minicams and interchangeability

Leitz 135mm Elmar lens head made in 1931

Toronto. The 35mm cameras were off and running in the late 1920s. Leitz touted their Leica as a precision camera and set out to compete with the physically far bigger cameras of the day, claiming that a small negative could produce a suitable big print.

By 1930, Leitz bent to the suggestion to make its minicam with interchangeable lenses. One problem. Leitz had yet to standardize the film to lens flange distance which risked lenses that while interchangeable, would not necessarily focus to infinity.

This was solved by insisting any added lenses only be sold when the camera was sold. The lens serial number was engraved to match the camera serial number (first all 5 digits, and later the last 3 digits). By the following year the film – flange distance was standardized at 28.8 mm and the letter”O” was embossed at the top front of the flange to indicate a standard mount.

Then on any Leitz lens would fit any Leica. The lens shown in this post is an f/4.5 135mm Elmar made in early 1931 for a Leica camera with a serial number ending in 134. The lens design was possibly for a far bigger camera since the coverage far exceeds that needed for a 35mm camera. The special serial was engraved on the lens head mount and hidden by the focussing mount.

Leitz 135mm f/4.5 Elmar 1931

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swinging ’60s

A Polaroid Swinger ad c1966

Toronto. The swinging ’60s! What a glorious time to be alive! In that era Polaroid introduced it’s most popular camera of all, the Swinger. This simplified camera took black and white photos, developed outside the camera and gave you a print just 10 seconds after you snapped the shutter!

Squeeze and turn the shutter plunger and the built-in extinction meter tells you when the camera is correctly set. The lens is a simple one element meniscus. There is even a built-in flash for AG-1 bulbs. A plastic body and wrist cord made it attractive to the young and it competed well with Kodak’s offerings of the 1960s. The user manual is available through Mike Butkus’s site

Used, these cameras today are a dime a dozen (so many were made back then). Polaroid, like Kodak, probably made more profit from their film than the cheap cameras that consumed them. Modern day digital cameras and smart phones with instantaneous full colour images make the black and white 10 second prints of the 1960s seem very quaint and antiquated.

This ad from page 2 of the April 22, 1966 issue of LIFE magazine shows off the newly introduced Swinger. A big thank you is in order for fellow PHSC member George Dunbar who shared this bit of photographic history with me.


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why the tripod?

tools of the trade

Toronto. Did you ever wonder why so many old photos and drawings of cameras in use showed a tripod? Until the dry-plate era, the media were so insensitive that it took  seconds or minutes in bright light to record the latent image.

When dry-plates began to be popular (1870s and later), cameras needed a shutter, not just a hat or a lens cap and counting the time exposed. Rudimentary shutters showed I for instantaneous photographs and B for bulb or timed photographs. I was actually very slow by modern standards at somewhere between 1/5th and 1/15th second, fast enough to hand hold the camera in bright sunlight but too slow for the camera to capture motion (moving, walking, running, etc.).

The above photograph c1875 shows a typical camera and tripod of the time. My thanks to friend and PHSC member George Dunbar for sharing his find with me. The site “Fans in a Flashbulb” offers colouring book versions of this and other tintypes showing the tools of the trade in the late 1800s. The photos can be downloaded as a pdf and coloured at home in this COVID-19 era as “Fans” suggests.


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who you gonna call


Toronto. was a line from the GhostBusters theme. Roy Parker Jr wrote the catchy little tune for the 1984 movie “GhostBusters” which became a popular computer game.

And for photo historians and photographica collectors these days it is indeed apt. The hey day of camera and photo collecting was arguable in the 1970s and 1980s. Lots of research; books were published on collecting; on popular camera makes; on processes; on history; etc.. Reprints of books and essays were offered to the eager buying public. Price guides appeared and were frequently updated. Online services like Ebay arrived. Garage sales were scoured for goods to be sold at camera fairs and auctions.

Today, interest has shifted to computers, digital games, and smart phones. Everyone and no one is a photographer. The bottom dropped out of the market for most film camera collections. So, if you have a curiosity; a question; then, “who you gonna call”? Your local photographic historical society, your local university, your local archives, your local library, or your local museum, that’s who! Continue reading

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the keepers of night

The reusable and one -use cassettes

Toronto. Since photography began there was always some means to keep the plates or film protected from the light.  When the Leica and its competitors arrived. Leitz made a very heavy and elaborate reusable cassette that opened only in-camera as the Leica base was locked.

August Nagel invented the single use cassette with a velvet light rap at the opening for his company’s Retina cameras. The idea caught on, especially after Kodak embraced it as a standard for retail outlets selling unexposed 35mm film rolls in 20 and 36 exposure reels (later 24 exposure). Leitz justified their expensive reusable cassettes by touting their open aperture meant no “tram tracks”. The “free” one-use cassette with its velvet trap had a very very small risk of scratching the film (tram tracks) but the risk was mostly if a cassette was left out of its wrapper or canister in a dusty area before use.

