Trying out an old film camera for the first time is always a bit of a gamble. Will the shutter work, is it light tight, and how on earth do I meter and focus? But for all I’d checked and rechecked the settings, what let me down was a failure to read the label on the developer later in the darkroom.
After recent discussion with a friend on Flickr about old cameras, I remembered the box I’d inherited from my dad. I already have Percy, the Pentax that he gave me few years ago, but in the treasure trove that was sent my way last Easter there was a Rollei 35, a Zorki and a Balda Benfoto.
Initially it was Ron who took a shine to the Balda. “Just like one I almost lost down a crevasse in Chamonix when I was eighteen,” he muttered as he opened up the leather case and flipped open the bellows on this beautiful camera. I picked up the Zorki, unscrewing the lens, testing the shutter, and generally pretending I was a 1950s Russian spy. But somehow those cameras got packed away again inside the treasure trove before we got round to trying them out.
So, one snowy Sunday I pulled out the Balda, loaded it with film and took it out in the snow. Not the easiest conditions for a trial run, but I never seem to make life easy for myself.
I kept the shutter speed high to try and minimise the problems I’d noticed with slow shutter speeds being a wee bit toooo slooooooooow, and that seemed to work quite well.
Though I really should have waited for the misting on the lens to clear when I exposed it to the cold outdoor air, which is why the first few shots appear completely blurred.
The camera does have a viewfinder, but that’s only there to roughly line up the shot. Setting the focus is done by estimating, or by using a rangefinder that slots into the camera shoe (note, not a hot shoe, just a shoe) and when your subject is in focus, you read off the distance on a dial and use that to set the lens.
At some point I noticed that the lens was fogged — the focus improved as soon as it cleared — in fact I got a reasonable shot of some gorse, and this one of Ron watching the weather close in.
From there things went better, and I finished up the roll in one outing. The Benfoto takes 8 shots at 6×9, or there’s a mask to convert it to 16 at 6×4.5
Only later, when I’d developed this, plus a couple more rolls, did I realise that I’d changed developer and instead of a dilution of 1+29 I should have been using it at 1+4. All the rolls are underdeveloped, but the medium format was at least scannable. Two rolls of 35mm film are almost completely transparent, not even developed enough for the film code or frame numbers to show up. However when I took the self-portrait the disaster was yet to happen, and right at that point I had a camera with a perfectly exposed roll of film in my hand. Which could be the reason for the wry smile.