4.04.2017

Outside the Box Thinking? The Gevaert Gevabox

Photography is an interesting hobby that is often quite illogical, particularly as it pertains to gear.  For example, why do people willingly shell out 5 times as much for a 50mm f/1.2 lens as they will for the half-stop slower 50mm f/1.4?  As well, why will people expend a hefty premium for a lens or camera in a certain "serial number sweet spot" specific to each model?  
I am certainly guilty of similar behavior, but in much the opposite way.  Though I have a decent assortment of some very capable cameras with fine lenses, I'll often shelve these more advanced models to shoot on something significantly more basic in nature.  One could easily ask why I have my Zeiss Super Ikonta 531/2 sitting at home while I'm out shooting with cameras like this:


These handsome siblings are both variants of the Gevaert Gevabox, a rather snappy line of cameras that were made after World War II by various camera makers in association with film maker Gevaert. On the left in the photo above is the 1955 variant, sporting a fixed focus lens, but an f/11 lens that can be stopped down to f/16, as well as having a shutter than can accomodate two speeds in addition to a time exposure setting.  On the right is the earlier 1951 version, whose features include a zone focusing lens, an f/8 lens with three diaphragm settings to close down to f/16, but only a single shutter speed in addition to the bulb setting. At least one other variant exists of this model, dating to 1950, made by Hermann Wolf, and strongly resembling the "Adox 66" camera of the same time period.    

I first happened upon a listing that included a 1951 version several months ago and was immediately struck by its styling that combined flashier chrome trim with the traditional box camera format to make a box camera very distinctive in appearance.  I would check listings every so often for one of these beauties, but it took months before I stumbled across one priced within reason to snap up!

As luck would have it, I had not even taken delivery of this camera when I happened upon a copy of the 1955 version in a Baltimore store and priced perfectly.  I suddenly had picked up a Gevabox grouping! 


As the later version was in my possession first, I wasted little time in loading a roll of Kodak TMAX 100 with which to try it out.  The next morning, I had the good fortune of a sunny day before me and a chance to wander out and play with this interesting camera and give it a try.  Though this was not the Gevabox version that originally caught my eye, there was still something quite appealing about it. 

Even missing the Gevaert sticker (a common malady of this version), the 1955 Gevabox presents a nice front profile that certainly makes it an attractive display piece.  Thankfully, I got the shutter going on this one so that it didn't have to simply be a display item.

Manufactured by Bilora, this Gevabox features a tunnel type viewfinder atop its streamlined profile next to its shutter release.  This sort of makes for a slightly awkward hold when framing and shooting shots in landscape orientation, but with a modest degree of adjustment, it is easy to compensate for this.



Choices are limited with the Gevabox, but they are present.  Like many box cameras, the 1955 Gevabox has the presence of a sliding diaphragm to stop down the aperture, but unlike most such cameras, the camera offers the choice of two shutter speeds as well.  The long view through the tunnel viewfinder is somewhat exaggerated in the view below compared to what the brain sees, thus making general framing fairly easy with this camera. 



My excitement in finding this one for sale was such that I didn't even test out the shutter prior to purchasing, only to find out shortly afterwards that depressing the shutter release did nothing in the way of actually releasing the shutter.   It took several doses of Naphtha to liberate the crusty shutter, but with some working, I became confident enough in following through on shooting the film I'd picked out for it.

With little to do but choose between a pair of aperture settings and a pair of shutter speed settings before framing and shooting, there honestly wasn't a whole lot to the shooting experience of the 1955 Gevabox, but it was certainly fun nonetheless.  I expected a reasonably sharp center to the images that would trail off in the corners of the simple lens, so I certainly sought to not take myself quite so seriously in my efforts.  The result was that I got back a nice handful of shots that both rewarded and surprised me.  

My first shot from the Gevabox looks about as well as I could expect.  The TMAX film delivered a nice degree of tonality to this hastily composed image.


This endangered farm scene has become one of my favorite subjects as of late, and offers a fleeting glance into Frederick's past.  My only regret is not moving a bit more closely in, not for the sake of recomposing the elements of the scene, but rather to have avoided the distraction of the shadow of a modern lamp post. 



A quick stop along 2nd Street provided me another pair of photo ops.  Here, the Gevabox offers a very sharp rendition of the above scene, while the below shot offers a good look at where one can get images in focus, seemingly about 10 feet or so onwards.




Passing Baker Park, I'm always captivated by the willow trees, and this morning's scene was certainly worth the stop to record on this camera.  A great capture.


Another shot of both near and distant objects at the f/16 setting shows an excellent result.  Again, the tonal range captures the feel of the scene, while the overall rendition does not look to be from something as "pedestrian" as a box camera. 


A trip through Braddock Heights later in the morning provided this chance that didn't portray with all the sharpness and detail as the previous few scenes.  This was shot at f/11 at 1/50 and suffers from motion blur.


