My vintage camera collection now includes a No. 1 Autographic Kodak Jr. A few days ago I got a call asking if I would be interested in this camera found at an estate sale. I did’t know anything about it but assumed if it was in working condition I might be able to modify it to take modern film. It was cheap enough that I decided to buy it without seeing it. If nothing else I knew it would be a nice looking camera I could display. I had to wait until the end of the work day to pick it up and I couldn’t remember the exact model name when I spent the day googling Autographics. I researched how to modify them for 120 film and was pleasantly surprised when I got the camera and found it was one of the few models to actually take 120. No modification needed. It shoots a 6 x 9 frame size.
The first problem I encountered was opening the front to pull out the lens. I knew there must be something I was missing and I had to watch four different YouTube videos before finding one that showed how to open it. There is a very faint outline of a circle on one side of the camera. You have to press the middle of the circle while pulling on the lever on front. I don’t know if I would have ever noticed the circle. The case on mine is a little worn but the camera looked to be in good condition. It even still had the stylus which, according to my googled knowledge, is rare. Unfortunately, I did immediately break the original leather strap.
I am lucky enough to live close to a camera store that carries film and development supplies. I was able to buy a few rolls for the weekend on my way to picking up the camera. To load the film you have to pop out the four silver buttons(?) that lock the spools in place. One has the winding lever and is easy to pop out. The other three can be difficult depending on your nail length. With my currently short nails they are a little more challenging. Once all the locking pieces are out you just drop a roll of 120 in, pop the silver buttons back in, and feed it onto the spool on the other side. Overall, it is very easy to load.
I process my own film so a few hours after picking up the camera I knew it was still functional. The hardest part of using this camera is that it does not have a frame counter. It has a little red tinted window on the back which was sufficient to block out light when using autographic film but exposes modern film. This is an easy enough problem to fix. All you have to do is put black tape over it. I didn’t tape it for the first test roll for the simple reason that I didn’t have any tape with me. I can confirm that light will leak through this window. On this first roll I wound the film excessively and ended up with very large gaps between images. On the second roll I shot I didn’t wind the film enough and all the frames overlapped. It didn’t occur to me until after to load just the paper backing from a developed roll and count the number of turns required. It takes about 3 1/2 to 4 180 degree turns. I haven’t tested this yet to see which is preferable. The winding lever also came out of the spool a few times with out me realizing. I will have to be very careful to make sure the film advances.
Like all old cameras it does not have a light meter. I already own a Luna Pro light meter but I don’t use it often and didn’t have it with me for the first roll. I used the sunny 16 rule since it was shot in open sunlight. The aperture settings on the camera are different than the modern standardized numbers. This camera has 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64. From my google searches I learned that 16 is the same as the modern 16 and there is the same one stop difference between each number. This camera only has four shutter speeds: 1/25, 1/50, T, and B. This is very limiting. It can be hand held at 1/50th but should be used with a tripod. I personally hate carrying a tripod. I mostly shoot film for street photography or while waiting for bike races to catch up to me, making a tripod inconvenient. If shooting in portrait orientation the front lever acts as a stand. It has a cable release shutter so it can be used without a tripod if you have something stable to set it on.
The viewfinder is small and I had trouble seeing what would be in frame. The viewfinder moves allowing the camera to be shot in portrait or landscape orientation. The camera has three focal distances: 8 ft, 25 ft, and 100 ft. To set it you slide the lens until it clicks into the notch next to the correct distance. I got sharp images at 8 feet on my first roll. On my second test roll I tried the other two settings but thanks to my winding errors it was impossible to judge the focus.
Here is an image from my first roll (T-MAX):
And images from my second (T-MAX):
I know I forgot to advance the film once. Judging from this the lever disengaged from the spool multiple times.
Overall I would say the No. 1 Autographic Jr is a fun little camera to shoot simply for the experience of using 1917 technology. I doubt I will use it very often but I am looking forward to taking it out for a third test soon.