flash before electronic

Toronto. George Dunbar sent me another bunch of ads the other day. This one from the December, 1951 issue of Popular Photography brings back memories. I was in grade nine high school and for Christmas I was given a new Brownie Hawk-eye flash camera. It was a neat black bakelite box camera that took 620 film, and Sylvania #5 or #25 flash bulbs. The contact prints were 2 and a quarter inch square. The famous blue dot showed the bulb was fresh and not fired. On firing, the dot turned a brownish pink.

The bulbs came in sleeves, a dozen per sleeve. They came in clear and blue (for using daylight colour negative film indoors). And my Hawk-eye came with a flash cover for protection – it too was clear or blue depending on which way it was slipped over the flash gun. The blue eliminated any need for a blue lens filter. In this ad, Sylvania touts the potential of using multiple bulbs to light a bigger area – in their case a 1,400 bulb area (far beyond the capability of my meagre part time salary).

Of course when electronic flash came along, flash bulbs disappeared. Like many things photographic, there was a long overlap when both bulbs and electronic flash existed together. Less than a decade later, I was surprised to find that my Ultrablitz electronic flash gave about the same illumination as a #5 flash bulb! More decades later, PHSC co-founder Larry Boccioletti cornered the market on flash bulbs for those who aspired to the real deal whether for movies, TV, or personal use. Electronic flash replaced flash bulbs and was usually built-in. Today, the majority of digital cameras and most smartphones have a built-in flash that can be set to go off automatically when needed.

Larry Boccioletti by Robert Lansdale

NOTE:  The photograph of Larry is from the late Margaret Lansdale’s 1997 book “….a funny thing happened on the way to the darkroom!” which was produced by our journal editor and her husband, Robert, and is a compilation of columns she wrote for Exposure Ontario and articles for the PPOC magazine.


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