In this Samsung Vega 140S review, I check out how useful or otherwise this award-winning and now cheap as chips 35mm film zoom compact is for street photography
Being a child of the ’80s and ’90s in terms of cameras (and still a film shooter) I’m always going to be enthusiastic about equipment from that era. This particular specimen attracted more than one accolade when it was introduced to the compact camera market approximately fifteen years ago, and did so largely because of its quality German glass, albeit sitting on something almost entirely plastic and therefore not really destined for years of hard use. Nonetheless, you can still find many working examples on the used market (see widget below this article showing live eBay listings).
Yes, it’s a zoom lens camera, but so what? It’s widest focal length is 38mm, providing an angle of view not that dissimilar to my usual 40mm Zuiko fixed lens on my Olympus Trip. And it is at the wider focal length I shot for the most part whilst out and about over the past six or eight months. Overall, I’ve had a fun time with it (although with one important caveat, which the more impatient of you may have already spotted upon scrolling down through the pictures below, before coming back up here to read).
Shooting at close range at 38mm with this camera is eazy-peazy-lemon-squeezy. However, the icing on the cake is something called ‘snap’ mode, which I never fully appreciated until I looked it up in the instruction booklet! Essentially, deploy ‘snap’ via a the dual function spot/snap button on the top of the camera before composing and shooting, whereupon the camera will lock the focal length at 38mm and set its auto focus to ensure enough depth of field to cover everything from 1.3m to 6m – no need to worry about half pressing the shutter release to lock focus, as you do in other modes. The camera’s literature explains this mode as something to be used for kids and pets as they are difficult to focus on because they move around so quick. So, an ideal ‘street’ mode really if your subject falls within the above focus range limits. Nice! Do be aware, however, that the camera switches itself off after so many seconds of none-use, and you’ll have to press the spot/snap button again to ensure it’s reset before your next shot, if you need it.
As explained above, this camera is very simple to use for close-range subjects. Additionally, I was quite impressed at the lens performance at shorter focal lengths, where the results gave a noticeably better than usual ‘bite’ in terms of sharpness and contrast compared to other similar cameras I’ve used. Maybe not so appreciable in these down-scaled ‘supermarket’ scans to CD, but I can absolutely attest to the credentials of that Schnapter Krapneck Very O’Plan. Notice that the gentleman’s hand and walking stick were not quite within the camera’s near focus limitation (that stick was almost touching my seated legs), although there’s a degree of motion blur here too. But you can get a good appreciation for the angle of view and general depth of field possible at 38mm on a sunny day with 200 ASA film loaded (in my case Agfa Vista 200 colour negative).
Exposure-wise, the camera’s auto system proved extremely reliable, including in tricky lighting such as the scene above. This is a straight ‘out of camera’ result, with nothing at all by way of post production to correct for brightness and contrast (notwithstanding of course any adjustments applied by ASDA’s machine processing). This frame was taken against the light, yet the camera picked up on the nearer subjects and exposed them admirably. If only my choice of shot and technique had been just as admirable!
Some of you will have at this stage spotted a quite obvious light leak problem affecting the bottom left corners of these pictures, with the frame directly above showing about the worst of it from the roll of film I’ve pulled pictures from to illustrate this review. I’ve studied matters enough to implicate the camera’s film window (and probably compromised light seal underneath) as the culprit. But nothing a cut of black electrical tape can’t fix temporarily (below)!
So, what about the other aspects of the camera in terms of how it fared as a street shooter? Firstly, I must say that it’s small enough for a coat pocket and light enough that you’ll forget it’s there. I like that. Furthermore, I did like the position of the viewfinder over towards the left, leaving your other eye free to see beyond the camera, thus facilitating anticipation of activity you wouldn’t otherwise notice beyond the confines of the optical viewfinder image. The viewfinder itself is the ‘peep-hole’ type (no bright line frame with viewing beyond the frame lines available), yet it’s not too small and in fact bigger and brighter than I expected for a camera like this. It also has a handy dioptre adjustment dial, so you can sharpen up the image according to your eyesight.
And the shutter and motorised film transport sounds are surprisingly quiet for a camera of this type – much more than I would have expected. You can’t hear a thing from the shutter and film advance if you’re in a bustling environment or adjacent to motorised traffic, but even if not, only the whirring of the zoom lens if you use it could risk spoiling an otherwise unobtrusive operation.
I’ve already mentioned the lovely performance of the lens at short focal lengths, but I was also pleasantly surprised at how sharp things could be when you spot something on the street you just HAVE to shoot but aren’t quite close enough to avoid zooming in – like on yellow Ferraris!
Overall, I found this camera to be a very willing and capable tool for street photography or just general snap-shooting outdoors, with the only really annoying aspect (apart from light leaks) being the camera’s auto shut-off feature. I did find that I missed shots I would otherwise have had a chance at had the camera still been on when I put camera to eye! The lens is adequately sharp by most standards; it’s light, quiet and generally unobtrusive to the extent that you can feel you are not poking something unwelcome in someone’s face. Not once in fact did I find that anyone I even attempted to picture as much as looked at me with the slightest concern. That can, for many, prove important in the practice of street photography. I’m just a bit disappointed I didn’t really get anything decent enough in those terms to show here!
Apart from when using the ‘snap’ mode (see above), the auto focus will need to activate and I can say that it’s admirably quick (at least outdoors in good light). When locked onto your subject, confirmation of such can be read by way of a green confirmation light which you can see with camera to eye. Perhaps it’s not the ideal system for street photography, as there will be occasions where you find that it hasn’t been able to fix onto a subject quite quick enough due to the limitations of its ‘active’ system. However, I rarely found myself frustrated in this regard, and I did find that using focus lock via the shutter release was an easy enough task once used to it.
The Samsung Vega 140S (or Evoca 140S if you are in the USA), also has a myriad of other tricks available to it via the various flash options (irrelevant to me personally), and with complements of its extra mode dial on the front. I didn’t really find much use for any of them away from the ‘A’ for auto setting, but if you want to find out all about them, click on the link below to the manual.
You can pick one of these cameras up for pocket money on eBay, with some coming boxed and accompanied by all the original bits and bobs such as case, neck strap and even a remote control if you feel inclined to do strange things with the camera involving a tripod.
Get one at once (along with a roll of film … and a roll of black tape)!