“Blackbird, fly” (or BBF) is a 35mm TLR (twin lens reflex) designed by Japanese company Powershovel Ltd. which is also the distributor of Holga cameras in Japan. Unlike the Holga (the 120S) which was originally designed to be a highly affordable user camera for the common citizens in China, the “Blackbird, fly” was designed ground-up to be a toy camera intended for lomo-style photography. Making the camera to use 35mm film instead of 120 (which is more common for TLRs) allows the users to process the film in one-hour photo labs. Moreover, 35mm films are much easier to find than the medium format 120 which are only available in professional camera shops/labs most of the time. This is for sure a smart choice because most of the BBF’s intended buyers are neither professional photographers nor photo/fine-art students.
Strictly speaking, the BBF is not a true TLR because instead of focusing through the viewing lens (the upper one of the two) with a piece of ground glass, it requires the user to estimate the distance using the scales on the viewing lens which itself is geared with the taking lens (the lower one of the two). Photo above shows the gears of both lenses with viewing lens indicating the camera being focused at 5 feet. Since the BBF is a scale-focus camera, its viewfinder does not need a groud glass focusing screen and instead, there is a piece of bright clear glass with composing frame lines on it (see photo below). The image in the BBF viewfinder is always clear and bluriness of the toy hippo in the photo is only the effect of lacking depth-of-field in the macro shot.
As shown in the viewfinder shot above, the BBF is a multi-format camera. By using two different masks (or without any mask), the user can select one of the three formats before each roll of film is loaded. These 3 formats are: vertically oriented retangular 35mm frame (24x36mm), cropped square (24x24mm) and a “full frame” spanning to the sprokets area of the film (see photo below). Similar effects can be created by shooting 35mm film on a 120 Holga or a 126 cartridge with 35mm film loaded inside.
Being a toy camera, BBF has a 33mm f7 single element wide-angle lens with some simple settings in exposure: apreture f/11 or f/7 (the “sun” and “cloud” on the taking lens in the second photo from the beginning of this post) and shutter speeds 1/125 seconds or bulb (camera set at “N” indicating 1/125 seconds chosen in photo below). Moreover, an ISO hotshoe is provided so that users can shoot at night or other poor lighting conditions with an electronic flash.
Although classified as a toy camera, the “Blackbird, fly” (selling at around $100USD) is actually one of the most expensive film camera primarily made for lomo-style photography. At the same price, a full feature (wider range of apreture values and shutter speeds, true ground glass focusing, multi-element lens) 120 TLR in fair to good condition can be bought in the used market. Such TLRs includes the Chinese seagull’s, the Russian Lubitel or even an entry-level Yashica! So why the BBF being so expensive? I think one of the reason is its complicated film loading and transport mechanism (see photo below) which requires far more parts and precision than an ordinary 120 TLR.
***Special Thanks: The BBF in the photos was lent generously by a friend of mine solely for the purpose of sharing this fun and nice looking camera to all the readers of this blog.
Status: Returned to Owner