All three of the following lenses were made behind the Iron Curtain during the Soviet era. The Zeiss Jena was made in East Germany, while both the Industar-22 and the Helios-44 were made in the Soviet Union. The main distinguishing feature of these lenses is that they are mostly dirt-cheap. Shoddy manufacturing and poor materials is a major reason, but despite this, with a bit of luck, some gems can be found. The problem, of course, is copy variance, some lenses of the same make and model can be excellent, while others complete rubbish. I have been fortunate with my copies, two came from reputable dealers and one was purchased at a camera swap after some close inspection. All three lenses are from the 1950s or early 1960s and are remarkably good performers.
Industar-22 50mm f3.5 with Leica IIIf.
Industar-22 is a copy of pre-war Leitz Elmar 50/3.5 screwmount lens and was supplied as a kit lens to the post-war Zorki rangefinder. Manufactured in KMZ (Krasnogorsk Mechanical Factory) near Moscow. The Industar-22 is a tessar lens design, four elements in three groups, whereas the Leitz Elmar is similar but technically not a tessar, rather it is a variant of it’s original five element design. Some claim it is a Cooke triplet variant. However, the Elmar usually sells for $300-500 USD, whereas the Industar-22 goes for about $50. Is the Elmar 1000% better than the Industar? Well, yes if the Industar does not focus properly, but no if it does. I believe that my copy is from 1953, single coated and marked with a Red P (the Cyrillic character is П). There is an Internet Lore that the Red P means that the lens was made for the Red Army and thus of better quality. However, it is more likely that it just meant that it was coated (as with the Zeiss *T) as opposed to uncoated. The Red P was dropped from the lenses by the 1960s when lens coating ceased to be news to customers. On the other hand, the Red P lenses where usually early 1950s copies and are considered superior to later production. This is because many of the Soviet lenses used Schott glass stock taken under reparations from Germany up to about 1954, thereafter inferior Soviet glass was used. In usage it is a bit finicky. It has to be extended to work, but the fact that it is collapsible is the main selling feature: it allows you to put a Leica IIIf in your pocket. Since the aperture ring is on the front lens, it makes using filters problematic, that is if you can find filters for it. However, the lens produces very acceptable photos and if you do not feel like spending considerably more on only marginally better Leica collapsables, it will do the job. Click here to purchase on Ebay.
Hellios 44-2 58mm with Pentax Spotmatic.
My Hellios 44 is in bright aluminium finish, 58mm, f2-16, 13 blades, M42 mount, and manufactured by KMZ. Year of manufacturing is hard to tell, but likely late 1950s or early 1960s. Fits all Pentax screwmount cameras and similar M42 cameras. Based on the Biotar 2/58 lens design, the various iterations of the Hellios lenses are best known and sought after for their swirly bokeh that, for me, usually induces a mild sensation of vertigo. The aperture blades form an almost perfect circle when stopping all the way down. While I am not overly enthusiastic about its bokeh, my copy of the Hellios 44 is remarkably sharp. I did a test comparing it on a Sony A7R with the new super sharp Sony 55mm f1.8 lens and the Hellios was noticeably sharper in the centre when stopped down a bit. The Sony was much sharper in the corners, but for photos where you isolate a subject as in portraits, the Hellios is the clear winner. Quite stunning for a lens this old and one made in Russia under suspect manufacturing practices. As with all these older lenses, they are either single coated or not coated, so flare is a problem. My copy has numerous micro scratches on the front and rear elements, but have very little effect on photos other than contributing to flare when shot into a light source. Like everyone else, I always look for lenses that are in perfect optical condition, however, when I have a lens like this with all its scratches I am always surprised at how well it actually works. I think that haze, fog and fungus are much more serious in terms of having a noticeable effect on photos than micro-scratches. In usage the Hellios 44 is a heavy lens with a very long focus throw. To make stopped down focusing easier you can set the clicking aperture ring and then open it with a secondary loose ring for precision focusing. Good lens for portraits. Click here to purchase on Ebay.
Carl Zeiss Jena JDR Pancolar 50mm f1.8 with Pentax Spotmatic.
