My life in cameras 25


The Canon Demi was a beautifully styled half-frame consumer camera from the mid-1960s. At this time, the Japanese surged ahead of their German and American competitors in large part because of the sheer beauty of their products.

Seven models of the Demi were made between 1963 and 1967. My Demi is an EE17 from 1966. It came with built-in CdS light meter, self timer, hot shoe for flash and zone focussing. The lens is a 30mm f1.7, a generous maximum aperture for interior shooting. The camera is compact, easy to use, sturdy and attractive.

The word Demi means ‘half’ and refers to the half-frame format: two shots for every 24 x 36mm frame. This means 40 shots for each 20 exposure roll, or 72 for every 36 roll – a lot. This was economical when colour film was dear, but costs came down in part because cameras like this made home photography easier. That plus the delay in processing caused by the large number of shots eventually made it less popular.

The appalling but popular Kodak Instamatics with their easy to load 12 exposure cartridges took over a chunk of the home market at that time. There’s no justice.


Greg Neville, Demi 1, 2012


Greg Neville, Demi 2, 2012


Greg Neville, Demi 3, 2012


My life in cameras no. 28


Russian FED cameras have one of the most interesting origin stories in all camera history. For a start, they were named after one of the more evil men of the Soviet period, Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, known as “Bloody Felix”. He was the founder of the Cheka, the sinister secret police organisation which was the forerunner of the KGB.

The establishment of the camera itself is a much more positive part of the story. Anton Makarenko, an enlightened and subsequently famous educator, was the head of a progressive labour commune for indigent children in the Ukraine. In 1932 he set up a workshop to help train them in technical skills and he came up with the idea of making copies of the German Leica camera that was then becoming popular.

In 1934 full production began, but Makarenko was sacked when the Cheka took over naming the camera with the initials of their former boss. The FED company was a great success and lasted into the mid-1990s, a very long innings for a camera brand. In that long period, over 8 million cameras were made.

The FED 2 series was manufactured between 1955 and 1970. The model you see above came out in 1959 and it’s very reminiscent of a Leica. However if you handle a FED and then a Leica you”ll quickly see the difference. The Leica is a precision optical instrument while the FED is a mass-produced 1950s Soviet camera. It’s Industar lens is very good and you can work happily with it as I do. But when you see the Leica going for $1000, then pay $60 for a FED as I did, you know where you really stand, income-wise.


Greg Neville, St Kilda cemetry, 2013


My life in cameras no.24



The Bronica SQ-B was a medium format SLR introduced in 1996.  It was a lower cost version of the highly regarded SQ-A, with many of the advanced features removed. I haven’t noticed any of that; the simplicity is its best feature. It’s a strong and reliable camera that is a great pleasure to use.

Bronica was the Japanese answer to the fabulous Hasselblad, giving high quality but at a much lower price. Their cameras were instantly successful when they appeared in the late 1950s. The original lenses were Nikon, later their own designs, then the company was acquired by lens maker Tamron in 1988. The lens quality of Bronica has always been a feature.

The SQ line was discontinued in 2004 when the company itself was pretty much finished. Presumably the shark frenzy of the digital revolution killed it, as it did so many companies.


Greg Neville, plumbing design 1, 2013


Greg Neville, Wall 16, 2013.

My life in cameras no.23

The Fujifilm X100 is the classiest camera I’ve ever owned. The Age newspaper voted it their camera of the year:

“Fujifilm launched the X100 in the first half of the year to general astonishment. The concept of a fixed-lens, fixed focal length, retro-styled digital camera with dual optical/electronic viewfinder and an APS sensor as used in SLRs, is brilliant. Old codgers wept a tear of recognition and nostalgia. Not only are all the controls laid out just like a film camera of yore, there is even a screw socket for an old-fashioned cable release. At $1200, this is our camera of the year.” – Terry Lane, The Age Green Guide, 9/12/2012.

It feels as good to the hand as as it looks to the eye, a camera you want to pick up and use. The size and weight make it comfortable, buttons are handy and there are plenty of them. The new hybrid viewfinder that switches magically between optical and digital is a wonderful thing – a camera you hold to your eye rather than at arms length. The retro feel is not mere fashion, it’s good sense to design a camera the way they have existed for 80 years. has made a comparison with the  Leica M3 (on the right). You can see what the designers were thinking.


These photographs were made recently of the walls of Venice that are such a marvellous canvas for the photographer. You could spend a very long time working on just this aspect of the city. Eventually I’d get it right.


