When I was a kid my father had an old camera that he took the family photos with, it was a big black block in a big brown leather case. Even today I remember the smell of the camera and leather. My father used to bring the camera out on special occasions, then he measured the light with an device, set the levers at the right numbers, sit still aaaaand “klick”. That was a Rolleicord from 1952 he bought back in the 1960’s.
Later he got a more modern camera, but still the same procedure measuring the light and setting of all controls correctly. I saw how he worked with the camera and got interested. So when I was in school and got the possibility to try taking photos I tested it out and liked it very much. But sadly nothing came out of that because the school just wanted the kids to try, not lo learn. Then I got to borrow my mothers cheep instamatic camera that was only a “point and shoot” camera. Really useless photos, all blurred and of focus. But it was fun to take a photo of the everyday life back then. A photo that I could decide the motive on.
When I started to work I finally got around to buy me an real camera. I started to read about all sorts of models and makers. My choice was of course on the camera that my father used. An used Rolleicord 6×6 frame camera from late 1950’s. It was using film type that is called “120”, regular cameras uses “135”. The “120” film only had 12 frames per film, but the 135 film had 36 frames. So right from the start I learned to be economical with taking photos and on what. It was fun to use an old camera, it taught me a lots of other things to. Like how to looking at the light, deciding on what zone of light I would base my photo on. How to compose the photo, save frames on the film to the good photo opportunities. Learning to see the situations sop to speak. Not to just fire away and use all film at once. While I was walking around the city with this camera I became an regular visitor at the camera stores where I bought film, and left the rolls for development. In many of those shops they had an vintage shelf filled with dusty old cameras. Of course, the natural development for me was to get a new modern camera with all new gadgets to aid me in taking photos. But that was not the case, among all those dusty cameras was one standing that was looking really great. The design, the look. After I was allowed to feel it, I was hooked. The camera was an Leica M2 from 1959, the first type with a button rewind release. Now this might not mean anything. But it is one of the most sought after cameras, they where the natural choise for reporters and photographers back in the day. I bought it. It was mine! I bought some lenses for it and after a few weeks I retired the Rolleicord that I had bought earlier, I started to use the Leica everywhere. It was so smooth in operation, handling like a dream.
After some time I bought other cameras, older, more obscure brands. I found it relaxing to try and repair the cameras, and why not try them out after repairing them. There was a shop in town that sold old vintage science items, test tubes, gadgets, typewriters and he also had an entire shelf filled with old cameras and accessories. He had no clue of the value of things, he was just interested in making good money fast. He had bought up en entire photo store from the 1950’s. Old cans with film, filters, cable releases, cameras, lens caps and other things. I bought my cameras there cheep just to repair and service them. It was fun! It was at that time I met an old gentleman that collected cameras. He told me about the history behind some brands and he showed me easy tips on how to repair cameras. I bought an Russian camera from him, I thought it was so odd to have because it was an serial made copy of an Leica II from 1930’s. I was amazed by this copy and the entire process behind the development of the copying back then. It turned out that the copy was not an exact copy. It was more of an version that was heavily influenced by the German Lecia cameras. But after using the camera I found that it was so simple and fun to use so I started to look for different models but also to read the history behind them.
The Russians started to make the FED cameras around 1934 and they developed that copy into an new brand in 1948, the Zorki. There was a Zorki camera made in 1970’s that was an version, of an Leica M. But instead of the delicate design and operation, the Russian version was more build like an indestructible tank. But at the same time, precise in operations and handeling. Nothing like my Leica, but still. There was something special, something that I really liked with the Russian camera. I really started to like that camera both the idea behind it and the way it was made. I decided that I was going after a special model. One day I found one, the right model in good condition. The one I was found was an Zorki 4K mid 1970’s model. In my opinion the final and ultimate development. Neasy to handle but still has the things that are needed for a good reliable camera. I started to look after lenses that was made in the same era and looking like the camera just to get an complete set.
But then one day it happened. Digital cameras came along and over a period of 6 months, the old cameras became obsolete. Now you could take a photo with an camera and having it in your computer in 5 seconds. No more developing the film, rinse it, dry it, copy the negative to an photo with developer, fixer and drying, heat pressing semi-glossed photos. All that replaced with a press on a button. No need for huge photo developer machines. With in 2 years all small photo labs that you walked to and handed over your roll of film for development had disappeared. A few years later the mobile phones could take better images than my fathers old top of the line Rolleicord. The Leica I had was an dinosaur.
Sadly in that depression and sense of being lost I sold almost everything of my camera collection, the German cameras, American, Japanese cameras with accessories. It all went away to other collectors. Including my old Leica that had been with me for so many years. Of some reason I saved the Russian Zorki 4k camera. Why I still have no idea. I regret selling the Leica, but the Zorki is a odd one. It still is there, looking as exiting as before. An monument over an era that never will come back. The era of amateur photography with film. Today everyone has a great camera in their phone, along with an entire photo lab with filters, and different setting for moods and colours. I do not say anything about that, quite the opposite. I love digital photos, I have taken over 20000 photos with my phone. I also have digital cameras that are almost professional. But the feeling of developing the photos in a darkroom. Looking at the white paper that develops an image in different fluids. Hanging the photos on a line to dry. Trying to get the right contrast, exposure. The feeling in every photo.
Not quite the same when sitting by a computer pressing a button. Or standing on the tube, adding filters to an photo and between two stations editing, cutting and developing an excellent photo. back then you had to wait for one good image. Today you can take photos all the, one of them is most likely to be great. But there is no digital camera that can simulate the feeling of loading up a camera with a new roll of film, the smell of chemicals. Feel of the film on your fingers, and when winding the camera. The action and sounds. That is an camera should sound. Not like my Fujifilm X100 where you can set the shutter sound from 3 different sounds. A shutter should sound like a shutter. The Leica M2 had a silent shutter, the Zorki 4K has an shutter that reminds of an car door being slammed shut (with some broken window glass inside).
Today I never use the old analogue cameras, only the digital ones. It is easier, quicker and with only one memory card you can take over 800 photos. Not 36 images as on the old cameras. Also on a digital camera you see the results right away no need to wait for 2 weeks.
But the Zorki 4K is still around. Waiting, waiting for the perfect photo.
The search never ends.