All about box camera photography with a special emphasis on Ensign Ful-Vue cameras.

Friday, 4 March 2022

First Cupid Outings: Motion Blur and Wildlife Photography

 In February I took the Cupid out on a couple of strolls around my village. Seeing as I want to work a lot with this camera this year I thought I better remind myself what its like to shoot out and about.

The first thing I learnt was that it is absolutely impossible to hold an eye-level box camera still when you are wearing a baby carrier. The only thing harder to keep still than the box camera is the baby. Still, this experiment produced some interesting motion blur shots that make the photos look a bit more like paintings.


On the next outing, daddy carried the baby so I was able to get a few sharp shots. Who knew you could use the Cupid for wildlife photography? Okay, so that small bird on the rock was actually quite a big Cormorant but I'm still quite pleased with the composition. Not having a telephoto lens, or a particularly fast one, I had to approach this bird shot completely differently to what I would normally do. I was actually pretty close to the bird when I took this. Thankfully, Cormorants don't move much when they're drying their feathers. Even so, I knew the bird would be tiny in the photo, so I could hardly claim it was the subject. Instead I treated it a bit more like artists do when they add a tiny person to a landscape they've just painted. A bit of interest that speaks about the grandeur of the surroundings.

Although the bird is miniscule in this image I think it really makes this photo. The image is neatly divided into three sections, shore, sea and sky. The stark contrast of that isolated rock against the sea immediately draws your attention, but it is the bird standing on it that keeps it there. Without the bird the rock is wholly unremarkable and the picture much less interesting. If the bird had been standing on any other rock it would have been lost against the background and we wouldn't have that pretty reflection. 

Anyway the upshot is, when presented with a scene you want to shoot, don/t curse having the wrong camera or lens. Embrace the limitation and use it to fuel your creativity. If I'd had my Om-2n and my 300mm Zuiko lens this would have been a close up of a Cormorant with very little surroundings. I wonder how many of those have been taken?

Friday, 25 February 2022

A Project for 2022

For a while now I've been thinking about a larger project that would give my photography some focus, help me hone my skills a little, and give me a nice, tangible end product. I think it might be quite nice to have a go at making a zine and I have a camera in mind for the job, my Ensign Cupid. Now, I know the Ful-Vue would seem like a more natural choice, given it's the primary camera I feature on this blog, but it's 2022, which is significant as it marks 100 years since the Cupid was launched. A project centred on this quirky, 100 year old camera seems appropriate therefore. 

The Cupid wasn't in production for long, roughly six years, and they aren't all too common on the second hand market, so I'm guessing there aren't that many knocking about. Although those that are still around have had long lives, I wouldn't have thought they'd see much use beyond the 1920s. The Cupid was a quirky concept from the outset, and there were more standard snapshot cameras on the market. Even with the benefit of being able to shoot twice the number of frames, I get the sense this camera, while a pioneer, was a bit of a flop. 

It is nice to imagine a Cupid that was loved enough to avoid being shelved for the last 90 odd years though. Imagine what it could have seen if it had been out and about. What it could have documented. All the changes in society and the landscape. Sadly though I suspect few witnessed much of the last century, and this thought has partly inspired the theme of the zine I want to produce. 

Through the course of 2022 I want to take the Cupid out and about, to as many different locations as I can. I am going to treat it as though this time traveller from the 1920s has woken up in 2022 and wants to see how the world has changed. Admittedly, that's hard to do in the rural Highlands where I'm based, but I have a few trips to the central belt and possibly further afield planned where I can capture some more modern sights. 

The project is still very much in its idea stage, so I may explore other avenues. Once I have a good number of shots developed I'll have a better idea which subjects the camera really excels at taking. For the sake of consistency, and to keep things simple I am going to use one film stock for this project and that will be Catlabs X80. This won't be a surprise if you've been following this blog as I've written previously about why I think it's a great film for box camera photography. Its versatility makes it a great "shoot in any light conditions" option, which means I can have the Cupid loaded and ready to go on any day in any location. It will also be nice to really "learn" this film, and gain more experience shooting and developing it.

