Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My first good camera

As a fairly young child I was interested in photography.  My parents had an Instamatic--I remember it clearly enough that I was able to figure out it was a Model 100, with pop-up flashbulb holder.  (Later cameras used cubes)

When we lived in Kentucky in the early 70's I got my own 126 Instamatic camera.  I don't remember it as clearly, but it was a lesser version using more plastic.  I think mine took Magicubes--these did not require a battery, instead they were fired via a tab rising from the body of the camera.  I loved taking pictures, but had to pay for my own film and processing so didn't take many.

When I was in high school around 1979 or 80, I became interested in photography again.   At first I borrowed a camera from the yearbook, a relatively recent Yashica, with manual exposure via LED in the viewfinder.  None of the yearbook staff were Sophomores, (the first year at my high school) so there were few pictures of sophomores--many of my pictures made the yearbook.

I started saving money, and when I had enough bought an Olympus OM-10, a 2x Teleconverter and a manual adapter.   The OM-10 is an aperture priority automatic, somewhat smaller than the usual SLR of the era. Shutter speed display via LED dots in the viewfinder.  I picked the Olympus because that combination was the least expensive name brand camera with both auto exposure and manual shutter speeds.  Serious photographers had to have manual shutter speeds.   Serious photographers didn't use teleconverters, but high school kids on a budget did...  I carried that camera through high school, taking pictures for the yearbook and school newspaper.  I eventually lost the manual adapter and didn't replace it,  and finally lost the camera when I was in Air Force tech school.  

At around the same time I bought the camera, I wound up buying an enlarger and accessories at an estate auction and setting up a darkroom in a basement room.   The auction included various expired chemicals and paper, some of the paper had expired 30 or 40 years prior--I had some fun with those, but they were pretty fogged and couldn't get much of an image.  The enlarger was also very old and meant for medium format, not 35mm.  I had to modify a film carrier and raise the rails to get reasonable sized enlargements.   I bought film in 100 foot rolls and re-rolled into my own cassettes--If I remember right I could shoot a 36 exposure roll of Tri X, develop the film and print a contact sheet for around a dollar.  I didn't have the setup to develop or print my own color--I did it a couple of times at either the high school darkroom or the college where Dad taught so I shout mostly black and white.  I disliked flash (since I didn't own one...) so shot mostly Tri X, often pushing it a couple stops to 1600 instead of the rated 400.

The camera in the picture is a replacement that I bought via Ebay.  If you are in the market for an OM-10 get one with the manual adapter.  A bit less common, but no real price difference--and if you don't want the adapter you can likely sell it separately to someone else for about the cost of an OM10 body.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Instamatic 500

 The Instamatic system was a huge hit for Kodak.  Most of the Instamatic cameras were simple and inexpensive-Other than simpler film loading not much different than previous cameras, with a simple meniscus lens and single or two speed shutter.

At the time Kodak's European division had separate management and very often produced much higher quality cameras--like this Instamatic 500 made from 1963-67.   Unlike ordinary Instamatics, this was scale-focus metered manual with a 4 element lens and full control of shutter and aperture.  Also unlike ordinary Instamatics, it was $95

Metering was via a Gossen Selenium cell--Gossen was known for separate handheld light meters.  This had the meter pointer visible in the viewfinder.  

Viewfinder showing frame lines and meter reading underexposed.   Film speed is set via notches on the cartridge.

Properly exposed meter indication. Oddly for a selenium meter this one is still functional after 50 years, although I have not verified accuracy.

Lens collapses for storage--this also locks the shutter.   Uncluttered top with only hot shoe and shutter button.

Like most paper-backed film, the counter is numbers on the paper.

Zone (guess) focusing is a handicap, especially with a lens this fast--wide open apertures were probably best left for distant subjects.  However, zone focusing is still considerably better than no focusing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fotron Camera

The Fotron camera was sold in the 60's door to door at absurdly high prices--from $150 to $500  This was roughly the price range of complete name brand Japanese SLRs at the time, and quite a bit more than auto exposure rangefinders with far better quality, and almost as easy to use.  Marketed towards women, "especially the 99 out of 100 wives who refuse to fuss with their husband's cameras" (a quote from a Fotron ad)

The Fotron is astonishingly large, especially considering the features and quality--Basically similar to a 126 Instamatic (although introduced several years before the first Instamatic) with the addition of electronic strobe flash and electric winding.

Like the Instamatics, film is paper-backed unperforated 35mm in a cassette--the Fotron uses Kodak's 828 roll film inserted in a proprietary cartridge rather than 126 Instamatic. Film was returned to Fotron for processing, and it is evident that the cartridge was meant for multiple uses.  The cartridge comes apart with a single (proprietary) screw into a threaded metal insert.

Rather than  a film door, the cartridge snaps into the back of the camera.  When you snap it in it automatically winds to the first picture.

Operation of the Fotron is odd--Separate "indoor" and "outdoor" power buttons, then 3 separate shutter buttons marked Near, Medium and Far.  You were instructed to push the appropriate power button, wait until the light in front of the lens flashed 5 times, then aim and push one of the shutter buttons.  Bright sun at medium range was not recommended.  When the camera is off, a flag blocks most of the viewfinder, a tunnel with plain plastic covers at each end, no optical elements. To preserve battery life you were asked to turn the camera off between shots.  Charge time was 18 hours for a single roll of film, up to 72 hours.

Internally, the camera is also unusual.  Power is by a large 500mfd capacitor (roughly the size of a 4 oz juice can) at a relatively high voltage.  I didn't measure it, but it was enough to give a significant tingle when I accidentally touched it. Mine is still working, although operating the camera it sounds abnormally slow and weak--I don't know if that is dried lubrication or weak power.  A series of cams and levers operate the camera from a single motor on the opposite side from the capacitor.

The lens is no bigger than an instamatic, appears to be a cheap 2 element with a plain clear cover on the front camera housing.   Single speed rotary shutter,  2 position swing away aperture plate.

Aperture and focus are controlled by the combination of shutter and indoor/outdoor control, with no compensation for actual lighting.

Far, the lens does not move.  Aperture plate is in for outdoor, out for indoor.
Medium, the lens moves forward a bit, aperture out.
Close, lens moves forward more than medium, aperture plate stays in lens.

No shutter speed control, no exposure meter, no automatic exposure--what appears to be a metering panel around the lens covers a pair of neon lamps that indicate the flash is ready. According to what I've read, the flash always fired.   Eventually there was a class action lawsuit saying that the camera was vastly overpriced, with an actual value around $40.  Compared to cameras of the era that's probably about accurate, with most of that price for the flash.