Monday, December 30, 2013

Peace, Love, and Cameras

The end of the year is a time of introspection, for me at least.  It's a great time to look back at the highs and lows that happened during the year.  There have been a lot of changes, a lot of endings and a few beginnings.  And pictures.  Never enough, though, no matter how many I take.

As an amateur historian and the proud hubby of the family genealogist, I see a lot of old pictures.  And as a camera geek, I spend a lot of time wondering about the people who took them, and about the gear they used.

The camera I'm talking about in this post hits all the sweet spots.  It's old, and it has a family connection.  This particular rig, an Argus C4R, belonged to my Great-Aunt Opal, the woman who raised my grandfather after his mother's early, mysterious passing.

Before I get into the meat of this entry, take a look at this glamour shot --

She's all original, right down to the Argus branded leather case.

My Great-Aunt and -Uncle traveled a lot after his retirement and this 35mm rangefinder went everywhere with them.  Every time I visited them, I insisted on seeing their slides (much to my mother's chagrin).  Most, if not every single frame, passed behind the lens you see here.

When my Great-Aunt could no longer take care of herself, her camera passed to me.  Even though I've had it in my collection since the late 1980s, I've never shot anything with it, until now.

A bit of Argus history.

The Argus C4 was produced in large numbers in the 1950s.  Later versions, like the C44, had interchangeable lenses.  The C4 is a rangefinder, meaning that the image you see in the viewfinder doesn't pass through the lens via a mirror/prism arrangement like an SLR.  Focusing is a bit different, too, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I didn't know how to do it when I shot the first test roll.  More on that in a minute.

A visit to an Argus collector's site helped me pin down the year this camera was built.  As it turns out, my C4 is actually a C4R, which stands for (R)apid Wind.  I don't have another C4 to compare it to, so I'm not sure what the difference there is between this and the standard model.  The C4R was made only in 1958, which makes this one, if not rare, at least uncommon, and easily the oldest usable camera in my collection.

Shooting the C4R was better than a time machine as far as I'm concerned.  There are no electronics of any kind - no meter, no auto exposure, no auto focus, nothing.

Speaking of focusing, since I had never used a rangefinder and didn't bother to look for a manual before loading it up, what I did was guess the distance from the camera to the subject, then dialed the focus ring to the the distance I had estimated.  I couldn't believe that Great-aunt Opal managed to take such beautiful pictures of the American Southwest by guessing distances.

Turns out she didn't have to, and neither did I.  If I had done my research before shooting, I would have known that there is a way to get very good focus, at least as accurately as an SLR.

Rangefinders focus by displaying a double image in the viewfinder.  All you have to do is turn the focus ring until the images become one, and you're there.  Duh!

The viewfinder on my C4R is more than a little dirty, so I didn't even notice the double image when I was shooting my test roll.

On to the pictures!

 The scratches are just 30-odd years worth of dust and dirt.  The lens is pretty good shape.  Even with the dirt, it's hard to take a bad picture of this cat!

 The line through the photo is from the photo lab scanner.  It's not on the negatives.  I love how modern film still looks like it was shot decades ago

 How hipster!  Leaves, rocks, and ice.

 7 days earlier, the spot I was standing on was under four feet of water.  That's still ice back there, even though it was well above 40 degrees when I shot this.  Gotta love Indiana in the winter.

 This is the sharpest shot of the bunch.  Not bad, considering I was guessing the distance to focus.

Notice that the dirt and scratches were nearly gone by the end of the roll.  But the C4 is still due for a good cleaning before I take it out again.

There were plenty of shots on this roll that were WAY out of focus, but now that I'm know what I'm doing, the next bunch should be better.

Like I said before, there's no metering on this rig, so this was my first chance to try out the Minolta meter that I picked up at an auction a few months ago.  The exposures it calculated were dead on, matching the meter on my Nikon DSLR.

There's no way to know for sure how long it's been since the C4R last saw action, but I'm sure it's been silent for at least 35 years.  Even after all that time, it performed perfectly.  I'm going to clean it up and run another roll through her.

Pressing the shutter button on a half-century old camera is like a trip into the past, and I'm eager to take it again.

The future...

I still have lots of cameras to share with you in the coming year, and even more that I hope to find.  Yard sales will start up again in a few months, and there are still auctions in the winter, so the treasure hunt continues...

May 2014 be full of of peace, love, and cameras for all of us -- and for the benefit of your family historians, take more pictures!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Film Camera Farewell Tour Continues

I'll get to the cameras in a minute, but since this is a blog, and by definition, a self indulgent exercise, I'm gonna just ramble.