So that's the plan. Obviously the Ful-Vues won't be forgotten while all this is going on. I'll keep shooting those and posting their adventures here.  Watch this space for progress. I've never made a zine before so it will be a learning curve. The goal is to enjoy shooting the Cupid, to celebrate this little known camera and to grow as a photorapher.

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Back from a break...International Brownie Days!

 Well, it's been a while since I last posted. I took a break from blogging and box camera-ing to get to grips with being a new mum. My daughter is now seven months old and the outdoors is finally showing signs of Spring, and I have been itching to get out shooting again. It just so happens to be the middle of February, which, conveniently is a month dedicated to International Brownie Days! over at Chuck Bakers superb Kodak Brownie website.

The idea behind International Brownie Days! is simply to have fun shooting an old Brownie and then to share up to 5 of your best photos on Chuck's gallery. Entries are open until 14th March 2022. There are some outstanding images there already so click the link for inspiration. 

Well, what better reason to grab a box camera and enjoy shooting film? I have three Brownies in my collection. A Baby Brownie Special, which is still untested as I don't have any 127 film handy; a Brownie Cresta III, which takes superb photos and featured on this blog before; and a Brownie 620 model D. I chose the 620 model D for this outing. It was still untested and had been waiting patiently for me to run a roll through it for quite some time. 

So after my husband re-spooled some 120 film onto a 620 spool using his ingenious method that I shall post here in the near future, we were all set to go. I was shooting Foma Retropan 320 film, which I really love.


The camera itself is lovely to use and dates from the mid 1950s. It shoots eight 6x9 frames, has a 100mm meniscus lens, a fixed aperture of f/11 and a single shutter speed of 1/50, plus bulb setting. It can be used with a tripod to assist long exposures, and it has two decent sized and very bright viewfinders. Not as big as the Ful-Vue's, but plenty big enough so composition is easy.

If there's one thing Retropan does not excel at it is grand vistas, which we have lots of in the North West Highlands. Fortunately I managed to find some subjects relatively close by that the film handled nicely. The boat came out particularly well. 



So now that I'm back into the swing of things I hope to be able to post more regularly again. I have posts in mind for the upcoming months as well as a big project this year that I hope to document here. Watch this space.

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Shooting the Balda Baldixette

 I've mentioned this lovely camera a few times on this blog but haven't yet shared
any photos taken with it, so today's the day to share some of its snapshots. 

A little background about the camera. Well, it has a fancy (for a box camera) 72mm 2-element lens and a choice of two apertures, f/9 and f.16. It shoots at 1/60, focuses down to 5 feet, and dates from around 1956. It shoots 6x6 squares and has the most laughable, impractically small viewfinder. To make composition easier I bought an accessory viewfinder that slips into the accessory shoe on top.

 These were all taken on Lomography 400 film. 

Well, I think it's safe to say these are some of the nicest and sharpest colour shots I've taken on a box camera. The Baldixette is certainly worth the few quid they go for on eBay if you are looking for an eye-level box camera. That said, the tiny viewfinder can be challenging, so it may be worth investing in an accessory viewfinder like I did.

Monday, 26 April 2021

Another Eye-Level Box Camera: Kodak Brownie Cresta III

 I had a recent trip to Inverness and took with me another box camera, just in case there was anything nice to shoot while I was there.

After my failure with the Agfa Clack I decided to give another camera a go that is also shot at eye-level, a Kodak Brownie Cresta III. This plastic wonder may not look like much but it has one of the most reliable shutter mechanisms in my whole collection and its plastic Dakon lens gives lovely results. 

It dates from the first half of the 1960s and has a choice of two apertures, f/11 and f/16 (though these are labelled EV12 and EV13). It also has a close up lens that pulls into place with the lever on the side which allows you to focus as close as 4 feet. Its single shutter speed of 1/40 puts it on a par with the plastic Ensign Fulvueflex, another camera that many might dismiss as a toy but actually gives rather nice results.

As it happens, the weather was rather nice in Inverness and my husband and I had a hour before we had to move on, so we decided to take a walk along the Caledonian Canal. I am very happy to say that my pictures came out a lot sharper on the Brownie than they did on the Agfa, and most of the roll had some nice pictures on it.

