Sunday, December 11, 2016

Happy 6th analogversary!

On December 11th 2010, six years ago, I posted my first film picture on flickr. I took it with a (then) 50 years old Kodak Retinette IA that my mother-in-law gave to us, the first old film camera that I used after some years of digital photography.

These days I have been thinking a lot about what it is that kept me doing what I do (photographically speaking) these last six years. I concluded that, for me, film photography is just the medium, but not the goal. Although I like pictures on film very much, I realized that it is not just about film. In fact, I am not really interested in using any last generation film SLR camera from the late 90s, which would arguably be the easiest and most practical access to film photography nowadays. What I really do enjoy is to take pictures with old cameras. That is my passion. The fact that such cameras do need film is just a happy coincidence. One that makes my commitment to film grow strong.

How old is "old"? Well, I cannot give a definite answer to that question: it depends on the camera. Generally speaking, a full-mechanical camera (no electronics, no batteries) made sometime between the early 20s and the late 70s of the past century can be interesting to me. But I do have (and use) a couple of cameras that are both older (1912) and younger (1989) than that. And not every camera from that period (there are thousands!) makes my heart skip a beat.

There have been few new cameras in this sixth year. For a couple of months I have been busy elsewhere and, in a sense, my old camera passion did recede a little bit on the first half of the year. Mostly because I have been distracted by bicycles. Especially older ones, as it could not be otherwise!

(Bergheil 9x12, Kodak Ektachrome 200 EPD, expired, ISO 200/24°)

There have been, quite unconsciously and mostly due to good luck, a couple of "redundant improvements" to my photographic stable. With this I mean cameras or lenses that I already had, this time in a new (and, to me, more desirable) fashion. I have long had a 1962 Exakta Varex IIa, the model with the name EXAKTA in block letters over a black background. This year I found another Exakta Varex IIa body, a little older (1957), with the more elegant engraved lettering on the front. Or a 1953 Zeiss Ikon Contessa 533/24, which I already have since 2012, now in a much less battered state and the rare matching leather case. The fact that I have this Contessa as a backup makes me less fearful of tackling with the repairs that my first Contessa needs (frozen slow speed escapement, rangefinder adjustment). Another very lucky strike made me the proud owner of a 1938 Voigtländer Bessa RF, in quite good condition and an intact yellow filter. It sports the most desirable Heliar f/3.5 lens. I already have a Bessa RF with a Skopar lens, which is nice and sharp, but is no Heliar. A couple of Zeiss Ikon Contaflex I, because the lens on them, the coated 45mm f/2.8 Tessar from West German Zeiss, is one of my favorites (it is the one that the Contessa has as well), and I could not resist a camera that allows looking directly through that lens. And finally, a rangefinder 1954 Kodak Retina IIc because it is a kind of bigger sister to our Retinette IA, the one with which everything began.

In this year, too, I managed to get some practical accessories for many of my cameras: leather cases, a 9x12 roll film back much more convenient than the one that I already had, a prism viewfinder for my Exakta Varex IIa and a Leitz VIOOH/Imarect universal external viewfinder for my Leica IIIa, just for the sake of it, because I still have only one lens on Leica screw mount. Ouch, that nasty collector in me... ;)

This year I shot less films than the previous one. There have been 11 rolls in black&white, from which the most shot was Kodak Tri-X 400, then 15 color negative rolls, Kodak Portra 400VC being the one I took most often, and 13 color slide films, from which, surprisingly, the one I shot the most was Kodak Ektachrome 64T in 9x12 sheet film format. A Kodak year, so to speak.

(Rolleiflex 631, Kodak Portra 400VC, expired, ISO 400/27°)

The camera I took most often was my Rolleiflex Automat 631 (8 films), followed one more year by the Contax II (6 films) and, quite worth mentioning, the Bergheil 9x12 plate camera with sheet film (4 sheets).

I am happy that this year I found the strength to keep servicing and repairing my cameras. Even though I took it again after a long pause just a couple of months ago (as I said, I have been busy/distracted servicing and repairing old bicycles), I found again excitement and peace in delving into the depths of a number of cameras and shutters.

My Rolleiflex Old Standard 621 was in need of some attention after having been a little neglected the last years. I carefully cleaned both lenses, which had gotten a little foggy, and dismantled the whole waist-level finder to clean the viewing system as well. I hoped to find the exact fabrication date of my camera hand-scratched behind the mirror, but unfortunately I found nothing. I managed to secure the flaps of the waist-level finder hood, which had always been a little shaky and never closed perfectly. Now the hood closes with a reassuring snap every single time. I managed to fix another of my Rolleiflexes, the Automat 631, as I already explained a couple of weeks ago. I am happy to report that the film transport mechanism operated flawlessly through the first film that I shot after the repair.

