Camera test (oh yes!): Photographing with a Contax from 1938

The last couple of weeks I have used a 35mm camera from 1938 when photographing, and you may wonder why.

There is no easy answer, but I have used a Leica M since the early 1960s, and I recently bought my first real digital camera, a Canon G10. Photographing with the digital camera has raised many thoughts. Certainly, it is easier to shoot now, when the cameras are nearly automatic and they produce images very quickly, but have I become a better photographer? How important is the technology?

Ok, in any case, I decided to try to photograph with a piece of equipment from the 1930s.

I chose a Contax II 1938 with a wide-angle Biogon 1:2.8 / 35 mm from 1936 and a roll of HP5 black and white film.

There is a difference between me and the 1930-century photographer concerning the films – modern films have a higher sensitivity, otherwise, I hwould have chosen the brightest optics of that time, Sonne 1.5 / 5 cm.

I chose to shoot with 35 mm lens since it suits me for street photography. The camera has a viewfinder for the 50mm so I used a loose 35 mm viewfinder.

I made a visual inspection of the curtain bands of the Contax. Curtain straps are the weak point of the Contax II and III. The bands are of Rayon and usually last fifty or sixty years. The bands on the camera seemed OK, they should serve a few more years. I think they are the original bands.

I took a few pictures in the subway, then Sergels torg, then inside Kulturhuset, and ended up with a few pictures at Slussen. You may call them snapshots, they are images taken on the feel, and the only small practical problem when shooting was probably the small figures on the shutter wheel.

Would the pictures with the camera from 1938 differ greatly from the pictures that I take today?

After shooting and developing, I can’t see a big difference, not for my way of photographing in any case.

You may notice a lack of contrast in these images, almost all the pictures are taken at full aperture, optics is slightly scratched and not anti-reflection treated, and some negatives are not correctly exposed – it happened when I did not use the exposure meter.

I photographed in the same way as I do with my Leica M, mostly hyperfocal, hip shots or through the viewfinder. I shoot that way even indoors sometimes.

It was an exciting time travel with the equipment from the 1930s! It made me realize that I would probably get by quite well with a 1930-century technology! I think that's quite exciting!

Anyway, this photo shoot with equipment from 1938 gave me an interesting and thought-provoking perspective on photography! - Text and photos © Bengt Björkbom

See more of Bengt Björkom's photography on 591.


Anonymous said…
I certainly understand your point of view.
nice photos anyway!
Rhonda Boocock said…
wonderfully inspiring!