Saturday, 13 August 2022

Kodalux L lightmeter (second version)

Kodak Kodalux L lightmeter and case

One of the peculiarities of the (admittedly niche) popularity of film photography and the perceived value of older film cameras in recent years (and the attendant high prices of secondhand equipment-especially when certain cameras gain a fashionable cache) is the emergence of a new class of shoe-mounted lightmeters. A decade or so ago, this might have seemed an unlikely proposition, but thanks to new manufacturing techniques, there are now a number of meters, largely deriving their design principles from the Voigtländer VC Meter I and II from the early 2000s.

For many years, I've used a hand-held Weston Master II whenever I've needed a lightmeter, although I do also use the 'sunny 16' rule relatively frequently, especially if I'm just taking snapshots when I'm not too concerned with critical accuracy in exposure. One of the features I've really appreciated about the Weston Master II is how low the ISO settings go, down to 2 ISO, useful for exposing photographic paper for paper negatives, and for the Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating film, which I have been using at 2 ISO. However, when taking photographs in December, I dropped my lightmeter on the stone flags surrounding the Pole Hill obelisk on the day of the winter solstice-and it stopped working (it might simple be that the meter needle is stuck, but I have been wary so far in disassembling the Weston Master).
Kodalux L meter - showing diffuser
Looking for a new lightmeter as a consequence, I did consider the new shoe-mounted meters alluded to earlier, but searching for secondhand lightmeters online, I found the Kodak Kodalux L, and was able to pick one up pretty cheaply, around half the price of the cheaper of the new meters currently available. There are two models of the Kodalux L, with the second model being notably smaller than the first, and this made it the preferable choice.

Being a 1950s meter, the Kodalux L is powered by a selenium cell, covered with a typical honeycomb-glass. As I've written in previous posts, selenium cells do attract some negative opinions expressed online, but in my own personal experience, with numerous cameras (and the Weston Master II), I don't think I've actually encountered a non-working selenium cell, and, in general, they have been accurate enough for my preferred photographic medium, black and white negative film. The main caveat is that in low-enough light levels, selenium cells are simply not sensitive enough, but this would generally mean night photography. In addition, the design of most selenium cell meters would make them incompatible with a zone-exposure approach.
Kodalux L with case
The Kodalux L is a prime example of the precision of German manufacturing before their camera industry was supplanted by Japan: the meter measures slightly under 3cm high, including the shoe fitting, 3cm wide and 3.5cm deep. The meter is largely constructed from metal, with a plastic base, embossed with 'MADE IN GERMANY (WEST)'. My meter came with its dedicated 'ever-ready' case (approximately 4x4x5.5cm, with a couple of loops to fit to a thin strap), which has a accessory shoe fitting for use mounted in the case itself. Equally, it can be used mounted on the accessory or 'cold' shoe on a camera. Although branded Kodak (although the meter itself doesn't have the band name Kodak on it, but the case does), the Kodalux L was manufactured for Kodak by Gossen. The first model Kodalux meter is simply a rebranded Sixti; the second Kodalux appears to be a unique model, similar to the Gossen Sixtino or Pilot meter, but with significant differences. Gossen provided the lightmeters to the Kodak Retina and Retinette: the meter dials on some of these cameras appear almost identical to that of the Kodalux.

Kodalux L meter - top view
Use of the meter is simple: a white meter needle responds to light hitting the cell, and, with the correct ISO set, a milled ring or dial is turned to align a yellow pointer to the needle. One can then read the appropriate aperture/shutter speed combinations around the edge of this ring. Being familiar with manual and mechanical meters, I found it immediately instinctive to use; I did find a scan of the manual, which was useful when it came to calibrating the meter. Setting the meter, there is an inner disc, which turns with a stud, which has a window each side displaying film speed in DIN on one side and ASA (ISO) on the other. The ASA ranges from 5 to 1300, a good top film speed for its time. The ASA settings are picked out in what are largely obsolete numbers, at least at the faster end of the scale 160-320-650-1300, but these are divided with marks at thirds in between, so 400 ISO is one mark above 320 for example. Apertures run from 2 to 22; with shutter speeds from 500 down to 4 whole seconds, with whole seconds subtlety picked out in green. For its size, apertures are given in whole values, no half-settings, but one can extrapolate these. Aligning the yellow pointer to the white needle also gives a light value (LV) number in a window at the top of the disc, running from 2 to 18 in red numbers (this window is wide enough to show three readings, and, although it's easy to add or subtract 1 from the reading, this might possibly give a quick reference for over- and underexposure compensation. The meter also has a diffusing cover for incident reading, which slides from one side like a roll-top desk with a tiny metal catch.

Kodalux L showing zero setting screw
When I first got the Kodalux L, the meter did seem to be a little off in its readings. comparing it to readings from my digital camera and the readings from my Canon A-1. From the manual, there is a description of how to zero the meter. This involves completely covering the selenium cell: if correctly set, the needle should point to a blue dot at the far left of the meter window; if not, there is a small screw in the centre of the back of the meter which can be adjusted using a small screwdriver. There are other blue dots in the window, but the manual states that these are used for setting during assembly and "have no significance on exposure readings." I carefully adjusted the setting screw, and the meter now appears to read close to the other meters I have been comparing it to. I subsequently used the meter for filming 16mm (see 'Homage') and with some medium format, including in Dresden. In use, I usually keep the lightmeter inside its case, using it handheld, but, for the purposes of illustrating this post, I photographed the Kodalux L on the contemporaneous Kodak Retina IIa, an appropriately stylistic match.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Silberra S25 Limited Edition - single roll review

Silberra S25 Limited Edition
Silberra S25 is limited edition black & white photographic film. Extra fine grain, moderate contrast and high resolution of the image are the main typical qualities of S25 film. Initial batch of S25 consists of 400 rolls and, possibly, the overall quantity of the batch will be extended up to 800 rolls.

