Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy 4th Analogversary! (3/3)

(...continuing from here and here)

Without a doubt, this year's highlight has been the completion of my dearest camera project.

Two years ago, as I was celebrating my second analogversary, I told you about what was to be my most special challenge for the following year: the quest for a camera made in 1912, exactly 100 years before our son was born. Romantic as I am, I wanted to find one that was still able to take photographs.

One year ago, on my third analogversary, I told you about one Vest Pocket Kodak that I found here in Vienna. This camera was a good candidate, since the first production run of the original (non-autographic) model took place from 1912 to 1914. It was in surprisingly good shape, especially for a near 100-year-old camera that has seen two world wars. The camera body, though, was badly deformed and the shutter did not fire at all. I did not really see a way to make it fit for taking pictures. For a couple of months I left the VPK project in standby.

vest pocket kodak

Later this year I found another original Vest Pocket Kodak which turned out to be in much poorer condition, but had a working shutter and an intact camera body. The VPK project was alive again. After some hesitation I contacted Dr. White in the UK, whose website Collecting Vest Pocket Kodak Cameras is one of the best references that I could find about this camera model. I asked him for help in dating both of my VPK cameras. He was kind enough to recognize how meaningful this quest was to me, as he seems to share with me a passion for such endeavors, and promptly helped me with his ample knowledge. After some exciting e-mails he was able to confirm to me that, without a doubt, the first camera that I had, the one with the deformed body, came from the first production run in 1912. Square bellows, no "choke" to limit the maximum aperture and, crucially, no lettering on the front standard and no horizontal bar to help switch the waist level finder from the portrait to the landscape position were the features that pointed it to 1912. Again my deep gratitude to Dr. White for his help and for being such a key part in my 1912 camera quest.

I was very excited by this finding but still was not able to use the camera. I decided to build myself a working camera keeping as many parts of the 1912 one as I could. I exchanged the deformed camera body (in fact it is just the back: everything else, bellows, struts, front standard, shutter and lens completely detach in a block from the camera body) with the healthy one. Then I planned to mount the working shutter and lens onto the 1912 front standard but, in a touch of inspiration (with much trial and error and the minute bending of one crucially actuating lever), I managed to fix the 1912 shutter and to make its leaves open and close again. Which is fortunate, because both 1912 lens and shutter are in an almost pristine condition, contrary to the other one, which clearly shows its age. To sum up, I have now a working 1912 Vest Pocket Kodak with a back that, at the latest, was made in 1913 or 1914. This is not only the oldest but without a doubt the most special and meaningful camera that I own.

bubbles (43/52)
(Vest Pocket Kodak, Meniscus Achromat, Efke 100, ISO 100/21°)

It made me especially happy that the first pictures that I took with this camera were those of our son's second birthday, 102 years after the camera was built. After developing the film and looking at the pictures I was truly impressed by the performance of this very simple meniscus lens. The light leaks apparent in both pictures I am posting here are not the camera's fault, but mine: as I took out the exposed roll of film from the camera, the protective paper unrolled a bit and let a little light in. The camera bellows is perfectly light tight.

the photographer
(Vest Pocket Kodak, Meniscus Achromat, Efke 100, ISO 100/21°)

The 1912 Vest Pocket Kodak is not the most convenient camera to use, but still quite usable and, as its name promises, extremely easy to carry around. I used it again two weeks ago on 2nd Winter 127 Day (127 film was, in fact, introduced in 1912 specifically for this camera model!) and I am taking the 1912 VPK with me again this Christmas.

~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~

My plans for the next year are again collect less and shoot more. Well, not only shoot more but shoot better. I want to concentrate on using less cameras, my dearest ones, and try to take the most out of them. In this year I have the feeling I experimented too much: too long expired films, too extreme lighting conditions, too many poorly thought pictures shot hoping that they would come out fine. Most of them didn't. I wish to be able to take a little more time and consciousness in the picture taking act. I know I already have fine cameras and lenses, very capable of delivering quality. The weak link in the chain is now the photographer. I also want to concentrate on less films, the ones that worked best, and try to make the film choice a conscious picture taking decision at the same level as are framing, composition and depth of field.

