Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Baby" Rolleiflex 4x4 + 35mm film

Last year I bought a box of old cameras, mainly wanting one Speed Graphic that was in the mix. In the bottom of the box was a beat-up and half destroyed Rolleiflex 4x4. According to the serial number, this camera was built in 1934. Unfortunately, it uses a mostly extinct film format called "127" film (there are a few places that you can order it custom, but it is very expensive and not really worth the trouble).

I happened across it a few weeks ago in my junk drawer and I thought I might could salvage the shutter for something. I started to take it apart, poking around the inside. I was pleased to find the shutter actually worked and the lenses cleaned up with just a bit of work. I took apart the hood and found the ground glass in relatively good shape. I started replacing some lost screws and bending some parts back into shape, and suddenly I realized I had a mostly working camera.

The film mechanism for 127 film had to come out so I removed that (it can be put back) and found that 35mm cartridges were just slightly too big. I had an idea though - I took the camera into my darkroom and then removed a 35mm cartridge spool with film on it from a bulk loaded cartridge - it fit! I wound the film on in the dark and closed up the camera.

Amazingly, I can use 35mm film without any issue this way. The 35mm film, with the sprockets exposed, is just slightly less wide than the film gate.

Here's some images I made. This camera has a Zeiss 6cm f/3.5 Tessar lens on it:


It was fun to shoot and since I sold my Yashica 124G, it's nice to shoot a TLR again! I don't know if I'll use this camera much (or just maybe sell it) but it was fun to tinker with it and make a usable camera out of it.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Voigtlander Bessa II 6x9 folder/rangefinder thoughts

As I mentioned in the last post, I recently upgraded my 6x9 folder to a Voigtlander Bessa II, one with a Color-Heliar 105mm f/3.5 lens. This is pretty much the most premium folder that Voigtlander made, save for the exceedingly rare and ridiculously expensive Bessa II with a 105mm f/4.5 APO-Lanthar. The APO Lanthar is, from what I understand, a Heliar design as well but with the apochromatic correction through the use of lanthanum glass (which is radioactive, by the way).

I own a 150mm (or 15cm) APO-Lanthar and it is indeed a fabulous lens. I use it on 4x5. I think the Heliar design itself has a justified status, and the apochromatic version is just icing on the cake.

Anyway, I showed some color photographs last time, but I did some more exacting shooting last week using PanF+ film to check out the camera more thoroughly. For the curious, I developed the film in Rodinal 1:50 for 14 minutes. PanF+ really sings in Rodinal in my opinion.

First, the good - the camera is extremely small, especially folded, and just like any of the Bessa models, is probably one of the best cameras out there in terms of negative size compared to size/weight of the camera. The Bessa II, compared to my Bessa RF, is a bit bigger and chunkier, both in the thickness and overall size of the camera. The slight increase of size doesn't bother me at all, but I do miss the additional tripod mounting hole in the Bessa RF, which was strangely omitted on the II (however, the Bessa RF ships with a 3/8" mount, rather than 1/4," which is annoying).

Also in comparison to the Bessa RF, the single combined viewfinder/rangefinder is so much nicer to shoot with compared to the RF model. But it's not all good. The viewfinder eyepiece is very small and squinty, especially compared to some nicer RF cameras out there such as a Leica. I can also compare it to the much larger Linhof Technika 70, which has a massive viewfinder and gorgeous rangefinder - much superior, but at the expense of being probably 10x the size and weight of the Bessa.

Now the bad. If you read about the Bessa folders on the internet, you'll find a lot of people saying the struts aren't sturdy and the lens will generally be cocked slightly left or right, causing focus shift from one side of the photo to the other. My old Bessa RF did not have this problem at all. However, in contrast, this Bessa II seems to have a very, very slight focus shift problem from left to right. It seems to focus slightly farther away to the right side of the image. However my more exacting test with PanF+ ended up being really inconclusive on this so I could be wrong, but nevertheless, I definitely saw a bit of shift in some photos, so it might be that or possibly film slack with such a large negative. Another possible problem is the rangefinder calibration, despite just having had a CLA.

