Fotochrome - some restoration notes
Copyright © 2021 by John Marriage
The Fotochrome is a strange-looking (ugly, actually!) camera from Fotochrome Inc. in the USA, around 1965. It was made for them by Petri in Japan, to use the Fotochrome proprietary “film” (print material, in fact) which produced direct colour positives. So each print is the camera original, like Polaroid; cheaper than Polaroid but not instant, you needed to send the film away for processing.
The odd shape is a consequence of the need to reflect the image through a mirror to produce a right-reading picture. The sensitive material runs horizontally along the base of the camera between a pair of proprietary cassettes, receiving an image about 6x9 cm, 12 to a roll.
Wishing to try it out with modern materials, I needed to extract the yellow-green gel filter which is fitted inside the lens, for two reasons. Firstly the gel filter was discoloured and partly semi-opaque, almost as if it had cataract; second, the plan was to use monochrome enlarging paper as the sensitive material. Paper has a speed of 2-6 ASA, and the original long-unavailable Fotochrome material was 10 ASA, so a reasonable speed match; also, paper has poor sensitivity to yellow light, so the filter would slow it down even if it were in good condition.
The purpose of this note is therefore to pass on what I found about getting inside the camera to work on it – and especially to warn readers not to make the big mistake that I made, which forced me to dismantle the camera far more than necessary.
The body of the camera is black moulded plastic with few visible screws to open it up. Hoping to get into the area above and behind the lens I removed the four screws that secure the pop-up flash to the body – only to let two metal plates fall off inside, deep inside the camera! And no useful access. Similarly though not quite as disastrously, the two screws on the outside of the chromed lens housing also failed to get me anywhere, and caused another bit of steel to fall off inside. As it later turned out, you are unlikely to need to undo either of those items, as a full service of lens, shutter, diaphragm and filter can be done without.
The key to access is the slim chromed ring in the front of the lens housing that retains the meter cell. Unscrew this, lift out the cell and unsolder the two wires inside. Remove three screws that retain the front part of the chrome lens housing, and park that too. You are now confronted with what I call the optical block. Three long screws come out, and the block can be extracted to work on. It contains the lens, with access to back and front, the focusing mechanism, shutter, aperture, and the swinging gel filter.
What remains in the body are the winding and shutter release mechanisms with their interlock, and the galvanometer which is driven by the photocell. All the electrical connections to the optical block (flash and metering) are made by spring contacts when you return the optical block to its normal position, so servicing the usual items is surprisingly easy. The shutter is a single-speed everset design, the diaphragm has just two leaves, and the front-cell focusing can be adjusted if necessary. Note that the factory setting when the lens ring is set to the “mountains” symbol is not true infinity, but a hyperfocal distance somewhat closer.
With luck you need go no further in than this. In my case I needed to remove and dismantle a couple more layers of mechanism to gain access to correct my earlier fault, including unscrewing the mirror box (four screws inside the back of the camera) and manoeuvring it partly out. Replacing the mirror would need this degree of penetration. I did also take off the cover of the winding/counting works (2 small chromed screws, one big screw in the wind knob with a left-hand thread), to allow me to jiggle the interlock. You shouldn’t need to do this, but it doesn’t seem to be a cause of unexpected chaos.
Basic parameters after the work - shutter speed is 1/17th, so a tripod is strongly recommended. Focal length I measured as 113mm, lens diameter 24.5mm, aperture (max) is therefore f/4.6. Filter thread 58mm. I would expect other examples of the camera to have close to the same aperture, but the shutter speed from such a simple mechanism could be significantly different.
And the results?
After trying both enlarging paper and some long-expired Kodak Ortho graphic arts film, with and without neutral density filters, I had some success with both but perhaps better with the film. Focusing is tricky – as the camera is probably operating wide open, depth of field is poor and you need to be accurate. There is really not enough control over exposure, and for me it was not consistent from shot to shot. Here’s the example that failed the least - it was overexposed, among a group mostly underexposed, and the focus is set a little too near:
Don't undo these screws!
... or these!
The little notch, and its companion opposite, are the starting point to unscrew the retaining ring.