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My Introduction to the Ciro-Flex

 
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douggrosjean



Joined: 11 Dec 2004
Posts: 46
Location: NW Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Sat Dec 11, 2004 5:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This all started with me looking for a larger camera than my 35mm cameras. Why? A larger camera uses a larger negative, which gives better resolution of scenic photos. I enjoy taking photos on my motorcycle
trips, and want to take the best photos I can.

Why film instead of digital? I simply enjoy using film. Well, and because used film cameras' prices have dropped incredibly low in the face of ever-improving high-end digital cameras. I can afford $100 for big
negatives. A couple friends suggested 2.25" x 2.25" twin-lens reflex cameras, so I looked into that type of camera.

Turns out various medium-format TLR cameras (2.25" square negative) have been marketed here in the U.S.A. since the 1930s, reaching their peak of popularity between 1940 and 1960. I found a (used) model I wanted at a
local camera store, and described it to my girlfriend Sharon. She replied that it sounded like the camera her late father used, and walked away. I heard her rustle through a closet, and she came back with a brown leather case containing an old camera.

Skeptical, I opened the leather carry-case. A 2.25x2.25 format Ciro-Flex. Large and metal, with a solid feel to it. No electronic controls, no batteries required, a fully manual camera. Made in Delaware, Ohio; according to the elegant script on the nameplate on the front. A beautiful camera to look at, with black paint and black leatherette and its weathered but still mostly shiny brown leather case.

Details:
The camera turned out to be a Ciroflex Model E, built around 1948 by the Ciro Camera Company on Sandusky Street in Delaware, Ohio. Good Ohio names, all. It was a high-quality piece in its day, selling for around
$110 at a time when a similar German Rollei sold for around $160.

A search on the Internet revealed a Ciro-flex forum, an online owners manual, and an online sales brochure with a price and features list.

Further Internet searches revealed the history of the camera, and of the rise and fall of the American camera industry in the 1940s and 1950s.

Many American camera companies built such cameras in the decade from 1940-1950. Approximately 250,000 Ciro-Flex cameras alone were sold between during that time.

Around 1950, the Ciro Camera Company sold the Ciro-Flex camera design and tooling to the Graflex camera company, and concentrated on its main business of fire control equipment. Graflex continued to build and refine and sell the Ciro-Flex, rebadged as a "GraFlex 22", into the late 1950s.

But by the 1960s, Japanese camera companies had taken over the American market. The Japanese products were competitively priced with the Ciro-Flex, but with built-in light-meters, and better optics. One by one, the American companies went out of business.

Sigh...

Most modern owners lucked into their Ciro-Flexes much as I did, finding one at a garage sale or in an attic or in a elative's estate. Modern owners wrote on websites that it was a durable and reliable camera with
good optics, fun to use, with smooth-working controls. And it's possible to repair one at home if needed. They're also very under-valued: you might pay up to $100 for one on Ebay, but anywhere else $5-$50 is fair market value. Many Ciro-Flexes on Ebay get no bids at all.

There was still film in the camera, from who knows when. I read the manual online, downloaded an exposure guide from the Internet (I've never owned a fully manual camera), and used up the film in it learning the controls.

Then I removed the old film, cleaned the innards with a camera brush, and
checked the camera mechanically. Shutter, aperture, film advance and focus all seemed to work properly. It didn't seem possible after sitting on a shelf for 10-20 years, but... Dusting it off inside was like working on an old car or old motorcycle: lots of room around the mechanical parts,
easy to get to things, easy to understand.

I re-loaded with new film, and Sharon and I went out to a Holiday dinner at the Dearborn Inn, across from the Henry Ford Museum. While waiting for a table, I took pictures of Sharon in the lavish hotel lobby. People
stared at us using the old camera, commenting on what a beautiful camera
it was, how their dad used to shoot with one just like it when they were young.

