My life in cameras 25

Canon-Demi-copy

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.

demi-3

Greg Neville, Demi 1, 2012

Demi-1

Greg Neville, Demi 2, 2012

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Greg Neville, Demi 3, 2012

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My life in cameras no. 28

Fed-2b

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 most evil men of the Leninist period of the early 1920s, 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 (and presumably named it after their former boss). One can imagine that Makarenko’s enlightened approach to education also finished at this time since the Russian secret service was one of the most sadistic organizations in history. Still, the FED brand lasted into in 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, but when see the Leica going for $1000, then pay $60 for a FED as I did, you know where you really stand, income-wise.

Fed-1a

Greg Neville, St Kilda cemetry, 2013

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My life in cameras no.24

Bronica

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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.

Castlemaine-1d

Greg Neville, plumbing design 1, 2013

Wall-2-copy2

Greg Neville, Wall 16, 2013.

My life in cameras no.23

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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. PetaPixel.com has made a comparison with the  Leica M3 (on the right). You can see what the designers were thinking.

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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.

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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

9. PENTAX SV

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

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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