Square Shooter - Part I - The Bantam Flash "282" Folding Camera

I have a tendency to like to interject idioms or expressions into my postings, and in this case, I feel the need to do a common intro theme to what is a natural pair of postings with the following theme: An Opportunity Lost is An Opportunity Gained.

Most hobby photographers (and many pros) are often well aware of the phenomenon known as GAS, or "Gear Acquisition Syndrome."  It's a tendency to want to constantly add to your inventory of photographic items, either with new cameras, new lenses, or even new accessories.  Even on a greatly reduced budget such as mine, there are cheap opportunities to add to one's collection.

When I first saw results on Lance Rothstein's "labeauratoire"site from the square format 35mm shooter known as the Minolta 24 Rapid, I had a lot of interest in picking one up when the opportunity might present itself.  However, due to some reluctance after a few too many bad rangefinder acquisitions, I dragged my feet when a cheap example popped up for sale, and someone else beat me to it.

Perusing the interwebs for other possibilities, I came across a striking suggestion to MAKE a square format camera from an 828 body.  As a huge fan of 828, the idea certainly struck a chord with me, and with some help from my buddy Mark at the Gas House, I managed to install a pair of varied mods to make this interesting idea a reality.  Each of these concepts has some uniqueness, and both have some advantages over the other.  

Have a look at this "creation" of a square shooter.

The 282 camera never really existed, but after "creating" one with only a minimal amount of effort, I'm at something at a loss in wondering why it didn't.

A great number of popular roll film formats offered numerous image sizes from the same standard roll of film.  The 120/620 format is likely king of these, offering three variants alone that are marked on its backing paper, and a few others, such as 6x7 and 6x12 that are innovatively added to the standard mix.  127 is able to offer a few sizes as well: a pair of rectangular formats, and the square format used for Super slides. But 828 has always been rigid, with seemingly every camera produced in the format using the standard 28 x 40mm size.

The 120 format was able to attract "square shooters" by having a row of numbers to allow 12 6x6 exposures instead of 8 6x9 exposures.  The 127 format was essentially able to do the same, where shooters could get 12 40mm x 40mm shots instead of 8 40mm x 65mm shots. Not so with Kodak's "Bantam" 828 format.  

It is a concept that rather easily could have been adopted, and debatably should have been adopted.  To me it was an opportunity that was missed.  Kodak could have easily added a row of offset numbers on the backing paper of 828 film for square frame spacing, then designed and sold a line of even smaller Bantam cameras to accommodate the "282 format" (for "28 squared") as I like to call it.  

Perhaps no one considered it.  Perhaps the film of the time lacked the fine grain to print from 28 x 28 negatives, or perhaps since a lot of the Bantam's draw was as a conduit to shoot deluxe sized color slides, a square format Bantam would have limited appeal, despite the possibility of selling more cameras (even MORE compact ones at that!) and making money on getting more prints from a roll of film than the traditional 828.  History is history, and there never was a square Bantam format.

Despite the lack of such a format, a squared Bantam is readily possible with only a minimum of effort, and carries with it a significant benefit over traditional 828 shooting in the ability to get a full 24 shots on a roll of cut down 120 film from a format that natively allowed for a meager 8 shots per roll.   This cut down "282" is also advantageous over 120 and 127 format in the number of shots per roll.  Even 127 format film that was cut down from 120 only yields 18 shots at most.   This is quite simply the most number of exposures realistically possible from a roll of 120 film, and it works amazingly well.

The main "hack" or "mod" to creating a 282 camera, aside from a spare camera body itself, is the simple addition of a pair of 6mm wide inserts to create a permanent mask in the that is mounted on both sides of the film chamber.  This trims the negative size from 28x40 to 28x28 to create a square image on Bantam width film.  With the help of Mark, who created these inserts, I was most of the way to creating this "new" format!  

The modest extent of this modification.  Had I not had a willing friend with a 3D printer, I'd have likely improvised cut down inserts from wooden coffee stirrers. 

In order to take full advantage of the square format however, I would need to create a backing paper template to maximize the number of images on a length of film.  I figured that a 4mm distance between images should be adequate and created a small guide to assist in marking off "ticks" 32mm apart on a cut down piece of surplus 120 backing paper.  Using this method, I was easily able to slot out 24 exposures onto this pre-made backing paper.  I trimmed the backing paper to extend a few inches from either end of where the film would fall in order to conserve space in the small 828 chamber. 

