Thursday, October 25, 2018

A flash from the past, or resuscitating your ancient press flash.

 I like flash bulbs, flash cubes, and flash bars They are a perishables from the days of photo past that never perish. I could use an electric flash when I shoot my Polaroid Automatic 450(1963) packfilm camera, but I prefer the crackle and little whisp of smoke that comes from the Hi Power flash cubes. The 450 camera adds a little analog fun to the already primitive exploding bulbs with little metal louvers that let just the right amount of light through based on the distance from your subject! Not bad for 60s tech. With the flash bars and cubes, there is the added fun of watching the afterglow as the plastic around it buckles from the heat.
I am sorry, purist- natural light seeking photographers. I like the unique effects caused by a flash as well. A shallow flash will brighten up the subject while leaving all else in darkness, as if you had put up a black background cloth. A harsh and dramatic shadow is often cast behind the subject, somehow making the fleeting second of a photo even more compressed. Natural light is not everything- think of the tenebrism of Caravaggio, candle light creating distortions on the subjects' faces. Directing flashes is an art form in itself.
On a photo blog(sorry, I cannot remember which one) an old timer with a past life as one of the paparazzi told a tale of how you would set your Speed Graphic up with two flash guns. You would put a bulb in the first one with some of the plastic coating scraped off the surface , and a regular one in gun number two. The first one was fired to get the subject's attention, as the damage to the coating would make it explode with a very loud report. Then, when the subject was looking at you in terror, you took the shot!
A friend who spent most of his working life in photography told me that in the early days he would run around changing flash bulbs that were still quite hot until he didn't have much of a fingerprint. He said that when you were working, you often stashed spare bulbs in your pocket. There were many times that the static electricity of the carpet and his wool jacket were just too much for the bulb- giving him quite a surprise when he went to fish fresh bulbs out of his pocket!
I love using these old flash guns, but many have bit the dust. Though the bulbs themselves have withstood the test of time(if you can find them), the flash guns often have the all too familiar problem of a dead capacitor and hard/impossible to locate specialized batteries. Lately, while exploring the flash possibilities for my Polaroid 110a conversion, I decided to figure out a way to start using my 5b and 25 b flash bulbs. These were some of the ubiquitous bulbs that some early press cameras used. My goal was to find a way to breathe new life into these broken flash guns.
This DIY adventure is just part one, and what I discovered made it quite likely there will be a part two and three! My first victim was a Polaroid BC flash model 281, as it was the standard flash included with the Polaroid Pathfinder 110A that I just customized to take modern film(I blogged about that, too).
It used a Polaroid accessory hot-shoe, a capacitor, and a 15v no. 504 battery. Though you can still buy a reproduction of this battery online from china, I have found that these oddball no name batteries don't tend to last and will set you back 15 dollars a battery. The battery is almost exactly the same dimension as a common camera cr123a, so that is what I did first. I put a fresh 3v battery in, not expecting much. It did not disappoint- nothing happened. The combination of a 15 dollar battery and paying for a replacement capacitor had my cheap hobo senses tingling. I was not ready to waste money.
Then I remembered a comment on another blog about how much better batteries are today compared to the fifties. I also remembered my friend's burnt fingers from a pocket of fire! What if I dumped the capacitor altogether and just tested it with a couple volts of fresh batteries?
I held the bulb pinched to a wire with a pair of pliers. The wire ran to two cr123s in sequence. The other wire was in my nervous hands and I eased it towards the end of the bulb, wincing already from the anticipated shock I would experience. It worked! I was blind, and my heart was hammering, but it worked! Next I set about removing the capacitor and resistor in the 281 flash. With everything neatly removed, I popped in the one cr123. I grabbed a fresh flash bulb and started to load it into the socket and -Wham!- I was briefly blinded and my heart was galloping all over again! Proof of concept- though I clearly needed to isolate the battery better, a modern 3v battery can easily take the place of an old 15v and a capacitor.
Though the camera had a hot shoe built in, I wanted to bypass it and just use a pc hookup that I could use for either the flash bulb or electric flash. I simply wired it negative to ground and outside of bulb, and positive to white pc cable, then black pc cable to hot on the bulb. There was a small tab connecting the hot to the hot-shoe. I severed it so the battery would not bleed down accidentally, making it a cold-shoe.
I hooked it up and shot with it. The flash went off fine. The picture was a dud! Then I remembered my flash 101. I had it in X(electric flash) mode, not M mode, the mode for flash bulbs. Then I took the next shot- totally workable!
I can't wait to walk around with a pocket full of fresh bulbs, my 110a , and some Fuji FP100c. I really want to try that paparazzi trick!

