Saturday, August 29, 2020

Simple, Yet Effective. The Imperial Six-Twenty

The Chicago-based Herbert George Camera Co. (founded in 1945 by Herbert Weil and George Israel), which in 1961 became the Imperial Camera Co., manufactured a slew of simple plastic cameras. Since they were made in many colors, and some were "official" cameras for either the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, they have became collectibles in their own right. It's easy to dismiss these as mid-century plastic cameras, but imagine the millions of snapshots that probably resulted from them.

While many of them are better-made than the flimsy Diana, they are very simple snap-shot cameras, and may often give results that even a Diana would be envious of. The lenses are simple meniscus glass lenses, with a fixed aperture of about f/11 and shutter speed of about 1/30- 1/60 sec. Most of the cameras they produced took 127 or 620 film, with a few that took the Instamatic 126 cartridges in the latter half of the 1960s. 

Although they are basic snapshot cameras, many did have some very nice styling and often incorporated a flash (bulbs only) in the body, or via a flash attachment.   With so many other toy cameras available, they often get overlooked, but they are toy cameras in every sense of the word. My first example of an Imperial Mark XII looked to be in excellent condition.  However, after shooting a roll of long-expired Tri-X, it appears that the lens is not aligned correctly. Every single image was slightly out-of-focus.  I have since ordered another camera on eBay, and look forward to testing it.

Pretty, but oh so awful images!

These cameras are simple.  My latest acquisition is an Imperial Six-Twenty Snapshot Camera.  Originally labeled as the Herco Six-Twenty about 1950, this camera must date from as far back as 1961, when Imperial became the brand.  This camera is the most basic of plastic box cameras, measuring about 3.25, x 3.35 x 2.4 inches, weighing just over 6 ounces without film. I had seen results from the Six-Twenty online, and knew that it was capable of pretty acceptable results.   

taped that yellow gel right over the lens.

After I cleaned it up (amazing how grimy these cameras can be!), it was ready for a test.  I loaded a roll of re-spooled 1997 expired Tmax 400, and taped on a yellow gel over the lens. I figured that it would be great if I got any sky in the photos.  I took the camera for a quick trip to the Asheville River Arts District  - a great place to test out a camera.  I shot the roll and processed it it D-96.  I am really thrilled with the results. 

You don't have to spend a lot of money on this model, and price-wise, they are worth about $5-$10.  If you don't mind respooling 120 onto 620 spools, there is a whole world of inexpensive cameras to play with.  Look for the Imperial Debonair,  Imperial Savoy, Imperial Mark XII, Imperial Six-Twenty, Imperial Deluxe Twin-Lens Reflex, and  Herbert George Sabre 620.  These will all give 12 6x6 cm images.  Prices on eBay generally run from less than $10 to over $50, depending on the model and the color.   If you don't mind respooling your film, these cameras will be great with 100 ISO films.   

Oh, and here are a few of the "best" images from the Mark XII:

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Is the Diana+ Glass Lens Worth It?

In 2015, Lomography introduced their 75 mm glass lens unit for the Diana+ series of cameras.  Like anything from Lomography, you have to wade through the hyperbole and decide if the latest and greatest thing from them is worth a dent in your checking account.  As lenses, go, it's relatively inexpensive - $49 from Lomography, and perhaps cheaper from resellers.   I acquired mine last year, and initially, I used it with the Diana to Nikon F-mount adapter.  Results were okay, and certainly better than the plastic meniscus Diana lens.  After all, the Diana + glass lens has three coated elements!  It's also a much better built unit than the plastic lens.  Everything about it seems to be more robust.   To use it, you unlock the plastic lens from the barrel, and replace it with the new lens.  Easy.  However, even with a 35 mm frame, you lose the vignetting effect that the lenses give on 120 film.  I finally replaced the old lens on my Diana+ with the new glass lens, and shot a roll with it a few weeks ago.   

I like the Diana+ Glass lens a lot.  I used the smaller frame mask in the camera, which is about 42 mm square, same as the original Dianas.  I did not see much vignetting, so the next roll will be used with the larger mask, to give a 46.5 mm square.  One of the things I enjoy about the Diana+ is its ease of use and versatility.  Lomography gets full marks for taking a fairly basic toy camera and making into a system.

