Sunday, September 18, 2016

Shooting the Yashica-Mat

I took my Yashica-Mat for a walk this morning at the Albuquerque Botanic Garden.  It is a camera that deserves more attention than I have given it.  The medium format negatives and the excellent resolution of the Lumaxar lens yield startling sharpness.
    The camera is light for its size, but still a bit awkward to handle, like most twin lens reflex cameras.  With the shutter release on the right and the focus on the left, one is constantly juggling the camera to arrive at an exposure.  What overcomes most of that problem is the addition of a hand grip.  With that accessory in place, it is then possible to reach all the controls without moving either hand very much.  A Bay 1 lens hood is also a worthwhile addition.
    A tangential benefit of carrying the Yashica-Mat is that it never fails to attract interest and friendly conversation.  Many younger people have obviously never seen a tlr before, and the camera often sparks nostalgia in the older photographers.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

For the Birds

I bought several rolls of tri-x recently from B&H; the first was shot in my Contaflex, and this second one went into my Contessa 35.  I like the tonal character of the film and it always seems an appropriate choice when shooting any of the old film cameras.

The f2.8, 45mm Tessar lens in the Contessa is the same as that in both the Contaflex and the Ikonta 35.  All are coated and  front-focusing, with four elements in three groups.  In the Contessa the high resolution Tessar is complimented by the unique rangefinder design which incorporates wedge prisms to create a double image.  Mine remains quite bright, contrasty and well adjusted sixty years after the camera was made.

The wedge prism rangefinder appeared on Zeiss Ikon cameras in the mid-1930s.  In other respects, the overall design of the Contessa and the Ikonta 35 represented a significant break with earlier design traditions.  For instance, while my Contaflex has a very worn leather covering with significant Zeiss bumps on the back, the Contessa and Ikonta 35 are both virtually faultless and have no Zeiss bumps at all.  I haven't looked under the covers of those two cameras, but my guess is that the designer, Hubert Nerwin, dispensed with the brass rivets which corroded and caused the appearance of the Zeiss bumps in so many of the older cameras.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Morning Walk

Most weekends during the summer there is a small informal car show in the Plaza Vieja in Albuquerque's Old Town.  Two or three classic cars are parked in the shade under the trees on the plaza's south side, and their owners sit on a nearby bench to talk about them.

When I walked down to the Plaza in the morning on Friday, there was a large Mariachi group tuning up and rows of chairs set out near the gazebo for spectators.  A two-generation row of five Chevys stretched down the curb and around the corner.  A red and white '57 convertible was parked on the other side of the street in front of the church.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Albuquerque's Wild Side

I spent the last week walking around with my Contaflex.  I started up on Monday with a hike through the arroyos and foothills of the Sandia Mountains just east of town.  The ragged summit of the Sandias snagged some low clouds, but they only leaked a few shreds of rain.  A couple mountain bikers appeared for just an instant on the trail.

I veered off the trail and two mule deer jumped up in front of me.  They bounded off a few yards and then stopped to study my intentions.  I made a couple shots with the Contaflex.  When I stepped forward, the deer slipped into the trees.  I moved up slope just a little and the deer reappeared, stopped. to look at me for another moment, and then they were gone.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex I

This first model of the Contaflex was introduced in 1953.

Zeiss adapted exisiting post-war design ideas as well as earlier ones to produce this uniquely compact 35mm single lens reflex camera. The fixed lens on mine is an f2.8, 45mm coated Tessar. Since the slr mirror is not instant-returning, the film advance knob must be wound to cock the between-the-lens leaf shutter and bring the mirror down into viewing position. Having the view black out after pressing the shutter release takes a little getting used to for photographers accustomed to more modern cameras. Balancing out that slight inconvenience is the fact that this is still about the only full-frame 35mm slr that can easily be slipped into a jacket pocket. The camera is really only marginally larger than the tiny Ikonta 35, and according to Mike Elek, the lens design of the Tessar is identical in the two. Over-all, materials and construction are top drawer, and the camera is a pleasure to hold and operate.

