Playing Around with Our Past

A work of art that makes works of art: the Kodak Stereo Camera of 1950s vintage.
A work of art that makes works of art: the Kodak Stereo Camera of 1950s vintage.

Since Halloween is approaching, I decided to watch what might be my favorite scary movie, The Blair Witch Project. In the movie, the three film students use various media to record their hunt for the legendary witch, including a CP-16 16mm movie camera. Especially popular with television stations’ newsrooms in the 1960s and 1970s, these well-made, bulky film cameras were gradually phased out with the introduction of faster, more cost-effective news gathering methods like videotape. Many of them ended up in the hands of film schools, where they were checked out to film students. We assume in the movie that is the case with the characters.

This is a scan of a piece of cut film from the Kodak Stereo Camera. You can see that the second and fifth frame are nearly identical; they were made at the same time by two different lenses.
This is a scan of a piece of cut film from the Kodak Stereo Camera. You can see that the second and fifth frame are nearly identical; they were made at the same time by two different lenses.

It inspired me to play around with some antiquated technology of my own. Four years ago, fellow photographer Robert met up with my wife Abby and me in Baltimore to help us shoot Abby’s daughter’s wedding. In addition to a couple of digital SLR cameras for shooting the wedding, he had a 60-some-odd year old Kodak Stereo Camera. We made a few amusing images of Robert holding the camera, but despite loading it with film, we didn’t actually make any images with the Kodak.

Here are two images made by the Kodak Stereo Camera. I assume they will give a 3-d effect if viewed properly.
Here are two images made by the Kodak Stereo Camera. I assume they will give a 3-d effect if viewed properly.

Some time later he left the Kodak at our house, telling me to feel free to shoot the film and have it processed. This week I did just that. I took a modern DSLR with me (one of my D80s) to use as an exposure meter and to make a few comparison frames, and walked around the patch on a sunny afternoon at our home in the country. I found that the Kodak worked perfectly.

This Kodak Retina camera is one of the photography relics my wife bought for me a couple of years ago. It takes a roll film that hasn't been made in about 40 years.
This Kodak Retina camera is one of the photography relics my wife bought for me a couple of years ago. It takes a roll film that hasn’t been made in about 40 years.

When I had the film souped, I expected the C-41 film processing machine at our local Walgreen’s wouldn’t be programmed to cut the film in the right place, since the Kodak makes two frames at a time (one with each lens, thus the stereoscopic effect) three frames apart, and those frames are square, not rectangular like conventional 35mm frames. I was genuinely surprised that the film was cut in exactly the right place. I suppose this might be because their machine scans the film in some way and automatically cuts between frames.

The images from the stereo camera looked pretty sharp, considering they were made on color print film. According to the internet, Kodak produced a Kodaslide image viewer to allow the images to be displayed with the 3-d stereo affect. I don’t have such a device, and my efforts to scan images and view them on the screen stereoscopically have failed so far.

It was an interesting experiment in experiencing what it must have been like to make pictures nearly 60 years ago.

A Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8 lens of 1963 vintage sits on the mount for my Nikon D80.
A Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8 lens of 1963 vintage sits on the mount for my Nikon D80.

While I was at it, I pulled a Zeiss lens off a German-made Exa II camera of 1963 vintage and held it by hand on the mounting ring of my D80. I made a few images of the glass sculptures that live in our kitchen window (which I photograph all the time.) The 50-year-old Zeiss lens, though not multi-coated, held up pretty well compared to modern glass. Contrast was significantly lower, but overall the image was decently sharp.

I have a dozen or more cameras from the years because Abby bought a batch of them for me from an antique store downtown a couple of years ago. I look forward to playing around with them more in the future.

Shooting glass with glass: these items in our kitchen window are always fun to shoot, as on this occasion with a 50-year-old Zeiss lens held by hand on my Nikon D80.
Shooting glass with glass: these items in our kitchen window are always fun to shoot, as on this occasion with a 50-year-old Zeiss lens held by hand on my Nikon D80.
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2 Comments

  1. Stereoscope:

    There’s a group (or several groups) on Flickr dedicated to the stereoscopic effect with digital cameras. Some DIYers go all out and mount identical cameras on a bracket of some kind; others use the same camera just moved from left to right. Then you have to view it just right on screen to see the effect (they say). I’ve never been able to see it just right, but then I have trouble with 3D movies too.

    Old lens on new camera:

    I’ve done that with my Dad’s old Minolta lenses (’70s-era) held in front of my digital Rebels. My best result was probably this one:

    http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2425/3611702285_8538229d91_b.jpg

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