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.
You know, when Oscar Barnack, the all-maker, gave the first Leica to us, he had a very specific idea of what he wanted to achieve: he wanted to give us a camera that was small enough to fit in your pocket and light enough to carry it on a sunday hike. That is, of course, the official story by Leitz, first owner of the Leica brand, and as storytelling goes, it is probably bullshit. More or less. Because you can’t trust someone who’s trying to sell you something. Except for me, the most honorable of merchants. You can trust me head-on because I love you more than I love my business. I like this creation myth though; just in the sense that it is so stereotypically German that it is almost hilarious. I see the eyes of Doktor B wide open in a closeup, the plane slowly travelling out and showing a demented grin: “Eureka! I vill kreate a kamera für zee hikers!”; all this in b&w 1930’s cinema film. Just sublime.
Why do I distrust the hiking camera myth? My two cents: too politically correct in its context to be true. Because, let’s admit it: if you build cameras, or cars, or battleships, your primary goal is selling them and everything else you’re going to add to this is just marketing.Baron I, is an exception to that, of course.
Ah! Another strange beast. Not because its rarity; in fact, it’s quite a common camera, but take a look at it. How on earth did them people at Olympus manage to put a reflex camera into this tiny compact body. Well I guess that the vertical half-frame (18x24mm) helped, but still… No, it’s a joke, I know everything about cameras: the magic trick here is a double porroprism, which in my language sounds quite funny. Porroprism rigs are potentially much smaller than pentaprisms, which allowed them guys at Olympus to build an SLR camera that was smaller than a 35mm rangefinder.
Main drawback: the image will be dim as hell, but hey, it’s so small.
One curious thing about this camera is that I’ve heard that long since now, in the era of the all-analog film making the Olympus PEN FT was highly coveted by still photography pros in the movie sets, as it offered the chance to shoot stills with frame ratio similar to that of cinema cameras. Now, with the digital age being irreversible both in photography and film making, it’s no more than a curiosity… But hey, it’s shiny and chrome, and you and me know that the gods of photography favor those who shoot with style.
Aaaaaaand, yes, I always have one or two in my store cause they’re so cool, so now you know where to buy one.
Back to Zenits it is, then. Now, what’s after Zenit 6? Zenit 7? After the 6, them guys at KMZ decided that they were done with numbers and that they would start using letters. ‘E’ was as good as any other, I guess. Numbers weren’t the only thing over, as you can see: the external design departs fully from the Leica-ish rounded corners body and becomes more Contax-ish: an irregular octagon. It’s arguably a more comfortable design. Maybe. No, I’m not going to admit that the Contax handled better than the Leica.
Yes, this day just ought to come. If you’re one of those bitten by the analog photography bug, I’m sure that you have an idea of what Lomography is. And if you have half a brain, I’m also sure that you know that their marketing is bullshit storytelling for hipsters. Oh, it’s so post-modern. Lomography is a brand that takes a lot of heat for pricing policies, but my beef with them is totally different. The one thing I find obnoxious about them is how they treat their potential customers like we’re retards. There are dozens of lomography products I would buy, but rewarding their communication policy just makes me sick. I mean, sometimes I, children, am a bit condescending on you, my few readers, but I do so because I know you can take a joke and that you will pick me with a grain of salt. Or more than one. I would crap my pants if someone ever took what I write here at face value, and that is the only thing that is for real about my writing.
Sniff, sniff, something’s rotten in filmland, people. The last few years have seen an acute decrease in price of used medium format camera gear, specially pro medium format stuff. The only MF cameras that still fetch a big moolah tag are those specifically intended for amateur use, and even those are pretty cheap compared with what they used to be. Digital has finally killed 120 film in the pro area. Not only digital backs for medium format systems are cheaper and better, but there are also non modular cameras with ENORMOUS image sensors like the Leica S series, capable of taking huge images. Also, smaller full frame digital sensors are becoming better and better. Pro photogs are not like us, boys and girls, but mostly boys, errr… Ok, from the beginning. I was saying that, unlike amateurs, who like shiny and chrome and complicated, pros like matte black and easy.
You know, in the 1960’s central shutter 35mm SLRs were the rage. Big camera makers, specially German but also Japanese, incorporated them into their offer as a cheaper option for those who wanted to see what they were shooting through a lens. This means they aimed them at amateurs, universally. Those camera systems were pretty limited if compared to the pro focal-plane shutter systems: most models were fixed lens cameras, specially the Japanese, so if you wanted to shoot a different focal length than that of the native lens you had to use an optical adapter, similar to that crap used in the cell phones nowadays when them hipsters want to shoot ‘fisheye’ or ‘tele lens’. The adapters did the job, but optical quality was quite meh. Kodak’s approach to this tech was a system with three optical elements built in camera with a bayonet for objectives that could contain one or more elements for different focal lenses. Anyway, the range of focal lengths was quite poor.
Let’s play a game. What is Baron I’s favorite thing to write about? If you said cameras, you’re wrong: as much as I love boasting about my cameras, Baron I’s favorite subject is Baron I. We’re going to leave Zenits aside for a minute and talk about how all this madness began.
First of all, you should know that Baron I has a secret personality. Much like Superman, I was born Baron I and I’m Baron I most of the time, but I conceal my camera superpowers below a much less awe-inspiring facade, just for not having to deal with nubile female groupies all the time. Let’s call this persona “Citizen I”. I must confess that sometimes I enjoy leaving my blue blood at home and mixing with the common rabble as Citizen I. Even though, my inherent, sheer, aristocratic aura spills out of me all day long, so it’s a struggle.
Let’s leave Zenits apart a little bit now and talk about another immense, glorious, immortal, victory of the USSR in the consumer goods field: the Kiev SLRs. Well, the first generation of them. It is not that the second generation wasn’t an immense, glorious and immortal victory, but I have two hands only, so I can only bash one generation of Soviet victories at a time.
If you think Zenits are not a nadir of design, here above is a Kiev 15. You can call it whatever you want, I call it butt ugly. But I kinda love ugly cameras, you know.
It looks like Baron I, as enthusiastic as he was about telling you everything about the Zenit 3M, missed one key link in the Zenit ¿evolutionary? line.
For, behold, here’s the Zenit 3, without an M, only 3. I simply assume that the Zenit C, being nothing else than the original Zenit with a flash synch socket (hence the C, which is cyryllic for ‘s’, which in turn stands for synchronised), is the Zenit mark 2, since, AFAIK, there is, officially, no Zenit 2, not even at blueprint stage.