Cameras

I’m not usually one for being negative. But a friend of mine tossed me one of his Popular Photography magazines and it reminded me of my deep seated dislike of it.

It all started innocently enough. I was a young lad filled with wonder and dreams. I would pick up Popular science as a tween and flip through it’s pages with delight. Over the years I started to notice something… Popular Science started to suck. The articles were about complete vaporware that never came to market and worse yet it seemed like everything was just a ploy to sell.

Crap!

I found my way to better material (specifically Wired, Nat Geo, The Economist and Discover). But I noticed that Popular Science had a new sister, Popular Photography. With a budding interest in photography, I decided to give her a go.

Unfortunately, I found it worse than Popular Science. This was just a complete wash. The articles show you some technique… but you just can’t escape the feeling from this magazine… it wants to sell me stuff!

Let’s start with the product reviews. Ok they are obviously getting paid for those. There are a few different sections with “what’s hot” that showcase different products. Then read the interviews of photographers. What do they talk about? Their gear! What the CRAP!

There is so little in here devoted to what matters… (taking good photographs). And the thing that irks me the most is that there is oodles and oodles of technique to be discussed, lighting to be pondered, and colors to be dissected. There is so much out there in the world of technique that it’s ridiculous. But… what makes money is what keeps things afloat. And Popular Photography seems to do that.

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In this day and age, why spend money on an expensive hobby?  We already have enough expenses with food and rent.  So I think the best hobby is one that can be enjoyed thoroughly without as much expense.  Hence shooting medium format.  Having these huge negatives gives me a lot of joy and can be done cheaply.  Here’s how to do it.

First, get an inexpensive medium format camera.

Sure, you can get a 120mm Holga for $100 new (and probably $50 used).  But really, who wants to shoot with a plastic camera?  If you have decent software on your computer, you can always add hipster effects afterwards…. but if the hipster effects are already on the negative… then you are stuck with them.  So skip the holga.

  • $200-$300 : Minolta Autocord.  This is a great TLR.  Don’t be intimidated by something new (I was when I first bought the pentax 67 though…).  This comes with a fixed lens… but it is a beauty!
  • $400-$700: Pentax 6×7.  This is currently what I use.  I got a whole setup for less than $800 (with 5 lenses). Other choice, Fuji GW690 or the like.
  • $800-$1000: Hasselblad 500.  At this price, you could only get one lens (probably the 80mm).  Nothing wrong with that, it’s a great setup.  The Hasselblad engineering will blow you away.  Other choice: Mamiya 6.
  • There are more choices of course that are much more expensive.  But this post is about how to do things on a budget (remember?).
    **Above prices are estimates based upon used deals on craigslist and ebay.

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Now that you have a camera, it’s time to shoot.  So what about the recurring cost of medium format film?  Well there are a couple of ways to trim the fat. Brand new, most film goes for at least $5 per roll (and up to $7-9 for more expensive stuff).  Here’s how to go on the cheap:

  • First, open yourself up to shooting black and white.  BnW has a longer shelf life and therefore can be had for cheaper.
  • Buy in bulk.  Film can last a long time in the freezer so buy big batches at a time and stick them in there with the popsicles.
  • Always keep an eye on craigslist (for both cameras and film).  People can sell film on there for around $2 a roll.  So don’t be shy and go out there and find some in your neighborhood.  I bought non-expired E-6 provia 100f for $3 per roll.  This would sell for new for over $7 per roll…
  • Ebay is another option.  I haven’t seen deals on here like I have on craigslist but it’s worth a look.
  • The cheapest film I have ever seen (new) is Artista EDU.  It used to cost $2.89 but the price went up to $3.19.  I bought 150 rolls of this stuff.  It is really Fomapan – a cheap Czech film that has been rebranded.  One thing about it though – you can’t push this more than 1 stop.  Also of note, the 400 iso is really 240 iso.  So be aware of that.  You can buy it here:
    http://www.freestylephoto.biz/

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I think you will be hard pressed to find film for under $2 a roll (and shooting medium format will only give you 12 shots at most, so that is 20 cents per photo… without taking into consideration development).  Here’s how to save on developing:

