Inst-amour! The Kodak Instamatic 700-800 Series

In most cases, I'm a terrible "Collector."

Though I may pick up vintage film cameras to a large degree, there have been few if any genres at which I've collected the entire set.  I don't need to have every Univex AF folding model.  Nor am I pressed to have the all black variant of the Pentax ME Super as well as the "SE" edition with diagonal split prism to round out my arsenal of that model.  And I'm never about to try to collect every lens offered for even the most meager SLR camera models.

But yet, I took an odd departure from my historical tendencies to snap up an example of each in one of the most endearing camera series that I've happened across this year...

In formation is the entirety of the 700/800 numbered series of Kodak Instamatic cameras. At the top of the stack are the 700 and 800, with the 704 and 804 in the middle, and the 714 and 814 making the foundation for this heavy stack of American cameras.

The Kodak Instamatic 700 and 800 series stood at the top spot of the American-made Kodak 126 cameras, and embody a remarkable sense of quirk and flair packaged in a durable housing with a surprisingly usable feature set.


Darkroom Diaries: Mastering Microfilm with HC-110

Looking to shoot film on a budget?  How about this "All You Can Eat Buffet" deal of the film world! For the cost of about 2 rolls of film, you are supplied with enough film to make about 20 or more rolls of film! This film has a nice slow speed and fine grain to allow you to open the lens up on most cameras in full sun, and it comes free of perforations, making an ideal candidate to stock 828 cameras with film! 

So what's the downside?  Well, there's lots of contrast that needs to be tamed in order to get an image with a more pictorial feel.  And the lack of sprockets that makes this a great 828 film also makes it very difficult to use in 35mm cameras, with some models needing some degree of modification, with some other cameras entirely unable to use the stock.  

This bargain film stock is microfilm, a long established medium of Archivists for the preservation of print media. Though never manufactured for pictorial use, this fine grained stock can be adapted for use in 828 and many 35mm cameras with a few caveats.

The most inhibiting of these caveats is the lack of perforations (sprockets) in most microfilm stocks.  This is film that was designed to be fed through a viewer with direct wheel contact, rather than fed through a camera with sprocket gearing and teeth.  This works fine in an 828 camera, but will slip when fed through manual advance 35mm cameras.  Many of the more modern 35mm film cameras with auto advance use an IR sensor that counts the film sprockets in 35mm stock as it advances.  With non-perforated microfilm, these cameras have no sprockets to count, and will simply give up and return the film to the 35mm cassette after attempting to load it.

For manual advance cameras that use a toothed wheel to pull film onto the take up spool, an improvised solution is to apply a layer or two of painters tape to the this wheel to increase adhesion and avoid the slippage that would otherwise result.  Within two minutes of trying this with a Ricoh KR30SP that I have, I had a camera that readily accepted the Microfilm stock.

Two 35mm cameras that will accept microfilm without any modification are the Canon 10S and the original Voigtlander Vito.  Both of these use a contact wheel that lacks teeth to advance film onto the take up spool.

So this all established, what are the rest of the challenges to using this medium?  The first would be supply.  Microfilm isn't typically found in the same places that those of us shooting conventional film pick up our supply.  Neither B&H nor Freestyle sells it, but it can typically be found on eBay.  If lucky, one can find single (100 foot long) roll sales for under $20.  It may take some patience and scouring, but it is out there.

Somewhat less challenging is the process of preparing a length of microfilm for use in a camera.  With 35mm, this involves taking a reusable cartridge, and either loading it with a length of film in the dark, or using a daylight bulk film loader.  Either method should work, but I used the former method, limiting the length of film to about an 18 shot roll.

I also loaded some 828 rolls by simply doing the same process above, but instead interleaving it with 828 backing paper (that the film was taped to on its beginning side) as I wound it onto an 828 spool. It wasn't long before I had three rolls of film ready to use in a variety of cameras.

Shooting this film involves some additional challenges.  I found that rating the Kodak Imagelink 1461 film at about ISO 20 seemed to give the best results.  

I knew I would encounter the potential for a lot of contrast when developing, and elected to scale back my typical stand development time (using Kodak's HC-110 developer at a 1:99 dilution) from 30 minutes to only 16 minutes.  This resulted in some pretty thin negatives, but these scanned with no issues whatsoever.

Below are some samples from my first three rolls of microfilm - the "All You can Eat Buffet" of the photographic world. 

On a very sunny day, I ran a short roll of Microfilm through a Bantam f/8 828 camera.  This wound up working perfectly with the slow shutter of the camera, and delivered some particularly good images given the very limited capabilities of this basic camera. Contrast is a bit high still, but not in an overwhelming way.


Zeh, not Meh - The Zeca Zeh Goldi Camera

For the classic camera collector, picking a handful of favorites can not only be a huge challenge, but it can also be something that largely defies strict logical thought.  

Consider one of my recent acquisitions that has quickly catapulted itself into "Top 10" camera status among my varied collection.  This is a camera that lacks any focusing aids whatsoever, has a top shutter speed of a "whopping" 1/125 of a second, and uses a film format that is especially difficult to find.  

