Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Versatile Dolly

The Certo Dolly Super Sport
is one of my favorite old folding cameras.  I did not realize that until I had traded away my first one, and I ended up buying four more.  Some of my other medium format cameras are more compact and have somewhat more sophisticated lenses and shutters.  The Dolly, however, can do a variety of things the others can't.

For starters, the Dolly originally came equipped with two frame masks which allowed putting 12 6x6 frames on a roll of 120 film, or by clipping in the 6x4.5 mask, getting 16 shots on a roll.  Certo also offered a amazing array of accessories for that time for the Dolly, including interchangeable lenses, and camera backs which allowed the use of sheet film and plates.  As it turns out, it is also easily possible to use 35mm film in the Dolly.

The Dolly film compartment, unlike those in most medium format cameras, will actually allow dropping in a standard 35mm cartridge with no modifications needed.  Then, you thread the film leader into the take-up spool, give it a few turns and close the back.  Since there is no paper backing on the 35mm film, it is a good idea to tape over the three windows on the camera back to insure that no light leaks in to ruin your film.  If you have the 6x6 cm mask in place, the exposures you make in the Dolly using 35mm film will give you panoramic frames nearly twice the width of a normal 35mm shot, as well as showing an interesting line of sprocket holes along the top and bottom borders.

The final thing to bear in mind about using 35mm film with no paper backing in the Dolly is that you must come up with some way to advance the film for each frame by turning the film advance knob just the right amount to ensure proper frame spacing.  I've done this with a number of other medium format cameras by experimenting with a roll of film with the back open to determine the right amount to turn the advance knob as I work through the roll.  The amount of turns does vary slightly due to the increase in diameter of the film roll as it goes onto the take-up reel.

The clever Dolly as it turns out has a built-in solution to the film advance problem.  There is a circular index dial on the face of the take-up knob which allows advancing the film without reference to the numerals imprinted on the paper backing of the 120 film normally used in the camera.

After you load the 35mm cartridge into the Dolly, you will want to give the advance knob several full turns to bring an unexposed section of film into position.  As you are coming to that point, just be sure that you end the last turn with the numeral "1"  at the index mark on the post beside the knob.  After making the first exposure, you will then turn the advance knob a full 360 degrees plus a little more to get to the numeral "2" on the dial.  And so on up to the twelfth exposure.  Examining the dial closely, you wil see that the amount indicated to turn decreases slightly on each exposure so that by frame 10 you will actually be turning the advance knob less than a full turn.

Well, so that has gotten you to the twelfth frame with very precise spacing.  After that you're on your own, assuming you have loaded a 24 or 36-exposure roll of 35mm. If you still have some unexposed film left I guess you could engage in some higher mathematics to calculate the advance routine for any remaining length of the roll, but I think I'd just go with around three-quarters of a turn for any remaining frames and accept the fact that the spacing is going to get a bit wider as you go. 

I only tried 35mm in my Dolly on one occasion a few years ago.  I shot with the 6x4.5 mask, so I did not get the nice panoramic effect, but I thought having the image overlap the full width of the fillm and show the sprocket holes was pretty neat.  I also just took a best guess on the film advance.  It was a lot of fun and gave me a series of images I liked.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

a sweet goodbye

My Pentax K1000 is going to a new home in Arizona.  I decided to run one last roll of film through the camera, the cheap but colorful Lomography 100 which has always given me good results with the Unicolor C-41 color negative chemistry kit.

The 36-exposure roll includes two trips to the Rio Grande bosque, a walk in the Sandia Mountain foothills, and a brief visit to Santa Fe.

I haven't made a lot of pictures in the past year.  The outings with the K1000 were a good reminder of what I like about photography.  While making pictures is the goal of the effort, the bigger reward is the opportunity which photography provides to become totally immersed in the moment; I am able to focus my attention completely on the details of my surroundings with no other concerns of life crowding my consciousness.  Photography allows me to partake in a small way in the Navajo aspiration to walk in beauty.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Rock Art Morning

I enjoyed a morning outing to the Piedras Marcadas rock art site on the west side of Albuquerque thanks to being able to participate in a free photo workshop there conducted by Mark Bohrer.  I reaffirmed the fact that I am constitutionally unable to walk around taking pictures with a group of other photographers.  I did, however, appreciate Mark's fine introduction to the subject.  I was also inspired to look at the familiar site in a somewhat different way than I have in the past, and I explored some new ideas using color and filters that I hadn't got around to trying before.  Splendid weather and a fine experience.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Voigtländer Vitomatic II

A friend recently passed along this nice Voigtländer Vitomatic II to me.  The camera shows little signs of use since it was made in 1959.  The rangefinder patch is a little dim and the vertical alignment is off, but it still works pretty well. All the normal shutter speeds look close to accurate.  The most impressive feature of the camera is the very fine F2.8/50mm Color Skopar lens.  I was pleased to get the Vitomatic as the precursor Vito II with the Color Skopar is probably my favorite camera and I did not have a representative of this crucial develpment period in camera history.

