Thursday, 29 December 2011

Verichrome Pan

Kodak Verichrome Pan 120 film, expiry date July 1964

Verichrome Pan was a black and white panchromatic film produced by Kodak from 1956 to c.2002. The film had a speed rating of 125 ISO, which would have been considered fast at the time it was introduced and replaced Verichrome, which was its orthochromatic predecessor. This advert for the original Verichrome lists its various unique qualities, including the fact that it was double coated, with two layers of photographic emulsion, both fast and slow, and also that it had enormous latitude, claiming an exposure range of 1 to 2,400. I haven't found any information as to whether Verichrome Pan kept these characteristics, but I doubt manufacturers would now claim such latitude for modern film emulsions (although I have used HP5 from 64 to 3200 ISO).

Verichrome Pan in 127 format, showing instructions for use on the paper backing

I shot a couple of rolls of out-of-date Verichrome Pan on the Summer 127 day in July. One of these had come from the box of a Kodak Brownie Starmite, with an expiry date of September 1975; the other was one of three films I bought from a certain auction site. The results from both sets of films were disappointing: the rolls bought online had evidently got damp at some point and the backing paper was stuck to the film: soaked and removed, the paper took some of the emulsion with it; the roll from the Starmite box came away cleanly from the backing paper, but nonetheless this seems to have left behind a textured pattern on the emulsion.

Sceaux Gardens, Bethnal Green: the black areas on the image are where the emulsion stuck to the backing paper

After the results with the 127 format film, I hadn't expected much from a roll in 120 format that had been inside the case of a Kinax folding camera that I bought. This roll of Verichrome Pan had an expiry date of July 1964. The box also contained a leaflet on Kodak films. I shot the roll in my Zodel Baldalux camera in Berlin during the summer, then stand processed it. Unlike the recent out-of-date FP4, I didn't take into account the loss of sensitivity with age, and exposed it at the box speed of 125 ISO. The resulting negatives are very thin, and while they have held the highlights well, the rendering of shadow detail is patchy, although the results are much better than the 127 format films. (All films were stand-developed in Rodinal, diluted 1:100, for 1 hour).

Pergamon Museum, Berlin, shot on Verichrome Pan, expiry date July 1964
Oranienburger Stra├če, Berlin, shot on Verichrome Pan, expiry date July 1964

Friday, 9 December 2011

127 Day - 7th December 2011

Cleaver Square Rooftops
127 Day is a calendrical encouragement to use 127 format cameras, on both 12th July (written 12/7 in little endian format) and 7th December (12/7 middle endian). Shooting with my Baby Ikonta, on the day I used a roll of FP4 with an expiry date of June 1976. Ilford no longer produce film in 127 format; my film was from a batch of three I bought online. I had used one of these rolls in my Foth Derby for the Summer 127 Day, and had been very pleased with the results from such an old film.  I rated the film at 64 ISO, half FP4's box speed of 125, to compensate for the loss of sensitivity with age, and stand developed the film in Rodinal at a dilution of 1:100 for one hour, with 30 seconds agitation at the start, and a couple of inversions at the half hour mark.

As I had been in July, I was working all day. With the limited amount of time I had to take photographs, especially given the short daylight hours, I took a number of night shots on my journey home from work to use the whole roll during the day. The daylight shots were metered with a Weston Master II; the night photographs were estimated.

London 2012 Olympic Site
Sutton Street, Stepney
A106 Eastway

See more photographs from 127 Day in the Flickr 127 Format Group Pool

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Werra 1

Werra with 50mm Novonar f3.5 lens
The Werra is a unique 35mm compact camera produced by Carl Zeiss Jena. The version I bought at the Mauerpark flea market is the original olive green model with a 50mm Novonar f3.5 lens. This model is generally referred to as the Werra 1 to distinguish it from the subsequent versions, but at the time was simply called 'Werra'. Not knowing much about the Werra when I bought it, I had assumed that it dated from the 1960s, due to its streamlined design. However production began in 1954, and the serial number on my camera's lens dates it to 1955. Compare the look of the Werra with, for example, the Kodak Signet or the Baldessa, both 35mm viewfinder cameras contemporary to the Werra and it's easy to see how advanced its design was for the mid-1950s. One might speculate for the reason for this is that the Werra was made by Carl Zeiss Jena, principally a lens manufacturer, which made very few cameras. Perhaps it's a camera built around a lens, without being derived from any precedents. In keeping with the minimalist design, the camera is marked with just the name 'WERRA' embossed on the lens cap and rear of the body, 'Novonar' on the lens and the manufacturer's name is entirely absent.

