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.
Finally, the Sun has returned to us and days are once again long enough for me to have a chance to enjoy the light even after working hours.
To celebrate this blessing I have finished shooting the roll of Velvia which I have started last October and now sharing with you. A mixture of my two favorite seasons, autumn and spring on the same roll in vivid colors. Isn’t it wonderful? I am truly being energized by the spring, and I hope you too. Go grab a camera and have at least as much fun taking photos as I do right now.
A photographer is never really putting down his camera, no matter what crazy thing she or he is doing for a living or filling the days with. Since we are not living in an ideal world, most of us have to face the limitation of time and availability of light in our everyday life.
But limitations are not necessarily bad things! They teach us to utilize our possibilities more creatively by forcing us to see and think in ways we would normally not choose to. This, of course, influences our work as well as ourselves and vice-versa. Eventually this feedback loop can contribute our personal and photographic development similarly to the way the ever-changing environment influences life forms and pushing them towards evolution.
Currently, my job is to sit in an office and convince computers to obey to the needs of their human masters. Making their lives easier by sending them nice, well formed and most importantly correct invoices. As interesting as it sounds, but it is somewhat fulfilling to my geek side which likes to brain wrestler with abstract problems.
But it makes my photographer side starve because the current situation has a very little room for photography. Especially now when the winter is coming. Days are shorter and shorter, so more and more frequently I end up to spend most of the hours filled with natural light in between walls in my natural working environment.
To overcome this obvious contradiction, I decided to make occasionally a “bring your giant medium format camera to work day“. I started to bug my colleges and taking portraits of them during lunch brakes or when I need to wait for my computer to finish a long-lasting blocking task.
The point is, you don’t need to stop being a photographer, just because the conditions are not ideal for the kind of photography you are normally up to. Try to get out the most of the situation and who knows this might drive you to completely unforeseen paths and discoveries.
Jogi is a musician besides being a software engineer and in my opinion, they are making pretty cool music. Their website http://www.theflamingdugongs.at/ is not complete yet, but worth to have a look at.
Kyrylo was so pleased with his portrait that he visited me at my desk (2 floors below his place) to shake my hands right after I sent it to him.
Naturally, it is not my top priority to photograph at work, and I always make sure that this does not have any effect on my everyday responsibilities. It took me quite a while (about 2 months) to get these images. Though they are not perfect, I enjoyed taking them they are part of my journey.
I have a very special relationship with my Pentacon Six TL camera since it is my only working medium format camera. I was always heavily attracted by medium format photography, but I couldn’t afford for a while to get into it. Eventually, the P6 was the camera which allowed me to shoot 6×6 frames and since then I have not to regret my decision nor had a single thought to change to another system. In this post, I tell my story with this camera and try to show both the bad and the good things about it while hoping that some of you can find this information useful. It will be more like a subtract of my personal user experience and all the important bits I learned during my research.
My Pentacon Six story
I was a student at the university sometime around my second year when I first heard about this camera. I have just started up an experimenting film with an old Zenit-E when my buddy and roommate showed me a website with lots of photos and a description of the P6. Both of us got pretty excited when we realized that there is a world beyond the 35mm film, so we started to google and find more information about this beast. Unfortunately, I had no money at this time to simply buy one on eBay, therefore, I almost abandoned the idea until I found a Pentacon in a repair-shop next to my sister’s old apartment where I helped her to move in. The camera was broken, not complete and had no lens. It was literally a looted old donor of a camera. Despite the conditions of this camera-corpse, I was amazed by the size of the thing. It was huge, much bigger than I have expected after all the photos I have seen on the Internet, especially the lens mount was extraordinary sizeable compare to anything I have seen before. I could only wonder what a hell of a lens could possibly fill this gigantic hole on the front of the camera. From this moment, there was no return. I knew I had to get one of these monsters, but I still had to find the right one, which turned out not to be that difficult at all. A few weeks later I found a little shop in a small village next to my hometown by accident. I had spotted an ancient Russian enlarging machine in the shop-window so I stopped by and found a great repairman and a huge cabinet of precious vintage cameras and other relics. As you have already figured out, he had a nice Pentacon Six TL in the shape I was looking for. The camera was there for cleaning, but the owner hasn’t fetched it for many years. It was not an easy deal because the guy was not really keen to sell anything from his collection, but eventually, I got my Pentacon Six with the standard 80mm f/2.8 Biometar lens made by Carl Zeiss Jena and with a waist level finder. Both the camera and the lens were beautiful, nice, clean and fully operational. In fact, it was not really heavily used and in addition, the repairman was kind enough to check the shutter speeds before he handed the camera over them to me. Since then I have added many additional accessories and lenses to my Pentacon kit so today my collection consists of:
2 Pentacon six bodies
2 Waist level finders
2 Carl Zeiss Jena (CZJ) 80mm f/2.8 Biometar
1 CZJ 50mm f/4 Flektagon
1 CZJ 120mm f/2.8 MC Biometar
1 CZJ 180mm f/2.8 MC Sonar (This lens belongs to a friend I just use it)
1 CZJ 500mm f/5.6 MC Pentacon
Extension tube set
Split image focusing screen
Ever ready cases
The way it looks
Unfortunately, there are not only great things about this camera even if most of the bad rumors are only partially true. So let’s start with the not so nice before we focus on the good things. Many people think that the quality insurance was not the best during the manufacturing of these cameras, therefore, it is a real gamble to buy one as you may get a pretty bad and unreliable one. It is true that it is hard to find a Pentacon Six in a good working condition with perfectly accurate shutter speeds, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the cameras. The fact is that these cameras are pretty old and most of them were used for professional purposes where most likely a tremendous amount of film was burned through of them. You should think of them like you would think about an old car, for instance, a VW Beetle. It is a nice car with very few flaws, but since it is old and was driven around the Equator like 30 times you need to pay attention to maintenance to keep it running. You wouldn’t drive a 40-year-old Beetle found in someone’s backyard without checking the oil level, would you? Of course not, so why would you treat a camera differently? An old mechanical camera is just like an old car. It needs some maintenance and care. Of course, if you were a Hasselblad user, you might disagree, but the category and price tag of these brands are completely different, however, the produced images could be very similar.
