This week I picked up two new pieces of gear that I thought would worth mentioning...
The first was an Epson PictureMate Charm photo printer. The Epson PictureMate series produce 4x6 prints using pigmented inks. Which means that the prints come out of the printer dry, waterproof, and smudgeproof. They have an archival life of better than 100 years, and the cost per print is less than 30 cents. Paper can be either glossy or matte. So you're getting everything you get from your local minilab, without having to drive and pick up the prints. I purchased one of the original PictureMates 4 years ago, and it has been wonderful. My only complaint about it has been the print speed, which is approximately 2 minutes per 4x6 print, which is incredibly slow. That means you can only print 30 prints an hour.
The reason this is important is that I occasionally get asked to photograph an event and print out some images right there on the spot. The Picturemate's image quality and the durability of the prints are perfect for something like that, but one print every two minutes is just too slow to meet customer demand. Fortunately, the latest generation of PictureMates has reduced that print time by two-thirds, to less than 40 seconds. That works out to 90 prints per hour.
Besides the Epson unit, I also took a look at the Canon Selphy dye-sublimation prints. Dye-sub prints are a popular choice for photographers who do on-site printing. The Canon unit is inexpensive, and the cost per print is approximately the same as the Picturemate. In the end, I decided to stick with the technology I was familiar with, rather than going to something different.
The other piece of equipment was a used Nikon N90s film camera. Even though I still have my older manual-focus Nikon film cameras (an FM2 and an FE2, both from 1983), I wanted a newer auto-focus film body that would work better with my auto-focus lenses. I previously had a Nikon N70 that I had picked up in 1999, but I had sold it a couple of years ago when it looked like I wasn't going to ever shoot film again.
Of course, it turns out that I may, in fact, have a need to shoot film. One of the things you read online is that film just looks different, especially if you are talking about black and white film. In 2007 I had a model photo session where I shot both auto-focus digital and manual-focus film, and found that switching between the two modes of operation was incredibly difficult. Having an auto-focus film body would make switching back and forth easier, and given the amazing (or is it disgusting?)low prices on used film cameras, it seemed silly not to get one.
The three cameras I looked at were Nikon's N90s, N80, and F100. The F100 was Nikon's last (and best...) semi-pro film camera(where the D300s is now in the digital lineup), and the N80 was the last "enthusiast" film camera (same as the current D90). The N90s was the predecessor to the F100. The N90s is available used for less than $100, as is the N80. The F100 goes for three times that, so that ruled out that one. Between the N80 and the N90s, the N80 had newer features, but the N90s had a faster flash sync speed, and better build quality. So in the end I got the N90s.
This was my first opportunity purchasing used gear from one of the main NYC stores instead of through eBay, and my first time dealing with Adorama. The experience was great. The camera I purchased was rated as an "E" (Excellent)grade, which meant I should expect some signs of wear and use. Mine was literally spotless, with a little bit of wear at the strap attachment lugs. It even came with the box. The only thing that was missing was the original Nikon manual. By the way, I did check with my local camera store before purchasing online, and they wanted 4 times as much (!) for the same camera body.
I was able to find a PDF of the manual online, so I have that downloaded and even loaded on my smartphone. I was a little bummed that Thom Hogan doesn't have one of his e-books for the N90s, although he does have a very good review, which includes tips for using the camera. Ken Rockwell also has a very good review page for the N90s, which includes a "Usage" section with detailed instructions. So I think I'm in good shape at the moment, and don't need to spring for a Magic Lantern guide for the camera. Once I've run some film through the camera, I'll post my thoughts and an evaluation.