Thursday, 29 March 2018

Praktica nova I

Praktica nova I with 50mm f2.8 Domiplan lens
On Camera-Wiki and elsewhere, the camera that's the subject of this post is often referred to as the Praktica PL Nova I. This is what's embossed on the camera's nameplate, reading from the top down and left to right; however, the name the manufacturer, Pentacon, uses, rather than that in more common usage, is simply Praktica nova I. The nova part, as well as on the nameplate, is also written in the manual in lower case. The prominent PL on the camera's nameplate stands for 'Pentacon load' or 'loading', one of a number of 'easy load' systems for 35mm cameras, such as Canon's Quick Load (QL) from around the same time, seen on the Canon FTb-N, for example. These easy-load systems for 35mm cameras might be seen as a response, in part, to the introduction of Kodak's 126 cartridge in the early 1960s. There was an earlier Praktica nova which differs most notably in its shutter speed dial, with the fast and slow speeds with separate selection on the same dial; the first Praktica nova was a complete redesign for the Praktica SLR, 'nova' intended to suggest this newness. The Praktica nova cameras were produced after KW, the Praktica's original manufacturer, was merged with the East German arm of Zeiss Ikon (and others) to form VEB Pentacon. In the design of the Praktica nova I it's possible to see this merger in in the evolution of the Praktica nova body style: as well as deriving from previous Praktica cameras, it borrows elements - notably the shutter release design - from the Zeiss Ikon Contax S (which itself derives from the Contax rangefinder before the war).

There are many references to the Praktica nova I online, which suggests that a large volume of cameras were produced - and that many are still being used today. On the Praktica-Collector website, the production for the nova I is listed as 136,400 units, over five years from 1967. My model came in a job lot with a number of other cameras - including the Vest Pocket Kodak and the Kodak No.2A Brownie which I have previously written about. My first impressions of the Praktica nova I were of an unremarkable SLR camera - and the partly obscured focus screen (see below) did not enthuse me to pick up the camera to use it at the time I acquired it.

Praktica nova I with Domiplan lens
As a student buying used cameras in the 1990s, Praktica were generally lowest in price, compared to those of Japanese manufacture (I don't recall seeing Zenit cameras very often at the time); Praktica cameras do seem to have had a not inconsiderable share of the UK market at the time, and as such are a familiar brand. My first SLR cameras were of the Praktica B-series of the 1980s, secondhand and a decade old when I first used them, something I touched on in my post Twenty Years Since.

The Praktica nova I is much earlier than the B-series cameras I was using then. The camera is an entirely manual 35mm single lens reflex with a cloth focal plane shutter. There was a model B version of the camera, which has a selenium light meter incorporated into the name plate. The shutter release is on the front of the body, and angled, not on the top, and is threaded for a cable release; this rotates to a lock position, with a small red dot to indicate this. The shutter speeds run from 1 second through to 1/500th, plus 'B'. It also has a distinct setting for flash and the longer shutter speed numerals are picked out in red. For flash, there are two PC sockets, marked F for flashbulbs and X for electronic flash. The manual states that the 1/30th shutter speed setting should be used with F, while X requires selecting the flash symbol setting: the manual states this to be 1/40th. There is no hot shoe (or accessory shoe) for flash, so using a flash requires an accessory mounting. On the advance lever, there's a film reminder with symbols for black and white and then four different types of colour film: daylight or tungsten in both transparency and negative. Around the rewind crank, where the exposure calculator on the nova I B model is located, is a reminder of the film speed, in ASA or DIN, to be matched up with the length of the film, 12, 20, or 36 exposures.

Praktica nova I top view
The camera back opens by a sliding latch on the side, rather than by pulling up the rewind crank. The PL system features two bars that clamp down on the end of the film as the advance spool rotates with the advance lever. This seems to work very well (on my limited use of the camera) in securing the end of the film when loading. To rewind a film, rather than the more common button on the underneath of the camera, there's a small knob by the advance lever which pushes in to release the film for rewinding.

Praktica nova I opened for loading
There's a red 'flag' in the top left corner of the viewfinder to indicate that the film needs to be advanced. On my camera the focus screen had a white deposit over its surface in a number of places - appearing black against the light when seen through the viewfinder. It looked as though something had attacked the glass, etching it, possibly something in oil that had leaked out over the screen, but the patterns of this deposit appear inconsistent - some appearing to flow, some marks like cracks or stresses. This did not clean off with water; the focus screen could no doubt be changed, but it was still usable.

