Friday, March 06, 2020

Cameras I Have Known

I was going through some of my older photos last night, and realized that I had enough material for a new post. The title, "Cameras I have known" is a lot better than "cameras I have owned" because some cameras have only been in my hands for a short while as they were parts of estates that I was selling.  Those estate sale cameras were interesting, varied, and it was a lot of fun to have met their acquaintance. Parting with some cameras brings backs memories of how I acquired them, and in some cases, the stories about how they came my way are more interesting than the camera.


The Argoflex II

Back in the early 2000s, I visited a camera collector that was selling off a lot of cameras that he was no longer interested in.  I think I bought about a half-dozen cameras, and paid somewhere around $70.  It was early in my infatuation with Argus cameras, and one of the cameras I bought was an Argoflex TLR.  At the time, I did not realize what a rare thing I had purchased.  Upon some research and incredulous moments, I found that that I had one of a handful of examples of the Argoflex II twin-lens reflex.  In addition, it was different from other known Argoflex II models. First of all, you may wonder what was so darn special about the Argoflex II?
My Argoflex II

The only known examples of the Argoflex II

The Argoflex II was supposed to be introduced in 1947, and it was meant to be an upgraded version of the Argoflex, with a metal body, and most notably, an automatic film wind that stopped at the proper space for each frame, just like a Rolleiflex would, even though the red window remained on the back of the camera.  According to Henry J. Gambino, author of "Argomania," only about 300 cameras were produced, and the film wind did not work properly, so they were recalled and destroyed. It turns out that a handful survived, and of that handful, the one I owned had a different script logo on the front - perhaps it was the protoype.  The camera was designed by Harley Earl, and it's certainly possible that the camera came from someplace in Detroit, perhaps Earl's studio?  In any case, I had a unique model, which I soon had people offereing to purchase it from me.  In 2011, I was trying to get enough cash for a down-payment on a house for my daughter, and serendipitously received an offer to purchase the Argoflex II for a sum that was over $1000.  The timing was perfect, and I carefully packed that unique camera and it was on its way to a new home.  I don't regret selling it, as I had it for as long as I really wanted, and who know if the value would have gone down later on?

The Black Argus C-4

My Argus C-4

This is another rare Argus camera, which has only a handful of known examples.  The body has a black anodized finish instead of the typical chrome. Chrome Argus C-4s are relatively plentiful, and of the few known black examples, it was rumored that they may have been made to attract a military contract (they were made from 1951-57, so maybe for the Korean War?), or perhaps they made some all-black models to make the camera look more appealing and stand out. For whatever reason, only a few were made, and of course, they are extremely collectible.  How I got mine was just dumb luck of the most amazing sort.  A woman had dropped off a box of cameras for the Ann Arbor Crappy Camera Club, and Mike Myers, the club president brought the box to our meeting.  It was a matter of anytone reaching in and taking a camera.  I reached in and saw a black camera, and took it, and then... could not believe that what I was holding was one of the most sought-after American-made cameras.  A black Argus C-4.  I was dumbstruck.  While the camera could have used a CLA to make it operable, it was too rare to take out and about, anyways.  Again, in 2011 I sold it to the same collector that bought the Argoflex II, and received a very nice price for it.  How odd it was for me to have such amazing Argus luck -- twice!

Now, the rest of the cameras that follow, are not necessarily rare, but they remain wonderful cameras, and some fall into "why did I sell it?" category. Others are ones that I had a brief fling with before they went on the market - also called testing before selling, as they were part of camera estates that I have sold over the past 15 years.

The Kodak Medalist II

My Kodak Medalist II came from the George O'Neal estate.  His family asked me to sell off his extensive camera collection after his death, and among the cameras that George owned was this Medalist II with all of the extra backs and accessories. George did collect a lot of Kodaks, and some Argus cameras.  Among his rarities was one of the earliest roll-film Kodak box cameras, the No. 2 Kodak Camera from the late 1890s, as well as a Number 1 Panoram Kodak camera (1900-1901).
My Kodak Medalist II

The Medalist II was produced post-WWII, and what is immediately obvious is the large helicoid tube on the front for focusing.  The camera is a rangefinder, and takes 620 film (more about that later).  The lens is a 5-element 100mm f/3.5 Ektar lens with a Kodak Supermatic shutter.  Parallax-correction and double-exposure prevention were additional features.  While there was only the one lens, one could use the camera for close-up work with the close-up extension backs that were sold separately. That was definitely an odd way to accomplish close-ups, but they allowed one to use 2.25 x 3.25" sheet film, so I suspect that it was mostly for studio work.

Matthaei Botanical gardens, Medalist II

Using the Medalist II meant that I had to re-roll 120 onto 620 spools because the metal body was precisely machined for Kodak's 620 film spools.  Since I wear glasses, the tiny rangefinder focus window was really a pain to use, though the helical was easy to focus.  The camera is a wonderful piece of machinery, though as I realized, we were never meant to last in our relationship.  The large negative size was great, but the camera's ergonomics and peculiarities just meant that I rarely used it.  I briefly considered sending it off to get the camera modified to take 120 spools, but the money was better spent on a camera that replaced it... a Hasselblad 500c.  So, I sold the Medalist and its accessories.  It falls in the "sorta regretted" column, because it is a such a notable camera from Kodak.