On the joy of shooting with an old camera: it's a slower pace, a very deliberate process, a process that demands more of a relationship than a modern camera does. See the picture in my mind, compose it on the
viewscreen, adjust the shutter and aperture accordingly, focus, cock the shutter, and shoot. It reminded me of an old car or old motorcycle, with big knobs and good ergonomics. The Ciro-Flex grew on me as the night went on.

But there's yet another side to the story...

The next morning, Sharon got out several photo albums. They were full of photos of her as a little girl, mostly taken by her father with the Ciro-Flex. Beautiful black and white portraits of Sharon as a curly-haired little girl, her smiling face filling the screen, hair aglow (George knew about backlighting), well-composed and with everything in perfect focus.

Sharon then adds that her dad kept a darkroom when she was little, which suggests a deeper commitment to the hobby than she'd let on earlier.

The photos kept coming, and Sharon grew up before my eyes. Christmas scenes of Sharon standing in front of the Christmas tree, grinning while surrounded by new toys. The neighborhood covered in snow, and a couple
pages later covered in elm trees. Seasons and years went by...

Then photos of cats, several cats, sometimes with Sharon in the picture and sometimes not. Even when Sharon's not in the photo, I can imagine her as a little girl begging dad to take a picture of the cat for her.

Then a photo of machinery, but just one, showing a shop full of lathes and
milling machines. "Garwood Industries..." says Sharon, where dad spent his working life. Odd there's only one photo of work. Well, I guess not really...

Then several shots of Sharon's mom, but just a few. Then a few of the family car, a big-fendered 1940's Caddilac, farm fields in the background, and with Sharon sticking her head out the passenger-sideuwindow, smiling
wide. It appears the car was just a prop, a stage for Sharon...

And then some photos of friends and neighbors. Nobody I've met, but Sharon remembers them well, and is happy she has a photo. She'd forgotten the photos of the neighbors existed at all.

Sharon's father George is conspicuous by his absence. He's the invisible man behind the scenes, creating beautiful images but almost never appearing in any of them.

Eventually Sharon is in high school, then suddenly all grown up. Abruptly, the photos end.

I ask Sharon where her Dad learned to shoot like that, but Sharon doesn't know. "Perhaps he picked up photography growing up back in Pennsylvania?" she asks me. Maybe... But there's no photos taken prior to Sharon's
birth by her dad, and no photos taken later in life. It's just a big question mark.

I'm guessing, but it appears that George learned photography when Sharon was born, mastering exposure and composition and darkroom processes quickly through the late 1940s, and then put the Ciro-Flex on a shelf
after Sharon reached adulthood. Quite an accomplishment for the man to have learned such skills so quickly; the photos are that good.

And there's yet another angle: I've been using cameras for almost 30 years now, including a stint as a professional portrait photographer. I take photos of things I like, things I want to keep and remember forever. Vacations, landscapes, motorcycles and kayaks, family and friends and
relatives. I assume others do the same, preserving the people, places, and
things that bring them Joy.

I'm guessing George did the same during his life, and though I never met the man I can see him clearly now, behind the camera, creating, probably smiling and enjoying himself, taking pictures of his baby. He appears in none of the photos, yet a part of him is in every shot. We never met face
to face, but I've seen his work, so in a way we have met.

And the resurrected Ciro-Flex? It has a new lease on life. Despite its bulk and the price of 120-size film, I carry it with me often, taking photos of Sharon, my son, my father, my nieces, and scenery.

I've run about a dozen rolls of film through it so far, and in the right hands it takes fantastic photos, certainly some of the best I've ever taken.

It also turns out the Ciro-Flex fits my hands well, in a way I've only experienced before when using my dad's tools. George's Ciro-Flex is like that: well-worn but familiar, as if I put the wear marks on it myself.

But there is an odd thing... I'd swear the camera has an aura of its own. I imagine scenes long-past when I look into the viewfinder, and I can't completely shake the feeling when I use it that George would be glad to see the old camera being used to photograph his little girl once more. I
know Sharon enjoys seeing the camera used (and appreciated) again.

