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  1. #1
    singram's Avatar
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    Focus distance for a box brownie?

    I have a Box Brownie #2 that I would like to use for a series of portraits. It is actually one of the nicer models, it has three apertures and the ability to make timed exposures. The best part is that it takes 120 film, so no re-spooling.

    I found a PDF manual for the camera online, and I could not find the minimal focal distance for this camera. Since this is a fixed focus lens, how close can you get to your subject before they are out of focus? I am guessing about 5-6 feet or so, but I wanted to ask to make sure.

    If anyone has any portraits or websites with box camera portraits I would love to see them.

    Thanks,
    steve

  2. #2

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    Steve - according to the manual, "Picture Taking with the Nos.2 and 2A Brownie Cameras", you can take a 3/4 figure portrait with the camera 8 feet away, and a full length portrait with the camera 10 feet away.

    You might want to consider a Brownie Hawkeye camera with the No.13 Close-Up Attachment, which fits over the lens and allows you to take portraits from 3 to 4 1/2 feet away. The Brownie Hawkeye is a (relatively) newer camera, and is intended to use 620 film, but most Brownie Hawkeyes can use 120 film with a 620 film spool as the take up spool.

  3. #3
    Christopher Walrath's Avatar
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    I would figure no less than 5 feet away to be safe. I have not tested my 00 for an exact distance but I have never had a problem at five feet. Shoot a test roll and see how focus comes out starting at six feet and moving 4 inches closer per exposure. It's not ink, but it's relatively foolproof.
    Thank you.
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  4. #4

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    A bit off topic re: Focus Distance, but related to the No.2 Brownie . . . what is the lens aperture (f8? f16?) and what are the three f stops available on the sliding piece with the 3 holes in it?

  5. #5
    Nicholas Lindan's Avatar
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    Box cameras are traditionally 'focused' for 6ft to infinity with 12ft being the least out of focus distance.

    Get an old close-up lens and fix it to the camera with your favorite fix-it-to method. Find the best focus distance by stretching Scotch Magic tape across the film gate, in lieu of a ground glass, and examine the image with a loupe.
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  6. #6
    bowzart's Avatar
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    Why don't you just open it up, in a dark room, and aim a flashlight at it with the aperture set at its widest opening. Tape a piece of tracing paper across the film plane, and move the flashlight forward and back until the image appears sharpest. Even if you can't quite decide where that point is, it will most likely be just fine for your portrait distance. You can also change that distance by supplementing with positive or negative diopters, if you wish.

    It is possible to get a fairly good (if imprecise) idea of what the focal length of the lens is in the same way, if you can get the tracing paper (you could use ground glass, too) to stay in a place ahead of the film plane. You would need a bright object a long way away, such as a streetlamp at night. Move the paper forward and back until you are confident that you have a pretty good idea of where the image is the sharpest.

    I would not suggest using the sun for an infinity object. You could start a fire.

    When you get that approximate focal length, you can measure the diameter of the apertures. Divide the diameter into the focal length. If you are right on, you'll get a familiar f/number. If not, you can see how far off you would be. The f/numbers will most likely be a three stop sequence such as f/11, f/16, and f/22. I'd suspect that is pretty close to what it would be.

    One other way of finding essential information involves analysis of the probable tasks that the manufacturer would assign the engineers. What would they want the camera to do? Most of these cameras assumed a medium speed film, of ASA 100. Since it is Kodak, this would have been Verichrome Pan (which films do I miss most? That's one of them!). Figure that the camera has been designed to use the "sunny 16" rule. At best, the user will have limited success since the controls are so limited. The manufacturer wants the user to get the best success, because that will keep the customer buying film. So you can figure that they will try for a fairly fast shutter speed, and a small enough aperture to give a good depth of field. See if you can compare the shutter in the box with some other leaf type shutter; you can get rather adept at this but probably never will become a human shutter tester. I suspect that "I" will be something close to 1/100. If the camera was built for a lower ASA film (VP may have been 50 or something prior to it's life as 100, can't remember), it may have a slower shutter speed, but more likely, the f/#'s would be changed to one step down.

    Regardless of which of the 3 apertures the user selects, one requirement would be sharpness out to the horizon. So, you could pretty much figure that the focal length / aperture settings would be designed so that the camera would be focused at the hyperfocal distance at the largest of the three apertures. That way, distant landscapes would be adequately sharp. The portrait subject could be closer to the camera than where the camera's fixed focus is set. You get more to the near side as you stop down, and you will "lose" some of your usable DOF but that's going to be inevitable.

