Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A super-value and BIG results!

A soft "thunk"... is all I hear. The shutter winding lever came back to its original position, and that's it. I've just made a 6x6cm exposure of the world in front of me. No fuss, no muss. Wow!

Ah, I'm getting ahead of myself, pardon my zen-filled enthusiasm there.

Last week marks the start of my journey into the eye-opening world of Medium Format folding-cameras. This type of excellent photography equipment is a testament of simplicity, precision, and practicality. And it came from the 50's.

For those of you folder-camera-illiterates (which includes me up until last week), a "folder" camera is a single-lens film camera constructed of a small notebook-sized body that houses the shutter and lens assembly and a bellow. The bellow, of course, connects the shutter and lens assembly to the body and provides the necessary focusing distance from the film.

So, what's the big deal?

Big deal #1: This type of cameras provides us with an affordable, true Medium Format experience without missing house/apartment payments. Face it, medium format gives us excellent, rich, 3D photos, but the entry ticket price is anything but "medium."

Big deal #2: These are not medium format SLRs. Now, there is nothing wrong with SLR's, be it 35mm or bigger, other than being bulky, heavy, and less "cool" (the third one is purely subjective :).

Big deal #3: These are not Holga's. No hype, no marketing-inflated-price, nothing but simple, precise, and ultra-durable piece of engineering that isn't designed to guarantee acceptance among your "Hip" friends, rather to take really, really good Medium Format photos. In a way, these 50's MF folder cameras are the anti-Holga.

Maybe I have been drinking the Rangefinder kool-aid for too long, but I find a hand-holdable, pocketable (hint: cargo pants) medium format-capable camera that doesn't look like a cannon very appealing as well as useful.

With me so far? now, which one to get or start with?

Fortunately, there is a decent amount of info regarding these cameras. This site being the most comprehensive and interesting. Having researched myself to sleep for a few days, I decided finally that I'd like one with a built-in rangefinder. To me, guesstimating the distance at 12-frames per roll is too risky, not to mention expensive.

As for the format, I'll start with 6x6. A 6x9 would be wonderful if I can take it to the Rockies with me. None of those will happen soon :(

Next, where can I get one?

Jurgen, a.k.a certo6 sells CLA'd folders on eBay. Getting one of those would be the safest road to take... but also an expensive one. So I'd prefer another way if possible.

As fate would have it, I was doing a routine scan on local listings (via a popular online... well, local listing website), I came across an Ansco Super Speedex for sale.

Pfwwwwt!! wow, back up a bit... an Ansco what??

Ahem (lecture-mode on), the Ansco Super Speedex is the US market version of the Agfa Super Isolette, made in Germany. It is considered one of the top-of-the-line medium format folder camera when it was released. It has a coupled-rangefinder, which means I don't have to focus, read the distance, and then transfer it to the lens manually. That way it won't cramp my super fast shooting style (yeah ... right!).

The Super Speedex also comes equipped with (besides the cheeky name) the Agfa Solinar lens 75mm/3.5, which is constructed with the 4-element design similar to the Zeiss Tessars, which simply means that it's a very good lens, which also means absolutely nothing if the camera that it's attached to doesn't work.

... which is exactly what I thought after the elation from receiving a very good camera for a very good value subsided. Now, I have to emphasize something here, the camera looks AWESOME! I mean look at it...

The camera is *very* well taken care of by the owner, whose grandfather used this camera to do portrait work. He also turns out to be a renown local photographer.

But I can't get the shutter release to work, something is locking it solidly in the up position. Finally, I found out that the shutter release lock will only disengage when the camera determines that it's ready to take a picture. That involves loading the film, and advancing it enough until the first frame is ready to be exposed. Now, how does the camera know where the film starts? Anyways, after some more fiddling with my all barely-opposable-thumb hands, I manage to load a film and take my first, honest-to-goodness, 6x6 folder camera frame (Yay!!).

Ok, so it's working, now what?

I took the camera to downtown and "sacrificed" a roll of Kodak Portra 160VC as a test roll. The results are sharp, decently exposed, and BIG negatives. Why "decently" exposed? Since I only use the Sunny-16 rule, no meter and the high shutter speed seems to be a tad slower than indicated... AND add to those, operator errors :)

Like it? I'll post more examples when I get access to a decent scanner.

So now I have a rangefinder that is very portable, with a vintage cool look, a rich legacy behind it, and it produces BIG results... and no, it's not a Holga :)