Rants and discussions

Happiness and photography gear

Caught on a car boot sale camera (Kodak Retinette II) and poundland film.

An old gripe of mine.  Allow me to express it again, as a warning to others.

Don’t be sucked into spending money on gear that doesn’t have value in terms of your happiness.  Most of us are enthusiasts and amateurs.  There is nothing inferior about that.  Our enthusiasm can be based on either photographic technology, or on photographic images.  In truth, most of our enthusiasm lays somewhere between those two poles – some more by the technology, some more by photographs.  Either way, what really is important – or should be, to us enthusiasts, is happiness.

It is all so easy, and very common, for novices to be drawn towards spending more money, in the pursuit of happiness.  However, they do not always get what they wanted.  They may find, that their photography doesn’t really improve much.  They might find that spending another grand, allows them to capture some images in slightly poorer light, perhaps slightly closer, perhaps slightly further away, or perhaps with slightly more resolution.  No doubt there is a short lived gratification “I couldn’t have caught that on my last lens / body”.  Wow, look at that moon surface / macro of a bug / etc.  Cool images.  However, does this expensive imagery really enhance your creativity or skill base?  Once you’ve got closer to the moon, what is next?  How much did that image cost in monetary terms?  Has it been done before?  Is someone doing it better with even more expensive, or newer gear?

How much happiness do you think that I’ve had out of the 50p camera project?  Compare it to the purchase of a new upgrade DSLR camera.  The DSLR might have cost you around £500.00.  My XA2 snapshot camera cost £00.50.  Okay, I’ve also used film, but mainly budget or home developed.  Still, how much happiness do you think that the DSLR gives you in comparison?  I’m quite proud of some of the photographs that I’ve got out of the XA2.  They may be lo-fi but some are pretty cool and even unique.  I’ve tried to be creative.  Not always an easy thing for me.  There are no attachments or upgrades for it.  For the DSLR, you bet that you are going to desire new lenses, extensions, flashlights, bags, battery grips, etc.

That is the chief message of this blog.  Think, don’t just spend.

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50p camera, flickr, Rants and discussions

Work of Art

Giants. Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. 50p camera project, Olympus XA, Kodak Tmax 400 film, Developed in LC29, scanned on Epson V500.

This post was inspired by Les.  He said that a lot of Flickr photographers don’t post a photo of a dog, unless it’s a work of art, but dogs are very much a part of many of our life’s (not a quote).

I’ve noticed on a few photography forums, that the majority of film photographers, just like digital photographers, do concentrate on quality.  Quality in terms of sharpness, exposure, depth, colour, focus, grain/noise, as well as composition.  Except for composition, most of these attributes are of technical origin.  That is good.  However, this can develop into the obsession held in modern digital photography, for technical perfection.  More megapixels, more sharpness, etc.

As photography enthusiasts, should we always obey the rules of technical perfection?  I’d argue, no.  As Les suggested, it could be more fundamental to photography, that we photograph life and our environment as we see it.  A record rather than a work of art.  That does not always mean a sharp perfect image – we don’t really see the world like that.  Our brains use our biological eyes like third rate scanners.  Much of what we think we see, has been filled in by the brain.  But we see signs, smiles, danger, sex, and … dogs (edit.  I nearly said and rock n’ roll).

In film, we are the alternative.  We have the opportunity to capture what is important, rather than to burst mode thousands of bytes of robot controlled perfection.

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35mm

A 1980’s 35mm Compact Camera

Yashica T2 testing the autofocus in Wisbech Park. Ilford HP5+ film. Developed in Ilford LC29. Scanned on Epson V500.

I don’t often get an urge for a camera, but just lately, I’ve had some kind of nostalgic desire to get hold of a half decent 1980’s 35mm film compact camera, and yesterday, I got one.

