Monthly Archives: August 2009

Gift from the Great Wall

Today we have something a little different. My latest camera acquisition is a Tru-View, a cheap plastic camera made by Great Wall Mfg. of Taiwan, probably in the 1970s. It’s a clone of the more well-known Diana. Great Wall made (I hesitate to say “built”–extruded? Pooped out?) the Diana in a few variations with many different trade names, for different markets, but all essentially the same camera. Simple plastic lens, three apertures, one speed. Takes 120 roll film, makes 16 small exposures. The contemporary Holga is a descendant of the Diana.

These are among the crappiest cameras ever made. I got this one for $10 on eBay. These cameras now have a certain cachet in a small niche of the photo world, and you can buy new Holgas at Urban Outfitters, for three times the price they’d be anywhere else. In fact, if my Tru-View had the Diana label, it would likely have sold for more.

In my first post, I commended the Kowa for its sharp optics. Compare a similar detail from the Tru-View scan. You will note that the Tru-View is, well, less sharp. You may also note the chromatic aberration. It doesn’t help that the Tru-View has only crude distance-scale focusing. And there’s vignetting–it can’t quite cover even the reduced 4-centimeter frame.

So what’s the appeal? For starters, they’re about as far as you can get from the clean, bright, linear world of digital cameras. You can shoot with these cameras and really, you don’t know what you’re going to get until you process the film. This particular one seems to be reasonably light tight (many are not), though it appears that the red window is letting in enough light to cause an artifact. Everything becomes instantly impressionistic and surreal. The Diana-type toy camera intrudes itself into the result, and becomes part of the process.

The only drag about having one of these is that toy cameras are kinda trendy among the artsy-hipster set, or at least the artsy-hipster wannabe set. I mean, they’re for sale at Urban Outfitters, fer cthulhu’s sake. But anything that gets a few more film cameras out the door is good, right? Maybe the thing that annoys me most is that they’re paying too much–they could get the cameras and film from Freestyle or B&H for less. At least I only paid what my camera is really worth–almost nothing.

Getting Back to Work

I need to have more imaginary friends, so I guess it’s a good time to start a new blog. My wife and I moved a couple of months ago, and I need to finish setting up my darkroom, but it’s too hot to think about working. I need a small bench for the trays and I need to make blackout window frames. because my darkroom is also my home office. However, I can go ahead and get some film scanning done. I’ve got a few chromes I want to make prints of, and I don’t have any color printing capability. The wet darkroom stuff is all b&w. But that’s okay. I’m partially color blind. I don’t see green, really, much at all. It’s largely a hypothetical concept to me. So it’s easier to manage color with the computer.

I’m watching a scan appear on the screen as I write this. A frame taken with a Kowa 6, a camera I tried and couldn’t get used to, so I traded it for something else. But I did get a few good shots with it. This one is on Fuji Provia. I’m scanning at 6400 dpi, so it makes a whopping big file.

Here’s a small version:

cave of dreams

I found the Kowa to be kind of difficult to hand-hold due to its odd form factor, but it did have a pretty sharp lens (detail at 100% of original scan):


So I think the main reason I want to do this blog is to make myself actually do work, rather than just sitting around reading other people’s blogs and forums all the time. I’ll actually have to produce stuff to have things to post on the blog.

I also want to hash out some ideas about why I continue to use film, when so many think it’s obsolete. The cameras I use most of the time are vintage mechanical Nikons, no auto anything. I enjoy the actual taking of the photo–lining up the shot, considering the exposure, the focus, the depth of field, operating the camera. It’s satisfying on a visceral level, like working with well-made tool or a good sharp knife.

I’m not being entirely Luddite, I think–the mechanical camera, the chemical process is just as much a product of an industrial age as anything else. And I know that the better digital SLRs will allow traditional manual controls. Nor do I reject computers in my daily life–I’m using one now, obviously. I surf the Web, use email, all that. I use Photoshop and InDesign. Thirty years ago I had an Apple II+ and a 300 baud modem.

Part of it is, I think, just a reaction to the fact that I do spend a lot of time in front of the computer, and want to retain something that doesn’t depend on the computer. That’s partly why I enjoy cooking, too. It’s just you, a knife, and an onion.

I think about John Henry sometimes, the steel-driver in the old folk song. John Henry challenged the steam engine, and he won the race, he beat the steam engine, but he died doing it. John Henry was a symbol of the transition from the human-powered era to the industrial era, and now we are passing into a post-industrial era, at least partly. Things that used to be physical artifacts are being replaced by their digitized versions. It has its advantages, but it seems that the external world becomes a little less interesting for it.