Collecting Cameras

Sears Tower Flash 120

In its heyday, Sears was on a quest to sell anything an average person could want. They were Amazon, minus the Web site and the free shipping. Sears offered a vast number of products under its own brands, including cameras under the Tower brand. A number of different manufacturers produced Tower cameras, usually simply relabeling for Sears a camera they already sold directly. Such was the case with this box camera for 120 film, the Sears Tower Flash 120, which Sears sold in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Made by Bilora in (then) West Germany, it was identical to the Stahl Box (Steel Box) camera but for a different face plate.

Sears Tower Flash 120

Like most box cameras, it offers a meniscus lens set behind a rotary shutter. A switch on the front lets you choose between bulb and a timed shutter of probably 1/30 second. The aperture is almost certainly f/11 — I’ve seen other Tower Flash 120s with “f/11” printed on the face plate. The box is made of metal, rather than the usual cardboard. Also, you operate the shutter with a proper button on the camera’s face, rather than a lever on the side. The button even accepts a cable release, although like most boxes, there’s no tripod mount. The Tower Flash 120 offers two waist-level viewfinders, portrait on top and landscape on the side.

Sears Tower Flash 120

I’ve seen two other versions of the Tower Flash 120. One wraps the box’s sides, top, and bottom with a ribbed, rubbery skin. The other uses a plainer face plate (it says “Model 7,” but I’m not aware of models 1 through 6) and a smooth, rather than textured, front and back. Some Tower Flash 120s use a slotted shutter-speed switch rather than the tabbed one on my copy.

Sears Tower Flash 120

My Tower Flash 120 was was donated to my collection by a longtime collector who retired and downsized. It came with its flash attachment, which takes two AA batteries. I’m not much for flash photography so I didn’t try it. But the battery compartment was clean, so I see no reason it shouldn’t work.

If you like box cameras, also check out my reviews of some classic Kodak boxes, the No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here) and Model F (here), as well as the No. 2 Hawk-Eye Model C (here) and its 50th Anniversary of Kodak companion (here). Or look at my reviews of the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here) and Ansco Shur Shot (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I’ve had this camera for a few years, but have put off a minor repair it needed. The bit of plastic that is the red window around back had come unglued. Repairing it meant bending the film pressure plate to get it out of the way, and I was afraid of damaging it. I finally braved it, and with a bead of super glue the camera finally returned to fully usable condition. I bent the pressure plate back into place with no trouble, but unfortunately a little super glue squished out and dried visibly on the red plastic. Fortunately I could still read the markings on my film’s backing paper.

I loaded some Ilford FP4 Plus into the Tower Flash 120. This film expired in December of 1994 but was stored frozen, so I figured it would be okay. The box opens from the sides near the front, by pressing the small button on each side simultaneously.

Tall shadow

The smooth, easy shutter button guards against camera shake. You still need a steady hand, however, thanks to the slow shutter.

Front yard

Surprisingly reflective glass made the viewfinders hard to use. In all but bright, direct sunlight, I saw my silhouette in the viewfinders, which obscured my subjects.

Deck

Thanks to the small, reflective viewfinder, it’s hard to frame subjects. Every last photo I made was far from level. I straightened them all in Photoshop.

Garden

The lens is remarkably free of vignetting, and is soft only in the very corners.

Across the street

I shot the whole roll in my yard, as I sometimes do. Except for the balky viewfinders, the Tower Flash 120 was pleasant to use and returned decent results.

My vee dub

To see more from this camera, check out my Sears Tower Flash 120 gallery.

Remarkably, the Sears Tower Flash 120’s body is based on a camera Bilora made starting in 1935. That goes to show that the box had long been perfected, but was still viable as a family snapshot camera even that many years later. It’s flash attachment made it even more useful. I am unlikely to use this camera often because I enjoy my 1910s-era Kodak box cameras so much more. But if you are box curious, or your collection leans hard into boxes, you would be well served to find one.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Zionsville Little League field

Do not hit baseballs against the fence
Yashica-12
Kodak Vericolor III (expired 7/86) @ EI 80
2021

What the heck happened that made Zionsville Little League need to post a sign like this?

But this post is actually about printed words. It’s a mental quirk of mine, but I’m drawn to them. Signs of all kinds draw me in. I study the letterforms and the way the words are arranged. I consider the message; why was it written in the way it was?

It’s sometimes a problem. When I was dating my wife, the word GATHER was painted on the kitchen wall. I had to make myself not look at it, even though I’d studied it dozens of times. I was relieved when she repainted the kitchen and it disappeared.

I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day with this.

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Film Photography

single frame: Do not hit baseballs against the fence

Words on a fence: why are they there?

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Zionsville Little League field

Second base
Yashica-12
Kodak Vericolor III (expired 7/86) @ EI 80
2021

With a roll of expired Vericolor III in the Yashica-12, I drove over to Lions Park here in Zionsville and photographed one of the Little League fields. This is the best photo by far from that outing.

Thanks to Kodachromeguy for sending me this Vericolor to play with. I have more in the freezer for another day.

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Film Photography

single frame: Second base

Second base at one of the Little League fields in Zionsville’s Lions Park.