Back in the early 1980’s, I couldn’t afford a decent SLR camera.  My brother bought this knock out Canon AE1 35mm SLR.  I was bowled over by it, but there was no way that I could go without beer long enough in order to buy one.  My Bro recommended that I bought a “35mm compact camera”.  Until then, other than a brief flirtation with a Yashica TLR, I’d only ever owned 126 film Kodak Instamatics, a Polaroid, and God awful 110 pocket cameras.  So a half decent 35mm compact would be a step up!  A visit to a Norwich camera shop, and I purchased one.  I can’t remember which one!  It may have been a Canon AF35M.  Anyway, I remember a salesman trying to explain to me about lens quality.  As they usually did.  I do remember that this 35mm compact camera had state of the art gadgets, including a newfangled space age auto focus, and motorised film advance.  Wow.  I remember reading the user manual about this head screwing technology.

I continued to use 35mm AF compact cameras (with a brief flirtation with Kodak disc film) all the way until I discovered digital around 2003.  Digital came in, 35mm film compact cameras went the way of the dinosaur.  They cram boxes in charity shops and in car boot sales.  Yesterday’s technology.  Most of these 35mm film compact cameras were not anything special.  However, a small number of them were something a bit special.  The Yashica and Contax T series of compacts, were manufactured with highly reputable 35mm f/3.5 Carl Zeiss T* Tessar lenses.  Collectors and those in the know, stalk car boots looking for these treasures.  A VGC Yashica T4 or T5 fetches three figures from the collectors and hipsters on Ebay.  I kid you not, a good GBP £120 – £220 for a compact film camera.  These are not rubbish cameras.

My relatively old and lower status T2 (manufactured c1986) cost me considerably less than that, but just hearing that motorised film advance and rewind sends me back thirty years ago.  I only received it yesterday, I want to use up some Poundland C-41 film in it.  A fun camera to carry around.  I ran a test film through it yesterday, a spare 35mm cassette of Ilford HP5+ that I could quickly develop, then dry overnight.  It works (unlike the last T2 that I bought – see a few posts back).

The above photo is nothing special, except that it demonstrates the daylight flash function, the auto focus works (although this is not an action AF), and the lens does give good shallow DOF when required.

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Film

Doin’ Different

Run dog run. Olympus XA2. Kodak Tmax 400 film. Developed in LC29

A local saying is Norfolk do different.  Most photography enthusiasts these days, of course use modern digital cameras and equipment.  Many also have the goal of making technically perfect images.  By that, I mean perfectly focused images with beautiful colours, deeply detailed, and sharp as a pin,with perfect exposure via a super fast shutter, onto a state of the art sensor and software.

That is fine for them.

I’ll just stick to my lo-fi 50p camera for now, or with similar gear.  Our photos do different.

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50p camera

Look where you are going

Cambridge. Olympus XA2. Kodak Tmax 400 film. Developed in LC29.

This one recently captured on a Kodak Tmax 400 film in my 50p camera, the Olympus XA2.  I liked the textures of the old brick and stone work, with the chain curtain hanging in the doorway, I saw the cyclist coming, so saw it as a chance to put some animation and Life into the frame.  I didn’t see him look at me until I scanned the developed film.

I can’t see no end to this 50p Camera Project, not unless I manage to smash the XA2 (I have dropped it several times).  Still, it continues to produce photography that I like – even if it is too lo-fi for the taste of the modern online crowds.

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35mm

A sudden yearning

Yashica T2 35mm compact camera. AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film from Poundland. A bit of post scanned neg. post process on Gimp 2.8 software.

I have this sudden yearning to use a Yashica T series compact camera with a bit of colour film.  I did buy a Yashica T2 three years ago – and used it to take the above photo.  The camera that I bought though was sick.  After one test film, I put it back down.  Not long after, I discovered the 50p camera – my Olympus XA2, then moved onto home developed b/w film.

It has been said that a truly creative photographer can use any camera to make good photography.  However, gear is still important.  We do become attached to our cameras.  I’m interested in photographs that portray this, that show people with their cameras.  Are cameras like pets?  Do their owners resemble them?  I love seeing young film photographers on Flickr and Tumblr, flaunting their vintage cameras.  There is something personal about a camera.  It is not just about function.  If it is, then I suggest that you buy whatever the latest magazine bench mark tells you to, no doubt some Canikon DSLR.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s I couldn’t afford a “proper” camera.  No classic SLRs for me back then.  However, I did graduate from some pretty awful Polaroids, 126 Kodaks, and 110 pocket cameras to owning a series of 35mm compact cameras.  Autofocus and motor film wind were amongst the cool features of this breed.  Some of them, including the Yashica T series, even sported posh lens.  There were 35mm compact cameras, then there were 35mm compact cameras with Carl Zeiss.

