Going to extremes

While I have wittered about cameras being Turing machines that can do anything photographically, there are edge cases that are difficult to adapt to. At these times we turn to the weird and wonderful. I admit to owning a few of these and being curious about the rest.

Very wide angles and panoramas are something I do have. I’ve posted before about the Horizon swing-lens camera, but I’ve also got a Lomo Spinner. Where the Horizon scans the lens across a length of film, the Spinner pulls the film past a slot behind the lens. Much the same effect, except the Spinner can do more than a full circle of view. It’s tricky to not include yourself in the picture and equally hard to keep it (nearly) level. But when you want a 360 view without stitching, the Spinner is your friend.

This is also a fine example of Swiss health and safety: a sign on the approach that says ‘be careful’.

For less extreme frame widths I’ve used wide angle lenses. I’ve got one of those negative diopter adapters that fits on the front and gives a wider view. On a 28mm lens you get the full circular fisheye effect with loads of internal reflections and fuzzy edges. Cheaper than a real fisheye for occasional use though.

The extreme of this might be something like the Nikon 8mm lens, that looked like a goldfish bowl. I’ve got a Pentax 15mm lens that I love dearly and had a 30mm fisheye for my Kiev which has roughly the same angle of view, although with much more curvature.

Not bad weather for Yorkshire – you can nearly see the horizon

At the cheap end of the scale I also have a Lomo Fisheye. Given its limitations it works pretty well. The circular image is a bit cropped, but it has a very strong fisheye effect.

At the opposite end are the long, long lenses. I suppose bird-watchers use these, and I use them for sports. Does anyone remember that creepy gadget that used to be on sale, that put a sideways-looking mirror in a fake lens hood for taking covert pictures of people? Jessops used to sell it as a candid angle lens attachment Eew. Although there must have been a market – my great aunt Maud insisted on borrowing my camera with a long zoom when (years ago) we went past the nudist beach at Brighton. Which is interesting, as I would not have done the same for a great uncle. (OK class, discuss).

I’m lucky that I have some longish medium format lenses with an adaptor that lets me strap them to an APS-C digital camera. The focal length multiplier, and the fact that the sensor is using the sharper centre of the image, means a very long lens at a fairly short price.  One of them is a Jupiter 36b 250mm though, which is so heavy it must be a solid cylinder of glass. On the plus side it has so much inertia there is no chance of it bouncing with your pulse.

But as the man said, ”call that a lens?”. At the long end there seems to be no limit. How about a 1700mm f4 made to cover medium format, allegedly made for a member of the Qatar royalty? It weighs 256kg, so your camera bag had better have wheels. Zeiss made that one, and then Canon stepped in with a 1200mm f5.6. Supposedly one of the most expensive lenses ever made (except for the Zeiss, which was never on general sale). There were only a few made and got used for special events where the Press needed to get really close. That lens is a few years old now, but Canon will still sell you an 800mm f5.6. Granted it’s nearly £14,000, but if you need one, you need one. Stick a 1.4x teleconverter on it and bump the ISO up on your modern camera and you have the same reach.

The problem of course is using something with such a narrow angle of view. You almost need a spotting lens to help you point the main lens in the right direction. Then it’s a huge tripod, high ISO and pray nobody bumps you.

So a long zoom might be easier, as you can find your subject at the wide end and then zoom in. It also gives you some adjustment if the subject is moving towards or away from you. I’ve shot at a cricket match with a 300mm, which was barely adequate from the boundary, but worked fairly well as the action was side to side. Somewhere like the public area by the hairpin at Silverstone is harder, as the vehicles come towards you, turn and go away. You need either a long zoom or to pick one spot. A narrow angle of view means that you need Jedi reflexes to trip the shutter, or you follow the vehicle and press the shutter at your pre-focussed spot. When I was there I saw a third solution. This guy had a very long fixed lens. He set the camera up on a tripod pointing up the track and obviously made a note of what was in his frame. He sat next to the tripod with a remote release. As the (bikes in this case) entered his area he tripped the shutter. Much less stressful than me trying to follow-focus with a manual lens on a monopod. I would love to have had something like the Sigma 200-500mm f2.8.  It comes with a teleconverter so at the top end you have a 1000mm f5.6. It weighs about 16kg though, so you’ll not be hand-holding it.

