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Q. Way, way back in the 1950s my father owned a 35mm still camera that had multiple gears on the front. These gears had a lot to do with the fixed 50mm lens. I do not remember the name of this particular still camera. The camera was stolen in the '70s. I sent an e-mail message to Kodak about this and they sent me all kinds of listings to different websites. Can you help?
A. Two distinctive older 35mm cameras come to mind. The Kodak 35 Rangefinder model (1940-'51) had a metal top and bottom and protruding 50mm lens with a gear on the left side (when looking at the front of the camera) that coupled the built-in rangefinder to the lens for focusing. It also had another boxy projection on the top right. But one boxy, very distinctive camera had even more gears that coupled the built-in rangefinder for focusing with the rotating lens--the Argus C3 (1939-'66). It had one serrated tooth-edged geared wheel at the top left (again looking at the front), an idler gear next to it, and then the lens itself, a 50mm Argus Cintar. Another large flat dial on the upper right of the camera was turned to adjust the shutter speed. The C3 was distinctively different as it was a rectangular black brick shape with some chrome trim around the edges. It was practically indestructible and helped popularize 35mm photography in this country at a very reasonable price. The Argus C3 was made entirely in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I worked for the firm for a few years right out of college from 1957-'61. Most camera reference books will have illustrations of both of these cameras if you want to further jog your memory. Most people did not know that the 50mm lens on the C3 could actually be removed by first unscrewing the flat cover on the middle idler gear and then unscrewing the lens itself. Both a 35mm wide angle and 100mm telephoto lens were offered, but they were made in Germany. You can learn much more about the Argus history and see photos of the camera by visiting the following enthusiast website: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ arguscg/. I'm pretty sure this is the camera you are thinking of.
Q. I'm looking for a specialist in rare old lenses. In the last several years, photojournalist David Burnett has been using a Speed Graphic camera fitted with a World War II-era Kodak Aero Ektar f/2.5 lens to make beautiful images that have been published in National Geographic and elsewhere. His subjects are sharp but surrounded by extreme blur caused by the shallow depth of field of the huge lens at maximum aperture. I was so taken by his results that I decided last year to find a similar setup to experiment with. My search led me to Jo Lommen, a friendly and helpful large format camera specialist in Holland, who sold me a camera, a lens, and the custom-made lensboard and mounting rings needed to join them together.
So far, though, I have not been able to make a sharp photo with the combination. In my most recent tests, I set the camera on a tripod, aimed it at a garage wall perhaps 15 ft away, and used a small hand-lettered card at the center of the frame as a focusing target. I focused on the card with a seven-power loupe on the ground glass. The card didn't exactly leap into focus, but I adjusted the camera until the card was as sharp as it could get.
Although the card had been focused accurately, it was very fuzzy on the negative. This leads me to think that the ground glass may need to be adjusted. I will do some more tests, but if I encounter the same softness I'll take the camera in to International Camera in Chicago, a company that has a lot of experience with Graphic cameras. Perhaps they can adjust the ground glass for accurate focus with this lens.
My question to you, though, is if you know of any specialists who are familiar with Aero Ektar lenses. Although I believe my problem results from ground-glass misalignment, I have been disappointed in the way my subjects appear when I try to focus them. I would like to know whether my very old lens has some misaligned or decentered elements, or if the on-screen performance I'm seeing is typical of lenses of this type.
David Burnett told me in an e-mail that his subjects pop into focus in a very obvious way. Mine become sharper almost grudgingly! I would appreciate any suggestions you can make.
A. I don't know of any lens experts that might be able to assist you with your old Kodak Aero Ektar lens. I would think that ground-glass focusing for this type of lens would be the most practical as I would be skeptical about rangefinder focusing for it. Could the ground glass possibly be installed backward with the coarse, textured side incorrect? The Polaroid film holder you are using would have to be positioned rather critically. It's intended for use with much slower lenses that are stopped down from wide-open, so your focusing must be done extra carefully. Ironically, I have had one of these
ultra-fast 7" focal length lenses for nearly 50 years, but have never attempted to put it on a lensboard so I could use it. I was talking to somebody about this lens decades ago and they said it could not successfully be used for conventional photography as it is corrected for use at infinity, which makes sense since it was used on an aerial camera from great heights. Truthfully, this did not seem logical to me and I have heard of photographers (shortly after World War II when this type of lens could be purchased surplus at a reasonable price) using them on a 4x5 Speed Graphic because most lenses for Graphics then had a maximum lens speed of about f/4.5, so an ultra-fast f/2.5 speed opened up existing light situations for the then slower emulsions. If International Camera cannot get your equipment functioning properly you might want to contact another firm that specializes in large format equipment, Midwest Photo Exchange (3313 North High St., Columbus, OH 43202; (614) 261-1264; www.midwestphoto.com).
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