Carl Zeiss Jena JDR Pancolar f1.8 50mm “Zebra.” The optical construction of the lens consists of six elements in five groups. It has a minimum focusing distance of 35cm and a minimum aperature of f.22. The filter size is 49mm. This lens has a fanatical reputation based on “Zeiss Jena” mythology and while it is a good all-round lens, I was left a little underwhelmed by it. It looks cool though. Performance is a little soft at 1.8, bokeh is good, but not the greatest, things get better by f5.6 and best around f8. As with the Hellios 44 it has a long focus throw and flare is a bit of a problem. A good portrait lens, but given that the price of these lenses has increased, the Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 is a much better choice as it is superior in every way. Click here to purchase a Carl Zeiss Jena JDR Pancolar on Ebay.
Overall, buying these Soviet era lenses requires some luck and thus to avoid disappointment I would stick to older Pentax lenses for SLRs. For rangefinders, besides expensive Leica lenses, there are very good Voigtlander and Canon screwmount lenses to choose from.
The best thing about Pentax Spotmatics is that you can use Pentax Super-Takumar lenses natively with them. Super-Tak’s are M42 screwmount lenses, and while you can use them with an adapter on modern Pentax cameras, the adapters are a real pain. The adapter does not come off with the lens, you have to unscrew the lens and then detach the adapter separately. This extra step is especially annoying in the field and thus the reason to use a Spotmatic. Spotmatics are reasonably nice all-mechanical cameras that work great if you can find one in good condition. Usual problems are that the upper speeds (1/1000) are not accurate, mirror bumpers and light seals have deteriorated, and the meters no longer work. Speaking of the meter, according to Internet lore, the Spotmatic name came from the fact that the original Spotmatic was designed to work with a spot meter, but it was deemed to be to difficult to use and changed to a center-weighted meter too close to production for marketing to change the name. The meters also used the now defunct mercury batteries, however, due to the way the circuitry was made, silver oxide batteries can be used. I have an Energizer 394/380 in my Spotmatic and the meter works perfectly.
There were a number of different models of Spotmatics over the twelve-year production span. The original Spotmatic was one of the first cameras with a through-the-lens (TTL) exposure metering system. My Spotmatic pictured above is a Honeywell branded model, as Honeywell was the US distributor of the Spotmatics when they first came out. Other models were: Spotmatic II, IIa, Electro-Spotmatic, the Spotmatic F, and a couple of budget models: SP500 and SP1000. Differences between the models were mainly around improvements in the electronics and metering, overall handling remained pretty much the same. The Spotmatic body was also the foundation for the next generation Pentax K mount cameras like the K2 and the ever-popular K1000.
From a user perspective, Spotmatics have a nice feel to them, but they are loud, heavy and the viewfinders are rather dim. The Super-Takumar lenses are really what it is all about. Super-Tak lenses are some of the best built SLR lenses that you can find. Fifty plus years on and the focus is buttery smooth, the aperture clicks nicely and images are remarkably sharp. One of the best is the 8 element Super-Takumar 50mm f1.4. This lens can be distinguished from the more readily available 7 element version by the infrared focus mark, which is to the right of the numeral 4 on the DOF scale on the 8 element version. It has been said that Pentax lost money on every one of these lenses and was replaced with the more economical 7 element successor. The 8 element version is sharp wide open and very sharp stopped down. It has a very unique bokeh/pleasant out of focus rendering that reminds me a little of the Leica 50mm 1.5 Summarit. Other notable Super-Taks are the Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 85mm f1.8 for gorgeous portraits, and the very compact Super-Takumar 35mm f3.5 for a wonderful walk-around lens. In addition to these beautiful Super-Taks, there are numerous excellent M42 mount lenses available from manufacturers like Zeiss and others. To purchase a Pentax Spotmatic on Ebay click here.
My love of Super-Takumar lenses has led to a search for a better overall body than the Spotmatic with which to use the lenses natively. The camera that I found to fit the bill is the Fujica ST801 (1972). The highlights of the ST801, other than mounting M42 lenses, are that it is a little smaller than the Spotmatic, all mechanical and will work even without the battery, much quieter, the viewfinder is much brighter and has a split-screen for focusing, top shutter speed of 1/2000, ISO up to 3200, and a LED metering system. As a result, it is the camera I always reach for when using M42 lenses. In fact, the only reason I keep the Spotmatic is as a backup in case the ST801 dies. To purchase a Fujica ST801 on Ebay click here.
