Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Zeiss Ikon Contina: Ikon by name Icon by design

Postings from the wonderful world of analogue photography.

After blogging recently about the Lazarus like rebirth of a Pentax Spotmatic and Lomo LC-A, bought as ‘spares or repairs’ cameras on eBay. Wedged between these two classics came a less celebrated old timer, a West German built Zeiss Ikon Contina J.  This 1964 camera complete with original leather case, was a fiver-less than it costs to process a film- and when it arrived, it looked as if it had just come out of the box in the sixties such was it’s perfect condition.

If Soviet cameras were often somewhat agricultural in their build quality, this little compact exuded quality. The Zeiss Ikon Contina range of cameras began in the 1950’s and ran through via various increasingly technically sophisticated models throughout the sixties. My little Contina J model could be described as an ‘entry level’ camera. Despite being a very attractive little machine, it is very much a hands on camera without such refinements as a light meter or focus adjustment. It does offer  through the lens rings, speed, aperture and distance scales but it’s all guesstimate stuff which makes it interesting.

Still having a batch of old  2010 Kodak Plus 200asa colour print film, I gave it a test run. Quickly firing off a range of shots from landscapes to close ups and off it went to Boots to be processed as standard 6 x4 gloss prints. With an old camera like this, you just don’t know what you will get back? Will it be in the Lomography arena, light leaks, vignetting and heavy saturation or will the prints have some quality? In this case it was definitely the former.

Despite some hit and miss efforts, several shots were really nice. Well defined and balanced. Unfortunately my appalling scanner won’t do them justice here but I can assure you, the images are a hell of a lot better in the flesh as it were-than these digitalised versions.

Overall, I’m delighted with the Contina and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for another more sophisticated model.

Right.... now I’ve got to put some light seals in yet another Lomo LC-A that arrived yesterday and which is another little gem. Perfect condition apart from the light seals and yet another cheap ‘spares or repair’ job and I eagerly await the prints from the Lomo which came from Germany the other week. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Lomo LC-A: New Adventures in Lo-Fi

In the early 1980’s I bought a little Soviet made camera-The Lomo LC-A. My memories of it are that it had that typical agricultural build quality that was the trademark of all Soviet engineered products, from Cameras to cars. Compared to comparable popular Japanese cameras like the Olympus Trip, it was a rather an ugly duckling. The results were equally quirky. The 35mm prints had a strange darkening around the edges-I hadn’t heard of vignetting at the time. The colours were heavily saturated and compared to photos taken by SLR’s, they were not exactly sharply defined.

It didn’t last that long. Something jammed and I gave it away. Some years later I was reading the arts section of the paper and I was gobsmacked to read of a photography movement called ‘Lomography’ which was based around the very quirky camera which I’d dismissed as being a lump of badly made Soviet tat. It appeared that a group of Austrian art students had happened upon the LC-A in a second hand camera shop. Ran off a few rolls and were knocked  by the results. That weird vignetting, the saturation the definition etc. Those elements which I’d taken to be evidence of a poorly made camera were the very elements which the students found so attractive and appealing.
The Lomo then endured a topsy turvy couple of decades as the St Petersburg company went from crisis to crises before the Lomography company basically bought the rights of manufacture of the LC-A in 2006 and continued production in China. Links at the bottom of the page give a detailed history of the Lomo LC-A.

The recent arrival from Germany.As made in St Petersburg in 1988.
These days, the term ‘Lomo Camera’ is used liberally to describe anything from the cheapest plastic toy camera to an advanced film compact. In truth, there is only one Lomo camera and that is the LC-A, although the Chinese made Holga and the Diana form a holy trinity of Lomo cameras supported by other similar, basic plastic cameras. I had a 1980’s Prinz plastic cameras which took great ‘lomo’ pics just like the Holga.

Thirty years on and I’ve just bought another LC-A. Another eBay buy and like the recently featured Spotmatic, another ‘spares or repair’ job. It was being sold by an analogue camera dealer in Germany for less than eighteen pounds. A giveaway price given that a new LC-A from the Lomography company will set you back £250. That’s ten times what I paid in the 80’s! It appeared that the shutter was jammed. A common problem it seems. Fortunately, there are a few tutorials online on fixing a sticky shutter, although it does involve virtually taking the camera to pieces. Not something I particularly wanted to do. I was hoping that it was poor battery connections. A common reason for shutter failure.

