Finally I find the time to sit down, armed with a cup of mint tea, and write about this year’s Photokina.
For those who don’t know, Photokina is the world’s most important and biggest photographic trade show, held in wonderful Köln (Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany). Photokina has been taking place from the fifities, every two years, and has always featured the big names of photography (and also some smaller ones). Where the focus of the old editions was, of course, analogue photography, with the advent of digital photography most of the exhibition is dedicated to this thriving world, although a few surprises still lie here and there. Mainly, the Lomographic Society sand, which is also the main reason I went to Photokina.
Rumors are that starting from his year, the trade show will become annual.
I must admit that if you, like me, are new to this sort of things, the whole experience of a trade show can be a bit… overwhelming, to say the least. There are loads of people in every corner, everyone trying to catch a glimpse of the products from their favourite companies or play with some new cameras, lenses or accessories.
First of all, let’s take a look to a big name. This year, Leica has introduced a new film rangefinder, the Leica M-A. It’s a full metal body camera, which comes in either silver or black finish. It has interchangeable lenses (M-Bayonet) and quite interesting technical features: 1s to 1/1000s (and bulb) speeds, support for film from ISO 6 to 6400, hotshoe and a bright wievfinder. The aperture is, of course, dependant on the lens you want to use with the camera. It weighs less than half a kilo, and it’s build quality is, of course, among the best (it’s Leica, after all). The base price is £3800, but the package includes a complimentary roll of Kodak Tri-X 400. Head over to Leica’s website to find out more and shop. Good for you if you can afford it, because I certainly can’t (I’m still a nurse, after all).
Let’s continue our journey through the show with Lomography. Their stand was full of cameras, trinkets, t-shirts, bags, leaflets and posters and postcards and happy lomographers. Three the major products they featured at the show (albeit nothing breakthrough).
- LOMO’Instant Automat Glass Elbrus (baptised by yours truly LIAGE, because the name is quite long and I can’t keep typing it over and over). It’s a LOMO’Instant Automat with a brown leatherette and multi coated lenses. Being an Automat, it’s fully automatic. Aperture is either f/4.5 or f/22 (not that you can say your opinion on the matter). Shutter speed is standard 1/250 or bulb up to 30s. Film ejection is motorized and there is a built-in flash. Works on standard Fujifilm Instax Mini film. (leaflet)
- LOMO’Instant Explorer (the design is new, the camera itself… not). It’s a LOMO’Instant with a new design, basically. (leaflet)
- Sprocket Rocket SUPERPOP! Teal 2.0 (argh, another mouthful… cannot call it SRSPT either because that’s quite unpronounceable). Again, it’s a Sprocket Rocket. The SUPERPOP! version just adds a new colour and few extra aesthetic details. (leaflet)
All in all, Photokina has been an interesting event. My lack of actual interest in digital photography at the moment plus the not-so-steep price of the ticket and the amount of goodies I managed to get back home made me feel not guilty of leaving after a couple of hours of exploration. As much as I am interested in photography, I could not resist the calling of Köln waiting for me.
This post is the first one in a series I call QnD or Quick and Dirty, because of their unpolished presentation.
I want to talk briefly about the IStillShootFilm.org’s guides to commercially available film. They come in two flavours, colour and black and white. The guides are not free, unfortunately, they cost US$ 6.99 each or US$9.99 if you buy them both.
Films are divided by manufacturer and there is a description for each kind of film. All different formats are covered in quite detail. The reviews don’t stop to major brands like Fuji and Kodak but also cover some less famous and more eclectic ones.
Good guides, can be useful to discover new films and learn a couple things about the films you already know (for instance, the quality level of the Agfa Vista Color).
More information and online store on ISSF.org.
Okay, so let’s ignore the bad pun that is the title of this post and focus on the main topic.
The Holga is a rite of passage, a must for every film photographer.
Like the Diana, the Holga is a plastic “toy camera”, with a meniscus lens. Unlike the Diana, there are several models of Holga according to what they have as features. Holgas were produced until not long ago by Universal Electronic, Ltd. of Hong Kong, under the guide of TM Lee, creator of the original Holga. Production switched hands in 2015, when another company got hold of the original Holga moulds and tools and kept producing this legendary icon of film photography.
The lens is a basic meniscus type lens, 60 mm, in plastic or glass (according to the model), with apertures of f/8 and f/11, switchable by the user. Focus is done by rotating the lens barrel, in a four-zone focus system: portrait, small group, large group and infinite. As with the Diana, the pictures show vignetting and other aberrations, including light leaks. Also, every Holga is slightly different, so that even in the same setting, two Holgas will never produce the same image.
This beauty has experience a rise in popularity thanks to the Lomography movement, who distributed the Holgas in their store (they stopped, at present). Holgas are still VERY easy to find on eBay, and there are several different models to choose from:
- 120S: standard model, plastic lens, no frills, only one picture size. This has been discontinued for a long time but remains the favourite of many photographers.
- 120SF: the standard model with a built-in flash.
- 120G: called “Woca”, is a 120S with a glass lens
- 120GF: a Woca with a built-in flash
- 120N: the new standard model (I assume “N” stands for “New”), tripod mount, bulb mode and the possibility to change masks between 6×6 and 6×4.5. Models produced before 2009 (I believe) have a non-functioning aperture switch.
- 120GN: a 120N with a glass lens (still named Holga)
- 120FN: a 120N with a flash
- 120GFN: mix the two above and you get a Holga with a glass lens and a built-in flash.
- 120CFN: a 120FN with four built-in colour filters for the flash, selectable with a wheel
- 120GCFN: Again, mix the two above and this is what you get. This is the model I own.
There are also some other models, including a TLR Holga, a pinhole, stereo pinhole, 110 film format Holga and so on and so forth.
There are also several accessories for the Holga, including a 35mm film adapter (which does not have an exposure count, so you have to advance the film manually and kind of guess when to stop), cable release and instant back.
Of course it’s not perfect, there are several issues with each model, mainly affecting the metal clips that both hold the back in place and allow you to attach your camera strap, the film advance mechanisms that tends to loosen the tension thus creating artifacts and light leaks. Most of these issues can be fixed with a roll of duct tape and patience.
I have to admit, I am happy of the results I got with the Holga, it’s a fun camera and has character. I feel I need to know it better so to more appreciate what makes it different from my Diana.
All the pictures above where shot with a Holga 120GCFN on a Lomography Color 400 ISO film.
The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras
Jean Loup Princelle
1995, Hove Photo Books
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).
Cameras of The People’s Republic of China
Douglas St. Denny
1989, Jessop Specialist Publishing
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!