Comically Candid: The Cardinal Cinex 127 Camera

Ten Dollars.  Some might say I paid too much. I can't say I'd argue that, but for a bit of photographic fun, I'd say the price was about right.

I've happened upon some excellent deals in the sub $20 range for vintage cameras: the small and capable Yashica Electro 35MC, the handy Kodak Retinettes, the amazing Konica Auto S2, the classic Kodak Autographic 1A, and the fun Bell and Howell Electric Eye are just some of the great camera bargains that I have already featured, and there are still more to come.

But the camera featured here lacks the aperture priority of the Yashica, the range of settings of the Retinettes, the great glass lens of the Auto S2, the huge negative size of the Autographic, and the neat meter of the Electric Eye.   But I knew all this going in. 

This is about as bare-boned a camera as there is. Behold, the Cinex 127.
You too can have a "real" camera if you save up enough comics! 


Mighty Mini: The Yashica Electro 35 MC

Flea Markets can be an awesome thing, particularly when you find something unexpected that you never knew existed.  

It was my first (of since many) trips to the Feagaville Indoor Flea Market, and while my wife was more interested in seeing what salvageable furniture there was to be had, I simply had to look in the booth aisles of assorted odds and ends in hopes that I might find something of photographic use amid the clutter of decorative salt shakers and other assorted bits of bric-a-brac.  

While a few odd bits of photographic goodies could be found, one in particular jumped out at me as being of particular interest, even though I had little knowledge of just what it was, or even if it was any good.  I simply did a quick test of the shutter snapping, as well as a quick swivel of the focusing collar to confirm that it was in at least some semblance of working condition, and quickly paid for it. It wasn't a tough decision given that it was selling for a mere $15.  And within 5 minutes, I was now the owner of a Yashica Electro 35MC.

The Mighty-Mini: the Yashica Electro 35MC.


k week holder


Boston, MA 11/30/1941

CO - Nov 1960


Baby Billy: The Agfa Billy 0

And this is why the resistance was futile!  Finally, a "prequel" to my Boxy Beasts of 127 article to explain how I finally adopted the 127 film format. 

From all perspectives, it was my "final frontier" of the world of roll film.  I'd dived back into 120 film and had finally conceded to add 135 film back into my stable of adopted film formats.  Later, I would come to willingly work with the potential for bigger negatives by using 116 and 122 film, and finally (or so it seemed), I had worked out the gremlins that would allow me to readily and easily use a modified 120 film to stock an increasing brigade of 828 cameras. But there was one other roll film format that I'd been hesitant to touch, despite it having a wealth of both quirk and interesting history - 127.

In fact, as I took inventory of the various film formats in the earliest days of this blog, I even noted specifically "You'd think a niche like this would be perfect for a quirky guy with a camera, but I've never really been swayed by the lure." Even as I got comfy with 828 (particularly "making" the film stock), I couldn't picture adopting the curiousness that was 127 format.  It didn't help that even when I entertained the idea of trying out the format, the cameras I would typically see available for sale either had disappointingly dumbed down feature sets or exorbitantly expensive "collector" price tags.  While it was hardly a priority with me, I did keep the idea of a 127 acquisition in my occasional sights provided I could find a decently featured camera available at a reasonable price.  And if said camera took advantage of the largest 127 format of 6.5 x 4.0 cm, it would really offer an incentive to give 127 a try.

Unexpectedly, two such cameras came into my sights. One was an Ansco Vest Pocket with a folding strut mechanism that began to make me think I had found my gateway into 127. Further browsing however would help me truly find a 127 camera perfect for me: the gorgeous Agfa Billy 0. 

In my humble opinion, one of the loveliest folding cameras there ever was - The Agfa Billy 0


A Bolsey Move: The B2 Rangefinder

"Less Filling! Tastes Great!" was the tagline of one of the more memorable TV ads of the 1980's, meant to highlight the seeming impossibility that the same product (in this case beer) could achieve two things that couldn't really happen in conjunction with each other. I don't know if Jacques Bolsey was much of a beer drinker, but I'd like to think he would appreciate the tagline nonetheless.

