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FIlm is dead, and so is your phone

Mendeleev’s periodic table of the elements is 150 years old. Hurrah!

Film is back. Hurrah!

Film cameras are no longer made and will die out. Boo!

Some people are planning to make new film cameras. Hurrah!

Some people sell new film cameras. Hurrah!

Silver is running out. Boo!

So our revival could be short-lived. Silver is less abundant than uranium (surprise) but more abundant than gold. Part of the problem is that people don’t dissolve gold in photographic fixer and pour it down the sink. The main risk is probably mobile phones though. Everyone’s gotta get their upgrade. There is an estimate of over one million phones traded-in every month in the UK, ten million in Europe and twelve million in the USA. That’s where your silver is going, along with all the other rare elements.

What will happen is that the price of silver will increase rapidly before it finally vanishes. If you think film is expensive now, wait until it’s competing with smartphones.

I suppose the one light in the looming darkness is that, come the apocalypse, at least we will know that we can excavate the landfill sites as a source of raw materials.

What can you do? Keep your phone longer. Recycle. Pour your old fixer onto a wad of steel wool and let it stand before pouring it away. This plates the silver out onto the iron or drops it as sludge. You will be pouring less of a precious and rather toxic metal down the sink. What to do with silvery Brillo pads I’m not sure, but given enough silver sludge there will be a metal recycler who would handle it.

But enjoy film while you can. Before long we will all be shooting cyanotypes.

And if you shoot digital and are feeling smug, have a look at the number of rare elements used in screens, processors and lenses.

Think of the money I saved from those holes


Bullet-hole cameras

Proper blogs seem to be about cameras and lenses rather than photography, so here’s my grab at fame. 🙂

But here’s an unusual thing – instead of comparing cameras that you can’t afford this is a review of cameras that you can’t buy new.

Why am I bothering with this? Because both of these cameras can be had cheap, so you can risk taking them to places or doing things you wouldn’t do with your proper camera. Both of them are very limited in what they can do, so are good for creativity and experimentation. And both of them look funky. Using one of these will make you smile.

Back in 1950 Britain was on its economic knees after the war. Food rationing didn’t end until 1954. The country needed people to buy things and it needed things to buy. So the government arranged an exhibition of manufacturers to show the world that Blighty still had it. One of the companies that stepped up was Ensign, who showed a couple of new cameras. One of them was the Ful-Vue. It had a futuristic design, simple operation and sold well. It was so popular that Ensign brought out the Ful-Vue 2, which they claim sold over one million units during its three-year span.

Meanwhile, over in the USA, they were riding on a wave of mass production from the enormous manufacturing investment of the war. Kodak’s designer, the wonderfully named Arthur Hunt Crapsey Jr, produced an art deco Bakelite camera for the masses. The Brownie Hawkeye evolved through a flash-synced model, stayed in production until 1961 and sold by the squillion.

So what we have here is a head-to-head between two very similar cameras: an Ensign Ful-Vue II and a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash. Both are around 1950 vintage and so older than me. Both still work, unlike most of your later cameras with electronics. These babies will still be taking (not very good) pictures long after the rise of our robot overlords.

Both are very simple roll film box cameras. The large negative meant that simple contact prints of the negatives were acceptable and would be acceptably sharp. Both had a fixed aperture and a fixed shutter speed plus B. The Ful-Vue had a scale-focussing lens while the Kodak was fixed focus. The Ensign offered a shutter speed of 1/30 at f11 while the Kodak gave approximately 1/50 at about f16. America may have had better weather but the Brits had steadier hands. Both cameras used the simplest possible single-element meniscus lens. So technically, pretty much on a par. In marketing terms, these things were both the epitome of Minimum Viable Product.


Nice, simple. Watch out for the slow shutter speed. The shape of the Ensign and the position of the shutter release means you pinch the camera to fire it. This may help the steadiness. The Kodak has a push-down button to fire, but it’s a lighter action than the Ensign.

Both of them use a bright viewfinder through a second lens. The image is reversed like with a TLR so it can be tricky to frame a group or get your verticals right.

There is no interlock to prevent double exposures, so you learn to wind on after every shot. It does make double exposures easy though, if you want them. Plus, if you can put the camera on something steady like a table or wall, you can compensate for the small aperture by taking multiple shots on the same frame or holding it open on B.

