Photog Journal 05-August-2022

As the days slowly shorten in anticipation of autumn (still a good seven weeks away), I feel a bit more enlightened this summer. Perhaps it was because we battled COVID-19 from late May through a good portion of June. I began to realize I needed to reclaim focus (you know, brain fog and all). 

Alas, this is not quite so easy. But one component of my journey towards focus is camera gear. 

I do love me some vintage cameras and lenses. After recovering from COVID, we returned to another favorite pastime: antique store browsing, most often with an eye out for vintage SLR cameras and lenses. I have become more discerning in what kind of camera gear I’m interested in. In June, I found something truly special: the Exakta VX IIa and the Carl Zeiss Jena 58mm F2 Biotar circa 1958 made in East Germany. The camera is something of an over-engineered lefty machine: the shutter button is configured for left-handed photographers. Having changed just a little from its pre-war design, the camera is an engineering marvel and quite beautiful to look at.

As for using it, I tried to like operating the camera. As others have noted online, the Exakta VX IIa is cumbersome…and I ended up ruining a roll of Alford HP5 Plus because I thought I fully rewound it, but take note! It seems to take twice as long to wind the film from the spool. 

But, oh snap…that CZJ lens? My wife and I are almost fighting over this lens adapted to our Sony a7iii cameras. There’s a reason these Carl Zeiss Lenses are highly coveted.

Yet this is not a lens review or even a camera review. True, I would love to find more Carl Zeiss glass, either from West or East Germany. That’s not the point. What is coming into focus is what I leave behind. I’m slowly letting go of the collector, and instead I am focusing on the kind of kit combinations that really speak to my soul. 

I recently sold three film cameras, including one of two Pentax K1000’s. Film photography has its place in my configuration, but I resist being a collector as the main goal. I might sell more stuff, too.

The CZJ Biotar illuminated something about our philosophy of photography: we prefer to shoot with what makes us smile. We both love how the lens renders. At a recent paid shoot, I brought a couple nice, modern Tamron autofocus lenses. They stayed in my bag. Meanwhile, she shot with the CZJ Biotar all evening while I shot with the Nikkor-P C 105mm F2.5 AI. These two lenses never left our camera bodies. A few weeks before this shoot, I shot some portraits of a dear friend with that CZJ Biotar. I was floored by the rendering (see below).

The realization I’m coming to more and more: the joy of our unique configurations means we do not need to match other people’s styles. We have nothing to prove except that we love photography and being in the moment. For us, these old manual focus lenses draw us into the moment. And this is precisely what I mean about focus: being in the moment – all in. 

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