My Life in Cameras no.20

20. CANON G10

The Canon G10, and it’s later versions the G11 and G12, are for people who like the ways cameras used to operate – as machines. The steel body and external dials give you a feeling of control. It’s chunky and heavy in the hand, not a dainty camera as so many are. The designers have pitched it men, not women, and men who grew up with film cameras.

The weakness of this camera is the puny sensor which measures about 5×7 millimetres. That’s millimetres. On this tiny space they claim to have 14 million pixels. Also, it has an optical viewfinder in addition to the normal viewing screen, but it was designed with such lazy carelessness that it’s rarely used. Despite that, it’s a great traveller’s camera, as you see below.

Greg Neville. Horse lover, Kyneton Cup, 2010

Greg Neville. A long ride, Budapest, 2010

Greg Neville. There’s a party in my car!. 2011

Greg Neville. Anarchist headquarters, Northcote 2009

My Life in Cameras no.9


I acquired a Pentax SV in 1971 when I foolishly swapped a nearly new Mamiya C33 for this 10 year old camera. I was jipped! But it got me through a couple of weddings and a year of study at Prahran Tech. This camera needed an externally-fitted light meter, that contraption you see on top in the photo. This was before through-the-lens lightmeters were invented. The later Pentax Spotmatic, a classy camera in its day, solved that problem with an internal spot meter.

The Asahi company started in 1919 making lenses, converted to military output during World War II, and grew in the postwar years when Allied (American) assistance helped it develop the first Japanese SLR  in 1952, the Asahiflex. Pentax led the game in developing the SLR camera. In 1954 it invented the mirror-return feature – before that the reflex mirror stayed up after you pressed the shutter blocking your view. Since then, viewfinders just blink.

It was also the inventor of the pentaprism, that pyramid-shape on top that became characteristic of all SLRs. This was the first eye-level SLR viewfinder, before that you looked down into the viewer like a you do in a twin-lens-reflex. The invention gave the company its name: “PENTAprism” and “refleX”. The company settled into a long reign – continuing today – as one of the leading makers of consumer cameras.

I have a soft spot for Pentax, a name which doesn’t quite have the caché of Nikon or Canon. But Pentax SLRs were always so smooth and easy to handle they became an extension of you – their advertising slogan in the 1960s was “Just Hold a Pentax”. And they looked so tasty.

These photographs were of two girls I hardly knew. They are very much of-their-time, but I think they hold up pretty well

Greg Neville, Lyndy Farrell, 1971

Greg Neville, Lyndy Farrell, 1971

Greg Neville, Lynn at Labassa, 1972

My Life in Cameras no.11

11. MAMIYA C33

The Mamiya twin lens reflex cameras were a breakthrough in their day. Rugged, reliable and straightforward, they were a ‘systems’ camera coming with interchangeable lenses and various accessories when the Rolleiflex and Yashica TLRs were fixed. Every function was external and visible making them practical, working machines. This is the antithesis of the sealed-up, moulded plastic digital cameras of today. My students are first intimidated by these strange devices but invariably fall in love. A Mamiya TLR is a strange, almost Steampunk contraption to members of the iPhone generation.

According to Camerapedia, C33s were made between 1965-69. Very popular in all its forms the Mamiya twin lens reflex began in 1958 and ended in 1993, a long innings. It was the Volkswagen of cameras, or perhaps the Kombi van – big and unwieldy, but never giving up. Surprisingly German in its appearance and handling, almost East-German, considering it’s a Japanese camera design. If you’re interested, Ambientimages blog has some good information.

Diane Arbus used one, as you can see from this photograph of her shooting a love-in in Central Park (hence the daffodil in her mouth).

Diane Arbus in Central Park, 1969, photographed by Garry Winogrand



My own work with this camera as a student was inspired by Frederick Sommer whose photographs of detritus opened up a new world of subject matter for me.

Greg Neville, untitled, 1982

Greg Neville, untitled, 1982

Greg Neville, untitled, 1982

Greg Neville, untitled, 1982

My Life in Cameras no.15


The Banner is a strange device. A clone of the classic Diana camera of the 1960s and 70s, it was produced by the Great Wall Plastic Co. of Hong Kong to be sold as toys, promotional giveaways, fairground prizes etc. Diana is the generic name of the cheap cameras produced mostly on the same assembly line, with different labels and minor modifications.

It is a primitive tool. It has almost no adjustments, annoying light leaks and dark corners due to the mismatch between the circle if illumination and the negative area. The technical flaws – the soft-focus lens, the colour fringeing, the flare and the dark edges all create a unique visual quality, a sort of instant Pictorialism. Like the Diana and the Holga, it’s a sort of subversive photography, a protest against the hi-tech precision of digital.

