Archive Analog

Analog Tales 6: The Canonet QL17 G-III

The Canonet QL17 G-III came to me as a surprise. I had been thinking about a lightweight 35mm rangefinder as an always-in-the-backpack alternative to the heavier Canon A-1 and even tried out a Minox 35 EL recently, but was not satisfied with the small viewfinders. An Olympus Mju or XA looked tempting, but when this Canonet showed up in the shop I could not resist. At about 650g it’s certainly not a featherweight like my Agfa Optima, but it still only weighs half of what the A-1 with the big zoom lens does. It will be challenging to shoot with a 40mm fixed focal length, but I guess I will just have to be creative and it will be a flashback to the 1980s with my Agfa. I have not yet decided what film I should use in it, but I’m sure I’ll take it out for a photo walk in the coming weeks.

The Canonet QL17 G-III introduced in 1972 was the final and best incarnation of a long range of Canonets that began in 1961 with the original model. The top version of the range was sold for over a decade and still is in high demand because of its sharp six-element 40mm f/1.7 lens and automatic aperture exposure function that could also be turned off for completely manual usage. It also has a double-window rangefinder like much more expensive cameras. Sometimes called the “poor man’s Leica” it certainly can’t rival the Leica M series that dominated the upper-class rangefinder market in the 1970s, but it is still one of the best and affordable 35mm rangefinder cameras of that time.

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Analog Tales 5: The Voigtländer Vitomatic IIa

The Voigtländer Vitomatic IIa was my Grandfather’s 35mm rangefinder camera of choice in the early 1960s. While our first 35mm negatives date back to 1955 and there must have been other cameras before the Vitomatic IIa and my mother’s Lordomat SE, the Vitomatic was his favourite camera until he got a Pentaflex SL in 1966. His Vitomatic IIa was bought in January 1962 according to a datestamp on the manual, about a year after it was introduced. It has the less expensive Color-Skopar 50mm f/2.8 lens, but was still an amazing camera for its time. I still own the original camera which is in reasonably good shape, but the light meter is not working anymore and the slow exposure times are lagging. Fortunately I was able to find an identical one with a working light meter and only slightly inaccurate shutter speeds, so I might shoot some film with it sometime.

The Vitomatic IIa was the most popular version of several 35mm cameras in the Vitomatic series that started in the 1950s with a lot of different models and culminated with a series of excellent caneras. The Vitomatic IIa has an optical split-image rangefinder and a coupled match-needle rangefinder that is both displayed on top of the camera and in the bright, large viewfinder. Most of the cameras were sold with the four-element Color-Skopar 50mm f/2.8 lens, but a small run was produced with the sharper and more light sensitive Color-Ultron 50mm f/2 lens. They were not inexpensive cameras, not as pricey as a Leica but still definitively middle class. Today, the Skopar models are still widely available and not particularly expensive, because 200.000 of them were made in the early 1960s. Those with the Ultron lenses, like some other Voigtländer cameras, are more rare and often fetch prices in the triple digits.

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Analog Tales 4: The Lordomat SE

The Leidolf Wetzlar Lordomat SE was my late mother Angela’s main camera in the 1950s and 1960s. We do not know exactly when it was bought, but it must have been sometime in the late 1950s when the camera came out. There had already been two Voigtländer Brillant 6×6 cameras and at least one Agfa Clack in our family at that point and my grandfather had acquired a Voigtländer Vitomatic IIa, but my mother wanted a 35mm camera too and the Lordomat was a relatively inexpensive alternative at that time. It didn’t have a built-in light meter, but an optical rangefinder like the Vitomatic and it came with the rare Lordonar 50mm f/1.9 lens. She used the camera for thousands of photos and they still all look amazing today. I still own the Lordomat SE today and while the shutter has had some problems and at one point I was sure it was broken, after a while it worked again. I haven’t shot any film with it myself, but I might do that soon just for old time’s sake.

Coming from Wetzlar, the city of Leica, the Leidolf company sold a lot of inexpensive cameras from the late 1940s to the early 1960s and the Lordomat series had been a great alternative to other more expensive cameras at that time. There were a lot of different models, some simple ones but also some with rangefinders like the Lordomat SE, others even with built-in light meters. Most of them had detachable lenses and there were a few of them available from Leidolf and a few other manufacturers. The company history was short, in 1962 Leidolf unfortunately ceased production. Today the Leidolf cameras are comparatively rare and I think I can count myself lucky that I own such a wonderful piece of camera history.

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Analog Tales 3: The Agfa Optima Sensor Flash

The black Agfa Optima Sensor Flash with the iconic big red shutter button was my true childhood camera which I used even before I was able to write. My mom chose it because we tried out one of the Agfa pocketfilm cameras before, but the image quality turned out to be so bad that instead I was given the Agfa Optima 35mm viewfinder camera – the only model with the built-in flash. It was very easy to use – I only had to set the distance and press the shutter. Despite the simplicity, it took very good photos that easily rivaled our Praktica B200 and it became the most-used camera in the 1980s in my family. I still own it and it still works, although I haven’t used it since the mid-1990. Maybe I will shoot a roll of black and white film with it just for fun sometime again!

The Agfa Optima Sensor Flash was the odd one out of the new generation Optima Sensor series that started in 1976. It had a slightly different case than the other cameras, but apart from the built-in flash is identical to the 535 mid-level model that included the four-lens Solitar 40mm f/2.8 lens. The Flash version sadly did not have an optical rangefinder like the 1535 top model so you had to estimate the distance yourself. Today, even the lesser models of the series are easily worth a triple digit price on the used camera market and the 1535 is worth several hundred Euro in good condition.

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Analog Tales 2: The Canon A-1

Over the last couple of years, a lot of Canon SLRs from the 1970s and 1980s went through my hands in the camera store and while I didn’t really want to dive into another camera ecosystem, I could not resist the A-1! Earlier this year I managed to buy one off eBay that was advertised as defective, but turned out to be completely okay except some minor cosmetic flaws which I certainly don’t mind. While I hadn’t bought the A-1 body from our camera store, I had asked my boss to fix the “Canon Asthma” with a squirt of oil in the right spot which worked beautifully. I was also able to get the FD 28mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.4 lenses and also the 28-85mm f/4 and 70-200mm f/4 zoom lenses. I’m also trying out a Tokina 24mm f/2.8 wide angle, but any wider or more light sensitive is definitively out of my budget.

I’ve already shot a test film in our city in September, which was the first film I completely shot and developed myself. The results were amazing and I also took the Canon A-1 to Berlin in October and December and while I haven’t developed all of the photos yet, the first two rolls were already brilliant too. As good as my “heritage” Praktica B200 is, I really like the Canon A-1 and it will probably be my main analog camera for now.

The A-1 was Canon‘s top semi-professional SLR from 1978 until the mid-1980s and at least in my opinion is the best of the A-series next to its predecessor AE-1 and the other variants including the feature-similar AE-1 Program. The unconventional way of selecting either the exposure time or the aperture is fascinating and unique – and easy to handle! Having a little digital display inside the viewfinder showing both aperture and speed is also amazing for a camera that is just one year younger than me. I’m glad that I’m able to afford such a legendary camera nowadays, because back when it came out the body alone was 1200 DM in Germany.

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