Silberra S25 perfectly suits architectural and landscape photography; due to its great photographic latitude S25 film shall perform nicely at bright scenes also preserving impressive level of detalisation through shadows without significant loss in highlights.

Silberra S25 has high sensibilization level which makes it possible to use S25 for IR-photography with corresponding IR-filter (we recommend to use filters at wavelength shorter than 725nm for optimal result).

I have previously posted a couple of 'single roll' reviews of film stocks, which came from being gifted some films I might not ordinarily have used, or might not use again, and although I prefer to work with an emulsion for a few rolls at least, to get a feel for how it might respond in different exposure situations and approaches to development, this single roll review came about through realising I might not use another roll of Silberra S25 black and white film. As the description above (from Silberra's website) states, at the lower limit, there may have only been 400 rolls of film made, or 800 in total if production was 'extended'. I wasn't aware of this at the time, if so I might have picked up more than one roll. I believe I picked it up from the Photographer's Gallery shop, before the current pandemic, with the intention of using it to photograph some text, thinking that its 25 ISO speed would mean that the grain would be fine enough for the purpose I had in mind; I didn't use it for that, but took it with me to Dresden in the Spring, and shot it with the Kiev-4 over a couple of days.

Understandably, there's not much on line about Silberra S25, and with just the one roll, I simply rated it at 25 ISO, and didn't really think that much about how I was to use the film. The film cassette is a plastic reusable one, but it is DX coded, and also has check-boxes for exposure at 12, 25, and 50 ISO, indicating that it does have sufficient latitude for this to be worth the manufacturers including on the label. Silberra's webpage has a small development chart, presumably all times listed are for box speed, although this isn't stated. I used Adox Rodinal, and the time/dilution given (at 20ºC) is for 6 minutes at 1+100. This seems a high dilution for 'standard' development, but, again thanks to having just a single roll, I used the published time and dilution. (There is also R09 listed for 30 seconds less than Rodinal, where one might have expected this to be the same: I have used both Foma's version of R09 and Compard's R09, and treated these both as any named version of Rodinal).

Kiev-4 (Helios 103 lens) and Silberra S25 film
When developed, the negatives looked relatively high in contrast, with a clear base and no edge markings whatsoever. The film dried very flat and appeared to show a small amount of 'light-piping': the film base appears to be polyester and not tri-acetate (it doesn't tear and needs cutting). Ideally, I would have made prints in the darkroom from the negatives, but the results on this post are all from scans from a desktop scanner. The scans have almost no discernible grain, and no doubt show up the limitations of the desktop scanner rather than the ultimate resolution of the film itself. I'd shot the film outside, half in bright sunny weather one afternoon, ideal for it relatively slow speed of 25, with the other half shot early on a sunny morning, which was more challenging in terms of exposure, thanks to the low angle of the sunlight creating a very wide range of contrast between brightly lit surfaces and deep shadow with little in-fill from reflected light. Some of these latter frames (as below) struggled to record shadow detail without losing detail in the highlights, which didn't quite match the assertion that "due to its great photographic latitude S25 film shall perform nicely at bright scenes also preserving impressive level of detalisation[sic] through shadows without significant loss in highlights".

Kiev-4 (Helios 103 lens) and Silberra S25 film
It would have been instructive to see how scenes lit with well-diffused light, such as on an overcast day, might have been recorded, but almost every single frame I shot with the film was sunlight and shadows. The nearest equivalent was one photograph of a sign in a gallery window, below, illuminated by light reflecting off the pavement and surrounding buildings, almost certainly the one negative with the narrowest exposure range (this, incidentally, showed that my original intention for the film–photographing text–would have been an entirely appropriate use).

Kiev-4 (Helios 103 lens) and Silberra S25 film
Not having an IR filter I was unable to verify the film's 'high sensibilization level': given the suggestion for the use of an infra-red filter, this must mean extended red sensitivity. For some frames I might have used a light yellow filter, regardless, the tonality of the sky in some frames possibly indicates a more balanced spectral sensitivity than standard panchromatic film. My general impressions are that Silberra S25 has the feel of some kind of technical film–for me, how it handled and how it responded to exposure was very reminiscent Kodak Technical Pan–with both the positives and drawbacks of that discontinued emulsion. Given the very limited production run, it would be interesting, if it was possible to quantify, how many rolls of Silberra S25 are still out there, yet to be exposed: it's still listed on the Photographer's Gallery shop online, but sold out.

Further information:

Friday, 15 July 2022

127 Day July 2022

Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/18 with Rollei Superpan

Although I've not devoted much time to this blog of late, I didn't want to miss 127 Day earlier this week. This occurred towards the end of a spell of hot humid weather, with a dip to slightly more comfortable temperatures and humidity, a lull before the forecasted extreme heat in a few days' time. Taking some photographs on a walk in the early evening, it was still very warm, and the lighting had a peculiar heavy overcast quality (I was also recovering from a second Covid-19 infection, which, with the weather, gave a slightly soporific feel to the evening, and possibly as a result I wasn't really giving that much sufficient attention to subject matter and composition). I used the reliable Baby Ikonta, and a roll of cut-down Rollei Superpan 200, a film I've used a few times before, and had tested a fair bit in Rodinal to get a workable time/dilution; however, the roll of film I shot on 127 Day I developed with Kodak HC-110, a new developer for me, and so I went with the Massive Dev Chart's recommended time/dilution. Somehow, to me at least (and it may just be my own associated memory), the resulting negatives convey the airless quality of the day, with glimpses of the grass looking bleached by the sun, the foliage of the trees beginning to get the dusty dark tonality of high summer, possibly in part thanks to the extended red sensitivity of Rollei Superpan. Possibly most of the images might also have benefited from a yellow filter too, although I don't have any filters which fit the Baby Ikonta's lens: the constraints and conditions of exposing just a single roll on the day didn't really allow for any of these considerations.


