Zeiss Ikon Contessa S310 – heavy, metallic and toyish

One of the compact cameras I bought to see how they work and if I like them was a camera that I waited for a few weeks until finding one at a decent price on the german eBay: Zeiss Ikon Contessa S310 (you may find another opinion on this camera from Mike Elek’s page):

Contessa S310 – an aperture priority electronic shutter camera

I like compact cameras that are solidly built to last decades and I was hoping to be able to use this Voigtländer designed Zeiss Ikon camera for casual shooting. From the first moment I took it in my hands, I did not like it: there is something strange about its design and square geometry that just does not feel right.

I had to read the manual to be able to understand why the rewinding arm blocks when adding film. The back is difficult to take off and put on, the little lens’s controls are not very easy on the fingers. The viewfinder is indeed informative about the chosen aperture and very approximate shutter speed that the camera choses. Moreover, the approximate focusing distance is painted with symbols:

Full with information but somewhat “toyish” viewfinder of the S310

As you can see, when I say “approximate” speed, that really is approximate. Unfortunately, on my camera, even if the meter was working, for some unclear reasons, all the pictures of the first roll came out highly underexposed. Maybe the fact that I replaced the original batteries with a CR123a was not on the liking of the camera ?

Focusing is by guessing the distances and using smaller apertures for more depth of field. The S312 version of the same camera has a range finder.

Conclusion (influenced by the faulty camera I own): even if it would work, the ergonomics of this camera are pretty awful. For a compact one, it is pretty heavy. I much prefer the Olympus XA which, as long as it works, really fits much better its use of a compact film camera.

Kind of update: Agfa Selectronic or its rangefinder version Agfa Selectronic S are aperture priority cameras of the same era as the Zeiss Ikon. I grabbed a Selectronic to see how it works. The beast is very sensitive to the kind of batteries one puts inside. It would not work with zinc air replacements, only with LR44 equivalents (in the otherwise too large space provided for mercury 625 batteries). From time to time, the lamp that illuminates during shutter actuation would remain on forever, unless removing the batteries. I could not even test it and must conclude that there is a curse of old german compact cameras. Never had such problems with their old japanese cousins.

Tamron 500 mm f/8 and the magic of mirror lenses


The Tamron 500 mm f/8 Adaptall model 55B is an interesting beast. At 600 g, it is very light and can be used without a tripod at 1/300-1/500s. Being an f/8, one and only aperture, the lens requires high ISO values to be used even on sunny days, which is less of a problem with a current dSLR than once was with film photography. These mirror lenses are not for everyone and everything but are a compact alternative to “normal” long lenses for moon shots or birds and animals. Using it for portraits is hard and not very convenient, despite the close focusing capabilities of the lens (1.7 meters, a record).

What’s nice about the Tamron is that it can be used either on Nikon or Pentax dSLRs bodies with the original Adaptall rings. Additional adapters are required to fit the Adaptall lenses on Canon or Sony dSLRs.


My experience with the lens is shallow. I don’t use a tripod most of the time, and with such focal lenght and aperture it is a must. The out of focus area mirror the central part of the lens to give some pictural effects:


In terms of sharpness, I would most likely use a faster shorter lens for a given subject. In real life use, I remember about a year ago taking pictures of the 14th of July fireworks. First, the overall setting (135mm Tokina f/2.8 lens, at f/4):


The center of the same scene, as seen by the Tamron 500 mm lens (on an APS-C size sensor). Motion blur is obvious even at web site size of the picture:



I have sold this lens for the same price that I bought it. It was an interesting experience well worth the money :-). The mirror had some slight fungi growth but was very easy to clean (the tricky part was to unscrew the ring retaining the front element). The lens built is excellent.

If interested, you can also look at the photozone review.

Custom keyboard layouts on Linux and the jokeft version

I’ve heard abot the Dvorak[wikipedia] keyboard layout a long time ago and even gave it a very short try once. Made to minimize finger movement, it is a complete change from the usual QWERTY arrangement of letters on a typing machine that later became the standard on most computers. Learning to type on a mechanical typing machine was a one week affair for me when I was 20 years old. Continual use of the standard keyboard led to a comfortable 60 words per minutes (wpm) typing on a computer with the QWERTY, and later with the French AZERTY variant.

Recently, I have seen that several variants of Dvorak-like or QWERTY-like keyboard layouts were proposed and did a little modification on my own to see how it works (largely based on information that can be found on the wonderful carpalx website [mkweb.bcgsc.ca]). It’s been a few months that I’m typing on a JOKEFT variation of AZERTY:

Jokeft keyboard layout
Jokeft keyboard layout

So far, it’s been an interesting experience. The error rate increased but muscle stress and fatigue diminished. It is not such a big departure from the normal keyboard layout and I can switch between the two quite easily. If you want to do your own keyboard layout on Linux, the easiest method I found involves the use of XKeyCaps [jwz.org] and xmodmap.

XKeyCaps is not actively developed anymore and gave me a segmentation fault. However, it allows the modification of the keyboard layout with a nice graphical interface. If the program quits, the modifications are still there and you can see what it did with the command:

xmodmap -pke

The output of the command can be  then simplified by deleting the lines that have no changes from the standard layout and saved as a text file, for example:

keycode  24 = q Q q Q Acircumflex Adiaeresis acircumflex Acircumflex
keycode  26 = k K k K Icircumflex Idiaeresis Icircumflex Idiaeresis k K Icircumflex Idiaeresis
keycode  28 = f F f F plusminus ordfeminine plusminus ordfeminine f F plusminus ordfeminine
keycode  32 = j J j J Ucircumflex Udiaeresis Ucircumflex Udiaeresis j J Ucircumflex Udiaeresis
keycode  38 = a A a A acircumflex adiaeresis acircumflex Acircumflex
keycode  41 = t T t T thorn THORN thorn THORN t T thorn THORN
keycode  44 = o O o O ocircumflex odiaeresis ocircumflex odiaeresis o O ocircumflex odiaeresis
keycode  45 = e E e E EuroSign cent EuroSign cent e E EuroSign cent

Every time you want to have your custom layout available, the command xmodmap yourmods.txt will change it temporarily. It goes back to normal on reboot.

EDIT: you can also switch back to a “normal” layout using: setxkbmap -layout fr (replace “fr” with “us” or your keyboard layout variant).

To test yourself and train your fingers a few sites are great: keyHero [keyhero.com] or typeRacer [typeracer.com].

By the way, on Android I’m using MessagEase [exideas.com]- it’s a fantastic keyboard with big keys that allow 20-25 wpm speeds quite easily. Needs a little practice but it is very convenient for one hand or two hands use.

EDIT 2: F to T changes were too annoying for every day use. I’m now using just the changes between o/j k/e and a/q (on my French keyboard) , to have “o”, “e” and “a” on the home row. A little bit of assymetry, because the right hand gets a lot of use this way. Even in this simplified version, moving around in VIM or VI is troublesome (because of the “j”). The solution:

nnoremap e k
nnoremap o j
nnoremap a q
nnoremap k e
nnoremap j o
nnoremap q a

Adding these lines to the .vimrc file helps re-remap the keys to their standard location, only in the “Normal” mode (for full explanations, see the wiki page). I have yet to see if other modifications are needed…