Speaking of negative size, one quirk of the Bessa folders is their negative size. Nominal 6x9 negatives aren't really 6x9 centimeters. Generally, 120 cameras shoot 56mm on the side perpendicular to the film roll, and the other side varies depending on the format (6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, 6x8, 6x8, 6x12, etc.). A true 3:2 ratio, with the short side being 56mm, should be 84mm on the long side. Instead, the Bessa is just about a full 90mm on the long side. So it ends up being a very panoramic-looking format, even with just an extra 6mm on that side. So I generally have cropped a bit of that side when shooting verticals, as I did above on these two images.

As you can see in the picture above, the Heliar lens does have gorgeous out-of-focus rendering (bokeh). This was shot at f/4. If that is your thing, this is a great camera/lens. Especially for portraiture, which is one reason I think I will use this camera more as a people/travel camera than landscapes. The other reason being that I do think this lens is as suited for landscape work as some of my other cameras, with the fixed 105mm lens - at least in my style of shooting anyway. It's a bit too long of a lens. A 50mm or 65mm lens would be nice. A modern Bessa III W (wide) with a 55mm lens - actually made by Fuji - is available, but it's only 6x7, doesn't fold, and is also really expensive. I don't consider that camera being in the same "style" or heritage as the Bessa II personally.

But speaking of the lens, it is also lower contrast than most of my lenses, even though it is coated and a bit more modern than even the older Skopar on the Bessa RF. Again, this might be really suited to portraiture.

All-in-all, I think I need more time with this camera to learn its quirks and strengths. As a travel camera, the huge negative but small camera can't be beat. I think after learning its quirks, I will enjoy it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wakulla Springs and St. Marks Trip

My parents came down to visit Wakulla Springs and St. Marks with Meagan and I a couple of weekends ago. At Wakulla they have a neat boat ride down the Wakulla River to see and experience the local wildlife. We saw manatees, herons and other waterfowl, alligators, and even a couple of bald eagles. I brought along my Pentax 67 with 500mm f/5.6 lens for the wildlife, with some other lenses for general landscapes, as well as a new camera to shoot and try out, a Voigtlander Bessa II with Color Heliar 105mm f/3.5 lens.

Here's some images of wildlife. This was really tough to shoot. The boat was always moving and focusing the huge 500mm lens on the Pentax on the fly is brutal. A lot of images turned out out of focus (usually back-focused, the worst), but it was fun nevertheless. Frankly while I could shoot one of my DSLRs and use my 300mm f/2.8, I just don't get the same "rush" as with a big 6x7 camera. It is a little crazy but when I get a shot it's pretty exhilarating. These are all on Portra 400:


Here's some landscapes with the Pentax and 55-100mm f/4.5:

Finally, here's the images from the Bessa II. I had just gotten this camera back from a CLA since the lens was firing slow and sticking. Unfortunately a lot of frames got ruined because there was a small light leak around the lens mount. It was really strange - it actually leaked around the jam nut where it is notched for tightening, something I've never seen. A bit of electrical tape fixed it but very annoying. This camera also is so small and light that the shutter kick blurs the image even at 1/100 so I tried to keep it at a higher shutter speed. Here's the images (taken with Ektar, FP4, and T-Max 400):

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Japanese Magnolias, February 2015

Our Japanese Magnolia tree (Magnolia liliiflora) finally bloomed, so late yesterday I grabbed a couple of photos. I might do some color tomorrow.

Here's a few shots, taken with my Linhof Tech IV and 150mm f/2.8 Schneider Xenotar, at or near wide-open, on old and expired Tri-X 320 and developed in Rodinal 1:50 for 14 minutes at 68F:

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Suwannee Springs - Jan. 2015

Meagan and I visited Suwannee Springs on a nice winter afternoon last month and I took a few photos on 4x5:


I also shot that last one on color film (Kodak 160VC):