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CCR Review 61 – Exakta VX IIa

You don’t have to break a leg to get a kick out of using the Exakta VX IIa, but if you’re not careful if you drop it on your leg, it just may break the bone. I was a little wary of this camera at first. All the controls are on the left side. Thankfully it didn’t take much to get used to the odd layout, and luckily it didn’t take me 39 steps to get used to the machine. And I found it fairly intuitive after a while; there was no throwing this camera out the rear window, I’d by a psycho for doing such a thing.

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

The Dirt

  • Make: Exakta
  • Model: VX IIa
  • Type: Single Lens Reflex
  • Format: 135 (35mm), 36×24
  • Len: Interchangeable, Exakta Bayonet
  • Year of Manufacture: 1956-1963

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

The Good
There are a few things that the genuinely awkward Exakta has going for it. The first item is the optics, beautiful sharp Carl Zeiss lenses, like the iconic Biotar makes this a camera worthwhile for the simple reason of image quality. Along the same line as the lens is the aperture opening lever. On the bottom of the lens barrel, there’s a pull lever that will open up the aperture as the camera doesn’t have an automatic aperture or TTL metering. So having the ability to set the aperture, open it up for focusing, then with a half push on the shutter release the lens stops down before tripping the shutter, gives the VX IIa somewhat of an easier operation. Then there’s the wonderful option of using a waist-level finder. Yes, you read that correctly, you can put a waist-level finder onto the Exakta. It does make for a different shooting experience with the camera and certainly makes using the left-handed controls a bit easier in the long run.

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

The Bad
Throw out everything you know about shooting SLRs; when you pick up an Exakta. I’m not sure of the reason behind this radical departure from the norm, but it certainly makes for a unique shooting experience. And it doesn’t stop there, nothing on this camera is quick and easy. You have to cut down the film leader to load the camera, and there’s little to no feedback on if you’ve loaded the film correctly. The film advance pulls down the meter and cocks the shutter, so it has the longest pull in any camera I’ve reviewed, it’s almost a full 180 degrees. Even rewinding the film, what should be the easiest task of them all is awkward, I lost about five or six frames because when I though I had rewound the film, I hadn’t and opened the back…twice. And finally, the shutter release takes a bit of an effort to push down. All these points combine to a rather awkward shooting experience, even more so than the Leica R3.

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

CCR Review 61 - Exakta VX IIa

The Lowdown
If you want a serious challenge, with some great results, the Exakta VX IIa is the camera for you. Everything is mirrored, everything takes a lot more of an effort to operate and use. This isn’t a camera for quick and dirty operation. So I can see why a wheelchair-bound photographer would use the camera for spying on his neighbors in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. But if you do run with the camera, you won’t be disappointed in the images you get out of it.

All Photos Taken at Westfield Heritage Village, Rockton, Ontario
Exakta VX IIa – Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 2/58 – Kodak TMax 100 @ ASA-100 – Kodak D-23 (Stock) 9:30 @ 20C

CCR Review 60 – KMZ Zenit E

Soviet cameras and I have had a rocky relationship. There’s only a handful out there that I like, and then there’s the Zenit E. This is a beautiful camera that is probably the pick of the litter from the Zenit line. One of my first SLRs was a Zenit B, the non-metered version of the E. And despite never getting a single frame from the camera. Because I had no clue what I was doing at the time, finding myself instantly familiar with the workings of the Zenit E and it certainly makes for a much better Soviet SLR than the other’s I’ve worked with in the past. Special thanks to James Lee for loaning out this camera for a review.

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

The Dirt

  • Make: KMZ
  • Model: Zenit E
  • Type: Single Lens Reflex
  • Format: 135 (35mm), 36×24
  • Len: Interchangeable, M42 Screw Mount
  • Year of Manufacture: 1965-1968

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

The Good
There is nothing complicated about this camera. The operation, layout and general use of the camera make it easy for anyone to pickup and use. The only feature that this camera has is the uncoupled light meter, but more on that later. Despite the weight of the camera, it doesn’t detract from its use, although a nice heavy duty padded strap would be a good idea. A carbine style cross strap would be best. The M42 mount gives you a wide range of lenses to use on the camera both German and Soviet optics can easily mount on the camera. And as a bonus, most Soviet optics are direct copies of their German counterparts and often have their unique features that you don’t find in other lenses. Even though there is no automatic aperture on the camera that doesn’t detract from the operation, as you can easily set the aperture then open and close it with a simple twist ring that will stop at the correct aperture. The one thing to watch out for is the shutter speed dial; you can only set your shutter speed once the film has been advanced and shutter cocked, much like the rangefinders from the FED and Zorki line. Finally, there’s the sound of the camera, the noise the shutter and mirror make when in operation is substantial and pleasing, there’s no mistaking when you’ve fired a shot.