Werra with lens cap/shade removed
The two most distinctive aspects of the Werra's design are its unusual film advance, which works by turning the aluminium bezel around the lens, and the combined lens cap and shade. The lens cap can be unscrewed from the shade, the shade removed, reversed and attached. The camera's controls are located around the lens, and, with the frame counter on the underside of the camera, which leaves just the shutter release for the top plate. The original Werra is a completely manual camera, without a meter. However there are figures around the lens picked out in red for optimum exposure and focus: 1/50th of a second on the shutter, f8 for the aperture, and 6m on the focus ring, which at f8 gives a depth of field from just beyond 3m to nearly infinity.

Detail of figures picked out in red around the lens
Obviously this depends on film speed and lighting conditions, but one can assume that these settings were designed to be used in fair daylight conditions with a film of medium speed. I used these settings to finish the film that was in the camera when I bought it. Raul M, in his blog post about the Werra, suggests that the shade can be left on covering the controls, effectively turning the Werra into a point and shoot camera. The entire back and bottom plate slides off to load the film, which travels from right to left, opposite to the direction 35mm film normally travels in a camera (although this is also true of the Agfa Optima Sensor), meaning that the frames on the developed film appear to be upside down, and also read in sequence right to left.

Sample image from the Werra, FP4 stand developed in Rodinal 1:100
Sample image from the Werra, FP4 stand developed in Rodinal 1:100

ORWO NP 20: Mauerpark Flea Market & Found Images

ORWO NP 20 35mm film
Inside the Werra camera I bought at the Mauerpark flea market in Berlin there was a partly used roll of film, which I inadvertently exposed when opening the camera to check the shutter. On buying the camera, it felt appropriate to use the rest of the film taking photographs in the flea market itself. Being a manual camera, and not knowing what the film's speed was, I used the settings marked out in red on the Werra to shoot the film.

Flohmarkt am Mauerpark, ORWO NP 20 film
Flohmarkt am Mauerpark, ORWO NP 20 film
Slot Machine, Flohmarkt am Mauerpark, ORWO NP 20 film
Flohmarkt am Mauerpark, ORWO NP 20 film
Once I'd finished the film, and could safely open the camera again, I discovered that the film was a roll of ORWO NP 20, an East German black and white film, presumably dating back to before reunification. It was also in a reusable plastic film canister, with the minimal label stuck across the join with the canister's screw top. To develop the film, I used Rodinal, diluted 1:100 for 1 hour stand development, with a couple of inversions at the 30 minute mark. I've previously used stand development with unknown or old films (including colour) with some success as it seems to simply reveal what's actually on the film. The frames I shot on the film came out well enough, apart from the inevitable light leaks. More excitingly, the film that had already been exposed in the camera yielded a number of frames, which I had feared would have mostly been lost due to being exposed to light when I opened the camera, yet a dozen frames came out almost unaffected. After an oblique shot of a fence and a greenhouse, the unaffected frames show some sort of parade or procession (oddly enough, as do some of the photographs on the first roll of old film I developed), while some of the frames largely obliterated by light leaks appear to show sheep shearing on a farm.

Found image on a roll of ORWO NP 20
Found image on a roll of ORWO NP 20
Found image on a roll of ORWO NP 20
Found image on a roll of ORWO NP 20
The images already on the film appear to show a couple of aspects of life in rural Germany. Judging from the haircuts and clothes of some of the younger people watching the parade, the pictures were no doubt taken some time in the 1980s.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Agfa Optima Sensor

Agfa Optima Sensor
In 1959 Agfa produced the Optima, the first 35mm camera with automatic exposure. A series of Optima models followed, and the name was continued with the Optima Sensor range, much more compact than the original Optimas. The final iteration of the cameras are those with model numbers ending with '35' in the name, with the exceptions of the flash model and the Agfa Optima Sensor.

The model pictured here is simply named 'Agfa Optima Sensor'. This is identical in design to the Optima Sensor 535, but produced by Agfa-Gevaert Portugal. It can be distinguished from the 535 by its lacking the model number on the camera's faceplate. The styling of the camera is quite distinctive. The body is metal but coated in black, which integrates the plastic parts, and its simple, clean lines are reminiscent of classic Braun products from the 1960s. Indeed, despite being around 30 years old, I've had people initially think that the camera is digital.

