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Instamatic 500 by Kodak AG

Posted 2011.10.11 8.28 in Hobbies, Photography

After the Autopak 700, I thought I was finished collecting 126-format cameras. I thought I had found the best and therefore didn’t need any more. I thought wrong.

The Instamatic 500 was produced by Kodak AG (Germany) and was their top-of-the-line instamatic camera. Made in 1963, it features a solid metal body, quality German optics, and fully manual operation. It is smaller than the Minolta, having no built-in rangefinder. The Instamatic 500 uses guess-focusing, with a distance scale on the top of the lens and zone icons on the bottom. Interestingly, the lens has detents for the zones, so it ‘snaps’ into place for Portrait (4ft), Group (~8ft), and Landscape (~20ft).

The lens also has a Depth-of-Field scale printed on it, so it’s actually very handy on a bright sunny day – set your aperture to f/11 or f/16, set your shutter speed according to your film ISO, and set the focus on ‘Group’ and you’ll have good sharp focus from 4 feet to infinity. Great for street photography or casual snapshots.

The Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar lens has a 38mm focal length and the aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/22. It is mounted on a Compur shutter with speeds from 1/30 through 1/500, plus Bulb. The shutter has X-sync through its entire range, with flash available through both a hot-shoe and PC socket. Finally, the lens is retractable, when not in use. A small button on the base of the camera allows the lens to be pressed back into the body. The lens is spring-loaded and pressing that button again lets it slide back out into place. While the lens is stowed, the shutter-release is locked, preventing accidental snaps.

To top it all off, the camera is equipped with a Gossen selenium meter. This works without requiring any batteries at all, and after almost 50 years, it is still working correctly! The meter is visible through the viewfinder, indicating if the exposure is off or if it is correct, with +/- 1 EV indication.

The only flaw on my camera is that the faceplate has been lost. Normally there would be the indication ‘Kodak Instamatic 500’ on the face of the camera, above and left of the lens.

It is, in my opinion, a nearly perfect camera. It works without batteries. It’s fairly compact. It’s solid. It takes square photos! It has an exposure aid, though it’s still a manual camera. There’s still that pesky problem of the film being nearly impossible to find, but that can be worked around. The lack of focus-aid, such as a rangefinder, is a problem when you can’t estimate distances very well. But the inclusion of a DOF scale helps make up for that.

The Instamatic 500 is a definite keeper, and certainly has a place in my collection. The Minolta Autopak 700 has the rangefinder, and the Rollei A26 is smaller. The Instamatic 500 fits right in between – the size is right, the feel is right, fully manual and doesn’t need batteries. It’s a winner.

The following pictures were taken on an OEM Fuji colour negative film. 35mm respooled into a 126 cartridge. This has two quirks: the sprocket holes are visible along one edge of the images, and sometimes there are feeding problems, which can lead to occasional overlapping images.

Also a quick point on using 35mm in the 126 cartridges: I do have a precious cache of genuine 126 film, so why am I using 35mm instead? When I get a new camera, I don’t know how well it’s going to perform, and I would hate to waste a real cartridge only to find out the shutter wasn’t opening or something stupid like that. So before using a real 126 film on a new aquisition, I’ll test with a reloaded one. Also, the colour 126 cartridges are all very expired, so there is a trade-off. Good colours / predictable results with sprocket holes, or completely unpredictable results but no sprocket holes?

This was the last roll to be souped in my exhausted C-41 chemistry. Processing at room temperature has gone from 18 minutes up to 25 minutes, my blix is exhausted, and I suspect the stabilizer is going too. So I’ll let some colour films pile up a bit before I make up a new batch of chemicals to resume processing. Maybe I’ll do some B&W in the meantime.

Kalimar “Colt 44”

Posted 2011.10.10 10.01 in Hobbies, Photography

Here is a super simple 127-format camera from 1960. The Kalimar “Colt 44”, also known as the Kalimar 44, also known as the Anny 44, is about one step up from a box camera. As with many other cameras with a ’44’ designation, it takes twelve square 4x4cm frames on a roll of 127 film.