Typical issues and solutions
I am lucky because I have personally met with only very few issues you can read on the Internet according to the P6. Most problems are easy to fix during a general overhaul which involves cleaning, lubrication, and adjustments of strings etc.
Slow and inaccurate shutter speeds
The Pentacon Six TL uses a huge canvas focal plane shutter which has 3 implications.
Lenses are cheaper because there is no shutter in the lens
Flash photography is limited to the sync speed which is 1/30s.
The huge canvas needs big and strong strings which can lose their adjustment as time goes by.
Usually, the speed 1/125s is the most accurate, anything faster could be slower than intended if the camera was not used in a long time. The slow times also could be problematic because the mechanical clock could pick up some dust. The solution is an overhaul by someone who knows what he is doing. The camera must be disassembled, cleaned and adjusted. There are no big worries here if you casually use your camera this does not have to be done too often, maybe once in every 10 years.
This problem is much more apparent than the previous one though. Many people have this problem of “kissing” or worse, overlapping frames. I think in most cases this happens because of the improper loose loading of the film. Have a look at this video from PentaconSixExpert on Youtube. I am not saying that this is the only problem because my rolls have uneven spacings between frames too (but no kissing or overlapping so far), but many times it is only because of the way you load the film.
I had no problems with this feature either, but this is definitely one of the weak spots of the camera. I have seen some Pentacons where the back of the camera was modified by adding a little window covered with red plastic to be able to see the numbering at the back of the film. This is certainly a solution, but a very harsh one. You could get the counter fixed by a professional or you could live without it, eventually, you can shoot even if it is broken.
The bright side
Now that we finished off the not so nice things it is time to celebrate and inspect why this system is so great. If I had to be short I would say we need to have a look at the following aspects to justify:
Lenses and image quality
The lens selection for this system is just fantastic in my opinion. You can find excellent optics for literally no money (compared to modern lenses) for every focal length from a wide variety of manufacturers most notably Carl Zeiss Jena (CZJ). The lenses I use most of the time, are generally very fast, sharp and joy to shoot with.
It has to be said that even the multi-coated (MC) versions are more prone to flare than modern lenses with similar optical formula, therefore the use of a lens hood is always a good idea. If you want to read more about compatible lenses, visit the truly great site pentaconsix.com.
A friend of mine gave me a 180mm f/28 Sonnar to use. While this is one of the best and most iconic Pentacon mount lenses, I rarely use it, because it is so much bigger and heavier than the not much shorter 120mm Biometar.
Size and weight
The Pentacon Six looks like a 35mm SLR except this is much bigger, therefore, many people call them beefed up SLR or SLR on steroids. While it is true that they are significantly bigger and heavier than their 35mm counterparts, in fact, the P6 is a rather compact medium format camera which shoots 6x6cm frames. Yes, there are smaller ones, but those usually do not have the capability to switch lenses or having similar dimensions but with more weight. If you, like me love to travel with the biggest “sensor” possible then this size/weight aspect could be really important for you.
It has to be said, that this kit could be still awfully heavy especially if you pack more than one lens and a tripod too.
Value for the money
I think the Pentacon Six system comes with a very appealing price nowadays. You can get your body with an excellent standard lens around 100€ and even if you add the extra for cleaning and adjustments it is still far cheaper than most other interchangeable lens medium format system.
The fun I have
Eszter documented how I took a portrait of a painter in Istanbul. I think it reflects my emotions during the usage of this camera.
During the years I used my Pentacon Six, I have gained a lot of experience with it. So I would like to share some random thoughts I think could be useful for you.
Pentaprism vs Waist level finder
I do have a TTL prism, which provides a correct image in the finder (no switched sides) and can be used for through the lens light readings.
On the other hand, the prism is very dark and the light metering is not very easy to use. It is great to have in some cases, but generally, I prefer an external light meter. There are different brighter prisms available for example the older non-metering version. If I am not wrong the even brighter prism of the Kiev 60 is also compatible and can be attached.
In contrast, the waist level finder is definitely the brightest solution, therefore I use it the most. But it switches the sides of the images in the viewfinder, and you can hold the camera lower than usual to be able to see through the finder. For me, it is much easier to focus with, especially with the little magnifying glass built in.
Despite all of the inconveniences of the waist level finder, the image in it is something really special. I know it is an oxymoron, but it looks even better than reality. It is huge, bright and vivid, no viewfinder of any 35mm camera can come even close to it.
Focusing as always is a critical thing to do when talking about any photography. I had to learn that the depth of field is just way more shallow when you shoot medium format, thus even a slight movement of the camera could cause your subject to fall out of the sharp region.
When I shoot handheld with the 80mm/120mm lenses I try to not going wider than f/4 or even f/5.6 because it still provides nice bokeh, but has some safety in terms of the size of the sharp areas. Naturally, I often find myself shooting wide open (f/2.8) on a street, but it’s always risky to do.
Luckily I haven’t had many problems with my cameras, but during the last 6 years, I had some cases where I had to ask someone to help.
I had “the old” (my original) P6 cleaned, lubricated and adjusted one time after I heard some unusual noises from the shutter. Since then it works perfectly. No exposure problems even when shooting Velvia.
