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Camera, lens or light?

I heard it said (I’m sorry, I can’t remember where) that amateurs are interested in cameras, enthusiasts in lenses and photographers in light. It makes a nice pithy aphorism but does nobody any favours.

So ‘real photographers’ can’t be interested in cameras? And anyone who knows how their camera works can’t be a photographer? I think the phrase we need here is bollocks. I’ve argued elsewhere that technical aptitude is on a scale and that we should ideally try to combine an interest in both outcomes and methods.

What is more useful to think about is not camera, lens or light, but camera, lens and light. They are three variables that can be combined to make a result. You could think of them as another exposure triangle.

The camera makes the picture possible and dictates the type of picture you can make. I wouldn’t use a large format camera to shoot sports or action, for example. I know it’s been done, but so has Morris Dancing. There are better ways, unless the difficulty is part of the intended process. So the camera should be selected according to the job it has to do.

The lens makes the camera work and controls the type of picture. It lets you compress everything into the frame or isolate a detail. Without a lens of some kind you can’t form a picture. That light won’t just focus itself, you know. So the lens should be selected to frame the subject and to achieve an effect in the image.

Ooh, that’s a big Canon

And neither the camera nor the lens have any point without some light. But I think it’s useful to also distinguish light as the subject from a subject which is lit. It’s possible to make pictures where the subject or purpose is the beauty and placement of the light. It’s also possible to make pictures where the purpose is the subject and the light serves to make the subject visible – think of photojournalism.

Interrogation time

Perhaps the ideal, and the art, is to be able to see and combine a good subject with the best lighting. Then to use the best lens to render the subject and lighting in the way you want. Then to use a camera that allows you to capture what you intended.

So I don’t think the camera, lens, light axes are exclusive: you need to combine them. But perhaps what the original claim really means, and which I believe, is that your picture starts with a lit subject. You then work back to the equipment and settings needed to capture what you saw. If you start at the other end, say with the camera, then you are led to find things to put in front of it. I think this is why I have some cameras and lenses I seldom use. Taking a camera for a walk feels boring and restrictive. What I prefer is to go for a walk and take a camera plus lens that suits the conditions, the things I might find and the type of pictures I have in mind. But, saying that, I have used the constraint of a particular combination of camera and lens as a method of getting out of a rut and trying something new. It was never meant to be the starting point though, just a way of taking constraints to an extreme. It does make the point though, that starting with the camera is the wrong way round.

Fiat lux, as the Romans used to say.


Fed 5b rangefinder adjustment

I’ve written about picking up a battered but working Fed 5b body. When I put a lens on it I found that the focus was off at closer distances. The point of actual focus was further away than the rangefinder focus point, meaning that the lens was not as far out on its helical thread as it should be. So the rangefinder mechanism needs to be adjusted so that it thinks the lens is closer,  so that I then have to wind it out a bit further, which brings the point of focus closer. That’s a lot to digest. A diagram might help.

The lens is moved further out to focus closer.
The rangefider mechanism has a little lever that feels how far out the lens has moved.
The rangefider thinks the lens is further out than it is, so thinks the point of focus is closer.
So the solution is to move the lens further out to focus closer, and fill the gap so that the rangefinder agrees with the lens.

What I need to do is compare the actual point of focus of the lens with what the rangefinder mechanism thinks it is. (Now you see why SLRs are such a good idea.) The ideal way to do this is to put a ground glass plate over the film gate to be able to see the actual focusing point of the lens. The back of the Fed comes off, so access to the film gate is easy. Only, I don’t have any ground glass. What I do have is a thread magnifier. Basically a small magnifier with a clear plastic plate at the point of focus. The plate is engraved with 1/10mm lines to allow small flat objects to be counted or measured. I had it from when I worked in a paper mill. So perhaps a bit of translucent tape or tracing paper fixed over the plate might give me both a focusing screen and a focus magnifier? I do also have a small sheet of clear 2mm plastic that is an off-cut from another job. I will try cutting a piece of the right size and matting it with some emery paper. And the winner is … the thread magnifier with some tape on it.

For my next challenge I had to get access to the rangefinder adjusters. They are under the faceplate around the viewfinder. Online sources say to slide the metal plate to the left. So I gave the protruding nameplate a push to the left but it wouldn’t budge, even with harsh language. So I took a closer look at what I might be missing, and found that there is a metal decorative plate on the front of the eyepiece that can be slid sideways. And there were the adjusters.

