My First Adventure with a Sputnik Camera, Part 1

My First Adventure with a Sputnik Camera, Part 1

I’m excited to welcome to the Stereoscopy Blog Norwegian photographer and artist Ida Marie. Earlier this year I shared an image of a still life I’d taken with a Sputnik stereo film camera for ‘Crappy Commie Camera Party’ and my evil influence made Ida Marie want to try one. She has very kindly shared her initial experience of using the camera in this first of two posts, to introduce you to the Sputnik.

Thanks so much Ida Marie, this is perfect for anyone wanting to get to grips with one of the most widely available 120 film stereo cameras!

Written by Ida Marie

I am sitting with Sputnik in front of me. Not the Norwegian singer with a rocket on his roof and songs that get stuck in your head. Not the Soviet Union satellite from 1954 either. No, the Sputnik in front of me is a camera. A stereo camera to be exact, which you probably already knew as you are reading a blog dedicated to stereoscopy. 

What you are about to read is the 1st of a 2-part series about my first adventure with the Sputnik. In this first part I will introduce you to the Sputnik and my first impressions working with it. In the second part I am going to take you through the process of developing the first roll and enlarging the photos; crossing our fingers that we do have photos to enlarge. 

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The Sputnik camera was introduced in the mid 1950s and produced until the mid 1970s. It was made in the Soviet Union by a company called Lomo. The body is made of Bakelite, one of the first types of plastic produced. It is a medium format camera which makes 6 pairs of stereo photos from the 12 frames of a roll of 120 film. 

For the first roll of film, I got hold of some black and white film from Svema. Svema was based in Ukraine and was one of the leading producers of photographic film in the Soviet Union. The film I used is a 64 ISO film that expired in 1995. The first time I opened one of these rolls, I was hit by a smell that could be best described as your grandmas attic. In other words, it smelled old. 

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I am fascinated by still lifes, but I don’t have much experience photographing them myself. Before getting started I did some research. I watched some clips on YouTube, did some reading around the web and looked at images. Looking and reading is one thing, actually doing is another. 

My light source was natural light from a window, to the side of where I set up my scene. Because of this I knew I needed to use a tripod, this was easier said than done though. It turns out that the Sputnik and the tripod did not match as the screw threads are different. Looking around my room for something else to use, I landed on the various stacks of books.

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If anyone ever tells you that you have too many books, just show them this picture; I assure you they come in handy. 

The stack of books ended up higher than the one pictured, I would say almost double the height. It felt a bit risky, so between setting the scenes up I would place the Sputnik on the table instead. After all, we don’t want it crashing down from a large stack of books as Bakelite is a fragile material. 

Next on the list was the distance. The closest focusing distance on a Sputnik is 1.3 meters. I used a measuring tape to check the distance between the subject and the camera; this is also why the stack ended up being higher. Pulling the table further away from the subject, I had to stack it up even higher to be able to see the scene in front of me. When it came to deciding on the exposure settings, I used the light meter on another film camera. And that is all the technical details covered.

(Reb: One thing to look out for when using this camera for the first time, is that you only want to use the odd film frame numbers when taking each stereo pair, i.e. frames 1, 3, 5….11, as you are taking two frames at time).

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Above is a little sneak peak of one of the props used. I decided not to take photos of the scenes, but instead to save it for the printing part of the process. Working with a Sputnik was a bit of a challenge, but it was also an interesting experience. The settings of the camera are changed on the front of it, with various knobs around the lenses. Underneath them is a longer bar which is used to change the aperture. The focus is set by turning the lens on top of the other two while looking through the viewfinder. 

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Sputniktopsmall

The look of the camera is a bit intimidating, but in the end it is not a bad camera if you ask me. Now of course, we will have to see how the film turns out. Because I used natural light, I needed to use some slower shutter speeds, which means that images can easily become out of focus. Sputniks are also known for being prone to light leaks. And then of course we have the film. Using an expired film roll is always a risk they say, but then again, is it not part of the fun of photographing with film? 

In the end you don’t know what you have until you pull it out of the tank. 

I hope you have enjoyed this first part, stay tuned for the second part. Until then, take care of each other.  

Ida Marie

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One thought on “My First Adventure with a Sputnik Camera, Part 1

  1. Wow that is a very cool looking camera 😮 Perfect piece of steampunk. I look forward to part 2, hope you get some good images!

    Like

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