Wednesday, December 24, 2014

lucky me

Spent much of the morning going through boxes of old papers and photographs. Threw out a lot.
Kept this one.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Fix that old camera!

My rudimentary mechanical skills dictate a cautious approach to camera repair.  My goal is not perfect restoration, but rather a working camera that will let me approximate the results the camera could yield when it was in the hands of its first owner.

I am indebted for my small successes to advice gleaned from the internet.  One of the best sources for film camera restoration on the web was the Classic Camera Repair Forum (CCRF).  That on-line site for many years provided a place to exchange information on fixing old cameras that was unequaled.  The site's operators eventually ran out of server space to maintain the data, and, fortunately, the information was preserved on the RangefinderForum site.  It is still possible to browse through the vast trove of postings, but new queries cannot be made, and the search link goes nowhere.

Luckily for posterity, making the CCRF archive visible on the web made the data available to indexing by the big search engines.  So, for instance, if you want to do a search on fixing a particular old camera and confine the responses just to postings from the old Forum, you can use the "site:" modifier in your Google search query.  An example of this approach for a search of the archive for all references to "Retina" would be to go to Google and enter the following in the Google Search box: retina

You can substitute any other term(s) in place of "retina" and likely turn up some useful gems of information about dealing with any old camera repair problem.

In the interest of making the search of the CCRF archive even easier I have created a small html form widget in which the desired terms can be entered and the information retrieved by just clicking on the "submit" button.  The search form is over in the right-hand column on this blog.  Just scroll down past the "Popular Posts" listing and try it out.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Flash Bantam on the Front Page

My favorite little American-made folding camera, the Kodak Flash Bantam, has been featured on The Guardian.

The Guardian -- 12-12-14
The picture was illustrating a brief history of time capsules, and the camera is part of a stash in a capsule buried under the site of the 1939 World's Fair in Flushing, New York.  The capsule is scheduled for opening in the year 6939.  Given humanity's current trajectory, it seems rather optimistic to imagine that anyone will be around to dig up the treasure.  Clearly, however, a high degree of optimism about the future is the whole point of such exercises.

There is an interesting fact about the camera and the date of the capsule's burial which was not noted in the Guardian article.  The Bantam model actually in production at the time of the 1939 World's Fair was not the Flash Bantam, but rather the Bantam 4.5.  The Flash Bantam was not marketed until 1947.  Given the similarity of the two cameras, it is certainly not unlikely that the company had a pre-production example ready to go into the capsule, but I have not seen any evidence of that before.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim

I've been making an effort recently to promote the Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim group at Flickr. The little vuws is my all-time favorite point-and-shoot, and participants in the Flickr group have produced some of the most interesting images you can find on the big photo sharing site.  Like a lot of other groups there that focus on a specific film camera, the vuws group over the past year or so has seen a drastic diminution in participation.  I've blamed that mostly on the increasing scarcity of places to get film and processing, but there may be other dynamics at work in the ways that people make and share images.  Whatever the case, it seems worthwhile to me to support the survival of a virtual meeting place for people around the world who are still interested in shooting the little ultra-wide.

I have a lot of nice old film cameras which I've enjoyed shooting over the years.  I put what I consider to be my best pictures in my Flickr photostream.  The largest number from a single camera were made with my vuws.

undercover cadillac

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Kodak Duo Six-20

One of my three Duo Six-20 cameras.  This one has a distance scale in meters, an older Compur shutter with a 1/300 top speed and a Tessar f/3.5 lens.  The four-element design of the Tessar yields good correction and resolution, but the added lens-air surfaces increase the likelihood of reflective flare in an uncoated lens. The old Compur's top speed is about a stop slow, but the lower speeds are all close to being correct.

I decided to get a lens hood in order to get the best results from the Tessar, but the only ones I found in the right size on line were expensive and located in Europe.  The local Camera and Darkroom shop did not have any that would easily fit the Duo Six-20 either, so I settled for a standard Series Five hood.  I cut a small strip of black foam and glued it to the inner rim of the hood to provide a good press fit.  I also picked up a selenium cell light meter at the same time to replace my old Sekonic which has gotten lazy in its readings.

I shot all of the pictures on this roll at 1/100 with the Tri-X rated at 200 ASA and processed in Ilfosol 3 at 1:14 dilution.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Sandia Wilderness

First roll of color processed with my second Unicolor kit

Friday, November 21, 2014

autumn leaves

"I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed."
Garry Winogrand

Taken out of context, Winogrand's statement may appear flip and cynical.  I think, however, that he meant it quite sincerely.  He actually made similar statements on many occasions which alluded to photography as a way of investigating the world and the mind's perception of it.  The fact that Winogrand worked primarily in black and white is particularly relevant because of the often unexpected transformations which the extraction of color produce in a photographed scene.

