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Collector's Corner

We collect reviews of the latest photography equipment, cameras, and lenses. Our reviews are from real people and real buyers. All the items reviewed are linked to multiple buying options, new and used. If you are wondering what people really think, and how something really works, feel free to ask questions and add your own commentary to the articles in the comment section. 

Cross Processing 127 Film

Tom Brouns

Courtesy of Tom from TAZM PICTURES

When I first started playing around with vintage cameras, I wasn’t sure what kind of film to order, and just for fun, ordered a roll of Rollei Crossbird, without really knowing what it was.  It turns out this is slide film – i.e. “positive” or “color reversal” film you would use for old-fashioned slides, rather than “negative” film commonly used in film photography.  It’s called “crossbird” because of the popularity of using slide film in “cross processing”.  Slide film is commonly processed using the E-6 process, in all its variants; while negative film is processed using the C-41 process.  “Cross processing” is taking one type of film and applying the other film process to develop it.  This can either involve processing slide film using the C-41 process, or negative film using the E-6 process – with the former being more popular.

Why cross process?  Doesn’t this ruin the photos?  Well, it seems that cross processing results in unpredictable color shifts that people find pleasing and/or interesting.  Nowadays, it seems that the people who continue to insist on using film photography tend to be an experimental bunch – there’s a lot of, “I wonder what would happen if…”

So I put this one roll of 127 film into an old camera – a 1940-ish Agfa A8 Cadet, pictured below:

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It’s a tiny little thing, about 2/3 the size (in all dimensions) of the usual box cameras of this era, with an f/11 aperture and a shutter speed of about 1/40 of a second, with a small tab you can pull to keep the shutter open for timed exposures.  I walked around Windhoek for an hour or so and only sent the film in eons later.

Out of the eight shots, only one was really any good, in my opinion.  I have since tried developing a few rolls of “found” slide film in C-41 chemicals (now that I have figured out how to do this myself) and have come up with zilch.

It turns out that this particular roll may have been one of the last Rollei Crossbird rolls produced – everywhere I look appears to be out of stock, and Rollei itself does not appear to sell the film.  But ultimately it’s just slide film – but larger, of course.  I have a couple of rolls of 35mm slide film I may try this with in the future as well.  But for now, I honestly fail to see what the fuss is all about!

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See more reviews from Tom HERE

The First Underwater Camera: ​Jacques Cousteau

Adam Marelli

Unseen World

The first recording of a sperm whale in the wild were in 1984.  Now a great white shark flipping out of the water or creatures from 1000 feet that look more like aliens than anything from earth is common place.  Less than fifty years ago the undersea world was virtually unknown to anyone who did not experience it first hand.  But that all changed in the 1960s when underwater photography became an everyday possibility. 

In many ways underwater photography is still in its infancy.  It is not even one hundred years old.  At the core of its trajectory was Jacques Cousteau and a funny little camera called the Calypso.  Cousteau lived on the edge.  When he started diving most of undersea world was completely unknown.  Trial and error took on a whole new meaning.  How deep could they dive, how long could they stay down, or what terrible monsters might they find?  No one knew. 

Fortunately for us Cousteau was not just a diver, but a forward thinking image maker.  Many of his exploits were caught on film.  He worked to develop a number of inventions from scuba regulators, to cameras, housings, and watches.  His images opened up a world that many people had never seen before.  It is not so often that a picture is actually new.  Surely the first images taken underwater or from space are in a special category.  They are historic, ground breaking, and in some cases beautiful too.  But most importantly they changed our perspective on the planet. 

Unless you are a die hard Cousteau fan, the antics captured in his book “A Silent World” might be unknown.  But they are legendary stories that anyone from photographers, divers, or just curious travelers would enjoy.