The method for adjusting the focus of the Fed is two-stage. Infinity focus and vertical alignment are adjusted with the main rangefinder controls (see my initial tweaks here). As the lens is screwed out away from the camera body to focus closer, a spring-loaded metal finger bears on the rear of the lens and moves out with it. The tip of the metal finger has a small cam, which is a tight press-fit onto the end of the finger. Twisting this cam makes the contact point with the lens move further in or out on the end of the metal finger.

So the method is to get infinity focus right, then focus closer and adjust the cam so that the image in the rangefinder concedes with what you can see in focus at the film gate, then check and adjust infinity focus again. You repeat these to hone-in on the best settings that work both far and near. I picked 2m as my close distance test as it’s easily achieved indoors and also suits the sort of distance you might shoot pictures of people.

And did it work? Well, it’s a faff juggling the camera with the shutter held open on B and holding the thread magnifier I’m using to check focus. Until I remembered I have a locking cable release. That held the shutter open and gave me back a free hand to focus the lens. I was wary of how much force to use to twist the cam on the end of the rangefinder arm. And the screw for the rangefinder adjustment was locked with dab of paint which needed some initial force to break its seal. But then, I used to maintain my own motorbikes. When the manual says to drift out the spindle, you might think it’s a gentle nudge. What it means is to put a piece of metal rod against the end of the spindle and belt it with a hammer. You know you’ve drifted it when you hear the spindle hit the far wall of the garage. So it was ‘just’ a case of offering a suitable level of violence to the camera. Once I thought it was adjusted, I took some test shots.

Right on the spot. Previously it was focussing behind the target.

The other thing I thought about was whether the focus worked with different lenses. The lens I’m using on the Fed is (I think) a Tessar design. I have another lens on my other rangefinder that has a Sonnar design. I’d heard that Sonnar lenses can shift their focus point depending on aperture. But the only way to do this would be to put the camera on a tripod, focus it and then take a series of shots at differing apertures. One day perhaps, when I have nothing better to do. Until then, the Fed 5b is back in business.

Bored of the things

Do you ever feel bored with photography? It’s easy to be bored with the process of photography – the cameras, lenses and all that jazz. But do you ever get bored with the results? Turning out yet another set of similar pictures that nobody else will ever see.

I have found myself becoming jaded. I fell out of love with landscapes first. Yet another static shot vacant of any human interest or involvement that nobody will care about, least of all me. And then with the pictures that I took because I had a loaded camera in my hands. To be fair though, some of these improve with age. A picture of something that no longer exists can be an interesting record. My first car or motorbike became interesting to look back at, both because of how young I looked but also the strange old styles. Want to see how odd historic engineering could be? Go and look at an Ariel Arrow. Thankfully I never owned an Austin Allegro, though I sometimes cadged a lift to work in one. Actually, my propensity for taking pictures of the odd and curious has been useful in illustrating this blog. Who knew that a fragment of gravestone or an upside-down harbour would ever be useful? But those are just a symptom of my curiosity; they are not my muse.

Not impressed

I’m bored with cameras too. Yes, it has been fun to play with different types, but all I really wanted was pictures. Really, once a camera can deliver the minimum viable requirement of holding a sensor up to the light, it’s done its job. People who form tribes around brands seem strange, although it is preferable to actual witch-hunting. The best antidote is something I heard from Shit my Dad says – “you bought it, you didn’t invent it”.

So what am I to do? I’m definitely not bored with underwater photography, so perhaps that tells me something? We’ve had a couple of years of the Covid blues (with a ‘reform the band’ world tour always a future option). I’ve been pretty busy with a crumbly new (to me) house this last year so it feels like my photographic opportunities have been limited to when I’m walking the dog. This is about as boring as it gets, as I’m taking a camera for a walk and taking pictures of dull and empty scenes to justify carrying it. One real highlight was a challenge set by Bill Ward on the Photowalk podcast: to use intentional camera movement. I enjoyed that – it was adding a bit of thought and creativity to walking the dog. I also enjoyed seeing some drag racing. What I want is more of the fun I get from those and from underwater photography – I like action and people in action. So I don’t necessarily need to get out more, just go to places where things are happening. I’m sure I’ll get out more as the days lengthen.

Looking forward to Summer

What will be interesting is how my feelings change between writing and posting this article. I started writing this around the winter solstice when northern England barely gets light. By the time I post this whinge the days will be getting longer, I may not be towing a cloud on a leash and I’ll be a happy snapper once more. But, SAD aside, I really am bored with some aspects of photography. Am I using film cameras because of a specific quality they have, because I’m unwilling to move on, or because I want to play with them like toys? I’d like to think it was a unique quality but I fear that I’m just a fiddler.

