Accessorize!

No, not handbags and shoes. I’m talking about accessories for my collection of film cameras.

My film cameras date from the late 1920s to the late 1990s, and between them they have a variety of different methods of controlling the focus and metering. Most of them don’t have any automation at all. This is fun, but can sometimes be a pain, and stand in the way of taking a great photo.

One of the great things about having an interest in photography that lags half a century behind everyone else is that it’s cheap. Provided you aren’t buying antique gear, you can generally get a lot of kit for your money – much more fun to be had for £100 than in the digital world.

So I bought a rangefinder, a light meter, and a power winder.

I took their photos with my DSLR and an LED ring flash. It worked really nicely for the rangefinder (about the size of a cigarette lighter), a bit worse for the light meter (the size of a pack of cigarettes, and flat and shiny) and really badly for the SLR (camera-sized 😛 and angular). I ended up cutting out the picture of the SLR, rather than over-exposing its background. Next time I’ll make the effort to set up some proper lighting!

Photopia rangefinder

My very crudest cameras have fixed-focus, and the most advanced have split-screen focussing. But there are some that have so-called “guess focussing“. My cameras that do this are a Braun Paxette Electromatic II, a Halina Paulette Electric, and a Voigtländer Bessa. You have no idea what the image will look like, as the viewfinder is totally separate from the main lens. These lenses do have a dial on them to help with setting the focus properly, but how do you know how to set it? That tree could be thirty feet, or forty. Or fifty.

Photopia rangefinder

Enter the rangefinder. This nifty device has two windows that point at your subject, and one viewfinder that the photographer looks through. You see two ghost images of your subject, and as you adjust the knob, the images move around. When the two images are perfectly aligned, you look at the dial and read off the distance. Then you just set the focus ring to this distance. Simple!

Photopia rangefinder

You can pick up 35mm rangefinder cameras cheaply from eBay, but I decided instead to buy a standalone rangefinder. This Photopia one will sit in the hot shoe (or sometimes “accessory shoe”) of any camera.

Realt light meter

Only three of my cameras have any sort of automatic metering. They range from full automatic (Canon EOS 300) to semi-automatic (Canon AE-1 Program) to a needle that waves around (Halina Paulette Electric). All the rest require the photographer to work out what the settings should be.

Of course, the sunny sixteen rule is a huge help here, but sometimes it’s no use. What if there’s a weather condition that’s not sunny, overcast or shade? What if you are taking a photo indoors? A light meter is the answer to your problems.

You can get all sorts of light meters, but I think the prettiest ones are the ones with needles that move around. I found a French Realt meter on eBay for a few quid, and bought it. It’s selenium-based, so not very accurate, but that’s half the fun.

Realt Photo light meter

The background scale behind the needle slides out, and you replace it with the relevant scale for the film speed you are using. Pretty neat. If you have a film for which there exists no scale (and since this dates back to 1949, that’s anything above 100 ASA) then you remove the scale altogether and read off the EV (exposure value) – which you can convert to real settings for your camera by looking them up in a table.

Canon power winder

This is one of things I bought just because I could, and because it was cheap. My Canon AE-1 Program has a lever to wind on the film. This makes a nice sound and feels satisfying, but can slow down the momentum of taking pictures rapidly. Often, I forget to wind on, and I don’t realise until after I’ve set up the next shot and then find the shutter won’t fire.

Canon AE-1 Program with Power Winder

As it was only a fiver, I bought a Canon Winder A. It does what it says on the tin – it winds on the film and can achieve a “few” frames per second. It doesn’t say how many, and I haven’t measured it. More to the point, it makes the camera look big and professional!

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