Found: Kodak bellows camera (used – film included)

August 19, 2022

Adrian is a scientist by day and a collector of obscure photographic relics by night. The chance discovery of an old Kodak bellows camera led him on a fascinating journey of discovery and a daring renovation project.

Stonehenge, 1950s. A couple walks on the stones, stopping to take pictures with their old Kodak. At the end of the day, the camera was put down with the film half used, not to be used again, the film never ended. For some reason it sat for decades with the slowly crumbling bellows. Then, around 2005, I spotted the attractive Kodak on a market stall in Oxford. Curiously I could see there was a movie and decided to buy it despite the crumbling bellows. I naively thought maybe I could fix them, but quickly realized they were way beyond my ability to fix them.

Kodak bellows camera found.  Photo credit: Adrian Gray

Kodak bellows camera found © Adrian Gray

What about this movie, though, would there be something on it? After an afternoon of development, I carefully loaded it onto a spiral. Once fixed and washed, I carefully unrolled the film and… wow! Two clearly identifiable images of Stonehenge, obviously from a very long time ago. It was the first found film on which I had found images, and what images!

Photo of Stonehenge found on Kodak bellows camera

Map of Stonehenge – found film discovered in a Kodak bellows camera was developed after an estimated 50-year hiatus by Adrian Gray. Unknown photographer.

Repair an old Kodak bellows camera

The Kodak became king of the shelves until, in early 2022, I found a set of bellows I had been given years before for a project I had never been brave enough to attempt. In a moment of madness, I decided to use them, thinking the Kodak was in bad enough shape that it didn’t matter if I failed.

I learned a lot very quickly about the construction of 1930s cameras – the bellows are held on by a metal plate at the back, attached to the camera body by bending over metal tabs, with just a length of black string as a light seal. It took courage, I didn’t know I had to unfold the tabs, and a lot of brute force and ignorance too.

Kodak bellows camera found © Adrian Gray

Kodak bellows camera found © Adrian Gray

As I disassembled the struts holding the shutter assembly together, I carefully counted the screws I had removed – but suddenly I had one more than I should have. Where did he come from? I counted and recounted the possible places, and no matter how many times I checked, there was definitely a mistake. It must have been stuck somewhere in the camera since it left the Kodak factory over 80 years ago. I didn’t return it – it now replaces a missing screw in another camera.

I had to remove the front plate of the new bellows with a scalpel and cut the back plate of the Kodak bellows to fit the new one, as the threaded holes to attach them to the shutter housing did not match. I was unable to unscrew the screws giving access to the shutter mechanism, but since I will never need to use dead speed, 1/25th of a second, I can live with that. I filed away any damage to the film door and gave it a generous coat of matte enamel paint once I thought I could make the camera usable again, which was quite late in the process.

Close up of found Kodak bellows camera lens.  Photo credit: Adrian Gray

Close-up of a three-element Anastigmat f6.3 lens on a found Kodak bellows camera © Adrian Gray

Towards the end of the reconstruction, I had the idea to take the camera back to Stonehenge and try to reproduce the photos as the first shots with the new bellows. I peeled a roll of Fomapan 100 off a 620 spool and loaded the camera.

In May 2022 I went to Stonehenge with the camera and took six photos. Since the originals were taken, access to the stones has been restricted so I have not been able to recreate the original views, but site staff were delighted to hear the camera story (more than their employers at English Heritage, who never responded).

The origins of the mysterious Kodak bellows camera

The camera itself is difficult to know more about. This shares many features with German-made Kodak Vollenda cameras of the late 1930sbut the strap says: “Manufactured by Kodak Ltd, London”, and the Vollenda range had faster lenses and better shutters than the three-element Anastigmat f6.3 in a three-speed AGC shutter that this camera sports.

It was probably an affordable version for the UK market, although it had some unexpected features for a cheaper camera – the nice shutter release button that pops up when you open the camera and the two tripod each filled with a split metal socket that unscrews to reveal the socket (and must have been horribly easy to lose). The struts, folding leg and red window covering are also a high quality combination of paint and nickel plating.

My best guess is that it was a product of Kodak’s “standardization” policy at the time, of removing the word from every dictionary in the company and offering every camera body a bewildering array of lenses and shutters.

Re-enactment of the original Stonehenge shooting on a refurbished Kodak bellows camera © Adrian Gray 2022

Thankfully, Stonehenge is easier to find, and like the camera, it’s been restored. The views in the original photos were altered long before the film was developed, with a trilithon re-erected in 1958-9 and the hollow stone the mac-man stood next to being reinforced with concrete at the same time. time. So the camera was last used before 1958. The film, Ilford Selochrome, a Scheiner “fast ortho film” at 30 degrees, around ISO80 and coincidentally discontinued in the late 1950s, must have remained with a latent image for almost fifty years before I developed it!

Stonehenge captured on a Kodak bellows camera

Stonehenge captured on a refurbished Kodak bellows camera © Adrian Gray 2022

The things I would do differently if I did it again…

Today I have a formula for developing film found that saves chemicals and labor. I use half support develop for one hour in 1:100 Rodinalrather than just using the last of everything I had used that day.

I would check the position of the sun before arriving at Stonehenge to avoid shooting at it. I also probably wouldn’t try a camera that I wasn’t sure was lightproof in direct sunlight, and I’m not sure I was brave enough to replace another bellows. I definitely wouldn’t try it with a better camera.

However it was very satisfying to finish, I have one less junk camera, and another old Kodak lives to fight another day!

Written by Adrian Gray

AP Reader Adrian is Scientist of the Week. On the weekends, he likes to take pictures of suitable subjects with his disturbing collection of antiquated cameras. If you come across a walker in the Lake District with an old folding camera, it’s probably him.

Looking for more film photography inspiration? Check out these other articles:

How to digitize film
How to do film photography on a budget
Essential guide to darkroom printing
How to start a camera collection

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