My 120mm lens had a stuck iris once which required the disassembly and general cleaning of the lens. This is, unfortunately, a common problem with old lenses. Conclusion and recommendation
Needless to say, this camera is not for everyone. As long as you can accept that your camera needs some care in a form of regular maintenance, you could be very happy with it. So keep in mind that the final price could be higher than the purchase itself as basic repairs might be needed.
Nowadays it is not always easy to find someone who is qualified to repair old mechanical cameras. Therefore it is best to buy from a trusted source with grantee that you get a working camera. I think it worth the extra money to get an overhauled camera in the first place.
I think this is a great camera, and could be a good choice for anyone who wants to try medium format photography and needs an interchangeable lens solution. If you don’t have the budget for more expensive systems like Hasselblad or Mamiya, or simply want to find the most compact option this could be the solution for you.
So far my Pentacon Six never let me down, the images are just amazing and for me, it is great fun to shoot with.
The Pentacon Six System Far the best and most comprehensive informational site about the topic. Highly recommended.
The Jupiter 8 is undoubtedly a magnificent piece of glass! To me it is more than a great lens it is a magical item like an exotic rare wand which can be really powerful in the hands of a trained wizard. What makes it so special is the underlying optical formula at the first place which is the pre-war Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/2  developed by Ludwig Bertele in the early 1930s.
In other words, the Jupiter 8 is a post-war Soviet copy of the pre-war Zeiss Sonnar initially made for the Contax copy Kiev cameras like the Kiev 4 I have already written about. The optical formula alongside the Contax II camera was acquired after the war by the Soviet Union as well as machinery and technical personnel as part of the war compensation.
So let’s look at the formula itself!
Jupiter 8 (Zeiss Sonnar) formula
The Jupiter 8 is 6 elements in 3 groups partially glued anastigmat. The first group is a separate meniscus, the middle group consists of a meniscus, two times convex and two times concave lenses glued together and the third group is a composed of a two times convex lens and a meniscus.
The sonnar negative triplet consisted of a high-index outside and a lower-index element between. The design uses less elements than Planar, so when coating tech was primitive, the lens had much less flare due to less surfaces in design. Simpler than Planar, smaller and comparatively inexpensive. Good contrast at edges at all apertures. Exhibits some softness at wide apertures. Sharp when stopped down.
Interesting fact that the name Sonnar was derived from the German word “Sonne” (Sun).
With the addition of more lens elements, the lens speed can be further increased like the Zeiss Sonar 50mm f/1.5 or the Soviet counterpart Jupiter 3 50mm f/1.5 which contains 7 elements in contrast to the 6 elements only f/2 version I am writing about here.
Naturally, as anything can be advanced even further, the Sonnar formula can be modified to achieve aperture greater than f/1 like in the case of the Tachon. But this is really a different story and I should not get that far in this post. So let’s go back to the starting point (Jupiter 8 and Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/2 formula).
To make you more excited (I know you are already itching because of the Sonnar formula :-)) here is a photo where I “accidentally” inserted THE mighty Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 180mm f/2.8 Pentacon Six mounted lens into the frame as a comparison. This lens is not mine (Thank you László for lending it to me!) but you can expect exhaustive writings about it at some point as well
My Jupiter 8 lenses
I have got my first Jupiter 8 with my beloved Kiev 4 camera from a Hungarian auction site. I was so pleased with the results I have got from this lens that I have picked up two more instances with L39 thread mount for my screw mount rangefinders (Fed 3, Fed 5). I have got them in one package from the same auction site for a real bargain. One of these will go to a friend who will hopefully enjoy it a lot on a digital mirror-less system camera. Yes, these lenses can be great fun on MILC cameras and here is an excellent article of what can you achieve.
Jupiter 8 L39 screw mount
The Jupiter 8 was made originally for the Contax copy Kiev cameras with the matching bayonet mount, but later it was made in many different versions for L39 (Leica thread) mount rangefinders.
The advantage of the L39 screw mount version over my original Contax mount lens is the ability to focus with the lens itself. On Contax system cameras the focusing is done by a mechanism integrated into the camera body and the lens has nothing to do with it. The only thing you can do with the lens is set the aperture.
My L39 Jupiter 8 lenses (1960, 1963) are made of aluminum alloy, therefore they are very light but at the same time vulnerable too. I never drooped any lens so far, and I hope I will keep this good habit.
The aperture rings on both lenses are a bit dry and have no stops or clicks, therefore, the aperture must be set with great care. The focusing rings are nice and smooth on both lenses, which gave me the impression that these lenses were lubricated once after their production. What I do like the most is the metal lens caps though.
The overall build quality is fair but nothing outstanding, yet pretty good for Soviet lenses. By the way, Jupiter 8 is one of the most reliable FSU (Former Soviet Union) lenses in terms of quality. Most instances are focusing good and have a nice optics while Jupiter 3 instances are a real gamble.
How do they look like
Jupiter 8M Contax mount
The Jupiter 8M differs from the Jupiter 8 in only one thing! The 8M has stops/clicks while setting the apertures. This is a nice improvement indeed although some videographers might prefer the original version.
As I mentioned the Contax mount type has no focusing mechanism on the lens, therefore, it never needs lubrication and probably it was a bit cheaper to produce for the more complicated and expensive camera body.
Construction and handling
My instance (1965) is made of steel which makes it heavier than the screw mounts aluminum versions despite the simpler mechanical construction. It also feels much more solid and the click stops on the aperture ring are very welcomed additions. Overall, this version just feels and handles better for me and does suggest a higher quality because of the steel barrel.