So perhaps I need to introduce some constraints? Use just one camera. Make that two: one compact that also does my underwater stuff and one ‘better’ camera that can use my collection of odd lenses. No more playing with stuff that I then leave in the cupboard with part-used film loaded. Maybe sell off a few more of the remaining relics? I did an exercise before where I looked at what each camera or lens did and where I had overlaps or duplicates. Perhaps it’s time to be even more specific. Do I really need four screw-mount 35mm cameras? Or four 35mm rangefinders? If I don’t have a thing then I can’t fret about not using it. I also really don’t want to be a collector. The kit I do have is absolutely not out on display. I can appreciate a shelf-full of exotica just as much as the next nerd, but the things I own are (as far as I can) things I use. That’s why I sold a load of stuff in the first place. It’s also how I came to recognise what drove my acquisitions: a mixture of curiosity and wanting to have a capability on the off-chance that I needed it.

So what does a photographer who is bored with photography do? I think I need to stop playing with cameras, stop taking pictures of things that bore me, and concentrate on going to interesting events or doing interesting things. I know there’s a group organising a trip to do a bit of bird photography soon. Previously I would have declined, but I’ve never done this before so why not? It might also get some use out of my long lenses. And if it helps me get over myself, let’s give it a go.

It’s always better after you’ve had your coffee. Not too much, though.

Drag racing

I tried something new, and it wasn’t wearing different clothes. I learned that there is a drag-racing racecourse reasonably close to where I live. A local sports photographer was going to an event and offered to advise and support a small group of snappers. So I signed up.

Having been a nerdy wannabe (and then be) motorcyclist as a youth, I’d had some familiarity with the sport as it was back then. I think George Brown was still racing one of his Nero variants, or was at least recent enough that we knew his name. Oh, and it was known as sprinting, not drag, which is a better description of what it is all about. This of course sparked another memory of going to a tractor-pull competition. This was all about pulling a weighted trailer as far as possible up an earth strip. The trick was that the trailer had a large weight on it, and the front of the trailer was not wheels but a plain metal sled plate. As the trailer moved forward, the weight also moved forward, loading-up the sled and making the trailer harder to pull. This event also required ridiculous amounts of engine power and produced loads of noise and spectacle. What can I say? I loved it all. Anyway, back to the story.

First question is what lenses to take? A few years back when I went to Silverstone I took all of them and nearly came home with a hernia. But let’s say I want my field of view or frame to be 3m wide and let’s assume I will be 30m away from the racers. The magic formula tells me I want an angle of view of 100 mils, so I’ll need the equivalent of a 300 to 400mm lens on 35mm or full-frame. Easy. I have a 70-300 zoom and a fixed 400mm. If we do get near the paddock area I can swap for a 35-70 zoom. This is bold (for me): I usually take two lenses to go to the newsagent. The 400mm doesn’t have a decent lens hood and it could be sunny, but it’s easy enough to make one: it has a 5 degree angle of view so it’s just a bit of work with a protractor and some scissors.

I’m also taking my monopod. This is a Benbo one that must have turned up cheap somewhere in the past. It has a plastic V on top instead of a tripod thread. This makes it easy to support the lens, then set it aside instantly if I need to do something else.

So kitted-out, off I jolly well set. I also found out how the racing thing worked. The course is one eighth of a mile – a furlong, 220 yards or 201 meters. There are two lanes on the track. The racing is controlled by a small tower of lights, known as the christmas tree. The racer pulls forward to a marked line and the top light goes white when the front wheel is on the line. Then a set of orange lights go on, followed by a green. At the green light the racers depart. They are timed over the course distance and their speed measured at the end. It sounds sedate. Then consider that the fastest cars can complete the distance in under six seconds and be doing 130mph as they cross the finishing line. I was told that some courses are a quarter of a mile, and the cars can reach 250mph. That’s pretty extreme. So they use every method invented to accelerate as hard as they can – huge engines, superchargers, weird fuels, nitrous oxide, sticky tyres and probably pagan sacrifice. As a result, they can be loud. No, make that LOUD. I was warned to bring ear defenders, but didn’t expect to feel the pulsing sound in my chest.

The chequered yellow panels are the finishing line. The dots in the smoke are stones that were stuck to the tyres.

