Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Brownie Color

I shot the second roll of Konica 160 in my Kodak Brownie Reflex.  This was the first opportunity I have had to shoot color in the little 127 box camera, and I was quite pleased with results obtained from the expired film which seemed a good fit with the camera.  My judgment in this regard may be a bit clouded by sentimentality; the Brownie Reflex was produced in the year of my birth.

The elegant little Brownie Reflex was in production from 1940 to 1941. In 1942 Kodak added a capability to use flash in the succeeding "Synchro" model; that became one of the company's longest lived cameras, being produced in Great Britain until 1960. The camera's compactness was owed to its use of the 4cm-square 127 roll film format. The unique style is attributable in part to the fact that the inventor, Henry O. Drotning, came to Kodak with a background in designing mechanical music toys. Drotning filed his patent for the Brownie Reflex early in 1940, making it one the early roll film designs featuring a large and brilliant reflective viewfinder which would become very prevalent in the post-war years. (The British Ensign Ful-Vue came along slightly earlier in 1939, but the first was probably the Voigtländer Brillant in 1932.)

The non-flash model of the Brownie Reflex is uncommon. I was pleased to find myself on ebay as the only bidder on one, and I got it for just five dollars. The camera's exterior had only small blemishes from use. Inside, however, I discovered that the bakelite film carrier had broken away from the base. Someone, many years previously, had repaired the damage quite carefully with glue and cellophane tape. However, the tape and glue were yellow and brittle, and no longer held the parts together. I cleaned up the break, glued the parts together and added a bead of JB Weld all around the seam. Dismantling the camera was uncomplicated and enabled cleaning of the optics and the simple shutter.

The manual for the Kodak Brownie Reflex is available at the Butkus site.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Derby Color

The Albuquerque sky is a little hazy this week because of a couple fires burning in the north end of the state.  The one burning up near Los Alamos caused us to make a hasty exit from our Jemez Falls campground on Thursday.  The haze makes some nice opportunities to capture saturated color, but getting the exposure just right with the Foth Derby is a little tricky due to the odd progression of f-stops, which goes 3.5, 4.5, 6.3, 9, 12.5, 18.

I've mostly been shooting Portra 160 in the Foth Derby lately, but I was able to try some Konica 160 recently due to the generosity of James Harr who sent me a couple rolls.  The Konica 160 is fine grained like the Portra, but I would not hazard further comparisons given the many variables of shooting old film in an old camera.  In any case, I was pleased with the results.

I am not willing to pay the going price for 127 film these days, so am fortunate to have a bulk roll of Portra 160.  Rolling the film into a strip of backing paper is a bit of a chore, but it does make handling the film and shooting it a lot more convenient than shooting unbacked film which must be loaded in darkness, and which sometimes interferes with focal plane shutter operation in the Foth Derby.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

my new pony

This is the ebay seller's picture which sold me on a new Kodak Pony 828.  On the far right you can see that the little tab on the latch is intact.  He also said everything was working fine on the camera, and even posted some pictures made with it.

I was the only bidder and paid $5 for the camera and another $5 for shipping.  I cleaned the inside of the viewfinder, but nothing else was needed.

The pictures on the first roll of Fuji 400 included our yearly visit to see the Yerba Mansa blooming near the Rio Grande south of the National Hispanic Cultural Center.  The blossoms are especially tall and plentiful this year thanks to the river's high water.  We also found and enjoyed large amounts of mulberries and wolf berries.  The dog had a blast racing through the cottonwood forest.

Monday, June 05, 2017


I made some 127 backing paper using some old Efke as a template.  I rolled up a two-foot strip of Portra 160 in the backing paper and shot it in my Foth Derby.  I was pleased to get 16 perfectly spaced frames.  It is likely I'll do this many more times as I've got enough film left in the bulk roll to make about forty rolls of 127.  The film was free and it costs me only about a buck per roll for the Unicolor C-41 processing.

Getting the 127 film into a form that is ready to use requires some effort, but it does get easier with practice.  I think my next step will be to try to shoehorn a card table into my little bathroom to give myself a bit more working room than is available in my dark bag.  I'll probably try shooting some of my other 127 cameras as well.  The Kodak Brownie Reflex has a marvelously bright screen which makes it a real pleasure to shoot.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Felica Morning

I have been getting out early to catch some of the nice morning light.  I think my little Felica would rather sleep in.   The Felica has two shutter settings and two aperture selections.  To use the larger f-stop you need to guess the focus accurately.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes not.  The simple  lens at the wider f-stop still provides sharp focus at the selected focal distance, but the three position scale is not much help in achieving the necessary precision.  The Felica is still a fun little shooter, though.  If I get ambitious, maybe I'll try to subdivide that focus scale.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Shooting the Foth Derby

(Much of the following article originally appeared on my web site.)

