domenica 24 gennaio 2016

Classic and Rare: Herman Tecnophot (1948)

Italian people has always been xenophile, this is the reason beacause italian firms often change their names to sound more outlandish.
In the '40s the best cameras and optical products were german, so Fototecnica, a company born in Turin after the war signed its cameras Herman.
The model showed in this picture has a Galileian viewfinder, a 24X36 mm format, a Tecnophot central shutter with a charge lever on the lens. Exposure times from 1/25 sec. to 1/250 sec. plus B and T. It has a Koristka Tecnar 5 cm f 3,5 lens.
The camera is strong and has rounded corners, in 1948 it had a reasonable price, but now it became quite a rare object. You could buy one from a collector for  200 - 250 euros, or even more. TG

Herman Tecnophot Company Torino

Herman B.R.T. N° 09457

domenica 17 gennaio 2016

Gianni Limonta's collection is going to Shanghai to become the greatest museum of photography

The collectors' world is very mysterious: a collector generally hide himself from the public curiosity and he is very discreet about what is truly in his possession. Often, the collector searches for the rarest pieces for personal satisfaction and only a few people around him are aware of this uncontrollable desire to possess.
When I asked to Gianni Limonta if I could visit him to know his story, I had not idea of what I could find in his shop, but even less I could imagine what he sold to a chinese buyer.
When I arrived in Bergamo, 50 km from Milan, I was not sure to be welcome by Gianni, because  whe I talked to him at the telephone he was very mistrustful and brusque.
Despite this, when I arrived in via Statuto, I saw Gianni Limonta outside the shop he opened 50 years ago and I understood we could become friends. I knew this man has sold his collection a few months ago and probably this for this reason I found him.
Collectors, contrary to what you might think, sometimes do not even know each other, Gabriele Chiesa and Paolo Gosio, two of the biggest collectors of daguerrotypes in the world had the same passion for many decades didn't know to live in the same quarter of Brescia. After they knew each other started to collaborate at the same collection.
Limonta started to collect photo cameras when he was only 21 y.o. His brother in law made him a present and after a 1915 folding camera Gianni searched for older photo cameras. When his clients knew about this passion they started to bring to sell their old cameras to Gianni. Most of the time they had in exchange just a couple of film rolls because they didn't imagine the value of their pieces.

 Gianni Limonta (71 y.o.) with the crates containing his photographic collection ready to take the flight to Shanghai where will be open the largest and most important museum in the world

Now, to start a collection you have to be a millionaire, in the Internet era everybody is well informed about prices and evaluetion of every item, while in the golden age of photographic collectibles there were only books and auctions to stay updated on cameras and sales. Before many people was inexperienced and  not even imagined what was in its hands.
Gianni Limota was born in an humble family, but it seems that everything went well in his life, thanks to a particularly combative and enterprising character. He made his way in the world, he is likeable, successful in his profession and with women. Now he lives in a XVI century house that had become too chaotic for the fact that there were cameras of great value everywhere, even in the garage and in the henhouse (Obviously, not thrown there, but preserved and protected with the utmost care. I promised not to reveal this detail, but I could not resist to tell you this).
In the shop window I saw a great deal of interesting material, there are a pair of wooden stereoscopic cameras of the end of '800, all kinds of Rolleiflex and many other cameras. Inside there is a big acid green 16mm film projector made in the '50 by Ducati, yes it's the same Ducati so famous for the sport motorbikes that 60 years ago produced photo cameras, radios and later in the '70 also marine engines. In another cabinet I saw a Luckyflex, a rare 24X36 twin lens reflex camera made in Milano in 1947.
Gianni Limonta sold 3000 photo cameras and other rarity for a total of 8 tons of goods, but he still owns 1000 photo cameras.

The Fairchild Aircraft K17c (1951) used during the Korea war. There are only 2 of these cameras in the world. It weights 33 kg.

Part of the Limonta Collection

Lamberti & Garbagnati a famous italian wooden camera of the year 1900

Ducati Gioia 16mm sound projector

Part of Limonta Collection

Robot Record 24 (Single piece?)

A very special Robot was built by request of Pirelli with a chassis that can be loaded with 35mm motion picture film and shoots movies at 24 frames per second. It is a photo camera transformed into a movie camera.

Microcine Orafon 16mm with a 60 m chassis (1952)

The first sound movie camera capable of shooting a synchronized professional audio was Italian. Officially built in about 100 specimens, including 48 that were sold in the USA, by Mr. Remuzzi of Bergamo. The Orafon allowed to taking the picture with one or two films to record audio directly in the machine a variable density optical column, or to add the sound in the process of dubbing (in this case it used two films, one for the image, the other for a separate audio track). It was a very expensive camera. The sound version costed 946,000 lire. There was also a silent version at a price of 162000 lire Gianni Limonta had two of these cameras purchased by the grandchildren of the engineer who designed them. He donated one of them to the Museum of Cinema of Turin.

