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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Kodak Pony 828

The 828 was the first in a long line of Pony cameras produced by Kodak in the post-war era.  It was a stunning departure from previous ideas about camera design, using new synthetic materials and jet-age streamlining.  When introduced in 1949 the camera carried a price tag of $29.95.  That seems cheap by today's standards, but when you take into account subsequent inflation, the original price is the equivalent in today's value to nearly $500.  So, Kodak was not in the business of selling cheap cameras.  They, like the other big manufacturers of the time, were really out to sell the idea of mass-produced prosperity.

Included in the Pony's sleek and ergonomic design was an extraordinarily big, bright viewfinder.  The camera's shutter/lens assembly could be telescoped inward to allow easy pocketing of the little camera.  The three-element Anaston lens was coated and produced pretty good sharpness, certainly more than adequate for its intended purposes.  With a top shutter speed of 1/200 and an aperture range from f4.5 to f22, the camera can still easily handle fast 400-speed film.  Most of these features would be passed along to other cameras in the developing Pony lineup which was switched to the more popular 35mm format.  The 828 roll film format was discontinued in 1959 along with the Pony 828 camera.   The width of the 828 film is the same as 35mm, and it is not terribly difficult to roll a strip of 35mm film onto the 828 reels if one wants to try the camera today.  The small size and light weight of the Pony 828 make it a pleasure to carry and shoot.





The last shot illustrates the Pony's one design flaw which I have encountered.  The red-hued light leak is the product of an easily broken small plastic tab which is a part of the latch mechanism.  The camera will still seem to close tightly, but the missing portion of the tab may let in a bit of light.  Most newly acquired Pony 828 cameras are also likely to need some cleaning of the shutter, lens and viewfinder.  That is a pretty simple procedure which is very well illustrated at the Camera Collecting and Restoration web site.


I bought a Pony 828 used at the UW bookstore in 1961, just a couple years after Kodak ceased production of the camera.  I think I only shot a couple of rolls of film in it at the time.  I'm enjoying getting to know the Pony better all these years later.

Monday, May 15, 2017

More Plate Camera Work

I decided a good first step in working more with my collection of plate cameras would be to examine each of them thoroughly and make whatever adjustments and repairs were needed to get the best performance from them.

The Bentzin Primar at the Velvet Cafe - (picture from the Olympus mju on Fuji 200 film)

I found a few overlooked pinholes in all five cameras.  To my surprise, when I fully extended the bellows of my Benzin Primar I found a torn front corner causing a hole that I could poke a finger into.  I removed the lens and shutter assembly to free up the front end of the bellows, and a little super glue closed up the hole nicely.  I loaded a roll of Tri-X in the camera and took  it out for a test drive.

On a bright Spring morning Aspen shadows dance at my window.

Back to the Plaza Vieja for the little Friday car show.

jimmy

BelAir (Tessar lens - f11 at 1/250)

100% enlargement at 1200dpi

I've gotten good results in the past with the combination of  Tri-X film and Rodinal developer, but I was not real pleased with it on this occasion.  I'm willing to chalk this up to operator confusion, but I still have a complaint against Kodak.  The frame counting numerals have been made so dim on the paper backing that it is just about impossible to see them through the ruby window of a folding camera.  That would not be a problem with a camera like the YashiaMat which has auto-frame-spacing, but I'm going to need to find some other option for any of my folders.


This is my essential tool set for getting my folding cameras up to speed.  Tiny pinholes in the bellows can be very difficult to track down.  I have tried several lighting methods in this quest, but the best so far has been a very small flashlight with exposed LED bulbs.  The little "BE VISIBLE" bike light lets me press the bulbs right into the bellows creases.  Once found, the pinholes are painted over with Tulip ebony fabric paint.  The fabric paint stays a little tacky even after drying, so it is best applied judiciously.  I have tried other products, but the Tulip paint stores better than anything else, and I've had this bottle for years.  The needle nose pliers with the tips filed down are especially useful for loosening the retaining ring that couples the bellow to the shutter and lens assembly while the bellows is partially extended. If the job is attempted with the bellows fully collapsed there is a danger of damaging the fabric with the rotating tool.

nice doggie

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Albuquerque Art Museum

One of the events I most look forward to each year is the photo exhibit of works by local high school students.  There are about one hundred mounted prints to see again this year and the quality of the work is excellent.

