Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Secret Project

I can finally discuss the secret project I've been working on now that Christmas has past.

It's amazing how I got on secret project. For some strange reason I started looking for a picture of my Father's old 1963 Bonneville sedan and ended up converting all the family slides to digital format. It's like looking on the Internet for a recipe for chocolate chips cookies and getting mesmerized by the 1922 Rochester Jeffersons. It's easy to get lost out there.

Once I started looking at the slides I knew I had to build "the contraption". The contraption held the point and shoot digital camera still, held the slide still and back-lit the slide. I then took a macro picture of the actual slide. When I was building it that first Saturday, I had no idea how crazy it must have looked, me with this wooden thing with a gooseneck desk lamp attached, a mousetrap holding the slide and a camera mounted to the wood.

I looked like Dr Brown from "Back to the future" when Youngest son came home that Saturday. All I needed was a spaghetti strainer on my head.

Once the contraption was built came the tedious conversion work. I shot each slide 4 times at different exposures to try and capture the best results and organized each roll into a different directory.

After spending weeks looking at these priceless family heirlooms, I can only reach one of three conclusions:

  • In the 1950s and 1960s, people were actually blurry.
  • My father was the worst photographer of all time.
  • Photography 50 years ago was really hard.
I'm going to have to go with the last one.

My Father had an Agfa Silette. Silette of course is German for "bad depth of field". The Silette Pronto was completely manual. You needed a separate light meter to establish what F-stop and shutter speed combination to use which left a lot of room for error.

Here is the complete photographic process from "gee I'd like a picture of that" to the viewing:

  1. Fill the camera with a roll of 24 or 36 exposure 35 mm Kodachrome slide film.
  2. Hold the light meter towards the subject.
  3. Obtain a reading from the meter in lumens.
  4. Rotate a calculator dial on the lightmeter to the value in lumens.
  5. Read the F-stop and shutter speed combo off the calculator.
  6. Set the F-stop and shutter speed.
  7. Guess at the distance to the subject.
  8. Set the focus to the guess.
  9. Look through the viewfinder and shoot the picture.
  10. When finished with the roll, send the pictures off for development to a lab somewhere.
  11. Wait two weeks.
  12. Set up the slide project and screen in darkened room.
  13. View each slide.
God forbid if you needed to take a flash picture with a bulb full of who knows what kind of explosive mixture.

Given the above, it's actually amazing how many pictures came out properly exposed and in focus.

Now, fifty years later I am taking the descendant of that Agfa Silette and taking a digital picture 70 cm from the subject and getting the exposure perfect every single time. I was amazed by the advancement.

On Christmas, I showed the slides to the enjoyment of all. I'll post a few when I get a chance.

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