Friday, January 30, 2009

The Argus 75 - A toy or a tool?

The Argus 75 is a fun little bakelite wonder from Ann Arbor-based Argus. Produced from about 1949-1964, the camera takes 620 film. It has a shutter-cocking feature that prevents double exposures -- which was useful if you were one of those families that had at least two Christmases, Halloweens, or whatever on one roll of film (12 exposures). The Argus 75 (which started out named as the Argoflex 75) was the very first Argus that I bought in an antique shop in Cheboygan, MI about 8 or 9 years ago. I then started acquiring other Argus cameras, and as they say, "The rest is history."

The cameras isn't a real TLR in the sense that it's really a box camera with a reflex viewing window that uses a second lens. There is nothing to adjust except for Instant and Time, for making your exposures. The Time is important, if you wish to shoot in dim light, or convert the camera to a pinhole. A very useful feature is that Argus put a tripod thread on the bottom of the camera, making it more versatile. It's hard hand-holding a camera for time exposures.

The 75mm lens is coated, and the aperture is about f/13. "Instant" shutter speed is about 1/60 sec. Back in the day, Kodak's Verichrome Pan was the ideal film for this camera. Today, you could use Ilford FP4+, Kodak Plus-X Pan, or Fuji Across 100 for sunny to cloudy-bright conditions. For color -- Fuji Superia 100 works well. Since it was designed for 620 film, you can put a 620 spool in the take-up reel, and a trimmed 120 spool on the supply side. If that's too tight, you may have to respool your 120 film onto a 620 spool.

I once offered to write an article on the Argus 75 for Lightleaks magazine, but the editor told me it wasn't a "toy camera." It's just as much of a toy as the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, or the Agfa Clack. To be sure, a well-made box camera, but really, nothing to adjust except for the shutter between Instant and Time. So, in that sense, it's just as much a toy camera as the Holga...maybe more so.

Since this camera has a tripod socket, it is easy to set it somewhere low and use the time exposure to good effect:
Huron River near Broadway

Broadway Bridge

The camera typically has everything in focus from about 7.5 feet to infinity. If you can find the Argus "portrait filter" (a close-up lens), you can shoot things that are about 3 feet away (or experiment with other close-up lenses):

There are a number of variations on the Argus 75 -- and rather than repeat what is already out there on the web, go on over to James Surprenant's website. I often get asked how much these cameras are worth. Not really much. Don't pay more than $10 for one in great condition with the leather case and flash holder. The average value is probably closer to $5. Argus made a lot of these, and if you get a good one (most are in working condition, but you will need to turn the film winding knob to cock the shutter - look for the red to appear behind the lens) - give it a try with some film.

My pal, Gene McSweeny takes great photos with vintage cameras, so check out his Argus 75.

A gallery of all the Argoflex cameras can be found here.

So, is it a toy or a tool? Both.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Lesser-known Agfa - The Solina

I do like trying out old cameras. Sometimes I am disappointed in the results, other times surprised. In today's digital world, most of the cameras operate so similarly that one can pick up a Nikon or a Canon or an Olympus and begin using it without too much thought. Not so, back in the days of vintage cameras. Some designs (like the Kodak Retinas) had the film advance lever on the bottom, or on the left (Exakta), or perhaps it was a knob to wind the film (many designs) instead of a ratcheting lever. Some cameras have rangefinder focusing, others scale focusing. The variations on a pretty basic set of features is amazing, and perhaps that is why so many people like collecting old cameras.

The Agfa Solina pictured above, was made from 1960-62, and features a 45mmm Agfa Color Apotar lens (I'm thinking 3 elements), witha maximum aperture of f3.5. Shutter speeds range from B-1/200, and it has scale focusing. According to McKeown's it was distributed in the USA by Montgomery Ward. Current value is from $25-$40.

Okay, enough of the the geeky stuff -- how does the camera perform? Well, I have shot 2 rolls of film in the camera, and it reminds me a bit of the Kodak Retinette with similar features. The only knock on the camera might be the scale focus, since that's always a problem between 3 feet an 20 feet at wide-open apertures. Otherwise, it is a lightweight camera with a nice clear viewfinder and is simple to operate. Here are a few recent photos:

safari car . one cold seat

drinking coffee at Biggbee

night at the Old Town

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Winter Photography With A Hammer

Well, perhaps not really a hammer, but there is no doubt that the Nikon F2 could be used for one if necessary. Like a hammer, it is a basic tool - what you create with it depends on the wielder. My F2 pictured above, has a plain (non-metered DE-1) prism, making for a very solid and attractive SLR. Winter photography (and by that, I mean with snow being present) is challenging enough -- too cold and your batteries in the fancy SLR or DSLR fail, leaving you with a plastic rock, never mind the fact that your hands get cold adjusting all those tiny buttons. No, I think winter photography works really well for simple cameras with no batteries, or if any -- just the ones needed for the meter. The Nikon F2 with a plain prism obviously has no metering, so you can use a hand-held meter, or learn to trust your instincts and go with the "sunny-16" rules. I like b&w film for snowy landscapes -- I find that unless there is a compelling color element, b&w and shades of gray are the predominant colors, anyway. So, I tend to shoot b&w film, and in the photos that follow, it was a roll of expired Kodak Plus-X Pan. Kodak's T-Max 100 or Tri-X are also good choices.

A lens hood is a good idea, as there are reflections coming off snow in the winter landscape that can cause havoc with lens flare and reducing contrast. If you shoot using sunny-16, you won't have to account for the meter being wrong, as the snow will reflect enough light that your meter will indicate overexposure. If your camera has exposure compensation, set it at +1 to +2, depending on conditions to get an accurate exposure. Bracket, if necessary. Black and white film has plenty of latitude, and some overexposure is better than underexposure with most b&w emulsions.

