Monday, January 11, 2016

The compact 120 6x9

In retrospect, 2007 and 2008 must have been a really schizophrenic years for me photographically. I was hot on the discovery of the Populist and color, but I was still pursuing some black and white.

I worked in the basement of a university library and my common path led right past the new books display and I immediately checked out any new photography books.  Sometime in the winter of 2006-2007, they got a biography of André Kertész. I was completely blown away, and slightly obsessively returned to black and white photography. Part of what grabbed me about Kertész' images was the high contrast, yet long grey scale in them. I had been slightly frustrated at times with the limited latitude of paper negatives and knew I had to go to film to get that quality. I bought some 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inch film holders on ebay and built a simple foam core camera for them. (I even bought a new longer lens for my enlarger, but I never did use that). I lost enthusiasm for that format after I forgot to indicate that a holder was exposed a couple times, destroyed a few in the developer and accidentally exposed a half a box of film. Roll film seemed like the better solution for me. 6x9cm is identical in format to the little sheet film, and then you don't have to carry a bunch of film holders, and I was never likely to go full zone system and customize development for each image.

Like a lot of photographers of modest means, I suspect, I always lusted after professional medium format cameras. The 120 Populist was a pretty good solution, but at that time I wanted a little break from really wide angles, a longer version of the 120 Populist was getting to be a kind of funny sized box, and I wanted something that looked more like a Hasselblad. (I'm still a little on about this–see the Glenmorangie Evil Cube)

This is the second iteration of this camera I constructed.  My objective here was to make as compact a 6x9cm camera as possible with a "normal" perspective, and on the first one was a little too compact. Everything was too tight causing it to have film transport problems and it was really difficult to get open. It was destroyed when I tried to change film in the parking lot at the Farmers' Market and broke it in half.

This one is slightly larger, mainly because it's made of foam core and not matte board, and also has slightly more generous tolerances.

It's actually a pretty standard box camera arrangement. The camera front with the film transport and image plane is one piece which the back slides over to close the camera.

The film reels are toward the front of the camera. I think the two most common problems with 120 film transport is that the reels don't stay parallel to each other and eventually jam. My first solution was to limit the space they were in so they couldn't do this, but in the original version of this camera I destroyed in the parking lot, I went overboard and made them too tight and the film occasionally wouldn't turn at all. The solution was to loosen things up a bit and to put some slight axle in the bottom so it would stay parallel. I used some bits of bamboo skewers through the bottom of the camera, and to make it easier to load the film,  hinged a bit of the bottom which would be held closed when the back was in place.

The winders are 3/8 inch dowels with the end carved to insert into the slot on the film reel. Again, the winders are just held in by friction so I put bits of tape over the ends so they would be really tight. The dowels are inserted through some wine corks to give a bit more leverage to turn the film and two provide a bit of a light trap over the holes. I used two winders so that if the film got sticky, I could loosen the supply reel a bit, and then tighten the take-up side. With this camera that turned out to be unnecessary. The film advances smoothly with just the take-up winder, but it also gives a little security in case you accidentally wind the film a bit too far you can pull it back with the supply winder.

Inside the internal dividers again leave a pretty small slot for  the pinhole, but this time, it's mounted all the way inside. Looks like I didn't get it exactly centered in the slot, but the image isn't blocked and the whole 6x9cm opening gets illuminated.

Another addition based from looking at box cameras are some rollers at the corners made with bamboo skewers with a drinking straw around them. I'm not sure if that's really necessary, but the film transport on this camera is particularly smooth, so it's not hurting either.

It's 90mm from pinhole to film. I finally quit ignoring Lord Raleigh and it's got a .4 Gilder electron microscope aperture installed, therefore f225.

I did get at least one roll of film through the first iteration, and I think achieved some of the results the Kertész book inspired me to.

However, this was in the middle of my infatuation and eventual seduction by color, and only ran some color film through this version of the camera.

As mentioned in other posts, my inner cheapskate couldn't see much improvement over what I was getting out of the 35mm Populist and seemed to me was inhibiting my adventerousness that made the Populist such fun.  More recently with the leisure afforded by retirement, I've gotten intrigued again by the quality of the larger format and have recently exposed some film through this camera, which will be the subject of another post, and may have a few surprises.

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