Here it is, the first part about the different cameras I used on my bicycle photo session and my thoughts about the cameras I used.
In this the first part I will talk about a an camera that are from the years around 1929-1931. It is a Kodak box camera, most likely to be an “No.3 Brownie”. Kodak made many different models of the “box” and “Brownie” over the years. So I am not 100% sure what model I used so to make it easy I will only call it the “Kodak box” in the text. After all the model name is not so important, the important part is the camera itself.
It is made out of pressed cardboard with a sort of vinyl cover with a leather handle on top that got the brand stamped into it. The lens is a simple glass lens that is covered by the shutter. The shutter itself is a very simple made device. It is a sheet of metal that covers the lens and when pressing down the release, the metal sheet that is held back with a small spring simply slides pass the lens and creates an small gap for the light to enter the camera and be caught on the film making an exposure. This simple shutter got two speed settings. One is the time the spring loaded metal sheet takes to cross the lens when activated by pressing the lever. The other speed is what we today call “B” mode, or “bulb” as it is also known. To engage the “B” mode on the Kodak box you simply slide up a small metal hinge/stop that stops the shutter in fully open setting when pressing the release lever. It is open until you press down the metal hinge/stop. Very simple, very easy to operate, very fool proof.
To see what you are taking photos of there is the view finders. They are two small windows with an small mirror inside the creates an 90 degree angle, one on top of the camera and one on the side. They are constructed more like an “aim over there” windows. You line up the camera on the subject looks in down in the camera and sees what is in front of the camera. The you press the shutter release lever. A discrete click is one of two noises the camera makes. When taking a photo with the Kodak box there is no way of knowing of you have pressed the release lever or not. So the best is always as soon as you taken a photo advance the film to the next frame. Look at the red window in the back of the camera and wind to the next digit and that is where the next noise appears. The scraping sounds of the advance lever.
This version of the Kodak box camera uses the classic “120” film (120 is the Kodak number of the film, they introduced it in 1901). When loading the camera you simply pull out the film advance lever and releases the two hinges, one on top and one on the side. Then you slide out the front of the camera, on the front plate are the film carriers mounted, like a big cartridge. The camera is made in two main parts. The front part with the lens, shutter, viewfinders and film carriers. You load the film, the insert the entire cartridge in the box again. Fasten the hinges and press in the advance know. Then on the back of the camera there is an red little window where the information on the film is visible. You wind the advance lever until you see the digit “1” being visible in the red window. Then the camera is ready for action. Easy!
The loading and also the unloading of the camera is no major problems. Operating the camera is no problem either. After all it is one of the first cameras for the everyday person. The box cameras was made in huge amounts over a long period of time. I think it was close to 50 years, different upgraded models of course. But still the same general concept, a box. Anyone can use a camera like this. But back then in the early 1900’s there was only a few selections of films. They where often in need of a good light surroundings when taking photos. This 120 film I used was a ASA value 100. That was considered in the 1930’s to be an high speed film. The regular brands was down to ASA 25 and there about. When loading the 120 film it comes winded up on a spool and sealed with an small paper tag. First you remove the paper tag, then you take the end of the paper cover that is shaped as an arrow and slide in it to the receiving spool. Gently wind the receiving spool so the film is wounded up securely on the spool. Then you close the camera and wind it until there is a “1” in the red window. The Kodak camera exposes the negative in an 6X8 centimetres large frame. So there is only room for 8 exposures on one roll 120 film. You really have to think when taking photos with a camera like this. 8 exposures, that is it. Then you need to insert a new film. Film are expensive. So you have to make sure that every photo counts.
On the photo above we can see the Kodak box “No.3 Brownie” camera with the viewfinders visible as the two small squares on top and on the side of the camera. The two small holes in the front is where the viewfinders are “looking”. You can see the hinges that secures the two main parts together. One on top and one on the side. There is also the film advance lever on the bottom part of the camera, just below the hinge on the side. The shutter release in located in a slot in front of the bottom hinge. There is also a roll of 120 film beside the camera were the paper tag is visible. Beside the film is the original pick-up spool made of metal, today they are made of plastic.
After taking the last photo on the film. You wind the film until you feel there is no resistance when winding the advance lever. Then it is uploaded on the receiving spool. Then you gently open the camera and with a firm grip on the roll remove the film. There is a small paper tag on the end of the paper cover of the film, you fold a small bit of the paper cover and lick the paper tag, it has glue like an envelope on the back, to secure that the roll is kept together. When you glued the tag on place you can let go of the film. If you do not do that there is a possibility that the film will unwind and then the negative will be exposed by light and all photos you have taken is ruined. On that paper tag you just licked and glued on, it often says “exposed” or something like that. Just so you know what film that has been used or that is unused. You have not used your first 120 film in a vintage camera. Now you have to find a developer that can develop 120 film for you and possibly make some prints of the negatives. That is easier said than done.
Today the shops with develop service are few and far apart. It is not cheep to have a roll of 120 film developed and have prints, I found a place that charges €24 for one roll of 8 photos, develop + prints + CD backup. I wanted to have the negatives scanned into a CD record as an backup. It is good to have backups in this digital world. After all I must get the photos into the computer somehow and the shop offered a CD service at an additional fee. The sad thing is that they printed the copies (photos) from the digital scanning, not a analogue print from the negative. So the images are flat and have no feeling at all in my opinion. I want to have developed copies, on dull paper with a white frame, having a small smell of chemicals. I use to make those copies my self in the bathroom in the olden days so I am kind of used to the smell of photo chemicals. That was a bit of turn down for me. But on the other side, it is the development of everything. No one use shops to develop and print copies today. Everything is digital and simple. So even the shops are digital and simple these days.
But can the digital age beat the feeling of standing there with a Kodak box camera and pressing the release lever to hear a small “click” from when the metal sheet rushes past the lens?
Here is the photo I took with the Kodak camera. Notice the unfocused photo due to the distance to the bicycle and the girl. The sharpness is focused on the grass behind the girl. If I had take 2 steps back the photo would be in focus. But over all, it is not to bad. It is a cheep camera made in 1930, never fixed never serviced. Last time it was used was in the 1950’s when my father and his brother used it as a toy. I took it out of the drawer at home, loaded it with film. I aimed the camera at the girl with the bicycle and pressed the lever.