Tempted by an early Medium format SLR

Again I am wondering to myself why I bought yet another camera.  My collecting of cameras usually focusses on Voigtländer and I have a plenty of those to play with, but for some reason I decided I wanted to buy one of these and so (very quickly it seems) I did.

It all started while perusing an auction site; no not that one, another lesser known one that benefits charity.  While browsing I found a bundle of 10 or so uninteresting cameras  but hidden to the side of one of the pictures was an interesting looking box-like camera with ‘Pilot 6’ emblazoned on the front.  I don’t know why I picked up on this or why it took my fancy.  The description of the lot was sparse and did not mention this camera at all.  The only photo in which you could see any detail, only really showed about three-quarters of the front as the focus of the image was another camera entirely and this was tucked in behind.

I had no knowledge of this camera and so I started to do some research and read what little information there is about these cameras on the internet and I also watched a couple of videos along the way. 

This is a very early 120 format SLR from around 1936 and is pretty basic. It was made by Kamera Werkstätten Guthe & ThorschJudging (otherwise known as KW) in Dresden, Germany. From the pictures I could find it is capable of taking decent photos;  I was beginning to bite..

That other (better known) auction site had a couple of them on there which were selling for a fair penny.  I thought that maybe, if I played my cards right and won, even if I didn’t ultimately like or keep the camera I would be safe to more than make my money back selling this and the other cameras in the lot on (as long as someone else in the know hadn’t spotted this one in the photos).

I decided that, as the lot was at a low price (less than $20), I would keep an eye on it and see where it went and if it didn’t go crazy I would have a go.  A couple of days later and it was still in my reach; I put my bid in…. unfortunately my bid did NOT secure the lot; so someone else got themselves a little package in the post instead of me.

But I couldn’t let it go.

I went back to eBay and took another look at what was out there.  There were a few still for silly money but after a few tweaks to my search criteria I found one lurking where it may not have been found by the casual searcher and after a little thought I was the new owner for the minimum bid; a few days later I had it in my hands.

Initial inspection showed that although condition wasn’t great it all seemed to work and the only disappointment was that the ground glass was cracked – it doesn’t stop it working but is annoying.  The leatherwork and metal is not in great condition with some corrosion here and there but nothing critical.

It’s a nice compact little package much much smaller (and lighter) than my C-330 and similar to that of a Yashica 44.

It took me a little while to familiarize myself with the operation and I found that the cocking lever needed an extra push to get the mirror to stay up and set the shutter.  The image on the glass is dim and a little difficult to focus but was okay (the magnifying lens helps).  It was missing a take-up spool so I had to steal one from another camera to test it.

There are just s few shutter speeds which are tied to the mirror mechanism not unlike how the Exa works and aperture is also limited and rather than being a ring that opens and closes it is a series of different sized holes that slide into place; not unlike Waterhouse stops http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/Waterhouse_stops . Most of the information available on these cameras suggests that these shoot 6×6 negatives but mine definitely shoots 6×4.5 (645). Doing some further research and talking with other owners it’s not clear as to whether two formats were available or whether the 6×6 cameras were retrofitted (expanded) to 6×6 size by having the hole cut bigger.

There was some corrosion on the inside on the rollers and I did my best to clean that off. After which, I loaded up a roll of Portra 160 and headed to the beach; well I was going there anyway and it seemed a reasonable place to get some shots.  Loading the film is pretty standard although as this camera shoots 645 it has two windows for selecting the frame number.  You use both; first to the lower window, take a shot, then same number to the upper window, take the next shot, then move on to the next number in the lower window.  The windows aren’t very clear and somehow with my degrading eyesight I missed frame 1 entirely so started on frame 2.

It was a bright sunny day and I selected the most appropriate settings I could.  A few shots later and suddenly everything seized, I couldn’t wind on any further.

Back home I put the camera in my black bag and opened it up. It  was difficult to tell bet I thought that the film spool was had started to pull out (there’s not much to hold it in place other than a spring clip.  I closed it back up and tried winding on; success!  Although now another frame or two was skipped.

The next day out was to the Huntington Library and Gardens not far from us. I managed a few more frames before it jammed again.    I decided to give up and get what I had shot developed and this is where another error on my part happened…

The take-up spool I had taken from another camera was an old metal one from a box camera I have had for a long time and after loading it I had regretted that decision as I wanted to keep it. I could (had I been really thinking it through) just asked the lab to return the spool but as I had forgotten they had that option, I instead decided to re-roll the film back onto it’s original spool AND rather than just rewind it, I took it completely off the spool to put it on ‘the right way round’.  It has been a long time since I have attempted to re-spool a film and I had forgotten how tricky it was.  Suffice to say that film got a lot of handling inside my bag before it was secure.  And off it went to Old School Labs for them to do their magic.

While I waited for the images I considered this camera.  I hadn’t had the best experience with it (albeit perhaps of my own making) and it’s really not a camera that fits into my collection.  But it is an interesting and compact little thing and depending on the image quality may be worth keeping.  But I have so many cameras will it really get used?….

The images came back and as you can see from the few shared here, they are not great.  But what is not great about them, could easily be my fault; there’s definitely some operational issues here, the light leaks could have been my fiddling with it when it jammed as the latch is an awkward mechanism and I may have let it open slightly.  The spots are possibly from all my mishandling or could be the rollers not fully cleaned.

This last image I took of blue flowers (alliums?)… looking past the fogging on the right and the spots… is actually very crisp and decently exposed.. Maybe this camera deserves another try before giving up and passing it on?

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Maria Vincent Robinson

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