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

The Bad
Usually, if a camera has a selenium meter that tends to be a positive feature to a camera, no batteries needed, and usually still operates. In this case, however, the meter isn’t a handy thing to have on this camera. First, off the meter is uncoupled, this means that no matter how you adjust the camera settings the meter doesn’t react, there’s a second dial that you set to give you the camera settings based on the meter reading. Add to that the meter read out is on the top of the camera body only. It would be better to stick with Sunny-16 or an external meter. In addition to this, you’ll have a hard time ensure the correct film speed setting as the camera is calibrated more towards the old GOST scale with corresponding DIN numbers. Sadly these film speeds do not line up with most modern films, you do have options like GOST-130, but I’ve never seen that sort of film. There is also the matter of the long film advance crank, while a minor nuisance does make it difficult to fire off several shots in succession. And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Soviet Bloc did not have the best quality control so there is a chance that these cameras can break easily or purchased in a broken state. At least there’s a high chance with the right tools and manual you can do the repair yourself.

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

CCR Review 60 - KMZ Zenit E

The Lowdown
Out of all the Soviet cameras I’ve reviewed to date, the Zenit E is only one of two that I would recommend picking up, but I would lean someone more towards a Zenit B, the non-metered version. Both are strong mechanical cameras that have a nice look and feel to take out on International Communist Camera day and are better than most of the later model Zenit cameras. But there is one thing that you should look for if you are thinking of getting one and that’s the lens. Most of these cameras shipped with and still come with a Helios 44-2 lens, this 58mm f/2 is a copy of the Carl Zeiss Biotar. It has also become somewhat of a cult lens in the portrait market even I have one that I use with my Sony a6000. The reason is that when you shoot a subject at about 5 feet away with the lens opened to f/2 you get a classic Petzval style swirl. So even if you get a broken Zenit, you still get an amazing lens to add to your collection.

All Photos Taken in Hamilton, Ontario
KMZ Zenit E – KMZ Helios 44-2 2/58 – Kodak TMax 100 @ ASA-100 – Kodak D-23 (Stock) 9:30 @ 20C

Expired Film Day – 2017

Two Stops Over and Straight On ‘Til Morning.

Expired Film Day 2017

Ah yes, the mantra of Expired Film Day. EFD is the brainchild of fellow film photographer Daniel J. Schneider. The day is a celebration of shooting and enjoying the wacky results you get from shooting expired film. I tend to shy away from colour films mostly because of having to send them away for processing. So this year I had a pile of the mid-1990s expired TMax 100 floating around to shoot. Most Kodak B&W films are fairly stable, and you could shoot them at box speed if you wanted and get good results. I know because I’ve been using the film to try out cameras for the Classic Camera Revival Review blogs.

Expired Film Day 2017

Expired Film Day 2017

To make matters a little more interesting, we recently got hit with a big winter storm which turned our near Spring area into a winter wonderland, and a cold snap forced me to make some different choices when it came to going out and shooting. Ditching the idea of taking out any camera or meter with a battery because I figured it would be at least an hour to walk and shoot in the awful weather I settled on an old war standby. The Contax IIIa and mounting a 1942 era Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm lens, as for a meter it was the Gossen Pilot.

Expired Film Day 2017

Expired Film Day 2017

There was a plus to all this, the overcast sky and bright sun behind the clouds made the light bright but even making metering fairly consistent no matter what I was shooting. As for the subject, I decided to take to my old stomping grounds, the campus of my former High School. This was where I started with serious photography, often taking time between classes to figure out my newest camera. I was pretty frozen by the time I made it back, but the camera had survived. The older lens gave everything a bit of a hazy look about it which only added to the strangeness of EFD. Maybe next year I’ll plan it out better to have a batch of colour negative waiting for developing and then shoot some expired slide film and Xpro it!

Expired Film Day 2017

Expired Film Day 2017

Contax IIIa – Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 1:3,5 f=5cm – Kodak TMax 100 @ ASA-64 (TMX)
SPUR HRX (1+17) 11:30 @ 20C
Meter: Gossen Pilot
Scanner: Epson V700
Editor: Adobe Photoshop CC (2017)

Frozen Shutters – The Dangers of Winter Photo Walks

Ah yes, the winter, cold, snow, and frozen shutters. Back in January, a small, brave group from the Toronto Film Shooters community decided to head out to Milton’s Hilton Falls Conservation area. I, deciding to ignore my own advice brought my Crown Graphic along for the trip.

