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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

film shooter

Featured in today's Guardian is photographer, Mark Steinmetz.  His photography shows some of the same quirky style of his early mentor, Gary Winogrand.   Steinmetz still shoots film cameras, using mostly black and white.  He processes the film and makes prints in his home darkroom.  Steinmetz has used a variety of 35mm and medium format cameras; his first camera, given to him by his father, was a Pentax Spotmatic.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Many of my old cameras have visited the aircraft displays at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque.  None of the Cold War Era planes is in flying condition, but the three bombers and the F-16 have recently been repainted and look like new.  Now, the Museum is undertaking a fund raising campaign to pay for repainting the last two planes in the collection, the F-105D Thunderchief and the A-7 Corsair II.  The INDIEGOGO page on the restoration project features an excellent presentation about the history of the two aircraft.

My pinhole picture of the F-105D was in a recent photo show at the museum, and the print was donated for sale by  the museum.

The picture I did of the A-7 Cosair II is one of my favorite shots from my Argus C3.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Exceptional Ordinary

I have been enjoying daily visits to Jim Grey's photo blog, Down the Road, for quite a while.  Not long ago he began talking about a book he was working on, and in what seems a remarkably short time he had it completed and available for purchase through Blurb Books.  Jim chose, wisely I think, to carry forward the topics and style from his popular blog to the 44-page soft-cover book.  Photographs in color and black-and-white are accompanied by concise and good-humored text.

All of the photos are made with one of Jim's favorite film cameras, a Pentax ME.  The author/photographer talks about the camera's features and why he likes it, but most of the text really focuses on creating a context for the pictures which explains not only how he makes the photographs, but what he finds interesting and compelling in his subjects.  Fans of his blog will not be surprised to find significant sections of the book devoted to Jim's passions for automotive and architectural history, family, friends and pets.

In terms of technique, Jim clearly has a talent for getting at the essence of a subject through the use of selective focus  -- a picture he made of a friend's dog in which only the staring eyes are sharply rendered is one of the best animal shots I have seen in some time.  Throughout the book, and in evidence in the blog postings as well, there is also an approach to portraying life as Jim Grey sees it which seems to be centered on a particularly acute awareness of life's often-fragile and ephemeral nature.  That kind of consciousness coupled to the nearly simultaneous acts of observing and documenting unique to photography  represent the medium's most important potential, and Jim uses it to very good effect in this first book.

A nice on line preview of Jim Grey's book, Exceptional Ordinary; Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME is available at the Blurb Books site.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Feeding the 828 cameras

I took my Kodak Flash Bantam across town to the Nuclear Museum.  As usual I spent most of my time there admiring the small collection of aircraft behind the facility.  The three Cold War era bombers all have new paint jobs and look much as they would have while in service.

There is now a bomb casing under the wing of the B-29 which is the same as that used for the Fat Man A-bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

There are still a few B-52 bombers being flown today. The plane's maiden flight was made in 1952 and it is projected to remain in service for two more decades.

I have mostly just rolled a strip of 35mm film with no backing paper onto the little 828 metal reels that fit in the Flash Bantam.  With the frame counter window blocked, that has worked pretty well for the most part, but on this occasion I decided to try rerolling some 35mm film along with backing paper.

I have a strip of 838 backing paper which I salvaged from an old roll bought on ebay.  I used that as a template and cut out a strip for use from a saved 120 Acros roll.  I inked in the frame numerals along with some leading dots.  That gave me framing for eight exposure, just as in the original.

Scissoring out the backing paper was simple.  Getting the strip of film in place inside the dark bag requires some patience.  Usually, the beginning of the film strip is taped to the backing and the trailing "exposed" end is left free.  I found it helpful to tape the trailing end first to keep it in place and then inserted the tab in the spool and rolled the film and backing toward the "start" end.  I had to repeat this process a couple times as I got some buckling of the film when I tried to tape it at the "start" end.  I found it helpful to completely roll up the film onto the second reel and then unroll it back to apply the tape to avoid buckling.  Being able to see the frame numerals through the camera's back window was certainly nicer than guessing at the required number of winder turns.  However, having just eight exposure available seemed very limiting, and probably explains much of why the 828 format went away.

My 828 Cameras

Whatever method one chooses to get film into one of the 828 cameras the process is going to be a bit labor intensive.  Winding unbacked film onto an 828 reel lets me get 15 to 20 shots per load, but I have experienced a few instances of blockage and tearing.  The diameter of the 828 reels is very small, and tightly winding the stiff film strip creates a highly tensioned coil spring which can get out of hand.
    I'm thinking my next experiment with this format will be to use a hybrid method, taping a couple of inches of backing paper to the beginning and end of the film strip.  It seems like that would provide a more secure way to attach the film roll to the reels and maybe avoid some of the problems that come with using a completely unbacked film strip.

 More information about preparing film for use in 828 cameras:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Mamiyaflex II

There is not a lot of information on line about the early Mamiya twin lens reflex cameras and not many examples of pictures made with the cameras.  I think the reason for that is that the Mamiya line of cameras underwent very rapid development during the early post-war years and the beginning of the line like my Mamiyaflex II got left behind as photographers discovered the later C-line of tlr cameras with their many innovations and capabilities.