It’s designed to look like a rangefinder, but really it’s just a fake-out. The ‘focus lever’ is actually a lock for the shutter release, with the ‘rangefinder window’ turning red when the shutter is locked, and black when the camera is ready to shoot.

The fixed-focus lens has a focal length of 60mm, and is set to capture subjects from 5 feet to infinity. The camera has a single fixed shutter speed of roughly 1/60th – not even a bulb setting. The only thing you can control is the aperture, which can be set from f/8 to f/22. An indicator on the lens barrel suggests f/8 and f/11 for colour film, and f/16 and f/22 for black & white.

The 127 format is nearly obsolete, but there are a few places still selling fresh / new film, such as the Frugal Photographer. You can also respool 35mm film with a 127 spool and backer paper, but you will have sprocket holes in the image. Or skinny panoramic images, if you crop out the sprockets.

One other funky thing with this camera, it has an accessory shoe (not a hot shoe) and it has a PC connector, but it is not an X-sync — it’s an M-sync. This means it is timed for old ‘medium’ flash bulbs. Meaning, it triggers the flash about 20 milliseconds before the shutter is opened. So with an electronic flash, the flash is over and done with before the shutter has fully opened. So even though the camera looks like you can use a flash, it’s no-go. Unless you have some bulbs, that is…

All in all, the Colt 44 reminds me of the Holga, in fact. It is smaller, and made of metal and glass rather than plastic. And where the Holga has fixed exposure and zone focus, the Colt 44 has fixed focus and lets you set the aperture… ok in fact the Colt 44 and Holga are really nothing alike. Yet they still remind me of each other all the same.

The shots below were taken on a generic “store brand” colour negative 35mm film that was made by Fuji.

Souped, as usual, in my exhausted C41 chemistry. By exhausted I mean, it’s nearly the end of the road for that batch. Soon I’ll have to bid it fare well, wash out the containers, and prepare a shiney new batch. Then I’ll have to reset all my timers and start over.

Chaika II Repair Results

Posted 2011.10.09 15.32 in Hobbies, Photography

A while back I dug up an old broken camera and pulled it apart to fix it. Or kill it. Whatever came first.

Turned out that the fix was fairly simple, and I was momentarily pleased enough to put some film in it and carry it around for a couple days.

The Chaika II is a “half frame” camera, meaning it takes two smaller pictures for every one picture a normal camera takes. Normal 35mm frames are 36mm x 24mm, and a half-frame camera takes 24mm x 18mm frames. So with a 36-exposure roll, you actually get 72 shots!

It’d take me forever to finish a 72-frame roll, but luckily I usually have some half-rolls laying around, from re-spooling 35mm film into different formats (eg. 126 cartridges or 127 rolls.) Or just from getting bored and pulling a half-used roll out of one camera, to finish in another.

Either way, I had about half a roll left of CN-800 film, and into the Chaika it went.

Details: ISO 800 colour negative film, processed a long while in my tired old C-41 chemistry. Exposed using Sunny-16 and guesswork. The Chaika’s shutter seems to be working fine and the speeds are probably accurate. Yay!

Instax Pinhole Howto

Posted 2011.09.23 14.09 in Hobbies, Photography

Last weekend after I put together that pinhole camera that uses instant film, I made a quick write-up and sent it off to the Lomography folks.

While I’ve been pre-occupied with health issues, it got published:

Instax Pinhole Camera

Pinhole Instax Camera - Tipster

Instant Pinhole Photos

Posted 2011.09.17 19.16 in Hobbies, Photography

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a month or two. I enjoy pinhole photography, and am intrigued by instant film. So I wanted to combine the two – a pinhole camera that makes instant prints.

So this morning I finally decided to throw something together (in lieu of doing chores). I’ll post a detailed write-up of the construction later. The short version is, I used an Instant Back for the Lomo LC-A+ and built a pinhole-front to attach to the Instant Back. It was actually a very quick and easy project.

