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This was the first large format camera I owned, a Graflex Crown Graphic 4×5 inch press camera. I had used 4×5 cameras at art school, where they had Toyo monorails, but for years after that I mostly used 35mm and some medium format for my own work. Later, when I was thinking about buying a 4×5 camera I knew a guy who wanted to sell a Linhof Technika kit that came with three lenses that could be used for either rangefinder or ground glass focusing. It looked like a good system however he was asking around $3,000 for the lot and I wasn’t sure about spending that amount on a format I wasn’t familiar with. The worst thing would be to spend all that money and then after a few months to realise that I didn’t really get along with the camera, or even find out that large format wasn’t for me after all (both these things are quite common in photography.) Around that time I was talking about this to a guy who had been a fine art and commercial photographer for decades and he suggested I get a Crown Graphic as a cheap way into large format, which turned out to be excellent advice.

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Crown Graphics are plentiful and can be bought for a reasonable price; I think I paid around $400 for mine with a lens. They are also simple to use yet capable of producing high quality photos. There are basically three designs of large format cameras – monorails, field and press. Press cameras were designed to be used by newspaper, wedding and general jobbing commercial photographers. They don’t have all the options that are available on monorail or field cameras but their advantage is being lightweight, simple and able to be set up quickly. When not being used they fold up inside a box; pressing a button opens the front panel and allows the lens and bellows to be moved along the tracks for framing and focusing.

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Crown Graphics came with a rangefinder system that allowed them to be focused like a regular handheld camera, however my camera didn’t come with the correct cam for the lens, so it could only be focused with the ground glass. This was fine with me as it was how I was planning to use the camera anyway. A dark cloth is useful for ground glass viewing, however the built-in pop-up viewing hood means that you can often frame and focus without one.

There were two things I didn’t like about this camera. The first is that it was designed to be used in landscape, horizontal format. To make a vertical, portrait orientation photo meant turning the camera on its side to go on the tripod, whereas most large format cameras offer some type of rotating back that lets you change between vertical and horizontal without remounting the camera. The second was the limited range of movements available – essentially just front rise (which becomes front swing when it’s on its side.) I wouldn’t call these design flaws – it’s just part of the simple design of a press camera. These days I make more use of a Chamonix field camera that has a switchable back and a lot of front and rear movements, however it was the lessons I learned by using the Crown Graphic that enabled me to know what I needed as I moved on in large format. I would still recommend it as an ideal camera for anyone who wants to dip their toe into large format and doesn’t want to commit a lot of money.

I bought this camera seven or eight years back when I became interested in 110 Instamatic photography. 110 was a small format film introduced in the 1970s, designed for people who didn’t know anything about photography – the amateur snapshot market. The film was enclosed in a plastic cartridge to protect it being ruined by silly mistakes such as opening the camera part way through a roll. There were some cameras with advanced features, such as the Pentax Auto 110, but most were as simple as the camera shown here. This camera is about as point and shoot as you can get. Slide the camera open to reveal the lens. Select a switch that gives a wide or narrow angle of view. Turn the flash on or off. Point and shot. The idea was that you would only photograph outdoors in sun, and indoors with the flash. These simple cameras don’t have light meters; the lens has a fixed point of focus and there is one aperture and one shutter speed – a bit like Holgas and Dianas. If there is enough light, or close enough, then the exposure latitude of film will ensure a usable image. It’s a clever, simple concept, and it worked, because tens of millions of these cameras were sold in the 1970s. The film was still easy to find when I got this camera but supply seems to have dried up now – it doesn’t seem that anyone is making 110 or 126 film anymore. It’s a shame because these cameras are fun to use and the images have a lot of charm. One reason I bought this particular model was the fake wood trim which reminded me of a station wagon we had when I was a child.

The Olympus SP N is a 35mm fixed lens rangefinder camera dating from the mid 1970s – an era when almost every camera company had one or more models in this category. Generally the lenses are in the normal focal length range (40 to 50mm), with fast maximum apertures and good image quality. The Olympus has a 42mm f/1.7 lens with excellent image quality. The N is a slight variation on the more common SP model, (just adding a battery test feature as far as I’m aware.) Cameras in this category are an easy and relatively cheap way to get into rangefinder style photography for those who are only familiar with SLR cameras.

