Spiratone and Spiratone Colorflow™ Polarizing Filters

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Feb 18, 2013.

  1. Spiratone and Spiratone Colorflow™ polarizing filters


    I pondered where to post this, but I think the greatest interest in it as an historical discussion will probably be here on CMC although there would have been a number of other possible forums.


    Some of you may have noticed that I comment frequently on the products of Spiratone, a New York City firm founded by Fred Spira in 1941 as a film development business in the bathroom of his parent's apartment in Manhattan ( http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/14/arts/14spira.html , also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Spira ).

  2. Spira's bathroom enterprise grew into marketing various camera accessories, including auxiliary lenses for Argus C3s and other common cameras of the time. By the 1950s the business was huge, famous for its multipage ads in the photo magazines of the times -- a sort of Johnson Smith of the photo industry (the x-ray glasses, etc. on the back pages of 1950s comics - http://www.photo.net/classic-cameras-forum/00Rmxd ). Its main offices were located at 49 West 27th Street in the Radio Wave building. There was later a retail outlet in Queens at 135-06 Northern Blvd, which I believe some of our old timers visited as younglings. (When last I looked you could find pictures on Google).

    Spiratone made lots of accessories and items affordable for the masses; and, perhaps unlike Johnson Smiths' toys, they are pretty decent. Over the years I have sort of picked up a lot of these items and many items were incredibly good for the price. Classics, for example, were various refractor 400mm f/6.3 telephotos. Spiratone was one of the first to introduce catadioptric (mirror) lenses to the regular market (some lens makers may have earlier offered them as unlisted specialist items, as I understand) by importing Russian made Maksutov lenses. Later these were improved on with Japanese made lenses. Spiratone lenses were made by some of the best of the still surviving third-party lens makers like Sigma and Tamron.

    Colorflow II™ Filters

    However, one of the major items of long-standing in their catalogs were a number of quite usable filter products - close-up lenses, "Opticaps™ (clear protection filters), crosstar filters, you name it. Another innovation, I think, by Spiratone, but certainly the company that made them widely available before anybody else, was the Colorflow™ filter. Today, the major filter outfits offer similar products such as Hoya's Red/Green Variable Color Circular Polarizer Glass Filter ( http://www.adorama.com/SearchSite/NewDesign/productpage.aspx?sku=HY58RBP&searchinfo=vari-color&item_no=2 ).

    Here is the page from the 1977 Spiratone Christmas catalog explaining how they work and what was available.
  3. They are, as I understand, dichroic polarizers which yield either varying color density in the single color ones, to a "blending" of colors in the double ones.

    Basically, the second stage of these offerings, offered 10 different filters. First the single color:
  4. Then there are the two-color versions:
    Yellow Green/Blue​
  5. In the form I'm presenting here, the Colorflow II filter was mounted to a Spiratone Custom Polarizer to get the effect. Some later versions had the neutral polarizer built into a single unit. These are all, of course, linear polarizers. This makes them a little problematical on modern autofocus, autoexposure cameras where circular polarizers are strongly recommended. They work fine, of course, on our beloved old classic manual cameras, and that is one reason I'm posting this here. I will return later to an indication of how they can also be used on more modern cameras as well.

    So how well do they work?

    Better than you would ever dream. I've used these for years, and never seen any serious optical degradation from them, and they can produce very interesting results.

    Here are some shots of the front of my house on this rainy "President's Day" (don't write) - which is why I am not out otherwise trying to reanimate my Bolsey B2. Pardon the raindrops on the front of the lens, but look at the house windows in the two different settings of the same Red Colorflow II filter.
    The effect is not merely a variation of the density of the color, but also different effects on reflective surfaces.

  6. What follows are some photographs taken by me in 1976 using a later version of the Red/Blue Colorflow on a Nikkormat EL camera; probably with my PC-Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 lens. The top image is part of the social sciences and humanities building without any filter, and the bottom with the Red/Blue filter dialed in. Again, look at the reflective surfaces like the windows to see how the filter selectively colors surfaces.

