Sunday, April 29, 2018

Dusting off the Argoflex Forty

I decided it was time I got back to shooting some of my simpler cameras.  The representative of that group that always delights me with its results is the Argoflex Forty.  I was surprised when I looked back through my blog postings that it has been two years since I last picked up the little twin-lens Argus.  I re-spooled some Fomapan 100 onto a 620 reel and shot the 12 frames over a couple days.

I developed the film in HC-110b and thought the Fomapan showed good grain and tones.  I also have some Fomapan 200 in 35mm which often gets poor reviews, but I think it will be interesting to see  how it does in PMK Pyro.

The pictures mostly showed me the good sharpness I have come to expect from the coated Varex lens, but there was quite a bit of variation in the density of the negatives even though most were exposed in sunny conditions.  A few of the images I shot at slower speeds also were blurry across the frame.  That indicated a shutter problem, and when I closely examined the action of the shutter as I should have done earlier, I could see that shutter was sluggish at lower speeds and not even closing completely sometimes.  So, time for a clean-up.

The first step in disassembly is to screw out the little pin which stops the rotation of the lens at the infinity position.  Then, you can unscrew the front lens group, taking note of the position of the lens when it comes loose so that it can be screwed back in properly to achieve proper focus.

The face plate with the shutter and aperture indexes lifts off after removing the peg at the top and the small screw at the bottom.  That gives access to the shutter cover plate and center lens group which can be lifted out after removing the long screws at the 4 o'clock and 10 o'clock positions.

By holding the shutter open I was able to lightly scrub the shutter and aperture blades with Ronsonal, and I also brushed some on the gears and levers of the simple shutter mechanism.  After cleaning I found that I could not at first get the shutter operating properly; the release remained locked with the shutter at the B setting and the shutter seemed to operate at just one speed at the other settings.  It turned out that I needed to have the shutter set to the 1/25 position during reassembly in order to get everything properly aligned.  It is also important to hold back the little tabbed lever attached to the star wheel with a small screwdriver blade so that it fits into the slot in the shutter cover.  With everything back together now the shutter seems to be working properly at this point, but I'll run a roll of color through the camera soon to make sure I've got it right.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Flickr --> Smugmug

The acquisition of the photo sharing site, Flickr, by Smugmug has set off some alarm bells around the world.  I don't know how many users Flickr has, but I'm sure it is many millions.  The site is popular with bloggers and forum users because photos posted there are easily linked to, and there are no limits on uploads, even for free accounts.  How much of that scenario will remain the same is now clearly open to question.

Just to be on the safe side, I have downloaded all my pictures from Flickr.  I doubt Smugmug would engage in the kind of venal extortion scheme that was seen at photobucket given the value of the Flickr user base.  Given the lack of details available on the acquisition so far, however, a prudent course seems advisable.  Of course, I do already have copies of the pictures I've stored on Flickr over the years, but tracking down specific examples through an assortment of hard drives and usb sticks can be a tedious affair.  So, I have mirrored the Flickr albums as folders on my laptop, including ten subject folders and a big bunch devoted to my collection of old cameras and the photos each has made.  The pictures I have put in the care of the site represent my best work over the past ten years, so much of the value of the collection resides in its organization, which Flickr has facilitated.

Yahoo, the previous owner, allowed the Flickr site to deteriorate in many ways since the 2005 take-over.  Most of the discussion groups have fallen silent.  A lack of any effective policy regarding Flickr groups formation has resulted in a counter-productive proliferation of groups which serve no useful function.  For example, if you do a search for groups on the site using the term, "New Mexico", you will turn up about a hundred groups.  What you will find in visiting them is that they all have the same content because there is no practical limit on the number of groups to which pictures can be posted.

In spite of the current condition of Flickr it is probably still the most useful community on the web for exhibiting your photos on line and for talking about any aspect of photography.  I'm hopeful that the new owners will recognize that fact and build on it to realize Flickr's potential.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Zeiss Ikon Contessa 35

I thought it would be interesting to spend some time with my Contessa 35 after putting a few rolls of film through my Kodak Signet 35.  The two mid-'50s cameras came from very different design traditions and were aimed at different segments of the consumer photography market.  However, there were also many similarities in the construction and capabilities of the two cameras.  Both were fixed-lens rangefinders of nearly equal size.  Both had four-element coated lenses and shutters requiring manual cocking, and both had knob film advances linked to double-exposure prevention.  The Signet 35 was considerably lighter in weight thanks to the cast aluminum body.  The Contessa 35 was a little more compact as the the shrouded bellows allowed the lens and shutter assembly to be retracted into the camera body.  I think it would be hard to distinguish pictures made by the two cameras with the apertures set at the mid-range and smaller, but the Contessa 35 clearly has a marginal advantage due to an extra stop of lens  and shutter speed.

Corner Color

Alternate Albuquerque

Shooting Pansies in a Barrel


Rustic Comfort

The Contessa 35 sold for about $140 in 1954, which was the equivalent in today's inflated currency of almost $1,300.  Kodak at that time relied on its Stuttgart subsidiary to provide a competitive offering in the form of the Retina IIIc which also had a built-in light meter and carried a price of about $100.  By 1957 the more modestly furnished Signet 35 was being offered by Peerless for $40.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Getting familiar with the Signet 35

I like compact cameras, and the Kodak Signet 35 nicely meets that requirement.  The camera's small size, however, does require some attention to how it is handled in operation.  The controls are closely spaced and it is easy to let a finger obscure the rf window, or to inadvertantly block the movement of the shutter cocking lever.  I managed to commit both errors in the last roll of film I put through the camera, but  over-all I am very pleased with the experience of shooting the little '50s Kodak.