Part of the Limonta Collection

Gianni and his last acquisition, the Precision Micro-Projector Fkatters & Garnett made in Manchester, UK in the '20 of the XX century

Gianni Limonta sold his collection because in Italy nobody wanted to make a very important museum of photography. He was warried to get older, he has not heirs, and he had not more place to keep all his cine and photo cameras.
If you wish to know entirely his story you can find it on my italian blog: Frammenti di Cultura. Tony Graffio

sabato 2 gennaio 2016

One take, one frame, one camera: Asahi Pentax Spotmatic

The Asahi Pentax Spotmatic, introduced in the 1964, the year of the Olympic Games of Tokyo, was a revolutonary SRL 35mm and the camera-icon of the '60s. The other icon of those days were the Beatles. The Spotmatic was as popular as the Beatles, indeed the Beatles took their photos with the Spotmatic and the Spotmatics took the pictures of the Beatles.
The Asahi Pentax was the first optical and photographic producer to solve the problem to calculate the exposure through the lens, also if not yet wide open. This is why there is a black lever on the left of the camera that turns it on the light-meter while close the f-stop to mesure the light in a stopped down modality. We have to thank this camera if the SRL found their diffusion between the professionals and the photography enthousiats.
Fifty years ago the make of the rising sun (Asahi) was so popular that it was able to sell more Spotmatic than all the SLR cameras produced by Nikon, Canon and Minolta together.
The Spotmatic was a very desired camera, but at the same time was quite affordable for many people because it had a right price. It was very reliable, it was very well designed and it was among the smallest SLR 35mm on the market. Later on, I will tell you other interesting informations I retrieved from an old italian photographic magazine.
The camera I used for taking Sara's portrait is not the first Spotmatic, but a SP II.
The Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II, made in 1971, is not so different from its predecessor. The shape, the shutter, the controls and everything is the same of the SP, exept for the addition of the flash shoe. 


The shooting
This is a shoot enterely dedicated to the fabolous '60. Sara is a fashion designer who produces hats, headgear, caps and bonnets with fabrics typical of the '60; she also loves dressing any kind of clothes of those years.
The model was photographed in externals and illuminated by the diffused light of a cloudy day. I used a Fujicolor 200 exposed at 1/60 sec. f 4. The camera mounted the SMC Takumar 50mm f 1:1,4, an extraordinary lens, very apreciated, still now. This 50mm, like all the other Takumar lenses, has nothing to envy to the Zeiss optics of that period. On the contrary, probably some Zeiss lenses could not be as well designed like the SMC Takumar.

Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II with Super Multi Coated Takumar 50mm f 1:1,4

General appearance
The camera, like nearly all the cameras produced in this period, is strong and well made, personally I don't like the screw coupling because it takes  (You need t use 2 hands to change the lens) more time to mount a M42 lens than a bayonet lens. The possibility to mount any M42 lens, for me is not a real advantage because usually this is an economic option. Among the screw mount lenses I consider interesting only the SMC Takumar and the Super Takumar, but also in these series it's very difficult to find a fast lens. For me, there are only two reasons to chose the SRL 35mm instead of a larger format camera: portability and fast lenses. If there are not fast lenses in a 35mm camera set, it has not much sense to use that camera make. Because of this when I take pictures with my SP II I nearly always mount on it the 50mm f 1,4. Another reason to use the 50mm f 1,4 is the low brightness of the viefinder. The camera viewfinder is not really so bad, but probably the fameous Super Multi Coating treatment never involved the pentaprism or any other optical part having to do with the vision of the image.

A view to distinguish the SP II from the SP

The results
I'm glad of the photo I got with this camera. In the picture of Sara it is impossible to evaluate the bokeh because the flowers are not real, but designed on a background wall. If you wish to see other pictures taken with the SMC Takumar it's possible to see them on my other blog: Frammenti di Cultura where I used the Takumar lenses on the Pentax K-01. Anyway, believe me, the image resulting from a shoot with the SMC Takumar is very good; not so sharp as a modern lens, but very personal and recognisable.