And I can't help but think that someday I'll be the invisible man, leaving behind words and photos yet appearing in very few of them myself...

Best,
Doug Grosjean
Luckey, Ohio

PS: George's Ciro-Flex is too valuable (emotionally) for me to take on the
motorcycle, so I've purchased a used Ciro-Flex for $45 plus shipping from a vintage camera dealer on the Net. Figuring on using the $45 unit during rough service (ie, on the bike), and George's camera will continue with its easy life, photographing loved ones, probably for years to come.

PSS: May even buy a second one for spare parts for $10, as they are easy to work on. I've never owned a camera that I felt I could repair myself before.

PSS: There's just something intriguing and special about shooting with a 60 y/o all-metal American camera, made in Ohio, with such a neat history. Lotta baggage there that just can't be unloaded....



_________________
Best,
Doug Grosjean
NW Ohion
douggrosjean@gmail.com
Various 35mm SLR and P&S cameras,
Kodak Medalist, Rolleicord, and Ciro-Flex,
Burke & James 4x5 Press, and #10 Cirkut
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RichS



Joined: 18 Oct 2001
Posts: 1467
Location: South of Rochester, NY

PostPosted: Sat Dec 11, 2004 9:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have to admit, that at first I thought of just mentioning that this post should be in another forum. The I read it. Then re-read it... Nope, it's in the right formum! And thanks for the post. It was a nice read and makes me feel good that someone has cherished the camera, it's memory, use and history. I like that!

Unfortunatley, the only camera I have from family is an Argus 'brick', which I used heavily way back when I learned photography. No one in my family was a photographer by any means, but they were nice enough to indulge me and my interest in it. I have over the last 40 years collected quite an assortment of cameras. In 35mm, I wound up with a good sized collection of Minolta XK equipment. Then to a Mamiya C330, one of the cameras that killed yours unfortunately... But it had interchangable lenses... My only excuse...

Now I shoot a 70 year old Century Universal 8x10 camera (and many 4x5 models). I don't know it's history and can only dream of the photos it has taken. But it still means a lot to me and I am actively researching the camera's history and photographers that used it. These are things too many people can't understand... It's a shame they see this equipment as only tools of a trade...

I hope you pass all of that on to your children so they can understand it! Unfortunately again, I was never blessed with children. And since New York State does everything it can to prevent adoption, it looks like I will never have any children to pass along what I have collected... With luck, I will someday find a young person who shows a true interest so I can leave this stuff to someone who will appreciate it all, including the history and stories...

I envy you... And thanks for the story!


_________________
----------------------------------------
"Ya just can't have too many GVIIs"
----------------------------------------

[ This Message was edited by: RichS on 2004-12-11 13:47 ]
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djon



Joined: 05 Nov 2004
Posts: 174
Location: New Mexico

PostPosted: Sat Dec 11, 2004 10:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great story!

I'm currently scanning negatives that were shot respectively by my Great Uncle and Grandfather using a Kodak #4 and a Kodak Autograph Jr. I happen to have used both of them as a kid, processing the negatives in trays. I'm amazed at how beautifully the century-old negatives print.

The Autograph Jr was a brilliant, pocketable design, presaging the Zeiss Ikonta and shooting a 2.5X4.25 negative...significantly better than 6X9.

Use the daylights out of those Ciroflexes...wash the negs carefully and store them carefully and your great-grandkids will have a big thrill when they discover them.
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douggrosjean



Joined: 11 Dec 2004
Posts: 46
Location: NW Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Mon Dec 13, 2004 10:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:

On 2004-12-11 13:44, RichS wrote:
I have to admit, that at first I thought of just mentioning that this post should be in another forum. The I read it. Then re-read it... Nope, it's in the right formum! And thanks for the post. It was a nice read and makes me feel good that someone has cherished the camera, it's memory, use and history. I like that! ..... Now I shoot a 70 year old Century Universal 8x10 camera (and many 4x5 models). I don't know it's history and can only dream of the photos it has taken. But it still means a lot to me and I am actively researching the camera's history and photographers that used it. These are things too many people can't understand... It's a shame they see this equipment as only tools of a trade...