My camera, purchased for not very much on ebay, came with the impressive Teleskop 1.7x accessory lens, which yields a focal length of about 75mm, a nice portrait length. I was looking forward to using the telephoto accessory, but could not at first see how that was going to be possible as it clearly does not screw into the front of the fixed lens Tessar. A little research revealed that I was lacking the necessary mounting bracket. I wrote to the seller, he rummaged around in his tool box, turned up the bracket, and sent it to me at no additional charge - a stand-up guy. To mount the accessory telephoto, you first install the slip-on bracket, and then screw in the Teleskop. The fixed Tessar needs to be set at the infinity mark to enable proper focusing with the telephoto. The bracket is also used to mount a stereo photo accessory.

As luck would have it, I already had several filter adapters and a lens shade which I could use with the camera. All of these are Series V, 28.5mm push-on models. The set of four accessory close-up lenses was purchased separately for about twelve dollars. I like the push-on type lenses for close work as they require no exposure compensation as do extention tubes on other slr cameras.
    The plastic-cased close-up set is a good example of Zeiss design thoroughness. The back of the case features a pretty depth-of-field calculator. Inside the case, each lens is securely held in place by raised tabs so as to minimize fumbling in the field. If you closely examine the mounting tabs on the accessory lenses, you see that there are three pairs on each lens, with one half of each pair bent slightly inward to grasp the tabs in the case, and the other of the pair is adjusted slightly outward to provide a secure fit against the inner surface of the lens focus ring.

The camera shown here is my second Contaflex; the first was a non-working one received as a gift. I managed to get that original one working well enough to put a couple rolls of film through it and to develop some respect for the quality performance that the camera was capable of delivering. In that same process, I also learned some important lessons about acquiring and owning a Contaflex all these many years after it was produced by Zeiss.
    The most important of these lessons, perhaps, was that claims about the working condition of an old Contaflex are meaningless unless they are accompained by a recently taken roll of film showing proper exposure. Old Contaflexes often sound like they are working perfectly, but the chances are slim that the complex train of events leading to an exposure in a Contaflex is going to happen in just the right way to put an image properly on film.

The biggest and most common problem with the Contaflex is a slow aperture stop-down mechanism. One also sees mirrors that don't don't quite close quickly enough, sticky shutters, and dirty internal lens surfaces. Since I like the camera so much, I sent it off to have the slightly sticky aperture repaired along with a few other minor things. It worked ok for a while after that, but the aperture started acting up again. I finally summoned the courage to tackle the problem myself. I separated the shutter and lens from the body and found that the aperture blades and actuating mechanism were dirty. Near the extremes of open and closed, the blades moved very stiffly. I cleaned everything with lighter fluid and Radio Shack electronic cleaner, and then dried thoroughly before reassembly. The task was made immensely easier by access to a discussion of the problem and how to fix it at the Classic Cameras Repair Forum, along with some helpful sketches by Rick Oleson.

A few pictures from the Contaflex:

The user manual for the Contaflex is at the Butkus site.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Zeiss Ikon Maximar A

The Maximar line started off in 1914 under the ICA banner prior to the merger of that company into the Zeiss Ikon conglomerate. The model A version in the 6.5 x 9 cm format was produced up to the outbreak of WWII in 1939. There were two larger format versions produced by Zeiss Ikon, and several other distinct lines of compact double-extention plate cameras as well. All of these cameras had the same basic features, and one has to look rather closely to distinguish one from another, or even between those from other manufacturers. For instance, the Maximar closely resembles the Kodak Recomar.

The Maximar was not quite so nicely built and finished as it's Kodak competitor, but it did feature the same big Compur shutter with a 1/250 top speed. Like the Recomar, the Zeiss camera also had three viewing/composition options including a wire frame finder, a magnified reflex viewfinder with an attached bubble level, and a ground glass focusing back. The backs for the Maximar and Recomar are interchangable, so the same plate and film holders and rollfilm adapters can be used in both. Lens speed and focal length were an identical f4.5/105mm in the Kodak and Zeiss cameras, but the Recomar had a Kodak Anastigmat, while the Maximar A featured the superlative Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar.

Though it arrived with a lot of battle scars, my Maximar's crucial components including lens, shutter and bellows were all sound. The one worrisome aspect was a front panel that did not fully fold down; that meant that the lens standard was canted back and the lens axis was not parallel to the film plane. It seemed not unlikely that someone had tried to close up the camera without fully retracting the bellows, causing some misalignment. When I removed the lens/shutter assembly, I was able to move the bellows back to reveal the attachement of the struts to the camera body, and I could see that the anchoring posts were in an off-center mount. I got a firm grip on the post heads with some pliers and twisted the mount about 10 degrees so that posts were closer to the front of the camera. The bed dropped into position, making the proper right angle with the back. After a little lens cleaning and reassembly, the camera was ready for action.