Image quality

Fuzzy. Not too bad in the centre. But sharpness is overrated. The film is not held very flat and tends to give pictures that are softer at the sides. Since the negative is square one of the recommended tricks is to shoot groups with the camera rotated sideways. This makes the sides sharper at the expense of the sky and foreground, which is usually fine. Also, if you are shooting expired film or cock up the spool, it’s more likely to be the sides of the film that suffer. Turning the camera sideways and shooting horizontal subjects makes it easier to crop the top and bottom of the frame. But if you thought looking down into a reversed viewfinder was awkward, try sideways…

Pose value

Either. It comes down to a choice of art deco or streamlined curves. The Kodak has a little carrying handle while the Ensign takes a neck strap. Either would go well with a check shirt, beard and no socks. Actually, they are both lovely. You will feel happy using one and people will smile when they see you. Except photographers; they will shake their heads.


The Ensign wins on film choice. It uses 120 film while the Kodak uses 620. Kodak were the Apple of photography and tried to lock competitors out of the market by using dedicated film sizes. 620 is exactly the same film as 120, but rolled onto a spool that is slightly narrower in width with slightly smaller diameter end disks and a thinner centre post. Some 620 cameras have enough slack to take a 120 spool and I’m told that the Hawkeye can be made to take 120 with a bit of judicious fettling. Mine will take a fresh 120 roll on the feed side but will only wind the exposed film onto a 620 spool. No bother as I shoot black and white and develop it myself, so I can keep my 620 spools to reuse.

You can get 120 film in many types and places. 620 is more rare unless you can reroll your own 120 onto 620 spools. Just don’t call it 120mm or the Hypersensitive Photography people will growl at you.

The Kodak needs one to two more stops of light than the Ensign and won’t be sharp for anything closer than about ten feet. The Ensign has a focusing lens but the markings are speculative at best.

But that’s not the point. If you want sharp or adjustments, buy a better camera. These are fun and a challenge. Use one in bright sunlight as they were intended and get some nice retro shots. Or load it with slow film, go out in the gloom and take some long or multiple exposures. Waves of people washing against the rocks of architecture. Trees thrashed by the wind. Streaky skies and empty streets. All this from something that could cost less than a roll of Ektachrome or Portra.


Oh yes. Marred by the totally expired 620 film I tried to use, but what a joy to try and overcome all the constraints. Never again will I moan that my camera doesn’t have a top shutter speed of 1/4000. The only camera more basic than these is a pinhole. In fact, since the lens aperture isn’t that much bigger than a pinhole, can I call these bullet-hole cameras?

Scarborough Castle
Not normally this bad – this was some VERY expired film

Very old film

I was given some very old roll film as part of my Emulsive secret santa, for which I am very grateful. It’s 620 size, so the youngest it could be is from 1995. The backing paper tells me that it’s a lot older than that.

film paper

The first roll ran through the camera OK but was very foggy and stained. This filled me with a misplaced confidence that the next roll would work just as well. It seemed to wind-on normally but when I took the exposed roll out of the camera there was a bulge on one side. It looked like a fat roll, not suprising for something this old in a camera with only the most basic attempts to keep the film plane flat. It seemed to load very quickly onto the reel, which I thought little of at the time.

It turns out that the tape holding the leading edge of the film to the backing paper had dried-up and let go. So instead of the film following the backing paper across the image plane pf the camera and around the take-up reel, it caught and started rolling-up behind the lens. At some point it must have caught again, leading to a doubled-over length of film being wound round the reel. It was pretty obvious after development that the film had been folded in half.

old film
Film, folded over and banded where bits of it didn’t touch the developer. Plus the dried-up tape.

I have one roll of 620 film left, a lovely old example of Verichrome Pan. This too could be as recent as 1995, but I doubt it. Knowing what happened with the previous roll I loaded the camera in a dark bag. As feared, the tape holding the leading edge had fallen off. That was easily replaced with a bit of masking tape and the camera seemed to load OK.

The fun started when I tried to load the film into a reel to develop it. The trailing edge of the film – the end that you feed into the reel – was folded over by around 5mm. As soon as I tried to fold it back the film cracked and this strip fell off. This film is definitely older than 1995.

I carried on trying to load the film into the reel but it had a vicious curl from being wound around a thin 620 spool for many years. No problem: wind all of the film off the backing paper and load it from the other end. The film had other ideas. Even when I got the front edge lined-up with the entry point of the tank spiral, it tried to curl into a tube (the ‘cupping’ type curl that films like Tri-X are prone to).

So I need to find a way to get this film to relax. What I have done for now is to curl it around the centre tube in my Paterson tank to see if it will de-tension a bit. If that doesn’t work I may have to resort to soaking it and trying to load it wet into a wet spiral.

I’ll keep you posted…

UPDATE – rolling the film around the central tube of a Paterson tank and leaving it alone for a day worked! The film relaxed enough to be wound onto the reel and developed. Of course, it was so old it was totally fogged. Or fup duck, as we like to say.

The Shambles
Here’s one I prepared earlier
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