Thursday, 27 September 2018

Ilford XP2 Super - Part One

Ilford XP2 Super, shot on XP2 Super, 35mm and medium format 
XP2 SUPER is a chromogenic film. This means that the dyes which make up the image are formed during development rather than being present in the film or added later. The extremely wide exposure latitude of XP2 SUPER is the result of the unique relationship between exposure and grain in chromogenic films. The best balance of sharpness and grain is obtained when XP2 SUPER is exposed at EI 400/27. However, down-rated or overexposed XP2 SUPER negatives have finer grain, the opposite of that expected and obtained with conventional films. Up-rated or underexposed XP2 SUPER negatives have only a slight loss in quality. Furthermore, standard C41 processing is recommended for the whole of the exposure range.
Ilford XP2 Super data sheet
At some point over the last four decades, all the big four film manufacturers marketed chromogenic black and white films: Agfapan Vario XL was the first such film, followed by Ilford with XP1; Kodak produced BW400CN and Fuji had Neopan 400CN (although this film itself is made in Europe with  Ilford being involved in its manufacture). The reasons that chromogenic black and white films were developed surround the simple logistics of standardised C41 negative processing: once this infrastructure was established - the typical high street one hour photo - the rationale for a black and white film which could be processed in this way was clear. Chromogenic films had an appeal to two distinct types of customers: for the amateur, wanting to use black and white but unwilling to either pay the premium for black and white processing or endure the wait while the film to sent to a specialist lab; for professionals, the film could be developed alongside colour negative film and lab prints from chromogenic film could be treated as proofs for later bespoke printing by hand in a darkroom. In some respects, XP2 Super's distinct features - C41 processing and wide latitude - make it an ideal choice for someone wanting to shoot black and white film for the first time. Ilford XP1 400 was announced at Photokina in 1980, a year after Agfapan Vario XL, and a year after Ilford's centenary. The first version had its own chemistry as well as being able to be processed in standard C41 chemicals. XP2 succeeded XP1 in 1991; the film was "updated" with no name change in 1996; and it reached the current iteration of Ilford XP2 Super twenty years ago this year in 1998. The Super suffix for XP2 would appear to be the equivalent of the 'Plus' versions of HP5 and FP4.

Although of any particular film stock HP5 Plus is almost certainly the film I've used more than any other, Ilford XP2 Super may be the one film I used most intensely, for a number of years when I didn't have access to a darkroom and did not develop at home: I used it as my standard black and white film, mostly through the early 2000s. Since returning to developing negatives myself, I've not used XP2 very much, but, at the end of last year, I bought a brick of 10 24-exposure rolls of 35mm XP2 Super at a clearance price due to being out-dated. The films were dated September 2016 - and as it was then only a year out of date, I've made no adjustments in exposure to compensate for age - and these films were priced at £1.50 per roll, and even though this was closer to £2 each with postage, this was still very economical, and I had no doubt that the age of the film would be as close as negligible in terms of its results.

Ilford XP2 Super latitude test contact sheet (C41 process)
One of Ilford's claims for XP2 Super is that it has exceptional latitude and can be exposed at a range of exposure indexes with no adjustment in processing times:
XP2 SUPER film has a speed rating of ISO 400/27° (400ASA, 27DIN, EI 400/27) to daylight. [...] Although rated at ISO 400/27°, XP2 SUPER can be exposed over the range EI 50/18–800/30. When higher speed is needed, XP2 SUPER can be rated at up to EI 800/30. For finer grain, when speed is less important, rate the film at EI 200/24, although for finest grain it can be rated as low as EI 50/18 if required.
Although I had used XP2 Super a great deal in the past, I hadn't made any kind of systematic tests at the time. Like other films written about on this blog, for this post, I wanted to make some tests as to the film's capabilities, and I began with a latitude test. I shot a roll of XP2 Super with two sequences of six frames rated at exposure indexes rated 50/100/200/400/800/1600. The rest of the roll was rated at 200 and this was processed professionally with C41 development. The results of the tests on this post were scanned; a more comprehensive set of tests would include darkroom printing, but the scanned negatives should provide some relatively comparable results.

Ilford XP2 Super rated EI 50
The suggestion from Ilford's data sheet with regards to the relationship of density to fineness of grain does appear to hold true: I've never had a reason to rate XP2 as low as EI 50 before, but the frames so rated have a smoothness to them that might seem surprising for a 400 ISO film. This is apparently due to the way that the dye clouds which replace the silver in processing overlap. In practice, however XP2 Super is rated, this does have the effect that the grain is finder in overexposed areas, while the grain is more pronounced in the shadow areas, the opposite effect to the case with traditional black and white negative film, where denser areas provide more visible grain. One aspect of this unique peculiarity makes XP2 Super particularly good at rendering skies in landscapes with much smoother tones than one might achieve with a similar speed conventional black and white film, for example. However, when rated at an exposure index of 50 or 100 it appears there is some compression of the tonal range; the date sheet has a curve with a very shallow shoulder. In addition, it would appear that rating the film for 'finest grain' is at the expense of sharpness; this may seem counter-intuitive, but, on consideration, a denser negative would logically be less sharp than a thinner one, though how great a difference one might perceive in a print or scan is not something I've tested for here.

