Tuesday, February 19, 2013

From Russia With Love

I think everyone goes through a few "paradigm shifts" during their lives and careers and probably for a few other reasons and at a few other times over the years. I've gone through a few over the 39 years I've been around.......since I turned 14.

I remember when I picked up my first camera that was anything more than a box with a hole in it. I went to Hardisty Junior High, here in Edmonton and I think it was what we called "shop" class that I got a chance to use a real camera, a 35mm SLR for the first time.

At least, that's how I remembered it, as a sophisticated, professional model, highly technical camera. Wow was I surprised when I started writing this post and I thought to myself, "hey, I remember seeing those pictures around here sometime recently, now where could they be" and there they were! Right on top of the computer cabinet was a little envelope containing pictures that I took in 1974

When I took a look at them I went, "aha, now I understand my current fascination for old rangefinder cameras." The camera that I remember using as a sophisticated young  stud was actually a very basic model and even though it served to capture my chiseled good looks and amazing BLONDE! center part fairly well, it wasn't an SLR, it was a rangefinder!

Doug circa 1974

For those who don't know, an SLR is a more sophisticated, expensive type of camera that has a moving mirror and usually a pentaprism that lets you view the subject as it is and then when you press the shutter, the mirror jumps out of the way and the shutter opens letting light pass to the film.

A rangefinder doesn't have a pentaprism or a mirror, but rather a viewfinder that brings two separate images together into one to indicate the focusing distance or in rangefinder cameras that lack even this mechanism, the photographer guestimates the distance and sets it on the lens and hopes and prays! 

The awesome thing about this old technology is that people paid attention to what they were doingggg! It cost them money when they screwed up and so they spent a little time learning about composition and exposure and focusing and when they pressed the shutter, they had a reasonable chance of capturing something meaningful!

Caution: there is a slight chance that my critical attitude towards people who batch-post out-of-focus photographs on facebook may surface during this article.

I simply don't get the attitude of so many people these days who spend thousands or even hundreds of dollars on camera equipment and barely skim the surface of what their cameras are capable of. I am tempted to think that every person should be required to learn photography on a 40 year old Russian rangefinder film camera.

That may be why I seem to be obsessed with this type of camera right now. And maybe that is why I bought some for gifts to give to a few budding young photographers that I know. It's like this, if you learn the hard way, when you move on to the new technology that is so much more easy and convenient and effortless and intuitive and basically requires almost no effort or thought beyond, "point and shoot" YOU WILL TAKE BETTER PHOTOGRAPHS!

I must give a little disclaimer here for those people who push the boundaries of the technology and somehow make art using the same run of the mill equipment as the great unwashed masses who can't seem to get beyond, CLICK-SHARE. My hat is off, I salute you! 

Anyway....if you want to learn photography, get yourself an old German or Russian or whatever vintage camera and read about it and study how it works and use it and think about what you are doing and make some art worth sharing, they are dirt cheap right now. After I bought these cameras, it occurred to me that they had no exposure meter, something I have taken for granted lately, but guess what, there is an app for your phone, yup, and they work with a little tweaking to calibrate them, I used my digital camera, taking a similar photo and comparing the exposure, isn't technology wonderful? 

BeeCam Light Meter App.

Here is a website with lot's of information about these cameras. http://www.sovietcams.com/

And here are some of my recent camera purchases.

Fed 3 Russian Rangefinder, Manufactured in Mid seventies - Modified for Western, Capitalist tastes, to look "pretty"

Zorki 4 Russian Rangefinder from 1963 - Unmodified
Last summer I picked up at an antique store a Zeiss-Ikon Contaflex 35mm, early version of an SLR for $60!
What a steal and I love German engineering, this thing will likely work forever! 

1953 Contaflex 2 German SLR

It is heavy, yes, but a camera like this is well worth it, the optics are great, it has a light meter and everything that you could want and it has no battery! If "the machines" from the Matrix were attacking and you were forced to detonate an EMP bomb, no worries, it's not electronic at all, it's entirely mechanical and it works great.

Below are some different shots of some of the film cameras currently in my possession (2 of them are for gifts) I shot these with some different filters, just for fun.

B&W polarize filter

Toy Camera (Vertical Center)

HDR Painting - High (High Dynamic Range)

Here are some pics from a roll I took at the Ukrainian Heritage Village last fall with the Contaflex 2, with an outdated roll of film, the first one I had ever shot with this camera, without instructions for the camera, using skills I hadn't practiced for years with a film camera.

There is something magical to me about photographs taken the old fashioned way, with vintage cameras that have a history and a "soul" and even though it's not really fair to compare them with modern photographs that look so much better from a purely technical aspect, without the degradation that comes from transferring them to digital form. Still, if done well, no-one cares!

It is soooooo much fun to blend-marry-integrate this old technology with modern state-of-the-art technology that I can't even begin to explain. And guess which part of these old cameras are still very much in demand?

Nope....nope.....nope.....YES, it's the lens! Recently I bought a used Sony NEX5n on ebay and right away I started researching which lenses could be adapted to work on this modern camera. 

Guess what I found out? For a few bucks I ordered a Contax/Yashica adapter that allows me to use two vintage Zeiss lenses that I have kept from my old film days when I shot with a Contax RTS2 film camera. These are great lenses and my new camera works perfectly with them. When I received the Zorki 4, I looked into it and found out that YES, I can get an adapter to use the Russian "Jupiter 8" 50 mm F2 lens with this Sony camera,  this must be what heaven is like! I can't wait to get the adapter and try it out, sure these old lenses are manual focus but that's all I need for the sort of photography I do.

 I think the world would benefit from a little more appreciation of history, of heritage, the blending of old and new, past and future, science and art. Today is wonderful, but let's not discount what the past has shown us, slow and mechanical is not necessarily second rate or obsolete. And that makes me feel better about myself!

No comments:

Post a Comment