looks, contours, fit and finish
Nikon does “pet projects” for their client base, (tho none recently). For example, the Nikon SP and S2 projects of 2005 / 2000 respectively (Nikon spend enormous dollars on building near perfect, fully functional replicas of their 1950s rangefinders and sold them at cost (or below cost, in case of the SP) to Nikonians)
Nikon knows the megapixel race isn’t as important as the noise free desires; at least with their mid- and top-end dSLRs.
F-mount compatibility - to this day, you can still buy factory-new AiS manual focus lenses from Nikon (a few choices); in addition, all their AF-D and AF lenses work with every Nikon SLR made since 1977 and before (G lenses won’t; neither will DX lenses of course). Canon can’t touch that. The remarkable Canon F-1 film SLR, a groundbreaking camera (twice!) is a ghost because no new optics made by Canon for that camera since early 1990s.
Warranties: Nikon’s warranties are at least twice as long as Canon. Sometimes longer. That includes Canon’s legendary L lenses.
Nikon menu system features. Seems to me, with my limited experience with Nikon dSLRs (D90, D300, D700) that Nikon doesn’t hold much back in terms of what they offer in camera. As a Canon user, I was amazed at the additional functionality Nikon offers their users.
I could go on about Nikon… but let’s talk Canon.
Canon dSLRs and Optics
Undeniably the best optics of any big house camera maker. One could argue that Leica’s glass is better (it probably is, by the time you get down to the ‘crons and ‘lux variants). The optics quality is why I stayed with Canon after switching from Nikon film in 2003. (I switched initially because the Digital Rebel’s CMOS captures were 1000% better than Nikon’s D100 at the time). Also a slightly different range in optics compared to Nikon. For instance, Nikon doesn’t even make an equivalent of one of my favourite Canon lenses: the 28mm f1.8. But that’s where the Canon pluses end for me. Here’s a list of my perceived failings of Canon:
Ergonomics not as good, ditto on styling: After shooting Canon dSLRs for nearly 10 years now, I know where most of the controls are when my eye is to the viewfinder, but I’ve never ever gotten as “comfortable” with my Canons like I did with my Nikons. Visually, Canon’s “look” for their SLRs have never appealed to me. Where Nikons of past (and some present) look like works of art, Canons just look like an engineer who doesn’t like hard angles designed them. The prisms especially on high end Canons look downright ugly to me.
Canon is a megapixel whore. Seriously they foresake image quality and noise in the hunt to have a gazillion megapixels. The 5D Mk II’s overall image “quality” is less than the original 5D to my eye once both images are the same size. Reason: noise, esp. chroma noise. I hear the 5D MkIII is going to be 32mpixels. That’s a big mistake.
Canon specifically withholds built-in features to get you to buy higher models, or buy the next generation with minimal updates. Think about the transition from 20D to 30D - essentially the same camera, but built in features “enabled” on the 30D and a larger view screen on back. I could point to other Canons. When camera geeks talk about “incremental upgrades”, they’re frequently talking about Canon.
Canon very begrudgingly releases new features in higher end models: the 5D MkII; Canon was dragged kicking and screaming into releasing a new firmware the added what almost everyone thought was required functionality to the video mode (like manual controlled aperture, ISO, etc). And they took almost a year to do it.
No perks or much respect for the larger pro and advanced amateur market - yes, I know about the Canon Professional Services system; however, until about a year or two ago, it was so locked down, you had to be a Vince Laforet to join. Nikon does its SP and S2 project as a love-project for its fans and users; Canon has no equivalent. Maybe this one is changing with the new CPS terms, but until very recently Canon has disregarded most of its pro-shooters save for the most famous ones (they are very buddy buddy with famous photographers OTOH).
Dodgy L series lens quality - yes. Even though Canon has superior optics over Nikon, believe it or not, Canon’s uber-expensive L series glass is hit and miss - I had to go through THREE copies of the 50mm f1.2 L lens before I found one without backfocus problems. For a $1800 lens, that’s kind of ridiculous. I had the same issue with my 24-105L - my initial one was ratchety in the focus motor (USM is silent, or nearly so), so exchanged for a second one. The new one has severe lens creep problems with the zoom. I live with it.
Massive middle finger to all Canon users in late 1980s with the abandonment of the FD mount moving to the EOS mount. Nikon kept F-mounts, but Canon perhaps saw it as a way to sell millions in new glass.