Middle age or - more likely - just past middle age, is a strange time.  When I was a kid, if I had ever given any thought at all to being 43, I would have thought I would have the big stuff figured out by now.  You know, the 'what am I gonna be when I grow up' type stuff.  The only thing I really know now is how much I don't know.

Take a look at my 'About Me' page.  Every one of the things I've done, I did because I thought at the time that it was the end of the journey.  Each time, I thought 'This what I'm supposed to do with my life.'

And I've been wrong - every time.  The truth, which should have been obvious, is that it's all about the trip, not the destination.  As long as I can keep the lights turned on, I guess I'll just enjoy the journey and not worry so much where I'm going.

During one of my detours, I spent a couple of months earlier this year getting certified as an antiques appraiser.  My wife and I hit yard sales and auctions as soon as the weather was warm enough, looking for the big score, the hidden treasure that we could flip for a fortune.

We didn't lose our asses, at least.  We pretty much broke even.  But we learned tons.  One of the biggest lessons was that being in the right place at the right time is great, but being there with the right knowledge makes all the difference.

On to the cameras!

A few months ago, the stars aligned and we made our first killer flip.  We were at a local auction where a pro photographer was going out of business and selling off all his gear.  Right up my alley!

I'm not the kind to kiss and tell, so I won't go into the exact numbers, but we easily quadrupled our investment.  As a bonus, I got to photograph and play with a couple of gorgeous cameras before I passed them on.

There was some other gear, and I'll go into that stuff later, but this post is all about the cameras.  We picked up two Bronica SQ-A cameras and an SQ-Ai.

Here's the SQ-Ai moments after I won the auction.


Back when I was shooting wedding videos, before digital was affordable, these were the rigs the pro still photographers were using.  The Bronicas were built like tanks, but way less expensive then the Hasselblads.

These are medium format cameras, which means that the film is bigger than 35mm, which allows for bigger, higher quality prints.  The film comes in rolls, not in cartridges like 35mm, in 12 and 24 exposure lengths.  Another benefit over 35mm was that the film was loaded in removable backs that could be switched mid-roll.  The photographer could switch from color to B/W, or to a different film speed, at any time. 

Also, the bigger lenses gathered more light, giving better results in underlit churches.

Once I got them home, they needed only a little cleaning to make them presentable.

This style of camera is modular, and there are tons of attachments and accessories available for them.

That's Velcro on top of the viewfinder.
The previous owner had radio triggered flash units, and he attached the transmitter there.

There are no electronics in this other then the electrically fired shutter.  Exposures had to be calculated with a separate meter.  Alternately, an eye level viewfinder with a built in meter was available as an upgrade.

It's funny when you see one of these rigs with the lens removed.  They aren't much more than metal boxes with a crank on the side.  This is one of the SQ-A's.  This model came out in the early 1980s, but they're still usable and still in demand.

This one came with the waist level viewfinder, as opposed to the eye level one.  You had to look down into the camera to compose.  And everything is reversed in the viewfinder image, so it took some practice to compose quickly.

Though not in the numbers they once were, this type of camera is still in use by professionals today.  Medium format film and processing are still available, but who knows for how much longer?

I don't have any test images to post from these rigs.  I sold them about two weeks after I got them, and I was too cheap to spring for the film since there isn't anywhere locally to get it processed.

In addition to the cameras, we got some flash battery packs, assorted cables, and a couple of light meters.  I sold one of them, a Minolta spot meter.

This may be the prize of the whole day.
Purchase price - $10
Sold on eBay for just shy of $200!

The other meter, also a Minolta but not a spot meter, I'm keeping to use with the couple of non-metered film cameras that I'll be sharing with you in coming posts.

The cameras and other gear are perfect examples of the value of being in the right place with the right knowledge.  From the low bids, I'm sure no one else at the auction had any idea what this stuff is worth.

I would loved to have added the Bronicas to my collection, but what's the point of keeping beautiful, usable cameras that I'll likely never use?  And there are always more cameras to find!

The weather looks to be a little warmer this weekend, so I'm hoping to get my 60+ year old Argus C4 out and have some test shots to share.

Thanks for reading - check back soon!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Smutmas is coming!

There may not be a lot of updates in December.  Christmas is coming and lots of people will be giving and getting brand new Kindles, Nooks, and tablets of all descriptions.

I intend to crank out the smutty stories between now to ride that wave.  I'm aiming for 1500 words a day and at least 5 new releases this month.

I'll try to pop in every couple of days with a status report if anyone is interested.  Otherwise - have a great December!