Although the long winter is a factor, I like to think my photographic experiments have more to do with native curiosity. My recent excursion into pinhole photography was fun and enlightening. It solidified my feeling that a photograph can be unsharp and a little fuzzy, but still be an aesthetically pleasing image. Once the weather improves and I’m able to get about more while carrying a tripod, I intend to further explore the world of pinhole.
In a similar vein, I’ve been interested for years in half-frame cameras. Never having owned one, I couldn’t quite grasp their appeal other than that at the height of their popularity in the 60’s and 70’s they were among the most compact cameras available. But even with full-frame 35mm cameras I use every technique available to maximize quality and keep grain in check. Half frame is like using 35mm with a 50% vertical crop on every frame. What was the appeal?
I had my chance to see for myself when I saw a pair of Fujica Half cameras selling for $30 each on Nelsonfoto.com. One had a broken meter but a working film counter. The other had a working meter but a broken film counter. I bought the one with the working meter, opting for the convenience of not having to carry around a light meter on non-Sunny-16 days.
The camera arrived and it checked out. Cute and compact I began carrying it around with me, taking pictures here and there. I had loaded it with APX100 in a 24-exp roll but forgot to note that in my Moleskine notebook and because I’d also considered shooting a roll of C41 in it, my memory tricked me and I thought I was shooting C41 ISO200 film at 100. Finishing the roll took a very long time. The Fujica Half was never my main camera on my shoots and 48 frames fill slowly.
Worse, at the end of the roll I was out on a snowing and very cold day. I had my gloves on, which decreased my ability to feel pressure on the film advance. I felt a slight tug on the advance lever but thought it was just my glove not getting a good grip on it so I pushed it harder. The film snapped, tearing off from the canister inside the camera.
Uh oh. Still thinking it was C41, when I got home and the camera had warmed up, I put it into a changing bag, removed the film, cut the film where the tear stopped, and carefully taped it to the leader of an empty spool of APX100, all by feel. After rewinding the film into the canister by hand I opened the changing bag and was startled to see two canisters of APX100 inside. If had had good notes, I could have loaded the film straight into a reel and put it in a tank for development. Lesson: keep better records.
Because it was a test roll I didn’t know how accurate the shutter speeds were. I’d also made a number of Sunny-16 exposure guesses thinking I was shooting iso200 film, rather than iso100, so I gave the film about 20% extra development in Rodinal 1:50 with two inversions each minute.
In general the negatives turned out on the dense side for scanning, but the thinner ones scanned beautifully. What I noticed is that although the images were grainy, which I expected, they were also sharper than I thought they would be. That, combined with the always-nice signature of Hexanon lenses, gave a look that I find aesthetically pleasing, though it might not fit all subjects equally. Portraits, like this shot of our friend Earl Dunbar, are better with a less grainy medium.
Overall I found the half-frame experiment worthwhile and artistically engaging. I particularly like the half-frame look for city shots. I don’t mind it in landscapes, though the grain may be too much for some tastes.
Half frame, like pinhole, has caught my fancy. It has a place in my repertoire. Now I’m keeping an eye out for that most elegant of half-frame cameras, the Olympus Pen-F.