An Autographic Experiment Part 1 - Shooting 120 Film in a 116 Format Camera.

It had "quirky" written all over it, so when I spotted the idea, I too was all over it.  

As is evident in many of my posts, I've gotten a bit engrossed with the 6x9 format as of late. It is the largest format I have ever shot in, and I had expected it would be the largest format that I would ever shoot film on, as I didn't see myself ever expanding to something like a 4x5" field camera, as it seemed far less convenient than my beloved 120 roll film.

Still, there was a hunger in me to shoot in a larger 120 format to get a super sized image on film.  

And as it turns out, the 6x9 cm format is not the be-all end-all of 120 formats, as there are cameras available to shoot both in a 6x12 as well as a whopping 6x17 panoramic format.  But neither options were really music to the ears of my wallet.  

And then I saw this webpage from Mike Connealy...

I was engrossed in the idea! Take a camera of a different format, and, with some degree of educated guidance, feed it a roll of 120 film to get a full bleed image that is approximately 66mm x 110mm in size, about 30% larger than the 6x9.  It seemed like it could be a really fun experiment at least, so I set about to see what I could find on the world's largest and most "evil" auction site! ;-)

Since Mr. Connealy had managed to successfully perform this task on a ca. 1929 vintage Kodak Autographic 1A Pocket of 1926 to 1932 vintage with no modification whatsoever, I elected to look for that same exact model. Prices on the 1A Pocket tended to range from about $25 to $40 plus shipping in possibly usable condition, not expensive at all, though maybe a bit much for what might ultimately turn out to be a single experiment versus a recurring shooter.  

There is a happy ending to this story as the ancient camera and modern film made lovely images together.

A little bit of searching using some more vague search terms however, landed me on the auction page of a tempting, but risky listing for an as-is "Vintage Kodak No. A116, Kodak Camera" that showed only the folded up exterior of the camera.  A little bit of cross checking of photos online seemed to indicate this to be the 1A Pocket I was seeking, but there was no way of knowing how the bellows looked, what the lens was, or even if the camera opened or if it worked.  Still, there was a very tempting facet of the listing... a Buy It Now price of just $7.19 plus shipping.

As I looked at this listing showing only this picture, the Abba song "Take a Chance on Me" kept going through my head.

At worst, I'd be out a few dollars and have a functionless brick, or perhaps luck would be on my side, and I could actually use this for this experiment.  At least I might wind up with a nice display item for this nominal price, so I elected to bite and bring this mysterious Kodak camera home.

The potential of getting super-sized exposures from an obsolete format film camera is certainly more elaborate and challenging than simply using 120 film on an older 120 camera, even if that camera is a "guess focusing" folder.  As such, I was particularly enthused and nervous about the arrival of this camera that cost as much or less than most rolls of 120 color slide film. Luckily, my wait was not long, and I find the box from West Virginia greeting me at the door on my return from work within a couple of days of the purchase. 

Upon opening the package, I was greeted with a camera that looked and smelled pretty good, but its flap was none too keen on opening.  More alarming was that when I moved this camera, I could hear something moving inside of it.  Not a great start thus far.  

Finally, after some prodding at the latch with a ball point pen, the flap gave way, and I got my very first look at what was inside.  My worries of disintegrated bellows or a pathetic moldy lens were quickly alleviated, as all looked to be just as I hoped, and this did turn out to indeed be the 1A Pocket I had hoped it was.  And the rattling loose noise I had heard? Simply the end nub of a ballpoint pen that must have been the byproduct of someone else's unsuccessful attempt to open the camera. :-)

I lavished the 85 year old camera with a liberal amount of soapy water dipped cotton swabs, cleaning the lens and bellows to at least give them a respectable look.  I then took a moment to get a feel for the camera, its features, and its operation, particularly in regard to how I'd need to load and unload it.

There are four distinct differences to how the 1A Pocket works compared to the folding cameras I've been getting used to over the past few months.  

For starters, loading film doesn't simply involve opening the back door and loading the film on the spools before closing again and advancing to the starting frame.  Instead, one must actually pull out the workings of the camera from the front, position the film on the supply end and take up spool within the film chamber, and then carefully reset the camera's "goods" back into place.  It's not that hard to do, but it is a switch from the general designs of the past 80 years.

Secondly, the camera, while an "autographic folding" camera, is not an automatic folding camera that springs into place upon opening.  The user must physically tug the bellows from their retracted position along a rail on the flip until the extended bellows snap into place. Again, no big adjustment, though you often have to catch yourself to push the bellows back in manually before collapsing the camera back to the folded position.