Rolleiflex Automat 631 - Dowel in place

My still dormant Zeiss Ikon Contax S got a new set of shutter curtains but, alas, that did not solve the erratic locking of the wind mechanism that happens from time to time. Still a work in progress. As well as the aforementioned Zeiss Ikon Contaflex I, whose diaphragm stops down a little too slowly resulting in overexposed pictures. It needs a bit of lubrication in the aperture ring, or maybe a little more tension, or probably both.

As you see, I have still lots to do in the servicing & repair chapter. I hope I will find the time, inspiration and strength to keep going on.

One of my photographic realizations last year was how nice it felt to be able to create memories, what a warm feeling it is to look at pictures of my family, of my friends. The strongest motivation that I have to grab a camera is, still, to take a picture of my loved ones.

This year started with our family growing, we welcomed our second son in January.

(Contax F, Kodak Tri-X 400, EI 1600/33°)

After a very challenging first month, in which photography was one of the few things that helped me keep my sanity, that brought me peace and solace, the inspiration slowly returned, and I managed to find happiness and enjoyment in creating such memories again.

kissed by the sun
(Exakta Varex IIa, Fujichrome Velvia 50, expired, ISO 50/18°)

double portrait at sunset
(Contax II, Porst Color-X 200, expired, ISO 200/24°)

(Contessa 533/24, Ilford Delta 100, expired, ISO 100/21°)

And this, for me, is a very important endeavor. I have become very aware of the invisible but yet very real border that a child's memory cannot cross. My older son is able to recall easily, and with a surprising richness of detail, events that happened a year and a half ago. Yet, he cannot remember anything that happened before he turned 2 (he is 4 years old now). Neither single events, nor "bigger" things like how our flat looked back then. In the light of this, I have come to understand my pictures of them as a kind of poor, but still necessary, additional memories for my children, from a time in their lives that they are probably going to forever forget. I am happy to do this for them. I consider myself very fortunate.

As I did with my older son, ever since I knew my second son was going to be born in 2016, I started my search for a camera, an old one, made in 1916, a camera exactly 100 years older than him. Romantic as I still am, I want it to be able to take pictures. I thought that 1916 was not going to be as difficult as 1912, but to this day I have only one single candidate that could have been built 100 years ago: an Ansco Vest Pocket No. 1, which I got in my previous 1912 quest. The camera, though, is still not usable, because the bellows is badly worn and not light-tight. I was able to recover operation in the 100 year old Actus shutter, but unfortunately, I managed to destroy the diaphragm in the process (an aperture blade broke). I still could operate the camera always at full aperture, but there is still the leaky bellows problem.

I guess, thus, that the quest for a camera made in 1916 is still open. Hope dies last, and I am already longing to get a 1916 Voigtländer Alpin. In any case, I will be honored if you keep sharing this exciting journey with me.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Series - b&w week oct 2016

Two weeks ago I posted a black & white week series on flickr. This time not many people had time and pictures to contribute. Well, maybe next time? ;)

These are my pictures:

morning ride
(Vitomatic Ia, Agfaphoto APX 100, expired, ISO 100/21°)

vintage vespa
(Vitomatic Ia, Agfaphoto APX 100, expired, ISO 100/21°)

snowy morning
(Rollei 35, Rollei Retro 100, expired, ISO 100/21°)

melon and pineapple
(Super Ikonta BX, Kodak Tri-X 400, EI 3200/36°)

(Contax IIa, Ilford HP5 Plus 400, expired, EI 1600/33°)

(Contax F, Kodak Tri-X 400, EI 1600/33°)

(Exakta Varex IIa, Ilford HP5 Plus 400, expired, ISO 400/27°)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Adventures on Rolleiflex repair

On March 2015 I got a Rolleiflex, an early Automat (2nd Model, K4B build 631), built around 1938.