Recently I wrote about how Leica aficionados have a craft fetish where my implication was that I was somehow above that sort of thing. I can use any camera and get results that are just as good as with a Leica. Additionally, to prove my resilience to mere obsession, I indicated that my preferred Leica was the looked-down-upon CL that was co-built by Japanese maker Minolta, which is not up to the same quality standards as the other more revered German Leicas. What I particularly liked about the CL was that it was smaller and slightly more portable than the Leica M2/3/4/5/6/7 etc. One of the idiosyncratic requirements for my usage of a walkaround camera is that it has to be small enough to fit into my Billingham Hadley Digital bag along with some kind of digital mirrorless camera, thus enabling me to carry both a digital and a film camera of some kind. An M3 or M6 with a lens were always pushing the limits of what I could carry, especially now that Micro 4/3s cameras are also getting bigger. Maybe I should just get a bigger bag? No, I am too fond of the perfect size of Hadley Digital bag.
A Leica IIIf came up for sale at a very reasonable price from Setadel Studios in Toronto and contrary to my ‘better’ judgement I was bitten by an irresistible temptation to try it out. I have thought about these old screw mount Leicas for some time, but have always dismissed them because of the small viewfinders and the fact that you have to focus in one viewfinder and then compose in a second one. It just seemed too clumsy and slow to shoot that way. In addition, there is a knob to turn in order to advance the film instead of a lever, and you have to cut the film leader a few inches before loading the film. However, the big attraction, at least initially, was that it more compact. This is a bit misleading, since it is not really that much smaller, maybe only about one centimetre less tall than a CL and M3, but it feels much smaller in the hand and mysteriously takes up less space in my bag. The real pleasure, though, is shooting with it.
My IIIf is from 1950/51, so it is an early one. It does not have the self-timer on the front, which makes it look better in my opinion, and it is a black dial model that has the flash sync of 1/30 sec instead of 1/50 that came in the more preferred red dial model – not that this in anyway matters to me since I will not be using flash bulbs. The body is in excellent condition, the speeds are all accurate (hurray!) and the viewfinder and rangefinder patch are clean and clear. The IIIf viewfinder is designed only for 50mm lenses, so if you want to use other focal lengths you need to use an auxiliary viewfinder in the hot shoe. I still had a Leica Summarit 50mm f1.5 screw mount lens (L39) sitting on the shelf, so this was the other justification for getting the camera, to put this wonderful lens to use again. The Summarit is known for its glorious bokeh, a little soft wide open, but sharp enough when stopped down. Although it is a big lens, it still feels good on the IIIF. Nevertheless, I had to get an inexpensive Russian collapsible Industar-22 50mm lens (review to come shortly) so that I could make the IIIf small enough to fit in my pocket if I so desired.
Leica IIIf with collapsable Industar-22 f3.5 50mm (Red “P” version)
Lens choices for the IIIf are numerous. The main attraction is the drawing power of older uncoated or single coated lenses. Some of these lenses have that lovely combination of being very sharp and at the same time lower in contrast than modern multicoated lenses. The result is a unique look that is rarely duplicated in today’s lenses. Of course there are trade-offs; these older lenses tend to be soft wide open and the corners are rarely sharp even when stopped down. Because they are not multicoated, they will flare in bright light, so it can limit what you shoot. However, when the stars align and you get the right subject and lighting, it will all be worthwhile. There are numerous Leica lenses to choose from, but it is rare to find bargains here. Canon screw mount lenses are more accessible, the 50mm f1.4, 50mm f1.8, and 50mm f2.8 are all good choices. I have a 50mm f1.8 that has plenty of scratches on both the front and rear elements and still takes great photos. In fact, I think the scratches enhance the photos with less contrast (though more flare is the inevitable result of more scratches). There is the dreamy Canon 50mm f1.2, but size and cost are a problem. Then there is a plethora of Russian and East German lenses that are available in screw mount. I have been lucky with the few that I have purchased, contrary to the many stories of bad copies or poor craftsmanship, and they are cheap like borsht. For a slightly more modern look, there are very nice Voigtlander lenses like the compact Color-Skopar 50mm 2.5, which gives you something halfway between the old style and new. To be fair, it must be said that all these lenses can be used on modern Leica M cameras with an adapter if you should so choose, nevertheless, not as much fun as going native with them.
