These days our brains are being bombarded by millions of photographic images from digital /phone cameras posted online web each day. So much so that photography has to a certain extent lost its value as serious form of artistic expression with so many clinically perfect images being produced . Even notable images are only as good as their last “like’ on social media as many people no longer make prints. Over the past few years film photography has enjoyed a revival as people are looking for a more “organic” experience that re- establishes the true value of a photograph.
This revival has resulted in prices of film cameras “going through the roof” – e.g. basic plastic 35 mm point and shoot cameras that were being sold for $30 three years ago are now selling for up to $600, making getting into film photography difficult for some people. However, if people are willing to forgo the convenience of fully automatic cameras, there are some good bargains to be had out there, with the added advantage of providing the user with a greater “organic” experience particularly if they develop and print their own negatives and not leave it to a professional lab to do it for them. The easiest way to do this is to work with black and white film which has a timeless pictorial look.
Medium format cameras by virtue of their much larger negative size, will produce prints with far more detail than even the most expensive 35mm cameras but some people new to photography are concerned about the perceived initial cost and the complexity of operating these cameras and shy away from them.
One of my favourite cameras is a 1938 Zeiss Ikon 521/2 medium format folder that produces large 6 by 9 negatives, yet is capable of being slipped into a large coat pocket and carried around. I estimate its value at around $130 making it affordable for anyone wishing to get into film photography .This particular camera has a sharp 4 element F3.5 105mm Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens and produces images that have a beautiful pictorial look.
Operating the camera is a truly “organic” experience as every part of the process has to be done by hand, from opening the camera, advancing the film (using the red window at the rear of the camera), cocking the shutter and focusing .The latter can be daunting at first as the camera uses zone focusing – the user needs to estimate the distance from the subject then set this distance on the lens. In practice one gets used to this quickly and it is possible to produce very clear images in a short time. Anyone who has zone focused their digital camera for street photography will have no trouble in adapting to a zone focus film cameras. There is a sense of satisfaction in using this camera that is only rivalled by operating a large format camera .It has the added advantage of slowing the user down, slowing their mind and allowing them to think more about the photograph itself rather than taking quick “snaps” with an automatic film camera. Underneath are a few images taken with this camera.
When buying a folding camera like the above there are a few things to look out for. Make sure the bellows are light tight and that the camera opens and closes without any obstruction. Make sure the focusing mechanism is smooth and the slow shutter speeds sound plausible especially the 1 sec speed. Some shutters on these old cameras can be dry and run slowly at low speeds.
Of course, this is not the only medium format camera that can be purchased cheaply. There are many other types including twin lens reflex cameras- a much underrated one being the Flexaret 6 by 6 .Look for the well known and respected EBay seller Cupog who always have a few of these for sale at very reasonable prices.