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Thursday, January 19

Grange Orchard

I'm missing a key bit of kit from my photographic arsenal - a pair of wellies. The Carse of Cowrie, in which this orchard lies, is mostly at sea level, or even slightly below in places. At this time of year, the ground can often be a little sodden and the field in which these fruit trees grow is usually quite wet.

As a result, I've never actually ventured over the fence that rings it to really do it justice. I'd get back to the car with absolutely ringing wet feet if I did. I do have a pair of wellies but they're in a box somewhere in the garage and I've not really had any need for them for a few years.

I'll be digging them out shortly, though, as I really want to have a wander around this old orchard - even more so since learning that it's supposed to be haunted by the ghost of a monk. The trees look on the gnarled side and it doesn't take much of an imagination, especially on the sort of day that greeted me when I visited the place last weekend, to picture a hooded figure walking amongst them.

If you read my post about the foggy Carse of Gowrie then these are the pictures I managed before the 24mm Takumar lens got "stuck" to the old Pentax SV I was using that day. I gave up when that happened but there really aren't any good views of the orchard from outwith the fence so, in the absence of wellies, I wasn't too bothered.

Both of these pics were taken with the 85mm f1.8 Takumar, something of a cult lens amongst users of screw mount cameras, with TMax 400 rated at 400 ISO and developed in D76 at 1+1. It will be interesting printing from the negs rather than scanning them as that's the best way of judging how a lens performs in my opinion. For the time being, I'll have to make do with scans but even from those digital files I can see that the 85mm Takumar is a fine piece of glass and one I'll probably use quite a bit.

Saturday, January 14

A very nice Zeiss

Picked up the Super Ikonta yesterday and was pleased to find that it's in great shape with no faults at all from what I can see (although I won't know for sure about the bellows until I've run a film through it). It certainly doesn't look like a 60-year-old camera. The shutter speeds, as I discovered at the auction, sound about right and, crucially, the lens is very clear indeed with no fungus or haze and just a few of the usual dust specs.

I found a great tutorial on line which showed in some detail exactly how to remove the top plate if any cleaning is needed and how to dismantle the lens. Thankfully, I'm not going to need it - at least for the time being. The viewfinder looked quite murky but probably 80% of that was on the outside surfaces and it cleaned off easily enough. Here's a couple of iPhone pics through the viewfinder pre-cleaning:

Doesn't look great, does it? I took these whilst sitting at the dining room table checking the camera's functions. The pic of Cath's roses turned out very well in a Holga-esque way with a certain romantic look to it. In fact, I did think for a brief instant that I could start a new project taking iPhone photographs through the Ikonta's viewfinder. But then I realised that there's probably already an app for that look - the "Ikonta Filter", or something.

It would have been nice to have taken the same pics for comparison through the cleaned-up viewfinder but I was too impatient and so, instead, here's a through-the-finder snap when I was out and about earlier today. You'll have to take my word for it that there's been a big improvement.

As you can see, there are no frame lines in the viewfinder: what you see is what you get. The only bit that could do with a light cleaning now is the beam splitter glass that sits at a 45 degree angle to the viewfinder eyepiece. I think it's a little cloudy but not enough that I'd want to take the top off and there's always the chance that the fine, mirror coating on the glass could be damaged in the cleaning so best to leave it alone.

A ruggedly handsome chap in the mould of Jack Hawkins who also happened
to be at his peak in the 1950s.

The rangefinder spot is quite clear and the rangefinder itself is fine although it will be interesting to see what the results are like up close and at open aperture. Even the selenium light meter that seemed dead now looks sort of OK. I think it was just too dark in the auction hall when I tried it for the few photons kicking about to deflect the meter needle. Out in the read world, the needle is responding quite enthusiastically. BUT, the actual meter mechanism - the pointer that has to be lined up with the needle to tell what the exposure should be - isn't working properly.

When I try to match it up with the needle, it moves part of the way and then no further. You can see it in the pic below. Fixing that would be a top-off job but the chances of the meter being accurate even if I managed to sort it aren't great really. I'll be using my Sekonic anyway so it seems a pointless exercise unless I decided to sell it in which case it might matter to a collector.