Like most classic film cameras it is a simple piece of equipment, particularly in comparison to the complexity of today’s digital cameras. The front panel has a PC socket for firing studio flash. The side of the camera nearest to the PC socket has a dial for setting the film speed on both the ASA (ISO) and DIN scales. The ISO range goes from 25 to 800 in 1/3 of a stop increments. The meter was designed to be powered by a 1.35 v mercury battery. These are no longer made however I have had accurate results using the cheap hearing aid batteries of the same voltage. These are a bit smaller then the old batteries so I put a circle of cable around the battery to hold it in place. Of course you could use a hand held meter but it’s nice to be able to use the camera meter. The meter readout appears in the top of the viewfinder window, where a needle will point to a number on the EV scale between 3 and 17. Based on this reading you would then choose a combination of aperture and shutter speed for correct exposure. How this works in practice is an impressive bit of industrial design. The shutter speed and aperture controls are next to each other on the lens, with a small window displaying the EV number at the far end of the shutter dial. Different combinations will reveal different EV numbers, with the idea being that you choose a combination that gives the same EV number given by the light meter. Even more impressive is that once you get this EV number you can keep it while turning the aperture and shutter dials together to bring up different combinations of aperture and shutter speed while allowing in the same amount of light. For example, if the meter reads EV 10 at 100ISO, f/5.6 at 1/30 will bring up EV 10 on the lens. If I want more depth of field I can turn them together to f/16 at 1/4 which still gives EV 10, or I can move them to f/2 at 1/250 for less depth of field or a faster shutter speed. Hats of to whoever came up with that clever system.

The camera also has an auto exposure setting, which I have never used, as well as a clever auto flash feature that I have used and which works well. For auto flash you need to know the guide number of the flash and relate it to the ISO of the film. The auto flash settings are on the same lens ring as the apertures, so once you turn to the GN section you are getting the camera to choose the aperture. The GN is set according to the flash unit in use and assumes the film is 100 ISO. As you manually focus the lens, the camera takes into account the GN and distance and calculates the correct aperture. This is based on the simple flash formula  GN / distance = aperture; e.g. with a flash with a guide number of 40 (in meters) and a focus distance set to 5 meters the correct aperture is f/8 and the camera will know to select this. If the film ISO is not 100 you could account for this by choosing a different guide number to fool the camera into selecting the correct aperture.

The viewfinder is bright and has the classic rangefinder design of frame lines that show what will be in the photo, along with a generous amount of space outside the lines so the photographer can see what else might be included or excluded to improve the composition. This type of viewing is similar to the framing devices that artists use to determine the composition of a drawing, and is significantly different to SLR through the lens viewing. Having a fixed lens avoids the problem of requiring a mechanism to bring up varying frame lines for changing focal lengths. These older cameras are far from being obsolete or collectors items – if you shoot film and get one of these in good working order they are capable of producing excellent results as well as being enjoyable to use.

One of my favourite cameras is this Chinese made Zero Image 2000, a pinhole camera that makes 6×6 images. I bought this one second hand from a person who wasn’t making much use of it. He had modified it from how it was originally sold by removing the sliding shutter and replacing that with a 52mm step up ring and matching lens cap. I probably wouldn’t have thought of doing this myself, however it is a good idea. I’ve heard from people who have the standard camera that the sliding shutter can move if the camera is loose in a bag, causing unwanted exposures. I’ve never had a problem with the lens cap coming off, and having the filter thread also allows me to use filters such as red and neutral density.

It’s a small, lightweight camera, easy to carry and easy to place in a variety of positions. This flexibility gives me ideas about trying new points of view, such as sticking velcro strips to the back of the camera so I can attach it to a ceiling looking down on a room. There is a tripod socket in the base of the camera, pretty essential as pinhole exposures are generally long. I also have a cheap magic arm accessory that has a tripod fitting at one end and a clamp at the other for attaching the camera to various items.

This was a surprise – I found my first camera while cleaning out a garage. I bought this second hand when I was a teenager in the late ’70s and had lost track of its whereabouts years ago. I had remembered it as a piece of junk and therefore being one of the reasons why I wasn’t a particularly good photographer as a teen, and looking at it now I think I was correct – this is a pretty shoddy old camera. Part of the explanation for how I ended up with such an inferior device is that I bought it from a dodgy character I knew around Bondi, rather than doing the sensible thing of going to a camera store and asking for advice. I must have put the word out that I was interested in photography and one day this character presented me with this camera as the supposed answer to my prayers. From memory I paid $50 for it, which would have been a lot of money for me at that time.

It is a basic mid ’70s SLR, from an era when there were some exceptional cameras being made by Nikon, Olympus, Pentax and the like. Unfortunately Prakticas were made in East Germany rather than Japan, and the build quality is second rate. The overall feeling is of uninspired design, cheap materials and poor workmanship. The shutter speeds are unpredictable and the controls such as the shutter speed dial are a bit loose. Of course this might happen with a camera that has been in storage for decades, but I remember this was how the camera felt at the time. It was a surprise to find it again, and my first impulse was to put it out for council collection, but then I decided I might as well put a few rolls of film through it to see what the results were like. I didn’t bother putting a battery in as it is from the era of mercury batteries and would only power the light meter, the rest of the camera operations being completely mechanical. The standard lens is a 50mm f/1.8 prime made by Meyer Optik, with the designation Oreston. It was covered in dust when I found it and I decided to leave that there in case it gave an interesting look to the photos. By ear I could tell that the shutter speeds were all over the place so I decided to use ISO 400 B&W film to give as much exposure latitude as possible.

