Miscellaneous ramblings and opinions


It has become fashionable to have a blog site and to use it to express personal opinions that may or may not have much intrinsic value.  I'm no different and this site has become my place to express my thoughts as well as exhibit my old cameras and photographs.  What follows here is, therefore, an expression of my personal opinion.


After having published somewhere around 150 papers, the vast majority being peer reviewed, I find that I am a bit uncomfortable writing these pages and commenting on cameras and designs.  This is simply because much of the information that I have gathered regarding the history of any particular camera, company, or design from sources on the Internet.  However, when I have attempted to authenticate the Internet information by going to older publications, I have often found that the Internet information is faulty and frequently wrong.  There apparently is a tendency for the Internet to replicate and self-authenticate faulty information and the original sources, books and manuals that may have been published more than half a century ago, are largely ignored.  This is not a problem unique to the internet because it is often the case that young scientists will cite recent publications which themselves cite older original publications and sometimes inaccurately.  


When it is possible, I try to obtain historically relevant information regarding classic cameras from old manuals and textbooks.  Among the most valuable old publications that I have found particularly valuable include J. Lipinski's 1955 textbook, Miniature and Precision Cameras, and Lahue and Bailey's Glass, Brass, & Chrome from 1972.  However, I have even found that Lahue and Bailey occasionally contribute to the perpetuation of minor historical errors.  Those errors that may have been minor in 1972 (e.g. the origin of the red shutter curtain material in some wartime Leica cameras) because they did not anticipate that some 35 years later the true origin of the red curtain had become important to classic camera collectors.  Of course, Lahue and Bailey were not optical system designers or engineers who intended to produce academic textbooks.  Rather, they intended to produce a popular book on old cameras and in the interest of space and the need to hold the reader's attention many historically important design and engineering details were glossed over, over simplified, or occasionally misstated entirely.

Another type of historical error is the unjust attribution of particular technological designs to particular individuals.  For instance, Walter Dorwin Teague has been credited with the design of many cameras produced by Kodak in the late 1920's through 1930's.  In reality, Teague and his studio were charged with designing the "look" of the cameras.  The optical design and performance of the cameras were the responsibility of the optical designers and ultimately the engineers who make them actually work well.  The final product was therefore the result of close collaborations and credit is too often given to the biggest names.  At Kodak, Chester Crumrine and Joseph Milhalyi are often given short shrift.  Similarly, John E. Woodbury is rarely recognized as having produced one of the most important designs for cameras, the rangefinder originally used by Kodak in 1916.  Hubert Nerwin's work at Zeiss Ikon from the early 1930's through the 1950's resulted in many of the most successful camera designs of those decades.  He was responsible for the salvaging of the initially very poor Contax design and performance as well as later creating the very successful Contax II and III systems and other historically important models such as the remarkable Contaflex of 1935.  Even so, his name is not encountered when reading an often cited book by D.B. Tubbs, Zeiss Ikon Cameras 1926-39 published in 1977 (most recently reprinted in 2001).  This and many other "popular" books on classic cameras have become major sources of information yet they were never intended to be anything other than superficial discussions about products, and not detailed presentations of the optical designs and the engineers who devoted their lives to making them work.

On the other hand, textbooks such as Lipinski's from 1955 address the optical designs and engineering.  For those who casually comment that the Contax II rangefinder performance was superior to that of the Leica may not be aware of the fact that rotating or sliding prisms introduce other optical errors that Leitz's design did not.  Of course these errors may be considered to be relatively minor given the fact that the camera ragnefinders were never intended to be analytical instruments and focusing the frame on uncle Joe eating a hotdog will not often reveal the shortcomings of even rudimentary rangefinder designs.  Personally, comments on the superiority of Contax II over a Leica IIIa (for instance) reflect preferences that are not based upon optical designs and basic engineering principles. 

Fake Leica Cameras

I realize that in the grand scheme of things with all of the problems that face the world, the subject of fake Leica and Contax cameras ranks pretty low.  However, it is an irritation none the less because it is something I encounter regularly as a collector.  So, I take a moment to express my opinion.

There is no fine line between fakes and forgeries when one considers the fact that there are unsuspecting people who are cheated out of their money by those who make and sell cheap cameras that have been made to look like expensive collector items.  I find it strange that there is a tacit acceptance of people who make and sell Zorki and Fed cameras that have been made to look like rare and valuable classic Leica cameras.  Certainly there would be some legal repercussions if they were selling forged paintings or ancient coins.  However, there seems to be no such response to a person who sells a cheap Zorki camera that has been engraved to look like a Leica including serial numbers and often a swastika and other WWII German military markings.  These cameras have only one purpose and it is not to create something cute or an alternative to what would otherwise be a prohibitively expensive camera.  They are produced and sold to cheat and defraud people who are not experienced or experts.

Recently, a seller offered what appeared to the inexperienced eye as a WWII Luftwaffe Leica.  It had been properly worn with the dings and scratches that one would expect for a 60 year old Leica that had been used in the German Luftwaffe.  However, it was not a Leica.  It was a Russian Zorki camera.  The camera was sold for $510.00 although it's value is less than $25.00.  The seller as well as the shop that produced it had made a fool out of many bidders and most certainly had cheated the ultimate buyer to the tune of at least $485.00.  In my opinion, this is simply criminal behaviour that would seem to have no repercussions.

Caveat emptor:

The term "caveat emptor" literally means "buyer beware" and it presumes that some things are just not worth the price that is asked.  However, it does not mean that buyers should be on their own to be preyed upon by dishonest dealers.  Whatever is offered for sale need be fairly and honestly represented regarding quality and provenance, the price is otherwise a matter between the seller and buyer in the collector market.  The presumption of honest representation is a basic principle of a free and open marketplace.  Fraudulently labeling a Zorki camera with Leitz engravings goes way beyond trying to convince a buyer that a Zorki camera is worth as much as a Leica.  The re-engraving and modifications are clear tangible evidence of an attempt to defraud a buyer and it does not come under the old maxim of buyer beware.

What can be done?  First, the quiet acceptance of the people who make and sell forged Leica and Zeiss Contax cameras should end.  Those who create and profit from the marketplace in which these fraudulent items are sold should take action since a substantial portion of their profit comes from and is dependent on these fraudulent acts.  By far the most prominent of these marketplaces is eBay where one can find forged and misrepresented collector cameras in great numbers every day.  Second, camera collector groups need to stop simply looking down their noses at those who buy fake Leica and Contax cameras thinking they are real and valuable.  These groups and their various on-line forums frequently host questions from people who just bought a "rare Leica" belatedly asking for advice from the experts regarding their value or authenticity.  Those who are charged with screening postings on special interest sites such as photo.net often block or soon delete any postings that mention specific fake cameras offered on eBay even though the cameras are clearly forgeries and the postings reasonably could help prevent someone from bidding on an otherwise worthless camera.  Ebay even has a group called "fraudwatch" but on a site that hosts so many knowingly misrepresented collector cameras this group has few active members.

...but that's just my opinion.