Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Agfa Isola I Review

Last fall I picked up an Agfa Isola I at a thrift shop for a few bucks.  I suspect the price was low because the staff didn't know that to make the shutter fire, you have to telescope the lens away from the body.  It was in a brown leatherette case, and while I had hopes for a more advanced 120 camera, the Isola I was a new one for me, so I picked it up. 

Agfa manufactured these cameras from the 1956 into the early-60s, and produced three Isola models - Isola, Isola I, and Isola II.  If you are  looking for any particular one, get the Isola II, which I'll explain a bit later on.  The original Isola and Isola II have the same features, that is, B, 1/30, and 1/100 shutter speeds. 

All Agfa Isola models feature a telescoping lens tube, which when fully extended from the body, click in place to allow the shutter to function. That's important, and otherwise the camera will seem inoperable.  Also, the shutter has double-exposure prevention, as the film takeup knob needs to wind on a bit for the shutter to re-engage. There is a tiny red window by the shutter button to show that it has been fired.

The Isola I has two shutter settings - I and B - instant is ca. 1/35 sec, and B is obviously however long you want to hold it open.  The 1/35 speed is the Achilles heel of this camera.  Knowing this, I loaded a roll of Ilford Pan-F (nominal ISO 50) to try it out.  The sunny and cloudy aperture settings are ca. f/11 for sunny, and f/6.5 for cloudy, and a third setting provides a yellow filter which would be fine for b&w film on a sunny day using ISO 100 film.   If you wish to use any faster films, you will need to tape a neutral-density gel over the lens. 

I took the camera to Chelsea, MI to try it out, and shot a roll in an hour or so, testing out the distance scale and the aperture settings.  I finally got around to developing the film this week, and I have to say that overall, I am pleased with the results.

Using the camera is fairly simple, and like most roll-film cameras, there is a red window on the back to see what frame you are on. It takes 120 film, so no 620 fuggery is necessary.  There is a PC cord socket to enable the use of a flash, should you want to.  I did not try using one.

For me, the most limiting factor of the Isola I is the 1/35 sec shutter speed.  Even the most basic box cameras have a shutter speed closer to 1/60 sec.  Other than that, it's a pretty straightforward budget box-type camera that will provide results that would be expected from a camera in its class. 

You can get a manual for the Isola over at Butkus, of course. There is also a nice online presentation of using the Isola II over at UK Camera.  I recommend using low-ISO film for outdoor shooting, so Ilford Pan-F would be my first choice.  For indoors, you could use ISO 400 with a flash. Since the camera has a thread for using a cable release and a tripod socket, it certainly could be used for long-exposures, which I will have to try sometime.  Right now, I have a roll of 1992-expired color Ektar 25 loaded to see what I get from it.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Agfa Cinerex - Another Oddball Film

I purchased a couple of rolls of Agfa Cinerex IC1N film from Ultrafine last year, and finally finished up a roll in my Nikon FE a few weeks ago. I had forgotten to put a slip of paper in the film reminder slot on the back,so all I knew was that I was shooting an ISO 50 film.  I hate it when I do that, but in this case, my subject was a good test for the film.

First of all, what is Agfa Cinerex?  It's a fine-grained orthochromatic film (not red-sensitive) that was used in the medical industry as a cineradiography film.  There is no antihalation layer on the polyester base, so it's a good idea to load it in subdued light to avoid light-piping (which definitely shows on the sprocket area of the roll that I shot). It seems to have first become available online around 2012, as entries regarding the film appeared on Rangefinder Forum and APUG that year.  At that time, someone was selling 300 ft. rolls of it.

There is a dearth of information online from the manufacturer. I'll say one thing about Kodak -- they published technical data for their films and made the pdfs available online.  Thankfully, Ultrafine Online has some basic developing information available, and the links to the forums are helpful. 

When I loaded the film back in September, I did a few shots around town and forgot to indicate the film on the camera. I picked up the Nikon FE last month, and shot some beautiful fog shots to finsih the roll.  I shot more fog on a roll of Svema FN-64, and I will compare them sometime.

