Kodak No 2 Folding Autographic Gets a Digital Back!

Well, almost. You could think of this as a Kodak Brownie (£5) with a tiny digital back, or an Olympus Pen with a cheap Lensbaby. Either way, shooting with a 100-year-old lens on a modern digital body was always going to be a bit of fun on a wet Sunday afternoon….

Quite a promising start in flat overcast light.The low contrast has been boosted just a little in these shots as they really were flat. This experiment is really pushing a cheap mass-produced lens – the Micro Four thirds sensor is tiny by comparison with the area of medium format film so we’re in effect ‘pixel peeping’ this lenses abilities.

The Kodak was a real success at the beginning of the last century – 1/2 million made. A real ‘camera for the masses’, most prints were probably small contact prints from the medium format rollfilm.

Here’s the lens and shutter. We’re not going to worry about the shutter – just put it in ‘T’ mode (one click opens the shutter, the other closes it when you’re finished several hours later). The aperture has been left wide open – I’ve got enough difficulties focussing this thing already thanks.

If you’d like to know what all these interesting looking controls are look here.

The focus mechanism is a rack type arrangement with bellows between the film and the lens. It’s very hard to move smoothly, even after oiling, but just about useable.

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Here’s the sophisticated mounting system – the back comes off the Kodak to load film, leaving a hole just about the size of an EPL5. The writing on the Kodak body is notification of all of their patents in Great Britain, Canada and Australia – 1909 to 1919. This was taken with the much more sensible RX100.

There’s no point in worrying about lens alignment – the lens is already ‘out of true’ on the bellows, and I’m not even sure the EPL5’s sensor is in the middle of the image cast by the lens anyway. The focal length? My guess is around a 4/3 100mm equivalent and the effective aperture is going to be tiny. Just like using a Lensbaby, aperture priority with centre weighted metering is best (‘best’ here is a relative term!).

Bulbs overwintering in a tray – no harsh areas of lighting so quite good all things considered. ‘Quite good’ in this context means we can see what this is…

The soft ethereal light is partly the drizzle, but mainly the tendency of this very old lens to flare at the slightest opportunity. I really like this effect. The colours are surprisingly good – this camera predates colour film (the Kodak, not the Oly obviously)!

Focus not nailed here (at least I don’t think so!), but what a good rendering of the out of focus windows.

A nicely misty/flared shot of mistletoe on a bare tree. This could be useful with some post processing…

In the interest of true experimentation, a ‘Dramatic Tone’ just for good luck. I’m sure this is a world first with this combination!

What to make of all this?

Is it useful? Er, not really, but it’s a cheap alternative to a Lensbaby if you don’t mind the baffling degree of messing about with the focussing rack. It does show that you can create an image – albeit a rather fuzzy one – using some very old kit indeed.

It was however the most photographic fun I’ve had for a while, and just like the early days of using film, I’m just pleased to get any result at all. I’d really like to have another crack at this on a brighter day…. I’ll post the results when I get round to it.

Hope you like them, thanks for looking!

 

 

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In Praise of the Olympus OM1N

Some designers produce items which are just about ‘perfect’. One such designer was Yoshihisa Maitani who worked for Olympus from the mid 1950’s through to the 1990’s. Influenced by Leica , he designed many superb cameras, amongst them the 1/2 frame PEN cameras, but my particular favourite is the OM1N, my first ‘proper’ camera, and still in active use 35 years later. It’s still by far the best designed camera I’ve used – here’s a brief description.

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Lens off showing the film rewind release switch (marked ‘R’ top left), mirror and self timer ratchet (left of lens mount). The 35mm film is there for scale (it’s Adox Silvermax). The scratched black paint is due to attaching a dodgy 3rd party lens 25 years ago on holiday – I can still remember my horror!

What’s so special about it? It’s a small, light, all metal mechanical 35mm SLR with only the most basic controls required to take great pictures with the minimal of fuss. The viewfinder image is huge and bright, especially compared to most DSLR’s. The exposure control is manual only – a match needle system indicates the ‘correct’ exposure’. The battery powers only the meter so the camera works perfectly well without any power if you’re happy to guess the exposure.

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The minimalist top plate – the exposure meter on/off switch, shutter release, wind on lever and film speed dial.. Can’t get simpler than that! The dial around the lens mount (top) is the shutter selector ring. The yellow bit at the back is a ”Post-It’ pad sellotaped on to remind me which film’s in it…

In addition there’s a mirror lock up for macro or astro photography and access to the huge range of OM accessories –  autowinders and motordrives, bulk film backs, an electronic flash system and 14 easily interchangeable focussing screens! The Olympus OM system provided at it’s peak top notch lenses from 8mm to 1000mm in focal length – almost all of them prime lenses. The depth of field preview button is placed on all the lenses at the lower right of the barrel.

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OM1N and 50mm f1.8 next to a PEN EPL3 to show relative dimensions. The aperture ring on the OM1N’s lens is at the front of the lens marked 1.8, 2.8 etc. A depth of field scale is included on all OM Zuiko lenses (next to the shutter dial).

In use its amazingly simple and makes you wonder why modern DSLRs are so complex. Exposure is set by changing the shutter speed (round the lens mount throat) and the aperture (in front of the focussing ring) until the needle in the lower left of the viewfinder is in the centre of the bracket. The nice thing is that as you gain experience, you set any anticipated exposure compensation as part of this process – not on a separate dial. All the exposure and focus controls are operated by one hand as part of a fluid, simple process.

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The OM1N’s magnificently minimalistic viewfinder with the match needle exposure system to the lower left and the split image microprism focussing aid in the centre (the red arrow shows the direction it will move on increasing exposure).

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Setting exposure compensation – simplicity itself and no extra dials or controls to fiddle with!

Focus precision is achieved with the central split image centre/microprism collar. If you’d like a depth of field preview just press the button on the lower left of any Zuiko lens and the aperture will close to the selected aperture. Shutter speeds (the shutter blinds are made of rubberised silk!) run from 1000th to 1 second plus ‘bulb’ (open as long as you like).

As a camera to learn photography with it’s brilliant – nothing to distract you from the basics as there is nothing but basics….. Most people who’ve borrowed it for a day don’t want to give it back!

Problems?

Well the battery type is one, which is the now banned 1.35V mercury oxide (E)PX625 battery. However the camera can be converted either by a service engineer (if you can find one) or by using a battery insert which wraps around a 386/301 silver oxide battery and has worked beautifully for me. Batteries last 1 year or more.

The depth of field preview isn’t that useful at smaller apertures as the viewfinder darkens so much but that’s inevitable.

The light seals around the film chamber will have deteriorated over 30 years  and will need replacing but this is a very simple and cheap job. Foam around the pentaprism can also deteriorate leading to a blotchy/dark viewfinder – this is more serious and needs some more expensive attention.

Finally of course, the OM system is now no longer in production, which means getting to grips with the second-hand market where some items are rare and expensive, or not available at all. The upside is that a ‘new’ chrome OM1N is around £80 (black ones are more expensive) so even if your old one packs up, picking up a working one isn’t that difficult.

The superb OM lenses go from mid £30 up to £hundreds depending on their rarity, but a working setup with a 28, 50 and 135mm lens, or a few zooms should be around £250 – cheaper than a digital compact! You can use them on your DSLR too with an adaptor with some restrictions (no AF, stop down aperture metering).

All in all, a camera for that ‘pure’ photographic experience – rugged, minimalistic and simple producing great results with no fuss. I’d recommend one to anyone hoping to improve their photography or those wanting try something radically different to a DSLR.

There – I’ve always wanted to do a camera review – hope you like it and thanks for looking.