A friend recently messaged me on Facebook and asked if I’d like an old camera that was her father’s. I said yes, and she promptly sent me three cameras altogether: a Primo Jr., a Canon AE-1, and a Pentax K1000. All of them seem to work. Thank you, Jennifer!
The Primo Jr. was a short-lived (1958-1960) twin lens reflex (TLR) camera from Japan. The same company is also known as Topcon, a more familiar name in the camera world. The camera shoots in the 4cm x 4cm format, also known as 4×4, and accordingly uses 127 size film. No one really makes this film in large quantities anymore, but apparently a Japanese company cuts and rolls it. If you check around, you can see that someone’s cutting and rolling 160 and 400 speed color negative film that’s made in USA <cough> Portra <cough>, but in anticipation, I ordered two rolls of ReraPan 100, the Japanese brand.
What a delightful little camera! The quality is instantly noticeable from the weight of the camera in the hands to the placement and feel of the controls. Some bits of leatherette are missing on the face, but it’s hardly noticeable. Junior’s a handsome fellow.
At my first opportunity, I loaded the camera with film and went on a shooting excursion with my little boy. The Williamsburgh Savings Bank clock tower was looking mighty fine that morning, with dramatic clouds behind it. My son said “you should take that picture.” Indeed. I checked my light meter, set the aperture and shutter, and depressed the shutter button. Nothing. I wound the camera. It kept winding until the tension let free and I realized I had just wound up a $12 roll of film without taking a shot.
See those two silver bits above the crank? Yeah, you’re going to want to read the manual. After loading the film and winding it to “1,” and making sure the red window is shut (it has a sliding door to block light), you press down on the left button and simultaneously slide the right button over it (to the left). That resets the film counter and sets the shutter.
Fast forward a few days and a donation to Butkus and I was back outside, again with my son, trying out my new toy.
This lens is sharp! Look at the details of the century of paint on this railing detail at the entrance to Fort Greene Park. The out-of-focus areas are rendered more pleasantly that I expected, given that the Seikosha-MXL shutter has only five aperture blades. Shooting against a point light source might work out differently.
I actually only got half the frames I expected out of this roll. I don’t know if the shutter malfunctioned, or if I screwed up. I learned later that you shouldn’t cock the shutter then choose the 1/500 shutter speed, which I’m pretty sure I did in order to shoot with a wider aperture at times. It was also below freezing out, so old lubrication might have been at fault.
The film? I like it fine, but I haven’t had enough experience with it yet. With such a small sample, I can’t tell if there was too much contrast in some of the scenes I shot. I was a little disappointed with my exposures. I was using a hand-held incident meter.
My next trick will be to roll the unused film onto the used spool and paper backing. Should be fun. I’m sure I won’t curse at all. As much as I’d love to just buy a few more rolls and get on with my life, twelve dollars is twelve dollars.
I developed the ReraPan in Adox APH09 (older formulation of Rodinal) for 16.5 minutes at 68F/20C. I soaked it for a minute first then flushed. I agitated for 30 seconds at the beginning, then two gentle inversions every minute thereafter. Water stop, then TF-5 Fixer for 3 minutes (if you haven’t tried it you must). Rinse and wetting agent (LFN).
Here are a couple more shots of the camera and film (all shot with my phone). You can see the exposed gold-toned screws where the leatherette is missing.
And another shot of the eagle. Have to get my money’s worth out of the shots that came out!
Nice. I just ordered some Rerapan myself, gotta go out and shoot 127 film :)
Let me know how it turns out! Which camera?
…now you’ve put me on the spot…I think it’s a Kodak, not a vest pocket-style, but it has a collapsing bellows style similar to the Retina I believe. The problem is that I don’t know exactly where it is at the moment, somewhere in the back of my closet. It belonged to my grandfather and I believe that it’s the camera he took with him to Europe during WWII. I’m planning on writing a series of posts about using the cameras that belonged to him.
I have bought a Primo jr too on ebay and tested it. At f/2.8 the images are blurred, especially in the center. On the right side, the image is sometime very sharp. At F/22 it’s better but not perfect. It seems that it’s a problem with the poor design of the pressure plate. I dont understand how can the images be sharp when in fact the pressure plate is not pressing on the film but only on four guides on both the camera body and the pressure plate that are higher than the rails / film guides, leaving the film free to float in a space between the camera rails and the pressure plate… The rollers too are not at the right height… Very poor design… I wasted 3 film for testing… I like the camera for it’s appearance and size, I bought 3 of them on ebay (even 4 but one never arrived), and they have all the same problem… It seems that your are lucky with yours…
That sucks. 1) I’m sympathetic to your commitment to try three rolls in it (and I know how much they cost, as you read); 2) I can’t believe you bought four of them! What were you thinking? I know what you’re thinking. I’ve bought as many of a particular point-and-shoot that constantly disappoints me with its durability, and I keep thinking the next one will be better. It never is.
The Primo Jr. is cute, but I think I’ll stick with my Yashicamat for TLR medium format (120 is also MUCH easier to scan for me) until a Rollei falls into my lap, and my Hasselblad 500C/M for when I want more flexibility.
I have corrected the problem. It’s the same problem of poor design of the Nikon F (different film thickness – different focus plane). The problem is descibed here:
I have milled the 4 guides on the pressure plate, filled the place that has to press on the inner rails to the same height of the others pressure plate rails, then adjusting the height of the small roller (the roller support has ovalised holes that permit adjusting the position but you have to remove the camera viewer and the mirror to acceed to the holes in the body – obtured by two large screws for light proofing – that are made purposefully to acceed to the roller support screws), and increased the bigger roller radius by 0.8mm, to have both camera body rollers at the same height of the inner rails, now the film pressure system is similar to the one in my 70mm Hasselblad back, with the focus plane at the inner rails level regardless of film thickness.
And this is true the Primo JR lens is sharp! After adjusting the lenses distance, the small prints on a paint aerosol at 6 feet is in focus and perfectly readable on the negative…
You are dedicated! I’m glad you were able to work it out. Thank you for documenting your work and posting it here!
Would you happen to know where i could get 127 film developed? I recently got a primo as well and have since noticed that i don’t see as many options out there as i do with developing, getting prints with my 120. Thanks for the heads up on the exposure counter buttons above the crank!
Many pro photo labs should be able to do it. It’s just a size difference, so anyone doing dip-and-dunk developing can do it. If you have a local lab that does 120, ask them if they can do 127. They may be able to do it even if it’s not on their price sheet. If you have a local community darkroom that uses Paterson tanks/reels, they can do it because Paterson reels “snap” to 127 size. Finding someone with stainless steel tanks and 127-sized reels would be more rare, I would think. If you’re located in LA or NYC you’ll have a lot of options. Elsewhere, you’re more likely to have to do it via mail. There is often a dip-and-dunk lab on eBay selling its services, too.
Thanks for this. I have a Primo JR from my college days and it took beautiful pictures. I want to get rid of this gem before I end up in a nursing home and my son throws everything in the trash. I am kind of reminiscing about how much I loved this camera before I get rid of it. I was going to get film to test it but I really don’t want to get that involved now from what I have read. Your photos are beautiful, by the way.
I’m glad this helped, and thank you!