Friday, 29 April 2022


What is an artistic medium? Encountering a work of art in a museum or gallery, or when this encounter takes place secondhand, through a book, magazine, or online, adjacent to the work there’s almost always a line of text, after the name of the artist (if known), after the title, and possibly the date, which will inform the reader of specific material substance or substances that constitute the object or artefact. On the website for the Marian Goodman gallery New York, Tacita Dean’s film Sound Mirrors is listed as follows: 
Sound Mirrors, 1999
16 mm b/w film; optical sound; 7 minutes
Edition of 4 plus 1 artist's proof
An artistic medium is not just the material basis for an artwork. It can be defined by its use, its practice, and the user’s intentions, as well as its constituent material. I am currently typing these words on a keyboard derived from a mechanical typewriter where once the pressure of my fingers would move metal keys, each with a raised–and reversed–letter, compressing an inked ribbon onto the surface of paper, a matrix with which to create legible, repeatable and standardised text. Now the words appear on a screen by an opaque process, the digital interface being one in which inputs become outputs by an inscrutable process. However, the medium is still writing. In the last two or three decades, with the rapid assimilation (and emulation) of what had once been long-established physical processes, there can be a tendency to see this shift creating a flat, surfaceless, frictionless digital world–a digital ’monomedium’–especially when so many tools to create anything can all be accessed through one device. Yet an artistic medium is both “‘at one and the same time’” the physical material used and the “emergent work” being created (Joseph Margolis, quoted by Nannicelli and Turvey in ‘Against Post-Cinema).  This ‘emergent work’ is situated within a set of distinct social practices - production, distribution, exhibition, and, mirroring these, audience expectation.

Tacita Dean’s films are made to be seen as projections in a contiguous space with their material matrix or substrate and the apparatus for doing so. Access to Dean’s film work outside of an exhibition context is all but impossible. Digital versions do not exist. UbuWeb does have a page for Tacita Dean, but the visitor is welcomed by the note: “These films have been temporarily removed by request of the Marian Goodman Gallery. For all inquiries please contact The Marian Goodman Gallery.” There is an insistence on the physicality of the medium, and its uniqueness in the encounter with the viewer, which can only occur when both are brought together in the same space and time, an odd inversion of Walter Benjamin’s sense of the aura: as artwork originating on film, these become that unique instance that needs direct experience, not encountered in reproduction.

Voigtländer Bessa RF with Fomapan 400
I must have seen Sound Mirrors in 2001 as part of the exhibition 'Tacita Dean: Recent films and other works' at the relatively newly renamed Tate Britain–and I have not seen it since. (In my unreliable memory, before referencing exhibition dates, I had thought that I might have seen Sound Mirrors in the Turner Prize exhibition in 1999–I used to go every year–but Dean was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1998, one year before Sound Mirrors was made). Like Dean’s films, access to the sound mirrors on Denge Marsh is strictly limited, sited on a managed nature reserve. With an institutional trip arranged to Dungeness and to the sound mirrors, the possibility arose–especially since I had begun using 16mm film recently–of making something in response to the site, and to my own memories of seeing a film, once, long ago.

Dungeness, Canon A-1 with Silberra Pan 160
The edge of England where the sound mirrors are located has has a sense of having been rather mythologised in recent years, partly through the restricted access to the sound mirrors themselves, partly due to the particularity of the flat landscape, the coast road, the nuclear power station, and the presence of Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage and his garden, and Tacita Dean was not the first to commit the sound mirrors to film. Hal Foster, in ‘An Archival Impulse’, describes the sound mirrors, among other subjects of Dean’s films, as being "archival objects", and, pointedly, as “found arks of lost moments in which the here-and-now of the work functions as a possible portal between an unfinished past and a reopened future.” In 1999, encountering moving image works in a gallery or exhibition setting, the difference in image quality between film and video was still (just) marked: the ‘poor image’ of video in the hands of artists was used for its distinct qualities as a medium, oversaturated, bleeding colours, light trails, noise, all contributing to video’s immediacy. Now, film as a medium has a doubly-archival sense to it, becoming its own ‘archival object’, embodying a broad range of historical practices, once more prevalent and present, but now vanished (or still-vanishing) from a common everyday experience, like the sound mirrors, being overtaken by new technology. New technologies continue to be haunted by older forms, however, through their adoption of existing language, through emulation of processes, and through the very conception of what the medium is.

