Saturday, October 31, 2020

Kodak Brownie Reflex 20

I have been fairly quiet on the blogging front, as I have been preoccupied with getting another 'zine ready. Monochrome Mania #3 is ready to go to print, and it just happens that I left out one camera from my selection of lo-fi cameras in the issue. I ended up buying a bunch of 620 cameras while preparing the material for the next issue of Monochrome Mania. Some of them were models that that I had owned at one time, over a decade ago. I wanted to be be able to photograph them all, as well as run a roll or two of film to see the results with a more nuanced eye than I would have had back then.  One thing I noticed right away, is that while some manufacturers kept putting the same camera out for years with nothing more than cosmetic changes (i.e., the Spartus Full-Vue), others, such as Kodak took a basic design and changed it up a bit, and gave it a different name with each iteration.  Such is the case with the Brownie Reflex 20.  I previously wrote a post about the Kodak Brownie Twin 20, which I found to be easy to use, and produced satisfactory results. The Brownie Reflex 20 is pretty much the same camera, but with only a nice bright waist-level reflex viewfinder. This faux-TLR features the same EV aperture selection, one shutter speed, and body shape and controls as the Twin 20.  The brilliant viewfinder is easy to use, and I think makes it a better "user" than the Twin 20.  

If you are out and about in the eBay Universe, or maybe your local thrift store, you should also take a look at the Kodak Brownie Flash 20 or the Brownie Flashmite 20. Again, these models have identical controls as the Twin 20 and reflex 20 cameras, but incorporate an eye-level viewfinder and a built-in flash, with the Flashmite 20 using a small AG-1 flashbulb, and the Flash 20 using an M8 bulb. The keyword in looking for these cameras is the "20" designation, which means they use 620 film.  Of course, you can respool 120 to 620 spools giving you a broader selection of film. The EV markings are equivalent to f/11, f/16, and f/22, all at about 1/100 sec.  I found that I could use the same 33mm Series VI filter adapter that I used on the Twin 20, so I presume that holds true for the other two models mentioned here.  These cameras are not to be confused with the smaller Kodak 127 cameras that look similar, such as the Starflex, Starmite, Starflash, or Startech.  

Using the Reflex 20 was the same as the Twin 20, except for the fact that the brilliant reflex viewfinder made composition easier and goes well with the placement of the shutter button.  

I loaded some respooled Tmax 100 that was about 20 years expired, and developed in in HC110B for 6 minutes. Results were excellent!  The Tmax 100 had been refrigerated for most of its life, and is a perfect film for these cameras.  I basically shot most of the 12 exposures walking around the Vance monument in Asheville, NC. 

Overall, I'd say this this is my favorite Brownie-labeled camera, a notch up from the Brownie Hawkeye, with better ergonomics and some means of exposure control and zone-focus.  The Brownie - 20 series cameras were made from 1959 to mid-1960s,and I feel that the Reflex 20 is the best of the bunch. All four models take 6x6 cm negatives on 620, have the same zone-focus and EV aperture settings, but the Reflex 20 has the best viewfinder and a separate flash unit that most people will never use, anyway.  Drop in some 100 ISO film and you are ready to go.

Here are a few images.  Those lenses are actually quite good, in comparison with a Holga or Diana.

Friday, October 02, 2020

Holga Week 2020

While I confess that I don't really pay much attention to camera-themed events (with the exception of World Wide Pinhole Photography Day), Holga Week strikes me as a good opportunity to let the Holga love out. 

I know, today is October 2, and Holga Week runs from Oct. 1-7.  I've been working on issue 3 of Monochrome Mania, and it's totally focused on medium-format toy the Holga.   Last night I was going through sheet after sheet of negatives from my Holgas - and realized that I have almost 1000 images with them.  Probably more than most people, so for me, a week isn't really a thing.  Years, more like it - almost 20 years of Holgas.  Of course I'll do some shots this week, because I would, anyway.  However, I am always happy to see toy cameras get some love and attention, whether it's World Toy Camera Day, Diana Day, or Holga Week, it's all good.  People need to understand that these plastic cameras are not just some bit of fun to get picked up now and then, but also that they are creative tools that let us show things in a different way.  If images from Michael Kenna can't convince you that a Holga is a very special camera, then I guess nothing will.  

I don't think that $40 for a Holga is outlandish.  I have every Holga I bought, and almost 20 years later, my first Holga still works fine.  Simply plastic fantastic, with a simplicity that will allow you to be creative.  So, if you are on the fence about buying a Holga or using one, give it a try. It's still my favorite low-fi camera for a lot of reasons, and I own a half-dozen of the 120 models. I have owned the Holga 120 wide pinhole, and still have the Holga 135 Panoramic and Holga 135.  Their plastic construction and plastic lens is part of the charm. Yet, the images made with them can be jaw-dropping beautiful.  

The Holga 120N is easily modified, and a quick web search will reveal a lot of ways that it's been modified by people. Last year, I modified one my Holgas to have a hexagonal image mask.  I am doing a long-term project with it, and hope to have some interesting results.  A lot of people have asked if the Holga is a good introduction to medium format photography.  My answer is no.  Your expectation of medium format is a larger, more detailed negative -- and you'll get that with a twin-lens reflex as the entry to medium format.  The Holga and the Diana and similar low-fi 120 cameras will give you something, but you need to know the limitations and make them work for you in composition, lighting, and subject. 

Another point is that because the Holga has limited adjustments for exposure, you can easily tape a colored orange, yellow, or red gel over the lens to compensate in b&w film, or use a neutral density filter for color (and yes, it works for b&w, too).   You can also use an external flash for poorly lit situations, or use the B setting while on a sturdy tripod for long exposures.  An adapter allows you to use studio strobes for anyone wishing to do so.  You can add a thread mount filter ring to the front of your Holga by firmly screwing in a 46mm to 49mm adapter ring, allowing you to use 49mm filters.

The Holga 120N takes readily available 120 film.  In bright daylight, 100 ISO film is fine, but 400 ISO film will be fine in almost any situation.  If you haven't used a Holga before, don't sweat it.  Before long, you'll appreciate its quirky features, and think less about the use, and more about the image.  Light leaks?  I just use artist's black masking tape or gaffer tape.  My biggest fear is that the back will come loose, so I use gaffer tape over the metal clasp on each side to avoid that. That's pretty much the only weakness of this plastic fantastic icon of the toy camera world.

And now, for some images from over the years from my Holga cameras: