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'; 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

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Agfapan APX 100

Agfa Agfapan APX 100 in sheet film (9x12cm) and medium format
Among the currently available range of black and white films, there are two films named AgfaPhoto APX, in 100 and 400 speeds. This film is sold by Lupus Imaging, and, it seems, is most likely made by Harman, similar to the Rollei RPX films, and (but perhaps not quite the same as) Harman's Kentmere films. These films from Lupus trade on the name of Agfa's discontinued Agfapan APX 100; this post is about the original Agfapan APX 100 and it is not a comparison to the new APX 100; the new APX 100 films are not the same emulsion or a new version of Agfa's original: apparently Adox Silvermax is close to the original APX 100 recipe.

I first used Agfapan APX 100 in 35mm when it was sold under the name of Rollei Retro 100. The last master rolls of Agfapan APX 100 produced in 2005-06 were bought up by Maco when Agfa ceased production and repackaged under the name Rollei Retro 100, with generic-looking labels, rather like the first RPX films, sold in non-DX coded cassettes; possibly the film's renaming was due to Lupus having already acquired the rights to the AgfaPhoto and APX names (to add some confusion to the matter, it appears that Lupus also sold the old APX 100 film prior to the new APX 100 in 2013; Maco sold two other, different 'Rollei Retro' films: Rollei Retro 100 S and Rollei Retro 100 Tonal, not to be confused with the Rollei Retro 100 that was the old Agfapan APX 100).

Almost unintentionally, Agfapan APX 100 has become one expired film stock that I've used frequently over the past couple of years, some time after first encountering it as Rollei Retro 100. According to the Wikipedia page on discontinued film stocks, Agfapan APX 100 was produced between 1989 to 2005, which would mean that the Rollei Retro 100 that I bought in 2011 would have been a few years old at that point. The reason for buying the Rollei Retro 100 film then was that it was very economical: I can't recall exactly how much I paid for a batch of ten rolls, but Maco were selling ten rolls of 35mm Rollei Retro for less than €20 around the time (prices do seem to have varied somewhat, but Wayback Machine gives an idea of what I might have paid then).

I shot most of the Rollei Retro 100 in the the Spring and Summer of 2011, almost exclusively with the Kodak Retina IIa (one roll was shot with the Agfa Optima Sensor), developed in Agfa Rodinal, which seemed a good fit for bright sunny days, providing relatively tight grain and smooth tonal qualities; as a film, it also seemed to work well with Rodinal, the first developer that I used when coming back to processing film, and I also happened to be using the last of the stocks of the old Agfa Rodinal that the darkroom had, before switching to other generic RO9 developers.

Kodak Retina IIa with Agfapan APX 100 (as Rollei Retro 100)
After I'd used up the ten rolls of Rollei Retro 100, fairly quickly, there was a gap of few years before I found a box of 9x12cm APX 100 sheet film, dated 01/2004. I hadn't been looking out for Agfapan APX 100 specifically, rather it was a case of finding cheap sheet film in the 9x12cm size; when buying this, it was a decade past its develop before date but I imagined that, being relatively slow, this would be less affected by age (without knowing how it was stored before I bought it of course), and I shot some of this, handheld in bright conditions, with the Kodak Recomar 33, rating it at box speed, or just below at an exposure index of 80, and subsequently also using it with other 9x12cm format cameras. The box also included a leaflet with developing times for both APX 100 and AP 400 - it's worth noting that the 400-speed film here is not called APX 400, but the instructions inside the 35mm boxes I later used did have APX 400; the reasons for the difference in naming are not clear, the developing times are the same for both.

Agfapan APX 100 - AP 400 leaflet
Then, I bought a batch of medium format APX 100, eight unboxed rolls with a develop before date January 2009. Some of this I cut down to 127 to use for January 2017's 127 Day with the Baby Ikonta, and also used when testing the Baby Box Tengor, as well as using it with 116 backing paper in the Agfa Standard. However, these films, all with the same process before date, were not consistent - some rolls gave good results, but on some the emulsion appeared to have reacted to the backing paper, as in the image below, where the numbering from the backing paper is just visible across the sky; in the second image this isn't present.

Agfa Record III with Agfapan APX 100 (6x9 medium format)
Zodel Baldalux with Agfapan APX 100 (6x9 medium format)
Some of these rolls of film went through X-rays more than one before and after exposure when travelling, although as a medium speed film, this should not affect the emulsion, nor is it clear whether this would increase any reactions to the backing paper, but this was perhaps not unexpected with out-of-date film, with unknown storage conditions - this is, after all, sometimes seen with new film. However, that it did not occur with all rolls, though apparently from the same batch, was frustrating, as it couldn't be anticipated.

