Black And White In Your Point-And-Shoot
Where There's A Will, There's A Way!

Very few point-and-shoots feature filter-handling ability. Among those that do are this vintage Rollei 35, along with the current Contax TVS (35mm) and TIX (APS).
Photos © 1999, Dave Howard, All Rights Reserved

If taking pictures in black and white is a regular part of your photographic way of life, then it must puzzle and frustrate you a bit, as it does me, that the makers of most point-and-shoot cameras seem to have never heard of black and white film. Otherwise why would they produce hundreds of otherwise fun little cameras with absolutely no means of using filters on them? Granted, black and white snapshooters are few and far between among the masses of general picture-taking consumers, but serious photo hobbyists hate being forced to give up filter capability. After all, how much extra would it cost to add filter threads to a lens?

The compact Rollei and Contaxes accept 30.5mm filters; a 67mm filter is included here for size comparison.

Black and white fans shopping for a new point-and-shoot should look for a few critical features. First, obviously, would be a model that accepts filters. The bad news is that there aren't many. Contax is the only manufacturer that I'm familiar with that consistently provides filter threads on their point-and-shoot camera lenses. The original T and TVS models, along with the current T2, TVS II, and TIX (APS), all accept 30.5mm screw-in filters (an adapter is required with the TIX), as do all of the vintage Rollei 35-series cameras with the 40mm f/2.8 Sonnar lens. You won't find 30.5mm filters (or any of several other small, "oddball" filter sizes) in your average photo department, but B+W (Schneider) and Heliopan (HP Marketing) filters in this size can be special ordered from camera stores that cater to professionals. At least one regular Shutterbug advertiser, KOH's Camera, keeps several of the most popular tints in stock. Most photographers will simply be looking to add a couple of basic filters to their compact camera, such as a medium yellow and an orange, or perhaps a yellow and a polarizer, so they won't go broke needlessly duplicating their SLR's filter arsenal.

A double-stick-taped piece of gel filter is a quick-and-dirty way to fool a camera with no filter capability; be sure to filter the meter window as well.

Another important feature is some means of compensating for the filter factor, in order to avoid underexposing the film. An exposure compensation dial is ideal, but a manual ISO setting (override) capability will serve nearly as well.

If you find a camera that has exposure compensation, but no filter threads on the lens, go for it; adapting a filter to the lens is fairly straightforward, but having to separately filter the meter cell is a pain at best.

So what do you do if you can't afford a new Contax, or are otherwise perfectly happy with the point-and-shoot that you already have? Improvise. How involved this process becomes depends on how frequently you have occasion to run black and white film through your point-and-shoot.

Materials needed for an improvised.

If you rarely use black and white in your compact camera, or just want to see if it can be done with your particular camera, a gelatin filter, a pair of scissors, and some double-stick (adhesive on both sides) tape provide a quick-and-dirty means of filtration. A bit of tape above and below the lens suffice to anchor a small square of filter gel. Incidentally, although I've used Kodak Wratten gels for ages, I've recently discovered Calumet's polyester gels; they're much more durable, can be cleaned, and are more reasonably priced. If your camera has no means of dialing in exposure compensation, then you'll need to cover the meter cell/window with a bit of gel also. If you're not sure which of the umpteen little windows on the front of your camera is the meter cell, check the parts/features diagram in your instruction book; mistakenly covering an AF sensor can wreak havoc in the picture sharpness department.

Finished filter mounted on camera; meter cell must also be filtered (as here) if camera has no manual exposure compensation or film ISO override.

Should you desire a little more substantial means of filtration, you will have two basic choices: a press-fit filter, or a bracket arrangement that holds a home-brew filter in front of the lens; which is more appropriate will depend on your particular camera.

To improvise a press-fit filter in the small sizes common to point-and-shoot lenses, I've found that a couple of plastic 35mm film can lids can be made to serve. The can lids from the various brands of film are quite different, so you'll have to compare them to see which comes closest to your lens' outside diameter. You may luck out and come up with a perfect fit, but most likely not. Anyway, the idea is simple: cut one lid to press-fit onto your lens; cut out the other lid almost entirely, maintaining a narrow ring to which to glue a circle of filter gel (remove the inner "lip" of this front lid, the part that fits inside the film can); after gluing the gel inside the front lid, glue the two lids together. Voilà--instant filter! If you've gotten ahead of me, at this point you're probably cussing a blue streak; the plastic these film cans are made of is impervious to just about any glue you've probably ever used.

Gel and film can lids cut to size, inner "lip" removed from one lid.

I tried all of my old standbys--Ambroid, Duco, Testor's Plastic Cement, Weldwood, Pliobond, etc.--all to no avail. Industrial solvents up to the task are dangerous and not available in small quantities. Fortunately, I finally stumbled upon a tube of clear sealant called "Lexel" at the hardware store. It claimed to stick to just about anything, including wet surfaces, and they were right. Again, if your camera has no exposure compensation, you'll also have to tape a piece of filter gel over the meter cell; if it has compensation, you're home free. This press-fit solution works well with the telescoping zoom lenses on many of today's popular compacts. If your camera's lens retracts behind a sliding cover, be sure to remove the filter before turning the camera off.

