Mark Hahn Photography

Artist Website

Category: Photography

Ramblings About Photography and A Kodak Retina

Me With a Kodak Retina Ib

So taking a somewhat winding road to get here, and shooting everything between small format film (Minox and 110) and large format (6×9 120 and 4×5”), I am back to shooting 35mm b&w film in a big way. I’ve always contended that 35mm wasn’t the best film format, but that it probably was the best compromise format optimized for practicality, size, and quality. While I was concentrating on my Leica IIIf and Red Scale Elmar, this camera developed a capping issue (even though I recently had new curtains installed in it). After I sent the camera in for further adjustment, a pushed ad from usedphotopro.com (highly recommend!) popped up hawking a Kodak Retina Ia for $37 with free shipping. Since I’ve also been getting back into biking, a quality small inexpensive pocket camera seemed like a good thing to add to my collection, so I ordered it.

When You Keep Passing the Same Place, It Either Means You Are Completely Lost Or You’re Already There. Kodak Retina Ia, f11

It’s not perfect, but after cleaning the lens and viewfinder it’s been a mostly reliable camera. Quality of the photos are easily on par with the Leica–no surprise since both are products of fine German engineering and optics. Unlike my Kodak Retina IIa, the Ia has no rangefinder, but instead is only scale focusing (guess), but stopped down, I haven’t spoiled a photo yet because of bad focusing. Also, I am finding the simple viewfinder without integrated rangefinder lends itself to concentrating more on composition. This made me realize that one of the first things I was taught when I started studying photography–that you needed an SLR for serious work–was definitely wrong. The reason given (aside from no parallax issues) was that you were looking through the taking lens. Unfortunately, as a young student, composing through a wide open lens with shallow depth of field made everything basically look better and almost magical while composing, but in ways that didn’t automatically transfer to the prints you were going to make in the end. The distracting bits that were hidden in the blur were often way more evident in the print, or on the other end, important details were less sharp than you expected. All of this works itself out with experience, but the same can be said for a rangefinder camera.

A Lonesome Déjà Vu. Somewhere in NM. Kodak Retina Ia, f11

There are many different types of shooting, and when I was shooting more portraits back then, I would use long lenses with fairly wide apertures for a classic shallow DoF look, but for maybe the last 10 years, I’ve shifted much more toward deep focus landscape/scenic photography, so a simple Galilean viewfinder gives me a much better view to compose from than that of a shallow DoF SLR with a fast lens. Parallax is only an issue with close focus, so rangefinder/viewfinder cameras really are not an ideal choice if this is what you need to do, but I find this limitation, more often than not, forces me to take better photos because I retain context.

The old adage (attributed to Robert Capa), “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough” can be taken to extremes and when you put a nice macro lens on my camera, I often end up getting closer and closer and ending up with mostly (interesting?) abstracts. Nothing wrong with this, but personally, I’m looking to build my abstractions and art on top of and from contextual reality. Kind of similar to my personal philosophy for getting by in life—don’t deny reality, but find the magic within it and in spite of all the imperfections.

Study in Grays. Kodak Retina Ia, f11

One thing I noticed getting back into film work is how much film prices have increased over the last ten years that I have shot (color!!!) digital exclusively. Tri-X is now nearly $10 a roll for a short roll and this is starting to seem prohibitive to me so I started looking for alternatives. In medium format, I had been primarily shooting Fomapan 100 (mostly because it is the only film I can read the numbers through a ruby window) and I was getting fine results. Fomapan is a fine film, but for the speeds, it is a bit grainy from what I’ve seen. Then I read about Kentmere Pan 100 which is made by Ilford (really!) and decided to give it a go. It took a few tweaks from what is published in The Massive Developer Chart before I was happy with the results, but now I am consistently getting stunning results using it in Tmax Developer 1:9. I’m finding Kentmere Pan 100 for around $75 per 100’ roll, which ends up being less than $4 per roll when I bulk load. With my quality Russian made steel re loadable cartridges, the added effort is minimal. The new plastic ones from Adorama and B&H are garbage.