Photographing leaves as they change color in the Fall is illustrative of the nuances of translating from color to monochrome.  Much of the immediate visual impact we experience in viewing Autumn foliage is due to the interplay of colors in the leaves.  Monochrome translation reveals that distinct hues may appear undifferentiated depending on surface reflectivity in the subject and on the chromatic sensitivity of films and lenses.  The challenge then for the monochrome photographer is to look beyond the immediate impact of Autumn's colorful displays to explore some of the other visual components of the observed scenes including form, texture and contrast.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Kodak Bantam RF

I recently acquired a Kodak Bantam for a ridiculously low price on ebay.

Mine looks pretty much like new, and everything works more or less as it should.  Aside from the Bantam name and the 828 film format the RF model had almost nothing in common with the  Bantam strut folders which first appeared in the mid-1930s.  Kodak continued producing the 828 folders for a few years after WWII; the name was then passed on to a new line of fixed lens, bakelite-bodied cameras designed by Arthur H. Crapsey.

The Bantam RF design and the supporting Kodak publicity reflected and helped define the '50s aesthetic.

As I had done with my Flash Bantam, I covered the ruby window on the back of the camera and taped a 24-exposure strip of 35mm film onto the 828 reels.  One nice innovation in the RF model is a roller-based frame spacing mechanism which eliminates the guess-work in advancing the film by counting turns.  The removable back presented a bit of a challenge in the process of film loading inside a dark bag, but I think it will be less of a problem with subsequent rolls.  I exposed the first roll of film through the camera at one of my regular test sites, the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.

F-16 - new paint job and accessories

USS James K. Polk Submarine Sail - surfaced

B-52B Stratofortress

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


I recently acquired a couple more Kodak Bantam cameras which I hope to report on here soon.  They will be measured, subjectively to be sure, against the performance of the Kodak Flash Bantam, the little 828-format folder which to my eye delivers results disproportionate to its compact size.


Ft. Mitchell Fire Dept.

Tingley Ponds

Monday, November 10, 2014


I've been hobbling around for the past week with a bit of a hip strain from chasing the Marigold Parade last weekend.  Seemed a good excuse to hang out at home and work on a project that didn't require any significant level of mobility.  I borrowed a home-built shutter tester from a friend and applied it to measuring the performance of a number of my old cameras.

Shutter tester and Kodak Retina IIc

There is a light-sensitive phototransistor out on the end of the boom which is maneuvered in close to the rear lens.  A flashlight is shone on the front of the lens and the shutter is tripped.  The result is captured through a connection to the microphone port by the freeware Audacity sound recording/editing program.

Audacity Sound Recording and Editing Program, Retina II results

The dark block encloses the opening and closing points of the shutter on my Retina II and the length block at the bottom center shows the duration of the exposure to be 0.012 seconds.  Divide 1 by that amount and you get a shutter speed of 1/83 with the shutter having been set to 1/100.  When I set the Compur-Rapid shutter to 1/250 I got a recorded speed of 1/200.  That is better performance than I get from my Retina IIa, and I was surprised and pleased because the Xenon lens on the II model is probably the best on any of my Retinas.

I tried out the tester on quite a few of my cameras.  The Compur shutters produced very smooth wave forms and the results repeated consistently.  The box camera results all showed speeds in the expected 1/30-1/40 range, but the wave forms were noisy and I didn't have a lot of confidence in the absolute numbers.  Still, the comparisons are interesting, and the relative values are useful.  I didn't try speeds above 1/250 as it seemed that would be stretching the device's capabilities beyond its potential accuracy.

Mid-way through my shutter testing, this mantis showed up on my front porch, so I snapped a few portraits with the digital:

Friday, November 07, 2014


I'm enjoying doing some color work with some of my old cameras which have not seen color before, at least since I have owned them.  The big 6x9 negatives from the Kodak Monitor 620 have a nice tonal solidity and resolution thanks in a large part to the camera's excellent 4-element Kodak Anastigmat Special lens.

I'm also happy with the performance of the cheap lomography color negative film and the Unicolor processing kit.  This is the twelfth roll in the same chemistry and I don't see any degradation at this point, so I'll try a couple more rolls to see what happens.

