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.


Fun with Film: Ultrafine Extreme 400

Choice can be a wonderful thing, even if the details of some choices can be troublesomely obscure. One need only look at Ultrafine Online's "Extreme 400" film in 35mm format to get a good example of this.

A private label film of uncertain origins, Ultrafine Extreme 400 is a film option available in 35mm format in both long and short rolls for a very reasonable price.  I was generously bequeathed a small number of these 12 shot rolls by my buddy and fellow camera buff Mark who features his collection at The Gas House, and have really come to like this film.

Questions linger, most notably "who makes this film?" One might presume it is Ilford Private label film, which may make sense.  As I seem to recall, a known Ilford product marketed as "Kentmere" has similar dot-matrix style film edge markings.  Still, I've tried Kentmere 100 before and found it didn't have quite the contrast that I've noticed in the Ultrafine product.

Below is a test roll, shot on the Darth Vader camera, the Konica Aiborg, showing this film in action in various lighting.  

In bright light, highlights can be hard to tame on the Ultrafine Extreme 400.  However, in this case, the result is a very nice glow to this swan at Hagerstown City Park. 


A Breath of Fresh Air: The Airesflex Model U(T) TLR camera.

Though I have been familiar with their usage for the better part of 25 years, and have owned several, I can't say that TLR cameras have ever really been a mainstay of mine. Instead, these cameras have usually tended to supplement other types of cameras in my collection.  True, I've had occasions where TLR cameras were the ideal choice (at least on my budget) for specific projects such as portraiture and wedding photography, but I could never see where a TLR would be my primary photo taker given their bulk, shutter speed limitations, and the reversing of the image in the viewfinder.

All this negativity stated, did I mention that I love TLR cameras?  When it comes to a camera that delivers superb output and precisionate focusing onto a medium format negative at a modest price, nothing quite beats a TLR camera.

For the past couple of years, I'd been largely content to keep just two TLR cameras in my collection: namely the Seagull 4A-103 and the Yashica 12.  Both have rewarded me with some of my favorite images over the past three years, and are called upon periodically when I want to ensure that I can trust a camera to deliver excellent results.  I did have a little indiscretion last Spring when I picked up the Silverflex Model S, but was quickly dismayed by the results from that camera.

So with my TLR quota largely filled, one might wonder why I elected to purchase this one evening...

The Airesflex offers a basic, yet still somewhat elegant look to it, as an example of a well-built 1950's Japanese TLR camera. 

With a price tag of just $25 compared to a value that is at least three times that, I would think a more apt question would be "Why would I NOT add this camera to my collection.  It took mere seconds to arrive at the decision that the Airesflex would be coming home with me.


Agent Double-0-Thirty Five: The Minox 35ML

Just yesterday, I posted an article covering one camera that I'd hoped might be a 35mm version of my beloved Bantam, and here, a mere 24 hours later, I'm posting an article on another similar camera, at least when it comes to size, form factor, and country of origin.

Typically I deliberately try to keep my articles staggered.  An SLR camera review isn't followed with another SLR camera review, Rangefinders don't follow other rangefinders, and so forth.  However, in this case, two cameras of a different build type, but both offering some features to make them something of a 35mm Kodak Bantam, have managed to pace behind each other.  

In the case of this review, this similarity comes in the form of the Minox 35ML, a tiny and amazing piece of machinery in 35mm format that, for lack of a better descriptor, is best termed as a modern day compact folding camera. 

While not entirely spy-worthy, the Minox 35ML is an amazingly small device.

The Minox 35ML comes from a photographic icon famous in the photographic community for its smaller "Spy Cameras" utilizing tiny devices to record 8x11mm images on small size film.  The Minox name brings to mind the thrilling world of James Bond movies from the 1960's and 1970's, as a means to discretely take images of documents. These cameras still have a following to this day keeping the medium alive and well.

Less known however are Minox's 35mm offerings, which stay very true to the maker's tendency to create amazingly compact devices with a surprising amount of functionality.  I had never noted the presence of Minox in the sphere of 35mm film photography when I suddenly stumbled upon one for sale at a local Goodwill for a modest $25.  I picked it up and could immediately see what a unique gem of a camera this was.