This Path Doesn’t Lead Anywhere. Kodak Retina Ib, f11

When I was younger, I always shot 400 speed film, “just in case” I needed those two extra stops for handheld shooting, but now, I feel the much finer grain that can be had when shooting 100 speed film is much preferable. It doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the aesthetics of Tri-X in D-76, it just means that what I’m shooting now benefits from the finer grain and smoother tonal gradients from a finer grain film. I also shoot much less candid “people shots” and prefer stopping down and using a tripod for my low light work instead of trying to get away with a 1/15th or 1/30th low light handheld shots. For most people, even 1/60th handheld, while “acceptable,” is really not ideal for image quality. I believe Ansel Adams once said something like, “If your lens isn’t sharp enough, buy a tripod.”

Waiting On the Wrecking Ball. Kodak Retina Ib, f11

Another reason I am loving these little Retina cameras, other than size, absolute quality, and low cost, is because they are one of the few pocket 35mms that are fitted with a 50mm lens. By the end of the 60’s, pretty much every quality fixed lens small camera had a 35mm lens (Contax, Minox, Olympus, etc.)! This is fine, and I know many people prefer them, maybe more than those of us who like a 50mm field of view, but for me, I find a 50mm lens ideal for a one focal length solution. 35mm lenses always feel awkward and sloppy to me.

Aside from the rangefinder versions of the Retinas (II, IIa, IIIc, and IIIC) which have an f2.0 taking lens and an integrated rangefinder, all the “lessor” models have some form of a Tessar lens (Kodak Ektar 50/2.8 or 50/2.8 or 50/3.5 Schneider Kreuznach Zenar lens are the most common). Tessar lenses are known to give very good results when stopped down a bit and by f/8, I cannot see any corner lack of sharpness or vignetting at all on images from any of my Retinas.

Grain Elevators – Conway, TX. Kodak Retina Ia, f8

Tessar lenses just have a wonderful classic look to them. They aren’t magic, but instead just look right to most people. Perhaps it’s the fact that many many famous photos have been taken with Tessar lenses. Many early press corps used Rolleiflexs or Speed Graphics fitted with a Tessar lens and while most people don’t look for lens signatures, they do seem to subconsciously notice them. We see something enough and it becomes something we expect to see. For 60-70 year old lenses, these are quite fine performers.

Aside from the Kodak Retinas, other pocket 35’s with a 50mm lens include the Barnack Leicas when fitted with a collapsible Elmar lens, and other folding cameras like the Balda Baldinette, Welta Welti, and Voigtlander VITO series of cameras. There are others as well, but somehow, the German made Kodaks excite me the most, and except for some of the rarer ones, all are basically the cheapest. The Retina Ia that I have represents about the cheapest Retina you can get, rarely going for much more than $50 for a fully working and near mint copy.

Every Sunrise is Followed by a Sunset as Every Happiness is Followed by Its Own Hangover. Kodak Retina Ia, f11

Regarding pocketability, life changes when you have a real camera with you at all times. I don’t like walking around with a heavy full sized camera slung around my neck at all times. It gets in the way and it actually starts hurting my back after a couple hours, but shoved in a pocket, my Retina never gets in the way and is always ready to capture something that strikes me as remarkable. Someone in one of the forums I often post my photos to commented that they liked how I “document the things everyone passes by everyday, but doesn’t notice.” I don’t really think I’m a documentarian, but more an artist creating something from what I see, but since photography is rooted in (trapped by?) reality, I think it is more seeing something that offers potential to convey an emotional message and capturing it in the best possible way. You don’t have to travel around the world to do this, you can even find things to shoot in your own back yard. The biggest challenge is translating the emotional content onto the film while managing all the imperfections and awkwardness of reality.

Sometimes It’s Hard to See Past the Moment. Kodak Retina Ia, f11

Depending on how you look at it, all Retina cameras are fully manual, even if it is one of the newer models with a builtin selenium meter, which is good, because it is always a crapshoot whether an old selenium meter will still be functional. It also avoids the problems associated with specialty or impossible to find batteries. I could say I was a purist and won’t shoot auto exposure (only) cameras, but I’m not. If someone like Minox had made a camera like a GL with a 50mm lens, I would love to shoot it. Even though you dream up situations where the focal length limitation would impact what you’re able to shoot, one of my fundamental thoughts regarding photography is, “There are infinite photos to take, so don’t worry about the ones you can’t take.” Focus on what you can create with the gear at hand.

