Friday, July 28, 2017

Portra Adventures

We are having afternoon clouds and some thunder, lightning and rain at night as the monsoon season sets in.  I shot a roll of 127 Kodak Portra 160 in my Foth Derby today at 1/50 and f-9.0.  I'm happy with the results, but they don't look much like the low contrast, rather pastel images I see other people making with Portra.  My bulk roll of Portra shows no expiration date; I've had it in the refrigerator for about five years, so it is at least that far along.  I used some freshly brewed Unicolor C-41 today for processing, so the expired film and the uncoated Foth Anastigmat lens seem to account for the unique color signature.

I'll likely use up most of my 127 Portra in the Foth Derby.  The camera's compactness and consistently good performance makes it a pleasure to shoot.  I did try one roll of Portra in my Brownie Reflex, and I will probably shoot a roll soon in my Brownie 44A which also makes square images.   I'm hoping too to make some full-frame vest pocket size images in a Bilora Bella which is on the way to me now. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


A hazard of shooting old film cameras is that the variables that determine success or failure tend to proliferate over time.  It gets hard as a result to determine the cause of certain problems that arise, and I find myself sometimes questioning the effectiveness of my developers.  The only thing to do at that juncture is to load some film in one of the cameras in which I have a lot of confidence and see what comes up in the developer.  I chose recently to do that with my Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 35.

I found the '50s era Ikonta about fifteen years ago in a Las Cruces pawn shop.  A little cleaning turned it into a solid performer; the Synchro-Compur shutter is very reliable, and the coated Tessar lens always yields sharp images.  I loaded a roll of Kentmere 100, shot most of it on a walk through Albuquerque's Old Town, and then dunked the film in HC-110, dilution B for six minutes.  As little as 9.4 mL of HC-110 will do for a roll of film, so a bottle of the stuff takes a long time to get through.  I was pleased to see that my half-bottle looks good for quite a few more rounds.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Sorting out 828

I shot my second roll of Konica 160 in my Kodak Flash Bantam.  I gave the expired film a couple stops extra exposure and got good density in the negatives on this roll.  With no sprocket holes in the film which I would have with the 35mm I have shot in the past, the images take advantage of the full 828 format as shown in this full-frame scan.

Those bumps in the upper right of the image are produced by actual notches in the camera's framing mask.  I've made numerous inquiries about the purpose of this feature in the Bantam cameras, but have never received a satisfactory explanation about what purpose it might have served.

Using the 35mm film holder in my Epson scanner chops a bit off the long sides of the image.  I take that into account when framing my images in the viewfinder, but I do get somewhat panoramic proportions from the scans.

I was pleased with this roll of film to have gotten the film strip properly placed in the backing paper to be able to get the expected number of images from the strip with a little extra at each end.  The framing numerals were easily visible in the window on the camera's back and I got perfectly spaced images as a result.  There were some light leaks on the image at the beginning of the film strip and again toward the end.  I'll try adding some extra space to the backing paper at the beginning and end of the roll the next time.  So, still a bit of work to get everything just right, but using the properly configured film and backing paper makes shooting my 828 cameras a lot more predictable and enjoyable.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Classic Experience

I get out with my Contaflex I several times a year.  The camera always produces some nice pictures for me, but it also provides a hands-on opportunity to experience the culmination of a half-century of small camera design and production by Zeiss Ikon.  High precision craftsmanship combined with the finest available materials permitted the implementation in 1953 of a single lens reflex camera with a uniquely compact form that would not be surpassed for another decade by Japanese camera makers..

The Contaflex I did not have the interchangeable lenses and light meters of later models, but Zeiss did offer a large selection of accessories for the camera including microscope and stereo adapters, and most importantly perhaps, the add-on telephoto lens known as the Teleskop 1.7x.  The telephoto and several of the other accessories were attached to the camera in front of the fixed 45mm lens with a slide-on bracket.

The bottom 4 elements are the fixed 45mm camera lens
The Teleskop 1.7x produced the equivalent focal length of about 75mm which could be focused as close as four feet and which was likely intended primarily as a portrait lens.  As shown in the lens diagram the Teleskop 1.7x was a massive six-element design which could only be expected from Zeiss.  I think I have only once used the telephoto on my camera, and I would be hard put to find the photos now.  I'll try to remember next time I get out with the Contaflex to make a few shots that show the capabilities of the lens.