I have not made many pictures with my Mamiyaflex II either, but I hope to remedy that over time.  I was initially not very impressed with the camera's performance when I first acquired it at a local garage sale a couple years ago.  Since then, though, I've decided that my dissatisfaction with the images from the Mamiyaflex was due more to poor technique on my part rather than any deficiency in the camera.  In fact, the camera's feature set is quite competitive with others of the period; it has auto frame spacing and shutter cocking coupled to the film advance and a pretty nice pair of coated lenses.  I took a walk around Old Town Albuquerque recently with the camera loaded with Kodak Tri-X which I processed in HC-110, semi-stand.

bicycle shop
Grey Dog Trading
sculpture garden
The Mamiyaflex represented an odd detour for the Japanese camera industry. Before and after WWII, Mamiya mostly followed the industry trend of producing some very nice copies of German medium-format cameras. In 1951, however, Mamiya produced a close copy of an American tlr, the Kodak Reflex. It seems likely the presence of great numbers of U.S. military personell in the country had an important bearing on the source of Mamiya's design decision, and it must also have raised some eyebrows at Kodak. Mamiya also followed Kodak's lead by introducing an upgraded second model in 1952, the Mamiyaflex II, which incorporated auto-shutter cocking and and an auto-film advance counter.

Photographers today looking to shoot a medium-format tlr will particularly appreciate the Mamiya's capacity to accept standard 120 film, as opposed to the now-obsolete 620 Kodak. While shutter operation and focusing smoothness compare very favorably with Kodak's tlr, the optics of the Mamiya seem to me to be a little less sharp.

It is not surprising that the Mamiya Sekor lens could not achieve quite the sharpness of the four-element Kodak Anastar, which was one of the great lenses of the era. It is a little hard to fathom, though, why Mamiya did not choose to brighten the screen image of its reflex with the addition of a Fresnel intensifier as was the case in the Kodak Reflex II. It may just be that Mamiya saw that the design strategy embodied in the Reflex II tradition was a dead-end, and that the path to success was much more likely to point in the direction of new ideas which would be incorporated in their innovative press cameras and the extraordinary C-line of twin-lens cameras.

The Mamiyaflex II Manual is at the Butkus site. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Tri-Motor Color

I pocketed my Olympus Infinity Stylus on the way to Double Eagle Field in addition to the Duo Six-20.  A wide-angle lens is always helpful in shooting aircraft, and the little camera is particularly good for interiors where auto-exposure and auto-focus are a big help in getting shots that otherwise might be missed.

The first visit to Albuquerque by a Ford Tri-Motor was in 1928.  The plane was on the way to the Grand Canyon, and the passenger list included Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Two thousand spectators showed up at Oxnard Field and a photographic record of the event is preserved in the Speakman Collection at the Albuquerque Museum.

The Ford Tri-Motor closely resembled the design of the Fokker Tri-Motors that were also  frequent visitors.  Note the control cables on the outside of the fuselage.

This Ford Tri-Motor is one of about eighteen that are flight-worthy.  It is maintained by the Experimental Aircraft Association.

The Tri-Motor made several flights on Sunday morning, but the wind cancelled the last flight of the day.  The upside was that I got to walk all around the plane to make pictures and also was able to view the cabin and cockpit.

The Ford Tri-Motor had a crew of three and normally accomodated eight or nine passengers.

The history of the Ford Tri-Motor is well told at Wikipedia.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Vintage Weekend

Albuquerque was treated to a visit from a Ford Tri-Motor this weekend.  The "Tin Goose" was a regular visitor to the city in the 1920s and '30s.  I had never seen one in the air before, so it was a real thrill to see it flying.

Quite a few people took advantage of the opportunity to make a 15 minute flight  in the Tri-Motor.  My guess is that people boarding the plane in the 1920s would have been more formally dressed for the occasion -- the men in coats and ties and the women with hats and gloves.

I made these pictures with Amelia Earhart's favorite camera, the Kodak Duo Six-20.  I had a bit of a problem with flim flatness, but managed to salvage a couple shots I liked from the roll of Fuji Acros processed in Rodinal 1:50.  I  also made some color shots with the Olympus Infinity Stylus, so will post some of those when I get them scanned.

Friday, April 07, 2017

more semi-stand

I shot a roll of Arista Edu 100 in my Contessa 35 and decided to try processing it with the same semi-stand recipe I had used with the Arista Edu Ultra 400.  The search results I got on my prospects for success in this were sparse and often contradictory.  One fellow insisted that it was impossible to get good results with hc-110 and Arista films.  That was clearly not the case given my experience, so I forged ahead. 

Monday, April 03, 2017

(semi) stand by me

I shot a roll today of Arista Edu Ultra 400 in the Spotmatic and processed it with semi-stand development in hc-110.  I thought I might get a little less grain and contrast.  I'm not sure the results were that much different from what I would have gotten from my usual hc-110b mixture, but getting any sort of images with just 4ml of developer in 640ml of water does seem impressive.  I used a recipe for tri-x semi-stand from hjlphotos on tumblr.

