Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Russians Came

... and left us a gift.

I remember when Fed and Zorki cameras were at least mentioned in Modern Photography or Popular Photography (gee, I really miss Modern) as pathetic alternatives to a Leica or a Contax. OK, they didn't use the word pathetic, but the idea was there. The knock against Soviet photographic equipment was its reliability issues. I.e., make sure your camera was made on a Wednesday, else it was too vodka-soaked to be useful.

There was some merit to that, but it wasn't the whole story. Through my membership at Rangfinder Forum, I have gained a new appreciation with FSU (Former Soviet Union) photo gear. Until recently, however, it was an academic appreciation. Then someone sold me a Mamiya 1000DTL camera with 50mm Mamiya lens, and a Carl Zeiss Jena 135/f3.5 lens as a bonus (made in East Germany during the soviet era) ... the CZJ is a VERY sharp lens:

This shot was form the CZJ mounted with an M42 adapter onto an OM-1n. That setup doesn't allow for infinity focus, only close focus (e.g., "macro) shots. The CZJ 135/3.5 has pretty close focusing anyway, so this is a pretty useful rig, albeit requiring stopdown metering.

As a result of the close focus and large aperture, this shot shows very limited depth of field. But what is in focus is wicked sharp.

Next, I acquired a 58mm/f2 Helios lens, also in M42 (Practica/Pentax) screw mount. My friend Gene Wilburn (Harbourlight on flickr) had posted some shots with this lens that really impressed me. It turns out a co-worker had one that he considered spare, so he gave it to me. Whoo hoo!

One freezing Sunday in January I went out to the High Falls district in Rochester and made a few shots, mounted on the aforementioned Mamiya-Sekor 1000DTL. Most shots were either wide-open or near full aperture. I wanted to see how sharp it was at maximum aperture, as well as gauge the "bokeh", i.e. the characteristics of the out of focus areas.

Some of the blurriness in the last shot is from the long exposure combined with falling sleet. My butt got wet on this shoot.

Film was a private label of Agfa Vista 200. Sadly, Agfa no longer manufactures photographic film. This particular emulsion was a real winner.

The Industar 61 is perhaps an even better lens (albeit slower at f/2.8), so I think I'll have to get one of those, too.

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