Monday, July 11, 2005

Forward, Into the Past!

The Teenager recently picked up the household digital point'n'shoot.
This seems to have sent me to even older tech, in some sort of equilibrium reaction.
(Part of which seems to have a "These kids today, they have it too durn easy" component.)

My father (b. 1919) graduated from HS in 1937. He started college, but the Depression and family responsibilities forced him to quit school and go to work. He was accepted into the GE Machinist's Apprentice Program. A couple years later, and he was at the pinnacle of the working-class ladder: 21 years old, living at home, with money to spare. Not a bad circumstance to be in on the eve of Pearl Harbor. As a master toolmaker, he would be utterly immune to the draft: (essential defense work). A toolmaker by day, a radio wizard by night: someplace in here he also picked up a First Class License, and went to work on GE's experimental FM station. He bought himself a car, and a fancy camera.

The camera he bought himself was a German-made Welti, a collapsible 35mm that's basically a knockoff of the Kodak Retina II (which EK was having built in their new German Nagel plant),with the same astounding Schneider 45mm/ f/2 Xenon. (Uncoated, of course, but still: f/2! Back before WWII!) and a sophisticated Compur-Rapid shutter (speeds from 1 second to 1/500). Typical wages were on the order of 35-40 cents/hour (the new Federal mim. wage had started in '38, at 25 cents/hr - - my father was apprenticed at something like that, but as a Master Toolmaker, I wouldn't be surprised if he was making more like a dollar an hour, with or without OT). But in those days, a decent camera like, say, the Argus A was $12.50 (more
than an average week's pay); a Leica was up near $200, which was a good fraction (1/4?) of the price of a decent car. The Welti was likely to have been well over a hundred bucks - - say, roughly a couple month's pay for him. And in those days. you could put an f/2 lens to good use: those were the days of Kodachrome 8.

After the war, he and my mother (m. Feb 1945) were on a delayed-honeymoon trip to Montreal in the summer of '45 or '46 - and his Welti was smash-and-grabbed out of the glove compartment. My father never quite got over it, and talked about the Lost, Lamented Welti until he died. With family obligations (new wife, then a new house, soon a new baby) he couldn't consider replacing it, so he consoled himself with an Argus C-3 'brick' and a Kodak Pony Bantam. When we settled his estate, I found that he had kept the empty Welti box among his effects until he died.

Part II Fast forward to the 21st Century.

Six months searching, and I found an f/2 Welti on eBay, being sold by the editor of Camera Shopper magazine in CT. (I suppose that the f/2 version in particular was probably scarce enough that there's a chance that this might be the very same camera that my father had stolen from him. There probably weren't more than a few score of them sold in America before the war changed everything.) Today, any not one Welti in ten is seen with the fast lens: it probably cost fully twice the price of the standard f/2.9 Welti.

I just got back the trial roll of XP2. The lens is a little hazy, bellows seem ok, guesstimated exposures are in the ballpark, so the shutter is likely to be somewhere close to nominal. Regardless of its age and problems, this Welti - pushing 70 years old! - makes acceptable pictures. Again: This camera is very nearly as old as 135 film.A six element double-Gauss is comically optimistic in the days before anti-reflection lens coatings, though. It is, shall we say, a little bit flare-prone? a little soft contrast? Basically, all high tones blow out, seemingly regardless of aperture. (F/8 doesn't seem a lot better or worse than f/2...) It'll be interesting to take a better look at what it's capable of.

So, I guess the next step is to load it up with Kodachrome 64 and go out on a Photo Safari with my daughter and her newly-adopted digital camera.

[Next stop: glass plates!]

Part III.
Well, I dug up a little selenium Gossen 'Scout-2' meter, checked it against my F3 meter, and I've loaded up the Welti with K64.
(Note that K64 is fully three stops faster than original Kodachrome....) Now to go out and shoot some film.
(It occurs to me that this lens is soft enough that it might look better with a high-contrast film. Hey! Why, I just happen to have the Worlds' Supply of Tech Pan....)

Working with a pre-war folder certainly makes one aware of what you're doing. And we learn why The Wisdom of the Elders has come down to us as: "Stand with the sun at your back and shoot at f/8": with uncoated glass, this is pretty much mandatory.

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