Praktica nova I focus screen with deposits
The Praktica nova I has an M42 screw lens mount. This allows for a very wide range of compatible lenses, being a popular mount throughout the 1960s; the camera utilises the M42 automatic stopping-down pin; open at the widest aperture for composing and focussing, partially depressing the shutter release stops down the lens to the selected aperture. In the manual it also describes disengaging the automatic diaphragm, with a small lever inside the camera lens mount for "older interchangeable lenses" - i.e., for lenses without an automatic stopping-down pin. The Praktica nova I came with a Meyer-Optik Gorlitz 50mm f2.8 Domiplan lens; this was the lower-priced standard lens for the camera on purchase.

Praktica nova I with 50mm f1.8 Pentacon lens
For a comparison with the Domiplan lens which came with the camera, I also used a Pentacon f1.8 50mm lens on the Praktica nova I. As well as having a wider maximum aperture (giving a brighter image in the viewfinder), the Pentacon lens also has a much closer near-focus: it can focus down to 0.33m, whereas the Domiplan lens will focus to 0.75m, which does not feel especially close for a 'standard' 50mm lens on a 35mm SLR camera. The two images below show the difference with both lenses at their respective close-focus distance.

Praktica nova I with Domiplan f2.8 50mm lens
Praktica nova I with Pentacon f1.8 50mm lens
As well as the difference in close-focus distance, the Domiplan lens is clearly softer, with some flare evident, emphasised by the high contrast of the subject. The design of the Domiplan lens, with the aperture ring on its outside, rather than nearest to the body (an arrangement which seems more common), makes it easier to accidentally shift this ring while focussing.

Praktica nova I with Derek Gardner f2.8 28mm lens
I took a few shots with a Derek Gardner 28mm lens (a rebranded Chinon lens); the lens' aperture blades closed very slowly on pressing the shutter button - slower than than one would normally take over taking a shot - and without realising, a number of shots with the Derek Gardner lens were over-exposed as a result. I also had a M42 2x Teleconverter picked up at a charity shop for £5, named Helios Auto, no doubt to link it to the KMZ M42 Helios lenses, although the converter itself wasn't made by KMZ, for its origin, its marked simply 'Japan'. This worked well enough with the Pentacon lens stopped down.

The Praktica nova I is a basic, manual, mechanical 35mm SLR camera, and the lack of a lightmeter  wouldn't necessarily make it a perfect choice for a camera in its class - there are many better 'entry-level' mechanical SLR cameras, such as the Pentax K1000 for example. However, despite everything that could be placed against the Praktica nova I, in using the camera for a few rolls of film (and mostly using the 'sunny-16' rule for metering), I found the experience of it more positive than my first impressions. In use, the angled shutter release makes sense in terms of the position of one's fingers around the height of the camera's body, with the body design feeling quite ergonomically considered with its angled sides, and the stopping down on partially depressing the release fits naturally in the sequence of shooting; oddly, in using my camera, what feels unergonimic is that the metal advance lever is thin and as a result feels a little flimsy. This would have originally had a plastic tip covering the end of the lever, as one might imagine it should - looking at a number of images online of the Praktica nova cameras, it seems that this loss is not uncommon.

Praktica nova I with Pentacon 50mm lens and Ilford Mark V film
Praktica nova I with Pentacon 50mm lens and Ilford Pan 100
Praktica nova I with Pentacon 50mm lens and Ilford HP5 Plus
Praktica nova I with Pentacon 50mm lens (2x teleconverter) and Ilford HP5 Plus
Praktica nova I with Pentacon 50mm lens and Ilford XP2 Super

Sources/further reading
Praktica nova I page on Camera-Wiki
Praktica nova I on
Praktica nova I (with pricing information) on Marriotworld
Evolution of the Praktica SLR on Dresdener-Kamera (German) - Praktica nova I (German)
Collection-Appareils Sylvain Halgand page on the Praktica nova I (French)
From the Focal Plane to Infinity - Praktica nova I (Spanish)

Sunday, 18 March 2018

'Swinging Light'

As with photography, on which it depends, the invention of cinema has many claimants and each have their advocates; and, like photography, cinema was equally an idea whose time had simply arrived, largely as a result of other inventions, other technologies, the most important being photographic emulsion applied to a flexible base - film. If the cinema is understood to be a communal, theatrical experience, with an audience watching a projected image from moving photographic film, the first demonstration of projected film to a paying public belongs to the Lathams - Major Woodville, and his two sons Otway and Grey. With the exception of the eponymous loop, the Lathams are forgotten cinema pioneers, despite their first public projection in New York, May 1895. Like the Skladanowsky brothers, showing their first films in Berlin that November, the Lathams are treated as something of a footnote in cinema history due to the inferiority of their technology - the Lumière brothers are more popularly given credit for ‘inventing’ the cinema when they projected films before a paying audience in Paris, in December 1895.