I want to keep on doing my own repairs. Working on my cameras not only makes me strangely happy but also makes me know them a lot better. I (begin to) deeply understand what happens as I cock the shutter, as I advance film, as I change shutter speeds, inside many of my cameras. And this knowledge is gold for the times when things do not work properly. I really wish I manage to make the shutter in my Contax II work, since I have the gut feeling this camera could be the one to which I will always be returning.

I want to extend my developing skills beyond black and white. I am going to research the feasibility of developing color negative (C-41 process) and/or color slide (E-6 process) film at home, because I keep reading that it is not harder than black and white development. And, yes, I still find this caffenol development thing very exciting... :)

And, of course, I want to find more time to write about my photographic challenges here in my blog. I hope you'll keep on sharing this journey with me! :)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Happy 4th Analogversary! (2/3)

(...continuing from here)

One of my wishes for this fourth year was something in the lines of "collect less, shoot more". Well, the "collect less" part did not really come out very well, but I am happy to see that I did manage to shoot much more film than in the previous year. I shot 81 rolls/sheets of film in this year, which is almost as much as I shot in my first analogic year. Comparison with last year (32 rolls total) makes me quite happy. The cameras that I used the most have been the Kiev 4 in 35mm film (12 rolls) and a tie of the Bessa 6x9 and the Super Ikonta BX in 120 film (6 rolls each). This year I shot 5 rolls of 127 film, which is an all-time high. The Vest Pocket Kodak, one of the 127 cameras that I used, will be the main topic on my third and last analogversary post...

About the films that I used the most there are two old friends and a new kid on the block: in black and white I shot 4 rolls of Kodak Tri-X 400, most of them pushed even to EI 3200 (3 stops) which came out fine and contrasty, and in color slide again the winner was Fujichrome Velvia 50 with 6 rolls and 2 film sheets. In color negative I shot 7 rolls of an expired Porst Color-X 200, which I suspect is rebadged Kodak material, with a color rendition, especially in sunlight, that has grown on me along the year.

in the spotlight (20/52)
(Vitomatic IIa, Color-Skopar 50mm 1:2.8, Porst-Color-X 200, ISO 200/24°)

This year I shot a lot of sheet film using plate cameras: 6 sheets in 6.5x9 format (using both my Ideal 250/3 and my Bergheil 6.5x9) and 7 sheets in 9x12 format (with my Recomar 33). Again, there is great satisfaction in holding a huge 9x12 color slide sheet against the light and marvel at the level of detail that it can capture.

Another challenge that became a routine this year has been black and white film development. I developed 17 rolls/sheets of diverse brands of black and white film, all using the same film developer (Rodinal, in fact the oldest photographic product, still being produced after almost 125 years!) and mostly using stand development. There have been mixed results, the great part quite satisfying and some not so much. But I guess the not-that-happy ones were more about using very long expired film in poor lighting conditions than the development.

long toddler exposure
(Kiev 4, Jupiter-8M 50mm 1:2.0, Efke 25, ISO 25/15°, stand development 1.5 h in 1+100 rodinal)

I love the almost meditative mood one reaches on certain film development stages, especially in the final wash using the Ilford method: filling up the tank with water and performing slow inversions for 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 times each round, spilling the water and filling up the tank again each time between rounds. After that, the magical moment of opening the tank, and slowly unrolling the wet film from the reel to reveal the pictures that were latent until the chemicalthes did their job, is every time a personal highlight.