Here are a few scans from the negatives. All but one are from the Vance Birthplace Historic Site near Weaverville, NC.  I used expired Kodak Tmax 400.  It had been a while since I had used the Diana+, and now it's back in my bag for more adventures. Is the Glass Lens worth it? I think so.  

on my deck.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Kodak Duex

This camera came from a friend's basement, where it had sat for quite some time.  Other than the usual dust and grime that comes from sitting around, it was in great shape.  There is some internal dust on the lens, but it did not seem to affect the negatives.  It sat in a box for over a year after we moved to NC, and in preparation for a zine on toy cameras, I thought it would be worthwhile to give the camera a try. The Duex was manufactured from 1940-42, and my example came from Canada, and was manufactured there.  It's hard to believe that the camera is about 80 years old.  Yet, it's rather stylish, but still, a pretty simple camera.  

The Duex is one of the few Kodak cameras that shoots 16 images on 620.  The camera is unusual and readily identified by the large Bakelite helical that extends from the body to the proper length for taking photos.  The lens has an aperture of f/11, and the shutter speeds are Instant ( ca. 1/30 sec) and Bulb.  The base of the camera has a tripod socket.  The direct vision viewfinder is centered on the top deck of the camera.  The camera has a surprisingly comfortable feel in the hands, with its rounded, thin body.  

There are a lot of potential toy cameras out there that would be ideal shooters if it were not for the fact that they require 620 film, which was discontinued by Kodak in 1995.  It can be quite frustrating to a novice to pick up a nice vintage camera only to find that a spool of 120 film does not fit into it.  For starters, any camera made by Kodak after 1931 that takes 6x4.5, 6x6, or 6x9 cm images uses 620 film.  It's a different scenario when looking at vintage roll film cameras from Europe, most of which used 120 film.  Of course, I had to re-spool a roll of film to test this camera, but with a changing bag and 2 620 spools it's quite easy. The reason for two 620 is spools is that I spool from the 120 to the 620, but of course, that roll would be backwards if used in the camera. So, I then spool from the first 620 spool to another 620 spool to get the film back into its original state.   All done inside the changing bag, of course.

I took the Duex on a short trip to Marshall, NC and then along the French Broad River.  I shot one roll of Tmax 100, expired in 2000. The images are really quite good, much to my surprise.  I used a tripod on the long exposures, but otherwise, it was handheld.  It's a little disconcerting turning it sideways to shoot in landscape mode, but the camera handles well.  

The following scans are of the Tmax 100, developed in HC-110B for 6 minutes.  HC-110 is recommended for expired films as it seems to keep the base fog down.

Actually shooting with the Duex really changed my mind about the camera.  The images came out great, with very little distortion, and no vignetting.  Certainly much better than a Diana.  This camera now gets my vote as one that people should try shooting with.  Since it has a tripod mount, you can use it in B mode, and if the light is too bright, or you want to go for the long exposure, you can tape a ND filter over the lens. 

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Slow Speed Serendipity

If you have been following Random Camera Blog over the years, you'll konw that I have been experimenting with low-iso films for quite a while.  If you haven't yet purchased a copy of Monochrome Mania Number 1, which is all about low-iso film, I still have some available for purchase and see the link in the sidebar.  
More than 4 years ago, Mike Raso gave me a short roll of what was then the Svema Blue-Sensitive Film at ISO 1.5.  It sat around in the open in a translucent container, in and out of camera bags, and one day in late July, I finally decided to use it while shooting along the French Broad River near Asheville, NC.  I knew that the slow film would enable me to get some nice long exposures of the swift current.With exposures running from 4 to 8 seconds, I hoped that they would have a real smooth appearance to them. Also of note, the film is Blue-sensitive (Orthochromatic) and doesn't see red, so the tonality of the image would be quite different than what you would get with a full-spectrum panchromatic film, such as Ilford Pan-F.

Sometimes I find that my results didn't meet my expectations, and instead of saying "ugh," I take a different tact and see what I can do with the negative.  The film was developed in POTA developer at 24°C for 13 minutes.  Turns out that this roll of Blue-Sensitive film is a victim of light-piping, as the PET film base transmits light like an optical fiber.  With no anti-halation layer, and a clear plastic storage canister, it only compounded the problem, as the film was fogged.  I didn't expect much from the scans. However, I realized that with the fog, imperfections, and long-exposure (ca. ISO 2), they looked like something from a wet-plate collodion negative. 

I'll try this stuff again, as I like the look of the film, but next time I'll get some fresh from the FPP! The newer version of the FPP Blue-Sensitive is at ISO 6, which will still give me the look that I am after.  

Compare the last image with this one, taken with my iPhone XR, to get an idea of how the Orthochromatic film captures the tones.