How does it look like
So what is the big thing with this lens (and any other Sonnars)? Of course, the way it renders the image is the thing for me. Many claims that the contrast is a bit lower than the Tessar type lenses and Sonnars are not outstandingly sharp wide open but fast apertures can be achieved, they deliver a wonderful creamy bokeh and less resistant to flare due to the few glasses to air transitions. All this sounds like a great portrait lens especially because Sonnars are typically short and medium telephoto lenses.
Well, this is the theory, but let the samples talk.
3D-ness and character
The following image is taken by me with the lovely Kiev 4 rangefinder and it was on the very first roll I have ever shot with that camera.
First of all, I really love the 3D like the character of this image, the backgrounds fall to be blurred slowly while the model is quite sharp. I don’t remember what aperture I used but it must have been around f/4, so in theory, this effect could be even more emphasized by a wider setting. On the other hand, I like that the background is recognizable.
I have not done any serious post processing apart from crop and a tiny bit of contrast increase, so this lens/film combination is capable to produce similar images without any super scientific computerized evilness.
Note the flare effect on the top right corner of the frame! I know Sonnars must be less prone to flare but in reality, these old lenses have got a not too effective coating to compare to modern standards. Therefore the lens hood is a must if you (like me) prefers to shoot in back-light.
Flare can be a real issue but not because of the formula rather the ancient coating used for these old lenses.
This example (left) shows what could really happen when the sun shines (almost) directly into the lens. Although the sun is not in the frame (It was upper a bit) it did ruin the shoot by this ugly flare. This could have been way better by the usage of a lens-hood or by shooting from a different angle.
I know I have already written down here a couple of times but it is never enough to emphasize: Always use lens-hood for vintage lenses when possible unless you want to get more flares (which could be fun for some).
Sharpness and contrast
The next two images are supposed to stand here as examples of how nice sharp, contrasty and colorful images can you get when the conditions are appropriate and of course you don’t mess up with the exposure.
The second shoot with the chairs is done through the glass of a showcase and you can even see my reflections on it, but still, I am very satisfied with the result especially the colors which I like the most. Fuji Superia is a consumer level “cheap” film, yet what it delivers is simply lovely to my eyes.
Portraits and bokeh
The Jupiter 8 being a 50mm “standard” lens is quite versatile and can be used for many different purposes and portraiture is not an exception. It is just long enough to take nice upper torso portraits while showing some of the environment around the model thus giving a little bit of context. Also as you can see, it can produce a nicely blurred background which is essential for the separation of the model.
These portraits were taken in a restaurant in mixed light and with maximum f/2 aperture. The depth of field is certainly shallow enough and the background is pleasant in my opinion.
The next photo has been already published in my Kiev-4 post but with heavy post-processing including black&white conversion. The original version looks like this and notices the character of the bokeh at f/2.8.
I didn’t like the photo because of the dark foreground, so I created this processed version in black and white with aggressively increased contrast.
All in all, I really love these lenses because of their great character, bokeh and overall image quality which together leads to a unique classic look. It is true that they are not the only and probably not the best Zeiss Sonnar type of lenses ever made but surely the Jupiter 8 is the cheapest to start with.
You can find many more advanced versions made by Zeiss, Nikon, Canon, and others. Even today you can find new Sonnar type lenses by many manufacturers and of course, you can get a new Zeiss Sonar T* 1.5/50 ZM which was reviewed by Ken Rockwell here.
These lenses are not perfect but they have a unique fingerprint on the images and it is only a matter of taste to love or hate. I am definitely will carry this or similar lenses with me all the time.
I hope I could transfer a part of my excitement related to the Jupiters, Sonnars and their siblings and you will have great moments with them too.
“Woow!” This was the first thing came into my mind when I first saw an Exakta in a cabinet in a very small and messy shop of an old camera-repairman a couple of years ago. The second thing? Well, I seriously considered to lick it quickly while the owner looked away. It never happened due to the glass door of the cabinet and I can still feel the sensation of the missed opportunity -What a pity-.
Apart from the joke, I had been seriously touched by the appearance of this family of cameras, especially the older ones. It is an entirely mechanical, full glass, bare metal, chrome and leather piece of jewelry. I am almost certain that this camera triggered the entire steam-punk culture. There is no doubt that this is one of the most beautiful classic cameras of all times.
“True” Exaktas were manufactured by Ihagee in Dresden during almost 4 decades which resulted in an amazingly complete and comprehensive camera system. While I always keen to give a bit of historical overview of a camera system, I had to realize that others have done this on a level I simply cannot match. If you were interested in the different variants and history, please visit this link. I limit myself to the most interesting facts I found out during my research and consider this post as a kind of tribute to Exakta and the company made it Ihagee.
It is interesting to know that the Exakta camera system was very stable during its evolution, almost all parts were interchangeable among models which are remarkable. There was a huge sort of accessories available for these cameras and they were heavily used for technical and scientific photography. I think this system was one of the most versatile at the time. For example, you can see below a commercial from a 1952 German magazine Die Fotografie where the camera is attached to a microscope.
The Exakta Varex was introduced in 1950 and the big innovation was the possibility to use the camera with the standard waist level finder or with a pentaprism. This interchangeable viewfinder system even further increased the versatility of the camera. In addition, there were a big number of available finders of both types (4 basic pentaprism types) and all of them allowed to use a huge variety of focusing screens on top of it. They claimed in their commercials, that they merged the good old experience with modern ideas. You can check out the complete list of finders and screens on this page.
One of the interesting characteristics of this camera is the left-handed shutter release which (I believe) is inherited from the times when the camera used only waist level finder. It is very awkward at first and even at the second time to handle the camera because of this using the prism for those who got socialized on right-handed cameras. I guess it was no problem initially with the waist level finder and they kept this property. In fact, it is possible to get used to it, but it requires quite a commitment.