I've got three more rolls of 120 color which I'll likely devote to a couple of my favorite box cameras.  Also have three 35mm rolls of 100-speed lomography which I got mainly for use in my little p&s ultra-wide, but I may feed one roll to a Bantam RF which is in the mail.

The ELF 3-wheeler is a solar/pedal hybrid that came out of a successful Kickstarter project a year ago.  I'm looking forward to learning more about it.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Marigold Parade - 2014

We had our windshield wipers going all the way to the parade site, but I don't think a drop fell during the actual event.  In any case, nobody seemed at all concerned about the prospect of a little rain on the parade.

I wore my skull mask most of the time I was making pictures.  I added a few flowers to lighten the mood a bit. No one was shocked by my appearance, but I think it did give me a little more freedom of movement.

The theme of this year's event was "El Agua Es La Vida, No Se Vende Se Defiende".  So, the weather was appropriate, and it made the photography a little easier as well.

Quite a few causes and social issues were represented in the parade, but I didn't identify any actual politicians in spite of the nearness of the election.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Graciela Iturbide

The Art21 series on PBS last night featured three artists talking about art as investigation.  The second segment was about the Mexican photographer, Graciela Iturbide, initially an assistant and apprentice to Manuel Alvarez Bravo.  She is known mostly as an interpreter of indigenous Mexican culture, though she has traveled and photographed widely in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Here is a self-portrait made near the beginning of Iturbide's career as a photographer:

Forty years later Iturbide's enduring charm and intelligence has made her a favorite subject of videographers looking to explore the subject of photographic practice and inspiration.  In her Art21 appearance she was able to share many insights into her personal approach to photography without ever sinking into the artspeak which seems to plague artists in other media.

Another good video covering some of the same ground was made by Alejandro Gómez de Tuddo.  I liked the fact that Iturbide was allowed to speak for herself while the English interpretation was left to the sub-titles.

In both of the videos Iturbide is seen shooting black and white film in a big medium-format rangefinder.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Getting in the Mood

With the Day of the Dead fast approaching I decided to revisit some of the local historic cemeteries.  I've been to many of them and have often made pictures of them with my old film cameras.

All of the old graveyards were originally associated with churches, but time has cut that connection in many cases.  Many of the old churches are gone, and many of the cemeteries have been buried under housing and commercial development.  San Felipe de Neri Church in Albuquerque's Old Town Plaza is a good example.  There are some known burials on the grounds, and likely some under the church's floors as well which may date back to Albuquerque's founding in 1706.

San Felipe de Neri -- Certo Dolly Super-Sport -- TMAX 400
A survey report of local cemeteries made in 1999 shows that there was a San Felipe Parish Cemetery located just a few blocks from the church and in use from 1854 to 1869.  The report notes that "... the Jesuits sold this cemetery to John Mann for his market garden in 1892.  He planned to level the ground to accommodate his irrigation ditches, but agreed to move any bones he turned up to a common grave in the new cemetery.  He ultimately plowed up two tons of bones, which were moved to the Santa Barbara Cemetery..."

No visible traces of the old Parish Cemetary remain; the site is now occupied by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and the Explora Science Center and Children's Museum on Mountain Road.  (Coincidentally, our house is just south of Mountain and directly across the street from the historic Mann House.)

There a quite a few Day of the Dead events that take place over the course of about a week in Albuquerque.  The biggest is the Marigold Parade in the South Valley, scheduled this year for Sunday, November 2nd.  I've made pictures of the parade participants for the last several years and will likely do so again this year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nikon EM

I picked up this Nikon EM at a yard sale for $10.  Though not a commercial success for the company, the EM is nicely made, light weight and compact.  The camera's aperture-priority auto exposure was taken as something of an insult by Nikon purists, but it is not a bad trade-off for always-accurate metering, and one can see the system-selected shutter speed in the view finder.

My yard sale find came mounted with a Tokina 35-70 macro zoom lens.  The focal length variability and the close-up capability make for a versatile shooter.  Unfortunately, when the zoom is extended, the camera's dim focus screen gets even worse as the center split-image spot blacks out if the user's eye is not centered just right over the finder.  In fact, I found it nearly impossible to properly focus the camera even under good conditions, and capturing action was entirely out of the question.  I  have heard of people installing different screens from other Nikon models.  I also wonder if a good E-Series prime lens might improve the view.  I probably won't find out, though, unless I happen to find one under a rock.  I'm not inclined to go out to buy expensive lenses to satisfy my curiosity about a ten-dollar camera.