Born in Kiev, Bolsey emigrated to the United States prior to the second World War, and had already established himself in the field by inventing the Bolsey movie camera and in assisting with the design of at least one still camera.  During the War, he developed a combat still camera, and upon the war's conclusion, adapted that design to a consumer model that would become the "Bolsey B" line. Bolsey's objective was to create a quality camera with sought after features at an affordable price.

The Bolsey B2 is a pretty capable camera with a modest form factor, seemingly ideal on the surface for portable on-the-go shooting.


Univexed! A Camera Named Iris

I have come to realize that I am a stubborn King of Forgotten Formats.  Either that or I am a Clown Prince of the Arcane.  Either way, I'm happy, so it is what it is.

And just when I thought that my foray to finally delve into the world of 127 film would constitute my final quirky deviation from the safe place of 120 and 135, I find yet another slice of obsolescence to try out my hand in.  This one constitutes not just one but TWO goose eggs: namely, the fabled "00" format. It's entry into my photographic world would oddly prove to be a perfectly timed and profound blessing to move me into new but necessary territory.  Read on!

My super-length roll of 127 that proved to be too much an undertaking for the photo lab, and which proved to be the push I needed to get into the world of black and white film development, was only part of that impetus.  Just as I got the news that this odd roll of film wouldn't load into the reels, I was finishing up my first roll of 00 sized film, an oddly sized film that is about 2-3 millimeters narrower than 35mm stock.  If my lean roll of 127 wasn't fitting the lab's spools, certainly a roll of film that is deliberately narrower than 35/828 was not going to fare any better in a commercial lab. Thus, my entry into the 00 format only validated the need to develop film myself.

The oddest aspect to my entry into the world of "00" film is that I can't even recall the reason WHY I elected to adopt this camera and its flaky format into my cadre of equipment. Perhaps it was a flaky outburst of "GAS" or perhaps I was just enchanted with the retro look of the camera I was picking up.  Either way, the camera was quite cheap, so I had no real regrets about picking it up.

The Univex Iris gleams with a rich elegant black body, a shiny metallic faceplate, and just enough embellishments of art deco striping to present a stylish look indicative of the era.


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. 

The World's Longest Roll of 127 Film

There are times in one's life when seemingly small gestures result in meaningful changes to one's routine that were neither expected nor intended.  For me, it all started with a roll of film.

This was not just any roll of film, but a gift of sorts: an ordinary roll of long-expired 220 Kodak Tri-X shared with me as part of a film windfall by Mike Eckman.  And this was a roll, that when I got it, I had no idea what I would ever do with it, given that I didn't have a 220 camera in which to use it.

But Mike had a few rolls of this film too, and also had no official 220 camera in which to load it, yet he had an interesting idea that made perfect sense, essentially to load the 220 film (which lacks any backing like 120) into a 620 camera with an automatically measured advance (lacking the need to peer through a red window to scroll to the next frame) and reset the counter halfway through to make use of the full roll.

I had considered doing something similar in the Yashica 12 or Seagull since they had similar arrangements, but before I ever had the chance to do so, I began getting into the 127 format, and found a lot of interest with the Revere Eye-Matic which also sported a similar  measured film advance and no porthole window to fog film that lacked backing.  And then an idea began to surface, namely to cut down this 220 roll of film to a REALLY long roll of 127 film.  If I was able to do this successfully, I figured I could ferret out 36 shots in 4x4 format from this one roll of 127 film, three time the yield of a standard 127 roll.  Thus, I badged my odd creation as the "World's first roll of 327 film!"

