Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pentax Auto 110 Works Fine!

Here’s a picture from the roll of expired Kodak 110 color film that was in the camera when I got it and guess what? It looks just like I remember 110 film photos looking. The color is not bad for expired film and the grain is definitely there. My main objection is the lack of sharpness. Still, it definitely has “that vintage look” and I can see how many people might like it.

The Pentax Auto 110 is supposed to be the very best 110 camera ever made. Now that I know it actually works I will try it with some new fresh film and see if the sharpness improves. I know the color will improve with better film and it’s a really cool little camera. I think I can live with the grain if I can just get a little better sharpness and resolution. Stay tuned for the next installment of John experiments with 110 format film!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pentax Auto 110

In an earlier blog post about the vintage Valiant 620 camera I alluded to the fact that there were some other items I won at the “” auction. Well, cleverly (or not so cleverly depending on how you look at it) hidden in the list of goodies I bought was a “working Pentax Auto 110” camera. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that little gem among the other goodies, and working it was (and still is).

When I opened the well, worn diminutive Pentax case and slid the Auto 110 out the first thing I noticed was that it was in excellent shape. Obviously the worn out case had done its job protecting the contents. I also noticed the camera had film in it. A couple minutes scanning the user manual (included) and I was ready to take some pictures!

I would have normally expected this copy of the world’s smallest ever SLR to get top billing on any auction description but not this time – which is probably why I was able to scoop it up so cheap along with all the other items. 

The Auto 110 came with a 24mm, f2.8 (normal) lens, two rolls of 110 Kodacolor 200 film (one already in the camera), an AF130P dedicated flash unit, and manuals for the camera and flash. There were also two little gadgets that looked like miniature lens filters but turned out to be close up and macro attachments, presumably for the 24mm lens. I haven’t tried them yet but I can say with some degree of certainty that the camera and flash work perfectly.

I have already been reprimanded by friends for “bad-mouthing” cheap plastic cameras that take the kind of crappy pictures that sometimes pass for “creative photography” these days so I will refrain from saying anything bad about the 110 format, at least until I get some film back from processing. 

What I can say is that I went straight from 127 to 35mm and purposefully stayed away from the 110 format from the time it came out in 1972 until now because all the images I saw resulting from 110 film were generally pretty poor. If there is any possibility of getting quality images from the 110 format however, I suspect it will come from this cute little SLR which I am told was designed and built with the same quality standards as the fine 35mm SLR’s Pentax was known for. 

I would never have paid the kind of price these little cameras demanded when new or even at auction today but having got it on the cheap with a bunch of other stuff I plan to put it through its paces and keep an open mind.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Film Photography Lives!

After hearing that his obituary had been printed in a New York journal Mark Twain said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Like Mark Twain film has been prematurely declared dead and written off as a thing of the past. Thanks in large part to folks like The Lomography Society, The Film Photography Project and The Impossible Project, analog photography is not only still alive but prospering and growing. 

The inspiring story of the Lomography Society ( ) which was credited last year in a BBC news story with single handedly saving film photography from extinction is the stuff of legend.  Today the Lomography web site and their stores around the world stand as a profitable testimony to the enduring interest in analog film photography.

The Impossible Project ( ) resurrected the instant photography industry from the ashes of Polaroid’s demise and has become the hub of a worldwide cult of instant photographers who generally use old Polaroid cameras for their craft although Fuji continues to manufacture both instant film and cameras.

Fujifim , to their credit has never wavered in their support for film photography and continues to offer a wide array of film and analog photography products, including the instant film and cameras.

The Film Photography Project, ( ) working quietly in the background with their biweekly film photography podcasts, frequent film walks & meet ups and their online store has remained a beacon for film photographers who might otherwise become lost in the shifting seas of digital photography. 

Kodak, in the midst of its bankruptcy struggles took the time at a trade show in 2011 to announce that film sales were actually growing after dropping and then leveling off as a result of the digital revolution that occurred during the first decade of the 21st century.

Ferrania, the Italian film manufacturer that stopped all film production in 2008 has recently announced that it plans to restart production in early 2014.

