About

A random commentary on all aspects of design including architecture, art, graphics, photography, book design, industrial design, engineering and consumer goods – in other words most things that we see or use in our daily lives, and have used in the past.

I’m an architect and designer, thoroughly opinionated like most in my profession, and enthusiastic about anything I find beautiful or interesting like old Leicas or vintage boats, all kinds of motorcycles, contemporary bookbinding, and anything from Alessi! I enjoy a lot of current architecture and I love old oak-framed buildings. But there are far too many mediocre buildings and products, designed without any thought or care, which only add to the ugliness of our surroundings.

Design isn’t just about the narrow range of contemporary architecture, interiors, and products that you find in most journals. So I thought I would write occasionally about things that I like or dislike in the much wider world of design (past and present) that I am interested in, and you might not find anywhere else.

The header image shows part of the viewing side of a 1952 Leica 1f red dial, with a SBOOI 5cm viewfinder and FOKOS rangefinder clipped into the accessory shoes. The title typeface is Futura PT bold and the body type is Museo Sans.

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15 Responses to About

  1. Regarding the sometimes unintentionally humorous names of parts that Leitz gave its products instead of numbers… I worked at Altman Camera Co. in Chicago (at the time claimed to be the world’s largest camera store) in the early 1970s. During inventory duties, we realized that it was much more efficient for a colleague at the top end of a tall ladder to call out a word like “NOOKY” than an arbitrary 5-digit number.

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  2. Nate Clapp says:

    Love your entry on the Parvo. I have a Parvo L and found to my surprise that is in the “academy format” rather than silent gate that presumably all othe Parvos were. Since there was no way to optically blow up or shrink footage at that time shooting a film with two different frame sizes and centering on the negative would be problematic. In the editing sequence in Man with a Movie Camera, we see negative with images to the sprockets and narrow spacing between frames, i.e. silent gate. So either he did not use a Parvo L, OR the L came in two sub models where the gate size was either silent for normal silent work or Academy for playing nice in sound films. I suspect the former but will look into it more looking at the film.

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  3. Many thanks for your interesting comment Bryan! Yes, I can imagine you would make fewer mistakes this way, especially with the more memorable names. I wonder if Leitz and others had a special member of staff who came up with these codes as they don’t seem to have any logic to them! Richard

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  4. Hello Nate, thanks very much for the comment and for your fascinating note. Apologies not to have responded earlier but I have only just seen it. Do you know the year of your Model L? As Academy Ratio 1:375 became official in 1932 perhaps yours was fitted with the AR size gate(s) from new. My Model K (1924) has a standard 1:33 full size gate and there is also a slide in mask with a smaller 1:33 gate that is offset (for the sound strip?). The Academy ratio was first set at this original format in 1930 so quite a few years after my camera was made so the mask is a bit of a mystery. The L could not have such a mask because of the rotating gate. However, as you will have gathered from my post not all the footage was shot with the ‘L’ as there were another four, possibly five, other 35mm cameras used. I have not thought about this before so thanks very much for raising it. Much more research needed I think!

    Kind regards

    Richard

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  5. nateclapp says:

    I don’t know when my Parvo L was made, although serial # is 6878, but I have not found a reliable source for determining the age from that. Apparently they manufactured the L as early as 1921 (!) well before “talkies” were a thing, although mine is clearly more recent. It sounds like your camera was made to support “dual use” of full silent gate, and what was a precursor to to what became “Academy Aperture” later. Fascinating, and gives some insight into the transition from the silent era to sound. While the Academy ratio was set in 1930, I believe the were just formalizing and standardizing what was the standard operating procedure for years before, albeit with a bit of “wild west” improvisation in the early years. Supposedly the first “talkies” of any type were around 1923-24. So either Debrie was forward thinking, trying to future proof their cameras, or possibly it was a retrofit. And yes, all it is doing is pushing the image to the side, and shrinking it a little to leave room for an optical sound track that would be added in the final print. because everything was contact printed, you had to “reserve” the space for the sound track in the negative in the camera even at the expense of using less negative for an image than the prior standard of silent gate.
    In any case, I had just assumed my recently acquired “L” would be “Silent Gate” since it was hand cranked. But I was very surprised when I ran some film through it to test general functioning and light-tightness and found the negative was “pushed off to the side” as it were. Upon further examination it seems wholly committed to the sound era. Even the tach on the back indicated 24 fps as the desired speed instead of 16 fps. This and the high serial number makes me think it may have been made well into the 30’s. I wonder if the early “L” models were silent gate, or some sort of rig like yours has of a mask or something to do both. it seems they would have to be. Curious that it didn’t warrant a new model number.