The Contaflex I can frequently be found offered on ebay in the $25 to $45 range, which seems extraordinary for such a finely made instrument.  The reason for that is that any Contaflex which has not been recently serviced is not likely to be ready to make pictures.  Nearly all of them will require cleaning of the shutter and the aperture stop-down mechanism.  This basic servicing of the camera is not really very difficult, but it is a great help to have some idea of the camera's unique construction features, including the three tiny screws holding the front lens element in place which are hidden under the distance scale of the front-focusing lens.

Here are some recently made pictures from the Contaflex I made during a walk along the Rio Grande:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

What's The World Coming To?

I found myself driving down Menaul close to noon so I decided to stop in at one of my favorite lunch spots.  I pulled my truck into a parking space in front of Blake's Lotaburger.

There was a good-sized crowd in the place, but nobody waiting at the counter.  I stepped up and ordered the usual:
     "Corn dog, small fries and a small drink."

Without a trace of emotion the counter person replied:
     "We don't have any corn dogs; they've been taken off the menu." 

I was stunned.  First Trump, now this.

Monday, July 10, 2017


I have a couple shelves heavy with books about the age of film photography.  The most useful reference has been McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras.  I found my 7th Edition copy in a Las Cruces used book store about ten years after it was published and paid $7.50 for it.  I used to come across later editions fairly often, but the content did not seem to change enough to make replacement useful.  I do not see McKeown's any longer on used book shelves, but you still can find reasonably priced copies on line.  The last 2005-2006 edition, however, seems to have become a collector item and is priced at several hundred dollars.

McKeown's coverage of the film camera world really is exhaustive and pretty much unique.  Every camera entry is accompanied by a clear illustration along with model history, production dates, features, and average used-market values.  While "Price Guide" figures prominently in the title, by the time of the 7th Edition that aspect of the publication was very soon to be superseded in usefulness by up-to-the-minute price listings available on line.

Another interesting fact to note is that the prices listed in McKeown's from two decades ago are very little different from those seen today.  In fact, if you take inflation into account, most old cameras have substantially decreased in value.  A few iconic brands like Leica, Nikon and the Rolleis are selling now for two or three times the amounts listed in my 7th Edition, but again taking inflation into account, there has been only minimal increases in real value.  I think what that reflects mostly is the phenomenal effect of the rise of auction sites on the World Wide Web. On line accessibility just overwhelmed the market.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Live and Learn

A morning walk took me past the three museums that are within a few minutes of our home near Albuquerque's Old Town.  The resulting pictures from the Argus Model M with a roll of hand-spooled Konica 160 seemed of poorer quality than I got from an earlier effort using some Kentmere black and white.  The main problem, though, was that I had great difficulty in seeing the framing numbers through the camera's small green windows on the camera back.  The result of that was that I got ony half the number of frames the film strip should have delivered.  I gave the expired film about three stops more than it was originally rated for, but another stop or two could have been allowed.  If I shoot this combination again, I'll also have to make a better effort to get the framing numerals properly aligned to the location of the windows.

I have loaded the remaining roll of Konica 160 in my Kodak Flash Bantam and am expecting somewhat more satisfactory results.  The fine little Bantam has an excellent lens, a generous view through the flip-up finder, and a rear framing window that is considerably bigger and brighter than the Model M Argus.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Argus History: the Model M

I'm looking forward to getting some color pictures from my little Argus Model M.  Thanks again to James Harr I have a couple strips of unperforated 35mm Konica 160 which I have rolled up in trimmed 120 backing paper.  With a single shutter speed of about 1/30 and an aperture range of 6.3 to 12.7 I think the camera should be able to easily handle a good variety of picture opportunities.  Meanwhile, I'll repost an article which originally appeared on my web site about the camera.

* * *

Argus Model M - Designer: Gustave Fassin

The Argus Model M made its appearance in 1939, the same year as the phenomenally successful Argus C3. The streamlined design of the ultra-compact Model M presented a considerable contrast to the heavy and boxy C3 rangefinder and seemed at the time to be a good candidate for rounding out the Argus offerings which included the highly successful A and C line of 35mm cameras as well as the Argoflex medium format twin-lens box camera. As it turned, however, the Model M was in production for only about a year.

