Square Shooter - Part II - Shooting 24mm shots on the Bantam RF

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.

While it seems as though I've been shooting 828 cameras forever, the reality is that I've only been creating decent images from them for about 6 months.  Still, I've shot a decent amount in this 28x40mm format.  And while the film is no longer commercially produced, I'd yet to use the most common method to improvise 828 film, namely to tape 35mm film to an 828 backing, instead electing to mostly use cut down 120 stock, supplemented at times by expired "true" 828 stock.

My aversion to using standard perforated 35mm stock stemmed from a rigid dislike of having the 28x40 828 image exceed partially into the sprocket area.  My interest in doing "sprocket shots" is only occasional, but in such cases, I certainly prefer the full bleed variety rather than that of the photographic visual equivalent of someone trying to squeeze into an tight outfit they for which they are a bit too big.

It was only after I saw the suggestion of shooting square image shots in a Bantam camera that I finally saw some true merit to using 35mm stock in an 828 camera.  That it is readily available and requires no downsizing to create a film roll is admittedly a nice bit of frosting that lends to its use.

Months ago, a friend had told me that if I ever thought of something photographic that he could print in 3D, he would be more than willing to help.  Finally, I had an idea, namely a photographic mask that I could readily insert and remove into the Bantam RF camera to reduce the image size to a 24mm square.  I sketched up a design for a U shaped piece of plastic 28x40mm in size, 2mm thick, and with 8mm sides and a 4mm bottom to fit snugly in the film opening of the Bantam RF.  Since I only had one Bantam RF available, and I wanted to be able to use it for "regular 828" when desired, I wanted something I could add and remove when needed.  And that is just what he delievered.

The foundation for this great hack lays in a simple piece of U shaped material. 

With a bit of shimming to the initial mask, I was able to snap the result gently into the film opening, aligned so as to cover the sprocket area typically exposed by 828 cameras shooting 35mm film.  Similar to what I did with the "282 camera," I had taken the backing paper from a roll of Kodacolor 828 film and put "ticks" 28mm apart to allow for frame spacing, handwriting frame numbers beside them.  I turned out the lights, pulled a length of Ilford Delta 100 from a fresh cartridge, cutting it, and then taped it to the backing, rolling the resulting amalgam up to create my first roll of 24mm square film to run through a Bantam.  I loaded the film and advanced it to frame number 1. It would seem as though I was all set.

Snapped into place with the bottom of the "U" aligned with the bottom of the camera, the square format mask will enable square images on 35mm stock that won't exceed into the sprockets. 

Early the next morning, I set out, giving myself enough time to swing past Carroll Creek to get a time exposure of about 6 seconds at f/11.  Focus and.. Snap! I put the trusty Bantam back into my bag, and headed out to work.

Hip to be square! My first 24mm square exposure on 35mm film, taken with the assistance of a Bantam RF 828 camera. 

I had a project to complete that resulted in a late lunch, so by the time I got out again, my need for food was more pertinent than my need to roam and shoot photos, but I brought the Bantam out regardless.  I spotted some iron work on a nearby store, dialed in my settings, cocked the shutter, and lined up the rangefinder to get the photo. Thk!  Nothing.

It seems I was outsmarted.  I had forgotten in my limited use that the Bantam RF has a double exposure prevention, and unlike some cameras whose similar measures may allow the shutter to be reset after partially winding forward (as they presume your initial winding motions mean you haven't forgotten to do so), the RF won't enable to fire until it has been fully wound to its next frame.  Ironically, I really liked the fact that the RF did a measured film advance that readily allowed me to get 2 more shots from my cut down 120 rolls, but in this case, it's companion feature was causing me a good deal of chagrin.  After all, what is the point of just cropping out the center of each frame, which is essentially all one is doing if the camera is requiring a 43mm advance between frames anyway?

Fortunately, though the Bantam tries to be "Idiot Proof" with this feature, it isn't entirely "Fool Proof," and believe me, I am a big a fool as there is. It turns out there is an override feature "reset lever" to the double exposure prevention, albeit not marked on the camera body but explained in the user manual.  As it turns out, usage of this feature for properly spaced square format shooting is a bit of an regimented endeavor.  After taking a shot with the square format mask, in order to advance to the optimal point for the next exposure, the reset lever MUST be set prior to any winding of the film, and then the small "LOAD" lever on the back of the camera must be pressed to allow the film to be wound, using the window to gauge the stopping point based upon the markings on the modified backing paper.  It's admittedly kludgy, but it works, and allows 50% more square exposures on the same length of film over using the measured winder that assumes normal usage.

Once I finally acclimated to the winding procedure, I was able to get nice, closely spaced square exposures on the 35mm stock. 

Once I finally mastered this, I was off to the races and ran through the rest of what had been expected to be a 12 shot roll, but now, due to my initial turbulence, was now limited to 10 exposures.  Under variably cloudy skies, I finished off the roll and pretty easily loaded the short length of 35mm film into my FR tank that evening for some stand developing in HC-110.  The negatives that emerged were a bit on the dense side, suggesting some overexposure, but the images were fully retrievable in post processing.  The results of my square format experiment can be seen below!

On my lunch walk, I did manage to snap a single shot, once I had figured out that the camera was insisting on advancing a full frame length. 

After work, I snagged a shot of a bus on detour routing. 

Once I finally mastered the optimal winding procedure, I returned to Carroll Creek to quickly snap through the few exposures left.  In this case, I used the rangefinder to advantage to snap some of the plantings. 

Using a bridge as both a framing element and a buffer to shooting into the sun, I snapped this shot of the canal. 

With the sun at my back, I snapped this shot that nicely pulls together many of the most pleasing elements of this public space.

I've known the rangefinder on this camera to be quite accurate even at closer distances, and it is no exception here. 

The center span of the bridge makes a nice centered element for square format.

Facing into the light and focusing on the near brick wall, the RF does its job admirably.

Well, for the Harry Potter fans, I actually got 9 3/4 shots on account of snipping the film a bit short.  Still, I like the result of this partial exposure, focused nicely on the old chain and letting the rest of the frame go out of focus. 

Despite a tendency towards overexposure, I'm just as elated with these results as those from the "282" camera.  It is an interesting feeling when you have two odd experiments to address the same issue go so well, seemingly making it tough to decide which improvisation to use.  The great part however, is that there will be no real need to choose, and in fact the difference in film source will sometimes make the choice clear.  Despite this, I felt the need to jot down some of the great advantages to doing this.  As well, compared to using 24mm square shots of 35mm in a camera using rapid cassettes, I personally ffeel the process of rerolling the film in the dark onto a Bantam spool with backing potentially easier than trying to load the rapid cassettes of a camera like the Minolta 24 Rapid.   

Other advantages to using 24mm square shooting in a Bantam include.
  • Ability to use a 3-D printed mask insert rather than making permanent modification to the camera.
  • Ability to get about 54 shots (in multiple rolls) from a 36 exposure roll of 35mm film when used properly.
  • Availability of any 35mm stock to shoot in Bantam format.
  • Scanning of 35mm stock is generally easier than 28mm wide 828 formats.
  • Ability to "stretch" rare discontinued stocks of 35mm to get more exposures by using a square format instead of a rectangular one.