I am truly blessed to have some wonderful friends, many of them know that I love to shoot film. Last month, I received the following note from Josie, a retired colleague and a good friend:
“I recently had to move my parents from their home of many years, and I have come across a few things that belonged to my grandfather that I'm not sure if I should just trash or donate somewhere.
The attached photos are of an old Kodak 1A Autographic camera that I just barely figured out how to open. I just wanted to check with you before sending it to the trash.”
Yikes! I honestly didn’t know what a Kodak Autographic was but as an old film camera it deserved my attention. A quick Google search revealed it to be a beautiful camera. I couldn’t let the life of a precious old film camera come to a tragic end in the trash. I was going to accept it. Even if it turned out to be unusable I could put it up on my shelf to display.
I got the camera at an event we both attended at work a few days later to celebrate a colleague’s retirement. At first glance, Josie’s grandfather’s camera was clearly showing its age. The leather covering was old, brittle and peeling in places. Not surprising since I estimate it was made sometime in the mid twenties, maybe 1923. It was definitely a well used camera.
The Autographic has a metal slot on its back that can be opened to inscribe a note on the specially made 116 film using a stylus that came with the camera. You wrote on the film with a steel stylus and then exposed it to light for a few seconds, kind of like analog captioning.
The camera is not obsolete just because 116 film isn’t available. The Autographic can be modified to accept 120 film, a narrower film than 116. The film spools are also narrower so some accommodation needs to be made to fit them in the camera. I found some good tips on YouTube and used stubbed plastic wall anchors to extend the length of the 120 film spools to fit the camera. Worked a treat.
The camera came with a legacy 116 sized takeup spool which I used for the first roll. It’s a bit longer than a 120 film spool. After shooting the first test roll though, I realized that the edges of the exposed film were open to light on the 116 spool since the film width didn’t extend the full end to end width of the spool. Next time, I may just open the back of the camera in a black bag and that would solve the problem if I only shot one roll of film. However, if I want to pull an exposed roll out of the camera and put in a new roll to continue shooting I’ll have to modify a 120 spool to lengthen it. I’ll likely do that by adding the cut off ends of a 120 spool and glueing the ends on another spool to lengthen it to the size that will fit in the camera. Then the film will wind properly and the edges won’t be exposed to light when I open the camera.
It’s a beautiful but very basic camera. I cleaned the lenses and small viewfinder by simply unscrewing them from the camera. So easy. They cleaned up very nicely with Zeiss cleaning wipes, the years of dust and fogging just wiped away. Everything else seemed to work.
The shutter speed has a couple of settings including time, bulb, 1/25 and 1/100 of a second. I shot all the frames on my test roll at 1/100 of a second. That constant shutter speed was the easiest to work with for exposures on the Ilford HP5+ 400 film. The aperture is adjustable from f/4 to f/64.
For focusing, the bellows slides in and out and has a few slots to lock the focus from four feet to one hundred feet, essentially infinity. No rangefinder patches or anything more complex than estimating distance to subject.
I had to experiment with advancing the film. For this first roll, I turned the advance wheel eight full rotations. It wasn’t enough. The first frame was only half exposed. So I’ll have to advance ten full rotations to get to the first frame next time.
After each shot I advanced the film three rotations and that was too much. There was too much space between frames so I wasted some film. So next time, I advance the film by two and a half rotations. Other than that experience and learning, the camera was very much a pleasure to use. It’s a very manual camera, not surprising for an almost 100 year old antique and I love manual shooting.
Here are the results from my first test roll in the Autographic 1A, the good, the bad and the ugly. The images are panoramic. I love the size they’re giving me on 120 film.
Will I use the Autographic again? Of course I will.
As always, thanks for reading.