    This is the way us English major types do it (that isn't actually me, I was an art major! Worse!). The engineers will doubtless have some other ways to do it using formulas.
    Last edited by bowzart; 12-28-2008 at 04:25 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  7. #7
    tony lockerbie's Avatar
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    Hi Steve,
    You will have fun with the Brownie, great cameras to use. I found that in "portrait" mode, the best distance is about five feet, fairly imprecise of course, but half the fun of these cameras is no quite knowing what you will get! This gives me a half length shot of an adult, with great soft edges at full aperture, which is close to F11, the others being F16 and 22. The things are reasonably sharp at F22, but I don't know the look that you are after.
    I do a camera every month (way behind at the moment) on my website, and the number two Brownies are my next one. I should get this up today or tomorrow, I'll give you a PM when it's done.
    Tony

  8. #8

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    Toney:

    I, too, have No. 2 Brownies, so I am also interested in the review you will be putting up on your website.

    EuGene Smith

  9. #9
    2F/2F's Avatar
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    Mine is a No. 2 as well. Three apertures, bulb mode, takes 120 film, shoots 6x9. I think it is circa 1930.

    I shoot with it a lot. They are great fun.

    However, use a different camera if you want "sharp". They are decently sharp in the middle, and surprisingly sharp for what they are, but will disapoint you if you want tack sharpness.

    They are sharpest at the smallest aperture, and I wouldn't count on anything being as sharp as the camera can get if you are any closer than 10 feet or so. Also, the very center of the frame is the sharpest area. The smaller the aperture you use, the farther away from the center the image lasts before fuzzing out.

    Be sure to tape over the orange window. Waste a few test shots to figure out how far to turn the advance knob, and then tape over the window and leave it taped or you will get major light leaks.

    Shutter speed could be anywhere from '25 to '100 based on what I have heard on the Internet. I have never actually had a camera guy measure it for me, but maybe I will do that the next time I go to Culver City to pick up my repairs. Based on the exposures I get in my shooting, it seems like the camera is designed to use an ASA 25 film in the sun at the smallest aperture, so I always assumed the shutter speed was '25 and the apertures were f/8, f/11, and f/16. Pan F works well in these cameras in good light. In my "good" cameras, I need to rate it at 25 or below anyhow in order to predictably place a shadow tone. I tried to figure out the f stops based on the length from the lens to the film plane and the diameters of the apertures measured with drill bits, but the numbers came out all wonky...way too high, like f/22 and up or something. So, measuring the distance from film to lens must not be a reliable way to find out the FL for these types of lenses.

    I really want another one so I can saw the front off and mount it to a sheet film camera. I won't do it to a 120 one, though. I will do it to the next one I find that has the same three apertures and bulb capability, but takes an obsolete film format, like 116, etc.

    BTW, there is Brownie and similar cameras group on APUG.
    Last edited by 2F/2F; 12-29-2008 at 12:29 AM. Click to view previous post history.
    2F/2F

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  10. #10
    bowzart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2F/2F View Post
    ....
    However, use a different camera if you want "sharp". They are decently sharp in the middle, and surprisingly sharp for what they are, but will disapoint you if you want tack sharpness.

    They are sharpest at the smallest aperture, and I wouldn't count on anything being as sharp as the camera can get if you are any closer than 10 feet or so. Also, the very center of the frame is the sharpest area. The smaller the aperture you use, the farther away from the center the image lasts before fuzzing out.
    A lot of the cheaper cameras of the era used simple meniscus lenses, which are larger than the amount of glass area that is allowed to function. For example, some of the Kodak folders had a restriction disk in front of the lens which limits the aperture to a max f/11 to insure that the user doesn't get anything but sharp (as sharp as that is) images. These disks can be unscrewed and removed, revealing two or three additional stops. Of course, the quality of the image deteriorates markedly. I happen to like it, though. If you can get the balance right, it's possible to get a sharp image embedded within a very wonderful soft glow. Very like the look of some of the pictorial work done around 1900-1910, but not like a Pinkham-Smith; not that good.

    Box cameras frequently have these meniscus lenses, also, and I've got a small collection of Ansco Sure-Shots that I've been looking at sort of sidewise, thinking how much fun it might be to revise one of them to produce this kind of image on a dedicated film, for use at one particular distance, under one and only one light condition. What a fantastic discipline that would be; quite likely to produce really interesting images. The film that comes to mind is that brick of Konica infrared that's been sitting in the film freezer for about twelve years now.

    There are just too many projects on the list!

    Quote Originally Posted by 2F/2F View Post
    Be sure to tape over the orange window. Waste a few test shots to figure out how far to turn the advance knob, and then tape over the window and leave it taped or you will get major light leaks.
    ...
    Absolutely, but it isn't a simple thing. The diameter of the take up and supply spools keeps changing as you go through the roll, so the amount to turn the knob doesn't stay the same. I haven't worked this out, but it seems to me that if you were to sacrifice one roll and wind it through a few times making marks on the paper, it might be possible to get a rough idea. Maybe the appropriate thing to do would be to abandon any expectation of getting 8 shots/roll and settle for 7.

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