Thursday, July 15, 2021

Monochrome Mania #5 - Lens Dreams

What is it about memories and photography? I know that when I see a photograph that I have taken, I’ll usually remember the situation or place or when I made it, just by seeing the image. If you asked me where I was at a particular time, I probably could not tell you. However, an image can immediately wake those neurons and give me pretty good recall of the event or place. We are used to photographs that are pretty much “perfect” in that the exposure is good, the detail sharp, and the subject recognizable. Our memories, however, are not as good as the photographs. Memories fade, events become blurred, and timelines are not exact. As I have grown older, I realize that there are events that I just cannot remember – possibly because they were trivial at the time, and as people sometimes say “Photos, or it didn’t happen.” 

 My thoughts on doing Lens Dreams are to show that photography can mimic memory. Images can be fuzzy, dreamlike, out-of-focus – much like memory, and that is my aim here. I know that the term “Lens of Nostalgia” could also be used, here, but that imparts a different feeling, one that has been attributed to toy camera photographs, and those using older techniques and processes. Is nostalgia bad? I don’t think so – in today’s world of instant gratification and an endless parade of digital perfection, many people, including myself, see reality differently.

My latest Monochrome Mania was all done with Lensbaby and other imperfect optics that give me the dreamy look that I wanted. Images date from 2007 to the present year, collected in a 36 page zine with covers. I am really pleased with my latest effort, and I hope that you'll enjoy it, too.  You can purchase it directly from my Etsy store for $12 with free shipping in the USA, and $6 additional for outside the US for International First Class.  I won't be shipping any orders until after July 26, as I'll be away.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Zeiss Ikon Symbolica

A few years ago, I acquired a few oddball cameras from a friend's estate, and among them was this Zeiss-Ikon Symbolica.  I wasn't even sure that it worked as it has a couple of internal chips in the lens.   Anyhow, I finally decided to  load it with film a few weeks ago and give it a test.  

Typically, when one thinks of Zeiss Ikon - well at least Zeiss,  well-made lenses and robust cameras come to mind.  Carl Zeiss was founded in 1846, and was a respected optics manufacturer. Located in Jena, Germany, Zeiss produced now well-known lens designs such as the Zeiss Anastigmat (1890), Zeiss Planar (1896), and Zeiss Tessar (1902).  The Tessar design is well known, and consists of 4 elements in 3 groups.  The Greek word tessera means four, hence the name of the lens.   

By Tamasflex - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

From Wikipedia:

"Millions of Tessar lenses have been created by Zeiss and other manufacturers, and are still produced as excellent intermediate aperture lenses. The famous 50mm f/3.5 Elmar lenses used in the first Leica cameras were of this type, designed by Max Berek in 1920. Actually, Zeiss has a large monopoly on this type of construction, because Rudolph's patent was very general.  His only claim was:

"A spherically, chromatically and astigmatically corrected objective consisting of 4 lenses separated by the diaphragm into two groups, each of two lenses, of which group one includes a pair of facing surfaces and the other a cemented surface, the power of the pair of facing surfaces being negative and that of the cemented surface positive". "

So, to all those people that go crazy when they see a camera with a Zeiss Tessar lens on a camera such as the Contax T4 - (made by Kyocera, who also owned the Yashica brand), get over it!  Case in point -- the Zeiss Ikon Symbolica, which I guarantee I will get to.

The end of World War II caused a problem for Zeiss, as Jena was in the East German USSR-Occupied Zone, and many of the Zeiss engineers went to West Germany ahead of the Russian occupation.  The new Zeiss Ikon A.G. was based in Stuttgart, with the old Zeiss Ikon in Jena and Dresden. Due to trademark litigation, the East German brand became Pentacon.  In its heyday, Zeiss Ikon manufactured a bewildering number of cameras, often with similar names and a numbering scheme within a name that differentiated the variants.  Zeiss-Ikon made everything from plate cameras to box cameras, Contax, Contaflex, Ikonta and Nettar folding cameras, and the camera under review here, the Symbolica.

