Revisiting an old friend: Part 2

In Part 1, I talked about Polaroid instant photography, and the walk down memory lane I had finding my Polaroid OneStep from the mid-1990s, loading it with new Polaroid Originals film, and taking some interesting shots. While digging around in pictures and cameras, I also thought of another old camera: my Kodak Duaflex II. The old Kodak, however, was sitting on the lower shelf of a side table in my living room, where’s it’s been little more than a knick-knack for years now. I thought it was time to say hello again.

The Kodak Duaflex was a series of cameras made in the 1950s, and manufactured in huge numbers during that time. They were a model of simplicity, much like the Brownie cameras of the same era. Fixed focus. Fixed shutter speed. Fixed aperture. Point, shoot, and hope for the best when the film came back.

Here’s an ad from December 1957 for several Kodak products, including the later Duaflex IV camera, which wasn’t substantively any different from my Duaflex II. Note the price: $25.25 for the kit. In today’s money, it’s the equivalent of $227.14. Not exactly pocket change, in other words.

A Kodak ad from December 1957 (click to view the full size image)

Most of the Duaflex cameras, including mine, had a Kodet lens of the type I just described. Some had a Kodar lens, which added the innovation of an adjustable aperture, providing your choice of three f-stops and offering a little more flexibility in shooting conditions (at least in terms of light). They used 620 film — film that’s not been made since 1995.

I began poking around online to refresh my memory about this camera, since I’d not actually shot any film on it (that I can recall, anyway) since the early 1970s. I discovered that people are re-rolling 120 film (still readily available) onto 620 spools. I discovered lots of people still shooting with cameras like this. I discovered lomography (the technique). And I found this Instructables page on how clean my Duaflex II — which I did.

I also found this post on The Darkroom’s web site with photos taken with Lomography’s (the company) ISO 800 120 film on a very similar Duaflex III camera. The photos, to my eye, were stunning and artistic. I was hooked.

The Film Photography Project has 620 film readily available. These are all 120 film stocks that have been re-rolled onto 620 spools, which FPP also has available for purchase to do your own re-rolling. As I write this blog post, I have one roll of color and one roll of black and white on their way, and I frankly cannot wait to take the old Duaflex out and give it a spin.*

Assuming the camera is still functional, I intend to follow the example from The Darkroom’s blog post and try re-rolling the Lomo 800 myself and see what happens. (They trimmed the spool instead.) These cameras were designed for ASA 100 (now ISO 100) films, so pulling with ISO 800 is basically doing two things: 1. Proving that film has a really wide exposure latitude in most cases. 2. Allowing the Duaflex to be used in lighting conditions that are outside its intended range, which in turn allows for some creative shots.

I particularly like this shot from that series; it captures something, I can’t quite put my finger on it, that makes me want to stare at the picture and examine its detail. The frog pot on the table. The variable lighting on the blinds. The contrast between light and dark. It makes me want to go investigate the room. The slight fuzziness and softness of the grain of the film. The somewhat irregular focus from the basic lens of the camera.

I love digital photography, and what digital photography coupled with smartphones has done for many of us is nothing short of revolutionary. I (and most people in developed countries these days) have a camera far better than the Instamatics and Polaroids of days of gone by, that focus better, offer clearer images, better dynamic range, instant results, and enable you to take practically limitless numbers of photos anytime, anywhere. (This is to mention nothing of the fact that they double as UHD 4k camcorders as well, providing you with an always-available video recording tool.)

It has been my experience that perhaps 1 of every 10 shots is worth keeping. That was true with film, and it’s true with digital. But with digital, you just shoot. Shoot hundreds of pictures; delete the bad ones. With film, wow, there’s a lot of expense, a lot of waste, and a lot of thinking about when or if to take a photo — based on cost factors alone.

But… There is still something magical about film. Sure, you can apply fake image filters to skew colors in a way that emulates film. You can emulate the light leakage you’d find in an old, crappy camera. You can double-expose, add fake film sprockets, you can do all sorts of things with your smartphone to make it look film-like. But it’s not film — it’s digital parading around pretending to be something it’s not.

After thumbing my nose at film and going all-in with digital years ago, I’m actually now missing film, and I can’t wait to get back to shooting some.

Check out Part 3 of this series for more on rediscovering film.

* For sample shots from the first roll taken with the Duaflex II, check out Part 4.