In addition to the Banner, there were also Diana clones called Banier, Anny, Acme, Arrow, Harrow, Liking, See, Tina, Debonair, Megomatic, Future Scientist and North American Champion. The website has a list of over 100 clones with photos and information. Detrich has also produced a Blurb book called Diana Camera Pictorial History which shows each camera. He had probably the largest Diana collection in the world until he sold it to the Lomo company as a museum piece. Vintage Banner/Dianas are a bit rare, but Lomo now make their own “clone”, a Diana rebirth engineered with modern techniques to replicate the original. The original price of a Banner in the 60s was less than $5. They can now fetch hundreds. The Lomo Diana retails for US$52. The world has gone mad.

The Banner is a primitive tool. It has almost no adjustments, annoying light leaks and dark corners due to the mismatch between the circle if illumination and the negative area. The technical flaws – the soft-focus lens, the colour fringeing, the flare and the dark edges all create a unique visual quality, a sort of instant Pictorialism. Like the Diana and the Holga, it’s a sort of subversive photography, a protest against the hi-tech precision of digital.

Greg Neville, Milan 2000

Greg Neville, Milan 2000

Greg Neville, Milan 2000

My Life in Cameras no.17


The Holga was created in 1981 by a Mr.T.M.Lee as a cheap family camera for the Chinese market, a sort of modern Box Brownie. It wasn’t exactly a “toy” camera as it’s sometimes labelled now. When 35mm caught on there and the market dried up, it started to catch on among experimental users in the West. Like its soulmate the Diana, it is now a phenomenon with competitions, flickr groups and elaborate new models aggressively marketed by its current owner Lomo.

The Holga is a hardy camera but it has its handicaps: a slightly soft focus lens which doesn’t quite cover the 6×6 negative causing dark corners or vignetting. It leaks light sometimes and the back constantly falls off. It has the bare minimum of adjustments, two apertures and one shutter speed, which means that if your subject is outside of 1/100 of a second at f8 or f11 you’ll be in trouble. It does focus, but only using symbols. Wikipedia calls this a “low fidelity aesthetic.”

Part of the secret is the 60mm focal length lens, a moderate wide-angle which particularly suits the architectural subjects I shoot. The camera changes from square format to 6×4.5 rectangular format with the insertion of the plastic plate, but this loses the vignetting which is part of the camera’s inherent look.

I bought my Holga at the International Centre of Photography in New York and took photographs of skyscrapers, see the first image below. These were shown in an exhibition called Vertigo, with Greg Wayn in 2004. This led to a much larger Holga project called The Modern Idea, about modernist architecture around the world  (other images below). You can see Vertigo and The Modern Idea on my website Modernismus.

When photographing in New York, an African man came up to me and asked what camera I was using. “It’s called a Holga.” “Why, that is that name of my sister!”


Greg Neville, Flatiron Building, New York, 2003

Greg Neville, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, 2010

Greg Neville, Seagram Building New York, 2009


My Life in Cameras no.9


The Zenit B was a Russian single-lens-reflex camera made between 1968 and 1973. Heavy, clunky, not a pleasure to use, it was years behind its East German competitor. the Praktica, which itself was years behind its Japanese competitors. It had no built-in lightmeter nor an automatic diaphragm. This meant you had to stop the lens down yourself after you’d focussed – automatic lenses do it when you fire the shutter; even in 1977 that felt very old-fashioned. Like Russian cars it was an argument against the Communist system, however it was cheap and fairly popular in Britain in the 1970s when I bought this one secondhand for 6 quid from a carpenter I was working for.

The camera was made by KMZ, the company that made the various Zenit and Zorki cameras until 2005. KMZ was a Russian optics company set up in 1942 to produce high quality optics during World War II. It was a established in the new town of Krasnogorsk (red mountain) near Moscow, which also housed the magnificently named Antifascist Central School. The quality of the KMZ output was improved when the German Zeiss optics company was captured by the Red Army in 1943 and largely shipped back the the Soviet Union. The Zenit is not a good camera by contemporary standards but it’s steeped in 20th century history.

My photographs with this camera were made of another placed steeped in history – Jerusalem.

Greg Neville, Jerusalem 1975

Greg Neville, Jerusalem 1975

Greg Neville, Jerusalem 1975

My Life in Cameras no.10


The MX was one of the best products of the SLR era: compact, ergonomic and straightforward. This is a mechanical, fully manual camera which is the logical form for an analogue SLR. If you’re using such a sophisticated tool, why would you want it to be automated, surely the whole point is control. In my experience, autos and semi-autos were more complicated to use, not less. Matching a needle in a viewfinder is not hard work.