Two factors contributed to the early demise of the Model M. The first was a temporary setback. Kodak stopped producing 828 roll film during the war, leaving buyers with little film available to feed the 828-format cameras. More importantly, perhaps, the imagination of the camera buying public had been captured by the idea of 35mm cartridge and the cameras that used that format which were offered with a large number of available features including fast lenses, high-speed shutters, coupled rangefinders, and a normal film capacity as high as 36 frames per roll.

The little Model M could produce a negative exactly the same size as the larger 35mm cameras, but that only gave eight full-frame exposures on a roll of Kodak paper-backed 828. Doors on either side of the frame could be flipped in to yield twice the number of half-frame exposures.  A transparent green mask in the viewfinder showed the borders of the half-frame image. The Anastigmat Triplet lens was of good quality, but had a maximum aperture of only f-6.3.  The simple shutter was limited to a single instant speed of about one-thirtieth of a second and a Time setting. Even with this limited feature set the construction was probably a little too complicated to meet the $7.50 price point the company was looking for with the Model M.

After WWII when 828 roll film again became widely available, Argus decided to further simplify the construction of the basic Model M design by replacing the collapsible lens with a fixed barrel, and the three element lens gave way to a two-element design. The half-frame capability was also eliminated. The resulting hybrid was sold by Argus from 1947 to 1949 under two names: the Model 19 and the Minca 28. The problem with those design decisions was that they threw the little Argus 828 camera into a large pool of cheap, small-format cameras. Argus ultimately sold the production dies for their 828 camera to a Philadelphia company and it remained on the market for a few years under the names Delco 828 and Camro 28.

There is a curious fact about the Argus Model M that provides some insight into its original design and possibly into the ultimate market failure of the camera. That is the dimesions of the negative which, as mentioned above, is identical to the standard 35mm frame. Kodak's 828 roll film is the same width as 35mm film, but the roll film does not have the double row of sprocket holes, meaning that the full 828 frame would normally offer about 30 percent greater negative area than 35mm. So, why did Argus decide to give up a substantial portion of that available film area using a smaller 35mm-size frame and thereby sacrifice some image quality?

The answer to the frame size mystery can be found in 1939 magazine ads for the Model M. In those ads we find that the Model M is built to use " 35mm. Arguspan film or specially spooled Dufaycolor film for natural color shots." It is not surprising that Argus would avoid promoting the 828 Kodak film which would fit in its camera and instead tout two brands made by other companies with which it had marketing agreements. What is most interesting, though, is that the film recommended by Argus is specified to be "35mm". Arguspan may have been actually produced by Ansco prior to the war; it yielded 12 exposures per roll and cost 35 cents. Dufaycolor, produced first in France and later in England, was orginally marketed primarily as a motion picture film and most probably had the same continuous borders of sprocket holes as any other standard 35 mm film. So, the Model M was designed from the beginning to use paper-backed 35mm film with sprocket hole borders which dictated a narrower frame width than standard 828 roll film. Furthermore, the supply of Dufaycolor was likely drying up by the mid-1940s as it was superseded by the more advanced color film processes embodied in Kodachrome and Technicolor. So the Argus gamble to take advantage of an alternative film supply in the end turned out to be a bad bet for the future of the little Argus M.

Aside from a missing Argus logo, my Model M looks nearly perfect, but it turned out to have some problems. The pictures from the first roll were all out of focus, and the negatives were riddled with light leak streaks. I disassembled the camera and found that the spongy packing in the collapsible lens mount was deteriorated and loose. The packing material was both letting some light by, and it also prevented the lens from fully extending to the proper focal length. I removed the lens mount packing material, reassembled the camera and loaded up another roll of Kentmere 100. The extended mount seemed to be making a good seal, but I layed on some black tape just in case. The second roll of film I put through the camera showed no light leaks or focus problems, and my expectations for the Anastigmat triplet lens were fully met. The images produced by the properly functioning camera were sharp from edge to edge. There is a small amount of vignetting in the corners of full-frame pictures, but I believe that is not from a lens fault, but rather from the shadow of the large coil spring which holds the lens mount in the extended position.

