6.01.2016

They Still Shoot Super Slides, Don't They?

Long before the days of internet surfing, 24 hour cable television news, and Instagram, times were a quite a bit simpler, and to a great degree more social.  The introduction of Kodachrome transparency film in the late 1930's was slow to take hold, thanks in large part to its initial expense and the interruption of a vast global conflict known as World War II, but by the mid-1950's, a social phenomenon was taking hold, known as the "Slide Show."

Family vacations in a more upwardly and outwardly mobile America were often documented increasingly in color on 35mm transparency films that were mounted in 2"x2" slide mounts and projected to family and friends on a pull down screen in the living room. Kodachrome was the most common medium for these presentations at first, but as the fifties progressed, films using other reversal processes became increasingly common.  These included Ektachrome and Anscochrome, as well as others.  

Around the apex of this phenomenon in the late 1950's, someone, somewhere, whose identity I am unable to determine, stumbled upon a rather interesting discovery that a 127 film frame of 4"x 4" could be efficiently mounted into a modified 2"x2" slide mount, put into the same slide projector used for 35mm slides, and projected onto a wall to create an even bigger square image compared to the rectangles of 135.  Okay, well, actually it might not be quite the "Eureka Moment" I've described here, but as I am unable to ferret out the specific origin of this, it will have to do for now.  

The result, in an era when the most common superlative adjective in the parlance of the day was none other than "Super," would thus be come to be known as "Super Slides."  And it would result in a brief flurry of revitalization for what had been an increasingly marginal format in 127.  

New 127 format cameras were developed in the late 1950's, specifically tailored to this market, ranging from the Baby Rolleiflex on the high end to the Yashica 44 and Sawyers Mark IV in the mid-market, to the Bell and Howell Electric Eye 127 on the low end.  The craze for Super Slides lasted only a brief time, though 127 slide film would be still be produced for at least another 20 years, and mass-produced "Super Slides" would be regularly seen for sale at souvenir stands of tourist attractions for quite some time afterwards.  Unfortunately, Kodachrome never made the leap to the world of 127, which likely had some negative consequences for the durability of the phenomenon, not to mention the slides taken in the early days of this era.

Today in 2016, the "Slide Show" as we think of it is almost entirely a thing of the past, while "Super Slides" are an almost forgotten footnote of that past.  However, the machines designed and manufactured specifically to target to this "fad" remain and are often in fully working condition.  Yet, for the few who both collect and use these photographic gems, their use is often limited to black and white or color negative films rather than to the medium for which they were marketed.  But, to the resourceful and oddball few like myself, a true "Super Slide" taken in the present is still entirely possible, given a bit of effort.

A look at some super slides of 40x40 mm image size compared to 36x24mm slides taken on 35mm film stock. 

While used 127 square format cameras are still readily found on the second hand market, the main barrier to their use for "Super Slides" regards availability of film.  Ektachrome or Anscochrome hasn't been made for years, and when it comes to 127 format, the duration is more like "decades" and stocks online are certain to have horrid color shifts and require obsolete processes such as E-4 rather than today's E-6 process.  However, 120 transparency film using E-6 chemistry is still readily available online (and at some retail outlets) and can be carefully slit down to a 46mm width to be loaded into 127 cameras.  

I elected to do just this with an unlucky roll of Fuji Velvia 100F, double winding the resulting roll to make the 645 numbers appear in the 4x4 frame window, and split the roll to do some experimenting in both my Revere Eye-Matic 127 and the Bell and Howell Electric Eye 127.  My overall results were marred and thus far from perfect, but I was able to get a few well exposed, well focused, true "Super Slides" in the mix.  To process the film, I sent the film off to the nice folks at McGreevy Pro Lab, who were readily able to process my cut down roll of E-6 film in its native chemistry.

Come share my journey and its resulting frustrations in the photos below, and read on to find out a bit more on how you too can do "Super Slides" if you so desire.  

No, it's not art, and its not what I was trying to do, but in sending the split roll through the Revere, the vast majority of its 8 shots overlaid onto each other as a result of the camera's film advance being particularly flaky.

But thankfully, the Revere did yield a Super Slide for me in this shot of some springtime foliage in our Nation's Capitol.  All the remaining shots in the group were taken on the Bell and Howell Electric Eye 127.


The Bell and Howell however, had a bit of misfortune with the film and chipped the top border away to where it affected the film path.  The shots above and below are using the two different speed settings of the Bell and Howell to effectively "bracket" exposures.  


The next shot, taken at the "White Circle" setting, did a good job with exposure, and shows little of the hints of distortion that would impose themselves on most of the exposures to follow. 

And it begins. The film that apparently chipped off in the first shots taken with the Revere apparently buckled the film path, creating the distortion you see here at lower left. I covered the viewfinder partially to overexpose the image a bit and counter the backlight of the bright sky.  

Note that the film path does not even follow parallel to the frame.  This was evident across most of the rest of the roll.  Still, the image is salvageable and well exposed without any battery being used. 

Seeing how shaded this scene was, I SHOULD have switched this to the "Red Triangle" setting to expose it more.  Instead I tried to limit the light reaching the electric eye.  Perhaps I could have tried both. 

The odd horizon line in the distance is the result of the film plane distortion.  Still, I managed to get a decent image in some very tough late afternoon sun with the meager Bell and Howell.  

And just to tease me into making me think this was a good use of my time and efforts, I get a really good shot with the last exposure on the roll!  Exposure is a tad under, but the colors are certainly more jumpy than I am used to from print film! 

Thoughts: While fraught with problems, just like my roll of 327, this was fun stuff.  Again, I need to take a lot of care in some of the odd things that I do.  And do I want to do this again?  TOTALLY!