That's about as far as the round-eyed needle moves in pursuit of the meter needle.
Something must have either broken or become disconnected beneath this dial.
Perhaps I'll get round to fixing it one day.

The baffle covering the selenium cell and the hinged cover that keeps it in
the dark when it's not needed.

The Tessar was a little grubby, too, but has also cleaned up well. So, all-in-all, not a bad bit of kit! As you'd imagine for such an illustrious name, there's quite a bit of information on the 'net about the Super Ikonta IV, the last of a long line produced between 1956 and 1959/60. The Super Ikonta IV was also the last of any folding cameras to be produced in West Germany. It's supposed to be the zenith of these cameras but I reckon the earlier Super Ikontas were better made - they certainly feel more substantial.

Of course, there's more to a camera that the gauge of metal it's made from and I've no doubt that the IV will prove to be the more user friendly and the Tessar will give the best results short of a similarly-equipped 6x9 cm Ikonta.

The camera, in common with some other folders, has one drawback and that's down to the thinner backing paper now used with 120 film. Unlike most other folders, there's no need to use a red window when winding the film on as the process is automatic. The Super Ikonta IV is able to judge when the film has been wound on to the first frame - or at least it could with the old, thicker backing papers from long ago.

Today's roll film causes the camera to mis-calculate and the results can range from very closely spaced frames, no spaces between frames or even over-lapping frames. The answer seems to be to attach some duck tape - just a two-inch or so length - to the leader just after threading the film onto the spool. That extra thickness is enough to sort out the problem. Some photographers say that Foma use slightly thicker backing paper on their 120 films and that these can be used today without modification. Either way, it's not a big deal.

Slide back the cover on the wee window on the back and there's just a "hole"
for checking if there's a film loaded. Film loading is automatic so no red window.

A nice, clean lens. The impression I get is that this camera didn't see
an awful lot of use or was very well treated by a careful owner.

Reader Kerstin Jonsson said in a comment to my previous post about the Super Ikonta that, "The output Q/M (quality per mass) you get from the Zeiss is hard to beat." That's an interesting way to look at it. There may be 35mm cameras with sharper lenses but they're hampered to some extent by the smaller negative and the need for a bigger degree of enlargement. Large format would be a clear step up but with a considerable weight penalty. Maybe 6x6 folders are the sweet spot?

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that a relatively lightweight Super Ikonta with a good rangefinder and fine lens hanging around my neck wouldn't be the worst tool for walkabout photography in the countryside. I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy feeding this one some film.

Thursday, January 12

Is it too late for New Year's resolutions?

Pic from Jurgen Kreckel's excellent website

I desperately need to stop going to auctions as almost every time I do I come back with another camera. I might have to self ban myself otherwise I'll be needing a bigger house. I'm really chuffed with this acquisition, though. Can you guess what it is yet? It's German, has a Tessar lens, coupled rangefinder and (had) a built-in light meter. For those who aren't camera geeks, it's a Zeiss Super Ikonta IV, the last of the legendary Super Ikonta line.

I'm hoping I've really "lucked out" with the Super Ikonta and not counting chickens, the reason for the uncertainty being that I didn't check it as thoroughly as I'd normally do at the auction viewing. This local auction had about eight camera lots in amongst the usual bric-a-brac, furniture, crockery and what have you. I'd gone there to check out these lots, not even aware that the Super Ikonta was up for sale.

You really don't have much to go on from the auction website. Here, for instance, are the pics associated with three of the camera lots I'd gone to check out:

Poor pics, no condition reports, not a lot to go on really. That's why viewing in person is vital. There were some nice cameras there, though, and although I didn't need anything it's difficult turning down a bargain so I couldn't resist the temptation to have a look. Sadly, genuine bargains are few and far between because the internet has turned everyone into an expert and it's easy to get a value for something in just a few clicks. Still, no harm in trying, is there?