That Boat You Stashed in the Bushes, Many Years Ago, Thinking It Would Be Your Way Out of Here, Isn’t Taking You Anywhere Today. Kodak Retina Ib

For those that have noticed that I haven’t been keeping up on my blog here very well, part of that is because I have gotten much more active on Instagram. If you are over there much, check me out and follow at http://www.instagram.com/markhahn_art_music/. I am very actively posting there (almost everyday).

Bench. Kodak Retina Ib, f11

Kodak Retina Ib Viewfinder Servicing

Kodak Retina Ib – Front View

When my Leica IIIf developed a shutter problem and needed to be sent in for adjustment, I needed a new small pocket camera I needed something to quickly replace it with. Since most modern pocket P&S cameras come with a 35mm lens and my preference is a 50mm lens, it means I pretty much have to go back farther in time to get one. While I have a beautiful Retina IIa, it seems too nice to bang around when I’m out on my bike (something I also realized about my Leica!), so while I was deciding what to do, facebook’s wonderful AI pushed an ad for a nice user grade Retina Ia. Very much like my IIa, but smaller and with a slower lens, and for $37 shipped, hard to turn down. Then an hour or so later, I get another pushed ad, this time for Ib that looked pretty much close to Mint- to my eyes, and even though I was never a fan of the larger later series Retinas with a rangefinder, the Ib just looked cleaner to my eye, so I reluctantly ordered this camera as well! Both came from usedphotopro.com where I’ve gotten good deals in the past (so yes, no connection, but giving a recommendation for a business I’ve been satisfied with!).

Other than a few dust speck in the otherwise pristine lens, and a crisp shutter working at all speeds, the only issue the camera had was a very fogged viewfinder. I went online to get some instructions how to tear it down and clean it, but couldn’t find anything, so I’m putting this up for the community in case someone else needs to do this.

You can see from the screw heads that someone has had this camera open sometime in the past. Everything is probably working much too smoothly to expect it was not touched in the 60+ years since it was first manufactured anyway.

First step in getting to the viewfinder is removing the top cover. You start by removing the rewind knob.

Remove the Rewind Knob

Use a nonmarring object to hold the film pin and unscrew the knob. It just comes off.

Next, remove the two cover screws that are under the rewind knob.

Remove Cover Screws

Next, remove the last cover screw from the end of the cover.

Final Cover Screw

The cover simply lifts off at this point. You can clean the viewfinder lenses in the cover without removing them.

The brightline pack is in the middle of the camera top. The elements are held in place with a slide on cover.

Brightline Cover

This cover just slides off when you push it forward.

Brightline Elements

You simply slide the front and rear packs out of the frame, noting the stacking order.

Forward Brightline Stack
Rear Brightline Stack

There are two glass slides with mirrored bright lines and a forward lens element. Mine had so much haze it took two tries with lots of Windex to get them all clear. I think it came from the grease on the wind mechanism that is under the same cover outgassing over the years.

After you get all your optical surfaces clean, you simply restack the pieces and slide back into place. It took a few tries for me on the forward stack and they went flying onto my work surface at least once, but once they are in place, all is good. Slide the cover on and insure you didn’t get a finger print on any surface while reassembling.

Putting the cover on is just the reverse of how you took it off.

While the bright lines aren’t a bad thing, they aren’t really that useful since they are basically right at the edges of the viewfinder anyway, but I guess it is a step up from the simple viewfinder in the Ia.

In general, the camera is a nice step up in most ways from the Ia, with many subtle refinements, but a little bigger camera overall. The only annoyance is the locked coupled EV system which makes it difficult to change settings for varying lighting situation. I guess they thought in constant light, you might want to shift your shutter speed or aperture while holding the same exposure, but with the limited settings, this is practically useless. Since you can’t select a shutter speed of 1/500th if the camera has already been advanced and I prefer to avoid handheld shots at or below 1/60th, it leaves me two shutter speeds and apertures to shift between, and the difference between shooting at f8 and f11 isn’t a big enough deal to warrant locking up my whole camera for! In reality, you basically just get used to having to set the shutter speed first and then twiddle the aperture lever so it doesn’t drag the shutter speed with it while changing it.

All in all, this is a very refined and beautiful camera to hold and to use, and apparently the hipsters haven’t gotten hip to them yet and the prices are still very reasonable. Consider picking one up.

