The return of the old camera

Many years ago I bought a camera in a shop in central Stockholm.

It was back then when digital cameras was something only used in spy shows on TV. The shop I was a regular customer at was owned by a old man. He collected old cameras and was very kind, he had many regular customers that just went there to talk and look at cameras, new and old. On the shelf behind the counter was his collection of old and obscure cameras and photo equipment, it was cameras from 1890’s up to 1950’s. All covered with a thick layer of dust. But in the window facing the street he had two separate displays. One display was with modern cameras and lenses of all the best brands. The newest gear and gadgets. But the other display was with top end vintage cameras. There was Leica M2 and M3’s standing along with Hasselblad 500/CM and 500/EL cameras, lenses and bodies. Vintage Nikon F cameras with all lenses and accessories. It was in that shop where I bought my Leica M2, that I used very much and regrettably sold many years later. There where also Rollei cameras on display, Rolleiflex and Rolleicord of all models.
After using my fathers old Rolleicord for some time I decided that I would like to have my own camera. After all if I was to drop or damage my fathers camera it would be a great shame. So, after looking and trying some of the cameras he had on display I decided to buy a Rolleiflex 3,5 series with Tessar lens (a bit cheaper than the more expensive Planar version). The camera in my hands was made back in 1955 or so, so it was a used camera but still in great condition for  a old camera. I got it with some filters and a lens-hood “on the house” from the old shop owner. I think he was happy that a young person was buying the camera for using and not because it was a cool gadget. Today that shop is gone. Even the building it was located in is gone.

I used the Rolleiflex a lot! Since I developed the film myself and made photo copies in the bathroom I could buy really large boxes of 120 film at a good price. After using these old manual cameras I learned to measure the light without any light meter. It was fun to take photos, looking for good angles. Reading old books from 1950’s on “how to learn photography” and so on. I shoot many great photos back then with all kinds of motives. There was many really bad ones to, as it should be when learning and developing you skills.

There was one former photographer that once told me “if one image is good on a entire roll of film. Then it was a good session”. That is the kind of quotes that stayed with me, even today I remember that and takes photos like that. But with a digital camera and a memory card that holds 300 photos it is a bit more than one good photo ratio. But it actually makes sense. Not every photo turns out good. But it also is a practise thing. After a while the bad photos are getting fewer and fewer. The good ones starts to pop up more and more. You train your eye to “see” a photo. When you know the camera you are using, how it works and how it behaves. Then you might get along well. Some cameras are a real pain of some reasons. You do not get along at all. The camera is not your friend. The best is when the camera becomes a part of your senses and you feel connected.


Back to the Rolleiflex 3.5. I used it a lot but there was a friend at my work, that also used a Rolleiflex for that great middle format photos. But his Rolleiflex was older than mine and bit more worn. We talked about them and it all ended up with me selling mine to him. He was very happy with it, it was more modern than his old one. During the following years he took it around on different locations and was taking really great photos. For example he was in the northern parts of Sweden and shoot some really nice nature/landscape views. He also brought it to New York and got some classic black and white photos of “the big apple”.

But with the introduction of the digital cameras, the old camera was used less and less.  Earlier this year he decided to sell his old analogue camera gear that he did not had any use for anymore.  One day he asked me if I would like to buy back my old Rolleiflex that he had been using for all these years. I was reminded of the old camera that I had almost forgot about. So, I replied yes of course. I would buy it back since he was not using it any more, for me it would be a great item to have. But also to use again.

In short, about 15 years later I got back my first own middle format camera. The same camera I bought for the money I determinately saved from work. With the lens covers, lens-hood and filters. Just as when I used it. I remembered when I was getting some covers for the lenses and not finding the original Rolleiflex. So I used a Rolleicord cover instead. It looks great, but it fits not so great. But it a classy look with that metal cover.

A few weeks ago, I got the question from the girl at the bicycle photo session. She had some ideas of photos now when it is fall in Sweden. I thought it was an great idea and packed up the digital gear. But in the cupboard along the Rolleiflex was some rolls of 120 film. Just for fun I brought the old camera with me. When bringing out the vintage cameras on a session these days it makes a great success. It looks like a “real” camera also it sounds like one when taking photos and winding the film. The entire loading the film is an procedure that are quite odd today. But for me it is a moment of nostalgia. The tearing of the paper tab on the rol, feeding the film into the guide rails and cranking the film to square “1”. It is is all familiar things to do. But for me, I must rethink and think in  a different way when taking photos with the vintage camera. The tempo slows down right away. Focus need to be adjusted, the shutter speed… what is the light reading? Composing the photo, stand still…….. “click”

Even when taking the smart phone and taking a photo in the view finder of the old Rolleiflex creates great photos.
So, look here all you Lomo users, smart phone filter lovers and Instagram users. This must be the original vintage filter look.
It is fun and at the same time a cool look, yet so simple to create.



Development of cameras, part 6 “epilogue”

There we have it.