The Beatles like special tourists on the Champs-Elysées Avenue, in Paris - 1964

To give a more precise idea of the value and of the goodness of the project of the Spotmatic I thought to summarise the results of some scientific tests commissioned by Fotografare to the Cinematography Laboratory of the Politecnico di Torino in 1969.
Here, an ingeneer studied especially the working of the shutter and its effects on vibrations and noise.
There are variables that influence the behavior of mechanical shutters, their normal running speed slows down with the decreasing of the temperature, but a photograph taken in winter can also have different effects on film speed and other factors. The same thing could occur to the cells of light-meters that could have a different reading also for other variables. 
The Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II used with a regular time of  1/1000 sec. at 20 °C has a very constant and regular shutter that produces well exposed images of the strobe flashes (used to check the shutter) in the various areas of the frame. The difference in exposure is quite low and the shutter can be considered good.
At -20°C the duration of the exposure time decreases producing slightly underexposures. With a time of 1/500 sec. the shutter can be considered good at 20 °C , while at -20°C the difference of the time of exposure could be considered acceptable.
Compared to the cameras of its time the Spotmatic shutter is slighty better of the average, turning out even better than Leica M4 and Nikon F shutters.
Most of the drawbacks to low temperatures is caused by the hardening of the tissue curtains and by the viscosity of the lubricants. One way to solve this problem, a time, was to eliminate the lubrication of the gears, which shortened the life of the cameras, but reduced exposure errors. 
There are situations such as wildlife in nature or shows and concerts in theaters where shutter noise can create hassles. The focal plane shutters are noisier than the central ones, but also among curtains shutters some are less noiser than others. The Polytechnic of Turin recorded the sound of a few cameras with a microphone to study them. Every single camera was handheld to avoid other sources of extraneous noise (such as scrolling of cable realise or vibrations) during the shooting.
At a time of 1/1000 sec. the resulting noise level is 90 dB; at 1/30 sec., 88 dB; at 1/4 sec. 87dB. 
Just to have an idea of the noise of a rangefinder camera, Leica M4 produces respectively 80 dB, 77 dB and 75 dB at the same exposure times. 
The Nikon F resulted a quite silent camera with 82dB (1/1000 sec.), 82 dB (1/30 sec.), and 81 dB (at 1/4 sec.).
In addition to the intensity of noise can also be assessed, the duration is 0.4 second, for the SP II,  except for the exposure of ¼ sec. that produces a noise for a period of 0.6 sec.
Oscillograms (diagrams of oscillations) are forked and show that there are two noises at the height of the shooting moment: at first you hear the noise of the tilting mirror and immdiately after there is the noise produced by the shutter curtains.
From the results of this tests the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic produces a noise loud enough (more noise than other SRL) and has an average duration of the noise.
Only the metal elements of the Copal Square mounted on the Konika Autoreflex T and FT; on the Nikkormat FTN (and in other SRL) are noisier than the Spotmatic with 92 dB; 91dB and 89 dB. Apart from the noise, the Copal Square shutters have vertical scrolling elements so robust and reliable that even after 50 years they can manage to keep shutter speeds precise enough.
When you press the shutter button you set in motion a series of mechanisms formed by springs levers and gears of various types which result in forces that cause inevitable jolts and vibrations of the camera, regardless of the firmness of the operator's hand. It is not easy to measure the vibrations induced by the shutter and the mirror of a SLR camera, but thanks to the use of a accelerometric head (more or less the same concept of a pick-up used on a record player) connected to a preamplifier, in turn connected to an amplifier from which then get the dates of the oscillation amplitudes.
The oscillations are caused by:
a) Action of mechanisms of transmission and lifting of the mirror
b) Start of the shutter curtains
c) Arrival of the shutter curtains
d) Return and damping of the mirror
The width and length of time of vibration of Pentax are rather contained. Much better than the average SLR of that era.
The duration of the oscillations is of 1/30 sec while the maximum oscillation is 5,4 thousandths of a millimeter (5,4 microns)

Conclusion of the test: the shutter is good, regular and precise enough; it is quite noisy, but this "big" noise has nothing to do with the production of vibrations, indeed the SP/SP II has much less vibrations compared to other SRL of those years. About this, I would say that vibrations can surely give worse effects on a shoot than noise. 
I can also add that my nearly 45 y.o. camera works very well and expose correctly the pictures I take with it.

Why to choose this camera
I bought this model of camera around 15 years ago, because I liked it, because it was and it is a cult camera and because it was a bargain. I didn't use it very much, but I had not even to do any service on it, i just cleaned it after I bought it, that's all.
The SP, more than the SP II, is a collectible camera, but it's also usable with satisfaction in our days, if we are not in the hurry to follow fast subjects.
For me, the only reason to take photos with this camera is to make a vintage shoot (like I did) with very good lenses like the SMC Takumar. You could objet that it's possible to muont a SMC Takumar on many cameras, also on a Praktica, for example, but I would tell you that a SP II is much better than a Praktica MTL 5, including the viewfinder.

Unsticked pentaprism

Last time I took the SP II in my hands to use it I noticed a strange ennoying line on the viefinder. While the prevoius day everything was fine, suddenly and without explainations I got this problem. It looks this could be a commun bother to many old pentaprisms. 

Commercial value VS real value
In 1969, the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic in Italy costed 115000 Lire, an average salary of a worker. It means that today it would cost around 1000 euros.
If you are able to find a SP in good condition and a SMC Takumar 50 f 1,4, you enjoy taking pictures with film cameras and you are not frightened by the special glass slightly radioactive of some Takumar buy them. Their prices are always lower of their value. You can find a SP II for around 50 euros. Tony Graffio