I suppose the other extreme is aperture. With computing power getting cheaper and manufacturing getting more clever, we can now make lenses as standard that used to be unique and hand-made. Zeiss made a very wide aperture 50mm lens for NASA. They made only ten copies. Yet now you can buy a mass-produced 50mm f0.95 lens. Instead of special order, you can even get it on Amazon. There seems to be a wide-aperture lens announced every week, and the prices are reasonable for something so clever. Like I said, I expect it’s a combination of computing power to design them and very clever automated manufacturing to make them. With that goes the ability to make aspherical lens elements more easily and cheaply, making the lens design easier and the lens performance better. I just hope it all goes to better use than the hunt for bokeh though.

I’ve got a close cousin to the wide standard lenses, in a 55mm f1.2. The wide aperture does make it easier to see the point of focus but the lens is quite heavy. Unless I really needed it, I am more inclined to take a short zoom when I go out, as it’s more practical for general shooting. But, and this was the whole point of the article, it’s a tool in the box. It sits with the very wide angle stuff and the very long lenses as solutions for specific problems. Anyway, that’s how I used to rationalise owning too many lenses. And I can’t even play guitar.

One to one or one to many?

One camera with several lenses? A particular lens used on several cameras? Or one lens per camera? If I think about the cameras I have that can swap lenses, I have more lenses than cameras. On the other hand, I still have a lot of cameras.

There is a definite argument for one lens per camera when you are shooting action or the conditions are bad. For some sports or action you don’t have the time to be swapping lenses, plus there is the risk of damage or dirt to the lens you are not using. And in wet or dusty conditions I don’t want to be swapping lenses anyway. I remember taking pictures on a very windswept beach where the air was basically opaque from ground to knee level. Not a place to put your camera bag down.

There is a risk that you end up looking like the Dennis Hopper/ Tim Page character from Apocalypse Now, dangling with cameras like a sale at Jessops. But if I was doing something where it was necessary, I’d probably do the same. Probably not as many drugs though.

But at the end of it all, a camera is just the thing that drives the lens. Except I suppose when the camera has a special quality of its own, like a certain type or size of film or sensor, and doing something clever like panoramic framing.

It’s an idea I started playing with previously, when I started wondering about the functional value of all my kit. So I really ought to think about the lenses too. Do I really need two 135mm lenses for example, or a boxfull of fifties? Maybe yes to the fifties, as they each have a distinctive character. Most of my lenses work on most of my cameras, so perhaps I need to make another grid to work out what I really need and what could be swapped for something more useful?

So, the meaning of the grid: N means the lens is native to that camera. A tick means it also fits this camera. The number in brackets is how many of that lens I own. (I know, I’m ashamed myself). I have given the lens’s actual focal length and ignored the angle of view.

You will see from the grid that I acquired lenses like they were cheap and about to go up in price. Guess what… I didn’t know about increasing in price but I do like a bargain. In general I bought the fixed focal length lenses because I wanted what they could do, the long lenses to cover sports and the zooms because they turned up at the right price. Maybe that’s not fair – there are three zooms that really matter. The 16-45 is brilliant on the APS-C digital camera. The 24-50 is equally great on the full frame camera. And one of the 70-210 is a Vivitar Series 1. This is the lens that a pal of mine at university used to fell a problematic person who was blocking his view. Any lens that can be set to stun and then keep rolling is a bit of a legend to me. I’ll admit – I also have lenses that turned up as a body cap on a camera I wanted, were too cheap to pass up or were part of a bizarre experiment.

I think I have definitely strayed into the many-to-one area in my lens to camera relationship. So what’s a poor boy to do?