The above lots came up with a search for "camera" on the auction site. What didn't come up was the Super Ikonta so I wasn't looking for it. I'd had a good look at the lots above but decided that everything was too dodgy either because batteries were flat, lenses were scratched or "fungusy" or cameras just wouldn't fire or had some other obvious mechanical fault. Because there were some big ticket items in there - a Hasselblad, Mamiya RB67, Rollei SLX, etc - I knew there'd be a lot of interest and the chances of picking something up cheaply were low. I decided not to bother bidding.

It was on the way out of the auction house that I saw a brown leather case in a cardboard box surrounded by pottery, glassware, etc (see below). The auctioneer likes to heap disparate items together for some reason. I'm guessing experience tells him he'll make more commission that way. Anyway, I almost kept going as old brown-leather-cased Voigtlanders, Agfas and Ilfords are ten-a-penny in these places. Something told me to stop. The case was in good condition, high quality and was embossed with ZEISS IKON on the front.

The cardboard box with it's barely noticeable German treasure.

It could have been a Nettar or similar, one of the cameras from lower down the Zeiss line-up but it turned out to be the range-topping 534/16 Super Ikonta IV. Although the "16" might suggest it's for the 6x4.5cm format, it's a 6x6 folder with a 75mm f3.5 Tessar lens. It was in great condition and appeared to be fully functional, apart from the selenium light meter which was fairly unresponsive.

Normally and somewhat ironically, constant exposure to light tends to kill the selenium cells over time but the Super Ikonta has a wee hinged shutter that covers the cell. Apparently, that hadn't been enough to save the meter. The Ikonta's viewfinder could do with a clean but the rangefinder seemed spot-on. Attached to the neck strap was a smaller leather case with the original lens hood and a green Zeiss filter in it.

The camera seemed OK but you never know for sure until you see results from it. Even the slow shutter speeds were running smoothly and the lens was rock solid with not a hint of movement.

The light meter works on the EV principle. You take a reading, set the EV number on the camera and the shutter speed and aperture rings get locked together so that you can switch from speed to speed or aperture to aperture without having to make any further calculations. I wasn't exactly sure how to disengage this function and I didn't want to force anything so I couldn't see through the lens at open aperture on B to check its condition. And it's also difficult to tell what shape the bellows is in beyond noting that it seemed in once piece and wasn't moth-eaten or crumbly.

When I got back to the car, I had a look on my phone for the Ikonta on the auction website and couldn't find it. It didn't appear under "camera", "Zeiss" or "Super Ikonta". When I searched for the lot number, which I'd noted at the viewing, all that came up was the pic above and the description beneath it. No mention at all of a camera. I knew that Super Ikontas were worth a bit of money and, since, like me, you'd have to have been lucky to have spotted it, I wondered if this might be bargain time.

I had a 1930s/40s Super Ikonta once and sold it for about £150. When I did an Ebay search for the Super Ikonta IV, I found out that it's in a different price band altogether. One in a similar condition to the auction camera recently sold in the UK for just short of £450. The lens hood alone sells for around £30. As I mentioned earlier, I need another camera like a centipede needs an extra pair of legs so I didn't want to bid much for it. I emailed my maximum offer of £62 and ended up winning it for a nice, round £50. Result! I'll pick it up tomorrow and will find out pretty quickly if it has any nasty surprises that I failed to identify. Fingers crossed.

Incidentally, the auction was a good opportunity to play with some other cameras I hadn't tried before and form some brief opinions. I've never handled an RB67 off a tripod and found that it's a bloody monster. I'll never complain about the weight of the SL66E again. I footered with one a few years ago in the studio at the newspaper I used to work for and I'd never consider using one any other way now. It's just far too heavy for handheld work in my opinion. There was a Hasselblad 501c which was very nice but, like the SL66E, it sits out from the body because of the film magazine on the back.

The Rollei SLX was a very pleasant surprise. It's not as sturdily made as the SL66E or a Rolleiflex 2.8F but there's no separate magazine so it lies close to the body like a TLR. Being an SLR, though, there's no parallax issue and it has built-in auto exposure and motorised film advance. The focusing screen is nice and bright as well. To be honest, I'd rather have an SLX outfit than the SL66. The latter isn't very good for hand-holding whereas the SLX is just like a TLR in that respect and I'd make far more use of it. However, the electronic SLX isn't perfect as they have a reputation for unreliability and knackered batteries.