Margaret's new dog, Roxie

Saturday, April 01, 2017


There are times when I find myself walking around with my camera and not making any pictures.  I know then that it is time for a reset as I am not really seeing what is around me.  Sometimes, it helps to change cameras, lenses, film or film formats.  Deciding to focus on some particular subject matter also can be helpful, and I often end up choosing to look for botanical subjects.  I may also jump-start the process by looking at some of the great practitioners of the botanical arts from the past that I particularly like, including Imogen Cunningham and her callas, the simple arrangements of Adolf De Meyer, Blossfeldt, Weston, Mapplethorpe -- there is no shortage of inspiring artists.

These photos were made in the cottonwood forest beside the Rio Grande and at Albuquerque's Botanical Garden.

The only 35mm film I had on hand for my Pentax Spotmatic was Arista Edu Ultra 400; it has nice tonal characteristics, but is a bit grainy for this subject matter.  I processed the film in HC-110b.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

my photo consultant

The neighbor's cat has been very patient in helping me to sort through some problems I've been experiencing in processing Kodak Tri-X.  I managed to use up a five-pack of the film before I finally figured out that the inconsistent results seemed due mostly to the film not loading properly onto the metal reel in my steel developing tank.

I have processed a lot of 120 roll film in my steel tank with very few failures, so I'm inclined to think at this point that the film has undergone some changes which have prompted the problem.  While I'm not totally sure on the details, my guess is at this point that the film has more of a curve across the width which is causing it to slip out of the spaces in the wire reel, preventing proper exposure to the developer.

So, today I shot a quick roll in the Bentzin plate camera and loaded the film into the plastic reel of my Paterson developing tank.  I processed the film in HC-110b for six minutes at 20 deg. Centigrade and got pretty good consistency in negative density from beginning to end.

I still have four rolls of 120 Tri-X in the refrigerator, so I'm looking forward now to trying some different developers and processing, possibly including some stand development.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bentzin Primar

I was pleased recently to come across a Bentzin Primar on ebay.  It is a compact plate camera, this one likely from the early to mid-1930s.  The dial-set Compur shutter having a top speed of 1/250 could have been made as early as 1914 based on the serial number.  The lens is a 10.5cm f4.5 Tessar.  The Bentzin closely resembles the KW Patent Etui, but has a somewhat more robust design.

Bentzin Primar 6.5x9
I was relieved to find that the Bentzin accommodates the Rada roll film adapter which is a much sturdier  than the Rollex adapter which is required for the Patent Etui with its very narrow back rails.

The Bentzin needed just a light cleaning of the lens to be ready to make pictures.  I loaded the Rada back with some Tri-X 120 and strolled around Albuquerque's Old Town on a warm afternoon, and then again the following morning to finish off the roll of eight 6.5x9 frames.

My afternoon walk took me by some cottages near Tiguex Park which have undergone a lengthy restoration over the past year.  I snapped a couple shots, but the light was past its prime for this subject.

By pure good luck, a summer visitor to one of the cottages happened by and treated me to a quick tour of the furthest west cottage known as The Priest's House.  She said that the place was about 140 years old and that it had in fact been a priest's residence at one time.

click for 100% enlargement
I recalled making a picture of The Priest's House some time ago with better light.  After some searching through my blog, I found the picture made about six years ago with my No. 1 Series 3 Kodak.

The place does not look much different today from the outside, but the interior has been done over very nicely.  We are thinking we may lodge our daughter there when she comes for a visit from Phoenix.

Folded up, the Bentzin Primar fits easily in the hand or the pocket.

The plate cameras were originally designed to be used with glass plates or sheet film, either in sheet film holders or in film pack adapters.  This shows the Bentzin with a couple of film holders to the left and a film pack adapter at the top.

I believe the film pack adapter for this model held ten sheets.  After the exposure, a paper tab attached to the sheet was pulled to move the exposed negative through rollers to the back of the adapter and to make the next one available for use.  The film packs were fast and convenient, but expensive as they needed to be factory assembled by hand.

Sheet film is no longer available in the 6.5x9 size used in my small plate cameras.  It is still possible, however, to get 9x12 format film for the larger plate cameras from some European sources.

The only practical way to make photos with the small plate cameras like mine today is with a 120 roll film adapter like the Rada or the Rollex.  The roll film adapters work well in these cameras, though they add some bulk.  When putting the film adapter or the ground glass back onto any of the plate cameras it is important to do so only with the bellows extended.  If the back is slid on or off the camera when it is folded up, the back can snag the folds of the bellows and damage them.

All my compact plate cameras.
Kodak Recomar 18, Zeiss Ikon Maximar, KW Patent Etui, KW Patent Etui (w/Trioplan), Bentzin Primar
 Now, these old folding view cameras seem quaint and a little awkward in use.  In the 1920s and '30s, however, they were a big deal; perhaps the equivalent of today's iPhones and Androids.