Fine Art Photography
Large Format (4x5) and 35mm Film

Further Adventures with the Kodak Tourist: Adding a Walz Rangefinder

Three rolls of film through the Kodak Tourist and I still don’t have the camera working to my liking. But that said, I now have a plan for the fourth roll — and it’s already loaded!

On the first roll through the camera, I guessed the distances and did not achieve my desired results most of the time. Given this, I decided to purchase a Walz rangefinder as I figured that knowing the distance to the subject would effectively eliminate the problem of guessing the focus. When I got the rangefinder, it wasn’t calibrated and there is very little on the internet about calibrating these Walz rangefinders. As I have now figured that out, I’d like to share how to calibrate a Walz rangefinder. It’s really quite easy. You remove the endcaps by unscrewing them. The only one you need to remove is the one to the right of the focus ring. Then there is a hole and you can take a 1/16″ screwdriver, insert it into the hole, and then do the calibration that way. Both vertical and horizontal calibration are done this way with one single hole. That is because this hole is merely the back of the mirror assembly on this side of the rangefinder. Do not treat this hole as a screw as it is NOT a screw. It is simply a divot on the backside of a mirror to move that mirror around. If you go here: https://www.rangefinderforum.com/classics/forum/messages/6900/5189.html?1126483174 you will see where two others have done this before. Dan Mitchell posted this picture, which is the Walz rangefinder disassembled:

Parts of a Walz Rangefinder. (Taken by Dan Mitchell) From left, there is the cap that holds the mirror in place (it has two holes for screws that are just above it) and to the right of that cap is the actual mirror. The hole that you see when you unscrew the end cap is the hole on the back of that mirror piece. That mirror slots into a circular slot in the rangefinder that allows it some movement and the cap holds it in place. Moving the mirror around with a screwdriver is how you do the calibration. If you are unable to get any movement, you may have to take the whole thing apart and loosen the screws on the cap that holds the mirror in place.
Picture of the adjustment hole. Yes — that’s the backside of the mirror piece. (Taken By Dan Mitchell)

So to take the whole thing apart, we need to look at the last diagram that Dan Mitchell posted as you have to start by removing the black plastic piece on the center of the focus knob. Once this is removed, you have to get a spanner screwdriver with two point bars connected by a bar across the top to be able to actually get enough torque to unscrew this knob. Once you have this unscrewed, you can slide the whole rangefinder assembly out and access everything.

The initial stages of disassembly (Taken by Dan Mitchell)

If you do take it all apart, you have to get it back together in much the same way and you still have to calibrate it. Calibrating takes time as you have to move the mirror piece in the opposite directions of where you want the alignment to go. Further, it moves both the vertical and horizontal alignment and you want to get them both right.

So with all that out of the way, I happily loaded my second roll of film into the camera and went off to shoot 8 more photos! About mid-roll, I became concerned that I had the rangefinder mounted at the back of the camera and the focus must be off the front of the camera and so I need to add another 4-5″ or so to my focusing distance. Well, in hindsight, I should have thought that one through a little better. The focus is always the distance between the subject and the film plane, not the lens opening. The results of the second role, even the first half where I was focusing correctly, were not promising. The items that I had thought were in focus were not and so perhaps I had not calibrated the rangefinder correctly.

After calibrating the rangefinder again, I shot a third role and this role was better, but I was not entirely happy with the two shots that were shot at f/5.6. (Most of the role was f/11 or higher).

The rangefinder is focusing on the leaves in the very front. As you can see, the actual focus is further back from those leaves.
This one is in focus due to the greater depth of field.

After seeing these shots, I knew that I needed to do more work to find out why my camera wasn’t working the way I needed it to. In order to do this, I knew that I could either continue to burn rolls of film and try and compare results to figure this out or come up with a way of actually seeing the image on the film plane in real time. Surprisingly enough, you can use scotch tape to make a makeshift “ground glass” on the film plane and accomplish seeing the image in real time! Within two minutes of having built my makeshift “ground glass”, I had measured a subject with the rangefinder, transferred the measurement to the camera, and then on the “ground glass”, I could see that the image wasn’t in focus. I focused the image on the tape and saw that the camera was quite different in where it was in focus versus what the rangefinder said. To figure out which was accurate, I measured the distance from the film plane to the subject and determined that the lens on the Tourist was not accurate! When I had thought I had been focusing on an object that was actually 6 feet away and set the camera’s focus on 6 feet, it was actually focusing roughly 8 feet away. This explains why the objects in focus were always behind where I was focusing.

Given this predicament, I have two ways forward for this particular problem. The first way would require a significant outlay of time and is something I’m not interested in at the moment. That would be disassembling the lens and shutter and resetting the lens with an accurate focus into the shutter mechanism. A detailed take down of this lens (The Kodak 105mm f/4.5 Anaston lens) is available on flickr at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/149070754@N07/albums/72157695098524481 . The benefit of going through all of this work is that hyperfocal focusing would be accurate (It seems ok above f/11.) and I’d be able to use the camera without the rangefinder.

The second way forward and the one that I am choosing at the moment is to calibrate the rangefinder to the camera. For this, I have basically placed the camera in front of a subject and have the rangefinder patch on the subject. I then use a loupe on the “ground glass” and focus on the subject. I then took the focus reading from the camera, set it on the rangefinder and then calibrated the range finder to be “right” at that distance. I have since tested the camera with its “ground glass” on a number of different objects and at this point I have the setup accurate to a few inches, which doesn’t seem too bad given the rangefinder and the camera are completely wrong, tape buckles, and focusing on tape is nowhere near as luxurious as a real ground glass. 🙂 I also probably won’t use this camera under f/5.6 and at f/5.6 and close distances, you can get 3.5-4 ft in focus at the same time. Of course, this range of focus increases as the distance gets further.

What’s surprising is this actually works!

So at this point, it’s on to the 4th roll of film, which is almost finished and ready to be developed! Here’s to hoping that I’ve overcome this problem.

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About Me

About me

I'm Karl Abbott and this is my blog. I'll share images, the story behind them, and any unique technical details about how I achieved my results.