Adjusting Kodak pocket Instamatic 60 and Trimlite 48 Rangefinders

When Kodak released their new 110 pocket Instamatic film they produced a wide range of cameras to support the format. They ranged from the simple inexpensive fixed everything snap shot cameras to the high end cameras with fast f2.7 sharp lenses which were very expensive for the time (over $700 in today’s dollars!). The highest end ones had an integrated rangefinder. In ’72, this was the pocket Instamatic 60 which was replaced a few years later with the Trimlite 48 (shown above).

After 50 years, it is common for these rangefinders to have gone out of adjustment. This may potentially be from stress relaxation of the all bent parts that the camera uses, but doing deep searches on the internet, I was unable to find any reference on how to adjust them.

The first thing you have to do is remove the top cover. To do this, you need to take your jeweler’s screw driver and find somewhere along the edge of the cover to start lifting it off. The cover has positioning tabs on both ends and some glue to keep it on. The glue will probably have gone brittle so won’t cause much problems, but once you find a point where you can start lifting the cover off, just slide it along to loosen the cover until it comes off (without marring or bending it!).

Once the cover is off, you can see the top of the camera workings. Deep in the access hole (shown) is a flathead screw that adjusts the lateral movement of the rangefinder.

While the first photos shown are of the Trimlite 48, you can see below that the pocket Instamatic 60 is essentially the same camera. Same hole and same adjustment.

What I do then is to measure out 15′ from a small light source, set the distance scale to 15′ and adjust the rangefinder to show 15′. After adjusting to 15′, I then confirm that the rangefinder is good for 4′ and 30′. Everything else is fine at that point (within the tolerance of the scale anyway). For small formats, precise focus isn’t as important as it is for larger formats.

The only problem left is that (I cannot find) there isn’t a vertical adjustment for the rangefinder, so even once it is setup for accuracy, there will likely be a vertical offset. If anyone finds a way to adjust that, please let me know and I will update this page!

Regarding the rangefinders, I think they are very bright, but others want brighter, so they darken the center of the viewfinder to make them appear brighter. I already find the brightness a little distracting for composing images (preferring separate VF and RFs ala. Leica Barnack), so I might consider going the other way and covering up the rangefinder window with a small piece of black tape so it went away until I really needed it. Really, I’ve got a pocket Instamatic 50 in my pocket which is exactly like the 60 without a rangefinder at all.

Aside from the Trimlite 48 being pretty ugly (IMO), the benefit it has over the 60 is that it reads 400 speed film. The 60 only works with “slow speed” films. This could be a big deal depending on what you want to shoot. I mostly shoot in good light. But since you never get something for nothing, what you lose with the 48 is a cable release socket, so if you want to do tripod work, the 60 is by far the better choice.

Me Showing Off My Burke and James Orbit Camera – Short Video

My film student son had to do a quick demo video using reflected light, so he chose me with my large format camera on the spectacular vintage Tilt-All tripod for the subject matter. I think it’s really well done. All handheld with a manual focus lens.

One Camera – The Leica Way?

"Read Dial" Leica IIIf With "Red Scale/Diamond" Elmar Lens
Both From Around 1952

In conversations on social media and in real life, I’ve been discussing how I’d like to simplify my photographic life and only settle on one camera. When I started as a photography student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I only owned a basic Pentax K1000 (SLR) with the standard 50mm f1.7 lens. It was really all I felt I needed and really all I even wanted at the time. Yes, I kind of was jealous of my friends who had the much more expensive Nikon SLRs, but I didn’t really see much need for the extra features. A fast 50 and a built in match needle light meter were basically all I thought any “art photographer” needed. Sure, I could see that journalists and wedding photographers would need more, but that was never my calling and I never found the Pentax lens to be lacking either–it got the job done.

Fast forward to now and I have a lifetime of buying selling and collecting and shooting all kinds of cameras. Because, other than being an avid photographer, I am also a pathological camera collector. The two sides of this seem to be opposed to each other, but perhaps they aren’t. While shooting many different cameras can get in the way of getting to really know one well, in the big picture, all cameras have a lot in common, so there are things you can learn no matter what camera you are shooting.