A useful lesson I learned from using the Model M is that it is possible to use 35mm film in 828 cameras without backing paper. I cut a tab on the 35mm film end and then rolled the film onto the little 828 reels and put it in the camera, making sure that it was advancing properly. Of course this must all be done in a dark bag, and the framing windows on the camera's back must first be covered with black tape. When attempting this for the first time, it seemed like there was a small chance of success due to the springy nature of the film. However, both rolls of film I've shot so far in the camera went through without a hitch, and one can get twice the number of frames from a single film loading than the camera was originally intended to produce.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Bantam punches above its weight

I rolled up a strip of 35mm color film in some trimmed 120 backing paper and shot it in my Kodak Bantam RF.  This is only the second roll I have put through the little 828 rangefinder.  I continue to be impressed by the quality the Ektanon lens is able to deliver.
    The Bantam RF, produced between 1953 and 1957, was second only to the Bantam Special in features and design.  Some simpler 828 models stayed in production in the UK until 1963.  Kodak, however, continued to market 828 film for two more decades.  That is a level of customer support and continuity which we are not likely to see again.

Negotiating Central Ave., Albuquerque's main East-West corridor, has become quite a challenge due to solid walls of traffic barriers required by the construction of a new rapid transit system.  The year-long project was initiated by Mayor Berry without consulting the electorate.  It could turn out to be a good thing for the city in the long run, of course, but appreciation of the Mayor's legacy may be delegated to some future generation.  Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce has being doing what it can to be supportive, presenting the Mayor recently with a Public Safety award -- this in a City with soaring rate of drug addiction and crime, and the Number One rating in the country for auto theft.  The citizens are only mildly amused.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Lost and Found

This kachina cult figure, possibly representing a bear shaman, is located in the Piedras Marcadas section of the Petroglyph National Monument on Albuquerque's west side..  Its creation likely dates back about three hundred years.

About six months ago, the bear shaman was lost, not to the world, but to me personally.  I had visited the the image several times since we first moved to Albuquerque in 2008 and photographed it with a couple of my old cameras.  Then, when I decided to revisit the rock art image and photograph  again about six months ago, I was unable to locate it.  I went back a half dozen times, but no luck; the image and its thousand-pound boulder seemed to have evaporated.  Something similar happened to me a couple times in the past twenty years that I have pursued an interest in ancient Southwest rock art.  I'm not sure exactly what goes on in my brain on these occasions; I'm usually pretty good at finding my way, even in unfamiliar or difficult terrain.  I knew the approximate location to within about a half-mile square around the site, but I just could not pin down the precise location.  How I finally relocated the rock art image seems as unlikely now as the image's strange disappearance.

The development of my interest in rock art more or less coincided with the beginning of collecting, restoring and using old film cameras.  One important resource in helping to get my old cameras working was a web site maintained by Rick Oleson who is extraordinarily talented at fixing old film cameras, as well as in illustrating his restorations with photos and drawings.  In addition to consulting Rick's site as needed, I also followed his photographic work on the Flickr photo sharing site.  One day recently, I noted that Rick's photo stream included some familiar looking rock art images.  It turned out that he had made a cross-country trip from his home in Kentucky that included a stop in Albuquerque and a visit to the Petroglyph National Monument.  And there among his images was a picture of the lost bear shaman.  It seemed an extraordinary coincidence.

Photo by Rick Oleson
Fortunately for me Rick's photograph included some important details of the terrain surrounding the rock art figure.  I made a sketch of his image paying particular attention to the profile of the escarpment behind the shaman figure, as well as some other rock art images which could just barely be made out among the jumble of rocks.  I returned to the Piedras Marcadas site with the sketch in my pocket and pretty confident of success, but it actually took me about an hour walking in and out of the several small canyons there to finally locate the shaman.  Perhaps I would have found the figure eventually on my own, but I certainly would never have imagined that I would locate it with the help of Rick Oleson.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Worth A Look

USA Today has an article in its travel section, 25 must-see buildings in New Mexico.  The list was compiled by the local American Institute of Architects.  The best known and most photographed of the group is likely San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Taos, most famously pictured by Paul Strand.

Paul Strand

It is a pretty good list, though I'm sure some useful additions might be made, such as the Special Collections Library in Albuquerque which I recently shot with my Foth Derby.  I suppose every New Mexico photographer has a picture of the KIMO Theater.  Some time ago I made some pictures with my Ansco Folding Buster Brown of UNM's Zimmerman Library.