The vinyl resurgence shows no sign of slowing, so here's a great budget turntable for your newly thrifted LPs.

Reviving An Old Film Brand

Classic Ferrania stock from the late 1950s

We're at a crossroad in digital imaging - that magical time in a technology's adoption curve where nearly everyone uses and enthuses about it. In a few years - perhaps five or ten - we'll see a small but determined group of people aggressively readopt traditional still and motion picture film as if it were a new technology. And that's a good thing, because it gives us more variety. 

The problem is that film manufacturers are in trouble and only a handful will survive the next five or 10 years. That's where this Kickstarter project comes in. Ferrania started making film in Northern Italy in 1923 -- think of a classic Italian film and chances are that it was shot on their film stock. The company was acquired by 3M in 1965 and became independent again in 1999. The rise of digital pushed them to close in 2010. 

An image from the company's heyday.

Fast-forward to 2012 and a new company -- FILM Ferrania -- was born, based out of the old Ferrania Research & Development building. They've started a Kickstarter project to fund a small bach of ScotchChrome, which is a 100 ASA daylight color reversal film that can be used for slides or movie projection. It's a relatively new formulation created by 3M Imation in the late 1990s and produced by Ferrania until 2003. 

The Kickstarter project is already fully funded with several weeks still to go, and the FILM Ferrania gang are excited about using some of the proceeds to rescue important production machinery from old Ferrania buildings that are slated for demolition. These include a machine that makes triacetate base (the smooth, clear plastic that the photo-sensitive chemicals are coated onto), a chemical synthesis lab to manufacture the photo-sensitive chemicals, and a third machine that applies a smooth coating of chemical onto the film base. In other words, everything needed to make film in reasonably large quantities. 

Vintage ScotchChrome packaging.

So what makes this Kickstarter project exciting? It's the fact that FILM Ferrania has chosen to make color reversal film, which is critically important to filmmakers who want to shoot and project their movies without being forced to digitize negative film. Former film giant Kodak is focusing on negative film, simply because it's the stuff that the professional motion picture industry requires. Several other manufacturers have chosen to concentrate on high-quality B&W stock, so Ferrania will occupy an important niche in the market.

100 More Years of Analog: FILM Ferrania [thanks for the tip, Robert Schmitt!]

A Very Cool $59 Retrocomputer

Like the 1980s without the beige.

Jeff Ledger writes, "We've been busy over the summer combining two Microcontroller chips to create a unique microcomputer that has retro 'feel,' and plenty of programming power. We called it the Micromite Companion.

It's a kit computer that is programed in BASIC, capable of sprites, tiles, and SIDlike audio with 54K of programming space. The MMC also capable of communicating with serial, I2C, SPI, 1-wire, and other modern devices and sensors."

I'm a sucker for recreations of classic computers, but this machine is all new. It combines the old-school familiarity of BASIC with the ability to interface with modern LCD modules, servos and digital sensors. The result is a machine that can be used to create clever standalone devices without having to learn a new programming environment. 

Best of all, this board has a decidedly modern price -- only $59 + reasonable shipping costs for the kit. I think I might have to pick one up myself. 

Find out more about the Micromite Companion here. 

Adults Try Power Wheels On For Size

photo from Power Racing Series website

In the mid 80s, toy company Kransco debuted Power Wheels, a series of ride-on replica cars and trucks for kids. The expensive battery-powered motorized vehicles were a hit with kids almost immediately, with sales reaching a million/year by 1990. I can think of some real car companies that would love those sorts of sales.

Eventually Mattel bought the line, and soon after we had Barbie and Hot Wheels tie-ins that have kept the line going for so long. Newer models have refinements such as FM radios, doors, power lock brakes... can an iPod dock be far behind?

Power wheels drillSince Power Wheels have been around for a frankly astonishing thirty years, there are plenty of adults now who grew up with the toys themselves. A healthy hacking community has grown up around the all-plastic vehicles. Simple fixes like upgrading the rechargable battery, swapping out the original motor for a stronger one from a cordness drill, to complete retrofits. Then there's the next logical step... grown-ass men racing these little pink plastic cars.

The video clip here documents an annual event - Extreme Barbie Jeep Racing. This is among the easiest "hacks" - simply pull out the drive train, and freewheel down a muddy hill. This clip is a couple of years old, but is no less hilarious. The sheer number of times drivers lose a blow-molded plastic wheel (and it's not that big of a deal) gets a bellow out of me every time.