But back to exploring the concept of one camera, I’m trying to push myself into concentrating on shooting the Leica IIIf (pictured above). How I ended up with this camera was kind of a stroke of fate, so if there is something to the idea of “what is meant to happen is what happens,” then maybe I should just go with it. To set about finding the one camera would be very daunting, since there are so many to choose from, having one dropped in your lap, almost as if from the Gods, makes the choice a lot easier.

Before the end of my marriage and the financial calamity that followed in its wake, I was mostly shooting Canon Pro bodies, L-lenses, and their stellar TS-E lenses, along with a small kit of Leica R gear (for manual work). But in the eight years it took me to dig my way out of this crippling financial debt, pretty much all my belongings of value were sold off… all the Canon L lenses, the Leica R, my large format gear, and a modest Leica rangefinder kit (Leica IIIc with some lenses). I wasn’t that drawn to the old Barnack rangefinders back then, especially for a user camera, even though it was hard not to appreciate their classic German design.

Even without any world class cameras left in my bag, I still managed to get by and kept going out shooting photos. I guess part of me also doesn’t mind using modest gear, even perhaps taking it on as kind of an enjoyable challenge (“I don’t need no stinkin’ Leica to take good photos!”). One night when I took my kids to Bookman’s (a local used bookstore) I spied the Leica IIIf (shown above) from across the store poking out of a completely thrashed case. Once it registered what it was, I almost broke into a run across the store to make sure I was the one who got their hands on it first! Once I saw it up close, I knew what it was and was almost afraid to turn it over to look for the the price (Bookman’s is known for sometimes being ridiculously overpriced!), but to my surprise, it was only $25! Yes, the shutter curtain was cracked and the lens pretty much frozen up, but it was all there! $25! This is almost that once in a lifetime find that all junkers and collectors dream of!

It took a number of years to get back on my feet financially, but when I did, I sent the camera in to Youxin Ye and he fixed everything for what I thought was a really fair price. Everything works perfectly now. Just a joy to hold and and shoot! Smooth and silent!

Even though I had sold my Leica IIIc during my bankruptcy fire sale, I did keep a few lenses for the camera for some reason. None of them worth that much at the time, but from the only roll of film I shot with the Voigtlander and a set of photos that I had enlarged from this roll to be included in a local group show, I had the sense that the low production Color-Skopar was somehow special.

Industar-26M, Voigtlander Color-Skopar, and Jupiter-8 LTM Lenses

Besides the Voigtlander lens, the other two are low end Russian lenses. The first, the Industar-26M is predecessor to the often praised Industar-61 L/d, both very good performing f2.8 lenses. The second, the Jupiter-8 is a Zeiss Sonar copy. I wish I could say it was a stellar bootleg of the legendary Zeiss lens, but it’s pretty soft and pretty low contrast. My son liked adapting it to his Micro Four Thirds camera for a while and shooting it wide open for the effect, but while I can be a “bokeh snob,” I’m not really a fan of razor thin depth of field anyway, so other than just having a fast prime for the camera, I doubt it will get much use.

I came on the Color-Skopar as kind of a fluke reading about it online and seeing a closeout sale price of around $239. It seemed like an interesting LTM lens at a bargain price. While my Leica IIIf sat in my camera case unusable, the Voigtlander sat in a drawer completely orphaned by the lack of body to use it on. During this time I watched used prices of the lens soar, now somewhere between $500-600!

Everything I’ve read explaining the rise in prices points to a nearly cult following of the lens among Japanese photographers. If you look for examples from the lens on flickr or similar sites, they do feature a lot of (really nice) work by Japanese photographers. American photographers seem to be more drawn to the extremes in lens design–super fast apertures and biting sharp resolution. To my eye, many modern lenses are too sharp. Giving a too “clinical” look. And as I’ve already said, super narrow depth of field is not at all my thing either. I always read that the Japanese have a different sense of aesthetics than most Americans and I think I can it appreciate it as well. My shared appreciation for this Voigtlander lens fits in with this. While the character of the lens is somewhat subtle, there is something to its rendering properties that I really love, and besides that, it works really well on my IIIf! Pairing the old with the new!

Voigtlander Color-Skopar on a Leica IIIf

So between the Elmar collapsible lens both making the camera fully pocketable and giving a classic older lens rendering, the Color-Skopar giving the camera the ability for more modern, but still distinctive look, and the Jupiter-8 for more “artsy” wide aperture work, the camera can be used for many types of photography.

