Shutterbug’s Exclusive photokina Coverage; Medium Format: High-Res Backs Raise The Ante Page 2

Staying with digital MF, Kaiser announced scanning-back cameras called “Scando icoss X” (sic). These offer 69 megapixels (X/6) and 100 megapixels (X/8) and are a practical way of getting very high resolutions when shooting non-moving subjects. No prices were available at the show, but they are not cheap, until you consider other ways of getting similar size files.

The main news from Dr. Gilde is that he is now semiretired, and has become a consultant to his old company which has now moved to Hannover. Gilde cameras are incredibly rare, unbelievably expensive, and fantastically complicated, offering format options from 6x6cm to 6x17cm, with a choice of stereo formats as well, plus camera movements and of course a choice of digital backs. The new company is however developing a new version of the camera, designed from the very start for digital, where tolerances are 10 times more demanding than in film cameras. Again, we can expect to see the fruits of their labors in spring or summer 2009.

Voigtländer Bessa III

Rather more in the realms of the affordable—though no prices had been set at the time of this writing—is the Cosina-built 667, sold in Japan as a Fuji GF670 and elsewhere in the world as a Voigtländer Bessa III. There is a precedent for this, of course: the XPan was sold as a Fuji in Japan and a Hasselblad elsewhere.

The 667 is, as its name suggests, a dual-format camera for 12-on-120 or 24-on-220 (6x6cm) and 10-on-120 or 20-on-220 (6x7cm): it accepts both 120 and 220. The format is set at the time you load the film, with a coin-slotted turn button which sets the “curtains” at the side of the gate to choose the format, adjusts the brightline finder, and sets the counter mechanism. The 80mm f/3.5 lens (six glasses in four groups) is “standard” (equal to the negative diagonal) on 6x6cm and a modest wide angle on 6x7cm (roughly equivalent to 35mm on 35mm).

The between-lens shutter, set from a dial on the camera body, is electronically governed and wonderfully quiet. Shutter speeds are 4 seconds to 1/500 sec, and as well as the LED meter indicators in the viewfinder there is the option of automatic exposure (Aperture-Priority), though metering is through a window in the top plate and not through-lens. The ingenious and intuitive exposure compensation system is borrowed from earlier Cosina designs: the “A” for “Automatic Exposure” is set against a central index, or against a series of other indices between +/- 2 EV in 1⁄3 EV steps. Meter ISO settings are ISO 25-3200 in 1⁄3 stop steps and the battery is a CR2 which should have a very long life.

Film users, being the ungrateful crew they are, have already started complaining. Why isn’t it an f/2.8? Why did it have to be battery dependent? And (perhaps with slightly more justification) why add the complication of dual format? Well, never mind. If you want a (relatively) big image from a (relatively) small camera, it’s an infinitely better bet than just about anything else ever made, except perhaps the Plaubel Makina 67, and even those are now getting a bit long in the tooth, always assuming you can find one at a price you can afford.

I’ll dismiss the Holgas fairly smartly, with the old theater critic’s jibe that those who quite like this sort of thing will find that this is the sort of thing that they quite like. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve seen some brilliant work done with Holgas, but there’s not a lot you can say about a camera that is bought for its defects: patchy reliability, dubious light-sealing, iffy shutters, rotten lenses, squinty viewfinder, vignetting… Intellectually, I can begin to understand the attraction of introducing an element of chance into one’s picture taking, but emotionally, it doesn’t appeal to me at all. With the stereo version, of course, you have almost twice the chance of something going wrong. There should be pictures of both stereo and color Holgas in my “Weird Stuff” report.

Mamiya actually had some quite interesting introductions, but apparently didn’t want any publicity. Two visits to the stand elicited little more than a grunt and a CD-ROM, with “It’s all on there” when I asked if I could actually see what was new. Why does anyone spend that much on a stand, and then hand out less information than you’d find on a website?

Mamiya reissued colored 645s

Their most entertaining offering was a reissue of the manual-focus 645 in nine colors (if you include black); the current model is of course AF. Collectors’ item? Response to demand? Using up spare parts? They weren’t saying. Anything. New lenses: 45mm f/2.8 prototype, eight-glass, four-group; 90mm f/2.8 leaf shutter prototype for faster flash sync, six-glass, five-group; 150mm f/2.8 production lens. Revised 645AFDIII, for film and digital, with the odd rider, “appreciating that film still has a strong, if not sentimental presence in the photographic world.” Prototype adapter for ZD Back on 4x5, and production adapter for ZD on RB/RZ. New “double buffer” version of the ZD Back itself with twice the buffer memory and compatibility with SD, SDHC, and CF I and II cards. Sorry to present such a “laundry list,” but the mixture of new products, prototypes, and nostalgia suggests that there is life in the company yet, if not in those of their representatives at photokina whom I had the misfortune to meet.

Mamiya ZD Back—prototype adapter
Mamiya ZD Back—“double buffer” version

Finally, the red Seagull TLR. Well, it’s pretty, and given the ever-improving manufacturing standards and quality control that Seagull seems to be achieving, it’s probably a lot more usable than its remote ancestors, which had something of a tendency to scratch film, quite apart from their juddery focusing. As far as I could see, it was not a new model, but only a new finish. It seemed pretty good, but as I have recounted elsewhere, getting information out of Seagull is a combination of investigative journalism and pulling teeth, so there’s not a lot to say, except perhaps that I’d rather have a red Seagull than a pink, purple, tan, yellow, white, blue, gray, or even black Holga—but I’d rather have a yellow, or possibly white, Mamiya 645 than either.