Agfa Agfapan APX 100 in sheet film (6.5x9cm) and 35mm
With the notion that I might write a blog post about Agfapan APX 100, I sought out a couple of rolls of APX 100 in 35mm to make some tests with - ordinarily, I wouldn't do this for discontinued films, although I might test for sensitivity; a latitude test, and tests for pull/push processing I would usually make for my own future reference, less of a necessity with a discontinued film that one might not have the opportunity to use in future (I also found some 6.5x9cm sheet film around the same time, with a process before date of January 95, using this with my Glunz plate camera, making such a sensitivity test with one sheet from this box). For a latitude test with the 35mm film, I shot half a roll of Agfapan APX 100 with a date of January 2002, rather older than the Rollei Retro 100 I'd used a few years previously.

35mm Agfa Agfapan APX 100 latitude test
On the contact sheet above the first two rows were rated EI 400/200/100/50/25/12 from left to right; the third and last row was shot at box speed of 100 ISO. This was developed in Ilfotec LC29 diluted 1+19 for 7m30s at 20ºC. Times were taken from the Massive Dev Chart, where Agfapan APX 100 is  listed under 'Discontinued/Unlisted' rather than referring to the data inside the box, which I could have used if I'd developed the film in RO9. The results from this test showed that perhaps the film could have benefitted from a little more exposure than box speed, although perhaps not as much as one whole stop; I shot the rest of the first of these two films with the Kiev-4 rated 80. It is also worth mentioning that Ilfoted LC29 may not have been the best developer for this test, but I didn't have any Rodinal at the time of processing; this may have been better historically, even just in relation to the APX 100 I shot as Rollei Retro 100 a few years ago.

Agfapan APX 100 (develop before Jan 2002) at box speed
Agfapan APX 100 (develop before Jan 2002) rated EI 50
When I first used Agfapan APX 100 in its incarnation as Rollei Retro 100, I didn't have much occasion to push the film, shooting just one roll at anything other than box speed: this I rated at an exposure index of 200 as, if I remember rightly, I didn't have any faster films at the time for shooting on an overnight bicycle journey - although I didn't take many pictures during the night itself, more in the early grey dawn hours.

Agfa Optima Sensor with Rollei Retro 100, rated 200
Last year, with the second roll of APX 100 with the develop before date of January 2002, I found myself in a similar situation: taking photographs in a dark interior; with the film already loaded into the Kiev-4, this was not ideal, and I wouldn't normally push expired film this old, especially two stops, but this was a compromise which produced generally acceptable results, with the caveat that there was also some patches of bright sunlight in the otherwise dim building to complicate the exposures, and the density of these highlights rendered noise in the scanning of the negatives.

Kiev-4 with Agfapan APX 100, rated 400
As I stated in the introduction to this post, this is not a comparison of AgfaPhoto APX 100 with the original Agfapan APX 100: despite the name, these are different films. From what I've read, Adox Silvermax is close to the original APX 100 emulsion, so a comparison between these two films might have been instructive, and the qualities that I like in Silvermax do seem to be present in APX 100. However, that may not be an entirely equal contest, given that Silvermax is a new film, still very much in production at the time of writing, whereas the most recent stocks of APX 100 would now be coming up to a decade and a half old, and, although, backing paper issues aside, most of the old Agfapan APX 100 I've used has lasted well so far, using existing old stocks of the film such as may still be around must be approached with a little caution - as with any films a fair number of years past their 'develop before' date.

Kiev-4 rangefinder with Agfapan APX 100 (develop before Jan 2002) rated 80
Canon A-1 with Agfapan APX 100 (develop before Jan 2002) rated 100
Kodak Retina IIa with Agfapan APX 100 (as Rollei Retro 100)
Agfa Optima Sensor with Agfapan APX 100 (as Rollei Retro 100) rated EI 200
Kiev-4 rangefinder with Agfapan APX 100 (develop before Jan 2002) rated EI 400
Baby Ikonta with cut down Agfapan APX 100 (127 format)
Zodel Baldalux with Agfapan APX 100 (6x9 medium format)
Glunz Mod 0 with Agfapan APX 100 (6.5x9cm sheet film)
Kodak Recomar 33 with 9x12cm Agfapan APX 100
Rietzschel Heli-Clack with 9x12cm Agfapan APX 100
Voigtländer Avus with 9x12cm Agfapan APX 100