Four different cameras used at one occasion. Four different ways to take photos, all with different results.
The Kodak box from the 1930’s with the minimalistic settings. The Rolliecord that took the photographing to a new level with adjustment availabilities with change of shutter speed and f-stop. Then we took a large leap into the digital era with the new Fujifilm X100. That is an camera also used by many pro-photographers as an great backup to their regular cameras. Or as an “back to basics” camera with the rigid lens and old style layout of the controls.
That leave us with the last camera, or phone, or computer or… Well, the iPhone 5s anyway. It is a camera/development laboratory and everything else that you might need for a great everyday photo, all in one.

Of course all cameras has their advantages and disadvantages. The old film cameras has the problem that you can not check the photo at once, if the model blinks, then the photo is ruined and you will find out that a week later. But the advantage with that, are thaty due to the limited frames you have. You really have to see and plan the photo in your head before taking it. Planning, explaining to the model and a lot of thinking of different light settings, pose of teh model, what might work and what might not work. Everything needs to be considered before taking that photo.

With a digital camera its just to get the settings right, set the f-stop to get that depth of field you like. Then it is just to fire away. You can take a photo and then show it to the model to explain what you are wanting from the model and situation. It is a great aid, also if the model blinks. Just take a new photo. Or even better take 3 photos at the same time. After all the roll of film in the digital camera holds about 400 espousers (sort of).

But with your smart phone, there is no settings, nothing. Just point and shoot. The quality are perhaps not so great comparing with the professional camera. But the images are great anyway, all cameras are individuals. The same photo do not look the same with different cameras, as we realized during this series. Here is an image I made (with an app in my phone) where I joined all four cameras photos from the same scene.


Here is one image with the four photos that I have been talking about the last topics. From left to right,
Kodak Box (1930) grainy but genuine.
Rolliecord (1952) the details are great crisp and nice.
Fujifilm X100 (2012) well, the colour and sharpness is fantastic.
iPhone 5s (2013) a good snapshot clear and nice.

The vintage cameras are about the same and so are the digital cameras about the same in style and quality. It all comes down to what you like and what you are going for. Using old vintage cameras with real film would be a great and fun thing if you had possibility to develop and print the photos your self. As an hobby it is just great! I know since I have been doing it. But the digital media is a huge advantage, you can sit by your computer and with a fairly good photo editor you can get really good results. Then the phone, well. If you are only taking photos for fun. For usage to take snapshots of the everyday life, the sunset at the vacation, that girl with the bicycle. Then you can tweak and adjust the photos in the phone it self and get amazing results. The question is, what do you like to get out of the photo? Now on those photos I have been showing you here, I have not edited them in any major way. Only putting my name on them and resize them, perhaps use a clearing up tool for compensating the loss of pixels in the down sizing process. That is it.

Just for fun I took out the phone while sitting on the subway going home from work one day. With an app I changed one of the photos I took with my phone. I started to change settings and colours. Just for fun making a “vintage” style photo. When putting it side by side with the “real” vintage photo like the one created by the Kodak Box. We clearly can see the differences. But when the photo are standing along by it self like below, it really has a feeling of an old photo. Made with a few swipes on a smart phone (that primary are a telephone…).


So what can we say with all this? Any camera is great as long as you get the results you want and captures the scene you see. All cameras has their advantages and disadvantages. For me, the feeling of really taking a photo with the Rolliecord is special. But knowing the amazing results I can get with the Fujifilm really boosts the urge to taking one more photo. But as for pure fun factor nothing beats the iPhone. The accessibility, the easy to take a photo. The way you can take memory snapshots in the moment and still have a great quality photo. That makes the smart phone photos really fun and great to work with.

Just for fun, the photos I have been showing here are just simply examples. One of the reasons for the photo session was to get photos for this post. But we did not only take one photo, there was an entire series. Diferent poses, dresses and settings. Here is one more from that session.


In short I would like to say like this. The best camera is the one you got with you.

The search for the perfect photo is making us wanting to take more photos.
After all the next photo you will take might be the perfect photo. Or the next, or the next after that…

Cameras and bicycles, part 3 ”Rolleicord”

Welcome to part 3 of my series of camera tests.

This time we dive into the 1950’s. The German made Rolleicord camera. Really well made with good optics and very reliable. The Rolleicord is a bit less advanced and valuable version than the more advanced and expensive Rolleiflex. One of the main differences between the two is that the Rolleicord got a winding knob instead of a winding arm, less advanced lenses. But it is still very good quality camera.

This camera was made by Franke & Heidecke in Braunschweig south of Germany back in 1952 and was most likely to be exported to Sweden at that time. Round about 1967 my father bought it because at that time he was going to work as a photographer, so he thought. The idea never came true, but he used the camera on vacations and other occations. In fact he used the camera right up to early 80’s. So all early photos of me is taken with that camera. Then in the 80’s when he bought an East German Practica SLR camera of some sort. By then the old Rollei was put in a cupboard and was soon forgotten.
Many years later on when I started to take photos I asked if I could borrow the old camera. That was no problem. Sadly after all years in the drawer the had been a coating of “fog” between the lenses. But since I was repairing cameras for fun at that time I thought it was a fun project to get his old camera working again.