I definitely have too many lenses. A few years ago I went to photograph some motorsports and, as I hadn’t done it for a while, took all my long lenses. That was one heavy bag. I can also feel a cull of zooms coming on. Some of them, like the 80-205, are worth peanuts but they are taking up space and someone else might get some use out of them. Same with one of the 70-210s and maybe a few more. So I suppose at the moment I am definitely in the region of (very) many-t0-one and I feel I need to get to the smallest set that fits the cameras I need them to.

Watch out eBay – here I come!

Showing your pictures

Do you show people what was there or what you saw?

It all came about because I joined (re-joined) a photography club. They have exhibitions and shows during the year, so I looked at the programme to see what I had that might work. The easiest picture to show is one you have already taken, so I trawled my files to see what I had and liked.

It’s an interesting exercise, but it can be a depressing one. It’s great to look again at pictures I like, to remember the circumstances of when they were taken and to get a small confirmation that I can sometimes take good snaps. The counterpoint to this is the depressing realisation that so many of them are dull or trite: I took pictures of what was there in front of me with little interpretation.

It feels the same as taking pictures of graffiti: it’s not your art. It exists in a scene and a picture of it is just a record of its existence. It’s not your creativity, it’s theirs. Using the graffiti as an element in the picture can be creative; using it as the picture is not. The same with paintings and sculpture – a record of them just shows you were there. Using them as an element of the picture shows your brain was there too.

This is not a picture of a statue
Ceci est une pipe

After I got over the slump of feeling useless I realised that even though I had only captured what was in front of me, it was the basis for further interpretation. For the purists, even Ansel Adams treated the basic negative as a musical score to be interpreted in a performance. And no, I am not about to express depth of field through interpretive dance. Not with my knees. But I can take a picture and make it more like what it was I saw. I’ve done this before – I have a picture of a friend’s motor bike. It’s a basic picture of a bike. But what I saw in its location is what I turned the picture into – something more moody.

The original shot has detail in the engine and so on, but that wasn’t the point of the picture.

This is probably not news to anyone, but it has got a bit of my enthusiasm back. I hereby declare to never more show pictures I think are boring (unless there is a reason to do so). Of course, your opinion of my pictures may differ. But I’m promising myself – if I’m going to show pictures to other people I should show them what I feel or what I saw, not just what was in front of me when I pressed the button.

Two bro’ now go to the Photo Show

I was all set to go to the big photography show at the NEC, what was it – two years ago?

I hadn’t been to it for years. The last time must be six or seven years before that. But this year the date didn’t clash with anything and my mate was also free. Plus there was going to be an analogue section, and all my heroes would be there.

The last time I’d been was with the same chum. The big thing at that time was printer makers showing-off insanely large inkjet prints from rolls of paper.

Then the covid thing started and we wavered about going to what would surely be the National Virus Exchange. My mate’s health is not of the best and he is even older than me (hardly seems possible, but true). So he decided to take the sensible option and dodge the bug. I was planning to go anyway and tell him Nikon were giving away free lenses. And then it was decided for us when public life was cancelled.

Until now. I decided at the time to keep my ticket for a future event. A month or so ago an email arrived asking if I wanted to go to the newly-arranged show. We rebooked, and the boys (true for small values of boy) are back in town!

To be honest though, the show is more about an outing with my mate than any kind of gear-hunt. We’ve had fun before looking for the most expensive camera or most useless gadget. I wonder what the big thing will be this year – probably video.

The planning for this show is going to take some thinking. Do I take a camera? My first thought is obviously, yes. But would it just be virtue signalling? (Let’s not go all dark academia here) Do I have a genuine reason or am I going to swan about with a camera over my shoulder so that people don’t mistake me for an amateur? Actually, I don’t own anything that could be mistaken for good, let alone professional. So, no showing off.

Film camera? Why? At best I will be taking snaps. I want speed, zoom and automation and I will want to post this the week after the show, so it has to be digital.

My mate of course doesn’t suffer from this existential angst. He packed away his medium format film gear the moment he got dig’ed up. (He still needs to sell it to me for 50p, but there’s time yet). But he was after new stuff and hoping that the show will let him play with options or do him a deal. So we’re off to see the wizard, with me playing bad cop when anyone quotes a price.

