[The Unusual Library] The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras

51r5y49vfxl-_ac_ul320_sr228320_The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras
Jean Loup Princelle
1995, Hove Photo Books
ISBN 978-18-740-316-35

This is a book I had to sweat a lot to put my hands on.

The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras is a difficult to find book (I had some luck with an eBay auction from France), but it is also the Bible of the Russian and Soviet camera collector. I’m not a collector per se, nor I have a keen interest in buying all FEDs and Zenits and KMZs that I come across, but Soviet cameras have a certain charme, they have contributed to shape the camera markets of those years, despite often being inspired or cloned from existing western models.

For many people across the Iron Curtain, these cameras were the only option. For many westeners, these were the most affordable option (and you got a decent camera, too). Like the book about the Chinese cameras, this guide is divided by factory (starting from GOMP/VOOMP/LOMO and KMZ to more obscure ZAVOD GEODEZYIA and ZAVOD ARSENAL) and lists (possibly) every model produced together with pictures and technical details, when available. There is also the history of the factories themselves and put in context with the socio-political situation of the USSR at the time.

Overall, it’s quite a nice and interesting book, if you manage to find it grab a copy. Not essential unless you really like to collect Soviet cameras, I might add. There are also some details that appear to be wrong (I’ll consider them bona fide mistakes).

[The Unusual Library] Book Review: Cameras of the People’s Republic of China

Cameras of The People’s Republic of  China
Douglas St. Denny
1989, Jessop Specialist Publishing
ISBN 978-0951-4392-03

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This is a rather unusual book. A very niche one, which you will probably not own unless you have a keen interest in PRC’s history of cloned cameras.

I’m not that interested in collecting this kinds of camera, neither do I own one, but I recently stumbled upon several reviews of the Seagull TLRs (from Shanghai) and they made me curious. In the photographic world, we are used to the big brands that are popular still today and synonym of quality equipment, but if somebody mentions Shanghai Camera Factory or the Beijing Camera Factory… we all tend to shrug.

Thinking that China never had a place in the market would be wrong, as this book demonstrates, albeit most of the cameras introduced in PRC between the 40’s and the 70’s were close copies or identical clones of more popular European/Japanese brands (and that includes also Russian LOMO and KMZ models).

It’s quite interesting to read the stories of the companies and the cameras that they produced, all with very evocative names like the Tian Tan (Temple of Heaven) TLR, the Yuejin (Great Leap) and the Zi Jin Shan (Purple Mountain), like looking inside a world that has been there for a very long time, but no one bothered to notice before.

The book itself is no longer published, so browse eBay to grab a copy!

Kodak Pocket Instamatic 100

Note: I started this post in May 2018, hence the date, but I just finished editing it and adding the picture. It is quite long overdue.

Instamatics are possibly among the most commonly found film cameras in charities here in the United Kingdom. If a charity sells cameras, there’s a 90% chance you’ll find an Instamatic somewhere.

Although the name itself might lead to the idea of an instant camera (much like the Polaroid), in reality no Instamatic model worked with self-developing film (these were the Kodamatics). They were designed as a line of inexpensive, easy-to-use compact point and shoot cameras, that accepted 126 and 110 film. Most models had no setting control at all, with a few exceptions.

The first model was the Instamatic 100, a camera which used 126 film cartridges, which costed around 15-16 US$ (in 1963). It accepted AG-6 flash bulbs which were powered by a couple AAA batteries. The only setting available was whether to use the flash or not.

Several models came out, later models replacing the flash bulbs with flashcubes and magicubes (thus, removing the need for batteries).

The model I purchased online is the Pocket Instamatic 100, a 110-film camera that was produced in the early seventies.

The Pocket Instamatic 100

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The Pocket Instamatic 100 in its original package. Missing are the film roll and the instructions manual. The red button is the shutter release, whereas the black slot is for the Magicubes (optional).

