The FED 5

Back in 2009 I had a camera that died on me.  It might only be a camera to you but to me it was everything.  It was my first camera.  I was heartbroken.  To those of you mocking me, just think back to your first car and to your first accident in that car.  Alright, you may not be shedding a tear you unemotive bastard, but you might just have the smallest of inklings about my loss.  It was my fist camera that had taught me the basics of photography, and since 1987 had been a relatively constant companion, and part of me.  My son now has it on a shelf looking pretty damn cool on one of his shelves.

It was at that time that I had come back to film from digital.  Why bother using filters that would emulate film photography when you could get the same thing straight out of camera without going through the rigmaroles of messing around in Photoshop to get that result?  At that time, although digital gave me a lot, there was something missing.  Like most of us I was looking for something authentic. 

I went to the camera shop to see if anything could be done to repair my camera and bring it back to life.  With hope I entered the shop that would become a familiar haunt, and had to face the brutal truth.  My Praktica MTL3 was dead.  It had passed on, this camera was no more. It had ceased to be. It had expired and gone to meet its maker.  It was a stiff.  Bereft of photographic life.  It was resting in peace.  It was pushing up daisies.  Its metabolic processes were now history.  It was off the twig.  It had kicked the bucket.  It had shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bloody choir invisible. IT WAS AN EX Praktica MTL 3!  Any similarity to a Norwegian Blue parrot pining for the Fjords is a mere coincidence!  So I asked him if I could buy the one in the display cabinet and he said of course I could and that yes it was a little expensive, it came with a 6 month guarantee, and here was a film for it, and no mention of Bolton or Ipswitch.  Although not exactly the same it was a purchase that set me off on a series of events that lead me to “collecting” a certain quantity of cameras.  It was either that or becoming a lumberjack. 

Through YouTube, articles on the net, and my own research, I learnt about some of the iconic cameras that I never had, and at that stage, the hipsters hadn’t bought up everything on EBay and you could still get something very decent for un £50, which now of course might set you back between £150 to £200!  So I was very fortunate to start collecting when I did.

On the famous YouTube, and its infamous photography videos that I still seem to watch on a regular basis, I went down the rabbit hole of specialising in film cameras.  There was one guy, called Matt Day, who waxed lyrical about his Leica M6, and how much he loved using it to take images from his everyday life.  I started thinking, could this be my next acquisition.  And then I started looking at the prices that these things cost.  Megabucks, which is something that I don’t have and even if I did, such a purchase would be grounds for divorce.  It’s cheaper to keep her, as the classic Rhythm and Blues (before it became R’nB) so wisely reminded us. 

Therefore, what is the difference between my new old Praktica MTL3 and a Leica M6 I hear you say. Well, both are German.  One is a classic camera from a West German manufacturer, and was the gold standard of 35mm cameras from pre war times right up to the modern day, and was a rangefinder, the other one being a relatively cheap and yet very solid SLR from the old East Germany.

So both were made by the Boche, one further to the left that the other.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so a video  must be worth two thousand words! Earlier I talked about a certain Matt Day, well here is a video of his from last year talking about the differences.  I’ll let you watch it, and then we will be both on the same page!  I can tell you’re impressed.

Soooooo, I wanted to learn about a rangefinder and see how they worked out in real life.  But, as I said earlier it’s cheaper to keep her, so I was going to have to find another way of doing things.  As many photographers on a budget but wanting to get some half decent materiel, I looked East, towards Mother Russia.  Communism is messed up, but it did leave some rather solid cameras, and to the rangefinder aficionados, the names Zorky, and FED will be familiar.  The Zorky looks very vintage, rather sexy and exclusive with its Cyrillic writing on the top of the body, but I was not comfortable about using a camera without a light meter.  The Sunny 16 rule should be easy enough to follow, and with the latitude that black and white film photography gives you, you shouldn’t go too far wrong, but I was being stubborn, which is so out of character for me. 

I moved on to looking at the FED 5, especially since I had found one for only 15€ imported directly from the Ukraine, which at the time was not at war or hadn’t been annexed either by Mother Russia.  Oh you naughty boy Vladimir!!

