Sunday, November 17, 2019

The mju cameras

I recently came across a couple Olympus Stylus cameras at a local thrift shop, an Olympus Infinity Stylus (mju) and an Olympus Stylus Epic (mju2).  The prices were $5 for the mju and $3 for the mju2.

The mju showed a lot of use, but it had a battery and it lit up when I opened the sliding front door -- which I suppose accounted for its higher price.  The mju2 looked nice; a new battery started it up too.  

I loaded a roll in the Stylus Epic the next morning and managed to get through all 36 exposures on a roll of Fuji 200.  The camera seemed to be working nearly perfectly, though the shutter button was a little over-sensitive.  When I scanned the negatives the pictures looked good except for small light leaks in some of the images.  A bit of black tape near the viewfinder will likely solve the leak problem.

The mju2 commands ridiculous prices these days, so I was pleased to have found one that only needed a little attention to work.  On closely examining the pictures, though, I am not convinced that the camera makes pictures that are significantly superior to what I get from the mju that I have been shooting for the past ten years.  To test that idea, I finished up another roll of Fuji 200 in the older mju on a walk in the neighborhood.  I shot several of the same scenes as the day before and the light was quite similar.

The f/2.8, 35mm lens on the Stylus Epic is clearly a more sophisticated design than that of the f/3.5 lens on the older Inifity Stylus.  However, a search on the web about the newer camera turned up some support for my judgment based on my informal test.  What I found was that complaints about light leaks in the newer model are very common.  It appears that the rubber ring light seal in the Stylus Epic is not as robust as the seals in the older camera.  Additionally, I found a couple references to the idea that the auto-focusing algorithm for the Stylus Epic leaned toward wide open exposures.  So, even though the Stylus Epic has a lot of present day enthusiasts, I think there is good reason to be skeptical of any real superiority to the older Infinity Stylus.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

More from the Patent Etui

I walked around downtown Wednesday morning and visited the Roadrunner station on 1st St.  I was carrying the KW Patent Etui plate camera with the Tessar lens and loaded with Arista Edu Ultra 400. I was pleased to see in the pictures that I had gotten a bit better in framing my shots with the camera's wire frame viewfinder.  I processed the film with semi-stand development in Rodinal for one hour at 1:100 dilution.

The Rodinal processing gave me tonalities and grain that were not a bad fit with the subject, but I liked my results with this film better with the PMK Pyro developer that I used in my last outing with my other Patent Etui.  I have one more roll of the Arista film and I think I'll try it with HC-110 to see how that compares with the Rodinal and PMK processing.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Shooting the Patent Etui

I recently purchased a few rolls of 120-size Arista Edu Ultra 400 to shoot in my medium format cameras.  I decided to start off with one of my KW Patent Etui plate cameras with the f4.5/10.5cm Trioplan lens.  I shot the roll at 200 ASA with the intent of processing in PMK Pyro.  I did not find any guides to using that combination of film and developer, so I looked around at similar combinations for which there were reported results, and I decided to develop for twelve minutes at 24C.  I was happy enough with the outcome, but I could also see that my results were not optimal because of the length of time elapsed since I last used the camera.

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Plate cameras were very popular in the 1920s and '30s.  All the major manufacturers made them and all had essentially the same set of features, often using the same Compur shutters and Zeiss lenses.  The folding plate cameras were very compact compared to other popular styles available in those days and the KW Patent Etui (KAWEE) and the Bentzin Primar were notable for their extremely clever design which allowed them to be folded up and easily slipped into a pocket.  When folded, the Patent Etui occupied about the same space as a packet of three plate holders, or a filmpack adapter.

Accessory roll film holders were available for all the plate cameras; the two most common being the Rada and the Rollex.  Because of the thin slots on the back of the Patent Etui, only the Rollex will work with my 6.5x9  KW cameras.  While the roll film back did provide a relatively easy way to use commonly available roll film cartridges with the plate cameras, it did also negate the plate camera's compactness to a large degree.

It is possible even today to purchase glass plates for use with the plate film cameras, but the multi-sheet film packs have not been available for decades and cut film is hard to find in the 6.5x9 size.  I have so far only used my plate cameras with the roll film adapters.

All of the plate cameras come with three options for viewing the subject to be photographed.  The ground glass backs are essential when high precision is required for framing the subject as in close-up work.  The need to switch out the film back with the ground glass back makes for a rather awkward and time-consuming process and a sturdy, stable tripod is essential.  The little reflex finder and the wire frame finders make hand-held operation possible and are quicker to use, but still require some careful alignment to yield a good result.

I sometimes use the reflex finder and it works, but the image is pretty small and easily obscured if the head is not held precisely in the right position relative to the finder.  The bubble level next to the finder is helpful in keeping the image properly angled.

On the Patent Etui a little post is flipped up to use in conjunction with the swing-out wire frame finder.  With the round tip of the post properly centered, the wire frame will enclose the portion of the scene which will be recorded on the film.  It takes some practice to get good framing with such an arrangement.

