Whattaroll Journal: The Film Cameras That Got Us On The Roll (Part 1)

How can we forget our very first film cameras? We, the editors of Whattaroll, have been in a contemplative mood about it lately. So, we decided to kickstart a Whattaroll Journal mini series that recalls how these cameras got us on the roll. Adrian Norbert Cuper begins with his thoughts on the Zenit, Canon, and Pentacon cameras that set him out to the path of film photography.

My path in film photography and film cameras began quite typically for a Slavic boy formerly from behind the iron curtain. The obvious choice for the very first camera was also easiest for me to buy. Of course, it was a Zenit. To be exact, a Zenit 11 with a selenium light meter which measured light very well despite the many years that passed since it was made. Thanks to this photo-defense camera (anyone who has held a Zenit in their hands knows what I’m talking about) I learned the basics of photography. Anyway, that was my motivation to buy this miracle of Soviet photographic technology.

Zenit 11

Before converting to film, I used a digital camera that did everything for me automatically. It irritated me a lot, so I dreamed of a camera that would let me set absolutely everything manually. As a poor student, I could not afford a new mid-range digital camera, so my entry into the world of film cameras was partly dictated by poverty. I got a Zenit 11 with a totally misaligned shutter, heavily limited choice of shutter speeds, and evidently dropped and damaged by the previous owner. Paired with the wonderful Helios 44-M4 58/2 lens, the camera served as a quick and effective school of photography. My beloved Zenit is still with me to this day and is a milestone in my artistic development.

Canon A-1

Despite its undoubted advantages (it builds up the muscles of the back and neck very well when worn and carried around the neck), the Zenit doesn’t have good exposure parameters. The camera that completely changed my concept of shooting comfortably was the Canon A-1. This gem of Japanese technology, equipped with a set of several lenses, a grip and a winder, made me start snapping like a pro. Vertical photos, horizontal photos, zooming, winding to another frame — I was able to do everything quickly. I was focused only on capturing the right moment and perspective. Beautiful design, great ergonomics, and ease of use are the key features of Canon to this day, which is why I also shoot digitally with Canon cameras.

Pentacon Six

You may say that the technique is there, but where is the magic? After all, it’s also why we shoot with film cameras. The vividness of a film image is absolutely impossible to forge even by the best presets in Lightroom. Therefore, as we know well, #filmisnotdead. However, the greatest experiences in shooting film happen once you reach for larger and larger formats.

For me, the Pentacon Six is absolutely one of the most magical film cameras to this day. Not only does it allow me to use medium format film, but I can also shoot squares. The square format is obviously out of this world. Composing in a square cannot be compared to anything else. This, combined by the waist-level viewfinder experience, gives unforgettable impressions that I want to repeat over and over. With this camera, I took dozens of photos at the beginning of my photographic journey. I am very happy with them even to this day. I can confidently say that Pentacon Six shaped my path in portrait photography. I am always eager to reach for it whenever I want to feel this liberating sense of creating in isolation from technicalities. 11/10 – I totally recommend!

Whattaroll Journal is a collection of personal stories, reviews, and photo essays from the Whattaroll editors. In this series, we share slices of our film photography life as well as insights about topics surrounding the film photography community.

Adrian Norbert Cuper
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Born in 1988, Warsaw-based Adrian is a portrait photographer, photography teacher, and co-founder of Whattaroll Magazine.

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