TFSM - Phrozen Phingers

While we had a decent snowfall at the end of December, a warm spell through early January melted everything, and when the temperature dropped, everything was frozen over, and the trails were ice rinks. I was started to think I should have brought a simple 35mm camera to run with. Despite this, it was good to get out with the 4×5 again. Since the loss of my Intrepid I haven’t been shooting much, but this walk got me back into the game because I now have access to all my lenses.

TFSM - Phrozen Phingers

One of the more interesting gems I brought along is a lens I picked up a while back. A 1921 Kodak Anastigmat f:7.7 170mm. The Anastigmat design was first released in 1914 based on a four element Dialyt design, like the Goerz/Schneider Artars. I was, of course, hoping for some strange look about the image, but for an old lens, it was pretty sharp. And the shutter speeds seemed to still be on point.

TFSM - Phrozen Phingers

There was one good thing about the melt; the water was flowing nicely over the falls. Which made shooting at f/64 all the sweeter to catch that falling water.

TFSM - Phrozen Phingers

TFSM - Phrozen Phingers

Hopefully, I’ll make a trip when the weather gets warmer so that my shutters won’t complain as much.

Camera: Graflex Pacemaker Crown Graphic
Lenses: Fuji Fujinon-W 1:5.6/125, Kodak Anastigmat f:7.7 170mm, & Kodak Ektar f:7.7 203mm
Film: Kodak TMax 100 (100TMX) @ ASA-100
Developer: Kodak HC-110 Dil. B 5:30 @ 20C
Meter: Pentax Spotmeter V
Scanner: Epson V700
Editor: Adobe Photoshop CC (2015.5)

Project:1812 – The Battle of Malcolm’s Mills

By the end of 1814 forces on the Niagara Frontier had fought themselves to a standstill. Realizing that the British relied on their supply lines in the western area of Upper Canada the American Army arranged for a series of raids aimed to disrupt the supply lines.

Project:1812 - The Battle of Malcolm's Mills
Even after the destruction of their livelihood, the Malcolm family continued to live in the area well into the mid-19th century.

A column of 750 mounted volunteers from Ohio and Kentucky crossed into Upper Canada on October 26th, 1814 under the command of Brigadier General Duncan McArthur. McArthur’s column raided along the Thames River valley destroying crops, mills, and anything that could be used to supply the British army. The local militia got word of these raids and setup a plan to take on McArthur. Heavy rains had caused the Grand River to over flow it’s banks, so they sank all the boats and setup a defense at Malcolm’s Mills. McArthur hearing about a gathering of Militia, and finding no way to cross the Grand River turned his entire column south to disperse the locals.

Project:1812 - The Battle of Malcolm's Mills
The historic plaque marks the area near where the battle was fought.

The column clashed with the militia on November 6th, 1814. The column much better trained and equipped than the local members of the Oxford, Norfolk, and Middlesex militias along with native warriors, and quickly outflanked them killed 18 and wounding nine. The American’s suffered one killed and eight wounded. The remaining militia members were captured and paroled back to their homes, swearing that they would not fight in the war again. The following day American troops burned homes, the mills, barns, and anything they could find.

Project:1812 - The Battle of Malcolm's Mills
The neatly arranged headstones of the original settlers of the area, all of them United Empire Loyalists.

The Americans continued to raid further south towards Port Dover, but by November 17th, 1814 returned to Detroit, but were able to do serious damage to the local economy. Five mills were destroyed not to mention homes, barns, and crops. American troops proved to be civil to the local farmers issuing receipts for damaged properties. The Battle of Malcolm’s Mill stands as the last battle in the War of 1812 on Canadian soil. Today a plaque stands in the centre of the town of Oakland, where Malcolm’s Mills once stood. There’s no sign or marker where the mills once stood, but a Mill Street and Malcolm Street offer some clue to the town’s history.

Project:1812 - The Battle of Malcolm's Mills
A park now sits along the river, just off Mill Street. So I’m guessing the mills once stood there. The American’s did a good job, not even ruins are left.

Written with files from:
Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 Second Edition by Gilbert Collins – 2006 The Dundurn Group Publishers
Web: www.discoverbrantford.com/war_of_1812/local_connection/Pages/MacarthursRaid.aspx

Photos:
Nikon FM2 – AI-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.8 – Kodak Tmax 100 (100TMX)
Rodinal 1+50 12:00 @ 20C