Friday, 29 April 2022


What is an artistic medium? Encountering a work of art in a museum or gallery, or when this encounter takes place secondhand, through a book, magazine, or online, adjacent to the work there’s almost always a line of text, after the name of the artist (if known), after the title, and possibly the date, which will inform the reader of specific material substance or substances that constitute the object or artefact. On the website for the Marian Goodman gallery New York, Tacita Dean’s film Sound Mirrors is listed as follows: 
Sound Mirrors, 1999
16 mm b/w film; optical sound; 7 minutes
Edition of 4 plus 1 artist's proof
An artistic medium is not just the material basis for an artwork. It can be defined by its use, its practice, and the user’s intentions, as well as its constituent material. I am currently typing these words on a keyboard derived from a mechanical typewriter where once the pressure of my fingers would move metal keys, each with a raised–and reversed–letter, compressing an inked ribbon onto the surface of paper, a matrix with which to create legible, repeatable and standardised text. Now the words appear on a screen by an opaque process, the digital interface being one in which inputs become outputs by an inscrutable process. However, the medium is still writing. In the last two or three decades, with the rapid assimilation (and emulation) of what had once been long-established physical processes, there can be a tendency to see this shift creating a flat, surfaceless, frictionless digital world–a digital ’monomedium’–especially when so many tools to create anything can all be accessed through one device. Yet an artistic medium is both “‘at one and the same time’” the physical material used and the “emergent work” being created (Joseph Margolis, quoted by Nannicelli and Turvey in ‘Against Post-Cinema).  This ‘emergent work’ is situated within a set of distinct social practices - production, distribution, exhibition, and, mirroring these, audience expectation.

Tacita Dean’s films are made to be seen as projections in a contiguous space with their material matrix or substrate and the apparatus for doing so. Access to Dean’s film work outside of an exhibition context is all but impossible. Digital versions do not exist. UbuWeb does have a page for Tacita Dean, but the visitor is welcomed by the note: “These films have been temporarily removed by request of the Marian Goodman Gallery. For all inquiries please contact The Marian Goodman Gallery.” There is an insistence on the physicality of the medium, and its uniqueness in the encounter with the viewer, which can only occur when both are brought together in the same space and time, an odd inversion of Walter Benjamin’s sense of the aura: as artwork originating on film, these become that unique instance that needs direct experience, not encountered in reproduction.

Voigtländer Bessa RF with Fomapan 400
I must have seen Sound Mirrors in 2001 as part of the exhibition 'Tacita Dean: Recent films and other works' at the relatively newly renamed Tate Britain–and I have not seen it since. (In my unreliable memory, before referencing exhibition dates, I had thought that I might have seen Sound Mirrors in the Turner Prize exhibition in 1999–I used to go every year–but Dean was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1998, one year before Sound Mirrors was made). Like Dean’s films, access to the sound mirrors on Denge Marsh is strictly limited, sited on a managed nature reserve. With an institutional trip arranged to Dungeness and to the sound mirrors, the possibility arose–especially since I had begun using 16mm film recently–of making something in response to the site, and to my own memories of seeing a film, once, long ago.

Dungeness, Canon A-1 with Silberra Pan 160
The edge of England where the sound mirrors are located has has a sense of having been rather mythologised in recent years, partly through the restricted access to the sound mirrors themselves, partly due to the particularity of the flat landscape, the coast road, the nuclear power station, and the presence of Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage and his garden, and Tacita Dean was not the first to commit the sound mirrors to film. Hal Foster, in ‘An Archival Impulse’, describes the sound mirrors, among other subjects of Dean’s films, as being "archival objects", and, pointedly, as “found arks of lost moments in which the here-and-now of the work functions as a possible portal between an unfinished past and a reopened future.” In 1999, encountering moving image works in a gallery or exhibition setting, the difference in image quality between film and video was still (just) marked: the ‘poor image’ of video in the hands of artists was used for its distinct qualities as a medium, oversaturated, bleeding colours, light trails, noise, all contributing to video’s immediacy. Now, film as a medium has a doubly-archival sense to it, becoming its own ‘archival object’, embodying a broad range of historical practices, once more prevalent and present, but now vanished (or still-vanishing) from a common everyday experience, like the sound mirrors, being overtaken by new technology. New technologies continue to be haunted by older forms, however, through their adoption of existing language, through emulation of processes, and through the very conception of what the medium is.

Voigtländer Bessa RF with Fomapan 400
In Tacita Dean (Tate, 2001) there are images of the sound mirrors, but these are described as ‘location photographs’, not actual frames from the film itself. Here it may be worth making a distinction between still frames–the individual frames which comprise the moving image–and production stills, often called film stills: it was common practice in film productions to have a still photographer on set to produce images for publicity purposes and Dean’s location photographs fit this mould. I also took a handful of photographs on medium format film with a Voigtländer Bessa rangefinder camera, my own ‘location photographs’ (I took additional 35mm photographs, not of the sound mirrors themselves, with a Canon A-1 SLR), but ones which do not need to stand in for the film itself: for this, I used a single magazine loaded with 16mm Eastman Kodak Plus-X film manufactured in 1999, the same date as Dean's Sound Mirrors. The film was exposed using a Magazine Ciné-Kodak camera from 1936, around the time that the research on the methods embodied by the sound mirrors was becoming obsolete. The length of film in the magazine determined the duration of the film: nominally 50 feet (15 metres), this provides 2 minutes when shot at 16 frames per second, the camera's standard frame rate, that of silent non-sound synchronised film. I used the lens with which the camera was provided on purchase: a 25mm f1.9 Kodak Anastigmat. On regular 16mm film (not Super-16), this gives a slightly narrow angle of view. No sound was recorded: the Magazine Ciné-Kodak does not record sound; few 16mm cameras do.
“No one who went unprejudiced to watch a silent film missed the noises which could have been heard if the same events had been taking place in real life [...] People took the silence of the movies for granted because they never quite lost the feeling that what they saw was after all only pictures.”
Rudolf Arnheim, Film as Art (my emphasis)
Although naturalised, the sound film is a hybrid medium: the nature of a recorded image–a representation–and the nature of recorded sound–a reproduction–are different: when sound is reproduced–however it is recorded–it becomes sound again. Three-dimensional reality becomes a two dimensional image in the process of filming, a representation. With cameras which do (or did historically) record sound on film, most commonly through a magnetic stripe, a problem arises in that the recording of sound requires the substrate to be moving continuously, while the images require intermittent motion. Rudolf Arnheim, along with other writers on film who experienced the shift from silent to sound, and from black and white to colour, as a formalist, was wary of what he called the ‘complete film’, subjected to sound, colour, the widescreen, and stereoscopy, becoming inartistic, his conception of film as a medium depending on its limitations informing its possibilities: “…what might be called the ‘drawbacks’ of film technique (and which engineers are doing their best to ‘overcome’) actually form the tools of the creative artist.” The history of moving images is more complicated of course: films were hand coloured, tinted and toned, with the earliest ‘indexical’ colour experiments dating to around 1900. Sound was also present from film’s beginnings, harnessed to Edison’s phonograph in the ‘Dickson Experimental Sound Film’ from 1894 or 1895, synchronised with varying degrees of fidelity in the first decade of the 20th century, only for the form of film to outstrip its duration: with reproduction from a disc, sound had the same limitation as when Edison first experimented with images on a cylinder: sound needed to catch up with images and find its medium whereby the physical carrier, a spatially circular and cyclical recording, as Muybridge had achieved with projected images before Edison, became linear, allowing for expansion.

Voigtländer Bessa RF with Fomapan 400
My memory of seeing Dean’s Sound Mirrors twenty-one years ago is indistinct: there was no question of trying to emulate any aspects of shot length, composition, sequencing. There was also no real way of planning the film, only having access to the site on the day, with a limited time, with the result that the filming itself had to be simply improvised. The only consideration to structure was an attempt to begin with details, before building up to wider, more comprehensive angles of view, the opposite of using an establishing shot or shots to describe the space in which any action takes place. The result is ‘edited in camera’, or otherwise unedited, the continuous sequence of fifty feet unspooling through the camera. The only physical edit was removing a couple of fragmentary frames to create a clean splice at the end of the film. The nature of ‘editing in camera’ creates a coherent sequence in time, like a contact sheet of a single roll of film. The act of editing is another form of mediation of course, whether in camera or at the editing table. 

