Sunday, November 29, 2020

Photograph: Cards



A 4x multiple exposure depicting a hand of Cards Against Humanity with Katie's family. Made with my Fuji X100V.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Spotlight: Univex Mercury II

The 1945 Univex Mercury II is objectively, hands down, one of the coolest looking cameras ever made. Plus, it's made in the U.S.A! I've always admired the look of this camera, ever since I first spied it sitting on a "not-for-sale" shelf in a camera shop many years ago. I finally came to own a Mercury II when my parents bought one for me for my birthday (or was it Christmas?) a few years back. It's been sitting prominently on display in my home ever since. I never tried it out before because I didn't think the shutter was working properly. However, it's been staring at me longingly for some time now, so I decided to finally give it a chance. 

Though somewhat large in size, the Mercury II is a half-frame 35mm camera. So, you get double the amount of exposures on a roll of film, and the negative size is 24"x18".

The big iconic hump on top of the Mercury II is actually part of the housing for the camera's unique disk shutter. It spins at speeds from 1/20 to 1/1000 of a second, which was pretty impressive for 1945. B and T settings are also available. It's neat to open the back of the camera and watch the shutter disk whip around. The lens on the Mercury II is technically interchangeable, but the camera is pretty much designed to be used solely with its standard 35mm f/2.7 lens. It's basically a fixed-lens camera. For a viewfinder camera, the lens focuses quite close -- about 1.5 feet!

Ergonomics on the Mercury II are awful. The viewfinder is painfully small, though this is pretty par for the course by 1940's standards. The worst part about using the camera is that most of the main controls are located on the front of the camera, facing away from the photographer. This setup makes the camera look rad and steam-punky, but also totally awkward to operate. You have to turn the camera around toward you to change anything, as you can't see the settings while holding the camera in a normal shooting position. 

There are two knurled knobs above the lens: one cocks the shutter and advances the film, while the other adjusts the shutter speed. The shutter must be cocked before the shutter speed can be set. With film in the camera, there is a good amount of resistance to the shutter cocking knob, making it hard to turn. The shutter speed knob must be pushed in before a new speed can be selected, which is fiddly. 

There are two accessory shoes on top of the camera, where you can attach a flash, light meter, and/or uncoupled rangefinder. Instead of a rangefinder, I used my Fuji X100V, which says in the viewfinder what distance it's focused at. I'd autofocus with the Fuji, read the distance scale, then transfer that distance rating back to the Mercury II.

Overall, the beautiful yet clumsy Mercury II feels like a prime example of "form over function." I made some photographs with the camera, but the results aren't impressive. That being said, I really didn't expect much. I made some photographs of my cat, Furiosa, wearing the cone of shame (she has an eye ulcer, poor baby). The film is Kodak Tri-X 400. 


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Spotlight: Chinon Bellami


I was at an estate sale this past weekend and this little Chinon Bellami camera caught my eye. Unsure whether it was working or not, I took a chance on it for about $20. After sticking batteries in it back at home, I was pleasantly surprised to find it in 100% working order. First released in 1980, the Bellami (or beautiful friend in French) is a full-frame 35mm compact point-n-shoot camera. Like, this thing is seriously small; it fits in my pants pocket with room to spare, and I wear slim-fits! It's roughly the size of a deck of cards, or a pack of (ew) cigarettes. 

The most distinctive feature of the Bellami has to be the barn doors that swing closed to protect the lens when the camera's not in use. The design is actually pretty brilliant: You pull back on the advance lever to open the doors and pop out the lens. When you're ready to stuff the camera back in your pocket, just push the advance lever back flush with the body. Doing this will cause the lens to quickly retract and the barn doors to close. I found myself constantly opening and closing the doors, just cause it's so fun and satisfying to do. The barn doors do more than just protect the lens from scratches, they also protect your pictures from stray fingers! Without the barn doors present, I think it'd be pretty easy to accidentally block the lens, since the camera is so small. 

Though the camera is teeny-tiny, it's still comfortable to use, and the build quality feels solid. While there is definitely a good amount of plastic in the build, the top and bottom plates seem to be made of metal. The leatherette finish gives the Bellami an almost premium feel.

Operation, as you'd expect with a point-n-shoot, is pretty simple. Exposure is completely automatic. Once you set your ISO (25 - 400) on the top of the camera, the camera will decide the shutter speed and aperture for you. Shutter speeds range from 1/8 - 1/1000, with no option for long exposures. Aperture-wise, the fixed 35mm f/2.8 lens is pretty fast for a camera this small. A little red light next to the viewfinder will turn on when you half-press the shutter if there is insufficient light for a handheld exposure. Focusing is manual, without any aids. You just gotta guess! The lens has a soft stop at ten feet (marked in green), and can focus as close as one meter. The viewfinder is basic, with bright lines and no parallax compensation. Film advance and rewind are done manually. 