And what’s really the point of this all? For me it’s to have fun, so in that vein, below is a photo of me goofing around with the camera!

Me With My Leica IIIf

Some New Model 150 Polaroid Land Camera Shots From Around Town

I’ve been taking the Model 150 Polaroid Land Camera out with me when I’ve been shopping and doing errands. You never know when you will find an interesting environmental emotional study that needs to be captured. Once thing I like about shooting sheet film cameras with paper is that you can shoot a single image and then quickly develop just that one image without much effort. Here are a few recent shots taken with my modified Polaroid Camera on Fomaspeed Variant 311 RC paper and developed in Tmax 1:9. Many people claim this paper is super fast (for paper) and can be exposed as ISO 25 or 50. I’m finding that the best I can do is ISO 6 at midday and ISO 3 in the late afternoon (including a yellow filter).

Polaroid Land Camera Model 150 – A Rediscovery and Reinvention of a Classic

When Mark Zuckerberg’s AI machine did its magic, it pushed an ad for this old Polaroid Model 150 camera into my news feed. They somehow knew this was another camera priced and packaged just right for me and that I wouldn’t be able to resist buying it. I paid $30 shipped for it along with a what turned out to be a very beat up and worthless leather case and some original documents. I like having the original documentation.

In case you aren’t familiar with these cameras, it is slightly upgraded version of the original entry level Polaroid Land Camera. The main difference is that it has a built in rangefinder. Production was begun in 1957 and these were sold until 1960. These used the original and long discontinued Polaroid (Type 42) roll film.

The Model 110’s were the professional versions of this camera and while being essentially identical, they have a much better Rodenstock Ysarex f4.7 Lens in a Prontor shutter (or similar depending on the exact model). The 110 cameras can be found for under $100, but they often go for much more and they still need to be modified to be used with any film available today. Maybe if I find a deal on one, I’ll give it the same mods, but very quickly, I think I’d rather put my money toward replacing the Speed Graphic camera I was force to sell a while back.

The Model 150 is equipped with a quality f8.8 triplet lens and I suspect that stopped down it performs nearly as well as the Rodenstock on the 110A.

I first remember seeing one of these cameras in the 1970’s. It was already so retro looking that I fell in love, but even then, the film was hard to locate and really too expensive to mess around with creatively (for me).

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed people converting these cameras to either take 120 roll film or 4×5″ film holders. Neither is really ideal since the 4×5″ conversions require extensive modifications to the camera which unless you have a modest machine shop, end up looking too ragged for me. The 120 conversions require adding some kind of winding knob, and even then, if done cleanly, the native 3×4″ image size is larger than 120 film will cover. Other approaches entail using the camera as-is, but loading film or paper into the camera in complete darkness and only taking a single shot. This final approach seems much too limiting to me.

But after getting this beautiful camera into my possession, I decided I would be able to come up with perhaps a better way to modify it for actual use.

My solution was to design my own single sheet 3.5×5″ film holders. I used simple black card stock from Michael’s and since I’ve been experimenting with paper negatives, that is what I’ve been using in the camera (though there isn’t any reason I can’t load my film holders with 4×5″ sheet film cut down to 3.5×5″).

As shown in the user manual below, you can see that there is both an inner back (with pressure plate) and an outer back (left hand side). My goal was to leave the camera looking as original as possible, at least on the outside.

To allow for a film holder to be placed in the camera, I first recognized that the inner back needed to be removed. I did this by removing the wire from the hinge and then using a pliers to snap off the raised lip on the camera where the hinge was riveted onto the it. This was easy to do very neatly because of dramatic step in the thickness coupled with the cheap alloy metal used in the camera body.

I then took the inner back and used a hack saw to cut off the hinged end of it. After popping out the two rollers, I was able to wire the roller flanges together and use two sided foam tape to attach the old inner back to the outer back (as seen on the left hand side above). The pressure plate is now in the correct location for holding down my slim film holders. I cut a piece of 1/8th inch hobby ply to cover the Negative Spool well and hot glued it in place (upper right hand side). This allows the existing silver spring (upper left hand end) to push down the film holder against the flat surface. After suffering light leaks in my first tests, I lined this surface with black felt as a light trap.

