You have black Friday? We have black Friday, Sunday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Black, week, bro. Alpha. Check it at our ebay store!
If there were analog cameras that truly were another breed were the Polaroids. The reasons that they were totally different beasts from the far more common 35mm and medium format cameras lies in the much larger area that the polaroid had to expose; you see, for all effects, the Polas were large format cameras only that its negative (because all Polaroid film involved a negative, and the really clever ones didn’t show it to you) was used only once on a single contact print.
The fact that they were dumbified large format cameras amazes me. Dr. Land, the designer of all Polaroid cameras very much followed the path set up by designers of 6×9 folders that were the rage until the popularisation of the 35mm cinefilm format in the early 1930’s by Leica. If you take a look at the first Polas from the 1950’s, the similarities are obvious. The folding served more purposes than just coolness: it was intended for portability. See, the exposure area being larger meant that the focal distance of the lenses involved had to be in proportion; this made for very large cameras, and here’s where the folding shines: it could be collapsed into the body when not in use and it was much lighter than any other alternative. With time, the designs were more and more simplified in order to cut costs and being able to sell the cameras for cheaper. What you see above, the Type 80, was an involution on the concept: it simply got rid of the bellows and changed it for rigid thermoplastic integrated into the film compartment; with setting operable from the both the body and the fixed lensboard.
I’ve noticed a trend lately in photo blogs, forums, and even in mainstream media towards saying that there is an ‘analog photography comeback’. As if it was dead but it was coming back. Now I play you: “But Baron I, sure there’s a comeback, cuz there new blood in analog photography because of Lomography and blah, blah, blah”. So, in the opinion of those sharp, merry, chaps, the fact that there is generational relief at all makes up for a comeback. Being themselves acute ignorants in all things related to photography, they are so astonished at the fact that a millenial feels like picking a Zenit and shooting a few rolls through it that they feel that there must be the hell of a social phenomenon behind it. Best of all is that you can’t even talk some sense into them because seeing a hipster less than 25 shooting an analog camera once in their lives is undeniable proof. They feel it in their bones, and that is enough. What do numbers and all that boring, boring, stats say about it? They say that those people’s bones are totally clueless and shouldn’t be trusted. Chemical photography supplies factories are closing one after another, most notably Kodak; existing catalogs offer less products and supply costs are skyrocketing due to lower demand and sustained increase in the price of silver. Then someone sees some Lomography cameras and way overpriced rebadged Ferrania film in a department store booth, and boom, here’s the analog revival. Baron I’s two cents: the fact that the only brand new analog cameras you will see out of a very specialised camera store or in the Internet are sold as curios and dressing props should give you an accurate idea of what’s going on really.
Today you gonna read me delve even deeper into madness and talk Russian lenses. Shall we? Ok, now. Once the bug has bitten you and you have the old glass flu, russky lenses are so conspicuously there that you can’t ignore them. Many despise old Soviet glass out of plain prejudice: because it’s a product of the commie economy. Which sure had its issues, but we are talking glass & helicoids now.
For all of those who talk crap on Soviet lenses without knowing shit: you should know that when most Soviet lenses first hit the (very controlled commie countries’ only) market in the 1950s, they were on par with its Western counterparts (I won’t say ‘competition’ because they didn’t share markets), both mechanically and optically. Take into account that many optical legends like the Biotar, the Macro-Switar, the Zoomar, the Angeniéux Rètrofocus, the first Summicron… were mass marketed for the first time in the 50’s.
Once I saw post in a forum in which some chap asked whether he should buy old glass (actually he mentioned a few models like Pancolar, Super-Takumar, etc.) or stick to the zoom kit lens he got with his brand new DSLR. And you know, opinions are like asses: everybody’s got one; there were all kinds of answers, but one fella made me smile telling the guy that both all those classic lenses and newer ones were better at taking pictures than we are photographers. That is and isn’t true.
To be fair, lenses formulated in and after the 1980’s beat hands down older lenses at key aspects like flare, contrast and resolving power. Coating tech may not look so glamourous as optical design, but the revolution came from there.
