Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Brand-Spankin'-New Start 66

 I have always wanted to shoot in medium format.  Every-so-often I browse Allegro to check the prices of a Mamiya RZ67.
While in Bazar na Kole, a massive bazaar/flea market in Wola, I stumbled upon a man selling an old Polish twin-lens reflex Start 66.  I snapped it up for 100zl (on Allegro, it sells for 300zl), and giddily took it home.  I cleaned it; learned how to load and unload 120 film; and figured out how to work this old mechanical beast.
The Start 66 is a twin-lens reflex camera built between 1967 and 1970 that shoots 6x6 frames on 120 format film.  It only comes with a waist-level view finder, and Emitar 75 mm lens with a leaf shutter, and a pretty crummy view finder.  The optics seem more suited to black-and-white film rather than color (see images below).  I've only shot one roll of film: a test roll of Provia 100, but I'm pretty happy with the results (for 100zl camera, I can't complain).
Poniatowski Bridge at sunset from Temat Rzeka.
Sandomierz from the Brama Opatowska. 
Sandomierz Castle.
Stepping from a world (digital photography) that is so automated (auto-focus, auto-advance, and most importantly, auto-exposure) to a world that is manual at even the most basic functions.  The Start 66 even needs to be cocked before you can fire the shutter.
Taking a picture isn't as simple as: point and shoot.  It's: take out the digital camera on Av or Tv mode (make sure it's on the right ISO speed.  If shooting ISO 140, set the exposure up 2/3 of a stop); meter the light and get a usable shutter speed vs. f-number, since the Start only has a small range of both); switch to the Start 66; set the correct shutter speed and f-number; try to frame the picture (because of the prism, it's hard because everything is reversed and I'm not very used to it); try to focus (almost impossible since the finder isn't the easiest to look into); cock the shutter; steady the camera and fire.
As you can see, shooting a portrait is almost impossible unless your subject has loads of patience.  Trying to shoot a picture where there are lots of people milling around, getting in front of your shot, and the clouds up ahead are changing the lighting from second-to-second (thus requiring repeat metering), can tax your own patience.
This camera was not designed to be ergonomic.  Handling it is like handling a small loaf of stale bread; this does not make for the easiest way to frame a picture and makes it much more likely that I will drop on the ground, only to watch in horror as the whole thing bursts apart upon impact.  After shooing my first roll, I also realized the the shutter most likely has a sticky blade (that or there is a hole in the camera) as about half the pictures have burn marks on them (over-exposed areas consistent with light leakage).
My introduction to medium format photography has been a pleasant one.  It's actually re-ignited my passion for photography (though I must admit my talent is lacking), and it's quite fun to play with.  I hope that eventually I'll be able to master the finicky device and take pictures that are in-focus (still a challenge) and properly exposed.

The Start 66 camera I purchased.

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