Preservation

The Lustrons of Broad Ripple

After World War II ended, the need for new houses was enormous. Starter houses were built rapidly all across the United States. I lived in such a neighborhood in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The houses were simple, small, wood-sided, wood-frame structures on concrete slabs. Lots of builders experimented with prefabricating sections of these homes to make their constructin simpler, faster, and less expensive.

Ad in Life magazine, Sept. 13, 1948
Ad in Life magazine, Oct. 11, 1948

One innovative company sold a house made out of steel coated in porcelain enamel. The Lustron Corporation built more than 2,500 of these houses nationwide. When you ordered a Lustron house, all of the house’s parts were delivered to your site on a truck. Workers assembled the house much like a Lego set or a jigsaw puzzle!

Lustron home construction sequence via AIA California

Lustron houses could be had with pink, tan, yellow, aqua, blue, green and gray exteriors. Sources I’ve read say that the interiors could be either beige or gray, but I’ve seen interior photos showing yellow panels. There were three basic models, each in two- and three-bedroom configurations. One model in particlar, the Westchester, was available in Standard and Deluxe editions. The Westchester Deluxe was the most popular Lustron.

Typical Lustron floor plan

These houses were of typical size for their day, ranging from 713 to 1,140 square feet. Inside, everything but the floor was porcelain steel, just like the exterior. Owners used powerful magnets, presumably with hooks attached, to hang things on the walls. Heat radiated from the ceiling, which most owners found unsatisfactory as heat rises, leaving the floors cold.

The Lustron Corporation struggled to break even. The first house was delivered in 1948, and the last in 1950, and then the company was bankrupt. Thankfully, lots of Lustron houses remain across the United States. Around three dozen of them still stand around Indianapolis in particular. Not long ago I photographed the seven Lustrons I know of that stand in the Broad Ripple neighborhood on Indianapolis’s Northside. I shot these images with a Pentax Spotmatic SP II 35mm SLR with a 50mm f/1.4 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens on Kodak T-Max 100 film, which I developed in Rodinal 1+50.

Lustron: 1908 Kessler Blvd. East Drive, Indianapolis

1908 Kessler Boulevard, East Drive. This house appears to be in highly original condition from the outside, with original windows intact. It appears to be well cared for by its owner.

Lustron: 2079 Broad Ripple Avenue, Indianapolis

2079 Broad Ripple Avenue. This Lustron could use a power wash, but otherwise looks original and intact.

Lustron: 5638 Indianola Ave., Indianapolis

5638 Indianola Avenue. Over the years, many owners replaced the original aluminum windows with more efficient units. Some owners added custom touches, like the wood paneling around the entry here.

Lustron: 6435 Riverview Dr., Indianapolis

6435 Riverview Drive. This Lustron is on a lot full of vegetation, making it difficult to photograph except in profile.

Lustron: 6466 Central Ave., Indianapolis

6466 Central Avenue. It looks like a tree fell on this poor Lustron, damaging its steel roof and its gutter. This Lustron is next door to the previous one, which is on the corner of Riverside and Central.

Lustron: 6321 Central Ave., Indianapolis

6321 Central Avenue. This owner replaced the original windows with double-hung windows, an unusual choice among Broad Ripple Lustrons.

Lustron: 6212 Central Ave., Indianapolis

6212 Central Avenue. Finally, this cheerful Lustron was in my judgment in the best condition of all of these. It is the only one that retains the original roof pillar at the corner of the porch.

All of these Lustrons appear to be the Westchester Deluxe model, the only one to have the living room bay window, as shallow as it is.

Now that you’ve seen these Lustrons, maybe you’ll recognize some where you live!

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Camera Reviews

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

A reader offered to sell me his Pentax Spotmatic SP II with a 50mm f/1.4 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens attached. He wasn’t sure the Spottie’s meter was reading correctly, and said that the bottom plate was a replacement after the original was damaged, but otherwise the camera was in good cosmetic and functional condition. Even if the body wasn’t fully functional, I don’t own a 50/1.4 Takumar and I’ve long wanted one. Because it’s the Super Multi Coated version, it includes the pin that lets it meter on my Spotmatic F without the need to stop down. We struck a deal, and he sent it straightaway.