On last year’s Expired Film Day, I shot a short film on expired film; intending to do the same this year, the inspiration came from two distinct aspects of Lathams’ story. The Latham brothers were suitably impressed after seeing Edison’s kinetoscope that they went into business as the Kinetoscope Exhibition Company with their father, and an engineer, Enoch J. Rector. After successes filming their own loops and engaging Edison’s William Kennedy Dickson to increase the lengths of the film inside the kinetoscope - specifically to film rounds of boxing matches - the Lathams, with Dickson and Eugene Lauste, a former Edison employee, embarked on a new company, Lambda, with the aim of producing a projector for their films. The Latham's first tests were made in early 1895: “The necessary motion-picture camera was constructed and then tried out on the night of 26-27 February, with Otway Latham and Dickson filming a swinging light.” The use of this swinging light for their first tests is evocative - although not explicitly stated as a light bulb - but I would like to believe that, if it was, its use seems to be an unwitting reference to Thomas Alva Edison. Edison claimed to have invented the lightbulb, despite prior claims by Joseph Swan and others; the Lathams drew on Dickson's expertise while he was still working with Edison, before he left to pursue the motion picture business with the Mutoscope and Biograph Company: one imagines that Dickson, who worked for a number of years on Edison's kinetoscope, perhaps without feeling like he gained the credit he deserved, worked with the Lathams on projection against Edison's resistance to it, before leaving the Edison Company for greater autonomy. Edison was left to catch up with the projection business, buying out the Phantoscope, renaming it the Vitascope, which made its first showing in April 1896.

Orwo UP 15, develop before March 1976
For this year’s short film, I used part of a roll of Orwo UP15 (15 DIN/25 ASA) 2x8mm black and white reversal motion picture film, process before March 1976. Although described as umkehr panchromatisch (panchromatic reversal), I discovered that the film would yield a negative, unlike the Svema and Technopan films I had used previously. These films could be developed to a negative stage but not fixed: the reversal process demanded bleaching followed by a second development to give a positive image; the films had a colloidal silver anti-halation layer which became black in the fixing process. The Orwo film by contrast worked perfectly well as a negative stock (the information leaflet with the film simply states that the film is processed in “special laboratories”; a return envelope is included - and no recommendations are given for home processing). I made some tests with the Mamiya-16 Automatic, rating the film at exposure indexes (left to right) of 25/12/6/3/1.5.

Orwo UP15 test roll
Despite being over forty years old, I could have used the Orwo UP15 at its original box speed, although these negatives were a little on the thin side. For the film shot on Expired Film Day itself, I rated it at an exposure index of 12. As last year, I spooled out around five feet - the maximum length to fit one reel in a developing tank, and shot the film at 32fps - although precise information is hard to find, one of the most in-depth sources suggested that the Lathams’ camera used 30fps (however, the results when played back at 30fps looked too fast - it's possible that the camera wasn't running at the correct speed; the film plays back at half the speed). The film was shot with the Canon Cine Zoom 512 and developed in Ilfotec LC29, diluted 1+19, for 6m30s at 20ºC.