Two type 357 button batteries are required for the camera to function. If you half-press the shutter release with the lens extended, a green light will shine to indicate sufficient power. 

In the end, I'm totally glad I picked this camera up. It's fun to use, easy to carry anywhere, and totally cute. My photographs came out well-exposed, and when I hit focus, the lens produced some decently sharp results. Below are some photos I made with my Chinon Bellami, using Tri-X 400 film. 


Thursday, November 12, 2020

Photograph: Commute


Currently, I am an adjunct professor at Carthage College where I teach drawing. It's good experience, but the daily drive to Kenosha from Evanston is brutal. Each way is about an hour and twenty minutes, so I spend almost as much time driving as I do teaching. For the entire fall semester commute (classes moved online this week due to Covid), I made one photograph during each trip to, and from, Kenosha. I then pieced those photographs together to form the digital collage seen above. 

It took a little over a month of commuting to put together the entire scene, with views of both the interior of Katie's Nissan Rogue, as well as through the windows looking out. For the remaining weeks of the semester, I only made exposures of exterior views, and began to layer the resulting images multiple-exposure style. The finished piece is an attempt to convey the repetitive experience of commuting long-distance, while also providing evidence of the time during which it was creating (a coronavirus election). 

Commute will be 18" x 40" if it's ever printed. All individual photographs were made with my Fuji X100V camera.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Spotlight: Ansco Memo


The Ansco Memo is an adorable little pocket camera from 1927. The Memo is one of the first, if not the first American-made camera to use traditional perforated 35mm film, which at the time was mainly used to make big-budget movie films. Like 35mm movie cameras, the Memo creates 18x24mm negatives that are now referred to as half-frame (modern, full-frame stills cameras make a 24x36mm negative). Since it's a half-frame camera, you get around double the frames on a standard roll of film. I got about 45 frames on my roll of 24.

The camera can be used with any current 35mm film, but the film must be loaded into one of the Memo's proprietary film cartridges. This is easy enough to do in a changing bag: just shove the film from its canister into the memo's own cartridge. The Memo doesn't have a rewind feature; the film is advanced straight into a second take-up cartridge. So, make sure, if you want to try the Memo for yourself, that you buy one that comes with two proprietary cartridges. 


You need these two proprietary 35mm cartridges to use the camera

Once film is loaded, operating the Memo is simple. It is, after all, pretty much just a basic box camera. My Memo is an earlier version, with a fixed-focus f/6.3 lens. Later, more expensive variations have faster lenses that actually focus. The original instructions don't explicitly state the distance at which the focus is fixed, just that it is "set for best results," and that a larger f-stop is required for close-ups. How helpful. For most of my pictures, I tried to make sure my subject was at least 10-ish feet away. The lens focal length is not listed anywhere on the camera or in the instructions, but the field-of-view seems similar to a 50mm in full-frame terms. The viewfinder is a pleasure to look through, and I found it to be fairly accurate at moderate distances.

Apertures range from f/6.3 to f/16, and there are three shutter speeds available: 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100. Bulb and time modes are also present if you actually want to try long exposures with this camera. I used 400 speed film and kept the camera at f/16 + 1/100. I only shot in sunlight, and my photos came out fairly well-exposed. 

The shutter is tripped via a little lever on the side of the camera. There's a little metal guard next to the lever to prevent accidental exposures, but it likes to get in the way when you want to make exposures. Holding the camera is awkward, especially for vertical framing, though there is a cute little handle to held you grip the camera a bit better. The handle also works well for carrying the camera around, since there's no way to attach a strap to this thing. I found myself gleefully swinging the Memo around in my hand as I walked, like a kindergartner and his lunchbox.  

Once you make an exposure, the shutter automatically re-cocks, and the frame counter turns one value. To advance the film, you must press down on a spring-loaded lever on the back of the camera. This activates two little mechanical arms on the inside of the camera that grab the film by its sprocket holes and yank it down into the take-up canister. Because the advance and shutter mechanisms are completely separate, there's nothing keeping you from making multiple exposures, either on-purpose or by accident. I did both.

Overall, image quality is horrible, and the Memo film canisters scratched the hell outta the film, but I like the results just the same. It's not like I ever expected sharp photos with this camera. The original instructions themselves state, "do not expect to make Memo enlargements which will compare both in size and sharpness with contact prints from professional camera negatives or even with small enlargements from regular amateur camera negatives." I mean, hey, at least they were honest! The camera is what Ansco claimed it to be back in 1927: a simple snapshot camera that's easy to take anywhere. Though I don't plan to ever use it again, I love the Memo for its quirky design and historic value.

Below are some pictures I made with my Ansco Memo, using Kodak Tri-X 400 film.