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

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Shooting the Fulvueflex in Bristol

We visited Bristol in late October last year and I decided to take the Fulvueflex with me to take some snaps. I loaded it with Fuji Pro 400H and we went for a walk around the harbour. It was a gorgeous sunny day and Bristol is such a colourful place to photograph. The Fulvueflex performed very well.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Capturing Fireworks with the Ful-Vue Super

My husband and I took the Ful-Vue Super to a fireworks display on Bonfire Night in Inverness last year. We finally got round to developing the negatives a few days ago and here are the results.

We took the Super because it has a tripod thread and cable release socket, which were essential as we were going to be doing long exposures with bulb mode.

We were shooting Portra 160 film. Shooting fireworks is easy. You just hold the shutter open for as long as there is something pretty in the sky. 160 ISO may sound too slow for night shots but the fireworks are very bright and we didn't want them to overexpose. The background is just black sky, so no worries about overexposure causing unwanted glow. Underexposure wasn't a problem either as the background was meant to be black.  Normally long exposures would need to account for reciprocity failure, but as the fireworks are moving they don't expose the same bit of film for very long so it wasn't an issue.

If you want to capture multiple bursts in one frame you can. Just take multiple exposures before winding on. If you want to break the bursts up to make the streaks of light look more like confetti, just take many rapid exposures (with a cable release of course). Nicky and I both took shots on the night but it was so long ago we don't remember who took what. Anyway, here they are:

It was great to be out and about with the Super. Sometimes it gets overlooked because it requires us to re-spool 120 film onto 620 spools, but for long exposures this is absolutely the one we need. The results are great.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Extreme Box Camera A&E

Just look at this poor thing. It may have a smile on its face but it doesn't have much to smile about. It's a crying shame because the Coronet Captain is a really lovely box camera. They went into production in 1955 and shoot eight 6x9 frames on 120 film. The meniscus lens has a 115mm focal length and focuses from 10 feet onwards, though with the close up lens pulled into place it will focus as close as 3 feet. There is also a pull in place green filter, a single aperture of f/16, and a single shutter speed of 1/40. There is a bulb mode too for longer exposures, as well as flash connectors. All in all a lovely camera and one I've had on my radar for a long time. I've never bought one before as they're usually out of my price range, though this one, for obvious reasons, was not.

So what happened? Well apparently it sustained water damage from a leaky garage roof. Now normally I wouldn't take my chances on a camera in this condition, but the Captain is a bit special and I didn't like the thought of this one being binned. It had done the rounds on eBay for a while and generated no interest. I have some re-covering leather so I took a chance.

Needless to say it needs cleaning up and re-covering. There is some corrosion to take care of and the lenses need a good clean. Its shutter isn't firing so needs some attention. Let's see if we can cheer the poor Captain up a bit.  Updates on his progress soon!

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Double Exposures on the Fulvueflex Synchroflash

I had one roll of Catlabs X Film 80 left so I decided to have some fun and give some double exposures a try. I'd never taken double exposures before (not intentionally anyway) but I knew the basics. The second image will show up most obviously on the dark areas of the first image. Normally one would underexpose each image by one stop to make sure the final image is correctly exposed. Of course, with box cameras there's no adjusting the settings, so you have to do this in development.

There is an art to taking good double exposures. One of the most helpful demonstrations I've seen is this video by Eduardo Pavez Goye, so definitely check that out if you're interested in giving it a try.

I think I need a bit more practice yet, but these were some of the better results. In the end I pulled these shots to ISO 50 and developed them in HC110(B) for 7:50 minutes at 20°C.

Bath tub in the rushes


Extra secure storage

Portrait of my husband

Ghost boat


So, that was fun! After shooting 10 rolls of Catlabs film I'll definitely buy more. The results have been great and I think I can call my experiment a success. You can load a box camera with the same speed film in all different lighting conditions and then compensate in development. I pulled the film to ISO 50 and pushed it as far as ISO 640 and got great pictures. There are probably other film stocks that are just as versatile. I wanted to give Catlabs a go because I'd never shot it before. Like I've commented before, the grain is very fine, the latitude is impressive and the film is super versatile in development so overall very happy with the results.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

You've Taken the Photo, Now What?

6x4.5 negatives shot on the Ferrania Zeta Duplex
When I was a child I often wondered why my grandmother's old family snapshots were so tiny compared with the photos that we received back from the lab taken on our old 90s point and shoots. It wasn't until much later that I figured out they were contact prints, and the size was determined by the size of the negatives they were shot on.

Snapshots are moments in time. They are records of a moment that the photographer felt was important enough to record for posterity. They can contain precious memories and hold great sentimental value to those that inherit them. However, cheap snapshot cameras were equipped with single element lenses that didn't have amazing resolving power. We've all seen snapshots taken in haste, some with fingers covering the lens, some that cut off the tops of people's heads, some that feature camera shake or motion blur. That's fine. They're not meant to be works of art. But, because of all those things, snapshots weren't really good contenders for enlargement and mounting on your living room wall. Rather they were enjoyed in more intimate family albums. The resolving power of the lens is fine in small prints. Box cameras shot negatives that were 6x4.5cm, 6x6cm, or 6x9cm. That size was plenty big enough for a contact print that could then be stuck in a photo album.

So what are contact prints? Well, as a medium for producing final prints of a snapshot, it isn't really practised any more. They are still made, however, for darkroom work. Basically, a contact print is a print made by placing light-sensitive paper in contact with a negative and then shining a light through the negative to expose the paper. The paper is then put into developer, a stop bath, and fixer and you have a print that matches the dimensions of the negative. They are useful in darkroom work because they provide a quick preview of the photos taken on a roll of film. They help you pick the ones you'd like to do more work on and maybe enlarge.

