Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A job lot of films and plates

Although I haven't written about my glass plate project recently, other than advertising the talk I am giving next week, I've shot a few plates over the past few weeks, and I have been continuing to look out for boxes of unexposed plates to use. One successful online bid for a collection of plates and paper was remarkable enough for me to write a post last year about it. From that particular box, I've used most of the HP3 plates, in adaptors, notably the 6x10.8cm plates, and some of the Kodak ones, although the Kodak plates were far more deteriorated with age. Since then I've found a few boxes, but yesterday I picked up a job lot of mostly sheet film from the 1960s-70s, with a couple of boxes of plates too. It was an online auction that went for its starting price of £4.99, probably in part to being 'collection only'. Even factoring in the cost of the trip to the coast to pick the lot up, I probably would have paid that just for the two 5x4 inch plateholders on their own. The three unopened boxes of FP4 (150 sheets in total) are promising; although I won't know the condition of the film until tested, I have used several rolls of Ilford FP4 from the 1970s for a couple of the 127 Days with good results.

The contents in full:
  • 3 boxes of Ilford FP4 sheet film, one 4x5 inch, two quarterplate size (3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inch), all unopened, all with the handwritten date "16/11/78".
  • 1 box of Ilford HP4 sheet film, 4x5 inch, previously opened, a handwritten number on the box could read either "4170" or "4/70". Box label has "K66".
  • 1 box of of Ilford Ilfoline IN.5 sheet film, 4x5 inch, previously opened, box printing has "H70".
  • 1 box of Kodak Panchro-Royal 4x5 inch sheet film, unopened, no information on dates
  • 1 box of Kodak Ektachrome Type B 9x12cm colour reversal film, unopened, process before Jan 1969, handwritten date "22/10/68".
  • 2 boxes of Ilford N5.31 Fine Grain Ordinary film, quarterplate size (3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inch), both previously opened, one with the handwritten date "-/10/67", the other "11/3/70"
  • 1 box of R.10 Ilford Soft Gradation Panchromatic plates (3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inch), previously opened, label style of late 1940s-1950.
  • I box of Kodak Kodalith Ortho Type 3 Photomechanical sheet film (3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inch), previously opened, develop before date Apr 1970.
  • 1 boxes of H.P.3 plates, previously opened, label style of late 1940s-1950.
  • 2 MPP 5x4 plateholders.
  • 5 quarterplate holders, four by Klito, one AP, two containing film sheathes or septums.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Pentax Auto 110

Pentax Auto 110 with 24mm lens
The Pentax Auto 110 is a remarkable single lens reflex camera on a miniature scale for the 110 format. Although the subminiature format was popular with many other Japanese manufacturers from the adoption of 16mm film for still picture cameras in the 1950s, through to the introduction of the 110 cartridge in the 1970s, Asahi/Pentax only entered the subminiature market with the Auto 110 in 1978. However, the Pentax Auto 110 was not the first SLR for the format: two years earlier, Minolta had produced their initial model of the Minolta 110 Zoom SLR. The Minolta cameras had a fixed zoom lens with aperture priority exposure and a range of ISO settings; by contrast, the Pentax was far more compact, measuring just 98x56x43mm with the 24mm lens, yet it has interchangeable lenses, fully automatic exposure, and a range of accessories.

As an SLR system camera, designated by Asahi simply as 'System 10', the Pentax Auto 110 was provided with a full range of lenses: as standard, the 24mm lens represents the 'normal' angle of view, and was complemented with the 18mm wide angle, 50mm 'portrait' lens, 70mm telephoto and 20-40mm zoom. Focus on all lenses except the fixed 'pan-focus' version of the 18mm is manual: the viewfinder has a split image central spot. As the unique two-bladed diaphragm combines both shutter and aperture and is an integral part of the camera body (shown in the image below), all lenses had to work with the same maximum aperture of f2.8, which stops down to the smallest aperture of f13.5 in the right conditions. There was also a third-party 1.7x teleconverter from Soligor, and a number of filters for the different lenses, including UV and skylight, but also close-up fliters. Other accessories include two different flash units, a power winder, and a belt clip.

