Sunday, 12 April 2015

Camera Retrospective(Part 2)

This is the 2nd part of my journey through my late fathers camera collection. 

Let's move to the 1960's 

Ilford Sporti 4 - 1960 

The Ilford Sporti is about as basic as you can get from a camera, with nothing really more than a cheap lens and a plastic body. However it shows how the basic camera shape for the masses had evolved from the rather unwieldy box brownie shape to something we recognise today. 

This was helped in part by the development of new film formats which made loading and unloading film far easier and the move to film cartridges

This camera is actually quite sophisticated for the period.

It contained a electronic light sensor or CCD around the lens that allowed for light measurement through the viewfinder, removing the need for guesswork or external light meters. 

Secondly it allowed focussing via a mechanism in the viewfinder that required you to align two split images, which allowed far more accurate and detailed images. All this was contained in a small robust package. It also allowed the use of external flash bulbs allowing photos to be taken indoors.

 We are here starting to see electronics becoming part of the camera, and moving photography away from the guesswork element. While the CCD used is primitive compared to modern electronics, it is the start of the jouring to the photographic technology we have today.

Zenit-E 1965

I have a history with this camera. When I was about 12 my mother decided she wanted to do a BA in fine art. Unlike today, there were all sort of grants available to help mature students and with one of these she decided she needed a camera. 

The camera she got was the Zenit-E SLR. As it turned out she never used it much (nor the film developing kit which until recently languished in my old family home ), so being a fan of all thing gadgetry, I got the use of it. So you could say it was my 1st camera.

Zenit was the premium Russian camera make of the time.  This meant that it was bulky, built like  a  T-34 tank and did not have many of the finesse's and conveniences of other camera's of the era. However it's simplicity meant they were very reliable and more importantly cheap. New, they cost £50, which although not an inconsiderable amount at the time, was good value compared to other makes.

One of the biggest issues with it, apart from the weight, was that it did not have TTL metering. Instead you had to line up a small ring with the light meter mounted on the top of the camera, read off the required aperture, and set the lens value. Not exactly something that could be done quickly. However for landscape or other static objects, it was perfectly adequate, and it gave many their 1st experience of using a SLR.

Top of the Zenit showing the light meter and dial

However I never really learned how to use it properly. This was pre-internet meaning that information on topics such as depth of field, etc was not easily to get(I think my original camera had a depth of field preview button which presumably set the aperture to the required value, rather than the wide open setting). Also being pre-digital, any experimentation was expensive and slow.

The original camera was stolen when I went to university and it was a long time until I would get my next SLR, but having it my hands still gives me a great wave of nostalgia.

Praktica LTL 1970

Despite also coming from Eastern Block and from the same era, the East German Practika is far more user and consumer friendly camera that the Zenit. For starters it has TTL metering system (battery powered), but overall  the whole camera feels far more modern to hold and use.

In fact, call the look retro, add a CCD, and you would struggle to differentiate between it and many cameras today

Ricoh KR-5 1979

The Ricoh is example of the type of SLR's that we were coming out of Japan in the 1980's and 90's and redefining the power-base of the camera manufacturing. In your hands it feels thoroughly modern and apart from the lack of automation such for focusing and aperture, it is still eminently usable by anyone used to SLR or even DSLR. 

In fact of all the camera's this is the one that I would feel most happy bringing home to meet my mother. It's well designed, feels modern in the hand and can be easily used via the viewfinder.

The future

So what will do I intend to do with  with these cameras? Well my wife has made it clear that setting up a camera museum in the bedroom is not an option. 

In some way it would be nice to try them out. However there are two hurdles to this. 

1. Film. 

While 35mm film is still available, and a bit like LP's are making a bit of a retro comeback, other sizes are far harder to obtain. 

2. Batteries 

Camera's like the Ricoh require battery sizes not commonly found today. While the will function without them, you do not get conveniences like TTL metering.

So they will probably have to go. One possibility is to donate them to the disabled photographers association 

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