All Work and No Play?

At this point, it would be reasonable to say I was a very dull boy. Library research, culturally based school trips, debate team – not exactly the fun stuff of the early teenage years. However, there were other interests, much more fun things, that also took root during the Junior High School years.

At that time, my interest in photography really advanced. I had been taking photos since I was eight years old. Like many, I was introduced to photography via the Kodak Brownie cameras. My first camera was the Brownie Holiday. This was followed by the Brownie Starflash and finally the Brownie Super 27.

The Kodak Brownie Holiday had no adjustments!

This succession of cameras allowed increasing levels of control over exposure and focus. My Brownie Holiday was the non-synchronized model which meant it had no flash. This camera had no adjustments, just load the film and shoot!  According to the manual, Kodak did sell both a close-up attachment (the camera came with a fixed focus lens set by the factory for five feet and beyond), and a cloud filter, which could be used with black & white film only.

Brownie Starflash

The Brownie Starflash was more advanced. It had a built-in flash at the top of the camera, and one could modify the exposure using a small switch below the lens, with settings for color and B&W film.

Brownie Super 27. The flash was behind the door on left side of camera.

The Super 27 offered focus, aperture, and shutter speed adjustments. Focus could be “Close-ups,” or “Beyond 6 feet.” Aperture choices included “Sunny” (f/13.5) and “Cloudy/Bright/Flash” (f/8). Opening the small door to use the flash changed the shutter speed from 1/80th to 1/40th of a second and allowed for flash synchronization.

These cameras used Kodak 127 roll film. The Holiday had a negative size of 1 5/8 x 2 1/2 inches. There were eight exposures per roll and standard prints were 3 1/2 x 5 inches. Later, Kodak and other manufacturers, redesigned the 127-negative size to 4 x 4 cm, or approximately 1.6 inches square. This allowed for 12 pictures per roll. Both the Starflash and the Super 27 used the 4 x 4 cm format. Color transparency, or slide film, was also produced in the 4×4 format. The slides were mounted into a 2 x 2-inch frame, so they fit in a standard 35mm slide projector.

In the early 1960s the 127-format faded from popularity in favor of the rapidly growing 35mm film format. I went the same way, switching from my Brownie Super 27 to a 35mm Minolta AL. I was more than ready to take the jump into a camera that had the full complement of aperture and shutter speed controls. Depth of field was discussed in the manual that came with the camera. As I recall, the Minolta AL was top rated by Consumer Reports and sold for the very reasonable amount of $80.00, still far more than what the Kodak cameras cost.

Minolta AL with Rokkor f/2.0 lens.

The Minolta AL featured a fast f/2.0 lens, rangefinder focus and, shutter speeds up to 1/1000 of a second. It also had a “cold shoe” for mounting a flash, which then plugged into the camera using a sync cable, and a built-in light meter. Using this camera further increased my connection with photography, and even led to a few early publications, such as in the Bell Park Manor Terrace newsletter.

Today, some knowledge of camera controls is still a big plus, even if you are shooting on a smart phone. These devices offer some control, such as specifying the zone of focus, turning off the automatic flash, and slider bars to modify exposure. Digital cameras go further, providing more control, such as setting the ISO (then called film speed or ASA), deliberate under and over exposure, locking the zone of focus and more.

I loved using a slow shutter speed and the fast lens to push the envelope on available light photography. I estimate this photo of junior high graduation was shot at f/2.0 and 1/30th of a second. Note the lack of depth of field and any motion became a blur.

Photography has at least two distinct components – technical and artistic. Becoming comfortable with exposure, focus, and depth of field enables one to use the tools of photography. Things than transition to composition, working with light conditions, and ultimately the vision of the photographer.

The computer is today’s darkroom.

Back then, the technical aspects of photography had to do with exposure, focus, and perhaps a bit of chemistry for processing. Today we have the whole new world of working with the computer. Digital photography has transformed the photographic knowledge base – today we need to be computer literate and learn how to use software tools to complement the traditional technical aspects of photography. The computer is today’s darkroom.

I took both color and black & white photos, getting into transparency films, such as Kodachrome and Ektachrome. Last year Kodak (now Kodak Alaris) re-introduced Ektachrome after a five-year absence, in both 35mm and Super 8 formats, saying film photography is making a comeback!

Two of my close friends had fathers who were involved in photography. One owned a camera store on nearby Union Turnpike and the other operated a photography studio in Nassau County. Both men took my interest seriously and helped me progress in my understanding and results from photography. As time went on, I was guided in choices of film and processing, equipment, and even getting paid assignments.

Their confidence in me doing photography related work really increased my belief in myself. Growing up as a boomer in heavily populated Queens meant it was challenging to find one’s self. This was especially true with my peers, as we had an incredible group of guys, virtually all of whom turned out to be exceptional. My experience with photography allowed me to begin to find myself and my confidence, which has served me well ever since.

I’m still pushing the envelope on available light photography. This shot was taken at ISO 1250 and f/2.8 at 1/5th of a second using a Sony RX100 III camera. Current technologies like digital noise reduction and image stabilization help when using such a slow shutter speed.

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