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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I was in elementary school, I watched Jimmy Stewart in Carbine Williams. In it, Williams (played by Stewart), a convicted moonshiner and murderer, passes the hellish hours in prison designing innovative firearms in his head as a way of preserving his sanity. I was always a fan of Stewart and his soft, thoughtful, and yet forceful persona in his movies. In Carbine Williams, Stewart makes you both forgive his past and respect the mental escape he found in inventing his rifle. I could identify strongly with this premise as I was often caught passing hours and avoiding life’s difficulties by concocting complex plans for different inventions in my mind—one of the main subjects being cameras and related photographic devices.
Due to a number of unforeseen financial burdens, I was recently dealt, buying a new large format camera would not be responsible at the moment. I used to own a nice Speed Graphic which would have been a good experimental platform to play with now, but I sadly sold that years ago. So, since I’ve always thought about building a large format camera, it has me rethinking this project. Also, I’ve been shooting semi-large format (616) roll film in a couple old Kodak Brownie box cameras. Somehow, once you start shooting larger formats, you want to shoot even larger. The next logical step is of course 4x5” sheet film.
So now I’ve found myself obsessively imagining the details of a custom built 4x5” camera. Starting with the lens. After a few weeks of coming up with preliminary design ideas, I managed to sketch them out on paper (above). I am collecting the detailed measurements in a working lab book to refer to while developing my detailed design.
For the modeling work, I’m using an open source parametric modeler called FreeCAD. 25 years ago, most of us couldn’t have even dreamed of the power such a 3D modeler had to offer. Couple this with an inexpensive 3D printer like my Ender 3 and you become practically your own rapid prototyping service.
For my lens design, I’m starting off with a Wollaston Landscape Lens mostly because of its simplicity, but also for its classic “pictorialist” imaging properties. It’s comprised of a single positive meniscus lens with an aperture placed in front of the lens at an optimized distance (I’m using 1/6th of the focal length as my starting point) to improve image quality. It was first designed and patented in 1812, predating even the invention of photography, but was used widely in early large format cameras and later in the more inexpensive box cameras like the Kodak Brownies.
I read once that Edward Weston shot many of his iconic photos using simple meniscus lenses that he modified to have extremely small apertures (ignoring the diffraction effects that this would introduce—absolute sharpness is not always everything in a photo!). Weston’s Pepper No. 30 image was reported to have been taken at f240 with an exposure time of 4-6 hours!
There are more complicated two and three element classic lens designs that I can play with too, or I can simply find old cameras with interesting lenses and modify my modularly designed large format camera to accept them. Edmonds has many “experimental grade” lens elements that sell for only a few dollars. My first build it going to be around a 42mm diameter 195mm lens I bought from them—a slightly long “normal” lens.
One detail I’ve struggled over and have decided to simply ignore in my first prototypes is a shutter. The reason I’m ignoring this feature is that it greatly increases the complexity of the design while not necessarily adding a needed feature since I plan on starting out using paper negatives rated at ISO 4! Coupling this slow negative speed with a small aperture of around f32, I’ll be shooting on a tripod even in sunny conditions outdoors—and I can easily convince myself that sounding out “one-thousand-and-one” gives a perfectly precise one-second exposure.
Early 19th century large format banquet cameras often didn’t have a shutter built into the lens and the photographer controlled the exposure by taking off the lens cap, or more commonly, used his black hat as a shutter. Given that I primarily shoot photos out in the local alleys, I think choosing the appropriate black hat for myself will be almost as important as the details of my lens design!
Although there are many good sites devoted to pinhole photography, I felt it would be useful to outline the basic pinhole photography concepts that I have found to be important.
In a nutshell, a pinhole camera does not have a lens, but instead has a small pinhole that lets light into the camera to form an image on a piece of light sensitive material. Pinhole images are much "softer" than images formed by cameras utilizing a quality system of lenses, but have nearly infinite depth of field. Pinhole cameras can be made from anything that is light-tight and can hold film behind a pinhole. Many pinhole cameras have been made from old cookie tins, oatmeal canisters or precision built large format cameras. For many "pinholers," building their pinhole camera is part of the pinhole "art." For me, there is something very satisfying about building such a low-tech piece of gear that can actually be used to produce pleasing images.