In usage the IIIf surprised me at how much I enjoyed shooting with it. Focus is relatively easy and quick, and the film advance knob, instead of being annoying, was actually quite efficient and felt pleasant to turn. If you set up the camera for range focusing you can street shoot with it, although a larger auxiliary viewfinder would make it easier and quicker to compose. It feels nice in my hands, not too big or too small. A benefit of the screw mount I particularly like is that there is no lens release knob to the right of the lens like there is on M Leicas, the fingers on my right hand would often wander towards the knob and sometimes release it unwittingly on the M bodies.
So how does the IIIf compare with other cameras? I can honestly say that almost every other camera that I have reviewed on this site is easier to use. However, since the IIIf is a rangefinder it will allow you to shoot in low light and/or slow shutter speeds with less camera shake than the SLRs reviewed, and I personally find rangefinder focus easier and more accurate than that of SLRs. More importantly, the IIIf has that magical combination of having just the right weight, size, feel, and precision craftsmanship to make me want to take it out and shoot all the time. This must be the craft fetish talking, I guess I will submit to it and just relish the overall joy of using the IIIf. It is certainly not a speedy camera to use, but without going on and on about the film shooter’s cliché of the advantages of slowing down one’s photography, the IIIf’s design fundamentally forces you to slow down, there is no way around that, and it is a good thing. The images it produces are not bad either! You can purchase a IIIf on Ebay here.
N. Vancouver is the inaugural exhibition at the beautiful and spacious Polygon Gallery, curated by Executive Director Reid Shier. The Polygon Gallery is the new iteration of the Presentation House Gallery, which was a stalwart North Vancouver institution that has focused on lens based work over the large part of its forty plus year history. The brand new $18 million facility is in part courtesy of Michael Audain, chairman of the Polygon Homes Corporation. Despite the unfortunate corporatism of the name, the space is a considerable upgrade from the old gallery on Chesterfield Avenue and will be a fantastic space for future exhibitions with far better options for display.
The N. Vancouver exhibition brings together a number of artists who have engaged with the theme of the north shore, and it includes photography, video, sculpture and weaving. Well known photographer/artists such as Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham, Fred Herzog and Stephen Waddell are represented, as well as some historical photo/conceptual work by N.E. Thing Company. First Nations weavers Lisa Lewis and Shelly Thomas displayed beautiful traditionally made blankets that were inspired by ancestral blankets seen in vintage photographs of First Nations Chiefs. Overall, works from twenty-six artists are currently included and the catalogue claims that the exhibition will evolve over time as new artworks are introduced.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is Stan Douglas’ Lazy Boy (2015). Douglas combines a 2D digital image with 3D computer-rendered buildings to re-create a squatters’ community of wooden shacks that populated the intertidal zone along the North Shore waterfront in the 1930s and ‘40s. It was there that British Novelist Malcolm Lowry resided and wrote Under the Volcano. The digital rendering of the shacks that no longer exist was made from extensive research and archival photographs. The image is approximately 3×7’ and from a distance looks almost a completely monochrome black. However, as you move towards it you see more and more detail and the wooden shacks only come to life as you get really close. It is a very compelling and engaging image that is a result of both technical virtuosity and research acumen. I normally do not like these kinds of CGI works, they usually look too digitally and not how I tend to see the world, but its monochrome blackness makes it strangely extremely realistic. Although it looks exactly like a straight night-time photo, since the shacks no longer exist, even though they are recreated from photographs and merged with a landscape photo, the photographic guarantee of “reality” that counts as indexicality with respect to the referent is in this case broken and the image functions more like a painting than a photograph. As Jeff Wall once claimed, there are “two reigning myths of photography-the one that claims that photographs are ‘true’ and the one that claims they are not.” In the case of Lazy Boy, it appears that the two myths have merged into one. Nevertheless, regardless of how one categorizes it, this image is a glimpse into the future of photography and it alone makes the exhibition worth seeing.
Speaking of Jeff Wall, intentionally or not, the exhibition illuminates a very interesting and often overlooked historical note. Wall’s Coastal Motifs (1989), a landscape of the North Shore and mountains from the vantage point of Burnaby, is displayed in the main gallery. It is a large lightbox installation in the style that has become synonymous with Wall’s work and has led well-known art historian Rosalind Krauss to declare that Wall was the inventor of the light box as an artistic medium. However, in an auxillary room off of the main gallery space, there is a much smaller lightbox installation by N.E. Thing Co. that was done approximately ten years before Wall’s first light box work. A fact unknown to Rosalind Krauss, probably because it did not happen in her backyard of New York City, but it proves that N.E. Thing Co. was really the first to use the light box as an artistic medium and something that they rarely get credit for.