The Nikon F2 was the last hand-assembled camera made by Nikon, and was produced from 1970-1980. Certainly one could not ask for a nicer all-mechanical body. Without the big metering prism (typically a DP-1), it's fairly compact. With winter shooting, I just go by sunny-16, and set the shutter speed and f-stops accordingly. No tiny buttons or thumbwheels to adjust. Manual focus, of course. I also use a tripod in the snow, with a quick-release bracket. That makes landscape photography much easier, keeps the camera steady, and another tip - it's easier to change lenses, since the camera is sitting on the sturdy tripod, and cold hands are less likely to be dropping things.

One of my favorite places to shoot locally is at Matthaei Botanical Gardens -- the trails that follow Fleming Creek offer access to some nice winter scenes that are usually pretty undisturbed.

The bridge over the pond that leads to the trails. Tamron 90mm lens.

The eye in the ice
The eye in the ice.

little worlds
I love the contrast of snow and water and the various states of ice formation.

Try some winter photography -- go all-manual with a twin-lens reflex, a 35mm SLR or even a Holga. Leave the DSLR at home.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

We Are All Connected

We Are All Connected
Taken in Chelsea, MI 01/03/09 with a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye.

It's easy to forget the infrastructure that's required to support us as we sit  down at a coffee shop somewhere, cruising the web on a laptop.  It's all so instant, so immediate, and despite opinions to the contrary -- personal.  We have friends  and contacts via Flickr and other sites, that we most likely would never have had  otherwise.  Some of these people have become very good friends over the years, and with some I have a beer, go out shooting,  exchange photographic items, prints, tell stories, help with a project, and all the things anyone does with a friend. I have local Ann Arbor friends that ask me if I know someone on Flickr, and if I'm not sure, I get the Flickr name, and then I know who it is if I do know them.   My circle of friends and contacts has grown, not shrunken, as I age.  (My workplace is so socially isolated, that it's not the place where one meets new people all the time, or even interacts with the public.)

Nope, the Internet, hasn't isolated us at all, but it has shown how interconnected  things really are.  We can share our lives via blogs,  social networking  sites, email, and via Flickr. We can publish books online and have them delivered to whomever wants to see our work.  We can create art and sell it without having a real store. We can buy and sell on eBay, buying from and selling to people anywhere in the world. We can do our taxes, apartment searches, car buying, news reading, mate-matching, poker-playing, movie-watching, and so on, via the Web. In short, within the span of 15 years, the way we do almost anything has changed because of the Internet. No single cornerstone of technology has altered society so quickly.  

For those of us who used computers before the dawn of the Internet, it's been an amazing transformation, to go from green screens connected to Compuserve at 300 bits per second, and thinking it was really, really cool to download that Basic program that could run on the Tandy TRS-80, to today's  2 pound netbook that runs at 1.6 GHz and has the world right there at our fingertips --and you don't even have to know how it works. 

So, "We are all connected"  has many meanings -- the infrastructure that supports our use of the internet, our connectedness due to online and in-person relationships, our small towns and cities, and our states and nations.  We ARE all connected somehow, and let us hope that a new beginning in the White House with an  administration that knows this to be true -- will  put the USA and the world onto a better course in the coming years.  

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Ricoh Six - A Retro Photographic Tool

It's rather fun starting the new year with a blog post. I'm sitting here in my comfy chair, watching the Detroit Red Wings play the Chicago Blackhawks in a great outdoor game at Wrigley Field in Chicago-- on the 46" HD TV. So, since today's hockey game has retro sweaters and is outside, I'll discuss using a retro camera -- the Ricoh Six medium-format folder.

Riken Optical Company (later renamed Ricoh) introduced the camera in 1952, and it seems to share optics and shutter assemblies with the Ricohflex TLRs from the same period. The Ricoh Six comes with a removable mask that allows 6 x 4.5 cm negatives for 16 exposures per roll of 120 film, or 12 exposures without the mask at 6 x 6 cm. The optical viewfinder has a yellow border so that you can see the rectangular format when shooting with the 6 x 4.5 mask. Optically, the Ricoh Six sports an 80 mm "Orinar" lens with a f/3.5 maximum aperture, and a Riken shutter, which has speeds of B, 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 sec shutter speeds. The back of the camera has shuttered film windows for each negative format.

Using the camera is a breeze. Depressing the front latch release button on the top deck extends the bed and the bellows clicks into place. Focusing is by scale focusing, though with the cold shoe on top, one could add a rangefinder for accuracy. The smallest aperture is f/22, and I find that there is some vignetting at f/16 and f/22 when shooting at 6x6. You cock the shutter on the lens, but fire it with the release button on the top deck of the camera. There is nothing complex or extraordinary about the camera, but it is the only post-war folding camera that Ricoh produced. Like the Ricohflex TLRs, the leatherette stiffens and flakes off with age.

I bought my camera for $40 about 7 years ago at an outdoor camera swap that was at Dave's Photo emporium. I think I have seen one other example of this model since. I find the camera gives reasonably good results for an inexpensive folder. Its bellows is sound, and all the features work as they should, which isn't bad for a 57-year old camera!

The Wings won 6-4, by the way.  Here are ssome recent images in square format, followed by some taken a few years ago in 6x4.5 format.  

New Year's Hangover? Happy New Year

Cobblestone Farmhouse Festive in Dexter

Some shots with the 6 x 4.5 mask:

galaxy quest

Well, best wishes for all of us in 2009. Enjoy your New Year's day!