Silverbased

Projects and ponderings for film photographers

The End of Plus-X, and other Kodak Worries

When the end came for Kodachrome, even mainstream news outlets published reminiscences about the legendary film. But Paul Simon never wrote a song about Plus-X, a venerable black & white emulsion which Kodak has just discontinued. So, its finale has met with a quieter response—only a few sighs and grumbles appearing in nerdy photography forums.

Perhaps that’s understandable, since Plus-X was merely one of numerous B&W films which Kodak has made over the years. And even Kodak’s own advertising rarely highlighted the film. Compared to Tri-X, the 125-speed Plus-X offered finer grain; but T-Max 100 (which remains available) uses tabular crystals with a grain structure even smoother still. So some may scarcely notice when Plus-X disappears.

1950s Plus-X box

1950s Plus-X packaging. Image courtesy Tony Delgrosso

Yet Plus-X is even older than Tri-X. In fact its production run was almost as long as Kodachrome’s—just one year briefer, if my math is right.  Plus-X first reached the market in 1938, originally (like Kodachrome) as a stock for movie cameras, not snapshots. By 1939, Plus-X was offered for still cameras in 35mm and 828 sizes; and the Weston Electrical Instrument Corp. rated it as “50″ on their own film-speed scale (the ASA standard did not even exist then).  It was a finer-grained, panchromatic film aimed at enthusiast users of “minature” cameras.

But when Kodak axed the cine version of Plus-X in April 2010, speculation began that the still-camera version was next. Now that’s happened.

Kodak has been pummeled by bad press throughout the fall of 2011. They’ve only made money in one year out of the last seven. And as Kodak discontinues more emulsions, photographers are becoming jittery—even wondering whether Kodak might drop film entirely. New markets like inkjet and commercial printing seem to be where the company sees its salvation. Read the rest of this entry »

Worldwide Pinhole Day

I wanted to make a quick post and remind everyone that Sunday, 24 April 2011 is Worldwide Pinhole Day. This is a celebration of pinhole photography, where you (and thousands of others) get out and make a pinhole-camera image on one particular day; then submit it to the WWPD website. (There is also a less active Flickr group, too.)

Perky Pinhole

The “perky pinhole.” Yes, it really works.

Longtime readers of Silverbased.org will know that pinhole photography is dear to my heart. (You can see some of my own pinhole images here. I have to admit that the pinhole mood strikes me randomly; I’ve been a bit erratic at observing the “official” date over the years.)

The other evening I saw some very beautiful work that a friend made using the Holga wide-angle pinhole camera. Still, I can’t help finding it preposterous that a hollow plastic box should cost almost sixty dollars. The whole beauty of pinhole cameras is that they’re so simple anyone can build one for themselves. All kinds of designs are possible, and Flickr’s Homemade Pinhole group will give you more inspiration. The only possibly-tricky aspect to building a camera is poking the pinhole itself, but my own how-to instructions should get you over that part if need be.

As part of my new Camera-wiki.org activities, I had a chance to completely revise our wiki article “Pinhole camera,” and add a new one, “Homemade pinhole camera.” The second article gives some general design guidance for pinhole cameras, but isn’t a step-by-step project like my posts here on Silverbased.

A few folks have seen the Pin-O-Rama design I did for MAKE magazine a few years ago. This is a pinhole camera which wraps 120 film around a curved film gate, giving an image 6×12 cm and more than 100° wide—the resulting photos are pretty entertaining. For some mysterious copyright-violating reason, the entire article is available as a PDF file here. But be sure to check out the errata on MAKE’s talkback page.

But whether you build something from scratch, hack up some old unused camera, or just go buy one of the commercial pinhole cameras now on the market, I hope this year you’ll give pinhole photography a whirl.

Camera-wiki.org

Occasionally someone asks me, “Vox, when are you going to post some new articles on Silverbased.org?” This is extremely flattering—and to both of you I say, “thanks! And that check is in the mail.” (Rim shot.)

Seriously though: I have probably done more writing about photography in the past two months than ever before in my life. It’s all because of my involvement in a new project, Camera-wiki.org.

What is that? Well, it is a free, user-written encyclopedia which tries to document all of the world’s cameras.

Heiland Pentax H1 — my first SLR, and now a wiki illustration

Heiland Pentax H1. My first SLR—and now, a wiki illustration!

Does that sound eerily familiar somehow? It should. For the past five years or so, there was a project called Camerapedia.org which had the same goal.

Founded as a wiki, Camerapedia was entirely created by volunteers. Naturally this meant there were all kinds of omissions and rough pages, but it was still a very cool idea. Your humble author even contributed a few articles, like one about the tiny little Yashica-44 twin-lens reflex, made for 127 film.

The site’s founder had been hosting and maintaining all this on his own dime for a number of years. Eventually something had to give. Unfortunately, the “solution” was a back-room deal to sell the site’s URL to the company Wikia, who would take over all hosting and maintenance.

Wikia is a wiki farm: A company that hosts wikis, and makes money from their site traffic by placing advertising on their pages. If you want to start up a Muppet Wiki, Wikia will give you a page template, maintain the software—then kick back to profit from the page views your user-created content attracts.

Things get more sinister when Wikia notices an existing, thriving wiki, and approaches the owner of its domain name. That tiny handful of letters is the conduit for every inbound link on the internet; it can represent a lot of traffic. It’s worth cash. While it’s pointless for me to speculate on motives, suffice to say that in January, 2011 “camerapedia.org” stopped existing as a site. Instead, that URL now directs to “camerapedia.wikia.com.” Wikia controls the page layout & fonts the public sees, and can change those at will. Their placement of ads can be quite garish and distracting.

Needless to say, this business model has attracted its share of critics. None of Camerapedia’s volunteers had any input about the sale. The howls became deafening.

You can read more here and here (if you’re really curious) about how Camerapedia’s contributors rebelled, and successfully split off an independent “fork.” But the happy ending is that our new, non-commercial Camera-wiki.org is alive and vigorous; and we have enough donations to get us through our next few months. (Feel free to chip in to our hosting kitty if you’re so inspired.)

Camera-wiki.org page

So if you’ve missed your Silverbased fix, there is a new place to look.  If you appreciated my Kodachrome tribute, I’m proud to have created a whole new wiki article about the legendary film. If you dug some of my techier pieces, I’ve added lots of details the wiki article on “Film.” Of course, since the site is a wiki, both those pieces have since been mercilessly red-penciled by one of Camerapedia’s other editors. If you follow those links a few months from now, other authors may have expanded them even further.

Camera-wiki also has its own blog. Besides general site-news updates, sometimes I post an interesting story unearthed from the pages of the wiki.

A Cry for Help

No, it’s not me that needs the help (although some friends would disagree). If  you click the random article link at Camera-wiki.org, you’ll find many attractive and well-researched pages… and others that aren’t. As a volunteer project, there are still lots of incomplete sections. Some article authors have native tongues other than English, so you might find some choppy prose. Surprisingly, certain whole brands (Leica!) have very uneven coverage.

So we’d be happy to have your help. If you own some uncommon old cameras, look at their pages in the wiki. If needed, we would love for you to contribute a good photo to our Flickr group (and join the discussions there). If you want to help add information to an article, or phrase it more clearly, you can create a login and have at it. The wiki markup syntax to create pages is a little funky behind the scenes, but we have some help pages and a FAQ to get you started.

Hope to see you over there!