Anyway, back to the Super Ikonta. What am I going to do with it? I'm not sure yet. I'll keep it for a wee while and test it out but I suspect it will ultimately find its way onto the big auction site where its sacrifice will hopefully liberate enough cash for another lens for my Leica M2 - or maybe just pay the winter fuel bill.

The big, big question is what am I going to do with the crockery, candle holders, clocks, glasses, etc that come in the box with the Zeiss! The council skip beckons...

Tuesday, January 10

Fog on the Carse

I love a nice bit of fog and we certainly had some on Saturday. It rolled in off the estuary up the River Tay and settled over the low-lying Carse of Gowrie. Quite often, when I drive out to see it, the sun burns it off or it's swept away by a strong wind before I can get there. But the fog remained just where it was for a couple of hours - long enough to take some pics before yet another equipment malfunction brought an end to the day's fun. But more of the gear troubles later.

I pulled in at the side of the narrow country road to take these pics and the one at the top of the post was the obvious starter. It's a scene I've photographed a couple of times usually when the field in front of the trees is a little flooded. I recently got my old Pentax SV working and wanted to see what the 1960s Takumars were like, having recently been gifted a few, so they were with me in the car. All three pics here were made using the 24mm f3.5 Super Takumar, a single-coated lens. 

I also had an 85mm f1.8 Super Multi Coated Takumar and a similarly-monikered 50mm f1.4 with me but stuck with the wide angle for this wee series. The film was TMax 400 developed in D76 1+1.

Having taken the first shot, I saw a wooden gate at the side of the field and decided to use that for some foreground interest. That's the result below. Then I noticed the nice line the fence on the other side of the gate was making so leaned over the spars to snap that one as well. The last one turned out to be my favourite.

It was time to move on as I wanted to check out the old Grange Orchard a few miles up the road. I'll save a couple of pics of the misty orchard for another post but it was while photographing it that the SV played up. Having worked fine in tandem with the 24mm, it decided to jam on me at the orchard whilst using the same lens. The mirror wasn't returning all the way and the lens then refused to be unscrewed from the body. Nice! I do like a variety of mechanical problems - they contribute to life's rich tapestry.

The bloody lens would unscrew a little and then just stop. Clearly something was getting in the way but I couldn't do anything with the camera as long as there was a film in it so I rewound the TMax 400 and opened up the shutter on "T". The little aperture actuating pin on the back of the lens was on the wrong side of the actuating plate that sits just on the inside of the screw mount. I had to push the pin in with a pencil through the back of the camera to depress it far enough so that it would clear the plate and allow itself to be unscrewed.

I was getting a bit cheesed off again at these equipment problems and the sun had disappeared behind some thick clouds leaving the orchard looking flat and sombre so I decided that was that for the day and headed home.

My initial impression of the 24mm Super Takumar is very favourable. It's nice and sharp, certainly in the centre, and exhibits a good degree of contrast considering the weather. In terms of build, it takes some beating. 1960s Takumars are fantastic examples of lens making. There's nothing much wrong with the SV that a service wouldn't cure but I've got a few cameras needing some TLC and the cost starts to mount up. I did think about seeing if I could pick up something that's a little newer like a Fujica ST801 but I might just end up with more troubles. Sometimes you're better sticking with the devil you know.

So, having had the OM1 then OM2 start playing up and now the SV, I decided I'd pick the most reliable 35mm SLR I have - a Nikon F90 - for an outing on Sunday. More of the results from that jaunt to come once I've finished the film.

Sunday, January 8

The Robbins Files

After my last post bemoaning my lack of enthusiasm for photography at the moment, my pal Phil Rogers suggested in the comments that I should try scanning some old negatives instead of looking for inspiration in producing new ones. I thought that was a great idea and started looking through my files to pick out some images that I thought it might be worthwhile showing.

As I was doing that, TOD contributor and another friend (yes, I have more than one) David M. also got in touch with the same suggestion. That seemed like a sign to me that I was on the right track pursuing that route so here's a post that resurrects some old and forgotten negs.