With its double-extension bellows, multiple viewing systems and film or plate back options, the Maximar and its many relatives provided photographers of the 1920's and 1930's with very capable and versatile photogaphic systems in an extremely compact package. It is not hard to imagine why these cameras were sold in the tens of thousands. In addition to offering the convenience of a conventional folding camera or the utility of a press camera, the Maximar's ground glass focusing capability permitted high-precision focusing and framing for close-up work that produced a near 1:1 ratio of subject to image at the film plane. Fully realizing the potential of the little Maximar requires a level of skill and discipline that can be challenging, but also uncommonly rewarding for 21st Century photogaphers.

Some images from the Maximar:

Minolta Minoltina AL-S

The sleekly compact Minoltina AL-S appeared in 1965. The camera featured a fast f1.8, 40mm Rokkor-QF lens, a full range of shutter speeds from 1 to 500 plus B, and a coupled, match-needle selenium exposure meter. I found mine in an El Paso junk shop a few years ago. When I pointed out to the sales clerk that the shutter was jammed, she opted to take my $10 offer for the camera. Back home, a little lighter fluid swabbed on the shutter blades brought the shutter back to life. The selenium meter was one stop off in its readings; setting the ASA one stop higher than the film rating produced results identical to my hand-held Sekonic meter.

On running a couple rolls of film through the camera, I could easily see that the six-element Rokkor was a fine performer. However, the results I got from the camera were rather inconsistent, and it was clear that there was some further work needed to fully restore the little Minoltina. Somehow, I got distracted from the task and the camera sat on a shelf until a short time ago. When I finally got around to examining it more closely, I discovered that the camera had two issues with focus that needed correction.

I was surprised to find that the lens was not properly collimated; that is somewhat unusual in a unit-focus design in a fixed-lens camera. I was a little apprehensive about dismantling the whole lens and shutter assembly to make the necessary correction, but it turned out that was not required because of the repair-friendly construction of the camera. Removing the two screws that held on the striated focus button let me slip off the thin band at the base of the lens to reveal a ring underneath with four tiny screws. Loosening those screws permitted a rotational adjustment of the lens' infinity setting. I first set the lens to an accurate infinity focus using Mike Elek's system, and then I rotated the ring to the stop point, after which I retightened the four little screws.

The horizontal alignment of the rangefinder images also required correction. It wasn't until I got the top off the camera that I realized I could have adjusted the rangefinder just by removing the black plastic bumper/cover underneath the advance lever; that permits access to a locking screw and a notch for making coincident image corrections. No matter; the top came off very easily with the removal of two screws and the rewind button. After a light cleaning of the viewing optics and adjusting the rf image, the top went back on without incident. The final step was to make a small adjustment to the position of the thin outer band on which the distance scale is located. This is made possible by the fact that the screw holes for the finger button in the band are actually slots which permit the band to be rotated slightly so that the indicated distance setting matches the rangefinder distance.

Some images from the Minoltina:

The Minoltina AL-S user manual is available on line at the kyphoto site.

Kodak Retina IIc (Type 020)

Prior to the appearance of the Retina IIc, the Retina family of cameras looked more to the past for design inspiration, incorporating the best of what went before, but not really breaking much new ground. The IIc is still clearly a member of the family, but it has many design innovations which point to future developments.

The Retina IIc features a more rounded, streamlined appearance, the outside finish is greatly superior to earlier models, and all the moving parts have a feel of solidity and precision. The bigger and brighter viewing system has a brightline frame. The biggest change is not evident in the appearance, but becomes immediately obvious in use; the quiet Synchro Compur shutter has dispensed with the stiff little pre-tensioning spring which made shutter speed setting a little awkward in older models. As a result, the photogapher will be much more willing to leave the shutter at the 1/500 setting, even in the cocked state, for prolonged periods.

In spite of obvious enhancements in materials and design, the IIc probably did not seem like a step forward in some respects to users of earlier models. The IIc is a little bigger and heavier, and does not slip so comfortably into the pocket as its predecessors. The rangefinder, though probably more reliable and precise, now lacks parallax correction. The EV system, which couples shutter and aperture settings, seems like a real design error, though it was one that many other manufacturers indulged around the same time. The speed/f-stop settings can be uncoupled by slightly depressing the aperture lever, but this does slow the shooting process a bit.

