Update March 2013: I’ve been collaborating with the poet Rebecca Goss on a project using the Zorki-4 and the Jupiter-8 lens. We’ve called it the Jupiter Project.
A couple of weeks ago I bought a Zorki-4 camera on ebay, because I wanted to see what it was like to use a rangefinder, and I don’t have the money to experiment with Leicas. I think I have been lucky with my purchase. This particular camera was made in 1968, the year I was born, but as the pictures below show, there isn’t much wrong with it. Even the slow shutter speeds seem reasonably accurate. The Jupiter-8 lens is in good shape too, but more on that later.
Zorkis were made in Moscow, starting with the Zorki-1, in 1948. The Zorki-1 was a copy of the Leica II rangefinder, from the early 1930s, and indeed if you are thinking of buying one of those, check carefully that it didn’t start out life as a Zorki. They look almost identical even before they have been modified, and you’re better off with a working Zorki-1 than a fake Leica. The Zorki-4s were made from 1956 to 1973, and were the best selling of the Zorki range. This one was made for export, and probably arrived in Britain when it was new.
Of course I am old enough to have used film cameras when there was no alternative, but what little I know about photography has mostly been learned with digital cameras. In fact if it hadn’t been for digital, I doubt I would ever have felt excitable enough about a camera to buy one of these, because I wouldn’t have spent enough time taking pictures. The Zorki has no electronics, and gives no assistance, not even a passive light meter. That was quite scary at first. The problem shifted from “How do I get this light into the camera in the way I want it?” to “How much light is there? Now what?” I downloaded a couple of light meter apps to my phone, and have also used another camera just for metering, but mostly I have used the “sunny sixteen” rule, made a guess, and worked it out for myself. The distance range on the lens, and the rangefinder way of focussing is very easy. The Zorki is a revelation.
The Jupiter-8 lens that came with this camera is a little stiff, but not in a problematic way. It’s clean and tidy, and seems to be free of scratches. One thing that has shocked me a little though is how variable it is. With modern lenses there is some slight variation in sharpness, depending on how wide the aperture is set, but for middle of the road snappers like me that doesn’t make much difference. This lens though is radically different with the aperture wide open from the way it is “stopped down”. I was pleased to get the shot below, largely because I was finding out whether the slow shutter speeds were working (they seem to be). But since it was taken indoors, the lens was wide open. Even allowing for a tiny bit of camera shake, you can see how soft the image below (taken at 1/40 second at f2) is. Not in a bad way, necessarily–maybe in a way you could use–but soft nonetheless.
Compare it with some of the outdoor shots in the slideshow below to see how sharp it can be at small apertures. A huge range.
PS. This camera and lens cost less than a fast SD card.
Manufacturers of electronic gadgets know only too well that small and shiny sells and that bright colours mesmerise the ape brain. Modern electronics and plastics make wondrous things easier to achieve in miniature, but in fact not much is new.
Dropping in after a picnic lunch at the rather lovely Angus Folk Museum a couple of weeks back I found this little beauty in a glass case. It’s difficult to appreciate how small this camera is from the picture–since it’s behind glass I couldn’t slip a ten pence piece in alongside it–but that thing just in front of it is a roll of 16mm film, so just over 1.5cm tall. The camera itself is about the size of my thumb.
According to this article at ephotozine.com the Coronet Midget was in production from 1935 and was advertised as ‘the world’s smallest camera’. While it’s a long way from that now it is still a lot smaller than most current ‘point and shoot’ cameras. Like many current cameras it also came in a range of colours, including blue, red, and black. The down side of course is that the standard prints that came from the six-exposure film were so small they had to be viewed with an accessory magnifying glass–just one of a range of accessories available apparently. It seems that the Coronet company, which was founded in 1926, ceased production in 1967, but with marketing ideas like these it might have done well today.
In terms of practicality Ephotozine has this to say:
Picture taking with a Midget was a straightforward affair as there are no camera adjustments available. In fact apart from the shutter release, the only control is a lock to prevent the camera being fired accidentally. The photographer’s only real choice is whether to take the picture in landscape or portrait format. The claimed shutter speed is 1/30 of a second and the lens has an effective aperture of f/10.
The Coronet Midget was discussed on the Instructables forum earlier this year and there are some good pictures showing the camera alongside familiar objects, including the obligatory coin. Still more pictures of Coronet Midgets here.