Compared to its predecessor (the Rolleiflex Old Standard), the Automat introduced a number of crucial improvements that enabled photographers a much faster workflow. After loading film and closing the camera, one just needs to slowly wind the film and the camera stops automatically at the first frame (no need to check first frame alignment with a red window as in the Old Standard, and pretty much every other camera at the time). Shared with the Old Standard is the film transport through a crank lever with an automatic stop for the next frame; new was that this same crank lever turn tensions the shutter as well. Double and blank exposure prevention were too introduced.

rolleiflex automat 631

When I tested my Rolleiflex with film I noticed many problems. Although the film counter started running correctly after 5 or 6 turns of the crank, the film advance did not stop at the first frame. If the lever was in the "ready" position (at an angle around 1 o'clock), the shutter could be released and a picture could be taken. The usual crank movement for Rolleiflex film transport (turn the crank clockwise until it stops to advance to the next frame, turn it counter clockwise again to return it to the "ready" position) did not stop at all: you could turn the crank freely until after the whole film was wound on the take up spool! The counter clockwise turn did not stop at the one o'clock position either.

There were some issues with focusing as well. The front standard traveled smoothly across the close focusing range, but there was a definitely noticeable resistance to reach the infinity position, where the standard is closest to the camera body. The taking lens, in fact, was not able to focus at infinity at all.

Oh, and yes, the slow speeds of the Compur Rapid shutter were dead, too, but this is something that I already knew from many of the prewar cameras that I have.

Soon I got the nerve to open the camera to take a look at what was going on inside.


Symptom: free turning of the film advance crank lever. It should lock on the ready-to-shoot position. After taking a picture, a clockwise turn should stop after advancing exactly one frame, and then a counter clockwise turn should stop again at the ready-to-shoot position.

Rolleiflex Automat 631 - film transport

Diagnostic: missing dowel actuating as cam follower. There is a large cam that turns with the crank lever. A lever with a hole on its tip was bent down and made friction against the base plate, which prevented its free movement. If this lever was held in a definite position, the film advance blocking mechanism was activated and the clockwise turn of the crank lever was correctly blocked after advancing exactly one frame. I assumed that the hole was supposed to contain something, a little rod, a dowel, that held the lever exactly on this position as the crank lever started its film advance. The counter clockwise turn of the crank lever should be blocked by this same missing dowel making contact with an obvious metal stop on the cam.

Very probably, someone forced the crank lever backwards too violently past this stop, separating the dowel from the lever and bending the lever down. I was able to reproduce the proper film advance stops by holding a screwdriver in place of the missing cam follower.

As a temporary solution to be able to use the camera, I blocked the free movement of the lever with a toothpick tip to allow free turning with no stops. I could "simulate" the film advance manually by aligning the next frame number in the film counter, as if it was a red window.

At this point, I tried to imagine ways to build myself a replacement for the missing cam follower.


How did it happen? My flickr friend Hans Kerensky pointed me to a couple of pictures from Gustavo Vasquez, who seemed to have faced a similar problem. In his case, the dowel got caught in the gears of the film transport, blocked everything and did a lot of damage. By forcing a locked crank lever backwards, one could break or at least dislodge the dowel. This seems to be a design weakness in early Automats that was addressed in later versions.

If in Gustavo's Automat the dowel was found inside the camera, I started wondering if the dowel in mine could have stayed inside as well. One day, then, it struck down on me. Was it possible that both issues (film advance and focus at infinity) were linked? Was it possible that it was precisely the missing dowel what was preventing the front standard to reach infinity focus position?


A boring train ride back to Vienna, the Automat and a screwdriver.

I removed the front fascia by carefully removing the leatherette on the front to reveal four screws. As I was expecting, the front standard, without the fascia, reached infinity focus precisely and smoothly. The problem, thus, had to be somewhere in the front fascia!

On closer inspection I found something, what seemed to be a tiny metal piece, caught in the lower crate, obstructing the last half millimeter of travel needed to reach infinity focus. I got my tweezers, my hands almost trembling with excitement, and took it out of the place where it had rested for at least the last 40 years. It was the missing dowel, yes.

Rolleiflex Automat 631 - missing dowel


Well, now I was quite happy because I got everything that I needed to fix the camera. But how to reattach the dowel?

The thing is really tiny (less than 1 mm in diameter, around 3 mm long) and the violence of the blow had left its traces in both the dowel and the hole where it was supposed to be attached. After some failed attempts at just pressing the dowel into the hole, I gave up. It wouldn't go.

I packed everything carefully and reattached the toothpick tip to block the lever, so that the camera could be used without automatic stops. Using the frame counter as a "red window" I could manually advance the film to the next frame. It was of course not as comfortable as the true Automat function, but at least I could use the camera.

In fact, I shot 13 rolls of film with the Automat in this way. And, as it was with the Old Standard, the pictures that this camera was able to produce surpassed my expectations by large every time. If I have learned something about Rollei TLRs is that they never ever disappoint.


For one reason or another, I was scared of this repair. In fact, it took me almost one year and a half to gather the courage to open up again the right side of the Automat.