I developed the Cinerex film in XTOL 1:1 for 11 minutes at 20C, with my standard fixing time of 8 minutes.  The film dried quickly, and I scanned the negatives on my Epson V700.  There is a slight curl to the film, but it sat nicely in the 35mm filmstrip holders. 
See the light piping? Load in subdued light!

It's an odd film, of course, and probably not well-suited for low-contrast images such as the fog scenes.  However, with sunny conditions, and even low-light, it performed pretty well. Lots of good contrasty results in full sun.  The fog scenes are very grainy, and yet are very interesting.  That's probably pushing the film to accomplish what other films do better, so my next roll will be shot in strong light, and maybe even with LED lighting, just to see what I get.

Until recently, you could buy this unusual film in 36-exposure rolls from Ultrafine Online (also known as Photo Warehouse), but they are no longer selling it in 100-ft bulk rolls, and the individual rolls are listed as "out of Stock". That's too bad, because it's an interesting film. However, like I always say, "If you are late to the party, don't complain about not getting cake."

These all look pretty darn good 

As you might have guessed from many of my posts, I enjoy trying out strange films, especially if they are black and white.   While any film emulsion can be used for some sort of still photography, the challenge is often to see what a film is capable of doing well.  Sometimes the limiting factor is the low ISO of some cinema-specific films -- i.e., those used for making titles and special effects, or for copying to make positive masters.  With some films, it might be the spectral sensitivity that is a factor.  In some instances, we just have to wing it when it comes to the developing of the film.  With a large film user community, we end up having some good data on developing these films, and with sites like the Massive Development Chart, we have an easily-accessed knowledge base.  The gang at the Film Photography Project also have been providing us with some oddball films from Eastern Europe.  If you have been experimenting with any of these films, remember to share your successful results with the larger community.

After adjusting brightness and contrast post-scan 

Almost looks like a pen and ink image.

Monday, March 05, 2018

A Photographic Gem in Pittsburgh

Back in mid-February I had the opportunity to visit Pittsburgh, PA for a few days, and I arranged to visit a photography museum that most of you have probably never heard of - the Photo Antiquities Museum of Photographic History (PAMoPH).  I found it by accident while researching the area on Google Maps a month or so prior to the visit.   I am so glad that I found this place, as it happens that I had about 25 4x5 glass plates of the Pittsburgh area that were taken about 100 years ago, and they needed a proper home.  The Photo Antiquities Museum was the perfect place for them, and the museum was definitely interested in my donation. 

Bruce Klein, our host
We arrived at the museum, located at 531 East Ohio Street, and buzzed the doorbell.   Bruce Klein, our guide, and curator, met us at the door, and escorted us upstairs to the museum.  Two more people joined our guided tour, and Bruce is an excellent photo-historian. He explained the different photo processes in terms that anyone could understand, and I was impressed with the displays and amount of photo materials that were on exhibit.  The PAMoPH has about 2500 square feet is packed with images, tools, cameras and ephemera that are sure to interest anyone with an interest in the history of photography.    I was most interested in the cameras and ephemera from Kodak and Polaroid, and there was enough there to keep me busy for a few hours, if I could have stayed.   

First of all, museums devoted to the techniques and tools of photography are few.  I know only of Eastman House in Rochester, NY and the Argus Museum in Ann Arbor, MI,  where anything significant about the history of photography and the hardware can be seen.  While in a relatively small space, the PAMoPH is full of historical gems, from Daguerreotypes to ambrotypes, albumin prints and lantern slides.  The exhibit cases are well-lit, enabling one to see the various images and cameras, etc.  There is also an exhibit downstairs that is titled Lincoln In Pittsburgh, which runs through the summer.  The museum is really strong in Civil War era photography and photos on glass, and the Pittsburgh area (which is why I donated the plates to them).

How a view camera works.
The PAMoPH is open Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, and admission is $10.  You can call ahead to arrange a tour at 412-231-7881.    The museum is fund-raising to renovate another building with 25,000 sq. ft. of space which will allow them to expand their education and outreach, as well as improve the visitor experience.  I will definitely visit again the next time I am in Pittsburgh.  Thanks to Bruce Klein for his wonderful tour of the museum.

loads of vintage Kodaks in all colors!
Lots to see and digest
Not many Argus cameras!