What’s That Camera in Wes Anderson’s Latest Film, Asteroid City?

What’s That Camera in Wes Anderson’s Latest Film, Asteroid City?

1961 883 Rich Stroffolino

The trailer for Wes Anderson’s latest twee epic Asteroid City contains an almost absurd amount of hallmarks of the iconic director’s style. Meticulously arranged wide shots, special effects out of a high school drama club, and a world composed of pastels that seemingly mock our drab everyday existence all make the requisite appearances. The cast is stacked, featuring a mix of Anderson regulars, and a grizzly Tom Hanks grandpa. But the one who really caught my eye is the film’s protagonist, played by Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman, who seems to be a widower photographer. In essentially every scene in the trailer, he’s wearing a camera. And since the movie is set in the 1950s, that means we get to play our favorite game – spot the vintage camera!

The brand name on the camera reads “Muller Schmid” with a further designation of “Swiss Mountain Camera” (which reminds me of Alpa). The lens looks like a 50mm f/2 bearing the inscription “Combat Lens.” Of course, none of that is real. Time to identify.

I first thought that the camera looked like an old Contax rangefinder, specifically the Contax III from the late 1930s. After all, Contax has a long and respected history, but one that would be obscure to the average viewer, a perfectly off-kilter camera for a quirky Wes Anderson photographer.

But looking closer, something seemed off with the Contax.

That PC sync port isn’t right for a Contax III. The rewind knob, characteristically bulbous on the Contax, seemed too short on our “Swiss Mountain Camera.” And while I wouldn’t put it past the prop master to make changes to give the camera more quirky flair, it made me wonder if we might be dealing with a Soviet clone. After a little research, I narrowed it down to a Kiev 4M.

As for the lens, there’s a little less to go on. Ignoring that the photographer is covering the rangefinder window with his finger, the “Combat Lens” doesn’t look wildly different from what we’d expect to find on a Kiev. Though identifying which lens it is, is harder. Given that it’s a Soviet camera, let’s assume it’s a Jupiter 8a.

Later in the trailer, we see Schwartzman’s character talking to Scarlett Johansson, seemingly from the window of a makeshift darkroom.

So much of the set dressing here is spot on. We see the red bulb as the dead giveaway, but further in the background, there’s also a classic Kodak Model A Safelight.

We also see he’s doing some printing, two prints are drying in the shot. We see three brown chemical jugs, presumably for developer, stop bath and fixer. Although interestingly there’s only two processing trays visible, so maybe he’s one of the “stop bath optional” devotees.

Other treats for photo nerds are some iconic Kodak yellow boxes, presumably printing paper. There’s also a Time-O-Lite darkroom time (that appears to be upside down), and an enlarger. We don’t see a ton of it, but based on the mounting stand and the bits we do see, I think it might be a Federal model. Some of them were designed for travel and student use, so it makes sense given the situation we see the character in.

Of course, I have lots of other questions about the film. Will we see this character load up a roll of Tri-X? Does he develop using HC-110? Why is he always wearing his camera so uncomfortably high? As a big Wes Anderson fan, I have no doubt I will have all these questions answered while seeing a bittersweet film that teaches me lessons through the vehicle of a tragically flawed father figure. I can’t wait to see it and find out.

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Rich Stroffolino

Rich Stroffolino is a podcast producer and amateur photographer based out of Cleveland, Ohio.

All stories by:Rich Stroffolino
  • Made my day. A welcome light-hearted post. Proper detective work. Film must have plenty of Easter Eggs. The camera is actually generating a lot of interest. There’s a a thread started yesterday on reddit with almost 80 comments.

  • Wanted to see what the still would reveal sharpened in bw
    – Camera manufacturer: Müller Schmid. Müller is Miller in English while Schmid [and variants] is the German equivalent of the English name Smith.
    – Model: Swiss Mountain Camera
    – Mark on the selenium meter flap:” land locked” in caps. Switzerland is landlocked.
    – Enamelled Swiss flag [white cross on red background].
    – Lens: Combat Lens, 1:2 F 5 cm [50/2,0], serial number 1051569. In the 1950s focal lengths were in cm not mm and apertures were ratios [1:2 is f2,0].
    The camera strap is so short that the protagonist could not bring the camera to eye level. At one point in the clip the strap is not there but the o-rings show. Odd.

  • He must be a zone focuser. The way he holds the camera covers the rangefinder patch window so focusing is not possible. I have several of these old Kievs and they’re quite a trip.

    Can’t wait to see the film.

  • I saw it and knew right away it was the Kiev 4m because I use that camera a lot.

  • Rich – This camera is not a Contax. It is amid 50s Kiev. As an expert on these cameras and the retired secretary of Zeiss Historica there is no doubt in my mind. It’s been rebadged. What’s really nice is the fact that it was made in Kiev Ukraine. Cheers to Wes! – Warren Winter

  • Hello, I wanted to give you a small correction. The soviet camera the movie has is not the “Kiev 4m” camera but the “Kiev 4”. Later model “4m” cameras had plastic parts in them, the most visible one is the plastic rewind knob. The camera in Asteroid City does not have a plastic rewind knob, it’s all metal, so it must be the earlier version “4”.

  • Sergejs Semjonovs August 3, 2023 at 5:19 am

    And by the way, Jason is turning rewinding knob in wrong direction – “anti-clockwise”, but in real it should be “clockwise” direction 😉

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Rich Stroffolino

Rich Stroffolino is a podcast producer and amateur photographer based out of Cleveland, Ohio.

All stories by:Rich Stroffolino