  • Develop yourself!!!!  Developing with a lab is outrageously expensive.  Develop the film yourself with your own equipment. You’ll not only learn more about film, contrast, resolution, density, grain… but you’ll gain a much better appreciation for your images.
  • Buy developing gear on craigslist (and possibly chemicals too).  New reels and tanks can cost quite a lot (especially good ones).  I bought my setup for $75 on craigslist which new would have cost over $300.
  • Don’t use stop bath (just use water).  Don’t use PhotoFlo (a chemical that keeps water droplets off of your negatives).  To keep water off the negatives use a squeegee (bought mine for $2).
  • Use Diafine developer.  This developer can be reused for over a year (as long as it is stored in the refrigerator).  While this developer is meant to be reused time and time again, D76 can also be reused quite a lot.  Experiment with this.

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Hopefully this will get more people to be less afraid of medium format and go out and shoot it.  Ours is an expensive hobby, no doubt about it.  But there are ways of cutting corners.  I suggest using all of them :-).

Happy, reasonably priced, shooting.

-J

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Wow.  The Pentax system is really great.  Yea Yea Yea… I know the Hasselblad system uses those amazing Zeiss T* lenses… PHOOEY!

PHOOEY I SAY!  Who can purchase a Hasselblad camera and 5 lenses for $800???  That’s right.  I got the entire above system for a little over $800!!  Here’s what I got:

  • Pentax 67 Body (along with viewfinder).
  • 45mm f 4.5 lens (21mm equivalent)
  • 75mm f 4.5 lens (37mm equivalent)
  • 105mm f 2.4 lens (52mm equivalent)
  • 135mm Macro f4 lens (75mm equivalent)
  • 165mm f4 lens (82mm equivalent) with leaf shutter :-).

All in very good condition.  To do the same with a Hasselblad system would have cost me something like $4-5 thousand (and probably much more).

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This system is superb. The lenses are superb, the quality of the camera body is superb and it just feels good to hold. The 67 is notorious for it’s ‘thunder-clap’ of a mirror slap when you open the shutter and indeed it is there.

But something feels kinda nice about the sound. I don’t care if other people hear my shutter going off. It’s sounds like some nice metal mechanisms doing their thing, all in synchronized harmony. In terms of sound, it also beats the Fuji GW 690 series. The 67 is more of a ‘FLIP-THWACK’ kind of sound. The GW is a ‘THWINGGGGgggggg…”. I added the trailing thing to add emphasis because there are these springs inside the GW that just keep vibrating and you can hear the shutter trip awhile after.

But what about that vibrating mirror? Well, if you’re doing really critical work, you can use the MLU (mirror lock up, if you’ve got one). I used it rarely. But honestly, I wouldn’t get this camera for ultra-critical work. Maybe that’s just me and the work that I do. If I was shooting really critical stuff, I’d shoot with the RZ67 (but that comes with its own headaches). If I was shooting critical stuff but wanted a rangefinder, I’d probably opt for a Mamiya 7 or 6. The Fuji 690’s are great and that negative is amazing, but I’d take the quality of the Mamiyas (you’d have to pay for it though).

In terms of feel, I got a great example with little beading on the body. The body is solid as a rock – not sure what kind of metal it is but it is fully metal with the heft to accompany it. Other cameras are definitely lighter which you’d expect.

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If you want to get into Medium Format… then the Pentax 67 along with it’s wonderful lenses and range of accessories will do you well :-).

Happy (Medium Format) Shooting.

J


photo (14)My newly purchased (used) Pentax 67 and 165mm LS Lens :-)!

I love old film cameras.  Their like swiss watches… except you can make art with them!

Because I’ve purchased my fair share of them, I think it only fair to share some secrets regarding the purchase and maintenance of classic cameras.

So you followed the guidelines for buying a used camera.  Now what to do once you bring her home?  Clean her out!

IMG_0010-9Seals? We no need no stinking seals!

