Rocking the Bronica

Lead guitar player for Welsh T Band playing at the Sunday Blues Club, Elme Hall Hotel. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 80mm f/2.8 lens. Ilford Delta Professional 400 film. Home developed in D-76.

I go through phases with cameras.  I found the Mamiya C3 to be heavy and cumbersome.  The Agfa Isolette can be fun, but the lens isn’t great, and the lack of any range finder can be debilitating.  The little Olympus XA2 … that isn’t over yet.  I still love some of the results that I get from that camera.  However, favoured camera recently is my Bronica SQ-A.  After lumping the Mamiya around on my neck, it seems relatively liberating.

I stuck the kit lens onto the SQ system for the above gig.  In the local Blues Club, that meets at Elme Hall on a Sunday Afternoon.  A strange event – held on the edge of rural Wisbech, near to a busy bypass roundabout.  During the break, free roast parsnips and potatoes are brought out!  The kit lens opens to f/2.8, letting me get away with the very, very poor available light onto a 400 rated film.  Maybe I should try pushing these films one day?

Rants and discussions

Kim’s Story

he Tight Fisted Photographer speaks. Pentax SP500 Spotmatic. Super Takumar 55mm f/2 lens. Rollei Retro 400S b/w film. Developed in R09.

Most of us here are enthusiasts – amateurs, you photograph for the love of it.  What are we hoping to achieve?  We enjoy capturing light, we enjoy making still images, that perhaps, we find interesting, or attractive.  Perhaps they document something that others might enjoy looking at.  Perhaps they tell … or even suggest, a story.  We might like them for hidden patterns, their tones, their colours, or for their visual mathematics We might appreciate the composition.  The perfect photograph.  It makes us look, we appreciate it. 

Now that I have conveyed that opinion to you, here is a horror story all too common.

Kim is attracted into photography.  She uses a compact camera, family members and friends tell her that she has a gift.  She buys an entry level DSLR, because everyone does.  Her photography doesn’t improved particularly at first, but she is intelligent and competent, and masters the controls of her DSLR.  In that pursuit, she picks up shiny photography magazines from the superstore.  They tell her, what she already feared.  In order to improve further, she needed to buy a better lens.  The kit lens was too slow, distorted, and awful.  Suddenly her lens – and even her images, appear less spectacular, a bit imperfect.  They needed to be sharper, more detailed.

So Kim works overtime, goes without evenings out, decides not to holiday (vacation) in such an exotic place.  Pity, she could have had some great photographic opportunities there.  She buys a “great lens”.  Faster, less distortion, wow, this’ll do it.  But then she reads the newest issue of the magazine.  Her camera is entry level.  You can’t progress to advanced photography  with a beginner DSLR.  The sensor is too small Kim.  A larger sensor will capture more IQ.  Best scrap that holiday altogether.  Best cut out the car upgrade, its going to be a tough year.

She buys a full frame DSLR.  Hang on, she’ll need new lenses.  You know where this story is going.  How else can she produce those sharp, full detailed, perfectly exposed images.  It doesn’t stop.  her software is entry level.  She needs a licence for the newest Adobe package.  Best start budgeting tight.

Then suddenly Kim has lost her interest in photography.  There was something missing in her photography.  She did everything right – followed all of the HDR and RAW tutorials in the magazines.  Her images were glossy, highly detailed, sharp as a pin, technically perfect.  People would congratulate her on her wise choice of gear.  What could be missing?

It isn’t all about sharpness, detail, technical perfection.  Not for every school of photography.  We are creating images.  You can create images with a pinhole camera.  You can create images on a disposable film camera.  You can create images on an IPhone.  All can contain beauty and interest.  The great photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson were far from technically perfect.  But they were often astonishing.

Zenza Bronica SQ-A

Making Music

Anita plays some chords in a nearby village. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Ilford Delta Pro 400 medium format film. Home developed in Kodak D-76

We popped out into the nearby village of Upwell on my last days free from work.  This one was a wee bit brave – using b/w film on a river bank rich with yellow daffodils.  Still, I think that it works okay.


Foma Fomapan film

Zenza Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Foma Fomapan 100 medium format film developed in ID11.

1. Foma Fomapan 100 Classic

Bronica SQ-A. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4. S-18 extension tube. Foma Fomapan Creative film. Developed in ID11.

2. Foma Fomapan 200 Creative.

Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Foma Fomapan Action 400 film. Home developed in ID11 at 1:3.

3.  Foma Fomapan 400 Action.

All of the above examples taken with same camera and lens, and all developed in ID11.  Three examples of three of the Foma medium format 120 films made in the Czech Republic.


Digital B/W for Noobs

The end of the road. Sony A200 DSLR. Sony DT 50mm F/1.8 lens. UFraw and Gimp 2.8 open source software.

I fancy a post away from the usual medium format film stuff.  I was recently asked for advice on successful monochrome by someone even more novice than myself.  Now, if I’m using a roll of Ilford, then of course, there is no choice between b/w or colour.  However, I often see beginners in digital photography run into trouble when trying to emulate b/w.

It is my opinion (and I’m a hybrid film photographer) that digital photography is technically capable of producing some great b/w images.  However, it’s reputation has been tarnished by bad results and presentations by people.  The technology is fine, it is the photographers that create nasty images.  Just as great images are produced by people, not the gear, so crap is made by people, not the gear.

Therefore in this post I’m giving a few hints to novice digital photographers that admire the grey tones, and want to improve their production of monochrome.

Summary: 1.  Shoot as a b/w photographer, with the intent of making b/w images – even though your camera is capturing colour information.  2. Convert from RAW or full colour to b/w using a software channel mixer.  3.  Present your b/w images as a monochrome collection.  Do not mix with full colour alternatives.

  1. Be a b/w photographer.  Do not simply shoot for colour, then post process edit individual images to see if they would look better in b/w.  This is such a common mistake.  With film, I don’t have a choice.  If I have a roll of Ilford loaded, I know that I can only produce b/w images.  So when I go out, I need to think in b/w.  I have to ignore colours.  Instead, I’m looking for a variety of tones, strong subjects, shadow, and lines.  It takes a while for some, but if you are out shooting for colour, then your b/w conversions are less likely to work.  I’m NOT suggesting that you select b/w, Grayscale, or monochrome mode on your digital camera – don’t do that!  Shoot in full colour, RAW even if practical, but in your head, shoot for b/w results.  Dedicate yourself to a b/w project.  Be a b/w photographer – shooting in full colour, but always with the aim of producing monochrome converted images.  The reason that I recommend in RAW or high resolution full colour .jpeg is that this is the beauty of digital b/w.  Those colour images contain all of the original colour information.  You can use post process software in order to manipulate those colours to generate a range of aesthetic b/w tones.  We b/w film photographers can only achieve this by using colour tinted glass lens filters on the camera.  You digital photographers get to choose and customise your colour to tone controls post process.  Lucky buggers.  Bloody spoilt you are.  So do not use B/W mode on the camera.  Shoot in colour – think in b/w.
  2. Post Process b/w conversion.  Nothing devalues an image more than hideous inappropriate or over-the-top post process editing.  That isn’t to say that pp editing does not have a place.  I use a touch of it on all of my hybrid scanned images.  For digital b/w conversion it is essential.  A lot of you will use an Adobe software package.  I use Open source software.  It makes no difference to the quality of your final images.  What you need to do is to convert your full colour images into b/w images.  First – do not simply use something like Irfanview, hit the Grayscale conversion, and then job done.  All that will happen, is that the software will strip the file and image of any colour information, and create a Grayscale file.  You might as well have switched your camera to b/w mode, because it would have done the same.  My favourite method is to use the Channel Mixer.  Click in the save as monochrome box, on the channel mixer face plate.   Biasing towards blue can have interesting results on old faces.  Biasing to green can make foliage appear almost white.  Biasing towards red will brighten up faces and skin.  Judge and convert each image individually.
  3. Once I’ve generated a high quality b/w jpeg, I might want to fine tune it slightly, even if only to compress and size down a little for upload.  I use the free Gimp 2.8 software package, but same applies to Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.  Some b/w images benefit from curve control, to produce more contrast.  It sometimes works.  Do not be a robot though.  Consider each image.  Increasing contrast will reduce the range of mid tones and with it, detail.  An image might actually suffer from more contrast.  Judge each one carefully.  If your aim is to produce a high contrast image, then curve control is a good way to achieve it, but do not swallow the bullshit that a good b/w has to be high contrast.  I wouldn’t normally add any sharpness to a digital b/w.  Don’t use excessive post process.  Don’t use any gimmicks such as HDR effect.  Don’t use any of that crap filter stuff.  Don’t be a savage.  Some images are perfectly fine with no editing other than b/w conversion.
  4. Presentation.  Whether intended for printing or for uploading online.  A First class newb error is to mix b/w and colour images together.  Even worse – the ultimate awful sin, they put up a colour and b/w version of the same image up side by side.  Ugh.  Don’t do that!  Don’t you dare then comment with “I think that the b/w version better for this one, what do you think?  Be a real b/w photographer.  Be confident.  Post your b/w images up side by side – just the best, as if you were displaying the latest scans from an Ilford film negative.  A monochrome gallery.  Concentrate on b/w, make it a project.  Don’t just dilly dally in it, because that is what has given digital b/w such a bad reputation.

A good b/w photographer shoots with b/w intent.  They don’t simply convert to b/w because they think that image looks better than the full colour version.  Use intent.

Right I’m off to finish a roll of Shanghai GP3.

medium format

Looking for Quirk

Threesome spotted amongst the mannequins and showroom dummies at Wisbech Auction Rooms. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Foma Fomapan Action 400 film. Home developed in ID11 at 1:3

According to, a QUIRK is a:

1. A peculiarity of behavior; an idiosyncrasy: “Every man had his own quirks and twists” (Harriet Beecher Stowe).
Whatever they are, they are something that I am always looking out for, whilst out with a camera.  The unusual.  I thought that the above showroom dummy Ménage à trois had a certain quirkiness.
Rants and discussions

The Way

That way. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Shanghai GP3 120 film. Developed in Kodak D76. Epson V500 scanned film.

There is no one correct way in photography.  Sure, we should all learn the rules of lines, depth, composition, texture, colour, and above all, exposure.  But what are we striving to create?  I can’t really give a definitive answer to what I consider a good photograph.  Perhaps something with mystery, a suggestion of a story.  Something about a person, a culture, a place.  I like an image that is attractive, but then again, we all have our own subjective idea of attraction.

Photography is a journey, but that journey is different for all of us.