The Symbolica shown here, is in fact, a Symbolica II, produced from 1960-62.  It features a bright frame viewfinder with projected frame lines as well as a match-needle exposure readout in the finder.  Its simplified layout belies the fact that it's an automatic exposure point and zone-focus camera that merely requires you to get the exposure needle centered and then take a shot.  The camera features a 50mm f/2.8 Tessar (see I told you there was a connection), and a Prontomat shutter.  The Selenium meter cell to the left of the viewfinder powers the exposure system, so no batteries are required.

The bottom of the Symbolica. Note the ASA settings band

Very minimalist top deck. The apertures on the
right side of the barrel are for use with flash only.

Taking a further look at this camera, it is obvious that it's well-built, which is to be expected from Zeiss Ikon.  However, given the market is was aimed for - the casual shooter, it's clear that casual shooter market segment was going to be overtaken by more inexpensive Kodak Instamatic that appeared in 1963, as well as cheaper Japanese-made 35mm cameras.  

Using the Symbolica 

I had initial doubts that I'd get anything useful from this camera.  It just seemed unlikely that it would still be  fully functional after all these years.  I loaded a roll of Ilford XP-2, and set the ASA setting to 320 on the band under the lens barrel.   The camera has what you might call programmed exposure, as you merely rotate the control ring with the sunny setting back and forth until the meter needle  is centered. I guess that controls both aperture and shutter speed, but there is no way to know what exactly is changing.  I made an initial mistake of turning to the marked aperture settings, thinking that I was smarter than the camera, but no -- those marked apertures are for use with a dedicated flash (that I don't have).  So, for shooting outdoors - which is what the sun represents, turn the control ring back and forth until the needle is centered in the viewfinder, and press the shutter button. Focus is via zones - one head, etc.,  to mountains, although there is a numbered focus distance on the underside of the lens barrel.  

Two lens defects - at 4 and 6 o'clock look like chips in the 
edge of the rear of the front element.

Once I convinced myself that it was all that simple, I shot the roll in a couple of days, rewound the film, and developed the XP-2 in D-76. (Ilford XP-2 develops beautifully in standard b&w chemistry as well as C-41).  

I have to say, this is a very robustly built camera. The rewind is on the bottom, and everything seems to work easily and smoothly.  The shutter is very quiet, and the minimal controls worked pretty well.  Since I didn't follow the instructions online, the first 5 exposures were way overexposed, so I am guessing that the flash shutter speed is 1/30 sec.  After that, I used the exposure dial correctly, and all of the images were actually quite good.  The chips in the front element(?)  did not seem to affect the results. 

The Symbolica is a symbol of German over-engineering and the beginning of automatic cameras, as well as the demise of the heavy-metal bodied cameras of the 1950s. The 1960s would usher in a dizzying seismic shift in camera production and innovation from Germany to Japan.

More Reviews and information on the Symbolica

Photoethnography manual

Zeiss Ikon History

Ebay prices for this camera are under $50, so it's not expensive to find one.  

Thursday, July 08, 2021

How Could I Ignore My Rollei 35TE?

Last week, I was going through my drawer of smaller 35mm cameras, and on a whim, I opened up a leather case to see what was inside. Right. It was my Rollei 35 TE, which I probably had not shot with for a bunch of years.  The slow shutter speeds were off - as in anything at 1/15 sec or slower = B, but the rest were just fine.  That might have been the reason I hadn't used it, but I suspect it was more likely that with all the newer compact cameras such as the Olympus XA, Minox 35, Olympus Infinity, Chinon Bellami, Minolta AF-C, and so forth, the Rollei 35 got pushed to the back where I ignored it.  

This particular Rollei 35 is possibly the camera that I have had the longest, aside from a Kodak Retina IIa, as both were gifts from my then mentor, Bill Brudon.  One day I was visiting  Bill, and he handed me two Rollei 35 cameras. One was a Rollei 35 S in chrome, and the other was a black 35 TE.  He asked which one I preferred, and after a few seconds of shock, I told him the TE,   I guess because it was all-black.  "It's yours, then!"  Bill said. That was in 2001, so I have had the camera for 20 years, the longest that I have owned any particular camera.