Really crappy warranty service (at least in Canada); when my 40D went down a few years back, it took over 3 months and handwritten letters from me to Canon Canada’s president, CEO, and Legal Advisor to get some action and get my camera back.
Short warranties… I cannot believe how short or restrictive Canon’s warranties are.
I could go on again. But to summarize: I don’t find Canon dSLRs to be very comfortable to use. I don’t find the cameras particularly intuitive to use (though I’ve trained myself to be better with them, having shot probably 100,000 images with Canons over the years). The optic quality is awesome, but also can be hit and miss. And it seems to me that Nikon has more respect and love for its user base historically than Canon ever has.
And then there was Fuji
Fuji’s a huge player in film obviously and a big player in digital cameras, though not as big as Canon or Nikon; that said, I’ve been told that, in the past, Fuji hasn’t been very receptive to its’ user base requests (and demands) for features and designs on its digi cams. I was told by several long time Fuji users “don’t hold your breath” for any significant changes in the Fujifilm X100’s firmware as an eg.
But Fuji is showing, with the X100 at least, that they are staying connected and responsive to the community growing around this camera. The 1.10 firmware shows something that Canon would almost never do: answering a WIDE RANGE of user complaints with improvements and updates. Canon did one MAJOR change to the 5D Mk II firmware but only after long delays and massive outcry. They still left out functionality they could have easily put in (like different capture sizes for video or additional frame rates).
Fuji is responsive to customer issues, at least with the X100. I like that. So how’s your camera company and their relationship with their community?
You’re looking at what is most likely the last mechanical single lens reflex 35mm manual focus camera that will ever be made. It also happens to be one of the best ones ever made too. It is the Nikon FM3a SLR 35mm film camera, and this is my review.
This camera has an interesting (and a bit sad, timing wise) history. As far as I know, it is the last mechanical SLR ever designed by a “big house” camera company, and it is the only one designed and released in this century: planning started in 1998, preproduction models showed up in 2000, and the camera was released in 2001. It was on the market for barely five years, with Nikon ceasing production in January 2006. This was the last mechanical film camera from Nikon; their current FM10 mechanical SLR is actually designed and made by Cosina under license (and dates back to the early 1990s); the FM10 is a pale shadow of what the FM3a is and was.
The Nikon FM3a owes lineage to three lines at Nikon: their venerable F series lineup (Nikon still makes the F6 film model, an electronic beast of a film camera); the Nikon FE series - the lineup that Nikon used to introduce all their electronic and automation goodies on; and the Nikon FM lineup, which held true to the mechanical, rugged nature of Nikon’s history after the F line became electronic and motorized with the F4.
HYBRID SHUTTER What really makes the FM3a special is not so much its mechanical nature however - this is, as far as I know, the only completely functional hybrid camera with a dual electronic and mechanical shutter control, offering the full range of shutter speeds even when there’s no battery inside the camera. Leica with the M7 can’t do that: their electronic shutter can only shoot at 1/60th or 1/125th a second on no-battery backup mechanics.
The FM3a can shoot even at 1/4000th a second, mechanically, which was the holy grail of film cameras 20 years ago, and many could only achieve it with an electronically controlled shutter. This is especially notable because there’s actually two shutter systems inside the camera and Nikon didn’t even think 1/4000th a second would be possible with this hybrid system. But, they pulled it off: the FM3a can shoot from Bulb through 1/4000th a second in full stops without batteries. When batteries are in the camera and you’re shooting on Aperture Priority mode, you also get that entire range, but stepless, letting you hypothetically shoot at 1/875 a second if the metering requires it.
METERING SYSTEM, INDICATORS & LENSES This camera is indeed very analog. The metering system is centre weighted, but the coolest thing is how it is displayed: via an analog needle that steplessly indicates where the camera thinks proper exposure should be. Compared to Leica’s LED > o < metering display in their recent film variants and there’s no contest - the match needle display in the FM3a is vastly superior.
The camera can read DX indicators on film and automatically set film speed (or you can set manually). All Nikon lenses after 1977 can meter accurately through this camera except for the current electronic aperture G lenses; pre AI lenses can also accurately meter with the stop-down method (and pre-1977 lenses can be modified to work without stopping down). All of these things add up to accurate metering with literally millions of current or vintage lenses. It even features something that may not exist on other mechanical SLRs: a AE lock button on the back of the camera.
