The Close-up Kodak

The close-up Kodak is surely a long-forgotten topic. I mean, Kodak making their own cameras is a long time ago – the close-up arrangements they adopted when they did were pretty crude. Yet…they knew their market then, and they knew that they had to do something sensible.

The close-up for a Kodak was really anything under 3 feet. Further than that was taken care of by nearly all their products – either by a fixed focus, a small aperture, and a generous view of the circle of confusion…or by supplementary lenses. These simple diopter lenses could be one element, and probably went to horrendous distortion at the edges of the frame, but Kodak knew that the edge of the frame was a place that their customers weren’t interested in. Kodak customers placed their subject of interest smack dab in the middle and wanted it in focus and clearly lit. Kodak could do that.

They ground a cheap lens – most often uncoated, and mounted it in an aluminium ring that press-fitted over the lens mount. It could be on a Brownie or a Starflash or a Signet or an Instamatic – they would make a lens for it. Note – they actually made two lenses for many of their cheap range – a ” portrait” lens that brought you to 24 inches from the subject and a close-up with a stronger power that would bring it to 9-12 inches.

As most of the Kodak cameras for amateurs were not SLRs ( the exception being the Retina Reflexes) there had to be some way to find out how far away you were from the subject and to indicate where to point the camera. I saw simple metal – later plastic – frames that the camera clipped into that exactly defined the framed area and the distance. They were great for copying work or ID pictures. I believe they were also useful for forensic recording.

Less useful, but more dramatic, was a metal rod with a spike end that you screwed into the bottom of the camera and pointed forward. it stayed just out of frame, but presumably poked the subject when you were the right distance away. It was not a blunt spike, either…

The simplest was a string with a plastic ball that attached to the lens accessory. You stretched it forward to touch the subject then let it drop as you shot. Crude but effective. I mention all these because I can still see a use for them in the modern digital world. Compact cameras have tiny sensors and the ability to focus closely enough for anyone – they are fine as it is. The mirror-less also may have macro settings of various sorts – but any lens can be closer focused with a diopter lens on the front and if we consign the edges of the frame to bokeh we needn’t have an expensive lens. The ability to clap it on and whip it off in the field while not exposing the sensor to the dust of main lens removal is the important advantage.

Actually, if you haunt eBay or old camera shops you may be able to get a cheap diopter supplementary for your main lens and give this a try. Who knows – you may be a Kodak customer.



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