Margaret and I drove up to Lake Michigan at Michigan City a few weeks ago. It was about 50 degrees out, but as usual the wind was quite strong off the lake. We both had only medium jackets on, and they weren’t quite warm enough. But we pressed on for some photography anyway.
This closed lifeguard stand on the deserted beach was interesting to me, so I photographed it a number of times in its context.
I made these photos in my Olympus XA on Kodak Plus-X (expired 2/2000 but stored frozen). I developed the film in Rodinal 1+50.
I also shot about half a roll of Kodak Tri-X at this location, including a bunch of photos of the lighthouse here. I’ll share those images soon.
After being sure that my Olympus XA’s meter was performing well enough, I shot more film in this delightful little camera. I’ve been itching to shoot some of the Kodak Plus-X I bought not long ago. This stock expired in February of 2000, but was stored frozen. I shot it at box speed, ISO 125.
I had reason to be at the grand, enormous Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis recently. I went early and brought the XA along to photograph this favorite subject.
Usually I stop here, make one straight-on shot of either the whole church or its massive front, and move on. Only one other time have I walked the grounds looking for details to photograph.
Second Presbyterian is perhaps best known for hosting the 1990 funeral of Ryan White, a boy who contracted AIDS via blood transfusion at a time when this disease was ill-understood and greatly feared. His fight to attend school in his hometown of Russiaville, about 45 minutes north of here, made the national news and was instrumental in helping our nation understand that AIDS was not just a “gay disease.”
Over 1,500 people attended White’s funeral, including then-First Lady Barbara Bush, Michael Jackson, and Elton John, who performed two songs. Elton stopped in Indianapolis last month on his farewell tour. During his show, he said that Indianapolis is a “preeminent feature of my life,” because the Ryan White funeral marked a turning point in his life that led to his sobriety.
Second Presbyterian might look very old, but the main part of the building was completed in 1960. There have been subsequent additions; I’m aware of one cornerstone that says 1967 and another with a date in the 2000s sometime.
I made these photographs in about the middle of April, before most of the trees were budding. One advantage of early-spring photography is that trees don’t obscure my architectural subjects.
You’ll find this church on the far Northside of Indianapolis, on the city’s main north-south street, Meridian Street. It’s just north of 75th Street. It is a commanding presence as you travel north on Meridian.
I developed this film in Rodinal 1+50. My first scans of these negatives on my Plustek Opticfilm 8200i SE scanner were low in contrast and coarsely grained. I explored VueScan’s settings to see if I could improve the scans. I discovered that reducing the brightness a little, and setting VueScan’s grain-reduction setting to Medium, helped me achieve “that Plus-X look.”
The reader who sent me the Minolta Maxxum 5 also sent me four rolls of film, including two of the original Agfa Vista 400. The last film sold under the Agfa Vista 400 name was rebranded Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. The film I was sent was the older, Agfa-made emulsion. It’s easy to tell one from the other: the older emulsion carries Agfacolor branding, and the newer carries Agfa Photo branding.
Any Agfacolor Vista 400 you come upon is expired. The two rolls I received were always stored frozen, which always bodes well for like-fresh performance.
Boldly, I shot my first roll at box speed in my Pentax ME SE with the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens attached. Sadly, I was rewarded with photographs that ranged from slightly to very underexposed. Drat it. Photoshop was able to rescue about two thirds of them. The rest were too faint to be made usable.
I shot most of the roll on an afternoon trip to Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis. They have a quirky downtown area they call the Arts and Design District. This photo of leftover Christmas decorations is one of the least degraded images on the roll, and gives a good sense of this film’s capabilities. The colors are true, but slightly oversaturated.
This film clearly has a color palette all its own, different from the Kodak and Fuji stocks.
The Arts and Design District features several statues of people represented as going about their daily lives. I’ve always found them to be strange and creepy.
It’s strange to me how some of these images are noticeably underexposed and others aren’t. My past experience with expired film is that it behaves fairly consistently throughout the roll.
I like how Agfa Vista 400 rendered the neutrals and blacks in this photo.
Bub’s is a Carmel institution. You could smell the burgers grilling for 100 yards in any direction.
When I shoot my next (and last) roll of Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400, I’ll dial my camera in at EI 200. That ought to result in better exposures on this expired stock.
Well-known film photo blogger Andrew Morang (Kodachromeguy) sent me one of his last rolls of GAF 125 film to try. This film is the same stuff as Ansco Versapan (Ansco rebranded as GAF in 1967). My roll expired in June, 1972. Dig that red film canister!
Little information is available online about Versapan. I turned to my secret research weapon, Google Books, where I found a Nov., 1963 issue of Popular Science. There I found a single paragraph this then-new film. It said that the film features a “tight” grain pattern, and contrast increases with development time.
