Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Treasures from Time: Polaroid SK-70 Land

The seventh and last of the cameras I brought back from my Dad's was another one that caught my wife's eye: the SX-70 Land camera by Polaroid. Manufactured between 1972 and 1981, this model with chrome and leather trim was sold to higher end markets.

This model has a number of interesting things. First, its form factor. It collapses down into a relatively thin package and pops up easily (once you figure out the technique), ready to make pictures. Second, due to the folding and the fact that it's a SLR, the light path has to go through some odd shaped lenses in order to provide a proper image to both the view finder and film. Next, the disposable flash bars had logic circuits in them to determine which bulbs were used and which one to flash next. Finally, the film pack included a 6-volt battery to power both camera and flash. This ensured power was always available whenever there was film in it.

Later variations of this design introduced in the mid-70's allowed the price to drop, being made out of cheaper materials and with more features. Film chemistry was improved over the life of the product and by the late 70's, this format was the top selling film in the United States.

Open Source Hardware is an interesting movement to watch today. Sort of like Open Source Software groups that publish all their source code, there are companies that publish all the source documents for making their products. The idea is to allow more innovation, providing a means for customers to easily understand and modify their technology. Polaroid, while not opening up to this degree, was a fore-runner of this concept by selling two kits for hobbyists to incorporate their technology. One was their sonar kit for measuring distance that they developed for the OneShot camera, a descendant of the one pictured above. The other kit allowed people to use the flat, high-current 6-volt battery in their own projects.

That's it for this series. If you want to see other articles about the cameras I recently acquired, the introduction to this series has an index.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Treasures from Time: Canon T50

This Canon T50 caught my wife's eye, probably because she has an AE-1. The T50 has an interesting mix of features. It was designed as an inexpensive, entry level 35mm SLR and was the first of the T series, replacing the previous A series SLRs. Because of its position as a beginners camera, automatic is the only exposure control mode. It has auto-loading and a motor advance, allowing 1.4 frames per second. All the electronics are controlled by two AA batteries. In contrast to all this automation, the focus and rewind are manual.

The T50 accepts FD mount lenses, as was standard for Canon when this model was made between 1983 and 1989. This allowed an impressive array of glass options from a 7.5mm fisheye to a 600-830mm zoom.

Canon introduced a new shutter with this model. All their previous SLRs had horizontal sliding cloth shutters. The T50 pioneered the vertical sliding metal shutters that are still used in their current SLRs. This allowed sync speeds higher than the 1/60th second limit imposed by the old technology.

The introduction to this series has an index of all the cameras I recently acquired.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Treasures from Time: Kodak Pony II

As solid and advanced as the Retina IIc was yesterday, the Pony II is light and basic today. Shown above with an optional flash attached, this camera was manufactured between 1957 and 1962. It has a bakelite body with a simple viewfinder and takes 35mm film.

Focus is set by estimating the distance to the subject and dialing in that value on the dial around the lens. The lens is marked as 44mm at f/3.9 but the aperture control ring is indexed with exposure values, not f/stops. An EV of 9 is wide open and 15 closes the four bladed diaphragm to its smallest opening, which looks to be about f/22.

There is only a single shutter speed. I found a chart online that correlates exposure values/ISO to f/stops/shutter speeds. If I'm interpreting the chart correctly, I think the shutter speed is probably 1/30th or 1/60th of a second.

This is a really basic camera which made a perfect gift when I received it around 2nd grade. That's right. This is my first camera. I thought it had been lost or given away in the moves growing up, but Dad had it stored away somewhere and here it was, all ready for me to pick up again and start making pictures. It's light and plastic, but simple. And that means there's not really much to go wrong with it. It seems to work as well now as it did when I first got it, more than a couple decades ago.

The introduction to this series has an index of all the cameras I recently acquired.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Treasures from Time: Kodak Retina IIc

The next camera in this series is this Kodak Retina IIc. It's an incredibly solid little camera; the weight for it's size and the feel of all the mechanisms scream craftsmanship. The leather case is built such that it could probably survive years of hard abuse and still provide superb protection for the camera.

The Retina line was manufactured in Stuttgart, Germany for Kodak by their subsidiary Nagel Camerawerk. The original Retina was introduced in 1934 and pioneered the 35mm film format. The Retina IIc shown above was produced between 1954 and 1957. Like the other Retina II series cameras preceding it, it has a rangefinder viewfinder, an exposure calculator and interchangeable lenses.

The exposure calculator is an interesting feature, apparently introduced on the second generation Retina I model. The user sets the "light value" which locks in a ratio between shutter speed and f/stop. A ring can then be rotated that allows the shutter speed or f/stop to be adjusted that keeps the other in sync for proper exposure. It's basically a mechanical version of the aperture value and time value modes on current DSLRs.

Shutter speeds are bulb mode or between 1 and 1/500th second, and the flash can sync at any speed. There's a 10 second self-timer. The standard 50mm lens is f/2.8 and is reputed to be a very good lens. Close-up adapters, wide angle (35mm f/5.6) and telephoto (80mm f/4) lenses were also available along with quite a few other accessories, including a microscope adaptor.

This camera has no personal history; my Dad could not remember how it showed up in his collection. But its solid feel and the exposure computer caught my attention and drew me to it. It should be fun to give it a try.

The introduction to this series has an index of all the cameras I recently acquired.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Treasures from Time: Wardflex II

The twin-lens reflex Wardflex II is the next oldest in my new collection and the second with some personal history. Most of the cameras I recently acquired have quite a bit of information available online. This one is an exception.