I loaded the Revere in the dark and began my shooting adventure on Easter Sunday of 2016, continuing in the week or so afterward, picking up roadside shots along the old National Road in Maryland, in Downtown Washington DC, and as well as near the Monocacy National Battlefield, giving the Revere a great chance to strut its oft overlooked stuff.  Once I had run the full length of the roll, I quickly sealed up the exposed roll in a light-tight canister and sent it off along with a few others to my favorite lab to give them "the honor" of developing this groundbreaking roll of film.  

But here's where that "meaningful changes" part comes into play.  A few days later, I got an email from the lab asking for some guidance. They had tried several times to load my special roll of 127 onto the reels with no success.  It seems that when I cut it, I slit the film too narrow to fit into the preset reels.  They could send it to a dip and dunk lab or send it back. After a little bit of thought, I chose the latter.  This was just the impetus I needed to perform an even more meaningful experiment: developing my own black and white film.

I'd done some degree of film developing 25 years ago, but most of my darkroom experiments were largely more geared towards printing.  Still, I recalled the general work flow of film developing and thought I could handle it.  But I would need a few things to get this experiment underway.

I decided that a bottle of New 55's R5 Monobath would make the ideal gateway back into the world of the darkroom.  I combined this with a second hand VR developing tank with an adjustable reel (that I could squeeze down to a width a bit narrower than 127) as well as a few other items such as clips, thermometer, and some mixing containers.  It was now time to get off the ground and give it a try.

Loading the film reels was a royal pain, and I eventually had to concede and split the super long roll of 127 in two.  Thus, my hope of a really long roll of 36 continuous 127 exposures as a cover shot for this article was dashed.  The good news is that the experiment worked...well mostly.  The film didn't always sit on the reel right, and I was very rusty about loading it.  As such, some of the film came into contact with adjacent film in the reel, keeping it from developing properly.  Then there is the matter of the exposures themselves.

The Revere seems to be an interesting beast - sometimes it takes flawless photos, and sometimes, it just doesn't seem to have the proper registration.  Add in a film that lacks a paper backing, and things just get a little, well weird.  Just how you may ask.  Tour the results of this loooooong roll of 127 yourself, and you shall see!

The super long roll of negatives was supposed to be the cover shot for this article, but since the roll was split before developing, that never happened.  Instead, I present the first exposure of this roll of "327" film.

Boxy Beasts of 127: the Bell and Howell Electric Eye and Revere Eye Matic 127

Resistance was futile.  

I kept telling myself I had no need to go into the format of 127.  I continually insisted that there was no benefit or interest in my part into making a mad foray into yet another largely forgotten format.

Resistance was futile.  

I discovered one really neat camera (article forthcoming!) that made the perfect gateway into this rather obscure format, so I snapped it up, dipping my feet into the 127 pool in the process.

And then with the format being formally introduced to me, I dove in.  I should have known just how futile resistance really was.

Often known originally as "Vest Pocket" format, the 127 roll film format provided snapshooters of the early part of the 20th Century with a truly compact option for photography when compared with the substantial cameras in 116 and 122 format also available at the time. The format was in many ways the most interesting of any, particularly given that it had a unique tendency to fade in interest, only to rise again as camera makers were able to create new ways to capitalize on its film size or convenience to reinvigorate interest in the format yet again.

As my own interest in the 127 format began to grow, and having finally made the leap into this sort of "mini-120" format, I happened upon a pair of square format 127 cameras that hit the market in 1958, both making use of selenium cell "Electric Eye" technology to be able to provide a rudimentary automatic exposure on its images, making them easier for the casual snapshooter to use.  The emergence of the fad of"Super Slides" around this same era helped to give both of these cameras an initial boost in the market when they were introduced.

And while many 127 cameras made through history were created with designs that emphasized portability and compactness, neither of these tend to follow that mantra. Instead, adjectives such as obnoxious, obtrusive, or even ungainly may come to mind when seeing the form factor of these cameras that make use of the miniature roll film format.

Meet the Bell and Howell Electric Eye 127 and the Revere Eye Matic EE-127!