Keeble and “The Box”

I’m lucky to have a good local camera shop. Not only have I purchased my three workhorse cameras at Keeble and Shuchat,* I’ve been steered in the right direction regarding lenses** and other equipment as well. If you can get past the sort of I-know-more-than-you-do attitude of some of the clerks, this is a great place to actually get a new camera if you want to try stuff out before you buy.

*Nikomat FTn, Nikon Coolpix P3, and Nikon D40x.

**While it’s not difficult to pick a good 50mm Nikkor prime, that they recommended the 50mm f/2 AI as my first lens says a lot about the price/quality understanding.

I also take all my film there for development—even the crappy C41 35mm stuff since I’ve had too many bad experiences with the local minilabs. They’re good enough to return my 620 spools and are friendly to people doing weird things or using weird cameras. I’ve also been able to score and experiment with some expired film as well.

And they have a pretty good used section. Not huge, but pretty well stocked. I’ve picked up a few good lenses there over the years.*

*The 105mm f/2.5 AI and 200mm f/4 AIS being the best two.  

What really sets Keeble apart however is the box. It’s legendary. And for good reason. The bargain box is worth cruising past in each visit. Most of the time it’s full of junk, but every so often you find a gem. I’ve purchased six cameras from there so far and shot four of them to-date.

Two which are now in my semi-standard rotation of cameras that I count on:


Kodak Retina IIa—My first purchase and still the one I’m most happy with. This is actually a quality camera with a coated lens.

Kodak Pony 135 Model C

Kodak Pony 135 Model C—My 35mm toy camera of choice. Double exposures and a cheapish lens make this one a lot of fun to play with.

I’ve also picked up a few “museum pieces” which, while I’ve shot a roll of film through them, have some reliability issues and are just a bit too much work to use. But I can’t bear to part with them either.

they don't make 'em like they used to

Kodak Retina I—Too pretty to pass up. Too flaky and too similar to the Retina IIa to shoot again.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie Junior

Kodak Six-20 Brownie Junior—Another beauty. Works well, but carrying a cardboard camera in my bag is kind of scary. And filing down 120 spools doesn’t work too well so if I shoot it again, I’ll have to respool 120 onto 620.

I’m a bit scared to look in the box now. It’s too good to pass up but I can’t really justify any more project cameras. I barely shoot the ones I have now as it is.

Six-20 Brownie Junior


Another Keeble $5 box special. I couldn’t turn this down since it’s just a nice camera to look at.* Plus it came with a 620 spool inside.

*Suggesting another requirement to my rules for purchasing vintage cameras. In addition to taking either 135 or 120, they should be nice objects in and of themselves.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie Junior

I’ve never shot 6×9 before. Nor had I ever shot one of the old-style cardboard-body Kodak Brownies. It’s an interesting experience. The viewfinders are brighter than I expected and the shutter switch (not a button) requires a bit of getting used to. And 6×9 negatives are almost too much larger than 6×6 negatives. I’m not feeling the same rush I received when I shot my first roll of 6×6 in the Hawkeye and was instead feeling a bit of fatigue in dealing with them.

That said, the camera is an interesting choice for architecture photos. Especially old buildings.

I also played a bit with long exposures since the shutter switch functioned almost as a cable release. My other toy cameras require holding the button down continuously for the long exposures. The Brownie Junior shutter though just has to be pushed twice so while there’s a little shake at each end of the exposure, the longer you leave the shutter open, the more negligible the shake becomes.


I’m pleased with the two areas I chose to really experiment with. The people testshots weren’t even worth scanning since this camera doesn’t focus close enough to be worth it. I’m not sure if I’m going to continue using this guy but I’m more inclined to use it next June 20* than the Duaflex I used last year.

*620 camera day

I just need to do a better job with my film handling and either file down my 120 spool a lot more or do it properly and respool 120 onto 620. There are stress marks on all the negatives.

Argus Argoflex 75

Yet another Keeble $5 box purchase. This camera was obviously broken when I got it but, since it has a 620 spool inside, I grabbed it so I can use the spool with my Brownie Hawkeye Flash. Nerd/geek that I am, I couldn’t help taking the Argoflex apart anyway. There’s nothing even on the internet about how this guy works mechanically (user manuals, yes. teardowns, no).  Took me a couple nights to figure it out. I’m mainly posting this because it may be of use to someone else who runs into one of these. And I apologize for the lack of photos. I wasn’t planning on doing a guide. It was only once I figured out how badly it was designed that I felt I had to post something.

The Argoflex appears to suffer from a standard problem where the shutter gets sticky. The culprit is the lousy design of the bulb mode on/off switch. In short, the switch is an integral part of the shutter assembly but is designed so that when it fails or is removed, the shutter only works in bulb mode. That most photos I found of the Argoflex showed the switch in the long-exposure mode suggests that this problem is pretty common.

The shutter mechanism is accessed through the front of the camera. This is nice since it also allows you to clean the lenses and mirror.