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first.  The FED 5 was produced in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov from 1977 until 1990.  It is a 35mm format rangefinder camera, with interchangeable lenses with a Leica M39 screw thread, (mine has a 35mm f2.8 lens, which is great for street photography).  It has a focal plane shutter, shutter speeds of 1 second to 1/500th of a second, bulb mode, and the flash sync speed is 1/30th of a second.  What more could you ask for.  The film loading is similar to the Leica where you remove the base of the camera, load your film etc. and then put that base back on.  Because you know that it’s about the bass, ‘bout that bass no treble…

To do the metering you have to put your faith in the selenium cell light meter, on the top right of the front of the camera.  This will give you a reading on an EV meter on top of the camera next to the “calculation wheel”.  One dial is for the speed of you your film.  Now don’t go looking for Din, ISO, or ASA, but look for GOCT, or GOST. 90 GOST is 100ASA, 180 being 200ASA etc.  For 400ASA I just turn the little dot to the S in GOCT.  It’s one of those Soviet things that is just a quirk of this camera. This will give me a reading on the outer dial with my shutter speeds and F Stops combinations to nail that exposure! 

As with other Soviet-era rangefinders, the shutter-speed selector rotates when the shutter is released, and this should not be changed “until after” the shutter has been cocked. If you change the shutter speed before you cock the shutter first, the setting pin can be broken when you advance the film and cock the shutter!  Don’t even bother trying.  I never have, and it still works today!

Focussing is easy which is always something that catches my eye, no zone focussing, and it’s slightly different to the SLR.  As you saw in the video, there is a ghost image in the middle of the viewfinder and as soon as that ghost image disappears, it means that you have focussed successfully. 

Anyway, I paid my 15 Euros and a Ukrainian camera arrived two weeks later in an original box which is still in a display cabinet in my hallway.  The leather case still smells of leather! So I tried the damn thing out.  Worked out how to load the film which as completely foreign to me but still doable and not too demanding even for me.  It is supposed to be the street photography camera par excellence for a few reasons.  Firstly it looks pretty sexy around my neck and the leather is top notch without necessarily having a leather fetish, but each to his own!  You can use zone focussing with the lens as you can see at such and such an F-stop, the part of your photo which will be in focus is shown on the lens.  There is no mirror that slaps up, and the camera is relatively silent, and can be used to close to your subject and get that trendy and yet timeless street portrait.  Shooting from the hip. 

I can hear you saying, well thank you Ian for all this information.  Really great, and almost useful.  But pray tell, is it any good?  What’s it like to shoot with?  Is it worth me looking into? Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday? 

Well Dear Reader, let me address your interrogations.  Firstly is it any good?  It is definitely slightly sexy and certainly looks the part! I wasn’t used to the focussing of a rangefinder but found the focussing to be spot on.  I’ll let you have a look at the photos and let you judge!  What’s it like to shoot with?  Once you get used to the way a Soviet camera functions it’s actually pretty neat!  What I do like is being able to get my exposition without having to look through the viewfinder.  You know that you’re going to be spot on, and indeed I was.  That’s half the battle won, which is what we’re all about.  It works mate, it works!  You need to be able to get that sot that you want and I think that’s pretty simple to do.  Is it worth me looking into?  All depends on what you’re looking for.  If you can get one for a relatively cheap price then get one just to try out; you can always sell on.  I certainly have no regrets and it’s still in my collection which just goes to show you!  Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday?  Who am I to refuse such generosity?

The photos in this article were taken in Montaigu, Vendée  in 2016 and feature my daughter.  The film is Illford XP, which is a black and white film that is developed with colour film chemicals and processes.  C41 for those in the know.  It’s always strange seeing photos from nearly 6 years ago and I remember that outing with my daughter as if it were yesterday.  It was one of the ways I used to cope with my depression.  I might not know what day it was but I remember taking each photo.  We all cope in our own individual ways I suppose…

Persona Non Grata

This article is an opinion piece and might be contrary to your own opinions. If that is a trigger for you, then wait for the next article where I will probably talk about walking the dog and show photos from the village. If you’re fine with that, however, then read on.

