Friday, 19 July 2019

127 Day Summer 2019

Rolleiflex 4x4 with Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating Film
After my recent testing of the Rolleiflex 4x4, I naturally wanted to use it on last week's 127 Day; I didn't have any film in medium format to cut down to 127 to use on the day itself, as I might normally do. However, in cutting down 120 film to the width of 127, as the film is also longer, there's always an offcut of three or four frames, depending on the frame size of course; I did have one such short roll of Ilford FP4 Plus, which I simply shot the same scene over three frames with bracketing.

Rolleiflex 4x4 with Ilford FP4 Plus
I also shot the roll of Kodacolor II which had originally come with a Kodak Brownie 127 and which I hadn't previously used: I had low expectations for this film considering its age and that the roll of Agfacolor Special which also came with the camera and that I had short for last year's Summer 127 Day had only yielded one poorly defined image (I might have used the Kodacolor II film then had I not broken the camera). Using the Rolleiflex 4x4 did mean that I could give the film much more exposure than that of the Kodak Brownie 127 which has a single shutter speed and aperture, and so I used a tripod and bracketed exposures, erring on the side of considerable overexposure - which did provide better results than I had achieved with the Agfacolor film twelve months ago.

Rolleiflex 4x4 with Kodacolor II
The metal spool that the film was on was rusty, and the backing paper was partially stuck to the film, although this seemed to be mostly on the reverse of the film, not the emulsion side, and could be gently rubbed off in the wash. I used stand development with the film to get a black and white negative image, successfully for a few frames, although in comparison with the image above, the one below is out focus in the central area, suggesting that film flatness was a problem, perhaps unsurprising given that the film itself had been tightly coiled around the 127 spool for forty years.

Rolleiflex 4x4 with Kodacolor II
Most of the photographs that I took on the day were with Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating film cut down by hand to 127 size. This was rated at an exposure index of 2, and, having a lot of the film to play with, I also bracketed most of the shots, partially for exposure, but also, shooting long exposures on the shutter's B setting (again with a tripod), I was aware of either the possibility of inadvertent shake from holding the shutter release down (which is one reason for liking older shutters with a T setting), or from the breeze causing elements of the subject to move. As well as being very slow in terms of exposure, the Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating film is also high contrast and blue sensitive, making for an interesting comparison with the black and white version of the Kodacolor II film; the shot below just holds some information in the sky, but essentially bleaches it. Other colours render in very different ways on the film: in the image at the top of the blog, the apples, although far from ripe, are a russet colour, which appears notably dark in the photographs. The look is quite different from the usual panchromatic rendering of most black and white film, and has a distinct feel, even when used for subjects where this effect isn't quite so clear. One of the problems I had when using the Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating film straight after the Kodacolor II film is that there was a fair amount of dust in the camera caused by the rust from the metal spool, which caused a fair bit of spotting on subsequent frames, particularly at the edges from the spool flanges. The grain of the Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating film is so fine as to be virtually invisible, at least within the scope of using a flat bed scanner with the film and this shows how well the Xenar lens on the Rolleiflex 4x4 performs: apart from the spotting - some of which may be due to development - the film's grain is so fine that there is a danger of banding in areas of smooth tonal transition, a problem I've only really experienced before with Kodak Technical Pan.

Rolleiflex 4x4 with Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating Film
Rolleiflex 4x4 with Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating Film
Rolleiflex 4x4 with Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating Film
Rolleiflex 4x4 with Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating Film
Rolleiflex 4x4 with Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating Film
Rolleiflex 4x4 with Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating Film
Rolleiflex 4x4 with Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating Film
Rolleiflex 4x4 with Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating Film

Friday, 12 July 2019

Rolleiflex 4x4 - the 'Grey Baby' Rolleiflex

Rolleiflex 4x4
From the Rolleiflex 6x6, which from the beginning set the pattern for the development of the twin-lens reflex camera, the Rolleiflex 4x4 has taken the basic principles of its construction.
Rolleiflex 4x4 manual
On top of being given old cameras, with something of a reputation for them, occasionally I am lent them: one such borrowed camera I have been testing recently is the Rolleiflex 4x4, a 127 rollfilm format twin-lens reflex camera from the 1950s. The camera still has its original dual-lens cap and strap, missing its clam-shell ever-ready case, and has clearly been well used, the grey leather panels wearing down to its natural colour. Inside the camera back is a dealer decal reading 'Foto-Krischker Tirschenreuth', Tirschenreuth being a small town in Bavaria close to the Czech border.