Ilford XP2 Super rated EI 800
At the other end of the exposure scale, grain appears to become apparent in the mid-tones through to the shadows when rated at EI 800, but squeezing an extra stop from the film in low light conditions without any change to processing - and on the same roll as frames exposed at different ratings - is potentially very useful. Ilford do not recommend push processing with Ilford XP2 Super, and I have not test the feasibility of this with C41 processing. However the frames rated EI 1600 displayed quite a pronounced grain, which my tests, looks quite visually unappealing - unlike some traditional black and white films, where the visual texture of the film grain adds something to the image, rather than detracts.

Ilford XP2 Super rated EI 1600
The remainder of this test roll I shot at EI 200, and this became my standard practice when available light allowed while shooting a number of rolls of XP2 Super subsequent to making the latitude test.

Ilford XP2 Super, rated EI 200
One aspect of the film that I was keen to test for this post was the difference between processing XP2 Super as intended by C41, and compare this to XP2 Super developed using traditional black and white chemicals. For this second latitude test, I used the same camera (a Canon A-1) and the same ratings of 50/100/200/400/800/1600 for two successive series of six shots. Again, the remainder of the roll was shot at a rating of EI 200. Ilford does not recommend using black and white chemicals to process XP2, but, like any film, it's based on a silver negative: as with a colour negative film, the developed silver is then bleached and replaced by dyes; unlike a colour negative, of course, there's only one layer. Therefore, there's no reason that it cannot be developed as a black and white negative, but it is not intended for this and so it may not necessarily give the best results - which was something I wanted to test (and unless otherwise stated all the images on this post were from C41 processed negatives). I have previously used stand development with Rodinal with XP2, a good all-round method for developing almost any film, but there are listings on the Massive Dev Chart for a standard small tank development routine with intermittent agitation. The listing for Rodinal is given as 18 minutes at 20ºC at a dilution of 1+25.

Ilford XP2 Super latitude test contact sheet (developed in RO9)
In the event, for the test roll in black and white chemicals, I developed the film for two minutes longer at a degree cooler in temperature. With the two latitude tests, I printed contact sheets on variable contrast paper without a contrast filter, with the result that these would be the equivalent of using grade 2 paper. The difference between the use of black and white chemicals and C41 processing was immediately clear: with black and white chemicals the film's contrast is notably greater, and its latitude appears less. In both tests, the frames rated 1600, two stops underexposed, shadow detail appears to dramatically drop off, but this was even more marked with the film developed in RO9. One final note on the differences, interestingly, is that there appears to be less base fog with black and white chemicals, which may increase the overall contrast. Further, I did not try push-processing in black and white chemicals (as with C41 development) due in part to the already long development times.

Ilford XP2 Super, rated EI 50, developed with RO9
Scanning the negatives developed in RO9, one issue I had was that the density in the highlight areas resulted in noise, which, while distinct from the grain itself, made it difficult to assess the appearance of grain when developed in traditional black and white chemicals. It was immediately obvious that the particular characteristics of XP2 Super are as a direct result of being developed by the C41 process: in black and white chemicals the results are fairly unremarkable. However, some of the images that were rated at EI 200 rather than box speed still had a relatively smooth, fine-grained appearance, and possibly, if not developing XP2 Super as colour negative, this procedure might give the best results.

Ilford XP2 Super, rated EI 200, developed with RO9
Other black and white developers will also work with XP2 Super: the Massive Dev Chart has a limited list. One developer that I use frequently not on the list is Ilfotec LC29; I've only used this for one roll of Ilford XP2 (not Super, it had a 'develop before' date of Nov 1996) and made a calculated guess of a dilution of 1+29 with a time of 14 minutes at 18ºC. This worked well enough but I would want to make more tests with Ilfotec LC29 before recommending it with these times and dilutions.

Voigtländer Avus with Ilford XP2 (6x9 medium format) developed in Ilfotec LC29
In terms of XP2 Super's specific characteristics with C41 processing, its latitude can sometimes produce images which appear 'flat' with a fairly straight print or scan, that is without increasing the contrast - or other manipulation such as dodging and burning. The contact sheet of the C41-processed  latitude test film above shows this, especially when compared to the black and white processed film. This latitude is a benefit when shooting scenes with a wide range subject brightness range: it's especially good for maintaining detail in skies for example. The image below has fairly good modelling in the clouds, which, although obscuring the sun, were brightly lit against the overcast landscape of burnt grass, and, with a small amount of digital burning in (only useful if the detail is there to begin with), has the sort of effect one might perhaps achieve with a light yellow filter. In low-light scenes like night time urban settings, which often have isolated highlights and deep shadow areas, XP2 Super does seem to be quite good at managing these wide variations in illumination (it does suffer reciprocity law failure, but the night shots on this post were taken handheld, without long exposures; also, I haven't made accurate comparisons between C41 and RO9 processing for such subjects).

