It’s 1926, you want to record details about your photo and don’t want to carry a notebook, enter the Kodak No. 1 Pocket Autographic. It might not be automatically recorded, but considering this was 91 years ago, that is quite progressive.
Kodak folding cameras had been introduced just over 30 years earlier in 1895 and had slowly been progressing during that period. The other major line of cameras from Kodak at the time was the box cameras which were very basic. You can read more about one of them here. We owe a lot to both cameras, especially the folding Pocket cameras, which introduced the real concept of not only roll film but also mobile photography. Before these, cameras in the late 1800s were big and cumbersome.
1926, let’s look what was happening at the time to give us a sense what was going on at the time this camera was recording images. Events that happened in 1926 include, Queen Elizabeth II was born, Agatha Christie disappeared for a while, the pop-up toaster was invented, Harry Houdini, Claude Monet and Rudolf Valentino died, Route 66 was established in the USA, Winnie the Pooh was first published, the first demonstration of a television, Greece went into dictatorship and then later that year elects a president, Mussolini is shot 3 times, Bugs Moran attempts to assassinate Al Capone and the Russian Politburo throws out Leon Trotsky. But one I think is very important to all of us, is that Henry Ford announces the 8-hour 5-day week!
I’ve had this camera for 18 years. When I bought it, I did not plan on using it and it went up on the shelf as a decoration. I was shooting very advanced film cameras then and cameras were just a tool to make a picture. As such they were not something I considered collecting until 15 years later. Taking into account that I did not put any extra effort into looking after it, I am amazed the bellows are still light tight and soft, and that the shutter fires so well. I am also very lucky I have the stylus, this is usually missing in most Autographics.
The history of Kodak is very well documented but just in case, this is a good place to start.
Folding cameras dominated camera design from 1890 through to 1930 and Kodak was one of the main drivers. If you think about what we owe to these cameras it is quite a lot. Roll film was properly established through their use, albeit Kodak decided to have multiple and confusing formats, and proper portability was suddenly something that was available.
Due to the many folding cameras on the market, Kodak was keen to differentiate itself from the competitors like Voigtländer. That introduced the concept of the Autographic. This involved a metal, and usually ornate, stylus being incorporated onto the camera. The photographer would then “write” information about the picture, like date, location, person etc. onto the back of the film, through the backing paper, through a small window in the back of the camera. This required not only the camera to have this facility, but also a special type of Autographic 120 sized film. The Autographic film consisted of a tissue-like carbon paper sandwiched between the film and the paper backing. The writing would appear in the margin of the processed print.
The Autographic system was introduced in 1914 and unfortunately was never very popular and was discontinued in 1932. Interestingly it did come in different film formats too, and Kodak even had an upgrade system to allow cameras to be modified to allow this function. While it was not popular then, I wish it had been, as I would have loved to see how it comes out and looks, but alas I am limited to using “regular” 120 film today.
The Kodak No. 1 Pocket Autographic was produced in 1926. There are a few different variants of the same model of the camera that year depending on where it was sold, but the main differences were limited to slightly different front plates.
This wonderfully ornate folding art deco styled camera shoots 6×9 photos on 120 film. Originally designed for the Autographic film, it is great in that it was in a size currently still produced. The whole camera folds into a flat shape which would have fit into a large overcoat pocket, thus its name, which is achieved by using bellows to extend the lens.
It has an achromatic meniscus lens with four aperture settings marked 1,2,3 and 4. Not initially clear what they relate to in real aperture values but I measured it by comparing to another lens and it seems to be roughly f/4 (looks slightly bigger), f/5.6, f/8, and f/11. The shutter is a Kodex in-lens and has four speed settings; 1/50, 1/25, Bulb and Time.
The viewfinder is on a hinge and can be positioned for both portrait and landscape modes. Focus is achieved through a worm screw which you wind on the right-hand side, it has markings for both metres and feet. It is an estimation of-course. The lid has a great art deco styled kick stand and one of the two tripod sockets. The other socket is near the right hand side at the bottom of the camera in landscape orientation.
Loading film into the camera required removing the main body of the camera from the outer shell and is then a matter of putting the film spool on one side and the take up spool on the side with the half circle wind-on key. Once the camera is back into the shell, you wind on until you see the numbers in the little red window. There is no double exposure lock, or automatic winding positioning, you need to line up the number of next frame manually.
Of-course one of the key features of the camera is the Autographic facility. Firstly, there is a window at the back, positioned perfectly to have the writing come out on the frame of the picture. Then there is beautifully decorated stylus, which usually sits on the side of the lens when not in use.
I was a bit apprehensive when I decided to use this camera. As it sat open on my shelf for so long, I was worried the bellows may have dried out and one touch would destroy it. So, I shone a torch through it and it was light tight, not bad for a 91-year-old camera! The bellows are even soft and usable, amazing!
First thing I did was to determine what the aperture numbers related to in f-stops. I did that by comparing each setting to another lens. I then loaded some film into it and wound on. I did notice that the film looked like it sat there too loose, but the body of the camera would hold it into position. Then suddenly I felt like it was back in the 1920s. I could start to feel the camera in my hands. How I would be able to hold it, trigger the shutter on the lens, how to peer through the viewfinder. I would not have been surprised to see a Model A ford on the road.
The one thing that concerned me was that the shutter options were so slow. My usual HP5 was out of the question and I had run out of my usual 100 speed film, T-Max 100. Only slower film I could get my hands on quickly was some Ilford Delta 100, which I hadn’t used in years. Not even any Pan 50 because even ISO 100 is fast for this camera, remembering that in the 1920s film speeds of ISO 10 or 25 were the norm. Ah, the glory days of film everywhere, how we miss those.
I put away the stylus, as I did not want to lose it after 91 years, and headed out to Maroubra Beach rock pool, here in Sydney, started framing up, and waiting for the light to fade further due to the shutter speeds. What I did find is that framing up in the viewfinder is a challenge. You look at it like using a TLR, but it is so small, and being old, is not really clear. In some light, it was hard to pick out the picture.
When it came to firing the shutter, keeping the camera still when hand held was also hard, by fact that the shutter release is on the side of the lens and such slow shutter speeds. It was less of a problem on the tripod. It did draw some interesting looks at the pool, which was full of people due to the summer which is still hanging on in May, 3 weeks to Winter. Got to love Sydney! People were really interested in the camera, which I am always happy to talk about.
While shooting was so much fun, what about the results. When I went to pick up the film, there was a technician’s note specifying the film had been scratched by the camera. I of-course made a dad joke and said at 91 I would also be scratchy! Afterwards I looked at the camera again and realised it uses the camera body to push the film onto the pressure plate and it is all metal, thus scratchy. I do always love to look at 6×9 negatives though, they are so big and full of detail.
Considering the lack of options, the results when I scanned were quite good. The negatives were nice and rich, thus came out nicely in the scan. I was worried the lens would lack contrast, and it was not the most contrasty, by it was enough. Not sure I will try colour in it though. It did take me a long time to clean up the scratches. I also need to remember to clean the interior on old cameras a bit more, as there was more dust than the Nullarbor, but when I finished I was fairly pleased.
These cameras, with varying similar models, aren’t too expensive now. I would recommend everyone grabs one, saving them from being destroyed and trying them out. It is photography at a simple level and extremely fun. You don’t expect much from them, and this can release the creative side. I will be trying it out again, and so should you!