The Rollei Club website has a detailed page on the evolution of the Rolleiflex 4x4. The initial version of the camera was introduced in 1931, combining the innovations of the larger original Rolleiflex with the increasing popularity of smaller format cameras such as the Leica, amongst others, and developed through the 1930s to the early 1940s - and then brought back in 1957 with the distinctive grey leather inset panels and painted metal trim. The 'Grey Baby' or 'Baby Grey' Rolleiflex inspired a number of Japanese-made 127-format twin-lens cameras such as the Yashica 44, Primo Jr, and the Waltz Automat 44, often in grey. The grey version of the Rolleiflex 4x4 had a much larger production run than any previous model, over 60,000; it was superseded by a final black version with the same specifications from 1963, in much smaller numbers - less than 5,000, and finally discontinued in 1968. All versions of the camera were simply called Rolleiflex 4x4 by Franke & Heidecke/Rollei, but with codes for internal use: the final camera, whether grey or black, is the K5 model. However, the Rolleiflex 4x4 is colloquially and commonly known as the 'Baby' Rolleiflex, although never officially named as such; by contrast Zeiss Ikon adopted the 'Baby' prefix for their 127 cameras based on larger original versions, such as the Baby Box Tengor. Perhaps, unlike Zeiss Ikon - catering for all pockets - aiming at a wealthier customer Rollei disdained the colloquialism of the word 'Baby'.

Rolleiflex 4x4
The Rolleiflex 4x4 cameras are as well designed and constructed as the larger 120 cameras, and with similar specifications. Pre-war Rolleiflex 4x4s all had Tessar lenses; the post-war model features a Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar f3.5 lens with a focal length of 60mm (the serial number of this particular camera's lens dates it to 1958, fairly early in production); the viewing lens is a faster Rollei Heidosmat f2.8. The lens will focus down to 1 metre, and the focus knob has a depth of field scale around it and includes a film speed reminder for ASA and DIN. The shutter is a Synchro-Compur with speeds from 1-500, plus B. There is flash sync with a PC socket and a switch for electronic flash or flash bulbs which also has 'V' for the self timer. There is a small button underneath the shutter surround to change this switch. The threaded shutter release is angled upwards and slightly out from the body under the taking lens.

One feature of the Grey Baby Rolleflex 4x4 which firmly locates it as a 1950s-designed camera is its coupled LV (Light Value) system. Aperture and shutter speeds are linked together, so a number of combinations of the two can be selected which will give the same effective exposure. Many cameras during the 1950s and 60s used such systems before this fell out of favour; most contemporary commentators online seem to conceive of the LV shutter-aperture linkage as a solution to a problem that barely exists. On one side of the taking lens the LV numbers run from 2 to 18 with a dot to indicate the selected number; the other side of the shutter has the aperture and shutter speed settings.

Rolleiflex 4x4 aperture and shutter speed selectors
The aperture ring has a raised section with a grip which needs to be depressed to turn this separately from the shutter speed section in front: on the other side of the shutter this moves the red dot in relation to the LV numbers to select the exposure; it is possible to select intermediate aperture stops.
The back of the camera has a detailed exposure guide, essentially a sophisticated version of the 'sunny 16' rule, with subjects and lighting conditions, which, when correlated with film speed and adjusted for time of day, produce a number to set on the LV scale of the shutter.

Rolleiflex 4x4 exposure guide
One final observation about the LV scale worth noting is that the shutter has a series of numbers picked out in green beyond the 'B' setting, representing whole seconds for calculating long exposures (as the shutter has 1 second as its lowest speed, the 'B' setting actually represents 2 seconds on the LV scale).

Rolleiflex 4x4 viewfinder
Opening the lens hood reveals the ground glass screen viewfinder with a subtle grid to aid composition; pushing on the front of the viewfinder hood flips up a magnifier to aid focus; pushing the front through until it locks down converts this into the sports finder. The magnifier can be slipped out to replace this with corrective lenses to compensate for eyesight; pushing in the hinges on either side of the hood collapses the whole. The viewfinder has parallax compensation, though on examining the camera it isn't obvious how this is achieved, but possibly through a subtle movement of the focus screen, not dissimilar to the parallax compensation with the Rollei 16.