Next question: do I take my business cards? An easy yes – they have my contact details on. What about my Fup Duck tee shirt? (Yes, there is such a thing). Why not? I could do with a second reader. And some Fup Duck stickers too, if only to put them over Nikon or Canon logos. Actually, that would be playing the arse – I’ll take them in case anyone asks about the tee shirt.

The proper logistics are fun though. My pal lives 30 miles away, which on wiggly roads takes an hour. He’s coming to me and dropping off his thirsty motor. From me to the NEC is two hours for nearly four times the distance, even with my driving. I’ve barely had to put fuel in my car since 2019 so this will be a shock to it.

21 copy
Is it open yet?

As we are still in the time of Covid, the entry tickets are timed. Being blokes we ended up with slightly different times. So I’m in first, meaning I get the coffees in. I’ll tell him I got the last of the free lenses too.

The show was smaller than in the past, so we actually went in together. Talking to someone on one of the stands he said that there was more room between the stands, which was good, but he’d been told that there was to be no selling off the stand. There was plenty of that going on elsewhere, but that was fine. My pal was looking to try and hopefully buy around £1,000 of camera, but nobody had one of this type. He took a shine to a time-lapse camera instead, but this was the stand that was following the rules. Nay probs – he’ll be hitting t’interweb when he gets home.

pano

My delight was the analogue sector / stand / area. And I got to briefly meet some heroes. Hamish Gill was punting the Pixl-latr, Steve Dowling had some prints from the new Agent Shadow film – very nice, even pushed. Graeme of Sunny 16 had brought some caramel shortbread made by his partner Sinead. Paul McKay of Analogue Wonderland was dashing about in a dashing manner and speaking to an audience. They don’t know me from a bar of soap of course, but I listen to them on podcasts so it’s like I know them.

Pixl

And I bought some Pyro developer from Zone Imaging Labs. Ooh, and Tetenal are back from the dead – or as the guy on the stand explained to this grinning and congratulatory fool, it was a financial restructuring. Turns out he’s one of the new owners, so I’m told. Anyway, they have restructured themselves back to life and will soon release their developer pills in the UK. Incidentally, the Pinsta stand is selling a version of the Afghan Box Camera, which is poignant.

Kosmo

My other delight was all the prints on display. The stands and show may have been the methods, but this was the results. It’s always interesting to look at other people’s pictures. It got me thinking that I really need to print more. A good print is by far the best way to appreciate a picture.

AW

What did I learn from all this? That it’s the people that count. You can admire all the lenses you like, but the fun was in talking to people on the stands. The pictures too – it’s the results that count, not how you got there.

What did I not need? Any form of camera more than my phone or any business cards or stickers.

We did run a count of people wearing cameras. I got 14. But so what? I had two in my bag. There was also an action area where there were opportunities to take pictures of people juggling balls or riding bicycles, so why not bring a camera? Same if you are buying a lens – why not bring the camera you want to use it on? I should stop being snarky and just enjoy what we all do.

And the idea of using my little economical car went a bit skew on the way back when we got caught in a traffic jam, in the sun, with no working air conditioning.

So yes, the boys were glad to be back in town. Let’s see what next year brings.

Clubbing together

I got into a real rut during the covid lockdown and isolation and just about stopped taking pictures. I had packed a lot of my gear away to do some house decorating and didn’t feel like taking it out again. My scuba diving was on hold and although I was taking lots of country walks, landscapes are really not my thing.

Lethargy is a terrible feeling – you are blocked from doing something, then you lose interest in it. Work didn’t help – working from home turns out to be more intensive and less enjoyable than working in the presence of other people. What I needed was a kick up the aperture.

So I have joined a photography club. Or rather, a camera club. It seems that it was called a photography club when it was formed but changed its name. Perhaps I’m making something of nothing, but I do hope the emphasis is on photography and not cameras.

I know I have been critical of club culture in the past, but this was a way to change what I was (not) doing and challenge myself with something different. It was also a reason to get out of the house. And to unpack the camera kit, too.