16mm fragment of Plus-X film
That Tacita Dean’s film Sound Mirrors exists in an edition of 4 plus 1 artist’s proof suggests that this was originated on negative stock and subsequently printed, whether with internegatives or interpositives, or any other stages in between, unlike being filmed on reversal film to produce a single, unique positive. The introduction of 16mm film as an amateur format relied on reversal processing, not negative-positive printing. However, even reversal film begins as a negative, the first stage of processing develops the latent image into a negative, which is subsequently bleached and the remaining undeveloped photographic emulsion re-exposed and developed. Theoretical or philosophical approaches to the the nature of photographic mediums, whether moving or still, have drawn the photograph’s beguiling power from its semiotic status as an indexical sign, that is, the necessary direct relationship between the photographic image and its referent: light reflecting off a surface passes through a lens (or other aperture) and leaves its trace as an imprint on a light sensitive matrix. In some respects, the photographic negative functions like any other matrix to print from, like a woodblock or etching plate, and this, and its initial monochrome nature, was conceptualised as printing, and borrowed the older mediums’ language. Unlike a woodblock, a tool for making a print, the negative is different, it cannot but embody this indexicality: in some senses it is more direct than the positive which it generates: it is like a daguerreotype or Polaroid. Semiotically, the index doesn’t have to look like its referent, only to possess a direct relationship. This is, in a sense, incidental: that photographs look like their referents extends their nature as signs from indexical to icons. The most famous (and most reproduced) photographic negative is William Henry Fox Talbot’s window at Lacock Abbey, with his note in which he described being able to count every individual pane of glass. Although not an established practice, especially at its very beginnings, negatives were sometimes shown as negatives–and have been shown again as such, as with Benjamin Brecknell Turner’s calotype negatives at the Victoria & Albert Museum. In an essay by Sarah Lea, ‘Tacita Dean: Mediums’, in the catalogue to accompany the co-ordinated 2018 LANDSCAPE/PORTRAIT/STILL LIFE exhibitions of Dean’s work, Lea emphasises the importance of contact, direct and unmediated, with the real physical material that comprises the many aspects of the work, the found photographs, the blackboard drawings, and film: film “embodies that contact with the actual: to some extent photochemical film retains an aspect of a document, or perhaps a chronicle, for we are only ever a step away from fabrication.” A negative may be the slightest of steps here.

In the book to accompany the 2001 Tate Britain exhibition, the credits to Sound Mirrors list Tacita Dean as ‘camera’, with four assistants, a sound editor, and various editing and post production facilities. Given the complicated nature of film as a medium, it is often a collaborative one, with specialised division of labour: often, in gallery and exhibition contexts, such aspects of production are often hidden. My camera, film, and film magazines were all bought secondhand; the coach trip to the location was provided by the institution (as improvised, each shot was framed in an attempt to avoid other members of this party appearing on-screen; a figure can be seen just walking into the edge of the frame in one shot). Photographic chemicals (in small quantities) were bought new. I developed my film by hand, using Adox Rodinal, in two halves, followed by a water bath, fixed, then washed, dried, and then the two separate sections spliced together with presstapes (the join is at the 42-second mark in the film). It was then physically posted to Gaugefilm to be scanned (the single most expensive aspect of the whole production process), creating a (positive) digital file which was then turned back into a negative using Adobe Premiere Pro, and vertically flipped. In the camera, when exposed, the image that the lens projects is upside down, and back to front on the surface of the photographic emulsion. When I first developed black and white film, I did not fully realise that this was what was happening inside the camera, obscured by the nature of the transparent substrate, reinforced by the orientation of edge printings, but obvious when working with opaque processes, direct positives or paper negatives–and a feature of the daguerreotype, its mirror image no doubt benefitting its use for portraiture, the subjects used to seeing themselves in the same orientation. 

The Eastman Plus-X negative film stock used for 'Homage', manufactured in the year that Tacita Dean made Sound Mirrors, was discontinued by Kodak over a decade ago. Dean has been active in preserving film as viable medium–the material basis–for the moving image. Perhaps, ideally, I would only show ‘Homage’ as a projection, from the unique 50ft length of original camera negative, an edition of one, physically degrading as it moves through the projector’s sprockets, pull-down claw, intermittently moving through the gate, loop after loop; but, thinking of the distinct practices of production, distribution, exhibition, and access to these channels of distribution and exhibition, the digital hybrid medium created by scanning the film allows for a flat, online distribution on such platforms as currently exist, possibly lost in a sea of content clamouring for attention, but there nonetheless.


Richard Abel and Rick Altman (editors), The Sounds of Early Cinema, Indiana University Press 2001
Rudolf Arnheim, Film as Art, Faber and Faber, London 1958. First published as Film als Kunst, 1933
Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (originally published 1936) in One Way Street and Other Writings, translated by J. A. Underwood, Penguin Books, London 2009.
Tacita Dean, Tate 2001. Published on the occasion of the exhibition 'Tacita Dean: Recent films and other works', Tate Britain 15 February - 6 May 2001
Brian Dillon, 'Listening for the Enemy', Cabinet Magazine, Fall/Winter 2003
Hal Foster, ‘An Archival Impulse’, October, Autumn 2004
Jonathon Griffin, 'Tacita Dean: “I don’t care about the long run. I care about now.”', Royal Academy Magazine, 21/03/18
Sarah Lea, ‘Tacita Dean: Mediums’, in LANDSCAPE/PORTRAIT/STILL LIFE 
Patrick Loughney, ‘Domitor Witnesses the First Complete Public Presentation of the 'Dickson Experimental Sound Film' in the 20th Century’, Film History, 1999, Vol. 11, No. 4, Special Domitor Issue: Global Experiments in Early Synchronous Sounds (1999), pp. 400-403
Ted Nannicelli and Malcolm Turvey, 'Against Post-Cinema', Cinema & Cie, vol. XVI, no.26-27, Spring/Summer 2016, pp31-43.

Sunday, 24 April 2022

Ciné-"Kodak" Model BB Junior

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior with f1.9 lens
Before Kodak introduced the 16mm film format in 1923, there had been a number of other attempts to use smaller-gauge formats–for reasons of economy–to create an amateur market for moving pictures, but with Kodak's weight behind it, 16mm film was widely adopted and has persisted, in all its iterations, for a century (and, just like 35mm, beginning as a movie film format, it was also then recognised for its size, convenience and availability, and used for still cameras). Kodak's new amateur format was dependent on two essential innovations, aside from its smaller gauge: the cellulose acetate base–otherwise known as safety film (a phrase that persisted for decades, imprinted on film rebates), at the time when flammable 35mm nitrate film was the norm. Among the short-lived small-gauge formats prior to 16mm, 35mm film had been used, split in half to make 17.5mm film, with some systems using the existing perforations on one side, but one can imagine that Kodak deliberately chose the 16mm width with much smaller perforations–on both sides–so as to prevent any simple attempt to use cut-down nitrate stock. The other innovation was reversal processing, meaning that, instead of processing the film to a negative and then needing to make a separate positive print for projection, the same film could be processed–with extra steps–to create a positive, cutting material film costs in half. The reversal process also results in a finer-grained image, in comparison to a negative, beneficial to the smaller frame size in 16mm when compared to 35mm.

