Saturday, March 31, 2012

JEM JR. 120 Box Camera

In post-war America there was a fierce competition among makers of inexpensive box cameras.  Profit margins were slim, but the market was huge.  The challenge was to produce a camera that could be sold for a few dollars, but which would make reasonably sharp photos and hold up to rather rough treatment.  In the 1940's one of the most successful products came from  the J. E. Mergott Company of Newark, New Jersey, using manufacturing  techniques that had been perfected in the second half of the 19th Century.

J. E. Mergott's Camera Division produced only one camera, the JEM JR. 120, and it was made almost entirely of stamped sheet metal. Most other manufacturers used a variety of materials for their low cost offerings including wooden cases and cardboard internal components, along with stamped metal shutter parts.  In the Jem Jr. 120 by contrast, even the large internal frame known as the "cone" was made of thinly rolled steel.  A careful look at the design shows a great deal of ingenuity in forming and bending the springy metal to yield the required rigidity while accommodating the essential photographic functions of a simple camera. The camera's single-element meniscus lens -- and possibly the other glass components -- were likely bought from an outside supplier.  There was only  a little over a square foot of sheet metal needed to make a camera, and that along with the few other components likely only cost a fraction of a dollar in the 1940's.

Also viewable as a 3D animation on YouTube

The Mergott Co. business model was basically to be a supplier of metal frames for ladies handbags.  While that seems not particularly close to the idea of a camera, it was a kind of useful preparation for camera making in that the frames had to be both light-weight and strong while allowing for the smooth operation of hinges and clasps. Perhaps even more important than the design and manufacturing skills built up over the previous fifty years was the nature of the times when the Jem Jr. made its appearance.

With the end of World War II, steel and other raw materials suddenly became available for the production of consumer products.  The J. E. Mergott Co. factory located in Newark was in the right place at the right time, and it was equipped with all the power and tools to get the job done.  Of course, Kodak and other manufacturers were developing new materials and technologies which would ultimately make the Mergott approach obsolete, but the company was able to keep a profit window open for about five years for its unique box camera.  The company sold wholesale to dealers who in turn retailed the Jem Jr. for five or six dollars.  Today, you can probably find one on ebay for $10 if you are patient.  One does see some with Girl Scout logos going for seventy-five or eighty dollars to collectors, and of course there is no shortage these days of unscrupulous thugs trying to get $150 to $200 for this simple little box camera.

It has been quite a few years since I put a roll of film through my JEM JR.  I've got an order of TMAX 100 on the way now, so I'm thinking it is time for another round of pictures from this interesting camera.

(BTW: that portrait in the right-hand column was made by Margaret using the JEM JR.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

on line

One of my photos from our days in Las Cruces was chosen recently to head the home page of the Border Health web site.  My thanks to webmaster, Clint Sulis, who added an extra bit on top.

The original image was posted on

One of my northern New Mexico pictures was used on the BLM site about the Cieneguilla Petroglyphs.

I'm happy to permit such use on non-profit sites at no charge provided permission is asked for.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


This B-36 shot from my Zorki 2-C is similar to a black and white from my Ansco Panda I posted on Flickr.  While the two images have very distinct differences, the perspective is very similar.  The Panda lens of around 50mm produces a wide-angle view close to that coming from the 35mm focal length of the Jupiter 12 on the Zorki.

The B-36, with a length of 162 feet and a 230 foot wingspan, was the largest mass-produced piston engine aircraft ever made.  Operational from 1949 to 1959, the B-36 never dropped a bomb or fired a shot against an enemy force.  One did, however, accidentally drop an H-Bomb on Albuquerque in 1957.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I like the Jupiter 12 on my Zorki 2-C for urban walkabouts.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lockheed Constellation

Howard Hughes was involved with the Constellation throughout its design and development process, which goes a long way toward explaining the unique style of this aircraft.  I wish I had a clearer memory of the one flight I made in a Connie toward the end of its career in the mid-'60s.  I recall that the jet liner I was traveling in from the East Coast to the West developed some mechanical problem, and all the passengers were loaded onto a Constellation in Chicago.  By then we were all spoiled by the speed and convenience of jet travel at a time when passengers could still expect something like a decent in-flight meal. The attendants did their best to make us comfortable, but I remember the rest of the cross-country flight as painfully slow.  Had I made the flight ten years earlier, I have no doubt I would have been impressed by the craft's speed and elegance.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Desert Panda

During our visit Phoenix got some unusually cool and even rainy weather.  In northern Arizona that translated into a couple feet of snow.  By the time we got to Flagstaff the sun was shining and the roads were dry, but the tables at the entrance to McDonalds were still piled high with evidence of the late winter storm.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chase Tower

This just in.