I also added a thin wooden strip to act as a stop for the film holders on the other side of the film gate. Below you can see how the film holders fit right into the back of the camera.

When you close the back of the camera, just a short end of the film holder and dark slide stick out the end where you would originally have pulled out the film. With these film holders, you simply pull out the darkslide and the camera is really to shoot. Shoot your image, reinsert your darkslide, open the back and put in a new film holder and you are ready for your next shot.

The camera uses an EV system for setting exposure. The user manual lets you know what aperture and f-stops are used for each EV number. If you flip the I->B switch on the front of the camera you get a single shot in “bulb” mode for long exposures. The camera takes universal cable releases.

From my first two test shots, light leaks were a big problem, but the images still looked pretty promising. The shot below was taken handheld at EV = #10. This test shot alerted me to the need for better light seals in the camera and to add an additional siding black ring to better seal my film holders. This shot was taken with a yellow cloud filter on Ilford MGIV glossy RC paper developed in Kodak Tmax developer (1:9).

After the first tests, tweaking the camera and film holders, I moved on to try a new paper that people on the internet were recommending–Fomaspeed Variant 311 glossy. Since I tend to like Foma film, I was happy to try their paper. Plus it’s cheap!

Both shots below were taken at f35 and 1 second exposure (midday), essentially rating the Fomaspeed paper at ISO 6 (including the filter factor for the yellow cloud filter). Contrast was well controlled, but the negatives were so dense that I will probably rate the paper at ISO 12 next time. With the low contrast, the paper seems to have pretty good latitude.

The camera is a total beauty and while even rather simple, it is quite capable. I tested the rangefinder and thankfully it was perfectly accurate so I didn’t have to open up the top of the camera to adjust it. The scale focus was pretty far off though, and the slots cut too short to correct, so I had to file them longer to correct this, but it was probably wasn’t necessary since the rangefinder is so large and bright that I can’t imagine myself not using it.

While the Model 150 is really too old to have had an impact on my life, I later discovered the old (newer) packfilm cameras like my Polaroid 360. Unlike shooting film (which I did a lot of when my kids were young) and shooting digital when it became affordable, there was always a magic for my kids watching me use the big packfilm camera and showing them real photos being developed right in front of their eyes. While Polaroids ushered in a new way of seeing and interacting with photographs, it is pretty much gone with the advent of digital photography.

If you are feeling nostalgic and would like to read about the history of Edwin Land, his inventions, the Polaroid cameras, and their impact on culture and society, I can’t recommend INSTANT, The Story of Polaroid, by Christopher Bonanos highly enough–a very enjoyable read.

For those wanting to do something similar, below are my notes for making the film holders. I’ve made five of them so far, they don’t take much effort, but they do need to be glued which means they take time between the steps.

A Small Office Park – Seen Through a Kodak Bausch and Lamb Rapid Rectolinear Lens

So I’ve taken out my Burke and James 4×5″ Orbit camera into the more urban setting. This time fitted with my Kodak Bausch and Lamb Rapid Rectolinear lens. It is much brighter than the Kodak meniscus lens and a bit sharper in the corners and edges, but still not exactly up to modern standards. Again, I was shooting Ilford MC RC paper rated at ISO 6 (developed in Kodak Tmax film developer). Of the four shots I took in this small office park, these three were exposed pretty perfectly. A fourth was under exposed and couldn’t really be rescued. It is quickly becoming apparent that paper negatives are very sensitive to any under exposure. I’ve been using my Sekonic Twinmate meter for all my shots to try and get more reliable exposures.

I’ve shot all these photos with the lens set to f32. Stopped down this far and shooting after 5:30 pm, gives very long exposures–these mostly around 4 secs. On a windy day, like this one, you can see a lot of motion blur in the trees and foliage. I think I like this effect.

Between the motion blur, the paper negative giving a more old fashioned orthochromatic film look (being mostly sensitive to blue light) and the hundred year old Rapid Rectolinear lens giving a less than sharp image from corner to corner, these photos have what I think is a somewhat unique (and might I add, “romantic”) look.