The Austrian Students who rediscovered the LC-A in 1992. Photo-Lomography Company
The camera arrived quickly from Germany and despite the serial number indicating that it had been made in 1988, it was in immaculate condition. I ordered new batteries, popped them in and sure enough, when I pressed the shutter button it clicked but the shutter blades did not open. Opening up the camera I got a teeth flossing stick and gently prised the shutter blades apart and let them spring back. Bingo! Next time I wound on and pressed the shutter button it worked. Unfortunately, the next morning it had seized up again.

One of the problems with all cameras from this era is the fact that the light seals which are a sponge like material, degrade and tiny bits of often gunky material fall into the camera and- as probably is the case with this camera- lodge in the lens blades.

Today, I’ve been carefully using cotton buds and rag lightly dipped in denatured alcohol –that’s Methylated spirits to you- and cleaning around the shutter blades. I’ve also cleaned out the gunky degraded seals and fitted new light seals. The same sponge like material.

At first the shutter remained open. Had I really fcked it up this time! However, after trying it on different apertures and  generally faffing around, it finally freed up and started doing as it was told. 

Thus far, the camera is ‘working’. That is, it winds on and the sticky shutter is opening and closing as it should using different apertures. I’m not getting too excited yet as it may seize up again but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a drop of meths, some cleaning up and quite a bit of shutter action will keep it working OK.

If it remains in working condition then I’ll run off a film and post the results. To be continued.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic...Class of 64

 eBay 'spares or repair' old Spotmatic

An occasional dip into the wonderful world of analogue (film) photography.

I recently bought an old Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic camera on eBay which was being sold for spares or repairs. Something in the description suggested that the problem described was down to the inexperience of the user rather than a technical problem and as it was less than fifteen pounds plus P&P, then it was worth a punt. About twenty years ago I had a Spotmatic which I sold through a free ads paper for £80 to someone who made the five hour trip up from Cardiff to buy the camera. He gave it a once over, turned around and drove straight back home. Even refusing the offer of a quick cuppa!

These days Spotmatics are still plentiful on eBay and you can pick a working model up for as little as thirty pounds. What was unique about this Single Lens Reflex camera is the fact that this chunky classic was one of the first cameras with ‘through the lens metering’. The user could work out the aperture and speed  through the on-board meter and by looking at the scene through the viewfinder, the user could frame the photograph-knowing that what was seen was exactly the self same image as that reaching the lens, courtesy of the drop down mirror behind the lens.

Manufactured between 1964 and 1976, these tough workhorse SLR’s were popular with professionals of the period and it appears that my Honeywell Pentax was made for the US market as opposed to the Asahi Pentax which was marketed in Europe.

The camera arrived and I discovered that the Takumar lens really was unusable. No worries, as early Pentax SLR’s used a screw in thread. At least I could use lenses from Praktica and Zenith cameras which also used the same screw in thread. However, when I took off the gash lens I was taken aback to discover that there was no mirror! I examined another slightly more recent Pentax and after gingerly delving inside the Spotmatic, I realised that the mirror was stuck. Having failed to drop down after taking a shot.

Thanks to the power of the internet I discovered an easy fix to this common problem. With a new battery installed it appeared that the light meter was working as well. All systems go!

With a Zeiss Pancolour 1.8 50 lens taken from an old Praktica screwed in and a 200 asa colour print film wound on, I quickly ran off a roll of film to see how it was working. As someone whose first serious camera was a Soviet Zorki 4 Rangfinder camera without a light meter, I got used to guess-timating speed and aperture rather than use a light meter. The Spotmatic’s  light meter was suggesting speed and aperture readings somewhat out from my estimates. Old camera light meters are sometimes rather less than accurate, nevertheless I went with the readings to see how in/accurate they were in this instance.

I popped the film into Boots for a standard 6x4 print off and awaited the results. When they came back, I was somewhat disappointed. As expected, the meter readings had caused over and under exposure in a lot of cases and there was a lack of sharpness and definition, but to be fair, I was using a film which was five years out of date and which hadn’t been cool stored! Out of date films are usually fine for lomography when using point and shoot compacts but perhaps not advisable for a quality SLR like the Spotmatic. I’d like to run a black and white film through it but next time, I’ll treat the light meter readings with a pinch of salt and guess-timate my own.

Verdict... a classic SLR camera but one not immune to problems common to a lot of old cameras and in this case, not helped by using an old out of date film. Requires further experimentation. 

Scanned prints taken on 2010 Kodak Colourplus 200 asa film

Camerapedia guide to the Spotmatic 

What is analogue photography