Rolleiflex Automat

My Rolleiflex Automat 3.5

In 2002, I was at a camera swap in SE Michigan, and saw one vendor hauling in boxes of cameras. He had not priced anything yet, and I saw this Rolleiflex among the many cameras he had just loaded onto the table.  I picked up the camera, which looked a bit beat-up on the outside. On close inspection, the glass was clear, the shutter speeds worked, and the interior was very clean. He said it hadn't been tested yet, but I could have it for $75.  SOLD!  I loved that camera, and I still don't know WHY I sold it in 2014.  At the time, I had just acquired a Mamiya C330 and lenses, I already had a Yashica A TLR, and a Hasselblad.  I probably should have sold the Yashica A (which I still use!).  If you have ever used a Rolleiflex, you know how smooth they are to operate.  I took quite a few rolls of film through that camera, and I now have a YashicaMat 124 that works pretty similarly to the Rollei Automat, except that it has a meter, which I find to be useful.  So, the moral of the story is...keep the Rolleiflex.

The Hasselblad 500c

My Hasselblad 500c and the basic kit

I suppose this is the camera that many, many photographers think of when you say "medium format."  I really did enjoy shooting with the 500c, and I had several lenses for it, including the 50mm Distagon. I purchased it all when film camera prices were at the nadir because of the DSLR onslaught. People were trading them into camera dealers to buy the latest DSLRs that were popular in the mid-2000s.  Now, of course, those prices have risen a great deal due to more interest in shooting film.  My biggest problem with the Hasselblad was that it was a pain in the ass to use in cold weather.  Every control is around the lens, meaning gloves made it harder to use, etc.   Now that I live in NC, I wish I still had it at times.  I sold it all after I bought the Mamiya C330, and figured that I had too many square-format cameras.  The Mamiya C330 TLR certainly is a different camera than the 'blad, but the lenses sure are cheaper, too.  The loaned Bronica SQ-B that I used a few years ago, was possibly the perfect 'blad replacement. Alas, I have not yet purchased a Bronica.

The Contax G1

My mentor, Bill Brudon, gifted me a used Contax G1 with the 45mm lens in 2002. The only thing wrong with the camera was a slight bleed in the LCD panel on the top.  At the time, I was really not a rangefinder fan, as I was more into SLRs and doing close-up and macro-photography.  On top of that, the Contax G1 was a pretty posh camera, and extra lenses were beyond my means.  I took some pretty nice photos with it, and the only flaw, really, was the slow AF of the camera.  I know that I sold it sometime in the late 2000s.  I now realize that it was a foolish thing to sell it, but oh, well.

Hasselblad SWC

A handful of beauty

Understandably, you may wonder why I didn't keep this absolute gem of a camera.  Alas, it was part of a large camera estate that I sold in 2014.  I shot it enough to test it and make sure everything worked as it should.  I know that it sold for a pretty hefty price, like it should have.  It's one of those cameras that you have to hold in your hand to appreciate the beauty and the genius of the camera.  The 35mm Zeiss Biogon has a 90°angle of view, and because the lens is so close to the film plane, there is no mirror box on the camera.  Very simple to operate with superb results.  However, it's a niche camera, but if that's your niche, this is the camera.

Plaubel Makina 67 and 67W

I used both of these cameras to test them out for an estate that I was selling in 2014.  Made in Japan, these rangefinder cameras have Nikkor lenses, and are the most compact and lightest 6x7cm cameras that I know of.  The lenses are on a short bellows and sliding tongs lock the lens into place. The 67 has an 80mm lens, and the 67W has a 55mm Nikkor lens.  While not a common camera, they seemed to be well-built, and certainly easier to travel with than a Pentax 6x7 or a Mamiya RB 67.  Had I not set my eyes on a Leica M2 in the estate, the Plaubel Makina 67W might have been my next choice.  I am pretty sure, though, that the M2 is getting more use by me than one of these interesting 6x7 camera would be getting.

Great Wall DF-2

simply cheesy

Great results, though!
This Chinese-made camera, based upon the KW Pilot 6 medium-format SLR, is not even in the same class as any of the cameras listed above. However, its quirky design and less than stellar optics certainly make the camera memorable.  I also found that I made some remarkably beautiful images with it. I had it for just a few years, and stupidly sold it in 2013.  I have no idea why I did that. I'd buy another if the price was right, I suppose.

Zeiss Magnar Kamera

Of all the cameras that I have sold over the years for various estates, this ranks right up there with the very rare and very odd.  Made by Zeiss, it's called the Magnar Kamera, and has an 800mm lens on a sliding brass tube.  Very few were made.  The front lens bezel is 105mm across.  Max aperture is f/10. Focal plane shutter.  I am trying to imagine shooting with this beast, and I just can't.  It was certainly fun playing with it, and I doubt many people have ever seen one in person. It was made in 1906, and like so many European cameras, it took a 9x12 cm plate.

Envoy Wide Angle

Mason, MI, Envoy Wide Angle

Another estate sale camera, I am not sure why I didn't keep this one from getting away.  It's basically an English 6x9 box camera with a flip-up sports finder, designed for wide-angle photographs. It came with Taylor-Hobson 64mm f/6.5 fixed-focus lens with rim-set shutter from B, T, 1/25-1/125s. I was testing it out, and the images were great.  Wide-angle, and so easy to use, I don't understand why I didn't snap it up!

I know that I have many more examples I could post here, but I think the above cameras are enough for now.  After handling many hundreds of cameras over the past 20 years, I think I have seen so many different cameras that there are not many I have yet to want to try out. There are certainly some "dogs" that I can tell you to avoid, but that's for a future post.  As far as cameras that I'd like to try out, the only ones that immediately come to mind are the Horizon, Widelux, Mamiya 7, and Fujifilm GL690 and GW690.

Johan, taking up the photo shoot space!

Well, what cameras do you regret selling?  What camera have you always wanted, but haven't been able to find or afford?  What cameras do you regret purchasing?  Do you have a "holy grail" camera?

Don't end up like this guy.... sell the stuff you are not using while you are alive!

1 comment:

Two Lane Highway said...

You certainly came across a lot of fine old cameras. I had many film cameras in my time and some of them I wish I would have kept if not for use, maybe for the sentimental value of the years of using them.