About all I've been able to find out about it is the Wardflex was a rebadged import sold by Montgomery Wards. The original plastic version was sold before World War II and used 620 film. Post war through the early 50's they introduced another model by the same name with upgraded optics and a metal body that used 120 film. In 1957 they updated to the Wardflex II and sold it for several years.

The lens opens up to f/3.5 and closes down to f/22 with a focal length of 80mm. Looks like the shutter speed is limited from 1 second down to 1/300th second and bulb mode.

Like the Graflex, there's a bit of personal history with this one too. It also belonged to my great-Grandfather and given to my Dad by my Grandparents. He used it all through my growing up years until he got a Minolta SLR when I was in Jr. High or High school. Other than the shutter being a bit gummy it's in great shape. I need to get it in to get cleaned up and it should be good to go make some images.

Also shown is a Sekonic Auto-Lumi model 86. There's more online information available on this than the camera. It was made between 1963 and 1978 and sold new for about $9.00. It uses a selenium photo cell as a sensor with the output displayed on a micro-amp meter. The amount of current generated by the light hitting the photo cell is directly shown on the meter. A simple, battery-less system with very few things to go wrong. It shows the average reflected light but can't be used for incident light.

The introduction has an index of all the cameras in this series.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Treasures from Time: Graflex RB series B

The next oldest in my new collection is a Graflex RB series B camera and the first with some personal history. The company changed names a number of times over its history, making it easier to narrow down the age. The manufacture's plate indicates it was made by The Folmer-Graflex Corporation. According to Wikipedia, this was used between 1928 and 1946. Near as I can find in searching around, the RB series B was made until 1942, further limiting the possible date of manufacture.

This one has a number of interesting features to it.
  • The back film carrier rotates, allowing the photographer to switch between portrait and landscape without rotating the camera.
  • Normally there is a sheet film holder on the back. Mine has a "newer" 120 holder that clips into where the sheet holder would usually fit.
  • The lens is interchangeable and had several options. I just have the standard lens made by Kodak. It has f/stops from 4.5 to 32. There was also a telephoto lens that was popular with portrait photographers.
  • The shutter is a length of fabric with various sized slits in it called curtain apertures. It is rolled onto a roller that has spring tension on it. The more it's rolled, the higher the tension and the faster the shutter speed. The combination of which aperture is selected and the amount of tension on the roller control the shutter speed from 1/10th to 1/1000th of a second.
  • The viewfinder is setup like a twin-lens reflex with a 45 degree mirror and a ground glass. The difference is there's only one lens. The image on the glass is size-for-size exactly what the film will see. It's a real SLR.

As I mentioned, there's a bit of personal history with this one. It had belonged to my great-Grandfather and my Grandparents didn't have any use for it, or one of the other cameras, so they gave them to my Dad when I was an infant. I have early memories of playing around with this but I've never known it to be used. I don't know that my Dad ever put any film in it. I think it's time to get some 120 and see what it'll do.

The introduction has an index of all the cameras in this series.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Treasures from Time: Kodak 1A Autographic

The oldest of the cameras in my new collection is the Kodak 1A Autographic. It takes 116 film and according the Kodak web site was made between 1917 and 1924 with an original list price of $21.

The aperture is marked in the old Uniform System to indicate the diaphragm opening. It's marked 4 to 128 which, according to a table I found on Wikipedia, corresponds to f/8 to f/45.2.

The shutter has five speed settings: 25, B, 50, T and 100. Based on sound, I think 25, 50 and 100 are 1/25th, 1/50th and 1/100th of a second. B, which I assume stands for Bulb, keeps the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is held down. T, which I assume stands for Timed, opens the shutter on the first shutter release press and closes it when the shutter release is pressed a second time.

The view finder consists of two lens 90 degrees to each other with a 45 degree mirror reflecting the image from the front one into the top one. You look down into the top one to frame your image; basically a rudimentary twin-lens reflex. The assembly rotates 90 degrees for either landscape or portrait mode.

Probably the most unique thing about this camera is in the back. It has a little metal window that opens up. The camera takes A116 film. This is normal 116 film with a sheet of tissue paper rolled up with it. The idea is you can open the window and write on the tissue paper for each exposure. Who knew there was keyword tagging for your photos at the beginning of the last century?

The introduction has an index of all the cameras in this series.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Treasures from Time: Introduction

Over Labor Day weekend last month, Lady Pebbles and I made a fast trip to northern California to pick up a shop tool that my Dad has been storing for me. While we were rummaging through his shop looking for something, he yelled "Ah!", pulled out a box, probably two feet square and 18 inches deep, handed it to me and told me to take it to the house for later. I did, went back to working on the project at hand and forgot about it.

After dinner, he set it in the middle of the floor, opened it up and started pulling out cameras. He needed to clear them out of his storage area and was giving me first dibs on them. There were a lot of cool old mechanical picture taking marvels. Each was interesting in its own way but there were too many for me to want to bring them all home.

A good portion of them had been given to him over the years by people who knew he had an interest in cameras. He used to have a shelf running around his office to display them on and so it was pretty common knowledge. But since moving a number of years ago, they've been in storage, out of sight.

We spent several hours going through them. It was a really cool. We did a lot of web searching on each one, just out of curiosity. When it was all said and done, I choose eight to bring home. One (not pictured) I knew my good friend Rich would appreciate. Three of them have personal history for me. The rest I got just because of their coolness factor.

Back to front, left to right, mostly in age order:
Kodak 1A Autographic
Graflex RB series B
Wardflex II
Kodak Retina IIc
Kodak Pony II
Canon T50
Polaroid SK-70 Land