But closing out as I wandered down into the valley between the Catoctin and South Mountains, this sunny scene again spotlighted the strengths of this very simple yet fun camera.

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My general success with the 1955 model Gevabox certainly enthused me about what might be possible with the 1951 model.  After all, the presence of a faster lens as well as a rather rough ability to focus seemed to address some of the rigidity stemming from the limited feature set of the 1955 model.  I nearly loaded this camera with some Orwo NP15 as the Ides of March drew near and with it the Expired Film Day contests, but given some late season snow combined with an overcast day, I elected to use my only roll of 1981 expired Ilford HP4 (not a typo) for this experiment, and to also make this the inaugural roll for the 1951 Gevabox.

A pleasing and symmetrical look is the hallmark of the 1951 Gevabox.  Paired with the two viewfinder windows at top are bottom dials to switch between aperture and to select time and instant settings. 

Overall, this first roll went fairly well, though in my zeal to get out and shoot this classic, I neglected to follow rule #1 with long expired roll films with backing paper - namely to ensure that the tape to secure the film to the paper is reinforced.  As such, I felt some crinkling of the film as it fed through the first few frames, but this seemed to work itself out as the roll progressed.  Fortunate indeed!

Though most of the settings are self explanatory and easy to use, the focusing markings were a bit rudimentary and challenging to utilize.  Though it is obvious that no one is trying to achieve critical level focus on an f/8 box camera, it still would have been nice if the markings for focus didn't feel so arbitrary and vague.


After going through the effort of making such a nicely finished camera, it seems odd that the focusing dial on the 1951 Gevabox has markings that seem to simply be dabs of red paint, as seen above.  The amount of "throw" between the 1-3.5m and 4-6m dots oddly accounts for most of the throw of the entire range, making specific focusing more or less impossible.  Below, the viewfinder of this specific example is barely usable and requires a careful pinpointing of well lit objects within your frame. 


And while the two eye level focusing windows look great on the Hermann Wolff manufactured 1951 Gevabox, the tunnel finder of the later version is admittedly easier to use.  It seems form precluded function with regards to the quirky throwback styling of this 1950's camera that harkens back to the 1930's.

Despite these niggles, the faster lens and variable focus point did make me feel a bit less limited as I quickly shot through my expired roll of HP4 on a mid-week visit to Baltimore to get a full roll of shots on the Ides of March.  Having never shot HP4 before nor developed it, and having never shot this camera before, I'd opened myself to a lot of variables that could have been a disaster, but still managed to get some surprisingly good shots from this 35 year old film. 


Though I set a rather intermediate focusing distance, it does appear that the distant elements of this image are sharper than those upon which I'd set focus. 


Crinkling film didn't help this image to any great degree, nor did an expired film on a flatly lit scene.  Still, the result is passable. 


Focusing at an even closer distance to get the best sharpness on the near rails, I'm pleased to see a better result. 


I'd hoped for slightly sharper rendition around the hub of this cable car pulley, but still like the look, and the vignetting. 


Another shot taken with a more distant focus point shows decent sharpness and a nice muting of the fence in foreground. 


Under a soft late afternoon light, the Geva returned slightly soft but pleasing images. 


Closing out with an image taken at closest focusing distance.  Wish I had composed a scene that looked into a well lit distant scene to get a feel for the effect on out of focus areas. 

Though my first results with the 1951 version were certainly likable, they inspired me to want to attempt more shots.  I found a roll of Fomapan 200 that I hadn't shot and loaded up the 1951 Gevabox yet again, firing off some captures on a ride home through some patchy sun and clouds.  
Gentle Gentle!  Words I often tell my son but fail to follow myself.  The long throw of the push button plunger style shutter release can be a bit of a challenge, but works better when you are less forceful.  I knew the instant I'd snapped this shot that I messed it up with my motions. 


Fortunately, I corrected myself from then on, and managed to get this image of this historic church nestled into a hillside. 


With just a moment to snap, and no eye level finder, I didn't frame this shot how I wanted.  Bummer. Better luck next time. 


A stop over at my favorite creek development however gave me the chance to take my time on the last few exposures, and with some favorable light, the Gevabox and I began to put forth some of my favorite results. 


I tried the close focus one more time with much more success.  However, the depth of field is still such that the backdrop is still largely in focus.  The vignette effect however is very nice to me. 

My last image came out quite well, even if the Foma film was a bit spotty - literally.  Admittedly, this isn't the best film for stand development.  

The Gevabox line offers a reassuring lesson that some of the most fun to be had when taking photos is not to take one's work quite so seriously.  Rather than fixate excessively on critical focus and exposure details, I simply made some best guess estimates and put my attention into trying to compose some nice photos through the primitive viewfinders while trying to minimize camera shake. When I followed these simple guidelines, I was rewarded with some very nice photos after developing process, but perhaps more crucial is that I was rewarded with a fun experience throughout the entire photographic process.  Though these box cameras may not exactly be representative of "outside the box" thinking, they certainly offer a little extra that makes them some very fun shooters.