While cameras from the 70’s and 80’s are very reliable, even moreso than their new age counterparts, one thing that always messes things up is the foam seals that are used.  These seals degrade over time… and eventually become a funky black gunk.  But the seals provide a very real and important purpose… to ‘seal’ out light from the camera box.

If the seals degrade and light comes into the camera, then you get light leaks.  Want some illustration?  Just take a gander at the upper right hand corner of the above photo.  Notice the big blob of ungainly white light coming into the frame on the ladies face?  That my friend shows you that your camera is leaky…  And it’s time to patch her up and make her right.

photo (9)Pentax 67 Optical Viewfinder

So how do we stop the leaks?  Well replace the seals!  And the first part to replacing the seals, is to get rid of the old ones.

Above you can see that gooey nasty black crud that’s surrounding the bottom part of the viewfinder.  Mind you, this tutorial will describe how to remove the seals on the optical viewfinder of the Pentax 67, but really, all light seals are the same so go ahead and use these instructions for removing the seals in other cameras (and in the camera bodies too).

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Here are my tools:

  • Toothpicks (skewers are better as they are thicker and stronger)
  • Q-Tips
  • Paper Towels
  • Mineral Spirits (other chemicals to remove adhesives will work as well… Goo-Gone etc)

Step #1.  Identify and Attack.

Find the seals that need to be replaced and start applying Mineral Spirits with a Q-Tip.

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Because Mineral spirits and other similar chemicals evaporate quickly, a few different appliques will be necessary to loosen the adhesive underside.  Notice the glossy shine of the chemicals on the above viewfinder.

So we identified where we need to remove the gunk… but… Oh No!  The gunk spread!

photo (10)This is the Pentax 67 body and focusing screen (focusing screen in the center in white).  Notice around the edges of the screen is the gunk!  It transferred from the viewfinder to the camera body!  That rascally gunk  needs to git outta der so we can have clean viewing!

So we have identified two places where the gunk is.  Apply the mineral spirits to the body as well!

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Now start scraping.  This is the tough part.  And can take some time.

You have to scrape off the goo with the backend of a skewer or toothpick.  With the skewer, the blunt end is good for the majority of the work, the pointy part for the nooks and crannies.  Now apply more mineral spirits… Wash, rinse and repeat.  Eventually your work station looks kind of like this:

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But you would rather have that crap out of your camera than inside of it right?  Agreements all around.  And some hugs.

One word of caution – mineral spirits and Goo Gone are liquid and can get into places you don’t want them to.  A perfect example is getting into the vewfinder.  After I cleaned out the viewfinder I put it all back together and found a hazy patch in the middle of the screen!  I was really worried… but after some investigation I found that there was condensation on the inside of the viewfinder (so it wasn’t the lens or the focusing screen… phew!).

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That tiny patch in the middle was much bigger about 5 minutes before… but over time the condensation went away.  This is important to think about when choosing a chemical.  Mineral spirits evaporate quickly, and in this case, that is a very good thing.

So now your camera should be without gunky crap, which is nice.  And you’ve gotten over the toughest part, so kudos to you.  But now you have to replace the seals.  And that, my friend, is for another blog post :-).

Happy (light leak free) shooting!

-J

Motivation comes from many places. I was originally motivated to write this blog because I couldn’t find good information on the technique and philosophy of street photography on the internet. There is info… but the majority of photographic discussion on the web today is geared towards… well… gear.

Wanting a new piece of equipment is pretty natural. Man sees shiny object. Man believes shiny object will help him accomplish his goals. Man spends money on shiny object. Man forgets about goals. Man moves on to next shiny object which will help him accomplish his next fantasy goal…

This paints a pretty dim portrait of humanity and is admittedly one sided. Gear is necessary to take photographs and a computer is necessary to organize them and post them to the web. Another great example of gear reliance is underwater photography. I could not have taken underwater photos without 70 lbs of extensive gear.

Unlike street photography however, underwater photography is a real niche market. On the street your options are wide open. So why do we fret about gear so much when we don’t have to? Well probably because everyone is talking about megapixels, Nikon rumors and what video modes come with their camera. And we want, nay… crave to get with the times.