The Optima Sensor has a 40mm f2.8 Solitar lens, stopping down to f22. The Paratronic shutter has speeds from 1/500th to 15 seconds. As exposure is automatic (controlled by a CDS cell, located below the lens within its filter ring) in use the apertures are only selected by the ring around the lens when using a flash, while a slow shutter speed is indicated by a red LED inside the viewfinder when the shutter button is partially depressed. (There may also be an over-exposure warning LED, but I have not experienced it). ISO is set above the lens, with numbers in DIN and ASA, from 25 ASA/15 DIN to 500 ASA/28 DIN.

Top view of the camera showing focus pictograms
Focus is manual: looking down from above the camera, focus is assigned by three pictograms with click-stops: 'mountains' for infinity, 'group' at around 3.5m, and 'half-length' portrait at 1.5m. Interestingly though, on the underside of the lens there are numerical distances in both feet and metres, using which the lens can actually be focused closer than the half-length pictogram, down to 0.9m/3ft.

Underside of the lens with focus scales in metres and feet
Two of the distinctive features common to all the Optima Sensor cameras are the large shutter button and the big viewfinder with parallax indicators for close subjects. The shutter has a pleasing sound when the button is depressed, but it does have one drawback as there is no 'lock' to the shutter button. In practice its large size means it is all too easy to accidentally press the button while in its soft case. One way to avoid this is simply not to wind on the camera after taking a picture before putting it away. The Optima Sensor also features a cable release on the user's right hand side, and a tripod mount on the other side doubles as a screw fitting for the proprietary strap, Being placed on one side, this does mean the camera is mounted in a portrait format when on a tripod. Another unusual feature to the Optima Sensor cameras is that the winding lever (located around the shutter button) also functions as the rewind, once the small 'R' button next to it is depressed and turned.

View inside the opened camera
Opening up the back of the camera, the interior layout is also distinctive. The film runs from right to left, in the opposite direction from most 35mm cameras. This means that frames on the film read right to left once developed, and the frame numbers in the film rebate appear upside-down. There is also a distinctive notch on the right hand side of the frame, which comes out on the frame when developed (I am unsure as to whether this has any purpose). The film does not need to be inserted into a take-up spool: when loading, the end of the film is simply inserted into a slot in the covered chamber on the left. This has the benefit of protecting the exposed film from light if the camera is inadvertently opened while a film is inside. It also means that very little film needs to be wound out of the cassette when loading (most 35mm cameras use at least a couple of frames' worth of film to load): I'm often able to get 40 exposures out of a roll of 36exp film.

Sample shot from the Agfa Optima Sensor on FP4
Having used an SLR for most of my photography when I was younger, the convenience of a compact camera is quite appealing. Some years ago I had been given a Lomo LC-A, which had been my introduction (or perhaps reintroduction) to compact cameras, and while I appreciated its size and ease of use, I was less than enamoured with the vignetting and pincushion distortion (visible here) of the LC-A's Minitar lens. I can't recall the process which lead me to the Agfa Optima Sensor, but I bought this from a well-known auction site for all of £6, and while not quite as compact as the LC-A, in all other respects it is far superior. It isn't the most sought after in the Optima Sensor series (the 1535 model which has a rangefinder is considered - and numbered - top of the range), but it's a small, cleverly designed and reliable camera.

Sample shot on HP5 with close focus down to 0.9m
Edit 3/2/18 - further examples.

Agfa Optima Sensor with Ilford FP4 Plus, scan from print
Agfa Optima Sensor with Ilford Mark V motion picture film
Agfa Optima Sensor with Ilford FP4 Plus
Agfa Optima Sensor with Rollei Retro 100 (Agfapan APX100)
Agfa Optima Sensor with Ilford FP4 Plus pushed to 200
Agfa Optima Sensor with Superpan 200
Sources/further reading:
Optima Sensor Camera on Camera-Wiki
Agfa Optima Sensor on Collections Appareils (French)
Agfa Optima 535 (French)

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Berlin Flea Market Finds

From the Mauerpark flea market: Werra 35mm camera with ever-ready case containing part used Orwo NP20 film, €30.
From stalls opposite the Bode Museum: unbranded 9x12cm metal plate holder with film sheath, €5.
The Mauerpark Flohmarkt had a great number of German and specifically old East German cameras. The Werra has a f3.5 Novonar lens. The same stall also had a Werra with a f2.8 Tessar lens, but in much worse condition; the Werra with the Novonar lens appeared to be barely used and I haggled down from €40.
I also found a couple of 9x12 plate holders on a stall opposite the Bode Museum, one was in far better condition than the other, with a film sheath inside; for €5 it was worth adding to my stock of plate holders.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Foth Derby - Part two

Foth Derby II
Having repaired the cloth shutter to my Foth Derby, I ran a roll of Efke R100 film through it. The aspect of shooting with this camera which needs most attention to those unfamiliar with it is cocking the shutter.

