A Brief History
While on a trip to London, my boyfriend and I stopped at Camden Market (which I highly recommend visiting for unique souvenirs!) and came across a vintage camera booth. After fangirling/nerding out for a little while over all the old models and how far technology has come along, we discovered all the cameras actually worked! We quickly decided upon a model that looked perfect to us, bought some film and began learning the art of analog photography.
We bought the No.1 Autographic Kodak Junior folding camera which was produced between 1914 and 1927 making it about 100 years old! It’s in amazing condition, takes great photos and is fascinating to learn about. Why “autographic”? There’s a latch in the back through which you can inscribe notes onto the film such as the aperture used, information about the subject or just about anything else.
Fun fact: the lens was made by Bausch & Lomb, which, if you wear contact lenses, should sound very familiar! Bausch & Lomb is a huge manufacturer of contact lenses and eye care products; they’re found on probably any pharmacy shelf today. They actually started off as producers of microscope and camera lenses. How fitting!
(Arguably) The First Photo Ever Taken
At first glance, it’s not much to look it. But when you understand what you’re looking at, a picture definitely starts to form! The above is, arguably, the first photo ever taken. Using a process called heliography, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took this photo back in 1826. Helio meaning “sun,” and -graphy meaning “recording”. If you look closely towards the top, you might notice a rooftop, a tree and the outlines of buildings. That’s because Niépce set up his camera to shoot the scene outside his window in France. He used a metal sheet coated with a substance called Bitumen. Bitumen hardens in proportion to the amount of light that hits it creating what you see above! I think it’s amazing.
Ye Olde Camera and its film work in a very similar way. Reflected light causes a chemical reaction on the film inside an analog camera. It’s photography in its essence: photo meaning “light,” and -graphy meaning, again, “recording”. You’re quite literally taking a snapshot of the light reflected off the surfaces in the scene.
There are 3 basics when it comes to controlling the amount of light that enters the camera and gets recorded onto film (or onto a memory card in digital cameras).
- ISO – how sensitive the camera/film is to incoming light. The higher the ISO (usually 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, etc.) the more sensitive. More sensitive film can mean you can use faster shutter speeds to better capture moments. Think: less motion blur. One of the pitfalls of high ISO photography is graininess: the higher the ISO the grainer/noiser the image. Finding a happy medium is one of the first steps in taking a photo.
- Shutter Speed – how fast the camera captures the moment. Technically, it’s how long the lens stays open to collect light. This can range from as quick as 1/4000th of a second on some DSLR’s to longer than 10 minutes! It all depends on the essence of the photo and what you’re trying to achieve. The longer the shutter is open, the more light enters. However, this can mean motion blur, intention or not!
- Aperture – how wide open the lens is. Aperture is described in f-stops (which is a ratio usually written as f/1.4 or 1.8, 2, 2.2, 2.8, 3.2, etc.). The larger the number, the more closed the diaphragm of the camera is. When the diaphragm is narrow, less light can enter the camera, however, more of the scene comes into focus. When the diaphragm is wide open (a low f/stop) much more light can enter the camera and the background becomes blurred. That’s because the f-stop controls not only light entering but the depth of field in focus, which can be narrow or wide. The diagram below can help explain:
The wider the depth of field, the more in focus everything is. A narrow depth of field will give you that blurred out background so many love (called bokeh). The depth of field is controlled by adjusting the f-stop.
- Extra: the camera also has an adjustable focal length which you change based on how close or far your subject is. You simply pull the bellows (accordion-like sides) and click them into the appropriate notch (example: 8 feet, 25 feet, etc.)
The camera in your hands and the camera from 100 years ago have the same settings, more or less. The ISO in analog photography is set by the roll of film you buy. Is the film more sensitive for nighttime photography, or not so sensitive for daytime shooting? In my case, I purchased some ISO 400 film – a good balance for a walk-around film. Note: the film for this camera, in particular, is a medium-format film which is quite a bit larger than regular 35mm film used in disposable cameras, for instance. It’s specifically 120mm film at 400 ISO which results in 6x9cm photos/negatives.
The shutter speed and aperture is now up to you to play with. My camera has 4 options in terms of shutter speed (in seconds): 1/25th, 1/50th, bulb and time. Bulb and time differ from each other in one simple way:
- Bulb mode – the shutter will remain open as long as the shutter button is pressed. That means your finger must stay on the shutter to keep it open. Once you release the shutter, it will close and the photo is complete.
- Time mode – the shutter will open with one press of the shutter button and will only close when you press the shutter button again.
Both modes can result in camera shake so be sure to use a shutter release cable and a tripod!
The aperture is mechanical and you physically have to adjust the lever to close or open the camera’s diaphragm. Seeing it in real life is very satisfying.
Because the camera has only 2 options for handheld photography (1/25th of a second and 1/50th of a second) and the ISO is preset by the film I chose to buy, playing with the aperture is crucial. Mainly, you have to determine how bright your scene is and close the diaphragm accordingly. I usually shoot at 1/50th of a second since it’s the fastest and will result in the least amount of handheld camera shake and adjust the aperture based on the amount of light available to me.
This camera uses the U.S. System Aperture Scale as opposed to f-stops. This means I have to do a quick conversion from the U.S. system to f-stops (which are more familiar to me and most of today’s photographers). For example, f/8 is actually a 4 in the U.S. system. See below chart.
In addition to the U.S. system, there’s another small pitfall when it comes to these folding cameras, or at least the one I’m using. The viewfinder has to be used at hip level. This means the camera must be held at the hips, quite a bit away from the eyes. You have to use one eye and peer far into the viewfinder to get an idea of what you’re shooting. Not as easy as bringing a digital camera right to your face and getting a clear view of the future photo. It’s a learning curve, for sure!
Here are a few photos from Ye Olde Camera (the list will be updated as I take and develop more photos). The only post-production was a little contrast adjustment to make the photos pop a bit more. See captions for notes 🙂
All images shot with a No.1 Autographic Kodak Junior.