every camera i own: the werramat

I first read about the ingeniously designed Werra on this blog post about an amazing Japanese camera shop that specializes in old lenses – the propietor’s cutoff date is 1974, but the emphasis seems to be on the 1930s.

The various Werras were manufactured by the legnedary Carl Zeiss plant in Germany, and was named after a German river. I’m not sure what the visual metaphor is from river to camera, but if the Werra flows it is in its design. Even from the limited vantage point of the camera-with-a-kitty photo at right you can immediately see what makes the Werras stand out: the shutter release is the only control on top of the camera.

In the Werra series of cameras, the shutter cock, the film advance, aperture and shutter speed settings are all contained within the lens barrel. Aperture and shutter speed are not unheard of functions for a lens barrel, but the Werra takes it further. A simple clockwise twist of the black ring you see at the base of the lens both cocks the shutter and advances the frame.

Being manufactured by the great Zeiss factory, the lens is pretty sweet, though zone focusing is still not my forte.

Across the street from Ford’s Theatre.

But this close-focus shot worked out.

Ann Taylor Window, some Lomo branded 200 ASA stock.

Connecticut Avenue

RIP Arch West.

every camera I own: a tale of two hassys

I used to think I’d never own a Hasselblad. The combination of cost and technique seemed forbidding and out of reach. But it wasn’t too long after I started revisiting photography in earnest that I had the opportunity to buy a vintage Hasselblad 500CM, with a snazzy finder, at a good price.

my sassy hassy
December 2005.

It’s the best camera I’ve ever had, maybe even better than the 503CW I switched it out with about a year later. Just looking through the viewfinder and the Hasselblad glass was a pleasure.

angie's new leaf
January 2006. From the first roll I shot with my first Hassy.

 I’ve made some of my best photos with it, including the shot that makes up the background image of this blog.

St. Augustine, 2007

With it’s “normal” 80mm lens, it’s also an excellent portrait setup.

tosca zoppe
Tosca Zoppe, Little Italy, New York, 2006
Bill, Portland, Oregon, 2006

the lowest point in america
The Lowest Point in America, Key West, 2006.  I had no idea what I had when I made the shot, but look at the large view here

I took the Hassy 503CW back to Florida last month.


every camera i own: the superheadz 110 book

The cameras produced by Japanese company Superheadz are typically also labelled Lomo, but they are not the same animal. If I had to choose between a Lomo store and  a Superheadz store, I’d likely pick the overpriced Japanese plastic camera shop. But this is not a horse race, and both manufacturers live in harmony at the ICP Shop (where I bought this) and Urban Outfitters alike.

The camera is designed to look like a small book, with gentle deer gracing the cover and assuring the potential subject on the street that this person approaching you is simply learning about nature. But really, who would this fool? The book’s “spine” swings out on a hinge to reveal the lens, though cameras look nothing like this anymore and maybe some unsuspecting person would not raise an eyebrow when confronted by this mild device. I would not know, as I did not take advantage of the surreptitious feature of the calm pea-green design. You are getting sleepy.

The book camera takes 110 film,  a cartridge format introduced by Kodak in 1972. A few years ago I found some of the first pictures I’d ever taken, made with some 110 Instamatic in the mid 70s for a school project about Neanderthal Man. I blogged more about it here, in one of my posts on the weeding and decluttering that I have lately neglected.

I'm a Neanderthal Yeast

110 is one of the lowest-resolution film formats – the negative is barely bigger than a postage stamp, another cultural artifact that, like film, is either not long for this world or is likely to be relegated to use by niche markets and hipsters. Because what hipster doesn’t like to use stamps? So 110 film is hard to come by (I had to cannibalize a Kodak 400 cartridge from another Superheadz camera to use with the book) and even harder to process. I had wrongly assumed that the local Walgreens where I’ve been taking my toy camera film for developing and scanning would be able to handle 110, and as is my wont I finished off the roll in the lab’s vicinity.

Where America doesn’t process 110

So I sent it off to Parsons Kansas, where Dwaynes Photo closed down the last remaining Kodachrome processing outfit last year. Dwaynes is still in business, and is one of the few places that processes these outmoded formats.

front royal is a truck
when lee friedlander sings

every camera i own: the olympus xa

The Olympus XA is a compact rangefinder with a 35mm f2.8 lens and aperture-priority auto exposure. The latter is controlled by a level on the left side of the front of the camera, just under the Zombie Kitty’s tongue as pictured. Set your desired aperture (and the proper film speed, on a dial just below the lens) and the XA’s shutter will remain open for however long makes a proper exposure. At least this is how it works in theory – mine seemed to regularly overexpose shots. It might be time to check the battery.

If the compact size and aperture-priority auto-exposure sound a little familiar, that’s because it’s the same principle upon which the Lomo’s flagship LCA series is based. Except in a better built package, and one that in most cases (the rare XA4 macro is the major exception) is available for half the cost of an LCA. The XA’s clamshell design also never had the hip cachet of the LCA, but that’s marketing for you. I regularly give Lomo a hard time  on this blog, but if their popular hipster machinations help keep film alive, then send me a crate of Sardine can cameras.

I bought my XA online sometime in the past decade but never really got to know it. When I dug it out for this project I found it still had film in it from when I last used it.  I ran through what I thought were the last few frames on it so that I could take it to my go-to cheap photo lab at Walgreen’s. The problem was it was a roll of 36 exposure, black and white, which Walgreen’s doesn’t process.

self-portrait, 2011, fuji neopan 400

Here I was about five years earlier, on the NY subway.

self-portrait ca. 2006, new york, fuji neopan 400

When I find one of my old cameras that still has film in it I usually have no easy way to tell when I made the pictures. This one happens to have been pretty easy.

time to make the donuts
my desk, some of which looks much the same five years later.

