Kissing Many Frogs

26 April 2015

Kissing Many Frogs


As I continue on my journey with super 8, and trying to acquire a decent camera to do the job, I am kissing more than my fair share of frogs.

Kodak Instamatic M12- identical to mine.
My dad’s old Kodak Instamatic M12 is busted. Has been for years. I keep it more for sentimental reasons, but obviously there’s not much I can do about that.

My trusty old Revere 8 Model 88. 75 years old and still works like a charm.
I dug out my old Revere Model 88 but remembered that it takes Regular 8 film… which is fine, but most stocks have been discontinued. The only one available through BH Photo Video, FOMA, is backordered until May. The price is reasonable, but trying to find a processor that a) handles black/white reversal film and b) won’t cost an arm and a leg makes it a little difficult.

Argus 804- mine is identical except it's missing back battery cap.
I first found an Argus 804 at a local thrift store for $20. When I first got it, the battery compartment was severely corroded, but I managed to clean it out with q-tips and white distilled vinegar and replace the contacts with tin foil... and it ran! I threw in the one test cartridge that I have and it chattered away like music. It’s missing a small battery cap for the exposure—it works but I don’t want to shoot film in it until I can get power to that exposure cell.

But despite early luck with the Argus, trying to find a super 8 camera in Utah thrift stores is the legendary equivalent to a needle in a haytack. Utah culture is known for their bargain and treasure hunting, and that makes for slim pickings. The classifieds are just as bad.

Bolex Reflex P1- identical to the one I looked at.
My first attempt at looking at a private seller was a Bolex Reflex P1. A regular 8 camera- it was beautiful, I ALMOST bought it until I discovered the wind up motor was busted. No sale.

Bolex H-16, identical to the one I looked at but with a different lens.
My second attempt was advertised as a Bolex Reflex H-16. It wasn’t a reflex, and although it worked it wasn’t well taken care of from the amount of dust on and in it. I couldn’t trust it, and besides I really wanted a reflex lens. No sale.

Minolta xl-400 (not the one I found, but identical)
My third attempt was a Minolta xl-400… but the seller has been hard to pin down and I’m not thrilled about the price for a camera that only shoots 18fps-especially with the run of luck I’ve been having. I figured I already have a low end 18fps camera with the Argus, so I decided to write this one off.

Leicina Super, mine- the picture is from the listing.
Then, because of my frustration, I decided to really take a gamble and get a Leicina Super (super 8) off of Etsy. I’ve read so many great things about Leicina- they’re made by Leitz after all! It came, and worked for thirty seconds. I really believe there are some wiring issues in there, and it won’t work correctly. I contacted the seller who will replace it with a Leicina 8sv (a regular 8 camera) which I am fine with- I love regular 8, and it will be better than the old Revere, but it puts a crimp in my future plans and it will probably only be regulated to the occasional hobby use. The lenses are beautiful (Leitz, after all) but again, I lost a little bit of money on this gamble. At least with the 8sv, the lenses are removable.

Bauer C3 with bag (Not mine, but identical)
Back to the classifieds: this time a Bauer C-3. Met the couple downtown at a campground. The lady had some beautiful minty looking cameras including a Kodak Brownie with the three-lens turret and a Montgomery Ward super 8! Those weren’t for sale, but the Bauer looked beautiful and the case looked brand new. They only wanted $20. I felt like it was a great deal. I took it home, put some batteries in it and… nothing. I KNEW I should have tested it. Then I noticed that there was a dent on the side of the lens, and that the optics were just off alignment that I realized this had been dropped and it was no good to them. Yes, it was a gamble that didn’t pay off. I can’t fault the couple, though. She looked like she may have needed some medical attention and they were probably just doing what they had to do. No point in going back after them. I’m chalking it up as another shelf piece/camera prop.

Minolta Autopak-8 K-11. Photo from the listing that I purchased!
Feeling dejected, most intelligently sane people would know to give up at this point. I’m neither; so now I’m attempting another Etsy buy. A Minolta Autopak-8 K-11. It has the variable frame rates, and only takes AA’s. The seller says it’s immaculate, and that the motor does indeed work. Fingers crossed. My run of luck has been bad, but I’m optimistic it will be fine. I am determined to make a go of this.

What have I learned from this? I should have simply saved my money and gotten a refurbished camera from Pro8mm. I took bad advice from forums saying that Pro8mm was too overpriced and you can get a better deal from an online auction. This might be true, but here’s the flip side to that: most sellers don’t know what they have. Sometimes you can find a treasure, more often you’ll find that it really is junk. Also, with something refurbished, it is tested and guaranteed. The down side to that is the initial cost. I think I’ve put in well over $300 into finding some sort of decent camera through thrift store/classifieds/auction finds. That’s $80 shy of their entry level camera… which only does 18fps and that’s what I don’t want. I want my 24fps, damn it! The next ones up from there are $800… but at that point you are getting what you need to get quality pictures. Regardless, I am definitely paying for my education.

All this has involved much research on buying film stock, processing, and telecining/scanning. I’ll talk about my findings in a future post.

It all comes down to this: I want to shoot film.

Yes, it’s a pain in the ass.

Yes, it’s hard to find equipment that works and won’t cost the month’s rent.

Yes, despite the film stock being available, you can’t find brand new, affordable super 8 cameras.

Yes, I’m aware that it could all go extinct in the next couple of years. I’ll always have my digital cameras.

But… I can’t ignore the organic, the artistic, magical feeling I get when I see this come together that no plug-in can truly emulate. Film is gorgeous, and it tugs at my soul.

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