Why it's good I'm not a doctor

Technical problems pop up from time to time for all photographers, and like a doctor it's up to you to diagnose the problem and if possible fix it. Unlike being a doctor, the consequence of being wrong is far less dire, especially if you are just taking pictures for your own interests. Still, I'm glad not to be a doctor, and what follows is a good example why.

Some time ago I shot a few rolls of film with this camera: a modified Graflex XLSW that shoots 120 film and has a 47mm Super Angulon for a lens. After inspecting the film I noticed that the images were showing considerable softness at the edges, not at all typical for this lens. The cropped image shows it pretty well. Rather Holga-like, not SA-like.

 Cropped image

Cropped image

So I check the camera and I notice that one of the sliders that holds the graflok back to the body had slid to the unlocked position. This allowed a small amount of play as the back could move out of alignment slightly. I decided that had to be it. I even put the camera on a tripod and put the ground glass back in place to check it out. Even though I couldn't see any difference between locked and unlocked I believe I had the right answer.

 Look, I used graphics

Look, I used graphics

So problem solved I think I go about my merry way, and I shoot some more film. Again I see edge softness but I compound my error in assuming that because I uncharacteristically shot these rolls wide open, that the large aperture was the cause. I don't know why I assumed that since I have years of experience shooting super wide lenses like this SA and I know that they perform much better than that wide open, but I did and so took no further action.

At least I had the sense to do a test roll under more typical circumstances and found that yes indeed I had not solved the problem. This time the thought occurs to check the lens, front element is tight, lens is tight in the mount. Rear element? Hold up, it's loose. Very loose. Another half turn and it is falling out loose. O.K. then. Tighten it up, check with ground glass, think I got it this time, but test again.

Yes, how about that. Problem finally solved. The advice is often given when speaking to a doctor about a vexing health problem: Ask "what else might it be?" Advice I should heed myself. If you are wondering how the rear element came to be so loose, I believe it was because of all the time the camera spent riding around in my bag attached to the handlebars of my bike. I will pad that out in the future and you can bet I will be checking the camera out more regularly from now on.