The first thing to look at, of course, is the programme of speakers. Double drat that I missed someone talking about underwater photography, but he’s coming back to talk about sports photography. Beats still life.

What could I contribute? Well, I did run a learning session on PhotoShop at the previous place and I do have my cookbook for obtaining certain effects, so that might have some value. And after writing that I remembered that I also write a blog (duh!). Not that I can preen, but it shows that I put at least a little effort into my photography.

The first good news was that my local library, where I saw that the club actually existed, had an exhibition of their work. All pictures of animals (although aren’t I supposed to call it wildlife?). Pretty good. They also had a small box of leaflets with little posting box. The leaflets were a few questions asking the reader what aspects of their photography they were struggling with or wanted to improve, with space for contact details. Even better. This looked like a group that were helpful and inclusive. Not like the attitude you often see online where anyone who knows less than the respondent (troll) must be stupid. Or even worse, female. (You know what, guys? You can also use your finger to press the shutter button).

Oops! Deep breath. Put down the troll-hammer. These look like nice people.

So the first meeting was judging the entries to a club competition. And being the plague years, it was done online. This is actually way better than the club judgings I have been in before. Everyone can see the picture, for a start, plus everyone can hear the judge’s comments. And there is no muttering from the back of the room. I’m sure there is plenty of muttering, but it’s on the chat channel and not out loud.

The subject of the competition was minimalism, and as we know, I do like a bit of that.

And straying off the subject, as I do, it got me thinking about how you judge a picture. The obvious subjective judgement is how it makes you feel. I’m not talking about cute pictures of kittens here, but what emotions does the picture create? The good ones will have you running around with your hair on fire, the other stuff makes you shrug.

That doesn’t help in a competition though, when you are supposed to use objective and repeatable criteria. And, like all good standards, there are several to choose from.

The Guild of Photographers lists 12 items. A club may have its own scoring. How about some criteria that survived the scrutiny of Mensa? Or something quite specific to macro work?

This is the kind of thing the judges like

It looks like all of them broadly agree on what is good and bad. Or perhaps compliant and not. What would be interesting would be to score some of the great photographs against these schemes. Or perhaps not, because what makes a picture great is my simple rule 1: how does it make you feel? This leaves no way of comparing one against another, which is what the competition is supposed to do.

Technically, a bit rubbish

So I’ll leave it as it is. A club is a social thing and we run little competitions as much to get feedback and appreciation as anything else. And I am very happy with that.

But, do I enter pictures that I think have impact, even if they are technically poor? Or do I enter my technically best pictures? Or do I enter the stuff I’m experiment with to get some feedback? Do I put photos in to impress the judges and get points, or do I show the pictures I like most?

To be true to myself I think I am going to show the pictures that I like and I would be happy to show other people. It’s as simple as that.

Amateurish

I love being an amateur photographer. I am not a professional – I don’t need to make enough (or any) money from my pictures to live on. I don’t need to do marketing or sales. I especially don’t have to do accountancy.

I don’t need likes, which is probably just as well. I am not an influencer and I don’t need reader traffic to generate income. Out of curiosity, visits to shops was called footfall (when we used to go to shops). What do you call visits to your Instagram – eyefall?

I don’t even need to please other people. That makes it sound like I’m some weird Onan the Cameraman, but I do this thing because I want to and I like the results. Actually, that still fits the Onan label, but bear with me…

My wife, who is clever and learned, tells me about internal and external locus of control. In this context, are you driven by internal standards or external targets? That of course led down the rabbit hole – if you could take anything you liked from a shop without paying and nobody would ever know, would you? Would you still be good if nobody was looking and would never know?

So what has philosophy and ethics got to do with photography? Quite a lot, though it’s not really the point of this piece. Perhaps another time…

What it all means in this context is who your pictures are for. I’ve taken pictures at the request of other people and those people are the measure of my success, where that means they are pleased with the results. But the amateur stuff, the pictures I take most of the time, are taken to please me. I am my audience and my critic.

