The Soviet camera industry didn’t copy too many american designs. Most of the time they designed cameras based on German and Japanese concepts; They were not fools: German and Japanese stuff are as good as it gets when you talk about cameras.
The Moment is a strange beast in the Soviet camera world. It is to the Polaroid 95 what the Kiev 6C was to the Pentacon Six: a model very much inspired in the original, so much that it couldn’t be sold in the West because of flagrant patent infringement. It wasn’t an exact copy and there are a few different details, but the Soviet Pola has Land genes in it. The insides are pretty much the same, as the instant photography system was copied exactly, but there are many different things.
I normally visit antiques shops looking for cameras; you never know what you fill find there. There’s quite a few quality levels when we’re talking antique shops and that one was more an indoors junkyard than a shop; these are the kind of shops I normally like, but hell, all that stuff looked like it had been dug up from a dump.
The ‘camera section’ was a glass cupboard filled with trashed brownies, 8mm cameras, some rusty SLRs and three or four folding 6x9s. When I took a close look I could not believe what I saw: an Argos. The salesman was a royal pain in the ass: he had the theory that folders are worth at least fifty bucks cause people like them as paperweights. To be honest, it was my bad: if you are before a dishonest salesman and you take interest in something, he will double the price. Fifty bucks paperweights. Man, tell me where this kind of customers are, because it they’re paying this for a paperweight they would give a million for a Leica.
Here it is. Look at it, for this is the camera that definively made Leica… an underdog in the selling charts. Who’s to blame? Junior. Ludwig Leitz, Ernst Leitz’s son, was really full of himself In Junior’s eyes, ‘flex’ cameras were a trend that wouldn’t last: real men shot rangefinders. Now it’s not the fifties anymore, and we know what happened next. The Leicaflex shows the strong bias towards rangefinders in Wetzlar: they tried to design a SLR that was as little a common-lore-reflex as it could be.
In may ways, it reminds me of the first Contax I: a gorgeous camera with innovative features, just the wrong innovative features. But at least Zeiss made the wonderful Contax II immediately, so…
Besides, guys at Wetzlar failed to implement features that were common at the time, like TTL measuring or interchangeable prisms. If you are one of those who still say that this was made to prevent dust from entering the viewfinder, you are a fool with capital F. Had those people known what they were doing, they would have used interchangeable prisms, or at least a prism wouldn’t be fogged by its own natural glue over time.
I’ve been commenting it in both instagram and twitter these days, and maybe there’s not that much to it than what it is, but I keep perplexed at the fact that, according to data provided by them, the most sold camera at Amazon this Xmas was the Fuji Instax Mini, and at the moment of writing this post, still is. If this is true, this is mindblowing.
Before you guys go three hoorays for the analog revival and crack open your Dom Perignon bottles, please take into account that this is no hard data (because Amazon doesn’t provide these) and that, if it is true, there might be a number of factors influencing it besides a surge of interest on instant photography. This said, it is undeniable that them guys at Fujifilm have been doing their homework extra hard. They really trusted in a breed of photography that its own creators, Polaroid, thought as good as extinct and made a ton of cash out of it. Good for them and for us, analog afficionadoes.
As you kids well know, the Baron has repeatedly exposed his viewpoint on the so called ‘analog revival’. Long story short: this revival exists only in the minds of those ensnared by Lomography’s marketing and some other misled beings. Analog photography has been losing ground uninterruptedly for more than a decade now. Before you throw the bathwater out with the baby: no, it doesn’t mean that analog photography will end tomorrow or in a decade, it just means that there are fewer of us that enjoy it. Rejoice, for there are only true believers left here, and all this.
But there are also some victories on our side. I’m talking about two recent events. First, it looks like the new Ferrania, an enterprise founded on the ashes of the old Italian film company, has been producing and testing film for a few months now and everything is going steadily. This is a HUGE success for the very serious, very enthusiastic, guys in its lead. Please go on.
We haven’t seen any official announcement, which, on the other hand is quite normal for Chinese (AKA from the country without law) enterprises, but we can now surely say that the Shanghai GP3 120 film isn’t being made anymore. For a year and a half prices have been skyrocketing in the evilbay and other gray market sites to insane amounts, and finally, even the most obnoxious offers have ceased. Sold out. Sould out and not made anymore. The auction you see above is from an ebay post. They sold the last three rolls for 111 US dollars. This makes every roll 37 George Washingtons, which is in-fucking-sane. And even more if you take into account that this was notorious for being the cheapest 120 film around, both label and quality wise. And I loved it, GODDAMIT. This is a twilight moment for the Baron. Everything I love goes. Don’t get me to like you: the Cosmos will kill you just to piss me off.
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.
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.