Voigtländer Bessa RF (6x9 medium format) with Ilford XP2 Super
Zenit 11 with Ilford XP2 Super
When Kodak announced that BW400CN was to be discontinued in 2014, Ilford took the opportunity to produce a comparison sheet. One of the obvious advantages of Ilford's chromogenic film over Kodak's always was that it was available in medium format as well as 35mm (it is also now available in single use cameras; XP2 was once available in sheet film but this was one format I have neither seen or used). The other notable points of comparison are XP2 Super's wide exposure range: the sheet gives BW400CN as "400 – Not specified in technical data". In addition, BW400CN was coated onto a standard colour negative orange base, which one might imagine to be less than ideal for printing on black and white variable contrast paper, as well as for scanning. Ilford's film has a pink base, which varies in intensity depending on wash times - some of my negatives look almost clear or at least a light grey without much discernible colour, while others are quite pink. Ilford XP2 Super has a fairly distinct place in the film market now, a niche which it shares with Fuji Neopan 400CN (which, although not confirmed by Ilford, is, according to some, the same emulsion). One would hope that its distinct characteristics should mean that XP2 Super has a place in Ilford's range of films for the foreseeable future.

Belomo Agat 18K with Ilford XP2 Super
Praktica nova I with Ilford XP2 Super developed in RO9 One Shot
Lomo LCA with Ilford XP2 Super
Zenit 11 with Ilford XP2 Super
Kiev-4 with Ilford XP2 Super
Kiev-4 with Ilford XP2 Super developed in Fomadon RO9
Canon A-1 with Ilford XP2 Super (scan from lab print)
Canon A-1 with Ilford XP2 Super
Canon A-1 with Ilford XP2 Super developed in Fomadon RO9
Wallace Heaton Zodel camera (rollfilm back with 6x4.5 mask), Ilford XP2 Super
Voigtländer Bessa RF (6x9 medium format) with Ilford XP2 Super
Sources/further reading
Ilford XP2 Super data sheet
XP2 Super/BW400CN comparison sheet
In Praise of XP2 Super - Richard Pickup
Ilford XP2 - an under-appreciated film - The Web Darkroom
How to shoot Ilford XP2 Super - The Online Photographer
Ilford XP2 Super in Black & White Chemistry - Christopher Moss

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

127 Day Summer 2018

Kodak Brownie 127 with Ilford FP4 Plus
Of all the camera-themed days on the contemporary film photography calendar, 127 Day is the one I observe most often, and not just due to it appearing three times a year in its different iterations. I used the Kodak Brownie 127 for last week's version. The camera came with three rolls of film, two unexposed (the third, which had been exposed, I had previously developed and posted under Found Film 4). I had intended to use the two unexposed films on the day, both probably around forty years old. One was wrapped in its original inner packaging, which had the Kodak logotype and gave me hope that it might just be Verichrome Pan, but it was simply another roll of Kodacolor II once unwrapped; the other roll had its sealing band intact which was in German and English and had the letters 'CN S' and the film speed given as 20 DIN/80 ASA, but no other indication of what film this was.

I shot this film first, which was a misjudgment on my part. After shooting all eight frames, on reaching the end of the roll, advancing the film became very stiff - and in attempting to force the advance knob on the camera to turn, this broke. The knob is plastic, but sits on a square-section metal spindle, and the plastic was brittle enough for two sides of its square cap to break off entirely. The cause of the resistance I felt when advancing the film was the fact that the backing paper had rusted to the original metal spool. The rust suggested that, as the film was unwrapped, at the very least humidity had got to the roll, not promising much for the photographs I'd just shot.

Agfacolor Special backing paper
Information on the 'exposed' sealing band identified the roll as Agfacolor Special (the 'CN S' standing for 'Colour Negative Special'; Agfa introduced this film in 1968 and it was replaced by CNS II in 1975 according to the Agfa Colour page on Photomemorabilia). Due to its age, I stand developed the film black and white chemicals. As the Kodak Brownie 127 has no means of adjusting exposure, there was little I could do to compensate for the age of the film; only one image registered on the film sufficiently to scan it: I had pointed the camera directly at the sun mitigated by haze and a passing lower cloud. This image showed up as a faint positive on the film, not a negative as I had expected; this may just be the fact that with the film having a very dark base that did not clear on fixing, the negative density was sufficient to show up against this, very much as the principle behind the tintype.

Kodak Brownie 127 with Agfacolor Special
Having unloaded the Agfacolor film, avoiding the Kodacolor roll, I loaded the camera with cut-down Ilford FP4 Plus; there was just enough purchase with the broken advance knob to wind the film through the camera, though this became increasingly difficult as the film ran through the camera, and I had to put more force on the knob: each time this slipped, rather than turn the metal spindle, the plastic was abraded against the metal. As it was late afternoon into the early evening when I shot the roll of FP4 Plus, in development, I pushed the film one stop to compensate, which mostly worked well, even providing some shadow detail in one interior shot I made.