The camera got two lenses, one that takes the photo and one that you compose the image with. You fold the top up of the camera and looks down on a piece of glass (the view finder) where you see the motive that is in front of you like in a mirror. With the focus knob you adjust the image until what you see in the view finder is sharp. Then you simply take the photo, but first you need to cock the camera before you take the photo. That is done simply by sliding a small lever underneath the bottom lens to the right. Then you hear the shutter mechanics and springs work. To take a photo you press the lever to the left. There is also an mount for a cable release. Back then there was an accessory to the Rolleicord cameras, it was an small trigger that you could mount in the cable release mount so you could use an proper release button instead of sliding the lever back and forth (I had one of these buttons laying around so I mounted that on my fathers camera). Sadly the mirror inside the cameras view finder, the one that projects the view on the glass piece, is so bad that it requires a very bright sunshine to be able to see what you are looking at. Below is an example. I am taking a photo with my iPhone in the view finder. That is what you see on a bright sunny day.

After fixing the camera up I took many great photos with that old camera, it was with that camera I discovered the fun in taking photos in a medium format. Since I developed and made prints myself it was also cheep and fun. I think I took over 50 rolls of the classic “120” film with my fathers old Rolleicord.  I always used the classic Kodak TRI-X film. In the previous post I mentioned that the standard film in the 30’s was at most ASA 100. The TRI-X was introduced in 1954 (60 years ago this year) and was a mind blowing ASA 400! It became reporters favourite film, it did not need bright sunlight or flashes to produce great images, it was easier to work with. Photos could be taken in low light settings, corspondents found the film very useful and forgiving in harsh enviroemnts. Then the artists discovered the wonderful feeling of the film, the slightly grainy look, the contrast and so on. It became one of the most used black and white films ever used. Sadly it was replaced by other brands and then Kodak changed the formula of the film. But I used TRI-X for a long time. Both in  the”medium” 120 format and the “small frame” 135 format.
Walking around in the city with some cans of TRI-X in my pocket and with my old Leica M2. Just take photos of everyday life. It was fun! But for portraits and more serious photos I used my fathers old Rolleicord until I one day placed the camera back in the cupboard.

Here you can see the two lenses, the top one are for viewing, the bottom one is taking photos. The knob on the side towards the back of the camera is the film advancing knob. The knob in front of that one is the focus knob. Beside the bottom lens is a small lever, that one sets the shutter speed on the opposite side of the lens is the f stop lever. Just underneath the bottom lens is the cocking lever of the shutter and beside that one is the shutter release button. The round hole on the side of the front is an jack for the flash. The entire top of the camera flips forward and reveals the view finder. To change film you simply unhinge a locking device underneath the camera and flips the entire back of the camera open. Then you can load the 120 film and wind the film until the markings on the film displays the stop markings, you line up the films markings with the markings on the camera. Close the lid, secure the locking device. The advance the film until there is a small “1” turns up and it stops to wind. Set the shutter sped, f-stop. Cock the shutter, open the view finder and there you go. The Rolleicord is reddy for action.

After using the camera this time, about 15 years since last time. I find it a bit difficult to work with. Not that is is an old analogue camera. But I remembered why I stopped using it back then. The film advancing know is an menace. I have big fingers so every time I advance the film I scrape my index finger against the mount for the strap. One can get rather irritated after doing it 20 times in one photo session. Also the cocking of the shutter. After advancing to the next frame you need to also cock the shutter. When having a model in front of you that makes a move or an pose. You need to get a new frame reddy quick.
So to make a long story short. I bought a Rolleiflex. That was the best medium format camera I ever had, and I have used many different brands. All with their advantages and disadvantages. But the Rolleiflex was the best. Small, compact, accurate, quick to reload. Sadly I sold that camera to a friend. But that is a different story. But I still have my fathers old Rolleicord, but just like my father. It stands in a cupboard, in the case. I even got a set of filters and a lens hood in a case.

On the bicycle photo session I found the Rolleicord to be a good camera. Easy to operate and worked really well. Unforutunate I did not have the old TRI-X film. But as I mentioned earlier I had to get hold of some ASA 100 film with short notice from a friend.
The photos are good, but again like the photos that was taken with the Kodak box camera, the negative is scanned in and digitally printed. This time I only got the less quality JPG format on the images. I ordered an CD record as an backup on both occasion. On the Kodak box CD I got two sets of images. One set in JPG format and one set in TIFF format. But this time I got only the JPG format. That is a strange service attitude in my opinion. But I guess that is what happens when there is no services for development or printing of old photos for the everyday amateur.

On the day of the girl with bicycle photo session. I took the camera from the cupboard, took it out of the case, loaded it up. Went to the photo session. Brought out the camera out of the bag that I had all four cameras in, glanced at the light and then adjusted the shutter speed and f-stop as i estimated the light to require. I adjusted the f-stop after the ASA 100 film (I know the ASA 400 settings better). Opened the view finder, adjusted the focus…