Tag Archives: film photography

Film Camera Review – Minolta Autocord TLR

Minolta Autocord ReviewI bought my Minolta Autocord on something of a whim. I had been searching for a ‘walkaround’ film camera for a while. Compact cameras were where I started, with the Olympus XA and MjuII, which I liked but didn’t quite gel with. I wanted more control. After that I got hold of an EOS 3 but that was perhaps a little too close to the digital cameras I used, and the batteries are expensive. I found myself at a crossroads. For most of my career, I had really been more of a user of 120 film than 35mm. I still have a Pentax 67 system, but decided years ago that it was too big for casual carrying. So I ended up looking for a portable 120 camera, and settled on a TLR.

TLR camera

One of the unforseen advantages of shooting with a waist level finder is that it makes it much easier to shoot younger children. All film images shot on Kodak Tri-X.

The search for a TLR

I had never shot in the square format, despite being a photographer for 20 years. Going straight from 35mm to 6×7 after university and never looking back. I stuck to the same aspect ratio when I started to shoot 4×5.  So I decided to shake things up and started looking for a TLR. The obvious choice would have been a Rolleiflex but I had rarely even seen one in the flesh. So I wasn’t that keen on buying one off of Ebay without knowing much about them, especially with so many different models that look so similar.

Luckily, I have a very good vintage camera shop near me, that gets TLRs in fairly regularly. The bad news, such is the popularity of these cameras that they barely last a day in the shop! Worse still the stock isn’t on the internet so you have to go in and just see what’s there. Luckily it is on one of my regular routes  so I got into the habit of popping in a couple of times a month. I was looking for a Yashica or Minolta Autocord, and one day a decent user Autocord was there on the counter. Taking a deep breath, I got out my debit card and took the plunge.

First Impressions of The Minolta Autocord

Minolta Autocord TLR

To test out the Autocord I brough it along to a few weddings I shot during the summer. I found it great for candid portraits like this one, and a real conversation piece.

The Minolta Autocord is a handsome camera. It feels solid but isn’t too heavy. My camera is an early version, made around 1956-8. It’s an unmetered version with an Optiper shutter that maxes out at 1/400. The shutter goes in the old Europen progression so from 1/400 the speeds are 1/200, 1/100, 1/50 etc.  I have a digital meter that matches some of those speeds, but for others I just pick the closest speed. Mechanical speeds on a 60-year-old camera aren’t that accurate anyway. 

You can see the shutter speeds and f-stops in these two windows. The two little arrows point to the lever that operates that function. Neat!

The focusing mechanism is very cool. Instead of using a knob on the side of the camera, the Autocord has a lever underneath the taking lens. This means that you can hold and focus the camera with your left hand and trip the shutter and wind on the film with your right hand. This is a much better ergonomic arragement than the Yashicas where you focus with your right hand via a knob and then have to switch hands to wind it on.

The Rokkor lens on the Minolta is excellent. It is a 75mm f3.5 of Tessar design. Sharp enough wide open, and gets progressively better as you stop down, I wouldn’t hesitate to use this lens for professional work. Lots of people claim that this lens gives the Planar-equipped Rolleis a run for thier money and is better than the Tessar lensed Rolleicords and ‘flexes. All I know is it’s plenty good enough. 75mm equates to about 40mm in 35 mm terms. The lens focuses down to 1 metre, not close enough to do a tight headshot but OK for about a 1/4 length portrait.

Minolta Autocord Review

Viewfinder

The viewfinder is a little dim but totally fine in good light. I don’t think mine has ever been cleaned – it may well get better with a thorough CLA. It lacks any kind of focussing aid like a split screen or prism, so you have to use the magnifying glass to be sure of focus. As with all cameras with a waist level finder you see an image that is right way up, but reversed left to right.  If you press in the middle of the hood cover, the hood converts into a sports finder. 

Minolta Autocord Review

Winding On

Winding the camera on takes a bit of getting used to. You have to rotate the handle forward to wind the film on, then wind it back again to cock the shutter. It’s easy enough to get into the rhythm of doing it after a few rolls.

Film loading

Film Loading is straightforward but difficult to do without putting the camera down. The camera has an interlock and I have had no trouble with frame spacing with my copy. Mine will only take 120 film.

Other Features

The Minolta Autocord has a PC socket and can switched between X-Sync for electronic flash, and M-Sync for flash bulbs so make sure you have it on the right setting if you don’t want blank frames. 

