"Current" authoritative references?

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by shawn_rahman, Dec 3, 2009.

  1. I am aware of and have a copy of Ivor Matanle's book on Classic Cameras. But as this work is now almost 25 years old, I am hoping to find an alternative reference, and perhaps more current one.
    What do most people consider the best reference available today, either in print or online, for manual classic cameras?
  2. Matanle was a fun, but fairly careless historian of old cameras. Well worth having, so long as you remain a little skeptical.
    Probably the best reference, but not a book that one could read, is Kadlubeks Kamera-Katalog/Kadlubek's Camera Catalogue . It is about as exhaustive as you could want, although it is by no mean complete nor are the prices more than a rough guide, certainly today. There's a companion Kadlubeks Objektive-Katalog/Kadlubek's Lens Catalogue . Each item just has a line of text about details with some small pictures.
    For the sort of book one likes to browse through in search of old gems one might actually want, the latest edition of McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras is fun, and tends to eventually correct errors from a lot of reader feedback. Again, the prices are much higher than most things go for on eBay.
    For the sort of cameras most of us would only dream of, there are a pair of "coffee-table books" that are superb. One is The History of Photography as Seen through the Spira Collection (Aperture) , and the other is the also excellent Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital by Todd Gustavson (George Eastman House). These are profusely illustrated in full color and are not nearly so expensive as one might think.
    Hove Books has a series of camera-specific "Compedium" guides. I have the Canon and Nikon ones. These date to the mid-1990s, and are available now at (link ) as well as on Amazon and other on-line marketplaces. They are of variable quality, but very handy if you can't remember some detail. The same press did a "Blue Book" series as well.
  3. I'm not sure why there seems to be a fashion to denigrate poor old Ivor Matanle. I find his books fun for their enthusiasm and general good natured approach.
    Apart from him, I find much more pleasure in going backwards, rather than forwards. For instance, I've just acquired 'The Exakta Handbook' and 'The Exakta Manual', both from 1956. They're treasure troves of information about the cameras and their accessories, even some, now, very obscure ones. There are similar books about many other systems, dating from when the products were current.
  4. Comparing Kadlubek's and McKeown's (I have both latest editions), I can say that M is more accurate in details (shutter speeds, f/, etc). K also has a lot of mix ups with SLR or RF markings and doesn't have any historical information (except years) about cameras or their manufacturers.
    At the same time, K has more "newer" (post 2000) cameras and has a greater camera variety from the major manufacturers. Though, M did mention that they are not including all the cameras they have in the database, becase a lot of them are not collectible yet, or never were considered as such, and book is too thick already.
  5. What I liked about Matanle's book is the underlying assumption that the reader would want to take photos with the cameras and lenses. He was the reason I started looking at Voigtlanders, and I have really enjoyed shooting with several types.
  6. McKeown's is by far the book I go to when I need to research a camera. It's not missing too much, and although the prices might not reflect the realities of ebay, the more expensive cameras have kept their prices. He gave a presentation at Eastman House 3 years ago , and graphed the prices of cameras being sold. Basically, the cheap cameras have lost whatever value they had because they have flooded the market via ebay. Desirable cameras may have lost a bit, but not much. Rare will always be in demand, and will command the top dollar, only because demand outstrips supply.
    Glass, Brass and Chrome was reprinted by Univ. Oklahoma Press a few years ago, and is a really nice paperback about the US camera industry. It may still be available.
    Matanle's books are obviously based on cameras he's used, and it's a love-affair type of book which is enjoyable. Nobody's going to agree with everything he says, and as an Argophile, I was put off by his remarks on the Argus. However, I also realize that there are not a lot of sterling examples of Argus on that side of the Atlantic. If you are a user of vintage cameras, both of his books are like a candy store.
    The latest book on The Camera, by Gustavson, is a nice coffee-table book, but I found a few errors on things I actually knew something about, and since they were about Argus, I can't understand that, since the information is readily available. It would make a nice holiday gift for anyone that collects cameras.
    For Argus people, there is Argomania, by Harry Gambino. A pretty comprehensive book about Argus and accessories as well as the history of the company.
  7. Mark--

    You're right about a major Argus error in "The Camera": An Argus A is said in the caption to be an A2. Ouch!

  8. Not to get into a Matanle argument--as I said earlier, he is fun to read and useful -- his level is indicated by a statement that the Exakta RTL 1000 is a reworked Praktica VLC.
    This shows how forward looking the Ihagee people were-- the Exakta RTL came out in 1970 and the to-be-sure very similar Praktica VLC came out in 1974 .
    As Matanle later acknowledged, he had seen both cameras and jumped to the conclusion that the "not-quite-a-real Exakta" RTL was a Praktica knock off. The truth is that VEB Pentacon did not let a good design go to waste, and changed the mount to M42 and some other details from the original Exakta design to make the VLC. That's why I used the word "careless" in reference to his historical research.
  9. As Matanle later acknowledged, he had seen both cameras and jumped to the conclusion that the "not-quite-a-real Exakta" RTL was a Praktica knock off.​
    That's interesting, when and where did he say that?
  10. As an inveterate collector and reader of photographic history books in the English language I would have to say that there are very few that cover in one volume the huge range of makes, models and designs that you will come across. As far as I am aware the perfectly accurate source has not yet been written so my advice is to get a good general introduction and then delve deeper in those areas of particular interest.
    Of the general overviews I think Matanle is still to be highly recommended as a starting point because his books convey his enthusiasm and are highly readable. For all its excellent qualities as a reference source, McKeowns is not to my mind the most gripping of reads.
    The titles I go back to most frequently are:
    • "Cameras, From Daguerrotypes to Instant Pictures" by Brian Coe. A very informative source on the workings of many of the more obscure earlier cameras and shutters.
    • "An Age of Cameras" by Edward Holmes, a superb and highly readable exposition of the early brass and mahogany cameras and early SLR cameras
    • "A History of the 35mm Still Camera" by Roger Hicks covers the period 1912 to 1967 from a very practical standpoint.
    • Also for a lot of information in two very slim volumes the two Robert White books: "Discovering Old Cameras" and "Discovering Cameras 1945-1965" are sufficiently small to fit a pocket. Handy when you want a memory jogger to take to a camera fair or fleamarket but don't want to fit two wheels to your copy of McKeowns!!
  11. Re Matanle and his acknowledgment:
    I have to confess that my statement above was my personal interpretation of the rather more weaselly statement by Matanle in Collecting and Using Classic SLRs (Thames and Hudson 1996). It is in small type on page 56 under the illustration of an Exakta RTL1000 at the top right of the page:
    The Exakta RTL1000 represented a total departure from the traditional
    Exakta shape and mechanical design. Often represented (even by me
    in my earlier book) as being derived from the Praktica VLC series,
    it in fact appeared some time before the Praktica VLC, but was
    undoubtedly the result of a common design process.
    However, unlike
    the Praktica, it has two shutter-release buttons, one on the right, the
    other on the left. Together with an Exakta bayonet mount, this made
    it possible to use earlier Exakta FAD lenses as well as the internally
    coupled automatic-diaphragm lenses specifically supplied for the
    RTL1000. [emphasis added]​
    Not very straightforward in his reference to a "common design process", is it? The common design process was decidedly from Exakta to Praktica, not the other way around. Moreover, so far as I can tell, Matanle is the one who started this "often represented" canard.
    Again, I too recommend Matanle, but I also recommend some caution in accepting his very idiosyncratic conclusions.

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