In many ways, this will be a mere annoyance. If I really want, I can have the famous PCR test and have a probe inserted into my nostrils and then receive a code that I can scan into my phone, to show everyone how safe I am. I can then go to the pub, and even have dinner in a restaurant. Not the most pleasant of medical procedures, but it will afford me a certain liberty and normality. But I also have a healthy disrespect for authority. Sorry Mummy!

For the moment, these nasal insertions have been free, or rather covered by the Social Security and Health Authority contributions that come off my salary each month. Also, it has allowed people to be tested for Covid and know if they are infected or not. As the President said on the 12th of July “Cet automne, les fameux tests PCR seront rendus payants, sauf prescription médicale, et ceci afin d’encourager la vaccination plutôt que la multiplication des tests.” This Autumn, the infamous PCR tests will be charged, except with a medical prescription, to encourage people to vaccinate instead of having multiple tests.

I get the logic behind this. They will bill each test 50€ to the Social Security, and they want to reduce costs and get people vaccinated. I, unlike others, have nothing against vaccines, except for Astra Zeneca and Johnson and Johnson, where being a Catholic I can’t support something that used aborted foetuses to make them. However, I am against the obligation to vaccinate, and wish it could remain a choice. In France all Medical staff will be required to be vaccinated by law and those who wish to exercise their right to refuse a medical intervention, will be declared inapt to work, and will be eventually fired.

It’s so easy to get on your soapbox and talk about all kinds of codswallop. Words like dystopian society spring to mind when I read governmental policy. Another would be coercion. The authorities can be there as a guide, but as soon as that guidance translates into a more interventionist policy, maybe the authorities have overridden that guidance role. When governments get that far, are they serving the population that voted them in, or are they serving themselves? I’m not just accusing Macron and his government. The finger could be pointed just as well to Boris… then there was the evil villain Trump, followed by the rather weak Biden. I am worried about this becoming a global political trend.

The next statement will be the most controversial in this article. I believe most of humanity has the same goal, which is the desire to look after his family in the best manner possible. I am a father, living in France, and I bet that a father living in Afghanistan just wants the same thing for his children that I do. IE that they will be happy and live in a world of peace.

Wow, that wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might be. For the more liberal of you, you could insert community, etc for family. I’m a moderate conservative. I like to think that just because I don’t fully espouse your views; I don’t hate you. This can be quite a radical notion in a society that likes to pit people against each other. Read a newspaper and you will see that through its reporting of events that it is trying to divide more than unite. This is impervious to the political leaning of the publication. I think it’s even worse on the Internet. There are so many videos from the very conservative that are there telling how to destroy a liberal through argument. How awful is that? Why should I seek to destroy my opponent? Should I not try to convince him of my position respecting him as a human being, just like me, with dreams and hopes for the future?

Hello everyone

Hello everyone, and by that I mean people who actually read this blog and seem to enjoy it. Here I will not be facetious or try to be funny, but in the contrary be deadly serious. Well, maybe not deadly, but definitely a little serious.

I have a question for you. Why do you follow this blog? It can’t be for my great looks, charm and obvious charisma! I’ve been looking at my stats and have found the article I wrote about the X100f to be very popular. And I have to admit to being surprised. It was an article that was too long according to my mother, so that has to be true. It may annoy the shit out of me, be she is often right about these things, but I see people coming back to it again and again.

Is that kind of thing interesting to you? Is it the camera, is it the way it makes feel when using it? What about using different kit? I’m talking about the helios lens, or maybe the 16-35mm lens. Would you like to hear more about that too?

These are sincere questions and I’m interested in what you might have to say. Are there any other subjects you would like me to talk about?

Yeah, I know, it’s all soul searching, but if I can share things that interest you, then it might be a more pleasurable experience reading me as I ramble on. The idea after all is to write something that will interest you, interest me, something that I have a minimum of knowledge of, maybe have a laugh together, etc.

So, give a shout in the comments and let’s try and make this, whatever it is, a two way, sharing, experience that can benefit us both.

As I said, this is an article, hors du temps, and is trying to strike up a conversation. Don’t be scared, firstly because this is the Internet and people can, and often do say what they think in a most forthright manner, and secondly, I don’t bite. Thanks for stopping by…

PS your weekly article will be out on Friday 2nd of July at 17h French time. It pays to be a winner…