More and more folks out there are wanting images that hark back to the good old times… maybe it’s something to do with the recession, or the clinical cleanliness of digital photography. Whatever it may be, phone apps such as Instagram and Snapseed are making a bomb by artificially ageing your photos by means of applying a simple template.
I happen to think this is cheating. If you want the character of old shots, do things properly! To this end, I seem to have amassed a collection of quirky old cameras which I experiment with – and hire out the services of! If you want an old-style photoshoot with results that are a little bit different to today’s norm, give me a call and we’ll see what we can do!
Below is my current armoury of “analogue” cameras…
Yashica Mat 124
This has to be my favourite TLR. As you would expect it takes medium-format 120 film, giving 12 60x60mm exposures to a roll. It advances the film with a big, satisfying mechanical crank – no peeping through a window as you wind to watch for a frame number. It also re-cocks the shutter when advancing film, so no accidental double exposures. The lens is a nice, crisp f3.5, the shutter runs from 1 s to 1/500 s, plus a bulb mode. The finder is really big and clean. Unfortunately, the light-meter uses batteries that are no longer available, so I have to use a separate light meter to shoot, but that’s a small price to pay.
Back in the day, these were well-respected cameras – when it was produced in the late 60s it became the “poor man’s Rollei”. I love using it, and it produces good results – have a look here…
At the other end of the spectrum from the Yashica is this Soviet Lubitel 166b. It’s essentially a plastic box with lenses and a shutter bolted on to the front. It’s smaller and lighter than the Yashica, but sporting a shutter than runs from 1/15 to 1/250 s and an f 4.5 lens is a bit more limited. The shutter must be manually re-cocked with a little lever before taking a shot. Focussing is even more difficult, with changes made to focus seeming almost imperceptible in the finder. The back also has to be taped shut as it’s only held closed by a little flimsy clip – and i’d rather not have it accidentally fall open and ruin a whole roll of shots. Having said that, i’ve had some great images from it – the frame edges are rough compared to the shooter framing of the Yashica, which gives it a bit of character. I’ll post some results soon…
Holga 120 TLR
Off the bottom of the quality scale for medium-format TLRs comes this plastic beast. Quality Chinese Manufacture results in a back that falls off unless taped on, and leaks light all over the place – leaving your film with streaks and blotches. The plastic lens almost focusses in the middle (if you guess the focus distance right), but blurs to hell at the edges of the frame. The aperture consist of a single switch which slides a piece of plastic with a not-quite-central hole drilled in it behind the lens. This results in massive vignetting. In the dark, the flash carries red, yellow and blue filters which can be rotated in front of it for more fun effects.
Overall, this is absolutely the crappest camera I own. It’s an abomination in plastic tat, but the results are quirkily fantastic.
Ah, my first proper SLR. I bought this when I was a student. It’s a fully manual 35mm SLR with aperture-priority auto mode. It’s big and black and mean, built like a tank and works as perfectly as the day it was made – the only drawback being everything fires electronically, so no batteries, no pictures.
Pentax ME Super
This Pentax was gifted to me from a friend who “just wanted to see it used”. The ME Super was a much more usable version of the Pentax ME, keeping the aperture-priority auto function, but adding manual shutter speed selection too, by the unconventional means of two buttons on the top of the body. The camera had been sat a while gathering dust, and the shutter functions were a bit sticky. After “exercising” the shutter repeatedly, it freed up and I’ve now had a couple of rolls of film and some nice results from it. I have loads of PK fit lenses, so it’s suitable for all occasions. There appears to be a minor light leak, leaving streaks on the film when used in bright sunlight – it may be a future repair project, or I might just leave it as it adds character to the camera. I’ve yet to decide…
Have a look at some pics from the Pentax here…
Voigtländer Vito B
This little German beauty is tiny and neat and full of well thought out features. It feels solid and well made, has a nice big bright viewfinder and a superb little F2.8 Voigtländer lens. Shutter speeds run from 1 s to 1/300 s, plus a bulb mode – but the mechanism is a little old and tired and I wouldn’t trust the slower shutter speeds to be accurate. Unfortunately it’s not a reangefinder – that would make it perfect – instead the focus is by guestimation. It also requires the use of a light meter to set the exposure. I think this little thing lends itself best to colour film, giving really nice saturation and sharpness on a sunny day. It’s a happy, satisfying summer camera.