Did you know that:

  • Cousteau helped the French Navy make a film about anti-ship mines by strapping his dive partner to the front of a submarine.
  • He used to test the effects of underwater explosives by seeing how closely he could swim to them and survive. (Do not try this one at home.)
  • He almost died cave diving because the new compressor they used to fill the tanks defectively collected carbon monoxide from the gas generator powering it. 
  • He once suffered from Vertigo while diving in the Canary Islands, where the water was so clear and the ocean floor so bright, that he felt like he was falling. 
  • When he first encountered a great white shark in the wild, it swam a circle around them, defecated and swam away.  Guess the shark was thinking the same thing as Cousteau.

A Historic Camera

The Calypso camera is an interesting little tool to handle.  It is small, unassuming, and almost awkward in hand.  But it worked and impressed the folks at Nikon who eventually bought the patent and turned it into the Nikonos line of underwater cameras.   

Originally the Calypso was designed to sustain pressures at 200 feet which are well past the limit for recreational divers today.  To change the film, the bayonet lens must be removed and the small hooks on the strap are used to pry the body apart.  It is a quirky design, but it did the job.  When you handle the original Calypso and its faux-seal skin covering, it is hard to image that this device would revolutionize the way we saw our oceans.  But it made a silent impact on the world of underwater photography and how we see the deep blue ocean.  Almost every piece of underwater camera gear today owes something to the Calypso.  

To read more about Jacques Cousteau’s adventures, have a look at “A Silent World,” his autobiographical account of their early adventures in oceanographic exploration. 

Adam Marelli is an artist and cultural photographer based in New York City.  He is an active member of The Explorer’s Club and runs projects and workshops internationally.  

www.adammarelliphoto.com

 

The Ensign Commando

Tom Brouns

Courtesy of Tom from TAZM PICTURES

In 1945, London’s Ensign Ltd. designed a rugged, all-purpose camera for the British military that never saw much action because the war ended shortly thereafter.  It was subsequently “civilianized” but never got much traction due to supply shortages and the reputation German cameras still enjoyed.

It’s a shame the Ensign Commando never really caught on as well as it could have.  It’s an attractive, and well-made camera that is easy to use, feels solid in the hands, and has a number of innovative and interesting features.  For example, most cameras of that time frame and earlier are either focused by sliding the entire lens/shutter assembly back and forth (for the earlier ones) or by turning the lens – basically screwing it and unscrewing it – to change the distance between the lens and the film.  On the Commando, the lens stays in place but the film is moved back and forth, using the knob on the top right (in photo), so that you don’t have to let go of the camera and grope around in front of the optics.  Plus, a distance gauge on the focus knob in addition to a rangefinder, to make extra sure your shots are crisp and focused correctly.

 

The camera uses 120 film, but instead of taking eight 6 x 9 cm exposures, the default is 6 x 6 cm, which allows for 12 square shots.  It can also take 16 6 x 4.5 cm exposures, however.  Other cameras that allow two sizes of photos to be taken typically use a mask that gets lost over the years – but the Commando has two flaps that can be folded in to turn the square to a narrower rectangle.  Depending on the size, a slider in the center can be moved to assist with the proper framing.  It has two separate windows in the back which can be opened depending on the size you’re shooting, but the winder will also stop automatically if the slider on the winding knob (top left in photo) is in the correct position.  For 16 exposures, the slider is moved the other way, the winder turns freely, and the red window has to be used to wind the film the correct distance.

The camera came in three “civilian” versions after the 1945 military version, and this is the final (1949-1950) version, which has a faster (1/300s) shutter than previous versions.  It’s a fun camera to use once you figure out all of its features.  The first roll I shot was a new roll of color Ektar film, which turned out OK but had some odd color aberrations.

So next I decided to try some black and white film – but because film can be expensive and I was just testing out the camera, I grabbed an expired roll of Orwo (former East German, manufactured well before the Wall came down) black and white film. Orwo was considered “cheap” film even when the film was freshly manufactured – so 30-40 years after expiration, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

  

What I find interesting about all of these photos is that they are all so well-focused. The rangefinder can be a little tricky. For those who don’t know how a rangefinder works, you look through the viewfinder and move the focusing knob until the image and a “ghost” of the image are exactly superimposed. In bright sunlight on the beach, with a quickly changing scene, it can be tricky to catch an image before it’s gone. So I took most of the pictures by estimating the distance using the marks on the focusing knob. And for virtually all the photos, contrast and brightness came out pretty well also, which suggests the shutter is still operating at the correct speed (I estimate shutter speed and aperture without a light meter).

