I came into ownership of an old “Kodak Automatic 35” about a week ago and thought it was cool. So what better way to test it out than with an impromptu visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo.
Most people today think you need to spend a lot of money on a camera to get a great picture, or even, dare I say it, go digital. That is what I thought when I found my little Kodak Automatic 35 at a garage sale. I expected a fifty-plus year old camera that would probably give me some cool shots with some light leaks and stuff like that. I knew that Kodak had pretty good (Ektanar) lenses but I wasn’t getting my hopes up.
I decided to take a test roll. And what better place to take a test roll than the zoo. First problem though, the ISO (or ASA at the time) only goes up to 160. I didn’t want to wait for film to get shipped to me so I decided to get some Kodak Gold 200 and try it out (and believe me, it was hard to even find that in stores). In essence, I was pulling the film a little bit. I didn’t think it would be too noticeable; it was a test roll, right? The worst that could happen is I get junky pictures of animals.
My next challenge was loading the film. I had worked with older cameras before but that was my Canonet that was from the 70’s so this was a little different (The Kodak Automatic 35 was made in the late 50’s). Needless to say, thanks to whoever put a .PDF of the owner’s manual online. Once the film was in, I wound it just like I would any other camera, and that’s when I hit my next goof up. I didn’t know that cameras before a certain time did not have a lock on the winder once you advanced to the next frame so needless to say, I wound through about four exposures before I realized this important tidbit.
Now I was ready. The camera could be set to manual mode or automatic, as the name would suggest, and rely on the fancy light meter and nifty exposure dial. My problem with this was that you had to take your eye out of the viewfinder to look at the meter. But that was a small price to pay for such a nifty camera. It also has two shutter speeds, 40 and 80. Since it was rainy all day at the zoo, I decided to keep it on 40 and hope that my hands weren’t shaky and the animals weren’t too active.
The next cool thing was the focus. There was nothing in the viewfinder that told me if I was in or out of focus. I just had to use my best judgment in the matter. There were three settings that helped when you didn’t want to take your face from the viewfinder. Call it early zone focusing.
It was annoying at first but I ended up really liking it. It helps out that the shots I were taking are mostly on the long side of the focusing spectrum. That was the one good thing about it being rainy that day at the zoo. Almost everyone had left so I had time to set up each shot.
Well, my steady hands and fairly decent depth perception paid off and I got through the roll without any major screw-ups. It was really rainy that day at the zoo so I wasn’t able to do as much with the camera as I wanted to. That being said, I was able to capture the rain coming off some of the rooftops at the zoo, which speaks about the lens and the focusing (if not the operator. Lol).
I took it down to the friendly neighborhood Rite-Aid (local drug-store that’s the cheapest to develop for me) and had them develop the roll. I wasn’t holding my breath for the results. To my utter surprise, the film came out way better than I would have imagined. There was a sharpness that I had never seen in my other film cameras and from a garage sale special to boot.
So in conclusion, get your hands on one of these cameras. They are simple to use yet still allow a fair amount of creativity. And they can be found pretty cheap. Then take it down to your nearest zoo and have at it. Keep on snappin!