Kodak 3A Folding Pocket: a silent movie from 1910

The older the camera, the more limited the information you find. Be aware of even blank wikipedia pages. We dive into the ‘silent era’ of photography. The early years where we cannot ignore it’s pioneers, Eastman & Strong, better known with their Kodak company and one of the most beautiful cameras that history produced: the No. 3-A Folding Pocket.

It is a mystery how to call the No.3A from Kodak a pocket camera. With its dimensions of 24 cm long, 12.07 cm wide and 4.5 cm thick, you must have very deep pockets in your (winter) coat. The weight, on the other hand, is light, due to the aluminum / wooden construction. The whole is covered in leather. The back can be removed as a lid after which you have access to the film room. Let’s just say room, because it’s home to the 122 film, Kodak’s 8.25×14 cm (!) postcard format. This film was originally supplied in 10 exposure and 6 exposure rolls, although by the time the film was discontinued in the 1970s, only 6 exposure rolls were being produced.

Kodak No. 3-A Folding Pocket
Model B4 of the famous Kodak 3-A pocket folder camera.

A small museum with interesting gadgets opens at the front. Those who pull the bellows out over the rails will admire the deep maroon bellows, polished mahogany inserts on the baseboard, blackened nickel faceplate and prism shaped viewfinder with spirit level. And in the center there is the Bausch & Lomb lens with a Ball Bearing Shutter, beautifully mounted on a stylish brass plate.

Kodak No. 3-A Folding Pocket
Kodak Ball Bearing shutter and Autotime

Museum piece or technique that is still usable? Let’s take a good look at the camera. Or rather disassemble, because my copy was pretty dirty and the lenses filled with dust. The dust swirls also from the folds of the bellows. With caution I managed to clean the entire camera. The lens, shutter and diaphragm can simply be loosened in their entirety so that I could quickly free the lens parts from decades of dust. Wiped the bellows with a brush, polished the iron. And there she was, my old beauty. On one backside of the lens the date was carved: 12-’10, referring to december 1910. Maybe a Christmas gift?

Kodak No. 3-A Folding Pocket
Gracious design of the Kodak 3A model B4.

(How) does the camera work? This camera, model FPK (Folder Pocket Kodak) A-3 in variant B-4 (manufactured as from 1909) was expensive and had a combination of a Ball Bearing Shutter and the Rapid Rectilinear lens* of Bausch & Lomb with it’s symmetrical pair of cemented doublets. The Ball Bearing Shutter is a five-blade leaf shutter (like aperture blades), with times ranging from 1 / 100s, 1 / 50s, 1 / 25s, B (ulb) and T (ime). This copy was even a more expensive one, since buyers could opt for the so called ‘Autotime Scale’. it was advertised to ‘greatly reduce the liability of error in exposure, as it automatically indicates the proper time and stop opening for subjects under any condition of outdoor photography’. This means that in addition to the apertures, a text was also stamped with indications of the situation associated with a particular aperture, such as ‘shadow moving objects’ at f/4. It was also possible to operate the shutter remotely via a rubber pump with hose (pneumatic remote operation!). The apertures run according to the US “Uniform System” from f/4-f/64. But in U.S. f / 16 is the same aperture as f / 16, but apertures that are larger or smaller by a full stop use doubling or halving of the U.S. number, for example f / 4 = f / 8, f/8 = f / 16 and f / 32 = f / 64. The B&L lens has a focal length of probably 180mm, but this cannot be said with certainty. This comes down to a comparable 50mm perspective with a conventional SLR camera.
*(like the vast majority of cameras, with no barrel distortion).

Kodak No. 3-A Folding Pocket
Red bellows on the Kodak No. 3A and an adjustable waistfinder

The mirror-reflecting waist finder is fitted to the lens, can be rotated horizontally and vertically. With this, only the image crop can be determined, focusing is done by moving the bellows on the rail. For this there is a distance indicator with notches attached to the bottom plate, from a minimum of 2 meters to infinity (32 meters or more). This way you can move the carriage in the correct focus area.

Kodak No. 3-A Folding Pocket
Serial and company logo.

Now the key question comes. Can you still use this camera in 2020, while the 122 ‘postcard’ film roll has not been available for 50 years? Fortunately, the answer is a resounding yes. There are attachments with which the readily available 120 film can be scaled up to the 122 format. Raising pieces are placed on the film roll and the take-up spool. An example is Fak122. Then you put the film in the left and the take-up spool in the right chamber. From here it is customary to load the film as usual. But although you have a red sight glass for the frame numbers on the backing paper of the film, you won’t see anything. After all, the 120 film is narrower and you need to use the wind button to count the half or full turns from shot to shot. With the camera still open, start winding the film until you see the big vertical arrow, then close your camera. Turn the film advance knob 10 times (20 half turns) so that the film reaches the correct placing for the first photo. After the first photo is taken, advance the film by 4 knob’s turns (or 8 half turns), and do this for photo 2, 3, and 4 (the last one, remember you are making negatives with a size of 6×14 cm!). Wind until the end of the film: the empty spool becomes the take-up spool: put the key adapter on it. You’re ready to shoot again!

Kodak No. 3-A Folding Pocket
The back film chambers of a Kodak No. 3 with at the right the modified FAK 120 to 122 take up spool.

What a challenge and honor to work with a 110-year-old camera, to see the world today through the eyes of Eastman and Strong and all those people who owned the top notch of the cameras at the beginning of the last century. A camera that does not yet have to be placed in a display cabinet, but can simply be revived and produce fantastic panoramic photos with a little patience.

Advertisement for the kodak 3A and below the rotating 360 picture.

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