The first 16mm Ciné-Kodak camera of 1923 was hand-cranked, as were almost all 35mm cameras at the time: this only changed with the necessity of synchronising sound to image, which happened in the professional field a few short years after the appearance of the first 16mm camera. Constantly turning a handle to advance the film through the camera made hand-holding an impracticality, and a tripod was a necessity (initially, Kodak only sold the Ciné-Kodak as a complete package with tripod, projector, screen and splicer; although aimed at the amateur market, in 1923 this sold for the same price as a Model T Ford). Kodak introduced the Ciné-Kodak Model B two years later (with the first camera being retrospectively renamed the Model A); this featured a wind-up clockwork motor, allowing for the possibility of being used hand-held (the Model A was provided with an optional battery-driven motor, but this was only available for a short time, suggesting that, given the battery technology of the 1920s, this was not a great improvement: battery driven amateur ciné cameras only really dominated with the introduction of Super-8 in the mid-1960s). The design of the camera was also greatly changed to make it much more compact, notably by having the two daylight loading 100ft spools sitting parallel to each other inside the camera body, rather than one above the other as in the original Ciné-Kodak; the viewfinder was also placed atop the front and back of the body, consisting of an reverse-Gallilean type of finder and reciprocal eyepiece which fold down when not in use. It also had a waist level viewfinder not unlike the contemporary Brownie cameras: Kodak's own literature likens using the next version, the Ciné-Kodak Model BB to the simplicity of the Brownie.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior: winding key and exposure lever side
The Ciné-Kodak Model BB followed in 1929, a further evolution towards a more compact camera. By keeping the same general layout of the Model B, but using smaller 50ft daylight loading spools (which had been available to the previous two cameras, along with the 100ft spools), the Model BB was also more economical with the space inside the camera body (as Douglas A. Kerr writes, the layout was “tightened up”). The Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior is a distinct derivation of the Model BB, and dates to 1930. There does not appear to be much on the Model BB Junior specifically online–or at least there appears to be a not uncommon failure to differentiate these two models. Possibly the Model BB Junior originated with Kodak Ltd in the UK (where both my versions of the camera were made) as a simplified production variant of the Model BB. That the BB Junior originates from Kodak Ltd might explain why its name plate has "Kodak" in double-inverted commas, presumably to indicate that the word Kodak is an invented word or trademark, and used like a title, designated as such in British English rather than allowed to go unadorned in American English: the manual uses "Kodak" throughout, with single commas for the manual's title page (the illustration of the footage counter on page 15 does not have "Kodak" but also one cannot see the word 'Junior': this appears to be a photograph of the footage counter on the Model BB not the BB Junior). 

There are two key distinguishing features to separate the Model BB Junior from the BB: it does not have the slow speed button which reduced the frame rate to 8 frames-per-second (found just above the shutter release lever on the side of the body on the BB; it exposes at 16 frames per second, meaning its shutter speed is effectively around 1/30th), nor does it have the waist-level viewfinder. The Model BB Junior was available with either a fixed-focus f3.5 lens, or a focussing 25mm f1.9 Kodak Anastigmat. There were changes during the production runs of all Kodak's early ciné cameras, which can complicate identification: many initially were provided with slower, non-interchangeable fixed-focus lenses, and then gained faster, focussing lenses, and interchangeable ones. When I started researching the Model BB Junior, I did think that having non-interchangeable lenses was one of its distinguishing features, but, subsequently, I've seen examples online which do have interchangeable lenses. The move to faster lenses seems to be driven in part by the introduction of Kodak's first colour film from 1928, Kodacolor (not to be confused with or the later colour negative film of the same name), a lenticular film exposed through its base–like Dufaycolor–and needing a special filter. As a result, it required much more light to register an image; Kodacolor was on the market for a limited period, but one which coincided with advances in Kodak's ciné cameras.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior: cover side with catch
I bought my first BB Junior on something of a whim: having used 2x8mm film for a few projects (and having bought a developing tank for 2x8mm, which would therefore take 16mm-wide film), and also having some 16mm film stock for use in 16mm still cameras, I was looking for a cheap 16mm camera, rather than investing in something more sophisticated which I might not use with any regularity. The Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior is relatively common, and I bought my first camera for less than £30 online. There are two main considerations against choosing to use the Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior (or the BB itself) in the present day: firstly, the camera uses double perforated (otherwise known as 2R) film; secondly, the camera takes 50ft daylight loading spools. With regards to the issue of double-perforation, there is some limited availability at the time of writing: Foma makes its R100 film in 16mm double perforation, and a number of double perforated film stocks are available from the Film Photography Project in the US; there is also the possibility of using old double-perforated film stock–which, at the time of writing, I've done exclusively. Less problematic is the 50ft daylight-loading spools: 16mm film hasn't been sold on 50ft daylight loading spools for many years, as far as I am aware (possibly since the 1960s), but although respooling from 100ft lengths (or longer) in the dark may be tedious, it's not difficult. One needs two spools of course, one for supply, and another in the camera for take up. My first camera arrived without any spools, and I spent nearly as much on two 50ft spools as on the camera itself, although, had I waited, no doubt I could have found cheaper spools–or a camera with spools. 50ft spools have a diameter of 7cm, compared to the mode common 9cm 100ft spools.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior with cover removed
To load the camera, there is a catch on one side which simply slides from LOCK to OPEN, allowing the cover to then be entirely removed. As already mentioned, the side-by-side spool layout was first established in the Model B: inside the camera body, the take-up spool is uppermost. The supply spool is exactly parallel to this, located behind a hinged door. If there is a spool in the take-up position, this needs to be removed to open the door, which has a small catch at its lower right, seen just below the spool in the image above. 

Detail of pull-down claw held in the open position with the spring clip
Before loading, the manual recommends opening the pull-down claw, which has a metal spring clip to secure it in the open position (it has a semi-circular tab for handling), and opening the sprocket clamps, ensuring that the whole film path is now free for threading the film from the fresh or supply spool, around the sprocket, through the film gate, back around the sprocket again to the empty or take-up spool. The manual also recommends winding the motor a small amount to create tension for the pull down claw when loading. The sprocket clamps have a knurled grip on their pin heads: these pull up, allowing the clamps to pivot away from the sprocket itself, leaving space for the film to be threaded through either side of the sprocket.

Detail of sprocket with clamps in the closed position
Detail of sprocket with clamps opened
With the film path clear for threading, the door to load the new spool of film is opened, revealing the spindle inside. The 50ft spools are designed to fit in one orientation only: one side has a round hole for the top of the spindle, the other square, which fits the bottom of the spindle shaft. This would appear to be designed to prevent an exposed roll of film being accidentally double-exposed: once shot, the film is in the wrong direction on the spool to then be loaded into the supply position. There is also a thin sprung metal finger which is connected to the internal door's opening mechanism: when shut, this rests with some tension on the supply spool and is connected to the footage indicator on top of the camera underneath the handle.  

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior opened to show spindle for the new, unexposed film spool
The film peels off the spool 'backwards': it should be emulsion side in on the spool, then passes over the angled roller, emulsion side out for this side to be facing the lens. If the spool is correctly positioned on the spindle, the door will close and latch. The camera is provided with white lines for the correct size of the loops either side on the film gate: the film is threaded through the upper sprocket clamp and then through the film gate. The film gate is sprung against the square aperture behind the lens: the film threads between this and a plate behind, and then loops through the lower sprocket clamp. The upper and lower clamps should be closed in that order, ensuring that the perforations on the film are located on the sprocket teeth, with the right size of loops formed, but sometimes on loading, I've found that this does need adjusting, finding the right pair of perforations on which to close the clamps to get the loops the right size. Once through the film gate and both sides of the sprocket, the camera can be very briefly run and the pull-down claw will automatically disengage from the spring clip; the free end of the film then needs to be threaded through to the slot in the centre of the take-up spool in the direction of the curved arrow printed around the take-up spindle.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior loaded with film
Once fully threaded, it's advisable to very briefly run the camera for a second just to make sure the film is running freely from supply to take-up, through both sides of the sprocket and through the film gate. The exposure lever pushes down to run the camera; pushing this further locks it into in the running position. Replacing the cover, there's a shallow semi-circular cut-out for the lens side for correct orientation, and the catch slides back to the Lock position. The cover will only lock if the film spools are properly seated on both spindles and the sprocket clamps properly closed. On both cameras that I currently have, the serial number, located on the camera's winding key, is also written in pencil inside the cover, partially hidden by its internal catch when in the OPEN position.