Then there are more serious hackers who replace every part of the vehicle, essentially using the outer shell. The guys at Make Labs esentially built a little metal framed car that you simply drop the plastic shell over. Fun, I suppose... but I think it flies in the face of the insanity of an adult driving the little plastic car. Plus theirs is built a little too well to throw a wheel - and what fun is that?


read Make Labs step-by-step hack
user community devoted to hacking Power Wheels


Winnebago Returns To The Seventies

2015 Winnebago Brave

The Winnebago RVs of the late 1960s were boxy, lumbering beasts. Their metal facades were usually festooned with olive green, orange or yellow striping. They were the road-borne equivalent of vintage Kenmore kitchen appliances -- practical but definitely not likely to turn the heads of Porsche aficionados.

The 2015 Winnebago Brave looks almost as if a vintage motorhome from the seventies was abducted by aliens, spiffed up with all the latest mod-cons and dropped back onto the roads of the American midwest four decades later.  

A vintage 1975 Brave

With a nod to the original (above), it's available with a satisfying streak of crimson, yellow, olive green or woodstock brown on the outside, and the tasteful interior will remind you of the cheeriest parts of the 1970s. The iconic flying W is still there, and the front has the eyebrow look of the original.  In other words, this is modernization done right (if one can make such a claim about a luxury camper). 

Like a hotel cafe from 1982...

The Brave is built on a Ford F53 chassis, with a 362-hp 6.8L 3-valve Triton V10 SEFI engine and 5-speed automatic transmission to haul the 30-ish foot long frame. Inside, you'll find modern LED lighting, sleeping space for up to six (including a rather cool studio loft), flat screen TV, a fully equipped galley with 3-burner stove, 2-door refrigerator/freezer and microwave, a sophisticated climate control system, and a compact but serviceable bathroom. 

All in all, the modern Brave pays homage to the $4,000 original while offering luxurious accommodation that would have been unimaginable back in the early 1970s. It's not cheap, with prices starting at $96,424, but if you'd like to try life on the road this is definitely a great way to do it in style. 

2015 Winnebago Brave Motorhome

ColecoVision's Affordable Retro Console


$39.99 is all it costs to get your hands on the new ColecoVision Flashback console with 60 built-in games. Coleco's late entry into the early 80s console wars was one of my favorites, simply because it was the first to offer a near-arcade experience at home. The fact that the pack-in game was Donkey Kong didn't hurt things, either. 

This miniature recreation doesn't include any Nintendo titles, but it does offer enjoyable classics such as Zaxxon, Venture, Space Panic, Jumpman Junior, Frenzy, Cosmic Avenger and Choplifter.


The console and controllers mimic the original hardware in an affordable form factor and you get old school composite video output (perfect if you still have an old tube TV lurking in the corner of the basement). As a bonus, it looks like the main unit will work with original Coleco controllers. [Update from the comments: Don says the ports aren't compatible with old controllers. Pity.]

The ColecoVision Flashback is available from Toys "R" Us stores across the USA. The flashback retro console series also includes Intellivision and Atari 2600 units, too. 

Learn Your Casio The VHS Way + Bonus Rap!

I have a strange love for Casio keyboards... the more pathetic sounding, the better. Years ago I found a VHS tutorial video put out by Casio in 1989. Since I make tutorial videos for a living, and am a bit of a sadist, I've watched this thing through several times. Since I took piano lessons from an ancient wispy grandma years ago, I can't really tell if a noob could really pick up how to play the instrument from this tape, but that's not going to stop Jay Levy from trying.

The tape opens up with Jay in a studio complementing the band, until - surprise! - the "band" turns out to be a single Casio keyboard. On screen graphics help first timers identify keys, and I imagine they could stab out a simple melody by following along the video. However the tape is much more entertaining that that - things I still quote to this day. There's Jay speaking directly to the urban youth with his take on rap [1:16], his unique pronunciation of "finger", and coining the phrase "don't touch your dial" [1:01]. Oh, and I guess everyone has loosely gripped an ostrich egg [0:51]

I've always wanted to edit together the best bits, but fortunately someone on YouTube has done it for me. In 2 minutes and 19 seconds, you get everything you need to know about what happens when you let Jay into your VCR and your heart. If you feel like busting our your Casio and learning a few of these hot hits, the full video is down below. We'll even send a free Invader T-shirt (I found just a few more) to the first person to do a cover of Jay's rap and put it up on YouTube (with shout outs to all your friends at Retro Thing, I would hope).

One additional revelation I'll share on how annoying an individual I really am. All that stuff Jay says at the top of the tape? I still say all of that stuff whenever I'm in a recording studio. "That's really a big hot smokin' band we're listening to..."

Classic 16mm Bolex Lenses On A Modern Camera

One of my clients is Fotodiox, a manufacturer of kerjillions of camera accessories and lights. A big part of my job is dealing with cutting edge gear, but a lot of the time I get to indulge a bit of retro geekery; putting old lenses onto new cameras. Reusing old glass is easy, and often pretty cheap. The lens adapters don't cost that much, and the lenses often are nickels on the dollar compared to their original prices.