Back today from Phoenix with a side trip to Tucson to visit the Pima Air and Space Museum. I shot four cameras there, starting off with the Certo Dolly Super Sport.  I was pleased to see some progress with that old folder, though I still have some work to do on it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

El Sueño de Dalí

Could this be the most surreal moment in the life of Salvador Dalí ?

This is the lead photo in a slide show from the Spanish newspaper, El País commemorating today's 100th Anniversary of the Girl Scouts. I don't see any official logos on the cameras, but they all appear to be models that one would expect to see in the hands of Las Girl Scouts in 1960 when the photo was made.  The Brownie Hawkeye Flash is appropriately front and center.  I think I see an Ansco Shur-Flash half hidden in the back row.  Not sure about the others.

The Slate site also has a slide show about the Girl Scouts, along with a thoughtful article comparing the organization and its founders to to Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What more do we need to know?

The photojournalist who seems to me to be most skillful at explaining America's wars to Americans is Elliot D. Woods.  As a former soldier, he presents the point of view of the combatants as few others can.  However, he also seems able to achieve an extraordinary level of rapport with the people in whose lands the wars are being waged.

There is a great article with pictures and words by Woods in the March issue of The Sun magazine about a platoon of Marines in Afghanistan.  It paints a terrible picture in black and white of bravery and futility.  I haven't found an on line presentation of the article yet, but I'll post it here when I do.  In the meantime, it is worth the effort to track down a copy of the magazine.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Roll Film Formats

Here are some reels from roll film cameras in my collection.

L to R:  127  620  120  116  122

I get questions frequently about identifying old cameras and asking what kind of film they use.  There is quite a variety, so the confusion is understandable, particularly in regard to Kodak as the company had a habit of reusing camera names, often applying the same name to cameras of different types and formats.  The name, "Brownie", for instance was applied to box cameras and folders, and they might use 127, 120 or 620 film.

The early Kodak folders did adhere to a system of sorts in which there was an association of model names and film sizes.  Thus, No.1 and No.2 Kodaks used 120 film.  No.1A Kodaks used 116 film.  No.3A Kodaks used 122 film.

Later Kodak model names left out the direct film size reference, with only an oblique gesture toward identification.  The Bantam series name, for instance, referred to the 828 roll film format.  The 127-format cameras were called "Vest Pocket" models by Kodak, and some other companies also used that association of model and film size.  Other companies used the term, "Baby", to refer to their small 127 format cameras.

The earliest Kodak film reels had wooden core spools.  As can be seen in this rotating 3D model, the ends were different, so there was a right way and a wrong way to insert the reel in the camera.

The Wikipedia Film Formats page has some comprehensive tables of the many film formats which have appeared over the years.  The tables include image dimensions, production years, and associated model names as well as a lot of other helpful data.

Friday, March 09, 2012

got focus

I ran another roll through my Certo Super Sport Dolly after adjusting the focus.  

I traded away a very nice Dolly some years ago and have been looking for a replacement ever since.  I bought four in various states of repair in the intervening time.  Mostly they were junk, but I've got a good supply of parts now, and the latest purchase has me nearly to the finish line.

This one has a good bellows and, being an early model, it sports the elegant diamond-pattern on the leather covering.  The cloudy front lens element cleaned up pretty well.  The low-speed escapement has a lazy spring, so I'm limited to shooting at 1/25 and faster, but that is not much of a problem.

Since everything is really working pretty well at this point, I'm looking forward to shooting this camera on an upcoming trip to Phoenix.

Thursday, March 08, 2012


Margaret was the keynote speaker at the Growing Through Loss Conference in Las Cruces on March 2nd.  Her topic was the history of Mesilla Valley Hospice where she worked for about twenty years, most of that as the Executive Director. 

When Margaret first started working with the organization in the early '80s it was mostly supported by the hard work of a few volunteers based in a store-front office to provide in-home end-of-life care.  Margaret gradually built the staff, the patient census and the support of the community to create a first-class hospice that presently serves about a hundred patients at a time.
    Most people still are able to receive the needed support to stay at home, but there is also a residential facility, La Posada, which can provide residential care for up to 28 patients and their families.  No one is turned away from hospice services because of an inability to pay, thanks in a large part to Margaret's early effort to convince the State of New Mexico to make indigent care funds available to hospice and other non-profit social service and health care organizations throughout the state.

Back to the Bar

I rode my Shadow back to the bar at the end of Highway 6 on a windy Monday afternoon.  I carried along a Super Sport Dolly which I've been working on.  Most of the pictures on the first test roll were a little off focus, but the Trioplan looks like it will get the job done.  I'll have more to say about the camera once I've shot another roll or two.