I hope you pass all of that on to your children so they can understand it! Unfortunately again, I was never blessed with children. And since New York State does everything it can to prevent adoption, it looks like I will never have any children to pass along what I have collected... With luck, I will someday find a young person who shows a true interest so I can leave this stuff to someone who will appreciate it all, including the history and stories...

I envy you... And thanks for the story!



Glad that I got the correct place, and glad that you enjoyed!

It's not really about large or medium format, it's about appreciating the people behind the machinery. That applies regardless of camera size.

I have a thing for machinery (I'm a mechanical designer, I ride and maintain motorcycles, dad drives a couple Model T Fords, I enjoy steam engines and steam tractors, etc). When I first got into photography I didn't see cameras as machines, I do now.

It's strange to be shooting with a camera whose history I know, but not the owner.

And I do have a child, a son, but he thinks all dads write and photograph and that my photo and writing skills are not the least bit unique, and that they might even be boring.

Ah well... at least he doesn't think I'm boring.

_________________
Best,
Doug Grosjean
NW Ohion
douggrosjean@gmail.com
Various 35mm SLR and P&S cameras,
Kodak Medalist, Rolleicord, and Ciro-Flex,
Burke & James 4x5 Press, and #10 Cirkut
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douggrosjean



Joined: 11 Dec 2004
Posts: 46
Location: NW Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Mon Dec 13, 2004 10:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:

On 2004-12-11 14:46, djon wrote:
Great story!

I'm currently scanning negatives that were shot respectively by my Great Uncle and Grandfather using a Kodak #4 and a Kodak Autograph Jr. I happen to have used both of them as a kid, processing the negatives in trays. I'm amazed at how beautifully the century-old negatives print...

....Use the daylights out of those Ciroflexes...wash the negs carefully and store them carefully and your great-grandkids will have a big thrill when they discover them.


You've got me beat. I've scanned in a bunch of 35mm negs and slides that I shot 20 years ago, but stuff older than that from my mom is mostly Polaroid and not shot by anybody with a knack for photography.

So far, I am using the Ciro-Flex a bunch. Have run about 10 rolls through it since Thanksgiving. Seems very robust. I've purchased a second one for use in rougher conditions (I think it's a Model D), ie, bicycle and motorcycle rides. These things seem built like a tank compared to a modern 35mm SLR.

I'm also looking at a third one, a Model E just like my g/f's dad's camera, in case I don't like the D.

I'm guessing the D and E will go on motorcycle trips, and Sharon's dad's camera will shoot people / portraits closer to home, as it always has.



_________________
Best,
Doug Grosjean
NW Ohion
douggrosjean@gmail.com
Various 35mm SLR and P&S cameras,
Kodak Medalist, Rolleicord, and Ciro-Flex,
Burke & James 4x5 Press, and #10 Cirkut
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RichS



Joined: 18 Oct 2001
Posts: 1467
Location: South of Rochester, NY

PostPosted: Tue Dec 14, 2004 2:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:

On 2004-12-13 14:33, douggrosjean wrote:

Glad that I got the correct place, and glad that you enjoyed!

It's not really about large or medium format, it's about appreciating the people behind the machinery. That applies regardless of camera size.

I have a thing for machinery (I'm a mechanical designer, I ride and maintain motorcycles, dad drives a couple Model T Fords, I enjoy steam engines and steam tractors, etc). When I first got into photography I didn't see cameras as machines, I do now.

It's strange to be shooting with a camera whose history I know, but not the owner.