Oh, and it is a full TTL camera, for flash. Quite accurate too, for a centre-weighted meter. I can remember thinking how beautifully it would nail the fill flash using a SB28 under really challenging situations. This is a OTF TTL system (Off the Film plane) which helps a lot with the flash accuracy. And there a few additional benefits and perks in flash photography with this camera, which I’ll detail below.
CAMERA BUILD This thing is built like a lean tank and Nikon’s goal was a camera that could see decades of constant use. One of my favourite things about the FM3a is that the top and bottom portions are made out of brass, with thicknesses varying between 0.7mm and 0.2mm. Brass in cameras is as highly desired as it is in espresso machines - and perhaps even more so.
Let me keep “camera build” to a simple example to show you how robust this camera is. When developing it, Nikon wanted to see how real life situations in temperature extremes would be for the camera. So they sent prototypes to Antarctica for four months to let them weather the conditions. They learned things (like how the hybrid shutter needed more bulletproofing), and based the final build on that. This is a 12 month a year, all seasons, all weather camera. It’s not weather sealed like the F4 or the current Nikon pro digitals are, but it can handle extremes quite well.
CAMERA OPERATION This camera truly is a joy to use. It’s lighter than a Leica M6 when comparable lenses are mounted, and much smaller than a Canon 5D or a Nikon D700. I’d go so far as to say it is slightly stealthy, though not as stealthy as the Leicas can be. When the flim advance lever is tight against the shutter area, the camera is effectively shut off and locked down: to start taking photos or even to test the meter, you have to flip the film advance lever out a bit (it has a very positive action when doing this - you’ll know when it is out in firing position). This is great for avoiding battery run down (for the meter) or accidentally tripping the shutter.
The camera has that nearly perfect hand weight you’d expect from a professional travel camera. It’s heavy, but pleasingly so and won’t wear down your neck hanging from a strap all day long. Since you have your choices of lenses, you can go for uber-serious big glass models like Nikon’s older 50mm f1.2 AiS lens, or nice and light, like the lens I enjoy having on the camera: the Nikkor E-series 50mm f1.8 AiS pancake lens. (in my pictures, I either have this lens on the camera, or the amazingly versatile Nikkor 35mm f2 AiS lens, which focuses down to a few inches!)
Film advance is rapid and sure to the touch. There is a bit of resistance in advancing film (more than the Leica M6) but trust me, you want that. The shutter trip is awesome - I like it more than Leica’s shutter button on the M6: the FM3a’s shutter has a great resistance that inspires confidence in metering vs tripping the shutter. Put it this way: I have a soft release on my Leica’s shutter button; I don’t on the FM3a. That’s because the FM3a’s shutter button is perfect.
Changing shutter speeds is via a big chunk of knurled metal that has very positive click stops. It can be used while the camera is up to your eyeball, but it is a fairly stiff-to-turn dial. When you dial it all the way to A (aperture priority auto exposure mode), it is locked in this position, requiring you to press a centre tiny button to turn the dial off and back to manual shutter speeds.
Changing ISO speeds is a bit difficult: you have the lift a thin, knurled ring to actually change ISO. This is a good thing as it prevents accidental ISO changes (which will screw up your exposures), but I wish it was a bit easier.
Being a Aperture priority auto exposure camera, you get nice exposure compensation (part of the ISO dial setup) up and down 2 stops in 1/3 stop increments, and on the back is an AE lock button for dealing with challenging lighting situations.
In front of the camera is a mechanically coupled depth of field preview (works quite nice, and graduated, so you can make guesses at possibly better intermediary f-stops for your aperture), and one of my favourite things on this camera: a very old school, fully mechanical timer for delayed shots (though it can trip the electronic shutter when in AE mode).
Lastly, Nikon designed and implemented a long lost feature (at least in the digital age) into this camera - a very nicely designed multiple exposure lever. It’s built into the film advance lever mounting area and extremely easy to use. This was analog special effects from way back when.
STANDOUT FEATURES I cannot emphasise enough how retro cool-modern this camera’s shutter system is. As far as I know, there is no other hybrid mechanical / electronic shutter system on any other 35mm film camera. This one effortlessly jumps back and forth between mechanical (and quite accurate) shutter tripping in full stops (1/500th, 1/1000th, 1/2000th etc) and stepless electronic shutter control when using the camera’s AE mode. Back in the day, this would have been the ultimate killer feature.