  7. Bad news, I think I still might have some of these or something
    similar from the late '70s and my OM days.
  8. Every Illinois campus of a certain age, I think, has a building named after the Profiles-in-Courage governor, Governor Altgeld ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Peter_Altgeld ).
    This is ours - Also taken in 1976 with the Nikkormat EL, both with the R/B filter at two different settings. As you can see, the effect can be an overall filter of blue or red, or as in the bottom image, relatively normal in some areas with effect in others (the building is not pink).

  9. Here is an original sheet packed with the order for one of the filters.

  10. Use with modern cameras

    So can you use these linear polarizers on modern cameras? Surprisingly, despite the general truth of the necessity for circular polarizers on modern AF/AE cameras, the specific truth is that the first two shots of my house taken above were with only linear polarizers on a modern digital camera ('scuse mee). However, if you want to be sure (and with film it would be a "really good" idea since you won't see the result until the film is processed) then you can use a circular polarizer next to the lens together with the linear polarizer. In fact, as I understand it, stacking polarizers like this requires that the filters closer to the incoming light be linear ( http://photo.stackexchange.com/questions/12645/what-is-the-difference-between-using-an-nd-filter-versus-2-polarizers ).

    Make sure that the polarizer in front is either:

    linear, not circular, as the latter essentially un-polarizes the light as it exits the filter.
    a reversed CPL (but now the threads won't line up).

    The point is that the light exiting the first filter needs to be polarized. The second polarizer will need to be a circular polarizer if you want autofocus.

    I tried it out with the red Colorflow, and the effect with the circular polarizer plus the red Colorflow was identical to that with the linear polarizer.

    Finally, a little treat, if I can be pardoned for posting so large a file here, here is Spiratone's entire summer catalog from 1980 in compressed pdf form (9.5 MB in size after decompression, zip=8.6MB)
  11. Well, it may or may not have taken, although I got a message back saying it had.
    In the meantime,
    So it is said, so let it be done.