And I do have a child, a son, but he thinks all dads write and photograph and that my photo and writing skills are not the least bit unique, and that they might even be boring.

Ah well... at least he doesn't think I'm boring.


Now if you tell me that you have a steam engine (tractor or otherwise), I will more than envy you! I have been trying to get my hands on one for years, but they are priced worse than collector cameras... I was hoping to power my 1862 Lucious Pond machine lathe with steam... And what I wouldn't do for a steam tractor! Luckily my 1953 Ferguson TO-30 usually starts with a push of a button

Yeah, there's something about machines and machine work... Cameras seem a bit more personal though. Something like a machine with personality, unlike my tractor who does get grumpy now and then

I never got to the design plateau, but was a mechanic and technician for many years. Until computers ruined me anyway. Worst life decision I ever made! Should have stayed with mechanics, or at least electronics. Hmmm, or may photography?

Don't worry too much about your son. He will come around. I hope not too late though. I wish I had the interest and appreciation back when my grandfather was still alive. Ohh, what I could have learned from him...


_________________
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"Ya just can't have too many GVIIs"
----------------------------------------
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douggrosjean



Joined: 11 Dec 2004
Posts: 46
Location: NW Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2004 9:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My dad has two Model T Fords and an old John Deere D. The Fords are driven about 10,000 miles a year, the D taken out just once in a while. He was hot for an Oilpull tractor, about the size of a steam loco, but never made the leap.

I wish I had a lathe and other tools like that. I can run one, but not very well. Takes me a long time to make things, but when done they fit and work. My main skills are 3d CAD modeling, photography, writing, kayaking, motorcycling. Above mix allows me to get into some interesting places, take interesting photos, and write interesting stories. This summer, the trip that I'm going on with the Ciro-Flex camera, I'll be touring CO ghost towns on a street-legal dirtbike on Jeep trails, visiting a washing machine museum in Eaton CO with about 1000 units on display, and visiting a man and his grandfather who took a pair of Henderson 4-cyl. m/c and created a V8 m/c. The granddad has racked up 20,000 miles on that beast since building it. They spliced, cut, welded... and built an engine.

Thinking that the old Ciro-Flex will be the absolutely perfect camera for many of those shots. Heck, the things I expect to be shooting are contemporary with the camera in many cases.

Am trying to stimulate my son on photography in general. On trips, he gets his own camera, usually a disposable. And usually some of the shots turn out nice. Not all, but not all of mine come out either.

_________________
Best,
Doug Grosjean
Luckey, Ohio / Dearborn, Michigan
douggrosjean@wcnet.org
Olympus XA
Minolta XD11 w/ pinhole
Olympus Stylus
Nikon N80
Ciro-Flex Model E

[ This Message was edited by: douggrosjean on 2004-12-16 13:43 ]
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Dan Fromm



Joined: 14 May 2001
Posts: 1885
Location: New Jersey

PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2004 10:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:

On 2004-12-16 13:41, douggrosjean wrote:
My dad has two Model T Fords and an old John Deere D. The Fords are driven about 10,000 miles a year, the D taken out just once in a while. He was hot for an Oilpull tractor, about the size of a steam loco, but never made the leap.

I wish I had a lathe and other tools like that. I can run one, but not very well. Takes me a long time to make things, but when done they fit and work. My main skills are 3d CAD modeling, photography, writing, kayaking, motorcycling. Above mix allows me to get into some interesting places, take interesting photos, and write interesting stories. This summer, the trip that I'm going on with the Ciro-Flex camera, I'll be touring CO ghost towns on a street-legal dirtbike on Jeep trails, visiting a washing machine museum in Eaton CO with about 1000 units on display, and visiting a man and his grandfather who took a pair of Henderson 4-cyl. m/c and created a V8 m/c. The granddad has racked up 20,000 miles on that beast since building it. They spliced, cut, welded... and built an engine.