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

The 1971 SP II improves the original 1964 Spotmatic SP with some stouter internal parts, a hot shoe and flash sync, and the ASA range increased from 1600 to 3200. The camera otherwise looks and operates the same as the original. It uses a focal plane shutter that operates from 1 to 1/1000 second. Its onboard CdS light meter needs a 1.35-volt PX-400 mercury battery to function. Mercury batteries are no longer made. Fortunately, the silver-oxide 387 cell is the same size and shape, and it doesn’t matter that it puts out 1.55 volts because all Spotmatics include a bridge circuit that adjusts to the needed 1.35 volts.

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

Except for the light meter, the SP II is entirely mechanical. It takes M42 screw-mount lenses, of which Pentax made a huge range. Even though the SP II came with the Super Multi Coated lenses that included the pins for open-aperture metering, only the Spotmatic F and the Electro Spotmatic/ES/ES II cameras could take advantage of those pins. On the SP II, you still had to stop down to meter.

Pentax Spotmatic SP II

That’s what the big switch on the side of the lens mount is for. When you’re ready to meter, push it up. The needle at right in the viewfinder comes to life. Then to set exposure, adjust aperture (on the lens barrel) and/or shutter speed (with the dial atop the camera) until the needle is horizontal, or at least within the small empty space between the upper and lower black vertical lines of the meter scale. Then press the shutter button to make the image.

If you like Pentax SLRs, also see my reviews of the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), the ES II (here), the H3 (here), the venerable K1000 (here), the KM (here), the ME (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

Pro tip: Don’t leave the stop-down switch on overnight. It kills the battery. Ask me how I know.

I tested this Spottie with two rolls of film, using the already attached 50mm f/1.4 lens. First I loaded some Kodak T-Max 100, which I developed in Rodinal 1+50. I had occasion to be in Washington Park North cemetery in Indianapolis, which was right by my previous house. It was nice to be back. This replica of the Liberty Bell has found itself in my viewfinder dozens of times.

In Washington Park North Cemetery

The person who sold me the camera thought that one of the two CdS cells must be dead in the meter, as he didn’t get accurate readings. But I checked the camera against my phone’s light meter app, and the two meters lined up well enough. I got good exposures right down the line.

In Washington Park North Cemetery

I had a few days off from work, so one afternoon I had lunch at The Friendly, a pub that is an institution here in Zionsville. Here are some of my usual photographs from Main Street.

Black Dog Books

I’m lukewarm on T-Max 100. I love its ISO 400 brother. I shot ten rolls of that stuff in Ireland in 2016 and got gorgeous exposures. I’ve yet to make a photo on T-Max 100 that grabs me. I wish its blacks were richer. At least its sharpness is outstanding.

Downtown Zionsville

I continued with a roll of color film. Some time ago I found some expired ISO 200 Ferrania film that was branded Kroger, which is a prominent grocery chain in the US. I’m not in love with the stuff, which makes it a great choice for testing old cameras. My wife and I took a photo walk through Lockerbie, an old neighborhood in Downtown Indianapolis. This is Lockerbie Street, the only street in town still paved with cobblestones. The Spotmatic’s meter is center weighted, despite the word Spot being in the camera name. It had a little trouble with the sun on the cobblestones as it appropriately exposed the houses. No amount of Photoshoppery could save those cobblestones. It didn’t help, I’m sure, that this film is at least 10 years old.

In Lockerbie

This Spotmatic’s light seals are either missing or gummy, thanks to age. Fortunately, the channels they rest in are deep. Closing the film door creates enough of a seal that no light leaked in.

In Lockerbie

The 50mm f/1.4 lens is delightful, and I’m very happy to finally own one. If I ever pass this Spottie on to its next owner, I’m keeping the lens.

In Lockerbie

I owned an original Spotmatic SP many years ago, and back then I did not enjoy stopping down to meter. But nine years have passed. I’m considerably more skilled with an old camera now, and I don’t at all mind stopping down. This former gas station stands on the Michigan Road on the north edge of Michigantown, Indiana.

Old gas station, Michigantown, IN

This Spottie handled beautifully. The controls felt substantial and sure. The lens focused with a feeling of heft. The shutter made a sweet click; the mirror didn’t shake the camera as it flipped. Here I was on the Michigan Road just south of the tiny town of Deer Creek. This grassy flat spot was State Road 218 a long time ago. The current path of SR 218 connects with the Michigan Road immediately north of Deer Creek.

Old SR 218

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Pentax Spotmatic SP II gallery.