I shot this roll in my trusty Nikon N90s with my 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor lens attached. Andrew advised shooting it at EI 80 or even 64; I went with 80.
Where Andrew sent his rolls out to be professionally developed (see his results here), I developed mine myself. Because so very little info was available online, and the data sheet in the film box specified only Ansco developers no longer made, I used the Mike Eckman Method: HC-110, Dilution B (1+31), for 6 minutes. Any film Mike’s not sure about, that’s how he develops it. He gets great results almost every time.
Developed, the GAF 125 suffered from moderate base fog. You expect that from film this old. The images themselves have good density.
I figured my scanner (Minolta ScanDual II) could cut through the base fog to get usable images, and I was right. It was challenging to load the negatives into the holder, however, because after 50 years tight in the canister they curl like crazy.
At snapshot size, these images look surprisingly good. Grain ranges from smooth to slight, and there’s a good range of tones, but the dark areas are very dark. At 100%, the grain really pops out and you see a distinct loss of shadow detail.
I got a ton of dust on these; spotting the negatives in Photoshop took forever. A few were so bad that I gave up. But beyond that and a little sharpening, these scans needed very little post-processing.
I brought the N90s with me when I made a trip along the old Brookville Road in southeastern Indiana. That road is US 52 today. I stopped in the small town of Morristown and photographed its main street in the full sun. Here are several of the photos. Among them are photos of the Kopper Kettle restaurant, which I visited and reviewed as part of the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour many years ago; read that review here.
This was a successful roll overall, and I’ll share more photos from it in upcoming posts.
My friend and fellow blogger J. P. Cavanaugh found a box of 127 Kodak Kodacolor-X moldering in his basement and gave it to me. This is an old color film; this particular roll expired in January, 1966. I shot it last 127 Day, which was July 12 (12/7 in European date notation).
To get color images from Kodacolor-X, you need Kodak’s old C-22 chemistry. Unfortunately, that stuff’s been unobtainable for going on 40 years. Fortunately, you can develop any color film in black-and-white developers and get black-and-white images.
Nobody knows exactly how to develop old Kodacolor-X. Some say you should heat your chemicals to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, as you would C-41 chemistry. I don’t have a simple way to do that, so I skipped it. Some say you should just treat the stuff like Kodak Tri-X. That seemed simple enough, so I did that. I’m using up the last of my bottle of LegacyPro L110, which is a clone of Kodak HC-110. At 68 degrees, you develop Tri-X for six minutes in HC-110. I didn’t bother to check the temperature of my developer and adjust accordingly — I figured I was going to get faint, grainy images no matter what I did. I just went with six minutes.
The negatives looked almost like undeveloped film, although under strong light faint images were evident. I now feel certain I could have left this film in the developer for far longer than I did. Fortunately, my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II was able to pull images off the negatives.
Color film has an orange base, and you have to remove that color in your scanning process. I tried a bunch of options in VueScan before settling on scanning the negatives as color, as opposed to black-and-white — but choosing a black-and-white film profile, specifically T-Max 400. In VueScan, a “Negative type” setting of “TMAX CI = .40” looked best to me, so that’s what I went with. That setting instantly removed the orange mask.
Here are my two favorite images from the roll — not because the subjects are that interesting, but because they scanned the best.
The negatives curled laterally, which made them impossible to lay flat. Horizontal lines had a wicked curve in my scans. I had some success Photoshopping the curve away.
I use a squeegee to remove water from my negatives. Unfortunately, this old film’s emulsion was fragile and the squeegee scratched most of the images. Lesson learned: skip the squeegee on such old film. A few images were so badly affected that I saw no way I could use Photoshop’s tools to remove the marks.
I have mixed feelings about very expired film. On the one hand, I’m curious to see what kind of images it can create. On the other, I know that many variables play in wringing the best performance from the film. Film this old needs a lot more exposure than it did when new. Kodacolor-X was an ISO 80 film in 1966; I shot it at ISO 25, the slowest speed my Kodak Brownie Starmatic supports, to maximize exposure in my fairly crude camera. This is the only 127 camera left in my collection, so I had little choice but to use it.
When you have just one roll of an expired film, developing is a crapshoot. If I had four more rolls from the same batch, stored in the same way, I could keep tweaking my recipe and timing to wring the best performance from this film. But I had just the one roll, and this is what I got. Fortunately, every image was minimally usable.
You never know how expired film is going to perform.
As you can see, I made these images in suburban strip malls. Several are within walking distance of my home. I would have liked to photograph more interesting subjects. But it rained off an on this 127 Day, and I had to rush through the roll in a dry hour when I could sneak away from work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The smooth, easy shutter button guards against camera shake. You still need a steady hand, however, thanks to the slow shutter.
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.
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.
The lens is remarkably free of vignetting, and is soft only in the very corners.
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.
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! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
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