Camera Stories Chapter 1: The Halina 110 Auto-Flip - Where it all started

February 24, 2024  •  1 Comment

While out on one of my regular walks around town recently, I bumped into an old colleague of mine from around 20 years ago.  We greeted each other warmly, despite my vague memories of our working together being more of passing acquaintances than best mates.  We talked only for a few minutes with the usual “How’s life/work/the family” etc, but I found the experience incredibly embarrassing.  Why? Because I had completely forgotten his name.  I find that this happens to me a lot these days, and it will no doubt be a familiar sensation to you too.  I often hear the sentiment repeated that “I can remember something in my childhood but can’t remember what I was doing last week” or something similar.  One of the contributors to this notion is that our memories of things are related to how significant they were to us at the time, coupled with other sources of context such as the experience or stories of others around us, the emotions we felt and so on.  These memories seem very real, but we actually never fully recall every detail, unless it is exceptionally traumatic, so we subconsciously fill in the gaps.   We preserve our treasured memories, sometimes embellishing them over time, but others that might not be as important fall by the wayside, as in the case of my former colleague.  For me, the ability to put names to faces has decreased significantly in recent years, for no other reason that I’m getting older, which has put me in some awkward situations with increasing frequency.  With all that in mind, the first thing I must do here is apologise for ‘mis-remembering’. 

When I was originally thinking about writing this first chapter of Camera Stories, I naturally had to start by trying to recall old memories of the origins of my fascination with photography, which date back around 40 years.  I spent a great deal of time trying to picture those early days of camera ownership; What did it look like? How did it work? What did I take pictures of, and do I still have any? This exercise was trickier than I thought it would be, and I realised that I couldn’t recall that first camera at all, no matter how hard I tried.  The only thing I could remember was a camera that my father lent me, a Voightländer Vitoret 110, which felt like it should have been the first, and was asserted as such in a previous blog post.  I was convinced it was right, but all the same something didn’t feel right about that belief, so I started to dig through the hundreds of pictures of my family that I have either taken or inherited over the years, to see if I could validate it.  Fortunately for me, there was one piece of evidence; a photograph of my little sister holding that first camera, taken by me much later with a 35mm SLR.  That picture unlocked something, because the memories quickly started to flood back, and I could suddenly recall lots of tiny details about the Halina 110 Auto-Flip.  This was the camera that started it all.

Mid 80s photo of my sister with the Halina

As the name suggests, this camera used Kodak’s 110 film format, which was popular throughout the 1970s and 80s because of its simplicity, compact form and low price.  The mainstream manufacturers generally made cheap cameras for this film, like this one, but there were some more technically advanced offerings if you wanted to spend the money.  I was a kid, funded by his parents, so that wasn’t about to happen.  Loading and unloading a 110 camera was incredibly simple, because Kodak had gone back to a similar design to their 126 format of the 1960s.  The film was housed in a sealed double spool cartridge that would simply drop into the film compartment, without the need for threading it onto a take-up spool as with the standard 35mm cannisters.  This was perfect for a small boy with relatively little manual dexterity and the continual risk of something being damaged that followed him around.   I quickly became interested in loading up my little Halina and going out to take pictures of completely random stuff that I liked the look of.  As well as being simple to load, the Halina needed no batteries because it had no electronics and had minimal controls.  Minimal controls meant not having to worry about things like focus or shutter speed, both of which I’d never heard of, let alone understood. There was a switch on the top to set the aperture for a given film speed (ISO), with the options being 100/200 and 400.  Helpful little icons were printed next to the switch to suggest the weather conditions that each setting was suitable for.  Alongside it was a bright red shutter button, in case the user was some danger of misplacing it, and the rotary winder to advance the film with a satisfying ratchet noise, completed the set.  The camera was also compatible with flash bulbs, which were a primitive way of lighting a scene that literally involved exploding a small magnesium bulb on top of the camera.  Arranged vertically in a strip, these flash units vastly increased the size of the camera, which seemed to me at odds with the whole idea of being compact.  However, it was exciting when each bulb popped, even though I now shudder at how environmentally unfriendly it was to manufacture them.  Perhaps the Halina’s coolest feature, though, was its integrated case that turned into a handle when the camera was opened; the ‘Flip’ part of the name.  This meant that I could carry it in my pockets without the risk of scratching the lens or getting grubby fingerprints all over the lens when not in use.   It was also not such a leap for a small boy to compare them to Captain Kirk’s flippy communicator in Star Trek.  It takes so little to spark a young imagination, doesn’t it?