Opening the camera, the base around the tripod mount has a rotating lever, turning anti-clockwise, to push forward the hinged latch which, when flipped, allows the whole bottom and back to be lifted upwards opening the camera to load the film. Film travels from bottom to top in the camera, both spool holders flip out in different ways to enable loading and unloading. The frame counter is entirely automatic, without a red window. Once loaded and closed, the film is advanced until the numeral 1 appears in the counter window and the advance knob stops until the shutter is released; the shutter release is locked when the viewfinder hood is down. Without a film in the camera, the counter shows '0' and the shutter can be cocked by turning the advance knob and released as normal. The pre-war Rolleiflex 4x4 cameras had an advance lever, but the post-war version has a knob instead (many of the Japanese 4x4 TLR cameras did have advance levers however), more like the contemporary  Rolleicord cameras, yet the 4x4 retains the Rolleiflex name.

Rolleiflex 4x4 - back open
With the back open, two small levers to the right of the film window can be seen. One appears to be a feeler for the film; the second appears to be a lever that, when released by opening the back, resets the film counter. When first testing the camera, the shutter seemed to stick at all speeds; after thinking that this was simply the fact that, after sixty years, the shutter needed to be stripped down and cleaned, I moved the flash sync switch to the bulb position - and the shutter works as accurately as one might expect, even at slow speeds. Evidently the electronic flash sync seems to conflict with the shutter mechanism and as this hasn't turned up in searching for shutter problems, so this might just be an idiosyncratic issue with this particular camera.

Rolleiflex 4x4 with Ilford HP5 Plus
With the first roll of film through the camera (a short off-cut of cut-down Ilford HP5 Plus), the qualities of the Rolleiflex 4x4 are immediately apparent. The 127 rollfilm format - in all its standard frame sizes, 6x4, 4x4, and 3x4 - provides larger images than the standard 35mm frame; set against this is the fact that many, if not most, cameras designed around the 127 format tend towards the cheaper end of the consumer market, inevitably not fully taking advantage of the larger negative area. In the image above (which could of course be shot on finer-grained film than HP5 Plus) the sharpness of the Xenar lens is clear despite the nondescript subject matter. The camera sits well in the hand, perhaps easier to operate than larger 120 format camera, supported by the right hand, focus by the left, the shutter release positioned to be operated by the right thumb, and switching support from one hand to other to advance the film simple enough.

Rolleiflex 4x4 with 35mm Ilford Pan 100
As well as medium format film cut down to 127, I also ran a roll of 35mm Ilford Pan 100 through the camera and found that all the frames were out of focus in the centre; the image above was one of the more in-focus frames. Having used 35mm rolled with 127 backing paper previously, I was surprised to find this happen with the Rolleiflex, although I have had similar issues when using 120 film with 116 backing paper, as the smaller width of the film is not supported at the sides with the result that film flatness suffers. However, the 116 frame is nearly three times longer than the nominal 4x4 size with the Rollieflex 4x4. Other 127 cameras seem to be better at this, with the V. P. Twin possibly being the exception, but not consistent. When using the camera with cut-down medium format film and 127 backing paper, the main problem that cropped up was that the first frame did not align correctly with the start of the film, resulting in half an image with the tape visible; this may be down to the film not being taped to exactly the right position on the backing paper.

The Rolleiflex 4x4 is clearly one of the most sophisticated 127 format cameras ever made; some of the Japanese 4x4 TLR cameras do have light meters, the only feature that could be thought of as lacking from the Rolleiflex. This last iteration of the Rolleiflex 4x4, coming at the time that cameras began to feature built-in light meters, was perhaps popular enough at the height of the late 1950s 4x4 twin-lens reflex craze for there to be little impetus to develop the camera any further. As with other Rollei cameras, there is an attention to detail in the construction and manufacture that occasionally feels like over-engineering, but solid enough to inspire confidence and small enough for portability, perhaps able, briefly, to compete with the sophisticated 35mm cameras of their time. As a result, the Rolleiflex 4x4 is still an eminently usable 127 camera, continued access to 127 film notwithstanding.

Rolleiflex 4x4 with Kodak High Resolution Aerial Duplicating Film
Rolleiflex 4x4 with Ilford FP4 Plus
Rolleiflex 4x4 with Ilford HP5 Plus

Sources/further reading:
The Rollei Club on all Rolleiflex 4x4 models
Rolleiflex 4x4 manual (PDF file)
Baby Rolleiflex on onetwoseven.org
The Baby Rolleiflex on Camera-Wiki
Rolleiflex 4x4 on Mike Elek's Classic Cameras
127 film and the Rolleiflex 4x4 Rollei Users' Club
Anthony J. Oresteen - Using the 1957 Rolleiflex 4x4 "Baby" Models 

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

116 & 126 Days June 2019

Kodak Instamatic 277X with Ilford Pan 400
Using the little-endian calendar in the UK provides two successive obsolete film format days in June: the 11th and 12th for 116 and 126 formats respectively. The regular 127 Days in summer and winter are relatively well established, in part due to 127 film still being available (if only just), whereas shooting film for both 116 and 126 formats does mean either sourcing long discontinued film or taking different strategies for using new film in the cameras.