The Polygon Gallery is a great addition to the art scene in Vancouver and the N. Vancouver show is well worth visiting. The exhibition continues until April 29, 2018.
Walid Raad has become a well known and sought after international artist who came to prominence in the early 2000s with his Atlas Group Project, which is a documentary archive based on fact and fiction about the Lebanese Civil Wars. The Atlas Group Project was a fascinating exploration of ideas such as who has the right to accumulate historical facts and present them, as well as whether fiction can offer a knowledgeable and insightful account of history. Lately he has lead an artist boycott of the $800 million Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi over the abuse and hazardous conditions for the workers building the museum. A new work called Sweet Talk: Commissions is being exhibited at the Audain Gallery, Simon Fraser University. On opening night he gave an artist talk as an introduction to the exhibition. The talk consisted of Raad reading excerpts from writer Jayce Salloum’s books and showing his own photographs from the 1970s through to his latest digital work. The explanation for reading Salloum’s works was that Raad felt that Salloum had been writing things about photography that Raad himself was thinking of even before he met Salloum.
Raad’s first reading was of Salloum’s attempt to quantify and rank the devastation of wars in terms of a set of criteria based on their long lasting traumatic effects. This struck me to be a rather pointless intellectual exercise, a kind of theory for theory’s sake endeavour. I am not particularly sure how you can begin to tell people who have survived the ordeal of a war that your war was more traumatic than theirs. All wars are horrific and it would surely be a significantly better use of time to think about how to eliminate and prevent them from happening in the future rather than musing over how to rank them.
Raad proceeded to read another questionable text of Salloum’s about a Lebanese photographer whose photographs during the time of the Lebanese Civil War were often out of focus and blurry. Raad explained that this was probably the result of having to take photographs while in the line of fire and thus the photographer often had to move quickly to avoid being hit. Salloum’s account went on to say that the photographer continued to make blurry photographs even after the war, suggesting it was the result of the long lasting effects of the trauma of war. Certainly taking photographs in hostile situations is not easy, but many photographers have been doing it for decades and with perfectly focused results. In fact I can name at least three Lebanese photographers who have taken excellent non-blurry photographs of the Civil Wars: Aline Manoukina, Patrick Baz, and George Azar. I am not saying that taking photographs in a war is easy, only that many photographers have done it, and done it well. Thus the explanation of the blurry photographs as solely the result of war is not a sufficient one. Perhaps Salloum’s photographer was just a bad photographer. In addition, Salloum’s text does not seem to apply to Raad. Some of Raad’s early photographs that he showed were also not well focused, but as the chronology of his photographs progressed, and his skill as a photographer increased, his photographs got technically better and better. There seemed to be no long lasting effects of the trauma of war. But then again, Raad spent many of the Civil War years outside of Lebanon in the safety of the United States going to school.
Overall this was a very disappointing artist talk, which basically turned into a two-hour rationalization of bad photographs through the use of equally bad theory. Raad’s photo and digital work in the gallery exhibition were also disappointing. In the text beside a series of photographs of small shops in central Beirut (see photograph above), Raad compares his photographs that document the shuttering and erasure of the city’s war-ravaged structures with those of 19th and early 20th-century Parisian photographers Charles Marville and Eugéne Atget. It is conceivable that this kind of photography will be of historical interest in a hundred years, like Marville and Atget’s that document what has disappeared, but the interest at the moment is marginal. Gone is the thought provoking work that Raad did with Atlas Group Project and gone is the unique sense of humour that he used to incorporate in his art. No doubt this new seriousness is the result of our humourless times or, more to the point, of an over reliance on bad theory, which can kill the fun out of anything.
