The hardest task facing any Lomographer-which cameras to save if the flat burns down?
Cameras are both a joy and a terror. A joy to use, a concern if they were ever to break irreparably or film ever finally ceases to exist commercially (I actually think the second option is unlikely. If it were going to happen, it would have happened by now). But one relief is that cameras cannot get jealous of each other, because every collector has their secret favourites. There are to me four categories of favourite cameras. Firstly, there is the difference between 35mm and medium format. To me they’re two completely different universes, and I’ll consider my favourites in 120 format another day. Secondly, there are the ‘beater’ cameras and the objects of lust. For this entry, I’ll restrain myself to 35mm, most people’s ‘everyday’ format.
Within 35mm format there are the workhorse cameras, those which get a lot of use, which are utterly reliable, pretty flexible, and are built like the proverbial brick waste repository centre. If they ever did break, you’d buy another body, because the bodies also tend to be pretty cheap. They’re incredibly handy to have around. You actually do also end up getting attached to them, more than you might at first realise. For many people a Nikon or Olympus might fill this category. For me it’s the Praktica MTL3. It has a metal shutter, a very flexible M42 lens mount, and a very plain but robust slab body. If I want a low-risk unfancy, plain 135mm camera I now reach automatically for either my Praktica MTL3 or one of my two Zenits. With a Helios or Pentacon lens on them, they churn out nice pictures without complaint. The Helios lens gives a combination of sharpness and soft colours that I love, the Pentacon is equally sharp but adds a clean metallic sheen.
But what about the second category-the objects of lust? The cameras that might be slightly less practical and everyday, but which you could never let go of? I’ve droned on before about how, for me, this category tends to be filled by 1950s era cameras. Part of the attraction of this period is the experimentation in design that was going on back then-there wasn’t yet a stereotype of what an SLR or a point-and-shoot camera should look like. I’ve got an early 1960s Praktica IV which has the film advance lever on the bottom rather than the top of the body, for goodness’ sake, and my Werramatic has ALL its adjustment features mounted on the lens barrel! Out of this oddball category, the 35mm I would have to save if the house was burning down is the Praktica FX2. It’s quirky and in some regards impractical. It has a flip-up waist level viewfinder rather than a more practical eyepiece, for example, making seeing and making a shot in bright sunlight sometimes a problem. It lacks an instant return mirror-you have to wind the film on, cocking the shutter in the process, to see through the waist level finder. The range of shutter speeds is quite odd-again, partly because there this was an era before there was standardisation- so you get a shutter speed of ‘100’ rather than ‘125’ for example. These very features made it instantly out of date once the 1960s got into full swing and Nikon and Minolta started showing how an SLR ‘should’ be designed. But it just looks damn cool to me personally, and is a lovely handler. With a Tessar or a Industar lens on it, it looks as if it should be sitting on J-P Sartre’s desk or on the table of some 1950s Parisian Left Bank cafe, or snapping B&W family shots at an East German picnic. It shrieks of a certain period, it screams both style and substance. It of course also likes colour film fine, but somehow it telepathically actively impels you to want to shoot more B&W (which is handily also more economical via home developing). Would I rush through a burning building to rescue it? In a heartbeat. It’s my keeper, one only to be prised from my cold dead hands.
I’m sure others have gone through this debate in their heads too. Feel free to categorise and justify your own favourites in comments!