Getting Into Photography (Part I)

Photography has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. What you see above is a Zenit 11. It’s a tank of a camera. Soviet-made, heavy, very cold in the winter, the Zenit 11 is what you would find in socialist Romania. It’s what my father used for many years before the whole digital photography trend caught on.

It is responsible for documenting my childhood. We didn’t have a video camera, so photos are all I have from that time. The Zenit also sparked curiosity – it was all mechanical, I had to wind the film after each shot, and I would have to wait a few days to get a look at what I shot. Hard to believe by today’s standards.

It is also responsible for my first framing and portrait lessons. Most of them were interior shots and with a 58mm lens, it was quite tricky to frame properly in a small apartment. Speaking of the lens, the one in question is the quite famous Helios 44M-4. The soviet’s version of the Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm f/2, the Helios is now known for its swirly bokeh and mediocre sharpness.

Sadly the camera and the lens were replaced by point and shoot plastic cameras. They didn’t require any focusing and they were much lighter. I think that’s why I started losing interest in photography. With the Zenit, I felt there was a sense of occasion. I had to plan the shot in my head, check the exposure metering (selenium based) and hope for the best. With a simple point-and-shoot, photography became a nearly mindless activity. Now I think it’s what smartphones are to DSLRs.

Luckily the Zenit has made a comeback. But that story is for another time.

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