Voigtländer Bessa RF with Fomapan 400
In Tacita Dean (Tate, 2001) there are images of the sound mirrors, but these are described as ‘location photographs’, not actual frames from the film itself. Here it may be worth making a distinction between still frames–the individual frames which comprise the moving image–and production stills, often called film stills: it was common practice in film productions to have a still photographer on set to produce images for publicity purposes and Dean’s location photographs fit this mould. I also took a handful of photographs on medium format film with a Voigtländer Bessa rangefinder camera, my own ‘location photographs’ (I took additional 35mm photographs, not of the sound mirrors themselves, with a Canon A-1 SLR), but ones which do not need to stand in for the film itself: for this, I used a single magazine loaded with 16mm Eastman Kodak Plus-X film manufactured in 1999, the same date as Dean's Sound Mirrors. The film was exposed using a Magazine Ciné-Kodak camera from 1936, around the time that the research on the methods embodied by the sound mirrors was becoming obsolete. The length of film in the magazine determined the duration of the film: nominally 50 feet (15 metres), this provides 2 minutes when shot at 16 frames per second, the camera's standard frame rate, that of silent non-sound synchronised film. I used the lens with which the camera was provided on purchase: a 25mm f1.9 Kodak Anastigmat. On regular 16mm film (not Super-16), this gives a slightly narrow angle of view. No sound was recorded: the Magazine Ciné-Kodak does not record sound; few 16mm cameras do.
“No one who went unprejudiced to watch a silent film missed the noises which could have been heard if the same events had been taking place in real life [...] People took the silence of the movies for granted because they never quite lost the feeling that what they saw was after all only pictures.”
Rudolf Arnheim, Film as Art (my emphasis)
Although naturalised, the sound film is a hybrid medium: the nature of a recorded image–a representation–and the nature of recorded sound–a reproduction–are different: when sound is reproduced–however it is recorded–it becomes sound again. Three-dimensional reality becomes a two dimensional image in the process of filming, a representation. With cameras which do (or did historically) record sound on film, most commonly through a magnetic stripe, a problem arises in that the recording of sound requires the substrate to be moving continuously, while the images require intermittent motion. Rudolf Arnheim, along with other writers on film who experienced the shift from silent to sound, and from black and white to colour, as a formalist, was wary of what he called the ‘complete film’, subjected to sound, colour, the widescreen, and stereoscopy, becoming inartistic, his conception of film as a medium depending on its limitations informing its possibilities: “…what might be called the ‘drawbacks’ of film technique (and which engineers are doing their best to ‘overcome’) actually form the tools of the creative artist.” The history of moving images is more complicated of course: films were hand coloured, tinted and toned, with the earliest ‘indexical’ colour experiments dating to around 1900. Sound was also present from film’s beginnings, harnessed to Edison’s phonograph in the ‘Dickson Experimental Sound Film’ from 1894 or 1895, synchronised with varying degrees of fidelity in the first decade of the 20th century, only for the form of film to outstrip its duration: with reproduction from a disc, sound had the same limitation as when Edison first experimented with images on a cylinder: sound needed to catch up with images and find its medium whereby the physical carrier, a spatially circular and cyclical recording, as Muybridge had achieved with projected images before Edison, became linear, allowing for expansion.

Voigtländer Bessa RF with Fomapan 400
My memory of seeing Dean’s Sound Mirrors twenty-one years ago is indistinct: there was no question of trying to emulate any aspects of shot length, composition, sequencing. There was also no real way of planning the film, only having access to the site on the day, with a limited time, with the result that the filming itself had to be simply improvised. The only consideration to structure was an attempt to begin with details, before building up to wider, more comprehensive angles of view, the opposite of using an establishing shot or shots to describe the space in which any action takes place. The result is ‘edited in camera’, or otherwise unedited, the continuous sequence of fifty feet unspooling through the camera. The only physical edit was removing a couple of fragmentary frames to create a clean splice at the end of the film. The nature of ‘editing in camera’ creates a coherent sequence in time, like a contact sheet of a single roll of film. The act of editing is another form of mediation of course, whether in camera or at the editing table. 

16mm fragment of Plus-X film
That Tacita Dean’s film Sound Mirrors exists in an edition of 4 plus 1 artist’s proof suggests that this was originated on negative stock and subsequently printed, whether with internegatives or interpositives, or any other stages in between, unlike being filmed on reversal film to produce a single, unique positive. The introduction of 16mm film as an amateur format relied on reversal processing, not negative-positive printing. However, even reversal film begins as a negative, the first stage of processing develops the latent image into a negative, which is subsequently bleached and the remaining undeveloped photographic emulsion re-exposed and developed. Theoretical or philosophical approaches to the the nature of photographic mediums, whether moving or still, have drawn the photograph’s beguiling power from its semiotic status as an indexical sign, that is, the necessary direct relationship between the photographic image and its referent: light reflecting off a surface passes through a lens (or other aperture) and leaves its trace as an imprint on a light sensitive matrix. In some respects, the photographic negative functions like any other matrix to print from, like a woodblock or etching plate, and this, and its initial monochrome nature, was conceptualised as printing, and borrowed the older mediums’ language. Unlike a woodblock, a tool for making a print, the negative is different, it cannot but embody this indexicality: in some senses it is more direct than the positive which it generates: it is like a daguerreotype or Polaroid. Semiotically, the index doesn’t have to look like its referent, only to possess a direct relationship. This is, in a sense, incidental: that photographs look like their referents extends their nature as signs from indexical to icons. The most famous (and most reproduced) photographic negative is William Henry Fox Talbot’s window at Lacock Abbey, with his note in which he described being able to count every individual pane of glass. Although not an established practice, especially at its very beginnings, negatives were sometimes shown as negatives–and have been shown again as such, as with Benjamin Brecknell Turner’s calotype negatives at the Victoria & Albert Museum. In an essay by Sarah Lea, ‘Tacita Dean: Mediums’, in the catalogue to accompany the co-ordinated 2018 LANDSCAPE/PORTRAIT/STILL LIFE exhibitions of Dean’s work, Lea emphasises the importance of contact, direct and unmediated, with the real physical material that comprises the many aspects of the work, the found photographs, the blackboard drawings, and film: film “embodies that contact with the actual: to some extent photochemical film retains an aspect of a document, or perhaps a chronicle, for we are only ever a step away from fabrication.” A negative may be the slightest of steps here.

In the book to accompany the 2001 Tate Britain exhibition, the credits to Sound Mirrors list Tacita Dean as ‘camera’, with four assistants, a sound editor, and various editing and post production facilities. Given the complicated nature of film as a medium, it is often a collaborative one, with specialised division of labour: often, in gallery and exhibition contexts, such aspects of production are often hidden. My camera, film, and film magazines were all bought secondhand; the coach trip to the location was provided by the institution (as improvised, each shot was framed in an attempt to avoid other members of this party appearing on-screen; a figure can be seen just walking into the edge of the frame in one shot). Photographic chemicals (in small quantities) were bought new. I developed my film by hand, using Adox Rodinal, in two halves, followed by a water bath, fixed, then washed, dried, and then the two separate sections spliced together with presstapes (the join is at the 42-second mark in the film). It was then physically posted to Gaugefilm to be scanned (the single most expensive aspect of the whole production process), creating a (positive) digital file which was then turned back into a negative using Adobe Premiere Pro, and vertically flipped. In the camera, when exposed, the image that the lens projects is upside down, and back to front on the surface of the photographic emulsion. When I first developed black and white film, I did not fully realise that this was what was happening inside the camera, obscured by the nature of the transparent substrate, reinforced by the orientation of edge printings, but obvious when working with opaque processes, direct positives or paper negatives–and a feature of the daguerreotype, its mirror image no doubt benefitting its use for portraiture, the subjects used to seeing themselves in the same orientation. 