Kodak Brownie 127 with Ilford FP4 Plus
I risked one final roll, some cut-down Ilford HP5 Plus. Shooting this inside, in moderately low-lighting conditions, I pushed the film three stops on development; this gave rather underexposed images, as I had thought might be the case, but these had just enough information to scan them. The problems with advancing the film with the broken knob had become bad enough that I only shot four frames before I was unable to advance the film any further.

Kodak Brownie 127 with Ilford HP5 Plus
In hindsight, both the old colour negative 127 films would have been better saved for a camera in which I could adjust aperture and shutter speed to increase exposure, compensating for the loss of sensitivity with the age of the films; I might not then have broken the film advance on the Kodak Brownie 127, and, perhaps, I might have found myself with a better set of photographs from the day.

Kodak Brownie 127 with Ilford FP4 Plus
Kodak Brownie 127 with Ilford FP4 Plus
Kodak Brownie 127 with Ilford FP4 Plus
Kodak Brownie 127 with Ilford HP5 Plus
Kodak Brownie 127 with Ilford HP5 Plus

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Kodak Brownie 127

Kodak Brownie 127
The first Brownie camera was introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1900 and continued to be used by the company for inexpensive snapshot cameras right through most of the twentieth century, into the 1980s, almost as successful a brand name as Kodak itself, the name of George Eastman's first box camera model. The initial Brownie cameras were simple box-type constructions, and the No.2 Brownie introduced 120 medium format rollfilm still in use today; 127 format rollfilm accompanied the Vest Pocket Kodak just over a decade later, and a Brownie No.0 for 127 film followed a couple of years later. Several 127 format Brownies were produced during the following decades as cardboard gave way to metal and then plastic for the bodies of snapshot cameras, and although the use of plastics allowed for the shape of cameras to change, in essence the topography of the snapshot camera remained that of the simple box with a lens and just the two moving parts, the shutter and the film transport. The Kodak 'Brownie' 127 is one of these cameras, first made in 1952. It was made in the UK by Kodak Ltd and produced in millions of units (and as such is very easy to find today). My version here is the second model, first made in 1959, and produced for about four years (it is also the camera which came with a roll of exposed Kodacolor II film that I developed and posted under 'Found Film 4'). This second model is distinguished from the first version by having narrow vertical ribs on the body, whereas the first has broad and shallow horizontal steps; the second version also gives the lens the 'Dakon' name - in design terms, this appears to be a simple plastic meniscus lens. The second model was also produced in white in limited numbers for the Channel Islands, although this apparently discoloured easily; examples of the standard black model's shutter button and advance knob are often seen as a yellow-cream colour, which may be discolouring with age and, presumably, exposure to light, but on my example these are still a light grey. Two years after the second version was discontinued, a third camera with the same name was produced by Kodak Ltd, but the image format was changed to take twelve 4x4cm negatives on a 127 roll, rather than the eight 6x4cm frames of the previous two models. This last model was being made at the same time that Kodak's 126 cartridge was supplanting the 127 rollfilm for snapshot cameras; perhaps the change to the square format was not unrelated in the last Kodak Brownie 127.

Kodak Brownie 127
According to information available online, the Dakon lens has a focal length of 65mm and an aperture of f11 (provided by a stop behind the lens); the shutter speed given by the manual is "around" 1/50th (some sights give this as 1/40th). In comparison to the first model, the second has a slightly faster lens (f11 compared to f14), which may possibly be indicative of the growing popularity of colour film as the 1950s gave way to the 1960s. The lens is fixed focus and slightly wide angle for the 6x4cm format, designed to provide in-focus images from five feet to infinity, a "three-quarter length portrait" as described in the manual.

Kodak Brownie 127 opening for loading
The camera loads by removing the top section, to which the chassis that holds the film is attached, with a metal lock on the bottom; looking at the way the camera is constructed, the body is made from three pieces of Bakelite, possibly four, with the underside of the viewfinder being a separate piece inserted underneath the film carrier section. There is closely-spaced ribbing inside the As with many a camera using a cheap meniscus lens, the film path is curved (as can be seen in the image above) to compensate for its limitations, although these are still clearly evident towards the corners of photographs taken with the camera. The shutter, as seen in the detail below, is very similar to the shutter on the original Brownie camera of nearly sixty years earlier, as seen on my post for the No.2. The round shutter button on the camera top depresses the semi-circular tab as seen below, which first tensions, then releases the shutter; the arm which connects both springs then caps the shutter as it returns once pressure is removed from the button.

