a flash of brilliance

Sylvania and Argus share a LIFE ad in 1954

Toronto. In the 1950s, amateur flash photos in colour were the big event of the decade.  Pictures could be taken indoors and in colour! To differentiate basically generic products, the makers promoted minor improvements as the next big thing.

Sylvania was no different (I tinkered with their 1N34A glass bodied diode and booklets).  The tiny blue dot on the flash bulb would turn pink if air had seeped in the bulb and increased  the risk of it exploding with glass particles flying everywhere. Many camera companies included plastic covers to be placed on flash guns “just in case”. My Hawk-eye outfit even had one clear side and one blue side to use clear flash bulbs with outdoor colour film indoors!

A blue coating or amber coating eliminated any need for filters. Blue would allow outdoor colour film to be used indoors and amber bulbs allow indoor film to be used outdoors by flash. And clear bulbs were used with B&W film (or on camera filters). And clear bulbs were used with outdoor colour film outdoors for fill-in flash.

There was no such thing as colour balance. There was one colour corrected film for daylight and another for incandescent light which had a lower colour temperature. You could use filters to convert – or colour coated flash bulbs for colour shots by flash.

This February 15, 1954 LIFE ad on pp 64-5 was typical. It showed Sylvania sharing a spread with Argus – All Argus cameras with a flash, of course. In this day of digital photography and high ISO ratings, it is hard to imagine how terribly slow film was in the 1950s, or just how expensive electronic flash could be.

Plus bulbs were more powerful and far lighter than electronic flash. I had a massive Ultrablitz Reporter IIL flash that barely matched a tiny #5 bulb in light output.

GeorgeDunbar sourced this nostalgic advertisement for flash and cameras.

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