If you ever drive US 40 westbound into Terre Haute, you’ll find a great old billboard for Clabber Girl Baking Powder at the edge of town. Clabber Girl has been made in Terre Haute since 1899. The billboard dates to the 1930s. Here’s a photo I made of it way back in 2007.
It was in pretty good shape then, but time and the elements are not kind to anything left outside. Here are some more photographs I’ve made of it over the years, showing its slow deterioration. 2009:
2013, and notice the clock is different:
This billboard is on what was the property of Mary Fendrich Hulman, whose family owns the makers of Clabber Girl. Mary died a few years ago, and her sprawling horse farm was sold to neighboring Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, expanding its campus. Rose-Hulman got the billboard in the deal, and decided to have this Terre Haute landmark restored. The Terre Haute Tribune-Star tells the restoration story and shares a photograph of the refreshed billboard. Read it here.
The advice some of you gave me in this post helped me get decent black-and-white scans from my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II and its bundled ScanGear software. I used the same advice to scan a little more color film.
I made these photos last fall with my Olympus XA2 on Agfa Vista 200. Robert’s Camera in Indianapolis processed and scanned them. Their scans are 3130 pixels on the long side. I used ScanGear to scan them at 4800 dpi with all built-in image enhancement turned off, resulting in scans of between 6750 and 6800 pixels on the long side. I resized my scans to 1200 pixels long to upload them here.
I edited scans from both sources as best I could in Photoshop, including adding unsharp masking to the ScanGear scans.
My first test was of this shot of old US 52 and a great abandoned neon sign near my home. It shows considerable vignetting, which I believe is endemic to the camera. While I like the depth of blue in the sky, I don’t like how mottled it is. I tried various Photoshop settings and tools to smooth it out but wasn’t happy with any of the results. I wonder if the film profiles and multi-exposure scanning in Silverfast would resolve these challenges.
The Robert’s scan captured more turquoise in a perfectly smooth sky. The Wrecks sign shows far better definition and detail. I suppose the Roberts scan might have a touch of green caste to it. Roberts also reduced the vignetting. I prefer the Roberts scan.
The CanoScan/ScanGear scan of this abandoned farm co-op building shows the same mottled deep blue sky, but plenty of great detail in the corrugated walls. This building is all that’s left of the onetime town of Traders Point, Indiana, by the way. See 1950s film footage of this town, including a brief look at this co-op building, here.
Here’s a crop of the image at 100%. It could be sharper, but it’s fully usable.
In the Robert’s scan the colors aren’t as vibrant, and the sky is again more turquoise. In retrospect, I could have helped this photo by reducing exposure a little in Photoshop.
From here on out, the winner isn’t as clear between the Robert’s and ScanGear scans. This ScanGear scan from downtown Indianapolis shows a scene that’s changed, as the Hard Rock Cafe has since closed and its signs are gone.
The Robert’s scan looks like it got more exposure than my scan. My scan highlights the vignetting the XA2’s lens tends to deliver.
These arches are around the corner from the previous scene. Here’s my scan.
Here’s the Robert’s scan. Each has its charms; I can’t call one better than the other.
Still downtown in Indianapolis, I shot this outdoor cafe scene. The day was drizzly and chilly and so not ideal for outdoor dining.
Here’s the Robert’s scan. I like my scan’s blue umbrella and the overall color temperature better.
Finally, here’s a forlorn building. My scan gives its gray painted brick a bit of a blue caste.
The Roberts scan is more of a straight gray. Like all of the Roberts scans, it got a touch more exposure. Either scan is good enough for my purposes, but I believe I slightly prefer my CanoScan/ScanGear scan.
I believe I’ve figured out a good base 35mm scanning technique and can refine it from here. Perhaps I can get a little more sharpness, a little better color. I do have to solve that terrible mottling problem, though; the two scans with blue sky in them aren’t that great.
Next, I’ll try scanning some medium-format negatives with the CanoScan and ScanGear. This is perhaps the most important test, as my goal is to shoot my lovely TLRs and my simple box cameras more often, and process and scan the film myself.
We tend to think of medium format film as being for serious work with expensive gear. But its first use was in an inexpensive snapshot camera — this, the No. 2 Brownie.
This is actually the last of a long line of No. 2 Brownies. The first, its body made of cardboard, was introduced in 1901. Models B, C, D, and E followed. (I own a Model D, too; see my review here.) They all look like the original to me (though this page charts the minute changes). The Model F is different — not in form or function, but in construction, as its body is made of aluminum.
Model Fs rolled off Kodak’s assembly lines from 1924 to 1935. For some of those years you could get one in blue, brown, gray, green, or red! As you can see, mine is basic black. It is also a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras from David Ditta.
If you like old boxes, by the way, I’ve reviewed a couple others: the Ansco Shur Shot (here) and B-2 Cadet (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). A few other cameras I’ve reviewed are boxes, too, just in more modern packaging: the Agfa Clack (here), Kodak Baby Brownie (here), and the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (here). You can check out all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.
No. 2 Brownies are pretty hard to kill. They’re both so simple and robustly enough manufactured that even the jankiest one you find in the back of some dumpy junk store can probably still make images.