My "files" aren't like most photographers: I have many medium format negs stored as single images in 5x4 negative bags. I'm not sure why I started doing that. Maybe I'd run out of the usual file sheets but had an abundance of large format neg bags. I did try to catalogue them once but gave up. I'm just not that organised. So they sit in a shoebox, one behind the other, making it a bit of a pain to look through them.

The "selection process" (I was going to write "curating process" for a laugh), involved grabbing about 20 negative bags, holding them up to a window and picking out a few, tossing the others into a pile. David M. and Phil suggested that I might start to see a bit of a theme emerging and that has been true to some extent. What it showed me is that I've been taking more or less the same photograph for the past 35 years. Not a great discovery to make!

There's an undeniable sameness to some of the photographs, though. Going down the "curating" route, I might try to argue that the negatives represent a "coherent body of work". Don't think I'd get very far with that bit of sophistry. Whenever I hear a photographer or art critic speaking of a "body of work" I tend to glaze over.

These pictures, therefore, are more a representative sampling of the kind of thing that catches my attention rather than an example of any effort on my part to follow a particular theme. Don't get too caught up in the technical side of the images as I couldn't find the plastic gadget that holds the negs in place on the scanner so I just popped them down directly onto the glass platter and fired away. They're not too bad but probably could be a bit sharper.

One thing I did notice is that the appearance of the image on the screen in Lightroom didn't match the software's histogram. When the highlights looked fine on the screen, the histogram was indicating that the highlights were nowhere near clipping. The upshot of this could be that screen images that look fine to me might look as if they lack good highlights to you. Apologies if that's the case.

The first pic at the top of the post shows a tyre on a post in a field. I used to live in the country and I came across it whilst out with the dogs for a walk. I had the old Konica infra red black and white film in the Rollei at the time and that's what I think gives the image it's interest. The tyre looks like some early transmitting dish, helped by the "rays" flowing from it up to the sky.

The photograph above is another rural scene that appealed to me because of the strong side lighting striking the rooftops of the cottages and farm buildings. I think this must have been after a shower when the slates were still a little damp. This was probably taken with either a 135mm or 180mm Sekor lens on a Mamiya C330F. I really enjoyed using the Mamiya but it's a heavy beast and it would be too much bother for me nowadays.

Next up is a simple shot of a path heading to the beach near Kingsbarns in Fife. It was an early summer shot on a nice day with cheery poppies poking their heads through the wild grasses. It's another Rollei photograph from what I remember. The way I worked then was to use the Rollei 2.8F if out for a walk and the Mamiya TLR outfit if out in the car. 

This shot was inspired by an Eddie Ephraums' image, Mis Tor, in his Creative Elements book. It was the first book I'd read that showed that it wasn't necessary to have the perfect light before clicking the shutter. There's much that can be done to create a photograph provided some basic elements such as good composition are available. Here, below, is Eddie's selenium-toned shot that I quickly snapped off the page on my iPhone for comparison.

I drove past "my" tree most days going to work and it reminded me of Eddie's tree every time I saw it. Eventually I just had to leave a bit early with the Rollei and commit it to film. It's only a few miles from where I live now so I might pay it another visit when the weather is just right and have another go.

Well, that's the first batch of old negs scanned and it seems to have had the desired effect as I was out shooting yesterday and today and have a roll of Tmax hanging up to dry in the darkroom as I type. Perhaps this is a good time of year to see if the old advice of "out with the old and in with the new" bears fruit. Thanks to Phil and David for the suggestion. It might turn out to be fun. More old negs in the coming weeks. 

Friday, December 30

Bring on 2017

For a whole variety of reasons, 2016 has been a horrible year for the Robbins household. Sticking to the photography-related ones, I just can't get going at all despite constant attempts to jolly myself along. It's just not working for me photographically-speaking. Sometimes when a striker finds himself going through a barren patch in front of goal the manager will say he's not worried because the player keeps getting into good scoring positions. I'm not even managing to do that. It's not that I'm skying it over the bar from six yards out but rather that I just can't seem to "see" a photograph at all.

