Rolleicord in the rain

DSCF8699The end of 2016 was not good for our household, between deaths in the family and other issues going on it was getting quite overwhelming. 2017 wasn’t starting out any better so it was time to get off this runaway train and take a good friend out for a walk. My trusted friend is my Rolleicord VB. I also have a VA that steps in as needed.

For me there is something very peaceful and stress relieving walking around with this little box of a camera. It’s a very unassuming camera that people don’t see as a threat like a big DSLR, in fact if anything, it is the most asked about camera that I use. It’s uniqueness in todays digital world intrigues the passerby. It’s quiet, just a slight click from the shutter is all you hear and it’s oh so light to carry. I have the leather case for it which also carries a couple of pouches for filters. This camera and a couple roles of film is all you need to take a breather from a much too fast paced life.

Happy wanderings!

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The craft of photography with the Crown Graphic

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crown graphicIf you thought that I gave up film after getting the Fuji XT1 I most certainly have not. It’s just that when you completely switch camera systems you need to run the new system through it’s paces so that you can discover the hidden quirks and get comfortable with the camera. Recently though my film cameras were calling my name. It was time to take a digital break and go burn some film.

Instead of shooting roll film I decided to shoot some 4×5 film. I wanted to immerse myself for a morning of full on photography. So I dug out my trusty Graflex Crown Graphic. I got this camera a couple of years ago and since then have put together a nice kit. I have three lenses for it, a bunch of film holders and some filters for black and white work. For those of you who don’t know what a Crown Graphic is, if you watch any of the old black and white movies where there is a cigar chomping newspaper reporter, holding a big camera with a bellows and huge bulb flash, it’s probably a Crown Graphic or one of it’s relatives.

The Crown was made for newspaper photographers. It was a sturdy box of a camera that when opened revealed a bellows/lens system much like a field camera. It shot 4×5 film (although there were smaller sheet film versions) that loaded into film holders and then into the back of the camera. It had a built in rangefinder system but you could also use the ground glass on the back for critical focusing. Just like a field camera you could change lenses if you had extras already mounted on lens boards. It had limited front movements. A good photographer knew their settings and exposures and could bang out photos using just the rangefinder system and bulb flash. I don’t work that way.

I use my Crown Graphic more like a field camera. I have my handheld light meter and take multiple readings with it. I look through the back of the ground glass on the camera and carefully compose my image. Speaking of looking through the ground glass, for those of you who have never done this, the image you see is upside down and backwards. It takes a bit of getting used to. For me it is one of my thinking cameras. There is nothing quick about using this camera and most of my time is spent on setting it up and composing the image before even taking one picture. There have been many times where I’ve got it ready to go and I decide what I am seeing isn’t worth using a sheet of film on and I close it up and move on to my next possible scene. It’s methodical, it’s slow and it’s very, very wonderful.

When I use this camera I feel that I am fully practicing the craft of photography. I only shoot black and white film with this camera so the craft continues when I get home and develop the film. It is a thrill to hold up a developed negative and see that you got a good image. The second thrill comes when I scan the film and really see if what I had in my mind at the time of exposure actually came through.

If you want to try a U.S. made camera that has some cool history behind it and be able to get some top notch photos from it, do yourself a favor and at least shoot one these once. You won’t regret it. I certainly don’t and I must say I have gotten some of my favorite photos from it.

Happy wanderings.

The Fujifilm XT1, almost as good as film

Unless you have been living in a cave the last couple of years, you have at least heard about the mirrorless camera movement. Honestly I hadn’t taken it too seriously being a die-hard Nikon fan for years. The last couple of years though Nikon has been leaving me a bit cold with their offerings and downright frozen to death with their pricing on their products. With Nikon and Canon it seems for anything of professional quality it’s go big (as in full frame) or go home. I’ve been shooting the Nikon DX format since it’s beginning and my D300s has served me well but it was getting long in the tooth and the time to upgrade was fast approaching. Nikon for all intensive purposes, was ignoring the professional DX market and putting all of their R&D into full frame and I have never been able to warm up to the small button/menu system of the Canons.

