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Friday, 26 Jan 2024  |  Reading time:  7 mins  | Read online

Old Cameras

Larry Racioppo

Back in the 1970’s, my family and friends realized that I was serious about photography, and they started bringing me their old cameras. The cameras had a fixed focus, one or two shutter speeds, and no light meter. With a few exceptions they used roll film that was no longer available. Very few of these ever worked, and almost all were beyond repair.  But they were beautiful to me.

All too often the camera giver discovered the camera while cleaning out a deceased relative’s house. This has continued for over fifty years. Last month a good friend gave me two beauties she found in her mother’s house. The first was a Tower Automatic 127.

Sears offered the Tower Automatic 127 camera circa 1961. This bizarrely-styled camera was actually made by United States Camera and also sold by them as the USC Tri-Matic Electric Eye 127. It exposes 4×4 images on 127 film. In addition to electric-eye autoexposure for daylight shots, the camera couples the aperture to the scale focusing distance ring for automatic flash exposure. - WIKIPEDIA

To load a roll of film, the photographer has to turn a lock on the bottom of the camera which releases the film holding section. Then push it back together and relock.

Kodak eventually stopped producing 127 film in 1995. For those wanting to shoot 127 film these days there are just a few available options left. The only commercially available 127 film is Rerapan, in black and white, as well as color slide film. Aside from this there is,of course discontinued and expired 127 films that can be found online such as Agfa Isopan, Efke R100, and Ilford FP4+. (It’s also possible to cut your own 127 film from 120.) - LOMOGRAPHY

The same friend also gave me a vintage BROWNIE camera...

...with a surprise inside – a roll of 620 KODACOLOR 22 film in the camera. I sent the film to a photo lab, and was disappointed to learn that both the film and the chemicals to process it had been discontinued by Kodak decades ago. I learned how to open this camera on an incredible website – hosted by Chet Baker, The Brownie Camera Guy, who is a commercial photographer living in the Netherlands. His site has free downloadable manuals, Kodak Brownie ads dating back to 1900, how-to instructions on spooling your own film and a wealth of information on the many models of Brownie cameras.

He shares the following about my Target Six-20:

  • Type: Box Roll film
  • Introduced: July 1946
  • Discontinued: May 1952
  • Film Size: 620
  • Picture Size: 2 1/4 X 3 1/4"
  • Manufactured: United States
  • Lens: Meniscus
  • Shutter: Rotary
  • Original Price: $3.50
  • Description: The Brownie Target Six-20 is a metal box type camera with 2 brilliant view finders and the distinctive vertical line art-deco design on front panel. It featured a sliding f/stop tab for a choice of around f/11 or f/16 and a "B" setting tab for time exposures. This camera was developed from the Target Brownie Six-20. The Brownie Target Six-20 Camera was a very popular camera. Though the total number of these cameras that were made is somewhat of a mystery, it surely was up there with the most made models. The Brownie Target Six-20 is still popular among film photographers because of the 620 film size, which is easily respoolable.

My Pho-Tak Eagle Eye is the only vintage camera I have actually photographed with. I also used it as a teaching aid to show the evolution of camera technology: from fixed focus to variable focus, two shutter speeds to many, one aperture setting to several.

It uses 120mm film, the current standard for medium format cameras.

The Eagle Eye 120 box camera was manufactured by the Pho-Tak Corporation circa 1950. It was constructed of all metal with a decorative faceplate. It featured an optical view finder, safety lock on back and a carrying handle. The camera took eight, 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inch exposures on standard 120mm roll film. It was fitted with a 110 mm Zellar fixed focus lens and a Pho-Tak time and instantaneous shutter. Originally priced at $5.95.

If you have a vintage camera, use it sometime. The limited technical choices and older fixed lenses may yield some interesting results.

About the Columnist

Larry's portrait by Anna Delaney

When I returned to South Brooklyn in 1970 after two years in California as a VISTA Volunteer, I was 22 years old with no plans and a $30 camera I barely knew how to use. I took a course at the School of Visual Arts, a job with the telephone company and began to photograph my family and friends. Things worked out better than I could have expected. I’ve been making photographs for over 50 years, and have some things I’d like to share.

 Readers can respond directly to me - larryracioppo@gmail,com.

In Other News

Street Photography Photo Book

You may have heard on the podcast or on our social media that we are working on a very special project. This year, we'll be publishing our first ever physical publication! This photobook will highlight the places street photographers return to and we're accepting submissions now. There's no entry fee to enter.

Submit up to two photos of your favorite place to do street photography by using our dedicated submission form.

Dublin Street Photography Festival

We're still looking forward to the Dublin Street Photography Festival as well. Bob will be a judge for the photo competition and there's still a few more hours left to submit your photos, thanks to a deadline extension. Submit your best work on the festival website.

Best of luck and happy shooting amigos! ✌️

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