Remove the old battery, capacitor and resistor.
Cut the connection to the positive tab so the hot shoe is non-functioning.
Connect negative battery terminal to ground(yellow wire added).  Hook one wire of the pc cable up to the positive battery terminal and the other up to the center of the bulb socket.
Insulate area around battery terminals with electric tape to avoid shorting.

Pop the battery in and put the dish back on- you are ready to try it!
Here is the flash using the cold-hoe mount.
It also points to the side- you've never had it this good!

Here is the flash mounted on a bounce bracket pointing up.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Come to the dark slide- together we will rule the galaxy! Or cheap and easy DIY dark slide for any camera.

I get all of my stuff second hand. I am a second level consumer, and proud of it. I will scour bargain bins and buy boxes of junk hoping for diamonds. Many of my cameras and equipment have been patched together with found parts. I don't believe in trickle down economics but I strongly believe in trickle down commodities. I own things that were once worth a lot- and if I get in my time machine, then I am materially wealthy!
Sometimes you cannot wait to luck into that missing part. That is when you fabricate. The easiest fabrication I have done was making my own dark slides. If you don't know what a dark slide is, Wikipedia describes it as: a wooden plate or metal plate that covers the sensitized emulsion side of a photographic plate. One 20th century use for a dark slide is to remove a back from a camera without exposing the film within. I have two camera backs without dark slides, both Polaroid 100 type backs- one for the 600SE and one for my speed Graphic.
One can make many replacement dark slides for pennies on the dollar. All you need is a black sharpie, scissors, aluminum flashing, and a ruler. It is also helpful but not necessary to have a burnisher. I found that fairly thin flashing works best-it cuts cleanly with scissors and fits best into the slot without the risk of distorting or damaging the slot that you feed it into. Having said this- the thinner metal is bendable and not hardened, so you have to feed it in carefully until you are used to it. Any thing thicker will have to be cut with tin snips, and my experiment with that was not as successful. I spent a lot of time cleaning up the edges, and I did not like the resistance I felt when pressing it into the slot. If you use tin snips and thicker metal you will have to burnish the edges with a file or burnisher.
First measure the width of the slot and remove about a 16th from the measurement. Then measure the length of the entire body of the cassette. Cut a rectangle using those measurements, but add 2 inches to the length. Try feeding it into the cassette. If the slot is too narrow, you may have to remove a bit more from the side. There is usually at least ¼ wiggle room in there, so don't worry! Hopefully when you feed it fully in you see about an inch or more still sticking out. Don't worry if the metal did not fully feed into the cassette. Pull the metal sheet out and cut a gentle concavity to the feeding side with your scissors. Look at the pictures for the concavity. This is so the end does not just butt into the inside of the cassette, but rather feed into it.
Now you have the dark slide and everything else is just finishing. If you have a burnisher, burnish the edges. If not, just make sure there are no jagged edges. Put the dark slide fully in and measure the part sticking out. Make a mark at an inch and an inch and a half. Trim off the rest. Fold a tab at the 1 Leave enough sticking out of the cassette inch mark so you have one inch sticking out.
You can leave your dark slide like this and call it done, or improve on it. If the first one didn't work perfectly- just trace and do it again! It is cheap and easy. As a final touch I like to hit mine with a wide sharpie to blacken it. I would not recommend painting, as it increases resistance and could stick.
There- the easiest project you have ever done. You have been drawn to the dark slide.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Let the Goose loose, or make a Polaroid 600SE 120 back- without a Mamiya M adapter.

One of my favorite cameras in my instant camera collection is my Polaroid 600SE(Goose). It is a rather large and heavy press camera made by Mamiya for Polaroid in the style of the Mamiya Universal Press. It was designed for use with 3 lenses, a 75mm, a 127mm and a 150mm. What makes this camera special is that it is a fully manual professional camera designed for type 100 packfilm.. For the novice to instant, that is a peel apart film that at 4 ¼ x3 ¼ – well within the medium format standard. Usually sold with the packfilm back, this camera could be adapted to shoot 120 film and anything else available to the Mamiya Universal. The only performance difference between the two cameras is that the Polaroid shoots full frame, while the Universal gets some vignetting while shooting packfilm.
Now my conundrum- the 600SE is super expensive and anything having to do with it is also pricey and a bit rare. I have a workable camera with the standard packfilm back and 127 lens, but I do not have any other lenses, nor do I have the elusive Mamiya M adapter that will allow me to use other backs, like a 120 roll film back. Mamiya M adapters for the 600SE cost upwards of 200 dollars due to their rarity, and forget the lenses- they are in the 400 dollar range!
The irony is the more common Mamiya Universal Camera that looks almost identical can be found cheap and so can most of its parts and accessories! I picked up a working 120 6x7 film back for 20 dollars and have been waiting for a year to find an M adapter cheap. I will keep waiting, because there has been an announcement that Fuji will discontinue packfilm, so the M adapter becomes even more important for people to shift to 120 after the supply runs out!
I haven't given up finding the lenses and the M adapter, but I decided to try and shoot with 120 sooner rather than later. Using an extra packfilm back from my parts pile and the Mamiya 120 back, I just spent an evening dremeling them together! This mod is simple, but if you do it you will put in a lot of cutting and filing time. In order to fit the parts together I cut both the bracket and the 120 holder. I managed to get two #4 nuts and bolts into the body of the 120 holder at one end, counter sinking the flat head screw on the inside, and covering it with electric tape to avoid scraping on the film. Felt would probably be better. I paired the four other bolts with the existing holes in the bracket, using washers as clamps to tie the bracket onto the 120 back. It is very sturdy! I used electric tape to fix all light leaks, but you can choose your poison on that. If I don't get a perfectly light tight seal, I will go the epoxy route. I finished it up by covering up all the raw cut metal with acrylic black paint.
There you have it- a nice way to waste an evening without Facebook! If you already have a Polaroid 600SE, I hope you were lucky and have an M adapter. If not, try this out- it is infinitely cheaper!
Remove and trim both sides of the 120 backing plate to fit inside the 600SE bracket. 