This “clockwork orange” is a vintage Soviet Fed 2 rangefinder – essentially a Russian Leica copy. It’s pretty new to me and I’ve only had one roll of film through it so far. The results clearly demonstrated the rangefinder was out of true – which I think I’ve now adjusted correctly but need to verify with another film. It’s a heavy, solid lump of metal with a cloth shutter the runs speeds from 1/25th to 1/500th s, plus a bulb mode. The lens is an F2.8 Industar, which mounts to the body with an M39 thread. Also available is a reputedly excellent F2 Jupiter lens, which I’m hoping to find cheap one day. The camera has it’s quirks. It’s imperative, for instance, to set the shutter speed AFTER re-cocking the shutter on these cameras – if done before then the whole shutter mechanism can jam up. Similar catastrophic damage can also occur if the shutter speed dial is interrupted while taking a picture – it actually spins round on top of the camera while the shutter opens and closes. Again, no light meter built in, so it’s either the “Sunny 16 rule” or a separate light meter to calculate exposures.
These, in recent years, have become cult cameras. I was lucky to get mine before prices went stupid on ebay. The LC-A is the camera that kicked off the whole Lomography movement. It’s another Russian camera – a zone focussing, semi-auto compact point and shoot, whose plastic lens gives soft, highly saturated results with nice vignetting. It has apertures from f2.8 to f16, or an auto mode where the shutter speed is set electronically to expose the shot. Care must be taken not to put your finger over the little window on the front that houses the light sensor.
I’ve had some sticky-shutter issues with this camera, but it appears to be freeing up with use. Some nice, characterful results when it works, and it’s quite small and light – ideal for sticking in the pocket for summery days out.
Kodak No 1 Autographic Jr.
This is my latest acquisition – dating from about 1920, the Autographic Jr takes 120 roll film and features an f8 “Rapid Rectilinear” lens, made by Bausch and Lomb. The shutter gives exposures of 1/25th, 1/50th and provides a bulb mode and a timed exposure mode. Focussing is achieved by guessing the distance and moving the bellows in and out to suit. The apertures are set in 5 stops, using the old “US” system – equating in modern terms to f8 through f32.
After having a couple of rolls of film fall victim to light leaks, I’ve treated the bellows with a special mixture of silicon and black shoe polish, and have finally had some visible results from the camera, using 35mm to test – see here.
This beautiful piece of photographic wonderment was a birthday gift from my girlfriend. The way it folds and unfolds is just magic, and as far as I know it is still the only instant camera that is technically an SLR. The camera has a huge focal range, being capable of near macro shots. I also have the “close up kit” that attaches a supplementary lens over the front more even greater close up stuff. Exposure time is set electronically, with adjustment given by a “lighter/darker” wheel.
The only thing with this is the expense of using it. The only available film nowadays is made by the Impossible Project – and at full whack it equates to £2.50 a shot. Nothing makes you consider your composition more than that!
The Polaroid 450 uses Pack Film – which is still made by Fuji, and as a result is much cheaper than film for the SX-70. These cameras feature a Zeiss rangefinder, combined with a focus mechanism that shifts the bellows. It works pretty well. The lens is an F8, with an electronically timed shutter. The 450, again, features a lighter/darker control to trim the exposure. The shutter has to be cocked manually before firing.
One of the most interesting things about pack film, is that it is possible to take one half of the pee-apart film (the bit you’re supposed to discard), and bleach the backing off it to create an extra-large negative. The resulting rough edges and curious colours are fun to play with, and give a great vintage effect. It’s a bit messy and unpredictable, but great as a sort of “free bonus” that comes with the actual prints. I’ve posted some bleached negatives from this camera here and here.
Shackman MultiShot 84
I left the craziest one until last. This Shackman MultiShot has 4 lenses, the shutters on which fire simultaneously. The aperture stops from f11 to f64, the shutter speed is fixed at I-don’t-know-what, and the focus is fixed at 59″, which limits the camera’s application somewhat. Originally made for taking passport-style mugshots, it also features a rotating cover which blocks some of the lenses (you can choose how many using the push-out sections). There are internal baffles in the camera which are movable, to control how much of the finished print area is exposed by each lens. Basically, it allows up to 4 shots on one sheet of pack-film. It works much better with a flashgun, and is good fun at parties. Other than that it’s monstrously large, cumbersome, and not really a huge amount of use….