Pentax Auto 110 with lens removed
As the name suggests, the TTL exposure is entirely automatic: lightly pressing on the shutter button, an LED shows in the bottom right corner of the viewfinder, green for shutter speeds above 1/30th, yellow (for low-light) speeds below 1/30th. Exposures ranged from 1 second at f2.8 to 1/750th at f13.5. The Pentax Auto 110 does use the 110 cartridge's film speed tab to set exposure at either 80 or 400 ISO (some websites list the high speed setting as 320 ISO). As exposure is automatic, it's important to note that the camera does not work without batteries: the SLR mirror does flip up mechanically, but the shutter itself will not fire. Fortunately, the camera utilises two SR44/LR44 type batteries which are commonly available. The removable battery holder has a unique design with rotational symmetry which means it works inserted into the camera either way up.

Pentax Auto 110 with open back & battery holder removed
The Pentax Auto 110 in the images illustrating this post was left behind when a family member emigrated, and had evidently not been used for some time when I chanced upon it. Opening up the camera revealed two heavily furred batteries, but after cleaning the battery compartment and the contacts, I inserted two new batteries, and the light inside the viewfinder came on when lightly depressing the shutter button. The battery compartment also had some damage, where the plastic edge seperating the film chamber from the batteries had broken away, which may have been due to leaking battery acid. This does not appear to affect performance directly, but, as I later found, it may have meant that the batteries fit less securely. I very quickly found a 50mm lens online to supplement the 24mm, for just £7, so ordered this and a couple of film cartridges.

Pentax Auto 110 with 50mm lens
In a number of my posts about 16mm subminiature cameras, I have referenced the 110 format as a point of comparison. Kodak introduced the 'pocket instamatic' drop-in cartridge in 1972, essentially a smaller version of the earlier 126 cartridge, which succesfully competed with the various 16mm subminiature systems, and the format was very popular through the 1970s and into the 1980s. As a format commonly used for cheap snapshot cameras, like 126 and the short lived APS film, the 110 film cartridge was a casaulty of digital photography, and most companies had discontinued production by the mid-2000s, the last being in 2007, but since 2011 the format has been ressurrected with Lomography marketing both colour and black and white 110 films. The first production run of Lomography's black and white 'Orca' film cartridge didn't use backing paper, but subsequent batches do, which is useful to have when reloading the cartridge.

I bought a cartridge of the Lomography Orca film to test the Pentax Auto 110. After loading, I shot a few frames before realising that the exposure LED was not lit. This turned out to be poor battery contact, perhaps caused by the damage to the battery compartment. I removed the film cartridge (although later realised this could be done with it in place), and wedged a small piece of folded card to force the metal contacts tighter to the batteries. I also shot an old Kodak Verichrome Pan cartridge (with a develop before date of Sept 1978), this being the only black and white film originally made for the 110 format - until Lomography's reintroduction in 2011. This cartridge contained 12 frames, and due to the camera's fully automatic exposure, I was unable to compensate for the age of the film when shooting. I attempted to do so when developing, but with little success. Lomography's website has times for a number of film developers, but using the unlisted Ilfotec LC29, I choose to utilise stand development at a dilution of 1:100, for one hour with the Orca film, and two hours for the Verichrome Pan.

Lomography Orca 110 format film
One of the first things I noticed after developing and scanning the films was the clear presence of an overlap around the printed frames. This can be seen in the scan below, particularly in the lights around the top and sides of the frame. Kodak's original specifications for 110 film included this pre-exposed frame for the convenience of photo-lab printing. It was interesting to discover that the printed frames were not insignificantly smaller than the actual frame size that the camera uses. I attempted to measure the size of the pre-exposed frames from the scanned negatives, and got the following approximate measurements: Kodak's Verichrome Pan frames were 12.6x16.9mm; the Lomography Orca frames were practically the same at 12.7x17mm. However, without the pre-exposed frame, the Pentax Auto 110 has a negative size of 13.4x19.6mm. At the small scale of the 110 format negative, the extra 2mm width is not inconsiderate. In terms of area, the Orca negative is 215.9mm2, compared to 262.6mm2 without the frame, a difference of 21.6 per cent.

