Monday, March 8, 2010

imperial madness

The greatest compliment I can give a camera (or camera maker) is when I double-, triple-, quadruple- or even quintuple-up on that particular camera fearing that I will break, lose, etc. the only one I have. With a camera like the holga (something that is still easily obtained), the desire to double or triple up is not as pronounced as it is with something like the bhf, ultronic panoramic or vistaquest vq 350. Still, if favs are measured in terms of duplicates, I guess for me, in first place would be the bhf (I have 6-7 of them at this point) followed by diana (5 counting mini and clones), holga (4 counting woca and tlr), ultronic panoramic (3 or 4), and vistaquest vq350 (2).

At this point, I'd have to add to that list the imperial reflex duo lens. I just bought my second one two days ago and I have to say that if they were cheaper and/or if there were more of them, I think I'd keep buying them up--tough to find them in my price range (i.e., 5-10 bucks). There's not a whole lot out there on the camera, save that it's a simple plastic box 620 camera produced by George Herbert in Chicago in the '50s and that there was a version marked "OFFICIAL CAMERA, Boy Scouts of America." In terms of finding more of these on ebay, it could be helpful to search under boy scouts as well. The camera's other claim to fame has to do with these famous backyard photos.

If you search the camera on flickr, you mainly get images of the camera/s and ttv images (see phone image directly above)--as is the case with other tlr cameras that take 620 film like the ansco rediflex.

Here's the deal: Firstly, when they say the imperial is a plastic camera, boy howdy, they mean it! When the first one arrived (see image above), I was taken aback by how light, cheap and fragile it felt in hand. Reminded me a bit of the difference between having the holga versus the diana in hand. In other words, I was used to the way the ansco rediflex or kodak duoflex felt in hand and was expecting the imperial to feel the same. Not the case at all! I think I've been motivated to buy a second one, in part, because I love the images it takes and, in part, because I know that if this puppy happens to fall out of my hand or purse, it's likely a goner. (FWIW in contrast to the camera depicted here, I got the gray and black version as a back-up.)

A second thing to know about this camera is that when it says that it uses 620 film, it ain't playing. I have read that others have used 120 but that definitely wasn't the case for me--at least not with the black version. In so far as even trimmed-down spools wouldn't work here, I had to learn to respool 120 film onto 620 spools. A hassle at first but it gets easier after time and I'd say that the extra work involved with respooling is definitely worth it for this camera!

A third thing worth mentioning about this camera has to do with the shutter button/release. I wasn't prepared for the way this would look and so I assumed that the button had been messed up or bent back as a result of the seller's really poor packing job. Didn't help that the camera was pretty dirty when it arrived and that the shutter itself only functioned correctly half the time. If, in other words, the camera had been in mint condition or NIB I probably wouldn't have tried dicking around with the shutter release, trying to bend it back into position. YIKES! I thank goodness now that I didn't try harder and bust the shutter release. For what it's worth, the shutter release doesn't look like the releases on other cheap box/tlr cameras.

The final thing I'd mention in terms of the camera itself is that it's not the greatest choice for clear, clean ttv work as the very grainy phone image above suggests. I like the look of ttv images you can get from this camera but it's not the same look afforded by, say, the ansco rediflex.

Based on the craptastic condition of the camera when it arrived (by the by, a little elbow grease, windex and wd40 got things cleaned up and working), the graininess of the top viewfinding lens, and how fragile/cheap the camera felt in hand, I definitely wasn't expecting much at all from this camera. Never mind that in order to use it I would have to respool film. Truthfully, it didn't help that I could find so few film images (i.e., non-ttv images) housed on flickr. This too led me to believe that this would definitely NOT be a camera I'd end up raving about!

But here it is: I LOVE THIS CAMERA. If it weren't so fragile, I'd have it with me all the time. (Luckily it does have a neck strap, so that's cool--makes carrying it around easy and there's less of a chance of breakage if it's around my neck.) I think there's only been one other time when I've actually gasped (i.e., in a good way) upon seeing the first scanned-in image taken when testing a new camera. The other time was when I did my first test roll with the ultronic panoramic. I definitely wasn't prepared for those results or for the kind of images that camera can produce!

But back to the imperial. I think my reaction to seeing the first scanned-in image was this: "(gasp) How delightfully cartoonish!!" I'm still not sure what that means--to say that a photograph looks cartoonish. I think it might have to do with the depth of focus. Suffice it to say, that I am LOVING this camera. I have a respooled roll of b/w in the camera right now and am eager to see those results. I've consider different ways of rating the cameras I talk about here, such as using some kind of star system (i.e., giving a camera 1 star for fair/poor and 5 stars for excellent). In the end, I think it makes the most sense to treat things in terms of replacement costs. Otherwise put, to rate cameras in terms of how much I could image myself spending to replace them in the case that the one/s I have happened to break, get lost, etc. In this case, I think I'd be willing to spend 45-70 bucks for a working replacement. . .and keep in mind this is coming from a very cheap and definitely not rich individual!

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