But these cameras can get so dirty after a century or so! I cleaned this camera’s lens and viewfinders before I put any film through it. The camera’s front plate is held on only by pressure on the sides, and it’s easy enough to pry the pressure points back. The front just falls off when you do that. It provides good access to the viewfinder glass and mirrors, which slide right out with a tweezers. Isopropyl alcohol and a cotton swab made short work of 80 years of accumulated grime. Any No. 2 Brownie’s viewfinders will be dim even when clean, but when they’re dirty they’re useless.
The lens is a little harder to clean. To get at the back of the lens, remove the film insert by pulling the winding knob out and sliding the insert out. To get at the front of the lens, pull up the little tab on the top of the camera that’s to one side of the lens and flip the shutter lever — the shutter remains open until you flip the lever one more time. Again, I used a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol. Holy cow, was the front of the lens filthy.
The No. 2 Brownie offers three aperture settings, selected by pulling up the tab on top of the camera over the lens. I couldn’t begin to guess at what f stops these apertures represent, but a manual I found online says that the largest aperture (tab all the way down) is for snapshots outdoors in all but the brightest light, the middle aperture is for bright sunlight and indoor time exposures, and the smallest (tab all the way up) is for time exposures outdoors on cloudy days. I assume the shutter operates at something like 1/50 sec.
I loaded a roll of fresh Ektar. I mis-spooled it the first time and winding was so hard I feared I’d tear the film. I put the camera into my dark bag, removed the film, and started over. Then frustratingly the Ektar’s frame numbers sat at the far right edge of the ruby window. Actually, the window on mine has faded to a sickly yellow. Fearing light through the window would imprint the frame numbers onto the film, I covered the window with electrical tape and peeled it back only to wind.
The Brownie focuses from about 10 feet. As you can see, the lens distorts a little and it is soft in the corners. Standard stuff for a one-element lens.
The act of shooting a No. 2 Brownie is pleasant. You frame as best you can and gently move the shutter lever. The entire process is so quiet and gentle. You just have to accept that the teeny tiny viewfinders make it hard to tell whether your subject is level. Frame as best as you can and hope you got it right enough.
Also, because of the slow shutter speed, camera shake can be a problem. The photo below shows it when you view it full size. Fortunately, the Model F offers a tripod mount. Previous models of the No. 2 Brownie lacked this useful feature.
I love shooting with simple cameras like this. I have half a mind to shoot this camera exclusively for a time, maybe three or six months, to see what I learn. I will want to invest in my own film-processing equipment first, as it is just as expensive to have a roll of 120 processed and scanned as 35mm, to yield a quarter or a third of the number of images.
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.
On our recent Michigan Road trip, we whizzed right by the South Bend Motel. It was cold, we were tired, and some of the neon was out on this great old sign anyway. Not much new to photograph. So these photos are from earlier road trips. Above, 2009; below, 2007.
Fortunately, little has changed (except the non-functioning neon). This little motel has been plugging away here for as long as I can remember. I grew up less than a mile away.
This motel is on the Michigan Road (and Dixie Highway and Old US 31) on South Bend’s south side. It’s always stood alone in this heavily residential neighborhood. Here’s a daylight shot of its sign.
Online reviews of this place range from “cheap but decent” to “dirty rooms and rude staff.” So if you ever decide to stay, set your expectations accordingly.
I spent an afternoon with my son, who’s in his last semester at Purdue. He really likes to walk, so we walked together, all over West Lafayette. It did my middle-aged body good to put some miles on my feet.
He lives in Cary Quadrangle, which is this grand old building.
We walked to the northwest corner of campus where there’s a large hill. Lots of people were out sledding. Many of them were using cardboard boxes, because who brings a sled to college? This giant stage is at the bottom of the hill.
We walked through campus a little. The cold got to me so I asked if there were a coffee shop nearby. My son led the way. We passed this building, which very clearly was once a Burger Chef restaurant. Burger Chef was a competitor to McDonalds that was headquartered in Indianapolis. (See more old Burger Chef buildings, repurposed, here.)
A burger joint still operating is the XXX, which has delicious root beer. Here’s one of its signs. You don’t see many of that style of Coca-Cola sign still in use.
Here’s another, this time in neon.
As usual, my son and I wound up at an Irish restaurant near the river. I got this nice portrait of him while we waited for our beef stew and shepherd’s pie.
Despite the cold, it was a good afternoon. I had in mind to have a long conversation with him about searching for a post-college job, but frankly, neither of us was in the mood so we skipped it and just enjoyed each other’s company.
This is the Times Theater, on the Michigan Road in Rochester, Indiana. At least, this was it in 2008, while it was still operating.
The Times showed movies for 90 years, but owners couldn’t afford a digital projector and had to close it in 2014. This marquee was already showing strong signs of rot in 2008…but look at it now.
This poor old sign. Here’s a closer look, first 2008 and then 2018.
Fortunately, a non-profit group has organized with a goal to restore and reopen the Times as an art and entertainment center for the community. Their Facebook page is here. Here’s hoping they can achieve their goals — and see this sign restored, if it’s not too late.