Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A New Camera (sort of)

As much as I have embraced the digital revolution in our lives, I have to admit to still having a strong love for our analog world and even analog technology.

There's a look and "feel" to color positive (slide) film that digital still hasn't been able to match.

Now, having said that, I was on an internet excursion recently. I have always liked the look and feel of old cameras, but I'm one of those people who doesn't want to collect anything that will just sit there. For example, in the guitar world, there are people who collect rare, vintage guitars and keep them carefully maintained, but never play them, and certainly don't gig with them.

I can't deal with that. Assuming that I had the $200K or so that a nice 1959 Les Paul would cost me these days, I would still want to play that puppy. I would not buy something like that and then just put it in a display case. Consequently, I probably won't be collecting rare guitars in my life. I'd rather have a cheap knock off of a Fender or Gibson that I can play and enjoy than to put up serious money and have the item just sit there and to show off to people.

Same is true with me and cameras. I'd love to have the money to buy a Leica rangefinder camera. I've never owned one, but have held and played with them briefly in camera stores and they are the ultimate in mechanical precision. They have a level of quality and precision that you can feel when you hold it. Amazing stuff. But the price tags are way out of line with what I'd ever pay for a camera, and I don't lose any sleep over it. I like them, I understand the love some photographers have for Leicas, but I don't let my lack of having one bother me either.

I discovered recently that over the years, the former soviet union shamelessly copied Leica designs and sold them internally, and eventually exported them too.

In fairness to Leica, the Russian copies of the Leica designs were nowhere near the quality of a real Leica, but they are actually some pretty decent old cameras, have the look of Leicas and can still be bought on Ebay for instance, for almost nothing. If you take a design that is almost pure genius, and copy that design, even mediocre copies of those designs can turn out to be decent working copies. That make sense?


This is a Soviet made camera, derived over the years from original Leica designs. It is a Zorki-4, the most popular Soviet camera that they made, and the one which they made in the largest numbers. This particular camera was made in 1967, so it's a forty year old camera, and has the warts and kinks of a forty year old mechanical device, but it still has a lot of cool vibes and cool character.

I had started out weeks ago learning about Leicas and their history, but quickly got side-tracked onto the myriad Leica copies that were built by the Soviets and the Japanese. Even Nikon's and Canon's first cameras were Japanese rip-offs of Leica designs.

The copies that fascinated me most though were the Soviet made Leicas. Originally they copied them down to even shamelessly stamping Leica's logo on the Soviet made cameras. Granted, they weren't and still aren't as good as a real Leica, but the camera in the picture above, is one I bought from a lady in Ukraine, off of Ebay, and received it yesterday.

Check out the top surface of this camera:
See that red insignia on the left of the top? I've seen translations of this on different camera sites, some say "50 Years Of Soviet Power, some say "50 Years Of Revolution." So I don't really know for sure, other than them celebrating 50 years since the bolshevik revolution.

This camera, though it doesn't operate as smoothly as a new one, it's controls and mechanisms are slightly rough in operation, still works fine and cost me a whopping $39.99. It cost $30 to have it insured and shipped to me from Ukraine. In fact, the controls seem much smoother and of higher quality than I was expecting. We'll see how it does with film in it...

The lens, a Jupiter-3 is a normal lens, a 50mm f2.0. It's a Russian copy of a Leica Sonnar design. It doesn't have the coatings that modern lenses do to reduce flare and reflections within the lens, but it's a solid, working, camera and lens that should last another 40 years with proper care.

This dude has no light meter, the operator has to know what shutter speed and f-stop to use in whichever light the subject is in! One has to set the shutter speed, set the f-top, focus manually, and the film winder isn't a lever, you have to spin that big knob on the top right of the camera to the next film frame. Crazy stuff when compared to my automatic everything Nikon.

At least I'm old enough to have learned photography with cameras similar to this one, and plan on having some old fashioned fun with it.

Anyway, that's probably enough about this camera and Leica copies to put you to sleep, but I just wanted to share my new purchase, and as soon as I've checked it's operation out and have taken some pictures with it, I'll post them on here.

There's still some neat old mechanical stuff in this world that can be had on the cheap.

Lovely Wife is a sweetheart to indulge me in my cheap camera thrills.


Hammer said...

Cool old camera. I collect old things and use them even though they might not be as fancy and efficient.

Babystepper said...

Pretty cool! Now you can tell people you used to be a Russian agent and have them "accidentally" see this camera as proof.

JAM said...

I'm certainly not a camera snob. There are folks out there that would laugh at my purchase, but after playing with it and testing all the functionality, I'm thinking it's a great working camera. I'd still like to find a repair shop that does CLA (clean, lubricate, adjust) on old mechanical cameras like this and have them tune it up for me.

Definitely has that secret agent man vibe with all the "made in USSR" inscriptions.

Travis said...

Fascinating. Thanks for the lesson.

Norma said...

I know nothing about cameras. But I did study Russian, and it is Soviet power, or Soviet authority. How interesting.

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