For the first of two passes of the double-8 film through the camera, I simply filmed a swinging light bulb; the second pass, I filmed another double-8 camera, open, showing a test roll moving through its internal mechanism: that the Lathams are remembered in cinema is through the invention of the Latham loop (although probably an innovation by Eugene Lauste rather than the Lathams themselves). The best description of the Latham loop comes from Ethan Gates’ The Latham Eidoloscope: A Cautionary Tale in Primacy:
[The loop is] a purposefully slack piece of filmstrip, thrown out both before and after the exposure window in the threading path. When the intermittent apparatus temporarily stops the film, the continuously running rollers take up the slack from the loop following the exposure window, while simultaneously restoring the loop immediately preceding the window; after the moment of illumination and registration on the emulsion, the intermittent is then able to advance the strip forward by a frame by taking up the slack from the preceding loop, while restoring the loop following the window.
The arrangement of the two reels inside the camera, and the direction that the film is fed through the intermittent mechanism creates two small loops, which provide the necessary slack. Wanting to use both sides of the film at the same time, and the right way up, meant that on the right hand side I filmed the camera upside down. As a result it is shown running backwards, but this seemed preferable to having the swinging light moving in reverse, whereby it would speed up its motion, rather than slow down. As the camera that I filmed running does not have a very strong motor, it wound down quite quickly, but, in reverse, it is static and then starts up as the film runs. Having to feed the film through the camera when loading also meant that each side’s images had a period of blank film before shooting, but could then be shot to the very end of the roll, so each duration is stepped, out of sync; this also has the effect of showing the light on its own, nearly still, at the end.

Perhaps, ultimately, notions of priority in broadly collaborative fields such as the cinema matter less than the collective endeavour. The Lathams and the Skladanowsky brothers both produced technologically inferior systems, but which were seen by a paying public in 1895, prior to the Lumières’ famous screening at the Grand Café in December; however, the Lumière brothers had also demonstrated their projector to a private audience in March 1895, a month before the Lathams’ press screening - and their cinématographe, a camera, printer and projector in one device, lent its name to the institution on which it depended. However, the newspaper report of the Lathams’ first public screening prophetically understood, even then, the capacious nature of film:
“Life size presentations they are and will be, and you won’t have to squint into a little hole to see them. You’ll sit comfortably and see fighters hammering each other, circuses, suicides, hangings, electrocutions, shipwrecks, scenes on the exchanges, street scenes, horse-races, football games, almost anything, in fact, in which there is action, just as if you were on the spot during the actual events…”
New York World, 28 May 1895

Sources/further reading: 
Ethan Gates, The Latham Eidoloscope: A Cautionary Tale in Primacy
The Lathams Build a Projector - Film, Pictures, Eidoloscope, and Machine
Woodville Latham on - which only mentions the Lathams in relation to the Latham loop.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Glunz Model 0

Glunz Model 0
When this small wooden-bodied folding camera arrived in the post, a speculative purchase, there was almost nothing on the camera to identify it, save a small badge inside the body. This has a monogram reading G&S Kamerawerk Hannover-List. This was enough information to turn up some references to Glunz & Sohn Kamerawerk, but there is very little online about the company - the Glunz page on Camera-Wiki is very sparse for example (and I created the Glunz Mod. 0 page on Camera-Wiki myself, and it has only had three minor edits in the five years since). On Collection-Appareils I found a Glunz & Sohn Model 0 camera which looked very much like my version, although not identical - but also more recent, from the 1930s. The serial numbers on the lens and shutter belonging to my camera date them to c.1919. The Model 0 name appears to be a back formation from Glunz's 9x12cm Model 1, presumably produced first, and possibly not named Model 1 when first produced - or it could indicate Glunz's most basic model camera.

Glunz Model 0
The camera is very simply constructed with very few extraneous features. There's no handle on the body, as most folding plate cameras of this type would ordinarily possess. The bellows are single extension only, and there's only a rotating brilliant finder for framing - many other cameras would also have a frame finder; the brilliant finder doesn't have a spirit level attached either. It does however have rise and cross front movements: these seem pretty standard on these pre-war cameras, the movements seen as essential - perhaps converging verticals were distressing to the photographers of the day. The front cross movement is just by friction, while the rise has a standard worm screw. Focus is by ground glass screen, using rack and pinion, with a lock by pushing in the focus knob. The camera also has a scale on the folding bed, which also has an infinity lock, a small lever which pushes in to release the lens standard to advance it further on its rails. There are tripod sockets for vertical and horizontal images.

Glunz Model 0
The Mod. 0's body is made from wood with the drop bed (and lens standard) in aluminium. The oddity of the camera is that despite being made very simply, cheaply, and with very few features, it has what would have been a top of the range lens and shutter combination: a 10.5cm f4.5 Tessar lens (fast for its time) in a dial-set Compur shutter. These were of course bought-in stock items, but for a camera this simple, one might expect a cheaper triplet lens in a Gauthier or other shutter - such as seen on the catalogue pages reproduced on Collection-Appareils. That the shutter function dial has ZDM (Zeit, Dauer, Moment) strongly suggests that this particular model of the camera was destined for the German home market, rather than using TBI (Time, Bulb, Instant) for export. The presence of the Tessar lens in the Compur shutter may mean that the camera's model number may in fact not be the Model 0; it's possible that with the same body, the Glunz's model numbers may actually indicate the lens/shutter options. However, there isn't enough information online to be sure that this may in fact be the case.