Here are some results:

Fuji Instax Mini film is rated at ISO 800, and I calculated the Instant Pinhole camera to have a 30mm focal length, and an aperture of about f/150. Under the overcast skies that came to about a 4 second exposure, which actually is a bit over-exposed I think. In the backyard, under heavy tree cover, this extended to eight seconds, which might be a bit under-exposed.

I tried some indoor shots but the Instax film suffers from big-time reciprocity failure – what should have been a 30-second exposure, looks like it would take over 2 1/2 minutes. So the Instant Pinhole is probably going to stick with sunny outdoor shots for now.

Late Night Camera Repair

Posted 2011.09.14 22.41 in Hobbies

This week has really been a huge bust. After the various failures over the weekend, I’ve been suffering at the hands of medical professionals and the various tests to which they’ve been subjecting my leg. I’ve been feeling bummed out with photography and cameras.

Tonight I’m sitting here about ready to go to bed and then I decide, just before turning in, I’m going to at least mess with a camera. I’ve got this little Chaika-II on my shelf, I vaguely remember putting some film through it when I first got it, but then the shutter/winder siezed up. It’s just been gathering dust since then.

So tonight I decided, I’m either going to fix it, or I’m going to reduce it to a pile of parts. And based on this week’s track record, I expected the latter result.

Still, it was a very inexpensive camera, and I’m not a big fan of the half-frame format, so I was ready to make the sacrifice. Worst-case scenario, I’d get to see the insides and maybe learn something.

Chaika II

I removed the four screws I found on the top plate, and the top easily slid off. A few parts and a spring fell out, and right away I could see that only three screws should have been removed – the fourth one should have stayed put as it was holding some parts to the top plate. Fortunately I’m pretty good at figuring that sort of thing out, and it only took a few moments to see how the parts fit back together, so I wasn’t any further behind.

Looking at the winding / cocking mechanism, it’s a lot like a funny little clockwork. The shutter speed is part of that clockwork, and setting the shutter speed just tensions a spring – the more the tension, the faster the shutter. What I realized was that, like a number of other early eastern-bloc mechanical cameras, you are not supposed to set the shutter speed until after winding and cocking the camera.¬†Odds are, I did that out of order at one point and got the thing jammed.

It ended up being a very simple straightforward fix, and once again this little camera is clicking along. Not bad for 10 minutes work before bed – it took longer to do this write-up than it did to fix the camera! I’m even thinking about running some more film through this little camera, just for the heck of it!

Cavalcade of Fail

Posted 2011.09.13 21.25 in Hobbies, Photography

This past weekend I was excited to get out of the house and take some more snapshots with my ‘new’ Hawk-Eye box camera. For good measure I also brought along my Minolta Autopak 700 rangefinder.

It was a super-bright sunny day, one of those bright-blue-sky-hard-shadows days, that mean sunny-16, aka EV+15 for the camera exposure. So my Hawk-Eye was loaded with some ISO 100 film which I figured could handle being overexposed and would also be ok if there were some clouds later.

I picked up my sister and we set out to visit a small waterfall that we’d read about. It was supposed to be an all-but-unknown yet very easily-accessable site.

Trail, Trees, Falls

When we arrived, we discovered that the trail was not long but it was a little difficult, and involved some hiking through the woods, and some slightly steep ups and downs. I was completely unprepared of course, wearing simple sandals — I had not even thought to bring my safety hiking sandals with the good treads and the ankle support. Also, someone else forgot to invent them.

Still, after the anticipation and the drive and all, we pressed on. And of course, I managed to trip and send myself flying. I remember as I started going over, very briefly thinking “Oh shit! The cameras!” but there was no chance to do anything about it.

I had been carrying 80-year-old Hawk-Eye in my hand, while the Minolta was around my neck on a strap. Then the Hawk-Eye was off doing some travelling of its own: first completely airborne, but then hitting the ground, it started rolling end over end a little ways down the path. The Minolta meanwhile, tethered around my neck, just swung outwards and met the hard ground face-first, a split second before I did nearly the same thing.

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