Thursday, June 12, 2008

Practicus In The Studio: The Camera and Lens.

           The selection of the studio camera and lens, or rather lenses, for it is a serious handicap to have to work with one only, deserves the most careful consideration, and in comparison with other items a liberal allotment should be made when planning your outlay. A badly made camera or an inferior lens will soon cause the loss of more money than is saved on their cost, and will do much to brand the work turned out as second class or worse. The operator should never work with the feeling that he could do better if he had better apparatus. Now I do rot want to convey the idea that such apparatus should necessarily be costly, and as an instance of this I may say that I recently selected for a young friend a 12x10 outfit, comprising camera, studio stand, a 12 in. f/4 portrait lens, and a 5 D. Dallmeyer f/6, at a total cost of less than 25, all being purchased from well-known London dealers.
           Broadly speaking, there are two models of studio camera: the British pattern, as made by Hare, Watson, and several other makers, and the German model, which has been extensively copied by English makers. For practical purposes there is little to choose between them. When choosing a camera it is desirable to have one which is not permanently built into its stand, as in the case of any accident to the latter the whole outfit is rendered useless; besides this, it is impossible to get the camera near the floor, which is often necessary when taking children's portraits.
           Movements’ essential to the studio camera are rack and pinion or screw focusing. Personally I prefer the latter, although it is considered rather out of date now, as it never gives trouble by becoming loose and allowing the back to move, besides being conveniently placed in a fixed position. There should be vertical and side wings to the back and a rising front; the bellows should be of ample length, bearing in mind that lenses of much greater focal length are now used than was formerly the case. Twenty-four inches is not an uncommon length, so that for a 4*(1/2)-in. head on a 12 x 10 plate we require an extension of 36 ins. This should not be lost sight of if one is offered an otherwise suitable camera of old pattern, although the defect may be remedied by fitting a cone extension or "box front." Whatever camera is selected it should be well cared for and not allowed to become covered with the black greasy patches one too often sees. In passing I may remark that ordinary spirits of turpentine is an excellent medium for cleaning dirty woodwork, and an hour's work with it, followed by some good furniture cream, will often make a camera and stand look worth 50 per cent, more than when you started.
           It is very usual to fix repeating backs so that two half- or quarter-plates can be used side by side. This is a survival of wet plate days, when it was no more trouble to coat and sensitize a whole-plate than one-half or quarter the size. I think that the American plan of "one slide, one exposure" much more handy and safe. Many of the American studio stands have racks on either side, one for unexposed and the other for exposed, a dozen or more cheap single slides each for a 7 x 5 (American half-plate) being supplied with the camera. Double exposures can then only be made by the grossest carelessness. Another "Yankee notion" which is a good one is to make the pushing of the slide into the exposing position open the shutter. This has been improved upon by Messrs. Dallmeyer, who introduced a back in which double flap exposing shutter slipped along with the slide, so that the lens did not require covering before the slide was opened; this saves much time. In my opinion, any camera-maker who would supply such a device fitted with a number of cheap slides would find his reward. Think of the convenience of being able to make a couple of dozen exposures without having to refill.
           If the ordinary stands do not seem satisfactory to you, the platform style, of which the Hana and the Semi-Centennial are the best known examples, will probably meet all requirements. In these a Platform carrying the camera travels between two uprights, and the camera may be placed as high as an ordinary person can see to focus at or lowered to a few inches from the floor, the castors should be rubber-shod, and, if possible, a brake fitted, so that there is no risk of moving the camera when inserting the slide. The lens shutter is an important feature in studio apparatus, and the rubber fittings thereof have probably conduced to more profanity than all the rest of the outfit. I like the feel of a ball and tube while it is in good condition, but that is usually only for a brief period before it begins playing tricks before an important sitter. The Bowden wire cable or "Antinous" release is much move reliable, and would be better if the bicycle cable were used instead of the weaker form- usually fitted. The pressure button, too, is particularly annoying, as one cannot grab it anyhow as one can the rubber bulb, but must get hold of it just right between the fingers. It would .be quite easy to make a pear-shaped handle to work like the rubber one, and if the makers want a sketch for it I will send them one, but that will probably not be till the patent has expired.