Orca 110 film, showing overlap with printed frame
Unlike the cassettes of the 16mm subminiature cameras I've used recently, the 110 cartridge is not designed to be reloaded with film and re-used. This I think represents something of a split between the formats, as, although the various different 16mm cassettes could be bought ready loaded with film, these cassettes were designed to be reloaded by the user - for example, my Kiev-30M box set came with two empty cassettes. The 110 cartridge is made to be used once, and handed in to be professionally processed. Although it may be fanciful to characterise this split as that between a consumer and an amateur, implying more the original sense of the word, reloading and reusing 16mm subminiature cassettes requires a certain level of commitment from the user, different from the spirit of the single-use drop-in cartridge. Additionally, the pre-exposed frames of the 110 format also impose limitations on camera manufacturers: by comparison, although there is a standard 35mm frame size, there are cameras which use different format frames, such as half frame, or the few odd cameras which take square format images. Likewise, 120 rollfilm cameras use 6x9, 6x7, 6x6, 6x4.5 framings, among others. 16mm subminiature cameras also had different frame sizes: generally, as the cameras were developed, frame sizes expanded, from cameras designed with frame sizes to fit between the holes of double-perforation film, to larger areas using nearly the full width of unperforated film. There was even a 16mm panoramic camera: the Viscawide-16.

Pentax Auto 110 with 24mm lens, cartridge reloaded with Kodak WL Surveillance film 2210
Having used two 110 cartridges and developed the films, the next step was to reload them. The website Instructables has a good guide to taking apart and reloading a 110 cartridge, which I looked at before my own attempts. The Orca cartridge came apart relatively easy after scoring the seams at each end and around the two chambers. The Kodak cartridge seemed more securely put together, and broke, although with each chamber intact, it could still be reloaded, and held together with more tape. There are some issues with reloading 110 cartridge with 16mm film. Ideally, unperforated film should be used, but the only unperforated film I currently have, Agfa Copex HDP 13, is too slow to be used in the Pentax Auto 110. I used Kodak WL Surveillance film, single perforated, with the perforations at the top of the cartridge, meaning that these would be at the lower edge of the frame. This also ensured that the pin to register 110's single perforation for each frame is not confused by the perforations along the edge of the 16mm film. This pin is used by the camera to stop film advance for each new frame, released when the shutter button is pressed. In some cameras, this pin is also used to cock the shutter, but this is not the case with the Pentax, where the shutter is cocked on the second stroke of its two stroke film advance. Without a perforation to register each frame, it is possible to shoot frames against the leader and trailer of the film's backing paper, providing that there is enough overlap of film, and it is also possible to wind the film through the camera without shooting a frame, as film advance doesn't stop on each unxposed frame. Additionally, some of the frames once developed show surge marks around the perforation holes, visible in the shot of the padlock further below.

Pentax Auto 110 with 50mm lens, Kodak WL Surveillance film 2210
Pentax Auto 110 with 50mm lens, Kodak WL Surveillance film 2210
I modified the Orca cassette to use it for high speed film by cutting down the tab, as I had been shooting the Kodak WL Surveillance film at EI400. For this first reloaded roll, I used stand development with Ilfotec LC29, diluted 1:100 for one hour. The test roll negatives looked dense, which suggested overexposure, but this may have been mitigated by the effects of stand development and the WL Surveillance's good latitude. Subsequent scans from the film above show a good tonal range, without blocking in the highlights. To check for a difference in exposure though, I shot another two rolls of reloaded Kodak WL Surveillance film, one in the unmodified Verichrome Pan cartridge, the other in the Orca cartridge, which should have meant that the camera would rate the VP cartridge at 80, the Orca at 400. Both films were stand developed (together) in Ilfotec LC29, with dilution increased to 1:150, and a slightly shorter time of 50 minutes. Both sets of negatives (shown immediately below) looked as though they had recieved the same exposure. As the Pentax Auto 110 does have the high speed/low speed switch, I concluded that this wasn't working, and both films were rated at 100. I may not have cut the film speed tab correctly, or perhaps, as the film speed switch is next to the battery compartment, its connections may have been damaged by leaking battery acid. Regardless, the WL Surveillance film worked well enough automatically exposed by the camera, and when I shot more reloaded cartridges, I used stand development at 1:100 again, for one hour.