Burke and James 4×5″ Orbit View Camera, First Impressions and a Few New Photos

Taking the Burke and James Orbit out for a little alley shots. I have it fitted with Kodak meniscus lens. Shots are all done at f32 on paper negatives (rated at ISO 6). I’m starting to get used to shooting this giant old beast! Though it is hard not to make occasional mistakes (such as: forgetting to close the shutter before pulling the dark slide, forgetting to stop the lens down before shooting, or pulling the rear facing dark slide instead of the forward facing one!) I’m sure I’ll make other mistakes as time goes on, so good thing paper negatives are cheap and nothing I shoot is ever really a “once in a lifetime” shot! I’m happy when I get a good image.

The low end hundred year old Kodak lens is pretty adequate for these large negatives so long as they aren’t enlarged too much and you aren’t too critical of the corner sharpness. The lens has a pleasant look to it, but for my next shots, I’ll be trying out a Kodak Bausch and Lamb Rapid Rectolinear lens, which is supposed to be much better (especially based on modern expectations) even though it too is another hundred year old lens.

My New View Camera

Well, Big Brother Mark Zuckerberg with his giant AI machine decided I wouldn’t be able to turn down a pushed ad for this beat up old view camera if it cost only $59 with free shipping, so I am now the proud owner of this total battleship of a Burke and James Orbit camera.

The camera arrived, pretty rough and dirty, but completely intact and working. I had to straighten out a couple folds of the bellows, but they were all sound and light tight.

While I had some old 4×5″ film holders lying around from my past Speed Graphic days, I didn’t have a lens for the large format camera and I wanted something right away, so I went to the wonderful local used camera store, Monument Camera (under new management) to see what they had. Sadly, nothing for 4×5″, even if they did have some beautiful antique brass lenses for much larger formats. I looked through some of their old cameras and came across a No. 3A Folding Autographic Brownie with the lowest spec Achromatic Meniscus lens in a Kodak ball bearing shutter (which seemed quite crisp). The bellows were shot so I got the camera for only $20. I made a lens board out of some hobby wood and mounted it on my view camera. It is probably 100 years old, but I measured it to be around 150mm and it seems to have no problems covering the 4×5″ negative even while using generous movements, even if it is about the worst lens Kodak ever produced.

So the first chance I had a few minutes to test out a couple of quick exposures, I took it out into my back yard. Since I’ve never shot on a paper negative before, I wasn’t really trying to do much other than get a starting point from which to improve, and honestly, I thought it was going to be a total disaster. But it wasn’t. I’m pretty impressed by the process! On the first shot, I forgot to close the lens before pulling the dark slide (doh! I’m sure that won’t be the only time I do that!). On another, I must have messed up pushing in the film holder because it had a nice bright light leak in one of the corners. But I kind of liked the feeling of a mixed up distant and hazy childhood memory in the photo below.

When I saw the photo with the light leak, I tried to like it as kind of an “arty” image, but the perfectionist in me was kind of hesitant. But I was really impressed with how the lens rendered the rectilinear scene. I had used quite a bit of rise in this image and I didn’t see any vignetting. While I was looking at the photo, my daughter came in and told me I had to let go of my perfectionism and embrace the accidents. She thought the fogged corner made this a way cooler photo! While I wouldn’t try to do it, I kind of love the mystery it evokes.

Later, my son looked at the photo and commented after some thought, “You know dad, I walk past there all the time (it is in our back yard!), but I never saw it how you see it here.” I thought that was kind of cool too… opening up to new ways of seeing!

Anyway, I am really enjoying the camera, the movements and everything (except maybe the size). My main experience using camera movements has come from my past use of Canon system cameras and their beautiful and expensive TS-E lenses. This view camera and the ground glass focusing is much different, especially with the slow Kodak lens, but I’m loving it! I went out and shot some new images in the alley behind my house. It already feels completely nature.

Regarding the junk antique lens, I’m going to try and see how far I can go with it. It would be easy to jump right in and order a nice faster and more modern Fujinon or Schneider 150mm, but maybe my images with this Kodak will produce images more in line with my emotional intent.

The other technical detail is that I’m focusing on using paper negatives. They are known to produce images with an old time film look and some skewed rendering. For those interested in trying this, my paper was Ilford MGIV rated at around ISO 4 and I developed them in Kodak Tmax developer (1:9). I doubled my exposure because the images were shot after 5:30 and the reduced UV light at this time is supposed to reduce the effective ISO. Right out of the tray, the exposures looked pretty perfect.