So, while good results from any of the plate cameras do require some time and practice to achieve, their features can provide a great deal of versatility and deliver images of excellent quality.  Even with relatively simple 3-element uncoated lenses like the Trioplan the big 6.5x9 or 9x12 negatives will provide sharp pictures with a deep range of tonal values.  If you need further convincing of the picture-making capacities of the little plate cameras, just take a look at the work Brassai did with his.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Comparing Signets

I shot a roll of ColorPlus 200 in my Kodak Signet 35 to try to get a comparison of the images produced by the first and second models in the Signet line.  I cannot really see any significant differences in the qualities of the two cameras' pictures that were not a product of lighting and my own performance.

In terms of handling the slightly larger size of the Signet 40 does help the user keep the trigger finger from blocking the rangefinder window.  It does not seem to me that the lever advance or the wider range of shutter speeds in the model 40 would have impelled owners of the sturdy little 35 to abandon it in favor of the 40.

There is, however, an interesting comparison to be made between the ornamental designs of the two cameras related to the dominating influence of American car design which held sway in those days.  In 1951 when the Signet 35 came out, post-war car design showed the influence of aircraft styles -- the lines were generally rounded, the rear fenders still bulged out over the wheels and there were also remnants of deco chrome details carried over from the pre-war period.  By 1956 when the Signet 40 appeared, cars were more angular and slab-sided and camera designs reflected similar changes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Exercising the Signet 35

I thought these recent b&w images from the Signet 35 were interesting, though the combination of TMAX and hc-110 did not yield the quality I have gotten from it in the past.  The photos from this roll also introduced too many variables and are not useful for comparison with the last outing with the Signet 40.

I'm going to shoot another roll in the Signet 35 with the same film and lighting conditions as the last Signet 40 pictures to see if I can better compare the performance of the two Kodaks.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Friday, October 25, 2019

Kodak Signet 40

I have always thought Kodak did nice work with the design of the Signet 40 which appeared on the market in 1956.  I was reminded of that judgment recently when I came across some discussions of the camera on line, so I went looking for one on ebay.  There were a lot of listings at reasonable prices,  I chose the least costly at $12; the seller said everything worked, and the camera had the uncommon f3.5 46mm Ektanar lens rather than the Ektanon most often found on this camera.

The Signet 40 resembles its immediate Signet 35 predecessor with a few notable differences, the most important being a shutter with a faster top speed of 1/400.  The lever film advance, as described in the manual, requires "about" three full throws to release the double exposure prevention.  As with the Signet 35, the shutter is cocked manually.  My example came with a leather case that looked unused and a three-pronged "Midget Flashholder".  Everything did appear to be working properly as advertised.  The vertical alignment of the rangefinder was a tiny bit off, but that seemed like it would be easily corrected.

I decided to give the camera a trial run before attempting any cleaning or repairs, so I loaded up a roll of Kodak ColorPlus 200.  In shooting the roll, I discovered one additional issue; the film counter was not working.

A close-up at the 2-foot minimum for the rangefinder showed good accuracy. And, a walk through Old Town to the Art Museum produced pictures with satisfying sharpness.

After processing and scanning the pictures I took the top off the camera and adjusted the vertical alignment of the rangefinder by turning a small screw which changes the angle of the half-silvered mirror.  That just took a few minutes.
    The non-working frame counter was more of a head scratcher.  I could not see any obvious problem with the operation of the counter mechanism on the top deck and I was careful in putting back the top to make sure the levers were properly engaged with the toothed wheel that rotates the counter dial.  I then opened the back of the camera to take a look at the star wheel at the bottom of the film frame which engages with the sprocket holes in the film when the film is advanced.  Poking around a dissecting needle in the narrow space next to the star wheel revealed the problem to be some tiny bits of film lodged next to the wheel.  Removing those bits freed up the mechanism and the counter then worked properly.

Sorting out Kodak lenses is always a complicated affair due to the fact that the company used product names that had little to do with actual lens designs.  The Kodak Ektar and Ektanar lenses are good examples of that custom as the names were applied to a great variety of lens designs over several decades.
    Several popular on line sites suggest that the Ektanar on the Signet 40 is a four-elment Tessar-like design.  Brian Wallen, however, exhibits a chart on his site based on a 1958 Kodak Data Book which puts the Ektanar on the Signet 40 firmly in the three-element category along with the more common Ektanon.  While it remains uncertain if the two lenses are identical, they do share the important commonalities of good lens coatings and a unit focus design which is said to yield better close focusing capabilities.  Given how the Internet works, the issue will likely not be resolved until someone actually gets around to disassembling the two lenses for comparison.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Color Chemistry

I've been using the Unicolor C-41 kit from Freestyle for quite a while and have been very satisfied with it.  When I went to order a new supply, however, I found it was on back order.  So, I decided to give the CineStill kit a try.  The price was not much different and the instructions for use seemed very similar to those of Unicolor.  The CineStill liquid components are quite a bit easier to mix.  The results seemed very similar to what I was used to with the Unicolor product.

In addition to the somewhat easier preparation of the liquid components, the CineStill kit includes some useful information on push/pull processing and variable temperature development.  The information packet also suggests that developing time should be increased by 2% for each roll of film developed.  With that in mind I've made myself a little developing time chart to follow as I use the kit.  I've been able to get quite a few more uses from the Unicolor kit than is recommended, so I'll be interested in seeing if the CineStill kit performs as well in that regard.

I see in visiting the CineStill site now that the C-41 kit is now on backorder there as well as at the Freestyle site, and the Unicolor kit is presently unavailable as well.  A bit of a mystery.