Photo of the Day: Empire State Building and Bird

35mm B&W photo of the Empire State Building peeking over some other buildings in NYC with a silhouetted pigeon flying by in the midground.

Minolta XE-7, Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4, Kodak Tri-X 400, Arista Liquid Premium Film Developer.

This picture just makes me happy. I love the light gleaming on the Empire State and the more subtle light patterns on the building on the bottom right. I love the stark angles of the buildings and the awning in the foreground and the way they seem to guide the pigeon’s trajectory. I love the fact that I nailed the exposure and got the rich black of the awning on the upper left as well as the subtle textures of the cloudy sky.

I took several photos in a row from this general angle as a few pigeons circled in the sky. This was the keeper – the position of the bird made all the angles in the image make sense. I’m constantly dazzled by how much a single bird can improve a photograph in New York City. Thanks, pigeon!

Minolta XE-7 35mm film camera with a Minolta MX Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4 lens.

This was my first time shooting a cheap, used Minolta XE-7 that I picked up recently from an auction site. I never shot Minoltas back in the day — I was an insufferable Canon snob who was very happy with an FTb and New F-1. But since I’ve gotten back into film photography over the last year, I’ve had a ton of fun trying out cheap, used cameras from other manufacturers.

The Minolta XE-7 is a big, solid camera that handles beautifully — the film advance in particular has a lovely, smooth feel. It’s a camera that’s just fun to hold. But it’s as heavy as my Canon New F-1 with a 50mm lens attached — which is a bit too heavy for a casual carry-everywhere-all-the-time camera. And I’m not quite sold on the manual metering system — a needle on the right of the viewfinder points to the recommended shutter speed while windows at the top of the viewfinder show the actual shutter speed and F-stop. So you have to move your eye from the needle to the window at the top to take note of the numbers and adjust the shutter speed. That’s better than cameras like the Canon EF and AE-1 that make you lower the camera from your eye to set the aperture. But it’s more confusing than match needle or LED systems that let you set your exposure quickly while looking at just one part of your viewfinder. The viewfinder is also noticeably darker than many of my other cameras — including the Minolta X-370.

Despite these drawbacks, I had fun with the XE-7 and love the photos I took with it. I’m sure a big part of that has to do with the Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4 lens I was testing. I’d heard great things about this lens and it’s living up to the hype, delivering sharp, punchy images and allowing for focusing as close as 1.5 feet.

I did have a brief issue with the mirror of the XE-7 getting stuck in the up position for a few frames. That may be due to weak batteries — the manual says “If the shutter is released when voltage is too low, no exposure will be made on the film, and the mirror will remain up to prevent viewing.” Or it may be due to old lubricant in the camera getting gummed up. I’ll have to get fresh batteries and see what I see.