It’s taken a while to get here. Over the years I have taken pictures just for the pleasure in taking them. I always wanted to take good pictures, but I was happy to snap everything that came along. By good, I mean good to me: results I liked. What it took a long time to realise is what subjects I really liked. That let me relax and stop fretting about the things I didn’t like and focus on what I did. For example, cars are boring, but details of cars or cars doing things? Much more interesting. People are always interesting, but people doing things are fascinating. Or there is the odd and the weird that sometimes turns up in juxtapositions or looking with a alien eye. This sort of stuff I love. Which is the meaning of amateur.

Nobody tells me what pictures to take or how they should look. Nobody judges my pictures (well, of course they do, but in their head). Comparison is the thief of joy (as someone said), but I’m not asking to be compared.

It all sounds very self-congratulatory though, doesn’t it? Like humble-bragging. It’s not meant to be and I’m sorry if it sounds like it. What I am is happy that I like taking pictures that please me, and they don’t have to be for anyone else. It’s a great freedom and I intend to stop worrying and enjoy it for what it is (satisfying, difficult, engaging) and worry even less about what it isn’t (successful, famous, etc). I will cover my walls with pictures that make me happy.

Unfaithful to Pentax

I’ve done a thing I never thought I’d do, and bought an SLR that is not compatible with my Pentax kit.

Up until now all my SLRs could share the pool of lenses. This new one stands alone.

Fuji camera

Why was my head turned? A cheap and interesting lens. It was the beginner’s kit lens at the time this camera came out in the late 70s, and probably since. It’s 55mm focal length and f2.2. So far, so modest, but I heard it could give interesting results. It has four elements in four groups and the online wizards say it’s a Zeiss Unar design. This is the ancestor of the Tessar, the difference being that the air-gapped pair of rear elements in the Unar are cemented together in the Tessar. So you could say it’s not as good but cheaper to build than a Tessar.

I had a bit of fun (true for small values of fun) a while ago comparing bokeh and rendering between different types of 50mm lenses. What I hadn’t got at the time (or since) was a five element lens. I didn’t even know there was a design with four. But now I do.

It was on eBay as an Adaptall-2 fitting, which was great. It turned out to be Fuji bayonet with an Adaptall-labelled rear cap. No matter – the lens was very cheap and a bit of searching found a very cheap Fujica STX-1 body to fit it to. Even together the pair fell inside the Sunny 16 cheap shots challenge rules. We like cheap when we are experimenting.

The lens is certainly cheap. It has a plastic body and a five blade aperture. The camera is cheap too – it was Fuji’s entry model in the late 70s and early 80s. It’s totally mechanical, with a top shutter speed of 1/750. Mine has a dent on the corner and the crank is missing from the film rewind. But it works. It’s also the early version of this camera with a meter needle rather than LEDs, so it’s pre 1982, making it around 40 years old. But the meter works, so hurrah for cheap old cameras. Even so, who cares? It’s the lens I’m interested in.

So what does the father of Tessar look like? (I was going to call it John Durbeyfield, but that’s just too obscure). Quite hard to focus in dim light, but that’s more to do with the camera’s screen than the lens. It feels very plasticy – focusing it or changing the aperture feels like bits of plastic sliding on each other rather than brass or aluminium. It doesn’t rattle like some old lenses though, so that’s a bonus. Closest focus is 0.6m which isn’t bad. Some people have raved about its bubble bokeh, but I’ve seen so many adverts claiming that anything from a telescope to a microscope is a bokeh monster that I don’t really believe them.

As I’m not sure about the camera’s light seals I shot it first with the tail end of a part-used film. No light leaks apparent, so all seems well.

For the camera buffs it’s a basic SLR and works just like they all do. The shutter speed range and the one in use are visible at the left of the viewfinder with the meter needle on the right. A half-press on the shutter button switches on the meter. There is a lock for the shutter release so it’s safe to leave the shutter cocked. This is a cheap and basic camera that would (and still does) do the job. The only real drawback, then as now, is that you are largely confined to Fuji lenses. The flange distance was less than M42, so there was an adapter available at the time that could get you access to a wider range of screw-mount lenses. Whether the adapter is still available I don’t know, and I have no wish to use this camera with my M42 lenses – this is to mount the mighty Unar.