Minor complaints aside, the Retina IIc is a pleasure to shoot, and the f2.8 Xenon lens is every bit as sharp as the faster f2 lens on the older models. The bottom-mounted film advance lever is fast and smooth in operation. The solid feel of the camera and the responsiveness of the controls inspire confidence for capturing any kind of subect under any conditions. Beyond those practical considerations, the IIc design also provides a glimpse back into the critical transitionary period after WWII when the world began to rebound from the ravages of the war to embrace a new vision of modernity.

Some pictures from the Retina IIc:

Kodak Retina IIa

I like all the Retinas, but the IIa model is my favorite because of its easy handling and compactness. To me, the camera seems ideally designed for candid and low-light work. The fine f2 Xenon lens is very sharp, even at large apertures. The Kodak designers packed a lot of functionality into a very small space, so the contruction is somewhat more complicated than earlier models with its coupled range finder and auto shutter cocking.

I've done some shutter cleaning and range finder adjustment on mine, but I've never attempted a full cleaning and adjustment on this one for fear of getting in over my head. However, these cameras are not as hard to work on as some others of the same era, and there are competent repairmen around who can get the job done. A very large number of Ia and IIa cameras were sold in the 1950's, so the cameras can be had for very reasonable prices in spite of their high quality. The most vulnerable parts are the frame advance spring and the shutter cocking rack. Those parts are interchangeable between the Ia and IIa models, and not terribly difficult to find.

In the unlikely event that I ever needed to choose just one camera to keep and use from my collection, this one would likely be it.

Some sample photos from the IIa:

The Retina IIa Manual is at the Butkus site. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Kodak Retina II (Type 014)

In the first half of the Twentieth Century, Kodak was to cameras what Microsoft was to computers in the second half. Both companies achieved dominant market presence partly by snapping up smaller rivals with innovative products. One of Kodak's early coups was the acquisition of the Nagel Company in Stuttgart which had just developed the daylight loading 35mm film cartridge and cameras to use it. What followed was a series of finely crafted compact 35mm folders marketed as the Kodak Retina.

My Retina II is a post-war model with a 50mm f2 coated Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens. Speeds on the Compur-Rapid shutter range from 1-1/500 second; it is very smooth in operation and nearly noiseless. The size of the camera is only fractionally larger than the contemporary pocket cameras like the Vito II and the Ikonta 35, but this Retina has a coupled rangefinder which corrects for parallax.

In operation, the Retina II is a little slow to use because it had a knob film advance and manually cocked shutter, unlike later models which featured lever winders with automatic shutter cocking. The swing-to-the-side door on the Retina II, as with all the retina folders, interferes slightly with the right hand grip and makes single handed operation nearly impossible. With the lens aperture scale inscribed on the bottom half of the lens, the camera needs to be tilted back 90 degrees to see and set the f stops. None of these features turns out to be very significant once one becomes fully accustomed to using the camera, and any shortcomings really pale in comparison to the outstanding images which are produced by this precision instrument.

I was at first disappointed in the performance of my Retina II because it had an intermittent severe light leak. The camera back made a little popping noise when pushed on; assuming that was implicated in the leak, I packed light seal strips all around the perimeter of the back. That got rid of the slight movement and pop in the back, but not the leak. The only possibility that seemed to be left was a problem with the bellows. In fact, when I extended the lens and looked very carefully, I found that one side of the bellows was completely detached from the inside of the film compartment. I daubed on some Pliobond glue and closed up the camera to let the joint dry overnight. The light leak was gone after that. However, my inexpert repair skills left a slightly bumpy seam at the base of the bellows which can be seen along the left border of my images when I print the full frame including a small portion of the surrounding film -- I kind of like it.

Most of the shooting I have done so far with the Retina II has been on city streets. Knowing I was working with a reliable, quality camera having a lens of extraordinarily high resolution gave me a lot of pleasure and self confidence in the shooting experience, whether I was taking quick hip shots or making more carefully composed compositions of architectural detail. The Retina II is not as thoroughly documented on the the Internet as are later models, but it can be acquired for less than what you will pay for the later IIa and IIc models and the image quality is every bit as good.

Some pictures from my Retina II:

The Retina II Manual is at the Butkus site.