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.
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.
…and the Zorki led to the Dark Side. Or to the Zenit, which is the same thing for all of us who own one.
We were saying in the last article about Zenits that they basically came from the Leica. Let’s see how.
In the 1930s imports in the Soviet Union were scarce and the official economic doctrine put great emphasis on autarchy, so the great plan of the commies became to produce everything at home… by breaking any patent laws if necessary. Many implements of Soviet manufacture, especially consumer goods were close copies of Western models, and cameras were no exception. Well, as close as the Soviet production model, which clearly didn’t favor quality, allowed.
…and God (Oskar Barnack) saw that it was good, but it had no rangefinder, so in the second day He created the Leica II… It was more or less like that.
What? Leica? Barnack? Weren’t we talking about Zenits? Fear not, for everything will become clear… as Lynda Blair said in The Exorcist, in time.
Serious now. Why did I put the Leica here? Because the Leica is a not-so distant relative to the Zenit. Genealogically we could put it all like this: the Zenit comes from the Zorki, which comes from the FED, which in turn comes from the Leica II. In other words, the Zenit is the grandson of the FED, Leica’s Soviet evil twin.
Am I going to write bout Zenits in the same blog I write about Leicas? Did I go crazy for good? Do we photogs make love better than common rabble? The answer to these and other relevant questions is Yes Madam, Yes Indeed.
We will save questions number two and number three for the future, as each deserves a post of their own for sure. About question number 1, I’m not only writing about Zenits, but I’m dedicating a whole section to this. No, I barely sell any Zenit, but there’s the remote chance that someone reaches this blog innocently looking for info about them and inadvertently misclicks into my store, which would be great, instantly to be mesmerised by the sight of that very expensive Zenit I’m selling. So maybe it’s worth the shot.
What is this? WHAT IS THIS? Yes, what you just saw in the pic above is an analog Canon amateur camera. The name is just not important, as Canon had different names for the same model in each continent, and sometimes they used completely different names for the same camera with some minor difference, like the color of the paint they used or the data back they mounted. These are just perks of global marketing, I guess.
But yes, this above is a Canon analog all-plastic SLR from the 90s. And want to know a secret? This is the camera which I have used most and most successfully during my days as an amateur photographer. It’s just so convenient: if you want, it’s auto everything (I normally shoot in aperture priority mode), it has a wind/rewind motor and you can even adapt M42 and Nikon lenses onto its EOS lens mount. The batteries last forever and the systems of the camera use it so wisely that you can even let it in ON position during months and it won’t deplete. Plus, it’s so small and light that you can take it everywhere without even noticing. The only down to it is that being all-plastic, you better be careful not to drop it on a hard floor or you will be picking up a broken camera; the hinged back is particularly prone to breaking: I’ve experimented this first hand. And hey, they can be bought nowadays for twenty bucks if you know where to buy (which is like one fifteenth of their price back in the day).
Oh, look, a Leica. Wait, what is this… thing? Yes, this hump over it is a prism. This is a SLR camera, the last (well actually there was a R9, with identical external design) of the Leica R line. Yes, R stands for reflex.
It’s not that they were bad cameras (they weren’t), it’s just that they were hopelessly outdated in their time. Canon and Nikon gave infinitely more value to the pro photographer for his money, not only buck for buck, but in absolute terms: less weight, electric winding and rewinding, autofocus, high frame rate… If you were a pro, Leica-mania (or Leica bigotry) were the most powerful arguments to invest into the R system. It’s just that…
For those of you who are not really into camera history, this thingie may look quite unimpressive. It’s just a simple SLR. The speeds range goes just from 1 second to 1/1000. No internal or TTL light meter. No auto mode and no automatic winding. Well, yes, it’s got interchangeable prisms, but still…
Even though, there are two things in this cutie that changed everything, EVERYTHING in camera and photography history. It was 1959, and Rangefinders were still king. The Leica M3, THE no-nonsense rangefinder camera was the rage: professionals had abandoned everything else because Leica and its system were aeons away from any competitor. Yet, this was to last only five years, because, friends, all pros abandoned their fabulous Leicas in favor of this unassuming SLR camera above: the Nikon F.