Kodak WL Surveillance film, stand developed in Ilfotec LC29, 1:150
Kodak WL Surveillance film, stand developed in Ilfotec LC29, 1:150
The limitations of the Pentax Auto 110 are essentially the limitations of the original 110 format specifications. With fully automatic exposure, it can only be used with films close to the two ISO settings, but as Lomography's currently available films are 100 and 200 ISO, this is only an issue when reloading cartridges For films of slower (or faster) speeds, development could be tailored to compensate for over or under exposure, but the use of much slower films with finer grain may not be advisable due to the effective push increasing contrast. There was a second version of the camera, introduced in 1983, the Pentax Auto 110 Super, which had a number of improvements, such as a single stroke advance lever, backlight compensation, self-timer, a shutter lock and a smaller minimum aperture. However, the Super was produced in much smaller numbers, as the popularity of the 110 format was already waning in the mid-1980s. Now 110 films are available once again, the Pentax Auto 110 SLR must be one of the best secondhand cameras around for the format.

Pentax Auto 110 with 24mm lens, Kodak WL Surveillance film 2210
Pentax Auto 110 with 24mm lens, Kodak WL Surveillance film 2210
Pentax Auto 110 with 50mm lens, Kodak WL Surveillance film 2210
Sources/further reading:

110 Format:

Thursday, 21 August 2014

London Alternative Photography Collective Talk

Sapling (Air Ministry plate)
 On Tuesday 2nd September, I will be giving a talk concentrating on my glass plate night photography project at the September meeting of the London Alternative Photography Collective, 7pm at the Doomed Gallery, Dalston. More details here:

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Minolta 16 QT

Minolta 16 QT
The Minolta 16 QT was the last of Minolta's 16mm subminiature cameras, a series that began with the Konan-16 Automat in 1947. Introduced in 1972, the QT coincided with the launch of Kodak's 110 format, which was the end for 16mm subminature cameras with proprietary cassettes (with a few exceptions). The following year, 1973, Minolta brought out the Pocket Autopak 50 for 110, while production of the Minolta 16 QT was discontinued a year later. The camera features more plastic in its construction than previous Minolta subminiature models, making for a lighter camera, and the design isn't dissimilar to that of contemporary 110 format cameras. The QT is notable for being the only Minolta 16mm camera that had a focussing lens: previous cameras had fixed focus lenses, and while some had built-in 'portrait' filters, clip-on filters were also provided for distance focus - some cameras would not provide sufficient depth of field at wide apertures to focus on infinity. Incidentally, the Minolta 16 QT can use close up filters initially designed for copy stand work with the Minolta-16 MG-S. The appeal of subminiature cameras is primarily their compact size: if the camera then needs accessories such as additional filters to focus on near and far objects, part of that appeal is diminished.

Minolta 16 QT with lens cover open
The lens is a Rokkor 23mm f3.5 with a sliding lens cover that also locks the shutter. Apertures are contiunously adjustable from f3.5 down to f22, this last aperture setting being smaller than most on subminiature cameras providing the QT with excellent depth of field - from 0.8m to infinity when set at the 2m or half-length figure mark. The aperture ring on top of the camera body accessed by pushing down the 'electric eye' button which activates the light meter. This shows 'O' when overexposed, 'K' for under, and both light at the correct exposure. The CDS light meter, with ASA settings from 50 to 400, is powered by a PX30 battery, accessed by opening the bottom plate for film loading. However, as battery only powers the meter, the shutter being mechanical, the camera itself will work without a battery and can be used manually. Operation of the camera is simplified by the use of just two shutter speeds: a switch on top of the camera selects either 1/250th or (picked out in red) 1/30th.