With no solution in immediate sight I had instead, been working film cameras back into my workflow and enjoying it immensely. All of my film cameras, whether large format, medium format or 35mm are limited in functionality compared to a modern DSLR. That was ok with me. Those very limitations forced me, as a photographer, to take control of my photography instead of having the camera control it for me. It forced me to think out of my comfort zone and come up with different ways to photograph the image that I wanted while remaining within the constraints of a particular camera. You know what, I loved it! My creativity and enjoyment of photography went through the roof. I was using twin lens reflex cameras with their single built in lens or Mamiya 645s with their top shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. I didn’t find it limiting but rather freeing because it forced me to think outside of the box and it resulted in better photographs.

The other benefit from shooting these cameras was weight. Even though they were all metal machines, film camera kits were a lot lighter than my digital kit. So much so that I would carry two film cameras as my everyday camera kit and the Nikon kit was left in it’s case until called upon for an assignment.

One day I was looking at my Nikon F2 and wondered why some camera manufacturer couldn’t come out with a professional digital camera in a similar size with control dials on the top and smaller lenses compared to the bazookas that Nikon and Canon were producing now. All within a decent price point too. It will never happen I thought.

Enter Fujifilm, or more specifically the XT1. Fujifilm had been having some success with their rangefinder cameras and photographers like David Hobby and Zack Arias were jumping on board but I was never a rangefinder kind of guy. I liked SLR cameras. Well an opportunity arose where KEH was having a buyer in my area and if you bought new equipment in the hosting store, the store would add 10% value to the KEH voucher. So this was going to be like trading in your old jalopy and seeing if you would get enough for the shiney new sports car.

My wife watched nervously as I left the house with years worth of Nikon gear in two very large camera cases. Long story short I returned home with two very small shopping bags. I could tell my wife had her doubts about this decision and to be quite honest I wasn’t too sure about my sanity either. How could such a small camera kit match up to the old Nikon armaments. The answer is quite well!

I shoot portraits and fine art photography for the majority of my work. I do some corporate work and did some weddings but have recently retired from that gig. For the type of photography that I do, this camera works exceptionally well. In fact image quality and colors from the files blow my Nikon gear out of the water. The files are almost film like which is a plus for me and speaking of film, their film simulation modes are gorgeous. The high ISO qualities trump anything that I was getting off of my Nikons and the resolution of the files rivals my colleague’s Canon full frame camera.

The Fujifilm XT1 has the control dials I had wished for on a film sized SLR type body. They even brought aperture rings back! Woohoo!!! It has a tilt screen that allows me to shoot from the same vantage points as my twin lens reflex cameras. This is huge for me. As for lenses, the Fuji lenses are small little metal marvels. They are incredibly well built and sharp at all apertures. I purchased the 10-24mm, 56mm and the 18-55mm kit lens. Speaking of kit lenses, if all kit lenses were built this well, they wouldn’t get such a bad rap. I’m already drooling over a couple other Fuji lenses and they keep coming out with new ones that are more in line with professional requirements.

So everything is perfect right? Well no. The Fuji flash system is weak. To compete professionally they need to come up with a TTL flash with bounce and swivel and focus assist built in as a bare minimum. Wedding photographers would want this yesterday! Now to be fair I think Fuji set out to make their cameras natural light dynamos and they have succeeded but sometimes you need a high quality flash to get the job done. Rumor has it that they are working on this.

Then there is the focusing speed and tracking of moving objects. I would have to say Nikon wins here. The XT1 is no slouch but in dim light, like at a wedding, it is a challenge for the focus to lock on and then track the subject. Not a deal breaker for me because as I mentioned earlier I retired from weddings, plus just like my film cameras, it forces me to think out of the box and come up with different solutions. That is perfectly fine by me. The rest is nit picky stuff that doesn’t overly bother me.

On a final note here is another huge plus for Fuji. The little fact that Fujifilm listens to their customer base. Nikon and Canon could get a good schooling here. Not only does Fuji listen but they provide firmware updates which keep your camera viable for years. Canon and Nikon expect you to buy a whole new camera! This is huge people! In fact this month my XT1 will get a firmware update which in a lot of ways will make it a new camera all over again. What is not to like?

So goodbye Nikon, it’s been fun. My new everyday carry and professional camera is the Fujifilm XT1. Let the photographic adventures begin! Happy wanderings.

(In case you were wondering the above photographs were shot using my Mamiya 645 on Ilford FP4 film.)

The feel of summer

Black and white film has a wonderful way of taking out the extraneous and leaving the meat of a photo. Yes there is a lot of wonderful color to photograph in summer landscapes and I have been capturing that on color film and digital media but when you just want the feeling of something, the emotion of something, nothing beats black and white film.

Most of these photographs were taken during the late afternoon hours with an intense light coming from the sun. Yes there are lens flares in some of the photos and to tell you the truth, that doesn’t bother me. In fact I think it helps translate to the viewer that the day was so bright that you needed your sunglasses. I think you almost squint looking at the photos. You can feel the mugginess of the summer afternoon. You can smell the still water of the lake before you. You can almost hear the song of the Red Winged Blackbird in the background as you look at the photos.

That is the beauty of black and white film.

For the technical minded, all of the photographs were shot on Ilford FP4 film using Mamiya 645 1000s cameras. Various combinations of neutral density and orange filters were applied as needed. All film was self developed using Arista Premium developer and then scanned on an Epson 700 scanner.

Happy wanderings.

Let’s talk fishing

I’ve been having a love-hate relationship with technology lately. As an Art Director for a magazine I love what the advancements in technology has done to make my job easier. As a photographer I am placed more in the middle of the road about it. With certain things, such as off camera lighting, the digital revolution has helped tremendously. It certainly has made leaps and bounds of improvement in the quality of images from 35mm gear. My medium format film gear however, still puts up a good fight against digital. Yet as a father and member of society technology greatly frustrates me.

Yes those techno-marvel gadgets have made a lot of things easier, too easy in a lot of respects. Raising a teenager you realize that it is so much easier for kids to get into trouble because of the ease of access to various things due to society’s appetite for all things hi-tech. Kids and adults become mind controlled zombies glued to their tiny phone screens for hours a day. One on one conversations have been replaced by text messages and tweets. Life revolves around tiny, computerized pieces of disposable plastic.

Obviously I am from the generation that didn’t have these things as a child…thank God. You actually had to use your imagination and create fun things to do or you had to…gasp…go outside and play. Step away from the computer games young ones and walk towards the light!

There is one particular outdoor activity that has brought almost magical healing powers to both of my boys. Healing not from physical ailments but mental and emotional issues that this overloaded society piles on our children. That activity is fishing.

If you start them early, they will gladly put down all electronic devices, even the phones, to go fishing. Heck they will even get out of bed early which is no small feat when you are dealing with a teenager. Instead of staring at a tiny phone screen they will be entranced by that magical globe of red and white plastic floating in the water. The child’s whole being will be transfixed on that bobber waiting for the inevitable tap, tap, tap followed by plop under the water. Fish on!

There is a real sense of wonderment with a boy or girl’s first fish. The colors, the feel and yes sometimes even the smell of it all gets stored in their little brains. It’s cool, it’s real and it’s not electronic. Initially it will be all about catching fish for them but over time they will start to appreciate the whole experience. Things such as how the sky looked one evening as the sun set or the smell of the water mixed with fumes from a small outboard motor on a fishing boat. Maybe if they are lucky they will see a bald eagle swoop down and catch their own fish. This is a good place to be both in mind and sole.

What does this have to do with photography? If you have your camera with you, and you always should, you have the chance to capture moments of childhood innocence. Images of youth doing something healthy, clean and fun.

Tight lines and happy wandering.

Smile and say Rollei!

The Rolleicord or probably any twin lens reflex camera, is the perfect portrait camera. Now before you get your feathers all in a bunch and start throwing out better options, let me explain what I mean. I am not talking about the camera’s technical abilities, I am coming at this from a purely relational point of view.

More often then not, when I am wearing my Rolleicord around my neck, I will receive admiring glances when people walk by. Trust me, those glances aren’t for me but for the camera. They walk, they glance and if they take the time for a second glance curiosity will take over and questions will soon follow about the camera. Most of the time they want to know what it is because it looks so cool. Other times it will be an old timer who starts reminiscing about when he owned one or more often than not someone’s dad used to have one when they were kids.

It’s not a menacing looking camera like so many of today’s professional DSLRs with a big 70-200mm lens hanging off one end and a flash and a grip hanging off other areas of the beast. No, it’s a rather handsome camera with a friendly face attached to it, a kind of vertical eyed robot face that you might see in a Disney movie. People want to engage with it instead of run from it. It’s disarming nature is one of it’s secret portrait potions. It allows me, the photographer, to start a friendly conversation with a stranger.

These conversations have allowed me access to a stranger’s past. I listened to a WWII veteran’s tale about his time as a prisoner of war and how he bought one of these cameras when he gained his freedom. I met a lovely older couple out for a walk so the husband could exercise his heart. He too used to own one of these beauties. I’ve had people just want to know more about the strange vertical eyed box that is out of place in this digital age. The conversations have been wonderful but then there is the photos. The portraits that I have been allowed to take because I took the time to answer some questions or to listen to someone’s story.

That is why these are the perfect portrait cameras.

Happy wanderings!

Why film?

A little background about myself. Many years ago I graduated with a BFA from a private art school called Kendall School of Design. My major was illustration. Yes I drew and painted pictures. I didn’t use computers, nobody did back then, I used pencils, paper, paint and canvas. These were things that you could touch, feel and smell. It was a sensory connection that helped you translate the communication of your idea into the final image. When you were finished there was a relationship between yourself and the piece of art that you had just created.

Over the years life became complicated and busy and I didn’t have the hours available to allocate towards creating images. I however still had the desire. I took up the camera as my image making tool. I started with film, went headlong into digital and now am back to film for at least my personal work.

Why film? Two main reasons really. First reason came while visiting my father one Easter. He pulled out a nondescript box that had an assortment of old photos in it. An unorganized treasure of my family’s history. It made me wonder what will my children have? Hard drives fail, memory cards quit, cell phone pictures disappear when you upgrade your phone and someday Facebook won’t even be around. There certainly won’t be a box of old photos hiding in a closet. So I vowed to shoot some film and make some prints. Even if I don’t print everything that I shoot, there will still be the negatives that will last longer than myself. My children will have something to look back on and remember their family history and even me.

The second reason I went back to film was for that sensory connection. I needed to have that tactile feeling back into my art again. I needed the craft put back into the images that I was making. Most of my cameras that I use for my film work don’t even take batteries, it’s all springs and gears. I love the way that they feel in my hands. I love that there isn’t any auto settings to save you. I love that you have to figure everything out manually. I enjoy the tactile feeling of loading 120 film into my Rolleicord or loading 4 x 5 film holders in the dark. I enjoy the process of it all.

I choose what film I use like I would choose what type of paint to put on my palette. Each has it’s own look and personality much like the uniqueness of watercolors, oil paintings or even pencil sketches. Do I want to shoot black and white for the mood or Portra film for the more neutral color spectrum? Will the photographs be for a portrait or a landscape? Whatever film I choose it will be part of the relationship between myself and my final image.

Hybrid photographer. I am what is considered a hybrid photographer. I shoot images on film and then the negatives are processed and scanned into digital files. I don’t have a darkroom but I do develop my own black and white film with the aid of a changing tent and daylight developing tanks. The color film gets sent out to Indie Film Lab for processing and scanning and they are terrific.

Developing my own black and white film has put another element of the craft back into my photography. Another part of the tactile process that I really enjoy. Since I don’t have a darkroom I scan and then print my photographs digitally. Like darkroom printers, I try to achieve the best print possible. I choose the papers not only for how they will make my photograph look but also how they feel. Holding the final print in my hand is the culmination of the relationship between this photograph, my craft and myself.

Happy wanderings!

Rolleicord as a landscape camera

Landscape photographers love their wide angle lenses and rightly so. When used correctly the wide angle lens can provide the extra expanse needed for landscapes. I indicated in an earlier post that one of the limitations of the Rolleicord is it only has the one size lens which is a 75mm. With medium format film this lens would be more like a normal size lens on a 35mm camera, maybe a hair wider. Some landscape photographers would find this way too restricting. So does that make the Rollei a poor landscape camera? Absolutely not!

When shooting my Rolleicord, instead of looking for expansive landscape shots, I look for landscape chunks. What I mean by this is I look for pieces of the landscape that I find visually and graphically interesting. The waist level viewfinder is very helpful with this. I will walk around an area, looking through the viewfinder, without even taking a shot. During this time I am visualizing through the viewfinder. I’m looking for something visually interesting. Since I can’t shoot expansive shots I will instead look for different points of view by crouching down to ground level or anywhere in between. The waist level finder works brilliantly for this.

Once I’ve found something that I like, I will further compose the image to make it graphically interesting as a square image. Then it’s a simple matter of taking your light meter readings and making your photograph. Be creative and think beyond the restraints of your camera. In reality, the only restraint is your imagination.

Happy wanderings!