Grüner See

What would a photographer do if he  would suddenly need to carry an ever moving child on his back to every location he would take photos?

Photographer with extras, Sony nex 6, Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS (taken by Eszter)
Photographer with extras, Sony nex 6, Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS (taken by Eszter)

Of course he would use the new situation in order to justify a new purchase of a lens for the sake of portability to compensate the extra weight he now has to carry. This is how I ended up buying a Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5 pancake II. It is tiny, extra light and being a wide lens, it is slightly less prone to the shaking introduced by the little one in the carrier. The price is not too steep neither for a native M mount lens plus I have found a quite handsome copy on a local trading site. It was literally no way out of this deal and so far I am very happy with my decision. Thanks to Ben (Flickr) for selling me the lens.

One of our first trips with the new gear lead us to the Grüner See. This is a temporary lake in the mountains which is filled by the water of melding snow every year for a short period of time. As the name suggests the lake has a beautiful green color even though the water is crystal clear. The bottom of a lake is  essentially a meadow with grass and rocks and ordinary objects like a bench. The lake is surrounded with forest and mountains and it is truly spectacular. At the time of our (end of April) visit the level of the water has probably not yet reached the peak.

I have loaded a roll of slightly expired Fujicolor Pro 160NS from my stash, and even finished it on the very same day. Good weather, nice location, one of my favorite film stock and a new lens to test. I think it was a perfect start for the Voigtlander. I am actively fighting my G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), so I hope that I will value this lens on a long term. So far I am quite satisfied with the images I have got with it and honestly I think that there will always be place for a small good performing 35mm lens in my bag.

Grüner See, Leica M2, Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5, Fujicolor Pro 160NS, Epson Perfection V700

Grüner See, Leica M2, Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5, Fujicolor Pro 160NS, Epson Perfection V700

Grüner See, Leica M2, Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5, Fujicolor Pro 160NS, Epson Perfection V700

Grüner See, Leica M2, Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5, Fujicolor Pro 160NS, Epson Perfection V700

Grüner See, Leica M2, Voigtlander Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5, Fujicolor Pro 160NS, Epson Perfection V700

Balcony door portraits

Light quality is extremely important to a photographer, just like snow for an Inuit. We have countless names for the different types of light while any average people would only call them “strong” or “weak”. The amount of light we get is very easy to measure and describe. But the quality is a far more subtle, much harder to formalize concept and therefore much more interesting to me. Modern cameras can handle low light extremely well thus photography is now possible under such difficult circumstances no one could be foreseen just until a few years before. But high sensitivity sensors with great quantum efficiency and extremely sophisticated noise reduction processing cannot create great photographs just by extending the lower bound of minimum illumination necessary to capture an image. Although these new tools certainly aid the photographing process, the quality of light (among other factors) is and always will be key to a good image.

I am currently experimenting with mainly available light, trying to find situations which work for me so I can get the results I like in a somewhat predictable manner. One of my favorite spots lately is the door of our balcony. In my opinion, this location has nearly ideal light conditions for portraits during most of the day. The balcony is relatively deep, and only the front is open (sides are solid walls), then comes the big door followed by a deep room with white walls and furniture.

This setup has a similar effect to a  soft-box. Light comes through in a beautiful evenly distributed, soft way, which then decays rapidly as it penetrates into the room. A subject placed close to the door can be lit very well with a strongly directional but soft light while the background is lost in darkness.

I have taken several portraits at this place using different formats (APS-C, 35mm, 6x6cm), films and digital sensors, and a small, but representative selection can be seen in this post. I think it is interesting to see next to each other similar shoots using similar focal length but with vastly different capturing technology.

The conclusion is that, no matter what your medium is, good light (and composition) could always give respectable results but technology does not save the day if the light quality is poor for the subject. But it is again another subjective property, what is poor light for a photographer for a given purpose, could be magnificent for another. Nevertheless, I think it is crucial to study light as a photographer, amateurs and professionals alike.

Many thanks for the proofreading to Ramon.

