Monday, August 01, 2011

The Sunny Day Cameras

I was recently introduced to the work of Herman Krieger, a photographer living in Eugene, Oregon whose web site features a lot of black and white photo essays done with classic film cameras. Krieger uses some very fine classics including an Ikonta 6x6 rangefinder model, and his photos all have a crisp European style which probably can be attributed at least in part to thirty years residence in Holland. Interestingly, that same crisp style carries over to his pictures made with the simplest of cameras, an Ansco B-2 Cadet box camera.

When you first look at Krieger's photo essay entitled, "Along the Riverbank Bike Path with a 'Bent and a Box", you are going to find it hard to believe that these ultra-sharp images have come from such a modest camera. Everything pictured is in sharp focus, showing great depth of field, and even subjects in motion show none of the tell-tale blur that one would normally associate with box camera images. Scrolling down to the page bottom clears up the mystery.

Krieger explains that his extraordinary box camera images are the result of having made some relatively simple modifications to the camera's shutter:

"Original exposure setting is 1/25 at f16. By covering part
of the circular shutter opening with black electrical tape,
and placing a small washer over the aperture opening,
the exposure setting became 1/125 at f22. This enabled
the use of Kodak T-MAX 400 film with the camera.

Here is a picture of a similar shutter from one of my own Brownie Hawkeye Flash cameras which shows the components Krieger talks about. The shutter is held open with the "B" setting to give a clear view of the parts.

The round black hole is the aperture allowing light into the lens. When the shutter release is activated, the cover paddle is lifted and the kidney-shaped opening in the circular shutter plate rotates past the aperture, with the time of its passage being determined by the spring tension and the length of the kidney-shaped hole. At the end of the cycle, the paddle flips back down to cover the opening and the shutter disk rotates back to the starting position.

So if you want to modify a Hawkeye Flash as Krieger did the Ansco, you would reduce the size of the round aperture with a small washer and shorten the length of the kidney-shaped slot with some tape. The result will be greater image sharpness and depth of focus due to the small aperture. The shortened shutter speed greatly reduces the likelihood of camera jiggle at exposure, and also makes it possible to arrest moderate subject movements. The ability to use a faster film like TMAX 400 also enables a wider tonal range in high-contrast lighting situations.


jimgrey said...

I had a B-2 Cadet in my first, lamented camera collection. When I was dating the woman who is now my ex-wife, she was a professional photographer. She rolled some Plus X for me, and I shot the roll with the Cadet, and then she developed and printed it. The results were okay. Shake was a problem. The exposures were a little hazy, too. I published one photo from that roll on my blog a few years ago:

With these tips you've shared, I want to buy another Cadet and try again!

Mike said...

The Cadet is very similar to my Ansco Shur-Flash which also is capable of making very nice images if you can manage to hold it steady. One possibility which is illustrated in my web page on the camera is to brace it solidly on the ground to make your exposure.

Another possibility that offers some of the same advantages as Krieger's hack is to follow the instructions by Diwan Bhathal for adding a tripod socket and a cable release to the Brownie Hawkeye Flash. A link to those instructions is provided in my web page on the Hawkeye Flash. I have one of the cameras modified by Diwan and it makes very nice images.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,
I have modified my Hawkeyes by flipping the lens but I am very interested in your modifications. How would I know what size washer to buy to reduce the aperture and more importantly how did you fix the shutter speed with electical tape? I'm a bit confused on how to proceed from your directions that state: and shorten the length of the kidney-shaped slot with some tape. Any help you can provide will be greatly appreciated. Thank you. My email is

Mike said...

It would probably be more productive to direct the questions to Herman Krieger who came up with the ideas and implemented them. My own purpose in the article was mostly to clearly show the parts that need to be modified.

That said, this sort of thing doesn't necessarily require a high degree of precision. For instance, if you place a piece of opaque tape on the round shutter plate which covers half of the length of the kidney shaped slot, then the aperture is going to be uncovered roughly half the amount of time as when the part is unmodified.

In regard to the size of the aperture, I would suggest taking a look at the variable aperture in a more sophisticated camera of about the same focal length as the Hawkeye Flash -- about 80mm.

You can also, of course, calculate the desired aperture precisely since the f-stop value is just a proportionate relationship of focal length to aperture diameter. The standard way to express this is N=f/D, where N is the f-number, f is the focal length and D is the diameter of the aperture. Thus, if you want the aperture diameter for a given focal length and f-stop, the equation is D=f/N. So, if you want an aperture of f22 for your 80mm focal length, you need a washer with a hole in it that measures 3.64mm.

That's all a bit wordy, so if you want a better illustrated explanation, take a look at the wikipedia article on f-stops.