Most of my work is in video, and recently I picked up a Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera which features a "Super 16" sized sensor. The micro four-thirds lens mount is easy to adapt to a variety of lenses, so I just had to try out some 1950s Bolex lenses, and other found optical treasures using a simple C-Mount lens adapter.

We created two videos - one is a primer on the concept of giving classic lenses life again on a new camera. The second is a video essay of some footage we got shot through a thrifted C-mount lens. If you'd like to pick up a C-mount lens adapter of your own, you can get one for under $15 HERE.


Help out Retro Thing by picking up your lens adapter on Amazon

Cameron Carpenter And His Massive Organ

I have to admit that I didn't think that Cameron Carpenter was a genuine person. The video has more than a few mockumentary style moments, but no... this guy is the real deal. Cameron is a virtuoso organist who has eschewed the stuffy image of a concertizing musician for a bit of rock flair. In the video we see his new touring organ, a massive machine built to his demanding spec.

The astonishing instrument is his response to the limits on a touring organist forced to use different instruments in different venues, instead of building a relationship with a single instrument. He is also very pro electronic organ, yet another controversy that ripples through the organ community apparently. Note that "electronic" doesn't seem to mean "small" in any way. Through his touring, his talent, and his antics (smoke machines for an organ recital!), he's gained more exposure for the instrument than its seen in decades.

I think it's good to shake up people's musical expectations, especially with an ancient instrument that's got little presence outside of cathedrals and ball parks. Just don't tell Cameron that you're there to hear him play on his pretty calliope, otherwise I think he might pop you in the mouth. And he might be right.

Thanks, Pea!

Does It Get More 80s Than A Le Clic Disc Camera?

Le Clic cameraSwatch showed the world of the 80s that fashion colors and reduced costs could turn a watch from a once-or-twice per lifetime purchase into a frivolous repeat buy. Cheapie cam company Keystone took a pastel page from Swatch's book and rolled out their Le Clic line of cameras; inexpensive cameras in fashion colors.

Pocket sized cameras weren't exactly a new idea in the late 80s, but spankin' new Kodak Disc technology meant that the cameras were easy to load, had a built in reusable flash (instead of disposable flash cubes), and a pleasing flat shape that your could easily slide into your Jordache Jeans. You could say the same about 110 cameras from the 70s too, but let's not quibble.

Keystone was serious when they launched the LeClic disc camera as a fashion forward cam. In 1986 at Astor Hall in the New York Public Library, Keystone invited 500 designers, retailers, and the fashion press to the unveiling, giving each one of the new Le Clic cameras. From the May 14th '86 Chicago Tribune:

"20 waiters dramatically came down the glorious, castle-like staircase of the historic library, each carrying silver trays. Instead of the expected hors d`oeuvres, the trays held film discs. Guests, quite naturally, grabbed the film and started shooting away."

Despite the relative crumminess of disc pictures (the negative was even smaller than 110 film, and the cameras weren't exactly kitted with precision optics), I remember the cameras being quite popular. Lots of the girls in my classes seeemed to always have a Le Clic somewhere in their voluminous Gucci knock-off purses. I imagine that the ubiquity of these cheap cameras encouraged more casual snapping, and therefore more memories captured for posterity (and grainy Throwback Thursdays on Facebook). The Le Clic was a great knock-around camera for young people. It's not like my old man was going to let me casually cart around his Canon AE-1 for spontaneous fun photos.

Now that we all have camera phones with unlimited "film" in our pockets all the time, it's easy to feel somewhat blasé about the Le Clic. I'm going to give the camera some credit for helping make photography breezy and fun, and capturing moments that otherwise may never have been.

Stern Unveils The Walking Dead Pinball Machines


Stern is the only major pinball machine manufacturer still in business. They seem to be tempting fate with their latest licensed machine, based on AMC's The Walking Dead. The zombie-themed show seems like an unusual pick for Stern, but perhaps the wild panic of trying to avoid a zombie hoard isn't that much different from the quest not to lose your balls. Well, except for the flesh eating bit. 

The machine is available in two editions: the $5995 Pro and the more advanced $8595 LE (shown above). Each looks fantastic, but the LE includes a variety of gameplay bonuses such as some "Well Walker" exposed guts, the "Governor's Fish Tank" and a few other ramps and targets that should lead you down the path of blind panic in no time. 


The Walking Dead is available only in North America. And while the price of these handmade machines might be somewhat scary for some, Stern Pinball is anything but deceased-- the factory floor is busier than it has been for years, churning out endless rows of machines for nostalgic gamers. 

The Walking Dead Pinball [Stern]

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