Last roll from 2013

Yet another quick post with little-written content but with a bunch of random snapshot images. This is what I end up with when I carry the same roll of film over weeks and only occasionally have a chance to shoot.  I am basically on pilot light mode right now and really hope that the next year I can do something a bit more organized work. What I can book as an achievement though is that I could gather some courage and I asked a stranger for a portrait on a street again. It was a really nice experience and I am happy with the result, but you can judge yourself if you scroll down to the second photo.

This time I had my Olympus OM4 Ti in my bag in the last few weeks loaded with the same Ilford HP5 I used in the Kiev before. As usual, the film was developed and scanned by me.

Stadtpark (Graz 2013), Olympus OM4 Ti, Zuiko 50mm 1.4, Ilford HP5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Biker (Graz 2013), Olympus OM4 Ti, Zuiko 50mm 1.4, Ilford HP5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Skulpturenpark (Unterpremstätten 2013) ), Olympus OM4 Ti, Zuiko 50mm 1.4, Ilford HP5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Concrete (Unterpremstätten 2013) ), Olympus OM4 Ti, Zuiko 50mm 1.4, Ilford HP5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Train (Unterpremstätten 2013) ), Olympus OM4 Ti, Zuiko 50mm 1.4, Ilford HP5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

Österreichischer Skulpturenpark

Airplane Parts & Hills by Nancy Rubins
Airplane Parts & Hills by Nancy Rubins

Sometimes the most amazing places are literally just a few steps from your backyard. Yet it is so easy to overlook or ignore them, just because you don’t expect anything extraordinary close to your regular living space. Or you miss to visit them because you think that since you live nearby, you could do it any time which moment never come.
In the end, I tend to know the interesting places around other cities better than my own. But I fight, so last weekend, we visited an amazing sculpture park right next to the place I work. I passed by almost every single workday since last September because my bus stop is about 20 meters from the entrance. Despite the free entrance, I have never managed to take a look, until now.
To make the occasion special, I brought my old trusted Pentacon Six Tl loaded with some expired Velvia and my wide angle 50mm Flektagon and the standard 80mm Biometar.
Apart from the last picture, all posted photos were taken with the Flektagon. I scanned the film with my CanoScan 9900F.

Sole d’acciaio by Ilija Šoškić
Betonboot by Michael Schuster

This piece of land-art (Die Erdkugel als Koffer) is one of our favorites because it integrates so well into its environment and due to the size of it, it is hard to figure out what it supposed to be. Once you get closer and maybe read the attached documentation which is, by the way, the part of the sculpture, you can have a nice AHA experience. It interprets the planet Earth as a suitcase and the statue is the handle.

Die Erdkugel als Koffer by Peter Weibel

I have never had any seriously overlapping frames issue with the P6, but this time. Hopefully, it only happened only because of my mistake during film loading.

o.T by Bruno Gironcoli

My advice is to go out and explore your surroundings and don’t forget to take a camera with you.

If you were around Graz and had some spare time, this park is really worth to visit. Here are the layout and the list of all the sculptures.


Gamma Pajtás Box Camera

Pajtás is a simple box camera made in Hungary in the 50’s/60’s and as you would suggest this was not a high-end piece of technology even at those times.

Normally I seek for perfection in photography and related equipment and I try to write about cameras here which are capable to produce respectable results or at least represent fine craftsmanship. The Pajtás is far from perfect in any of the aspects of build and image quality, therefore it was not particularly exciting for me until now.  So why do I yet write about this camera and most importantly why should you read this review, knowing that I will probably conclude that this camera is crappy but lovely at the same time?

My first and probably strongest reason is that this camera is one of the not too many which were made in my homeland and therefore holds a significant value for me. It also means that this camera is not as well known outside of my region so unless you live in Hungary or nearby, there is a pretty good chance that you have never heard of it.

On the other hand, the Pajtás could be interesting for those who like the history of photography or history in general because of several reasons. First of all this camera features an Achromat lens which can give us an insight into the dawn of photography as the very first daguerreotype cameras had lenses with similar construction. In other words, the images taken through the lens of this box machine can show us a little bit of the taste of the character of the photographs that were taken centuries ago.

In addition, this camera is an iconic relic of industrial design from a not too distant, yet completely different era where the market was driven by strange forces. These were among the toughest years of socialism in Hungary. Production was planned in 5 years cycles and there was literally nothing that was impossible to sell.  In these times this camera was the affordable and available option for almost a generation.