Another highlight this year has been in camera repairs. I started with my Rolleiflex Original 611, whose shutter needed attention. I managed to recover the sticky slow speeds and make the old rim set Compur shutter purr again happily even at 1 second. I, too, cleaned the optical path (inner side of the viewing lens, mirror and ground glass) as well as I could, which made the camera again quite usable. At last, I managed to clean and polish its leather, realizing that the brown spots that I thought were permanent did, in fact come out and left a shiny, beautiful camera that shouts quality from all its four corners. The Voigtländer Brillant V6 was a camera that I almost recovered to working condition from the trash can. I got it as a cheap addition to a lot (together with a Rolleicord V). Being a Voigtländer, even with a bakelite body, it is a well built and extremely well thought camera that responded very well to a little care. I fixed the film transport with film counter and automatic stop, and cleaned the waist-level finder and mirror to a crystal clear state I still can not believe. The Skopar 75mm 1:4.5 lens and the Compur shutter needed cleaning and service, too. All in all, I got lots of camera repair fun and a portable, usable camera that delivers a quality that is difficult to beat, all for what you would pay for a lunch in a standard restaurant.

The Ihagee Parvola 1350 needed, as usual, a little service in its Compur shutter. In this shutter I braved removing the slow speed escapament for the first time for properly cleaning it. It was my first time because on reinstallation one needs to adjust the shutter speeds again, because the position of this escapement determines the duration of the slow speeds. It was not easy, but at the end all speeds sound and look good enough for me. The Schneider Xenar 70mm 1:4.5 needed a little cleaning, too, and I lubricated the focusing helicals to make them run smoothly. Another first for me was adjusting a rangefinder: my Kodak Retina II needed a little lubrication and cleaning in the rangefinder, and after that the infinity setting needed to be adjusted again. I am still not quite sure if I got it right, I still have to check with critically focused shots, but it looks now clean enough to be used.

happy 4th analogversary!

My biggest repair this year, though, is still a work in progress. The Zeiss Ikon Contax II, one of the best cameras ever made and one that I am really happy to own. As I got it, neither the self timer nor the shutter did work. The Contax has a metal curtain focal plane shutter, a quite different beast from the leaf shutters that I am now quite familiar with. I opened it carefully and disassembled to shutter block from the camera body. A little cleaning, a little help and I managed to make it run a couple of times, with a purring and whizzing sound from its multiple escapements that made me think for a moment that I was about to succeed. But then the bane of this camera model set off. The Achilles' heel of every prewar Contax, and in fact the only thing that ever fails with a Contax, are the silk shutter ribbons that link together the opening and closing curtains. The shutter design is such that the ribbons slide through tiny eyelets on the opening curtain that have enough friction to hold it up as the shutter is cocked but allow sliding through when the shutter is fired and both opening and closing curtains are reeled onto the lower drums. These ribbons needed to be replaced every ten or twenty years, cameras were guaranteed for around forty thousands shutter operations. A camera that was built in 1936-1937, like mine, and that probably has been sleeping for decades, has had plenty of time for these ribbons to become dry and fray. Two or three shutter operations in my hands after such a long time was definitely too much for the old silk ribbons, that broke and left me with a much more serious repair job to do. Because, of course, these ribbons can be replaced. I already got the replacement silk ribbons from Japan (it seems to be one of the few ribbon type and material that properly work on a prewar Contax) but I still did not find the courage to delve again into the job. The Contax II shutter remains my biggest camera repair challenge for the next year. And if I manage to fix the non-working self timer along the way, I will be twice as happy.

The last successful camera repair job this fourth year has been a Vest Pocket Kodak from 1912, my oldest and most significant camera so far. The whole story of the Vest Pocket Kodak, on my last analgoversary post, coming soon...

(to be continued...)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Happy 4th Analogversary! (1/3)

Four years ago, on December 11th 2010, I posted my first film picture on flickr. This fourth year has seen the greatest increase in my vintage camera collection so far, to a point where I am beginning to think for a while when I am asked if I am a collector. In my heart I am not a collector, but an enthusiastic admirer and user of vintage cameras, that happens to enjoy satisfying the curiosity about this one or the other camera by getting them, making them work and taking photographs with them. But I know that the sheer facts tell another story, quite ironic if we consider what I said about the user/collector issue one year ago (collect less, take more pictures). Perhaps every collector started this way. Perhaps I am becoming a collector that enjoys using all his cameras, or at least tries to.