Kodak Brownie 127 shutter
As standard for a 127 camera of the time, the camera has a red window on the back for the frame numbers on the back of the film, without a cover as became more common with rollfilm cameras post-war. The viewfinder is placed centrally over the lens, meaning that parallax should only be present in one axis; with subjects being in focus from five feet or more such issues should be relatively negligible, within the parameters one might expect from a snapshot camera. It is oddly deep however, running the depth of the camera from front to back, which means that the viewfinder image, although clear, looks far away when put to the eye.

The Kodak Brownie 127 was supplemented with a handful of accessories. The body has strap lugs, and it came with a cord as a matter of course. There was a soft case for it with a shoulder strap; being squared-off in comparison to the camera body, there's plenty of room in the corners of the case for rolls of film. There were also push-fit filters and a lens hood. There was a 'portrait' close-up filter and yellow 'cloud' filter. The filter size is 28.5mm.

The choice of Bakelite as a material for camera bodies was motivated by the fact that the plastic can be easily moulded - giving rise to the Art Deco-influenced bodies of the first generation plastic cameras - and the fact that it can be sawn, drilled, machined in a number of ways. One of its drawbacks however is its relative brittleness: the top part of my camera has two chips either side of the squared-off front section, and as the raised rim the functions as a light trap is farly short, in use I've taped over the gaps as a precaution against light leaks.

Wanting to use the Kodak Brownie 127 for July's 127 Day, I tested the camera with a few short rolls of cut-down film, using the film slitter that I'd made for the purpose. There's a certain amount of distortion which is most obvious in subjects with horizontals and verticals, as below, but the illumination across the picture plane is surprisingly good, although definition falls off towards the corners and the edges

Kodak Brownie 127 with Ilford HP5 Plus
The lens is no doubt set at a hyperfocal distance, and although claims for focus and depth of field with snapshot cameras are often exaggerated, a focus distance of five feet appears to hold true, as in the shot below. Unlike the photograph above, framing the subject with the lines at diagonals hides most of the distortion.

Kodak Brownie 127 with Ilford HP5 Plus
One often reads online in comments on box cameras that one should use slower films with them as these are the kind of emulsions that were around at the time, and were what the cameras were designed for. As I've written about before, this reasoning is simplistic at best. Using faster, modern emulsions expands the range of conditions that a simple snapshot camera such as the Kodak Brownie 127, but I was gratified to read the advice in the manual which states that the camera should be used with Verichrome Pan in the summer - and Tri-X for "dull winter days" - however, it warns to use colour film in "bright sunshine only", as would have been appropriate for the slow colour films at the time. In my tests, I used Ilford HP5 Plus in sunlight, without pull-processing, and the latitude of the film provided perfectly usable results. I also shot some FP4 Plus, and some 35mm Ilford Mark V, which I've been rating between 25-50; this film was too slow for shadow detail as in the first image below, but gave reasonable results in full sunlight. In researching the Kodak Brownie 127 for this post, I came across a webpage documenting an exhibition titled 'Only the Sunny Hours' from just last month curated by Cally Trench in which Kodak Brownie 127 cameras were given to a number of contemporary artists to get their responses. The test describes the camera being "so familiar to us, having been so ubiquitous" having been used by "a younger self or an older relative". This isn't my own personal experience (this would be the Kodak Instamatic, which followed on from the discontinuation of the second model Kodak Brownie 127); however, the first paragraph of the text below could well be applied to the found photographs that I developed from the camera - the "relatives lined up in the garden" and an apposite sentiment on which to close this post:
"The Kodak Brownie 127 camera, like a sundial, works best in bright sunlight. Sundials usually have mottoes; a typical one is ‘I tell only the sunny hours’, and this would be a good motto for a Brownie 127 too. According to my family photograph album, my childhood was a series of sunny days by the seaside or in the garden. We spent no time indoors, and there was no winter and no night. Many of these photographs show relatives lined up in the garden [...]. Everyone looks directly at the camera, warned and fully aware that they are to be photographed, their expressions composed, eyes fixed open, waiting for the button to click.
Does it matter that the photographs in this project were taken on a Brownie 127? Photography, more than any art form, often seems to need a context, a title, an explication. We want to know who, when and where. We are unwilling to accept a photograph as universal. It matters if the location is Glyndebourne or Strood, whether the sitter is Napoleon’s younger brother in 1856 (the photograph with which Barthes opens Camera Lucida), or myself as a child in 1962. So, yes, it is significant that these photographs were taken with simple vintage cameras using film, because these things affect not just the photographs that are made but also how they are received by viewers."
Cally Trench, Only the Sunny Hours 
Kodak Brownie 127 with 35mm Ilford Mark V
Kodak Brownie 127 with 35mm Ilford Mark V
Kodak Brownie 127 with Ilford FP4 Plus
Kodak Brownie 127 with Ilford HP5 Plus

Sources/further reading:
Kodak_Brownie_127 on Camera Wiki
Brownie-Camera page on the Kodak Brownie 127 model II
Onetwosevenorg on the Kodak Brownie 127
Kodak Brownie 127 (model II) manual (PDF)
Fantastic plastic: Moments from a Kodak Brownie 127 Raymond Parker Photo
Kodak Brownie 127 on CameraShiz
Cally Trench, Only the Sunny Hours