I shot a roll of TMAX 100 in the Signet 35 during one of my usual walks through Old Town and on a longer walk the next day through a nearby industrial area.  Some of the pictures I got showed me that it would have been a good idea to keep my Series V lens hood on the camera as getting the lens too close to the sun caused some loss of contrast.  Otherwise, the Ektar turned in a good performance.

Decorating Old Town

beemer and little red


I don't usually think about close-ups when shooting my rangefinder cameras, but the Signet 35 is more capable in that regard then most because of its capacity to focus accurately down to two feet, as well as needing little compensation for parallax error.

Margaret's Redbud

My second day's outing with the Signet 35 took me north on 12th to the rail tracks through an industrial district and then east as far as Fourth Street.  I stopped to grab a shot of the engines in the AFD service yard on Fifth; that was tricky as I had to shoot against the sun and through a wire mesh fence.

AFD Phalanx

Albuquerque's Fourth Street is a long north/south corridor which runs from the city center up to where the road curves around to cross the Rio Grande on the way to Bernalillo.  The street is lined mostly with one-story buildings housing many small Mexican restaurants, and every other block features a tire store or a used car lot.

4th Street

'57 Chevy


The Farmacy Cafe on Mountain Road

Monday, April 09, 2018

May Albuquerque Meet-Up

New Mexico Film Photographers are invited to attend a monthly meet-up on the first Saturday of each month to talk about any aspect of film photography.

The next Meet-up:

When:  Saturday, May 5, 9:30 AM
Where:  Tingley Beach Cafe   (map)
Who:  Veteran film users and anyone looking to get started in film photography.

The cafe snack bar does not open until about 10:30, but the cafe building is open early in the morning.  There is ample chair-and-table seating which is separate from the snack bar.  Attendees at the meet-up are welcome to bring their own drinks and food.  There is some parking near the Cafe building and more a bit further to the north, as well as back-up parking beyond the last duck pond to the north.

At the April Meet-Up Becky and Andrew mentioned some innovative solutions to using cameras designed for discontinued film formats such as 127, 828, 620, 110, etc.  Perhaps we can continue that conversation with more details and some demonstrations.  So, the theme for this Meet-Up is:

ADOPT AN ORPHAN ( film camera format )

Try to keep demos down to five minutes or so to let everyone get a chance to weigh in and so we have time to get to other topics as well.  If you have a favorite camera using a discontinued format, bring it along.  Show us some pictures made with your orphan format camera.

As in the previous meet-up there will be a drawing for a free classic camera.

* * *

The Meet-Ups are sponsored by the New Mexico Film Photographers group at Flickr.  See the group's discussion area for updates on the Meet-Up.  Share some photos there made with your classic film cameras.

Some pictures from the April Meet-Up, courtesy of Martin Ventura:

Saturday, April 07, 2018


The images coming from the f/3.5 Ektar on my Kodak Signet 35 seem very similar to me to those produced by the f/2.8 Tessar on the Zeiss Ikon Contessa.  There are several reasons to support that judgement.  The Ektar name did not refer to a specific lens design, but rather was used by Kodak to indicate that the lens was of the highest quality that the company produced.  The Signet 35 lens, in fact, is a four-element in three-group Tessar-type design and was contemporaneous with the Tessar on the Contessa 35.  The two cameras and their lenses were early to mid-'50s products which made use of significant advances in the post-war years in glass composition, lens component design and lens coatings.  I'm looking forward now to making some pictures with the Contessa 35 for the sake of comparison, but I'm pretty sure that there will be no apparent difference in the images from the two cameras used in similar conditions.

The warm spring days have put leaves on the trees in the Plaza Vieja and brought out the custom classics for the informal Friday morning car shows.  There were a couple parked at the curb that I had not seen before including a '37 Chevy 4-door and a '49  Fastback.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Kodak Signet 35

I wanted a Signet 35 for decades, but I was only dimly aware of that desire until just recently.

My step-father acquired one of these in the mid-'50s when I was a teenager.  I don't recall him using it, but I do remember how impressed I was at the time with the compact, elegant styling of the camera.  What brought that distant past into focus was an ad on Craigslist for a Signet 35 for $10.

The cosmetic appearance of the camera was not bad, but the shutter only worked sluggishly and the viewfinder was nearly opaque.  Luckily, this is one of the easiest rangefinder cameras to work on, and a bit of light cleaning of the optics and mechanics got everything working fine.  There are excellent on line resources for servicing the Signet 35 including the pheugo site, Mike Elek and Chris Sherlock.  The Kodak Signet 35 user manual is available on line from Butkus.

The Signet 35 shares a number of design features with the contemporary Kodak Bantam RF, however the plastic-bodied Bantam used 828 roll film, while the even smaller Signet accommodated 35mm cassettes.  The Signet 35 body was sturdy cast aluminum, which made it more suitable for the military applications to which it was put during the Korean War period.  The manual cocking shutter has a limited but adequate range of speeds going up to 1/300.  The Ektar lens is a Tessar type, and of outstanding quality.

I included a bit of the camera's frame mask in the last shot to illustrate a curious feature which the Signet 35 shares with both the plastic and the metal-bodied Bantams.  I have never found a satisfactory explanation for those little notches on the left side of the image.  I assume they had something to do with the assembly or adjustment of the camera in the factory.  Kodak, like most big manufacturing concerns in those days, was very secretive about their design and construction processes, and it seems unlikely at this point that the question of the notches will get an authoritative answer.  It is also something of a mystery as to why the company did not further pursue the design innovations incorporated in the Signet 35.