Saturday, April 20, 2019

Using Vintage Cameras. Some Tips to Follow.

So, you have acquired a bunch of old film cameras from an estate, an attic, or some basement.  Perhaps you know their history of ownership, or perhaps you are totally clueless when and where they came from and how they were stored, and for how long.   You are curious about using them again.  Before you start, five  main factors have to be addressed when using older cameras that might have been sitting unused for a lengthy period of time.

  1. Shutters
  2. Light-tightness
  3. Batteries (if needed)
  4. Film
  5. Overall condition

The old Kodak ball-bearing shutters seem to
last forever!

1Shutters.  Shutters might be as simple as a sector shutter found on a box camera, or as complex as a focal-plane shutter on a single lens reflex camera.  Any camera that hasn't been used in a long while, especially those with between the lens leaf shutters, may need some TLC to get them working acceptably.  Sometimes all that is needed is to repeatedly fire the shutter at a moderate setting, and work the slower shutter speeds in gradually until the shutter appears to be working appropriately.  On  medium-format folding cameras, you can usually unscrew a front lens element to reach the aperture blades  and the shutter,  and a drop of lighter fluid (Ronsonol) or white naphtha will help get things moving. Remember that old rule -- DON'T FORCE ANYTHING!   Brute force will often render a camera useless.  Look for repair examples online, as many people have encountered the same problems, and there may be a step-by-step repair guide available.  Cameras that have sat unused for many years can't be expected to suddenly be fired up without some hesitation.

 SLRs with focal plane shutters are usually very reliable, but some models that have rubberized silk curtains in the shutter may have problems as they are now getting upwards of 60 years old. I have seen Exaktas with the rubberized curtains in tatters.  In contrast, the focal-plane shutters of 100-year old Graflex large-format SLRs are often just fine.  It all depends on the storage conditions and usage history of the camera. The 35mm SLRs with copal-square shutters are typically less prone to problems over time.  However, if a camera requires batteries for the shutter to function, that provides another avenue of failure. See Number 3.
Cloth focal plane shutter, Asahiflex

This is a lovely Nikon SP rangefinder...

with a hole in the shutter! Caused by leaving it in the sun with
the f/16 aperture allowing the sun to burn hole through it.

Bellows need to be checked on all folding cameras.

2. Light-tightness.  Light-tightness is important, or you'll have light leaks on your film.  Bellows cameras should be examined for pinholes.   Shine an LED light into the bellows area in a dark room and see if you can detect any pinholes. Black electrical tape can cover holes in bellows, but it's only a temporary fix. You can dab some black liquid rubber (sold for coating tool handles) or black fabric paint into the bellows material to fix small pinholes.  While I have never done a bellows replacement, there are people that make replacement bellows for old folding cameras and large format view cameras.  If you like origami, you might try to tackle it yourself, as there are online resources for DIY bellows.

Cameras with foam in the seals should be checked and the foam replaced if it has hardened or turned into a gummy mess! You can buy adhesive-backed felt or black foam at craft stores, and the thinner the material the better.  Black electrical tape can cover gaps in the back of a camera, but avoid it if possible. Black gaffer's tape is preferable, as it does not leave a sticky residue.  Light seal material for the backs of cameras can easily be made from adhesive backed black felt or thin black foam from the craft store.  Some old cameras merely need a strip of black yarn in a groove. Remove old gummy foam with lighter fluid on the end of a cotton swab and a toothpick, scraping the material away.   Make sure you cover the shutter or lens with a small piece of cardboard taped over the film gate while the back of the camera is open. You don't want residue or tools in there.

3. Batteries. Batteries are often the culprit in preventing the use of some older cameras.  Many cameras from the 60s and 70s used mercury cells, which are no longer sold.  The PX-625, for example, was used in many 35mm cameras and light meters,  and supplied a constant 1.35v.   The modern replacement is a PX-625A or LR-9.  Using modern-day cells provide 1.5 volts, which in many cameras, will give inaccurate meter readings.  PX-27 cells delivered 5.6 V, and the modern replacement is a PX-27A or 4LR43, which delivers 6v. With color print or b&w film, you can usually be “close enough” in your exposure that the voltage difference is not significant. You can use the zinc-air hearing aid batteries to use the camera meters, or, better yet, if the camera is going to be used a lot, C.R.I.S. (online) sells an adapter that allows the use of silver batteries.  Their MR-9 adapter might seem pricey, but if you buy one, you can really extend the life of these older, fine cameras.  It also pays to buy the LR-44 1.5v cells online in bulk.  There are other oddball battery types from the past that have no current alkaline or lithium equivalent.   You may have to clean battery contacts that have become oxidized or corroded.  A pencil eraser may not be enough to clean the contacts.  A swab dipped in vinegar and rubbed on the contacts will loosen the crud.  Wipe off the vinegar with another swab and clean with isopropyl alcohol.
With the X-700 and related models, a dead capacitor will incapacitate
the camera, even with new batteries.

