A friend of mine told me about a month ago that his Linhof Kardan Super Color 4×5 as feeling neglected and insisted that I was the right one to give it some much needed attention. Next thing I know UPS has dropped a very large box on my front porch and I started unpacking, examining and cataloging the contents.
The camera had been stored in a very nice aluminum case since he traded for it seven or eight years ago and he just never got interested enough to try it out. It’s in beautiful condition except for the bellows which looked like Swiss cheese. Shining an LED flashlight inside it made me think of the last time we were at the Planetarium – galaxies of tiny points of light. If I was going to use it the first order of business would be to do something about the bellows. A little browsing and eBay searching convinced me that at the minimum it would cost at least $150 for one that was made either in China or the UK and at the max around $900 for the real Linhof item.
I found that several resourceful types on the forums had contrived different ways of coating the bellows and applying spot patches in such a way as to make them reasonably light tight. I chose to use Plasti-Dip black spray rubber coating – three coats on the outside and two on the inside. This took care of about 95% of the leaks and I was able to plug the rest with some latex rubber paint I found at a craft store. It took a week or so to dry properly and the smell is just now getting to the point that it doesn’t give us headaches when we’re in close proximity. Bringing the Linhof back to life was a little more difficult than most of the tiny in comparison 35mm and medium format cameras that I’ve revived over the years but I think it was the most exciting and rewarding project of all.
I’m still learning the tricks of the trade but I’ve managed to master most of the procedures involved in taking it afield. Having had a Graflex Century Graphic helped a bit with the concept of using a ground glass for focusing, the purpose of dark slides and etc. My friend included a hundred sheets of expired Kodak Plus-X film and I found a super deal on some expired Fujicolor NPS 160 at our friendly local camera store – $5 for a box of about 15 sheets. Much to my surprise both the films are very much usable. I’m developing my own b&w and color and I’ve found doing 4×5 and getting even development is a challenge. I’m trying different methods that won’t involve investing a lot. Tray developing works but is a pain and using the ‘taco method’ with a Paterson tank has promise. I’m sure I’ll eventually find something that works consistently before long.
I’ve taken about half a dozen pictures so far and have been pleased with the results. In fact I’m more than pleased. The quality and resolution of a 4×5 negative is so much better than anything I’ve tried before that I consider myself hooked on Large Format. Like Darth Vader told Luke Skywalker, “If only you knew the power of the Dark Slide!”. Come with me. It is your destiny!
This is another post along the lines of my ‘Flea Market Walk About’ for the Random Camera Facebook group. My interests in camera collecting are changing with the times and the article by James Szylobryt hits the nail on the head. We must be on the same wavelength.
===== A Flea Market Walk About Mini Post ===========
Here’s a good one in line with my weekender posts. It’s not only a good review of the Kiev 4am but also offers some insight into finding a ‘keeper’ instead of buying of cameras and selling them after the new wears off. I’m finding myself becoming less interested in finding old cameras to test and more interested in taking the time to become familiar with the ones Cheryl and I already have and finding the ones that give me pleasure in the using.
I think my ‘flea market walkabout’ is going to become more of a personal experience review of all the cameras in our collection and whatever new ones come our way. We just don’t get out that often anymore to scrounge for cameras and the supply of thrift store finds is starting to dry up. I think they’ve been ‘over fished’. I belong to “Vintage Camera Collectors” and have seen in the forums that overall it’s getting harder to find decent cameras without putting some extra effort into it and changing your methodologies. Good finds can still be ‘the luck of the draw’. VCC is a good group for rubbing elbows with folks who love vintage cameras and there are already a goodly number of Random members that I know who are members of both groups.
I can’t remember the last time I used the word ‘mundane’. It’s one of those terms that’s a part of our vocabulary but for most of us doesn’t float to the surface very often. The only reason I dusted it off and trotted it out is because it’s the only description that really seems to fit one of my thrift store finds this last week.
