August 30, 2021

Alphatracks

Sony and Minolta SLR Weblog

What the heck is a Wirgin — a look back.

Most of the activity on this weblog has consisted of posts about the Sony A100 — with good reason. The A100 is Sony’s first SLR and it provides an upgrade path for current Minolta users. Minolta shooters want to know whether Sony got it right — or not. If you have a large investment in lenses and accessories and a new company shows up and becomes the only outlet for new and improved gear — it is natural to be a little apprehensive. There is a lot riding on the Alpha camera line, and anyone with a vested interest in Minolta auto-focus SLRs is watching the A100 to see just how true Sony will remain to the Minoltas of the past. So, in a sense, the eyes of most Minolta shooters are on the A100.

This weblog is about more than Sony, however, and it isn’t restricted to digital SLRs — although I think most of the posts will focus on digital offerings from Sony and Minolta. Film isn’t quite dead yet, however. There are still a host of photographers shooting film, either because they still aren’t comfortable with digital — or because certain occasions or circumstances call for film for best results.

With the introduction of the A100, I started to think about how I got involved with Minolta — and photography — in the first place. More years ago then I really want to think about, I was serious about a career in film making. Not Hollywood style chase-scene and explosion films, but travel documentaries — better known as Travelogs. I took a series of classes taught by Adrian Lustig. Lustig had created and produced travelogs for many years and proved an excellent trainer.

After competing my classes with Lustig, I thought I should develop my still photography as well. I had recently spent three weeks on Isle Royale National Park, a small patch of wilderness located in the middle of Lake Superior. I had packed along my trusty Kodak 110 Instamatic. Besides images of the breath-taking scenery, I managed several dramatic close-ups of moose and fox. That was with a 110, non-telephoto snapshot camera. Imagine what I might have achieved with a telephoto lens! Fresh from that experience, I thought a little camera training might improve my shooting.

Instead of a class on how to take better photos, however, the class I enrolled in turned out to be a class in darkroom techniques. Although it wasn’t what I expected, I was immediately intrigued by developing and printing my own images. I loved the class and soon had my own black & white darkroom.

There was just one problem. My 110 negatives were just two small to really get the great prints I was after. The film choices were limited, the grain in 8X10s was huge, and most enlarging lens were designed for larger negatives. Obviously, I needed a camera that would produce better negatives — at least 35mm in size.

Wirgin stereo camera from the 1950s

My dad had an old Wirgin Stereo camera. He had a boxes and boxes of 3D Stereo slides that looked three dimensional when you wore those funny glasses. I had no interest in stereo photography — but the Wirgin actually took standard 35mm film. I started loading the Wirgin with Tri-X and Plus-X pan film. Because it was a stereo camera, it actually produced two negatives of every shot — today people order double prints, back then I was shooting double negs. In addition, the negatives weren’t standard 35mm size — they were square “half-frame” negatives measuring 7/8″ wide by 15/16″ high.

There was no light meter either. I had a hand-held Norwood Director that measured ambient light. The camera had a flash-shoe, but I don’t remember ever taking anything but available light images with the Wirgin.

If you are interested in finding out about the long-forgotten Wirgin camera company, try the following link:

The History of Kamerawerk Gebr.Wirgin

I dragged dad’s old Wirgin around for several months and soaked up as much photo-craft as I could. I learned the ins and outs of the black and white darkroom. I inhaled too much Dektol, D-76 and Fixer to be healthy. I helped the owner of local film store put his kids through college.

Most of the images from the Wirgin seemed to be slightly over-exposed, either because I developed the film too long or because the camera and/or light meter were out of calibration. Still, I got some nice images. Few and far between, perhaps, but the Wirgin did give me some good images.

Even so, It was obvious I was outgrowing the Wirgin with it’s fixed 35mm, f3.5 lens (To be correct, I should say lenses because of the dual stereo setup.) The half-frame negs were much larger than my old 110 negs, but still only half the size of a true 35mm camera. The ambient light meter was fine for close-ups, but often inaccurate for distant objects where the light characteristics might differ greatly from where I was measuring the light. I had to custom make gear to allow me to use the half-frame negatives in my enlargers. My film cost was higher, as well, because each shot was recorded twice. Most importantly, there was no interchangeable lenses for the Wirgin Stereo.

I needed something more. I needed another camera. I needed a 35mm SLR.

Next time, I’ll discuss how I settled on Minolta as my camera of choice. Until then, Stay focused — Tom