6.5x9cm plateholders from A.P. Paris
The Model 0 takes very different plateholders from other 6.5x9cm plate cameras I've used. The camera came with six plateholders, all stamped with A.P. Paris, but of two different designs - three have fabric tabs which appear to be there to make removing the plateholders from the camera easier (other plateholders sometimes have a small indent at the bottom for this). The plate holders are of a block-edge type, without the single or double lip around the holders that seems to be far more common. This means that none of the many other plateholders I have can be used with the camera, nor can I use the Rada rollfilm back with the Model 0. The ground glass screen itself is made from a plateholder; whether this was original is open to question, but the conversion was done very skillfully, unlike some I have seen. This is of the same design as the holders with the fabric tabs, although the tab here is cut off level with the metal (the stamp A.P. Paris is in a different place, compared to the proper plateholders though). The body has a small locking lever to secure the plateholder once inserted for removing the darkslide.

Glunz Model 0 ground glass screen
The ground glass screen does not have a hood attached (and doesn't look like it ever had one); I generally don't use a dark cloth when shooting old plate cameras hand-held, and the lack of a hood does make it difficult to see an image of any clarity on the screen. Apart from a few longer exposures, I shot most of the plates shown on this post hand-held. I shot a few plates when I first acquired the camera, but then didn't really use the camera until more recently - partly due to the lack of plateholders.

Glunz Mod. 0 with Ilford HP3 plate - test exposure
Having just six of these has been limiting in terms of taking the camera out to shoot - unless one is prepared to take a dark bag and spare plates. I've also used paper and sheet film with the camera, but in an equally limiting fashion, having just one 6.5x9cm film sheath.

Glunz Mod. 0 with Harman Direct Positive Paper
Glunz Mod. 0 with Ilford HPS glass plate 
In practice, the Glunz Model 0's construction makes for a light plate camera, partly thanks to its lack of features, which would all add weight, and only having six holders to carry around with it does not add much. The camera doesn't look like it was used very much during its earlier life. The dial-set Compur shutter is in excellent condition, and fires pretty accurately at all speeds, even the slower ones. The Tessar lens is what one would expect, as a pre-war lens, it's not coated but the results are perfectly acceptable. One problem with the camera is that the two arms holding the folding bed do not securely lock out once the camera is opened- these aren't sprung like they are on other cameras I have, and it's very easy to knock the folding bed back, putting the lens standard out of true with the film plane. Although the camera has single extension bellows, in practice its possible to rack the lens standard out to the very edge of the lens board, enabling close focus to around 40cm - as with the HP3 plate shot of the raspberry canes below.

Apart from the shot on Agfapan APX 100 and that on Harman Direct Positive Paper, the rest of the photographs on this post shot with the Glunz Model 0 are on glass plates from the 1950s and 1960s. Most of the Ilford plates have aged fairly well (some of the Kodak plates less so); the Special Lantern plates would have been very slow originally, but weren't intended for 'pictorial contrast', instead these were designed for making lantern slides by contact - or just conceivably via and enlarger - so have a very slow blue-sensitive emulsion (generally, the slower the emulsion speed, the less it is affected by age). However, I also shot some Ilford HPS plates, which came from a box with a leaflet dated to 1952; HPS was the fastest emulsion available at the time - 400 ASA (pre-1960, so 800 by today's standards) and these plates came out well, rating them well below box speed to compensate for age.

Glunz Model 0 with Ilford Special Lantern Plate
Glunz Model 0 with Kodak P1600 Panchro-Royal glass plate
Glunz Model 0 with Ilford Special Lantern Plate
Glunz Model 0 with Ilford HP3 glass plate
Glunz Model 0 with Ilford HPS glass plate
Glunz Model 0 with Agfapan APX100 sheet film
Sources/further reading:
Glunz & Sohn on Camera-Wiki
Glunz Model 0 on Camera-Wiki
On Collection Appareils (French)