Friday, June 30, 2017

Robot Camera - Kodak 35RF

I like "robot cameras". By that I mean cameras that have exposed machinery like gears and levers. There is something to be said for the sleek, plastic-shrouded black boxes like the Contax T2 or the Konica Hexar with their clean lines and mysterious lack of 'machinery'. They take fine photos to be sure, but (for me) they don't hit my "that's so cool!" button. That button is actuated by dials and levers that make ratcheting noises and knurled knobs and gears. So when a friend over on Filmwasters said he had a spare Kodak 35RF that he would trade, I jumped.


Where to even start? Well, maybe a brief description... The Kodak 35RF is a 35mm camera with a coupled range finder. It was made from 1940 to 1948. My example rolled off the assembly line in 1946 as indicated by the CAMEROSITY code of 'EO' on the lens. So what's so cool about this camera? I guess the first thing that catches my eye is that gear to the left of the lens. That's for focusing. You turn the little gear with your index finger and the magic happens inside the lens. This is done while looking into the tiny range finder window. That brings me to the next cool feature. There are three freakin' windows on the front of this thing. Each one is a different shape and size which gives it a touch of art deco or maybe cubism. Then there is "the shield". The shield is a piece of metal that covers what I imagine is the mechanism that couples the lens focusing ring to the viewfinder. The shield also extends over the top of the lens and provides a protective er... shield for the shutter release, so you don't accidentally hit it and get a picture of your shoe or the butt of the person walking in front of you. Speaking of the shutter release, it's out on the lens barrel, not on top of the camera like you would expect. There is a button right there on the top right side. It looks like a shutter release, but don't be fooled. It's not. Push it as many times as it takes to convince yourself that the shutter isn't responding to your command (it took me three slow presses and then about five 'spam clicks'). That button releases the film winding knob, so stop pressing it. You need to hold it down and start winding the knob clockwise. The winding process, besides taking a little coordination, takes a little hand strength as well. It is a firm quarter turn with a satisfying "CLACK!" at the end. If you are thinking of loading this up with a thin-base film like Plus-X Aerecon II, think again. The film sprocket holes engage a very tight sprocket and they will tear. In fact my first roll through (Fujicolor Super HR) tore some sprocket holes and that caused the frame counter (next to the winding knob) to do wacky things. My second roll (Ilford FP4 plus) worked just fine. The back comes off to load/unload the film just like most 35mm cameras of this era. The take-up spool is fixed and the slot that accepts the film is quite thin and a bit fiddly to get the film leader into. The rangefinder window, as I said, is very small but the split-screen rangefinder is pretty easy to use. The top and bottom images are both bright and well magnified. The viewfinder window is also bright and easy to use even for me with my required glasses. There are no framing lines or parallax correction that I could tell, but the minimum focusing distance of around 3.5 ft doesn't really require much correction and I didn't notice any badly framed shots. That's about all I have to say about the operation of the camera.

The results I got with this camera were pretty good. It's not in the upper echelons of cameraness like an M3 with a Summicron stuck to it, but for a cool looking robot camera, it takes good pictures. Let's look at a few shots. The first roll lie I said was Fujicolor Super HR. I shot this at iso 200, so here in sunny San Diego, that means the lens aperture was pretty much pegged at f/16 for the whole roll. That gave me a good idea of the sharpness and contrast it was capable of.

Barber Pole

The next roll was some expired rebranded FP4 Plus that I shot at iso 50. I have shot this film at that iso before and it came out just fine, but this time the negs were very dark and hard to scan. My poor V600 could barely push enough light through some of them to get anything at all. So these look grainy, but that's really noise because the scanner had to crank the voltage on its sensor up to 11! This was a result of me switching developers and not really experimenting enough to get good results. I think the shutter speeds are all pretty accurate (enough for me anyway) and given a better film/dev/time combination, it will do just fine with slower films. The lens also performed adequately corner to corner with maybe a tiny bit of softness at wider apertures, which I also don't mind.

Raised Bed Veggies

Over all, I think this is a keeper and I might get some other robot cameras (e.g. Kinaflex) to keep it company.