I have managed to dig out a couple of high-quality commercials and posters released by Ihagee, this cool half cut camera poster can be seen in a camera shop in Hungary (Soós Fotó). I have found and included in this post many more nice illustrations from books and magazines. It shows that the Exakta was really among the most prestigious SLRs at the time. It was literally the ultimate way to go for every possible purpose from photojournalism to science and technical applications where larger formats could not be convenient to use.
My Exakta is a subtype of the very long lasting and successful Varex IIa. This version was released in 1960 and the distinguishing feature is the logo which is not pressed into the metal anymore and the shape of the prism is slightly different than earlier models.
Varex IIa datasheet
Produced 1957-1963 this version was introduced1960
Film type 135 (35mm)
Lens mount Exakta mount (inner and outer bayonet)
Shutter cloth curtain (traveling horizontally)
Shutter speeds 12s – 1/1000, B
Sync speed 1/50
Viewfinder interchangeable waist level or prism
Exposure meter none
PC sync connections
Internal film cutting blade
This particular camera was sold in Antwerp, Belgium in 1961 and according to the catalog I have, the list price was 13.185 francs with the prism and Tessar standard lens. The second lens (Trioplan 100mm) had the price of 4.205 francs. I am trying to find out what could that mean at that time, but one thing is sure in Hungary this combo would have cost a complete year salary of a regular person in the 60s. In comparison for a Russian Zenit SLR, some had to work like hell for 2-3 months while consuming solar energy only for survival in Hungary those times.
The camera actually belongs to my Friend David who was kind enough to give it to me for use as he did with the Yashica TL-SUPER camera I reviewed. He received it from the original owner from Belgium, so I can actually track back the history of this camera until the beginning. Thank you again, David!
The camera came in the every-ready case, with 2 wonderful lenses. a high-quality B+W filer, a nice rare Carl Zeiss Jena polar filter, a Sunpak flash unit and all sort of documentation including warranty, and catalogs.
Condition and repairs
The overall condition of the camera is very good, although the Tessar lens was really stiff, it was very hard to focus on. In the opinion of my repair-man, it could have been stored in a cold place for a while. I have got the lens cleaned and lubricated and now it is as good as new. Again, the arts of lubrication was successfully applied, plus apertures and glass elements got some attention and cleaning. Important to note that the focusing ring is covered with some kind of plastic which became rigid over the years, and it is advised to take care of it as it is very fragile and can be broken for any little hit. If it breaks it needs to be replaced by leather with a similar texture which is a hideous task to do.
The shutter was advanced when I first got it in hand, so the springs were tensed probably for many years ago and as it turned out the high shutter speeds are not really usable now. 1/500 and 1/1000 while they sound good the movement of the curtains are not even. As a result, some parts of the frame came out less exposed than others. It could be fixed by the master of the lubricants, but it would definitely cost a load of money. I decided to wait and until it gets fixed I started not to use these speeds. It seems everything works fine up to 1/250s and I have managed to carry out my second roll without any problem.
The silvering of the mirror is damaged badly around the edges and it has a negative effect on the clearness of the viewfinder. There is no way to fix the mirror because the silver just melted down. The only solution is the complete replacement, but as I use this camera casually only I decided to keep it as it is for a while.
The way it looks
As you have already figured out I like this camera the most because of its appearance. I think it really does look gorgeous even though I prefer more the versions with the engraved or embossed logo on the front plate. Despite this not too serious concern, I feel like holding something really special when I choose this for a walk. For me it is an outstanding experience to carry such a nice piece of history and heritage while I can be almost certain that the camera hanging on my neck is so unique I will probably not meet with anything even close to it. It has its charm and style to not to deny apart from what kind of photos came out at the end. Of course, the shoots are great too, nothing to complain about. What I want to say is that it is so elegant I might walk with it even if it was a bad camera (which is not!).
Well, we have reached the point where I must stop extol this camera because the ergonomics is at least awkward.
The left-handed shutter release is really hard to get used to it. The shape of the body is nothing but convenient. It is in fact quite bulky. The reason is probably practical though, this shape helps to keep the film more in place and flat according to some opinion and I eventually accept it.
To change the shutter speed, you have to pull out the dial and it is the normal procedure in this era, but not really convenient. To set longer exposures (1/5-12s) you have to operate two dials by setting the main dial to T mode and setting the second for the speed. The film advance lever has an extremely long stroke and the mirror does not return after release. The film transferred from one spool to another in the opposite way as it is usual as the system is left-handed, and to rewind the film you have to pull and turn a couple of things at the same time. Overall many things are a little bit complicated.
All in all this camera is the hardest to use among those I have ever tried. It is at least challenging and not as straightforward as switching your bicycle. But I think it is worth to fight and it is possible to realize that focusing on your left hand is only a habit, not a testament. After you have learned all the tricks it could be as easy to use as any other camera, but for me, it takes some time.
Proper ways to hold the camera while using the waist level finder. The image is from the original handbook of the camera
I have only a pentaprism with split screen focusing glass. It is dark for modern standards, although it could be also because my lenses are not exactly that fast (f/2.8) and the mirror is damaged around the edges. I suppose with a faster lens like a f/1.5 Zeiss Biotar and with a new mirror, it would be bright enough.
The split screen works as intended, but it takes a too big part of the screen (in my opinion) and I often use the matte parts around the central circle to focus instead.
I would love to try the waist level finder also because I prefer that on my Pentacon Six over the prism because of the extra lightness and the presence of a magnifying glass for pin accurate focusing. I don’t shoot much action with these anyway, I have time to focus precisely.
There is a feature of this camera which had been hardly used by most and made me think quite a bit until I have found out what it is for. Interestingly enough you can actually cut the film inside the camera with a razor sharp hook-shaped blade. This way you can change film in the middle of the roll without the need for rewinding and calculating the position of the last exposed frame.
