Saturday, December 24, 2016

1960s Mec-16 SB 16mm Camera Back in Use

  Today I had a little fun with a Mec-16 SB camera, so I thought it'd be good to post a little something about my experience.

  Mec-16 SB was the later model of the original Mec-16.  The first model was great and all, but the SB, which was introduced in 1960, was the very first camera of any format to feature TTL metering. 
  This camera came to me a couple of weeks ago among a large lot of odds and ends I picked up in San Diego.  At first I wasn't too excited about it other than thinking that it's got a pretty nifty design reminiscent of a Minox on steroids.  Obviously the film, which came in proprietary canisters, is no longer being supplied by the company and so I thought I would sell it.  However, when it was brought to my attention that this was the first TTL metering camera and thus is a rather historic piece of equipment I knew it was a keeper and got a bug to shoot it.

  First, wanting to see what it's capable of, I decided to make some prints from a 1960s roll of film that was actually developed back in the day and was included with the haul.  

  I must say that I was rather disappointed though as the prints came out fairly soft.  I knew something wasn't right... I mean I got better looking 8x10s out of my Minox than the 5x7 prints shown below. The real hint that this camera is capable of better images though came when while looking at the negatives thought the grain focuser under enlargement I could not see ANY grain.  I don't know what kind of film it was, but there was not even a hint of grain - everything was uniformly mushy...  I still made these two prints just to have something to go from.

  Next was the task of finding film and loading it up once more.  At first I bought Fuji microfilm, thinking it would probably be the sharpest thing available.  Unfortunately when I went to load it I discovered that microfilm is not perforated and so that didn't work...  Luckily a local camera store happened to have some old Eastman Double-X 16mm movie stock.  I mean OLD, I don't know how old that stuff is or how it was stored, but it's pretty toast - the base is fogged worse than some of the films I've shot from the 50s...   If that 2003 on the box refers to the expiration date than this film was stored terribly... Still, better than nothing for sure!

  Loading the cartridges is both very easy and a little tricky.  The easy part is that there's no spool inside, so all you have to do is slide the correct length of film (about 19in) in there.  The trick is to have the cut on the end that you slide in not going across sprocket holes - otherwise it catches on something once the first inch or so is inserted.  If the end is nice and straight though it seems to go in relatively willingly.  Opening 16mm spool of film, measuring out and cutting off a strip of correct length and then feeding into a canister has to be done in total darkness of course.

  I did actually have the manual that came with it, but of course I forgot it at home...  Well, thank goodness for Butkus!  What!?  You don't know who Butkus is???  For shame!  Mr. Butkus has dedicated countless hours of his life scanning operational manuals for every camera he could find and making them available online in PDF form for free!  He does ask that every once in a while you drop him a buck of two and I do it once or twice a year - I mean the amount of times I found useful info on his site as mind-boggling.  Click here to get redirected to his site.  Drop him a few bucks - the man's a living analog photography saint.

  Today was nice day in San Diego with patches of sunshine interrupted by light drizzle and complete with a very brief but exciting little hail storm, which I totally missed except for the sound of it pounding the AC unit outside the darkroom.  I roamed about the neighborhood and shot off almost all of the 24 frames on random subjects distant and close.  When I got back to the darkroom I still had a few frames left and what's a photographer to do at that point other than to finish the roll with a few selfies? 

  Now, I don't have a dedicated 16mm developing reel (and I'll be looking for one now), but what I do have is a universal roll film developing contraption affectionately known as the Pixie Tray.   It's simply filled up with about 120ml of developer and then, once again in complete darkness, the film is fed under middle bar and agitated manually by pulling the ends up and down.  

  Yes, a real reel would be best, not only because I wouldn't have had to be in the dark for 6min, but this little Pixie is obviously prone to creating little scratches as the film slides along the hard rubber.  In the end I was actually happily surprised as to how few of those scratches I managed to get.  
  By the way, I developed in Rodinal 1:25 for 6min after exposing for ISO100.  This film being so fogged I think next time I'll shoot it at ISO50....
  When the buzzer on a Gralab timer went off (scaring me as usual) the film was simply thrown in a tray full of fixer and after a minute or so the light was turned on and I was rewarded by seeing that indeed some kind of imagery was recorded there.

  Back at the enlarger I was glad to see that indeed this film has some grain to it and the detail was showing.  I think this film isn't the highest resolution one I probably could get my hands on.  It's suggested ISO is actually 200 and there's a 100 speed Adox on the market in Canada.  Maybe I can' find it in US or I'll just splurge on a roll from abroad - after all 100ft of film makes for about 70 Mec-16 rolls.  Also a thing to note - there were two lenses offered with the SB model - an f2 6-element Rodenstock and an f2.8 4-element Enna.  Unfortunately mine has the 2.8 lens, so maybe the Rodenstock would have been slightly sharper...

  So, without further rambling here are the results of today's photo adventure with a 1960 Mec-16 SB.
Yours truly - no filter.

LeStats Lion - UV filter

Wires and Clouds - yellow filter
(not too bad as far as sharpness if you can see the wires, right?)

  Well, I hope you have enjoyed this quick write-up and even if you didn't I still want to wish you a very Happy New Year!



  1. Damn good looking results! What's the actual size of the negatives? I think the Mamiya 16 made 10x14mm negs.