Regular readers might remember that this has been going on for a year or longer where I'm concerned. I've written about it a couple of times. There's what seems like a malaise hanging over me that's killing my enthusiasm and my creative eye. I'll just have to keep plugging away and hope that it turns around at some point. Today was a case in point. I dropped Cath off at a friend's house in Fife and had a few hours to while away, a bit of freedom I used to revel in.

The light wasn't looking great but I thought it was a good opportunity to get back in the saddle after Christmas and see what I could come up with. Very little was the answer at the end of the day. What light there was was out over the North Sea so I headed to the coast to see if I could make the most of it. It remained resolutely over the water and barely touched land. This wasn't the miserable and moody weather that I don't mind but just that bland, featureless greyness that turns every scene into the equivalent of a photograph of your cat or that tulip at the bottom of the garden. Pointless, in other words.

I was well-prepared as well having the night before looked out my Olympus gear and filled a large bag with a comprehensive outfit knowing that it would be mainly confined to the car boot. I ended up in Lower Largo, home of Andrew Selkirk upon whom the Robinson Crusoe character seems likely to have been based. This was a bit of a walkabout so I had the 50mm f2 Zuiko macro on the OM1 and a 24mm Zuiko in my coat pocket, the rest staying in the boot. The film was the usual Tmax 400.

Lower Largo is a strange wee place, a fishing community stretched out along the coast but with an incongruous viaduct dominating the scene behind the harbour. Apparently, the viaduct was built to provide a railway link for all those mad Victorians who were desperate to see Selkirk's home town. This seems decidedly weird behaviour to me but I suppose you had to get your jollies where you could in those pre-internet days. Maybe it equates nowadays to something like making a "pilgrimage" to the Kardashians' mansion. There's a sign somewhere in the town, which I couldn't find, that points to the island 7000 miles away where Selkirk was marooned.

The viaduct to nowhere.

The Railway Inn (very well thought of, btw) which must have enjoyed a brisk
trade pre-Beeching - and the Premier shop where I enjoyed an egg
mayo sandwich post-photography.

General Greyness - Scotland's most decorated soldier. The ugly building in the
background is the Crusoe Hotel.

Dr Beeching, the butcher whose cost-cutting report on the nation's railway network killed off hundreds of wee stations in the 1960s, did for Lower Largo's link to the outside world as well, leaving the disused viaduct as a cruel reminder of what used to be.

I took a few shots of the harbour, looking into the sun, but I don't think there will be anything special there. It didn't help that the meter needle on my OM1 was jumping around like Beeching would have been doing had I been able to attach electrodes to his gonads and wire them up to the mains. This had me in a bit of a foul mood because it left me without a functioning Olympus body - and I've got five of the buggers! Take a look at that useless lot below.

The big Minolta SRT 101 is excused as he's just waiting for a roll of film but the four OM2s are just useless lumps of metal at the moment. I had them on my desk as three of the OM bodies and the Minolta all needed new seals. The three chrome OM2s should hopefully be fine once new batteries arrive next week but the black one, which was my main 35mm SLR, still has a slipping problem when winding on. Supposedly (so says internet wisdom) this fault can be circumvented by using a motor drive to wind the film on. I gave that a go and it seemed to work but now the camera occasionally jams with the Winder II attached. With the OM1's St Vitus meter needle becoming increasingly irregular (it'll be twerking next week) I'm now a bit stuck as far as Olympus goes.

I picked up the chrome OM2s in various auction lots for not a lot of money and I've never used them as they all needed seals, batteries and a good scrub. I'm hoping there's nothing amiss with them when the batteries arrive as it's not economically viable to have them repaired. The OM1 can still be used along with a handheld meter or just Sunny f2.8 as it is up in Scotland at this time of year but it's not ideal really.

Thankfully, or sadly depending on how you view these things - I vacillate between the two, I've still got more than a few alternatives where SLRs are concerned. I bought a few packs of AA batteries for the Contax 137MA that ran out of juice a couple of weeks ago and for it's siblings who sit unused in an aluminium flight case waiting for the draft. I've got a wee Pentax K outfit and some Nikon gear as well - and my growing but as yet untested Pentax screw outfit - so the Olympus thing is more like a half-hearted rebellion than a serious coup.