 

Focus on Youth 2017

Until Jun 4, 2017
Annual juried exhibition of over 100 photographs by high school students in photography programs across the city. Works explore a variety of techniques including silver prints, digital photography, special techniques and artist books. This year’s exhibition has the addition of a new category for digital short films.
Exhibition co presented by the Albuquerque Public Schools Fine Arts program and Albuquerque Museum.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Working on my plate camera skills

I have decided I need to spend more time with my plate cameras.  I have acquired five of the compact folders over the past several years.  All have good shutters and lenses, and bellows needing just minimal patching to be usable.  My first, the Kodak Recomar 18, was in great shape as it came to me from a fellow who was a very competent camera repairman.  The others had small issues that I was able to handle myself, and I was able to find two roll film adapters which made it practical to shoot all the cameras.


Yesterday, I loaded a roll of Fuji Acros in the Bentzin Primar and took it for a walk around Old Town.  As usual on a Friday morning, some of the local classic car enthusiasts had parked their treasures on the west end of the Plaza Vieja.  As much as I like the 100-speed Acros/Rodinal combination, it turns out to be something of a challenge to shoot in the plate cameras in anything less than full sun.  A shutter speed of 1/100 is about as low as I can go when hand-holding a 105mm lens, and opening the lens past f16 gives very shallow depth of field when distance has to be estimated.  I still have several rolls of Tri-X in the refrigerator, so I'll likely use that in my next round with the plate cameras.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Classic Combo

The Reflex II was one of the last high-quality classic-design cameras to be produced domestically by Kodak in the immediate post-war period.  It had a nicely-bright view screen, and the paired Anastar lenses were really excellent.  The camera's controls were a bit quirky.  The shutter was cocked by flipping up the shutter release.  Film framing was automatic, but required first bumping a button over the counter.  The camera today does not command the prices of contemporary Yashica tlr models, and certainly not that of the Rollei.  So, the Kodak Reflex II is quite a bargain for those looking for a quality classic and willing to read the manual.


Sharp looking pictures are pretty much a given with virtually any medium format camera, even those with rudimentary single-element meniscus lenses.  The Reflex II Anastar is a big step beyond that, however.  The coated four-element design is very sharp, but it is also outstanding in its capacity to render a wide spectrum of subtle tonalities.  Combine that ability with Acros and Rodinal and you get results that just can't be topped.  That combination of resolution and tonal rendering has served me particularly well when photographing ancient rock art designs on dark basalt which can be extremely difficult to capture well.  Similarly, pictures made in low light conditions have a better chance of being seen by the Anastar than with many of its contemporary competitors.


I was particularly pleased with this last shot on the roll of Acros I recently ran through the Reflex II.  The dim room light demanded the shot be made wide open at f3.5 and 1/50 sec.  I did not know for sure when I made the shot if the focus would be good; even with the camera's relatively bright screen, the low light and my old eyes left quite a lot to luck.  I think luck was with me, though, and the Anastar did its part well.


The Reflex II is easier to work on than a lot of similar cameras.  I cleaned the lenses and shutter  when I got the camera and they seem faultless in their performance.  The film spacing gets a little too close if I rely only on the auto frame spacing feature, but that is easily circumvented by just making use of the ruby window. I have used 120 film in the Reflex II by just trimming down the plastic reel ends with nail scissors to be flush with the backing paper.  However, advancing the film will go more smoothly if the 120 film is re-rolled onto a 620 reel.



Kodak Reflex II with Anastar f:3.5 - 80mm
Fuji Neopan Acros 100
Adox Rodinal 1:50 at 20 deg.C
13.5 minutes development
Continuous gentle agitation first minute, then 3 inversions in 5 seconds every 30 seconds
30 second tap water stop bath with continuous agitation
6 minutes in rapid fixer
10 minute running tap water rinse and a 30 second slosh in dilute Photo-Flo
Steel tank