I require that all my pinhole cameras accept either cassette, roll-film or large format film backs so I can go out in the field and conveniently shoot multiple photos. The easiest way to do this is to cannibalize an existing camera and install a pinhole in place of the lens. Argus A's and Lubitels are good candidates for this because they are both practically worthless as actual cameras and have all the features required for pinhole cameras. This essentially means having a shutter with cable release that has a bulb (B) or time (T) setting. The Argus has a bulb and time setting which is very useful for long exposures.
Once you have settled on a camera, you have to decide on the focal length that you plan on using. This is simply the distance from the pinhole to the film. If you are after the sharpest images possible from your pinhole camera you have to use a pinhole that balances being as small as possible, but not being so small that diffraction starts to degrade your image. Lord Rayleigh presented the following formula for the optimum pinhole diameter (do):
do = 1.9 Sqrt[lamda*F] [Eq. 1]
where, F is the focal length of the "lens" and lamda is the wavelength of light that the camera is being optimized for. Lamda is generally assumed to be .00055mm (550 nm = the green portion of the visible light spectrum).
There are multitudes of equations for determining the optimum diameter for a pinhole, but for historical reasons I feel that you should just use Lord Rayleigh's simple formula (especially since his formula agrees well with most modern formulations anyway).
There are many ideas how to create a proper pinhole, but I will present my approach because I have never had a problem easily producing very precise pinholes. I first set my Vernier calipers to the desired pinhole diameter and place it in my negative carrier (with my enlarger head as high as it will go) and focus the caliper gap onto a piece of paper held flat in my easel and then mark out the gap using a sharp pencil. Without moving my enlarger head I next proceed to make my pinhole. I use a common pushpin and poke a hole in my .001 inch brass shim-stock (available at Ace Hardware and hobby stores) with a rotating motion while it is held on a hard surface. I then steel wool both sides of the shim-stock, blow it out with compressed air and then slide it into my negative carrier and check the hole diameter as compared to the marks on the paper below. I do this several times until I get the pinhole just right. You will be amazed at how perfectly round your pinhole will be using this method. I see no need to purchase laser cut pinholes for use in experimental cameras.
Now that you have your pinhole made you have to attach it to your camera. There are many ways to do it depending on your camera design, but never underestimate the usefulness of black electricians tape.
The next step is determining your camera's f-stop (f). This is simply:
f = F/d [Eq. 2]
where F is the camera's focal length and d is the pinhole diameter.
If you used my method for making the pinhole, this f number will be very accurate. The only problem is that you probably don't have a light meter that goes past f-100 so the easiest method for determining outdoor exposures is to use the "sunny 16" rule. This rule states that for general outdoor shots in "bright" sun your exposure time (t sec.) should be:
t = 1/ASA @ f-16 [Eq. 3]
were ASA is the ISO number of the film you are using.
Since your pinhole camera will have a "lens" nowhere near f-16, you have to do some side calculations to adjust the rule for your particular pinhole. The first step is to determine how many stops (x) you are above f-16. This is accomplished by solving the following equation for x:
16 Sqrt^x = f [Eq.4]
where f is the calculated pinhole f-stop.
It should be noted that each f-stop is Sqrt times greater than the proceeding one. This is because the f-stops are defined to represent a doubling of light entering the camera which comes from the area of the "lens" opening, where:
Area = Pi d^2 /4 [Eq. 5]
Note that it only takes an increase in d of Sqrt to double the Area and consequently the amount of light admitted in the camera.
I personally find it convenient to select film that results in a one second exposure for "bright sun" conditions. This is because I can easily count out "one thousand one" for my exposure time and get fairly accurate exposures. Longer exposures are not a problem, you simply count longer. You can determine the required film speed to achieve this condition by using the following equation and solving for ASA:
2^x/ASA = 1 [Eq. 6]
where x is the number of f-stops your camera is above f-16.
Once you know how many f-stops your camera is from f-16 you can use any exposure meter to take precise exposure readings. The easiest way to do this is to set your meter's ASA setting to that of your film and take a reading from you scene. You can then just count how many f-stops the scene is from the sunny 16 prediction and adjust your cameras base sunny 16 exposure time by that many stops. For instance, if you are using 125 ASA film and your meter suggests 1/30 at f-16, you are two stops away from the sunny 16 "bright sun" condition and have to increase your pinhole exposure by 2 stops. As in f-stops, each "stop" increase in exposure is a doubling of the previous "exposure stop," hence the adjusted exposure (E) is determined from:
E = 2^z Es [Eq. 7]
where Es is the shutter speed at sunny 16 conditions and z is how many stops the scene is away from sunny 16 conditions.