The truth is that in spite of an obvious lack of flashy advertising campaigns and hardly any publicity at all, the film community is not only still alive and well but it is steadily growing. You can still buy new film cameras and there has never been a better time to buy used film cameras. Film and related items are readily available although you may now have to get some things online rather than in your local camera shop as they generally cater to the digital crowd. Many types of film have been discontinued but new and better ones have been released as well. 

Will film cameras ever again outsell the amazing new digital wonder-gadgets that are released almost daily – of course not!  But neither will they disappear anytime soon either. Some of us old folks will never abandon film and young people every day rediscover the mystique of film photography as they realize that there is something else out there waiting for them besides the digital cameras they grew up with. So do yourself a favor – try film. You won’t regret it!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Valiant 620 Camera

One of my new favorite web sites is “” I bought my current favorite 35mm SLR, the Pentax ZX-7 there, as well as my favorite “pocket film camera,” the Olympus XA2. I was “surfing” through their offerings recently when what should my eyes behold but a vintage Valiant 620 roll film camera. 

The Valiant is a typical 1950’s – 1960’s style box camera except that it came in a multitude of colors instead of the usual black. This one was pale (1950/60’s) green, my wife’s favorite color for collectibles. What kind of husband would I be if I didn’t seize the moment and help her add this gem to her collection of “green things.” I did what any good husband would do. I conquered the competing hoard of bidders with an extravagant (nothing is too good for my wife) offer ($ 20) and was soon cleaning it up to present it to her. Oh, by the way, the auction I won included some other items too, but that is a story for another blog post, maybe a couple!

Believe it or not the Valiant came to me in its original box with a flash unit that attaches to the side of the camera. I was also gratified to discover that once it was cleaned up the lens was clear and the shutter seemed to work fine. The flash unit also looked to be in decent shape other than some discoloration on the reflector. There was a pair of vintage and slightly corroded AA batteries in the flash holder but they seem to have done no real damage to the unit.

Next I turned to my good friends at the FPP ( Store to see if I could purchase a couple rolls of 620 film and a 12-pack of vintage M2 flash bulbs. The FPP Store not only had the film and the flash bulbs but had a selection of eight different films to choose from.  A couple days later (I’ve already extolled the virtue of FPP’s speedy service in another blog post) I had what I needed and my wallet was just a tad lighter. 

Michael Rasso of the FPP assured me I could expect a couple duds in the pack of 12 flash bulbs I bought. After all they are likely at least 20 years old. The film wasn’t cheap either ($10) but considering that they hand roll 120 film onto 620 film spools at the FPP it’s easily worth the couple extra bucks.

I took the camera, the flash, film and bulbs and put everything in the original box with some fancy blue tissue paper and presented it to my lovely wife as a gift. She was immediately thrilled and just this past weekend we loaded it with color film and started shooting photos with it. The photo above is her with her new/old camera!

Considering that these old box cameras generally had fixed lenses with apertures of somewhere between f8 and f16 with single shutter speeds of 1/50 to 1/100, these are “sunny day cameras.” Unfortunately ever since I loaded it with film it’s been cloudy and raining. 

Finally, tired of waiting for a sunny day we decided to try it out inside with the flash. After making sure the contacts were clean and putting fresh “AA” batteries in it, I licked the M2 flash bulb as I recall doing many years ago when such things were common and inserted it into the bulb holder. Then I carefully composed the shot and gently pressed the shutter button.

I was immediately rewarded with a quiet “click” of the shutter and a bright flash letting me know that everything had gone exactly as it was supposed to. 

I then advanced the film to the next frame and loaded another flash bulb into the holder for my wife to try. This time I was the subject and once again as she pressed the shutter button I heard the “click” of the shutter and this time I was blinded by the flash bulb going off.

Unless you have ever taken a 50 or 60 year old camera and 20 to 30 year old flash bulbs, snapped a picture on supposedly obsolete film and had everything work just as it was supposed to, just as it did a half a century ago, you have no idea what a thrill it can be. I can’t wait to finish the roll and get the pictures back. Be sure I will share there here with you as soon as I do!