It has often been said that a lot of the great photographers had “their” camera. Capa had his Contax 2, Cartier-Bresson his M3, John Free his Nikon F3 and so forth. That’s not to say they didn’t use other cameras, but it was always something that resonated with me. Personally, I’ve shot 50mm lenses so often that my mind sees in 50mm, and occasionally I see in 35mm, so this notion of having a camera that you know like the back of your hand really intrigued me. I’d like to take you on the journey of finding the camera that I could be happy using consistently and could become “my” camera. A warning, there’s a lot of talk about selling and buying cameras. GAS is real.
Historically, I have been an SLR shooter. I’ve shared stories on this website of my history of SLR’s. My very first camera I bought myself was a Praktica MTL3 with a 50mm, followed by a Praktica LLC with another 50mm purely because I found it very cheap in a thrift shop. I could probably nitpick some sort of issues with it. It was heavy and loud, but looking back, there was nothing wrong with the MTL3; I just wanted to experiment. My young impressionable self read that “street” photography was meant to be quiet and I had read about the wonders of the famed “Olympus Colours” and purchased an Olympus OM10 with the F.Zuiko 50mm 1.8. Next I bought a Canon AE1 with, you guessed it, a 50mm. I bought and sold numerous other cameras to save up to buy my first digital SLR, a Canon 1000D. I very quickly sold that and some other possessions to buy a Canon 700D, 5D Classic and a 50mm.
For many years I didn’t buy any new cameras. The 5D was my main camera with the plastic nifty fifty seemingly glued to it. After all, bokeh! The next purchase came for my honeymoon. I wanted something digital but small to take overseas and bought an Olympus OM-D EM10mkii. A Mirrorless, but an SLR nonetheless. Somewhere along the line I acquired a Canon70D but I honestly cannot remember how I got it… Actually as I typed that sentence it came back to me… I used to work in a phone store, and Samsung would give me phones to use for free so that I could sell them. I swapped my personal phone for the 70D. For the birth of my daughter I swapped my Olympus for a Canon 60D with the 17-40L lens – shock – I know, it wasn’t a 50mm! But I wanted to try 35mm. The Canon60D and 70D were sold to buy a Canon 6D. So the 5D and 6D, Olympus OM10 and Canon AE1 was my kit and GAS had subsided.
In 2018 film photography started to enjoy a rise in popularity. Tonnes of cameras started popping up online again, and the GAS kicked in. One thing I had never tried before was the rangefinder system. I knew my favourite photographers at the time used them (Robert Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Eric Kim, Ray Barbee), and that you don’t focus through the lens, but I had never used one. So I started to try different rangefinders.
My first purchase was a Petri 7s that arrived dead on arrival, although I was obviously able to see through the viewfinder and see the viewfinder patch align. I loved it! I found another Petri 7s online and bought a replacement. Dead too. At the same time a lady I worked with kindly gifted me her very first camera, which she bought with her very first pay check when she was younger. A Konica C35V. I loved that camera, and still shoot it occasionally but it taught me a lesson. I don’t like scale focus cameras. My rangefinder hunt was still on.
I found a Yashica Electro 35GS on Facebook marketplace for a stupidly cheap price and jumped on it straight away. I have told that story elsewhere on this site. It was lovely! But the reason I shelved it was that the Yashinon lens is very highly regarded, just nobody tells you they love it for colour film. For black and white work I don’t really like it as it lacks contrast. Black and white is my thing. Back online I go then!
Then I learnt about Zorki and the USSR cameras. “Just like Leica’s but cheaper!” was what they would say. The Zorki 4 was the one that caught my eye. No light meter so I would be forced to work on metering by eye. Slower to operate so I should be forced to take my time shooting. I am very good at selling myself something. I found one for sale in Russia, payed my money and waited. When it arrived I was smitten and told everyone on every forum to buy one too. First roll through it worked a dream, second just as good, 3rd something was wrong. It started to miss frames and they came out purely blank. My heart was broken. I was betrayed. And sadly during the infamous 2019 floods of my town, it died completely wasting entire rolls. I couldn’t afford Leica, and so far my rangefinder attempt wasn’t working out.
I joined a Zorki owners group on Facebook and had been told that the 4 models from before 1960 were vastly different in quality. Cue the GAS, an eBay auction later and a 1957 Zorki 4 with matching year model red p Jupiter 8 was on my doorstep from Russia. The quality difference was noticeable and I thoroughly enjoyed my new camera for a few months.
I started to notice inconsistencies though. Firstly, I can NEVER load my Zorki with the film straight in the camera, so my exposed frames are all crooked. The size of the exposed negatives is very different as well, replicating something like 16×9 rather than 3:2, so I was cropping all the time while scanning. But the last straw for me came on a business trip. I resolved to spend the entire week shooting only the Zorki and exposed 5 rolls of HP5. I think I got about 3 or 4 usable images. I don’t really know what happened but my guess is the rangefinder alignment was knocked out of whack. I also started to loathe loading new film, I could never get the rewind function the lock into place, the film advance was starting to get on my nerves and I just genuinely fell out of love with it.
I have a good friend in my town whose name is Wing (@wing_shoots_film) and he shoots a Canon Model 7, among other lovely cameras. He offered to let me borrow his Model 7 if he could borrow my Fuji X100S. Oh yeah, I bought a Fuji X100S to accompany my first Zorki at my brothers wedding. Seriously, GAS is real. Wing had a roll of film already loaded and told me to finish the remaining 5 or 6 frames. To cut it short, I fell in love in 5 frames. I didn’t want to be the all Canon guy. I already use a Canon AT1, Canon 50e and Canon 6D. I wanted to have exotic cameras from European countries, but I loved the Model 7. I really did.
The Canon Model 7 is a LTM (Leica Thread Mount) mount camera so it takes my Jupiter 8 and Industar 50mm from my Zorki’s. It has a standard film advance lever, it has a light meter built in (although hard to find a working one both Wing and I’s meters work) and it has a swing door to load film. The biggest debate for me was Canon P or Model. 7. One of my international friends Michael (@bahulife) had an absolutely gorgeous black paint Canon P that I had lusted over for a while.
There are some minor cosmetic differences between the two, but the big ones are that the Canon P has all the frame lines visible at once and no light meter. The Model 7 has selectable frame lines and a light meter. The light meter didn’t bother me, whether I bought one with a working meter or not I use Sunny 16 or an external meter. The frame lines I thought would. I have never looked through a Canon P but I anticipated it would bother me. I don’t have any other lenses but 50’s in LTM but I would love to have a 35mm one day.
I sold my Yashica Electro 35GS, my Apple Watch and my Pentax MZ50 + lenses and just scraped up enough to buy a Canon Model 7. When it arrived it was in a lovely condition! There is some brassing on the film advance lever, which I love, but everything else was spotless. These cameras have a known issue of crinkled shutter curtains, but my example doesn’t have that issue at all. The light meter even works, but I don’t use it.
My first roll through the camera came out blank. Unsettling but I had determined it was a loading error due to the camera being new. Second roll came out better. I sampled an Industar 61 lens a friend had given me and the resulting frames are some of my favourites I’ve ever taken. Not wildly sharp, but they have character.
The 2 rolls I have shot with my Jupiter 8 are just fantastically sharp though.
The Jupiter 8 and Canon Model 7, for now, feel like “my” camera. The rangefinder system, 50mm focal length. Easy to load and easy to advance to the next frame. It’s small enough but chunky enough and the shutter sound is oh so satisfying. My goal is to know this setup like the back of my hand. The only replacement body I could fathom would be a Leica M system. But until I win the lottery, I am perfectly content with my Model 7.