Serial number in pencil inside camera cover
As described above, the fact that the BB Junior takes double-perforated film is a consideration against using it today: there are other considerations, concerning the ease of use, in choosing such an early 16mm camera. It is entirely manual, without any later innovations–such as a reflex viewfinder for accurate focus and framing, or metering for exposure–as would assist the amateur user. The viewfinder is a relatively simple reverse-Gallilean type, consisting of a small eye piece at the back of the camera and a corresponding viewfinder at the front, both of which fold down to the body when not in use. 

Front and rear viewfinder, raised for use
Front viewfinder with parallax marks for 6ft and 2ft
The viewfinder has parallax marks for the top of the frame at 6ft and another at 2ft. As the viewfinder is directly above the lens, parallax is only a problem vertically, not horizontally. Focus on the 25mm f1.9 Kodak Anastigmat is manual, estimated, with marks in feet only, around the lens down to a close focus of 2 feet. The 25ft mark is picked out in red as a hyperfocal setting: the manual states that when set at this distance, with an aperture of f5.6 or smaller (the lens stops down to f16), everything from 8 feet to infinity will be in focus.

Kodak Anastigmat lens with focal distances in feet
For exposure, until 1940 Ciné-Kodak cameras were provided with a guide plate matching aperture settings to lighting and subject conditions, which align to a pointer on the aperture ring. When the first Ciné-Kodak appeared, this had a logic to it as there was only one single 16mm film available, so the descriptions of lighting and subject conditions were not complicated by different film speeds; very quickly however, Kodak introduced a Ciné-Kodak Panchromatic film (the original Ciné-Kodak safety film was orthochromatic), then Kodacolor film (soon discontinued), Super-sensitive Pan film, and Kodachrome, all of which required different exposure settings.
Ciné-Kodak BB Junior aperture guide plate
At the time the Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior was introduced, the films available were Ciné-Kodak Panchromatic film, Super-sensitive Panchromatic film, and Kodachrome: the directions on the aperture plate are for the Panchromatic film; the manual advises with Super-sensitive Panchromatic film to use the next smaller aperture for the conditions described, while Kodachrome had its own exposure guide provided with the film. Kodak abandoned the aperture plate guides in 1940, announced in the March-April issue of Cine Kodak News: new cameras had a 'Universal Guide' on the side of the camera, a plate into which the user could insert a card, included with each roll of film, which could then be read against a dial aligning subject conditions to aperture setting. Owners of cameras produced before this point could have one of these new guides fitted, and at the same time the aperture plate would be removed and replaced with a plate usually featuring a name or logotype. Both of my BB Juniors have the original aperture plates however, possibly suggesting that they may not have been used much after this date–or simply that the original owners did not want the cameras altered.

For a first test, I shot a short roll of Eastman 4-X through the camera. Originally 500 ISO in daylight,  the film is more than three decades old as 4-X was discontinued in 1990. The film has lost a lot of sensitivity with age, and there is a lot of base fog, particularly along one edge. I nominally rated the Eastman 4-X film at 25, although I didn't meter for the exposure, which was simply light projected on a wall. This was developed in Ilfotec LC29, diluted 1+19 for 8 minutes at 18ºC. The results were pretty uninstructive, but the camera did appear to work.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior first test
I then shot some double-perforated Kodak Plus-X. As described in 'Workers Not Leaving The Factory (Once More)', when fully wound, the clockwork motor runs for just over 30 seconds, although it does audibly begin to sound as though it is running slow after about 25 seconds, notably with film (when not loaded with film, there's less drag on the mechanism, so it runs more freely). I had planned a film with four uninterrupted shots of 30 seconds each to use a whole 50ft roll. This was filmed on the A104 Woodford New Road, showing the northbound and southbound lanes of the road both north and south of the junction with the A406 North Circular known as the Waterworks roundabout. I framed a narrow band of the road which used to feature a cattle grid, relatively recently removed, but discernible in the concrete edges of the shallow trench which formed the base of the grid. The cattle grids had been necessary due to a herd of cattle which had grazed freely on nearby Wanstead Flats, but also roamed between other grazing spots, sometimes along suburban streets. The cattle were removed around the time that the M11 Link Road was opened in the late 1990s. After filming the four scenes of 30 seconds each, there was still some film left from respooling. When the footage counter reaches the zero mark, the manual instructs the user to run the camera until a circular mark after zero is indicated, as provision for a trailer on the roll of film, ensuring that no footage is spoiled on unloading. Without the need to reload immediately, I could do this in complete darkness and use all the film on the roll, so filmed a few short scenes at the same location. I did try loading the camera in the dark, especially with short lengths of film for testing, but this makes it difficult to achieve the right-sized loops: too small and the loops are too tight, creating a 'jumpy' gate as the film pulls against it; too large, and the film can drag against the interior of the camera body.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior Plus-X test
Before developing this film, I shot a very short test on the same Plus-X stock (from the roll as used on Expired Film Day in 2020, dating to 1992) to check my exposure and developing times were right. This was loaded in the camera in the dark with some difficulties, exposed at 40, and developed in Ilfotec LC29, diluted 1+19 for 5m30s at 20ºC. Although short, this looked good enough to develop the 50ft roll of Plus-X with the same time and dilution. I had this roll of 16mm Plus-X professionally scanned, and when the scan was returned, it was immediately clear that there were problems with focus: in the middle of the frame, focus was clearly off, although towards the edges, the images looked sharp enough.


For what I had intended to film, the four framings of the no-longer-extant cattle grid, this wasn't too intrusive, and I imagined if this were even to be shown, that these four scenes could be played on four screens, simultaneously. However, with any more detailed or static scenes, this lack of focus was distracting. One of the curiosities of the design of Kodak's 16mm cameras around this period is their curving film path through the gate–and that this curves away from the lens. With cheap still film cameras, many have a film plane curved towards the lens to make up for distortion inherent in cheap lens designs. In the Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior, possibly the curve away from the lens may be in part to have a smoother film path from the upper loop to lower loop, but I did wonder if this itself was part of the problem with focus, in particular that the lens-to-film plane distance was just too short in the centre of the frame to achieve infinity focus. I removed the lens to investigate–it comes off fairly easily with undoing the two screws. I had thought that a solution might be to add a shim, fractionally increasing the lens-to-film plane distance, which I did with a thin sheet of metal cut from a drinks can. 

Lens shim cut from thin aluminium placed behind lens mount
Having removed the lens, I could also see that this was very dirty internally, so took this apart, unscrewing the front and rear groups, and cleaning all surfaces before reassembling and fixing the lens back to the camera body.

Ciné-Kodak Anastigmat lens disassembled for cleaning

As can be seen in the image above, the f1.9 Ciné-Kodak Anastigmat lens was provided a lens hood (seen upper right) which slots into the lens housing itself with a pin to orient it correctly (the slot for the pin can be seen inside the lens housing in the image above; with the hood better seen in the image below). This lens hood could be replaced with filters attached to a similar hood, designated by Kodak as 'W' mount, and were also colour-coded with a painted rim: I subsequently acquired a couple of yellow filters, which, naturally enough, have a yellow rim. This came in cases either made from brass or Bakelite. The filters themselves are of the push-fit variety, and simply slip on the inside end of the W-mount hood.

Lens hood removed showing orientation pin
W-mount filter and cases
I also cleaned the film gate, which I should have done before first using the camera, with accumulated dust and dirt being visible along the top edge of the frame in the scanned film. There is a long metal post with a slotted head and knurled grip at the top of its shaft which unscrews, allowing the film gate, consisting of the gate itself and back plate which slot together, and then can be taken apart for cleaning. There is an arrangement of holes–three round holes, with two linked–on one edge of the gate which appear to be some form of identifying edge mark: this can be seen very clearly in the full scan Plus-X test below.

Film gate removed for cleaning
I made a couple of further tests once I'd cleaned the gate (which should probably be done after every roll of film as good practice) and replaced the lens, and this was the camera which I used to film 'Workers Not Leaving The Factory (Once More)'. The tests looked promising, although it's hard to know whether adding the shim or cleaning the lens internally had made more difference.

Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior test after cleaning & shimming lens
After cleaning the lens, replacing it with the shim, and then filming 'Workers Not Leaving The Factory (Once More)', I bought a second Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior. I had an idea that I could modify the sprocket and pull-down claw in order to use single-perforated 16mm film in the camera, which would be useful in terms of being able to use a wider range of new film stocks; I also thought that it might be possible to modify the film gate to the Ultra-16 format, especially given how the holes on the left hand side show that the image formed by the lens covers a wider frame. I found a Model BB Junior for £5 online: if either of these modifications made the camera unusable, I hadn't wasted much money (this also came with two 50ft spools inside). However, when the second camera arrived, it was in better condition, cosmetically at least, than the first one, so that was earmarked for modifications instead–which I have yet to attempt. The photographs illustrating this post are a mostly of the newer Model BB Junior; the older camera has paint losses, especially on the winding key, as can be seen in a couple of images, but this was the camera used for all the moving images.

The second Model BB Junior is in such good condition despite being around 90 years old (although introduced in 1930, I've found no date for the Model BB Junior's discontinuation) that I imagine it can never have been used that much (or its owner kept incredibly good care of it). As an amateur movie format, 16mm was soon superseded by the more economic 2x8mm, then the easier-to-use Super-8, before home movies became electronic with video cameras in the 1980s. 16mm drifted from being the format for the home or amateur use which Kodak designed it to be, to that favoured for educational, industrial, and experimental or independent avant-garde uses. The Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior has many reasons to dissuade its use today, as outlined earlier in this post; in addition, it isn't the most ergonomic of cameras to use hand held, essentially a rectangular box with a lens on the front; without access to home-developing, as well as being able to respool 50ft lengths of film, it is generally an impractical camera. However, as with many of the still cameras I've written about–indeed, much of this blog–there's a sense, partly a form of social history, in gaining an understanding of these technologies of image-making through their use–often, importantly, their limitations–which is a connection, historically, to both how and why images look the way they do.

Sources/further reading
Alan D. Kattle, 'The Evolution of Amateur Motion Picture Equipment 1895-1965', Journal of Film and Video, Summer-Fall 1986, Vol. 38, No. 3/4, pp. 47-57
Dwight Swanson, 'Inventing Amateur Film: Marion Norris Gleason, Eastman Kodak and the Rochester Scene, 1921-1932', Film History, 2003, Vol. 15, No. 2, Small-Gauge and Amateur Film (2003), pp. 126-136 

Monroe County New York also has an excellent collection of historical records from Kodak, including many issues of Cine-Kodak News

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Workers Not Leaving The Factory (Once More)

Two years ago, I made a very short film called 'Workers Not Leaving the Factory'. The rationale for this was to record moving images onto Ilford film of the sites of the Ilford’s Britannia Works factory in the town of the same name, identifying two locations that would have been exits from the site at the time that the Lumière brothers filmed La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon, its title variously translated into English as Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory in Lyon, Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory, or Exiting the Factory, the first film to be projected in front of an audience, at the Société d'Encouragement de l'Industrie Nationale, on 22nd March 1895. Last year I had the desire to revisit this, 125 years to the day on which the Lumières’ films were first shown to a paying audience in London, but did not do so due to the pandemic restrictions in force on that date. Instead, I made a rather imperfect contact print of the first film to project it at home, alongside a digital projection from a webcam that provided the nearest possible view to those which I had filmed, a visual representation of how the moving image and its dissemination has fundamentally changed the experience of time and space, echoing Patrick Keiller’s desire to make a film of “distant landscapes […] without leaving home.” This was 'ADDITIONAL POURTRAYALS [sic]', the name derived from a phrase in the original programme for the Lumières’ first exhibition of the cinématographe in England, in which I speculated, that, although La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon was not named as one of the films shown, it could have appeared as one of these ‘ADDITIONAL POURTRAYALS’.

The original Lumière programme appears in reproduction in a souvenir booklet produced for an event in 1936 to mark forty years since the first public exhibition of the Lumières' Cinématographe in London at the Polytechnic on Regent Street. As well as recreating the Lumières' original programme of short films in the same institution (which now boasted a School of Kinematography), there was also an exhibition showcasing the history and development of the technology of moving pictures, with a number of manufacturers keen to display the very latest advances. Among these were Ilford and Kodak Ltd: Kodak Ltd had a number of Ciné-Kodak cameras and projectors “Showing how Cine Kodak has advanced since introduction in 1923” with dates: the last camera listed is the “Cine Kodak “BB” Junr. f3/5” from 1930. Subsequent to 'Workers Not Leaving the Factory', I’d acquired a Ciné-Kodak Model BB Junior, but that with the faster f1.9 lens. In the exhibition, Ilford showed Dufaycolor, frame enlargements from 9.5mm Selo film and also the “ILFORD CINE SERVICE. Showing processing and control of 16 mm. and 9.5 mm. Ilford Cine Films”. Ilford stopped manufacturing ciné film many years ago, and when making 'Workers Not Leaving the Factory', specifically to shoot this on an Ilford emulsion, I cut FP4 Plus film down to 16mm, unperforated of course, but was able to use this–not without problems–in a Bolex 8mm camera. 

Ilford Fast Pan 16mm Film
For an Ilford motion picture film stock to use in the Ciné-Kodak BB Junior camera, I’d found a couple of 100ft rolls of 16mm Ilford Fast Pan film. On the labels of both there is a stamp "date of test 6.1.69", meaning that the film would almost certainly have been made at the Britannia Works site in Ilford before production there stopped in the mid-1970s. This is very reminiscent to the Ilford Mark V film I used a few years ago, presumably being an emulsion test; when researching that particular film stock, I found a suggestion that this lead to the fifth iteration of Ilford’s HP film, currently HP5 Plus today. It’s possible then that the Fast Pan film could be a version of the FP emulsion, although in the original FP film, the letters stood for Fine grain Panchromatic.

Roden Street, Ilford
Unable to revisit the Ilford sites in February 2021, enacting 'ADDITIONAL POURTRAYALS [sic]' to mark the date instead, I did then return last year as soon as the general 'stay at home' order was lifted on 29th March. I shot the Ilford Fast Pan film where it was originally manufactured in the Ciné-Kodak BB Junior–and subsequently did not develop the film for several months, until very recently, almost a year since the film was exposed. The Ilford Fast Pan film labels do not specify a film speed, and over fifty years since being made, I supposed that the film would have lost sensitivity regardless. My initial tests showed the film had a lot of fog, and I shot the film at an exposure index of 25. 

The Ciné-Kodak BB Junior takes 50ft daylight loading spools, which equates to around 2 minutes at the camera’s frame rate of 16 frames a second. When I filmed 'Workers Not Leaving the Factory', as the 2x8mm format requires the film to be passed through the camera twice, there was a logic to shooting two separate scenes, between which the film needed to be unloaded from the camera, the spools flipped over and then reloaded to shoot the second side of the film. In doing this, I chose the locations where two entrances to the Britannia Works site had been, having researched the site history in some detail in 2013. The first location was the entrance to Sainsbury's car park on Roden Street, the other a section of brick wall on Riverdene Road, which appears to align with what was once the entrance to an alley that led into Britannia Works. The Ciné-Kodak BB Junior runs for just over 30 seconds with its clockwork motor fully wound, this would determine the duration of each scene: I assumed that I would then get four different shots on the 50ft spool; in the event, there was enough film for five scenes, partly due to unloading the camera after shooting in the dark (the footage indicator on the camera suggests that there’s about five feet of film after the zero mark which would usually be exposed when removing the film from the camera). 