The rear view shows the odd film loading system. One useful feature is the thin vertical metal bar on the take up spool. When loading the film you insert the leader under this and it grabs the film tightly, which makes loading easy. A not so good element is the small metal panel at the bottom next to the take up spool. The lower edge of the film has to go behind this, which seems like poor design as there doesn’t seem to be any necessity for it. Another good thing about the camera is the depth of field preview button. This is the large black button on the front of the camera next to the lens. Pressing this closes the aperture down to whatever is set on the lens, so you see the optical effect through the viewfinder. From memory this button also operates the light meter. I’m thinking now that I might try putting a cheap hearing aid battery in to find out if the meter still works and if so whether it’s accurate. The shutter speeds allegedly range from 1/500 of a second down to 1 second, plus a bulb setting. The camera doesn’t have a hotshoe for a flash but does have two sockets on the body for flash connectors, marked F and X. F was for old fashioned flash bulbs while X is for electronic flash. The maximum sync speed for flash is 1/40 of a second and there is a lighting bolt symbol next to the B setting on the shutter dial for this.

When looking through the lens I had the feeling that it might be low contrast and likely to give diffused highlights. Apart from the external dust it also appears the lens has small scratches and some specks of fungus.¬† Old lenses are also lower contrast and more likely to flare and give highlight diffusion when compared to contemporary lenses because of the simpler coatings that were applied then. The film used was Fuji Neopan 400 processed in Agfa Rodinal. The results were as expected, and I somewhat like the look. Rather than throwing the camera out, I am now thinking about using it a bit more. I’m interested to see what results it will give with colour film and also to try it with flash. The second test roll jammed part way through, the mirror is prone to getting stuck in the up position and the shutter release getting jammed in the down position, while the film advance lever sometimes needs more than one stroke to advance the film, so it’s questionable how much success I will have. It’s not worth getting it serviced, but I am tempted to show it to the camera repair guy I use to see the expression of horror on his face. I have also realised that the lens mount is the M 42 screw mount which means that it would be possible to put my Krasnogorsk K3 zoom lens on it.

All my cameras, 8 & 9; K-3

January 12, 2011

Due to circumstance I ended up with two of these. K-3 is the common name for a model of the Russian made Krasnogorsk 16mm movie camera. They are a popular choice for people wanting 16mm picture quality at a low entry cost. The cameras are pretty basic; they are clockwork powered, you wind the big key on the side of the camera and it will run for about 25 seconds at 24fps. It’s quite noisy so not suitable for sound recording. They come with a standard zoom lens but most of them have a lens mount that will accept the standard Pentax M42 screw mount lens. I found the quality of the standard lens on mine was very good.

They take the standard 100 foot daylight reels and are straightforward to load. Overall a basic, easy to use camera that gives excellent picture quality, bearing in mind the limitations.

Two generations of the same design. It seems the most desirable Canon Super 8 model was and is the 1014. The 814 is generally regarded as being one rung lower; it doesn’t have the same zoom range or some other pro features, however is still a good unit and available at a more reasonable price.It is called the 814 because the maximum aperture is f/1.4 and it has an 8 times zoom range (7.5 to 60mm).

The photos above are of the later model known as the Auto Zoom 814 Electronic. The photos below are of the earlier 1970s model designated as the Auto Zoom 814. One key difference is that the earlier model used two 1.35 v mercury batteries to operate the light meter and these are no longer made. You can adapt hearing aid batteries or simply use an external meter. Otherwise it uses AA batteries to run the motor and zoom. The later 814 Electronic took four AA batteries and the meter works off these.

One thing I liked about the older model is that it has a viewfinder shutter to prevent light entering the camera via the viewfinder. I found this useful for doing long takes with the camera on a tripod where I had no need to keep my eye to the finder. I started out with the older one and used it with Kodacrome and T64. Results were very good and then I picked up the later version and used it for most of my filming. I shot a wide range of emulsions in this camera; Vision 200 and 500 neg film, Kodachrome, T64, E100. This was all for my ‘Landmarks From Home’ project for which I also used Single 8 film. Everything was shot silent at 18fps locked off on a tripod so I never used any of the more obscure functions such as single frame and variable shutter.