From the plate camera to Lumix S1R

This is not really a write up about the evolution of photography, more about my personal experience and how I want to bring this into our new business venture ‘NCAS_48’.

After my dream in becoming a pilot, due to me wearing glasses was shattered, I started out in a career in photography. Accurately more correctly in dealing with photography, but my education and training brought me face to face with darkroom work, yes in those times we still used chemicals and paper, and photographic work, from weddings (not so successful) to medical (not so much fun in running flashlight cables through blood puddles on the floor) to industrial (lots of fun). Of course the photography I loved, travel and, what is nowadays called street photography.

In selling cameras, projectors and darkroom equipment I learned a lot about the equipment of the day and the customers. Since I worked in a small camera store on Hamburg-Harburg, I became involved in virtually all aspects of the business, except bookkeeping. An activity, I still don’t enjoy today.

Being young almost everything was exiting and fun. At least most of the time. In our company we have had a lot of apprentices, whereby apprenticeship in Germany is something very different to what is is here in Australia and it covers much wider fields, including retail management, etc..

One of the tasks I liked was to go with one of my female colleges to develop customer films.
In this small room, which smelled of developer and fixer, we had to take the film out of the cartridges and clip it, together with the customer id, on to hangers into the developer.
After 5 or 6 minutes, we had to take it out and move to the stop bath and on to the fixer.
All this in total darkness.
Imagine a young guy and a girl in close proximity and not being able to see anything.
There was never enough time to get into real mischief, but a stolen kiss and some ‘handiwork’.

That went on for some time until we dropped some films into the developer tank, which was nearly 1.5m tall. Since I was taller, I had to try to get my hand to the bottom of the tank and angle the film out. This created a lot of developer stains on my lab coat and caused the film to over develop. Meaning it would get to dark for enlargements.

Of course our senior boss wanted to know why the coat got so dirty and the films got overdeveloped and called us for rapport. As a result we were not allowed together in the darkroom again.

One day a week I would travel to the other side of Hamburg to attend the professional school. We learned everything from the mechanics of cameras, to optics and darkroom technics. One of our teachers was a chemist from Tetenal, a company which manufactured photographic chemicals in Hamburg. Dr. Mutter. He was not a typical teacher, though he had possibly more in depth knowledge about the processes than any other teacher in the country. He loved chess and taught us. So half of our lessons, was playing chess. I don’t know where from, but there were at leat 10-15 chess boards in the class. Often these classes were the last one on a Friday and subsequently went over time, until the school caretaker throw us out.

Great times.

Over the years I got to work with and own many cameras. My first camera was a roll-film, 6x9cm camera, a very common format thouse times. 6x9cm would give us 8 pictures per roll, if I remember right. A far cry from the 36 pictures you would have gotten on to a normal KB roll (Kleinbild or 24x36mm film). Everything was manual of course and in Black and white.

I still have some of these pictures in my school work books and the quality of these comparatively basic cameras was incredible. Of cause many were made by famous brands like Voigtlaender, Zeiss Ikon, Agfa and Rollei.

But 35mm film became the dominent format and I still remember when the factory rep brought in one of the early Topcon 35mm automatic cameras. The Japanese manufacturer were leading in these developments at those times. Of course brands like Leica, Rollei, Zeiss were the jewels of the industry, together with the spy camera Minox, but these were expensive, much to much for our modest apprentice salaries. Even after I finished my formal education in 1967, I only earned about 700 Deutschmark a month, which is possibly as much as the jobseeker (unemployment) allowance is in Australia nowadays.
So one of my first system cameras I owned was a Pentax from East Germany with a famous Jena lens. I also often used an Exacta, as well from East Germany. My boss was very generous and allowed us free loan of any second hand camera the shop had and sometimes even new stock over the weekend.

In fact Claus Schroeder, was most generous. He gave us, though mostly I used it, access to the darkroom after hours. Working on the places, where the girls, interestingly it were almost always women who worked in our darkroom and enlarged and processed clients pictures, I developed my own pictures. He only charged us the cost of the paper.

In those years simpler camera technology emerged. The Kodak Instamatic and the Agfa Rapid. Both designed to bring photography to the masses. Cheap, easy to handle and reliable cameras. Film sales boomed and the darkroom created great income, if you consider that the standard 6×9 cm print cost between 1.20 and 1.50 DM or about USD 1.00. Of course in the 70’s and beyond, with automated processing and the appearance of discounters, like ‘Tausend Toepfe’ (Thousand Pots), the price dropped to 30 pfennig a print. This also made many of the darkroom girls redundant. But that was after I left the store and moved on.

Over the years I used many a camera. But one brand always remained my favourite one and that is Leica. In fact there was once a risk that this brand would go under, but in the 90’s it was rescued and has become not only the leading luxury camera brand but a driving force in the lenses for cinema production and many other fields.

I used many of their models. From taking a M2 to South America to a Leicaflex SL, which was exchanged to a Leicaflex SL2, which I still own, to an M6, R3, R4s, Leica T and TL2. The latter was exchanged last year for a CL.

Leica CL with chinese made 7Artisans lens….a new experience

But for me it is not so much the camera technology. Even that I would love to buy a SL2 or SL2s. For now a Lumix S1R has to do for financial reasons, it is the Leica lens technology.
From all the lenses I ever used, I feel that the Leica lens have the nicest rendering, the best, warm colours and an inrcedible sharpness.
But they also have a great mechanical feel. The M-series as well as the R-series. Of course lens technology has evolved, but I am using now my R- and M-lenses on the Lumix camera, which features the Leica L-mount, adapted by Panasonic and Sigma.
These older lenses have a different appearance to the new T-type from Leica. They are not as clinically clean, as many lenses are, which have been calculated for the digital world. But they look great and being forced to be just manual (no autofocus here), they force me to look even closer at the objects and image composition.

NCAS_48, will get involved in consumer photography again, while my main company ITI-Image Group, will keep focussing on Audio Visual and particular projection. I love the interaction with amateur photographers. Like to see their results.

In the next write-ups, I will talk about my experience of using a low cost Chinese Lens for L-Mount, the search for reasonably priced R> Nikon> M> adapter to the L-Mount , working with a glass plate camera and other subjects as they come along.

Drop me a line if you like to join any discussion or like my opinion on anything photography.

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