One interesting thing did crop up, though. Apparently, at some point during lockdown, I loaded this camera in the vague hope of getting some nice shots near my home. I guess the conditions weren't great and I only managed to get 4 shots, after which I shelved the camera and awaited better conditions. I guess they were a long time coming because I couldn't remember for the life of me when I loaded the camera, or what film it was loaded with when it came to our Inverness outing. Peering through the film window revealed rounded numbers, which were a tell tale sign of Catlabs X Fiilm 80, a film I am very fond of. Now, either because the camera had been shelved for so long or because the film unravelled a little on loading, the first couple of shots had light leak. It probably happened during loading as I took the same shot of a sand castle three times, so I must have suspected the first frames wouldn't come out. The third shot was mostly unscathed and is pictured here:

Sand Castle

That's a surprising amount of detail in the sand from a plastic lens. 

Anyway, as I couldn't remember what the first 3 frames were, or the conditions in which they were taken, we decided to semi-stand develop the film, a process I will explain in more detail in the next post. For now, it will do to say that the film responded very well to this approach and we got some nice snaps.

Old Tractor Factory

Boats on the Caledonian Canal

More Boats on the Caledonian Canal


Bell Tower

Caledonian Canal

Wait For Me, Dad

Clachnaharry Railway

Railway Cottages

So we've ended up with some pretty vintage looking shots. I think C. T. Goode would have been very proud of my Clachnaharry Railway shot!

 I don't know how long the film sat in the camera but the sky shows some imprinting of the film backing paper on the image in many of the shots. I've had this happen before when a camera has sat loaded but unused for some time, so it's best to avoid that if possible. It hasn't ruined the shots though. Shall we just claim it adds character?

The Cresta III is a lovely camera. Highly recommended. A great box camera for beginners that's easy to use and doesn't involve any tricky waist level composing. British made Brownies are also good choices as they tend to take 120 film. Lots of other Brownie models take 127 film which is harder to come by and expensive.

Monday, 19 April 2021

Eye Level Box Camera: The Agfa Clack

Not all box cameras are shot at waist level. Some nice models are shot at eye level.
I have a couple in my collection and on the arrival of the recent lambing snows in my part of the world I thought it'd be nice to go out, play in the snow a bit and take some snaps with one of these machines. 

I'm pretty comfortable shooting at waist level now. I can usually do it without camera shake. Depending on the model of camera, and the size of its viewfinders I can more or less get a straight horizon too, though this is challenging on some, cough cough Junior Box Ensign

The eye level shooter I chose today was an Agfa Clack,which is a really lovely model with bells and whistles such as a swing in place close up lens with built in yellow filter, and two apertures, f/11 and f/12.5! It shoots eight 6x9 frames and has a 95mm meniscus lens. It's solidly made and feels nice to handle. In the right pair of hands it takes great shots.

Mine were not the right pair of hands today. I thought I was managing to keep the camera steady but the image blur shows I failed. The only image that was crisp, the last one, was also the only image I took in portrait instead of landscape. This suggests to me that my method of holding the camera up and pressing the shutter release with my right thumb was the problem, as when I held the camera differently for that one shot it remained steady. 

I can hardly review the camera with these shots. It would be grossly unfair. As the final, sharp shot demonstrates, the lens has some decent resolving power so I will have to learn from my mistakes and take this camera out again. It was still fun being out and about with a box camera, and I hope with time I'll get the hang of this one. 

I was shooting Catlabs X Film 80, pulled a stop to ISO 40 as the snowy conditions were so bright. The pictures are ordered from worst to best.

1) House and Boat

2) Fence Posts

3) Drunk Gate

4) Impressionist Power Poles


5) School Football Pitch


6) Road

7) House Under Clouds

8) Stream

So some of those pictures will probably give you a headache if you stare at them too long. Others are blurry though I don't mind the results. I actually quite like the slightly impressionist vibes I get from the shot of the power poles, and I find the mild soft focus of the road shot quite pleasing. The image has a nice mood. I was very happy with the stream shot though. I think it gives a tantalising taste of what this camera can do. Let's hope I do better next time.

Monday, 12 April 2021

Testing the Halina 6-4

Well, it's safe to say that I haven't exactly been itching to go out with the box cameras during the Covid 19 pandemic. The travel restrictions meant that I'd have to shoot the same few miles around my home again and again which gets dull fast. The abysmal Winter weather didn't exactly lend itself to good box camera photography either, so many months have passed where all I've really done is keep the cameras dusted and wait for happier times.