The Eastman Plus-X negative film stock used for 'Homage', manufactured in the year that Tacita Dean made Sound Mirrors, was discontinued by Kodak over a decade ago. Dean has been active in preserving film as viable medium–the material basis–for the moving image. Perhaps, ideally, I would only show ‘Homage’ as a projection, from the unique 50ft length of original camera negative, an edition of one, physically degrading as it moves through the projector’s sprockets, pull-down claw, intermittently moving through the gate, loop after loop; but, thinking of the distinct practices of production, distribution, exhibition, and access to these channels of distribution and exhibition, the digital hybrid medium created by scanning the film allows for a flat, online distribution on such platforms as currently exist, possibly lost in a sea of content clamouring for attention, but there nonetheless.


Richard Abel and Rick Altman (editors), The Sounds of Early Cinema, Indiana University Press 2001
Rudolf Arnheim, Film as Art, Faber and Faber, London 1958. First published as Film als Kunst, 1933
Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (originally published 1936) in One Way Street and Other Writings, translated by J. A. Underwood, Penguin Books, London 2009.
Tacita Dean, Tate 2001. Published on the occasion of the exhibition 'Tacita Dean: Recent films and other works', Tate Britain 15 February - 6 May 2001
Brian Dillon, 'Listening for the Enemy', Cabinet Magazine, Fall/Winter 2003
Hal Foster, ‘An Archival Impulse’, October, Autumn 2004
Jonathon Griffin, 'Tacita Dean: “I don’t care about the long run. I care about now.”', Royal Academy Magazine, 21/03/18
Sarah Lea, ‘Tacita Dean: Mediums’, in LANDSCAPE/PORTRAIT/STILL LIFE 
Patrick Loughney, ‘Domitor Witnesses the First Complete Public Presentation of the 'Dickson Experimental Sound Film' in the 20th Century’, Film History, 1999, Vol. 11, No. 4, Special Domitor Issue: Global Experiments in Early Synchronous Sounds (1999), pp. 400-403
Ted Nannicelli and Malcolm Turvey, 'Against Post-Cinema', Cinema & Cie, vol. XVI, no.26-27, Spring/Summer 2016, pp31-43.

Sunday, 24 April 2022

Ciné-"Kodak" Model BB Junior

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior with f1.9 lens
Before Kodak introduced the 16mm film format in 1923, there had been a number of other attempts to use smaller-gauge formats–for reasons of economy–to create an amateur market for moving pictures, but with Kodak's weight behind it, 16mm film was widely adopted and has persisted, in all its iterations, for a century (and, just like 35mm, beginning as a movie film format, it was also then recognised for its size, convenience and availability, and used for still cameras). Kodak's new amateur format was dependent on two essential innovations, aside from its smaller gauge: the cellulose acetate base–otherwise known as safety film (a phrase that persisted for decades, imprinted on film rebates), at the time when flammable 35mm nitrate film was the norm. Among the short-lived small-gauge formats prior to 16mm, 35mm film had been used, split in half to make 17.5mm film, with some systems using the existing perforations on one side, but one can imagine that Kodak deliberately chose the 16mm width with much smaller perforations–on both sides–so as to prevent any simple attempt to use cut-down nitrate stock. The other innovation was reversal processing, meaning that, instead of processing the film to a negative and then needing to make a separate positive print for projection, the same film could be processed–with extra steps–to create a positive, cutting material film costs in half. The reversal process also results in a finer-grained image, in comparison to a negative, beneficial to the smaller frame size in 16mm when compared to 35mm.

The first 16mm Ciné-Kodak camera of 1923 was hand-cranked, as were almost all 35mm cameras at the time: this only changed with the necessity of synchronising sound to image, which happened in the professional field a few short years after the appearance of the first 16mm camera. Constantly turning a handle to advance the film through the camera made hand-holding an impracticality, and a tripod was a necessity (initially, Kodak only sold the Ciné-Kodak as a complete package with tripod, projector, screen and splicer; although aimed at the amateur market, in 1923 this sold for the same price as a Model T Ford). Kodak introduced the Ciné-Kodak Model B two years later (with the first camera being retrospectively renamed the Model A); this featured a wind-up clockwork motor, allowing for the possibility of being used hand-held (the Model A was provided with an optional battery-driven motor, but this was only available for a short time, suggesting that, given the battery technology of the 1920s, this was not a great improvement: battery driven amateur ciné cameras only really dominated with the introduction of Super-8 in the mid-1960s). The design of the camera was also greatly changed to make it much more compact, notably by having the two daylight loading 100ft spools sitting parallel to each other inside the camera body, rather than one above the other as in the original Ciné-Kodak; the viewfinder was also placed atop the front and back of the body, consisting of an reverse-Gallilean type of finder and reciprocal eyepiece which fold down when not in use. It also had a waist level viewfinder not unlike the contemporary Brownie cameras: Kodak's own literature likens using the next version, the Ciné-Kodak Model BB to the simplicity of the Brownie.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior: winding key and exposure lever side
The Ciné-Kodak Model BB followed in 1929, a further evolution towards a more compact camera. By keeping the same general layout of the Model B, but using smaller 50ft daylight loading spools (which had been available to the previous two cameras, along with the 100ft spools), the Model BB was also more economical with the space inside the camera body (as Douglas A. Kerr writes, the layout was “tightened up”). The Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior is a distinct derivation of the Model BB, and dates to 1930. There does not appear to be much on the Model BB Junior specifically online–or at least there appears to be a not uncommon failure to differentiate these two models. Possibly the Model BB Junior originated with Kodak Ltd in the UK (where both my versions of the camera were made) as a simplified production variant of the Model BB. That the BB Junior originates from Kodak Ltd might explain why its name plate has "Kodak" in double-inverted commas, presumably to indicate that the word Kodak is an invented word or trademark, and used like a title, designated as such in British English rather than allowed to go unadorned in American English: the manual uses "Kodak" throughout, with single commas for the manual's title page (the illustration of the footage counter on page 15 does not have "Kodak" but also one cannot see the word 'Junior': this appears to be a photograph of the footage counter on the Model BB not the BB Junior). 