On the course I was at, the 300mm was just about ideal at the long end. I did use the 400mm to pick out single cars and details, but it’s slow to focus so not as handy as the the 300. If I go to another event I’ll probably take the same pair again. The 35-70 was perfect in the pit area. Oh, and that’s another thing – this is not Formula One: you can talk to the racers and team, look at the cars and generally get a close look at some extreme engineering. And what’s even further from F1 is that some of the cars and bikes are old. One of the racers was an old Commer van that still had the faded newspaper delivery sign on the side. Oh, and a large V8 engine hidden in the middle of the body. There was a Ford Anglia with a much bigger engine than the one in my grandad’s. And a rough looking MG which squirmed down the track as the rear tyres tried to overtake the front.

A fast shutter speed reveals what the eye cannot see – that the sidewalls of a car’s rear tyres are twisted into ripples by the extreme torque of the engine. And that the rotation of that engine causes one of the front wheels to lift off the road. If these things can reach 250mph I have no idea how they stay on the track.

Look at the rear tyre

One thing that worked very well was my new camera. It allowed me to raise the ISO as needed to get the shutter speed and aperture combinations I wanted. It also has good image stabilisation so it helped me work with long lenses in a buffeting wind.

Both front wheels are trying to lift, but the right one is held down by the torque reaction of fhe engine.

Did I enjoy the racing? Yes, I did. Lots of things going very fast and making loud noises. Did I enjoy the photography? Yes, I did. I love shooting action and people doing things. It was all about fast focusing, panning and framing. About as far from landscape or still life as you can get. Will I go again? Yes, given the chance.

Culling the herd

The time has come (the walrus said) to reduce the quantity of photographic equipment I own. I have realised that I really don’t need several versions of the same thing. If there is a best or better in the set, then why do I need the others? Besides, I don’t have the time to shoot them all. And (trying to keep a straight face) the whole point is the pictures, not the cameras that take them. I can justify having one spare camera to replace an old relic that could fail, but not four. I have recognised and now need to get over my addiction.

What made the decision for me was moving house. If you stay in one place it’s easy to store things. It’s when you have to pack them up and move them that you realise how much stuff you have accumulated. Books are worse. I confess that we had close to 800 in the house. Drastically reduced now, but still enough that I could make a good Zoom background if I wanted to. Or a play fort.

So this is the opposite of GAS. Let’s call it SOLID – selling off lots of idle dogs.

The lenses it makes sense to keep though, more so than cameras. These are the important bit, after all. For all the talk about how wonderful some cameras are, they really only provide a shutter and a method for holding the sensor or film. One camera and three lenses is a lot more useful than the other way round. On the other hand there are some cameras with special functionality. Stuff that is waterproof or panoramic is unique, but M42 SLRs are all much the same. So specials can stay but the generic can go.

A subset of the saved.

I did a bit of an exercise, building a table of camera types against the things I wanted them to do. The reason was to make it obvious to me where I had too many of the same thing.

So what is going? Everything I have multiples of or don’t actively use. I will keep anything I have been given, as these are special because of the person who gave them to me. Not that I’m showered with gifts (send more pies!), but these are staying.

By the time I post this I will probably have sold them, so this is the list of the dear departed:

  • Pentax MV body. Auto-only body that came with a useful lens. The lens stays, the camera goes.
  • Zeiss Contessa. Generic 60s fixed lens rangefinder camera.
  • Nikonos III.
  • Pentax A3 body.
  • Pentax MZ5-n body.
  • Fed 50 compact.
  • Fujica STX-1 with 55mm lens.
  • Olympus 35 RC.
  • Zeiss Contina.
  • Leidox 127 format camera with a 35mm adaptation.
  • Canon Canonette 2b.
  • Agfa Super Silette.
  • Lomo Cosmic Symbol.
  • Kodak Retinette 1a.
  • Diana.
  • Olympus Pen EE-2.
  • Canon Ixus 750 with underwater housing. Very capable but superseded.
  • An Ozeck 80-205mm zoom.
  • Canon Powershot A590. Excellent camera, but also superseded.
  • A Pentax Takumar 70-200mm zoom.
  • A Chinon 35-200mm zoom.

Will I miss them? I doubt it – I hardly used them. I can use the little money they bring in to go towards something better that I will use much more. Their departue has freed space and removed a source of anxiety.

I also have a bunch of dead camera bodies that I need to find a way to give someone as a source of parts (or as a boat anchor).

This may not be the end of it. I am now evaluating my cameras agaist new criteria such as ‘do they have a special funtion that I need?’ and ‘are they tools or toys?’. Besides, analogue photographers are complaining about the rising price of old cameras, but continue to hoard them in bulk and stalk them on eBay. Time to release into the wild the cameras I am not using.

The Good, the Bad and the Fugly.

Fly free, my pretties! And the other ones.

