rangefinder

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You can choose from a lot of different lenses and cameras combinations. One mean, lean, street-shootin machine combo was the Voigtlander R4M and Zeiss 21mm 2.8 Biogon. I sold them off earlier this year (the lens and body separately of course to increase the value). This was from a roll of film I found lying around that hadn’t been developed quite yet. Seeing these fruits makes me miss her.

She was sold to purchase the Mamiya RZ67 Pro ii; a massive studio-oriented camera that is antithetical to the rapid fire shooting that a small rangefinder will allow. This is also a bid to further remove myself from 35mm film and dive deeper into 120mm. My Hasselblad SWC should be able to provide some of the same types of images (almost same field of view but square format, shallower DOF and different ergonomics). This is making me want to go on a walk!

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I am still in the 35mm film world though. Below is my trusty Nikon F3HP with 35mm lens. A gift from my brother, she’ll never be sold.

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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