dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook

Going the way of the dodo
Folding up on folders

Let's keep this simple.  I have folder fatigue.

If your optical benchmark is a modern medium-format lens, you will be consistently underwhelmed by the optical quality of most folding medium format cameras.  In fact, this will include all medium-format cameras, regardless of brand, built before 1970.

Instead of an old folding camera, you will want a Plaubel Makina 670 6x7 or the Fuji GS645 folder. Both have stunningly sharp lenses (even by modern standards), but get either with a return policy (or proof of recent service). They can have latent mechanical problems stemming from their extreme mechanical complexity (previous folders would not let you wind thefilm and cock the shutter with one lever).  For example, if you shut the Fuji before cocking the shutter, you can break the shutter release linkage.  The Plaubel, on the other hand, can wear through its release cables during opening and closing.

As bad as this might sound, these cameras on their difficult days are better than older folders on their best days.  The problem with the traditional (read: old) folding cameras is that they involved too many design compromises, particularly front-cell focusing (every Zeiss folder), unreliable folding mechanisms that lost alignment (particularly the Super Ikonta C and clones, and undersized pressure plates.  That's to say nothing of poor lens coatings, whale oil used as lubricant, and generally flaky Compur shutters.

If you feel compelled to buy an old folding camera - whether out of budget, nostalgia, whatever - the smallest and most fun 6x4.5 is the Super Ikonta A. Look for the second version, which has chrome RF windows, a plain (not Albada) popup finder, and the uncoated 75/3.5 Novar. In 6x6 look at the Super Ikonta B, 532/16, with the coated Opton-Tessar and Rapid-Compur-X shutter. Both of these represent the top of the price- performance curve. Shoot at f/8 or smaller and you will have nice pictures.  Everything else can really be hit-or-miss, and usually miss.  If you think you are good at playing the odds, look for a Moskva-5, from an American seller.

That's all.