The instant of an instant – Travelling SX 70

My project „Travelling SX 70“ originated during this years journey to Italy. In order to feed my flickr-account with analog travel photos i added my old Polaroid SX 70 together with a couple of b&w and color Impossible films to my mobile photographic gear which consisted of a Kodak Retina IIIC and a Rolleiflex Automat. My plan was (similar to my Project “The last Photographs of the Twentieth Century i did in 2000) to shoot a new polaroid every day or so, reproduce this with the camera of my iPhone 6s and upload that to flickr.

When i took the first picture of the first Polaroid shot in Arco, Trentino, i noticed that the background of the picture – a flat piece of rock – had a pictorial life of its own. It was like the iphone wanted to say: Hey, i am a camera too! Don’t use me as just a means to reproduce something. And right it was!

The first Polaroid in my project - Arco, Trentino
The first Polaroid in my project – Arco, Trentino

The pictures of the polaroids i took with it were a linke between digital and analog photography, between the real world and the world depicted in a photograph which when photographed again becomes a part of the real world itself. Interesting. I had two different kinds of instant picture in one. The kind where you have to wait until it materializes itself via a chemical process and the other kind that is on your display all the time and gets frozen into bits and bytes by touching a virtual button. One you can hold in your hand as a piece of  substance matter, the other is only digital information remembered on a tiny chip and is not really a part of the material world, just a matrix of false and true that, when activated, tells a display which pixels it has to light up in different colors.

A developing polaroid on my knee in Volterra, Tuscany
A developing polaroid on my knee in Volterra, Tuscany

After realizing that i gave up my original plan of taking an instant picture a day and uploading it via my iphone. Instead i started to explore the interaction of pictures and reality. During my journey i took a couple of polaroids which i held in front of a real scene (the same as in the polaroid or another) after some time had elapsed. Sometimes it were just the 10 minutes i had to wait for the polaroid to develop, sometimes one or two days. You can see most of them in the gallery above.

An interesting thing was how dramatically the color instant film changed after just a few hot summer days in my camping car. While the colors of the first pictures i took were still kind of okay – albeit a bit too warm – , they quickly deteriorated the longer the films were exposed to the heat. The last color pictures i took were of a bluish grey that showed no reds at all. Once developed, the colors remained stable, the deterioration took place in the undeveloped emulsion.

Two “Impossible” polaroids. Left after one week in a hot camping car, right after three weeks

Now i know i should have kept the films in the fridge of my camping car and maybe i should have put the SX 70 there too to travel in darkness amongst beer and wine bottles an chunks of italian cheese. I tried to remember how heat sensitive the original polaroid films were when i did my last big project in 2000 on a six week journey to Norway. Okay, in the north you never have temperatures of 35 degree Celsius inside a camping car. But still i think the films were different then. At least in one respect: During my old project i used to alter the developing Polaroids by scratching their surface with the tip of a ballpoint pen, creating my own drawings overlaying the photographed picture. I remember the chemical substance under the clear plastic coating of the pictures to be more soft and malleable than the one of the new Impossible stuff. When i run my finger over the now 18 years old Polaroids of my Year 2000 project i can still feel the lines i created with my ballpoint pen while the Impossible pictures remain perfectly flat after the same procedure. Whether this is also due to the heat the film has been subjected to i will be able to tell when i purchase a fresh pack and do some testing.

Two altered Polaroids. Left a 18 year old original Polaroid, right a contemporary “Impossible” polaroid

Hot shit of times past: My first and only film with a Yashica AUTO Focus

Okay, i admit it. When i see at a garage sale an old camera i cannot pass on without looking at least once through its  view finder, even when the camera definitely does not belong into the Rolleiflex-Leica-Hasselblad league like the Yashica AUTO Focos i spotted last weekend amongst some old crystal glass and time-worn children’s toys. A venerable point-and-shoot veteran with the form factor of old compact cameras like the Canonet and the Minolta Hi Matic, it had the words “AUTO” and “Focus” prominently displayed at the front of the camera. A commonplace feature of today being advertised as the technological hot shit of the mid-1970ies kindled my interest in the camera, and as it was in a fairly good condition, i bought it. Five Euros are not too much for a forgotten japanese trendsetter of its day.