As above.

I think my yearning now may be based on a nostalgia for those cameras.  I want to hear the motor winding the film on and then back.  I want to manipulate that auto focus.  I want to see if people on the street recognise that I’m using an artefact from 1980s culture, if they look around when they hear the motor.  Will young people wonder what that was?

Yes, you’ve guessed it, a T2 is already on it’s way to me.  I’ve finally given up looking for one at the car boot sales.  I’ve even decided on the first test film – an unloved 35mm Kodak Color film sitting on a bedroom shelf, that was given to me.  Fingers crossed that this one isn’t sick.

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Internet, Rants and discussions

Finger Painting in photography

Agfa Isolette I folding camera, Shanghai GP3 film, developed in Rodinal.

I picked up this quote (I haven’t been able to check it’s authenticity), alleged to have been made by the renown photographer, Harry Benson: “Boundaries of photography are changing, the Royal Photographic Society will show digital photography that’s been Photoshopped to hell. That’s not photography, that’s finger painting“.

The heavy use of PP (post process software such as Adobe Photoshop or LightRoom) has, and continues to be much debated.

The critics will say that good photography is made in the camera, that post process is a crude way of trying to cover poor technique, that it can not make a bad photograph good, but frequently makes a good photograph bad.

The defenders of post process software will insist that it is nothing new, that even before digital photography, many acclaimed photographers made edits using traditional dark room techniques such as cropping, dodging, and burning.

Either way, both camps will recognise that unless in the hands of particularly skilled, experienced, and creative artists, heavy photoshopping is not a very good idea.  It often causes eyes to bleed.  The current fashion for heavy HDR or faked HDR, are two examples of eye-bleeding gore.  Well, at least in my humble opinion.

Yet so many people do it!  This leads me to wonder how we see our own images, and how others see them.  That we can make a good image dreadful, in post process, suggests that we must see our own images differently to others.  We need to listen to our critics more than we listen to our own egos.

I mentioned the fashion of HDR.  I saw a digital photographer recently suggest, that if you can tell that it is HDR, then it is too heavy.  I agree with that.  It’s not just online.  I’ve seen rows of gory, vac packed HDR images on display at camera club galleries.  Just as we use to see rows of selective colour (color splash) on display.  A fashion.  In fifty years time, we will be able to date images by their post process mistreatment.  “Ah yes, the Horrible Dynamic Range style, early 21st Century.”.  Maybe we also need to listen to the imagined critics of the future.

I’m being cruel.  I am aware, perfectly, that taste is personal, that photography styles are horses for courses.  It’s unfair to pick on the HDR crowd.  It isn’t just them.  Look at the digital glamour photographers, that plasticise the faces of their models, the virtual botox style.  I’d better shut up before I upset everyone.

Do I use post process / scan software on my hybrid film photography?  Hell yes.  The first level occurs in the digital scanner software.  Even switching all available controls to manual, the scanner software cannot resist correcting and balancing the scan for us silly humans.  Rather like a full digital camera does, in microseconds after we press the shutter button down.

I’ll sin even further.  I scan fairly big, then open it using an Open Source post process software package called Gimp 2.8.  I’ll more often than not, correct levels, curves, heal dust and hair, maybe straighten or crop, then resize and compress a little for upload to an online web server.  That might make me a bit of a hypocrite then.  Except for one thing.  I still want my images to look natural.  I don’t want people to notice my post process corrections.  I want them to see a photograph, hopefully sometimes, a photograph with feelings.  A photograph that was captured using the technique of silver salts in an emulsion, painted onto a film of plastic.  Not a glossy supersonic image painted with virtual pixel brushes.

That is what I want to do.  Make photographs.

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