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  6. Fascinating stuff Nate, many thanks! I actually know of your camera #6878. It is indeed a late model, auctioned in 2016 by Breker in Germany. A very nice camera, lucky you! They described it as 1935, though not sure the L was made as late as this but yours would have been ine of the last ones made I imagine. It was really superceded by the Super Parvo in around 1933 which was designed for sound as it was fully insulated and had built in electric drive. As you know the normal Parvos make a racket when cranked or motorized which would have been picked up by the mikes. I was interested in the speedo arrow at 24fps. Mine has it at 16fps as expected. It would be a hell of a job cranking consistently all the time at the higher speed but yours was sold with the usual electric motor to provide automatic running at this speed. Do you have this?
    I think therefore that the gate on yours was supplied at the Academy Ratio which was set just before yours was made. It is not possible to have any kind of mask on the L because of the ingenious ‘swinging’ gate. The L came out in 1925 and the first talkie was the Jazz Singer in 1927 so the early Ls were for silent only. If you look mid way through my post there is a good illustration of how the gate works. My K just has a conventional hinged gate. All of this doesn’t answer why my early Parvo has a mask. It is in virtually new condition and does not appear to have been used much so unlikely have been upgraded. But you never know with Parvos, there is hardly an original one left. I did think about writing a book about them but there are so many variations, and odd ones keeping surfacing, so it would take a lifetime. There is very little sales literature available and although Debrie still exist in France they are not very helpful. The wonderful Cinematheque Francaise in Paris is very helpful and has some stuff but not enough to make a definitive list of all the variations.
    Re. your point about a new model number/letter I imagine they were keener to sell the Super Parvos rather than a new Model M but the L was still popular right through the Thirties, used by Leni Riefenstahl, Eisenstein’s cinematographer Eduard Tisse, and even used for some of the filming of the 1949 classic The Third Man.

    All the best

    Richard

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  7. Anonymous says:

    Fascinating that you know a piece of my camera’s history! I just bought it recently from someone in France via eBay. I guess whoever bought it in 2016 decided to sell it again. In any case while I am sure it originally sold with the optional motor when new I do not have one. And you are right, 24fps by hand is really not feasible, although I have tried.
    Your date of 1925 seems more believable than the 1921 number I found, but as you say there is very little hard info about details of this camera so I suppose it is easy to have bad data repeated. Supposedly if Wikipedia is to be believed some unnamed shorts had sound well before 1927 although The Jazz Singer was the first feature to have sound. True? Don’t know.
    The swinging gate is a fantastic design (retrofit in a way as they had been making same basic body without it for a while) and one of the reasons I was interested in it. I have one other old hand crank camera, a Wilart (circa 1921-24?) which is an American copy (with improvements) of the venerable Pathe Professional. Boy is it hard to operate! Parallax finder is upside down and backwards, and while there is a peep hole for viewing through negative, of course with modern stocks you can’t see through the backing. And even if you could, it’s just a peep hole with no optics so that image would be upside down and backwards as well. The Parvo is wholly superior, not just in the viewing system. I’m not sure what your gate looks like, but I feel it would have been possible to put a mask (well, two masks, one for the taking gate, one for the ground glass) to make it support both formats. But perhaps I am wrong. In any case they didn’t do that, or else they would have kept doing it, I imagine even as the silent gate went out of favor. In any case by 1935 silent gate would have been a dead format. Although the much later “super 35” format is very similar horizontally.

    If you do write a book, I don’t suppose you would sell too many of them, although I would be an enthusiastic buyer. I do have one more question that I am sure you could answer. When I first got mine it seemed to be in good shape although some of the fade mechanism seemed to get stuck. I managed to free it up once I understood what it did (old gummy oil I suspect) but I still don’t understand its full operation. It has three modes as you know with a letter for each mode. One of course is just normal operation. The other two seem to do fade out fade in, but since I am unclear of their operation exactly I have been hesitant to explore it too much for possibly doing something bad to an already slightly sticky mechanism. Also the front wheel that controls the shutter angle has numbers 1-7 but other than 7 being the most open, I can’t fathom what the numbers mean nor have I found a table explaining them. Apparently they were so ubiquitous that such mundane things didn’t need to be explained in 1920’s-30’s literature.