There are two key distinguishing features to separate the Model BB Junior from the BB: it does not have the slow speed button which reduced the frame rate to 8 frames-per-second (found just above the shutter release lever on the side of the body on the BB; it exposes at 16 frames per second, meaning its shutter speed is effectively around 1/30th), nor does it have the waist-level viewfinder. The Model BB Junior was available with either a fixed-focus f3.5 lens, or a focussing 25mm f1.9 Kodak Anastigmat. There were changes during the production runs of all Kodak's early ciné cameras, which can complicate identification: many initially were provided with slower, non-interchangeable fixed-focus lenses, and then gained faster, focussing lenses, and interchangeable ones. When I started researching the Model BB Junior, I did think that having non-interchangeable lenses was one of its distinguishing features, but, subsequently, I've seen examples online which do have interchangeable lenses. The move to faster lenses seems to be driven in part by the introduction of Kodak's first colour film from 1928, Kodacolor (not to be confused with or the later colour negative film of the same name), a lenticular film exposed through its base–like Dufaycolor–and needing a special filter. As a result, it required much more light to register an image; Kodacolor was on the market for a limited period, but one which coincided with advances in Kodak's ciné cameras.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior: cover side with catch
I bought my first BB Junior on something of a whim: having used 2x8mm film for a few projects (and having bought a developing tank for 2x8mm, which would therefore take 16mm-wide film), and also having some 16mm film stock for use in 16mm still cameras, I was looking for a cheap 16mm camera, rather than investing in something more sophisticated which I might not use with any regularity. The Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior is relatively common, and I bought my first camera for less than £30 online. There are two main considerations against choosing to use the Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior (or the BB itself) in the present day: firstly, the camera uses double perforated (otherwise known as 2R) film; secondly, the camera takes 50ft daylight loading spools. With regards to the issue of double-perforation, there is some limited availability at the time of writing: Foma makes its R100 film in 16mm double perforation, and a number of double perforated film stocks are available from the Film Photography Project in the US; there is also the possibility of using old double-perforated film stock–which, at the time of writing, I've done exclusively. Less problematic is the 50ft daylight-loading spools: 16mm film hasn't been sold on 50ft daylight loading spools for many years, as far as I am aware (possibly since the 1960s), but although respooling from 100ft lengths (or longer) in the dark may be tedious, it's not difficult. One needs two spools of course, one for supply, and another in the camera for take up. My first camera arrived without any spools, and I spent nearly as much on two 50ft spools as on the camera itself, although, had I waited, no doubt I could have found cheaper spools–or a camera with spools. 50ft spools have a diameter of 7cm, compared to the mode common 9cm 100ft spools.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior with cover removed
To load the camera, there is a catch on one side which simply slides from LOCK to OPEN, allowing the cover to then be entirely removed. As already mentioned, the side-by-side spool layout was first established in the Model B: inside the camera body, the take-up spool is uppermost. The supply spool is exactly parallel to this, located behind a hinged door. If there is a spool in the take-up position, this needs to be removed to open the door, which has a small catch at its lower right, seen just below the spool in the image above. 

Detail of pull-down claw held in the open position with the spring clip
Before loading, the manual recommends opening the pull-down claw, which has a metal spring clip to secure it in the open position (it has a semi-circular tab for handling), and opening the sprocket clamps, ensuring that the whole film path is now free for threading the film from the fresh or supply spool, around the sprocket, through the film gate, back around the sprocket again to the empty or take-up spool. The manual also recommends winding the motor a small amount to create tension for the pull down claw when loading. The sprocket clamps have a knurled grip on their pin heads: these pull up, allowing the clamps to pivot away from the sprocket itself, leaving space for the film to be threaded through either side of the sprocket.

Detail of sprocket with clamps in the closed position
Detail of sprocket with clamps opened
With the film path clear for threading, the door to load the new spool of film is opened, revealing the spindle inside. The 50ft spools are designed to fit in one orientation only: one side has a round hole for the top of the spindle, the other square, which fits the bottom of the spindle shaft. This would appear to be designed to prevent an exposed roll of film being accidentally double-exposed: once shot, the film is in the wrong direction on the spool to then be loaded into the supply position. There is also a thin sprung metal finger which is connected to the internal door's opening mechanism: when shut, this rests with some tension on the supply spool and is connected to the footage indicator on top of the camera underneath the handle.  

