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.
You know, many of us GAS-afflicted spawn have the fantasy that someday we will sell everything and keep just a system to do our work. Or two. Okay, there’s my Leica rangefinder and my second body plus all the lenses; then, you can’t tell a man to get rid of his two Nikon Fs with differents prisms and lenses from 20 to 300mm; and it would be cruel to take that cutey patooty Leica R6 from him, and of course there is the Viso II for Leica screw bodies with matching Leica IIIa and a ton of Telyts…Geez, I won’t live enough lives to actually use all this stuff but I swear to God that I will riddle with bullets the motherfucker that tries to take one camera from me. It simply isn’t rational. There are chaps who work in an office, act normal all week long but then, when the weekend comes they go watching soccer and go totally apeshit and call the ref things that would make a truck driver blush. Everybody’s got a bug; mine is cameras, and I don’t think it can be cured.
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.
This mirrorless thing has really gone way further than I predicted in the first place. We said it last week: a pythoness of the digital market Baron I is not. I really thought that the MILC developers would linger much more with unexciting small frame models, even smaller than APS-C which it is way too small to be taken seriously.
Size matters more than ladies would ever admit. Those who, with the purpose of making you buy a digital camera, take you people for idiots often say that small sensors have more depth of film than larger ones and thus it is more difficult to achieve a nice ‘3d effect’ (or ‘defocussing’ or whatever they call it) with a small sensor. This is utterly false. There really is no need to lie to people; I’ve personally seen a salesman in one of the biggest photo stores in my area that ‘digital has more DOF than analog’. That’s outrageous.
What larger sensors actually do is using longer lenses to achieve the same angles of view. Longer lenses lead to less DOF. Less DOF leads to more extreme defocussing. And more extreme defocussing leads to the Dark Side. Wait, no. it actually leads to the photographic Canaan: a land flowing with milk and honey. Some folks say that the very concept of bokeh was invented by Japanese salesmen in order to sell faster and more expensive lenses, but I have an idiotic fondness for extreme defocussing that only larger formats can fulfill. As any infomercial on mechanical penis enlargers would confirm, big is better.
And you know what, Fuji is releasing a camera that has a sensor for days, 1.7 times bigger than a FF; and Hasselblad recently released another digital medium format system with a sensor of similar size. I’m normally not too amused at digital gizmoes hitting the market, but these cameras have a feature that touches my little black heart: a ridiculously short flange distance. This enables medium format mirrorless cameras (MFMILC? MFEVIL? I like more MFEVIL cause it looks like it reads ‘motherfucking evil’ and I have a sense of humor like that of a 13 year old) to use lenses from any other medium format camera system and I would really love to attach an 80mm f2 Norita lens on one of them. Heck, you could even put a Leica M lens on them and it would be able to achieve infinity focus. Before you laugh at how idiot I am and telling me on the comments box that this would be pointless because it will vignette, take into account that you can crop them to full frame (which is a peculiar concept itself) in PS and you still would have zillions of pixels in your pic, so for the price of one of them you will be able to use any 35mm or medium format lens you could imagine.
I have to admit it: digital cameras are getting more interesting. Maybe there will be one day in which digital will beat film. But this won’t happen tomorrow.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.