Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kodak Duaflex

As World War II began to wind down, all the major American camera makers including Kodak, Ansco and Argus were aiming to capture the entry-level niche with simple roll film cameras equipped with brilliant reflective viewfinders. Kodak's entry into the revived consumer market would by brought into existance by one of their experienced designers, Miller R. Hutchison, Jr.

A 1940 Census enumerator, finding Hutchison at home on a tree-shaded street in a Rochester residential neighborhood, recorded the family's essential data (and slightly misspelled the name). Miller, it was noted, was employed as a mechanical engineer with a $5000+ yearly income. A crucial additional detail indicated that the family had resided previous to coming to Rochester in Morris County, New Jersey. What that points to is the likelihood that M.R. Hutchison, Jr. was the son of M.R. Hutchison, Senior, who invented the first electric hearing aid in 1902, the year of Miller,Jr.'s birth. By 1909 Miller, Senior would be associated closely with the Edison Lab in West Orange. So Miller, Jr. clearly had some powerful inspiration which propelled him toward a career as an innovative design engineer.

The patent for the orginal Duaflex was filed by Hutchison on March 15, 1945. The camera featured, along with the large and brilliant finder, a simple meniscus lens with a focal length of approximately 70mm. Like all the medium format Kodaks of the era, the Duaflex could only accomodate 620 roll film. The modular construction and the metal, bakelite and glass materials were also typically well grounded in the Kodak design tradition. What was innovative in Hutchison's design for the Duaflex was not the basic feature set shared with many other cameras of the time, but rather the construction methodology that produced a reliable snapshot machine at a modest cost of manufacture. How that was to be accomplished is laid out in great detail in the patent abstract.

Subsequent Duaflex models which included the designations II, III and IV added numerous features to the basic design including a flip-up viewfinder hood, a double-exposure prevention module, variable aperture and in the III-model a multi-element and fully focusable lens. All models, however, retained Hutchison's original basic box camera shutter design with its plunger-style shutter release button. The shutter was factory-set to a speed of about 1/30 sec. plus a "Bulb" setting, and it was wired for synchronization to a flash unit which plugged into the side of the camera opposite the shutter button.

I have had opportunities to handle all models of the Duaflex, but I particularly like the simplicity and integrity of Hutchison's orginal 1947 design. I've only put one roll of film through the camera as of this writing, but I'm looking forward to further exploring the capabilities of this interesting little camera.

Pictures from the first Duaflex:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Left-Handed Salute

Last Saturday's car show presented some rather extreme lighting conditions.  It seemed a good opportunity to try the XA2 again as my previous outing with it showed some exposure inconsistencies.

I held my left hand over the top of the camera throughout the roll of Fuji 200, and it seemed to me that the exposure was good in all the shots.  At the end of the roll I tried recreating the problem, but only saw a slight color shift when I shot without shading the meter sensor.  So, I'm left wondering if the problem I saw before was due to some other issue.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Kodak Duaflex

I found this Kodak Duaflex at a garage sale recently.  It has some scrapes and dents, but the lens is clear, the shutter works, and there are no light leaks.  It took me a moment to recognize this camera as I was previously familiar with later models which are a bit larger and have more features.  I thought it would be interesting to compare the Duaflex to the Panda, which was its nearest competitor in the immediate post-war American market.

Kodak stuck to what it knew with the Duaflex.  The construction is similar to simple pre-war metal and bakelite designs with the primary innovation being the brilliant reflective viewfinder.  The Kodet meniscus lens has good central sharpness which degrades rapidly toward the image edges.  The flat film plane emphasizes the limitations of the simple lens design.

The Duaflex cost two or three times what was asked for the Ansco Panda.  For that extra expense, you got shutter sync for a flash attachment, "I" and "B" shutter settings, a tripod mounting socket, and the possibility of using the slip-on No.6A Kodak Closeup Attachment.  Like the Panda, and all of Kodak's medium format cameras of the era, the Duaflex required the use of 620 film.

Later Duaflex models added double-exposure prevention, variable f-stops, viewfinder hoods, and full-focusing multi-element lenses.  

All of the Duaflex models have a rather awkward shutter release plunger.  If you can manage to hold the camera still while releasing the shutter, quite nice results can be obtained.