I often stop by the ARC store a few blocks from my office during my lunch break just to take a peek at the glass case in the back to see whether anything interesting has turned up. At first glance I didn’t see much that would pique my curiosity. One last sweep turned up an odd looking leather box with an attached strap in one corner next to a pile of DVDs. My ‘Spidey Sense’ started tingling and letting me know that unlikely as it was this had to be a camera.
When I picked it up I found that it was not only a camera but an exceptionally heavy and unusually homely, awkward and boxy camera. It’s a one of those things that only a mother could love. It makes an Argus C3 look downright stylish. It manages to out brick the brick. In fact it’s an Argus C3 disguised as an automatic exposure camera with an implementation that went terribly wrong.
I’ll admit that I have an affinity for unlovable technology and it went home with me. The Autronic 35 is a child of the 60’s. The Cold War was in full swing and Suburbia a reality with thousands of identical streets lined with identical boxy little houses that inspired folk singer Malvina Reynolds to pen the song that described them as “all made of ticky-tacky” and “all look just the same”. In Ann Arbor, Michigan the Argus Corporation was busy designing, building and selling hundreds of thousands of cameras that were unattractive and mundane but were also sturdy, inexpensive and capable of taking decent photos. From the late 1940’s through 1960’s these nearly indestructible little wonders introduced many thousands of Americans who could never afford a Leica to the joys of 35mm rangefinder photography.
One of my old friends told me that he still had hundreds of slides he’d taken with a C3 during the 60’s as he traveled not only all around the US but many places overseas.
As with every flea market/thrift store camera that I find this one deserved to be given the chance to open it’s eye and expose a roll of film and prove it’s mettle. I quickly found that even though the selenium cell meter was inoperative it was possible to manually set the aperture. There’s a chart in the manual that translates the odd Argus exposure numbering system into F-stops and the ‘flash/scene/action/500’ shutter markings into real speeds. The iso settings on the bottom of the lens only go to 200 but are basically worthless since the automatic exposure is kaput. I also found that there’s no stop for the film advance. After you snap a picture and advance the film once it’s easy to forget that you already wound it and do it again, leaving an empty frame in the middle of the roll. Double exposures are possible by flipping the rewind lever down on the bottom and cocking the shutter again with the film advance lever. The rangefinder is not bright but adequate and is set using the knob which surrounds the shutter release. I found the focus to be quite accurate.
I loaded it up with my usual Fujicolor Superia Xtra 400 and applied the Sunny 16 rule and started finding some unusual things to photograph. I work at a government facility and had no trouble at all finding some mundane, blocky and very 1960’s & 70’s buildings that would make ideal subjects.
The results were pleasing in an average way and I found that there are indeed ways of “Finding Beauty in the Mundane”. The Autronic 35 may not win any beauty contests but it’s OK in my book. Hope you enjoy my mundane photo collection. I’m not using that word again for a long, long time.
This is an update to my “Flea Market Walk About” Weekly post on “The Random Camera” Facebook Group
===== Kodak Tourist Update =====
Got the negatives I took this weekend back from the lab and all things considered they’re not too bad. Almost ‘Pictures Like Mom Used to Take’.
This was Ilford Pan F Plus 50 ISO expired in 1999 so push processed one stop.The general cleanup and especially cleaning the lens and the protective glass helped a lot with the overall picture sharpness. They’re still not going to win any contests but are much better than the first roll I put through it. I think using 100 ISO and keeping the lens stopped down to F22/32 will help too. I’ll try that next go around. I have a feeling the black dots on the film are artifacts from my attempt to shoehorn a roll of 120 into a 620 camera. I cut the rims of the 120 rolls even with the paper backing and sanded them smooth as well as sanding off a microscopic layer of plastic on each end of the roll. It fit but just barely. I should’ve been more careful about making sure all the dust particles were removed, maybe by a little application of a vacuum cleaner hose. With my luck it would’ve sucked the roll in and I would’ve had to start over. Next time I’m going to use my changing bag to respool the 120 onto 620 spools. The Film Photography Podcast store has the spools so I ordered some a year or so ago. They’re pricey so make sure you let your lab know to return them with the negatives and prints.
Here is hopefully our last snowstorm of Spring (Hah!) courtesy of the venerable Kodak Tourist.