Sunday, July 10, 2011

Medium format in your pocket - Hapo 66-E

Last Christmas I had the chance to hold a Zeiss Ikon folder camera in my hands for the first time(*). Ever since then, having been recently infected with the vintage camera collector virus, I wanted to try taking pictures with one. A visit to Vienna in February was the perfect excuse to have a look around the stores in and around the Westbahnstrasse. After a little search, I got a very inexpensive camera whose lens was in excellent condition: a Hapo 66-E.

hapo 66e 03
(EOS 40D, Sigma EX DG 50mm f/2.8 Macro, off-camera Speedlite 430EX II)

The Hapo 66-E is a medium format folder camera, produced by Balda in West Germany for the Photo Porst department stores (Hapo = HAnns POrst) between 1955 and 1961. Photo Porst was one of the biggest mail order sellers in Germany from its foundation in 1919 until it filed for bankruptcy in 2007. Along its history, Photo Porst made agreements with several camera makers of the time to produce cameras to be sold only through their mail order catalogs, kind of like what Sears did in the United States. The Hapo 66-E is, in fact, a Balda Mess-Baldix fitted with an Enna Haponar 75mm f/3.5 lens and a basic Pronto shutter with speeds from 1/25 to 1/200.

hapo 01
(EOS 40D, Sigma EX DG 50mm f/2.8 Macro, 1/25, f/6.3, ISO 100)

The Hapo uses medium format film of type 120, taking 12 frames in square 6x6 format, the same one I already knew from my Flexaret. There are two things that I love about 6x6 medium format. First, the size of the negatives: there is something very special about holding those huge 56x56mm frames in front of a light and wondering at the richness of the tones and the detail, especially with color slide film. I know of no computer monitor or projector able to convey the same feeling that looking at a medium format color slide frame does. Imagine a negative that is almost 10 times the size of a standard APS-C digital sensor (and almost 4 times the size of a full frame sensor) and can hold even more information per area unit. Welcome to medium format film! :)

Secondly, I find that 12 frames in a roll of film is a perfect measure for an excursion or a short photo walk. This still sounds strange even to me, used as I was to come back with 200+ digital shots from a mini photo walk around the corner, but I think that when you know that you only have 12 shots, you actually end up making better photographs. Roll film lacks, of course, the immediacy you would get with a digital camera, but the turnaround time is far better in comparison to the 36 frames you are bound to shoot with 35mm film.

ttv - hapo 66-e
Through the viewfinder of the Hapo 66-E
(Coolpix S200, 1/67, f/3.1, ISO 100)

The Hapo has an uncoupled rangefinder: that means you can actually measure the distance to your subject, but then you need to read this distance from a wheel on the camera body and transfer it manually to the scale on the lens. Since I got used to estimate the focusing distance with the Retinette, though, I seldom use the rangefinder.

(EOS 40D, Sigma EX DG 50mm f/2.8 Macro, 1/60, f/5.0, ISO 100)

Operating the Hapo, as it happens with most vintage cameras, takes a while to get used to. Loading the film is the first challenge, because it uses a red window in the back to align the frames. In fact, you just need to use the red window to align the first frame: after that, the film advance mechanism (which has even a working counter!) will provide the exact spacing for the 12 frames. It is important to set the counter to 1, though, because these spacing cleverly accounts for the growing diameter of the film as it is advanced. On my first roll I had some quite happy overlapping accidents for not resetting the counter properly... There is a double exposure prevention mechanism as well, which blocks the shutter until the film has been advanced to the next frame. It needs to be operated carefully: sometimes it gets stuck and the shutter is not released. Not a big problem, though, with folder cameras you can always release the shutter directly, bypassing the shutter release on the camera body.

The Hapo is the first camera that I use where the shutter needs to be cocked(**) separately; on all my other cameras the shutter is automatically cocked with the film advance mechanism. Quite easy to forget: I cannot count how many times did I press the button and wondered why nothing happened...

haponar 01
(EOS 40D, Sigma EX DG 50mm f/2.8 Macro, 1/20, f/6.3, ISO 100)

But, of all the features of my Hapie, what amazes me every time I get a new film developed is the sharpness of the lens. The richness of the detail this little simple lens (a Cooke's triplet) is able to record is absolutely exceptional. It is by far much sharper than the Tessar-like lens on the Flexaret or the Schneider-Kreuznach triplet on the Retinette.

hapo name
(EOS 40D, Sigma EX DG 50mm f/2.8 Macro, 1/50, f/2.8, ISO 100)

What I find really exciting about medium format folder cameras like the Hapo 66-E is that you have all the advantages of medium format film but do not need to carry around a beefy twin lens reflex. In addition, they can be really old, which is something that very much appeals to me.

Hapo 66-E (
My Hapo 66-E flickr set

Maker Balda
Model Hapo 66-E
Type Rangefinder (uncoupled) folder camera
Lens Enna Haponar 75mm f/3.5
Shutter Pronto 1/25 - 1/200 + B
Film type Medium format (120), 6x6
Year 1955-61
Country West Germany

(*) the same one through which I, later on, would run a roll of film...
(**) To cock the shutter means to pull a lever in order to provide the mechanical energy that the shutter requires for operating. This is the reason why there is no need of batteries of any kind: the source of energy is the photographer!

1 comment:

  1. Very nice written! I‘ am a fan too and i got 2 of these rare models. I live in Oldenburg in Germany.