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior opened to show spindle for the new, unexposed film spool
The film peels off the spool 'backwards': it should be emulsion side in on the spool, then passes over the angled roller, emulsion side out for this side to be facing the lens. If the spool is correctly positioned on the spindle, the door will close and latch. The camera is provided with white lines for the correct size of the loops either side on the film gate: the film is threaded through the upper sprocket clamp and then through the film gate. The film gate is sprung against the square aperture behind the lens: the film threads between this and a plate behind, and then loops through the lower sprocket clamp. The upper and lower clamps should be closed in that order, ensuring that the perforations on the film are located on the sprocket teeth, with the right size of loops formed, but sometimes on loading, I've found that this does need adjusting, finding the right pair of perforations on which to close the clamps to get the loops the right size. Once through the film gate and both sides of the sprocket, the camera can be very briefly run and the pull-down claw will automatically disengage from the spring clip; the free end of the film then needs to be threaded through to the slot in the centre of the take-up spool in the direction of the curved arrow printed around the take-up spindle.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior loaded with film
Once fully threaded, it's advisable to very briefly run the camera for a second just to make sure the film is running freely from supply to take-up, through both sides of the sprocket and through the film gate. The exposure lever pushes down to run the camera; pushing this further locks it into in the running position. Replacing the cover, there's a shallow semi-circular cut-out for the lens side for correct orientation, and the catch slides back to the Lock position. The cover will only lock if the film spools are properly seated on both spindles and the sprocket clamps properly closed. On both cameras that I currently have, the serial number, located on the camera's winding key, is also written in pencil inside the cover, partially hidden by its internal catch when in the OPEN position.

Serial number in pencil inside camera cover
As described above, the fact that the BB Junior takes double-perforated film is a consideration against using it today: there are other considerations, concerning the ease of use, in choosing such an early 16mm camera. It is entirely manual, without any later innovations–such as a reflex viewfinder for accurate focus and framing, or metering for exposure–as would assist the amateur user. The viewfinder is a relatively simple reverse-Gallilean type, consisting of a small eye piece at the back of the camera and a corresponding viewfinder at the front, both of which fold down to the body when not in use. 

Front and rear viewfinder, raised for use
Front viewfinder with parallax marks for 6ft and 2ft
The viewfinder has parallax marks for the top of the frame at 6ft and another at 2ft. As the viewfinder is directly above the lens, parallax is only a problem vertically, not horizontally. Focus on the 25mm f1.9 Kodak Anastigmat is manual, estimated, with marks in feet only, around the lens down to a close focus of 2 feet. The 25ft mark is picked out in red as a hyperfocal setting: the manual states that when set at this distance, with an aperture of f5.6 or smaller (the lens stops down to f16), everything from 8 feet to infinity will be in focus.

Kodak Anastigmat lens with focal distances in feet
For exposure, until 1940 Ciné-Kodak cameras were provided with a guide plate matching aperture settings to lighting and subject conditions, which align to a pointer on the aperture ring. When the first Ciné-Kodak appeared, this had a logic to it as there was only one single 16mm film available, so the descriptions of lighting and subject conditions were not complicated by different film speeds; very quickly however, Kodak introduced a Ciné-Kodak Panchromatic film (the original Ciné-Kodak safety film was orthochromatic), then Kodacolor film (soon discontinued), Super-sensitive Pan film, and Kodachrome, all of which required different exposure settings.
Ciné-Kodak BB Junior aperture guide plate
At the time the Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior was introduced, the films available were Ciné-Kodak Panchromatic film, Super-sensitive Panchromatic film, and Kodachrome: the directions on the aperture plate are for the Panchromatic film; the manual advises with Super-sensitive Panchromatic film to use the next smaller aperture for the conditions described, while Kodachrome had its own exposure guide provided with the film. Kodak abandoned the aperture plate guides in 1940, announced in the March-April issue of Cine Kodak News: new cameras had a 'Universal Guide' on the side of the camera, a plate into which the user could insert a card, included with each roll of film, which could then be read against a dial aligning subject conditions to aperture setting. Owners of cameras produced before this point could have one of these new guides fitted, and at the same time the aperture plate would be removed and replaced with a plate usually featuring a name or logotype. Both of my BB Juniors have the original aperture plates however, possibly suggesting that they may not have been used much after this date–or simply that the original owners did not want the cameras altered.

For a first test, I shot a short roll of Eastman 4-X through the camera. Originally 500 ISO in daylight,  the film is more than three decades old as 4-X was discontinued in 1990. The film has lost a lot of sensitivity with age, and there is a lot of base fog, particularly along one edge. I nominally rated the Eastman 4-X film at 25, although I didn't meter for the exposure, which was simply light projected on a wall. This was developed in Ilfotec LC29, diluted 1+19 for 8 minutes at 18ºC. The results were pretty uninstructive, but the camera did appear to work.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior first test
I then shot some double-perforated Kodak Plus-X. As described in 'Workers Not Leaving The Factory (Once More)', when fully wound, the clockwork motor runs for just over 30 seconds, although it does audibly begin to sound as though it is running slow after about 25 seconds, notably with film (when not loaded with film, there's less drag on the mechanism, so it runs more freely). I had planned a film with four uninterrupted shots of 30 seconds each to use a whole 50ft roll. This was filmed on the A104 Woodford New Road, showing the northbound and southbound lanes of the road both north and south of the junction with the A406 North Circular known as the Waterworks roundabout. I framed a narrow band of the road which used to feature a cattle grid, relatively recently removed, but discernible in the concrete edges of the shallow trench which formed the base of the grid. The cattle grids had been necessary due to a herd of cattle which had grazed freely on nearby Wanstead Flats, but also roamed between other grazing spots, sometimes along suburban streets. The cattle were removed around the time that the M11 Link Road was opened in the late 1990s. After filming the four scenes of 30 seconds each, there was still some film left from respooling. When the footage counter reaches the zero mark, the manual instructs the user to run the camera until a circular mark after zero is indicated, as provision for a trailer on the roll of film, ensuring that no footage is spoiled on unloading. Without the need to reload immediately, I could do this in complete darkness and use all the film on the roll, so filmed a few short scenes at the same location. I did try loading the camera in the dark, especially with short lengths of film for testing, but this makes it difficult to achieve the right-sized loops: too small and the loops are too tight, creating a 'jumpy' gate as the film pulls against it; too large, and the film can drag against the interior of the camera body.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior Plus-X test
Before developing this film, I shot a very short test on the same Plus-X stock (from the roll as used on Expired Film Day in 2020, dating to 1992) to check my exposure and developing times were right. This was loaded in the camera in the dark with some difficulties, exposed at 40, and developed in Ilfotec LC29, diluted 1+19 for 5m30s at 20ºC. Although short, this looked good enough to develop the 50ft roll of Plus-X with the same time and dilution. I had this roll of 16mm Plus-X professionally scanned, and when the scan was returned, it was immediately clear that there were problems with focus: in the middle of the frame, focus was clearly off, although towards the edges, the images looked sharp enough.


