Gear

Photography gear: reviews, lenses, cameras, film, etc.

Change of Pace

Ann Arbor, MI

John Carey at 50 Foot Shadows, after his X-Pro broke, picked up a classic Canon 5D after a long absence.

Funny thing happened in that, I found myself inspired by the change of pace. The original 5D has such a beautiful sensor, it’s like changing film. While I miss flexibility in ISO and dynamic range the photos I get from the 5D are moody, colorful, contrasty, they really have a life of their own, in fact, as some of you already know, the camera defined my style 10+ years ago when I started to shoot with it.

Carey took a look back to when he first put down his 5D. His feeling then matches my own now: “This is a still photo camera. There is no shame in that.”

No shame, indeed. In fact, I see it as a point of pride. When you want to take pictures, you pick up a picture-taking machine.


New Camera Strap

Gordy Camera Strap

Maybe it’s waking up out of winter, or maybe it’s just a little more sunshine affecting my brain – but I recently splurged on some photography gear.

This year, to kick off my project, I treated myself to a new camera strap from Gordy’s. It’s not going to make my photos better, and it’s not one of those $100 artisan leather products that get all the reviews. It’s a simple leather strap that holds my Canonet around my neck. And it’s dark brown, with red and burgundy accents.

It’s half fashion, half pragmatism. My old strap was a simple nylon affair, thin and unassuming. It did the job, sure, but not well, and it wouldn’t win any beauty contests. With this new leather strap, at least I feel like human beings made it with attention and care.

I also have this thing where all my camera straps need to be brown. Whatever.

Gordy’s does this nice thing where they feature photographers’ cameras on their photo gallery. A nice way to show off gear, and their product. They have a great Instagram account, too.


One Afternoon, One Roll of Film

Time to break out the Canonet.

After thinking about my favorite type of camera – small, single lens, 35-45mm range – I loaded a roll of Agfa Vista 400 and hit the streets for a just-starting-to-feel-like-spring afternoon in Ann Arbor.

From loading to dropping film off at the camera store took less than an hour. I had 24-ish chances to capture something walking around an unfamiliar neighborhood. And I had 40mm to express what I saw, with a rangefinder focusing mechanism to express it.

I also had a serious limitation: the bright, sunny afternoon was killer when the Canonet’s highest shutter speed was 1/500. That, combined with a 400 ISO film speed, meant having to pull the ISO down a bit, or else the camera refused to take a photo. Chalk it up to one big learning experience.

The point is, I took the Canonet for a spin, and blew through a 24 exposure roll of film. That old saying about potato chips, that you can’t eat just one? Same rule applied to that roll of Agfa Vista. It was easy to just keep visually snacking.


On Compact, Fixed-Lens Cameras

Canon Canonet

Leave it to Eric Kim to beat me to a post I’ve been mulling over for months:

There is no perfect or ideal lens or focal length out there. Rather, it is about finding the lens or focal length which fits 80% of your needs. Psychologists call this “satisficing” (a mix between satisfying and sufficing). Rather than aiming for “perfect”, you aim for “good enough.” And by aiming for “good enough”, you are a lot happier and and satisfied than people who are “maximizers” and aim for “perfection.”

When I buy a Mac, I always go for the consumer, mid-range version. I bought an iBook, the consumer-grade notebook, and now I buy iMacs, the consumer-grade desktop. It’s nice to have a pro machine, but the combo of size, price, and capabilities make the mid-range Macs my go-to computers.

So it’s going to be with me and cameras. My Canon EOS M, the Canonet, the Olympus Trip 35, even the Fuji X100 I rented for a week – these are all consumer grade, small size, fixed lens (the 22mm never leaves my M) cameras, and they’re my favorite to take with me when I’m looking for ease of use and image quality.

Even with my Fuji X-E1, the 27mm pancake lens never left the front of that camera, and it was – in spirit – a fixed-lens compact camera, perfect for traveling.

As Kim says, these kinds of cameras (Sony makes one, as does Leica, Canon maybe be working on a full frame version, etc.) are good enough for most needs. Need to get closer? Move closer. Need a wider angle? Buy a 28mm version. For most people, 28-40mm is good enough for most situations, and most of the film compact cameras came with a 40-ish lens for a reason.

Also, you just can’t beat the size and portability. It’s the throw-it-in-the-front-seat-of-your-car situation: is the camera small enough to take with you on most daily commutes and travel? Will it fit in your commuter bag or purse? Is it unobtrusive, and is it easy to carry around?

Just as important: is it fun to use?

For these smaller, fixed-lens cameras, the answer is almost always “yes.”


We Need A Film Camera Revival, Too

Tomyko LT002

Think about it: there used to be a photo developing station in every grocery store. You could (and in some cases, still can) pick up film in a gas station. People would print photos and bind them together into books that became family heirlooms. Then it all went away.

Now it’s all making a comeback. You can get specialty film, professional films, and boutique revival films. We shot photos at our wedding and this weekend’s move using Fuji’s Instax camera. Me? I’m trying out a pack of Lomography’s new film for an upcoming project.

But the good news is all on the film side. The other side of the equation – new film cameras – isn’t returning at the same speed as film stock. Why is that?

Leica is doing their thing, but that’s out of the reach of most photographers. Nikon has the F6, still in production, and Lomo does a good business. But from there, medium- and large-format film cameras are the only ones still in production. Where are the new 35mm cameras to meet this growing film demand? Is the demand still not at a level for camera manufacturers to supply new gear?

Not that there’s any reason to worry; there are tons of used film cameras out there waiting to be rediscovered and refurbished (it’s coming up on yard sale season, after all). For the most part, buying a decent film camera is way more affordable than buying a new digital camera.

Maybe that’s when we’ll know film is back in a big way: Pentax, Canon, Fuji, and the rest fire up their film camera production machines again.


More Canon 5D Love

Hidden Corners - Ann Arbor, MI

From Tom W:

You Don’t have to spend a fortune to get a great image. If your main hope is for fantastic image quality outdoors and if your willing to settle for lower dynamic range or high ISO performance there are a number of fantastic choices for photographers looking to start out in the world of full frame cameras.

A modern classic indeed. Everything old is new again.

(Via Robert-Paul Jansen.)


Shopping Season

Shopping Season

This time each year, all the major camera and lens companies put their products on sale, along with the rest of our consumerist-crazy world. You can get some seriously great deals from Thanksgiving to the new year.

Rebates, bundles, sales – if you’ve waited all year, and you’ve been a good boy or girl, now is the time to grab your gear.

Six years ago, it’s exactly what I did. I bought an older-model Canon Rebel T1i with a lens bundle, and it changed my life. Here I am today, a hobbyist photographer, because I jumped on a great deal during the holidays.

Here’s a tip to help you feel better about your purchases: If you shop through Amazon, use their AmazonSmile program to help your shopping dollars give back to a charity or cause you care about (my dollars support our local nature center). Or shop through the affiliate links of an artist you enjoy.

Give back to others, and those in need. And then be good to yourself, if you really mean it.