Wednesday, March 28, 2012

You don't understand. I could'a had class. I could'a been a contender. I could'a been somebody . . . (In Praise Of Strange Cameras)

Firstly, humble apologies for the lateness of this . . .it was just one of those things.
The weekend FB will be published on Friday evening, so there, forewarned is forearmed.
I must admit, I have a bad habit. It is harmless to everything, except my credit card, but it is fun and makes me happy. It is the acquistion of cameras. I don't go crazy as financially I have never been able to, but I do get such enjoyment from cleaning up that new arrival with the grubby face and being nice to it, that I feel I should be working for Barnado's.
As mentioned in an earlier post, a lot of cameras are treated truly appallingly - it makes no sense. If you make photographs, your tools are your friends. you are a craftsman - be proud of your tools and look after them! Look - I have even made that last bit bold type. Please, be kind, And especially these days . . . how many people making film cameras are left? Answers on a small postcard please.
At Sheephouses' Home For Old Cameras (SHFOC) we have seen some really dog-eared examples of the camera race. The tattiest two have been a Pentax 67, which was brassed to bits, but strangely had a very accurate shutter, and a recent Nikon F3 which appeared to have been used so much that the black paint surrounding the shutter release button was completely worn through to the aluminium  . . . hmmmm . . . wonder how many times that shutter has been used? The camera itself though (as is typical of all professional Nikons) worked well!
However, of them all, the strangest and greatest that has ever arrived is a 1970's Koni-Omega Rapid 100. Although the vendor told me it was working fine, when it arrived the back was exhibiting the usual frame spacing issues and the lens was a tad dusty, also the light seals were gone all over and the rangefinder needed a clean. However the vendor sold it at a reasonable price and the cost of returning it overseas was exhorbitant, so I kept it. Caveat Emptor - always make sure you buy as locally as possible and have some form of comeback on one of these. As it was I ended up sending it to Miles Whitehead* - a camera repairman who completely refurbished it for a very reasonable price - you should see what he did to the lens - it is like new, and everything operates incredibly well.

(Here, Mr. Alec Turnips shows us what to do with a camera as big as your face)

As a camera, the Koni-Omega is an afterthought in the runner's-up race of could-have-beens. It could have been the greatest Medium Format camera ever built were it not for two points. Firstly the advance, which is the strangest thing ever invented. You have to pull a ratcheted 'slide' lever straight out from the film back and shove it back in; the action is quite violent and very un-photographic. Apparently it might have had its roots from when it was was originally designed as a military camera (no worries about fiddly knobs and things in extremely cold weather with gloves on) - a lot of our American cousins have likened the action to cocking a rifle and who am I to argue . .
Whatever the intention, this is a very difficult practice for a photographer who believes in looking after gear, and when I first got the Koni I was relatively gentle in my cocking and re-cocking action . . which actually resulted in overlapping frames. You have to use force. Or even the force Luke. If you do, your frames will be fine. They start off narrower and get progressively wider as the film goes on.
Its second Achilles Heel, is the rangefinder, which although it features parallax corrected bright frames, I personally find very difficult to use and composition with it is somewhat difficult. I still haven't got used to where abouts the exact edge of the frame is in relation to the images' position on the film.
Right that's its bad points out of the way. "What," you say, "only two bad points Cap'n?"
Yerse, only two!.
The good points are many:
As it is only the second 6x7 camera I have handled, I can say it is almost as easy to use as the Pentax - it balances well and is suprisingly un-bulky (for such a large, heavy camera). With its handle at the left side, it is really very easy to hold and shoot with - the one caveat I would add to this is that you would really be best to use a slightly faster film with it, as the weight could cause difficulties with camera shake (if you are not sure of your muscles and/or photo-taking technique).
I have used it successfully on a large Gitzo monopod, and the two together make an incredibly stable package and that was with slow film and exposures of about 1/15th! With the likes of Tri-X there's no problem - just stick to around 1/60th and you'll be fine..
The main wonder of this camera though is it's standard lens - originally a 90mm Hexanon, and latterly a 90mm Super Omegon. Both lenses are identical formulations, though I believe the latter was made by Mamiya and they used a more 'modern' Seiko shutter (the former were by Konica - hence 'Koni'!). The lens is (again) a Tessar design, but I can honestly say it is one of the finest lenses I have ever used. It is one of those rarities that can run the gamut from smooth pictorial, to incredibly detailed crispness and all points in between. The oofa (or bokeh) is sublime and imparts a creamy, dreamy effect to any images shot between f3.5 and f8. Stop down further than that and you enter seriously detailed territory.
The leaf shutter in the lens is another great thing, as obviously you only have that to worry about, and no massive (a la Pentax) mirror slap - in other words, it is a very quiet camera. The shutter release has quite a long throw to it, because it has two parts of travel. The first stage results in a small tick from the back of the camera as the pressure plate moves forward and presses your film tight against the guide rails (it moves out of the way when you pull the advance lever) - this ensures ultimate film flatness. The second stage is the shutter, which has the usual mechanical leaf shutter sound - very quiet indeed.

The above shows the oofa qualities of the lens. Unfortunately I was slightly out of focus on the 261 . . but never mind, you get the idea. Film was Tri-X developed in Barry Thornton's 2 bath. Timings were 1/15th at f8. Not too tardy at all methinks.

Phil Rogers, photographer, Dundee

I used a tripod for this shot, and whilst it isn't the best way to use a Koni, it worked well. I stopped down to f16 and exposed for 54 seconds (it was an October's overcast evening) on TMX 100 at EI 100, developed in Barry Thornton's 2-bath. You'll get an idea of the incredible detail resolved by this combination. also the distant trees retain that old-style Tessar dreaminess. I love it actually.
So there you go. (Apparently) the most popular wedding photographers camera of the 1970's in America, now selling for next to nothing, but still capable of returning sterling results. Yes it does have it's faults, but if you can live with those and want a nice photographic adventure, I can recommend adopting one of these poor boys - there's a lot of them out there, and they are in deep need of some TLC.
The more I use it, the more I like it!


  1. Another well written and informative Fog Blog....keep writing sir!

  2. What are your thoughts on digital?

    1. Thank you for enquiring Mr or Mrs Anonymous . . .
      This is a long and thorny subject to me.
      I can see the advantages of digital (to an extent) but to be honest, I feel it has almost ruined an art form.
      I'll paraphrase the great Joe Pass (a jazz guitarist) who when asked why jazz wasn't as popular as it should be said something along the lines of:
      'You can have the greatest Italian restaurant in the world three blocks away, or a McDonalds one block away, and the majority of people will go to the McDonalds because it is easier to get to.'
      Digital has made something that took time to learn, simple. Now anyone can produce decent looking prints without having to get their finger's wet!
      I don't like it really (and yes I have used digital cameras).
      Film is difficult and frustrating and beautiful, and requires discipline to use.
      Photography is (despite popular belief) an art AND a craft, but digital seems to me to have bypassed the craft effort altogether, which is sad.
      You know, it is very satisfying to look at a real negative that you have made and processed and know that you have something (if you've done it properly) of permanence.
      And I haven't even touched on the endless upgrade your camera route . . . I can pick up my Nikon Photomic (made in about 1972) and it works beautifully, turning out the same great photographs it has done for its entire life. Every digital camera owner I know feels that they aren't getting any photographic satisfaction because they haven't got the latest megapixel wonder . . .
      I could go on, but you'll get bored! Thanks for asking . . .