Friday, June 22, 2012


I have added a page to the Photo Ephemera section of my vintage cameras web site about Ansco's Portrait Magazine, published from 1909 to 1921.  Ansco's publication resembles those of Kodak and Sears from the same era, but the Binghamton, New York company slanted it's editorial efforts much more toward a commercial professional audience.

Each issue of Portrait featured a cover shot of a noted portrait photographer and an article inside with a bit of biographical information and a sample of the photographer's work.

 Gertrude Käsebier  was featured in the July 1912 issue.  The sample of her work in the publication is not a memorable example of her capabilities.  Alfred Stieglitz included six of her best in the first issue of Camera Work in 1903, but by 1912 he had decided that her efforts to make a living from her work violated his standards of artistic purity.  That, however, did not stop Stieglitz from participating as a featured speaker at the Ansco-sponsored photo convention being promoted in the July  Portrait issue.  In that context the magazine's editors noted:
One of the many features of the Convention will be a talk by Alfred Stieglitz, who, although not a professional photographer is recognized as a leader of pictorial photography.
Stieglitz was probably ok with being excluded from the "professional" category, but my guess is that the wording of the announcement still rankled a bit. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Christmas 1947

I've been trolling the web looking for the production dates of the Ansco Panda.  Present day references to the little box camera assign the production dates as somewhere between 1939 and 1960.  My guess at this point is that the camera was ordered into production right after WWII in 1946.  The earliest ad for a Panda I have found comes from the December 1947 edition of Boys' Life Magazine.

Today, somewhat by accident, I came across a set of pictures at Flickr from a Panda that were made that same year.  Laird Scott and his brother, Dick, each found a Panda under the Christmas tree, and they immediately made a set of pictures with their new cameras.  The photos are of quite remarkable quality and, since each boy had one, they also managed to capture pictures of both cameras.  Being able to associate photographs with a specific vintage camera is quite a rare event, and to find a set of such good quality that documents the camera as well is really bucking the odds.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

No.1 Pocket Kodak

The totem was shot on TMAX 100, while the bed and breakfast was captured on TMAX 400.  Both gave good results, but I usually prefer the faster film as it gives me a little leeway in estimating focal distances, and most of the old Kodak lenses seem to perform best at near to their smallest f-stop.

I was able to plug the pinhole that showed up in my first shots with this camera.  I see now, however, that there is a small problem with the "B" and "T" shutter settings which only work intermittently.  The problem may have appeared as a result of using a cable release that was not a good fit with the shutter.  The simple shutters in these old cameras are often made with soft pressed metal parts which are easily bent out of shape.  It is worth looking for an early cable release with a flat rather than tapered tip, and which also doesn't have excessive throw which projects too far into the shutter.  Seems like a lot of trouble at times to get good images from these old folders, but it is nice when it happens.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Song Without Words

In the process of reading Anna Karenina recently I recalled that Tolstoy's wife, Sophia, was a photographer.  I went looking on line for information about her and turned up a nice little review of the book, Song Without Words by Leah Bendavid-Val.  The review author is himself a blogger, photographer and resident of Albuquerque, Joe Van Cleave.  He does a nice job of selecting excerpts from the book and giving them some perspective from the point of view of a photographer.

I thought the book was excellent in its presentation of the life of Sophia Tolstoy in her own words and pictures.  A few of the photographs have been published elsewhere, but the great majority are made available for the first time in the book.  I checked out the book from our library, but I'll likely get a copy for myself as it can be had for near nothing from on line booksellers through Amazon.

There is one question which I have about pictures at the beginning and end of the book which show a small 5x7-format view camera said to be the one used by Sophia Tolstoy.  As Van Cleave faithfully reports in his review, the illustrated camera was said to be a Kodak purchased around 1895.  At that time, George Eastman was in the process of buying up camera companies in Rochester and slapping his company name on the products, which did include view cameras.  I looked through the online catalogs from the period and could not find anything that looked very much like the camera in the book.

I did find several on line illustrations of very similar cameras such as this one at the Live Auctioneers site which is a back-focusing tailboard model.