So why would I be so enamored with a camera with such a limited feature set and usability? Because what I have is a camera compact enough to fit in a shirt pocket featuring a sharp, fast f/2.9 lens capable of focusing down to a mere 18", and giving an image size nearly 40% larger than the frame of 35mm film, all in an extremely well made housing indicative of a quality standard that has been abandoned for decades.  This little favorite of mine is the Zeh Goldi.

The diminutive and delightful little Zeh Goldi.

Though marked as "Zeca," the brand of this little known camera is actually known as "Zeh." This German camera maker released the Goldi in 1930, primarily as a half frame shooter of 127 film, though some less common full frame examples are also known to exist.  Zeh also made versions of this camera body for Rodenstock, which sold it as the Ysella.  Thus, while many various lenses can be found on Goldi cameras, it seems that Rodenstock Trinars are among the more common variants.  My particular version has a "Zecanar" branded lens, which may be of Rodenstock make, though it has a particular "hidden" talent that the Trinar variant lacks.  More on that later. 


Trying to Get Instant Kicks: The Polaroid J66

Stubbornness is considered an inherited trait, and is one to which I can readily admit having. I show it at work and in my family life, but my stubbornness is pervasive enough to affect my hobby as well. Where most sane people in the hobby of film photography would not bother with trying to get an image from a piece of equipment that is functionally obsolete, I push forward with a "Can-Do" spirit that is admittedly a bit over the top at times...

To the point where I have to wonder when I should stop beating a dead horse.

The tale begins in the height of my Polaroid pack film enthusiasm.  Still psyched to have a new toy to play with in the form of the Colorpack II, while preparing to purchase yet another in the form of the Polaroid 440 from Strawberry Fields, I'm somewhat intrigued by the sight of another interesting Polaroid camera sitting before me pleading me to add it to my collection.  It's called the Polaroid J66.

Knowing nothing whatsoever about this camera, with just 15 minutes on the meter outside, and my youngest son sitting on my neck as I sweat in the small store trying to keep him from breaking any of the multitude of interesting items, I take a quick look online, and without finding much in the way of information, elect to just simply toss it into my purchase for good measure.


Fun with Film: Ferrania P30 (Part 1- The Agfa Cadet A-8)

Roughly three years ago, I elected to jump aboard a Kickstarter "crowdfunding" effort for the first time, namely one to rescue invaluable film production equipment to enable the resumption of photographic film production in Italy, with an expected reward to me of snapping up a few rolls of E6 transparency film for my financial support.

Yesterday, I had my first chance to sample some of the wares of the down-scaled film production plant in Italy.

Though not the 120 format color transparency film I'd initially expected to be using as a "thank you gift" for my support, I was thrilled nonetheless to have the opportunity to shoot Ferrania's first public product since their small core of workers reinitiated their coating lines roughly six months ago.  This was my chance to shoot Ferrania P30.

P30 is based upon a classic cinema film formula used by legends such as Federico Fellini.  It purports to be "silver-rich" emulsion that can yield a classic cinematic look rich in tonality and contrast to deliver stunning images with strong black tones often absent from many contemporary emulsions. As a Kickstarter backer, I was able to pick up 5 rolls of the film at a modest discount on a pre-sale promotion.

Order fulfillment was nothing of the likes of Amazon's "Next Day Shipping" but this was to be expected, given the small staff of Ferrania still had a number of production and distribution challenges to iron out as they worked through the allotment of orders in this "Alpha" batch, which sold out in a matter of a couple of weeks.  And while waiting for this much anticipated film sometimes seemed to take an eternity, I was quite pleased to see the arrival of the box with my 5 rolls of Ferrania P30 enclosed.

I was also a bit panicked. With 5 rolls of scarce film and numerous cameras to select from in which to shoot this film, I was a bit overburdened with the task of choosing which cameras would be best to conduct my own bit of "testing" on this classic emulsion.

However, being ever a bit quirky with my ways, I couldn't resist the urge to do something a bit "unique" with some of my P30.  I was also interested in seeing some results from this film without having to blow through an entire 36-exposure roll before seeing the first shot.  I elected to "split" the first roll between two cameras, and took the rather unconventional option of spooling it onto 127 backing, for use in my Agfa Cadet A-8 camera.  

Yes, while others were using their limited allotment of this film in their finest machinery worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars, I was snapping off my first sample shots of this coveted film in a $10 box camera.  

Truth be told, it wasn't a bad idea.  Not only would I get a chance to run through the exposure and development process, while acquiring a few "lessons learned" prior to the full completion of the first roll, I'd have a chance to use one of my favorite cameras for "sprocket scans" and get some novel 35mm x 65mm exposures. Besides, the use of a 127 camera for Ferrania film had plenty of precedent, with Ferrania having produced both cameras and film in this format in their heyday. 

