Friday, 20 December 2013

Twenty Years Since

Twenty years ago I received my first SLR camera, a secondhand Praktica BC1, as a Christmas present. I'd had a Halina point-and-shoot camera for three or four years, which, although I used it avidly, provided fairly indifferent results. At the time, Prakticas were much cheaper than any other secondhand SLR cameras (I don't recall seeing Zenits around then) and the price differential was greater than it is now. What had provoked the desire for an SLR camera was, as a student at the time, a couple of months earlier I'd had a basic introduction to photography as part of my Foundation course in art and design.

For this introduction to photography, I shared a camera and a roll of film with four other students. I was first to have the camera and shot five full frames on the start of the roll of film. I did write notes in my sketchbook at the time, but did not make a note of either the camera used (a manual SLR, possibly a Pentax K1000) or the film (Fuji 400-PR in the rebate), or the developer (probably ID11). The photographs were shot during my lunchbreak before I handed the camera to the next student to use it. When thinking about writing this post, I couldn't remember the details of this introduction, but as I kept a diary at the time I've been able to look back at it. I had forgotten was that I was the demonstrator for the rest of the students: the photography technician had his arm in a sling, so I had to sit at the front of the class and demonstrate how to load film on a developing spiral, then load the film into a developing tank in the dark, and finally develop it while the technician explained the stages involved.

Sketchbook page, October 1993
I suspect the reason I was chosen to be the demonstrator that day was three years earlier, as part of GSCE Modular science, in a module on photography we shot and developed a roll of film with the basic darkroom we had at school. For the GCSE project, we used a rangefinder camera, and I particularly remember the rangefinder spot as a diamond, and that it seemed an arcane way to focus. I haven't been able to find the original negatives from 23 years ago, but I did later make a contact sheet (below), which shows that the film was Ilford HP5- before the 'Plus' version which was launched in 1989. I don't recall the results impressing me very much at the time, but it's possible that I retained enough of what we had done then to pick me out to demonstrate to the other students three years later.

GCSE Modular Science contact sheet from 1990
I kept my first prints from the Foundation course introduction in the sketchbook. From those precious five negatives, I printed three of them during the afternoon of the introduction, and below is the first print I made. I wrote in my diary that I was 'almost impressed' by my results and that I would 'definitely do more photography'.

Sketchbook page with my first print
The first black and white film that I shot and developed with the Praktica BC1 (actually the second film through the camera, the first had been a colour film to document a college project set over the holiday) was also for a college project. We had been given an number of words to make work in response to, and two of these that I chose were 'form' and 'analysis'. For 'form' I took a number of photographs of torsos of Greek sculpture in the British Museum and contrasted these with the trunks of trees (new scans of the negatives below). 'Analysis' gave me an opportunity to take photographs of housing being demolished along the route of the M11 link road (now the A12), which I passed on the Central Line while travelling to college every day. I continued to take photographs along the route for the rest of my course, and have collected these together as the M11 Link Road Archive.

Tree study, Praktica BC1 with Ilford HP5 Plus
Torso, Praktica BC1 with Ilford HP5 Plus
The Praktica BC1 didn't last very long: the shutter got stuck after four months, and it wasn't worth repairing (the camera cost £50, and I was quoted £60 to repair it), but I was able to buy a new body, a BCA, for £26 and keep the original 50mm lens. I used the Praktica BCA all through my following degree course and afterwards, until I bought a Canon A-1 when I first began to make some money from commissions and selling work a few years after leaving college.

Monday, 9 December 2013

127 Day - Winter 2013

Canalside Properties, Baby Ikonta, Ilford FP4
For last Saturday's 127 Day, I retraced my steps from last year, walking around the perimeter of the London 2012 Olympic Park. On this year's July 127 Day, I had used the last of my 'new' 127 format films, and also shot 35mm film cut and rolled to 127 backing paper. Since then, I'd bought a couple of expired films, one roll of Macophot UP 100 with a "develop before" date of 1/2004, and a roll of Ilford FP4 from December 1976. I had previously used 127 FP4 with a similar date with good results two years ago. I also had a roll of 828 Verichrome Pan (with a develop before date of August 1977) which I had removed from its backing paper and backed with 127 paper. 828 was one of Kodak's numerous film formats from the early 20th century, and was made well into the 1980s; the format uses unperforated 35mm film. I'd used old Verichrome Pan on a few occasions before, with mixed results. All three films were shot with the Baby Ikonta. The FP4 and Verichrome Pan films were stand developed, while the Macophot UP 100 film was developed according to the Massive Dev Chart recommendations. Of the three films, the FP4 was clearly the best, despite being the oldest film. Other than some pinholing, the film probably could have been shot at box speed, rather than at 50, which was what I rated all three films at to compensate for age.

Car Park, Baby Ikonta, Macophot UP 100
Drapers Field, Baby Ikonta, Macophot UP 100
The Macophot UP 100 had noticeably more fog, and a patterning which appears to have come from the backing paper: while hanging up after developing, I could also see the numbering from the backing paper, but this cleared on drying (this has been a manufacturing problem with a number of films in recent years). Additionally, both the Macophot UP 100 and Verichrome Pan films both had a very pronounced curl, while the FP4 was no worse than 120 film would be.

