Vintage Matchbox Cars Still Life Camera Shootout

Bob Leggitt | Tuesday, 20 August 2013 |

Three cheaply-purchased cameras, and three separate attempts at a still life image, using both natural light and flash. The cameras I’ve used for this exercise were all bought secondhand, and comprise the following: a Fuji Finepix A350 (£6.99), a Fuji Finepix A500 (£6.99), and a Kodak Z915, puchased in mint condition for £49.99.

And speaking of mint condition, just look at this mini-selection of classic (Lesney) Matchbox cars from the 1970s, with their original boxes. Clockwise from the left there’s a 1972 Maserati Bora in hot pink with a bright green base, a 1973 Mercedes 350 SL in yellow, a 1979 Lincoln Continental in Lipstick red, a 1974 Renault 17 TL in vermillion, a 1979 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow in silver, and a 1979 Chevrolet Corvette in red. The combination of physical preservation and photographic capture can provide a powerful window into the past. Three or four decades ago, toy shop window displays looked very much like this...

Vintage Matchbox Cars Kodak Z915_jpegjuice

Above: Decent Kodak cameras like the Z915 can produce striking results with still lifes due to their super-saturated, if slightly skewed colours. This photo uses only natural light. The daylight is coming in from the left, so the cars are turned to the right. The daylight striking the visible side of the subject directly, helps to saturate the colours. Set to auto white balance, these Kodaks impart a blueish bias which shifts the reds towards pink. If the bias is too heavy, you can manage it by dragging down the blue colour curve in an image editor. Alternatively, you can select a tailored white balance in the camera, to better suit the lighting in the scene.

Vintage Matchbox cars - Fuji A500 flash_jpegjuice

Above: For this version of the shot I used the Fuji Finepix A500, with flash. The flash has evened out the look of the image and worked well in combination with the natural light. This was one of the Fuji cameras to carry a Generation 5 HR Super CCD. Sounds a lot better than it was really, because these chips still interpolated their output, and even with a 5MP output rating you still don’t get much resolution out of them without seeing flaws in the photos.

The colour’s pretty impressive in this shot though. There’s a lot more impact than you’d expect to get from a device which cost £7. The A500 didn't have very good metering, and I ended up taking the exposure compensation setting down to -0.7 in Manual Mode. The macro function isn't as good with this camera as with the other two either. The focus has set itself on the boxes and not on the cars at the front of the scene as I was hoping. I've had to do a bit of artificial sharpening on the red Corvette to avoid it appearing out of focus.

Vintage Matchbox Cars - Fuji A350_jpegjuice

Above: The final variant comes from the Fuji Finepix A350 - again using natural light only. This is the least impactive of the three renditions. It’s got the most natural colour of all, and looks most like the original vision, but sometimes a photo needs a bit of extra spice to really stand out.

The A350 was a real 5.2 megapixel camera, with a standard CCD rather than Super CCD interpolation. I didn't try using the flash on the A350 shot, so I can't compare the result directly with that of the A500. For me, though, the A350 loses out to the Kodak on this particular application.

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