Half Frame

Fujica Half

Although the long winter is a factor, I like to think my photographic experiments have more to do with native curiosity. My recent excursion into pinhole photography was fun and enlightening. It solidified my feeling that a photograph can be unsharp and a little fuzzy, but still be an aesthetically pleasing image. Once the weather improves and I’m able to get about more while carrying a tripod, I intend to further explore the world of pinhole.

In a similar vein, I’ve been interested for years in half-frame cameras. Never having owned one, I couldn’t quite grasp their appeal other than that at the height of their popularity in the 60’s and 70’s they were among the most compact cameras available. But even with full-frame 35mm cameras I use every technique available to maximize quality and keep grain in check. Half frame is like using 35mm with a 50% vertical crop on every frame. What was the appeal?


I had my chance to see for myself when I saw a pair of Fujica Half cameras selling for $30 each on Nelsonfoto.com. One had a broken meter but a working film counter. The other had a working meter but a broken film counter. I bought the one with the working meter, opting for the convenience of not having to carry around a light meter on non-Sunny-16 days.

The camera arrived and it checked out. Cute and compact I began carrying it around with me, taking pictures here and there. I had loaded it with APX100 in a 24-exp roll but forgot to note that in my Moleskine notebook and because I’d also considered shooting a roll of C41 in it, my memory tricked me and I thought I was shooting C41 ISO200 film at 100. Finishing the roll took a very long time. The Fujica Half was never my main camera on my shoots and 48 frames fill slowly.

Worse, at the end of the roll I was out on a snowing and very cold day. I had my gloves on, which decreased my ability to feel pressure on the film advance. I felt a slight tug on the advance lever but thought it was just my glove not getting a good grip on it so I pushed it harder. The film snapped, tearing off from the canister inside the camera.

Sony Centre

Uh oh. Still thinking it was C41, when I got home and the camera had warmed up, I put it into a changing bag, removed the film, cut the film where the tear stopped, and carefully taped it to the leader of an empty spool of APX100, all by feel. After rewinding the film into the canister by hand I opened the changing bag and was startled to see two canisters of APX100 inside. If had had good notes, I could have loaded the film straight into a reel and put it in a tank for development. Lesson: keep better records.

Because it was a test roll I didn’t know how accurate the shutter speeds were. I’d also made a number of Sunny-16 exposure guesses thinking I was shooting iso200 film, rather than iso100, so I gave the film about 20% extra development in Rodinal 1:50 with two inversions each minute.


In general the negatives turned out on the dense side for scanning, but the thinner ones scanned beautifully. What I noticed is that although the images were grainy, which I expected, they were also sharper than I thought they would be. That, combined with the always-nice signature of Hexanon lenses, gave a look that I find aesthetically pleasing, though it might not fit all subjects equally. Portraits, like this shot of our friend Earl Dunbar, are better with a less grainy medium.

Zuiko Warrior

Overall I found the half-frame experiment worthwhile and artistically engaging. I particularly like the half-frame look for city shots. I don’t mind it in landscapes, though the grain may be too much for some tastes.

Overcast & Rainy

Half frame, like pinhole, has caught my fancy. It has a place in my repertoire. Now I’m keeping an eye out for that most elegant of half-frame cameras, the Olympus Pen-F.

William F. Buckley, R.I.P.

When the icons of your youth die it’s a shock. It’s one of the things you know, logically, will happen and by the time you reach your 60’s you’ve probably lost friends and family, but when your icons disappear, it comes as a jolt to the system. You feel sadness for their passing of course, but it goes beyond that. Certain people form part of the mental map of your culture and your passage through time. They can be actors, sports figures, musicians, artists, writers, professors — anyone who was part of the zeitgeist.

I first noticed this after both Mantle and Maris passed away. I was a big baseball fan in my young years and although I was a New York Yankee hater in those days (after all I lived in Illinois and rooted for the then perennial second-place Chicago White Sox), those two Yankees with their power and their crewcuts and their World Series rings represented, to a kid, the epitome of the game. The game changes, time moves on, but when figures like this are still around, they provide a symbolic living link to an era that was important to you. When they die, part of you dies with them.

Likewise I suffered an unsettling loss at the departure from this life of people like Alan Watts, Northrop Frye, Marshall McLuhan, Glenn Gould, and especially Carl Sagan. Their thoughts, ideas, and art formed many of my precepts of the world.

Recently, we have lost Canadian singer-songwriter Willie P. Bennett, jazz giant Jeff Healey, and American political pundit and conservative thinker William F. Buckley, Jr. All are grieved, but William F. Buckley (called Bill Buckley by his friends) was very special in my life, unbeknownst to him, of course.

A girl I dated in university would often have me over to her home on Sundays for some home cooking. I liked her dad and mom and a home-cooked meal was a treat after a steady diet of food at campus eateries. Her mom, especially, was a woman I respected deeply. She was a born and bred New Yorker transported to Phoenix and never quite accepting it. She’d been raised on symphonies, operas, art galleries, and sophisticated intellectualism and one of the political shows she watched regularly was William F. Buckley’s Firing Line. When I was visiting I would watch as well, first out of politeness, then out of fascination.

I’ve always been at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Buckley. It was the 60’s, just before my tie-dye days, and we were mired in Vietnam and only beginning to improve our domestic civil rights. Nobody with half a brain, I thought, could be a political conservative.

Buckley showed me how wrong I could be. His trenchant wit and biting thrusts and parries with various towering liberals he debated on the Firing Line showed a lively, masterful, playful, magnificent and kind intelligence at work. He was not a crank or a put-down artist like some of today’s conservative radio personalities. I even began reading his columns. I seldom agreed with him on anything, but I loved his style and his sweeping intellect.

This insight, that the Right wasn’t always wrong (or at least not dumbly wrong), helped balance my world view and to this day I never underestimate people simply because they’re conservative. This was Buckley’s second greatest gift to me. His greatest were his performances while debating. I’ve rarely seen his equal.

His third greatest gift to me was musical. Buckley was a devotee of Bach and had in his home a wonderful Bösendorfer grand piano. For one of his birthdays his wife arranged for Rosalyn Tureck, the well-known concert pianist and Bach interpreter (whom Glenn Gould once said to be the only influence on him), to play a series of concerts for her husband and close friends at their home, on the Bösendorfer. These concerts were recorded and issued as one of the Bach and Tureck at Home series by Troy. It’s one of my all-time favourite recordings. If you love Bach, this one is a must for your collection, though this recording is now difficult to find. Fortunately it is also available as Rosalyn Tureck Plays Bach.

William F. Buckley, thank you. Requiescat In Pace.