The internet is a massive place that has made information gathering and distribution very efficient. On DP review you can see the details of photographs with the latest cameras all next to each other so we can see who’s winning the ISO wars, the megapixel wars or the smallest camera wars. We are measuring the stats of our equipment very precisely, but at what cost?

The cost of this hype is that we lose focus on what matters.  And what matters is technique!  Increasing the quality of your equipment will increase the quality of your photographs.  But not by much.  Increasing the quality of your technique will increase the quality of your photographs… by leaps and bounds.

While some may dislike the fact that they cannot buy their way into making great photographs (as so many ads would like to tell them), I happen to appreciate it. If all photography was was a game of spending money, it wouldn’t be an art form or much fun.

So how do we get out of the trap? Well… I would say buy a cheap film SLR for starters… But you don’t really need anything new. Go ahead and use the camera you have. The zen for any photographer is using a camera they’ve used for 5 years or more. That’s called gear intimacy (cue in the Barry White).

If you want to spend money, instead of buying a new camera, buy a book or class that will teach you the proper ways of using your existing camera.  Debate the techniques of photography… Not the stats of some plastic image maker.

In conclusion, all of the hubbub about measuring all these stats only distracts us from what matters most – patience, lighting, keen eyes, and a quick trigger finger. Pay more attention to these practices than the latest digital whirly gig out on the strip and your photos will become much better… they may even mean something to you ;-).

Happy shooting!

J

Its amazing the things we can learn from kids.  We are so used to the notion that we have to be teaching them but in many ways they should be teaching us!  Intimidation is not in most kid’s vocabularies and that is to their benefit.  Because children are constantly taking on new tasks and learning completely new skills, they are used to going out of their comfort zone.  After being shot out of a womb everything is outside of your comfort zone, it’s a wonder babies don’t cry even more.

The other great thing that kids are constantly doing is working on the basics.  The fundamentals of whatever it is you are doing need to be second nature before any serious work can be done.  Even dyed in the wool professionals could use a basics refresher course every now and again (I think it would be a great exercise for a CEO to become a factory worker for a day).

One of my first photos with my Nikon FM and 50mm F2 lens.

This is why old film cameras are wonderful, not to mention cheap, photography tools.  They are very basic – aperture value, shutter speed, and metering the light are all that you need to worry about.  Once you have those three basic things  down packed – you can play with the more interesting things – composition, lighting, juxtaposition etc.  Cutting away all of the options of digital slr’s and point ‘n shoots really helps narrow your focus.  This is why I recommend basic film camera as a first street photography camera.

Oh and did I mention they are inexpensive???

Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Zorki, Leica… the list of old camera options goes on and on…  Where to begin?

Well, if this is to be your first film camera, then I recommend shooting with an SLR that comes with a working light meter.  That second point is not trivial.  If a camera is automatic in any way and the meter doesn’t work, then the automatic modes will not work (and automatic exposure-only cameras won’t work period).  Also, for convenience’s sake, a working meter in the camera is very nice to have.  External light metering can be annoying… so trust me, the first thing you should check on any used camera is that the light meter works and is accurate.

So why choose an SLR?  SLR’s were made rugged and durable.  They typically are not that finicky or complex.  This is why they last a long time.  The other nice thing about them is that they have interchangeable lenses.  And brothers and sisters, lemme tell yah, there are some excellent used lenses on the market that are not that expensive!

The 50mm lens design is the standard for any camera company.  Millions of these pieces of glass were produced and I would go out on a limb to say that most photos were taken on a 50mm lens.  Because of the volume in production, the prices are low and the quality is high.

So here is my proposal for you – get a used SLR camera from the 70’s with a 50mm lens.  Budget conscious?  No worries! Any tight belted chap can afford this setup!  This combo can be had for around $150 or even less!

Some popular options:

  • Pentax K1000
  • Nikon FM, FE or F (my personal recommendation due to the lenses available)
  • Canon AE-1

Another option to go for would be a rangefinder design.  The reason I don’t recommend this as a first film camera is that the prices will typically be greater unless you go for very early designs.  If you go for very early designs, then a light meter will not be available to you.  Many people prefer rangefinders and I love them too, but for your first film camera, a good SLR cannot be beat.

If you are interested in a good discussion about the benefits of an SLR over a rangefinder then take a look at this youtube video

Any endeavor is overwhelming when you first set sail.  I certainly was intimidated by my first digital slr and again by my first film camera.  But after shooting many frames in both, it became so natural to pick up either, put them to my eye, adjust the settings and click.  Just keep shooting.  And everything will fall into place.

Happy shooting friends!

J

Some people get downright mad when their photo is taken.  People get violent even.  Case in point, a homeless man punched me yesterday for taking his photo (do not fret friends, your loyal blogger is ok).  On the other hand, there are those who love getting photographed.  Some people even come up to me just to ask to get their picture taken (I get so happy when this happens!).  The law of averages being universal, the vast majority of people react in a similar way – nonchalance.  Most people don’t care.

So when we ask ourselves, is what we are doing ethically justifiable?  And further – what would make a photograph unethical?  These are tough questions to answer and therefore posing them is also somewhat tough.  However, as I like to emphasize… we are the intrepid and immune to trepidation.  So let us strap on our utility belts like Batman and bring evil doers to justice.

John Stuart Mill (henceforth – JSM or Mill) became very famous for his “Utilitarian” philosophy.  In short – whatever produces the highest good or highest pleasures for the greatest number of people should be promoted.   Now JSM did not create “Utilitarianism”, there were many thinkers before him, but his version of the philosophy is one I think worth exploring for today’s discussion.

The point of departure for Mill was that while his predecessors were very interested in hedonism, he maintained that there were a variety of different pleasures, intellectual pleasures being the highest.  So far, so good.  Mill also argued that people desire happiness (the ultilitarian end) and that general happiness is “a good to the aggregate of all persons.”

So what would John Stuart Mill do (WWJSMD)?  How does street photography fit into this picture?

Are we producing the highest good for the highest number of people?  I would answer in the affirmative.  I believe that these images enrich our lives and promote empathy.  To make portraits of people, you have to study them.  The anonymous crowd pouring through the city is now a mass of individuals.  Each person is imbued with love, hate, and joy.  So it is in this sense I think we are philanthropists.  We love humanity.  How many misanthropes do you see shooting street photography?  We find beauty in humanity and accentuate it.

So we are the finders, keepers, distributers and multipliers of beauty.  And to prove another slightly different point, I think this is why I like to photo the grit and the grime of New York.  To show that there is something lovely in the destitute.  The lotus flower is one of the most beautiful… and grows in the muck of nasty swamps.  Our city of New York is covered in dirt, graffiti and rusty syringes.  There is also a suspiciously high number of used tampon applique’s on the beaches of Brooklyn.  But our minds crave beauty and we shall find what we seek.

What about the nay sayers?  Well… I suppose we could take a look at the hater’s argument.  While I don’t think there are many that get displeasure from looking at these photos, there are probably quite a few that get displeasure from their photo being taken.  How are we promoting the highest good if people are getting angry?  The paparazzi harass celebrities into shaving off all their hairs (shout-outs to my girl Brit).  This is where the fuzzy line of ethics in street photography is encountered.  Harassment is definitely the transgression into unethical photography.

Could you say that I am harassing someone when I snap the shutter and walk away?  Perhaps… but that’s a shaky espousal.  If I photo someone, they get upset and I continue to photo them, then the line was crossed (and no, I don’t do this).

So here is my list of unethical situations that I do NOT participate in and I highly suggest you don’t either:

  • Harassing someone when they ask you to leave or stop.
  • Trying to photograph girls up skirt.
  • Peeping Tom-ery.
  • Failing to help someone in need because you’re too busy to take a photo.

I think Johnny Law has some things to say about this – upskirt photography and peeping tom-ery is illegal (coined unlawful surveillance).  And while not helping another person and harassing someone may not be illegal per se, I would argue they are unethical (according to Mill’s definitions of ethical behavior).  So since I don’t do any of that foolishness and never will, I am in the green.  How about you?

Happy, ethically justified, shooting!

J