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Micro 110

Micro 110 with coin box and key chain
The Micro 110, like many a plastic toy or novelty camera, has little evidence pointing to its origin. There's no markings on the camera itself other than the name. There are a number of small, plastic 110 cameras with very similar designs under a number of different names; the model here as the Micro 110 was also sold with a 'Gemstar' nameplate, and, inevitably, there are promotional variants - Kellogs and Kitkat versions both appear online. There are versions of the Micro 110 with a number of small differences, from the name/faceplate, to cameras with a small central point in the viewfinder frame, cameras where the top plate covers both sides of the 110 cartridge, and one-sided variants which fold down to be even more compact. Contemporary versions of this camera appear under Powershovel Ltd's Superheadz brand, no doubt trading on the resurgence of the 110 film format after it was resurrected by Lomography. Haking made a Halina Micro 110 camera, larger than this Micro 110 camera, enclosing more of the 110 cartridge, but perhaps the progenitor of the general design. Its ancestor is undoubtedly the Hit camera of the late 1940s-1950s, thousands of which would have been given as novelty gifts, and many of which were never used to take photographs.

Micro 110
There's very little to say about the Micro 110's specifications: as the name indicates, it takes 110 cartridge film and the camera's body encloses only the central section of the 110 cartridge while its top section extends to one side to connect to the cartridge's film advance gearwheel. This means that the cartridge is loaded upside down relative to its normal orientation - the film advance wheel is on the front of the camera to the user's right hand side, with its gearwheel directly underneath this. There is a sticker on the back of the camera to this effect. The back of the camera is hinged for loading, and is held in place once closed by a small tab on the camera's underside. The camera has a fixed-focus, fixed-aperture meniscus lens, reportedly f8, possibly smaller (there is an internal stop for the aperture); and a single shutter speed, possibly around 1/125th, perhaps slower. The viewfinder is a simple flip-up plastic frame. This has a small tab to make erecting it easier, and when folded down, sits flush into a recess on the top of the camera.

Micro 110 opened for loading (upside down) showing the pin which tensions the shutter
As with most 110 format cameras, the Micro 110's film advance requires the internal pin to locate the single perforation for each frame. Without this, the frame advance wheel will keep turning. This internal pin also tensions the shutter: with the pin located in a perforation, advancing the film pulls the pin to one edge of the inside of the camera. When the shutter button is pressed, the pin moves inwards the same amount, slips out of the perforation, springs back into its original position and trips the shutter. Without a cartridge loaded in the camera, depressing the small square shutter button feels quite unsatisfactory - there's a small amount of give, and no feeling that the button is actually doing anything; however, once loaded and with the film advanced to tension the internal pin, the shutter button has quite a bit of snap to it.

Micro 110 with original coin box
The camera came with a 'coin box', shaped like a 110 cartridge, with each chamber opening from the top (the green and red colours of the sticker on the coin box appear to be deliberately reminiscent of Fuji's film packaging). The coin box itself has a loop to attach the key chain; there is also a loop on the camera itself. The presence of the coin box suggests an earliest date for the camera's first appearance - 1983, with the introduction of the one pound coin in the UK, replacing the pound note. One pound coins fit perfectly into the coin box; if originally made by Haking, based in Hong Kong (or indeed any other Hong Kong manufacturers) while still under UK rule in the 1980s, there would be a certain appropriate design synergy to this aspect of the Micro 110 - although of course there may be many other territories where coins of significant denomination would fit. When the one pound coin entered circulation, cheap, novelty key ring coin keepers were very popular - the kind of gift that might appear in a Christmas cracker.

Micro 110 with coin box opened
The camera is 62mm wide without a cartridge - or the coin box. When loaded, it's as wide as a 110 cartridge, 80mm, and 33mm high (with the viewfinder folded down), 31mm deep. With the coin box, the camera is slightly wider, as the 'supply side' of the coin box is bigger than that of a 110 cartridge; it's symmetrical in size in order to fit coins of the same size in each chamber. The camera is very pocketable as a result. There are places where it is described as "the world's smallest camera", which, although a great claim, was certainly never true. It is not, for example, as small as its near namesake, the Mycro IIIA, but, as a cheap, novelty camera, it may have been the smallest camera commonly available at the time it was first made.

Micro 110 with Lomography Orca cartridge
The Micro 110 was my choice for this month's '#Shitty Camera Challenge' - I bought the camera specifically to take part. The definition given for a 'shitty camera' is one that's worth less than the roll of film inside it. I paid a whole £6.50 for my Micro 110 camera (which included postage); had this been a 35mm camera, I could well have bought a roll of film for less than that, but the prices of 110 film being what they are, means that the definition stands. The Micro 110 certainly fits the spirit of the '#Shitty Camera Challenge' as much as the given definition, but I shot reloaded 110 cartridges rather than new film. I wrote about reloading 110 cartridges in my post on the Pentax Auto 110; there are a number of resources online illustrating how to reload the cartridges.

