Sunday, June 26, 2011

Series - rain (almost b&w with soundtrack)

Glenn Miller and His Orchestra - Moonlight Serenade
(Retinette IA, Fuji Neopan 400, ISO 400/27°)

rain from the bus
Benny Goodman - Sentimental Journey
(Praktica BMS, Fuji Neopan 400, ISO 400/27°)

Ella Fitzgerald - Rain
(Retinette IA, Ilford FP4 Plus 125, ISO 125/22°)

tables in the rain
Glenn Miller - In a Sentimental Mood
(Retinette IA, Kodak Elite Chrome Extra Color 100, ISO 100/21°)

lattice fence in the rain (+1)
Louis Armstrong - Solitude
(Praktica BMS, Fuji Neopan 400, ISO 400/27°)

My flickr rain (almost b&w with soundtrack) series

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


There is a strange connection between a photographer and his or her camera.

The longer a camera is used, the stronger the fondness the photographer feels for it grows. If you really enjoy using a camera and you take a lot of pictures with her, it ends up being kind of an extension of your arms, your fingers, your mind and your soul. I guess it is because a camera is like a musical instrument: an inanimate object that accomplishes a key part in the expression of a feeling, which opens a new chance for people to communicate.

I believe every photographer transfers a bit of her or his soul to the camera. And I think this is also one of the reasons for the fascination about old second hand cameras. I like to make imaginary journeys to the past and try to know which hands used our cameras before mine. My Flexaret, for example, could have been bought by Pavel, a Czechoslovak journalist living in Prague by the end of the 60s, although he originally came from Bohemia. Our EOS 40D could have belonged to Lukas, a young hobby photographer living in Linz, who sold it when he decided to get a 5D to try and start a new career as a professional wedding photographer. Or my Hapo, that could have been owned by Helga, a Bavarian woman living in a small town close to Nürnberg by 1959, who wanted to have her own camera and got it in the mail from Photo Porst's catalogue. She had to cope with the laughs of her husband, who was a heavy smoker. Helga, though, showed a very insightful eye for photography since the very first moment she started shooting with the Hapo. Its leather case became impregnated with the smell of her husband's cigarettes, which would not vanish for decades.

On our last visit to Munich I took the chance to look around a couple of second hand camera shops. As I entered F&S in the Herzogspitalstraße (which looks like a watchmaker's, only with tons of cameras and lenses from the last hundred years piled on the shelves) there was this elder gentleman in front of me who, as I quickly realized, was not buying anything but trying to sell a camera to the store owner.

(Flexaret VI, Ilford XP2 Super 400, ISO 400/27°)

The camera was a nice looking Rolleiflex TLR sporting f/2.8 lenses. The old man took it carefully from the leather case and, trying to conceal a slight shake of his hands, handed it over to the store owner, who took it roughly and examined it with the look of a professional poker player. He quickly opened the back and, releasing the shutter in B mode, held the 'flex up against a light to examine the lens. He then proceeded to put it down and told the man that the lens had a scratch and that he could only give him 50€ for the camera. The man looked shocked and told him it was a very fine camera, and asked him how much would he sell it for afterwards. The store owner did not answer and gave the 'flex back to the old man and, looking at me and ignoring him, asked me what I wanted. The old man, visibly annoyed, put the camera back in its case and left the store.

I asked the store owner to show me one of the cameras from the shop window but, probably because of the scene I just witnessed, I decided to bring my business elsewhere. I had a strong gut feeling that someone capable of offering 50€ for a camera that he could then easily sell for more than 200€ was not really someone to be trusted.

I walked down a couple of blocks to another shop that I already visited in the morning. As I reached the counter, I asked one of the salesmen for the article I wanted (*), which was exposed in a quite hidden showcase. As we returned to the counter, I looked to my left and saw the same gentleman already taking his Rolleiflex out of its leather case. He was showing it to another salesman, who was shaking his head negatively. Then the old man told him that he also had a big collection of Nikon lenses, “just like the ones you have back there!”, and if they would take them.

I felt deeply sorry for the old man. Judging by the extreme care he showed when taking his camera in and out of the leather case, I guessed selling it had been no easy decision for him: the 'flex had clearly been a source of enjoyment in the past. I tried to imagine the happy memories that this camera brings to the old man's mind. This thought made me sad and even angrier at how the other store tried to rip him off.

The man then slowly put his 'flex back into the leather case and the whole thing in a white plastic bag and turned around to leave this store with no success, too. As he walked past me, our eyes met and for an instant a crazy thought crossed my mind, but then I reminded myself I already have a TLR, which, in fact, was hanging from my neck the whole time!

I really wish the old man finds a honest buyer for his Rolleiflex, one that appreciates its true value, both material and sentimental.