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Film Photography, Road Trips

Kodak Vericolor III on the Michigan Road

When I made my recent Friday-day-off trip up the Michigan Road to see the Sycamores, I also brought my Yashica-12 along, loaded with Kodak Vericolor III expired since July of 1986. I shot this ISO 160 film at at EI 80 to tame the ravages of time. Here’s the Carnegie library in Kirklin.

Kirklin Carnegie Library

This is the Mathews house, in southern Carroll County. It’s part of a farm that’s been in the same family for more than 100 years, which makes it a Hoosier Homestead.

Mathews house, Michigan Road

I should have moved in closer to this barn, as it’s the star of this show and who needs to see all of that flat blue sky? This is in Clinton County, I think.

Michigan Road farm

Here’s the abandoned school I wrote about a couple weeks ago. It’s in Middlefork in Clinton County.

Abandoned schoolhouse, Middlefork

Naturally, I made several photos of Sycamore Row with the Y-12.

Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row

Finally, not many people know that this grassy lane that heads west from the south end of Sycamore Row was once State Road 218. It hasn’t been that highway in a very long time. SR 218 still exists. It was moved decades ago about a quarter mile to the north, just past the north end of Sycamore Row, so it didn’t have to cross Deer Creek.

Old SR 218

The Vericolor III performed pretty well at EI 80 — much better than it did at EI 100 and 125, as I shot it last time. Still, some photos suffered from a little haze and grain that I couldn’t Photoshop away.

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Film Photography

Expired Kodak Vericolor III in my Yashica-12

I was recently gifted a bunch of expired film that had always been stored frozen. I got some Fujicolor 200 in 35mm, some FP4 in 120, and, most interestingly, some Kodak Vericolor III in 120. Vericolor was the film that Portra replaced, more or less.

I expected that because the film was properly stored that it would perform okay at or near box speed, despite having been expired since July of 1986. When I shot the first roll in my Yashica-12, I made each photo twice, once at box speed of 160, and once slightly overexposed at 125. The photos shot at 125 all looked better to me, but none of them looked like fresh film. I was prepared to say that these shots would have looked even better at 100 or 80. But after finishing this roll, I transferred the battery to my Spotmatic F for a roll — and the meter was all jumpy. A fresh battery corrected that. So now I’m not sure that this battery gave accurate meter readings in the Y-12. This whole experiment might have been moot.

But what the hell, here are some of the photos. Slide each slider to the right to see the EI 160 image, and to the left to see the EI 125 image.

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Film Photography

Happy 127 Day, and photos from last 127 Day

There are three 127 Days each year: July 12 (12/7 in European notation), December 7 (12/7), and today, January 27 (1/27). Last 127 Day I spooled a roll of Kodak Verichrome Pan, expired since 1981, into my Kodak Brownie Starmatic and took it for a walk along Main Street in Zionsville. It’s fitting to share the results today.

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

Sadly, every shot was badly underexposed. It’s possible that my Starmatic’s selenium meter is finally petering out. It would be understandable, as the camera is 60 years old. To protect the meter, I keep the camera in its case when I’m not using it. And the meter worked perfectly the last time I used the camera, just a couple years ago.

Perhaps this expired film degraded over time. Verichrome Pan is hardy, and I almost always have very good luck with it at box speed (ISO 125). That’s how I shot it this time.

Verichrome Pan

The freezing temperature that day is the most likely culprit, however. It might have interfered with the meter’s mechanical linkage or with the shutter, leading to these underexposures. I kept the camera warm in my coat when I wasn’t using it, but that might not have been enough. I’ll have to try again on July’s 127 Day, when it should be plenty warm. I have a roll of long-expired Kodacolor-X in 127 waiting its turn. I’ll develop it as black and white, as the chemistry to develop that film as color has been out of production for ages.

Verichrome Pan 127 backing paper

I developed the film in LegacyPro L110, Dilution H, for 8:30 at 20┬░ C. This is my usual Verichrome Pan recipe. In general I prefer Dilution B. But with Verichrome Pan that yields a development time of just 4:15, which gives no margin for timing error. This film curled tightly, giving me a devil of a time loading it onto the developing reel. The developed film curled badly, too. I had figured I’d scan the film by laying it directly on the scanner’s glass, but the curl made that impossible. I lay the film between the pages of a heavy book for a couple weeks, hoping that would flatten it out, but no dice.

So I ordered a 127 film holder from Negative Solutions. The fellow behind this little company makes film holders for a number of scanners and defunct film sizes. He 3D prints them on demand. My 127 holder is two pieces of plastic, one you lay the film into and another you slide into a channel in the first to hold the film flat. Then you lay the whole thing inside the 120 film holder that came with my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II. The film’s curl made it difficult to load into the holder, but I managed it. From there, scanning was as easy as scanning ever is.

At least I enjoyed using the Brownie Starmatic. I always do; it’s why it survived Operation Thin the Herd. It’s my only remaining 127 camera. Even though all 12 images were badly underexposed, I was able to tweak VueScan’s settings to scan a usable image from each negative. Here are all of them.

Black Dog Books
One Nine Five
Sugar cream pie
Old Town Hall Center
Red brick building
Down Zionsville's main street
Site of First
the flower shop
Former church
Side of building
Box truck in the alley
Greek's Pizza

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