Micro 110 with Eastman Double-X film
For the first cartridge, I loaded a length of 16mm Eastman Double-X film. As the 110 cartridge is loaded upside down, the single perforated Double-X film has the perforations along the bottom of the image; with most 110 cameras, these would run across the top. On development, a number of issues were evident. There were overlapping frames, which I had thought likely: I had advanced the film twice per frame by taking a 'blank' shot after each frame and winding on again, but this was not enough. There were also lots of light leaks. As the Micro 110 does not cover the whole cartridge, light leaks are almost inevitable, especially with reloaded cartridges, split along the seams of the two main parts of the plastic cartridge. As the week progressed, and I developed the films throughout, I attempted to prevent the light leaks as best I could, beginning by fully taping up all the seams of the cartridges, but there were still vertical bands present.

Micro 110 with Kodak Photo Instrumentation film
It soon became evident that this particular light leak was due to the camera design itself: I began shielding the camera when I advanced the blank frames, and the vertical line appeared on the right hand edge of every frame. This was aligned to the perforations, and I initially thought that it might be caused by them, but this didn't seem right. That this appeared once per frame where it did was due to a very slight gap between the camera body and film cartridge on the user's left, the side where the top of the cartridge isn't covered. This gap is very small; putting a fold of tape into the gap on loading made this better, but this tape was generally in the way of loading and unloading the cartridges, and the gap itself is so narrow that's it is actually difficult to fill.

Another light leak that was easy to solve was caused by the pinholes from the Lomography Orca backing paper, as were very clear in the films shot with the Minolta Weathermatic A. I took two approaches to this. For one cartridge, I created a new length of backing paper by cutting a strip of appropriate width from some Ilford medium format backing paper, which seemed to work. The simpler approach was to tape over the window that shows the backing paper; both procedures forfeited the frame numbers, of course. Having developed the first film, it was clear that the negative area was large enough to cover the distance between four perforations, and, as the pin does appear to locate each perforation (and in some instances had scratches to show this), after every shot I took three blank shots. This also meant that the frame numbers were no longer important for spacing. One other artefact that I noticed appearing in all my images was the shadow of the shutter pin itself: the small wedge-shaped mark at the bottom of the frame. In some images this is sharper, while in others there's is little motion blur, which suggests that the shutter speed is not consistent, hardly surprising..

Micro 110 with Double-X, showing shutter pin
As I've written previously in conjunction with other 110 cameras, 110 film has pre-printed frames; the cameras themselves project a larger image than the 110 frame. When using reloaded cartridges, it's possible to make use of the whole image area, albeit with the presence of whichever perforations in the film used. The Micro 110 has the largest frame size of any 110 camera I've used: 14.3mm high by 25mm wide. The 110 pre-printed frame is roughly 12.7x17mm, making the Micro 110 considerably wider. The vertical light leak written about above would also have been within the pre-printed frame, and, only stopping on each 110 perforation, it may not have been necessary to shield the camera when advancing, provided this was done relatively quickly.

Pre-printed 110 frame size superimposed on the Micro 110 frame
However, using the entire frame of the Micro 110 shows up the lens' limitations very clearly. The lens is not centred to the frame itself (which it would be with the pre-printed frame), and, as the image circle of the lens falls off in terms of illumination and definition quite sharply, the left hand side of the image suffers greatly from this. Pincushion distortion is also evident. The image above shows an approximation of the size and positioning of the 110 frame to the whole Micro 110 negative. It also means that framing using the viewfinder is even less accurate than it might have been. Despite the perhaps undesirable characteristics revealed, for this post I have not cropped the images; for some images I have attempted to balance the uneven illumination with dodging on the left of the image, and occasionally burning in on the right; in others it felt appropriate to leave the falling-off intact. All the photographs on this post were scanned rather than printed in the darkroom, but the emulated dodging and burning no doubt could be replicated.

Micro 110 camera with Orwo UP21
As well as using both single- and double-perforated 16mm film stock, I also tried a double Super 8 stock. Double Super 8 film is 16mm wide, with Super 8 perforations along each edge; the format was designed for cameras in which a spool of film is used in the same manner as 'standard' or 2x8mm film, rather than actually using a Super 8 cartridge: half the width of the roll was exposed in the camera, then removed, turned over, and the other half exposed. After development, the film was then split down the centre to provide two lengths of Super 8 for projection. The Super 8 perforations are smaller than 16mm perforations, but, as I found with testing a reloaded cartridge, the camera's pin was positioned such that most of the time, it connected with the perforations, and so could be used (occasionally, the film needed a fair bit of winding before the pin would catch a perforation, but once located subsequent exposures were generally fine).