NB. The title of this post is a riff off a 1979 book “The Keepers of Light” by William Crawford. This excellent book of photographic history and practical advice on old processes is available here at no  cost. It can be read online or downloaded in various formats.

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top this!

a table top scene on Facebook

Toronto. In the days of film, it was common to have contests. One such contest was for the best table-top photo. Author, Sports-photographer, and past PHSC president Les Jones sent me a note the other day along with this link to a Facebook image from Amazing Design Ideas who copied this image over from the Miniature Calendar site.

It brought back memories of contests decades ago using table top and close-up photography. In this case, the cameras in the image are life size but the supporting items are tiny replicas.



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stick a cabinet in your pocket

A Cabinet card c1883

Toronto. With the advent of wet plate technology, the number of photographers increased once again. Albumen paper for positive prints became very popular in spite of the need to glue down the curl-prone medium to stiff cardboard. The so called Carte-de-Visite (CdV) format of oversize “business” or “visiting” cards with photos became the rage. People collected prints of the famous as well as family and added them to fancy albums.

By the mid 1860s, the fad had run its course and photographers looked for new ways to earn money. One idea was to increase the size of the photograph and card to a bit over 4×6 inches – the Cabinet card, intended to be placed on top of a cabinet or table for display to visitors. Cabinet cards were invented in Britain in 1866 and became popular the following year (1867) (which coincidentally, was the year our country was established in reaction to the American civil war).

The example here comes from Pinterest. The photographer, Károly Koller, took it in Budapest in 1883. It is one of a number collected by Kathy Moore and considered by Ms Moore as the best of the genre.

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a bit of Americana

August 8, 2020 online Americana auction

Toronto. For all you image collectors out there – if you collect or want some Americana, there is an auction next month (August 8th) online managed by American Heritage Auctions. Their catalogue for the August 8th auction is now online.

Three companies are available for online bidding – I chose the second one (Live Auctioneers) to display the catalogue.

Here is a great way to add to your collection a bit of Americana via online in this time of COVID-19 and its stringent rules and cautions.

Scroll down the first catalogue page for the terms, fees, bid increments, etc. before you make an offer!

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Richmond BC Camera Show POSTPONED

August 1, 2020 show in Richmond British Columbia CANCELLED

Toronto. We were sorry to hear that Big Dave and our other friends in Richmond BC had to postpone the August 1st Richmond Camera Show and Swap Meet.

Big Dave writes, “I hope that all of you are safe and well. During these unfortunate times, COVID-19 has changed our world immensely . We have been in communications with local authorities and have been watching all the press releases for the possibility of return to pre-COVID-19 conditions. As such we have held off this email for as long as we could. However, we must face the fact that at this current point in time, the Richmond Camera Show and Swap Meet must be postponed until 2021 for the safety and wellbeing of all.

Once things settle, we will be emailing with the updated date for the show. I hope that you and all your loved ones remain safe and healthy during these times.

Until we meet again,

Big Dave and the Richmond Camera Show & Swap Meet team.”

Dave’s news release reads, “Richmond Camera Show & Swap Meet Aug 1st 2020, South Arm United Church – POSTPONED Richmond Camera Show & Swap Meet, has been actively monitoring the COVID-19 developments. We have been following the directives of the BCCDC, HealthlinkBC and Public Health Agency of Canada. As the BC’s Restart Plan in Phase 3, large gathering are prohibited. As the show date approaches, and Phase 4 is nowhere in sight, we have made the difficult decision to postpone our annual Richmond Camera Show & Swap Meet to the spring of 2021. Both the organizers and facilities are working together to secure a potential date for the next show. We must consider the direction of the BC Government and their authorities to be the final word on this issue. The safety and well-being of our guests and partners are of paramount importance and we will ensure our actions are congruent to that. We will announce the new date as soon as it becomes available. If you have reserved a table for the 2020 show, you are automatically registered for the 2021 show. Please check out our website here or follow us on Facebook & Instagram for the latest update. We hope you stay healthy and we look forward to seeing you in the spring.”

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i am so EXCITED …

35mm Summicron set to f8 and hyperfocal distance

Toronto. … as Martin Short‘s character, Ed Grimsley, used to shout on SCTV skits. To do the character justice, Short was down right hyper. And speaking of hyper, hyperfocal distance was important in 35mm film photography, especially daytime street photography.

The camera lens was set to f/8 (or f/11). On the depth of field scale, focus was set so the infinity mark aligned with the furthest f/8 mark. The scene was then in focus from infinity to the distance aligned with the nearest f/8 mark. The camera was then basically a fixed focus camera with the light adjustment made by lowering or raising the shutter speed as needed.

I used this technique for years, moving the shutter speed on my M4 to compensate for the lighting variation as recorded by my light meter. This allowed me to keep ready for any split second scene without recourse to my meter and camera settings. Modern day digital cameras with a “programmed” setting, and both digital cameras and smart phones with auto ISO, auto focus, etc make such techniques unnecessary.

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