See, back in film days, especially for photojournalists, batteries and the need for them were a bane. Batteries worked different in different climates. Sometimes it’s impossible to find batteries when you most needed them. And when pro-spec cameras like the F4 came out, I can recall photojournalists moaning quite vocally about the monster battery draw that camera needed.
So a hybrid shutter system: one that could work mechanically at all speeds sans batteries, but one that also used little SR button batteries to drive a shutter and meter, would have been the ultra killer app during the hey-day of film photography.
Having 1/4000th a second in a mechanical film camera is a rarity even to this day (the FM10 from Cosina via Nikon tops out at 1/2000th a second, and the Leica M7 tops out at 1/1000th a second). 1/4000th is really important to have for high-key, low depth of field photography options.
Beyond the shutter, this camera has many more killer features. The AE lock button, on a mechanical camera is awesome. The DX reading of film - ditto (given the type of camera it is). Film loading is a simple joy and very easy, even for someone who’s never handled film before. I like the action of the depth of field preview button, and I haven’t even gotten to the fact that everything feels like it is perfectly positioned for eye-to-the-viewfinder shooting.
Speaking of the viewfinder: it has a very old school viewing screen with the split rangefinder design and the hash-circle surrounding the circular range finder. These work in practice just like the rangefinder patches do in rangefinders, but they don’t work the same way physically inside the camera. Whatever, it gets the job done for nailing focus much better than “is it blurry or not”. The view through the viewfinder is exceedingly bright (dSLR users would be shocked at how bright this is) and seeing the analog meter controls on the left, the old school physical view of the Nikon lens’ aperture ring up top, and the indicators for flash and exposure compensation all add to the feel of a mechanical beast you’re holding on to.
For flash photography, this mechanical hybrid beast has it goin’ on, as they say. It reads TTL right off the film plane area, meaning its more accurate. It also is a full TTL centre-weighted system, and that includes “makes sense” perks, like, if you’re running in Auto mode, and have exposure compensation set to -1 or whatever, the flash is compensated for that amount automatically.
Want slow-sync flash? Not a problem, and very “manual” - just use the built in meter, set your shutter speed to get your background light in check (or darker, or lighter or whatever), shoot, and your main subject still gets lit up properly.
And another bonus, killer feature that, as far as I know, is not on any other mechanical (or electronic manual focus) camera: just above the lens release button is a button with a flash symbol on it: press it while shooting and your flash is automatically compensated back 1 stop (-1 EV); this is great for weird lighting situations where you know the camera on auto mode will fire too much flash (how do you know this? Experience). This is some advanced stuff.
WRAP UP Everytime I think about the Nikon FM3a, I get sad, but I’m also glad I own one. I keep thinking about selling it, but everytime I do, I think about what a milestone this camera is, and thoughts of selling it go away. (it also helps that this is considered a collectible now, and fetches premium prices on eBay; so if I sold it, I’d probably want to buy it again down the road, and would probably pay more). I had it in storage for some time, but my recent re-interest in film made me dig it out.
This camera was a remarkable achievement for Nikon. I cannot stress enough how amazing it is that they spent the R&D money to develop the hybrid shutter system at a time during film SLRs’ waning days. Nikon most likely knew that film SLRs were a dying breed but they rolled the dice, spent heaps of dough, and developed this camera. They didn’t chimp one bit on the materials used (all metal, brass top and bottom plates covered with dull chrome, awesome faux-leather coverings). They didn’t chimp on the innards either. They spent many dollars testing and refining this camera. They wanted a worthy lineage successor to the Nikon F and F2: a camera people would still be using 50 years after it was built, because it was built exceptionally well.
When I think about this camera compared to the romantic, historical, flights-of-fancy pock-marked Leicas (M6, MP, M3 etc), this Nikon is built just as tough, but is so much more advanced. Having the split image rangefinder patch in the middle of the viewfinder brings it on par with focusing you get via a rangefinder, but with a better, more versatile meter, a bucketload more functionality in shutter speeds, AE systems and light control, the versatility in lens choices and a build quality on par with a M6, I’d say this camera holds up very well against the favoured Leicas.