The MX was made between 1976 and 1985. According to the entry in Wikipedia it was their flagship SLR at that time. Mine was purchased in 1980 for $300. It was a great moment for me, I was a newly enrolled student at Photography Studies College in Melbourne, and very excited to be back in photography. In those days at PSC, you were only allowed to use a standard 50mm lens in first year, no zooms, wides or teles. This was a brilliant discipline that taught you to really learn the possibilities of a single lens.

Greg Neville, Flinders Street, 1982

Greg Neville, South Melbourne Football Club, 1981

Greg Neville, Flinders St, 1982


My Life in Cameras, no.13


I bought this camera in 1983 for $200 and I’ve loved it ever since.

It’s a 5×4 press camera, 1955. f4.7, 135mm Optar lens. Shutters speeds T, B, 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200, 400. Apertures to f32. Leaf shutter plus focal plane shutter. Rangefinder focus. Rear ground glass viewing plus optical viewfinder plus sports finder. Drop front, rise and tilt movements.  Lens panel extends 300mm from film plane for close focus of 9″ or 22.5cm.

Did I miss anything? The Pacemaker Speed Graphic was crammed with useful features, a sturdy, all-purpose workhouse to cover every assignment. It was made of materials tested in the war, and was a proud product of American industry at a time when that was in the ascendant. It cost US$404 in 1958, 10% of the average wage, and about $3000 in today’s money, according to Dollar Times. That was a substantial sum and indicates the prestige and expected durability of the camera.

Created by the Folmer & Schwing Manufacturing Company, New York, which originally made gas lamps, later bicycles, before turning to cameras. It was owned by Kodak from 1905 until 1926 when it became the Folmer Graflex corporation. Various Speed Graphics were made from 1912 up until 1973 when the company closed, a victim of 35mm photography. The plant was sold to Toyo.

The Speed Graphic was already mythic in the mid-1940s, going by Weegee comment in his book Naked City,  “If you are puzzled about the kind of camera to buy, get a Speed Graphic… for two reasons, it is a good camera, and moreover with a camera like that the cops will assume that you belong on the scene and will let you get behind police lines.”

Greg Neville, still life, 1983

As you can see from these images, 1983 was my Frederick Sommer year.

Greg Neville, still life 1983

My Life in Cameras, no.22


Looking back at all the cameras I’ve had, I counted twenty two that have meant something to me, or that I used in some significant way. Photographers love cameras, I mean they’re in love with them, it’s a feeling that non-photographers don’t understand. So I decided to research these twenty two, to find out what it was all about, starting with the most recent one.

The Ercona is a 1950s fold-up bellows camera which weighs two pounds (765 grams) and takes a 6×9 cm negative. The lens is an f4.5 110mm Novonar. It has a Tempor shutter with all speeds up to 1/250th. There is no lightmeter and no rangefinder, focussing is by educated guess.

The 6×9 cm format is the sweet spot in roll film photography. Ideal for landscape and urban subjects, you don’t need to crop down from a square negative thus losing the advantage of its size. It has the same shape as 35mm – 1:1.5  – so it feels familiar when composing. And the negative is large enough that you don’t really need to enlarge, a contact print can look very fine – see below.

According to a post on “the Ercona is pretty much a post-war Ikonta 6X9 of immediate pre-war design under a different name, when Zeiss Ikon Dresden found itself on the wrong side of the political railroad track.” In other words, it’s East German and has the allure of history.

Zeiss was part of the East German conglomerate Pentacon that made the very successful Praktica SLRs. Wikipedia has a sad tale that would have been repeated all over the former GDR in the 1990s …

After German reunification in 1990 Pentacon, as with most East German companies, came to be possessed by the Treuhandanstalt (the federal board concerned with the privatisation of East German companies) and was selected for closure instead of complete sale.

It was deemed that the company was grossly inefficient, employing six thousand staff when it could have sufficed with one thousand, and selling its cameras at a loss. Liquidation began on October 2, 1990 (one day before official reunification), and production ceased on June 30, 1991. By then it had shed nearly three thousand employees to retain a total of 3331 – the next day all but 232 were laid off.


Greg Neville, Glenlyon Reserve, Victoria, 2010

This photograph, made with the Ercona, is a handcoloured black & white darkroom contact print, ie the image area is 6×9 cm. The camera is from the collection of my friend and colleague Greg Wayn.