There is a cold shoe on the side for fitting a flash but you will still need to connect a PC cable for the flash to work.

My camera also features a self timer, a standard tripod socket, and a shutter locking ring.

Film Camera Review

Straps

Minolta Autocords sport two types of strap lugs. A standard type where a strap can just loop through, and a Minolta specific type which will only accept a type of strap that pretty much doesn’t exist anymore. I was unlucky enough to have the second type. I like to have a strap for extra security so I use a wrist strap that screws into the tripod. The drawback with this is you can no longer put the camera upright on a flat surface.

 

Conclusions

Minolta Autocord

The Minolta was described as ‘fully automatic’ in the 50’s. I’m not sure you could get away ith that now!

A good camera gets out of your way while you make great pictures. One of the great things about all-manual cameras is that they have no modes or gimmicks, and this offers you a kind of creative clarity. The Minolta Autocord is one of these cameras. It is ergonomically very sound, and performs superbly. Like all older cameras it has a narrower set of applications than a modern DSLR but it is none the worse for that. You have to shoot to its stengths, you can’t pick a style and bend the camera to it so easily. It is an excellent candid or street portrait camera, great for working thoughfully. I found it harder to use for action because of the reverse image in the viewfinder. It’s always disconcerting to move one way while the viewfinder image moves the other. 

I like the fact I don’t have to worry about batteries, and the camera is beautifully quiet. The shutter is very smooth and I am sure I’ll be able to handle this camera at pretty low speeds with practise. I like the quality of the negtives it produces. Sharp, but not aggressively so, with a nice 3d depth to them and decent bokeh.

Another great plus point is its portability. I easily fits into my main kit if I forego one of my lenses, so I can carry it with my digital camera easily.  On its own it’s light enough to carry around all day, so it means I have a nice camera with me even if I’m not going out with photography as my main priority. It doesn’t elicit groans from my children when I pick it up, which is always a good thing!

All in all it’s easy to see why this camera is considered a classic. It is one of the first Japanese cameras to take on the Germans on their own terms rather than just making cheap and nasty copies. When the Minolta Autocord was introduced the Nikon F was still 3 years away. It is a great TLR option for the photographer who is more concerned with making good pictures than presticious labels. A definite keeper in my collection.

Toby

Wedding Photographer in Sussex and Hampshire

Commercial Photographer

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Shooting Large Format Portraits On Location – A Hands-On Guide.

 

Large Format Portrait

I have been shooting large format portraits in my personal work for the last five years.

This is partly for aesthetic reasons, and partly to give myself a break from digital photography when I am shooting for fun. That is not to say that I apprieciate what digital can offer. I do, but using a view camera is very different. It gives me a new challenge, and a new perspective in how to approach the portrait.

Many photographers are intimidated by the idea of shooting film and the thought of using such a large and archaic camera. In reality, a view camera is a very simple device. There is genuinely nothing complicated about it, it is just a very well made box!

Each step in setting up the camera is simple. But there are quite a few steps and forgetting one usually wastes a sheet of film.

If you know your basics, and understand the camera’s strengths and limitations, large format photography straightforward, if not simple. Like any camera, there are only three essential controls, aperture, shutter speed and focus. For portraits, the only movements you really need are front rise and fall, and these are only to help composition. I shoot with a monorail camera and tripod weighing close to 6kg, and it is just not practical to compose using the tripod head. It is much easier to set the tripod straight and level and use camera movements to fine tune your composition.

What catches the novice out is not the difficulty of any particular step. Each step is easy. It is missing any of these simple steps out that often leads to a wasted sheet of film.

Large Format Portraits

Walking around a 40 acre site like the Weald and Downland Museum with a large format camera takes a certain degree of planning.

It was July when I got a press pass to shoot at The Weald and Downland Museum’s Living History Festival . I regularly shoot commercial photography for the museum, so I already had a good relationship with them. It also meant I knew where everything was and how to get there without having to wander around too aimlessly. One of the first questions you ask yourself when shooting large format is “How am I going to get all my heavy camera gear to where it needs to be to take pictures? Preferably without hurting my back or having a heart attack”. 

Getting from place to place

Working in a large open air museum is a challenge. The buildings are spread out over a 40 acre site, and most of it is hilly. Thousands of people go there at the weekend so you can find yourself parked a good few minutes walk from the museum proper. It is not so straightforward to nip back for a lens or extra film holders. 