If you find a Spotmatic — any Spotmatic, the SP, SP II, 500, 1000, or F — in good condition, buy it. These cameras are supremely satisfying to shoot, and the Takumar lenses are uniformly good. I like the Spotmatics slightly better than the first K-mount cameras (e.g, the K1000) that followed them. Those cameras were heavily based on the Spotmatic, yet mysteriously they don’t feel as good under use as any Spotmatic. It’s the great Pentax mystery.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Film Photography

A test roll in my malfunctioning Olympus XA

I got out my Olympus XA specifically to shoot some Kodak Plus-X I bought recently. Because the film has always been stored frozen, and because Plus-X is so hardy, I expect it to behave as if new.

Olympus XA

After I put batteries in the XA, I noticed that the needle inside the viewfinder read a few stops off. Drat it! The XA actually, and strangely, has two meters, one that controls the viewfinder needle and one that controls the shutter speed. It was possible that the shutter-speed meter was fine, and only the viewfinder needle meter was off.

I decided to shoot a test roll to check for that. But there was no way I was going to potentially waste a precious roll of Plus-X. Instead, I used a roll of T-Max 100. I shot all but a few frames with the XA set in its snapshot mode, focused to three meters at an aperture of f/5.6. Both of these settings are marked in orange on the camera.

I developed the film in Rodinal 1+50. The negatives were appropriately dense. This is the first time I’ve scanned T-Max 100 on my Plustek 8100, and I wasn’t wowed by the images straight off the scanner. I boosted contrast considerably on all of the images. But they were all properly exposed. Here are the best of the images.

Pool house
Looking out over the retention pond
The American House, Burlington
Suburban houses
The road, she is closed
Dance studio
Bathroom mirror selfie

Several of my film cameras are queued to be sent for repair and CLA, and with this, my Olympus XA joins the group. I enjoy this camera enough to invest in having it overhauled and having its needle meter repaired. But because the camera sets exposure properly and otherwise works fine, it goes to the end of the repair line.

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Camera Reviews

Nikon N70

When you talk to other film-camera collectors about the Nikon N70, discussion quickly focuses on its infamous “fan” user interface. Most people don’t like it. But they miss its point. This advanced-amateur/semi-pro camera includes a pop-up flash that offers variable flash fill, flash bracketing, and red-eye reduction. Nikon called it a “built-in Speedlight,” referring to their family of versatile external flash units. Nikon designed the “fan” to ease access to all of the flash’s modes. Trouble is, then Nikon overloaded all of the camera’s functions onto it.

Nikon N70

More about the “fan” in a minute. First, let’s talk specs. The N70 offers the same autofocus and metering as in the more advanced (and contemporary) N90s: wide and spot crossfield autofocus; and matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering. Matrix metering is linked to focusing. Its electromagnetically controlled vertical focal-plane shutter operates from 1/4000 to 30 sec. It reads the DX code on the film canister to set ISO from 25 to 5000. You can also manually set ISO as low as 6 and as high as 6400. It features programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority autoexposure. There’s even a camera shake warning in the viewfinder, and continuous film advance at either 2 or 3.7 fps.

Nikon N70

It also features eight exposure modes, which the literature called “Vari-Programs” — portrait, hyperfocal, landscape, close-up, sport, silhouette, night scene, and motion effect. These are all things a skilled photographer can achieve without special modes, but the N70 was marketed to the amateur.

Nikon N70

The N70 lets you set and save for later “quick recall” (or QR) three different combinations of film advance mode, focus area, focus mode, metering system, exposure mode, flash sync mode, and exposure compensation. To do this, select all of those settings as you want them, then press the IN button. Then rotate the dial on the back of the camera to select 1, 2, or 3 in the yellow QR window on “the fan.” To select a QR mode, press the OUT button and rotate the dial to select 1, 2, or 3 in the QR window.

Two CR123 batteries power everything. The camera won’t operate without them. List price was $842 in 1994 when the N70 was new.

The N70 was optimized for the then-new D-series AF Nikkor lenses. Earlier AF Nikkors and non-AF Nikkors generally work on the camera, but without some metering modes.

To load film, open the back, insert the cartridge, pull the film across until the leader is in the takeup area, close the door, turn the N70 on, and press the shutter button.

All right, let’s talk about that dreaded “fan” UI. It’s different for sure, but it’s not hard to use.

  • First, select the function to adjust. Press the Function button and rotate the dial on the back of the camera. When the arrow points to the function you want to adjust, release the Function button.
  • Then set the value for that function. Press the Set button and rotate the dial to cycle through that function’s options. When you find the option you want, release the Set button.