The Lomo Spinner

If I thought the Horizon was a weird wide-angle camera, then this is taking it all too far. Where the Horizon rotates the lens to scan the image across a curved film plane, the Spinner rotates the whole camera while pulling the film past a slot behind the lens. It’s the same basic idea: scan the image across the film through a narrow slot. But where the Horizon shoots a 120 degree field of view, the Spinner can do 360 (and often a bit more). There is no standing behind this camera – you are usually in shot.

The metal ring is the pull-string that operates the spinning.

The camera is driven by a spring motor in the handle. You pull out a length of string to wind the motor and when you let go, the whole camera spins around on the handle. Your two composition choices are how level you want the camera to be, and where the rotation starts. Where the Horizon holds the film around a curve to match the rotation of its lens, the Spinner pulls the film past a slot as the camera rotates. This means it also exposes the sprockets.

The bubble level would be more useful on the underside. The switch for apertures and rewind is visible below the name badge.

The shutter speed is between 1/125 and 1/250 and there are two apertures available at f8 and f16. So you will also need to use the film sensitivity as one of the controls. Sunny days will use 100 ISO and darker days 400. It’s probably best to use colour negative film and go for over rather than underexpose and use the film’s latitude to cope.

Flat film gate with a slot. The film is held against it by the roller on the rear door. The drive belt at the bottom pulls the film through as the camera rotates.

Like the Horizon, the lens gets the extreme angle of view by rotating rather than being inherently very wide. But while the Horizon has a 28mm lens, the Spinner seems to be 25mm. Probably just as well, as the photographer usually in ends up in the shot and is pretty close to the camera, so that extra bit of wide-angle keeps the shooter in focus.

360 degree field of view

Shooting it is an experience – you hold the ‘stick’ at the bottom of the camera, try to get it level, then pull and release a string. Pulling out the full length of the string gets you a shot of a bit more than a full rotation. You can also pull out less string and get a smaller scan. This may be the only way to stay out of your own picture, other than holding the Spinner up over your head. This is why it really needs the bubble level on the bottom of the camera – so that you can hold it up and get it level and not be in your own shot. On the other hand it’s great for group shots, as the photographer is usually always missing. There is a tripod socket on the bottom of the handle, so it is also possible to set it up on a tripod, duck down and get a 360 panorama in one shot.

Croix de Van, Switzerland

The Spinner gets around eight shots on a 36 exposure roll, depending on whether you do full or partial spins. Scanning them can be a problem – I scan each frame in sections and combine them. The frame size can be up to 23cm – that’s 230mm, so six times wider than a normal 35mm frame. If you send the film away to be processed remember to ask for it not to be cut.

So it’s a rather specialised little beast, but good at what it does.

Pentax 15mm lens

This is one of those lenses I mentioned that, if I ever sold it and was filled with remorse, I couldn’t afford to replace.

How I came to buy it originally was luck. It was a rare and expensive lens – Pentax can’t have sold a dozen of these a year. And yet a branch of Jessops nearby had one on sale. This was in the days when Jessops were useful. When I asked about it, the reason was because a customer had ordered it but then declined to buy it. It was such an extreme lens that the shop must have thought they would never shift it. So they had it on sale for the same amount I had separately paid for a secondhand MX body. Even then I swithered about it. How many people really need a 15mm lens?

And yet it’s rather marvellous. It has a 100 degree horizontal field of view, but it is also rectilinear. This means that straight lines stay straight and don’t bow like a fisheye lens. There is a whole rabbit warren to drop down if you want to learn about the different ways an extreme wide angle can work, but it basically comes down to two things: do straight lines curve or not and do circular things stretch into ovals at the sides of the frame?

This is an estate agent’s lens. Pop this on a tripod, get it level and you can make a phone box look like a ballroom. All the lines stay straight, so there is no obvious distortion. You can get a lot in the frame without the usual fisheye distortion or get in close and get some strong diminution effects.

It may not look much, but that’s the point. I was nearly close enough to touch the building.

Those that know give the lens a mixed reception and say it’s soft in the corners wide open and suffers from flare. I like it a lot, but use it less than perhaps I could. The built-in yellow and orange filters are useful for black and white and there’s also a UV and skylight filter for colour. The built-in lens shade does at least belp to keep the front element from harm.

In terms of handling it’s a bit of a beast. It’s heavy, for a start – 595g. The large front element and built-in hood need a deep slide-on lens cap that is better described as slide-off. I’ve got a strip of masking tape round the end of my lens to make the cap a tighter fit, but it’s still covered in dings from its escape attempts. Despite being heavy, it’s easy enough to carry though. I did a photo-walk and used this lens. The camera was actually a nice balance and quite discrete for hand-carrying. With the lens on a Pentax MX body weighing 495g the point of balance was to carry the outfit by the lens body with a wrist strap for safety.

Strap 1

It has a lovely smooth focus action, just as you’d expect from a Pentax lens. The extreme wide angle means that the throw of the focus ring is quite short – perhaps 60 degrees to get you from infinity to it’s minimum focus of something like 25cm. The depth of field is also pretty extreme – at f8 it covers from infinity to about 50cm. Circles do become elliptical at the sides of the frame though, but that’s to be expected with an extreme angle of view.

Does it flare? It can, yes, but the picture below was taken into the sun. I have had some flare streaks before, but it seems to be from shooting across the sun rather than into it. Up with it you are going to have to put though, as you’re not going to get a bigger lens hood on this baby (unless you make one).


The built in filters are more convenient than some fisheye lenses that need separate filters fiddled onto the rear of the lens. They also stay clean and are part of the lens’s formula. The down side though is that you can’t easily swap one of the filters for something else. I had an Arsat 30mm fisheye for my Kiev 60 that took screw-on filters on the rear of the lens, so it would be possible to take say the green filter apart and replace it with a neutral density. I did this trick with my Horizon camera to give me an IR filter.

So, is it worth the expense? Maybe, if you can get one at a good price. You really need the lens cap with it, as nothing else will fit and that front element sticks out a lot. It would be interesting (in a nerdy kind of way) to compare it with some other extreme wide angle lenses such as Samyang. But then you descend into the madness of rectilinear versus fisheye rendering (see link above) and end-up buying one of each. But, if you can find or borrow one, try it. It really is a new way of looking at the world.

Horizon 202

Whatever possessed me to buy a camera where you can accidentally get your knuckles into shot? Or I thought I could, even though I haven’t done it yet. The temptation was the 120 degree field of view and the distortions you can get because the lens swings in an arc. I’m a sucker for odd.

With the clip-on handle fitted.

So the basics are that it swings the lens in an arc and projects the image through a moving slot onto a curved film plane. In action it scans a narrow strip of light across the film. There are two swing speeds for the lens and a set of different slot widths for the scan. Together these give you a range of shutter speeds. Not a full set, as the two ranges don’t quite meet.

You can see how your knuckles could get into the shot. The switch on the left selects the yellow or white range of speeds.

Because the lens effectively turns its head, straight lines across the frame appear to recede at the sides. Keep the camera level and the horizon will divide the frame across the centre. Tilt the camera and it bends from bowl to hill. There is a bubble level in the viewfinder and on the top of the camera to help.

Only do this when you are the passenger!

The basic specs are that this camera uses a 28mm lens set at a fixed focus distance. This is fine, as the depth of field covers just about everything. For those of us shooting mono or infrared the lens can take clip on filters which can be fitted part-way through winding the camera, when the lens is midway through swinging back to its starting position. The camera comes with three filters, stored in the clip-on handle. These are a yellow, a UV and a neutral density one. The ND filter is handy because you have a limited range of shutter speeds. I took the plain UV one apart on mine and replaced it with a visually-opaque IR filter. Because the lens swings across a curved film plane it doesn’t vignette at the sides like a fixed wide-angle lens might.

The frame size is the normal 35mm film height (24mm) but as wide as a medium format negative at 58mm giving you a 2•5:1 panoramic format. The 58mm width means it can be scanned or printed from anything that can handle a 6×6 film frame. To be able to scan the film on 35mm kit I scan each frame in two pieces, then combine them. You will get around 22 shots on a 36 exposure film.

The camera looks like a fragile plastic fantastic, but I believe it’s actually a cosmetic plastic shell over a metal chassis. I’d still avoid dropping it though.

The camera can be awkward to load – the film has to follow a curved path so it needs more than the usual guidance. The advice is to put the film behind everything: it goes behind every roller and guide you can see.

What got me thinking though, and the reason I bought it in the first place, is the potential of that swinging lens. It swings left to right, so a fast-moving subject also moving left to right ought to be stretched. Moving right to left it ought to be compressed. If I stand on a bend and photograph the traffic it should also do odd things with the shape of the corner. And I wonder what would happen if I panned the camera to follow a passing subject? There is also the potential to photograph a group of people arranged in an arc in front of the camera. The picture should look as though they stood in a straight line, but all facing the camera.

Moving right to left – some possible shortening of the bike

In use the camera is awkward to hold. The shutter release is set back, so your trigger finger is not in the usual position. It also takes a firm press to fire the shutter. The clip-on handgrip is very useful for keeping your fingers out of the frame, for aligning the camera and for allowing your right hand to take a loose grip in order to reach the shutter release. I’ve used it plenty of times without the grip though, as it makes the camera easier to carry.

Panning the camera. Less background blur than I expected, but it was a fairly slow pan.

You will spend a bit of time trying to get the bubble level in the viewfinder centered. The viewfinder shows the field of view of the lens pretty well but not the distortions it produces. When you do press the shutter you get an extended mechanical whoosh as the lens drum spins. It’s unusual and distinctive.

A lot of the time you can’t even see the distortion from the swing lens.

It’s a good idea to keep this camera in its case or well protected when you are not using it. If a bit of grit gets into the swing mechanism you will get vertical bright lines appearing in the frame where the lens slows-down briefly. If you are buying one second-hand, see if you can get a recent picture taken with it. Streaks mean grit.

Proof at last – the world really isn’t flat.

But, for all its awkward handling, this camera produces unique results. There are very few swing-lens cameras, and this one is probably the most accessible and cheapest way into the world of swing.

Alfred Klomp has also written about the Horizon camera in far more detail than me.

Gear Addiction Syndrome

So I was reading Unwinding anxiety by Judson Brewer, as one does, and came across a definition of addiction: “continued use despite adverse consequences”. A chill ran through my heart (not really, but a wrinkle of worry wormed across my brow) – does he mean Gear Acquisition Syndrome?

If I have more camera or lenses than I can carry and I am still looking at the results of my saved searches from eBay, I must be addicted.

There was a time, a few years ago, when film equipment was cheap because it was old and analogue. I would have sold all my kit at the time but the return was so low that I kept it for occasional use. Then I bought a few lenses to make up what felt like a full set. Then I am afraid that I bought things to play with. And I think that is the basis of my GAS and addiction. “I am Fup Duck and I have too many cameras and lenses”.

But I like variety. I don’t need to have a collection of every model of a certain camera, as my addiction is not ownership or completeness: I want different things to try. I have analysed my set of cameras and lenses for functionality in what I felt was a rational approach to building a full suite of capability. What I didn’t think about was what caused me to have so much stuff to choose from.

One of the drivers is curiosity – I am a very curious person (probably in both senses of the word). I love to find out how things work and to solve problems. So something like a half-frame camera with a rotary shutter is catnip to me, as is a camera that you twist the lens to work. What is telling is that I borrowed one of these and sold the other one. I think I would own less kit if I could borrow more.

I think there is also a desire to be equipped and ready. It’s probably like carrying some multi-function survival tool around to give me the assurance that, come the zombie apocalypse, I could cope. And is a penknife with ten blades better than one with three? I went down that rabbit hole with underwater cameras and came to the conclusion that the best camera was one that was good enough, but easy to use. But this sense of having the special thing in case I ever need it has driven some lens purchases. My only defence is that I only ever bought cheap – when I spotted a 300mm lens in a charity shop one time, I bought it. I now have a long lens, if I need one, that cost much less than buying one in the future when I do need it. Of course, if I never use the lens it was a waste of money and storage. And that’s the very definition of addiction.

Now, what Mr Brewer talks about is the link between the trigger, the behaviour and the reward. So one of these loops for me is the trigger of curiosity: I wonder what a thing is like. The behaviour is then to acquire one of those things to find out. The reward is the pleasure of investigating and learning. This is fairly well controlled, as I tend to then sell the thing once I have played with it. So this little addiction varies from cost-neutral to making a small profit.

The other loop is more of an addiction, and this is the one where I buy things to fill a perceived gap. Do I have an underwater digital camera? Yes, but what about an analogue one? Do I have a 400mm lens? What about a 200? And shouldn’t everyone have a 70-210mm zoom? This is more pernicious as I accumulate these things and rarely sell them on. The saving grace is that the adverse effects are small: I do not spend much money on this stuff. I tend instead to take opportunities: I will buy something if it turns up at the right price (low) and fills a perceived gap. I’d love a macro lens, for example. Not because I shoot loads of macro stuff, but I would use it for scanning negatives. But I am not willing to pay what they sell for and I already have other means of doing the same job (bellows and an enlarger lens). So I would only buy a macro lens if it was cheap, which isn’t going to happen. But this particular form of my addiction has resulted in me owning more cameras and lenses than I need. And I think the resolution would be to rationalise what I actually use and need and find a way to hire or borrow things that I might use only once or never. What I will also need to do is to refocus the feelings of reward from having all the tools I could need into having the perfect “capsule wardrobe” of essential and multifunctional equipment.