Commercial Photographer SussexSet up and Gear

I prefer to set up my camera up from the boot of my car, attach it to a tripod and walk around with it like that. I pad one shoulder with my dark cloth so the tripod doesn’t dig in to my skin. Then I  hang my camera bag on the other shoulder. A back pack would probably distribute the weight better, but I do need easy access to my holders. My camera is a Toyo-View 45C monorail. It is more portable than a lot of rail cameras, but not exactly a featherweight. A field camera would be a lot lighter, but most lack the bellows extension I need for shooting close with my longer lenses. A monorail is also nicer to shoot with once it is set up. Mine has geared movements, and is very stable and precise.

I decided to stick with one lens, my Schneider 210mm APO Symmar. Not only is it my most used lens, it is also a spectacular performer in all condtions. I can honestly say I didn’t realise how good lenses could be until I got this one.

One of the essential skills of large format photography is knowing what to leave out of the accessories bag. I decided to stick with one lens, a loupe, and a light meter so that I could pack in as many film holders as I could.

I packed 15 holders in my bag, enough for 30 shots. The plan was to take two pictures of every subject I chose. Normally, I work in a way that I direct people until I think I have the shot I want, and expose one sheet of film. I then shoot another sheet which is usually a close duplicate of the first shot. When it comes to processing I split the two sheets into different batches for development. That way if there is some problem with exposure or a user error in the development process, I know that I have a back up of the image. Of course this does mean you have to label all your holders and keep notes. However, it does cut down the risk of disaster.

Approaching strangers to take their picture is something that a lot of photographers dread.

The great thing about using a large format camera is that it is a good conversation piece. People often seek me out to talk about the camera. If I ask to take someone’s photo, they are usually happy to pose for me.

After a hard day shooting,  it was interesting to meet another photographer at the end of the day and compare notes. He was telling me how hard it was for him to get people to pose for him, and how disinterested they were with the process, he was using a Nikon DSLR and profoto flash.

I had totally the opposite experience, the re-enactors were very interested in the camera and the whole process. They wanted to know how it all worked and the fact the method was so close to how a Victorian might have taken their picture had huge appeal. I had as many subjects as I could handle. After photographing each person I exchanged details, and made sure everyone got a photo in the next couple of weeks. I think this is a really important thing to do and helps keep people open to other photographers taking their picture.

Routine is everything when shooting large format portraits.

It is important to make the portrait making process as easy as possible for your sitter. I prepared by setting up my camera as much as could beforehand. So I set my exposure and zeroed the camera’s tilts and shifts. I also made sure that the camera focussed to about 10ft.  Even mostly set up, the camera is still slow to shoot, so a mastery of small talk is often a necessity.

Once I have everything set up, I get my subject to pose by standing next to them and getting them to mirror what I do. I then go back to the camera and I get my subject to look at the camera instead of me -you can’t look through a view camera once the film is inserted and people will instinctively look at me rather than the lens. I have found you have to be quite vocal when shooting portrits this way. You can’t shoot a lot of shots hoping that some magic will happen. You have to make the magic, then take the shot. Suprisingly, now that I am used to it, I prefer not looking through a camera when I am taking someone’s picture. It is easier to look directly at someone and really increases your connection with them. Different methods yield different results, and that’s exciting.

I would recommend large format photography to anyone. I have learned so much shooting this way and much of it is applicable to other formats. Changing your camera can often change your photographs, and there is no bigger change than a view camera.

Toby

I am a professional photographer based in Chichester, West Sussex, England.

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Posted in Analogue Photography, Brighton photographer, Chichester photographer, Chichester portrait photographer, Editorial Photography, Film Photography, Hints and Tips Also tagged , , , , , |

How to Load a Large Format Film Holder.

The need to load film in complete darkness is something that puts many photographers off large format photography. But it doesn’t have to be difficult or daunting and you don’t need a darkroom. Like most things photography related, being methodical and having a well practiced routine will make sure that before long, loading film holders is second nature.

Toyo Film Holder

Get to know your film holder

Like most things in large format photography, a film holder is not complicated, and the basic design is well over 100 years old. It consists of a flat, light tight box with two dark slides, covering compartments for two sheets of film. The top of the dark slide is colour coded so you can tell whether the film inside is exposed or unexposed. Most people use the white or silver side to indicate the film is unexposed and the black side to indicate exposed film.

