Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rollei A110 Spy Camera!

I got a message from a friend recently asking me if I had become a camera collector. If I have it was not intentional and I am making plans to remedy the situation by selling and/or giving some cameras away. The truth is there are so many really cool and unusual film cameras available now for very little money that it’s hard not to want to get them all and shoot them.

One such find is the Rollei A110 shown above with another recent acquisition, the Yashica LM. I will discuss the Yashica in a future blog post. I included it here in the picture for size comparison so you can see just how tiny the Rollei is. I got the Rollei in an auction along with some other items for under $20. This tiny little “spy camera” is so cool and well-built I may just have to keep it.  It apparently makes incredible photographs too, especially for a 110 film camera.

I bought a Pentax Auto 110 a while back and was disappointed with the photos from my first roll. Since the film I used in it was expired and of dubious origin I am reserving judgment until I can run some better film through it. I have no such reservations about the Rollei however. Even with film of questionable origins the photographs were quite amazing as you can see below.

I have intentionally avoided 110 film format since it came out in the 1970’s because of the grain and image quality issues but this little gem may change my mind. The fact that the entire camera is not much bigger than the 110 film cartridge itself is pretty amazing too.

Although Rollei also made a model E110 with a light meter but had to be set manually, the A110 is a fully automatic camera with only the zone focus needing to be set by the user. It does have a light in the viewfinder that glows green when everything is okay to shoot and yellow or flashing yellow when the shutter speed is slow enough to warrant a tripod or other special support. With apertures from 2.8 to 16 and shutter speeds from 1/400 to 4 seconds this is a very versatile little camera.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Kodak Brownie Starflash Works!

Here’s a photo my son took of me with the Kodak Brownie Starflash on efke R100 black & white film using one of the M2 flashbulbs I bought from the Film Photography Project store in the on-board flash unit. As you can see the camera, the film and the bulb did everything they were supposed to do. This is just one more exciting experiment with vintage camera equipment.

Now admittedly the photo is not very sharp but it is after all a 50 year old camera with a plastic lens. I did notice that several of the pictures came out a bit blurry. I suspect the shutter has slowed down over the years. At 1/40 or 1/50 it wasn’t exactly lightning fast when it was new. These days it may be more like 1/30 or even slower so any movement when tripping the shutter will likely result in a blurred image.  The fact that the two images shot with the flash came out sharpest just kind of supports my theory about the shutter speed.

The thing you have to remember with these old cameras is that really slow shutter speeds were normal back then. Photographers were steadier and more methodical in their picture taking – maybe because they had to be. Most of the manuals for the old folding cameras recommended that portraits be taken at f8 and 1/25th of a second. Manuals for late 20th century 35mm cameras recommend using a tripod for anything slower than 1/60th of a second. I suspect this is just more evidence that modern folks are just too impatient to hold steady long enough for a decent picture at slower shutter speeds like our grandparents routinely did.

In any case I now have another 50+ year old 127 film Brownie that works. Amazing!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Wagon Wheels

Wagon Wheels by wizowel
Wagon Wheels, a photo by wizowel on Flickr.

Here's a recent favorite shot on Kodak Tri-x with my Holga 120N which I happened to have along at a recent shoot.

I have been here before and shot similar compositions with other cameras and film but I believe this one will be my favorite.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Old School Off-Camera Flash

I did a little research and discovered that back in the “old days” it was common for portraits to be taken in a darkened room where the photographer would open the lens, flash the composition using a flash bulb or some other lighting device and then close the lens. The film was so slow that there was little worry about remnant images immediately before or after the flash and that was the only way to make sure the composition was flashed while the lens was open.

Trying a little experiment of my own, I loaded my Holga with Kodak Tri-x, mounted it on a tripod and turned out all the lights. Since it was also night time it was very dark in the room. With my son posing in front of the camera I opened the shutter on the bulb setting, flashed the small electronic flash a few feet to the side of the camera and then closed the shutter.

What you see above is the results. The Holga lens definitely adds to the “look” but the lighting is what really makes the photograph. 

By comparison, the shot below was taken under the same circumstances but the flash was mounted in the hot shoe and the shutter was tripped in the usual manner.

Although this is an interesting photograph the subject appears washed out and the image is flat due to the proximity and the full frontal blast of light while the shadows in the first image provide depth. Aside from an experiment to establish what I have to do to use flash photography with vintage cameras that have no synchronization shutter speed, it’s also more evidence that off-camera flash is better in many ways than on camera flash – definitely something to keep in mind.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Kodak Brownie Starflash

I got interested in, researched, and wrote about 127 cameras & film when I received a couple of the classic 127 cameras as gifts a while back. My recent activity with auctions on “” triggered a renewal of my interest in 127 film and cameras when I inadvertently won an auction which happened to include a Kodak Brownie Starflash along with the other items in the “grab bag.”

The Brownie Starflash is a beautiful little camera similar in many respects to my very first camera, the Brownie Bullet. I was given a Brownie Bullet by my Aunt B, when I was just nine years old and it was my constant photographic companion for many years. I recently got another one (I have no idea what happened to my original one) mainly for nostalgic reasons but found it to be a good little shooter even after fifty years of service.

The biggest difference between the Bullet and the Starflash is the huge built in or “on” flash bulb holder on the Starflash. It also apparently has two EV settings, one for color and one for black & white, and a safety feature that presumably prevents double exposures, neither of which were available on my Bullet.

After cleaning the Brownie Starflash up a bit, removing the vintage but corroded batteries from the flash unit and working the shutter enough times to get it moving freely again it appeared that I had a working camera. I bravely loaded it with a fresh roll of 127 film which is somewhat hard to find and a bit expensive when you do find it but still available if you really want some.

The easiest 127 film to find as I write this is the efke 100 black & white, usually available for about $10 from B&H or Freestyle. Blue Moon Camera & Machine also has Bluefire Murano color film in both 160 and 400. The latter looks very much like a “rebadged” version of Kodak Portra. I chose a roll of the efke 100 black & white I had on hand and set to work trying out my “new” 127 camera.
I had already cleaned all the contacts in the built-in flash unit and confirmed that it worked by connecting my multi-meter to the flash bulb terminals and tripping the shutter. With that done I was pretty confident when I inserted one of the M2 flash bulbs I had bought from the Film Photography Project store ( I was still overjoyed and amazed when I got two perfect flashes on the first two tries.

Maybe it’s because I started out with 127 film format when I was just a kid but there is just something special about it, at least for me. I wish I could find a deal on a working Yashica or Rollei 4X4. Those are vintage miniature TLR’s that shoot 127 film. They are so cool.
Anyway – stay tuned for the results of my Brownie Starflash experiments.

UPDATE: 4/13/14 As I write this it is getting harder and harder to find 127 film. Blue Moon and Freestyle still have some (when I looked last) but only the Rollei 800 which sells for about $16 a roll. I am on ly last roll and probably will not be shooting 127 much anymore unless I can find a source of a slower film for a lot less money. Still, these old cameras are a lot of fun and take great pictures so I may just have to splurge once and a while.