Through these glasses, we might see this camera a little different and at least for me, it is special to hold and even better shoot with it.

All in all, if you are interested in history, strange unique cameras, or even Lomography than this article is for you.

Pajtás drawing

The story

As always I try to collect as accurate information about the history of a camera as possible, but it is possible that I state something wrong. If I did, please send me an e-mail or leave a comment. Corrections are always welcome.

Around 1960, This photo is part of the Fortepan collection of 19041 amateur photos. It is licensed under CC share alike Hungary.

The members of the young pioneer organization were called Pajtás in socialist Hungary. It was the equivalent of the word comrade for young people. Oddly I had no idea about this meaning of this word until I started to read about this camera. But it has to be said that I was born in the 80’s when socialism was already quite melded in Hungary.

As the name suggests, the camera was intended for a young audience and it was extremely successful. It was affordable, reliable and most importantly available, so many had received a Pajtás as a present for various occasions such as graduation.

The camera was made between 1955-1966 by Gamma although the emblem has changed to FFV from 1960. FFV stands for Fővárosi Finommechanikai Vállalat (Metropolitan Works for Precision). Interestingly Gamma is still an existing company, even though they don’t manufacture cameras anymore.

The designer was János Barabás (1900-1973) who was mainly responsible for lens design at Gamma and we can thank him for the many great lenses used by Hungarian cameras.

The price of the camera in 1964 was 160 HUF and it was possible to buy a leather case for an additional  45 HUF. [1]

Pajtás datasheet

  • Type Box camera
  • Country Hungary
  • Company Gamma, FFV
  • Designed by János Barabás [1]
  • Production dates 1955-1966
  • Quantity 100.000 approx
  • Film type 120 type roll film
  • Lens Built-in Achromat f/8
  • Apertures f/8, f/11, f/16
  • Shutter speeds 1/30s, Bulb
  • Focus fixed
  • Body material Bakelite
  • Weight 395g

Construction and operation

The camera is almost as simple as possible. It is made of Bakelite which allowed mass produce it on a low price.

The back has another nice feature, a little red window which keeps us informed about the number of the actual frame. Basically, the back of the film (in fact the covering paper) is visible through this window so you can see the printed numbers on the paper. While this is a robust solution, it is advisable to cover this window most of the time, especially if you use higher sensitivity film.

The film can be advanced by a knob at the top of the camera while you have to keep an eye on the frame counter window. There is no other way to determine how much you need to advance the film but to look at the window. This mechanism also makes it easy to take multiple exposure or overlapping shoots.

The shutter release is a simple column and a rotating switch around it with two positions. The red dot means locked and obviously, the white mark indicates that the shutter is free to press.


Since it is not possible to focus with this camera, the viewfinder is rather simple. It contains a lens for correct framing, but this is not a great pleasure to use. It is bright enough but considerably blurry to my eyes.
To be fair, this viewfinder does the job just well enough. It gives you some approximation about what will be on your photograph and if your subject is not too close the parallax error is not significant.

Pajtás top

To be fair, this viewfinder does the job just well enough. It gives you some approximation about what will be on your photograph and if your subject is not too close the parallax error is not significant.

(Left) shutter-speed and aperture settings, (right) aperture mechanism concept

There are only 2 shutter speeds available M (Moment) 1/30 sec and T (Time) which stands for bulb. There is a better offering in aperture settings though you can select f/8, f/11, and f/16 options. Both the shutter speed and the aperture settings can be selected with dedicated dials on the front plane of the camera right below the lens.

Pajtás in leather case

All apertures are completely rounded and as far as I can see (without disassembling the camera) it is done by a metal plate with 2 holes on it. When the maximum f/8 aperture is selected, the plate is completely off the way, but as you turn the switch for selecting smaller apertures the appropriate hole slides into place behind the lens.

Pajtás in leather case

The leather case is pretty nice, it protects the camera very well. In the meantime, it has a hole in the back to read the frame-counter without dismounting the camera. My only concern is that you cannot separate the front part of the case (covering the lens) so you cannot use it as a half case.

The lens

The lens is an 80mm f/8 Achromat manufactured by MOM (Hungarian Optical Works). It is a classical landscape lens consisting of 2 elements: a positive crown and a negative flint element.

