14 Aug Trial and Error with Antique Cameras
During the lock down I got very used to having a regular wage for the first time since 2008. I tried to keep myself occupied with a number of projects but after cleaning out the shed, painting every room in the house, planting a vegetable garden and learning how to make bread I was seven days into lockdown.
I am not a person that can sit still so I began to think of ways to improve my work while still being paranoid about going outside. On my shelf I have had two antique stills cameras for years. A 1921 Kodak Girl Guide Camera (similar to the pocket brownie but made specifically for the girl guides). It had belonged to my mother and was a gift from her uncle Frank but had not been used since the 60s.
This camera takes 127 film which is an unusual size and no longer in general production. There are a few places that still make this film but it is pricey. You could also get 120 film and cut it to fit the camera but thats a whole other pain. The camera is in good condition, what I find really interesting is that the exposure is controlled by a metal disc with four different sized holes in it that you can rotate in front of a meniscus lens.The shutter is completely manual and it’s designed to be shot from the hip.
I shot a roll of 127 black and white film on this camera and developed it only for them to come out completely black (over exposed) and on closer inspection of the camera I found a number of very small holes in the bellows meaning light was getting into the camera and ruining the negative. It is a shame cause I took some really nice scenic shots near Kerry with this and was really excited to see how them came out. So I have ordered a tube of black silicone to fix this and will try again once repaired.
The Second Camera I have been shooting with is a 1932 Coffee Can Camera (I cannot find the correct model name for it but it’s what they were commonly referred to) It was given to me by my uncle a number of years ago, I don’t know where he found it but he brought it down to the house saying it was broken but he knew I was into cameras so would I like it as a display piece. So I stuck it on the shelf and aside from it being a nice display piece I haven’t given it much thought till now.
So on inspection it seemed to be working perfectly fine. It needed a plastic reel to collect the film but aside from that all the parts were there. I ordered one online along with some colour and black and white 120 film for it. It has a number of controls on the front, There is a big lever that you slide up and down and it moves the whole front element back and forward to set the focus, you set the shutter speed by turning the front of it, then pull the top lever across to lock that in and prime the shutter. You can set the stop with the lever on the bottom the once the shutter is primed release it with the lever on the side
The first reel I shot and developed was over exposed and had a lot of motion blur so in trouble shooting the problem I found that the dial on the front of it actually controls the shutter speed and I had set it far too low so the blur and exposure issues made sense. The second roll I shot was exposed fine but was out of focus which was odd cause the focus on the eye piece seemed to be fine. so I did a number of tests and found that the focus dial on the front was giving the correct reading but the eye piece was giving a different reading so the two lenses were out of sync. The solution is to frame with the eye piece and ignore it for focus, just go with the numbers of the dial. I currently have my 3rd roll loaded into the camera and am hoping the next one will come out well.
During this time I also got an old stills camera (Canon AE-1 a 1980’s film camera). It takes 35mm film.
I love this camera. The texture of the shots is amazing. I have had to get used to relying solely on a exposure metre and not the eye piece which can be tricky at times when you’re so used to new technology and seeing the finished shot in front of you but there is something exciting about not being able to see it and having to wait to see if a picture came out. Its more tangible and means more then just taking 50 shots on your phone that you’re probably never going to look at again. It also forces you to think about what you’re doing and be specific about your framing.
Nowadays we are in such a rush for everything and shoot schedules are getting tighter and tighter it has been really nice to take my time and be able to think about my process and how to approach different issues. I know its not practical to shoot stills on film all the time but I’m definitely going to see where I can fit this in to my work in the future.