Thinking that the old Ciro-Flex will be the absolutely perfect camera for many of those shots. Heck, the things I expect to be shooting are contemporary with the camera in many cases.

Am trying to stimulate my son on photography in general. On trips, he gets his own camera, usually a disposable. And usually some of the shots turn out nice. Not all, but not all of mine come out either.

_________________
Best,
Doug Grosjean
Luckey, Ohio / Dearborn, Michigan
douggrosjean@wcnet.org
Olympus XA
Minolta XD11 w/ pinhole
Olympus Stylus
Nikon N80
Ciro-Flex Model E

[ This Message was edited by: douggrosjean on 2004-12-16 13:43 ]
Hmm. Y'r Henderson story brought to mind John Kiner, of Westerville, OH. THE auto mechanic of last resort in central Ohio when I lived there. He once made a V-8 from a pair of Crosley engines for, IIRC, a 1/4 midget race car.

Cheers,

Dan
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RichS



Joined: 18 Oct 2001
Posts: 1467
Location: South of Rochester, NY

PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2004 11:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:

On 2004-12-16 13:41, douggrosjean wrote:
My dad has two Model T Fords and an old John Deere D. The Fords are driven about 10,000 miles a year, the D taken out just once in a while. He was hot for an Oilpull tractor, about the size of a steam loco, but never made the leap.

I wish I had a lathe and other tools like that. I can run one, but not very well. Takes me a long time to make things, but when done they fit and work. My main skills are 3d CAD modeling, photography, writing, kayaking, motorcycling. Above mix allows me to get into some interesting places, take interesting photos, and write interesting stories. This summer, the trip that I'm going on with the Ciro-Flex camera, I'll be touring CO ghost towns on a street-legal dirtbike on Jeep trails, visiting a washing machine museum in Eaton CO with about 1000 units on display, and visiting a man and his grandfather who took a pair of Henderson 4-cyl. m/c and created a V8 m/c. The granddad has racked up 20,000 miles on that beast since building it. They spliced, cut, welded... and built an engine.

Thinking that the old Ciro-Flex will be the absolutely perfect camera for many of those shots. Heck, the things I expect to be shooting are contemporary with the camera in many cases.

Am trying to stimulate my son on photography in general. On trips, he gets his own camera, usually a disposable. And usually some of the shots turn out nice. Not all, but not all of mine come out either.

_________________
Best,
Doug Grosjean
Luckey, Ohio / Dearborn, Michigan
douggrosjean@wcnet.org
Olympus XA
Minolta XD11 w/ pinhole
Olympus Stylus
Nikon N80
Ciro-Flex Model E

[ This Message was edited by: douggrosjean on 2004-12-16 13:43 ]

Okay, so I'm only slightly jealous

Even though I would love to own a T, if I had my choice, I'd take an A first. At least it has an oil pump I spent about six months replacing the lower six inches of all the steel on an A once and have a fondness for them. Nice cars. Not many T's around to work on, or own...

Since we all need dreams, or so I've heard, mine include a steam tractor. But considering the size and cost, I doubt I'll ever own one. But it's nice to dream about...

The old machine lathe hasn't oprated yet, but it will someday. I still have to make the concrete platform for it in the garage and then figure out a way to power it. Belt driven and at low speeds. Not too difficult, but how much time is left for hobbies??? I love tools of all sorts, and using them, but it's really hard to find free time to use any of them...

It's nice to know you're helping along a next generation of photographer Is he old enough to have a real camera? My first 'real' camera was one of the Brownies. Took 126 film, I think, or 127??? Who can remember back that far? But I still have the camera! Makes it a bit more special to own the camera and have to put film in it, like the real photographers

The ghost town tour sounds great. And I even have a Jeep (if I ever get it back from the shop anyway). Maybe before I'm completely dead I can make a trip like that. The wife and I have talked about a western driving trip someday. Again, that time thing...

Good luck with your trip, and let us see some of the pics!
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