I didn’t intend to buy another camera. Yet, in a way, this camera found me, like a wand to the witch in certain famous fantasy novels by a certain famous fantasy author.
The camera is the Canon L3. An underrated rangefinder with no light meter and possibly the best shutter sound in existence. The story of how this camera found me actually begins with a different camera, a FED 2 rangefinder, another underrated mechanical wonder. This time, instead of Japanese design (Canon), it was from the former Soviet Union.
I had heard about the FED series after browsing the internet for the best and cheapest film cameras. West Yorkshire cameras had one in stock and for an attractive price. So the FED 2 became mine. After shooting with it and realizing just how good the results could be, I started to think about expanding the lens collection for it.
That’s when I became aware of the Jupiter lens series. A fantastic series made yet again in the former Soviet Union. Lenses that would fit my new FED 2, or so I thought.
See, wide angle street photography is one of my favorite ways to photograph, so of course, I opted to look for a Jupter 12. This is a 35mm f2.8 lens and it is hard to find copies in the UK as I discovered. The local camera shop in Cardiff didn’t have one and they carry a large amount of used film gear! Ebay was next, but there were only three copies, two of which didn’t seem in very good condition. So, I paid a bit more than I was expecting, but still affordable, for the Jupiter 12 in pristine condition.
A few days later, I found myself staring at the black paint that I had accidently scratched off from the rear element of the lens, trying to fit it onto the FED 2. What happened? I had assumed that the Jupiter 12 would fit the FED 2, but I learned very painfully that it only fits certain versions of the FED series. Not the one I had!
So I had the decision to make, return the damaged item to the seller with a large amount taken off to account for what I had done or find a new camera that the lens would fit. You can safely assume from the title of this article that I opted for the latter.
A few hours later of online research and the L-mount rangefinder series popped up as a suitable alternative. Searching on EBAY, I instantly came upon the L3. The photos were in bad light and the camera looked worn around the edges and not in the best condition, but it was cheap! And that’s what I needed as I couldn’t part with any more large sums for my already very expensive hobby. So the Canon L3 became mine. And when it arrived, it wasn’t in a bad condition, it was beautiful. Better yet, it was clean and it worked!! An EBAY Christmas. Moreso, the Jupiter 12 fit perfectly.
The first roll was impressive, the next even more, until I started to feel the rest of my camera collection growing with envy (and dust) as I paraded around the streets of London and Cardiff with my new find. My FED 2 was positively glowing green on the inside.
I learned to shoot with Sunny 16 and zone focus with this camera & lens combination. For each shot, I would pre-focus and estimate the distance, then pray. Most of the time this turned out alright as I was shooting higher than F5.6 with a shutter speed faster than 1/60 (usually 1/125). For the shutter and aperture settings, I used the Light Meter app (Android) to check often, and then use judgment to make slight adjustments if the weather changed. I’m still surprised by how forgiving color negative film can be if the exposure is not “spot on”.
These 5 frames were from a roll shot on a cloudy photowalk in London along the Thames, all the way from Chelsea through Battersea Park and across to Big Ben. Shanghai Light 400 color (24-27 frames) was my choice of film. And what a film!
The film was made by a camera brand in China but went into bankruptcy upon the dawn of digital. It was revived recently and brought back to market. I couldn’t find much more than that on this film, except for one Youtube video of the creator shooting with it. That being said, the film has become one of my favorites. I ordered a 10-pack brick of it from a site that looked a bit dodgy, but hey it was the cheapest color film at the time that I could find. Kodak driving me to dark places! It was actually fine and the film is great. I would definitely restock once my supply runs out.
It’s a 400 speed film which is perfect for cloudy days in the UK. The frame count is also less, which is why it is likely cheaper, but I actually prefer less frames. 24-27 is the sweet spot for me. The more I shoot film, the more I get used to shooting less and thinking more so the harder it becomes to finish a roll of 36 exposures. How that feels like a luxury of shots!
So there you have it. Each time I use the Canon L3 on the street now, I still think about how often the best things in life come to us through an unexpected and sometimes frustrating journey.