This blade can be seen on above on my photo where the back is open and for reference point please look the point 38 on the draft above. The operation is simple you have to screw out a lock at the bottom of the camera than you have to pull the rod and the blade cuts the film. I have never seen this before and while I am sure I will never use it, still it is a neat little feature. The engineers of Ihagee thought of everything.
Lenses and test shoots
Ihagee didn’t manufacture lenses by itself, but many brands made glass for the Exakta mount.
A very cool page to visit according to these lenses, in general, can be found here, and in detail with illustrations here.
I have got the camera with two lenses: a standard 50mm Tessar and a 100mm Trioplan. The Tessar had to get cleaned and lubricated, but the other lens is in a really nice shape.
Carl Zeiss Jena 50mm f/2.8
There is no Tessar written on the lens nor Carl Zeiss only Jena and a big “T” letter. The reason is that the East German Carl Zeiss Jena was not allowed to use it’s brand name nor the name of the lenses outside of the eastern block because the West German company owned the brand names. Nevertheless, this is a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens and it performs as it should.
The Tessar is a classical construction or base type which consists of 4 elements 2 of them cemented together. These are considered very sharp and having a “hard” character (whatever it means). Because of the good performance, good enough speed and cheap production costs this lens type was very popular and have several siblings such as Elmar, Industar, Primotar, Skopar, Xenar, Ymmar, Ysaron, Belar etc. Apart from the direct relatives, there are many more modifications led to new lens families.
I am going to write a deeper article about this lens as soon as I can get an EOS to Exakta adapter.
Meyer Optic Trioplan 100mm f/2.8
This is a triplet structure anastigmat containing obviously 3 elements. Although the structure is very simple it allows a relatively fast aperture and also it has the advantage of having no risk to get glued elements separated as there are none of them.
Some of the brothers are Anticomar, Cassar, Novar, Meritar, Radionar, Trinar, Triotar, Voigtar, Eurygon.
The triplet construction does not produce sharp images on large apertures due to the issues with the rays coming from sideways. This problem can be fixed on a level by stopping down. As you can see on the test photos the lens is indeed very soft wide open and it adds some kind of glow to the objects. It could even be beneficial for portraits by delivering a dream-like effect which hides most of the skin imperfectness of the model.
This lens is famous for its bokeh, which contains unusual and for most pleasing circles when shooting wide open. Unfortunately, I have no example taken by me so far, but you can see one here.
Again, I will do a deeper review of this lens as soon as I get an adapter to Canon and have some time to do more research.
I am a huge fan of post-apocalyptic movies, games, and atmosphere overall. In fact, I really would like to participate or work on such a movie one day. Of course being a mortal I have very little chance to do it, but I had to realize that the receipt of post-apocalyptic scenery is actually very simple.
My main ingredients are some early morning mist, a high tech solar cell covered concrete building (very easy to find), an old Exakta loaded with Kodak Gold and 2 vintage glasses (Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8 and Meyer Optic Trioplan 100mm f/2.8).
For some reason, these shoots remind me of the movie Delicatessen which I can faithfully recommend to watch. OK, there aren’t any high tech in that movie, but the fog creates a similar sensation to me at the opening scenes.
This building, by the way, is a member of the Technological Park of the University in Girona in Spain and I am lucky enough to work in this strange complex. I took these photos a morning during my regular walk to work.
Interesting note that this building is named after Narcís Monturiol i Estarriol who invented the first fully functional submarine. Also interesting the fact that (as far as I know) the solar cells were actually never in use even though the construction has finished around 2009. I hope they will be operational one day. I guess there must be a bit expensive for decoration purposes only. I love the way they look like anyway.
The Pancolar 80mm f/1.8 is a late development of Carl Zeiss Jena which was at that time the East German part of the original company torn into pieces by the WW II. Therefore this lens was accessible in the eastern block mainly and even though now it can be found all around Europe, this is a very rare lens in other continents.
The lens has a high reputation as a sharp, fast portrait lens and it is quite expensive among other lenses of the same era. It has an M42 mount and was produced in both automatic and electronic forms. It was later remounted as the B-mount Carl Zeiss Jena Prakticar 1.8/80. (source Praktica-users.com)
Datasheet and optical formula
Construction:6 elements, 5 groups
Angular field: 30.4°
Minimum focusing distance: 0.8m
Diaphragm action: fully automatic
Minimum aperture: f/22
Maximum aperture: f/1.8
No. aperture blades: 6
Filter size: 58mm screw-in type
Push-on diameter: 60mm
Barrel length: 64mm
This lens is a typical example of the legendary classic double Gauss lens formula also known as Planar.
The Double Gauss was likely the most intensively studied lens formula of the twentieth century, producing dozens of major variants, scores of minor variants, hundreds of marketed lenses and tens of millions of unit sales. It had almost no flaws, except for a bit of oblique spherical aberration, which could lower peripheral contrast. Double Gauss/Planar tweaks were the standard wide aperture, normal and near normal prime lens for sixty years.
The double Gauss lens consists of two back-to-back Gauss lenses (a design with a positive meniscus lens on the object side and a negative meniscus lens on the image side) making two positive meniscus lenses on the outside with two negative meniscus lenses inside them. The symmetry of the system and the splitting of the optical power into many elements reduces the optical aberrations within the system. (source: Wikipedia)
I have got mine from the girlfriend of my father with the original case. She never used it, it was basically on the shelf without a camera since ages.
Probably she didn’t know what was the value of this lens, so I didn’t know neither. As it turned out it is an expensive lens among the usually very cheap M42 mount lenses. The market price is very similar to a new Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, which is why I am often thinking about selling it. So far, I decided to keep it, because of the nice performance, character and because I can use it on many crazy cameras of mine.
