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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Film Photography
Verichrome Pan

Because it’s December 7th, 12/7, it’s 127 Day. That’s a day to get out our cameras for 127 film and use them! Today I’ve put that roll of film above (expired 12/1981) into the camera below. I’ll take a photo walk with it today and shoot the whole roll. It’s cold here, about freezing, and I can’t imagine this 60-year-old camera will enjoy that. I’ll keep it warm inside my coat, and work quickly when I make a photo.

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

There are two other 127 Days each year: January 27 (1/27) and July 12 (12/7 in European date notation). So if it’s too late for you this year, you can be ready for the next 127 Day!

Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait to see the photos from my walk today. It’s not just developing and scanning that causes the delay, but I also have all of December’s posts scheduled already. Maybe I’ll share these photos on 1/27!

It’s 127 Day

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Film Photography

In praise of square photographs

I wonder why square photographs aren’t more common. Maybe it’s because starting in the 1980s 35mm point-and-shoot cameras became popular. That could have cemented the format’s 3:2 ratio as normal for photographs.

In the digital era the DSLR kept 35mm’s 3:2 aspect ratio. Point-and-shoots went with 4:3 for some reason, but that’s close enough to 3:2 to not look weird. My digital point-and-shoot, a Canon S95, has a 1:1 setting buried somewhere in its menus. My iPhone 6s also offers a square setting. But no digital camera I know of shoots square by default.

For me, however, shooting square feels like going back to my roots. For the first eight years of my photographic life, I shot nothing but cameras that made square photographs. It was the 1970s and early 1980s; square was very common then thanks to the wildly popular 126 format.

Here’s a scan of a print from my first-ever roll of film, Kodacolor II in a Kodak Brownie Starmite II, August, 1976. Side note: just look at how beautifully these drug-store-print colors have kept over the last 40+ years! These are my childhood friends Darin, Colleen, Christy, David, Mike, tank-topped kid whose face I can’t see and therefore whose name I can’t recall, and Craig just entering the frame from the right.

Here’s a scan of the negative, cropped 3:2 to the subject. Conventional wisdom calls this the better composition because the subject fills the frame. But what it lacks is the big blue sky we used to play under and the city infrastructure that lay all around and above us. The crop also cuts off the rounded tip of Mike’s grand walking staff. The square format brought in all the details.

That’s not to say that square format is inherently magic. Just like with any aspect ratio you have to find the subjects and compositions that work best. Here are some decent square photos I’ve taken more recently.

Wheeler Mision
Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Ektar 100, 2018
Fire Station 32
Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Portra 160, 2012
Benches
Yashica-D, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2014
Jet
Yashica-D, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2013.
Charles H. Ackerman
Yashica-D, Kodak Ektar 100, 2017
Available
Yashica-12, Ilford Pan-F Plus 50, 2018

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Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak Brownie Starmatic

Wheeler Mision

Arthur Crapsey designed scads of Kodak cameras starting in the late 1940s, including an entire line of 127 cameras with Star in the names. This one, the Kodak Brownie Starmatic, sits atop the Star food chain with a coupled light meter, a pretty astonishing feature upon this camera’s 1959 introduction. It was especially astonishing given that this is just a box camera.

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

The primitive mechanical metering works well as long as the selenium in the meter is strong. The shutter operates at 1/40 sec, I’m guessing. The meter reads the light and pushes a mechanical stop into place. This stop limits the aperture — as you press the shutter, the aperture blades close until the closing mechanism reaches that stop. Since “wide open” is f/8, this camera biases toward plenty of depth of field. That’s what I got when I shot my first roll through this Starmatic on Portra 160. I had to shoot it at EI 125 as that’s as fast as the Starmatic can go. But Portra has enough exposure latitude that it didn’t matter.

Kayaks

I’ve used this camera quite a bit, for one that takes film that isn’t made anymore. It’s just so easy and pleasant to use. Here’s a shot I made on Efke 100.

Tire and hay

Most Star cameras are fully point and shoot. The Starmatic is point and shoot, too, but only after you put the camera in automatic mode and set the film’s ISO. That’s what the two dials atop the camera are for. (Taking the Starmatic out of automatic mode sets it for flash photography, if you attach a flashgun.) For this outing I loaded some Ektar 100 that I bought pre-cut and -rolled from a user on eBay. Ektar is great in simple cameras.

Musicians Local

I blew through the whole roll in 20 minutes walking along Delaware Avenue in Downtown Indianapolis. I’ve always really enjoyed shooting this camera and this time was no different.

Roberts Park Church

This lens has a wide-angle feel. Nothing on the camera itself gives away its focal length, but you sure see a lot in the viewfinder window. When you’re far away from your subject you’ll get a lot of foreground in the shot.

Bail Bonds

You can see it a little in the two shots above, and a lot in the shot below, but this lens has some pretty wicked barrel distortion. Also, the viewfinder isn’t very well matched to the lens as I centered this door in my frame.

Door

The Starmatic almost certainly uses a single-element meniscus lens. It delivers sufficient sharpness for snapshot-sized prints, but if you look at any of these images at full scan size they are as soft as Wonder bread.

Park

There was a little leaked light on the last shots of the roll. I don’t know whether to blame the camera or the hand-rolled film.

$5

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Kodak Brownie Starmatic gallery!

I want to keep one 127 camera in my collection, and what better one to keep than one I enjoy shooting this much? I feel fortunate that the selenium meter in this Starmatic is still strong enough that it yields good exposures within my film’s exposure latitude. As this camera remains in my collection, I’ll keep it bundled up in its ever-ready case so that light doesn’t rob that selenium of its sensitivity.

Verdict: Keep

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Kodak Brownie Starmatic
Kodak Portra 160
2012

This might be the remains of the place where my father was born, and lived until he was 4. I don’t know for sure, and neither did Dad when we stood here that summer day in 2012.

When we visited his hometown of Handley, West Virginia, together in 1990, the building still stood. I remember it being painted yellow. But Dad couldn’t find the building on this visit to town, and he just had to guess that this was probably it.

When I was a child my dad sat on the edge of his chair one night as a news report showed a house on fire — the one where he had lived as a teen with his dad. I remember Dad’s face, grave, grief-stricken.

Dad seemed dispassionate as we stood before this ruin. Perhaps he had cultivated a level of stoicism to cope with so much loss.

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single frame: Collapsed

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Fire Station 32

Fire station 32
Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Portra 160
2012

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