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.

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Across the street from Ford’s Theatre.

But this close-focus shot worked out.

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Ann Taylor Window, some Lomo branded 200 ASA stock.

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Connecticut Avenue

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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front royal is a truck
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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.

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self-portrait, 2011, fuji neopan 400

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

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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.

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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:

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

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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.

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Nuts.

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.

every camera I own: the diana mini

The Diana Mini is based on a classic plastic camera design from the 1960s. The Diana and her many variations took 120 sized film,  and were/are not known for build quality – and that includes the Lomo “reissue.” The revamped, rainbow Diana line included a limited edition red-and-white Meg White Diana set which I didn’t expect to win on eBay. In 2009 Lomo introduced a Diana that used 35mm film – a smaller package than the medium-format Diana+ that of course cost twenty percent more and was no less a flimsy maiden who needed protein.  Maybe she is fragile because she is hunted. I could write about her as if she were a pony: I didn’t think it would take long before I broke her. And it didn’t. Before we sailed over the second hurdle etc etc glue factory. But she had true grit after all.

What happened was the shutter release at the side of the lens lost its shiny knob just before I loaded it for this project. And by “lost” I mean “it broke off when I tested it.”

With a 24mm lens, it’s a wider angle than most toy cameras. I’ve only used it once before, and apparently it leaked a lot:

Some kind of expired 400 ASA (probably too fast for it) Kodak stock. Malcolm X Park, Washington, DC.

Last week I loaded it with fresh Fuji 200. You can’t tell in the above picture, but throw this 24mm lens some straight lines, and it throws back barrel distortion:

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And, on occasion, frame advance issues:

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Crappy scans courtesy of Walgreen’s, where the film pick-up bins are never full.

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every camera i own: pingo

This post is not brought to you by Mr. Popper’s Penguins, coincidentally in theaters now.

I don’t remember how I found Pingo, only that I got him on eBay. He’s your basic point-and-shoot 35mm plastic camera, with a little lever on his belly that slides a protective shield over the lens when not in use. I don’t know why you’d need to protect the lens, but whatever.

I recently took a picture of a friend who asked me why I was taking his picture with a blackface jockey. I’d never made the connection before but Pingo has a cap and everything. Who knew?

As a photographic instrument, Pingo has no distinctive characteristics. But, he’s a penguin.  And he’s also the first camera with which I captured something that in some circles can be interpreted as ghost like:

I wrote about the incident on my ghost blog. I’ve long neglected my ghost blog, but it’s not for lack of stories. My niece has been asking for more ghost stories so I’ll try to come up with something soon. Anyway, because of the streaks of what resemble classic “ghost” images of ectoplasm, I’ve brough Pingo to reportedly haunted places to see if he can conjure up spirits. He hasn’t yet. Before dusting him off for this project, I’d last used him in another haunted spot in Florida, the old Spring Hill Cemetery, which I wrote about here.

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Pingo was having frame advance issues on this occasion, but the fresh roll of film I loaded him with last week came off without a hitch. Even though I took it to a supposedly haunted building.

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My niece – the one who asked for more ghost stories – is trying to overcome her fear of ghosts. She has been known to shudder at the very mention of the g-word, but I’ve also known seen her watching one of the Harry Potter movies, and, when the soul-sucking dementors appear, I caught her cracking a smile.

The first haunted place I could think of that would be open on a Sunday was the Old Stone House in Georgetown, but that wasn’t very convenient for our plans. My sister-in-law suggested the National Building Museum, formerly the Pension Building, which I’d forgotten about – I’d even taken a ghost tour, hosted by a fictionalized Mary Surratt. The former Surratt  boarding house is a few blocks away, and its former proprietor reportedly haunts the sushi place that currently occupies the space.

Anyway, there are stories of spectral faces appearing between the former Pension Building’s majestic columns, and even a  haunting by Buffalo Bill Cody. But we didn’t see anything, and my niece, who took pictures hoping to capture something spooky, was sorely disappointed.

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Then we found ourselves in an office area that I’d remembered from the tour. The suite once housed the offices of the Pension Commissioner, one of whom, James Tanner, reportedly haunts the building.

The space felt strange to me – I kept feeling like somebody was behind me. But my pictures didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary.

every camera i own: the pop cam. guest photographer: my seven-month old nephew

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Guest photographer Julien 

A subset of the 21st Century toy camera revival is the multi-lens 35mm camera. My 1990s-era Nickelodeon Photo Blaster uses four lenses, each of which is used to take a single frame at a time, but that is an anomaly among this type of toy. The Pop Cam uses its four lenses to take four pictures in the space of a second, which can create a Muybridgean effect when trained on a moving object. The Pop Cam adds the wrinkle of tinting each of the four frames a different hue, akin to a late career Warhol.

Releasing the shutter on four lenses in the space of a second creates a distinct whirr, like the sound of crickets that mate by taking pictures of each other with their legs. Or so I suppose.

I’ve used my Pop Cam, a gift from V., once before – here’s one of the National Zoo’s pandas, each pop hue coloring its black and white emotions from envy to peace, or something.

I feel I can’t write another word today (I wrote about 1400 yesterday) so I’ll let the pictures write the rest of the thousand or maybe a few dozen.

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Burger King drive-thru, Front Royal, Virginia

This photograph merits deserves explanation and kudos. I handed the Pop Cam to my nephew last weekend. He was transfixed by the pop colors and circles, and possibly by its taste, as he chewed on the rounded plastic edges. As he was playing with it I heard that chirping cricket sound. This isn’t the first picture Julien has made – he took a few with my iPhone a few weeks ago – but this was his inaugural foray into the world of analog:

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Self-portrait by Julien.

Take a bow kiddo.

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