  1. Remove the four screws around the viewfinder
  2. Remove the four screws on the faceplate
  3. The entire faceplate, lens assembly, bulb switch, and viewfinder assembly can now be lifted off. Viewfinder lens will probably fall out. As will a thin brass strip.
  4. Separate the faceplate from the lens assembly

You can now see the shutter assembly. This is probably working fine. You can test this by cocking the shutter using the film winding knob and then pushing the shutter button. Camera will function in bulb mode. When you push the shutter button you will notice a triangular flap of metal moving. This flap lifts up. If you hold it down (using a pocket knife), the camera will function in “instant” mode.

The part which normally holds that flap down is the actual bulb on/off switch. The sticky shutter is caused by this switch not holding down the metal flap—leaving the camera stuck between bulb and instant modes. If you never wanted to use the bulb mode, you could do something drastic and just hold that flap down all the time. I  just bent my switch so that it sticks down a little more into the camera.

I also bent the switch so that the part that slides along the faceplate is a little more crooked (there’s already a bump, I just made it slightly more pronounced). Besides the switch being kind of weak in terms of how it holds the flap down, it’s only held in place by friction provided by the brass strip which fell out of the lens assembly. Yes, that strip is sandwiched between the faceplate and the lens assembly.

Now it’s time to reassemble. This is a pain in the ass. You have to seat the viewfinder at the same time you seat the lens assembly + brass strip + faceplate sandwich. Thankfully, if you screw the faceplate in first (start with the screw holding the brass strip in place), the viewfinder assembly won’t fall apart.

But yeah, having taken this guy apart now. What the hell was Argus thinking?

  • The shutter is designed with the bulb on/off as an integral component of the mechanism.
  • If that component breaks, the camera should lose bulb functionality, not normal functionality.
  • That component relies on friction provided by the cosmetic portions of the camera in order to stay in place.
  • Normal wear and tear plus gravity will cause that component to shift so that it’s in bulb mode. This is the state of most images of the Argoflex I found online.
  • Assembly/disassembly requires more than two hands and cannot be done on a flat surface.

I’m glad I only bought this for the 620 spool. And my sister should have fun playing with through-the-viewfinder photography with it.

Kodak Retina IIa

My first ever $5 Keeble bargain bin purchase. This was one of those cameras that just looked too good to be passed up. I was extremely pleased to discover that it works and I’ve been running a roll through it every month or so since I purchased this in July. For a $5 speculative purchase, this camera has become one which I plan to use for a while.
This camera dates from the 1950s and has both a coated 50mm f/2 lens as well as a coupled rangefinder in the viewfinder. In many ways, it’s the perfect pocket camera.
self portrait
So far, I’ve been running random film through it but I’m really liking how it handles XP2 Pro. My only real complaints are that the viewfinder and rangefinder spot are both a bit dim and that it has a tendency to backfocus a little bit. I’ve also noticed it has a tendency to flare a bit with backlight, but that’s always a possibility with any lens—especially those which are over 50 years old. All in all though, I really like it. It’s been fun learning how to use a rangefinder and it scares me to realize that I think I like them…

Dig a Pony


Another Keeble and Shuchat $5 box find I came across in December was a Kodak Pony 135 Model C. This camera is from the mid-late 1950s and is mostly exciting because it’s red-brown bakelite. Camera itself is in excellent condition and everything seems to be working as well as could be. I can even get 27 frames out of a 24-exposure roll.

mid-century bakelite

It’s in the middle of the photo (next to the black, much more common, Brownie Hawkeye Flash). One of these days I’ll take proper gear-porn photos. Shootingwise, it’s pretty fun. Scale and guestimating focus is kind of tough on cloudy winter days. It will be a lot easier to work with in the summer. This guy is also just asking for some Plus-X to get run through it rather than the crappy Max 800 I used as a test roll.


Multiple exposures are another fun thing to play with. Since this camera is a really simple design where the film-advance, shutter-cocking, and frame counter are all operated independently, multiple-exposures are ridiculously simple to do.

All in all, this find looks like something I’ll continue to shoot. Although it will also most likely be confined to summer-camera duty unless I feel a special urge to make horrible puns about shooting my pony.

Kodak Retina I


Toward the end of December, I picked up a Kodak Retina I in the famous Keeble and Shuchat $5 bargain box. Internet research suggests it’s type 141 (has a Kodak Anastigmat Ektar 5cm f/3.5 lens) and dates to between 1937 and 1939. Camera condition seemed kind of gummy (and T and B speeds are busted) but I just can’t pass up something that looks like this.

they don't make 'em like they used to

At the very least, I have a nice-looking museum piece. But since this takes 35mm film, I had to try it out—that includes a shadow self portrait since I try and take one of these with every test roll.


Conclusions? Probably not a good winter camera as it seems more likely to jam up when the it’s cold. I’m a bit curious how it will look with better film (this is expired Kodak Max 800) but I don’t really expect to be using this all that much. The Retina IIa is quite similar and much nicer to use.