           Now for the shutter itself, after having relieved my feelings about releases. The best shutter I have ever used, and I think I have worked with nearly every pattern, is an American one, the Packard Ideal There are several shutters, none British, of this pattern, which are probably nearly if not quite as good. It is made on the sector principle, with vulcanite leaves, and the working parts are balanced, so that very little pressure is required to actuate it. Let me confess it works best with a rubber ball and tube, the only disadvantage of which is that the rubber is too hard and the ball splits; still, if you substitute a good English bulb this trouble vanishes. The next best shutter is the velvet flap, originally introduced by Mr. James Cadett and still in use in the majority of studios under the name of the Guerry shutter. Why an English shutter had to be made in France and sold under a French name I cannot say, but so it is. The hemispherical bellows, or Grundner's shutter, is fairly satisfactory, but the interior bellows is troublesome. With the Antinous release it is much better, although the leather bellows which forms the shutter is easily injured by a. careless operator; still, on the whole, it is a good shutter.
           No less important than the camera is the lens; in fact, although with a faulty camera and a good lens we may produce excellent results, it is impossible to reverse the conditions and do so with a faulty lens upon the finest camera. The requirements of different studios vary so greatly that it is difficult to suggest the most suitable all-round selection. The length of the studio is an important factor, and I feel that I cannot do 'better than to refer the reader to the table dealing with the subject in the B.J. Almanac. Next in importance is the type of lens. Of late years there has been a growing tendency to oust the time-honoured Petzval or Dallmeyer types in favour of the rapid anastigmats. There are two sides to the question, and these have been little discussed. The anastigmat is unquestionably far superior to the portrait lens, when tried to its fullest extent, but it loses this position when only a small portion of its field is being utilized, as its cost is much greater and its qualities are wasted. If I were selecting lenses for a short studio, say, an eight-inch for cabinets and a twelve-inch for whole-plate standing figures, my choice would be an f/4.5 anastigmat of the desired focus, but if I could use a fourteen or sixteen-inch lens for cabinets I think that I should go for a portrait lens, which I could get at much less cost and which would possibly be fitted with a "diffusion of focus" adjustment. One point which I would specially impress upon the purchaser is to choose as long focus a lens as his studio will accommodate for the greater part of the work to be done. If the studio be very short, so that a 6*(1/2) or 7-inch lens has to be used for full-length cabinets, it is better to obtain at least a ten-inch lens for heads and half-lengths and to get a smaller lens for the full lengths. There are now some very cheap Anastigmats which work well, with apertures of f/6 to f/7.7, to be purchased at prices which were formerly charged for common foreign rectilinears, and these will answer for short-focus portrait work.
           There is a growing demand for soft definition in portraiture. By this I do not mean absolute fuzziness such as some selecting committees used to revel in, but a general softening of outline and suppression of small detail without loss of texture. To secure this many lenses have been introduced, and I have made negatives with most of them. The majority give too great an amount of diffusion at full aperture, and when stopped clown to reduce this exposures are unduly prolonged. For the everyday professional who wishes to make an essay in this direction I would suggest the use of the "patent" portrait lens of Dallmeyer, the recent portrait lenses of Ross, and the Cooke portrait lens. All these have adjustments which allow of any degree of diffusion up to a certain point being introduced at will, while in the case of the Ross and Dallmeyer lens a further stage may be attained by removing the back combination and using the front lens per se and in situ. There are many nameless portrait lenses, very bad as a whole, which would make excellent soft focus lenses if the back combination were taken out and lost. It should be remembered that the front lens of a portrait lens usually requires only slightly more than double the exposure of the complete lens, and not four times, as is the case with a rectilinear. The focusing eye-piece or magnifier is a very useful little adjunct to the camera outfit, as it saves eye strain and makes for certainty in focusing, especially in copying. One of fairly good quality of the Ramsden pattern will be found most satisfactory, as the field is flat and the definition good. The cheap forms with single lenses have too much spherical and chromatic aberration to be used by anyone not skilled in optical observation, and those who are would not give them house room.


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