Verichrome Pan
The Verichrome Pan film had a patterning from the backing paper showing rather more than on the Macophot film and also suffered a little from light leaks. As 828 film is fairly short, this provided 12 images on the film rather than the 16 or 17 frames from conventional 127 film; the image above is from the very end of the roll with holes from the film clip for hanging.

At the end of the day, to finish the Ilford FP4 film, I returned to shoot a couple of the night photographs from two years ago, although I couldn't exactly match the second image below due to continuing work around London's Olympic site.

London 2012 Olympic Park, Baby Ikonta, Ilford FP4
A106 Eastway, Baby Ikonta, Ilford FP4

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Welta Weltini II

Weltini II with f2.8 50mm Schneider Kreuznach Xenar lens in Compur shutter
When Kodak introduced the daylight-loading 35mm cartridge in 1934 it helped to popularise the use of 35mm film for still photography. Many camera manufacturers soon produced cameras inspired by Kodak's Retina, the first camera designed for the 35mm cartridge. As the Retina was designed and built in Germany by the Nagel cameraworks in Stuttgart (acquired by Kodak in 1931), it is perhaps unsurprising that many of the early 35mm cameras inspired by the Retina were produced by Nagel's German competitors such as Certo, Balda and Welta.

Welta's 35mm cameras closely follow the development of the Retina. The first Retina model was scale-focused but was soon followed in 1936 by the Retina II, a rangefinder version. A year behind Kodak AG, Welta brought out the scale-focused 35mm Welti in 1935, and a rangefinder version, called the Weltini, in 1937. My Weltini is the second version, which although not given a different name by the manufacturers, is generally referred to as the Weltini II to distinguish the camera from the original model. The Weltini cameras were closely based on the Welti, and used the some of the same components, notably the body itself, a design decision undertaken for the economics of production. As a result of fitting the rangefinder to the Welti body, the camera is in essence turned upside down, meaning the Weltini opens from the opposite side, the advance and rewind knobs are on the camera's bottom plate, the shutter release is on the left, and the film runs left to right inside the camera (which means that the negatives read right to left in sequence, in reverse to most 35mm cameras). The left-handedness of the Weltini also seems to extend to the frame counter reset and rewind release, small levers on the back of the camera most easily operated with the thumb of the left hand. The Weltini II greatly redesigned the first version's 'bolted on' look, streamlining the whole top plate (providing space for a depth of field scale), reducing the bottom plate's profile. Some minor changes to the Weltini II also occurred during production: the body release was redesigned, the stand for vertical images was changed to fold in the other direction and the shutter release was given a sharper rim. The picture below shows the Weltini next to a Weltix, a cheaper version of the Welti.

Welta Weltix (left) and Weltini
My Weltini came with a non-working shutter, a Compur-Rapid which had the cable release socket missing, so presumably had been used to donate components to repair another shutter. I subsequently bought the Weltix camera which had a working Compur shutter with a Steinheil Cassar f2.9 lens. The Weltini had a Schneider Kreuznach Xenar f2.8 lens with a rather neat serial number: 120000 (dating it to December 1937). My intention was to simply swap the shutters, but I soon discovered that although similar, the linkages to the shutter release are different, which meant that simply replacing the non-working Compur-Rapid with the Compur shutter would mean having to use the Weltini with a cable release, or just tripping the release lever where the linkage is attached to the shutter - not uncommon to cameras from the first half of the 20th century - but the bottom folding strut is positioned just in the right place to make this difficult.

As a result of having to open the shutters and forcibly remove the linkage and release mechanism from the rest of the components (best left to those with more experience), in my clumsy attempt to put the shutters back together I didn't do a very good job on the Compur - although not tested for accuracy, the only speeds that sound near to being accurate are at 1/100th and 1/300th, which, although the Weltini camera is now working, does limit its use.

Weltini II, showing advance and rewind knobs.
The advance release button is just discernible against the gunmetal where the paint is worn away.
Having shot some film in the camera, with all the constraints of the shutter speeds taken into consideration, the Weltini is undeniably awkward in use. The nearest comparison I can make is to my Kodak Retina IIa, although it's not a fair one as the Retina IIa is a later camera, evolved from the original and contemporary Retina II rangefinder. However, thanks to the Weltini's construction, operation of the camera isn't all that smooth, mainly due to the advance knob being on the underside of the camera. There is small flat button under the lens which releases the film advance for each frame (this interlock requires the sprockets inside to be turned, either with film or manually), and when in the Weltini's ever-ready case, which has parts cut out specifically to use these controls, they are quite small and not instinctively easy to access. To add to this, the advance lever feels like it should naturally turn in the other direction than it does. One advance over the Retina is that the Weltini has a lever which resets the focus of the lens to infinity automatically while closing, and closed, the elegant design of the Weltini II's rangefinder housing and low profile advance and rewind knobs do make for a fairly smooth, if heavy, pocketable camera. For its aesthetics, I wanted to like the Weltini more than I did. Perhaps a left-handed photographer would find the Weltini II a more instinctive fit.

Sample image from Weltini II on Ilford FP4
Sample image from Weltini II on Ilford Ilfodata HS23

Sample image from Weltini II on Ilford Mark V Motion Picture film
Sources/further reading: