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Line of Lubitel family cameras (Pic: Jay Javier)
Some of Jay Javier’s Lubitel family of cameras (Pic: Jay Javier)

Kosmo Foto had a busy 2021, a lot of it down to planning the Agent Shadow Kickstarter which launched in the summer. But around that, we also published more than 150 posts on the blog – including some fantastic guest posts from writers around the world.

Apart from one – which really did seem to go viral a few times this year – these aren’t necessarily the biggest posts on Kosmo Foto this year. Neither are they news stories, as these will be covered in a separate round-up post before year’s end. But these are what I think are some of the most interesting posts to have appeared on the blog this year, and possibly worth some reading time while you have your feet up between Christmas and New Year. Enjoy!

Read this before you buy a Soviet camera

I’ve been shooting with Soviet cameras for more than 20 years, and encountered a lot of received wisdom, hearsay and myths about the USSR’s camera industry. Nope, not every camera came out of the factory broken, and some of the designs are really worth shooting with once they’ve had a bit of TLC.

This 7,000-word piece isn’t just me waffling on about my Zenits and Zorkis, however. It includes really valuable input from the likes of genius-level repairer Oleg Khalyavin, Soviet camera expert Yuri Boguslavsky and Jay Javier, the founder of the Fed and Zorki Survival Site, a treasure trove for Soviet rangefinder users.

It feels like a piece like this has been missing from the internet and I’m particularly pleased that this story has done so well this year – nearly 60,000 views. It’s a testament to the insight and wisdom from those who kindly contributed.

East Germany’s plans for an autofocus SLR

Germany’s SLR maker VEB Pentacon didn’t just make cheap-and-cheerful Praktica SLRs for photography students: they were responsible for several groundbreaking designs over the course of the Cold War. Had the company survived a few more years, they might have come up with another – an autofocus 35mm SLR. 

Should film be protected as cultural heritage?
PhD researcher Nevena Ilic asked the global film photography whether film photography should be protected as a form of cultural heritage – in the hope of saving it for future generations.

Man squatting br river as train goes by (Pic: Nandakumar Narasimhan)
Nandakumar Narasimhan’s evocative essay on Indian trains is well worth your time (Pic: Nandakumar Narasimhan)

Capturing a generation of Indian trains on film

Singapore-based photographer Nandakumar Narasimhan is an absolutely fantastic documentary photographer whose projects have taken him from the far north of Russia to the frozen heights of the Himalayas. He’s also a huge fan of steam railways, and wrote this story for Kosmo Foto on his ongoing project to shoot India’s last steam engines on film.

Life as a 1990s Russian newspaper photographer with a Zenit-E

Russian photographer Roman Yarovitcyn took pictures for a Russian newspaper all through the 1990s with a camera from another age: the humble Zenit-E. But his pictures show that if you know what you’re doing, humble kit is often enough.

1913 image of Wetzlar, Germany (Pic: Oskar Barnack)
Oskar Barnack’s first image taken on the Ur-Leica (Pic: Oskar Barnack)

The first picture taken on a Leica

The Leica camera’s creator, Oskar Barnack, didn’t test his new Ur-Leica camera by taking a picture of some boring old chart on the wall of his workshop. Instead, he walked onto the streets of 1913 Wetzlar and captured a time capsule of pre-WWI life – and the first picture ever taken on a Leica camera. 

Lomo LC-A review

Back in 2000, I picked up a Soviet-era Lomo LC-A, the camera which kickstarted the Lomography movement. This camera was a gateway both into the previously hidden world of Soviet cameras and the joy of experimental film photography. More than 20 years later, it’s still a staple of my camera bag.

Zorki-4 and Kiev-15 cameras (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
Just two of the Soviet cameras Oleg Khalyavin can work his magic on…

The man who can bring almost any Soviet camera back to life

Oleg Khalyavin can fix almost every Soviet camera that ever made it into mass production – from Kiev SLRs to the rarest Leica clones. Before I took a trip across Russia in 2004 I had him repair a pair of Zenit-19s, and I’ve been singing his praises ever since. This piece was a spin-off of the Soviet camera long-read that started the year.

Testing the PPP Cameras T-43 lens

Pierra Pozella of PPP Cameras unveiled his first lens conversion in the summer, turning the T-43 lens from the Soviet Smena Symbol camera into a Leica M-mount lens. Kosmo Foto was one of the lucky few to test it.

Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow film (Pic: My Mate Does Art)
Kosmo Foto’s Agent Shadow: still waiting for his first mission (Pic: My Mate Does Art)

 

Announcing Agent Shadow film

After a good three years of planning, Kosmo Foto’s new 400-ISO film Agent Shadow finally launched via Kickstarter in June – along with a graphic novella called ‘The 36 Frames’. After many delays die to Covid complications, the film will finally see the light in February: you can pre-order it now via the Kosmo Foto Shop.

The curious case of the Contax shutter

Oleg Khalyavin really knows his way around a film camera, and this fantastic piece for Kosmo Foto looks at the ingenious design of the shutter in the Contax and Kiev rangefinder cameras.

Amateur photography in the USSR (Parts One and Two)

Roman Yarovitcyn’s love of photography started when the USSR was still intact. Here are two fascinating pieces he wrote for Kosmo Foto on how budding photographers learned their craft in the Soviet Union.

The little film SLR released a decade too early

In 2003, Cosina released an SLR that was the case of the right camera at the wrong time: the Voigtlander Bessaflex TM. A new body for M42 lenses, the small, light and user-friendly camera came out just as digital photography exploded. Had it come out a decade later, it might have been a proper sensation.

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Stephen Dowling
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