The front cap was missing and the aperture blades were stuck, otherwise, as you can see in the photos below, the lens was in a really good shape. The glass was clean, no dust, no scratches, no fungus and it was obviously not used too much. I have substituted the missing front cap with a Canon cap of the standard 18-55mm kit lens. I tried to use other Ø 58mm caps, but this was the only one which was not tending to touch the front lens element.
The way it looks
This is one of my favorite lenses. The images are always very sharp and have a good contrast with it. I can say that there are very little signs of any aberrations or distortions over the frame. I have not tested the lens scientifically yet so I cannot compare the performance in numbers with other lenses. But real word experience is quite pleasant for me.
At wide open, sharpness and contrast are a bit lower than stopped down by one-two stops, but still quite nice and I think this is very common with almost all fast prime lenses. Besides a slightly softer result can be beneficial for some portraits where little details of the skin can be smother and this way the model could look more perfect. The 80mm Pancolar is really not much softer wide open though. Colors are also rich and lovely and somehow different from my other lenses when using on the same digital body.
Dept of field & Bokeh
I like this short telephoto lens because this focal distance allows me to take nice shoulder portraits while I am still close enough to the model to interact with.
Also, this lens has the ability to blur the background (like hell) very much because of the large maximum aperture. In fact, the depth of field can be so shallow that sometimes you get only a few centimeters of it and it has a risk that you miss the focus. A good example when only one eye of the model is in focus.
Speaking about bokeh (quality of out of focus elements), this lens produces a lot and the quality is superb, creamy. I know it is subjective to judge this property, so please have a look at the sample shots and decide yourself. The only caveat with it is the fact that the lens has only 6 aperture-blades. It could produce a not circular (multigonal) spots of highlights in the blurred background. It is a subjective thing again to like it or not, personally I prefer the perfect circles. This is not a problem when shooting wide open as the aperture is round at that case.
The Pancolar is a very well made lens which has a full metal + real glass construction. It looks absolutely beautiful, feels solid and has a good weight to it. The aperture ring clicks at every half stops and operates very smoothly and precisely. The focus could be the same if I had got the right grease into it. -I will get it fixed soon. – The lens barbell extends a few milometers while focusing, but not seriously and the front element does not rotate -> there is no problem with polarizing filters to use.
There is a switch on the lens to set automatic or manual mode. When set to automatic the aperture stops down only when you press the shutter button and then it returns to full size when mounted on a compatible camera. In the case of manual mode, you must pre-set the aperture manually. This could be a nice feature too for videographers.
I have found a short summary on a nice website (Prime35.com) which is a perfect quote to close this post.
CZJ Pancolar MC 80/1.8
I’d say this is the best choice for versatile and sharp M42 80mm lens. It’s contrasty, it has the best wide-opened performance of all f/1.5-f/2 M42 portrait lenses. Center is close to Biotar, but borders are much sharper. Great colours (MC) + great bokeh. It also isn’t as risky as the early post-war lenses, because its coating is much harder, so cleaning marks are not an issue. For me it’s the best post-war Jena lens. (source: Prime35.com)
My last post about portraits (Portraits round 1) featured black and white photographs. Black and white often help simplify things by skipping the colors and thus resulting in a cleaner image focused more on geometry, composition, and effects of light and shadows. Many times this monochromatic approach emphasizes important properties which would have been otherwise overwhelmed by the chaotic world of colors and can be greatly beneficial. While I love the more abstract nature of the B&W images, I also admire the emotional power of the colors. Sometimes a photo just works better in color.
I am quite fed up with the long, cold and dark winter here so now I am starting to see and use some colors. Besides this post is a post about portraiture it is a small celebration of colors hoping that spring will come soon.
Unfortunately, I had less time to take pictures recently, therefore this selection is composed of my old works exclusively. The photos are taken in many different locations and seasons using various films and lenses but with the same old Pentacon Six of mine.
Color negative film
If you want to take portraits in color, negative film is probably the best choice. It is usually less prone to exposure issues than positive (dia) film so it can accept slight over or underexposure without serious problems on the final image. Also, these films are not as contrasty and vivid as most positive films (except Kodak Ektar which I have never tried so far) so the images are smoother and it is often a good point in the case of general portraits.
It is also very easy to make black and white images out of a color version so you have the flexibility to change your mind during post-processing.
Color positive (dia) film
Positive films are generally recommended for natural product and architectural shoots. At least this is what I have heard a lot. But of course many uses dia film for portraits as well. For example, the famous photographer Steve McCurry used to shoot on positive film and took fabulous portraits like the Afghan Girl.
I personally like to use these films for portraits because of the character and the fact that they have the finest grain ever. But this is true that lights and shadows have more contrast, the exposure must be bloody accurate and overall you have to be very precise to achieve a good result. In addition, it is not too easy to find a lab where you can get it developed especially if you shoot medium format or bigger.
At the bottom line, I think it is still worth to shoot positive films regardless of the subject because the view of the developed dia film makes you happy as a kid at Christmas for sure. You get the final (not inverted) image. Because it gets visible by the light passing through the film rather than reflecting it. That is why dia has a huge dynamic range which makes the experience (in my opinion) kind of better than reality.
Cosina is not a well-known trademark among camera manufacturers, at least I have never heard of it before I got this camera. The fact is, this is an existing company which has produced over its history many truly nice cameras under their own name and surprisingly for many mainstream manufacturers like Rollei, Canon, Nikon, Yashica, Olympus, Epson etc.
They are manufacturing the Zeiss Ikon camera bodies and many Leica mount Zeiss lenses today. Also, Cosina is the owner of the brand and the company behind Voigtländer which represents a high standard of quality cameras and lenses indeed. All in all the name Cosina might not ring a bell, but it is almost 100% that they have built one of your favorites and they know how to design and build solid photographic tools by tradition.