Unlike more modern cameras, where the shutter is 'cocked' as a consequence of winding on the film, and so appears a seamless operation not noticed by the user, most cameras the age of the Foth Derby require the shutter to be cocked manually (the exception being rotary shutters typically found on box cameras). With leaf shutters, this is done by turning a lever on the side of the lens, a simple operation. On a focal plane shutter, cocking it involves turning a knob to wind the shutter curtains past the film gate, where they travel back at speed with a gap between them to expose the film when the shutter release is pressed.

Foth Derby shutter unit showing the pin and corresponding holes for selecting different shutter speeds.
On the Foth Derby, the knob has to be turned through three quarters before it catches. Turning this has to be done in one swift decisive movement, which takes a little practice; the springs tensioning the shutter are quite strong, and if the shutter knob slips before it's wound all the way until it catches, the shutter curtains slip backwards- potentially with a gap between them, accidentally exposing the film. On my camera, someone had cut away crudely the leather from under the shutter knob, done, I imagine, to make it easier to turn. In my restoration of the camera I painted the bare metal black to make this less obvious. My technique for cocking the shutter is to turn the camera one way while turning the knob the other. It's interasting to note that the last incarnation of the Foth Derby, the Gallus Derby-Lux had a shutter knob that stands rather more proud from the camera's top plate, making it a similar size to the winding knob.

Middlesex Hospital Chapel, Efke R100, developed in Rodinal 1:25
Site of Railway Buildings, Hackney, Efke R100, developed in Rodinal 1:25

Friday, 13 May 2011

Foth Derby

Foth Derby with f3.5 Foth Anastigmat lens
The Foth Derby is a strut-folding camera for 127 film produced by C.F. Foth of Berlin during the 1930s. Unusually for compact cameras of that date, it features a focal plane shutter with speeds of 1/25th-1/500th of a second, and 'B'. The camera pictured above is a type 2 Derby, with a Foth Anastigmat f3.5 lens, self timer and telescopic viewfinder.

I bought the camera 'as is' from a certain auction site, and it arrived in working condition, but in need of a little repair. The shutter comprises two cloth curtains, one of which had deteriorated. This was more than just a few pinholes, so I decided to disassemble the camera to see if I could remedy the problem.

Camera with lens and lensboard removed
The first step was to remove the lens, held by three screws including the long focus stop. The lens was relatively clear, and I simply separated the front and back elements for a light clean. I then removed the lens board, held on by four screws. Once the lens had been removed, it was easier to see the condition of the shutter curtains. From the front of the camera, the surface of the shutter cloth was cracked; held up against the light there were lots of pinholes. The other curtain which covers the film when the shutter is cocked was fine: possibly without a lens cap, light through the lens caused the deterioration of the one curtain, the other being rolled out of the way.

Close up showing the cracked surface of the coating on the inside of the cloth shutter curtain.
Pinholes in the shutter curtain seen against the light
I thought that the four screws that can be seen through the front of the camera might enable me to remove the shutter, but these screws hold the bellows to the shutter. Opening the back of the camera, I removed the spool holders to either side, then from the front of the camera, I unscrewed the six screws either side of the bellows, covered by the lensboard with the lens collapsed. These six screws hold the film gate and rollers around the shutter unit. Having removed this, the shutter unit was still held to the camera body by something. This was the self-timer, secured with a screw through the top plate into the shutter. Having unscrewed this I could remove the shutter.

Foth Derby disassembled
Foth Derby shutter unit
With the film gate removed, the whole of the shutter curtain was exposed. The next stage of disassembly would have been to remove the shutter curtains; however I wanted to attempt a repair without doing this if possible. For the repair I used black acrylic paint, thinned with water to the consistency of milk, which I thought would be flexible enough for occasional use. The paint was applied to the back of the curtain, i.e. on the other side of the fabric from the cracked surface, which I left as it was. There were so many holes it was simpler to paint the whole surface of the curtain. One coat of paint left some holes visible against the light, and I gave the cloth another three coats. Once the paint was dry, the shutter curtain appeared to be flatter than before, presumably the fibres of the cloth swelled with the moisture from the paint, then tightened in the process of drying.

