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.
This is what I often say when I spot a nice scene but would love to have a person in the picture. Usually, this gives the extra push to a photo to be an interesting one, as a nice background alone often simply doesn’t hit the edge.
Although these shoots were set up, I do like them a lot and eventually, this is what matters…