Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Two Favourite Cameras

In 1989, I decided that I was going to change my life.  At that time I was working for a software company and I decided that I needed to create a more authentic life for myself.   I loved photography and decided that the skills I had developed over the previous 15 years were probably sufficient to get me through.
At the time I had a Leica M2 with a 50mm summicron, 35 mm Summaron f2.8 and a 90 mm Tele Elmarit.   It was the sweetest system I have ever owned.   That camera fit under my jacket, I carried a light meter in my shirt pocket and often carried both of my other lenses in my jacket pockets.
The camera was fast, heavy for it’s size but quiet as can be.   I carried it on a fairly short strap, under my arm a lot of the time, around my neck the rest.   I shot many, many rolls of film on that camera and it was always a joy to use.
It had one very big shortcoming however, the flash synch was poor.  The connectors to the back of the camera were loose and when I was using a flash I could not predict if the flash was going to go off as planned or not.   One thing though, when the flash did go off, you could see the picture through the viewfinder.  I felt like it was etched in my brain and was very confident of important details.
So, the M2 was a great camera but not with flash.   I eventually traded up to an M4 but only kept it for a short while before changing over to a Nikon F2.
The F2 became my second favourite camera.  Robust, sharp lenses, and, as  Dave Buzzard points out, bulletproof.   The lenses I loved the most were the 24 f2.8, the 50mm f2.0, the 105 f2.5.   I also had a 35mm f2.8 and it was ok but not as exciting as the others.  The beauty of the F2 was that you didn’t need a lot of equipment because you could always rent what you needed.  
I still have an F2.   Last night I put a roll of film in it and went for a walk.   It was great to take meter readings and decide where to set my shutter speed and fstop knowing that this film had a 5 stop latitude.
I don’t have an M2 and I could kick myself for letting it go.  
Right now I am shooting a digital 5D.   I like the camera a lot but frankly, I am not impressed with Canon lenses.   The really good ones are so expensive they are out of my price range, not that much less than the Leica lenses these days.   
The Leica system is so expensive now, I’m considering going back to film and looking for an M2, 3, or 4.   The feel of the camera and my confidence in the lenses has become more and more important to me lately.     I miss the simplicity of the aperture/shutter/manual focus systems.   Maybe I’m nostalgic for a time long gone when photography and alchemy inhabited my brain equally.   There were times when I felt like a magician rather than a technician.
I used to love processing my own film.   I loved making negatives, the mystery of the emulsion and my imagined images taking form.   I just realized that my scanner, an Epson 3200, doesn’t work with my Macbook Pro.   The drivers are out of date.  Anyone have any suggestions for a good scanner that won’t cost an arm and a leg?   I really prefer inkjets to silver prints…
But there's another side to this whole line of thinking.   I have been a large format proponent for a number of years.  I have taught Large Format Photography, tutored people on the fine points of working with LF and taken many, many pictures.   I have four LF cameras today.  A Sinar P, an old Calumet (Kodak style), a Crown Graphic and a Pinhole camera.   (I've actually put two of them up for sale as I live in a small cabin now and have little room.)
4x5's are very satisfying to work with though they are a meditative experience, the opposite end of the spectrum from Digital Photography in my opinion.   There is nothing like looking into a large ground glass and frankly, if I had the cash, I'd be shooting 8x10 right now.  But as it is, I'm trying to lighten the load and keep my work down to a couple of cameras.  So, I have decided that I am going back to the Leica system, hopefully to eventually work with the M or M9.  But in the meantime, it's back to film for me with the M2, M3, or M4.   I'm keeping my Crown Graphic as it is light and easily portable and those will be my working systems for the foreseeable future.   I am hearing great things about the Fuji XPRO-1 and will be looking at it but frankly I haven't found a camera as satisfying as the ones I've decided to work with.  I'll keep you posted as things develop...   (No pun intended.)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Vancouver's Capture Photography Festival Contest "In Transit"

An interesting day today, I signed on this morning to discover that the Contact Photography Festival is running a contest on the theme of “In Transit”.   I saw that there was an entry fee and that the winner would have several, large format prints displayed at the King Edward station of the Canada Line.  Now, I never, for a moment believed that my photos, from my own essay titled “In Transit” would be considered suitable for this particular venue as they are somewhat “dark, moody, “ and even, according to some, “a bit depressing.”   But it was too much for me to resist because I thought, “a contest, I wonder how much the winner will get?”

Now, most of you who know me, know that I am not quite that na├»ve, but hell, I thought it was a question worth asking.  So I wrote to the Contact Photography Festival people and asked the question.
The reply I got was as follows…

“Thank-you for your interest. We will be offering a prize which will go out next week in another e-mail. It's a not a cash prize however.
This competition is part of our larger programming of "Capture in Transit" for our festival.”

Hmm, another freebee from the artist to the festival for which you will get an unspecified prize and a line to add to your resume.   Wow!

Oops!  Wait, it’s not free.  It will cost you $25 to enter the contest.  Now I know there are a lot of photography enthusiasts in Vancouver.  How many do you think would rush to grab this opportunity?   Surely more than 100.   Perhaps 500 or even a thousand?  Well now, that’s not bad money!  Something to celebrate for sure!

Now, I wonder what the Canada Line thinks about this?   I also wonder whether they will have any say in what is chosen?  Hmmm.   So are we being invited to do a free advertising campaign for the Canada Line?  

Oh, and if you are seriously thinking of entering this contest don’t forget that they are looking for a substantial file size in your submission as they want to make the images nice and big!   However, I suggest that you check with Translink before setting up your tripod on the train platform to catch that incredibly creative shot that you have in mind. 

But hey, you might win right?   Well, in considering that possibility I urge you to read the terms and conditions (found at the bottom of the page) very carefully.  As the winner, you agree to turn over the rights to these photographs, a picture of you and your remarks related to the submission forever, for whatever use they decide, with no compensation. 

By the way, when you are photographing all those people getting on and off the train, you better make sure you get model releases from them as I am unsure if this exhibition as well as its subsequent unspecified uses might be considered as advertising.

In short, stay away from this one kiddies, there’s no pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow.   As a matter of fact, I think it could be much more trouble than it’s worth.

Since I wrote this, Kim Spencer-Nairn from the festival has commented on several changes that they plan to make regarding the contest.   Please read the comments below for an update.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


This photograph was taken on the beach actually.   It felt like a metaphor for life's journey to me.   I stopped, looked down and there it was waiting for me.   One thing that life has taught me is that there is beauty everywhere, we only have to stop to enjoy it.