An Autographic Experiment Part 2 - Shooting 120 Panoramics in a 122 Format Camera

The thirst continued:

The images from my initial test 120 roll in the Autographic 1-A 116 format camera had not even returned from the lab when my curiosity of the possibilities got the best of me. I looked into information on other discontinued roll film formats, and began to research which could be adapted to utilize 120 film.  

My goal was to be able to get the largest possible image on a frame of 120 film, one that approached panoramic dimensions.  After some minor research, I'd made the decision to pick up a new acquisition, none other than a Kodak Autographic 3-A camera, using the 122 format.  Whereas my existing 120 cameras could take images ranging from 6 x 4.5 to 6x9, and the Autographic 1-A could bump that up to an impressive 6x11 format on 120 film, the 3-A could trump these, producing a 6x14 size image on 120 format film.

After a little bit of searching, I snagged the actual machine itself, a Kodak 3-A dating from between 1916 and 1926, armed with a Bausch and Lomb Rapid Rectilinear lens. Report were that this lens not only could be quite sharp at f/16, but also had some surprisingly good color rendition considering its production in the midst of the panchromatic era.   

The Autographic 3A at left is somewhat larger than the 116 format 1A seen next to it.  Still, it towers over 120 format cameras such as the Super Ikonta 531/2 and the Ikonta A 521.

Sounds great! But it comes with a hitch.  Unlike the 116 camera that is only slightly wider than 120, and thus, can be fed a roll of 120 film by simply laying the supply roll in the chamber and threading the film to the native 116 roll, this 122 format is appreciably wider than 120, about an inch in fact, so using the same methods is sloppy at best, and could result in poor framing and skewed horizon lines. I had to step it up with this experiment if I was going to come away with anything usable.

But how? Some online threads show the great idea of sacrificing 120 spools to be cut down to create extensions to allow the 120 film to neatly fit in the 122 chamber.  A fantastic and resourceful idea, and one which I actually tried, but lacking a true work space, and with rusty skills with a rotary tool, this idea began to only get frustrating with continued effort, and I ultimately abandoned it.  The camera sat.

A more low tech approach was to stack adhesive grip pads found in stores together to try to neatly fill in the space.  With a little sanding down, I was able to allow the supply roll to spin rather freely in the chamber, using the 122 spool as the take up roll, but I ultimately wondered how practical this would actually be, and I let the camera sit some more.

Enter a little dose of modern technology to the rescue.  While I'd searched for "122 to 120 film adapter"at the onset of this experiment with no readily usable solution found, a later search returned a hit, a shared file at Thingiverse. I was able to download this file, and then upload it to a commercial 3D printer to order 4 adapters: two for the supply roll and two for the take up roll.  At last I was in business.  The resulting product required a little bit of minor sanding on the film roll key ends to properly fit, but that very minor aspect aside, I was now in business to put this old camera back to work.

A pair of the four 3-D printed adapters abutted to the 120 spools make this experiment possible.  Sadly, they cost me more than the actual camera did. 

Fortunately, the 3-A that I received was fully functional, with three shutter speeds, as well as B and T settings.  The one tricky challenge was the aperture scale showing (4-8-16-32-64-•), which if taken literally by today's universal standards, would make you think you have an f/4 maximum aperture lens. Instead, one must mentally superimpose a more conventional scale centering on the value of 16 being constant.  The result is an actual universal aperture scale of (f/8-f/11-f/16-f/22-f/32-f/45) in practice.  Luckily, I found this out ahead of time, rather than seeing rolls of film go to waste. 

I created special exposure notes to remind me of the proper number of rotations of the dial between frames to get 5 shots per 120 roll.  

Lens bezel of the 3A.  Note the unusual aperture scale. 

I managed to run two rolls of film through the 3-A camera, one a roll of Ektar color negative, and one a roll of Fuji Velvia 50 transparency film.  The results that came back showed some promise, but also a lot of restriction.  It seems this camera is best suited for carefully composed landscapes under sunny skies, and using transparency film to get the best colors. Have a look.
Ektar 100 Color Negative Film Results

Apparently, I didn't quite wind the roll of Ektar enough when loading to avoid having part of the first frame already exposed, so I didn't get the full 6x14 effect.  The result is that balancing elements of the photo on the left side are lost, leaving an odd composition.  Note a slight rightward list to vertical elements, suggesting imperfect horizontal alignment of the viewfinder.  Shot at f/22 at 1/50 sec.

The horizon shift is slightly less noticeable in this shot, which encompasses the entirety of the 6x14 image area.  Shot at f/19 at 1/50 during the golden hour, the shot suffers from some loss in sharpness in every place in the image.

A few seconds of time exposure taken at f/45 results in a pretty sharp image from the old Autographic, even if I can't figure out why this image alone has a small light leak at the left edge.

I figured that vertical compositions wouldn't work well with this camera, but I had to try.  The result readily shows that 120 images on the 3A are crops of a wider image, something that the horizontal images can more readily belie.

Velvia 50 Transparency Film Results:

While I was not over the moon about the color rendition on the Ektar shots, I got a few gems from the roll of Velvia run through the 3A.  This shot of Wilde Lake in Columbia, MD was shot at f/8 at 1/50, and scale focused intended on the bench in foreground.  The result seems to show the actual focal point a little shy of there in the foreground grass, but barely adequate on the bench.  The background shows nice desired softness, but some water details around the man's cap look like JPG compression artifacts after scanning.  

It's nice when you hope that a scene renders a certain way, and you get your desired result! Focusing on the barn in the distance, I'd hoped the foreground tree would render out of focus, and that was just what I got.  Sharpness on the barn is acceptable at f/16 at 1/50 sec, and the color rendition is indeed superb on Velvia 50.  With this scene and the resulting image, I'm finding a spot for this camera! 

What started as a sunny morning looking for an appropriate landscape turned into one with thin clouds that subdued the sun.  I thought that the Velvia palette would brighten the scene, shot at f/16 at 1/50, but with the abundance of pre-Spring bleakness on the landscape, that didn't turn out to be the case.  In hindsight, a better composition would have really helped this, as the barn is largely obscured by the hill. 

The horizon lean is back again, and very distracting in this view of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC in late afternoon light taken at f/8 at 1/25.  The blurred foreground elements combined with that create a drunken looking image.  Shadow detail doesn't render well, leaving a murky result. 

Somewhat more pleasing is a time exposure taken at f/32 for 25 seconds, which renders a much nicer palette on the Velvia medium.  Sharpness is excellent stopped on the B&L lens when stopped down this far.  

Overall, I can't say I am terribly wowed by most of the images I got from the Autographic 3-A, as I seemed to have better luck with the more compact 1-A, though some of the Velvia shots showed some promise.  Given that, and now knowing its limitations in lens sharpness as well as the slight misalignment of the viewfinder, I do feel more confident in being able to run another roll through it to see what it can do when I work within its confines!