Thursday, August 25, 2016
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.
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:
Mike Elek's system, and then I rotated the ring to the stop point, after which I retightened the four little screws.
Some images from the Minoltina:
The Minoltina AL-S user manual is available on line at the kyphoto site.
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:
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
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.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
My Retina I was originally equipped with the Schneider Kreuznach Retina-Xenar lens, but it was badly fogged. I bought a junker of the same model but with the Anastigmat Ektar lens and used it to replace the damaged lens on the camera. That turned out to be something of an ordeal as the whole lens and shutter assembly has to come out in order to fine-tune the infinity focus. The only way to check the accuracy of the infinity adjustment is to reassemble the camera, so I felt fortunate to only have to go through procedure twice before getting it right. I probably would not have tackled the job at all were it not for the availability of some excellent instructions provided on the web site of the Retina expert, Chris Sherlock.
I have several models of the Retina line; the Retina I is the oldest and simplest, and it is a bit slower to shoot than the others because of the manual shutter cocking and the knob film advance. The basic simplicity of the Retina I is part of its charm, however, and the high-quality design and construction makes it a pleasure to handle. The Retina I is similar in regard to features and quality to the Zeiss Ikonta 35 and the Voigtländer Vito II from the same post-war era. I would find it impossible to distinguish photos shot by one from the others, or to pick a favorite among them.
Some photos from the Retina I:
Monday, August 22, 2016
Oddly enough, the Brownie's lens, shutter and bellows seemed fine. I cleaned up the thing as best I could and put a roll of 120 film through it. I had little expectation of getting interesting photos from it, but I thought my friend might like to see something come from one of the few surviving cameras. To my surprise, the images were quite sharp and had a great depth of tonality. A close examination of the outer rim of the lens showed it to be a Rapid Rectilinear. That was a lens popular early in the Twentieth Century with the f64 Group, and used by people like Adams and Weston. While the uncoated lens does impart a particular character to the tonal quality of images, I decided that the large 6x9 negatives were probably the main influence on the richness of the tonality that came from the camera. I had seen something approaching that from some of my previous box camera images, but the combination of tonal range and sharpness from the Brownie was a real eye opener.
a comparison table like the one available on the Kodak Classics site.
Another oddity of the exposure values on the shutter's face is the wording attached to the numeric values, terms like "Clear", "Brilliant", "Distant View", "Marine", "Clouds". This was Kodak's Autotime Scale, an exposure system intended to assist the amateur photographer in choosing the proper time and aperture settings based on lighting conditions and subject matter. The system depended on the fact that film speed choices were very limited in those days, and it seems now to be more quaint than practical. In any case, once you understand the relationship of the Uniform System exposure values to present-day usage, it is possible to ignore the wordy jumble and proceed as you might with any camera.
Since the top shutter speed on the Brownie is 1/50th of a second, a tripod is good insurance, though not absolutely necessary if you are careful not to jiggle the camera during the exposure. Even when hand-holding the camera, I have found it useful to use a cable release in order to avoid the need to manipulate the release lever out on the end of the long bellows. Given the large negative format, there is no real penalty in terms of grain in using 400-speed film which permits small f-stops and good depth of field, along with superior tonal rendition.
I have since acquired a fair number of Kodak and other folders with more advanced capabilities and more complex lenses than that on the Brownie, but I don't honestly think they have made better pictures for me.
Some sample images from the Kodak No.2 Folding Autographic Brownie:
The next step is a little trickier. The rim of the central lens group projects only a small lip above the surface. This kind of thin-walled brass housing is easily deformed, so it is important to keep pliers and other dangerous tools well away from it. A good tool for getting a grip on the rim of the center lens mount is one of the Flexiclamp wrenches sold by Micro-Tools. I used a 1 3/16" size. Before you start unscrewing the center group, it is a good idea to make a mark crossing the rim to the body so that you can put it back without over-tightening. Also, you will want to note that the group housing comes loose in about one full turn. A friction tool made from a dowel and a piece of rubber will also work.
Once the center lens is out, you can lift off the face of the shutter and get easy access to the internal levers and gears for cleaning with something like Ronsonol lighter fluid. I also removed the back lens group with a lens spanner so as to not get debris on the lens. The whole thing should go back together pretty easily.
With the lens and shutter clean and reassembled, you are ready to shoot pictures, as long as you are comfortable with re-spooling 120 film onto a 620 metal reel. The Kodak engineers went to some trouble to design a camera that will not permit the use of film on a modern 120 spool. I experimented with using trimmed 120 reels in a film carrier from an old Agfa folder, but am happier just re-rolling 120 to 620. There is also a version of the camera which was built for 616 film.
The Monitor user manual advises that the film initially be advanced until the number "1" is just visible in the red window. You are then supposed to move the little lever from "wind" to "1-8" and slightly turn the advance knob which activates the double exposure prevention and moves the "1" into the center of the film frame window. From there you can just crank the knob until it stops without opening the red window for positioning each frame. I initially had some problems with frame spacing but taking off the top, cleaning the mechanism and adding a little lubricant got things straightened out.
Below are some images from the Monitor Six-20 shot at The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque:
And one from the War Eagles Air Museum at Santa Teresa:
A manual for the Monitor Six-20 and Six-16 models is available on line at the Butkus site.