For an upcoming project — Do not worry, I will keep you informed —, I acquired a view camera for forty euros on eBay. No brand, no logo. It comes with 6 glass-plates holders. That is all the seller’s description contained. When I unpacked it, I expected to discover, under the protection paper, a stack of springs, screws, attached to a torn bellows and a sad broken glass lens. Well, it seems that, for once in my life, I got lucky, and had trouble to take that dumb smile away from my face when I saw a camera in a more than great condition.
A mystery camera
From what I can observe (lens, shutter, esthetic state), I would say the camera was manufactured in Germany around the end of the twenties, or in France (The glass-plate holders are mentioning “A.P Paris”). A lot of glass-plate cameras, such as Welta, had a very similar design and the Rodenstock Trinar lens / Compur shutter was a frequent and affordable combination. It came with a lovely manual on how to expose your photos, depending on the weather, the time in the year, and the hour of the day.
The Trinar lens is a three glass element lens, considered as “simple” compared to the high-end lenses of that time, composed of four glass elements (i.e Zeiss Tessar). It should therefore suffer from its conception: Low sharpness, poor luminosity, and coming with a lot of vignetting; as the Cassar from the Baldax I wrote about in March. However, the Trinar seemed to have a great reputation in its time, I still had to see that for myself.
Operating the beast
This is where it got challenging: adapting the glass plates holders for film use. The awkward format (9×12 cm), is not in use today — at least, definitely not a standard format—, but I still could find film sheets, manufactured by the Czech Foma.
The glass plates were approximately 2mm wide, when a film sheet is around 0.15mm wide. I needed to compensate the difference, and try to find a way for the film to stay flat. My first try went to a 2mm Cardboard, that I cut to a 9x12cm format.
Loading the film in the dark, trying to slide it against the cardboard was exhausting. I succeeded in doing so after swearing a lot, and then tried to operate the machine. Needless to say THIS is my first experience with large format photography. The time it took to actually take the picture was therefore a surprise.
I developed the two film sheets using the “taco” method, rolling the sheets with hair elastics, emulsion inside, and placing them in a Paterson tank. I used homemade PC-TEA developer — which will be a subject for another article soon —, fixed, and prayed while opening the tank.
I am definitely surprised by the Rodenstock behavior! This picture was taken on Fomapan 100 at f8, this is a 100% crop of the 1200dpi negative scan:
Another on-the-go shot, with approximative framing, showing the scratches from the metal slide on the film. I still need to find a solution for this issue. But at least, the shutter works like a charm, there is no light leaks, and lens is sharp. I am more than happy with my new toy! Now, let’s get that project on track…