Topic – At the Other End of Formats: Half-Frame

With film, most of my shots have been in medium format. The large negatives has a certain something – not least the image quality – that appeal to me. I am quite fond of 6×4.5 as well as 6×7 but also do 6×9 and even large format 4″x5″ now and then.

Then there is the love for mechanical miniature solutions of which cameras and shutters are full of. All of my cameras have been disassembled at one time or another, just for the fun of it.

Recently there came a Chajka (Чайка) my way. Ит ис странге ин маны шаыс… Ooops, should have read “It is strange in many ways”: First it is a Soviet era camera manufactured in Belarus, then it is quite old, circa 1965 (*), and lastly it is a half-frame camera. Half-frame means that, while it takes ordinary 135-film, the images are not the common 24×36 mm but half of that: a mere 18×24 mm! We are talking really puny negs here. On the positive side, a film for 36 exposures holds up to 72 images in this camera. One can literally take photos like there is no tomorrow: 72 pictures. That is like… lots of them!

The lens is a Industar 28/2.8. From what I have gathered from the net it usually is a Industar-69 but not on this one, it is a plain “Индустар”. The lens has a 56 degree field of view which corresponds to about 40 mm on a full frame camera. Focusing is performed by merely twisting the entire lens assembly from 1 m to infinity in half a revolution (marks for 1 m, 1.2 m, 1.5 m, 2 m, 3 m, 5 m, 10 m and infinity). The russian instruction booklet notes three groups of dots on the focus scale: The 1 dot mark is for close-ups, the 2 dot mark for groups and the 3 dot mark for landscapes.

Apparently half-frame cameras are popular with the Lomo-crowd though I have not used one ’til this week.

My first film strip (a short test length of Fomapan 400) was a failure. There was something with the loading of the film I had done wrong. The pictures overlapped and somehow the feeder end of the film jarred and the film transport cogs trashed the film:( In retrospect I think it was my own fault (isn’t it always?) as I had tightened the film in the cassette with the rewind lever on the camera’s bottom plate to be able to see if the lever moved as the film was advanced.

Apart from this  initial mistake it handles quite well. The focus distance ring moves easily, perhaps a bit too easily in fact. Setting the aperture includes rotating the inner ring just around the lens. It appears to keep rather reliable shutter times too with the settings 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 and 1/250. There is also a “B”-setting.

The number of shots counter is unfortunately not reliable, it sometimes does not go back to zero when unloading the film but rather starts at 50 something. The counter should be rewound by a multi turn spring but it does not manage to do that. Perhaps a wee bit of cleaning will do wonders?

Resulting image quality is so-so, specially compared to what I am used to from larger negative cameras. It is to be expected that such small negs do not enlarge well. Still, I am surprised that there is so much detail in them. I feel it holds well against the Halina 35x when it comes to lens performance. Its softness, vignetting etc does give it a certain personality. I imagine it would be best to run colour film in this camera as the colours would give some more information about what is going on in the picture.

As the film is 18×24 mm the image is in portrait orientation when looking through the finder. This irritates some people  but that is exactly what I am used to from 6×4.5 cm medium format cameras this is a none-issue for me.

Seen from the front the only unusual aspect of the camera is what to press to actually take a picture: It is done by pressing the black square above the lens inwards. Somewhere I read that would induce camera shake but think it is the opposite, the camera is very still when taking a shot. It is also near silent, there is a short springy sound but is very quiet.

While there is no flash holder on the top of camera there is a flash socket which shorts electrically when the picture is taken.Chajka (1)

The back side is minimalistic in its design: A viewfinder and a film advance lever. That’s it!Chajka

The two windows on the top is, from the left, a shutter speed selector and image counter.Chajka (2)

On the bottom is the rewind lever with its direction indicator (wind clockwise!), a push button to release the film when rewinding (MUST be kept pushed during the full film rewind) and a 1/4-20 standard tripod socket.

NB! It feels intuitively that the rewind should be in counter clockwise direction but that is not so, internal linkage produce the correct rotation.  Chajka (3)

The bottom plate also sports a DIN/ГОСТ-selector disk. This is nothing but a reminder of the film’s speed inside. It has no function on timing or so whatsoever.

Inside it there are no surprises. The negative’s 18×24 mm size is clearly seen. The take-up spool is odd: The normal film leader-tab does not fit in the spool! About half a centimetre of the tab’s width has to be removed for it to fit. Later Chajka’s (Chajka II and III) I have seen on youtube do not have this strange take-up spool.

As I understand a total of 171 400 of these Chajkas were made. This camera’s serial number, 5001635, looks like it is a fixed “5001” and a varying 635 at close inspection. Has anyone information on “hidden meanings” in the serial number?

Chajka (4)*) A particularily knowledgable internet source is Triskell-Online — http://www.triskell-online.de/fileadmin/images/photografie/CHAIKA/Buch/CHAIKA%20cameras%20-%20%20english%20-%20part%201%20b.pdf

There is also the original manual (which also serves as a reading lesson in russian:) —http://www.triskell-online.de/fileadmin/images/photografie/CHAIKA/chaika%202%20anleitung/Chaika1_manual.pdf

A description of the four-element Industar lens is at http://www.triskell-online.de/fileadmin/images/photografie/CHAIKA/Buch/Chaika%20lenses%20part%201.pdf

 

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