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 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.
Today you gonna read me delve even deeper into madness and talk Russian lenses. Shall we? Ok, now. Once the bug has bitten you and you have the old glass flu, russky lenses are so conspicuously there that you can’t ignore them. Many despise old Soviet glass out of plain prejudice: because it’s a product of the commie economy. Which sure had its issues, but we are talking glass & helicoids now.
For all of those who talk crap on Soviet lenses without knowing shit: you should know that when most Soviet lenses first hit the (very controlled commie countries’ only) market in the 1950s, they were on par with its Western counterparts (I won’t say ‘competition’ because they didn’t share markets), both mechanically and optically. Take into account that many optical legends like the Biotar, the Macro-Switar, the Zoomar, the Angeniéux Rètrofocus, the first Summicron… were mass marketed for the first time in the 50’s.
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.
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.
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.
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.