Minolta 16 QT bottom plate
The focus slider is located underneath the lens on the bottom plate with a series of pictograms: a mountain for infinity; full length figure (highlighted with a click stop for hyperfocal distance); half length figure; and head and shoulders. During the QT's production run this was changed to a distance scale in feet and metres (the settings are: 30ft/10m; 13ft/3.5m; 7ft/2m; 4ft/1.2m). The pictograms are also shown in the viewfinder with the selection highlighted. The viewfinder also has an outline for framing with crop marks for parallax and a red tab slides in at the top of the viewfinder to indicate when the shutter switch is set to 1/30th.

Minolta abandoned push-pull film advance after the Minolta 16 II. The QT's advance wheel is large enough to advance a frame without needing a large turn, being the subminiature equivalent of a single-stroke advance lever. The frame counter counts down 20 exposures after the 'S' mark for Start, to 'E' for empty, and although it is possible to shoot more than 20 frames, the counter remains at 'E' until the camera is opened, which resets the counter. The frame size was 12x17mm, just small enough to enable the use of single perforated 16mm film. The Minolta 16 QT also features a PC socket for flash with adjacent screw thread for its dedicated flash unit; and on the other side of the camera body is another screw thread for either hand strap or tripod. The camera case with belt loop has a rigid padded top to protect the electric eye button so as to prevent accidentally draining the battery.

Top: Kiev submminiature cassette
Bottom: Minolta 16 cassette
As described in my post about the Kiev-30M, the Kiev cameras were initially based on the Minolta 16 II, whereas Minolta continued to use the same cassette for all their cameras. Both cassettes have the same external dimensions, but the Kiev cassette was redesigned with a smaller take up spool to allow a greater length of film in the chamber. This means that Minolta cassettes will fit in Kiev subminature cameras, but not the other way around. With my recent interest in subminiature cameras, I picked up the QT at a low price in an online auction, but the camera did not come with a cassette.  Searching for one to use the camera, the cheapest I found was a box loaded with Kodak Plus-X with a 'develop before' date of September 1971. Incidentally, this film is older than the camera itself: in the box alongside the exposure instructions and process-paid envelope, there was also a sheet detailing the three models of Minolta 16 cameras then available: the Minolta 16 II, the MG and the PS (interestingly, the Minolta 16 II had a long producation run from 1957 to the early 1970s and was offered alongside the models that Minolta subsequently developed).

Kodak 16mm Plus-X repackaged in Minolta 16 cassette
As the film was well over forty years old, I assumed the Plus-X, originally 100 ISO, to have lost a fair amount of sensitivity. Without a battery, I used the 'sunny 16' to roughly calculate exposure, with  bracketing. Most of the shots were at 1/30th using wider apertures; when I developed the film I realised that some of the frames were out of focus because the hyperfocal click stop at 3.5m (or full length figure) only gives a depth of field at f8 and above, and many frames were shot at f5.6. I used stand development with Ilfotec LC29 for one hour diluted 1:100. With plenty of exposure to compensate for age, the Plus-X film performed well. The images below are scans from the negatives; doubtless prints from the negatives would provide better quality.

Minolta 16 QT with expired Kodak Plus-X
Minolta 16 QT with expired Kodak Plus-X
Minolta 16 QT with expired Kodak Plus-X
I subsequently reloaded the cassette with 16mm Kodak WL Surveillance 2210 film, which is also single perforated. Processed in the same manner, the images below are also scanned from the negatives. The old Plus-X film appears to show finer grain than the WL Surveillance, but again a better test would be printing from the negatives in the darkroom.

Minolta 16 QT with Kodak WL Surveillance Film 2210
Minolta 16 QT with Kodak WL Surveillance Film 2210
Minolta 16 QT with Kodak WL Surveillance Film 2210
Minolta 16 QT with Kodak WL Surveillance Film 2210
Sources/further reading:
Minolta Subminiature Variations on
Minolta 16 QT on
Minolta Subminiature cameras at