(*) in case you're wondering what did I eventually bring home from Munich, well, you'll still have to be a little patient... ;)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Series - dandelions

dandelions (Retinette IA, Fujicolor Superia Reala 100, ISO 100/21°)

single dandelion (Flexaret VI, Fujichrome Velvia 50, ISO 50/18°)

dandelion (1:1) (Praktica BMS, Kodak Elite Chrome Extra Color 100, ISO 100/21°)

flare dandelion and fence (Retinette IA, Kodak Elite Chrome Extra Color 100, ISO 100/21°)

happy flowers
(Praktica BMS, Kodak Elite Chrome Extra Color 100, ISO 100/21°)

My flickr dandelion series

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Guest Cameras - Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta A 531

If there is a name that every vintage camera lover should know and revere, it is that of Carl Zeiss. Even today, this name stands for ingenious optics discoveries, finest German craftsmanship and top quality lenses. Zeiss was, in its heyday before and after World War II, a huge conglomerate that dominated (and almost monopolized) the camera and optics market for decades. Zeiss's camera division produced cameras under the brand Zeiss Ikon.

Recently I had the chance to run a roll of film through one of the finest cameras ever produced by Zeiss Ikon, a Super Ikonta, which my mother-in-law received as a present from an acquaintance that did not want it to get lost when she died, and that my sister-in-law is beginning to use these days.

guest cameras - zeiss ikon super ikonta A 531
(EOS 350D, EF 50mm f/1.8, 1/13, f/5.0, ISO 800)

The Super Ikonta A 531 is a medium format folder camera that takes pictures in 6x4.5 format on 120 roll film. It sports a Carl Zeiss Tessar 75mm f/3.5 lens, which is also a legendary lens designed by Paul Rudolph in 1907 while working for Zeiss. The Tessar lens design was copied by virtually every lens maker for years and years. The Super Ikonta 531 was produced from 1937 to 1956. The exemplar that I used was made between 1952 and 1956, since these are the only Super Ikontas with a Synchro Compur leaf shutter.

(Super Ikonta A 531, Fomapan Creative 200, ISO 200/24°)

The most ingenious feature of a Super Ikonta is its coupled rangefinder (in fact, this is exactly what makes it a Super Ikonta instead of a regular Ikonta). A rangefinder is a device that allows measuring the distance to the subject so that you can set the focus right on the lens. To operate a rangefinder, two superposed images have to coincide on the subject you want to photograph. With an uncoupled rangefinder, the photographer should transfer manually the reading from the rangefinder to the lens; with a coupled one the focus distance is automatically transfered to the lens. In the Super Ikonta, a small auxiliary lens pops up from the lens itself and moves forward and backward with the focusing of the lens. The image going through this auxiliary lens has to coincide with a second one in the rangefinder by means of turning the focus ring on the lens. There is no need for a complicated mechanical transfer from the camera body to the lens: light, optics and genius are enough to do the job.

Having a new old camera in your hands is a real joy, because you have to figure out how to operate it, and in this process you come closer to the clever minds that conceived and designed it. It makes you realize what a long path camera development has already left behind, how many standard features we assume without questioning. The shutter release of the Super Ikonta, for example, has to be operated with the left hand instead of the standard right hand operation of today's cameras. Of course, it takes a while to get used to.

(Super Ikonta A 531, Fomapan Creative 200, ISO 200/24°)

Like in most medium format folder cameras, the film has to be advanced using a red window. That means a little window opens on the back of the camera and the film has to be advanced by turning a knob until the next frame number appears in the window. 120 roll film has a paper back with guide frame numbers printed on it for the different formats it can take, namely 6x4.5, 6x6 and 6x9. Other cameras have a more modern film advance mechanism that automatically blocks the spool when the next frame is in place.

On the Super Ikonta, the film advance knob has a double exposure prevention mechanism as well, that blocks the shutter release until the film has been advanced. In this exemplar, though, the mechanism got jammed from time to time and did not unlock the shutter release even though the film had been correctly advanced to the next frame. But this is not a real problem when using folder cameras, because there is always a direct release on the shutter itself, which is activated more or less cleverly from the shutter release on the camera body. For some of the pictures I had to press a small lever at the bottom of the shutter, but that's also part of the fun.

electricity sunset
(Super Ikonta A 531, Fomapan Creative 200, ISO 200/24°)

The Super Ikonta I had the honor to use is a really well preserved exemplar (considering it was made more than 50 years ago!), and even though the Tessar lens could use a thorough cleaning between the elements, it still produces astonishingly sharp pictures. All shutter speeds seem correct, even the slower ones, and except for the occasional jamming of the double exposure prevention, the camera works with a smoothness and precision one can only marvel at. Once again, I wonder how would any of our fancy dSLRs perform in the year 2060...

Maker Zeiss Ikon
Model Super Ikonta A 531
Type Folder
Lens Carl Zeiss Tessar 75mm f/3.5
Shutter Synchro Compur 1 - 1/500 + B
Film type medium format (120), 6x4.5
Year 1952-56
Country West Germany