A day out with the Kodak 33a

For Christmas last year, my father gifted me yet another amazing large format camera - one of slightly more manageable proportions than the previous year's!  This time it was a Kodak 33a view camera, with both 5x7 and 4x5 film holders, and a variety of lenses (on homemade lens boards; this is typical of my Dad).  I gleefully ordered a box of 5x7 HP5, did a couple of tests at home in January, and have been coming apart at the seams waiting for the opportunity to get out with the camera ever since.

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March 2, I was at last able to embark on her maiden voyage, to Austin's Pease Park for the pleasure of checking out Patrick Dougherty's new installation.  It ended up being an incredible day!  When I arrived, there were a fair amount of people exploring the artwork, mostly children, and as I walked around it looking at the light I was thinking about how I should 1. make sure the parents were ok with me photographing since it would invariably include their kiddos and 2. ask the parents if their kids would like to look under the dark cloth.  I picked a spot, started setting up, and came out from under the cloth to see a group of women standing in front of me smiling who immediately said "Hi!  The kids are VERY curious about what you are doing!"  Moments later I found myself giving an informal mini-lecture on large format photography.  If I had to pick my favorite thing about large format, this kind of thing *might* actually be it!  After all, it is the beauty of humanity that drives me to reach for a camera in the first place.  

The joy of passing on knowledge and the spark of photographic passion aside, one of the women that day asked me why I choose to use something like a view camera instead of the quick & easy option of my phone.  My response was my usual, about loving the tactile, real quality of film, and the challenge.  But the next day when I held up the first 5x7 negative from that outing to the light in my darkroom, all I could think was "this is why."


The aftermath of an inspiring day out with a large format camera is a day spent mostly in the dark, waiting with baited breath for 10 minutes at a time until I can dash back into the light with a fresh negative.  These took me the better part of 3 hours to work through (I could have worked faster, but I had no time constraints and also being in a rush usually leads to mistakes.  Plus, I like to stop for snacks).


I adore the Kodak 33a.  The extra versatility it offers over the Crown Graphic is pleasant, but what also makes it stand out for me is the Protar V lens that I have for it, which I can use with either 4x5 or 5x7.  Being able to expose at f64 is exciting for all kinds of photo-psychological reasons, but that lens also has the most delightful magic about it.  It's fun in a pinhole, in-control-but-slightly-out-of-control kind of way, since I have to use the lens cap as my shutter speed.  This gives me more creative license, as in the photograph below. The contrast it gives my negatives is exactly what I like, both wide open at a whopping f18 and stopped all the way down.  

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I am looking forward to working more with this camera!  I am looking forward to trying some portrait work with it, and am keen for willing participants, so please contact me if you are interested!