For my 16th Birthday, in 1964, my parents were rash enough to listen to my years of hints, pleading, and tantrums to buy me a proper camera. By proper camera I mean a 35mm camera with a proper lens and a metal body, not a plastic one like I had been using.
They little knew what they had started!
Over the last 50 plus years I have had, and still have, many, many cameras (some good, some not so good) and spent many thousands of pounds.
I first started, age about 10, with a cheap plastic camera, fixed focus, fixed shutter speed and a variable aperture, varied by moving a different sized hole in front of the lens – sunny or dull, anyone?
This camera took 120 roll film and I put many rolls of film through it, with variable results, from adequate to rubbish.
Opening the box on my 16th birthday opened up a new world for me.
My old Halina 35x – an old friend!
The camera was a Halina 35x, 35mm film, non interchangeable lens, variable focus from a couple of feet to infinity, variable shutter speeds and variable aperture, from f3.5 to f22
Suddenly, I was David Bailey, Tony Armstrong Jones and Ansel Adams all rolled into one. This camera was responsible for my local chemist being able to afford a new car instead of a second hand one.
The camera was Empire Made – meaning it was made out in the colonies, in Hong Kong, by the Haking Company, but to me it was as good as the best Leica and I still have loads of black and white photographs that I took with it, and many more negatives not printed, because, if you are a photographer you have to process your own film (I now realise that was why the guy at the film counter in the chemist growled when I bought film – he never got the kickback from the processing – no new cars for him any more).
I took that camera everywhere with me – I got the nickname “Camera Man” from all the kids, and some of the more simple minded adults.
I now realise that that camera wasn’t the top notch beast that it appeared to an impressionable 16 year old, it was cheaply made, the controls were stiff and sticky, but it served me well for a couple of years.
Of course, once the bug bites you are hooked, so I soon got the urge to have another camera. I had started working, for a not fantastic wage in 1965, but every spare penny I had went into my camera fund. I couldn’t afford a Leica – in 1965 they were around £500 body only, a lens was another £250 – and a lad earning the princely sum of £8 a week would struggle to buy one of those. On one of my travels around the North East I happened upon a pawn shop in North Shields and in the window was a Contax Ii rangefinder camera (probably some trawler man, strapped for cash after a poor catch, had “popped” his pride and joy).
It was £200 – again, way out of my league, but alongside it was something very similar, but with funny writing on it. Better still – it was £20 !!!
The funny writing was Russian, and the camera looked like a Contax and took interchangeable lenses.
SOLD to the young lad with his tongue hanging out!. A no-brainer, really.
Camera in hand I popped into the nearest Boots and bought a roll of Ilford FP3 – 36 exposures – my favourite B&W film, and one which I had developed at home many times.
On the ferry back across the Tyne to South Shields I took a few pictures, sadly lost in the mists of time, but the camera felt great in my hands and soon I was taking it everywhere with me, the Halina 35x relegated to a shelf.
As an aside, the Kiev 4 and 4a cameras were not just copies of the Contax II – immediately after the war the Russians claimed all of the drawings, patents, machinery, and spare parts (including some partly and completely built cameras) as war reparations from the Zeiss Ikon factory and moved the lot, lock, stock and barrel, to a factory just outside of, yes, you’ve guessed it, Kiev. They also took some engineers with them – history doesn’t record if those engineers went willingly!
They also did similar with the Zeiss lens factory, and to a lesser degree, with Leica too.
Thus my camera wasn’t strictly a copy of a Contax – it was a genuine Contax, made on the same machines, operated by the same engineers, using the same tooling. Result!
Over the next 10 years the Russian camera bug bit me hard and I bought, sold and exchanged many different models in the Zorki, Fed and Kiev range.
I still have a few of them in my collection and still cannot resist a camera that I haven’t previously had or used. – see the pics.
If anyone has any Russian rangefinder cameras I would love to give them a loving home.
Pics – various Russian cameras
The Zorkis and the FEDs are copies of the Pre War Leica rangefinder cameras, although the Russians began developing their own ideas and incorporated them into their cameras, thus the later range of cameras diverge slightly from the Leica “look”.
– with top mounted selenium cell match needle exposure meter. Not the prettiest camera in the World, but the light meter is a useful addition.
– the camera that started the mad craze of collecting Russian knock off copies of Leica and Contax cameras
The Kiev range of cameras always seemed, to me, to be better engineered, slightly higher quality than the Zorkis and the FEDs.
A recently purchased big brother of my original Halina 35x, this is the Halina 35 Super. It has the same lens, a 45mm f3.5, and is pretty much the same camera under the bonnet.
Browsing through the pages of Amateur Photographer in my local library one afternoon I spotted a full page advert for a Russian camera, an SLR (Single Lens Reflex).
The very advertisement I saw in 1975
An SLR allows you to focus and compose the picture through the lens which takes the photo, a big improvement on the rangefinder idea where you peered through a little window and the lens was separate.
This camera, a Zenith E, was advertised, with lens, a Helios 44-2 58mm f2, for just shy of £60. I looked locally for one, but they were as rare as hens teeth and as I was getting married soon (this was 1975), I decided to hang onto the cash. On my honeymoon in London I just happened to be on the Edgeware Road (by accident, you understand) and saw a Zenith E in a camera shop. The shop was called Technical & Optical Equipment (London) Ltd (TOE) and was the sole importers of Russian cameras at that time.
Ten minutes later I had a Zenith E to add to my growing collection.
After a couple of years I traded it in for a Mamiya MSX-500, which I still have,
Mamiya MSX-500 – much better than the Zenith as it has TTL (Through The Lens) exposure metering.
The Mamiya is still a manual camera, no automatic shutter or exposure settings – everything done by the bloke behind the lens.
Later I added a Sigma Mark1, (because I got it cheap and can’t resist a bargain) also still in my collection.
Sigma Mark1 – fitted with a 28mm f2.8 Prinzflex, bought from Dixons with an old camera, now long gone.
Both of these cameras use the old Pentax M42 (42mm) screw lens mount.
Millions of lenses were made in this fitting, many of them available for peanuts these days.
I also (somewhere) have an Olympus Pen EE, a half frame 35mm camera which squeezes 2 pictures into the 24mm high x 36mm wide format (each half frame negative is 24mm high x 18mm wide).
I also have a plethora of lenses, various makes, from various old cameras, these will make an appearance in Part 2 of this article.
That is my collection of film cameras, together now not worth very much in monetary terms but to me they are priceless. I still, occasionally, shoot a cassette of film just for old times sake, and I believe that film, just like vinyl records, is making a bit of a comeback with the Millennials.
Next time, in Part Two, I go Digital.
All photographs in this article** are Copyright © Grimy Miner 2020 and are licensed for use in this article only.
**(with the exception of the photograph of the Contax II which is from Wikipedia and attributed to them and to the Zenith Advertisement which is attributed to Mike Eckman – mikeeckman.com)
All photographs taken for this article (with the exception of the Contax II from Wiki and the Zenith Ad) were taken on the Fujifilm X-A5 with 15-45mm zoom lens, and post processed using ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2021
© Grimy Miner, Going Postal 2020