Riverdene Road, Ilford
I filmed the same two locations as in 'Workers Not Leaving the Factory' for the first two shots. The next two sites where those related to 'ADDITIONAL POURTRAYALS [sic]': the CCTV camera which records the scene that I had projected digitally, and then I pointed the BB Junior in the same direction as this CCTV camera, but from the ground level of course. This viewpoint was as close as I could get to the scene of the Britannia Works site remotely: at some point in the evolution of Ilford’s sprawling site, it might have been possible to see part of it from here, namely the skating rink which Ilford rented in the 1930s. Reading accounts of the history of early film in Britain in In the Kingdom of Shadows recently, I couldn't help noticing that the cinema was linked to skating in a couple of accounts, usually in the nature of popular fads or crazes:
“SEVERAL EXPLANATIONS have been given of the bad theatrical business in the provinces, reports of which daily reach the managers most concerned in sending out companies. […] Mr. George Dance, who has as much experience of the business side of the theatre as anyone in England, is inclined to think that the comparative effect of cinematograph shows and skating rinks has been exaggerated.”
The World’s Fair, 30 October 1909

“AT THE PRESENT MOMENT the popularity of picture palaces and the reason for it are directing a good deal of attention to the public mind. But these sudden crazes are not new: 30 years ago it was croquet, 15 years ago it [was] cycling, ten years ago it was roller skating…”

The Times, 9th April 1913

Site of Alfred Harman's house, Cranbrook Road
With the nominally-50ft roll not entirely used up, I went to the site of Alfred Harman’s house on Cranbrook Road, where Harman first coated glass plates in the basement, the very beginnings of what would become Ilford, Limited. When I developed the film, I used the developing times for Ilford FP4 Plus with Adox Adonal, an iteration of Rodinal. The developing tank I have been using for 16mm is really designed for 2x8mm: a normal 2x8mm camera roll is 25ft, but, with enough film for a leader and trailer, usually removed after processing, the actual length is closer to 33ft; this does still mean that a 50ft daylight spool has to be developed in two parts, if not strictly halves. The cut appears part way through the third scene shot, spliced together again after developing. 

Cut between two lengths of the film developed separately
The direction of the film through the camera means that the second half of the film was first to be developed first, for which I used a dilution of 1+50 for 15 minutes; the negative looked dense, so I reduced the time for the second half of the film to 12 minutes, which possibly could have been cut further (subsequently using the Ilford Fast Pan film, I’ve rated it at 40 or 50 rather than 25; in the image above it's just possible to discern that the image is brighter, thus the negative is denser, below the cut.). The nature of the film's age and overexposure and/or overdevelopment is that the images have quite pronounced grain as a result. Having developed the film by hand, the cleanness of the process itself could clearly be improved. In addition, by letting the camera’s motor run down entirely while exposing the film is that the frame rate slows close to the end, before the motor stops, with the result that the exposure time increases, the image getting brighter at the end of each scene. With the methodology determining the location and duration of each shot, anything happening in front of the camera was at the mercy of what Siegfried Kracauer would describe as ‘the contingency of the street’: the entrance to the supermarket car park and the road underneath the A406 flyover inevitably provided movement; the CCTV camera was shot hand-held, and a bird can be discerned flying through the shot at one point; the brick wall on Riverdene Road is only animated by subtle signs of the wind in the netting on the scaffolding which appears in the corner of the frame and the shadows from a tree on the right. Movement is also provided by the lack of stability of the frames and the vibrations the camera itself is subject to as the motor unwinds, rotating the shutter, pulling the film from supply to take up spool inside the camera, the intermittent motion briefly pausing its travel at the film gate for sixteen exposures every second.

'With Workers Not Leaving The Factory', showing the two individual frames next to each other had a logic thanks to the nature of the 2x8mm film format. In 16mm, there was a coherence to keeping the revisited scenes in juxtaposition; with the following shots as an angle-reverse angle pair, this had also had a reason to be placed together after the first two. The fifth shot I discarded.

Sources/Further reading:
Colin Harding and Simon Popple, In the Kingdom of Shadows, Cygnus Arts, London 1996
Patrick Keiller, 'The Robinson Institute', The View From the Train, Verso 2013
Siegfried Kracauer, Nature of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, Dobson Books, 1970

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

A small adjustment to the Baldalux's double-exposure prevention mechanism

Zodel Baldalux–view of top plate
Anticipating a trip abroad in the near future, the first since the global pandemic, I was considering which medium format camera to take with me, and naturally thought of the 6x9 folding Zodel Baldalux camera. Over the past decade this has accompanied me on many trips, and usually provides fairly good results for its modest specifications. However, since I'd first acquired the camera, I'd always been using it with the double-exposure prevention disabled. I'd done this as it had begun to continually trip to the 'exposed' position, denoted by a red 'E' in the small square window on the camera's top plate. In this position, the shutter release on the body is prevented from being depressed and the only way to release the shutter is either with a cable release attached to the lens or, rather more clumsily, by pulling down the lever on the shutter which connects to the body shutter release linkage, and this is a good way to get one's fingers in front of the lens. I taped a small L-shaped piece of card in place to stop the mechanism from shifting to the 'E' position, which, at the time, seemed like a good–and reversible–intervention. At the time I wrote "I've yet to accidentally double-expose a frame, but I'm sure that this will happen." This did happen subsequently, not too often, but picking up the Baldalux once more, I decided to look at this again.

Double-exposure prevention mechanism disabled with card and tape
To remove the top plate of the camera, there are four screws, two at each end, which are fairly easily loosed. I found that it was simple enough to keep the top plate level, and not actually take them out from their respective holes. I could lift and pivot the plate on the shutter release (which pops up when the camera is unfolded) and remove the piece of card, which looked a little frayed at the edges after ten years. Before taking the plate off completely, the shutter release button needs to be removed. Opening the camera makes the shutter release stand proud of the top plate, which may make it easier to undo. In the centre of the release is a separate slotted screw cap which once undone, lifts off with the shutter button, itself sitting on the release pin that has a threaded top that the screw cap connects to.

Shutter release with slotted centre cap.
With the shutter release removed, the camera's top plate can be taken off, and, as mentioned, kept upright with the screws in their holes at either end. Underneath the top plate, loose, but on the shutter release pin, is a short arm that has the screw fitting for the cable release slot on the top plate. This can be simply lifted off.

Shutter release pin with cable release arm
At this point, although separate from the top plate, I removed the film advance knob. This is best seen in the image above showing how I originally disabled the mechanism: slightly off centre in the middle of the knob is a tiny screw–very easy to loose!–which needs to be unscrewed before the advance knob itself can be unscrew: the two images below show it positioned for unexposed ('O') and exposed ('E').

Double-exposure prevention mechanism in 'unexposed' position 'O'.

Double-exposure prevention mechanism in 'exposed' position 'E'.
The sequence of how the mechanism should work from the unexposed position, through exposed to unexposed again is as follows:
  1. Having first cocked the shutter, as the shutter release is depressed, the shaft under the button pushes against a detent in a vertical section of the forward arm (seen below the rectangular hole around the shutter release pin in the pictures above). For this to work once the top plate is removed, I placed the shutter release button onto the shutter release pin (this did not need to be fixed with the central screw plate to activate the mechanism).
  2. This pushes the forward arm down and away from the front of the camera: the right hand end of the arm is held in tension by a spring. This downward movement releases a small angled catch at the end of the arm which can then slip past a vertical section of the lower or rear arm, and is pulled taut past this vertical piece by the spring. A section of the detent on the forward arm is now underneath the shutter release button shaft, preventing its depression, and thus preventing double exposure.
  3. Simultaneously, the other end of the forward arm travels under the viewfinder to the left side of the mechanism where it pulls on a linkage to move the double-exposure indicator from 'O' to 'E'. This also causes a flat pin to protrude towards the film advance knob.
  4. To reset the mechanism, the film advance knob needs to be rotated. Under the advance knob (now removed), there is a kind of cap which sits over the shaft of the film advance column (which travels through the top of the camera body to the take-up spool inside). This has two arms either side with downward pointing ends.
  5. As the advance knob rotates, one of these arms pushes the flat pin of the indicator linkage towards the back of the camera body and in doing so this pulls the forward arm to slip its small catch over the vertical section of the rear arm. This pulls the detent away from the shutter release button shaft. The shutter can now be tripped again.
  6. Meanwhile the indicator linkage shifts from 'E' back to 'O' and the flat pin of the linkage slips out from the arm of the film advance cap and springs back to a position where the advance can now rotate freely without connecting with the pin.
With the camera top plate removed, turning the cap that would normally be hidden by the advance knob was pushing the flat pin in the indicator linkage, shifting the position from 'E' to 'O', but once released from the pressure of the arm, the mechanism sprang back to 'E', My initial thought was that the spring on the other end of the forward arm no longer held this in sufficient tension–hardly surprising after sixty-odd years–to pull it firmly back into the 'O' position, and the small catch at that end was loose enough to slip back past the upright which should stop it.