Last week, finally, I got the courage to delve into its guts and, once again, marveled at its ingenious yet simple mechanics. I guessed that the violence of the shearing had deformed the hole a little bit, elongating it to an ellipse. I got a very tiny file and tried to file a little into the hole to make it broad enough to replace the dowel. I filed the edges of the dowel, too, so that it could more easily be reattached into to its hole.

A little filing, then one attempt. It wouldn't go. More filing, second attempt. It still wouldn't go. I realized that I would need to apply the pressure to reattach the dowel with a tool. I got pointed pliers and tried to get the dowel just enough into the hole so that it would not fall. Then I applied uniform pressure to the tip of the dowel and to the lever with the pliers and I realized that the dowel was in fact very slowly going into the hole. At the end I applied a few tiny drops of instant glue to not let it fall again.

Rolleiflex Automat 631 - Dowel in place

The dowel was again where it was supposed to be. I loaded my "Automat test film" into the camera. This is just the protective paper of a 120 film with a short length of film carefully taped into it where the film start is supposed to be, so that the automatic film start feeler could be "cheated". I closed the camera and slowly turned the crank lever clockwise. The dowel ran smoothly below the cam, through a "passage" at the right place to hold the crank lever free. Then a little resistance needed to be overcome and I heard the distinctive click as the frame counter was engaged. Sure enough, the frame counter wheel started turning slowly, and the lever with the dowel changed its angle minutely. As the frame number 1 reached its proper position on the film gate, the powerful film advance lock mechanism stopped the crank lever clockwise turn. The crank lever could now be turned counter clockwise. The dowel ran above the cam until it blocked its movement as it made contact with the metal stop on the cam (if done very brutally, this could dislodge the dowel again!). After releasing the shutter for the first frame, the film could be advanced again until frame 2 and then the crank lever turned counter clockwise to the ready position at one o'clock. This way, I was able to reproduce the proper Automat film advance.

My Automat, as it seems, is now ready to be used as it was meant. I am eager to shoot a roll of film with it.

PS: The previous owner of my Rolleiflex, who was as well the one that bought it new in 1938 or early 1939, was a merchant from Gmunden in Upper Austria. He was born in 1904 and died in 1981. As his grandson told me, he was a passionate mountain climber, especially on the Dolomites, and he used this same camera to take many pictures of his endeavors.

Rolleiflex Automat 631
My Rolleiflex Automat 631 flickr set

Maker Franke & Heidecke
Model Rolleiflex Automat K4B build 631
Type twin-lens reflex camera
Viewing Lens Heidoscop Anastigmat 75mm f/2.8
Taking Lens Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 75mm f/3.5 (No. 2416597, 1938)
Shutter Compur Rapid, 1 - 1/500 + B + T
Film type 120 6x6
Year January 1938 - March 1939
Country Germany

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Series - from the archives

A couple of weeks ago, I took my Rolleiflex Old Standard 621 out of the leather case where it enjoys a well deserved rest. To my disappointment, both lenses, the viewing Heidoscop and the taking Tessar, had got fogged by a milky, grayish layer. I then realized that the last time I ran a roll of film through this camera was almost two years in the past. Too long. That evening I cleaned up both lenses, and I took the time to clean the whole viewfinder, as well as repairing the viewfinder hood, which had never operated properly. My Old Standard is again ready for action, and is going to be, quite surely, among the cameras that I am going to use the next couple of months.

The whole episode had me thinking about how much I enjoyed the Old Standard and how I did, somehow, forget about it and that enjoyment. Browsing through the archives, I realized there were still a couple of pictures that I had not published yet. That's how I decided to make a one-week series out of them.

All seven pictures on this series were taken, at least, four years ago. Most of the cameras that I used (except the Flexaret VI and the Vitomatic Ia) are still with me. Let me get a little nostalgic for a moment.

spider web
(Zeiss Ikon Contessa 533/24, Kodak Portra 160, ISO 160/23°)

blinding mediterranean
(Rolleiflex Old Standard 621, Fujichrome Provia 400X, ISO 400/27°)

(Meopta Flexaret VI, Fujichrome Velvia 50, ISO 50/18°)

(Voigtländer Vitomatic Ia, Agfaphoto CT Precisa 100, ISO 100/21°)

(Voigtländer Rollfilm 5x8, Kodak Portra 160, ISO 160/23°)

(Rolleiflex Old Standard 621, Fujichrome Velvia 50, ISO 50/18°)

picnic basket
(Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta BX 533/16, Fujichrome Velvia 50, ISO 50/18°)