Why dual format cameras?

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by silent1, Sep 9, 2003.

  1. I have a couple cameras that are capable of handling dual format -- no, not like the few English folders that would take either 120 or 620, but cameras that, with the addition of a mask and use of differnt windows for reading the frame numbers, can switch from one frame size to another on the same film (between rolls, of course). One takes 6x9, and can switch to 6x4.5; the other is a 6x6 for which I don't have the 6x4.5 mask.
    My question is, why would that have been a big selling feature? I bought one of these cameras partially on the novelty of that feature, but that probably doesn't explain literally dozens of models of dual format cameras over a span of forty years or more! Was film really that expensive 50 years ago? I don't recall the cost of film (even color, which was still the expensive way to go when I was a kid) being anything like as painful as processing as little as 30 years ago -- that is, it cost more to shoot 16 6x4.5 in the early 70s than to shoot 12 6x6 or 8 6x9, because the cost per print outweighed the (fixed) cost of the film. Yes, it was a tiny bit less per print -- but only a couple cents (less difference than a postage stamp, which were six cents when I started high school).
    Was it in fact cost per shot (that doesn't seem to fit in a market that bought up tens of thousands or more of Polaroid cameras that cost fifty cents per shot in 1970), or just not having to change film as often? Or was there something else that offset the reduction in image quality with the smaller negative enlarged to the same print size? Don't forget, Plus-X and Verichrome Pan were high speed films when some of these cameras were designed, and grain was a real issue even in 120 with the films available prior to 1960....
  2. gib


    I dont know the answer.....the only thing that comes to mind is APS cameras offered 3 sort of formats. Only at some points would I like a panoramic shot.
  3. I really think it does boil down to equal parts novelty, flexibility and economy.

    Back in the heyday of these cameras the final product was typically a contact print. My grandparents and their parents had lots of 'em. I've seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of what were obviously contact prints in antique malls. Many of these contact prints were on very nice paper with deckled or otherwise decorative edges, inked framelines, etc. That's what folks put in their black paper albums with corner mounts. I've seen very, very few enlargements that weren't obviously studio shots taken by professional photographers.

    Having a camera that could be set to, say, 6x4.5 for economy when taking lots of holiday photos of the kids and later to 6x9 for panoramic travel vistas probably had tremendous appeal in an era when folks had much less disposable income, probably owned only one camera per household and each roll of film had a Christmas tree at either end.
  4. Not sure about the marketing advantages. I do recall thinking it was kind of nice to get 12 6x6 in place of only 8 6x9. Another aspect of this was brought up recently in a discussion about an unusually sharp image from a Holga made by Mark O'Brien. Turns out that the mask used for the smaller image probably holds the film flatter.
  5. We were out with some friends on a hike. I took along a 6x9 folder. I took eight 6x9 shots ... or so I thought. Got back, opened the camera and saw the 6x4.5 mask. Oh well. I still took 8 shots -- just the center of each scene.

    But I vote for economy and versatility. You can have your 6x9 and 6x4.5 in one camera.
  6. Economy was the big selling point of the "1/2 frame" roll-film cameras, there were even some 16-on 127 cameras. I've got a Vollenda with a Radionar in Compur, so it wasn't just "low-end" cameras either.

    As others have noted, the multi-format cameras also gave the opportunity of choice (artistic or otherwise), 6x9 negs for those important occaisions, smaller for the casual snap-shots, though having decided to "go small", one had to finish the roll like that if one didn't have access to a darkroom to remove the mask.

    At least one Kodak could be adapted for 6x9 or 6x6 on 620 or Bantam (828) format for slides, though inevitably the original (circa 105mm) lens acted as a short to medium telephoto on the smaller formats.
  7. Hm, I didn't live at that time, but I know 2 things for sure: objects which consume less usually sell better and dual format cameras like Rollei + Rolleikin or Technika + Rollex are a cheap way to have a Portrait camera in case you need one and are surely cheaper than a 2nd lens. Even Hasselblad sells 6x4,5 Mags. The switch down to 6x4,5 seems good for some subjects. Most 6x6 cameras are made to waste film, some people claim. Croping prints is a manner most people donT like and not everybody had or has a darkroom.
  8. "....and each roll of film had a Christmas tree at either end" that was just so poetic :eek:)congrats, lex, for the nicest expression in the forum!
  9. Csab, I agree. It was a charming turn of phrase. I also agree with the above poster who mentioned the use of a Rolleiflex, with Rolleikin, as a portrait camera. Set up this way, the Rollei is wonderfully easy to use: the frame is vertical without having to rotate the camera, and you can actually see when your subject blinked during the exposure. Plus, the image quality on 35mm is a wonder: you are using the sweet center of a lens that is already fantastic. Above is a portrait taken with a Rollei on 35mm film. Even through a so-so scan, the Planar lens speaks for itself.
  10. Shooting 645 on a 6x9 camera (as in the voigtlander bessa, i think) seems like an awful waste of pocket space, but I have a seagull folder with optional 6x6 and 645 and i shoot 645 on that all the time to get more shots (on 8x10 prints the extra 15mm is waste anyway).

    But, if there was a more compact 645-only CRF folder that i could afford i'd be using that instead.....

  11. Donald, Why indeed? Has anyone recovered from the back & neck injuries usually sustained while attempting a horizontal photo taken with a TLR & waist level viewfinder (35mm film adapter in place)? A 6 x 4.5 adapter gives the same challange when attempting a VERTICAL shot. (unless one cheats & uses the sportfinder, a bit of a compositional gamble) Arrggghhh! I think it was done just because it could be done. On a per shot basis, film & prints are much cheaper today in terms of 1960's dollars so cost could have been a factor but then you lost the advantage of the larger format. A novelty perhaps but I say false economy. I own such a camera but have only rarely used it in the alternate format mode. Best, LM.
  12. Rick Oleson said: "... But, if there was a more compact 645-only CRF folder that i could afford i'd be using that instead....."
    Have you considered some of the "A" series Zeiss-Ikons? Those were 6x4.5 and were fairly small. Some had rangefinders. Some didn't. Some had Novars. Some had Tessars. I have a rangefinderless Novar -- $25 about 1 1/2 years ago.
  13. I have, Mike: I had a prewar Ikonta 520 with a bitingly sharp f/4.5 Tessar that I unwisely let get away from me, and a Super Ikonta 531 with a really disappointing f/3.5 Novar. I'd love to have the Super with a coated Tessar, but I've never found one I could afford...

  14. I have a Great Wall SLR, it has 6x6 and 645 formats, I always use
    the 645 mask to get more pictures out of 120 roll film.

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