For Tuesday's 116 Day, I shot a single roll of medium format Ilford XP2 Super, rolled with 116 backing paper, with the Agfa Standard Model 255. I developed this with RO9 rather than C41, and had problems with overexposure (and perhaps overdevelopment), partly due to shooting into the light, late in the afternoon, despite the presence of cloud cover; scanning the negatives and attempting to retain any detail from the sky had the tendency to compress the mid-tones and shadows rather too much. The first image revisited one photograph from 2017's 116 Day, documenting the progression of demolition. Three of the six shots from the roll I felt worth salvaging.

Agfa Standard with Ilford XP2 Super
Agfa Standard with Ilford XP2 Super
Agfa Standard with Ilford XP2 Super
The following day I loaded a single 126 cartridge with Ilford Pan 400, and shot it with the same Kodak Instamatic 277X I'd used last year - and the main reason for using it was for its adjustable aperture: with a 400 speed film, this meant using a relatively small aperture for most shots (the camera's shutter speed is fixed at 1/80th), ensuring that the photographs were relatively sharp. After using the camera last year and having had many frames overlapping, I made sure that the film was fully wound on to the next frame, judging from the numbers on the backing paper, even if this meant taking fewer shots on the roll of film.

Kodak Instamatic 277X with Ilford Pan 400
Kodak Instamatic 277X with Ilford Pan 400
Kodak Instamatic 277X with Ilford Pan 400
Kodak Instamatic 277X with Ilford Pan 400
Kodak Instamatic 277X
Kodak Instamatic 277X

Friday, 7 June 2019

May's #ShittyCameraChallenge


Having written up my experiences of using the Uboot Action Sampler as part of May's #ShittyCameraChallenge, sharing some of the animated GIFs on Twitter of course, I was then rather surprised to learn that I'd been awarded second prize; first prize went to Kevin Spaghetti - @SpaghettiKevin. The second prize had been previously announced as 'a book about poo' donated by @196photo; yesterday I picked up my prize parcel to find that it was indeed that, but much more besides, all beautifully wrapped, two thematically-appropriate books for the challenge, Michael Freeman's The Photographer's Pocket Book, a USB card reader, and, individually wrapped, and eminently useful, a surprise addition of four different rolls of 35mm film, Fomapan 400, Ilford Delta 3200, Fuji Superia 200, and a film I've not shot before, Adox Scala 160.



Friday, 31 May 2019

'Uboot' Action Sampler

Uboot Action Sampler
With another #ShittyCameraChallenge announced for this May, having recently been given an Action Sampler, this seemed serendipitous, and it felt a good choice: the Action Sampler is a 35mm point and shoot camera, almost entirely plastic in construction, including lenses, bar the odd metal screw holding it together and the clip for the handstrap. Its unique design, however, features four lenses that take four shots in quick succession in the space of a standard 35mm frame, with a shutter that rotates behind the lenses to achieve this. Apart from this, in keeping with the #ShittyCameraChallenge aspirations, the Action Sampler's specifications are very basic: the 28mm plastic meniscus lenses are fixed focus, fixed aperture at f11, and the shutter fires at a single speed, 1/100th, with a delay of 0.22 seconds between each lens, with the result that the four images are separated by less than a second. There is a simple, flip-up frame as a viewfinder, with a manual advance that cocks the shutter: internally there are two toothed wheels, one for setting the shutter, the other simply to turn the frame counter on the base of the camera; without a film loaded inside the camera it is possible to check the shutter operation by turning the first of these wheels manually. There is a manual rewind knob on top of the camera with a button on the base of the camera to depress for rewinding; this does not pull-up like many a manual rewind: when loading the camera, there is a cut-out section of the base, completed by a corresponding section in the camera back, so that on loading the camera, the 35mm film cartridge simply slides onto the rewind spool.

My example of the camera has 'uboot' printed on the back (the downwards pointing arrow on the front appears to be the uboot logo and is also printed on the back); in smaller type it has 'powered by www.lomo.com'; as with a number of cheap plastic novelty cameras, including the similar Action Tracker, the Action Sampler is s typical example of Lomography's modus operandi: take a cheap plastic novelty camera, rebrand it, market it, and sell it for many times its value. This 'uboot edition' was apparently given away free in the early 2000s to promote a social networking website (see this discussion on Flickr); there were a number of variations of the camera, in different colours, some with different coloured filters over the lenses, a flash version, and so on: the Lomography website is currently selling a clear version for £29.