A film haul from 2007. I wish I had saved the Minolta 16 film!

4. Film.  35mm film isn't a problem, but many old cameras use sizes no longer being manufactured - 828, 116, 620, 616, 126 etc.  You can sometimes use 120 in 620 roll-film cameras, as the films are the same size, only the spools are slightly different.  How you do it depends on the camera.  Most people re-spool 120 onto 620 spools, and some cameras allow 120 spools in the supply chamber, but 620 for the take-up spool.   120 film is easily purchased at a real camera store or online, and 620 (respooled) can be found at the Film Photography Project online store.  The FPP Store also sells the Camerahack adapters for roll-film cameras, allowing you to use 120 in a 122 film camera,  35mm in a 126 cartridge, etc.  There are no manufacturers currently making 126 film, 127 film, APS film, or Kodak Disc film.  Lomography and the FPP Store are currently selling 110 film, so there is a mini-resurgence in 110 shooting.  If you are relegated to shooting old, outdated film in your camera, remember that most films lose a stop of effective sensitivity every decade.  So, that roll of 400 ISO Kodak Max from 2009 is now rated at ISO 200. Black and white slow to moderate speed films age far better.  I have shot 40 year old Verichrome Pan in box cameras with good results.  Panatomic-X that expired in the 1980s works great now at ISO 25. However,  high-speed color films do not fare as well.

Typical Graflex RB - it may work fine, but look for one that
takes currently available film sizes!

Polaroid Cameras - at this point I will suggest to only obtain Polaroid 600-series and Time-Zero series (as in the SX-70) cameras.  Any old pre-packfilm cameras are going to be doorstops, and now that Fuji is no longer making the pack film, cameras such as the Polaroid Land 100 and up are not going to be usable. Kodak Instant cameras (not Instamatic) have been filmless for over 20 years. Polaroid Swingers are objects of curiosity, and not usable.  Cameras such as the Polaroid 80A are not usable.

5. Overall condition
. I have had hundreds of old cameras pass through my hands over the years. It's always unfortunate to see an example of some rare camera beset with grime and crud, mold, cigarette smoke, or rust.  Sometimes it may just need a good exterior cleaning.  However, a camera with lots of dents, mold, and oxidation may indicate that it not worth your time.  It might have been rescued from a lake, a flooded basement, or maybe it was carried off by a tornado.

Other potential problems are fungus growing on lenses, corroded battery contacts, mildew on the camera leather, and of course, user unfamiliarity with a camera.  Sometimes not knowing how something works will leave you feeling like it's broken, but in reality, you may just need to know more about the camera.  Mike Butkus has manuals available online and they can be a great help!  Google is also your friend when it comes to these things.  Don't be afraid to search for help that way -- you'll be surprised at how many sources of information are out there.

This Ermanox was a rare find and cleaned up well

Exterior cleaning -- I use a soft rag with isopropyl alcohol to clean the exterior.  Large cotton-tipped swabs are also useful for hard to reach spots, such as around knobs and dials.  Tape residue or other gooey substances can be removed with "Goof-Off".  An old soft toothbrush is useful for "scrubbing" the leatherette.  For mold on the camera body or on the lens, vinegar or windex can be used to clean the surface.  Old dirty Bakelite can be scrubbed with a paste of baking soda and a soft toothbrush, and rinsed off with water. For old cameras with real leather on the body or with leather cases, you can use Lexol, a leather cleaning solution easily found in the hardware store.  Rub it in with a soft cloth in an inconspicuous spot first to see how it affects the item you are cleaning.

