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Balboa VS Drago

My money is on Drago for this one

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.

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Visiting Argos

No, it doesn't look like much

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.

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Junior did

Yes, I took this with an SX-70

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.

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Instant success

You pronounce it ree-RA koo-MA

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.

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China wares

Isn’t it great when you see how bad you screwed composition after developing? KILL ALL HUMANS

If I tell you I have a nice camera made in China you will say ‘so what’. Yes, now everything is made in the Unpopular Republic of China  by workers paid peanuts while factories keep closing in the West. For the powers that be it’s win-win. For 99.9999% people in this wretched world, it’s a disaster of biblical proportion. Before 2000 the made in China label carried an aura of exoticism, as it was almost unknown here in the West. Back in the day, made in China was so freakin cool.

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Instant Auto. Take this, other large format cameras.

Look at the finder. Isn't it gorgeous?
Look at the finder. Isn’t it gorgeous?

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.

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Old vs. new lenses. Old wins. FATALITY

J-8, one of those lenses with many unmeasurable qualities just at home on a Leica III
J-8, one of those lenses with many unmeasurable qualities just at home on a Leica III

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.

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Medium format freak show

 

KIEV 60, HUNGRY!!! KIEV 60 EAT YOU, AAAAAARRRRRGHHH!!!!
KIEV 60, HUNGRY!!! KIEV 60 EAT YOU, AAAAAARRRRRGHHH!!!!

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.

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Zeiss my shiny metal ass

Suffer, bitch
Suffer, bitch

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.

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Quantum of badass

Watches fer butches

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.

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