The restrictions haven't lifted yet, but some of my as yet untested cameras have been staring me in the face, longing to be loaded and used again for the first time in who knows how long. This weekend I couldn't stand it any more, so I planned a brief excursion just a few minutes from home where hopefully there would be some nice seascapes and maybe some of the local livestock would be obliging and pose for some snaps. 

The camera of choice was a Halina 6-4, which, on the one hand is quite a swish box camera in that it has three apertures to choose from, double exposure interlock prevention, and shoots dual format, either 6x6 or 4x4. On the other hand the build quality is shocking, looking as though it was assembled as cheaply and quickly as possible. The edges are rough and the joins aren't exactly flush (particularly when you try and sit the 4x4 mask in place, it wobbles a bit, at least on my model), and you shudder as you place the film back on after loading because you strongly suspect it won't keep the film light tight. So, not exactly a precision model.

However, there is something about Halina cameras that make them an absolute joy to shoot. One of my favourite 35mm cameras is my Halina Paulette Electric. It wasn't exactly assembled with any love or care either but the experience of using it just puts a smile on your face. Maybe it's the knowledge that the camera isn't a laboratory standard precision instrument that needs treating with reverence and ceremony every time you raise it to your eye. Shooting the Halina feels so laid back and easy that you don't really think about buttons and dials and just think about the composition. One final point worth making is that while the camera bodies aren't exactly oozing quality, Halina did put good lenses in them, and the lenses are far more important. What this means is the cameras still take good pictures, and this is precisely what I found with the Halina 6-4. 

My husband gave the camera a quick dab of oil to get the focus ring moving as it should again and once we were satisfied the shutter was behaving itself I loaded it with some Catlabs X Film 80 and then we got togged up to go out. It may be late March but it was freezing outside and blowing a gale. Not exactly great shooting conditions but this was the afternoon I had scheduled for it, so out we went. 

There were a few challenges keeping the camera still in the wind. I typically just had to find somewhere sheltered or get low to the ground or wedge myself against some of the rock faces. I used the 4x4 mask to get 16 test shots and then we made our way home to huddle in front of the fire with a warm drink.

Predictably, the lighting conditions outside weren't favourable for the film's box speed, so we pushed the film in development to ISO 125. The camera had a fixed shutter speed of 1/50 and the widest aperture available (used in every shot) was f/8. We developed the film in HC110(B) for 11 minutes and 28 seconds, giving inversions every 45 seconds. 

Here are the results (well the good ones where the wind didn't move me and the camera).

Testing the portrait zone (5-10 feet)

Lockdown Fur

Testing the scenes zone (25 feet to infinity)

Hubby scrambling over the rocks.

I liked the swirl patterns in this rock face.

Wondering how much detail in the wood the lens would capture.

Rusty Old Submarine. Okay, it's actually a rusty old silo. One of my favourite test shots, again seeing how much detail the lens would capture.

Rocks and Waves. Another generic view testing the scene zone.

Some obliging cows smiling for the camera. By this stage I was freezing and just wanted a cuppa.

All in all, not bad. First surprise, the film back didn't allow any light leaks. As for the two-element lens, it performed quite well, especially in the portrait zone. The car tyre, old wooden stile, and submarine shot all have a lot of detail in them. I was super happy with the submarine shot. There was an impressive amount of detail in the metal and rivets, and the highlights on the grass were gorgeous. The scene shots were perfectly serviceable. The resolving power of the lens isn't amazing, so these 4x4 negatives won't enlarge all that successfully. Would they make nice contact prints? Yes. Bearing that in mind, would I shoot 6x6 next time? Probably. 

I will definitely take the Halina 6-4 on another outing. Shooting in a gale in overcast conditions wasn't exactly giving it a fair fight, but even so it performed respectably. I haven't tried the smaller apertures yet, so the sharpness may well improve when shooting scenes at f/11 or f/16.

Another fun Halina camera and one I can recommend if you want a box camera with a little more choice when it comes to apertures. If you are considering this camera because you like the idea of shooting 4x4 just make sure you ask the seller if the mask is included. It detaches from the camera and is easily lost.