Of plates and balls

I hate quick release plates.

I really do.

I’m talking about the quick release plates built-in the modern day camera tripod pan and ball heads, of course.

In theory, they are a marvellous idea, allowing the photographer to disconnect and refit the camera quickly and easily from/to the tripod without the need to fumble with thumbscrews and the like. But, in current head designs there are so many downsides and design failures that they drown out the original “good idea”.

First, even among a single manufacturer’s tripod heads, the QR plates are mostly incompatible with each other, i.e. they can be used only on the same make and type of head they came with. A notable exception is the Arca/Swiss mount, but even that is such a loose standard that not every manufacturer’s plates fit properly on every Arca/Swiss type head.

Second – and this is really annoying me – it seems that almost every head designer seems to assume that

  • a) Every photographer owns only one camera (or at least, one for every tripod).
  • b) Once fitted, there shouldn’t be any reason to remove the QR plate from the camera, ever.

Well, as for point a), I have 2 digital cameras and 10+ classic film cameras in regular use, and only one proper sturdy tripod (not counting the old, collectable tripods, which are either too flimsy or too heavy for practical use). On both my digital cameras (Panasonic & Olympus) even the smallest of QR plates partially obstruct the battery / SD card compartment, forcing me to remove the plate every time I need to change the battery (point b). Which leads us to the third, and IMHO the worst, design failure…

To fit the QR plate firmly and securely to the camera, almost every design demand either the use of a tool (coin/screwdriver, hex key or pliers) or stronger than average fingers. Even the otherwise excellent Arca/Swiss mount suffers from this problem, the standard plate is too small to allow the use of a big enough thumbwheel or similar… And if you look at my objections to the design assumptions a) and b), you’ll see that this creates an infuriatingly inconvinient impossible situation!

At this point you might like to shout: “There are still head designs without QR plates, too!”. Correct, but from my personal experience – at least those on ball heads – are, from usability point of view, even worse than QR versions; if you want to remove the camera from those without losing the settings, you need to spin the whole camera around! I like to use ball heads, so I haven’t really looked into the traditional pan head designs.

In the rant above, I have used the word “almost” quite often. That must mean that there are some designs which does not have the design oversights described above. Yes, fortunately, after quite a long investigation, I’ve found at least one (I hope it is not the only one) such ball head design: Slik SBH-280 DQ and its big brother SBH-320 DQ. It feels like its designer actually uses cameras… The QR plate has a built-in huge, ⌀52mm thumbwheel; actually you can fit the plate to the camera without first removing the plate from the ball head. Also, the head has two spirit levels and a nice, large round knob for tightening the ball joint.

Slik SBH-280DQ with Kiev 4A
Slik SBH-280DQ

So far, SBH-280 DQ is the first ball head design I feel like using for a long time to come…

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Tale of two photos

These two photos shown together mean quite a lot to me! Let me explain…

Miranda Fv 1966
Miranda Fv 2014

The picture on the left was taken in late ’66 or early ’67 on Kodak Ektachrome slide film. The person who took the picture was my father testing his new and shiny Miranda Fv, which was also his first 35mm camera. The little boy on the photo is me, at about 1½ years of age, examining with enthusiasm the pictures in the instruction book of Dad’s new camera… According to the numbering stamped on the cardboard frames of this particular set of slides, this is the second photograph ever taken on the Fv!

The second picture was taken in the summer of 2014 on Ilford HP5+ film. The person taking the picture was me, and the subject is my father at 75 years of age.

So, what is so special about these two pictures – if you don’t count the family ties and such? The camera used for taking these photographs is the same one on both occasions! Yes, Dad’s Miranda Fv is still in full swing after some 47 years! Talk about cameras made to last back then… Also, the original Fv instruction book is the same on both photos, and opened at the same page.

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Another Kiev 4A – and some buying advice on Kievs

A new Kiev 4A

A bit over a year ago I bought a ’80 Kiev 4A. It was quite a rough example, it worked… just and just, the shutter was noisy, they were slight grinding noises while advancing the film, and it had an annoying stubborn small light leak which I wasn’t able to trace and fix. All in all it wasn’t a pleasant camera to use – but it still clearly demonstrated the possibilities of the Contax/Kiev/Nikon S system; I was hooked, so I started looking for a better one. And found this: a Kiev 4A from year 1961 (serial number 6114681), sourced from Austria.

Kiev 4A '61 with accessories

The difference between this and my old Kiev is like that of day and night: the ’61 version is much smoother, almost silent and much better finished; the covering is real leather instead of the ’80 model’s crappy plastic.

I have also been able to acquire some accessories for the Kiev: on the top left is a 35mm f/2.8 Jupiter-12 (serial number 611519), a Russian-made copy of the legendary Zeiss Biogon lens. On the standard-issue 50mm f/2.0 Jupiter-8M (serial number 6121836) lens is fitted a cheap Chinese copy of a Leica lens hood (Walz-style). Sitting on the top of the camera is a KMZ-made turret viewfinder. This right-handed viewfinder is the “original” copy of the German-made Zeiss Ikon finder, and is correct for the Kiev. When the FED and KMZ factories started making their FED/Zorki Leica-copies, they noticed that the right-handed turret finder obstructed the use of speed selector on these, so they started making a left-handed model, too. The mirror-image model is much more plentiful today, consequently making the original model quite difficult to find (and more expensive). I found this one from Krasnodar, Russia.

