Friday, August 31, 2012

Into the Archives

Margaret - May 2, 2003

I made this picture with my little Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 35.  I think it was not long after I acquired the camera and got it cleaned up well enough to make some pictures.  The features of the camera are very similar to the Vito II which I acquired at the same time.  The coated Tessar lens on this camera is very similar to the Color Skopar on the Voigtländer, and apparently identical to the Tessar on the Contaflex.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

C3 Rangefinder Adjustment

The split-image rangefider on the Argus C3 is a lot more reliable and easier to use than almost any other old camera.  Often, a little cleaning of the optics is all that is needed to get the rangefinder working like new.

Occasionally, one needs to unscrew the silver port cover on the top to make some adjustment to the vertical and horizontal alignment of the rf image.  There is a lot of helpful information on the internet about performing the adjustment.  Strangely enough, none of the half dozen or so C3 examples I have looked at over the past few years have had rangefinders that look like the illustrations.  Nearly all show a couple screws as pictured below, but they are separated by a crease in the metal plate, and the directions for the needed adjustments never seem to work.

On my cameras -- all post-war models -- the little top screw does clearly change the vertical image alignment.  Just turning the bottom screw, however, accomplishes nothing.  If you disassemble the rf mechanism, what you will discover is that under the larger screw there is a little slot oriented perpendicular to the long axis of the camera.  To adjust horizontal alignment you need to loosen the screw and then move it toward  or away from the lens.

That sounds a bit easier than it is.  In fact, if you can see the screw move when you push it forward or back, you have gone way too far.  Looking through the rf window, you will see that the split images cannot be brought together, so you need to gently push things roughly back in place and start over with very gentle nudges to the front or back edges of the large screw head. When you get things lined up properly, you can tighten down the screw, but that may throw the adjustment off a tiny bit.  The trick seems to be to make ever-smaller adjustment movements, and to allow a little margin for the final screw tightening.  Cleaning and lightly lubing the rf mechanism may make the process a little easier.

 A useful target for the adjustment process is a phone pole a couple blocks away; sight on it and move the rf adjustment wheel to the infinity position, which should bring the split images into perfect vertical and horizontal alignment.  Getting the focus set perfectly at the infinity position should result in proper focus at all the intermediate positions as well.  Once you are satisfied no further adjustment is needed, it may be worthwhile to put a drop of paint or glue on top of the screws to insure that everything stays in place.

I can't imagine that the Argus factory technicians used the kind of hit-or-miss method I've described to get the rangefinder adjusted.  My guess would be that they had some kind of jig with micrometer adjustments to get the job done.  In any case, it is a task that can be accomplished even without any special tools and it is really much more a matter of persistence than of skill.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Shooting the Vito II

I've always thought the Voigtländer Vito II was the perfect travel camera and have used it most in that capacity.  The classic little folder is actually more versatile than what that categorization implies, however.

I think the key to shooting the Vito II successfully is, as often the case, a matter of knowing the camera's capacities and your own.  There is no question about the resolution the Color Skopar lens can deliver.  The camera is easy to carry along because of its compactness.  It doesn't have a built-in rangefinder, and I think that is likely what causes many people some hesitation in using the Vito II.
   A little practice at distance estimation goes a long way toward building confidence.  Choosing shutter speeds and f-stops appropriate to conditions and your own judgment capacties and steadiness is also a matter of easily gained experience.  For me, shooting the Vito II at f8 and 1/60 is about as wide and slow as I can go and still get well-focused close-up shots without camera movement.  Those are the parameters I selected for a recent open shade portrait session.  I can get most shots right at those settings at a distance of 3.5 feet.  At 6 feet I seldom miss as the depth of focus is much more forgiving.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Anscoflex II Origens

Quite a bit of the history of Ansco can be found at Bill's Photo History site, including a well-detailed chronology of the company and a full page of Ansco protoype pictures.  The picture below shows some color treatments which Ansco considered for the Anscoflex II before settling on the basic gray of the the production model.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Mixed Bag

I saw an ad on Craigslist for a yard sale with cameras in Albuquerque's South Valley.  Seemed like a good excuse for a ride on the motorcycle, even though I didn't expect to find anything I really needed.

Well, of course, I didn't need yet another Argus C3 since my shelf is already groaning under the weight of several old bricks.  BUT, this Matchmatic looked to be in good shape other than the usual cloudy rangefinder, and it had a working light meter. I didn't need another K1000 either, except that the trivial price also made it a must-have.  There was also a Series VI adapter, a 2+ Portra lens, a skylight filter, and a nifty little yellow and orange Kodak film can.  So not a bad haul.

We got back on the bike and headed north on Coors Blvd.  About a mile up the road I picked up a nail in the rear tire.  As luck would have it, we were only about four blocks from a motorcycle shop.  I drove the bike slowly there along the roadside.  Margaret graciously walked behind carrying the cameras.  An hour later we were back on the road.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Contessa-Nettel Cocarette

Contessa Nettel was a camera company in Stuttgart under the direction of Dr. August Nagel that offered buyers about forty different models including many variations of the Cocarette in the 1920s.  The company merged with the group that formed Zeiss Ikon in 1926, but Nagel was out of his comfort zone there, and he left to start up the Dr. Nagel-Werke factory that was ultimately acquired by Kodak in 1932.  Around that time, Nagel developed the first pre-loaded 35mm cassette for the Retina.