The challenge with “the fan” is that every function is at the same level, even ones you use all the time. For example, I like to switch between programmed and aperture-priority modes. A separate PASM dial would place this control out front where it’s easy to access. All of the options would be clear by inspection, too. On the N70, I have to do the Function/Set dance to switch modes. I also can’t see all of the modes unless I cycle through them while holding down Set.

But this doesn’t make the N70’s interface unusable. It’s just not optimal, and it takes a little getting used to. But it’s consistent and uncomplicated, and therefore learnable. People who hate it protest too much, I think.

By the way, if you like auto-everything SLRs, also check out my reviews of the Nikon N50 (here), N60 (here), N65 (here), and N90s (here). Also see my reviews of these Canons: the EOS 630 (here), the EOS 650 (here), and the EOS A2e (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

In Program mode, the N70 is a perfectly good point-and-shoot SLR. That’s almost exclusively how I used it. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6D AF Nikkor lens and loaded some Kodak Max 400. This is an old auto service station in Thorntown, Indiana.

Getting lubricated

I imagine most people who bought an N70 back in the day wound up using it at factory settings. I sure did. Here’s an alleyway in Lebanon, Indiana.

One Way Alley

The N70 handled well. It’s almost as large and as heavy as my Nikon N90s, however, and I like that camera a whole lot more.

Old house in Lebanon

I photograph the entrance to the former Boone County Jail a lot, but always in black and white. It might surprise you to find that the door is turquoise.

Boone Co. Jail

I kept going with a roll of Kodak T-Max 100 I found forgotten in the freezer. I spent a partly sunny Saturday afternoon in Bloomington after having lunch with my children, all of whom live in or near that college town. Ohio State’s football team was in town to play the Indiana University team, and Kirkwood Avenue was full of fans. Many young women were walking around in these red-and-white striped pants.

Striped pants on Kirkwood

The N70 is hardly an inconspicuous camera, but nobody seemed to care that this middle-aged man was out photographing people.

Cafe Pizzaria

It probably helped that I wasn’t the only middle-aged man, as the group at the table below shows.

Nick's English Hut

The N70 performed well on this mostly cloudy day. If some of my favorite functions weren’t buried in “the fan” I might have done more with the N70 than leave it in P.

The Von Lee

When people ask me how to break into film photography, I tell them to start with an auto-everything SLR from the 1990s or early 2000s. You can shoot in P mode just to get a feel for film, and when you’re comfortable, try more advanced settings. The trouble with the Nikon N70 is that it’s hard to discover those advanced settings, especially if you don’t know what you want to try.

Puzzles in the window

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Nikon N70 gallery.

If you’re interested in one of these late film-era SLRs, the Nikon N70 isn’t a bad choice. But you will probably be happier with one that has a proper PASM mode dial rather than this multi-step function selector interface.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Camera Reviews

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak edition

The Eastman Kodak Company turned 50 in 1930, if you measure it by the year that George Eastman first rented space in Rochester, New York, to make photographic dry plates. The name Kodak wasn’t coined until 1888, when the first Kodak camera was introduced. The company wouldn’t be named the Eastman Kodak Company until 1892. But as Eastman Kodak was counting it, 1930 was the golden anniversary. The company celebrated it by reintroducing a popular box camera first built in 1913, the No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C — the 50th Anniversary of Kodak edition.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, 50th Annversary of Kodak edition

They covered the camera in brown leatherette, trimmed it in goldtone, and affixed a golden sticker to the side proclaiming the 50th Anniversary of Kodak. (On mine, if not on most, the gold sticker has faded to silver.) The company manufactured more than a half million of them just to give them all away to children who turned 12 that year. Through this anniversary giveaway, Eastman Kodak wanted to encourage a whole new generation to embrace photography.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, 50th Annversary of Kodak edition

This camera is a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, from the same retired pro who sent me the black No. 2 Hawk-Eye I reviewed recently. It is in good condition. The viewfinder is dim, but that’s par for the course. I swabbed it with isopropyl alcohol, which cleaned it up nicely. But it’s still a small viewfinder and challenging to compose in. There’s no landscape viewfinder, either, and if you try turning the camera on its side to compose landscape the camera rewards you by turning the image upside down.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, 50th Annversary of Kodak edition

Because Kodak made so many of these, they’re inexpensive and easy to find. The portrait viewfinder does limit the camera’s usefulness, however.

If you like box cameras, I’ve reviewed a bunch: the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here), the Ansco Shur Shot (here), the Kodak No. 2 Brownie in both Model D (here) and Model F (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). Or see all of my camera reviews here.

I put some Kodak T-Max 100 into this box Hawk-Eye and took it on a lunchtime walk around the neighborhood. I developed the roll in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II.