It wasn't so long ago I was bemoaning the fact that I'd accumulated far too many 35mm SLR cameras and lenses but now I'm glad I did. I got them when prices were rock bottom but they've been steadily climbing for a year or two now and it would cost me quite a bit more than I paid to replace them. And they won't half come in handy as the odd SLR body gives up the ghost.

Of course, all this blather will be fairly irrelevant if I can't stop my enthusiasm giving up the ghost first. There are numerous ways of overcoming the doldrums but I'm going to stick with dogged determination. After all, it worked for Andrew Selkirk and helped him find his way back home from the middle of nowhere and I'm not quite that lost.

Monday, December 19

Rolleiflex Old Standard - A Review

Robert Doisneau in 1949 with his 1932 Old Standard - the same year as my own.

I wasn't sure whether or not it would be a good idea to write a review of this old Rollei classic. There's a lot of truth in the idea that the more a camera is talked about the higher its prices go on Ebay. TOD is hardly in the opinion-forming elite of blogs but the Rolleiflex Old Standard is something of a bargain in the Rollei field and I have my fingers crossed that some extra exposure won't cause Rolleiflation.

The thing is, though, that I think a lot of readers would get a big kick out of the Old Standard, so-called to distinguish it from the New Standard that came out in 1939. The old 'un was launched in 1932 and had a comparatively short lifespan of just six years but Doisneau and Robert Capa were amongst those photographers who found it a great tool.

My Old Standard is well worn but works very smoothly.

It's not sexy like the 2.8f that everyone seems to want or the 3.5f with a Planar lens that some claim is the pick of the bunch. And it's not an "Automat" with the automatic film loading. It does, though, produce negatives with a look all of their own, sort of like the 6x6 equivalent of a 1950s 50mm Summicron - sharp but not too contrasty and excellent for black and white.

My one is a 620, a model that came with a 7.5cm f4.5 Tessar lens. The 621 had an f3.8 lens and the 622 an f3.5. The 620 and 621 shutters maxed out at 1/300th but the 622's went up to 1/500th. My model is by far the rarest of the three. Only 4,926 620 were made between 1932 and '34 against 38,248 621s (1932-35) and 51,894 622s (1932-38).

It's not at all a heavy camera weighing a mere 773 grams, just a few heavier than the likes of the first Contax RTS or the Nikon F2. My Nikon D700 DSLR tips the scales at 995 grams. The 622 was five grams heavier and the 621 30 grams more. Size-wise its 143mm tall by 86mm wide and 90mm front to back.

In terms of build, it's not in the same class as the 2.8F I have. The metalwork and stampings seem thinner, less robust and less precise. But, unless you're going to be bashing nails in with it, the camera will stand up to some hard use and even abuse. Take a look at my example. Maybe not quite as worn as Garry Winnogrand's M4 but obviously not something that's had an easy life over the last 84 years.

The focusing knob nearest the lens panel is small but works well.

Exposure and depth of field guides on the back. The round knob
is a plug that covers the red window used when loading the film.

The famous Tessar. The lever at the bottom beneath "Compur" serves the dual
purpose of cocking and releasing the shutter. The levers left and right as we look
at the pic are for the shutter speeds and apertures respectively.

The simple clip at the bottom keeps the back from springing open.

Doisneau had the 622 and apparently used it for decades. These old Rolleis are quite simple and seem as reliable as any camera ever made. I've handled around four or five of them at auction - 80-year-old cameras remember - and every one has been working just fine. The lenses might have been scratched or cloudy but, from what I could tell, the shutter speeds worked and appeared accurate. The Leica M, by comparison, needs regular fettling to keep it working properly. I haven't played with a single one at auction that has had a properly functioning shutter.

It wasn't until the Automat of 1937 that the Rollei TLR was able to sense the film as it was wound on and automatically stop the winding at the first frame. In the Automats and later cameras, the film was fed beneath a roller which was able to detect the passage of the thicker film plus backing paper. The Old Standard has no such roller and requires the photographer to use a red window to wind on to the first frame - it's the old process of advancing the film until a "1" can be seen in the window.

