Thursday, May 29, 2014

The End of an Era - Kodak Tourist II Folding Camera

One of the angels at Youree Cemetery in Scottsville. Several models of the Kodak Tourist II were manufactured during the 1950s, ranging from a basic model to the more advance model, used here, with multiple options for exposure combinations.
The era of the late 1940s and into the 1950s saw the birth of American car culture, with automobiles moving from the realm of utilitarian transportation into status symbol.
Recreational travel grew with the increase of cars on the road and with it photography reached a heyday for the American public as the words "tourist" and "tourism" began to beknown. It was into this environment the Eastman Kodak Company introduced what would become the last of its long line of folding roll film cameras, the Tourist and Tourist II.

I picked mine up off a popular internet auction site. (No, I ain't gonna say it! You can't make me!)

I'd first seen the Tourist camera in a post on the Rangefinder Forum website, one of the best sources of information on just about any type of rangefinder, scale focusing, analog or digital camera I've found. The RFF community is very knowledgeable on a wide range of topics. And most of the people I've communicated with haven't hesitated to address my questions, no matter how dumb I may think they are.

(I know some of you at RFF have been following this blog and the project for several months. But thanks for reading.)

One of the members had posted images of, and taken with, his camera. I was fascinated. I've got two or three old folding cameras in my collection, but they are more at the decorative, shelf-sitter stage. I picked them up for a song because they weren't in the greatest shape to begin with.

So I was excited at the idea of picking up a working folder and began trolling the inter-webs for a Kodak Tourist II at what I thought was a reasonable price. I almost had one a few months ago, but another bidder and I differed on our definitions of the phrase "reasonable price." He/she was willing to shell out more than twice what I was willing to pay so, needless to say, I didn't have a Kodak Tourist.

Undeterred, I continued my search until, in mid-April, I stumbled across one on that same auction site (still ain't gonna say it) that had a fair price to buy it outright. It took me all of about 30 seconds to decide and, suddenly, I was the proud owner of the camera I'd lusted after been looking for, for several months.

I already had the Kodak IV filters, including a full set of close-up lenses, and lens hood I'd inherited from my late father. It was a pleasant surprise, once the waiting for delivery was over and I had the camera in my hands, to find those filters and holders fit the Tourist II like a glove.

To my surprise, the camera had an unexposed roll of Verichrome Pan black-and-white film in it! It looked like someone had loaded the camera, then put it on a shelf and forgot about it.

I decided what the heck! I'll just go out and shoot this roll and see what, if anything, comes out. And, to add to the surprise, it worked. It was obvious it hadn't been stored properly, so it was fogged, but it didn't look as though the camera had been opened and I was able to scan several images from it into the computer, including this one of the support structures of the South Street Bridge in Nacogdoches.

I've mentioned before I find myself revisiting certain locations and subjects with each of the cameras in this ongoing project. And the South Street Bridge is one of those locations. But I've been photographing the bridge, with different cameras, different lighting and in different seasons, since about 12 minutes after I moved to Nacogdoches almost 15 years ago. So it seemed natural to make this image on the test roll with the new camera.

Fredonia Hill Baptist Church on a partly-cloudy day in April in Nacogdoches. Use of a red filter over the lens emphasizes the clouds and darkens the sky.

I quickly discovered a few issues. The leaf shutter, for example, seemed a little sticky at the slower speeds. In fact, the first few times I fired the shutter, it didn't close all the way until I recocked the camera, which is accomplished with a small lever on the side of the lens mount. A few hours sitting, cocking and releasing the shutter, solved this problem as it seemed to break loose and now works fine.

And that was another thing: Getting used to having to cock the shutter separately from advancing the film. I can't remember how many times in the first few days shooting with this camera I'd get everything lined up, focus estimated, exposure set and ready to shoot, only to depress the release and — nothing happened. Then I'd remember to cock the shutter, double check all my settings in case I'd knocked something cock-eyed, and make my image.

Researching the camera, I learned it was manufactured primarily during the late 1940s through the late 1950s.  It also was the last model in the long line of folding roll-film cameras manufactured by Kodak.

Stephen F. Austin State student Gabbie Fleming poses for a portrait in front of the Baker Pattillo Student Center on campus during Spring Fest on April 25, 2014, in Nacogdoches.

 There were two models, logically named the Tourist and the Tourist II. The camera I have is the Tourist II. Of each general model, there were several options, centered around the lens/shutter combo.

The Tourist II I purchased is one of the top-end versions, with an adjustable aperture and focus and variable shutter speeds. Other versions, apparently designed for the casual shooter, were limited to one or two shutter speeds and few if any aperture adjustments.

And using 620 film to produce a monster 2.25 x 3.25 inch negative, 8 to a roll, it produces amazingly crisp images. Most of my first shots were made on Fuji Acros 100 or Ilford FP-4 125 ISO black-and-white film rerolled onto extra 620 spools (which is really easier than it sounds once you get used to the process), which just enhanced the sharpness of the images.

It's a scale-focus camera, but I seem to be getting better at guess-tamating distance, so that's not really a problem. I'm sort of looking for an auxiliary rangefinder (I believe Kodak made a couple different models as did other companies) which would fit the top of the camrea. But I'm not looking too hard.

There were a few other things about the camera that took a bit of getting used to, including the shutter release, which is actually in the "door" of the camera, the part that swings out when unfolding it. It mates with the release lever on the lens mounting by a somewhat complicated series of levers which are supposed to engage automatically when you unfold the camera. I quickly learned it can miss engaging if you open the camera too quickly, a problem easily solved by closing the camera, then opening it again.

Overall, the Tourist II is a fun camera to shoot. It's another interesting stroll down memory lane and the history of photography. I'm still getting back to my roots and, seriously, I believe the experience I'm having with the analog cameras is helping me in my professional work.

Angel statues at the Youree Cemetery in Scottsville, Texas, near Marshall, photographed May 4, 2014, with the Kodak Tourist II folding camera. The weeping angel statue in the background, one of several angels in the cemetery, was purportedly designed by German immigrant Frank Teich, a stone cutter and sculptor who's work can be seen around the state, including in the capital building in Austin.
The digital cameras I use for the newspaper both have massive, multi-gigabite memory cards, capable of storing hundreds of images before needing to be downloaded. I still find myself using the "run-and-gun" technique sometimes, particularly with sports photography, just shooting anything that moves and sorting it out later.

But, with the analog cameras with a finite number of exposures on each roll of film, I'm finding myself being much more contemplative of the images I make. I usually only carry one or two rolls of film with me at a time, on purpose, to force myself to look carefully at potential image opportunities. I'm getting back to the look through the viewfinder, adjust the camera position, look through the viewfinder, adjust, look, adjust, until I have precisely the composition I want. And, since I typically print full-frame, I'm being even more particular about the images that wind up in the camera.

 Analog East Texas is an ongoing photographic project by Andrew D. Brosig, photo editor for The Daily Sentinel, in Nacogdoches, Texas. Each month, Analog East Texas will highlight an antique film camera from Brosig’s personal collection.
The idea behind the project is to explore the technology and technique that inspired both amateur and professional photographers in the pre-digital age. Analog East Texas also gives the photographer a chance to return to his roots in non-digital, film-based photography.
You may follow the project on Flickr.

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