Happy Birthday, Camera-wiki.org!

One year ago today, after weeks of feverish backstage activity, the site Camera-wiki.org went public!

In earlier blog posts, we’ve covered some of the whys and hows behind our “fork” (and there are personal accounts here and here). But today we’re celebrating everything we’ve achieved in the past year:

  • About 100 contributors created a login and typed something into the wiki
  • These intrepid wiki editors added over 1,170 new article pages
  • Our new Flickr group grew to 872 members, and has over 44,000 pool images
  • We’ve become accepted as the authoritative successor to Camerapedia; and many websites have switched their external links to us (thanks!)
  • We’ve checked thousands of photo permissions, and improved byline credits
  • We’re beginning an overhaul of our (previously unclear) category system
  • 24 generous contributors have donated funds to cover our hosting costs—keeping us independent, and free from ugly, distracting ads
  • Our level of activity hugely eclipses the mere dribble at Wikia’s “ghost ship” copy
  • And our site traffic shows steady growth—with thousands of pageviews a day

So light up those birthday candles and wave those sparklers around! And if you don’t know much about us yet, see our About page or our FAQ;  or drop in on one of our Flickr discussion threads to say hello.

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When people talk about Camerapedia and Camera-wiki.org, there are several similar-sounding names which might be confused. Just for everyone’s handy reference, here is a quick refresher:

wiki = a technology for collaborative authoring through a web-browser interface. Used by many websites, projects, and companies for all types of content. (There is more background, plus an explanation of the funny name, in this article.)

Wikipedia = the largest and most visible user of wiki technology is the free encyclopedia Wikipedia.

Wikia = the name of a private, for-profit company which hosts user-created wikis; it derives its income from advertising placed alongside this content. There are other similar “Wiki farm” companies in existence.

Camerapedia = An online encyclopedia of cameras and photography begun in 2004, originally hosted at the domain camerapedia.org. Initially, this project was non-commercial, with its contributors believing in good faith that it would remain that way.

In January 2011 this domain was sold to Wikia, and no longer exists as such. A website with the name “Camerapedia” is now hosted through Wikia.com. Since the takeover, hundreds of photos have been removed from Camerapedia by their owners. Meanwhile, there have only been a few genuine contributors (adding about 85 articles as of this writing); other additions have been questionable—or pure spam.

Camera-wiki.org = the non-commercial sucessor to Camerapedia. In January 2011, many of the contributors to Camerapedia rebelled at its commercial hijacking by Wikia. A splinter group duplicated Camerapedia as it then existed, and “forked” off a new project, pledging it would remain non-commercial. On February 7, 2011 this went public as camera-wiki.org.

Since this split, we have added over ONE THOUSAND new article pages. With your help, camera-wiki.org will just keep growing and getting better!

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The Fork is Six!

Six months old, that is.

For about six years, there was a valued, non-commercial source of camera information, built entirely by volunteers: Camerapedia.org.

But this January, many of Camerapedia’s contributors were confused and shocked at the news that its domain name had been sold to Wikia, an advertising-supported, for-profit company.

Exactly six months ago, contributor Voxphoto opened an alternative Flickr group to discuss what to do next. It quickly became clear that the GFDL licensing of Camerapedia’s text gave us an opportunity to “fork” the wiki, splitting off a new project that preserved its non-commercial status. Thanks to some heroic efforts by user Steevithak, our own copy of Camerapedia was soon up and running; and this finally went public as Camera-wiki.org on February 7th, 2011.

Since that time, the Flickr group has seen tremendous growth: It now stands at 35,739 images, and has 607 members. The biggest camera-gear photo pools on Flickr are all 4 or 5 years older (the very largest has about 42,000 images); yet we’ve caught up very quickly, and are still growing fast.

We’ve now got 6,026 article pages in Camera-wiki.org. I believe that makes about 740 new articles added since the fork took place. (There are many fewer edits being made to Wikia’s copy; and since all the old admins have abandoned it, spam and noise are creeping in unchallenged.)

But Camera-wiki.org still needs your help.

Photos of unusual and obscure photo gear are always appreciated in our photo pool. If you have expert information about particular brands, please check our pages for missing or incorrect information. We’d love to have gurus in MediaWiki administration or non-profit organizing  join us—even if your camera knowledge is limited. Skilled writers can help us just by smoothing out rough prose (a number of our contributors have first languages other than English).

If you have some unusual old camera right in your hands, we would definitely like you to confirm its specs, or note any unusual features. And rare original source materials (vintage catalogs, manuals, or magazines) help us nail down the facts: dates, model names, feature changes, etc.

Cheers to everybody on a great first six months!

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A 5-month Progress Report

As you’ve probably heard by now, in January 2011 the domain Camerapedia.org was sold off to the ad-supported “wiki farm” Wikia.

Most of the volunteers who had built Camerapedia collectively sputtered, “whoa, that’s not what we signed on for!” So exactly five months ago, a group of contributors began splitting off a new project, to keep our “Wikipedia for cameras” free and non-commercial.

And I’m happy to say that today, Camera-wiki.org is very much alive and growing.

Beattie Imperial 90

Cheers! This whopper 4x5 TLR inspired a new wiki article, "Beattie." But we still need your help filling in the details.

Our Flickr group has already grown to 552 people. Please join the discussions there, if you’re curious about us, and might like to get involved. We’ve had about fifteen wonderful folks open their wallets and plunk down cash to cover our hosting costs, although we’d still appreciate your help.

But if you want to see the real story, look at our recent activity page.

Thanks to the efforts of volunteers like Tkmedia, Hanskerensky, and Dustin McAmera, we’ve grown to more than 5,900 article pages (there were fewer than 5,300 when the fork occurred). It’s true that some of these are only brief stubs. But once a page exists, it becomes much easier for someone who owns a particular model to sign up and add more details.

Another amazing success has been the growth of our Flickr photo pool, now up to 34,200 images. (That’s about 7,400 images more than the remnant Camerapedia pool.)  Not only that, we’ve rapidly become one of the 4 largest camera-collector pools on Flickr—currently gaining fast on Camera Junkie (a group that is 5 years old).

One project has taken longer than I hoped. Many images used in Camerapedia articles were licensed “all rights reserved,” and we’ve been laboriously re-confirming permissions to use those in our own wiki pages. Failing that, we’ve been finding replacements where the rights are clear.  We want to get this right: One objection to the Wikia takeover was their irresponsible co-opting of photos never authorized for use in an ad-supported site.

For our part, I believe we’ve got about 95% of the image permissions confirmed now; but I ask for your understanding that it may take a while to locate all the stragglers.

To keep improving the wiki, what we need next is to recruit some real experts in particular camera brands. We need people with deep knowledge of company histories and model variations, information that goes beyond a general work like McKeown’s. We also need people who have access to primary reference sources (vintage magazines, catalogs, etc.) to help confirm and document factual assertions.

Can you help?

Start by taking a look at the FAQ and page markup basics page. Look at the style of some existing pages (like this one). You can get an idea of what other editors are adding by skimming the recent activity log, and clicking the “diff” links to see what changes they’ve made. (A brief description of the edit ought to be added at the end of each log entry.)

If you find the page-markup code a bit daunting, please give a shout (e.g. in our Flickr group). One of the active editors may be able to work with you, to put your contributions into the right page format.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011 is Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Each year, on the last Sunday in April, pinhole-photography enthusiasts break out their cameras and start making images. Then they select their best shots from that day to submit to the WPPD online gallery.

If you’ve messed around with pinhole photography in the past, but drifted away from it, this is a nice occasion to get re-acquainted. And if you’ve never tried pinholes before, it’s a great incentive to start.

Bamboo Dish Pinhole Cameras

Homemade bamboo-box pinhole cameras, courtesy Ross Togashi. (Click photo for more information.)

Your wiki editors are observing Pinhole Day this year too: we completely revised one article, “Pinhole camera,” and added a new one, “Homemade pinhole camera.” But that’s just the beginning of the helpful pinhole resources scattered around the web.

The WPPD website has its own page of resources; there is a very active community on Flickr for pinhole photography and homemade pinhole cameras; and there are forums at f295.org whose contributors experiment with pinholes, zone plates, and other curiosities. For a homemade camera, one requirement is fabricating a clean, round hole of the right diameter; for some advice about that that, I can offer a blog post of my own.

Curved-film Pinhole Sample

A pinhole image exposed onto curved 4x5 sheet film

Pinhole cameras offer an atmospheric kind of imagery quite different from the sterile perfection of a color digital photo. While there are a number of pre-made pinhole cameras for sale (and ways to adapt conventional cameras for pinhole use), crafty DIY-ers love building entirely homebrew cameras—because their construction is so forgiving. And the freedom to create any size or shape of camera means the image format can be anything you desire.

I hope you’ll be out shooting a week from Sunday with a pinhole camera of your own!

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A New Wiki Resource: Our Photostream

I just wanted to post a quick mention that camera-wiki.org now has its own Flickr stream, here.  We intend this to be a resource for any wiki author or editor who is looking for useful images.

Occasionally, the only available photo of a rare camera was taken by someone who is not on Flickr. An example would be auction photos from eBay, or images from a specialist collector website. If those photographers are willing to donate their special camera images to Camera-wiki.org, but don’t want to expend their own bandwidth hosting them, our Flickr stream can be a convenient central repository.

1940 Ad: Kodak Super Six-20

1940 Ad: The pioneering autoexposure Super Kodak Six-20

We’ve also been adding lots of scans of vintage advertising. Currently, there is a good selection of material from Popular Photography (the long-running US photo magazine), dating from the years 1940 to 1946. This includes ads introducing the Stereo Realist (see the camera-wiki.org article), the rare Vokar I rangefinder (wiki article here), and many others.

As a side note, some may be wondering whether there are any copyright issues when using vintage advertising images. It’s good to be cautious on this topic, and it’s one that the wiki editors have given some thought to.

So far, all the scanned material has come from American publications. The US Copyright Office offers a summary PDF of the laws here; over time, these have generally been revised to expand and lengthen copyright protection.

We are not lawyers; but a simple summary would be to say that in most normal circumstances, copyright has lapsed on any publication from before 1922. In contrast, Anything from 1978 and later is almost certainly under copyright still.

For the years 1922 through 1977, our understanding of the law is that copyright protection only applies to items published with a copyright notice, such as © [date]. We believe copyright to advertising images would be held by the advertiser, not the magazine publishing it. Thus pre-1978 advertising published without the © ought to be safe to use. (There also may be a fair use argument; but as this is more contentious, we’d prefer not to rely on that.)

Our Flickr stream is not yet a Pro account, so there are a few images that have disappeared behind the 200-photo limit. (We’re happy to take a donation if you’d like to help us fix that.) However every image has been well tagged, and so all the uploaded items should appear if you search for a particular keyword. Enjoy!

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A Six-Week Progress Report

I’m writing this on a rainy Saturday morning, exactly six weeks from the date when Camera-wiki.org took its very first baby steps. The amount that has been accomplished in that brief time truly astonishes me.

Amid a storm of confusion and anger over the fate of Camerapedia, occasional contributor Voxphoto sensed a critical mass of users who were ready to rebel. On 22 January 2011, Vox created a new Flickr group, and sent invitations to join to some of the more vocal participants in the earlier discussions. In the new discussion forum, Steevithak quickly laid out a solid plan of action—and the insurrection was on!

Many of the largest photo contributors immediately joined us—notably, heritagefutures (Dirk HR Spennemann), who singlehandedly added over 6,000 photos to the Camera-wiki.org photo pool.  Starting from zero on 22 January, our photo contributions quickly exploded: I expect to see us cross the 20,000 mark within the next week. (If you’re curious, we’ve already passed 60% of the size of the Camerapedia photo pool, despite that group being 5 years old.)

We’ve also had fourteen nice contributions to our donations kitty, which provided the funds to pay for our web hosting. We still don’t know how those bills will increase as our traffic grows; but we’re in good shape now for the next couple of months.

Because the text of the old Camerapedia was covered under “copyleft” (GFDL 1.2), it was possible to clone the old site intact, and set up a new MediaWiki installation to host it. (This involved some technical complications and a bit of high drama, which Steve wrote an excellent blog post about.)

Some have raised the worry that “forking” the old Camerapedia into two factions would dilute the community’s effort. I’m delighted to say that this is not how things have worked out. Since our wiki reopened for editing on 27 January, I estimate that we’ve added about 250 new article pages, and contributors have made thousands of individual edits.

Camera-wiki adding new articles

Watch our count of wiki articles grow

You don’t need to take my (possibly biased) word for this: Our list of recent changes can be viewed by anyone.

It’s illuminating to compare this to the relative dribble of activity over at Wikia’s redirect of Camerapedia. (In truth, there is really only one user who is making substantive additions there—and if anyone happens to know him, please invite him to join Camera-wiki too!)

Another concern was that our search rankings might be overshadowed by all the stale links on the web pointing to Camerapedia.org—and now being redirected to Wikia. But our fresh activity has helped put Camera-wiki.org links onto the first page for many Google camera searches.

Camera-wiki.org is now posting occasional tweets with our site status—as well as highlighting some of the quirkier cameras which turn up in the wiki. We are currently setting up our own Flickr account (not quite ready for use yet) where we can host donated images, and works in the public domain such as scans of vintage advertising.

All this has happened with our efforts staying largely “under the radar.” We originally reached out to a handful of camera-lovers on Flickr, and via a few private messages elsewhere. As we publicize the site even more widely, it will be exciting to see what happens next.

As always, we’re happy to get new writers, new photos, and new supporters. So please check us out and consider how you might like to contribute.


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Status Update: Welcome to March

Hi! I’m Steve. You’ll see me online as Steevithak. As much as I hate to interrupt Voxphoto’s fascinating stories from the archives of Camera-wiki.org, it’s time to start posting occasional status updates on our infrastructure. Mostly, I’ll be talking about recent changes to the software or hardware that runs our site. And as Camera-wiki.org is a community-supported project, I’ll try to point out opportunities to help when ever possible.

Backups: Nightly backups have been working for a few days now. At present I have one offsite storage location for the backups. I’d like to find one more. If anyone can provide me with 200MB of space on a server and an ftp login, please let me know.

Social Media: We’re in good shape here, Vox has been busy handling this blog and twitter. Our twitter feed is also syndicated to our Facebook page. If you’d like to help us out here, follow our twitter or like our Facebook page.

Server Status: Currently we have two Dreamhost VPS accounts (one running MySQL and one running Apache). Virtual Private Servers (VPS) can be a little slower than physical servers but they are easily scalable, allowing us to save money on hosting. We’re trying to run at the minimum levels possible to conserve hosting funds during our startup period but we should be able to scale quickly when traffic starts rising. The best way you can help here is to make a donation to the hosting fund. Once we get past our first monthly bill, Vox should be able to provide some concrete numbers on how we’re doing.

Site traffic: The week we went live we averaged 3,000 page views per day. As word leaked out about our existence and Google began indexing our pages, traffic started climbing. Last week we passed 6,000 page views per day. So traffic is still just a trickle but as more and more of our pages enter the search results, traffic should continue to climb. You can help spread the word; there are still plenty of links to Camerapedia out there that need updating to camera-wiki.org. Check your blog, facebook page, flickr descriptions, and any other website you edit. Update those links!

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Tales from the Wiki: The Detroit-Dresden Praktica Connection

One great thing about Camera-wiki.org is learning weird bits of history about significant camera-makers, and the people behind them.

Not long ago, I stumbled onto a rather amazing story in the wiki Kamera Werkstätten article. It’s the strange tale of how a Detroit businessman named Charles Noble ended up moving to Dresden, and leading the company best known today for making Praktica cameras.

The short version is that Charles was a German-born christian, who had anglicized his name on moving to the US. He revived a failing Detroit-area photofinishing business that had employed his wife, and built it into a thriving company.

Kamera Werkstätten co-founders Paul Guthe and Benno Thorsch both wished to flee Germany as the Nazi party gained power in the 1930s. In around 1938, Thorsch reached an agreement with Noble that they would swap their two companies. Noble then moved his family to Dresden—although just as the storm clouds of WWII were gathering.

KW Pilot Super, by Rick Soloway

1939 KW Pilot Super, by Rick Soloway

Noble and his son John launched the innovative Praktiflex 35mm SLR in 1939—starting a venerable lineage of “Prakti” -prefixed camera models that would continue until 2001’s Praktica BX20S.

But the stormy political seas of the era would not be kind to the Nobles. After Dresden ended WWII in the communist eastern zone of Germany, both Nobles were arrested, and ultimately John vanished into a Siberian gulag. Over the postwar decades, several  now-nationalized East German photographic companies (including KW) were merged into the state photographic business VEB Pentacon, and KW’s camera lineage continued there.

In 1955 John Noble was finally released. But it was only in 1990, with the re-integration of eastern & western Germany that the 67-year-old John was able to recover ownership the WWII-era Noble factory that had been nationalized. The new Kamera Werk Dresden launched the Noblex line of swiveling-lens panorama cameras, named in tribute to Charles Noble who had died in 1983. Despite a late-1990s company bankruptcy (leading to an employee buyout), Noblex cameras are still made today.

The story for Benno Thorsch turned out a little easier. By 1944 he was in sunny California, founding Studio City Camera Exchange—a local landmark that remained a family business until its closing, circa 2006.

I’d like to thank T. Rand Collins, MD, for his excellent blog post which lays out much of this KW and Noble family history. And of course, I’d like to thank all the wiki editors who contributed to the KW history article.

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