Walkin’ with the Zeiss

There’s a fellow in Windhoek, whose name I shall not mention for two reasons: firstly for the usual reasons of discretion, and secondly because I care so little for his opinions that I have not bothered to learn his name.

To him, I’m the “dude with the vintage cameras” — when I first encountered him a year or two ago, I was in the pleasant company of my first TLR, a Yashica-Mat 124. He immediately began, for lack of a better phrase, to lay into me verbally for being “into vintage shit for vintage’s sake”.

Despite not actually caring, he asked me why I used vintage cameras. Foolishly I bothered to answer, rather than just take his picture and walk away; “I like the look and feel of the results,” I said, “and the quality of a well-executed medium format picture, even with a modest camera, can far outstrip the quality of most consumer digital cameras.”

Which is true.

He wasn’t having it, and rolled out the usual platitudes: that modern advances in imaging technology rendered old technology obsolete; that it was inconceivable that hordes of highly-paid engineers could fail to turn out a better camera than Mr Barnack, etc. To him, film was “old tech”, obsolete, having no place in society.

Musically, he also took offence at the fact that I like the old stuff more than the new stuff. I guess the same applies.

Either it has not occurred to him that some aesthetic decisions are just that, and don’t have anything to do with “better” technology, or he’s the kind of person who needs to ‘win’ conversations. And to date, all conversations I have had have been faintly confrontational, and insofar as I have “won”, it was a pyrrhic victory at best.

Remind me not to talk about technology and music with morons.

I was thinking of this while I loaded up a dark horse in my camera stable, a 1937 Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/2 6×9 folder fitted with a Novar Anastigmat 10.5cm f/4.5 lens in a Prontor-S shutter.

By any modern measure, it’s an inconvenient camera. The lens is less than perfectly contrasty, single-coated (if that), scale-focused (I might pocket an auxiliary rangefinder), the shutter maxes out at 1/250, and it’s not a terribly fast lens. The shutter must explicitly be cocked, there is no double exposure suppression. The self-timer is defective, insofar as it opens the shutter part-way as soon as it starts running, and then trips completely when it runs out. I have substantially “better” cameras in my collection of users.

But it’s a sentimental thing, and I admit it willingly. Aside from anything else this is a camera which wasn’t working at all when I got it; the shutter was seized due to a jammed self-timer (see above), the lens was filthy inside and out, and the focusing ring was stiff at best. A bit of intrepid tinkering and some lighter fluid enabled me to turn what would have been a pretty display-case bauble into something at least marginally usable.

It’s a little like rescuing a stray dog: it’s a rewarding experience in the end, even if they’re often recalcitrant, disobedient, squirrelly and just downright weird.

So today, when I go out, I’ll be walking with the Zeiss Nettar.

At least the Zeiss doesn’t lick me awake in the mornings.


About lidlesseye

Mouthing off about photography, and occasionally important things too.

Posted on July 6, 2009, in Culture, medium format, Photography and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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