The Day of The Box Brownie Mod.
Lens are very expensive sometimes. My photography habit seems to find immense pleasure in using what is not expensive, or what is usually overlooked by others as they march towards the latest and the greatest, or the most sought after and desireable from the past.
Some of my fav images are from very low fi treasures. The cheap ones!
For several years now I have been wanting to learn how to clean lenses and in the process learn how to remove and re-use the glass from damaged lenses and experiment making my own.
In this article I use the rear coated element of an old Haminex 135mm lense, and later (the next day in fact) the middle element of a Soligor 135mm lens. Once removed, I placed the elements in front of a Six20 Box Brownie I bought for $5, held it there with blue tack and used it as camera of the day. It turned out to be a wonderful experiment, the images and the learning.
Ilford Single weight Grade 0 Glossy contact paper. 1957ish vintage.

Ilfobrom 2 Double Weight Velvet Stipple (seriously expired, but lovely grain)

It all began with being really pleased after removing the element and gently cleaning off the fungus and other marks (and realising that they could be removed) to be holding a sparkling 1" x 3/8" lense in my hand. The Six20 Brownie on the other hand had a few lens issues, but I had cleaned it as best I could without disassembly. I had only owned this Brownie for a week and had randomly started using it and stuck with it. It was a newer Brownie (and they deserve a capital), and I had decided because the lense was so messy and it being a later model Brownie, that it's destiny was going to be as a pinhole conversion project. My thoughts being that the later Brownie lenses were not as good earlier ones. This was from personal experience and seemed to fit with research. I have a lot of very old Brownies.

This adventure began with me standing in the kitchen, holding that element and thinking it was a beautiful thing, like a precious jewel I had found, and me feeling clever to have finally extraced such a gem from a lense.......... and then me having the thought.......well what if I ?.............and so I did.

Below : The Haminex Rear element in place.
Above : The Soligor 135mm Front Element in place. Concave facing out here.
I blue tacked the lense in front of the Brownie lense as above, and it fitted really nicely into the Brownie. To find what that did to the focal length, I cut a piece of opaque baking paper and placed that where the film would go. With the Brownies back hanging open, the paper in place, and my finger holding the shutter button in on the B setting, I looked at the light in my kitchen to see what the new lense setup produced.

Wow......I could fill the focal plane with an image. I was really pleased with this, really really pleased, but as it was after midnight, the wee wild things were alive and doing crazy things like me, and more sensible people of the world were asleep and dreaming..............I decided to pursue the potential of this camera mod in the light of a new day. So I went to bed with a smile on my face.

The following images are from the next two days of playing with rear Haminex element mod, which henceforth will be referred to as 'Mod 1' and the Soligor 135mm middle element 'Mod 2'.

The same Brownie was used with a variety of papers.
  • New Tetenal Vario 0 - 5 matt
  • Ilfobrom Double Weight Velvet Stiple (seriously expired, and beautiful)
  • 57 year old Ilford Grade 0 single weight fibre contact paper, or
  • Ilford Multigrade 3 matt paper, seriously expired
All papers were developed in fresh Ilford Warmtone developer 1+9, fixed in Ilford Fixer, washed, dried and scanned on my old Epson 2450, processed in PS & Nik Silver FX Pro 2 to remove artifacts and adjust contrast etc.
Ilfobrom 2 Double Weight Velvet Stipple
Ilford Multigrade 3 matt paper, seriously expired
Ilford Multigrade 3 matt paper. Seriously expired.
Ilfobrom 2 Double Weight Velvet Stipple

I will show a few more from the first day taking images of the bikes that are outside www.gallery259.com.

Taken with a 1938 French Duxor Bakerlite Camera. (above and below)
These bikes constructed by local hot rod maker Mike Dane have been my muse for
many months, and the muse of people who have come to my workshops lately. You can see more of the bikes here. www.ipernity.com/doc/kiwivagabond/album/606769

I must say here, that I love the rhythm of loading paper in the gallery darkroom, going outside for the shot then unloading and processing the negative. Checking your exposure times and focal length, and making changes needed. This was a point and shoot adventure, in the truest sense of the meaning. I like to intuit the light re exposure times.

Ilfobrom 2 Double Weight Velvet Stipple
Ilfobrom 2 Double Weight Velvet Stipple(Dave who witnessed this)
Ilfobrom 2 Double Weight Velvet Stipple
Ilfobrom 2 Double Weight Velvet Stipple
Ilfobrom 2 Double Weight Velvet Stipple
Ilfobrom 2 Double Weight Velvet Stipple

I know some people will know the truth, that I am totally crazy. For some reason these images of banal mechanical things are beautiful to me. I know why however. Photos to me have become about more than just the image. An inherent part of the beauty of an image is the process. I know what kind of camera this was, with blu tac on its face and a lens from another lense stuck there. I know that this paper is old and most people would have thrown it out. I know the steps from the darkroom into the light and the reverse steps out of the light into the dark to remove the paper and process the image.

All those factors, as well as the object, the softness and grain of the prints, the different papers and their qualities.............all this makes them beautiful to me. And I think they really are, if you have the eyes to see.

These following images are from the next day with a different paper. The Ilford MultiContrast 3 Matt paper. This fogged on development, and I am as yet unsure if it was from its age or the wrong safelight. But thats part of the fun of paper and the different emulsions.

Ilford Multigrade 3 matt paper. Seriously expired.
Ilford Multigrade 3 matt paper. Seriously expired.
Ilford Multigrade 3 matt paper. Scanned and inverted. Left as was.

I would like to close this article with some images from the Monday.
I raced home from work and while it was sunny managed to dismantle the 135mm Soligor lens. Same deal, same thought...........I wondered what would happen if..................and so I placed the convex concave lens from inside the Soligor in front and had some fun. Tried the lens both ways on the same kind of image.
New Tetenal Vario 0 - 5 matt
New Tetenal Vario 0 - 5 matt

This brought some serious clarity to the Brownie, and close up potential. Life intervened ( read dinner and scanning previuos days images) and when I returned to play I realised it was midnight again......but I was doing what probably no one else was in the whole wide world that night. Playing with a Roman Centurion. Maybe:-)
New Tetenal Vario 0 - 5 matt
New Tetenal Vario 0 - 5 matt
New Tetenal Vario 0 - 5 matt (unknown Roman Centurion)

And so dear reader, the mad photgraphy nut went to bed, well after normal people had, but he was happy having discovered something exciting, something simple and unique, cheap and nasty, but with its own beauty, well it was for him at least.
Maybe he was alone in this, but somehow he was one step closer to understanding real glass more, element types and constructing his own unique lenses for cameras he was dreaming of making.

You can see more of these 'Hot Rod' Box Brownie 'Mod' images here.

The adventure will continue.

© Graham Hughes 2014