Condor 1  

Condor 1
Galileo Condor 1.

This has been my mother's family camera for many years (she subsequently shot with an Olympus point-and shoot film camera and a Nikon Coolpix 7900), and the first camera I ever used. I still have it, packed away somewhere, although now it is only a curiosity. It was made in Italy by Galileo (the brand, not the scientist Galileo Galilei - I am not that old), or at least it is marked as such. It is a simple telemeter camera that takes standard 35 mm film canisters, and is entirely mechanical, manual-everything, without the luxury of light metering. My mother used it with an external selenium-cell light meter (which worked without batteries).

The top has knobs for advancing (A) and rewinding film (R), the shutter release button and the nearby latch to start rewinding the film (which you could forget to switch back after loading a new film, and start puzzling what was wrong). The rectangular viewfinder and the two round windows of the telemeter are aligned along the top front. You had to frame with the viewfinder, then look into another, extremely dim peep-hole to focus. If you saw double, the lens was out of focus. It can focus down to 1 metre, at which point the image framed in the viewfinder is already different from the actual picture (the viewfinder has no parallax correction).

The lens has controls for focus, diaphragm, shutter time and a lever for cocking the shutter. It had to be cocked independently of the film winding knob, so you could do all sorts of interesting stuff, like forget to wind and make a double exposure on the same frame, or forget to cock and miss the shot. The diaphragm and shutter scale can be seen only by pointing the lens toward yourself, which you had to do every time you changed the settings. There is a strange little knob on the rim of the lens barrel that has no useful function, and in fact you should remember never to touch it, because it is just a mechanical transmission between the shutter button on the body and the shutter inside the lens. You could inadvertently trip the shutter by touching it while fumbling for the other controls. There is also a socket for connecting a bulb flash (literally, one-time magnesium bulbs that you popped out onto the floor after firing, because they turned red-hot).

At the bottom, there is a socket for a tripod mount. It accepts a 3/8" screw instead of the normal 1/4", and is surrounded by a 2 mm wide raised rim, so the bottom of the camera does not touch the tripod head except on this rim. This built-in instability is coupled with the position of the tripod mount. It is not located under the centre of the camera where it would be balanced. Instead, it sits under the film canister at the extreme end of the camera, so the camera looks curiously lopsided when mounted on a tripod. In fact, the asymmetric weight of the camera made it precariously balanced when mounted on one of the spindly "universal tripods" of the time. This tripod had a built-in aluminium and plastic ball-head with a diameter of 1 cm - but this is a different story.

The lens barrel can be turned counter clockwise and pushed into the body. The camera becomes only a couple of centimetres thinner, but you had to do this if you wanted to close the leather camera case. You could also forget to pull out the lens afterwards, and miss the next shot. I don't remember what the small wheel near the rewind knob is for.

In my early teens, I even tried to use this camera for macro photography, with disappointing results (but I did learn quite a bit). Nonetheless, it got me started with photography as a hobby, which I have kept to this date. I am not sentimental about the Condor 1 (or any other camera), because each time I bought a new camera it has been an improvement on the preceding one (in one way or another, although rarely in all respects at the same time), all the more so since I switched to digital photography in 2000 and DSLRs in 2005. I cannot avoid wondering if, 30-40 years from now, current DSLRs will look as un-ergonomical and poorly designed as this Condor 1 now looks to me. updatedI wrote the preceding sentence in 2007. Seven years later, DSLRs already look like mammoths in comparison with Micro 4/3 cameras. I no longer use DSLRs, although they are still popular with "real" photographers.

In principle, even the basic looks of a camera need not to remain the same. The laws of optics remain constant, but there is a lot one can do within these laws. A lens, diaphragm, shutter and sensor seem to be the basic requisites, but of these elements, only the lens affects the looks of a camera. However, holographic lenses in principle could substitute refracting ones, and even a super-telephoto might be "compressed" into the shape of a CD disk, the front-element diameter being the only fixed requirement (unless at present unforeseen advances in quantum technology will make concepts like depth-of-field, lens aperture, diffraction and signal-to-noise ratio irrelevant, and a button-sized lens will be configurable to any focal length and aperture).

Two-dimensional pictures most likely will not remain the only option, as 3-D techniques exist even today. Technologies that allow the point-of-view and focal plane of a picture to be changed in post-production have been incorporated in a few commercial products (in particular, shoot-now, focus-later has the potential to become a standard feature). Panning and zooming out in post-production to include objects outside the original frame, as well as changing the position of the camera in post-processing after the shooting session has ended, or selectively removing objects from a picture to see what really lies behind them, would add some interesting new twists to a photographer's toolkit. It will be a good time to be a photographer, as always.

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