Welcome to Zionsville

The images are all a little soft, but contrast is much improved over the black No. 2 Hawk-Eye I also have. It’s not impossible that I underdeveloped the roll from that camera.

Farmhouse steps

The shutter lever doesn’t stick very far out from the body on this camera, which I’m sure is a manufacturing fault and not the norm. It wasn’t a giant deal, but a couple times after composing my thumb couldn’t find the shutter lever and I had to turn the camera to locate it and then recompose.

Est. 1851

It’s always remarkable to me how capable a simple meniscus lens like the one in this No. 2 Hawk-Eye can be. You just have to make sure you’re standing at least six feet away from your subject, as that’s as close as these lenses usually can focus.

Ped Xing

I found the portrait-only viewfinder to be too limiting as I looked for subjects. A landscape-only viewfinder would have been less limiting for me.

CVS/pharmacy

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak Edition gallery.

It was fun to experience this Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak edition. But because of its portrait-only viewfinder I’m unlikely to use it again. My two Kodak No. 2 Brownies (Model D and Model F) function essentially the same, but are more versatile because they offer both portrait and landscape viewfinders.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Film Photography

Further adventures in home film developing: documenting a day of errands

As I continue to build skill in developing my own black-and-white film, I need film to develop. So a few Saturdays ago I loaded my circa-1914 Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model D (review here) with Kodak T-Max 100, and took it along as I ran my weekend errands. I photographed every place I stopped, and a few places I didn’t stop along the way. I finally made the time to develop and scan the film last weekend. As usual, I used Rodinal diluted 1+50, and scanned on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II.

I started the day by climbing into my VW. This may well be the most competent automobile I’ve ever owned. Its five-cylinder engine delivers gobs of power, its stiff chassis and tight suspension yield confident handling, its brakes are outstanding, it has plenty of interior room (especially rear-seat legroom), its trunk is enormous, and to my surprise and delight it gets way better gas mileage than the economy car it replaced. It’s not perfect — interior trim bits break easily, the driver’s door easily freezes shut, and I didn’t figure out that the gas door won’t open when the doors are locked until I broke it trying to open it one day. Argh.

My Vee Dub

My first stop was Costco. It’s hard to hold a box camera level, especially one with viewfinders as tiny as these. This image was probably 20 degrees off level until I fixed it in Photoshop.

Costco

Next I drove over to Walmart to do the weekly shopping. I usually shop at a Meijer that’s across the road from my subdivision, but this Walmart is right by the Costco so it was convenient.

Wally World

I needed to stop by the bank, but on the way I passed this Big Lots. If you’re a student of the history of commercial architecture, you might recognize this as a former Cub Foods. That’s where my family always used to shop before the chain pulled out of Indiana, which is going on 25 years ago now. Big Lots moved in after a few years.

Big Lots

The day grew gloomier and dimmer as I kept on with my errands. The less light there was, the more difficult it was to see anything through the Brownie’s viewfinders. For this photo, I pulled up in my car, rolled down the window, leveled the Brownie on the sill, aimed it as best I could, and flipped the shutter lever.

Fifth Third

Walmart didn’t have a couple things my family needed, so on the way home I swung by the Kroger nearest my house. This True Value store is next door to Kroger. I have no idea what caused that light leak or ghosting or whatever it is on the image.

True Value

Here’s the Kroger, or some of it, anyway. It used to be a Marsh supermarket until that local chain went out of business. Kroger scooped up this property. By this time, it was nearly impossible to see through the viewfinders. I aimed the camera in the general direction of my subject and hoped it turned out okay.

K-Roger

Finally, I picked up our mail. In our neighborhood all mail is delivered to this central mail station and we all have locked mailboxes here. We forget to pick up the mail for days at a time, and they just cram it all in there. We’re used to crumpled mail now. I never, ever want to live in a neighborhood with a central mail station ever again.

Mailboxes

The darker images I got toward the end of my trip speak to the diminishing quality and quantity of available light.

I had pretty good luck developing this roll. I had less trouble than usual getting the film to take up onto the reel. My brother called while I was doing these tasks and I managed to talk to him and do all the processing steps, so I must be building good muscle memory. The results are decent, with the exception of the True Value Hardware shot.

I’m grateful for Photoshop, which let me correct a lot of challenges with these images. Nearly every image needed some level of straightening, and I increased exposure on the last few. I also, of course, had to spot-remove specks from the scans. That’s just a fact of scanner life.

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