So how did it handle? Like a film SLR. All the usual controls in the usual places. A little limited in bright conditions by the low top speed, a little limited in dim conditions by the small maximum aperture and a dim focusing screen. And the lens? At the usual range of distances and apertures, just like any other standard lens. I’m not going to point it at a resolution chart or even a wall – what’s the point?

These are the first shots out of the camera. First test of course is to recreate the bokeh shots I did, but using Wilson’s fruity friend.

Fuji pine

Nice and smooth with a hint of double image in the white bench.

Fuji tree

The possibility of a bit of swirly in the background.

Fuji Charlie

Again, nice and smooth. A bit of double image or outline in the strand of plant, which mean it may well do the fabled bubble bokeh.

Still, for what it cost this is fun. Fun enough that I used it for the Casual Photophile Challenge.

———

PS – the Classic Lenses Podcast then did an episode on this lens. Looks like mine is a good one for not being cracked.

Does gear matter?

I think it does, but only in the sense of having the right tool for the job. Hammers for example. There’s lots of different types, to do lots of different jobs. You could put carpet tacks in with a sledgehammer, but you would need someone very trusting to hold the tack while you swung the hammer. Or you could use a tack hammer and keep your friends unbruised.

I should hang my head in shame though – I have a long history of improvising tools for one-off jobs. Things like using coins to pack-out the jaws of a spanner or cross-cutting the end of a bolt to use it as a thread tap. Things that make mechanics cry, let alone engineers. But photographically, some things do need the right kit. Even then, it’s possible to adapt.

Long lenses for example – you can use a shorter lens and a smaller sensor to take advantage of the scaling – a 200mm lens on APS-C becomes the equivalent of 300mm. (Sorry – 7 degrees or 122 mils). Use the better high ISO performance of a modern sensor and you can also cope with smaller apertures or a teleconverter.

Long lens and wide aperture. Or alternately, you should have seen the size of the spider.

For wider angle views it may be possible to stitch several shots together. I’ve also used one of those wide angle adapters that go on the front of a lens. Can be a bit rough at the edges but it could be the only way to get an extreme wide angle shot without owning an extreme wide angle lens.

You can get told off for lying on the floor in church

I’ve also wittered about the capabilities of a digital camera to emulate different types of film, so there are ways to get the look of something special for a one-off requirement.

Some things can only be done with specific kit though. It’s difficult to get the look of large format without actually using large format, for example. Smooth, grainless tonality, shallow depth of field, and the transition from sharp to soft – I’m sure there will be a clever PhotoShop action that can render the effect but it’s going to take some effort.

Underwater is another example – it’s difficult to take pictures without a waterproof camera or a housing. I have seen a cheat though. This was a box with a glass or plastic window that can be pushed down through the surface to allow a camera to see underwater without getting wet. It’s a miniature version of a glass-bottomed boat. But for any other situation I need an underwater housing or a specialised camera. So that’s one for the list of necessary things.

Panoramic shots may also need dedicated kit. The extreme of this is the Xpan or the Widelux or Horizon. The only alternative is to copy the craze that was on a lot of cameras (probably in the 90s) of cropping the frame to a letterbox. You could match the look of an Xpan but probably not the quality from a smaller frame. You won’t match the look of a Horizon though, as it has a swinging lens. So that’s another special shooter on the list.

The rest though is largely down to the lens. After all, a camera is just a device for putting a sensor or film behind the lens and (usually) providing a shutter and a method of checking the focusing. If the lens is fixed to the camera, then owning the set is the only way to get what that lens will do (unless you buy one of the transplanted jobs). What this means is that you don’t need to own dozens of cameras – at least not for practical reasons. A wide range of lenses that can be fitted to whatever camera has the best sensor/ shutter/ viewfinder then makes a lot of sense.

It’s partly why I stuck with Pentax – I can put all manner of lenses on the front, including medium format ones. Until I win the lottery and buy a K1 it means I use film for full-frame and APS-C for digital and to get the focal length multiplier.