_MG_8006

Pull back the dark slide and look inside and you will see two slots running the length of the holder. The lower one holds the film in place, the top one is for the dark slide.

Get to know a sheet of Film

Next become familiar with a sheet of film. Unfortunately the easiest way to do this is to sacrifice a sheet from your first box. If you are lucky you might have a friend can lend you a wasted sheet, but you might find a local large format photographer a bit hard to come by! Take your film box into your changing bag or darkroom, and take out one sheet in complete darkness. Close the box and then open your bag up and take a look at a sheet of film. You will notice that the film is notched at one corner, when the film is held with long side pointing vertically, the emulsion will be facing up when the notches are in the top right hand corner. The photo below shows a sheet of film going into the holder the correct way.

_MG_7969

First practice loading your sheet in daylight, making sure the film goes under the film guides. Some photographers load with the dark slide completely removed, but I prefer having the slide pulled halfway out. Try things different ways to see what you are comfortable with. Notice as well that the white side of the dark slide has ridges at the top so you can tell which way it is facing in the dark. Once you have gone through the process of loading the film in daylight, try repeating the process with your eyes closed. Try to get used to the feel of a sheet of film going in correctly and where the top edge of the film should be in the holder. Most holders have little dips and other reference points to help the process of doing this by touch.

Once you feel relatively confident loading your practice sheet by touch you are ready to load a film holder for real. But before you begin there are a few things you need to do.

Clean and Dry your Hands

It is very important to make sure that you don’t transfer grease from your hands onto your sheets of film or film holders. Dust sticks to the grease and it makes it harder to blow the dust free. Some photographers use thin rubber gloves but I prefer to make sure I thoroughly wash and dry my hands before handling films, and I have never had any trouble with grease from my finger tips.

Get Rid of Dust

The odd spot of dust is almost unavoidable in large format photography, but you can do your best to minimise it. If you have a changing bag make sure you vacuum it out before every loading session. Also make sure you remove dust from all your dark slides. You can use a combination of a rocket blower and a clean brush on most holders If they are particularly dusty I use lens cleaning fluid and a lens cloth and allow them to dry thoroughly.

A note on Changing Bags

A pop-up film changing tent.

A pop-up film changing tent.

 

The are two types of changing bags. The normal ones are just a zip up bag with two armholes, but the best pop-up like small tents do. I have used both types and I’ve found that small non pop-up bags are too small and have a tendency to make your hands sweat. Sweat from your hands can get on the film emulsion, making the film sticky and difficult to load. If you fail to load the film the first time your hands get sweatier still. Your film gets yet more sticky, and the trickier and trickier the film gets to load . This can be a real vicious cycle in hot weather, and film can seem impossible to load if you don’t get it right in the first couple of attempts.

Set up Your Changing Bag

Set up you changing bag on a table or other flat surface. Make sure you can sit comfortably to load the bag.

Put in your film, film holders and if you want to, a blower brush and a pair of scissors. Try to put them in the same places every time. Don’t fumble around for them when the bag is closed. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to lose a blower brush in a one metre square changing bag! If your film box is new, cut the seals on the box in daylight before placing it in the bag.

Loading the Film

Close up your changing bag, remembering there are usually two zips to fasten. and insert your hands. Open up your film box and locate the film. If it is sealed use the scissors to open the bag, taking great care not to cut the film. Once the film is out, feel for any cardboard protection sheets and remove them from the pile. Now orient the film so that the notches are in the top right hand corner as above. You now have a pile of film with emulsion facing up. Now load the film into the holders as you practiced. Give each sheet a blast with the blower once loaded to clear any dust before you close the slide. Once you have loaded the sheet, pull at it VERY gently with your fingernail to check it is in properly.

Once you have loaded your film, close your film box. Check by touch that all the dark slides are properly closed. Remove your hands and open the bag. In daylight make sure all the catches on the film holders are holding the dark slides in place. Then load the holders into zip-lock or plastic bags to keep the dust off them until it is time to shoot.

The Wrap Up.

If you follow these steps you should find it relatively easy to load sheet film. The trickiest thing is probably the fear of getting it wrong. Film holders are easier to load than a plastic developing reel, and require less space to do it without hiccup.

Happy Shooting!

Toby

I work as a Commercial Photographer in Sussex

 

 

 

 

Posted in advice for new photographers, Analogue Photography, Film Photography, Hints and Tips, Large Format Photography, Uncategorized Also tagged |