The Foth Derby appeared shortly after the original Leica and shares some features with it including its rounded, compact form, the helical focus lens mount and a cloth-curtained focal plane shutter with speeds to 1/500. The camera uses small 127 roll film cartridges which provide 16 exposures with a 4x3 negative size. The Foth 50mm Anastigmat f3.5 lens is uncoated, but well-corrected and capable of good resolution. Later versions of the camera had a rangefinder added, and during WWII an updated design with a silver metal exterior was produced in the French Gallus factory.

The shutter is unconnected to the film advance in the Foth Derby, so one must remember to both advance the film and then to rotate the shutter dial to cock it before pressing the shutter release. The shutter speed must also be set prior to cocking the shutter. The camera produces a 127 4x3 half-frame format which makes use of the 4x6cm frame numbering on the roll film. That means that the user initially advances the number one frame to the first window to make the first exposure, and then the film is advanced to show the same number one in the second window for the second exposure.

The camera is actually equipped with four windows on the back, one pair in red for orthochromatic film and one pair in green for panchromatic. Those distinctions are no longer of importance in using modern films, and because they are considerably more sensitive than the emulsions available in the 1930's it is prudent to keep the windows covered except when advancing the film.

The Foth Derby, in spite of its classic design and construction, can often be found on ebay selling for as little as ten dollars. The reason for this is that the cloth shutter curtains in the camera are always severely deteriorated. This can be verified by holding the open back of the camera up to a bright light and looking in through the lens. What is revealed is a field of tiny pinholes where the rubberized covering has worn away from the cloth base of the shutter curtains. Fortunately, the deterioration can often be corrected by recoating the curtains with a layer of opaque ebony matte fabric paint, obtained in the U.S. in craft stores under the brand name, Tulip.

There are, however, some other things that go wrong with these old shutters. The tension on the curtains may become uneaven so that they do not travel at the same speed to maintain the proper gap during exposure at each setting. The ribbons holding the curtains in place can come loose and do not hold the two curtains in proper alignment, thus permitting a fatal gap to appear during film advance. If you are an adventurous repairman, some directions are available on line from RaulM for shutter restoration in the worst-case scenario.

The Foth Derby was imported to the U.S. prior to WWII by Burleigh Brooks.  I acquired my camera from ebay in February of 2011.  It was in pretty good shape except for the pinholed shutter curtains which were easily repaired.  My first pictures from the Foth Derby were made on a strip of 35mm film rolled into some Efke 127 backing paper which I had previously used in a Kodak Brownie Reflex.  After that I shot a couple of fresh rolls of Efke in the Foth Derby, but the company ceased film production soon afterward.

A web search on 127 film will still turn up a few remaining retail sources; the prices run the gamut from exorbitant to ridiculous.  Similarly, one can find a vast number of strategies for rolling your own 127, but all  are at least somewhat labor intensive.  Many will ask, "why bother".  One answer is that classic camera manufacturers produced a great quantity of exquisitely designed 127-format cameras, of which the Foth Derby is but one example.

The Foth Derby Manual is at the Butkus site.

More pictures made with my Foth Derby may be viewed in a folder at Flicker.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Foth Derby meets Portra 160

Thanks to a generous on line friend I have had a can of bulk Kodak Portra film sitting in my refrigerator for several years.  It remained unopened all that time because I knew it would present a severe challenge to both my manual dexterity and my patience.

The idea of getting the film can, camera, scissors, tape and developing tank into my small dark bag and then getting the film wound onto a 127 reel and into the camera had a certain nightmarish quality.  Well, nothing ventured ...

I walked out of the house with the loaded Foth Derby thinking I would just snap a few test shots.  As it turned out, the yearly car show was in progress at the nearby Albuquerque Art Museum.  Seemed like a good omen.  Since I was blind winding the film with no backing paper and the ruby windows taped over I got just ten shot from a film strip that had room for sixteen.  Still, I was pretty happy with the outcome, and I thought some of the shots showed the surprising quality that the little Foth Derby can deliver.  I'll try this again sometime soon, and maybe I'll even have a go at using some backing paper.  I'm thinking it may help to break the process down into several discrete steps so I don't have everything in the bag at once.

Foth Derby