An unintentional double exposure that worked out quite well.

After the first exposure, the winding on process is then automatic so it's not too much of an inconvenience. What is an inconvenience, however, is that there's no double exposure prevention lock on the camera. What this means is that you can shoot as many exposures as you want without having to wind on.

Unintentional double exposures or blank frames are the almost inevitable corollary of this. Until you get used to it you'll either double expose because you can't remember if you've wound on and you don't want to waste a frame or you'll not want to double expose and will wind on just to be on the safe side even though the frame in the film chamber is unexposed. My approach is to always leave winding on until the moment when I'm about to take the photograph.

The Rollei's viewfinder isn't too bad but it's not as bright as those of the later models. It's fine in the centre but gets progressively dimmer towards the corners. This isn't a problem if you're shooting outdoors during daylight but indoors or in heavy shade it's a different matter. There's the usual pop-up magnifier but there's no doubt that low light work is a bit on the tricky side. With good light focusing is easy enough but you'll strain your eyes racking the lens in and out searching for exact focus when it's dim. For precise work, it's probably best if you use a tripod.

The Old Standard should have a spirit level built into a corner of the ground glass focusing screen but mine doesn't. I'm beginning to wonder if the very early ones - mine is from the first year of production - perhaps missed out on this feature. There was a tentative suggestion on line that the bubble didn't appear until 1933 in response to Voigtlander featuring a level in their Superb TLR. Sounds feasible to me.

Accessories for the Old Standard are difficult to get hold of. It took me ages to find a lens hood of the original type. I spotted one for a great price on a website a year or two back - I think it was a fiver - put it in my shopping cart and was just about to pay for it when Cath asked me to take a look at something in a holiday brochure. It only distracted me for a few minutes but when I returned to the computer, my shopping cart was empty and there was no sign of the lens hood on the site. Someone must have nipped in and pinched it from under my nose. Bugger!

The hoods sell for around £30 to £40 on Ebay but I eventually managed to get one for about £15 including a yellow Rollei filter so it pays to be patient. If you take a look at the hood (above) you'll see it's a cute looking thing that looks great on the camera. There's no filter thread on the lens which is why it can be hard finding the clamp on hood or 28.5mm push on filters.

What you do find easily enough, though, and at reasonable prices are Zeiss Proxars and Rollei's own close-up lens attachments in different diopters that will get you down to a subject distance of as little as 13". A quick search of Ebay usually brings up some offerings. These seem to be high quality optics and are capable of producing good central sharpness and fair corners. You're probably thinking that parallax would be a problem and you'd be right except that the filter that fits on the viewing lens has a prism in it so that what the taking lens sees at the focused distance is, more or less, what the viewing lens sees as well.

It's no doubt possible to use the close-up lenses hand-held but a tripod makes life much easier as depth of field is small and just body movement - even breathing - can move you in and out of focus if you're not careful. Here's a hand-held shot to show what you get at the closest focus:

I picked up my Rolleiflex Standard at a local auction along with a 50mm f2 Zuiko macro that was in its box and looked new and other bits and pieces for just over £100. When you consider that the Zuiko sells for about £300-£400 on its own, then it was a great deal. If you're buying on Ebay then you'll get an Old Standard for around £100.

Is that good value? I reckon it is. You'll struggle to get a Yashicamat 124G or Minolta Autocord for that money and a nice Mamiya C330 or similar with their interchangeable lenses will probably set you back slightly more. These are all excellent cameras with the Autocord the pic of the bunch in terms of optical abilities. But if you like history and fancy something that was on the march in Germany at the same time as Adolf's finest then it's got to be the Old Standard. OK, maybe not the best justification for ownership but certainly a good talking point!

It's probably too late now to get one for Christmas but if you want to have a go at 6x6 then the Old Standard is an excellent way into the format. And if you have any questions left unanswered then perhaps the Rollei guide below will put you in the picture. Speaking of Christmas, if I don't post again before the big day then have a good one!