Christos Dikeakos’s The Hastings Mill Store Museum is on display at the Hastings Mill Store Museum until September 23, 2017. It is a large ink jet print (157.5 x 193 cm) of an evening meeting of the members of The Native Daughters of British Columbia that run the museum. The Daughters of BC are a secret (maybe not that secret) society of women that were formed in 1919 with the objective to pay tribute to the history and pioneers of British Columbia. You have to be born in BC to be a member. The Daughters saved the Hastings Mill store and post office, which is the oldest building in Vancouver, in 1930 and had it moved from downtown to its current location near Jericho Beach. The museum if filled with a vast array of Vancouver and British Columbia artefacts and an especially impressive collection of First Nations baskets. The fact that the museum is not professionally curated, meaning is not thematically or historically organized, is actually one of its most refreshing aspects. At every turn you find a different and surprising discovery, making the experience very unique and where you do not necessarily feel like you are being led by the hand. While the museum is not large, one can easily spend a day in its crammed quarters revelling in its odd delights.
Dikeakos’s image captures the quirkiness of the museum and the women who comprise the Daughters of BC. Like the museum itself, the Daughters are aging, as there do not seem to be many new younger members. The society has the appearance of something from the past, serving tea and turnovers at its meeting. Although, I can attest to the fact that in speaking with some of the members they relayed stories about a lot more drinking and smoking at the meetings in the “old” days. It is not clear to me how much longer the museum can exist in its current form and that is what makes Dikeakos’s photograph all the more important and timely.
Closing reception is on September 23, 6pm to 8:30pm, 1575 Alma Street.
Vintage folding viewfinder cameras from the 1950s and earlier are most certainly an acquired taste requiring a generous amount of patience. They can be incredibly rewarding, especially the ones with 6×9 cm negatives that give you near large format quality in a camera that you can put in your coat pocket. The 6×6 cm folders are almost the same size as some point and shoot cameras. Their size and portability are some of the main attractions, but the other is their often-overlooked excellent lenses. Despite being old and lacking modern coatings, which result in less contrast than contemporary lenses, most folder lenses are quite sharp and have pleasing rendering qualities that produce very unique photographs.
The problems with folders, especially the ones in my possession, start with being scale focus. There are some vintage folders that are rangefinder coupled, but all mine are the less expensive scale focus kind that can be found for next to nothing these days. Thus instead of looking through the viewfinder and focusing the lens, one has to guess the distance to the subject and dial it in on the lens. As if film photography is not challenging enough, this just adds one more element of complexity. However, all these folders have a red dot on the scale focus and aperture setting so that when chosen give you a “snap-shot” mode where you can just point and shoot and get everything in focus from about 2.5 to 5 meters. Another issue is that there are no meters in these cameras, the exposure must be guessed at, and the shutters most often have old style speeds making modern handheld meters mostly useless. The shutters are typically the Achilles heels of these cameras as they typically need some work to bring them into working order. Finally, the pressure plates that hold the negatives in place can be loose and cause the negatives to be out of focus in places. Remarkably the folding bellows are quite often good and light tight, with the exception of Agfa cameras where they almost always have to be replaced. However, the occasional pinhole in the bellows can be easily repaired with a dab of dark black silicone adhesive sealant. Nevertheless, despite this list of problems when they work they are fantastic, and if you are willing to persevere, you will be pleasantly rewarded.
The Ziess Ikon Ercona above is from the 1950s, made in former East Germany by VEB Pentacon. After WWII Zeiss was made by rival companies both called Zeiss on either side of the Iron Curtain until the West German company won the patent dispute to the name. The Ercona has a Tempor shutter and an exquisite Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar T* 105mm f/3.5 lens. I believe this is quite a rare version as most Erconas have the Novar f/4.5 110mm lens. The Ercona takes 120 film and 6×9 negatives, with an option of 6×6 negatives if you have the insert template that is usually lost.
The Voigtlander Bessa I folding 6×9 viewfinder camera, made by Voigtlander when it was still a German company, was manufactured between 1951 and 1956. The Voigtlander Bessa I and II are beautiful cameras, extremely well made, much nicer in almost all respects than the Ercona, except for one. Mine has a Vaskar 105mm f4.5 lens, which is not nearly the same quality as the Ercona’s Tessar. Apparently the Bessa I also came with a Color-Skopar 105mm f3.5, which is supposedly much nicer if you could find one.
The Zeiss Ikon Nettar II is a 6×6 cm folder, made by Zeiss in Stuggart, West Germany, in the production period of 1951 to 1957. Extremely compact when folded (13 x 9 x 3 cm) and well made. Mine has a Novar Anastigmat 75mm f/6.3 lens and a Vario shutter. It only cost $20 and worked perfectly from day one.