I wanted to run a fresh roll through the camera. I was near Georgetown, so where was the closest place to get film? Urban Outfitters. I got a three-pack of Lomo’s “fine (for fine-grain, I presume) color film.” I don’t know what part of it is the film, what part of it was overexposure due to an inaccurate meter, but the colors are washed out:


The cab was a darker blue. But high sunshine (and record heat) may have been a factor too. This seems about right.


I finished the roll trying to relive the glory days of my old boring aesthetic. I didn’t quite get there, but this reminds me of the subgenre of boring photos I once played with, the establishing shot:

establishing shot

every camera i own: the olympus om-1

The Olympus OM-1 was my first real camera, a hand-me down from my brothers. I started using this one in the late 80’s and continued to use it through the early 2000s. Before I began acquiring  cameras – which not coincidentally was around the time I joined flickr,  it was my only camera.

I’ve had it shelved for ages – the meter died twenty years ago even after repairs, and the shutter speeds seemed sluggish the last time I tried it. But after years hauling around the Nikon N90 as my go-to film SLR, I was surprised how light the OM-1 is. I’d forgotten how easy it is to carry around. I ran into Chris Chen aka furcafe, and although he’s not an OM-1 owner he admires the compact size – not much bigger than a classic Leica rangefinder, he pointed out (as he frequently does, he had a Leica for comparison). Chris pointed out that the shutter-speed controls on the front of the camera, around the lens, strikes him as strange – most cameras have shutter speed controlled by a dial on top of the camera. But this is how I learned it.

The earliest OM-1 shot I can find on my flickr stream, the late Willem Breuker, ca. 1996:

RIP Willem Breuker

I loaded my OM-1 with Fuji 200 and expected the shutter speeds to result in a lot of overexposed shots. But the roll turned out alright. This old school corner shop is home to the Capital Bikeshare station I use. It also seems to be the only place on the Hill where I can find Pom juice.

every camera i own: the olympus om-1

Olie’s Trollie downtown – the blown highlights may be due more to my not compensating than to slow shutter speeds:

every camera i own: the olympus om-1

every camera i own: the gevaert rex junior

This week’s camera with a kitty is a little late, owing to the usual film problems as well as a few other pieces that took priority. You can read my recent reviews of Running Drill at Transformer Gallery, and the Washington Shakespeare Company’s production of Richard Foreman’s Hotel Fuck, on the DCist.

The Rex Junior Gevaert is a bakelite toy camera with a collapsible lens that twists out for shooting and twists back in for compactness. It’s similar in design to the German Pouva Start, although the Argentinian Junior began its commercial life in 1950, the year before the Pouva debuted.

The Rex Gevaert uses 620 film.  I bought it at the Feria de San Telmo in Buenos Aires, one of the world’s great flea markets, and used the camera just once since then.

I don’t remember having to tape up the frame window for that initial roll, which I shot in the cold light of winter. I really need to start taping these babies up, especially in summer heat. You can see the backing paper text cleanly burned through to the image, shot in New York last weekend.



every camera I own: the blackbird, fly 35mm twin-lens reflex (orange)

Market strategy for the Blackbird, Fly (yes, its name has a comma; yes, that’s awfully precious) would have you believe that “many TLRs are hundreds of dollars,” which I guess is true if you want a Rolleiflex. But you can easily get, say, a Yashica A (or two!) on eBay for less than the Franklin and change that this camera, comma, will set you back.

And yet when I saw one at the ICP Store, long before they’d turn up at Urban Outfitters, I grabbed it. After all, it was in my favorite color. It’s a cute little plastic bastard, and comes elaborately packaged in a hip cardboard box with a hip plastic bell enclosing it like hip pheasant comma under glass. Really comma I hadn’t noticed that affected comma before comma but it is certainly the kind of minute annoyance upon which one can become fixated comma isn’t it.

I loaded it for the very first time about a week ago, nearly three years after it was introduced.

The Blackbird Comma Fly is modelled after the classic Twin Lens Reflex design, but takes 35mm film which you can use in three different formats: with a square or rectangular mask, or without the mask, which is supposed to let the image bleed onto the film sprockets for a larger square negative. I shot a roll of expired Kodak “High Definition” 400 that I acquired from some Flickr group that was handing out expired film, some of it crappy (what I loaded the B,F with), but some of it pretty good – varieties of Kodak’s VC and NC (Vivid Color and Natural Color)  Portra stocks.

I shot the B,F without a mask because I am photographically  naked like that, but the Walgreen’s where I have been taking my disposable and toy 35mm pictures for developing printed them oblongatic anyway.

I thought 400 ASA film would be too fast for the camaera and I’d end up with blown highlights, but the lens specs beg to differ: a 1/125 shutter speed and an f7 or f11 aperture (never could move the lever that changes them) left me underexposed   on an overcast day:

Loews parking lot, Front Royal, VA.

I often forget that toy cameras have setting for normal exposure and bulb exposure – the former of which has a normal shutter speed (1/125 sec. in this case), the latter of which holds the shutter open as long as the shutter release is pressed.  I have a few very blurry pictures of my nephew as testament.

An under-exposed but not blurry photo of my nephew.

I was excited to see how these pictures would turn out, and so in full “let’s finish off the roll on random stuff near the photo lab,” I burned nine frames at and around Walgreens.

It is perhaps not a story for the ages, but it is my story.