I guess what I’m coming round to is a rationalisation. I definitely have too many cameras. While they can be nice toys, I need to think what category or use each one is in. Once a particular slot is filled, I probably only need one example. Small film compact, for example. I think I have five, so four of them could be surplus. Small digital compact? They are a bit more specialised as I have one converted to IR and some that have housings. Roll film toy cameras? Two.

I may build on this

So I’m going to be organising my gear by function with the aim of treating it like a set of tools. I need a range of spanners (or a good adjustable) rather than ten 10mm ones. I can feel a cull coming on for the surplus and the pointless. I might also put some thought into making sure that the uses that are important to me are adequately met. Not kit for kit’s sake, but for the sake of what I want to be able to do.

What about you? What set of circumstances does your kit need to cover? Do you have a good working tool for each one or a set of toys?

The Casual challenge

I do like a bit of a challenge and those nice people over at Casual Photofile have created one. A list of 34 things to photograph. The extra challenge for film users is to get them all, in order, on a single roll. Game on!

So this is going to take a bit of thought. I can’t take several shots of something and pick the best. I’m going to have to Deer Hunter it. I’m also using a camera for which I only have one lens, so there’s no playing about with that either.

I also cocked up at the start. I was using a new light meter I’d just bought without giving enough attention to how it worked. So the first couple of frames may be underexposed. I may have to stand-develop the film to recover those without blowing the rest.

Another aspect to the challenge is that thing about doing it all on a single roll of film. If I was going to shoot pictures on the theme of something wet, for example, I would go to a place and take several pictures. But this is one shot. I suppose I could go to the place anyway and take the challenge camera with me, then decide at the time which scene to commit to film. But I would prefer to think about the theme and take just the one shot. It feels more in keeping with the idea of the challenge, especially as I will be taking the pictures around where I live as I emerge blinking into the light after lockdown.

Taking only one shot of each subject is a challenge too. Like most people I would normally develop an idea. I’d take a picture, then reframe it or change the exposure, or maybe alter the depth of field. But this is one shot: what I shot is what I got.

So what did I do? I carried a copy of the list around with me and thought about what the next subject could be. If I hadn’t got the challenge camera with me I went back to shoot my single frame.

For anyone that didn’t follow the link above, this is the challenge list:

How did I do? Well, the original plan was to shoot the whole role, develop and scan it and then put the pictures up here. But I am conscious that it is taking me time and that if you wanted to have a go, all I am adding is delay. I will therefore post this as it stands and then come back to it later when I have my photos to show.

It also gives me time to think about what I want each item to mean. “Wooden” for example – something made of wood is easy; a bad actor would be harder.

Have a go.

Found versus made

Do you make pictures or find them? I usually find them: I take a camera for a walk and take pictures of what I see. I rarely build a picture from an idea. Someone doing advertising or product photography probably builds more than finds – they have to create a story around a subject. That might the definition of professional photography – that the photographer is able to make a story around a subject to match their brief or their intention. That, and getting paid for it.

I have done this (not getting paid, making a picture) – I wanted to take a picture of a friend’s business which was in a narrow street, and I wanted glancing light across the front. So I worked out when the sun would shine down the street at the right angle and turned up with a swing lens that would let me blur the buildings at either side. But the rest of the time I just snap what I see.

What got me thinking about this? An interview with Lottie Davies. She was talking about the result of several years’ work to make an exhibition and book called Quinn. It is an immersive story with pictures of the subject travelling through the country. The person Quinn did not exist and the tale is a story. But the pictures tell the story. This is about the best example I have of made. Every detail of this story was imagined and then created.

The opposite might be Henri Cartier-Bresson, the ultimate street photographer who took pictures that he found rather than made. Except he too saw a scene and waited for the right person or people to be in it and in the right place. But he didn’t direct them and his pictures are of what happened in that moment.

I suppose the distinction doesn’t really mean anything, as we all do both. It did help me appreciate the craft that went into something like Quinn though, and it will make me think that I should perhaps put more effort into making rather than accepting what is or hoping it was different.