For my cameras with a base sunny 16 exposure time of 1 second, my exposure times are:
Ei = 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, . . .
where Ei = 1 sec. for bright sun, 4 sec. for cloudy bright (no shadows) and 8 sec. for heavy overcast. Past this you really need a meter for any accuracy. Note too that this is for an average subject and further adjustments might be required to make a proper exposure; with some practice you get very good at shooting without a meter. Below I present an exposure chart [Figure 1] for my pinhole camera.
Pinhole Exposure Chart
Figure 1. Exposure chart for my pinhole cameras.
You can simply scale my exposure time by the your base exposure time, for example, if your base exposure time is 1/2 second and you are shooting a scene that requires 4 additional stops you read my required time for 4 stops to be a 16 second exposure which you then scale by your base exposure time of 1/2 and you know that your required exposure time is 8 seconds.
We have discussed all the relevant aspects of building and using a pinhole camera while keeping the discussion completely general. I suggest that anyone planning on building a pinhole camera contemplate what would make the camera a pleasure to use and then put the effort into building one the way you like. I will show a couple of examples of my pinhole cameras along with images that I have produced from these cameras on other pages to give you a possible starting point. As I said at the beginning of this page, there are many other sites devoted to pinhole photography and I suggest that you search out some of the better ones for more in depth information and other people's ideas. My aim was to present a concise overview of all the concepts, theories and practical steps required to understand fully how to make and use a pinhole camera, now the rest is up to you.
While we have discussed how to make and use a pinhole camera we have completely avoided the question, "why?" There is of course no really good answer to this question, but as you research the subject you will find that there are many people involved with pinhole photography, there is obviously some some draw to the process if people keep returning to it. My theory is that pinhole photography puts you back in touch with an original technological form of magic that is very refreshing in this age of impressive auto-everything cameras capable of producing super-sharp detailed images of reality with the push of a button. From a practical standpoint, we could take "good" photos and just mess them up in Photoshop to produce the same images that we get from pinhole cameras, but then there is no magic. Further, it has been said that the problem with photography and why it isn't considered "art" by some in the traditional sense is that it just contains too much detail. Pinhole photography give random and sometime surprising results that can feel more artistic. There is plenty of room for the viewer's imagination to wander and fill in the unstated boundaries of a pinhole print. Pinhole images are often unpredictable, though all your traditional photography skills greatly improve your chances of producing really good pinhole images. We are still just capturing light to record an image in front of us, but the unpredictability gives the practitioner a feeling that they are somehow conjuring images out of the air.
Note: This is a copy of a post I made on my geocities page many years ago. Geocities has been shut down for almost 20 years, so I plan on archiving some of my work here.
Heading into the new year with a newly renewed No. 2a Hawk-Eye Kodak box camera and these are the first images from the first roll of film. I had estimated that the camera was shooting at 1/50th and f22, but the negatives came out really dark, so I’m guessing the aperture was closer to f18 and the shutter perhaps as slow as 1/25th. One hundred years ago, apertures were not standardized, so me in rounding to the nearest modern aperture setting was just a guess. Also, since no specs are released for the camera, even the basic focal length of the camera is unknown–I estimated this to be around 127mm, but judging from the framing, it might be a bit shorter.
Still, the images were certainly printable and have what I think is a pleasant look to them.
With my accessory sports finder, the camera is very comfortable to compose with, though I do wonder if shooting it in public makes me look a bit like a kook!
After adding my custom finder to Target Brownie Six-16 I went back out to a nearby alley to shoot some more photos with it. The huge finder completely changes the experience and the way I interact and see my surroundings.
These photos were shot using Fomapan 100 film developed in Tmax developer. I used a #3 Ilford contrast filter to up the contrast just a bit. In the future I plan on trying to push the film to 200 to get the same effect. Also, I think the added speed will help when shooting in more shaded areas. Kodak never published the apertures in this camera, but based on exposure, I’m guessing f22 and f32. The shutter speed is between 1/30th and 1/50th.
The camera was designed to take long discontinued 616 film, but I’m adapting 120 film for use in it. That’s why the frame numbers are visible in the images.
I really like the 1:1.7 postcard aspect ratio, though the lowly meniscus lens is very unsharp in the corners and at the edges. I am trying to embrace that as part of the camera’s charm and unique rendering characteristics.