Detail of spring, catch and hook
I stretched a couple of loops of the spring over the hook to which it is attached to increase the tension, then reduced it to one loop as this felt too much. This did not solve the issue; I wondered whether it was the spring at the other end under the indicator linkage, but this is slightly more difficult to access. Manipulating the whole linkage here by hand, it looked as though the flat pin on the linkage did not travel far enough to lock this into the 'O' position. Removing the cap on the film advance column, I tried to bend the ends of the two arms so that these would flare slightly outwards, as in the picture below (I didn't take a 'before' photo). This seemed to have solved the problem: in this position, they push the flat pin of the indicator linkage further towards the back of the camera as they rotate, and the linkage now locks into the 'O' position until the shutter is released.

Cap with arms showing adjusted angle
Reassembly is a case of following the disassembly steps backwards: the cap should sit firmly over the advance column–the hole on top has squared-off ends in order to turn the advance, which correspond with the top of the film advance. Replacing the film advance knob, I found I needed to firmly hold the key inside the camera which sits in the end of the 120 film spool with pliers to screw the knob on tightly enough to get the two halves of the tiny screw hole to match so that the screw can be reinserted. Replacing the top plate merely needs the tiny arm for the cable release positioning correctly before reinserting the screws at both ends, then finally replacing the shutter button on its pin and screwing down the small plate at its centre to secure this. Before reassembly, I also polished the indicator plate, somewhat tarnished, particularly over the letter 'O'.

Monday, 7 March 2022

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor
Thanks to Lomography's reintroduction and support of 110 film, this subminiature drop-in, cartridge load format–despite all its drawbacks–is not obsolete as it once was, and looked to remain, at some point in the 2000s when Kodak and Fuji stopped making 110 film. Early last year, during a period of pandemic restrictions, I found myself looking at Agfa's range of 110 cameras from the 1970s again. I had used the Agfa Optima 6000 Pocket Sensor camera for a while, but had ultimately sold it on; looking back to that post, I realise that I'd only used reloaded 110 cartridges with the camera, and no new 110 film. This was partly, I think, due to having never been quite satisfied with Lomography's black and white Orca film when I'd used it before–as well as not using colour film, leaving unexplored other film options with the camera. 

In my post on the Optima 6000 pocket sensor I'd written a bit about Agfa's enthusiastic embrace of the 110 format, but neglected to mention Agfa's approach to design in the 1970s: this, I suspect, is part of the reason for the appeal of their cameras, and mention should be made of Agfa's employment of the Schlagheck & Schultes Design studio. Alfred Klomp, writing about the Optima Sensor cameras, sums it up thus:

"...the Agfa Optima marks the end of the engineer's era and the onset of the industrial designer's. Around the time of the Optima series, industrial design became a serious factor in consumer products. Flatly technical solutions didn't cut it anymore, because with increasing competition on price, manufacturers couldn't afford to disregard their users's experience. Had camera manufacturing always been the realm of the small mechanical industry, now the factories discovered that it was profitable to listen to consumers. Hence the industrial design approach. [...]

I think Agfa's idea was to design a line of cameras without reference to any mechanical heritage or past. They emancipated the camera as something technical/mechanical and gave it to the users as a friendly household instrument."
Regardless of precisely whatever it was that drew me back to Agfa's 110 cameras, online, I found a fairly inexpensive Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor. The 4000 models are towards the upper end of Agfa's range, with features that put them fairly above the usual 110 box-camera equivalents (usually a fixed focus lens, one or two aperture settings, and/or one or two shutter speeds), but below the 5000 and 6000 cameras. This also makes the 4000 cameras shorter than the 5000 and 6000s, with the Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor 12cm long when closed, compared to the 6000 at 13.2cm. 
Front view, opened for use
The first iteration, the 4000 model, takes flash cubes; this was updated to take a flip-flash, and named 4008 (presumably the eight in the name stands for the eight bulbs in the flip-flash unit). The final version of the camera from 1975 has 'tele pocket' appended to its name, and, as this suggests, it features an additional telephoto lens, and is also a little longer in the body than the other 4000 models (there was also a later 4000 flash pocket model). Having been unable to find a manual for the tele pocket version of the Agfamatic 4008, there is conflicting information online about its precise technical specifications. Many sites describe it as being 'the same' as the Agfamatic 4008 pocket sensor with the addition of the telephoto lens: the 4008 pocket version manual states a shutter speed range of 1/500th to 30 seconds; the lens is not described, but online, this is given as a 26mm f6.3 Color Apotar name. For the 4008 tele pocket model, Camera-Wiki gives an aperture of f5.6 with a focal length of 27mm (the additional lens being 47mm and f5.6) and a shutter speed range of 1/1000th to 15 seconds - but having timed the longest exposure (with the shutter closing again–see comments about night photography below), this is 30 seconds. Apart from the telephoto lens however, it is a different camera from the non-tele 4008: notably, the focus scale itself is different (which might suggest the possibility of a different lens) close focus being 1.2 metres; the sliding focus scale has markings at distances from 1.5, 2, 3, 5, and infinity. The non-tele model has just three settings with pictograms for 5m-infinity (a mountain), 2-5m (two people) and 1-2m (one person): on the other side of this scale, it's marked 4, 2, 1 metres for flash. Intriguingly, the Apphotnum website describes the Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket as a 

"special model based on 4008 but with some elements borrowed to 5008 and 6008"–without stating what those elements are. Given the slightly more detailed focus scale on the 4008 tele pocket model

, one might speculate that this might be helpful for more accurately focussing a slightly faster lens, especially as the aperture is fixed 

(the sliding scale is also longer–allowing for more accurate intermediate positions)

; in addition, having a slightly faster lens might also call for a higher top speed of 1/1000th (as well as a shorter long exposure limit) - however, without knowing the true specifications this is just speculation. 

Although neither f6.3 nor f5.6 is especially fast, either would be a large improvement on simpler 110 cameras which commonly feature f9, f11 or smaller aperture fixed focus lenses. 

Top view showing focus slider, cable release thread, telephoto lens selector,
flipflash socket and sensor shutter release
As can be seen from the image above, most of the user controls are located on the top right of the camera, easily accessible by fingers on the user's right hand: the big orange sensor shutter release, the focus slider and selector for the telephoto lens. This switches between the normal lens, behind the shutter, to the telephoto lens, which swings in front of the shutter. The viewfinder also changes, with an additional hinged component for the wider-angle view that the normal lens requires. There is a cable release socket between the focus scale and shutter release, useful given the camera's impressive shutter speed range–whether this runs from 1/500th to 30 seconds, or from 1/1000th to 15 seconds. Partially depressing the shutter button, a red light inside the viewfinder shows as a long exposure warning if exposure is below 1/30th. The manual for the non-tele version of the 4008 also describes holding a finger over the small CDS meter and partially depressing the button for a battery check. The viewfinder itself has a simple frame outline with a single mark for parallax. On the bottom of the camera is a sliding catch to unlock the camera for opening; typically, frame advance is by opening and closing the camera. The catch on the bottom can be put in the 'close' position while the camera is open, which means that when the camera is pushed into the closed position, it locks closed, rather than (for example) having to hold the camera closed and then sliding the catch back to lock it. To load the camera, a small sliding catch releases the back of the camera. 

Battery cover opened, showing LR44 instead of V625U batteries
The camera takes two V625U batteries, hidden behind the name and model number panel on the front of the camera, with a subtle finger grip to slide this open. I tried two LR44 button cell batteries when I first received the camera, and these seem to work perfectly well, and, despite being a slightly different shape from the V625U, the nature of the battery compartment design with two angled, sprung contacts, secures these without any need to adapt them (such as with a washer or other spacer that would need to be conductive). Incidentally, the shutter will not open to expose film without batteries inserted, although there's clearly both a mechanical element as well as an electronic one to the shutter: pressing the shutter release without batteries inserted does trip the shutter–which appears to be a guillotine-type–and one blade can be seen replacing another, which makes a noise, deceptive perhaps, and the film can be advanced to cock the shutter again–but the lens remains covered.

Detail of accessory shoe, wrist strap and tripod socket
One final feature on the camera is its accessory shoe, which can be used to mount the dedicated Agfalux 400T electronic flash unit, with a cable that plugs into the flipflash socket; the accessory shoe is also used to attach the wrist strap, which fixes into a plastic tab via a screw fitting inserted into the accessory shoe: this doubles as a tripod socket.

Agfamatic 4008 with Lomography Orca film
I first used the Agfamatic 4008 during the period of restrictions early in 2021 while still working from home, but leaving the house for exercise, walking and cycling. I tested the camera with some reloaded 16mm film to make sure everything worked, and then shot cartridges of both Lomography Orca film and expired Fukkatsu black and white film. The Fukkatsu film had a "PROCCESS [sic] BEFORE" date of 2018, and is marked 100 ISO–but is packaged in a cartridge with a high film speed tab. This isn't an important concern for many simple 110 format cameras which do not sense the film speed but, for those which do–like the Agfamatic 4008–the film would therefore be underexposed. When Kodak designed the 110 cartridge, they included the possibility of indicating film speed by the length of the tab at one end of the cartridge, without specifying what ISO these referred to, leaving it to camera manufacturers to designate: essentially there is a low ISO cartridge tab (long) and a high ISO tab (short). There's very little information online about Fukkatsu films (it's not listed on the Massive Dev Chart; the box does state "PROCCESS [sic] D-76/ID-11" but without any times), and certainly no times for a two-stop push, and, as a result, this was left on a shelf undeveloped for months.

Fukkatsu 110 Black & White Film
In late December, looking for a camera and some film to put in a pocket for a cycle ride, I went back to the Agfamatic 4008; I had a cartridge of Lomography Orca film, but, as the light levels were low, with  short days of overcast weather, I cut the film speed tab on the Orca cartridge to expose it as a high speed film. When it came to developing the Orca film, like the Fukkatsu film, the Massive Dev Chart wasn't much help in terms of times, with only entries for Orca at box speed in Rodinal, my preferred developer. I used Adox Adonal (a Rodinal clone) at a dilution of 1+25 for 14 minutes at 20ºC, an educated guess for a two-stop push. I also loaded the tank with the roll of Fukkatsu film shot earlier in the year just to see what the results were with the same development time as the Orca film. Incidentally, the Fukkatsu cartridge came apart very easily after scoring with a knife, to remove the film in the dark. I've used Lomography Orca before, but have generally been underwhelmed by the film in the past; when scanning the negatives after pushing the film, I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

Lomography Orca film, pushed two stops
The estimated development time worked well enough, and the film scanned quite easily; any increase in contrast was not especially discernible given the low-level, low-contrast lighting conditions. Ultimately, the Lomography Orca film when pushed gave the best results with the camera, and I'd certainly expose and develop the film in this way in future.  The extended development time also worked for the Fukkatsu film exposed months earlier.

Fukkatsu B&W film, pushed two stops
For a second roll of the Fukkatsu film, I wanted to expose it at the right exposure index, so needed a way for the camera to recognise the cassette as being a low ISO film. As a simple expedient, I cut a short length from a wooden skewer and taped it at the bottom of the tab, which would connect to the button inside the camera. 

Fukkatsu 110 cartridges, front cartridge (left) modified for low film speed
When I developed this roll, I found that the focus seemed a little off on many of the frames. This could have been user error, but there were a few shots that would have been set to infinity focus (such as in the image below), and these were very soft. I suspect that the piece of wood taped to the cassette end upset the lens-to-film plane distance a small amount, being a little thicker than the cassette on its own (as a consequence of the format's design, the tolerances of using paper-backed film inside the plastic cassette is in itself not ideal in this regard). A better approach may have been to simply reload the film into a properly-tabbed 110 cartridge.

Fukkatsu B&W film at box speed
I also used some Kodak Plus-X, reloaded into a slow-film speed tabbed cassette. Like many 110 cameras, the Agfamatic 4008 does need the format's single perforation for each frame: reloading the cassette with double perforated 16mm film means that the internal pin locates each perforation, preventing the film from advancing any further, so, to avoid overlapping exposures, a second 'blank' shot needs to be taken to advance the film sufficiently. With unperforated film, the camera's lens does not cock, and the film will wind all the way through without stopping.

Kodak Plus-X in reloaded 110 cartridge
Using double perforated film, the perforations do show prominently at the top and bottom of the frame. I did get some overlapping exposures, and some in which I did not cover the lens enough when making the second exposure. Reloading 110 cartridges with 16mm film does make use of the whole negative area, without the pre-exposed frames of the 110 format; with single perforated film, and with cropping these out, very little of the image area would be lost in relation to a pre-exposed 110 frame.

Long exposure with Lomography Orca film (pushed two stops)
Given the Agfamatic 4008's shutter speed range, I wanted to test long exposures with the camera. With relatively low light, this seemed to work pretty well: I made some test exposures at night, under moderately low interior lighting, placing the camera on a table for stability rather than a tripod, and could hear the lens open and close with exposures measured in seconds, as in the image above; taking photographs outside at night with the camera, I found that the shutter stayed open. This may possibly be intentional, an effective 'B' setting if the exposure is longer than 30 seconds, but the shutter only closes when advancing the film–which is very hard, if not impossible to do without moving the camera and this showing up in the resulting image, as seen below with the light trails (there is also a small amount of camera shake). However, with care, it is possible to get sufficiently good night shots with the Agfamatic 4008 as seen in the second image below.
Long exposure with Lomography Orca film at box speed
Long exposure with Fukkatsu B&W film at box speed
The one feature of the Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor I've left to last is the telephoto lens: on my camera, selecting this simply resulted in out of focus images, as in the comparison of the two frames below. Initially I did wonder whether, when engaging this lens, the camera's focus lever had to be set at different distances from the normal lens, but there are no markings for this, which one would expect if this was intentional. Despite the possibility of an effective 'B' setting as described above, it's impossible to keep the shutter open to check how the focus works with the telephoto lens: ideally, one could use tape in the back of the open camera and a loupe, but, having tried covering the light sensor to get the shutter to stick open, it still closes again shortly afterwards if it's in an environment bright enough to be able to examine the camera.

Lomography Orca film (box speed) with normal lens

Lomography Orca film (box speed) with telephoto lens

The out of focus telephoto lens is a bit of a puzzle: sliding the focus scale, the telephoto lens clearly moves with the scale, but there does not appear to be any means to adjust the lens itself. It's possible that the telephoto lens in my camera may have always been out of registration, but, short of taking it apart to investigate, this is unknowable (the camera doesn't have any damage to suggest a significant knock or drop which might have caused such a problem). Putting aside the unusable telephoto lens, the camera itself is one of the better 110 cameras around (even without the telephoto lens, the more accurate focussing scale might make it preferable to the standard 4008 model), and Agfamatics of all kinds seem to be very plentiful on the secondhand market. It's clearly not in the same league as the Pentax 110 Auto, but still a good camera for a once all-but-obsolete film format which, unlikely as it seems, is still catered for in 2022. 

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor with Fukkatsu B&W film at box speed

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor with Fukkatsu B&W film at box speed

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor with Lomography Orca at box speed

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor with Lomography Orca at box speed

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor with Plus-X

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor with Plus-X

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor with push-processed Fukkatsu B&W film

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor with push-processed Fukkatsu B&W film

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor with push-processed Lomography Orca film

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor with push-processed Lomography Orca film

Agfa Agfamatic 4008 tele pocket sensor with push-processed Lomography Orca film

Sources/further reading: