A snapshot of camera history

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2009, 12:00am

Cameras have long been used to capture precious moments and record history, but people often forget the instruments themselves are a way to understand the past.

More than 100 vulnerable antique cameras will be on display at the Century Camera Exhibition at Plaza Hollywood, allowing visitors to learn how the style, function and importance of cameras have developed over time.

Exhibits include Germany's Leica I - the first ever 35mm camera produced in 1930 - and the earliest multi-functional camera, a two-in-one radio-camera made in 1979. Visitors interested in warfare will be thrilled to see the most popular models used in war zones during the second world war, and Japan's 3cm-long Petal, the smallest spy cam in the world.

Highlights of the show are definitely China's Red Flag 20 and Dongfeng. Both models, seen as national heirlooms by photography enthusiasts, reflect the eras they were created.

Renowned local camera collector David Chan Hung explained that the Chinese leaders' strong belief in making the country as powerful as its western counterparts brought about the production of the two high-quality models. Mr Chan said they wanted to prove that whatever westerners could do, the Chinese could do as well.

This competitiveness is seen in the name Dongfeng, or 'east wind', a name which is reminiscent of the old Chinese saying 'the east wind overtakes the west wind'.

The camera was ordered into production in the early 1970s by President Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing. It was modelled on a product made by legendary Swedish camera manufacturer Hasselblad.

No expense was spared in the race to keep up with photographic technology. When Red Flag 20 was produced in the early 70s, it was priced at 6,000 yuan, a massive sum of money equivalent to almost 10 years' salary for a regular worker at that time. 'Both cameras are still in good shape,' Mr Chan said. 'The pictures they produce are of high quality and are incomparable to digital photos.'

Most digital cameras are undoubtedly convenient and user-friendly, but the camera expert believes traditional analogue or film-based cameras are about far more than functionality. 'In the old days, cameras were considered art pieces,' Mr Chan said.

There will also be a guided tour by Lee Geor-ming, an Honorary Fellow of the Photographic Association New York. Mr Lee will cover camera history and photography subjects like basic dark room set-ups and photo development techniques. And if you happen to have an old camera, you can take it to the exhibition on May 3 or May 10, to have it examined and valued by an expert.

The Century Camera Exhibition runs from today until May 10