My commitment to the magic of film has not dwindled a bit. On the contrary, it is probably stronger than ever, especially now that I develop all my black and white films myself and I can witness the magic every time I open my daylight developing tank and pictures are revealed as I slowly unroll the film from the reel. In fact, I can hardly remember a single time that I photographed with a digital camera this last year. And not because I am one of those film nuts that see digital as evil: I do think that both are different tools and that each has its place, its strengths and weaknesses. I just happen to not have found neither chance nor the appropriate conditions to photograph with a digital camera.

In this fourth year I added many new old cameras to my stall. Most of them have a special meaning, they have certain historic or sentimental significance for me. In fact I am quite picky with my camera choice, there just happen to be too many interesting cameras out there to be discovered! :)

: : : (the honest collector's dilemma)

I got three TLRs made by Franke&Heidecke before WWII: the Rolleiflex Original 611 (1929), which is the grandmother and the cast of every single TLR that was to be produced in the following 60 years; the Rolleicord I Art Deco (1934), with its unusual and beautiful nickel cover, that brings one back to Midtown Manhattan in the late twenties; and the Rolleicord V (1954-1957), which combines convenience of use and remarkable contrast and sharpness from its Schneider Xenar lens.

minox b (open)

There has been another bunch of new old cameras that I got out of pure curiosity: the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex (1953-1959), having both the convenience of an SLR and the quirkiness and feel of much older cameras; the subminiature Minox B (1968) with its 8x11 Minox film format that I did not really manage to master yet (but I keep trying!); the Ihagee Parvola 4x6.5 (1933) that is so enjoyable to use on 127 days and is so radically different in design from every other contemporary camera; the Voigtländer Brillant V6 (1937) that I got for next to nothing and which I managed to bring back to working order almost from the trash can and whose pictures, like everything Voigtländer, never ever deceive; and the Voigtländer Inos I (1933?), probably the most battered camera that I own, but worth every pain just for that magical Heliar lens.

vitessa l

The camera family that has been definitely this year's highlight has been the 35mm rangefinders. It all started with a fascination for the history of the Zeiss Ikon Contax camera: the Kiev 4 (1962), which is a Contax in Soviet disguise has been, in fact, the camera that I used the most in this fourth year. Then came the Voigtländer Vitessa L (1956), for me one of the most elegant cameras ever made and one I am very happy to have not only because of its Ultron lens. A little later, thanks to patience and a bunch of good luck, I got a Zeiss Ikon Contax IIa (1952) well under its true value, without a doubt the camera that I enjoy the most. Then a Kodak Retina II (1949) because of the warm and wonderful Schneider Xenon lens and out of curiosity about the grandmother of our Retinette IA, the one with which everything began. The last addition this year, as it couldn't be otherwise, has been a wonderful Zeiss Ikon Contax II (1936-1937), which is still not working but which I hope I manage to bring back to life soon.

zeiss ikon contax IIa

Several of my new old cameras have interchangeable optics. That, of course, opens the door to crave for lenses. In Contaflex mount I managed to find the Pro-Tessar interchangeable front lens elements to extend the standard 50mm Tessar to 35mm, 85mm and 115mm. In Contax/Kiev mount I quickly fell in love with Ludwig Bertele's Zeiss Sonnar formula: first through the Jupiter-8M 50mm f/2.0 (1962) on my Kiev 4, then through the postwar Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/2.0 (1953-1959) that is the West German recalculation of the original prewar formula. A Jupiter-9 85mm f/2.0 (1963) came along to explore the short telephoto range (which I am still learning to deal with), and a Jupiter-12 35mm f/2.8 (1959), a fine Soviet version of the legendary Zeiss Biogon, covers the wide angle. The latest lens addition, and in fact the lens that I see as my analogversary self-present, is a prewar Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 (1937), an ultrafast lens that was the envy of every prewar Leica photographer, and that I plan to make the standard lens for my Contax II, if I manage to make it work. In the meantime I enjoy it on my Contax IIa.

happy 4th analogversary!

(to be continued...)