Medium format SLRs for non-specialised use are a totally different breed than 35mm cameras. The current shape of the 35mm SLRs were defined between the 1930s and the early ‘50s, and the most critically influential design is, without the shadow of a doubt, the Kine Exakta. What we identify as an SLR today is, almost without exception, a scion of the Exakta. The other is the Contax S, which ported the concept of the Kine Exakta into the Contax rangefinder body, which was inherently superior, plus, they added the pentaprism, without which most of us don’t understand an SLR. For medium format cameras, designers followed different strategies.
The main influencer in medium format SLR design is the Hassy. The original Hasselblad is allegedly based on a German aerial camera. Should we trust their founding myth, and you know what do I think about founding myths, it is a military tool adapted for everyday use, which is creepy enough.
What you see above is a Contax G1 camera body. Well, more exactly, this is the part in which you can verify that it was made in Japan by Kyocera, which, if you didn’t know, at the time when this camera was released was known in the West for making copying machines. The system was a flop. Not because the cameras and the lenses were bad: they weren’t. In fact, the lenses are on par with Leica, which is to say that they’re as good as a photographic lens can be. They failed because there was no market for such a product. Them guys at Kyocera failed to understand why they would totally fail at selling “Contax” cameras made in Japan.
It was because they weren’t Zeiss.
I took the picture above with a Smena, a camera that I kinda like. Lastly I’ve noticed in social media an increase of interest on this Soviet little camera. There are several iterations of it, but most mount the old T-43, which stands for Triplet mark 43 and are totally manual, including manual cocking. Later models have markings for fools, meaning that you are supposed to always keep the iris closed at a fixed f depending on what film sensibility you are using and changing speeds manually depending on light conditions. Of course, you can override the dummy mode and shoot like a real photog, which is what ultimately makes the Smenas nice cameras. They are compact, light, and they have a speed range of 1/15 to 2/250 and f’s from 4.5 to 16, which is all you need to take pictures if you want to, for instance, go hiking. Yes, that was a Barnack pun. Oh, and they have a nice, little, coated lens. Which happens to be the its weakest feature. But it doesn’t matter, cause the lens is just the most important part of a camera. No, the Russians got it right. Ok, ok, I’m being a little unfair here: Smenas were intended to be cheap cameras to be easily made by the millions, which they were, and the lens had to be a cheap one. But, by Krom, why did they had to mount such an atrocious lens on the Smena? I mean, I’ve seen doublets… hell, even plastic meniscuses, do better than the triplet on the Smena. When I say atrocious I’m really being nice. But I like atrocious. Le freak, c’est chic.
Russophobia: Russians say you have a bad case of it whenever you criticize anything Russian or from Russia. They do it as much as Americans say you are anti-them whenever you don’t like something done by their government; well, in the case of Americans you won’t hear it as much just because many of them are so happily ignorant of everything that happens abroad. I myself have been accused of Russophobia sometimes because how I talk about Soviet cameras. What should I do? Saying they’re not bad compared to Japanese cameras? You’d call me a liar with good reason. Truth is I’m much of a russophile and I celebrate Russia and Russian culture as much as I celebrate American, and for one time, I’m not joking. That is not to say that I think that Russian or American governments always exert a good influence over the world, oh no.
I’m more exactly a nostalgic sovietmaniac, in the sense that I collect gizmoes from or related to the old Soviet Union. Again, no nostalgia about the USSR politically.
Not long ago, I read an article in papermag.com in which David LaChapelle interviewed Steve Sasson, the creator of the first digital camera. I mean, serious business here. There’s a lot of myh on the invention of the digital camera, I mean, that of Kodak locking Sasson in a closet and the evil board of directors hiding the blueprints of the gizmo at the bottom of a safe so that tech breakthrough didn’t ever see the light of day. That isn’t accurate. It’s true that Kodak failed at making the transition from basically a chemical company into a digital imaging one, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t try. In fact they were making zillions out of licensing the digital camera patent to third parties, sometimes even mounting Kodak sensors onto their camera models. If Kodak didn’t want to make a profit out of this patent, we wouldn’t have seen our first digital camera until 2005, when the original US patent expired. They wanted to sell digital cameras, but, much like Xerox in the 80’s, they failed to translate the fact that they had all the relevant patents into a position of total market dominance. They tried. And failed.