The lens which was designed and manufactured by Charles Chevalier for Daguerre was an achromatic landscape lens in the 1830s. Although that lens was different from the one that can be found in the Pajtás, the basic concept is the same. The achromatic lens was a huge step because for the first time it corrected some of the main aberrations which can be found in an optical system.

Achromatic doublet

An achromatic lens or achromat is a lens that is designed to limit the effects of chromatic and spherical aberration. Achromatic lenses are corrected to bring two wavelengths (typically red and blue) into focus in the same plane.

Wikipedia Achromatic lens

These lenses are typically featuring low apertures because the rays entering the lens far from it’s axis need to be cut off by the stop in order to maintain image quality.

The lens used in the Pajtás camera gives no big surprises. It is focused to the hyperfocal distance so everything on the photo from some near distance will be sharp. It is also supported by the relatively small aperture, that is why depth of field is quite big.

The lens looks coated as I can see some purple cast on it when the light is appropriate. In general, it is not too prone to flare. Of course, there are not many elements in the lens so there are not many surfaces to bounce and reflect on. On the other hand, the interior of the camera is highly reflective so flocking could probably improve image quality and contrast.

Image quality and sample shoots

As you would expect, the image quality is not at all amazing. It is decent from a camera like this and I have to admit there is some charm of the strong character. Sure, most of the effects produced by the lens can be mocked by clever applications on any smartphone, but that is not the same. You must know that you work with a high random factor when you shoot with this camera.

(Graz, Austria), Pajtás, Lomo Lady Gray 400, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

So far I shot only 1 roll of Lomo Lady Gray 400 film with this camera as the first trial. In general, an ISO 400 film is probably too fast for this low shutter speed, but since winter is coming and we are having many dark days it was a good choice. I have some Hungarian Forte Supercolor 100 film in my refrigerator (expired in 1995) which could be a stylish combination with this camera.

Distortion test (Graz, Austria), Pajtás, Lomo Lady Gray 400, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

The lens is sharpish in the center but blurs everything off around the edges. It sometimes even creates the impression of shallow depth of field, but this is not the case.

Distortion is apparent, but I couldn’t hold the camera perfectly perpendicular against the staircase and my scanner is also not the best in keeping the film flat. Anyhow, I think that the geometrical distortion is not the biggest issue compromising image quality here.

Camerajunky (Graz, Austria), Pajtás, Lomo Lady Gray 400, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

The numbers and circle signs on this shot (almost all shots have some) belong to the back of the covering paper of the film. I am not sure how they managed to get to the photos, but they did. If anyone has any idea, I would be happy to read it in the comments.

Also, there are signs of light leaks on almost all of my shots. This most likely happened, because the camera does not seal light perfectly. I am seriously considering to use some black tape next time I put the film into my Pajtás.

Tram reflections, (Graz, Austria), Pajtás, Lomo Lady Gray 400, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

This frame was partially overlapped because of my fault. I have not transferred the film correctly.

Cycles (Graz, Austria), Pajtás, Lomo Lady Gray 400, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

Using flash

There is no flash connection on this camera, so in theory, you cannot use flash with it. On the other hand, the 1/30 of a second is slow enough to fire flash manually at the right time. But probably the best strategy is to shoot in bulb mode in very low light or in complete darkness and fire the flash while you keep the shutter release pressed. I have done some successful experiment with the latter technique so I can recommend giving it a try.

Conclusion and recommendations

The Pajtás is not a rare camera, it is extremely cheap and just as light to carry. It is extremely easy to use as well. I believe it is even able to produce nice images in good hands.

Because of the simple construction there is literally nothing which could break in it. It is relatively safe to pick one with good cosmetics as it is almost certain that it will work properly. Eventually, this is not the camera we would expect completely accurate shutter speed from.

My only concern is the back which is a bit flimsy to me, but it can be secured by some black tape. And of course the Bakelite body is very rigid and therefore fragile, so it is advisable not to drop it.

If you like box cameras and the imperfection of the images they produce, or you are a fan of the retro design, then this camera could be a good choice for you.

Further reading

Big thanks to Ivan for the English proof reading!