1936 Contax II

For reference, here’s a picture of a 1936 Zeiss Contax II with a Zeiss turret finder.

Advice for potential buyers

Kiev 4A '61

If I had done my “homework” beforehand, so to say, I probably wouldn’t have bought the first Kiev. I’ve learned quite a lot about Contax/Kiev during the last year (some of the best information sources are listed in the “Resources”-section below), so, if you too are interested in buying a Kiev camera, I’m trying to share some of the knowledge here. The first two digits of the serial number tells the manufacturing year. The manufacturing years below are approximate, please see Resources for more accurate information concerning the various subtypes.

  • Kiev 2 and 3, from 1947 on: These are almost a carbon copy of the original Zeiss Contax II and III, and at best, equal quality. For that reason they can also be quite expensive. If you are able to get one in reasonable condition and price, buy it!
  • Kiev 4 and 4A, early version, from 1956 on: There were some mechanical changes to simplify manufacturing, but in general the build quality was very good. A good buy, like my ’61 shows.
  • Kiev 4 and 4A, late version, from about 1974 to 1980: These late models can be easily identified by the plastic covering of the body and the self-timer lever. This is the point where the build quality dropped considerably; there’s even a rumour that in the early 80’s two months worth of cameras were dumped straight to the scrap heap. I do not say that you should avoid these models, just that you should be aware that you are literally playing Russian Roulette with these – early 70’s to early 80’s – Kievs. They can be very good if repaired and adjusted by a competent technician, but straight from the factory… No. Just no.
  • Kiev 4M and 4AM, modernized version, from 1976 to 1987: These have somewhat modernized controls on the top. During the year 1982 the Kiev manufacturers shaped themselves up somewhat, so the later examples can be quite good (but not up to the original standard, unfortunately), but what was said about the late 4/4A applies to the pre-’82 4M/4AM versions, too.

Soviet Cams: Kiev
Kiev Rangefinders
Kiev Survival Site
Kiev 4A
Matt’s Classic Cameras: Kiev 4A
Contax II and III

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Recently, I’ve become interested in infrared photography. Oh, I’ve always been interested in it, but now I have actually done something and tried out both film and digital infrared photography. Some of the resulting pictures are shown below.

A series of pictures of an approaching thunderstorm in Toijala, Finland, photographed with Rollei Infrared 400S (developed in Rodinal 1:25 7,5min @20℃). Camera was a Miranda Sensorex C with a 50mm lens.

The first picture was taken without any filters.

No filter

The second picture was taken with a Hoya 25A red filter.

Hoya 25A

The third picture was taken with a Hoya R72 infrared filter.

Hoya R72

Also, I had a spare Panasonic Lumix GF1 body converted to an infrared-capable camera (i.e. the hot-mirror in front of the sensor was replaced with a plain glass one). The conversion was made by Kamerahuolto Mustonen & Laine in Helsinki, Finland. Currently, they seem to be the only camera service in Finland to have sufficient know-how for such a conversion.

Here’s an un-color-corrected test picture taken with the Panasonic Lumix GF1 and Hoya R72.

Lumix IR
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Miranda – Micro Four Thirds adapter review (part 2)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Fotodiox has now a range of adapters for Miranda lenses. Since then I have wanted to see and test them for myself, so I ended ordering their Fotodiox PRO Miranda-MFT adapter for $59,95 plus P&P. It arrived a few days ago; here are the test results:

Fotodiox PRO Miranda-MFT

The adapter looks very good. The Miranda bayonet is made of chromed brass; the rest of the body is black anodised aluminium. The manufacturing tolerances of the bayonets and the m44 thread are very good, both the camera end and the lens end are a much tighter fit than the sloppy-ish bayonets in the ramir73-made adapters I reviewed earlier.

But now for the bad news…

The adapter body is too short for correct focus to infinity. Repeat: Too Damn Short!


The register (i.e. flange distance to the film or sensor) of Miranda cameras is 41,5mm, while in the MFT cameras it is 19,25mm, leaving 22,25mm for the adapter (The measurement ‘A’ in the picture above). While on the ramir73’s adapters the adapter length was correct, on Fotodiox’s adapter the measurement ‘A’ is only 21,65mm, i.e. it is 0,6mm too short. 0,6mm may not sound much, but even that little error causes the infinity focusing of a lens to be completely off the mark. As an example, on a certain 50mm Miranda lens I was forced to set the lens to the ‘5m’ mark instead of ‘∞’ to focus to infinity.

The Miranda bayonet is fitted to the adapter body with four screws, so this error could be fixed by placing spacers of suitable thickness under the bayonet… But why would I need to do that kind of thing to an adapter costing nearly $60? On a $5 Chinese adapter it would be acceptable, but… I’ll try to contact Fotodiox to hear whether they have something to say about this!

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