Thirdly, focusing the 1A Pocket differs from more "contemporary" folding cameras in that you don't rotate the outer lens element to achieve focus but rather use a focusing knob affixed to the flip out base plate to move a pointer to the guesstimated subject distance, thus moving the entire lens assembly. It is a little clunky compared to the rotation method of later folders, but it does the trick.  Minimum focus appears to be at a longer distance than most 120 film folders.

Finally is the shutter and shutter release.  These are definitely the easiest thing to get used to compared to later folders.  Why you might ask?  Because they don't require cocking into place prior to releasing.  One simply fires the shutter when ready.  Of course you only get the two speeds of 1/25 and 1/50 of a second in addition to the "B" bulb and "T" time settings, but the ease of not having to spring the shutter into place helps to make up for having to adapt to the camera's other idiosyncrasies.  

So what other features of later folders are missing from the Autographic?  For one, there is no flip up viewfinder.  One's best guess of the framing is to actually use the small "brilliant finder" attached to the lens plate.  Double exposure prevention?  Forget it.  The onus of remembering to advance film falls on the user.

And speaking of film advance, there is the little ruby window to assist in advancing to the next frame, but it is all but useless on the 1A Pocket.  The reason?  I'm using 120 film instead of 116 film, so the numbers won't align.  In fact, the recommendation of the aforementioned site recommends covering the window to avoid light leakage onto the slightly narrower 120 film stock and counting revolutions in the crank advance to both load and advance film.  With proper use, one can manage 6  of these oversized exposures on a single roll of 120 film.  

Since I'm new to this, and using Fuji film instead of Kodak, I elect to boost the number of winds of the crank between frames from 2 1/2 to 3, and attempt only five exposures.  One other reason for this is that upon taking the fifth shot, instead of continuing to wind the film forward, I actually want to open the camera in darkness and spool the exposed film back onto the 120 roll winding back to the beginning, to then load the film back into a normal 120 camera for a simple winding through to then be sent off for processing.  

My film of choice for this experiment is Fuji Velvia 100F, a recently discontinued emulsion that had its share of detractors for its color rendition, but since I don't expect fully accurate or appealing color from a 1929 era lens anyway, it seems the mix of the two could provide some curious results.  After carefully loading the film, I begin to set out to take a few photos.  I determine that I'd like to do at least one landscape, one vertical shot, one dusk time exposure, and at least one shot focused to a distance other than infinity.  

The 5 shots I had to experiment with drops to 4 when I realize upon unfolding the loaded camera for the first time that I'd set the shutter to "T" prior to loading and left the shutter open to test focus and aperture.  Oops.  Make that FOUR shots to experiment with.  

In the end, I had no idea what to expect, but I was actually VERY pleasantly surprised. While the shots were largely overexposed a bit, the resulting images were actually refreshingly sharper than I'd ever imagined.  They show that this old Kodak is actually still quite worthy of capturing some very good Kodak moments, and I can't wait to try this again, as well as expand on the idea, and indeed I will be doing both.  I've already taken some more images on this trusty old 1A so stay tuned!  

Images taken on the 1A on 120 film are appreciably larger than than those taken on a regular 120 format "6x9" image.  The images are not only noticeably longer, but also "bleed" all the way to both edges of the film.

Were it not for a little bit of camera shake, my first actual attempt would have yielded a pretty decent end result.  Even still, the framing turned out to work pretty well in the challenging brilliant finder, and this goes down as a pretty good start to a very experimental roll.

By the second try, I'm actually achieving some very satisfactory results from the old Autographic.  This was shot at about f/22 at 1/100, and it shows no sign of shutter shake, and some fairly sharp results.  The Velvia 100F renders the scene with a rather odd palette, but the camera actually has passed the test by this point! 

Shooting a moving subject while guess focusing and squinting through the tiny Brilliant Finder while holding the camera down to try to get the horse unobstructed by the interior fence was quite a challenge, but aside from some hasty composition, the results of this shot mostly works!  

Regrettably, I positioned the camera to face too far upwards in taking this 20 second time exposure in Downtown Washington DC stopped all the way down to f/45.  In spite of this composition mishap, the results are impeccably sharp across the image. This shot in particular definitely gives me some ideas! 

A 100% crop of a 2400 DPI scan shows some excellent sharpness rendered in the image. Clearly, this camera, when used within its powers, can render some excellent images, despite having cost less than $10!