All the other major German camera manufacturers including Zeiss Ikon, Agfa, and Braun made similar cameras for the upscale amateur market with coupled rangefinders and selenium light meters.  There was also quite a race underway between German and Japanese companies at the time to see who could come up with the most advanced features.  Subsequent models of the Vitomatic, for instance, would add exposure read-outs to the viewfinder and faster shutters.  However, in spite of the advancements in feature additions, 1959 would turn out to be a watershed year in the camera industry as the Japanese surged ahead from there in terms of both design and price competitiveness.

I tend to prefer the more compact design of the earlier Vito folding cameras, but that compactness probably was not sustainable for adding the coupling for the rangefinders and light meters.  Even with much of the focusing, shutter and aperture mechanism moved out to the protruding lens mount of the Vitomatic, the additional mechanism under the top deck became very dense.  As a result, present day restorers and users of the camera will encounter some difficulties in making repairs and adjustments.  The weight to size ratio also took an upward leap; the Vitomatic feels at first heft like it might be crafted from depleted uranium.

I loaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X into the Vitomatic and took it to Albuquerque's Rio Grande Zoo.

The smiles on the faces of the kids riding the zoo's new carousel brought back happy memories of the extraordinary exhilaration of that experience.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Zeiss Ikon Box-Tengor

Zeiss Ikon started its line of Box-Tengor cameras in 1926. Many different models featuring a variety of film formats were offered. I have the last three models including the second version of the model 54/2 which was produced from 1934 to 1938, the 55/2 appearing in 1939, and the post-war 56/2 with a production run from 1948 to 1956. All of these used 120-size film and produced eight 6x9cm negatives per roll. All three models share the Goerz Frontar lens, a cemented doublet design that is supplemented by two accessory lenses on a rotating disk just behind the main lens which allow focusing for middle-distance and close-up. Another rotating disk, adjusted with the tab below the lens, allows a choice of three apertures.

My 54/2 Box-Tengor came to me from the former British colony of Cyprus, and probably for that reason has a three section focal distance scale marked in feet rather than meters. The indicated focal ranges are 3-6 feet, 6-20 feet, and 20 feet to infinity. Examining the actual image projected to the film plane on a ground glass showed those setting to be only approximate, and they varied from one camera to the next. Even at the smallest f-stop, the depth of field is nowhere near three feet at the near setting, so the user is best advised to keep close-up subjects at a range of 4-5 feet. Focusing for subjects at greater distances is less critical, and using smaller f-stops further enhances the chances of keeping middle distance and scenic subjects in focus.

The last two models of the Box-Tengor incorporated some feature enhancements including a large round film advance knob and double exposure prevention. While those changes were no doubt appealing to consumers, they may have had somewhat of a negative effect on durability and reliability. Though undeniably elegant and feature-laden, the Box-Tengors are still relatively inexpensive cameras, and the moving parts are made largely from soft sheetmetal held together by rivets.
Complicating the basic design with additional user-friendly additions put a lot of strain on a delicately balanced mechanism which can lead ultimately to failure under heavy use. For those reasons, the oldest of the three in my possession, the 54/2 model, is a clear favorite due to its simpler and solid design integrity.

The 55/2 model was introduced in 1939, and produced only for a year before WWII buried it. While it incorporated the main design enhancements which would appear in the post-war model, the bent tab shutter release and the time/instant selector at the top of the camera seem entirely out of character, and may have been compromises forced by war-time industrial production priorities.

In the final 56/2 model, the f-stop range was changed to f/9, f/11 and f/16. A little sliding door was installed over the back panel ruby window to give greater light leak protection for the faster films available after the war. The shutter release became an elegant little knurled knob, again located on the front lower right of the camera body. When looking at the camera from the front, it appears that the lens has been coated, but it turns out that is just a reflection from a deceptively tinted shield which flips over the aperture during the return rotation of the shutter disk.

The Box-Tengor shutter can be held open with the Time setting for low light exposures, or it can be used in Instant mode which gives an exposure of about 1/30th of a second. I can get sharp pictures from some of my small cameras at that speed, but a bulky box camera with a side-mounted release is just not conducive to capturing sharp images at slow shutter speeds. Getting in the habit of using a cable release and a tripod with the Box-Tengor will go a long way toward realizing the true potential of this elegantly styled box camera.
 * * * 
All of these pictures were made with the 54/2 Box-Tengor on a tripod.  The portrait is Tri-X, while the rest are on TMAX 100.


National Hispanic Cultural Center

Lewis Antique Auto & Toy Museum, Moriarty

User Manuals for the Box-Tengors are at the Butkus site.