Friday, February 17, 2012

Home Made Retro Fun

A few weeks ago, D surprised me with a camera kit he found online at a super-cool photography related web store: PhotoJoJo.  (The site gets cool points for their personality... rivals Think Geek!)
For a mere $20.00, the kit came neatly packed with everything necessary to make a brand new, all plastic 35mm Twin Lens Reflex camera, complete with plastic lenses and "very tiny springs" to make the shutter release.

The kit comes from China, and the instructions and manual are translated from Chinese to English.  Badly.  An example...
Given that a few instructions were lost in translation, it took me a little longer than the "allow one hour" time recommended for the building of the camera.  However with just a few moments of back-tracking (and grabbing a better task lamp to work with) I had a finished product in roughly 90 minutes.
I am most impressed with the process of building the shutter release for the shooting lens.  It is triggered with a series of three small springs (two of which were mislabeled in the packaging) and the tension for the trigger is managed by a tiny screw which had to be adjusted *just so* in order to make the shutter click without sticking.  (Part of the reason the build took longer is probably because of the time I spent testing the shutter release)

The dinosaur... in case you're wondering... is part of Photojojo's marketing - every order comes with a Stow-away-a-saurus in the box (labeled on the invoice as "stowawayasaraus - price: RWARR!") He was my buddy through the building process :)

Upon finishing the camera, I loaded her up with some 35mm black and white and took it out for a test drive.  It only took about 10 minutes for me to realize that the viewing lens (top-front of camera) was going to be a thing of inconvenience.  The gasket which was meant to hold the lens in place is smooth plastic, and if the camera was tilted back beyond about 15 degrees (or put in a camera bag, or slightly jostled, or breathed on too heavily) then the gasket would slide backwards into the viewing box, along with the lens - requiring both lenses to be removed and re-set on the camera.  This didn't expose the film at all, but it was a major pain in the ass, particularly since the first time I took the camera out it was only about 37 degrees outside, and my fingers were fairly frozen by the third camera-fix attempt.  On our way home that day, however, D stopped at Home Depot and picked up a small rubber gasket (like what you might use for a garden hose to get a tight seal at the faucet) and I replaced the smooth plastic ring with the nice sticky rubber one.  It worked like a charm... the focus lens has yet to be jostled by even the worst of my clumsy handling.

The following weekend (Superbowl Sunday!) we headed out to the train museum in Snoqualmie to do a bit of shooting in the quiet afternoon.  I managed to fill up the roll with test shots, and popped straight into the darkroom at home to develop the roll immediately.

I found that the focus appears to be fairly accurate insofar as what the focal lens shows, however the lens itself is like looking through a porthole - whereas the film in the lens below captures a rectangular frame.  Therefore, the results with this camera are going to be a bit unpredictable (I know that more will be on the film than what I see in the view lens, but I don't know exactly how much more yet.)  I also learned that the location of the shutter release (on the front of the camera body) makes it a little challenging to hold the camera steady and flat while shooting.  Several frames were blurry from camera shake, but luckily I felt it at the time and took many shots twice to get good focus.

Here are a few of my favorites from the first test run (shot on a thickly overcast day with 400 speed film - I'm extremely happy that the shutter release I built actually works!)

I'm very excited to have a new point of view to shoot in lo-fi... it is interesting to have a different perspective and framing, and it is conveniently compact enough to sneak into my gear bag for future outings.


Brightdreamer said...

We're never too old for that new toy thrill, huh? I take it you were careful to avoid inquiry with the sharp things...

Jade said...

The sharp things didn't end up having many questions after all, and I was careful not to choke as well :)