My initial thought was to use the four sequential frames to make short animated loops as GIF files, in part inspired by recent research into early moving images, by the work of Muybridge and Marey, and by reading Rudolf Arnheim (notably, 'The Thoughts that Made the Picture Move’, from Film as Art). Given the very limited parameters of what the camera was capable of, the limit of four frames, I began to think of simple, repetitious cycles of motion that the camera could represent, and might work as a short animated loop. The sequences would have to be circular, not linear, to work as loops, and I thought of some of the ideas behind my piece 'Paper Cinema' and the descriptions of how the movement of the inanimate had fascinated early viewers of cinema at its inception, epitomised in the motion of leaves in the wind. A further example of the movement of the inanimate which is present in many of the Lumiere's early films is water in its various forms: the water from a hose, waves on the surface of the sea, steam rising. In addition, I then thought of visible states which represented binaries, on/off states; all of these subjects would have to be comprehended in less than a second.

As I hadn't shot with the Action Sampler before the start of the #ShittyCameraChallenge, I looked for these subjects with the first roll through this camera, without knowing what to expect in terms of the results other than conceptually what the camera does (I had, of course, seen examples online).

Action Sampler with Ilford Pan 100
Developing the first roll through the camera suggested that I may have been too ambitious in regards of what I thought the Action Sampler capable of: to begin with, the quality of the images is rather poor, perhaps what one might expect with a plastic meniscus lens and one quarter of the resolution of a normal 35mm frame; in addition, one lens on the bottom right doesn't seem to be properly aligned and this frame in all the photographs has worse definition that the others, the upper right frame being little better. The lenses are prone to flare, and pronounced aberrations (coma, showing up in the highlights, seems to be particularly bad), and despite the stepped recesses behind each lens, the plastic interior frequently resulted in internal reflections. The shutter also is not very consistent: the exposure varies across all four frames, sometimes starting very dark, and getting brighter, suggesting that it slows as it completes its cycle.

Action Sampler with Ilford Pan 100
The shutter slowing as it rotates also overexposed the film: I used Ilford Pan 100, but this was too fast for many scenes with bright sunlight, suggesting that the shutter was slower than 1/100th (the density of the negatives did also make scanning difficult and did not improve the resolution of the images). However, when I began to create animated GIFs from some of the frames, something of my original intentions had survived despite all the technical compromises.


The best of these images were generally the simplest: it hadn't always been easy to find subjects which fitted with the limitations of the four frames in less than a second, and in addition, the parallax caused by the separate positioning of the four lenses I hadn't really taken into account. This meant that it was not a simple matter of literally stacking the four frames one after the other, but it made more sense to find a focal point to each sequence and align this in each four frames, then crop to a consistent whole, clearly seen in the image below.


This parallax effect is essentially 'wiggle stereoscopy', and, even while I was still shooting the first roll, I thought that it would be possible to make stereo pairs from static scenes. Given the design of the four lenses, to shoot on a single standard 24x36mm frame of 35mm film, there isn't much lens separation, but the parallax is clear when put together as an animated GIF from the shifting position, both horizontal and vertical, as above. I chose some scenes with close subjects contrasting with some form of recession that could give relatively good separation despite the close stereo baseline, and the first image below is perhaps the best demonstration of this; the second image I had intended to make into an animated GIF, but the breeze which had been animating the tape did not sufficiently do so at the point at which I took the photographs, but the tape itself stands out well enough from the background as a stereo anaglyph.

Stereo anaglyph from two Action Sampler frames
Stereo anaglyph from two Action Sampler frames
Having shot and developed one roll of film during the first week of May, aware of the results, the camera's limitations and what to expect from it, I loaded a second roll of film into the Action Sampler, only to find that the camera stopped working. Initially, I did think that the shutter was simply jammed - I could advance the film, but pressing the shutter release did nothing; on closer inspection, the film advance was cocking and tripping the shutter all in one action - which I only realised once I'd taken the film out of the camera; evidently, the mechanism which is supposed to 'catch' the cocked shutter and prevent further film advance was somehow slipping: at some future point I may attempt to disassemble the camera and investigate, but, as far as May's #ShittyCameraChallenge, I decided to content myself with just the one roll of photographs, rather than pick another camera that could fulfil its conditions.








Sources/further reading:
Lomography Acton Sampler microsite
Action Sampler on Camera-Wiki
Alfred Klomp's review of the Action Sampler - includes scans of the (2-page) manual