For what I had intended to film, the four framings of the no-longer-extant cattle grid, this wasn't too intrusive, and I imagined if this were even to be shown, that these four scenes could be played on four screens, simultaneously. However, with any more detailed or static scenes, this lack of focus was distracting. One of the curiosities of the design of Kodak's 16mm cameras around this period is their curving film path through the gate–and that this curves away from the lens. With cheap still film cameras, many have a film plane curved towards the lens to make up for distortion inherent in cheap lens designs. In the Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior, possibly the curve away from the lens may be in part to have a smoother film path from the upper loop to lower loop, but I did wonder if this itself was part of the problem with focus, in particular that the lens-to-film plane distance was just too short in the centre of the frame to achieve infinity focus. I removed the lens to investigate–it comes off fairly easily with undoing the two screws. I had thought that a solution might be to add a shim, fractionally increasing the lens-to-film plane distance, which I did with a thin sheet of metal cut from a drinks can. 

Lens shim cut from thin aluminium placed behind lens mount
Having removed the lens, I could also see that this was very dirty internally, so took this apart, unscrewing the front and rear groups, and cleaning all surfaces before reassembling and fixing the lens back to the camera body.

Ciné-Kodak Anastigmat lens disassembled for cleaning

As can be seen in the image above, the f1.9 Ciné-Kodak Anastigmat lens was provided a lens hood (seen upper right) which slots into the lens housing itself with a pin to orient it correctly (the slot for the pin can be seen inside the lens housing in the image above; with the hood better seen in the image below). This lens hood could be replaced with filters attached to a similar hood, designated by Kodak as 'W' mount, and were also colour-coded with a painted rim: I subsequently acquired a couple of yellow filters, which, naturally enough, have a yellow rim. This came in cases either made from brass or Bakelite. The filters themselves are of the push-fit variety, and simply slip on the inside end of the W-mount hood.

Lens hood removed showing orientation pin
W-mount filter and cases
I also cleaned the film gate, which I should have done before first using the camera, with accumulated dust and dirt being visible along the top edge of the frame in the scanned film. There is a long metal post with a slotted head and knurled grip at the top of its shaft which unscrews, allowing the film gate, consisting of the gate itself and back plate which slot together, and then can be taken apart for cleaning. There is an arrangement of holes–three round holes, with two linked–on one edge of the gate which appear to be some form of identifying edge mark: this can be seen very clearly in the full scan Plus-X test below.

Film gate removed for cleaning
I made a couple of further tests once I'd cleaned the gate (which should probably be done after every roll of film as good practice) and replaced the lens, and this was the camera which I used to film 'Workers Not Leaving The Factory (Once More)'. The tests looked promising, although it's hard to know whether adding the shim or cleaning the lens internally had made more difference.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior test after cleaning & shimming lens
After cleaning the lens, replacing it with the shim, and then filming 'Workers Not Leaving The Factory (Once More)', I bought a second Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior. I had an idea that I could modify the sprocket and pull-down claw in order to use single-perforated 16mm film in the camera, which would be useful in terms of being able to use a wider range of new film stocks; I also thought that it might be possible to modify the film gate to the Ultra-16 format, especially given how the holes on the left hand side show that the image formed by the lens covers a wider frame. I found a Model BB Junior for £5 online: if either of these modifications made the camera unusable, I hadn't wasted much money (this also came with two 50ft spools inside). However, when the second camera arrived, it was in better condition, cosmetically at least, than the first one, so that was earmarked for modifications instead–which I have yet to attempt. The photographs illustrating this post are a mostly of the newer Model BB Junior; the older camera has paint losses, especially on the winding key, as can be seen in a couple of images, but this was the camera used for all the moving images.

The second Model BB Junior is in such good condition despite being around 90 years old (although introduced in 1930, I've found no date for the Model BB Junior's discontinuation) that I imagine it can never have been used that much (or its owner kept incredibly good care of it). As an amateur movie format, 16mm was soon superseded by the more economic 2x8mm, then the easier-to-use Super-8, before home movies became electronic with video cameras in the 1980s. 16mm drifted from being the format for the home or amateur use which Kodak designed it to be, to that favoured for educational, industrial, and experimental or independent avant-garde uses. The Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior has many reasons to dissuade its use today, as outlined earlier in this post; in addition, it isn't the most ergonomic of cameras to use hand held, essentially a rectangular box with a lens on the front; without access to home-developing, as well as being able to respool 50ft lengths of film, it is generally an impractical camera. However, as with many of the still cameras I've written about–indeed, much of this blog–there's a sense, partly a form of social history, in gaining an understanding of these technologies of image-making through their use–often, importantly, their limitations–which is a connection, historically, to both how and why images look the way they do.

Sources/further reading
Alan D. Kattle, 'The Evolution of Amateur Motion Picture Equipment 1895-1965', Journal of Film and Video, Summer-Fall 1986, Vol. 38, No. 3/4, pp. 47-57
Dwight Swanson, 'Inventing Amateur Film: Marion Norris Gleason, Eastman Kodak and the Rochester Scene, 1921-1932', Film History, 2003, Vol. 15, No. 2, Small-Gauge and Amateur Film (2003), pp. 126-136 

Monroe County New York also has an excellent collection of historical records from Kodak, including many issues of Cine-Kodak News