The camera only gets 6 images per roll of 120 film. I accidentally bumped the shutter release and spoiled an otherwise good photo and I just didn’t like one of the photos so I’m not posting it here. I think that’s pretty good to get 4 out of 6! Of course in the age of digital, most people just go out and shoot a hundred photos looking for a few good ones. I’m trying to go in the opposite direction.
Below I’m pictured in a selfie with the camera after shooting these photos.
Loading up my Kodak Target Brownie Six-16 this morning, I was marveling at the sheer size of the camera. Even though the image goes all the way out to the edge of adapted 120 roll film, the massive 2 ½ x 4 ½ inch negative size pushes it right into the realm of a “large format” camera. I snapped a quick photo of it next to a more “normal” sized 6×9 Zeiss Box Tengor (Type 54/2, intermediate version) from around 1945 and the tiny 127 Kodak Baby Brownie from around 1940. The Target Six-16 is probably from the late 40’s.
The Target Six-16 takes the obsolete 616 roll film, but can easily be adapted to taking six large images on a standard roll of 120 film. The 2 ½ x 4 ½ inch negative size was chosen to give a “postcard” format image when contact printed. Unlike the Zeiss which has three apertures and three focus zones, the Target Six-16 is basically a point and shoot. The only adjustment you get are two apertures. Nowhere does Kodak specify what these apertures are (which is somewhat annoying!), but my guess is they are around f16 and f22 based on film results. With high latitude b&w film, it hardly matters which you use, but in the vintage manual for the camera, Kodak suggests using the smaller aperture when shooting distant scenes (IE. to get greater depth of field). Kodak did market a “portrait” adapter lens that could be pushed onto the camera to take *portraits* of objects 3 ½ feet away. Of course there is no parallax guidance for using the close-up lens. I didn’t have a hard time finding this accessory lens along with a yellow “cloud filter” for a reasonable price on ebay.
Aside from making a clip-on sports finder and 120 to 616 film adapters for the camera, the Target Six-16 is pretty much ready to shoot. Even my custom finder was more a luxury accessory since, unlike the horrible little ground glass finders on the Zeiss, the large “brilliant finders” on the Target Six-16 are very usable. One nice feature of the Baby Brownie is that it is one of the few box cameras to come with a pop-up sports finder.One of my initial concerns was that the camera, like almost all box cameras, has a very slow shutter speed. I measured mine to be between 1/30th to 1/50th of a second. As anyone who studied photography knows, the rule for hand holding a shot is 1/focal length. Most sources suggest that the focal length of this camera is around 100mm, so no way to get to that magic 1/FL guideline. Without thinking too much about it, I decided to just hold my breath and do the best that I could. But since the guideline is really based on shooting 35mm film, not large format, motion blur was not a problem in any of my photos! Reasoning it out, I realized that the assumptions that go into the 1/FL rule are not only dependent on the angle of view, but are also directly dependent on the negative diagonal dimension (enlargement factor). Using these factors, the angle of view is roughly equivalent to a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera and the diagonal is roughly 3 times larger.
Running through all the numbers, a 616 camera like this should be able to be handheld with a shutter speed of 1/16th of a second! Whew! Nothing to worry about! And this makes sense, since the people using these simple cameras in the first place were getting acceptable photos even though most buyers were complete photography novices. The downside of course is that at the low end, 1/30th of a second is hardly fast enough to stop action so even in an otherwise static landscape photo, even with the slightest breeze, motion blur in trees and foliage are to be expected. I’m trying to embrace this a an aesthetic effect.In the future, I plan on making a clip-on finder for the Zeiss since it is capable of taking very good photos, but I cannot reliably using its finders. I’ve used the Baby Brownie once, but I honestly don’t think the relatively tiny and impossible to find 127 film gives much benefits over just shooting 35mm. If I were to go back to a esoteric small roll film format, it would be for 828, but interestingly, never made a box camera using this format.
I think I’ve said elsewhere that my first *serious* film camera was an old Agfa 6×9 box camera that I picked out of the neighbor’s trash one night when I was around 11 or 12 years old. While I didn’t understand focusing or exposure at the time, I did understand that the camera took really respectable photos outdoors. It certainly took better photos than most of what I was seeing from the low end Kodak Instamatics that were becoming popular at the time.I don’t know why this Brownie box camera has become my current photography passion, but aside from a reconnection to my past, the challenge of using something that is both capable and terribly limited coupled to a technology that is very nostalgia is appealing… not to mention the physical elegance of the camera’s simplicity.
I used a photo shot in this camera for the cover image of my youtube song post: