Well in my last post I said I was getting ready for a trip to Ilkley Moor, but it turned out I had once again lost complete track of time and I was a week a head of myself! So with a free day to play with I decided to nip up to the dales and test out a new camera.
A few months ago Richard a good friend of mine, asked me if I wanted to borrow a vintage folding camera which could take 6x11cm negatives. It turned out to be a lovely old 1930’s Voigtlander Inos II but the only problem was it was designed to take 116 film which is no longer made. Luckily though Richard has converted a number of similar cameras to take 120 film and assured me it was a pretty straight forward bit of DIY. So with lots of helpful advice from Rich and a bit of internet research here’s what I did…
My first problem was figuring out the best way to adapt the camera so it would take the smaller 120 film which is used in all modern medium format cameras and is readily available. The easiest way is to make some inserts which fill in the gaps between the camera sprockets and the spool of film so it’s held in place inside the camera. This is great because it means you don’t have to permenantly alter the camera.
Inside the camera on one side there are two spring loaded pins which hold the role of unexposed film, on the other side there is a pin on the bottom and spade ended sprocket on the top, this is meant to fit into a slot in the end of the film spool so you can advance film after every exposure. As you can see the width of the original 116 film spool (the bottom one) is not that much wider than the new 120, so I didn’t have much room to work with. After a little look online I found the easiest method is to take some plastic rawl plugs, cut them to size and push them into the ends of the spool.
This worked great but to make inserts for the wind on sprockets was a little more tricky. I tried a few different ways but none of them really seemed to work for me, so in the end I just did the same thing with the rawl plugs but this time I cut a slot in the rawl plug for the spade ended sprocket to fit into.
I then taped some thin strips of black card along the top and bottom of the film gate (the opening inside the camera where the film is exposed) to hold the narrower 120 film in place and stop it from curling up while I’m trying to take a picture.
Once that was done I found an old film I could use as a test role, a couple of runs through and everything seemed to be working ok. This camera like most folding cameras doesn’t have a film counter, instead you look through a small red glass inspection window in the back of the camera to read the frame numbers which are printed onto the backing paper. But since I was now using a different film the numbers printed on the back of the film no longer matched the camera so the test role helped me get a rough idea how much film to wind on for each frame. All I needed to do now was to put a new role of film through it, take some pictures and see what turned out!!
The weather was pretty decent and I had a couple of ideas for some locations in Teesdale were I could try out the camera.
Everything seemed to be working fine but when I got home and processed the film I found things hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped.
First I got a lot of fog. I checked the camera bellows with a torch (something I really should’ve done before hand) and I found a number of small holes where the material had frayed at the edge, that was a bit of a disappointment, but I didn’t think that was the only cause of the light leak. Being made over 80 years ago the film this camera was designed to take was much slower than the film we use today, it was also quite often Orthochromatic and not red light sensitive. The pictures I took in the woods out of direct sunlight had a lot less fog and the results were pretty good so I think the red film window on the back of the camera may have been allowing too much light in for the faster modern film. The only other little issue was that one side of the neg was uneven, but I have no idea why, it may be something to do with the film lifting at one side. Having said all that the negatives are still almost 6x10cm!!
Well back to the drawing board! I did a bit of repair work to the bellows and double checked with the torch to make sure I’d sealed the holes, I then simply covered over the film window with some electrical tape. While I was tinkering I had a second look at the inserts for the film advancing spool and decided to make something a bit more substantial.
I took a couple of spare spools and cut the ends off and sanded them down to the correct size so that when I super glued them to either end of another spool the final width would be exactly the same as the original 116 one. You can also see in this picture my failed attempt to narrow the original 116 film spool using foam so it would take 120, but I was much happier with my final attempt and fingers crossed it should be a lot more stable.
So all there’s left to do now is give it another go!!