It took me a while to find out some specs for this camera, but finally I found the Kodak Classics website, so I managed to get hold of some numbers. This camera offers a fixed 25mm triplet lens, with an aperture of f/11. Shooting time is 1/60s (unchangable) and there is the option of using a Magicube flash, if the lighting is insufficient. Inside the package there is the camera itself, a Magicube extender (an adapter that raises the Magicube a bit so it is not too close to the lens) and a lanyard. The original package also provided a blank roll of 110 Kodak film and the instructions booklet.

It is a plastic beauty, quite small and compact (the dimensions are …). The lens is protected by a sliding panel, that also unlocks the camera when opened. There is also a lever to operate the film advance on the bottom, which also rotate the Magicube slot by one quarter of a turn (a Magicube has four bulbs).

It’s a very simple and compact design, but it’s quite fun to use. 110 Film is still produced by few companies, including Lomography who also process and scan it through their LOMO Lab service.

There are some pictures I snapped in Krakow, Poland with the Pocket Instamatic:

Kodak Brownie n° 2

Now, we need a moment of attention for one of the most important cameras in history.

The Brownie has been the first inexpensive camera to introduce photography to the masses (well, sort of). It has been from the beginning a very simple box camera, initially using 117 film, then switching to the more popular 120 film (the very same that we still load in our Dianas, Holgas and Mamiyas). It was introduced in 1900 and has been produced, in one form or another, until 1986 (again, sort of – the Brownie introduced in 1986 was produced only in Brasil and was using 110 film, it looked more like an Instamatic).

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The Brownie n. 2

The model I have in my hands, the Brownie n° 2, was introduced in 1901 and was the first camera ever to use 120 mm format film. Lots of people still use the brownies, because of their dependability and their simplicity that allows one to focus on the photography rather than on the bell and whistles of the camera.

It is a very simple camera. A meniscus lens, projecting light into the box, hits the film mounted on the internal holding structure. Shutter is operated by a lever. There are three apertures available.

Here are some details:

  • approx. 100 mm lens
  • apertures f/11, f/16 and f/22
  • shutter speed: instant (1/50) and bulb

This camera gives its best in black and white photography, although any 120mm film can be used.

The structure of the camera itself is quite simple: there is an internal metallic film holder that slides out of the camera, in which you can put the film roll and the take up spool. A couple of metallic rotating pieces to make the film move without scratching it and that’s it. The rear panel is held in place by the leatherette itself, there are no hinges at all. Exposure counting is done via the classic red window on the back.

All in all, it’s a fun piece of equipment to play with and there’s plenty of good photography to be done. It is very similar to a toy camera, but for several reasons people  tend take this more seriously than a Diana or a Holga. Like these two plastic wonders, though, the Brownie allows to focus most of your attention into composition and proper technique rather than a thousand gizmos.

Verdict: everyone should play with a Brownie at least once.

Some pictures I took with the Brownie: no controls at all mean that most of my pictures came out totally white or totally black, here’s a couple that survived.

 

Book review: Basic Techniques of Photography – Book 1

An Ansel Adams Guide – Basic Techniques of Photography – Book 1
JP Schaefer
1998, Little, Brown and Company
ISBN 978-08212-188-22
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Bonne chance finding this book. As far as I can tell it is not published anymore, although Little, Brown and Co. still has in catalog several other books by Ansel Adams and another one by Schaefer. This one comes as the first volume of a series of two, but if the first one needs digging online (or in used books stores), the second one requires a bigger wallet because it is harder to find and more expensive (we’re still under £50, though). And if it does not seem a lot for a book, it is still a lot for a used book.

This masterpiece is like a Bible for the photographer. It contains everything from the basics (like the process of capturing a picture on film, different kinds of cameras and their workings, concepts like parallax, aperture, exposure…) to more advanced one (including film development). It is really well written, with lots of beautiful photos by the great Ansel Adams and excerpts from his notes and books.

All the concepts are very well expressed and clear, with loads of schemes and pictures to clarify the examples (besides, in a book about photography, you can’t really express concepts without having photographies in it, can you?).

Scan eBay or World of Books for a copy of this gem, it is really worth it, especially if you are a beginner like me. Prices vary but you should be able to grab your copy for something in between a fiver and £20 (that is, if you live in the UK).