It was a sunny saturday morning and having some free time at my disposal i decided at the spur of the moment to do a little impromtu camera test. I opened the battery compartment of the Yashica, scratched off the greenish white oxide from the corroded contacts and bought in a nearby drugstore two AA Cells and a 200 ISO color film. Before i loaded the film i did some dry training to acquaint myself with the camera i had just bought ten minutes ago.

The Yashica AUTO Focus has not really too much photographic finesse to offer: A three element lens with the widest aperture of 2.8 and a focal length of 38mm (reminding me of the 40 mm of the Summicron on my Leica CL), a plastic shutter release button, a rewind-crank, a lever that tensions the self timer and a peculiar button on the front labeled “Focus Lock”. Completely missing are any means to adjust shutter speed or aperture, there is also no exposure compensation dial, only the film speed can be set from 25 to 500 ASA in a little window below the lens.

The viewfinder is quite big and bright and shows an illuminated frame with a simple parallax compensation and a smaller illuminated frame in the middle which obviously definines the part of the image where the magic of automated focussing is achieved.

Following which principle this takes place remained a mystery for me while i was walking the streets taking pictures, but i read about it on the Internet later. The Yashica AUTO Focus used one of the first automatic focussing systems for mass market distribution called Visitronic, developed by Honeywell in the mid-1970ies. You can read all about it here. In my inexpert words it is based on the concept that two pictures are mirrored into the camera through two openings beside the viewfinder and electronically compare by an integrated circuit reading a rather simple optical matrix.

Actually i did not expect this mechanism to be as unobtrusive as a modern auto focussing system, but nevertheless the sounds it made when working astounded me quite a bit. Once you press the shutter, the camera starts a rather loud buzz that ends with the clicking of the shutter. The buzz i identified as the sound the of the lens moving to its focussing position. Obviously driven by a spring, it races from the nearest position (1 Meter) to the furthest (infinity). Somewhere in between the Visitronic decides to stop it in order to produce a – hopefully – focussed picture. After that you transport the film and re-tension the spring and the circle begins anew. Buzz-click, buzz-click, buzz-click. The sound of progress of days gone by.

Unlike the almost imperceptible hum of modern day autofocussing systems this sound is a sure-fire guarantee to turn the head of every subject you try to take a picture of. And there is another drawback with the old Visitronic: You do not get confirmation that whatever you are aiming at really is in focus. There is a red LED in the viewfinder of the Yashica, but its frantic blinking only tells you that there is not enough light to take a picture and you should move out the built-in flash – another new achievement of those days. At what distance the camera decided to focus on you can only see after the picture has been taken. It is indicated by a red pointer on a little scale showing well known distance symbols like mountains, figures and faces.

This rather primitive scale and the LED in the finder are the only two ways the camera communicates with its user. Otherwise it leaves you at the mercy of total automation. The camera never tells you which of the available shutterspeeds (1/8 to 1/500 of a second) or aperture openings (2.8 to 16) it decided to use. But while the automatic exposure at least works quite reliably, the autofocus is another cup of tea.

No matter whether i just shot the picture or used the focus lock which lets the camera focus before you take the picture so you have a chance to reframe the picture, the focussing of the Yashica was rather haphazard. Of the 36 pictures i shot a dozen was sharp, a dozen was slightly out of focus and another dozen was heavily blurred. Whatever made the camera focus properly or improperly i cannot say. For instance, when i took three pictures in succession one was sharp, the next was blurred, the third was sharp again.

#1 The auto focus did its job


#2, seconds later, out of focus


#3, focussed again


Definitely blurry – too bad!