These days box camera shooters are more likely to scan their negatives and share them digitally. Back in the mid-twentieth century though, hobbyists could buy contact printing kits. At their simplest, the kit contained a cardboard cut-out frame that would clamp the negative and printing paper together, and some developing trays. Due to the low sensitivity of the printing paper at the time, a household lamp could be used to make the exposure in a dimly lit room.

The instructions for the Johnson "Print-a-Snap" kit state:
You need not black-out the room completely - simply wait until it is fairly dark and draw the curtains to exclude any bright lights from outside. 

It recommends doing the development in a shaded part of the room and offers the following diagram as an example. In it, a sheet of cardboard divides the work space:

Once the paper and negatives were loaded in the frame in subdued light, it was simply a case of holding the frame up to the lamp to expose the paper. Naturally there was some trial and error involved depending on the strength of the bulb and the distance the frame was held from the light.

The instructions recommend doing test prints until you get satisfactory results. There are some other very rough guidelines:
You can arrange a convenient exposure of about 10 seconds for an average negative by holding the frame either 1 foot from a 25 watt lamp, 1ft. 6 ins. from a 40 watt lamp, 2ft. 6ins. from a 60 watt lamp or 4 feet from a 100 watt lamp.

It is a little difficult at first to judge how much to alter the exposure for the next test but if the strip is much too light try increasing the exposure to 20 or 30 seconds. If it is much too dark, reduce the exposure to 5 or even 3 seconds.

If an average negative needs 10 seconds exposure a very thin one may need only 3 seconds and a very dense one 30 seconds or more.

If you wanted to upgrade your kit you could buy better printing frames that would clamp the negative and printing paper tightly against glass. "See-Thru" masks were also available that would produce nice white borders around the prints. You could also buy battery or mains operated contact printers. These were printing frames that sat on top of a plastic body that contained a bulb. The closed lid held the negative and paper in place and the bulb would expose the paper.

Should you wish to give this old fashioned way of contact printing a go, just be aware that modern photographic paper is highly sensitive, so it won't be safe to expose it to a dimly lit room as used to be the practice. Ideally you'd need a designated dark room where you can work with a safe light.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Testing a Junior Box Ensign

While I've been experimenting with Catlabs film, I have added a new box camera
to the collection. This is the Junior Box Ensign, which predates the first Ful-Vue by about a decade. They were made between 1929 and 1933 and there are two striking differences from the Ful-Vue range. First, the camera is much bigger, particularly taller. This is because there is no inner cone for film loading. Instead, the take-up and loading spools sit above and beneath the film plane respectively.

The other obvious difference is the viewfinder. The Ful-Vue finder is huge. The Junior Box has two finders and each is miniscule. The one on top is for vertical shots and the one on the side is for horizontal shots, just like the Ferrania Zeta Duplex I tested not long ago. I thought composing on the Ferrania was hard. This was harder. No wonder the Ful-Vues were so popular.

There were no details in the camera's literature regarding its aperture or shutter speed. In the end my husband and I made an educated guess at f/12.5 and 1/40. Judging from the results we were about right. The lens does not focus closer than 10 feet.

I ran a roll of Catlabs X Film 80 through the camera. I had a wonky horizon on nearly every shot. Interestingly I also ended up with a lot more sky than I intended with some of them. The subjects were so tiny it was hard to know at times if I was even pointing at the right thing.

Another quirk of this camera is that the shutter fires when you push the lever in either direction, which took some getting used to. 

Anyway, I ended up with eight 6x9 exposures and although the compositions of some are questionable due to photographer error, the lens performed well, producing a minimal vignette. The images aren't tack sharp of course, but the vintage character of the lens is nice.

Here are some of the results:

A nice rural scene

More sky than I wanted, but still a nice capture. The horizon was straightened a little afterwards.

My favourite shot, though still not straight.

It nicely captured this moody scene.

A ridiculous amount of sky. I must have tilted the camera a fraction before shooting.

So, more practice required with the Junior Box Ensign. A nice camera though. Because it is so big it's easy to steady so there is less chance of camera shake. I was a bit worried the shutter lever might get nudged in my bag as I was walking, but there were no accidental exposures.

During production this camera was a budget model available for 8s 6d. It was also available through premium schemes in return for tokens, and would arrive with a roll of film. I think I'd have been delighted with it, once I got the hang of those tiny viewfinders of course.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Pushing Catlabs to 640

Having had good results pushing Catlabs X Film 80 all the way to 320, I decided to try my luck one stop further at 640. I loaded up the Ful-Vue model II and waited for the sun to start setting. When it was low enough I ventured out to my usual spots for test shots and returned with 12 exposed frames. I developed the film in Rodinal 1+25 at 24°C for 30 minutes. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I didn't know if the development would work or if the pictures would all be horribly underexposed.

Here are the results:

Modus - The shiniest my car has ever looked - lens set for close-ups

Backlit Daffodils - very happy with how this came out - lens set for close-ups.

Firemore Beach and Cable Hut

Loch Ewe

Jetty - with lens flare


Looking out to sea - light was getting pretty low by now

Trees - A little underexposed but still nice


The Torridons

Gate Post - lens set for close-ups

Another view of the Torridons

So, once again, pretty impressed. That little meniscus lens produced some nice sharp images, especially of my car and the gate post. The Catlabs film handled pushing this far just fine.