This a short video on how to adjust the rangefinder on the Plaubel Makina 67. When I first bought my camera it came with the rangefinder out of alignment, it might have been bumped during shipment or the eBay seller was less than honest. The best way to test rangefinder alignment is to look at something on the horizon (something several miles away) like a tower, set focus at infinity, and look through the viewfinder to check if the rangefinder patch is a single image. If it is still slightly a double image, then you know you are out of alignment. Typically if it is aligned correctly at infinity it will be ok at other distances and visa-versa. As you can see in the video it is pretty easy to do, but if your negatives are still out of focus it could be something more serious like the focus mechanism itself, which requires a technician to delve deeper into the focus mechanism under the shutter release.
In 1975 Mr. Kimio Doi of the Japanese Doi Group purchased the rights to produce the Plaubel Makina from Frankfurt based German camera maker Plauble & Co. It was first shown in Photokina in 1978 and released in 1979. Mr. Doi outsourced the production of the new Makina 67’s lens to Nikon and the body to Konica. Chief designer Yasuo Uchida led the design team with assistance from Professor Udo M. Geissler of the industrial design department of the Technical University of Munich. An interview with Uchida can be seen here. The end result was an exceptionally well designed and engineered camera that is capable of producing high quality images.
The Plaubel Makina 67 is a fixed lens rangefinder medium format camera that comes with a very sharp and fast Nikon 80mm f2.8 lens. The fact that the lens can be folded back into the body when not shooting makes the camera ultra portable. It can be carried in a small camera bag or even fit into a large coat pocket. However, the Makina 67 is still quite heavy despite its relatively compact size (for a medium format camera). The rangefinder focus is done with a focus knob around the release button on top of the camera. It takes some getting used to, but focus is easy and accurate. The shutter speed, aperture and ISO rings are all around the lens, which I find somewhat more finicky than the focus knob. There is no way you can adjust these while you are looking through the viewfinder. Street photography is possible, but you will have to set everything up for zone focusing ahead of time. In general, the Plaubel Makina is more of a deliberate set up and shoot type of camera rather than run-and-gun. The fantastic lens, the ability to shoot 6×7 negatives, and its unique design make the Plaubel Makina 67 a true gem of film era cameras.
The one design flaw that the camera suffers from is that it has very thin wires for the meter that run from the lens to the body along the “lazy-tongs” that fold the lens in and out of the body. Over the years, as the lens is folded in and out, these wires inevitably wear and the meter malfunctions. Nevertheless, buying one of these cameras with a malfunctioning meter is a bonus in my opinion because you will no doubt get a discount and it is far better to use “Sunny 16” or a handheld meter for proper exposure rather than the center weight camera meter. Click here to purchase Makina 67 on Ebay.
Pentaxians love to praise the virtues of mechanical cameras like the Spotmatics, K1000, LX and MX, but while I appreciate their build quality and the fact that they will last forever if properly maintained, I also enjoy the convenience and accuracy of later models such as the previously reviewed MZ-3. Introduced in 1983 the Pentax Super Program is a model that essentially gives you the best of both of these worlds. It is a solid, made of metal body (not the cheap plastic feel of the MZ line), it is relatively small (131 x 86.5 x 47.5mm) and usually comes with a nice detachable grip for added comfort. The main features are electronic shutter, meter, aperture and shutter priority, and auto and manual modes. While it does not have auto-focus capabilities, the upside is that it has a bright beautiful ground-glass pentaprism viewfinder. Thus it has the two most important aspects in a camera for me – a great viewfinder for accurate focusing, and a spot-on shutter speeds. With Pentax A lenses you can have full auto shooting or choose between aperture or shutter priority, and with M and K lenses you can have aperture priority, or manual with either set of lenses. One annoying quirk with the Super Program is that the ‘genius’ Pentax engineers decided to automatically set the shutter speed to 1/1000 sec for all film frames until you reach 1. I guess the thinking behind this was that you would want to quickly advance to the 1 frame and not get a long exposure if you are set to auto. However, for those of us that like to get as many frames as possible out of a roll, the work around is to set the film speed dial to 1/125 and select an appropriate aperture manually to get those first few frames before 1. The Pentax Super Program is an excellent, small, easy to handle, convenient, and fun to shoot camera – my new favourite Pentax. Click here to purchase.