This is what it will look like unmounted.

Remount the backing plate.

Modify the back of the 600SE plate to fit on the 120 bracket, cutting away until it fits snug.

When it fits it should look something like this.

I found that when I removed the darkslide locking mechanism I could still use the darkslide with this mod.

A total of 6 bolts, nuts, and washers created a sturdy mount. The two inside the film area were countersunk for clearance.

The darkslide still works.

Tape over the countersunk screws in the film area.

I used electric tape to get rid of light leaks.

It sits very comfortably on my goose.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Late to the party, or Polaroid 110a conversion to packfilm in the era of packfilm rarity.

I don't know what it is about this digital, post- analog age that inspires me to rebel, but I find myself constantly looking for ways to resuscitate obsolete analog stuff! If the lady at the counter of the antique, thrift store, or flea market says they stopped making film for it or you can't get the batteries, I say “challenge accepted!”. To which I am sure they say “ what an epic waste of time!”.
This particular project is not in any way original- there are hundreds if not thousands of conversions done on these old cameras. The camera is a Polaroid 110A Pathfinder, and the conversion is from Polaroid roll film(which is obsolete) to packfilm(which was invented by Polaroid and was made by Fuji until 2016 with their film expiring in 2018). One of the reasons this type of conversion is so popular is the nice fully- manual lenses that Polaroid put on their 110 series of cameras. I started this project two years ago, prior to the announcement by Fuji of their discontinuation of packfilm.
The reason for the delay on this project was not said discontinuation, but rather that it was an unimportant side- project in a house full of side- projects! I would go down into the basement, giving 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there, with this wonderful monstrosity slowly taking form!
One departure I made from the other conversions I have seen is purely aesthetic. I chose a chrome packfilm back taken off of lab equipment, and paired the chrome with a naked camera. When I stripped the bad old leather off of the camera, I discovered that it looked really cool without the skin. This advanced a decidedly steampunk aesthetic, like an earlier conversion I did from an automatic 100 to a manual 100.
This steampunk look also allows me to connect anything and everything to the camera in a haphazard way- more stuff just advances the look! I have attached a modified 110 tripod stand(modified for film pull clearance), a flash, a development timer into the side tripod socket, and an ev meter into the accessory shoe. The only changes I plan to do are possibly a bracket for a more period appropriate heiland or graflex flash( I love shooting flash bulbs), and a cleaner pc cable.
And finally- how does it shoot? Very well- I have my simple packfilm “ground glass” (there is another blog entry on this site on how to make one) for dialing in specialized studio shots, but I can pretty much depend on the rangefinder for day to day shooting. Like most older cameras, you have to adjust for parallax for shots that are closer to the lens.
One cool feature this camera has is you can dial in your speed and aperture based on exposure, lock it in, and now have the two tethered so you can make your shot based on either! It is kind of like having a speed/aperture priority function on a manual camera. Along those lines, I set this camera up with a light meter with Polaroid EV settings- it is quite easy to use once you understand it.

On a side-note: Packfilm may just come back from the ashes. The leader, spirit, and founder behind the Impossible Project(Which rescued and resuscitated Polaroid's integral film line) is gathering a team of experts to re- build packfilm!

The development timer looks classy but is also very practical.
The chamber above the packfilm back is just empty space- I am sure I will come up with a use for it!
The 110 tripod extension is a necessity- without it you cannot hook it to a modern tripod with a standard foot. I took off about an inch and a half so I can pull the instant film.
The EV meter makes finding my exposure time easy.
I mounted a cold shoe directly to the top of the viewfinder with screws. Soon I will be looking for a more interesting flash.