I used it quite a bit early on, even taking it on a trip to NM and CO in 2003, where it produced excellent results - even on slide film.  The thing about the Rollei 35 models is that they are jewel-like, fully manual metal-bodied compacts that are incredibly innovative and also just a bit frustrating.  The film advance lever is on the left side, which is the slightly annoying part.  It's not a rangefinder, so one has to gauge distance while rotating the front of the  lens to focus, and red/green diodes tell you when you have adjusted the exposure to where it should be. It takes a 5.6 V Mercury PX27 battery (and I had several extras for years), which I found was now dead, and replaced it with a Silver Oxide S27PX.  If you are not relying on the camera's meter, you don't need to bother with a battery.  The meter's not especially reliable in low-light, but outdoors it does pretty well in most situations.

After replacing the battery, I popped in a roll of Ultrafine Extreme 400 film. The interesting/annoying thing about the Rollei 35 is that to load film, the back comes completely off, and you flip open a "door" which acts as a pressure plate and keeps the film really secure across the width of its travel from the cassette to the take-up spool, which is to say, a very short journey in this compact camera.  

More about the Rollei 35 series 

The Rollei 35 is a "high-class" compact camera that was introduced in 1966 and sold until about 1999.  The first version was just the Rollei 35, with later models offering improvements, and differentiating between the models with Sonnar (40mm f/2.8) and Tessar (40mm f/3.5)  lenses with S and T, and later, SE and TE.  I think the additional E just means "Electronic." Early models were made in Germany, and later, most models were manufactured in Singapore - but not all.  The final versions - higher-priced specialty models , were made in Germany in the 1990s.   These cameras appeal to collectors, since there are many iterations of the Rollei 35, including  gold-plated models. You can expect to pay a premium price for the special editions, and the plain-vanilla Rollei 35 in very good condition will still set you back a couple of hundred bucks.  

What makes these cameras so darn cool is that they have excellent 40mm  lenses, a telescoping lens tube, which makes them very compact to carry, rugged design, and shutter speeds from B, 1/2 - 1/500 sec.  They do have a hot-shoe for flash, but it's on the bottom of the camera! The bright albada viewfinder is a nice feature with projected frame-lines.  They are very quiet to shoot with as well.  You can also put one on a tripod and use a cable release, just like a much larger camera.  

In doing some internet sleuthing - it appears that because the shutter is tensioned when not in use, spending a long time unused isn't good for the less than 1/30 shutter speeds. That explains why my camera has that problem.

I took my Rollei 35TE on a visit to Marshall, NC and shot the entire roll of the UFX 400.  It was a sunny day, and the metering and my sunny-16 sense were sympatico.  Of course, since almost everything I shot was farther than 20 feet, I just left the focus on infinity and the aperture at f/11 or f/16.  I developed the film last night, and all of the shots were excellent.  How can it be that I let this camera linger in the shadows for so long?  Maybe I am more confident now with shooting a camera that doesn't have a rangefinder focus? Maybe it's experience?   Whatever the reason, I need to take this camera out more often.  It need not be sitting in the back of the drawer like an old pair of socks.

Some examples from Marshall, NC 

Some Rollei 35 Resources -

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Own a Camera From RCB!

 A few weeks ago, I finally got my shop up and running on Etsy.  You see, I really don't need to hang onto every camera or item that I review on Random Camera Blog, otherwise, I would have cabinets and drawers and shelves filled with cameras that I rarely use.  I know, for some of you that sounds like a great thing. However, I have been to too many dead photographer's houses to want to leave my survivors with hundreds of cameras to deal with.  Sometimes. I'll pick up a camera and test it out with a few rolls of film just for the experience, and in some cases, it might be a camera that I am in the process of selling for someone that gets reviewed.  Then, there are the cameras that I had to buy because I was infatuated with them, and since then, my interests have moved elsewhere.  

So what does my Etsy shop offer? Take a look!  You'll find an assortment of cameras, maybe some expired film, lenses, and vintage items, along with issues of Monochrome Mania.   At some point, I may also sell prints of some of my work.   To be honest, I am tired of selling things on eBay since they parted ways with PayPal.  Etsy offers me a fixed-price alternative to auctions, and I think you'll get a better deal from me in the process.