Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Shooting the Kodak Recomar 18

The Kodak Recomar 18 is a 2¼ x 3¼ compact folding plate camera. Two models of this type were produced in Kodak's Stuttgart plant in the 1930's, the other being the larger Recomar 33 which yielded 9x12 cm negatives. The Recomars were designed to be used with plates or sheet film, either in individual film holders or in film packs. Roll film backs were also available which allowed the use of 120-format film.

All the major camera manufacturers produced compact plate cameras at around the same time; Kodak's offerings, originally a Nagel design, were very competitive in regard to materials and craftsmanship. The Recomar 18 was equipped with a Kodak Anastigmat f-4.5/105mm lens and a Compur shutter with speeds from 1 to 1/250 secs., plus T and B settings. There was no front or back tilt capability, but the lens board could be shifted laterally and vertically. Three different view systems were available to the user: a ground glass back, a wire-frame viewfinder with a pop-up eye piece, and a swiveling reflex finder to which was attached a bubble level. The extended bellows could be racked out to produce a subject to image ratio of nearly 1:1.

My camera came to me clean and fully operational, but it lacked the reflex viewfinder. I found a junker with a good finder for a few dollars, so now have everything as originally configured except a working bubble level. I also have a Rada roll film adapter, and have only used that to make pictures with the camera. The adapter makes the camera about as convenient to shoot as any of the folding cameras of the same era if used with the reflex viewfinder. However, with the Rada adapter in place, the additional bulk interferes with proper aiming of the camera through the wire-frame viewfinder in the landscape position. I really got the camera with the intent of using it for close-up work using the ground glass back, so the limitation on the use of the wire-frame finder has not been a hindrance to me.

I've only put a few rolls of film through the Recomar since acquiring it a couple years ago. The results I've gotten from the camera so far have been inconsistent. Thinking that something might need adjusting, I devoted some time recently to make sure that the ground glass back and the roll film adapter were properly positioned at the film plane. I also verified that the infinity setting was correct with the use of a film plane target and an slr. I bought a new piece of ground glass and installed it in the film pack holder, but the brightness is not noticibly better, and the Zeiss ground glass back with the little fold-open hood is more convenient. In low light, or when dealing with strong reflections on the ground glass, I drape a large black cloth over me and the camera.

The Rada film back allows the use of 120 roll film.
My conclusion at this point is that my dissatisfaction with the photos I've gotten from the Recomar has more to do with a lack of operator skills than with camera qualities. Except for tilts, the Recomar is a view camera and it demands a somewhat higher level concentration and attention to detail than I am accustomed to. Since I tend to use the camera mostly for close-up and macro work, that adds an additional level of complexity which also calls for greater self-discipline. I could spend some money and get a more modern medium-format camera, or I could use fine-grain film in one of my Pentax to do close-up photography, but I'm intrigued by the challenge of making pictures with this elegant little view camera that is really not significantly bigger when folded up than my Leica copy FED-1g.

Below are some photos from the Recomar 18. 


Jim Grey said...

I see you're slowly bringing your old site's content here to the blog. I've considered doing that with my road-trip reports from my static HTML site (at www.jimgrey.net/Roads) as I'd love to deprecate those pages and focus on my blog going forward.

Anyway. Nice to see this writeup of this interesting camera again, and enjoy the photos you shared. Despite the fumbles you describe in using the camera, you got some lovely images from it.

Mike said...

Yes. Some of my old cameras were pretty well covered in blog posts, but others like the Recomar were mostly explained in the web site pages. My idea in the past was to make the blog and the web site work together, with the more in-depth camera reviews in the web site. I had a bit more latitude in layout and organization in the web site, but I've found I can come pretty close in the blog if I'm more concise and a little more selective in my illustrations. Another part of the current effort is to pull together my ideas about photography in a more coherent form such as I did in the Blurb book on box cameras. Much of my time lately has been taken up with the next book on pinhole photography, and I expect to have that ready to go soon.