Shutter speeds 4s, 2s, 1s, 1/2s, 1/4s, 1/8s, 1/15, 1/30s, 1/60s, 1/125s, 1/250s, 1/500s,1/100s, M, B
Sync speed 1/60
Viewfinder SLR w/coated window, micro-raster ring with split image aid
Exposure meter stop-down CdS TTL w/3 led lights, activated by the half-pressed shutter
Batteries 2x SR/LR44 or similar (AG13, A76)
Hot shoe, PC sync connection
Optional auto-exposure motor
This camera is very small and light especially with the kit lens. Not as small as the Olympus OM, but close to it (540g vs 510g). This is one of the main reasons I own one.
The body is well built, but it is plastic at the top plate and definitely not as solid as a professional camera. In fact, this is all right for me because I use it for amateur purposes with great care. This is a really cheap camera and I suppose it was never a prestige product.
The shutter is controlled electronically, but it is working without batteries with the shutter speed of 1/60 of a second. The light-meter is center weighted, using 3 little LEDs in the viewfinder for readout and I have no complains so far.
The batteries are small, cheap and lasting for years (for me) and as I said you are not completely left on the side of the road if they ran out of power. The camera will work on a level (no metering, no self-timer, only 1 shutter speed).
The craziest thing about this camera is that it had an external auto exposure unit. It had to be mounted into the accessory shoe and wire it to the camera with some cables and plugs. It contained a motor which turned the shutter speed dial according to the values came from the light meter. Thus it featured aperture priority auto mode. Because the lens was not coupled with this device it had to be stopped down for metering.
It sounds very awkward to me, but it worked. I haven’t got this module but thanks to Jake Howe who was kind enough to allow me to use his photo, I can finally show the camera with the full-featured auto exposure unit.
Cosina CSM with auto shutter mechanism by Jake Howe
My Cosina CSM
Nowadays everybody is obsessed by the small size great capabilities cameras (thinking of the mirror-less madness) and it was not really different at any point of the time. Miniaturization was always a trend.
People from the country of the rising sun has created many very compact, yet capable SLR legends mainly in the 70s like the Olympus OM series. Actually these cameras are not much bigger than some mirror-less digital camera of the modern era, even though they use “full frame” size film and having a full mirror mechanism and usually, a huge and bright viewfinder especially compare to entry-level DSLRs.
As I love the design and style of these film cameras, I would rather get excited by a conventional mirror-based DSLR with a “full frame” sensor, but in a compact body than anything else.
I know there are technical issues and probably it would be damn expensive, yet I hope someone will eventually come up with such a device.
If it was possible to squeeze the mirror, prism and in addition a roll of film into such a small camera, it seems unreasonable to not being able to do it with a digital sensor just like Leica did with the M9.
How did I get it
Back to my story, I always wanted a compact size SLR with a nice viewfinder and with an M42 screw lens-mount.
I have many nice M42 lenses and it is always good to have a lighter alternative to the serious workhorse for casual shooting. But I had no idea which camera would be the best. Until one day, I have found a little shop of an old camera repairman in a small village, where among many cool classics I have seen a camera called Porst Compact-reflex. As I took it from the shelf and looked through the viewfinder I knew it was an exact match to my requirements.
I have found it a bit too expensive (at least according to my possibilities at the time, as I was a student) so I did not buy it.
After some research, I have figured out, that it was actually a COSINA CSM branded as Porst (a German photographic equipment distributor and retailer company). The next day I have purchased an instance on e-bay for a little less money and with an extra ever-ready-case.
The truth is, I could have gone for the PROST as my camera had some mechanical troubles and the repairing dismissed the price difference eventually.
Since then I had many great times with this little Cosina and it is certain that I will load some film into it time to time.
The way it looks
I have to say, it is not an easy task to take a good photo of such a black object with white and shiny chrome parts.
This setup includes a window (key light), a cheap lantern from Ikea with an economical light-bulb (fill-light and color) and a sheet of black paper (background). Oh, and I tried to use a silver reflector which was used in a windshield of the car against overheating issues in its previous life. But this reflector does not work very well.
The button below the self-timer is used to re-open the aperture blades after you stopped down the lens to meter. It could be needed when you change your mind and need to re-focus or frame, so the viewfinder brights up again.
The two plugs on the other side are for the optional auto-exposure unit.
You can lock the shutter release button. This is great to prevent accidental shoots and mark that you have actually cocked the camera, on the other hand, it can be a problem when you can’t fire it in the big moment…
Film advance mechanism
When I have received the package form the UK, I had to realize that the film advance mechanism was not quite working. I got it fixed quickly and I received the instruction I need to advance the film with care. I do and I had no problems with it during the last couple of years.
The light-seals needed to be replaced as it is normal for a camera this age. It has to be said however that even without this fix there were no issues of light-leaks.
Small and light
M42 mount (huge variety of cheap high-quality lenses)
Works without batteries
Nice viewfinder with the effective focusing aid
Bit plastic (but still feels right)
It needs batteries
No mirror lookup (it is not a pro camera though)
The Cosina CSM or it’s siblings can be a good choice to anyone who is looking for a compact film SLR with manual focus and having nice M42 mount lenses. It is cheap, it is easy to focus with and won’t break your neck carrying around all times.
It has been over repeated that the lens and the film are much more important factors than the camera body itself, but this is now a tradition to post some shots taken with the reviewed camera (3rd post already).
You can find some shoots with the unique f2.1 kit lens, which might be interesting. Personally, I think this is a nice optics in a very compact package. My other 50mm lenses are much bigger.