The Photography Flubs in Babylon BerlinK. Praslowicz
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The other night I finished my binge of the sixteen episodes of the German crime noir series Babylon Berlin that is currently on Netflix.
Set in 1929 during the Weimar Republic, it was a nice change of pace to see a show about living in early 20th century Germany where Nazism hasn't taken hold yet. Despite a few tropes and plot armor in the later episodes, I enjoyed the series quite a bit and will be waiting for upcoming seasons. But I am not here today to review Babylon Berlin.
Today I am writing about some of the photography depicted during the show. Or more precisely, some of the photography flubs that happened during Babylon Berlin. They don't take away from the viewing experience for the typical viewer, but this is the kind of stuff that I always seem to notice in film.
First up is some commentary on the press swarms that happen a few times in Babylon Berlin. All and all, par for the course. These press photographers wielding large-format press cameras seemed to make the same goofs that every movie that has a swarm of them makes.
Bellows racked out to the max.
Press photographers walking around with all the bellows of their camera showing is probably the most common offense in movies featuring press cameras. A press photographer of the time would typically use a lens with a normal to slightly wide-angle view. Focussing those lenses so that all of the camera's bellows are extended means that the camera is focussed on a point a little more than a hand's length from the camera.
See the difference?
No one ever seems to reload film or change the flash bulb after taking a photo.
Perhaps there were a few hotshot photographers would roll up to a newsworthy event, fire one exposure, and then go home and call it a day? But I'm guessing it was more common that they would want to take at least take a few exposures to make sure something was in focus and usable?
These were the days of single-use flashbulbs and sheet film holders. After every exposure, the photographer needs to replace the bulb film before taking the next exposure. All the press photographers in Babylon Berlin seem to make an exposure, and then just stand around looking for the next shot. Buddy! You need new film for when that next moment happens! The old mantra "F/8 and be there." is no good if your camera doesn't have unexposed film in it.
The camera in the screenshot above also appears to be a Pacemaker Speed Graphic with side mount rangefinder. The whoopsie here being that that the release date of the model with the gray aluminum front standard and lens boards was 1947; just a mere eighteen years after this scene takes place. Using the wrong models for the period is quite common.
Alright, let's move away from the extras who were given cameras and not instructed on how to use authentically operate and focus on one of the named characters of the show.
Meet Gräf, the resident police photographer who needs a lock on his door to stop people from walking into his darkroom and ruining his work.
Gräf on The Airplane
We get to see Mr. Gräf operating in the field with his cameras a few times throughout Babylon Berlin. One of these moments is during an aerial recon mission in an airplane. For this mission, Gräf uses what appears to be a period correct Leica 1A.
A neat feature of these early cameras was the collapsable lens which you can see in the above image. The lens can be pushed into the body when not in use to reduce the profile of the camera for transportation.
However, failure to extend the lens before use is just going to get you some unusable photos. But surely Gräf is a pro and won't forget to extend his lens. Right, Gräf?
This mishandling of the Leica by not extending the collapsing lens can only mean one of two things.
A) Gräf's nerves got the best of him during the
mission, and he forgot to set his camera up correctly. He blows it,
and the mission was a failure.
B) The props people didn't know how to use the camera and/or never instructed the actor about how to use it.
Spoiler: The photos still turned out in the end. So option B.
Gräf at The Crime Scene
Midway through the series, we get to see Mr. Gräf in the field photographing at a crime scene. Unlike the press photographs from earlier, he is seen changing his flashbulbs between exposures! Huzzah!
However, during this scene, something seems fishy about our friend Gräf's camera.
That's a nice looking 6x6 folding medium format camera he is using here. Appears to be a good German made Zeiss Nettar 517/16 or 518/16.
However, the release date for these models of the Zeiss Nettar cameras was 1949 at the earliest. Twenty years after he was photographing that crime scene with the camera.
So how did the photographer get one in 1929? Again, there can only be one of two possible explanations.
A) Gräf knows how to time travel, and used it
to go to sometime after 1949 to get some sweet photography
B) The props people just said "This funny looking camera looks old enough. Use this. Anachronism schmanachronism."
Spoiler: Gräf never tips off anyone about what was going to happen to Germany in the next fifteen years. So option B.
Also of note. For some reason, after Gräf takes a photo with the Nettar, it makes the sound that a 35mm lever advance camera would make to advance to the next frame. Even though this camera would not make that sound, and his hand isn't even on the film advance knob. Perhaps it melded with a different 35mm camera we also attempted to bring back from the future during the return warp?
That is all I noticed for photography flubs and anachronisms in Babylon Berlin. And just to reiterate, this post is light-hearted, a bit educational, and shouldn't be taken as a criticism of the series. It was still an excellent television series that I recommend checking out.