domingo, 4 de enero de 2015


SPANISH has been able to identify the camera and lens used by Robert Doisneau in three pictures from mid fifties in which he appears on a very high building of Paris handling a 35 mm camera featuring a chromed and foldable waist level viewfinder being popped-up and a very big superteleobjective sporting a large shade on a sturdy metallic tripod, with the photographer being also grabbing a shutter release cable, whose pressing end holds between his right hand index finger and thumb, while the other one is inserted within the threaded socket of the shutter realease button, located on the front right top area of the camera.

It is a Praktiflex FX 35 mm camera (export version of the Praktica FX) boasting an utterly mechanic working and connected to a 2 element Carl Zeiss Jena Fern-Objektiv 500 mm f/8 T super telephoto lens.

In the three photographs in which the photojournalist is shown, he is concentrated on his work, seeming to correspond to getting pictures of some distant building visible from the attic on which he´s standing, so he needs a superteleobjective lens sporting a very big focal distance enabling to frame a specific area of it, obtaining an image of detail while simultaneously a perspective compression (because of the long distance between the photographed subject and the camera) is brought about.

The 24 x 36 mm format Praktiflex FX reflex camera featuring M42 mount was designed by the engineer Siegfried Böhm, manufactured between July 1953 and February 1954 by the firm KW-Kamerawerke Niedersedlitz, and has a horizontal-travel focal plane shutter with cloth curtains and speeds between 1/2 sec-1/500 + B, foldable hooded waist level viewfinder with focusing screen and loupe, and three contacts for flash placed on left front zone.

Robert Doisneau didn´t mind excessively the brand of his cameras and lenses. He simply tried to use the most suitable stuff to get the best feasible results according to the kind of asignment he had to carry out, relying on his experience and testing a number of models until verifying that they met his needs, applying an essentially practical discerning criterion.

And in this regard, the choice of the combination Praktiflex FX 35 mm camera + Carl Zeiss Jena Fern-Objektive 500 mm f/8 is quite clever, since it makes a very interesting balance between a highly reliable camera in terms of working and a super teleobjective providing good image quality and featuring roughly half the weight of the other 500 mm focal length super telephoto lens then available: the Asahi Takumar 500 mm f/5 with pinion and rack focusing and optical formula of a simple doublet with 2 elements in 1 group, more luminous but sporting a weight of 2850 grammes making it more cumbersome to transport and particularly more difficult to use getting a good shooting stability, and besides, Doisneau has made tests with it and knows that it delivers more optical aberrations than the CZJ Fern-Objektiv 500 mm f/8 T, above all the chromatic one (above all at the widest apertures) and the spherical one, the latter to a lesser degree.

It results from the fact that in mid fifties there weren´t  high quality ED (extra low dispersion) optical glasses for superteleobjectives with which to make the convex positive element of the doublet whose degree of chromatic aberration could be compensated by the one of the other concave negative element cemented to it, so the Asahi super telephoto lens begets certain image degradation at f/5, f/5.6 and f/8, the latter being a f stop in which the CZJ Fern-Objektiv 500 mm f/8 T renders greater sharpness, in the same way as at f/11 and f/16, because its optical design with a more moderate widest aperture brings about that the residual chromatic aberration as a consequence of the effects of the secondary spectrum (which couldn´t be minimized through the combination of conventional optical glasses used then in the construction of achromatic lenses) is smaller.

At the moment in which these three pictures of Doisneau are made on an attic of a very high building in Paris, the great French photographer has been using above all a 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 medium format Rolleiflex camera featuring a hooded waist level finder with focusing screen for approximately twenty-five years, so he is rather accustomed to compose and focus by means of this system,

which is the same used by the 35 mm format Praktiflex FX with its foldable hooded waist level finder sporting focusing screen and magnifying loupe, though it all being more miniaturized according to its 400 % smaller negative size.

Therefore, Doisneau feels at home with this German reflex camera, as well as being aware of its high degree of reliability, since it is the second generation of the Praktica FX original model (designed by Alois Hoheisel, launched into market in 1939 with M40 thread mount and which was the third 35 mm reflex camera to appear in the world after the Ihagee Kine Exakta and the Russian GOMZ Sport, both in 1936) and fruit of a 14 years evolution in which plenty of improvements have been made as to the sturdiness and accuracy of the shutter gear trains, metals used in its components, choosing of the much more versatile M42 mount, strengthening of the shutter curtains that in the original model from 1939 sometimes featured light leaks, etc.

It´s likewise a very tough camera flawlessly working under extreme temperatures conditions and comfortable and easy to use, with minimalist controls: two concentric dials located on the right top area of the camera, next to the waist level finder (the largest one, resting upon the camera body, contains every shutter speed, and just above it, a smaller one with the shape of a little fluted wheel with which fast or slow speeds are selected) in synergy with the winding and shutter cocking dial (above which the picture counter disc is placed) on far right of the upper panel, a little knob for rewinding activation just on the left and the big winding dial itself on far left of the left top area of the camera.

There isn´t any diaphragm automatism whatsoever, but the classic system of preselection, so the photographer has to firstly put the widest f stop, focus and then turn the diaphragms rings up to the chosen aperture.

The camera doesn´t have any built-in light meter either.

But Doisneau doesn´t mind these ´drawbacks ´ at all, because he perfectly knows the f stop and shutter speed he must use depending on the luminic context at the moment, and moreover, thanks to his experience, he´s able to calculate the correct exposure through estimation, without having to make use of any hand light meter.

On the other hand, needless to say that to have available a waist level finder with a ground glass screen allows Doisneau to attain an exceedingly precise focusing, which can be even more optimized with the magnifying glass, something of utmost significance when using such a long focal length superteleobjective featuring a view angle of only 5º and whose depth of field is very reduced, in spite of the modest maximum aperture of f/8.

With regard to that Carl Zeiss Jena Fern-Objektiv 500 mm f/8 super telephoto lens featuring a weight of 1816 g and a minimum focusing distance of 6 meters, it is an optical design made up by an achromatic doublet and it has been around in the photographic market for approximately 25 years when these three portraits of Doisneau are made, because its origin dates back to 1932 in which it was formulated to couple it to the Flektoskop reflex housing (sporting a mirror and a sliding pentaprism) for rangefinder Contax cameras (which were turned into reflex cameras by such accesory for its use with lenses with focal lengths from 150 mm on), and made between 1934 and 1945, being reintroduced in 1948 by Carl Zeiss Jena from East Germany, which kept on manufacturing it in M42 thread mount until 1964.

The optomechanical scheme is easy but efficient: a manual preset diaphragm with 18 blades and possibility of apertures between f/8 and f/45 in symbiosis with two optical elements cemented together and located in the front of the super telephoto lens,

which is essentially a 480 mm long x 92 mm maximum diameter hollow tube (made up by two detachable sections for its convenient transport) with manual iris and a focusing ring whose helicoid works on such area.

© José Manuel Serrano Esparza