Pre-measured leader with ticks 32 mm apart.  Compare this with the image below to see how this spaced the negatives. 

I then used my documented method to cut down a roll of 120 film to the width of 828 film, but transferred the resulting film roll to the pre-measured backing paper before rolling it up and loading it into the Bantam Flash, all in the dark.  I was ready to have a go at shooting "282" for the first time.  I also trimmed a few pieces of electrical tape to mask the sides of the flip up viewfinder to make framing shots a bit easier.

Having a brand new way to shoot a familiar camera really is the best of both worlds, particularly when it a camera that you love.  Having dallied with a number of other models since, it had been a while since I had shot with a Flash Bantam, but the experience not only reinforced to me what I loved about this camera, but also caused me to love this model even more for being so readily adaptable to a new context.  The easy shooting experience, even with guess focusing allowed me to merrily breeze through all 24 shots in a single afternoon without ever really feeling like I was forcing my shots.  

I headed home and loaded up my Anscomatic tank with the exposed film, developing it the next day.  I was ecstatic to see that my efforts met with great success.  Before me was a long string of nicely exposed square negatives looking completely natural on this miniature film format.  It took quite a bit of patience for me to wait for them to dry before scanning them. 

Some of the 282 negatives that resulted from this interesting experiment.

I elected to do a little more experimentation in the scanning process, scanning these TMAX negatives as if they were color and having a bit of fun toning the results in Photoshop.  Other than a few modest tweaks and light retouching, the images did not require much, as they were pretty superb directly from the camera.  I knew I had stumbled onto something I could gladly repeat in the near future.  Have a look at the results of my first roll of "282!"

The tiny little Bantam Flash never stops amazing me with the sharpness of its Anastar lens.  The results from this first image show exceptional clarity. 

A new take on one of my recurring subjects that was a bit challenging in square format, but fun nonetheless. 

I thought I had included the top of the light fixture in foreground.  Oops. 

I put a selenium tone on this image, though I wish I'd have rotated to avoid that crane. 

A quick street shot wasn't entirely unsuccessful. 

Shot at the close focus distance, this shot spotlights some of the best that this lens can offer, and the composition easily suits the square format. 

Shot in deep shade nearly wide open, this image still comes out with decent sharpness. 

A long since truncated DC street still retains some of the older style lamp posts. 

The format also seems to lend itself fairly well to rural scenes as well. 

Blindly framed out the car window on a drive, this came out surprisingly well done, with only a hint of movement. 

Through the window. 

One of my favorite old bridges on the eastern approaches to Frederick.  This old bridge lingers long after abandonment. 

An impromptu sculpture garden near a metalworker's shop.  Ironic to have this image taken on a BANTAM camera! 

Again with the great sharpness. 

Using the masking tape on the viewfinder made framing pretty easy.  This rendered pretty much as I saw it through the viewfinder. 

Even shot into backlighting, the Bantam did well under the square format. 

My favorite image of the batch, along the newly opened portion of the Carroll Creek Promenade.

A bit of overexposure here in the variably cloudy light. 

The Bantam captures a sharp yet vintage looking image given the right subject.

Another successful attempt to focus on closer subjects.  

To close, some strong backlighting here, but the Bantam handled it fine without excessive flare.

My results from this inaugural roll are far better than I could have ever expected, but a lot of this credit goes to the capability of the Bantam Flash.  I will absolutely be trying this again for future rolls, and look forward to what I can do with this camera. 

As a historical footnote, I've already noted that a square format Bantam camera was never made, even in the waning days of the format.  However, the Bantam format, as a compact alternative to the 35mm format, was essentially succeeded in 1963, by a new cartridge format called "126."  Anyone care to hazard a guess as to the image size of this format? 28mm x 28mm square.  Sound familiar?

To summarize, some advantages of "282" format Bantam are as follows.
  • Can yield 24 square format photos from a single source roll of 120 film.
  • Yields significant number of extra exposures per roll over conventional 828 for one's time and effort for film developing.
  • Offers largest possible image size for square format images from 828 width stock that is not perforated.