The first step, of course, is to decide if GAS is actually a problem. I think it is, as I have more stuff than I can use. There is no point hoarding cameras for the future: if film does continue to grow then someone may start making cameras again. And if not, they won’t. In which case we may be left with large format film, as there won’t be any 35mm cameras left to shoot the smaller formats. So don’t worry, be happy. Enjoy it while it lasts.

The thing that’s going to help me though is to recognise that I don’t need a huge reserve of every type of camera and lens, plus an extra of each camera in case the first one breaks. It’s only recently (in relative terms – I’ve been around since the last ice age) that I’ve had anything more than a basic camera setup. That never seemed to stop me. So perhaps the simplicity of a capsule camera bag is what I need? That and the recognition that I don’t need to feed this hoarding behaviour.

What we potential members of Analogues Anonymous need is a camera and lens library so the we can scratch the curiosity itch without incurring ownership. Or get the use of something exotic for only the time we actually need it. I’ve got a range of odd kit that I don’t use all the time, but wouldn’t have the use of otherwise. If this charged enough to cover the costs of repairs and CLA, it could help keep some useful skills in business too.

What do you think? Would you give up hoarding kit if you could borrow it?

Things are looking up

In terms of ease of use and quality of results, photography is so much better than it used to be. What brought this (less than genius) thought on was finding a copy of Lichfield on Photography in a charity shop. Whatever you may think of his work, he was successful for quite a few years. The book dates from 1981 and is printed on fairly good coated paper. So the pictures ought to be good. But they’re not.

It’s probably not his fault. Possibly a lot of the mono pictures were converted from colour slides. Perhaps the printing was poor, resulting in the lack of any shadow detail. Or perhaps this was the best we could do in 1981.

I shouldn’t be sarcastic – I have said before that grain and sharpness are not the most important aspects of a picture. But that’s not the point here – what I noticed is just how much better are the results we see now compared to then.

Then was shooting Polaroids to check the lighting. High ISO meant heavy and intrusive grain. Commissioned work meant shooting colour slide film, with no opportunities for post-processing or even cropping. Your shutter might top-out at 1/1000 and your lenses at f2, or smaller if you used a zoom. To get the best results you would be shooting at ISO 25 or 64. Chimping would mean sending a test film for processing or clip tests.

I can hardly criticise – this is grainy and it wasn’t even dark

Now is autofocus and face detection, low-noise ISO in the tens of thousands, large aperture lenses and magic zooms. Plus the ability to tell immediately if the picture worked.

You could say that it needs less skill to make a picture, but it also means that it is easier to get a good picture. See Lichfield – you have to agree that he had the skill, but you can see the limitations of his equipment and the process of printing. Even something as prestigious as National Geographic shows how the underlying technology has improved.

I have certainly taken advantage of this in my diving. I started with a 3mp camera and rapidly found I needed better. I moved to an 8mp camera that has better features and image stabilisation. This wasn’t a deliberate choice mind, it was what was available on eBay. Eight megapixels was pretty good but then I bumped into the jaggies again. So the next step is up to 10mp with a camera that can save raw files. And the technology also brings me image stabilisation, automatic flash control and a macro mode. Compare this with the analogue cameras I have wrestled with underwater and I can’t see myself ever going back. Yes, the technology has made it easier and you could say it has removed the need for technical skill (Lichfield was also saying this in 1981 about cameras with auto-exposure). But it has also allowed me to concentrate on taking pictures rather than juggling the camera settings.

This is at the limits of what my 8mp camera can do and won’t take much enlargement

So I think a few things have happened: better kit has lowered the trade-craft barrier to entry; better kit has raised picture quality generally; good photography is no longer the preserve of photographers. Where is it going? I don’t know. But post-processing software can correct mistakes, smooth skin, replace skies and add mood. Cameras can focus on faces or even eyes and take a blizzard of shots to capture the perfect timing. But there is still a difference between good and bad pictures, if a good picture was your intent.

But basically, bring it on! I will take all the cleverness the camera people can give me (or I can afford) because it generally gives me better results. Or fewer chances to be rubbish. And it gives me the space to go back in time in an area of my choosing to gain an effect – things like using old lenses or shooting in mono rather than colour. Same with cars – my current car is far more advanced than my first one. Do I miss the ability to start the engine with a handle? No. Do I like heating? Yes, and I can turn it off if I want to get nostalgic. So if the purpose of photography is to make pictures rather than drive cameras, then things are much better now than they were then.

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