Gems from the past

Hidden in my Nan’s attic there was a leather suitcase, as there are in many attics. In this one was a jumble of old cameras. And I mean old cameras! There are ones with bellows, ones with clockwork and ones that I have absolutely no idea what they are or how they work.

For the time being I have decided to concentrate on possibly the newest camera in the box – the Rolleicord. I’ve never used 120mm film before so I decided that there was no point trying to get the really old ones to snap away until I had learnt the intricacies of shooting on 120mm film. So, full of “how hard can it be?” bravado I brought some film, a light meter and  opened the film wrapping.

Which in itself, showed just how much of a numpty I was being. 120mm film doesn’t come in canister as 35mm does. So in unwrapping the film and trying to work out what all the paper it was tied up in I instantly ruined my first roll of film. A great start!

OU Week 1

So, after that first disaster I decided that I needed a little help, and turned my attentions to finding a guide or instruction book. And what a guide book I found! Titled the “Rolleicord Guide”, published in 1957 (5th Edition) it defies explanation – the best I can do it is sneak you some quotes.

Starting with the first sentence, it gives you a clue that there is some comic gold in this manual “The chief merit of the Rolleicord – and of the whole Rollei family, including a large number of illegitimate children of very similar parentage but different industrial parentage…” Right. Not a paragraph in and it’s got me questioning what the camera did to pass the time in that suitcase!

The guide seems to believe that no female would ever be interested in photography – as all references and instructions refer to him, and the size of the images “are quite appreciated by people who like to carry the latest ones of their wives, children, pets and friends in their wallets”. Now I accept that this is a book of the time where this was acceptable, but it seems to be a pretty bad advertisement strategy to automatically eliminate half the market.

Now – I am a child of the digital age, there is no hope that I would have continued to take photographs if digital cameras had not been invented. I simply wouldn’t have afforded the continual costs of developing film to discover it was out of focus and underexposed. I only got to be half decent by making lots of very cheap mistakes and learning from that. Judging from the following excerpt – I think the author would have a heart attack to hear me admit that. ” The photographer who shoots haphazardly, relying on the latitude of modern films, just like a snapshotted with a box camera, does not deserve and will not get better pictures than that man with that instrument”.

OU Week 1 and Socks039

And so we come to the best quote of all – the one that had me and my family splitting sides. “(the Rolleicord) is hopeless in a crowd. The Rolleicord, of course, is equipped with special means for viewing at eye-level and can be operated even by holding it over one’s head. It goes without saying that none of these positions is a particularly comfortable or genuinely flexible one. The man who likes to make extensive use of them merely reveals that he does not quite appreciate the real advantages of Rolleicord photography at it’s best. Frankly – it is safer – because it ensures better definition – to stand on a chair, a table, a ladder, or hang from the rope of a barrage balloon, always holding the camera in the reflex position proper”. Tut. And there was my mum saying I should I’d never use that barrage balloon again and I should deflate it!

Finally – I leave you with the biggest selling point the author could think of. “If you are a good-tempered type, who likes a good-tempered pictures – choose a Rollei. It is a good-tempered camera.”


Does anyone reading this have a Rollei that they have got working and could give me some advice that doesn’t involve swinging from a barrage balloon? Even any advice on getting the best from 120mm film?

Thank you.

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