The Dogmar barks, at last

K, front porch

After nearly a month at SK Grimes getting worked over, my new/old Dogmar 10-3/4″ lens—it doesn’t sound right to call it a 10.75, as firmly ensconced in the analog world as this thing is—and its mated Compound #4 shutter finally returned to me via Brown Truck. Two days of skanky weather yielded to dry, if overcast, conditions a couple of days ago, so I broke it out for a trial run.

Grimes, as usual, did a heck of a job on it. They did a CLA and partial rebuild on the Compound shutter, whose speed-selector dial and aperture lever had been nearly immovable. They also cleaned the lens and remounted the whole in a Linhof-compatible lensboard with a slight forward offset to enable it to clear the front of my Chamonix 45n-1 camera. It looks great, and now functions smooth as silk.

I have no experience with a lens/shutter this age, and didn’t know what to expect. The lens is uncoated, as far as I can tell; the shutter is calibrated in the old-style speeds: 1/75, 1/50, 1/25, 1/10, 1/5, 1/2, 1 sec, B, and T. In order to shift the shutter to “T”—also the only way you can open the shutter to compose and focus—it must be uncocked; before the rebuild, this interlock was loose enough to allow T selection while cocked, a serious no-no, and the principal way many of these old shutters were damaged by unschooled users like myself.

The whole apparatus is heavy; it’s a big chunk of glass and steel, with an industrial feel and look. The shutter housing’s diameter is nearly the same size as the lensboard square dimension; viewed from the subject’s position, the objective looks like a giant Cyclopean eye in the diminutive forehead of the Chamonix. Luckily the camera’s front movements lock down tightly enough to keep everything properly aligned despite the weight of this rig. Incongruously, the shutter-cocking and release levers are dainty and awkward for my fingers to find, so I’m stumbling around and fat-fingering stuff as I get the workflow down with this beast. There’s a lot of shifting back and forth between the front and the rear of the camera to operate the shutter controls and adjust stuff; this should improve with practice.

With all that, what about the images it produces? In a word, stellar, despite the feckless machinations of the camera operator.

I shot 6 sheets of B&W film during my first trial run. The two I managed to expose correctly and get into focus (boy are my LF muscles flabby and out of practice!) look fantastically sharp and contrasty. Two of the others were torpedoed by subject (10-yr-old boy) movement during the f/22-1/2 and 1/2-sec exposures; and two were laid waste for want of BEF: Bellows Extension Factor. That is, I was close enough to my subject—about six feet—that I needed to add additional exposure to compensate for bellows extension, and failed to do so. (I didn’t actually measure the extension, but this had to be the reason; another shot of a house across the street, shot in the same light with exactly the same aperture and shutter speed, but much less bellows extension, was properly exposed.) Another image was partially transparent, where bellows pressed downward by my carelessly-placed darkcloth had blocked light from the lower half of the subject from exposing the film. Yep, at a buck and change per sheet of film, I’m paying a bit of stupid tax here.

Today’s efforts were more fruitful, as demonstrated in the above image. My subject was compliant, even eager, so enforcing stillness was no problem. And stillness is crucial when your shutter is open for the relative eternity of one-fifth of a second, and your zone of sharp focus is only about 5 inches, front to back. I somehow remembered to add an extra BEF stop to the metered exposure value, since I was pretty close to her; to get the film out of the lightproof holders and into the daylight developing tank without exposing it to light; to get it processed more or less accurately; and finally, to get a decently sharp scan.

I am thrilled to have this lens in my bag. It is a gorgeous piece of industrial-optical sculpture, and its images are splendid, in spite of the photographer. Its focal length is nearly ideal for large-format portraiture. I expect it will see a lot of use.

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