Blackbird Fly: Our Lady of Lavang & Holt Cemetery

The film camera I took on my most recent NOLA outing was the Blackbird Fly, a plastic 35mm TLR  rangefinder made by Superheadz (they also made my Golden Half). I haven’t used it in a while and I was considering selling it, but thought I should use it one more time before I made up my mind. I remembered it as difficult to use, but I think that’s because when I last used it I didn’t yet have much experience with rangefinders. Since then I’ve used several (and I collect Arguses, which are all rangefinders); my Yashica MG1 is my go-to camera for B&W, and even my Smena 8M is a rangefinder.

The only drawbacks to the Blackbird Fly is that a) it’s difficult to take horizontal photos, instead of using the viewfinder you have to compose your photo through a cut-out in the viewfinder hood, and that’s never a 100% accurate way to frame; and b) you have to really concentrate on getting your subjects level. I remember the first roll I shot looked like I had done it in a rowboat. And unless it’s really overcast or you’re shooting indoors, you need to stick to low-speed film (this is Kodak Ektar 100), because there are only 2 aperture settings to the camera–sunny and cloudy/flash–and both of them are fairly wide, I think F11 and F8. With higher speed film, 400 or even 200, in a camera with a normal range of aperture settings, I usually stop it all the way down to F16 when it’s a sunny day.

Anyway, I think I’ll keep it for now. It’s a little unusual to find a TLR that’s also a rangefinder, and the camera itself is fun to use and even rather cute. And like most rangefinders (except my Yashica, which has an in-viewfinder focus aid that allows you to be really accurate), the fact that you’re never 100% right about the distance from your subjects results in an appealingly soft focus.
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first roll from the blackbird fly

This camera was a challenge, and at first I was disatisfied with it, but it started to grow on me halfway through the roll. For one thing, I have always been notoriously bad at calculating distance, especially when you have to mentally convert feet to meters on top of it! The cameras I all use now either focus automatically (digital, instant), have fixed focus (Golden Half, Pink Dress, etc.), or only have 2 or 3 settings (Diana F+, Holga, etc.). I also have a tendency to hold it crookedly (although I learned to correct it), which is not as noticable when you’re looking through a viewfinder at waist level instead of holding it up to your eyes. So a couple of the early prints look like they were shot at sea or something.

But I started to get the hang of it, and I really like the results. It’s not as obviously wonky as, say, a Holga. But because of the relatively narrow window of focus, you’ll wind up with one small point in perfect focus, and everything else just a little off. I like it a lot.

I wanted to get a photo of my grandmother smiling spontaneously, so I focused it, set it on the table pointed at her, and kept one finger on the shutter button, while trying not to be obvious about it.

I love everything about this photo. I love the graininess and the analog feel — it’s like a photo that could have been taken with the cameras of my childhood. I love the colors, the way her clothes echo the bricks behind her and the blue glass picks up the blue of the stained glass piece. I even like the curve of her walker in the foreground, the way it sort of draws your eye in.

This was unintentional, I think I was trying to take a photo of the front entrance of this casino we went to for lunch one day. Happy accident!

Backwards! Look at the sign.

One thing I love about this camera is that even though it’s 35mm, even though you’re using a mask and not the whole surface of the negative, you still frequently get vignetting.

The mudbugs were angry that day my friend!