I don’t know whether i will put a second film into the AUTO Focus. It makes no sense to have it repaired, i think – in case you still can find someone who does it. And there definitely is a certain thrill to giving yourself into the hands of this forty year old fully automated contraption called a camera. Japanese Roulette, you could call it. Every successful photo is kind of a revelation as the 2.8/38mm delivers the subtle lustre of an old three-element lens, but the disappointment of getting a blurred picture of an otherwise interesting subject is a cruel experience. In court and on the high seas we are in god’s hands. Maybe when we are taking pictures with the Yashica AUTO Focus we are too.

Here are a couple of the pictures that turned out well on my one and only film with the AUTO Focus. Not a bad camera for street photography – in case it works …

Gallery: The first roll with the Rodenstock Imagon.

A Rodenstock Imagon has tickled my fancy since the time i was taking pictures with large format cameras, but it was until now one of these optical legends crossed my way: It was an auction on Ebay for a 200mm Imagon in a Rolleiflex SL66 mount. As i am the proud owner of an old SL66 i bought the lens together with its set of three diaphragms and a ND filter. The day it arrived i took it for a test to the old northern cemetery in Munich, one of my favorite photographic haunts. This is the first roll of 120 film, a Fomapan 100 developed in Rodinal and scanned with a CanoScan 9000F. I took all the pictures without a diaphragm, so the soft focus effect is most pronounced. One of the pictures turned out to be not exposed, obviously the camera had a transport problem.

A weekend in Tuscany with the Leica CL (analog)

Actually, it was the celebration of a 50th birthday, half an hour by car from the town of Pisa in a tuscan winery. But for me the weekend was also a chance to take some pictures with my Leica CL in the hills of a Tuscany far from her touristic highlights where spring was already under way. With Leica CL i mean the old, analog camera that bore this name in the 1970s, not its present day digital descendant.

The CL was the wayward child of a german father (Leitz) and a japanese mother (Minolta). It was designed in Germany and manufactured in Japan, where it was distributed under the name “Leitz Minolta CL”.

Continue reading “A weekend in Tuscany with the Leica CL (analog)”

3D Gallery: First pictures with the stereo adapter for my Retina IIIC

The stereo adapter is one of the more rare accessories for the Retina. It goes into the inward bayonet of the camera where normally the lenshood for the normal and wide angle lens has its place. The adapter uses pentaprisms (instead of mirrors) which makes it rather heavy. The bayonet holds it firmly in place, though.

Because the adapter exposes two different pictures on one 35mm negative you can only make stereograms in portrait orientation – a format that is not really suited for 3D-photos as seeing with two eyes is per se a more horizontal affair.

The negatives were scanned with a Nikon Coolscan 4000 and were processed in the app StereoLabLite on a Mac.

To be viewed with red/cyan glasses.

Gallery: A chemical time machine

In the days when i maintained my own black-and-white photo lab it sometimes happened that after a long night i forgot the odd print in one of the trays full of chemicals. When i returned to the lab the next morning (or after a couple of days, i have to confess) i found them and threw them away, but sometimes the chemicals and/or the light had worked some kind of magic on the prints. In this case i saved the pictures by fixing, watering and drying them. Sometimes i took a sponge and removed the fully soaked gelatine partially and sometimes i put the pictures in a sulphur toning bath. Some of the pictures i painted later with watercolors or added some gold or even spices to them.

Over the years i got a little collection of “chemical ladies”, some of which i scanned and put into this gallery.

For me they are the products of a chemical time machine, paintings made from silver and salt, accidents and time.

The beauty from the beauty case: A personal view on my Kodak Retina IIIc


Actually, i‘ve always had a weak spot for Kodak Retina Cameras. This goes back to a Retina I my uncle gave me a long time ago. The little camera had an uncoated 3.5/50 Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar lens and a body painted with black enamel that wore the scratches and blemishes of many years of heavy use. The fact that it lacked a  rangefinder and the viewfinder was very small made focussing and framing some sort of guess work.

But the little camera had character and i knew that my uncle, an avid mountaineer, had used it to document his ambitious hikes in the bavarian alps in the late 1930ies. Because of its light weight and small pack size it became my trusty companion on many motorcycle trips throughout Europe. It never let me down.

Continue reading “The beauty from the beauty case: A personal view on my Kodak Retina IIIc”