The Auto-Flip and the convenient gem that is 110

When it came to unloading the camera, the fully wound cartridge would drop out when the door was opened on the back, be put in an envelope and then either posted off to a lab or taken to a chemist to be developed.  It was just a wonderful time, waiting to see what accidental masterpieces I might have created returned in the packet of prints.  Kodak made lots of their amazing stocks in 110 too, including Kodachrome colour slide film, regarded by many as the greatest emulsion ever made, and it was all readily available as this was the 80s.  The problem was that the format was, frankly, a bit rubbish because 110 has a tiny frame size of just 17mm by 13mm, much smaller than conventional 35mm that we think of today.  Having a much smaller area frame meant that the emulsion’s grain was more noticeable printed, and it got worse when you tried to do any kind of enlargement.  The prints that I used to get back from the chemist were 6x4 inches, which was presumably considered trade-off of size and quality owing to the film’s limitations.  Add the fact that the quality of lenses in the available cameras was also generally poor and you didn’t exactly have a recipe for high-end photography.  As I mentioned earlier, there were notable exceptions when it came to cameras, though, with Pentax’s superb Auto 110 and Rollei’s A110.  The former was a fully-fledged but tiny SLR camera system, with good interchangeable lenses, a flash gun, and even an electric winder amongst other useful accessories. The latter combined a high-quality Zeiss Tessar lens and sophisticated electronic metering system in an elegant, compact design making it the greatest ever 110 camera in the eyes of 110 aficionados.  In my case, I had none of those things with the Halina, but what did I care?  I was having a great time, and that is why the format was so significant to photography back then and to me.  110 made photography accessible without spending big on an SLR or having to learn how to use one.  It was convenience personified, which is something Kodak themselves should have realised when they launched the awful 'disc' format in 1982, 10 years after 110 came out.  With the film arranged on a flat circular disc instead of a cartridge or cannister, disc cameras were slim and compact, designed to slip into a pocket, which Kodak thought would be a selling point to the fashion-conscious hobbyist photographer.  All sounded great, apart from the fact that in order to fit into the compact circular film pack, the negatives were even smaller than 110. This made the quality of the photographs even poorer, despite the bells and whistles of the cameras being made, to the extent where it was massive commercial failure that was quickly glossed over.  Kodak decided instead to focus on easy-to-use 35mm compact cameras, as if they’d somehow remembered that the convenience end of the market was already covered by good old 110.  There wouldn’t be another real attempt at revolutionising the compact/convenient end of the film market until the introduction of APS in the mid-90s, but more on that in a later chapter.  For me, the 110 experience with the Halina was what introduced me to the wonders of photography, although it turns out that sadly none of those early photographs that I took with it survive.  However, I have just picked up the one pictured here for less money than a round of drinks in even the most reasonable UK pub, and just handling it immediately transports back to my childhood with its quirky design and its very 1980s plasticky build quality.  Also, despite being largely consigned to history, there is still a loyal 110 fanbase, with enough interest it would seem to ensure that there is still some colour and black and white film being manufactured.  Perhaps this camera will get the odd outing in the future, and perhaps the grown man shooting with it will reclaim some of that childlike enthusiasm along the way.   I have no idea, but it’ll be fun finding out.

 


Comments

JB(non-registered)
Wonderful Rich.

Pretty sure I had one of these back in the day - or someone in my house did. Funny how objects can transport you back decades.
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