Lastly -- sometimes a camera is just plain broken and not worth fixing, or perhaps it's no longer usable because the film isn't available.  Many old metal-bodied Polaroid cameras fall into the latter category. The classic and even not-so-classic cameras are sometimes art objects on their own, and can be used to decorate, or to create something useful from them.  I have seen Kodak Brownies with their flash units turned into night lights.  The distinctive appearance of old film cameras are something that today's look-alike digital models just don't have.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Derev Pan 400 - A fine-grained, high speed film with great tonality

It's great to have so many 35mm film stocks to choose from these days.  If you are not aware, The Film Photography Project Store started offering some new b&w films very recently.  In mid-March, Mike Raso released three new films, all fresh from Ukraine, that were originally produced for scientific and aerial survey work.  The new films are Derev Pan 100, Derev Pan 200, and Derev Pan 400.  Much to my liking, they are in 36 exposure rolls. The naming of the film, according to Mike, is for the forests of Ukraine, the film's country of origin. All of the films are on a thin Mylar base, and all are fine-grained, with each film having different characteristics.   I have so far only tried the Derev Pan 400, which I am reviewing here.
photo courtesy of the FPP
Roll one -- Started in January when I  put the cassette into my Canon T60  on a snowy day. I finished it a few weeks later in downtown Ann Arbor, fittingly, while I was there to watch the Garry Winogrand documentary at the Michigan Theater, All Things Are Photographable.  It was definitely a fine movie, and worth seeing if it arrives in your area or is on Netflix.
I developed the roll in D-76, diluted 1:1 for 10.5 minutes at 20°C. 

Roll 2  was loaded into my Leica R4 SLR while at  Lake Lure, NC, and finished also in Ann Arbor.  Development was in straight D-76 for 8 minutes at 20°C.

First thing -- Mike advises that because the film is on a thin polyester (Mylar) base, light piping is possible.  On roll 1 it wasn't noticeable because I loaded indoors in subdued light.   Roll 2 was loaded outdoors, and the first 4 frames were impacted by light piping.  It's not like this is only going to happen with this film, but any Mylar-base film will have similar characteristics regarding light piping. So, when Mike says to keep the cassettes in black film cans and load in subdued light, you should!   The film loads fine in my Jobo reels, but it does take some care to get it started.

Second thing -- I love the films that lie absolutely flat in the scanner holder, and the Derev Pan 400 (and I assume the others, as well) lies flat and is easy to scan. 

Third thing -- Thin Mylar-base films are notoriously hard to place in Printfile negative sheets.  Make sure you wear a rubber glove or white cotton glove so that you can gradually work the negative strip into the plastic protective sheet. 

Fourth thing -- I love the tonality and fine grain of this film.  I was more pleased with the results with straight D-76 at 8 minutes than the divided D-76 at 10.5.  I feel that the divided time might be closer to 12 minutes, but have yet to test it at that time. 

Photos! All negatives were scanned in my Epson perfection V700 scanner.


roll 1

roll 1

roll 1

roll 1

roll 2

roll 2

roll 2

roll 2

roll 2

I am glad that the FPP is supplying this film in 36 exposure rolls!  I can burn through a roll pretty quickly, and even though I do my own processing, it saves me time to develop fewer rolls.  I advise you to always load in subdued light indoors, if possible.  The fine-grain is excellent, and I hope to do some print making in the darkroom once I am moved to a new place.  For now, the scanning negatives works fine.  Give this film a try!!

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Revisiting 110 film with the Pentax Auto 110

My Pentax Auto 110 SLR!
It's been over a decade since I have shot any 110 film.   My first 110 camera was most likely an Estes Astrocam 110, which I managed to launch enough times in the mid-1980s to get the entire roll exposed without losing the rocket or crashing it.   In this post I am also incorporating some images from my long-defunct 110 photography web pages from 2004 that used to be hosted at the University of Michigan.
A shot from my Astrocam. Today it would be a drone
that would get that shot. It was a thrill to get a photo from
a model rocket.

At one time, in the early 2000s, I had a bunch of 110 cameras that I played with,  and I especially enjoyed using the Minolta 110 Autozoom. When the supply of the film became unreliable, I sold them all off on ebay in 20009.

Tiny and kinda crappy, but oh so pretty.
The Ektralite series from Kodak had an electronic flash

When it was introduced by Kodak in 1972, the 110 Instamatic was designed to be a sleek pocket camera that was basically a miniaturized 126 camera. Using 16mm film, the negatives are 13 x 17mm, with the single sprocket registration similar to the 126 cartridge design.  Because it was 16mm wide, existing equipment could be used for developing.  Kodak's 110 cameras, much like their 126 cameras are mostly small box cameras with few adjustable controls.  Many cheap plastic designs by others were on the market, and the Argus Mini-Palmatic is a good example of an inexpensive 110 camera.  The worst 110 cameras, in terms of quality are the tiny keychain cameras that basically just wrapped around a 110 cartridge.  They still turn up on eBay.  I have used them, and you could call them the "Diana of the 110 cameras,"  until Lomography brought out a Baby 110 Diana, that is.
An assortment of 110 cameras from the cheap keychain 110 to the Minolta
Autopak 470. All sold in 2009.