It’s a fun camera to use. For a vintage camera from 1949, it seems heavy and bulky, but it’s not really any worse than today’s DSLRs. But it somehow feels a lot more solid and rugged.

For more photos taken with this particular camera, you can view this Flickr album.  To learn more about the camera, see 

See more reviews from Tom HERE

The Ansco Readyflash

Tom Brouns

Courtesy of Tom at Tamz Pictures

The Ansco Readyflash – so named because it’s “ready for flash” (but I don’t have one) via two connectors on the camera – is about as simple a box camera as you could probably come up with.  It’s made of sheet metal and plastic, and takes 8 exposures on a roll of 620 film, 6 x 9 cm each.  It feels like an empty tuna can in your hands and makes roughly the same sound when dropped.  Yet is surprisingly durable, and takes much better pictures than I expected.  Mine is difficult to open and close, and if you look closely you’ll see that there’s a chip out of the plastic part of the case.  But it seems to work just fine.

The shots above and below were taken from the top of the lighthouse at Chennai’s Marina beach – above is the fish market, along with a long line of boats and the 2004 typhoon-damaged housing many of the fishing people live in.  I’m not sure what the complex below is – it may be the police headquarters – but it’s just west of the lighthouse.

This is a shot of the beach, and all of the debris produced, behind the fish market.

Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to prevent double exposures, so you have to pay attention to what you’re doing and develop a routine for advancing the film.

I particularly like the next two shots – this is one of the many vendor carts that “litter” Marina Beach, left stranded in a section of beach that is still flooded from last week’s rains.  Below that is a row of granite “balls” placed at different locations along the beach to prevent vehicles from entering certain areas.  They can be used for creative shots in the right light.  I especially like how you can see where the focus falls off from the center of the (non-adjustable) lens, and the vignetting in the corners – effects some people will add to digital photos using software.  Cheap lenses of this type (think “Diana” camera) are all the rage in the lomography crowd.  You can easily spend a hundred bucks on a plastic Diana.  Or pick up one of these for under ten.

Finally, check out this old carousel, which provides man and animal alike respite from the sun!

For another review/photo examples of this camera, check out this guy’s blog post.  For the record, I used the same film (coincidence – Ilford FP4 125) but developed it for 10 minutes at 70F in HC-110, dilution B.

Kodak Duaflex II

Tom Brouns

Courtesy of Tom at TamzPictures

One of the key aspects of the vintage cameras I collect is that they should function.  This was the case with the Kodak Duaflex II, a plastic (bakelite) camera manufactured from 1950 to 1954.  It is normally held at waist level, and you look down into the brilliant glass viewfinder, which shows where the camera is pointing.  It was modeled after some of the more expensive cameras of the time, but differed in that what YOU see (via the top lens) is not what the camera sees.

You load this camera with 620 film, which is nothing more than 120 film wound onto a thinner spool (which you have to do in complete darkness).  The film sits at the bottom front of the camera, passes along the back where it is parallel to the lens, and is taken up on a spool in the top of the camera.  I nearly opened it after 8 exposures – which most vintage cameras take – but realized just in time that this camera takes 12 exposures.  Here is a picture of the camera:

I just got my photos back from the lab in Oregon – I had called them in July to divert them to India, but instead they took a long detour to Windhoek, back to Washington, and then here.  Always nice to see your vacation photos three months after the vacation!  Foreign concept in the days of digital photography.

The landscape of northern Namibia is perfectly suited for black and white photography.  With its wide open spaces and tortured acacia trees and rocks, black and white suits the mood perfectly.  I’ll just start off with my favorite of the bunch:

We went into an abandoned warehouse in town and had a great time with all the different shades of brown and gray:

And nearby found these apparently unused water towers:

Finally, even this shanty is interesting in grayscale:

To see the rest of the photos, check out the set on Flickr.