This camera and the others like it I found were identified as being of German origin, circa 1880.  In the above illustration, you can see a shutter module in the background which is not shown in the book.  Given the style and content of the pictures made by Sophia, it seems very likely that she would have had a shutter on her camera, rather than just relying on a lens cap for making the exposures. I think it is pretty clearly not a Kodak, so one has to wonder if the camera in the book made the photos, or if recollections about the camera's origin have become clouded by time.

In any case, the camera's identity is a pretty small part of the well-told story.  The book contains facsimiles from Sophia's diary entries and the there is no question about the authenticity of the photographs.  There is a nice selection of the photos from the book which can be found at the photo-eye bookstore site.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Big Iron

On Sunday morning we visited our local locomotive restoration project.  Santa Fe 2926 sat in an Albuquerque city park for forty years before being rescued by a group of railway enthusiasts.  They got the locomotive and the tender moved to a siding off Twelfth St. and started getting it back to running order.  

I believe our guide said there are about seventy volunteers working on the project.  The magnitude of the task is pretty well encapsulated in the weight of the locomotive and its tender: about one million pounds.

Financing for the 2920 restoration is all from donations.  Large contributions have been made by several companies such as the Timkin Company which recently provided all new wheel bearings.

Working with the massive steel components is hard work any time, but this time of year is especially challenging because of the 90+ degree heat.

The plan currently calls for the locomotive to be back on the tracks in two to three years.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Walking the Zorki

When I want to travel light, but not compromise on quality, the Zorki 2-C always seems a good choice.  The camera has always been ultra-reliable, and the collapsible coated Industar 22 lens delivers excellent sharpness and tonalities.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Blogging Rewards

People often come to my web site and blog looking for resources to restore their old cameras. I dispense whatever crumbs of wisdom I can dredge up. As a rule, I seldom hear back about how the restoration efforts have gone. A very nice exception to the rule was a recent inquiry about a leaky bellows on a rangefinder-model Super Sport Dolly.

Leon Neal, an exceptionally talented UK press photographer, had enjoyed shooting the Dolly which had been handed down to him by his father. However, the light leaks from the damaged bellows had progressed to the point where they were no longer possible to overlook. Leon was told by a camera repairman that there was no way to repair the bellows on the old German camera. Of course, I took exception to that judgment.

I was able to steer Leon to the workshop in Wales of Sandeha Lynch, an exceptionally talented artist and craftsman who makes custom bellows for medium and large-format cameras. Sandeha performed his usual magic in crafting a bellows for the Dolly, and he also fully serviced the shutter and restored the camera's leather covering and metal fittings. You can read all about the camera, the photographer and the restoration process on Leon's blog.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

más panda

This Panda user graced the pages of the Ansco Panda manual.  The hair and dress look early-to-mid-'40s to me.

Ansco acquired this factory building in 1938 in Binghamton, NY for camera production.  The postcard picture was snapped about 1949 judging from that new Pontiac coupe in the forground.  So, there were likely Pandas in the building.

Sixty-five years later I took a late afternoon walk with my Panda through Albuquerque's Old Town district.

I have added a page to my vintage cameras web site about the Ansco Panda with some notes on its use, along with what little I have been able to find on the camera's history.  There is very little verifiable information on line regarding the Panda's timeline.

Current day users of the Panda and similar film cameras delight in referring to them as "crappy cameras", and there is a popular tacit assumption that the manufacture of such cameras resulted from a succession of simple decisions to use the cheapest available materials and production techniques to come up with disposable mass market products.  That, however, is quite far from an actual picture of the industrial design process in the mid-Twentieth Century.

If you closely compare the Panda to other simple cameras of its time, it is pretty clear that some fundamental rethinking of camera design took place in coming up with the Ansco Panda concept.  Such thinking requires the attention of talented and experienced designers, and these were in fact the kind of people that the big camera companies like Kodak and Ansco sought out to direct the development of popularly accessible photographic products.  It has been well documented, for instance, that both Henry Dreyfuss and Raymond Loewy were responsible for a number of Ansco camera designs.  I have not found any specific reference to their association with the Panda, but it seems quite possible that one of those illustrious designers was responsible for the camera's development.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Rules To Live By

1.  Don't panic.

2.  Do something.

3.  Go to step one.