Saturday, February 21, 2015

A photographer looks at Third Reich color photos


Most of the images we have from the historic events of the 1930s and ‘40s are black and white, so I’m fascinated when I come across pictures shot with early color films.

Like this photo of a torchlight parade of Nazi Storm Troopers during the 1938 Party rally in Nuremburg.

A little Internet research revealed Agfa applied for a patent for its first color film – Agfacolor – on April 11, 1935. Four days later, Kodak in Rochester, N.Y. applied for a patent for Kodachrome. Kodak won the ensuing patent fight to become the first commercially available color film.

Agfa introduced  Agfacolor Neu (New Agfacolor) in November, 1936. As best as I can determine, the early versions of Agfacolor had an ISO/ASA rating of 5, so slow that it couldn’t be used to photograph athletes in action at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Agfa was able to boost the ISO/ASA rating to 25 in 1938 and that’s what I think was used to make the photos here.

Judging by the sharpness of the buildings, relative to the SA men, I think the camera was mounted on a tripod.

I also ran across some color photos from a Storm Trooper Christmas dinner in 1941 where the main light source was candles on the tables.

sa christmas 1941 - 01

sa christmas 1941 - 02

Here again, the photographer got remarkably good images in very low lighting conditions on extremely slow film.

I was able to tease out more detail with Photoshop, showing that the film recorded much more than was apparent at first glance.

sa christmas 1941 - 02a

I suspect the images were made with a camera fitted with a very fast (for the day) 50-55 mm lens capable of f/1.8 or better, but that’s just a guess because I haven’t found any information about lens speeds from the 1930s and ‘40s.

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