Shutter repaired with acrylic paint
I polished both the metalwork and the leather while the camera was disassembled after gluing down some of the leather, which was peeling, and the light seals inside, then put it back together after leaving it overnight as a precaution against the fumes from the glue and polish affecting the shutter mechanism, lens or anything else.

Foth Derby continued

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

127 Format

Front: Efke R100 127 film/Back: Fomapan 200 120 film for comparison, boxes and film rolls
127 film is a paper-backed roll format, originally introduced by Kodak in 1912. In many respects similar to 120, the negative size depends on the camera:- the original 'vest-pocket' cameras took 4x6cm exposures; in the 1930s a 'half-frame' format of 4x3cm was introduced, and also a 4x4cm format for the original 'Baby' Rolleiflex, a scaled down version of the Rolleiflex. The paper backing has two sets of numbers: 1-8 for 4x6, and 1-12 for 4x4; cameras for the 4x3 format have two red windows to use the 1-8 set for sixteen exposures: the film is advanced so each number appears twice, once in each window. At the time of writing, two companies currently manufacture 127 film, Efke and Maco under the Rollei brand, and there are also colour films from Bluefire, and Maco, which are spliced from larger rolls of film.

Kodak Brownie Starmite camera, taking 127 format film
My interest in the format was piqued by the fact I had a Kodak Brownie Starmite which uses 127 film, and I had never used it. The Starmite is essentially a simple box camera with a flash unit attached. It has a fixed-focus plastic lens, a single shutter speed, and two aperture settings, marked 'Color' and 'B&W'. This was given to me years ago in its original box. There were two films in the box, Kodak Verichrome, and Efke R21, both out of date. The Efke film is obviously newer, and I doubt original to the box set, whereas perhaps the Kodak Verichrome is original. As I don't collect cameras just for the sake of collecting, I wanted to use the camera before disposing of it and I didn't want to use the old films in the box just to test it, so I bought some Efke R100.

Efke R100 test roll shot in Kodak Brownie Starmite

The resultant photographs are typical of a cheap box camera: the lens is fairly sharp in the middle, but with the focus falling off at the corners. Interestingly, the Starmite has a curving film plane, which I imagine is designed to reduce this effect. A couple of the other images on the film show that the film wasn't always kept tight to the film plane, as evidenced by the wobbly edges to the film rebate. I haven't been able to find out anything about the 'Dakon' lens that the Starmite is fitted with, but I imagine it is of the meniscus type.

One can speculate as to why the 127 format has survived this long, with no new cameras made for 127 film since c.1970, whereas other film formats which were used in greater volumes more recently have quickly become obsolete, most notably the two 'easy-load' formats aimed at consumers, 126 and 110. The overriding reason appears to be the higher quality of cameras made for 127 film, as opposed to 126 and 110 (with the exception of the Pentax 110 SLR): cameras for these formats were generally (like the Brownie Starmite) simple point-and-shoot snapshot cameras. In the 1950s there was a resurgence in the format with the second version of the Rollei 'Baby' Rolleiflex, and a whole series of Japanese TLR cameras following the Yashica 44, which were essentially scaled down version of medium format cameras, using lenses, shutters and other components of comparable quality, hence the use of 'Baby' to refer to these cameras.

Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/18 - Baby Ikonta camera
I subsequently bought a Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/18 folding camera- otherwise known as the 'Baby Ikonta', a 127 version of the original Ikonta. Dating from the 1930s, this camera has a Compur-Rapid shutter and a Novar f3.5 lens (the top of the range has a Tessar lens). When folded the camera is comparable in size to a modern digital compact, easily pocketable, yet produces a negative nearly twice the size of a standard 35mm frame. Having shot a couple of rolls of film with the camera, I noticed that despite the film backing having 8 numbers Efke R100 has 18 numbers in the film rebate, and quite a lot of film either end of the sequence of negatives. It was very easy to shoot a 17th frame on the Baby Ikonta, simply by an extra 3/4 turn on the winding knob after the final number on the film backing (I used the words 'Made in Germany' on the knob to check the position: looking at the letter at the 12 o'clock position, I turned this to 9 o'clock to shoot the final frame). It would be less easy to shoot an 18th frame, simply as this would mean taking a shot before lining up the first number on the film backing with the first red window.

Test roll from Baby Ikonta 127 folding camera, Efke R100,
developed in Rodinal 1:50, 12m30s at 18 degrees C.
Sources/references/further information: