Marking the End of an Era With a Blast From the Past

06Apr12

For sparkling pictures big as life … Kodak 35mm color slides!

          From a 1958 double-page magazine advertisement

As Kodak’s bankruptcy drama continues, fans of analog photography watch and wait to see which of their beloved products disappear as the once-mighty company tries to find a way to successfully reorganize for the 21st century.

The latest casualty? Ektachrome slide film. On March 1, Kodak announced the ending of production for the remaining color slide films in its product lineup. This is three years after Kodachrome was discontinued. Traditional photographers looking to produce color slides will now have to look elsewhere, most likely Fuji of Japan, to continue working in this medium.

Many young people have never seen 35mm color slides projected on a big screen. It’s unfortunate, as this is one area where analog photography can still beat digital. A fine-grained 35mm slide projected through top-notch optics onto a smooth screen has an image quality that can’t be touched by any ordinary LCD data projector such as those found in most classrooms these days. You don’t see pixels and lines on the screen like you do when looking at a PowerPoint slide; the image has a lifelike quality and color saturation that’s really quite special.

Glorious color slides, as Kodak advertising often referred to them, were one of the main reasons to get a “miniature” camera in decades past. Pictured below is one such camera, the 1951 Kodak Signet 35.

Kodak Signet 35 camera

When introduced, this was one of the finest American-made 35mm cameras, selling for about $75.00, which was not an insignificant amount of cash back then. At that time, the Japanese camera industry wasn’t a big factor in the market and German companies such as Leica and Zeiss made gorgeous, sophisticated 35mm cameras that were priced out of the reach of just about everybody.

The rugged Signet features a die-cast aluminum body with what could be dubbed “late streamline” styling. Its shutter is a rather simple two-bladed affair with a limited range of speeds, but it’s synchronized for flashbulb use, which is what Kodak’s engineers would have likely expected to be the mode of operation for low-light indoor photography.

By keeping the shutter simple and economical, Kodak could afford to splurge on the camera’s lens, and here they created a gem. The 44mm unit-focusing Ektar lens was widely regarded in its time as one of the finest lenses ever fitted to a 35mm camera, equal to or perhaps better than similar optics in its German competitors.

Back of Signet 35. Note the somewhat small (by today's standards) viewfinder eyepiece and "slide rule" exposure calculator.

The camera’s viewfinder is a combined range/viewfinder (something Leica wouldn’t have until 1954), which is a bit “squinty” by today’s standards but works well. As was the norm for cameras of its time, there’s no light meter, but there is a groovy “slide rule” type of exposure calculator on the back, which of course only lists Kodak film products.

Magazine ad promoting the Signet camera/projector "team."

All in all, the Signet 35 was a compact, capable instrument. It was often marketed alongside a Signet-branded slide projector, creating a package deal that was advertised as selling at a price “no more than you’d expect to pay for a fine camera alone.” I’ve shot some test slides with this unit and can attest to the quality of the images it produces. By putting their money into the Signet’s lens, Kodak created an affordable camera ideally suited for the creation of “glorious” color slides.

Only today you’d have to load it with Fujichrome.

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One Response to “Marking the End of an Era With a Blast From the Past”

  1. It’s going to be finish of mine day, but before finish I am reading this impressive article to increase my know-how.


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