After going through the respooling process, firing off 8 shots on the film stock was a piece of cake. Though the mid-Atlantic was in the midst of a mid-Summer heat wave, my lunch hour in the Nation's Capital was one of sunny conditions.  I elected to shoot 6 of the first shots at lunch and save two for a detour on the way home, as intermittently cloudy skies and afternoon thunderstorms moved through the region.  My hope was to get some variance in the lighting conditions for this initial roll, given that this basic camera lacks even a diaphragm setting to stop the lens down to adjust exposure.

Developing the P30, I elected to start this first roll by trying HC-110 in a freshly mixed 1:63 dilution for 12 minutes with 15 seconds of gentle agitation every 2 minutes.  This process is somewhat contrary to Ferrania's recommendations for developing this film, in which they recommend a less dilute formula with near continuous agitation that is more consistent with cinema type development processes.  I noted that the acetate film stock was a bit thick and stiff and as a result, slightly challenging to get going on my steel development rolls.  Unlike many other films that leave a color cast in the developing solution after development, the developer poured out with a neutral cast.

The negatives that emerged after the final bath of Photo-flo seemed to be well exposed and had adequate contrast, a relief given the lack of exposure control available to me as I took the inaugural images.  The film dried to a fairly flat result that whose somewhat thick stock was easily loaded into my full width scanning tool.

The scans from this first batch however, are missing the desired snap that I've observed in some of the other results posted online, but still offered a good starting point to learn more about this film and its character, as well as to strategize some changes possible as I shoot and develop more of this film. Having these images as my first set have certainly given me a chance to think of how to better hone future shots on this film to get a more desired outcome.  

My first shot on Ferrania P30.  Looking past the sharpness missing from nearly every part of the frame, I'm a bit more disappointed to see a lack of deep black tones in the shrubbery. 


As American as the Fourth of July: The Kodak Instamatic 704 and 804

"You know, we once made stuff here."

It's a common refrain still prevalent among older Americans, and is something that can be particularly difficult for a larger percentage of our population to relate.  I tend to consider myself as one who can occasionally forget the significance that the U.S. once held in the manufacturing world as I type away today on my Chinese made computer, uploading some digital photos taken on a camera made in the Philippines, embellished with a Japanese made lens, and adding scans of film shots done on an Indonesian made scanner. 

Yes, the United States once had a robust manufacturing sector, which certainly extended to the world of photography, with names like Kodak, Argus, Detrola, Revere, Falcon, Ansco, Polaroid, Bolsey, Universal, and others all competing head to head in a crowded marketplace for the photographer's dollar.

So what was the most American camera model of all-time?  Some might say the ubiquitous Argus C3, a classic example of a well built camera that remained nearly unchanged for a production run spanning 3 decades.  Others could opine for any of the Polaroid Land Camera models as being stellar examples of American ingenuity.  Still others might pick a wild card like the Bolsey B2 as a classic example of an immigrant landing in this country and setting forth to accomplish his dreams in a new country.  And for the curious, there is certainly the story of the Univex cameras resulting from a pair of capitalists putting their minds and resources together in the midst of the Great Depression.

My answer for the most "American" camera of all time uses much more simplistic logic. There is no holiday more American than Independence Day, often simply known as the "Fourth of July."  So is there a camera out there that is as American as July 4th?!? I'm not sure there could exist a camera as American as Independence Day as this one...

All this camera needs is some deep blue leather on the front and some white stars and it would be the ultimate "American" camera.

The Kodak Instamatic 704, along with its upmarket sibling: the 804, represent some of the finest American camera craftsmanship out there.  These sturdy 126 format cameras, produced between 1965 and 1969 are a particularly endearing pair of photo taking partners with complementary red and blue emblems that truly portray a patriotic air to them.


Lemonade from a Lemon: The Mamiya Auto-Lux 35

At what point is a vintage camera review no longer a review?  Perhaps when your main objective is simply trying to get an image under when the camera you have in hand has only a fraction of its functionality.  I would say the following qualifies...

The Middletown Goodwill used to be such a treat.  It seemed as though each visit to this location always brought me a cheap and fun new toy with which to play.  I've gotten a number of lenses from this store, some nice sub $5 point and shoot cameras such as the Samsung Maxima Zoom 105, and even the Mamiya MSX-500.  

In hindsight, it's easy to think I had a perfect string of luck with my cheap scores at this location, but this isn't quite the case.  Even the all-star Home Run Derby hitter eventually lands short of the outfield wall.  Such was the case with this interesting piece.  

It looks like an SLR, and in fact it is an SLR, but not quite in the way that most people tend to think. 

Priced at about $8, and seemingly working at first glance, this seemed like a unique piece to add to the stable.  I had never heard of this model, and never expected to see one available in person again, so it seemed like an easy decision to snap it up while the opportunity existed. 

Mamiya's 1963 vintage Auto-Lux 35 is a camera that looks like an SLR, and feels much like the SLR cameras so many photographers know.  This is because it technically IS an SLR camera. But it has a few modifiers that make it a bit of a downgrade from even the more basic cameras in the SLR camp.