What was it like for photographers 100 years ago?

That was the question that led me to my little project of shooting the 100th California Rodeo Salinas with a 100-year-old camera.

I had the good fortune of being able to borrow such a camera from local camera collector Chuck Karnow, whose arsenal fills a room in his house and numbers nearly 500.

The four photos shown here are half of the 6x9cm frames I shot on the roll of 120 film. I’m amazed by the fact that a camera 100 years old takes film that’s still readily available and that the frames numbers on the film still match the frame counter window of this 100-year-old machine.

The folding bellows camera had just two shutter speeds — 1/25th and 1/50th of a second. The aperture dial wasn’t labeled, and the aperture blades — which are on the outside of the lens — were continuously variable from what we guessed to be about f3.5 to what we guessed to be f22.

Fortunately, our educated guess on exposure and the forgiving latitude of film produced a roll of properly exposed negatives — except for the final frame, when the shutter stuck open, denying me a portrait of a sitting cowboy before his saddle bronc ride.

Mine was not any kind of authentic test — This was color film, not black and white, and the ISO was far higher than what was used back then. To make deadline, the film was processed at a lab and scanned digitally.

It was just a fun exercise in using historic technology at an historic event.

Here are a few more frames from the roll.

And here’s the goofy behind-the-scenes video I made:

  1. Nice shots, great idea.

  2. Great idea, and great shots… you’re a genius Scott

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