Nagel probably was personally responsible for the design of the Cocarette, but it is hard to know at this remove how much of a hand he took in the design of later models.  However, all the cameras that came from his factory clearly met his exacting requirements for design excellence.  Shortly before August Nagel died in 1943 his son, Helmut Nagel, took over the direction of the company, managing it though the war and for many years afterward. A large number of lenses, camera components and newly developed prototypes had been hidden in a secret bunker before the war's end; with the help of U.S. overseers, the company managed to get its cameras back into production within months of the surrender.

The Cocarette line of cameras from Contessa-Nettel were produced with a variety of shutter and lens combinations. What they all had in common was a high level of quality in their materials and construction, along with some unique features which set them apart from the crowd. The shell of the camera was all metal with finely patterned side panels and high quality leather covering. The internal film-carrying frame was attached to one of the side panels and slid out of the camera like a drawer for film loading. Film flatness was assured in the Cocarette by threading the roll film through slotted rails rather than the more common pressure plate found in most other folding cameras of the time. A round port in the camera's back with a removable disk cover gave acces to the rear lens element for cleaning.

My camera, made before the 1926 merger with Zeiss Ikon, has the simplest lens and shutter combination offered, a three-element f6.3 anastimat topped by a dial-set Derval with speeds from 1/25 to 1/100 plus B and T. Focusing from 6 feet to infinity was achieved by pulling out the lens standard until a focusing tab dropped into the desired focal setting notch on the left side of the bed. Like nearly all the surviving Cocarettes, mine is missing the foot on the front cover, and the end handle is also missing its leather covering.

The camera was otherwise in nice condition for its age, requiring only a cleaning of the three lens elements to get it usable. By attaching a transparent target to the rails at the film plane I was able to verify proper lens collimation, and also discovered the process that the front lens needed to be flipped so the convex side faced outward. The lens proved nicely sharp in use, and the available 1/100 shutter speed made hand held shots feasible. To reduce the liklihood of camera shake I used a cable release, and also taped a simple frame-type finder to the side which gave me a much better view of my subjects than the bright, but too small reflex finder.

 These pictures of the fountain and the enlarged central section demonstrate the good resolution of the lens at f31.

Two more shots from my first roll through the camera:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Paul Strand

I happened on a copy of Paul Strand: An American Vision at the library.  There is quite a lot of text by Sara Greenough, so I didn't take the time to read it on the spot.  At home, I looked for the book on Amazon and was surprised to find a very good hard copy at $20, so of course I had to get it.

There are a lot of books similar to this, some from Aperture as well.  This one is distinguished by the lengthy appreciation by Greenough, and by the inclusion of many letters from Strand in which he talked about his work and that of his contemporaries.  The photos in this book were produced from the original negatives by Richard Benson, and published in a joint venture by Aperture and the National Gallery of Art.

It has always seemed to me that Strand was the most revolutionary photographic artist of all time.  Just look at the 1915-1916 dates on his early work and compare it to what else was being done at the time.  Stieglitz recognized the importance of Strand's vision immediately and broadcast that message widely through Camera Work.  What seems equally surprising is how long Strand's totally new way of portraying the world with photography took to seep into the popular consciousness.  If you look at photo magazines other than Camera Work, you see them promoting the same old last-Century style of work for a couple decades after Strand turned the world upside down.  Other giants, like Weston, Cunningham and Rodchenko, came along and gradually reformed people's ideas of how the world may be looked at, but I don't recall seeing any of those later photographers giving Strand the credit he really deserves.

Greenough alludes to the Strand's obsession with quality and makes a nod toward his techniques in mentioning his early preference for platinum prints.  Of course, this being a book about Art, one mustn't mention any details of technique or equipment.  Fortunately, such facts can be found easily in Strand's case with a little searching.  The George Eastman House web site has a whole page devoted to Strand's techniques and equipment.  As might be expected he started off shooting glass plates; his cameras included an 8x10 Korona view camera and a 4x5 or 5x7 Graphflex.  There is a claim there that Strand ultimately did some work with 35mm, but I have not seen confirmation of that and am doubtful he could have brought himself down to that format outside of his motion picture work.  A posting on reports the existence of a video showing Strand using a Mamiya 330 twin-lens reflex in his later years in France.

Manhatta  is a film made by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler in 1921.  The text which appears on screen is taken from the writings of Walt Whitman.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Car Show Camera

I took my Argus C3 to a Sunday car show in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.  Seemed the perfect camera for such an event.

I picked up this C3 at a yard sale not long ago along with several other cameras.  The fellow was selling about everything he owned and going back to Sweden for surgery on a cancer the doctors here said was inoperable.  I didn't need yet another C3, but it seemed like a worthy cause to support.

This is one of the later models with features like the Matchmatic, but it has standard shutter speeds and f-stops.  The coated Cintar is well-recessed into the mount, so not much need to use a lens shade.  I opened up the rangefinder from the top and got everything sparkly clean.  A little cleaning and lube on the gear teeth got the dials turning smoothly.  The shutter needed no attention, though I did reposition the cocking lever so it would be less likely to catch a finger.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Brilliant Dance

Margaret called me from Old Town Albuquerque where she had ridden her bike to mail some letters from the post office there.  I could hardly hear her over the sound of the drums and the chanting, but it was clear that she thought I ought to get myself over there.

On something of a whim, I dropped a roll of 35mm Kodak Gold 100 into my Voigtländer Brilliant.  I taped up the yellow window on the camera's bottom to keep the light from the unprotected 35mm film.  One-and-one-half rotations of the film advance knob seemed about right to keep the frames separated properly.

Getting a moving target properly centered in the viewfinder which is left-right reversed was a little challenging.  Still, I thought the little camera performed brilliantly again.