Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus film. Home developed in R09. Scanned film Epson Perfection V500.
The above negative was a wee bit thin and underdeveloped – not the best, despite using my digital scanner and Open Source software (Gimp) to improve it. But I like it, and in amateur photography, that is what is important.
Medium Format film photography in the street, eh? Who’d ever thought of such a thing. Well beside a million box camera enthusiasts last Century, there were also the TLR enthusiasts including for example, Vivian Maier.
Don’t worry, I’m certainly not comparing my meagre efforts with Maier. However, a few things have fired this post. First, I read a question on Yahoo Answers, from a DSLR user, asking how to use software manipulation in order to emulate Vivian Maier. Second, I do like to promote the use of medium format film in the street. Oh, thirdly, in the back of my mind, a debate on a photography forum, whether we film photographers should bother with 35mm anymore.
I enjoy the challenge of lumping my Bronica SQ-A around a town centre. I feel privileged to use it. Most of the time, I’m assessing the exposure value merely on my eyes, brain, and the Sunny F16 rule. Sometimes I use a phone app light meter, an actual old light meter, or a secondary camera built in light meter – but most of the time I simply use my eyes and judgement. The Bronica has very logical and clunky stops – both a well marked aperture ring on the lens, and a chunky shutter speed control, with 500, 250, 125, 60, 30, and ridiculously slow shutter speeds. I recently read a post by a DSLR user, that he couldn’t survive with a maximum speed of 1/500 s. For crying out loud, we ain’t trying to freeze a hummingbird in motion out here in the street!
I’m learning street tricks with the Bronica. For example the Candid. I know some feel Candid to be perverse. However, if you already are perverse (as I am), then try this. The WLF. People SEE you staring at them through a range finder or through a SLR / DSLR prism. However, if you are looking DOWN into a waist level finder (WLF), they do not always cotton on … so to speak. A photographer isn’t looking at them. Hint 2. You can always be even more perverse and incognito, by looking down into the WLF while not facing the subject – hold the camera at a degree to your body. Ok, that is just nasty sneakiness for the coward (yes I’ve done it). Another important lesson – learned by using fully manual cameras without any range finder: Keep the WLF folded down. You need enough light. Keep the aperture small (F8 – F32) in order to maximise your chance of a reasonable focus over a field, and point the lens. Best of course with a wide angle or standard lens. Needs a fast mind.
Or of course, you can simply ask or nod at the subject before taking – but you will never have that natural or even better, surprised look. The above photo, I failed at a Candid – I was seen before I was ready- so I asked. Nice, but not candid.
Getting back to that Vivian Maier look via digital. Forget it. Digital will not give either the tones, nor grain. It’ll also miss the DoF. Finally – it loses the perspective of her WLF. Instead, buy a working condition old TLR film camera. Buy some 120 film. Then you are sorted.
As for giving up 35mm for 120? Medium Format (or even better, Large Format) is the CREAM of film photography that Digital has not yet bettered. However, there are so many freaking great 35mm film cameras out there on the market cheap as chips. I’m not going 100% medium format yet.