  12. Great post, JDM. I remember the Colorflow well. Thanks.
  13. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane. I grew up in Flushing, Queens and spent many an hour at the Spiratone store on Northern Blvd (just down the road from Shea Stadium and across from the big RKO (?) movie theater.
  14. I've waited to see if it would show up like some "time out" posts do, but I'll try one more time, tho' it may just be too large.....
  15. Well, it rejected the zip version, but took the larger (9.5MB) pdf file, apparently.
  16. I love the last shot a lot. Wonderful shape like things in there.
  17. I still have a Spiratone fractional diopter close-up lens: only +0.25! Set your lens to infinity, the close up lens would be bring the focus point to 4 meters. It was intended for telephoto lenses before internal focus designs enabled close focus. Sadly, despite the modest strength, not sharp at maximum aperture, at least not on the lenses I tried. (Much better at f/11) But typical of Spiratone - I don't know of any other shop that offered such things.
  18. Seeing the catalog reminded me - I once had the 'telegrip' and I still have the 'portagon' portrait lens! Not much more than a single element, +10 dioptre lens in a focussing mount. No diaphrgam. Thanks for sharing.
  19. Thanks JDM, very interesting. Spiratone was one of my favourites for catalog browsing along with Seymour, Cambridge Camera, Wall Street camera and 47th Street. Catalog browsing in those years helped one learn a lot about equipment, somewhat similar to the Web browsing of today. sp.
  20. Spira was truly the "Henry Ford" of photo marketing. His company sold a vast array of helpful products; that made what was in those days, a technically challenging hobby. Easier for the everyman. Just his darkroom gadgets alone made him a genius in my humble opinion.
    His affordable shooting gadgets, from copy stands,lenses, bellows etc. Really filled a serious niche in the 50-70's.
    That big store in queens was the first photo department store too. And who didn't love pouring over his ads in the photo magazines?
    As always a great piece JDM!
  21. What a great amount of information, JDM; you must have really put some time and thought into this post. I remember seeing the ads for the system, but paid it little heed at the time. Now I know what it was all about. Fred Spira was certainly an expert marketer, in the great era of "Popular Mechanics" where the classifieds were as much fun as the articles. Jack Hannes, of Hanimex fame, was possibly our downunder equivalent.
  22. I really miss Spiratone. The last thing I bought from them was an electronic flash, at their Flushing store in late 1982, or early '83. I was really shocked a year or so later when I drove out to Northern Blvd. and found it closed.
  23. Possibly the closest to Spiratone these days in the US is Porter's Camera in Iowa. Lots and lots of gadgets, etc. (link)
  24. You're right about Porters, but it's no Spiratone, by any means :-(
  25. JDM,
    Wonderful post. Like many others I remember Spiratone fondly. The first time I saw the ads was probably mid-60s. At the time I had only bought film and flashbulbs and didn't know there were so many other things one could purchase. The ads were written to draw your attention and made you want to buy things you didn't know you were missing.
    I looked through some of my magazines and found some early ads. This first one shows a name and address change. It is from Minicam May 1942.
    It shows that they were at the 47th Street address in 1942. I wonder if they were in the top floor loft and didn't have the showroom yet?
  26. This next ad is from Popular Photography Jun 1942. It shows the beginning of some salesmanship in their ads.
  27. Here is the Radio Wave Building at 49 West 27th as it looked a while back.
  28. Hmmm-- in my time (starting in the late 50s) they were a bit north of that--in a 2nd floor space off of Broadway or 6th Avenue, more or less across from Gimbals department store and just east of all the fancier camera stores on W. 32nd Street (Willoughbys , Minifilm, etc.). However their main store, or at least the location from which they ran their mail order business, was on Northern Blvd., just east of Main Street in Flushing Queens. I lived in Queens, and, a few years later attended Queens College, also in Flushing, but public transportation was so bad within Queens that it was much faster to travel to their Manhattan store.
  29. That is quite a step up in one year from doing film development in your bathroom to renting space in a nice building.
    The first ad I found where they were selling something beyond their darkroom work was in 1946. Here is an ad from Popular Photography Oct 1946.
  30. Several years ago, rising out of an exchange on this site with Jonathan Spira (link), I ended up sending the Spira family pdfs of a set of scans of their magazine ads from 1941 up to the last ads in 1987, when they disappeared from the magazines.
    The 306+MB of compressed pdfs that I have of these are a capsule history of photography - showing the initial offers for Mercury camera gear to the range of lenses and accessories that they ended up with. The last few years of their advertising largely looks like the company (no longer in the hands of the Spira family) was simply selling off existing stock from earlier, better days.
  31. I'm somewhat in awe of the treatise that JDM prepared on the subject of Colorflow (and Colorflow II) filters.

    More importantly, I'd like to thank the forum members for their very kind comments about my father. Not to single anyone out but Steve Levine's Henry Ford comment was particularly meaningful because it was not the first time someone made that connection (John Durniak wrote this in Pop Photo in 1979).

    Here are two fun trivia facts that relate to the thread:

    1.) In addition to the Colorflow filters, there was also Colorflow background paper. (I still use the few sheets of Colorflow background paper that I have - and I would give anything to get my hands on more)
    2.) While the company merged with Interphoto (a public company) and ended up out of my father's control at the point at which he left, he still owned the fairly large headquarters building in Flushing and eventually had to evict Spiratone (in Spira v. Spiratone) after the company could no longer pay its bills including rent.
  32. Thanks for the comment. I think many of us really miss looking through those long multi-page ads in Modern and Popular Photography. :)
  33. Here is a Spiratone ad from the Feb 1949 issue of Popular Photography. It is the first month they used just the name Spiratone in an ad.
    I noticed they also mentioned the address of their main store as 32-34 Steinway Street, Long Island city. This is the first mention of this address.
  34. Very Cool that a family member joins in here with trivia and memories. I also likedthe SP observation about how back then we learned by persuing ads and now we peruse the net!
  35. JDM, do you mind if I put a link to the Spiratone catalog in the MF forum?
  36. A Link is Not a problem for me, anyhow.
  37. A Link is Not a problem for me, anyhow.​
    Well, in an altogether different sense that is not strictly true. The link I gave above to Hoya filters of this type appears to be a recursive link to this post.
    Unfortunately, that filter seems to no longer be offered by Hoya, or I would give a link to them for it.
  38. time out error, sorry

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