Micro 110 with Orwo UP21 Double Super 8 film
The DS8 stock I used was Orwo UP21; as I had discovered with Orwo UP15 (as shot on Expired Film Day this year), another Orwo black and white reversal stock, the absence of a colloidal silver anti-halation layer, meant that the film could be developed to the negative stage and fixed, rather than bleaching and subsequent second development to provide a positive transparency for projection. For the first reloaded cartridge, I used an untested roll of UP21 in error - the start of this roll showed that it had been opened to the light at some point. Double Super 8, like standard 8, does not have a separate leader: the end of the film is simply exposed on loading and reloading. In the image from the start of the film, one can see where the film has been wrapped around itself on the spool, the chevron-shaped mark indicating the very end of the film, with the punched lettering 'UP' exposing the film underneath, as with the perforations; the wavy line across the film is from a rubber band around the reel.

Micro 110 with Orwo UP21
Although the Super 8 perforations have a different pitch or distance between them from those with 16mm film, making for 6, nearer to 7, per frame, I found that if I kept to shooting three blank frames for every photograph meant that the negatives did not overlap. For subsequent reloaded cartridges after the first test cartridge, I used a different reel of Orwo UP21 which I had already tested. This still had its original box, with a develop 'before date' of April 1991 (suggesting that it was manufactured before the reunification of Germany). The UP21 film was originally 100 ISO; a previous test with the film suggested that a two-stop increase in exposure (i.e., rating the film at 25 rather than 100 ISO) was needed to compensate for the loss of sensitivity with age. Despite the age of the film and its loss of sensitivity, the UP21 was still very fine-grained in comparison to the other stocks used.

Micro 110 camera with Orwo UP21
The Micro 110 camera is designed to by used with a medium speed film in good daylight. With a single shutter speed and aperture, the film's latitude is necessary to cover any variation in exposure. This meant that the Double-X film was often over-exposed - for much of the week of shooting with the Micro 110, the weather was bright and sunny - to gain more control over the results, I could have pull processed the film one stop, and could have used filters, with a deep yellow or neutral density filter to reduce exposure. However, the Micro 110 does not lend itself to the use of filters (these could have been taped on), and I wanted to use the camera in a number of different lighting situations, so did not pull the film - and so it was possible to achieve images such as the one immediately below (unsurprisingly, this images also shows up some lens flare). Although an interior, obviously the subject of the photograph is the windows, but these are bright enough to illuminate some of the architectural features inside. The second image below was an interior shot, with some natural light from above, but on an overcast evening. There was just enough information on the negative to pull out from the darkness around the subject.

Micro 110 with Eastman Double-X
Micro 110 with Eastman Double-X
The Photo Instrumentation film was originally rated 500 ISO, twice the speed of Double-X, but more than a decade and a half after the date on its box (it's not written as a 'process before' date, so it may be a date of manufacture, though this is not specified), I've found that it's best used at an exposure index of 100. The Photo Instrumentation also has a relatively low contrast and good latitude, and so gave relatively good illumination across the frame, reducing the effect of the lens' vignetting as seen in the images below.

Micro 110 with Photo Instrumentation film
Micro 110 with Photo Instrumentation film
By contrast, the Orwo UP21 film was sufficiently less sensitive than the other two film stocks used to mean that I tried to use cartridges reloaded with this only on the brightest days. When testing the film previously, I had chosen an arbitrary developing time which appeared to work well enough, but when using the Micro 110 and being unable to change the exposure, I increased the developing time, essentially push-processing the film. One effect of this was to increase the effect of the lens' vignetting through the inevitable increase of contrast, and the possibility of highlights blocking out. The image below is a good example of these effects. These factors - the high contrast, vignetting - could be used intentionally, such as with the second image below, where these effectively isolate the lit subject. On problem that I did have with the Orwo UP21 film was when scanning the film, it had a pronounced curl on development, not in the direction of the reel's winding, but across the width of the film. This may have negatively affected the focus of the scans.

Micro 110 with Orwo UP21
Micro 110 with Orwo UP21
The entry for the Micro 110 on Ollinger's Camera Collection ends with the remarks: "I've got a couple of these, but never used them so I can't attest to the quality. Considering that it uses 110 film, the bar is set so low to begin with that it probably doesn't matter." Having spent nine days inclusive using the Micro 110 for the #shittycamerachallenge, these remarks are not unfounded. In terms of image quality, it's the worst 110 format camera of the small sample that I've used in the last few years, thanks to the meniscus lens and the absence of aperture or shutter speed controls, combined with the format's small negative size. The inherent light leaks which affected most of my images appear unlikely to show with 110 film rather than reloaded cartridges. Of course, a of these drawbacks must be set against the small size of the camera itself, the one feature that must be its sole recommendation (other than its cheapness) - but there are other small 110 cameras which are not much larger than would be far better than the Micro 110.

Micro 110 with Eastman Double-X
Micro 110 with Photo Instrumentation film
Micro 110 with Orwo UP21
Sources/further reading:
Micro 110 on Ollinger's Camera Collection
Micro 110 - My First Camera
The Haking Micro 110 on Camera-Wiki
Halina Micro 110 on Austerity Photo