A medium yellow filter lightened the car's tan color, providing a "brighter" tonal range. (Agfa Scala 200.)

Using some sort of spring-clamping arrangement to attach the filter to the lens may occur to you. If you decide to try it, proceed with caution; excessive clamping pressure could damage plastic telescoping lens mounts, or distort the optics.

If you like the press-fit premise, but prefer a hardier filter material, you should spend a weekend scouring a photographic flea market for small glass filters originally made for 8mm movie cameras. If you can find the tints you're looking for, they'll cost you even less than new gels. You could also cut inexpensive Cokin A-series resin filters (or equivalent brands) to size.

With many cameras with fixed focal length lenses, there isn't enough of the lens protruding to attach a press-fit filter. In such cases, you'll have to make a bracket and holder of some sort to hold a filter in front of the lens. A 35mm slide mount makes a handy gel holder, and slips into a home-brew bracket. The part that holds the slide mount can easily be made from brass "U" channel (channel size determined by thickness of your particular slide mounts), available at any serious hobby shop that caters to model railroaders. To bend it to the "U" shape needed, cut opposing 45° notches with a miniature miter box and saw (X-Acto pictured above); bend it to shape, maintaining square alignment with a cardboard slide mount (plastic mounts can melt from the heat generated by the soldering step) inserted partway and secured with a rubber band, then solder the corner joints.

A yellow filter darkened the sky, providing better tonal separation from the overhanging ice. It also adds detail in the snow.

How you support this slide holder depends on your camera. A bracket arm can be attached to the camera via a tripod socket or an accessory shoe. The Olympus Stylus Infinity shown doesn't have a shoe, so the bracket arm was soldered to three brass washers, through which a tripod screw fastens it to the tripod socket. After soldering the holder to the arm and painting to match the camera, you're ready to take (filtered) pictures. This Olympus' lens is too close to the various sensors, so the top of the slide mount was cut off; a projecting "tab" of filter gel covers the meter cell, providing exposure compensation. With larger cameras, you probably won't need to trim the slide mounts. The brass tubing used for the bracket arm can be bent with minimal kinking with the aid of a tubing bender; hobby shops currently seem to be stocking only the spring-type benders (K&S Engineering, No. 321), but the wheel-type is better (but more expensive) if you can find them.

Materials for a slide frame filter and holder: brass "U" channel, tubing and washers; solder and soldering iron; tubing bender (next to solder box); tripod screw; filter gel; and 35mm slide mount.

To attach the bracket arm via an accessory shoe, just bend the arm to insert into a hole drilled in a discarded flash attachment foot; make sure the arm doesn't obstruct any of the camera's sensors.

If soldering isn't your thing, "U" channel is also available in plastic. However, the resulting glued contraption won't be as sturdy as the soldered brass version.

That's about it. The filter-adapting gizmos shown here aren't "pretty," but they work. If you're a machinist, or can afford one, you can certainly come up with something more esthetically pleasing. The intent of this article is to fire up your imagination, to show you that you don't have to accept the no-filter limitation imposed upon you by the majority of point-and-shoot manufacturers. With a couple of these rinky-dink devices at your disposal, fine art black and white "on the fly" with a friendly little compact camera can be a reality. Further, for the ultimate in creative laziness, load up with Agfa Scala 200X or Polapan for black and white slides--no darkroom needed!

A yellow filter kept these adobe walls from being rendered as a muddy gray.

Calumet Photographic Products (Polyester filter gels)
890 Supreme Dr.
Bensenville, IL 60106
(888) 888-9083
(630) 860-7447
fax: (800) 577-3686

2301-200 Cottontail Ln.
Somerset, NJ 08873
(800) 526-0266
(732) 560-0060
fax: (732) 560-9221

Every black and white filter article has to have the obligatory cloud shot, so here it is; in this case an orange filter added a bit of drama to the scene.

HP Marketing Corp. (Heliopan filters)
16 Chapin Rd.
Pine Brook, NJ 07058
(973) 808-9010
fax: (973) 808-9004

KOH's Camera Sales & Services (30.5mm B+W and Heliopan filters)
2662 Jerusalem Ave.
North Bellmore, NY 11710
(516) 826-9566
fax: (516) 826-6257

A 45° cut in the "U" channel for the slide mount holder is simplified with a hobbyist's miniature backsaw and miter box.

Sashco Sealants, Inc. (Lexel sealant)
10300 E. 107th Place
Brighton, CO 80601
(800) 289-7290

Schneider Optics, Inc. (B+W filters)
285 Oser Ave.
Hauppauge, NY 11788
(516) 761-5000
fax: (516) 761-5090

Finished holder in use. This camera required removal of top of mount to avoid blocking various cells and windows; note gel "tab" cut to cover meter cell.

The finished gel holder before painting.

Before soldering, a slide mount and rubber band assure square alignment.