One of the few 35mm cameras whose build quality made Leicas M's look like mass market trash.
Thom Hogan is stirring the nostalgia bucket with a new website dedicated to great film cameras of yesteryear that can still be well used today. If you are interested you might want to give his new site a spin: http://www.filmbodies.com/ Thom is a good writer with an amazing depth of knowledge about photography. He comes from the techno/engineering side but his reviews and articles have a good left/right brain balance. And, remarkably, he also likes to write about the business of cameras.
But all his new site did for me was to rekindle my lust for fun cameras from yesteryear. While I still have Nikon F's and F2's and F3's and an F4 rumbling around in one of the equipment cabinets I'm much more of an elitist snob that Thom so I dug out what may have been the ultimate in camera construction in all of the twentieth century to ruminate about. Yes, it's the Alpa 9d, individually hand built in Switzerland by a company that also made precision parts for the premier watch companies.
While Leicas are very nicely built and probably are the ultimate expression of assembly line cameras nothing out there beats a camera made by hand, by Swiss craftsmen, using thick and rugged alloys like surgical steel for critical parts. When I hold a Leica M in one hand and an Alpa 9d in the other one feels "well made" and the other one seems like absolutely alien inspired, bulletproof, indestructible and timelessly crafted. The Pignon company started making cameras in the 1940's and stopped in the late 1970's and, in all, produced fewer than 40,000 cameras of all kinds, total. Very clean copies of any Swiss Alpa (Cosina made a modern version but it never sold well) go for insane prices at auction. These were cameras with shutters that could be set very precisely, and in third stop increments, in a time when other maker's fully mechanical cameras had shutter that could only be calibrated down to one stop increments.
But as great as these single lens reflex camera bodies were the icing on the cake was the selection of apochromatic 50mm and 100mm lenses they had made (Also by a Swiss company). Photographers routinely dismissed the lenses from any serious competition because they were very expensive and they ruined the grade curve. They were that good in their time.
"The Kern Macro Switar lens was a 50 mm lens at F1.8 or F1.9. It was an apochromat, and is still highly regarded as possibly the best standard lens ever offered." --Wikipedia
Pretty much the gold standard for ultimate 35mm image quality in the 1960's was a roll of Kodachrome 25 film, a Kern-Switar lens and an Alpa precision crafted body. The example in these photos is of my favorite Alpa 9d, because it's the one I own. I am in the middle of restoring the cosmetics and I've stripped off the peeling, 40 year old leatherette and am trying to order replacements (yes, someone still does it...). The camera itself still functions flawlessly. Since there were so few made and so few sold in the U.S.A. I've never seen one at a photo walk or on a Flickr forum. Or for that matter anywhere outside a collector's glass cabinet.
Is it fun to use? Now that's an entirely different question....