When Kodak introduced the Pocket Instamatic in 1972, it also released a bunch of film stocks for it - Kodachrome 64, Ektachrome X, Kodacolor II, and Verichrome Pan film. While I don't recall ever seeing any slide films in 110 (Kodak ended the Kodachrome 64 in 110 in 1982), Kodak did make a slide projector for the format (the Pocket Carousel Projector), and they turn up every now and then. Standard 35mm slide holders also had 110 format masks.  For the average snapshooter, it was color and then b&w negative film.  It is rumored that Lomography's Orca 110 b&w film is Verichrome Pan. I have no documentation for that. Fuji made 110 Superia 200 film until 2009, and that's when I sold my lot of 110 stuff.

The Minolta Autozoom 110 - The Hamburger 110

The excellent Minolta Autopak 450E

The Minolta Autopak 470 with its detachable flash unit. 

With a small negative size, it's imperative that better-quality optics are in front of the film, and for that reason, it pays to go with a more expensive 110 body.  I really enjoyed using the Minolta Autopak cameras, and the results from them are quite good.  Rollei, Canon, Pentax,and of course, Minolta made 110 cameras that very good.  I really liked using the Minolta Autozoom 110  SLR, and fitted with a close-up lens and external flash, I could achieve some pretty nice close-ups of flowers with it.  Alas, I sold all of my 110 cameras off and left the format behind.  When it was resurrected by Lomography in 2011, I just said, "meh."  I left it for others to have fun with it.  I was not interested in a Diana 110.

There was no problem getting great images from the Minolta 110 Autozoom SLR

In January, Mike Raso passed along a Pentax Auto 110 camera to me.  I had never owned one of them, and of course, after recent FPP podcasts on subminiature cameras, I felt it was time to revisit the format.  I always thought the Pentax Auto 110 was a lovely little SLR.  It was a complete system with different lenses, flashes, and other accessories.  While the Minolta 110 Auto-zoom was also an SLR, it was held more like a hamburger than a SLR, and is larger than the Pentax Auto 110. I was pretty excited to try it out, and after putting in fresh button cells, I loaded a Lomography Orca 100 b&w cartridge and gave the camera a try.  I had to remind myself that two strokes advance the film and cock the shutter, but it is a real, albeit tiny, SLR!

The biggest and smallest Pentax film cameras

The 24mm f/2.8 lens is the "normal" lens for this format, and I love using it.  As a "street camera" it's so small and toy-like that nobody will take it as a serious camera.  It's small enough that it might be mistaken for a digicam. In fact, it's not too different in size from the Pentax Q mirrorless ILC. I had the flash on for some indoor shots, and it worked great.  On the street, I like how it fits in my hand and basically have it set it at infinity and shoot. I'm not going to go into more detail on the Pentax Auto 110, as the wikipedia page has all of the information.

After I finished the roll, I had planned on developing it myself, but as I am in the process of getting our house ready to sell, I have packed away the 16mm reel in a box somewhere.  So, I sent the film to The Darkroom, and asked for enhanced scans and prints.  After all, I want to see the prints from this camera.  That all adds up, of course, and I plan on eventually doing it all myself.

Results - Many of my images had odd speckles in them, and I think that's due to the paper backing letting in light.  I have put black tape over the window for the remaining frames on the current roll of Orca 110. The images were good otherwise, and most of my street shots looked great.  I am looking forward to shooting more with this little gem of a camera.

So, are you ready to go out and shoot some 110 film?  A few years ago, I would have said good luck finding film for it. Now, with Lomography's 110 film offerings, and The Film Photography Project Store's new Fukkatsu B&W 100 and Fukkatsu Color 400  110 films, you can get out your 110 camera and shoot fresh film with it.  No more lurking in the eBay fringes, grabbing some long-expired Walgreens-branded 110, or some ancient Kodak Gold 100.  Now, you have more options for 110 than in 2004.
Lomography 110 films:
  • Orca 100 monochrome, standard b&w developing
  • Color 200 - C-41 process
  • Red Scale 200 - C-41 process
  • Color Slide 200 - C-41 and E6 process
Film Photography Project 110 film- Just released (04/03/2018) - The FPP purchased a huge lot of the only known enigmatic Fukkatsu (in Japanese, meaning revival) film stocks!  Now available ONLY at the FPP store.
  • Fukkatsu 100 monochrome - standard b&w process
  • Fukkatsu 400 color - C-41 process
courtesy of the FPP
I plan on trying out the Fukkatsu films as soon as possible, and will report on them.  Read the FPP link above to find out more about the amazing story of the Fukkatsu film!