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  8. Nate clapp says:

    I do not have the optional motor although I would fully expect to it to have been part of the package when it was new in 1935. 24fps is not really feasible at the 16fps gearing of the crank unless you like wobbly jerky operating and wildly shifting exposures.
    Fascinating you know more about my camera than even I do, although it is a pretty recent purchase. I bought it via the “bays of e” from someone in France a couple months ago. One of the reasons I was interested in the “L” is I have one other hand crank camera, a Wilart, which is a metal American copy of the venerable Pathe Professional probably circa 1921-24ish. While it is silent gate as you would expect, operating it is not user friendly. Parallax finder uses a matching lens and it does no optical correction so everything is upside down and backwards. There is a peep hole to look through the negative but modern stocks are too dense to see through. And even if they were, theee is no optics in the peep hole so it too would be upside down and backwards. So being able to swing a ground glass and see image right side up and through taking lens was a big improvement.

    Supposedly if Wikipedia is to be believed prior to the feature Jazz singer there were several unnamed “shorts” with sound will before 1927 so maybe they built/modified your camera in anticipation for that.
    The swing away gate is a really a clever add on to an already good camera. I wonder when they committed to academy. Certainly by 1935 silent gate was a dead format. Although it shares similarities to super 35 which became popular in the 80-90s.

    If you did write a book I don’t know how many you would sell but I would certainly be an enthusiastic buyer. Certainly for such a popular camera it is funny how hard it is to find some information. For example the knob that goes 1-7 on the front tat controls max shutter opening, I have not found a table that explains what the actual numbers mean other than 7 is full “open” shutter. Also I haven’t quite worked out the fade in/out mechanism on the side. One of the three positions is normal operation, but I can’t tell what the other two fade out /in operations do exactly. Mine briefly got gummed up probably from old sticky oil and I managed to get it going again but I can’t fathom the difference between the two choices (forward/ reverse /fade in/out) and I have been reluctant to play too much with it until I understand desired proper operation before I fiddle with it much more. Normal shutter knob on lower operator side works fine though.

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  9. Hello Nate, very interesting to hear about your Wilart. I don’t know much about them but a rare one was on sale recently for $250k!! Re. the controls my fader switch is jammed on F and I haven’t plucked up the courage yet to dismantle it. I think it is just a simple switch between normal shutter operation (N) , Fade (Fondu) and reverse shutter operation AR (Arriere in French). It operates in conjunction with the Open/Close switch on the opposite side. I have complete instructions for this in French and I can send you this if you let me have your email address. I find it quite difficult to understand! The switch on the front is easier as it simply adjusts the exposure by varying the angle of the shutter. #7 is equivalent to 1/43 shutter speed and then in steps to #1 which is = to 1/524. I can send you this table as well.

    Richard

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  10. nateclapp says:

    yeah, that $250K Wilart has been floating around for a few years. While a bit rare, they are nowhere near worth that at all. The rareness is counteracted by the fact that it was not an innovative design for when it came out, so it ended up doing 2nd tier work often, so no storied history attached to them. That particular one seems heavily modified (crank moved to side instead of back, half finished lens turret) and I suppose that makes it rarer but also very much not stock. For people who are into that sort of thing I imagine it hurts not helps value. I just like ones that work that don’t cost too much 🙂
    The definition of the 3 fade positions makes a lot of sense and is along the lines of what I suspected. My email is nateclapp@me.com, I would appreciate those documents, thank you for offering! Maybe I can return the favor once I fully confirm it working I can send you a video clip of the inner workings as they are supposed to function which might help unstick yours. Mine was briefly stuck shutter fully closed (horrors!) until I sussed out where to gently push to unstick a mechanism in the front assembly to get it to work more along the lines of how it was designed.

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  11. Thanks Nate, that would be great. Will email instructions when I get back next week.

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  12. Daniel T says:

    Thanks for your excellent post on Adriano Olivetti and the factory at Pozzuoli. I have used it to inform this post on my blog:

    https://typicaltyping.blogspot.com/2019/03/olivetti-poster-of-day-bank-by-studio.html?view=magazine

    I am struggling to get a better understanding of his thought and the history of the company, especially during the Mussolini years, without any knowledge of Italian. Your research has helped.

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  13. Many thanks Daniel, I read your blog with great interest, and appreciate the link to my post. I have been working on a book about Olivetti for a number of years without much Italian also and it has been a bit of a struggle, particularly when it comes to Adriano Olivetti’s philosophical writing! Sadly, there is hardly anything published with a lot of detail in English. One of the best books is ‘Gli Olivetti by Bruno Caizzi published by UTET in 1962 but it is in quite dense Italian! I wrote a draft article some time ago which might fill in some of the gaps and has quite a bit of Adriano Olivetti’s theories in it. If you could let me have your email address I can send it to you.

    Kind regards

    Richard (Bossons)

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  14. Thanks very much, Richard, I would like to see that article. My email is dtouey@gmail.com.

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  15. Hi Daniel your email doesn’t work from my end. Is there a dot missing?

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