Mousumi. ©Kirk Tuck
For many years there was no question in my mind as to which camera I'd be casually hauling around for the day; it was always a Leica M3 with a 50mm f2.0 Summicron hanging on the front. In the same way that some cultures use "worry beads" to keep their hands busy and their minds focused I'd find myself sitting, waiting for a meeting or the start of an event, and my hands would be busy working the aperture on the lens while counting f-stops, or rotating the shutter dial while memorizing the positions of the shutter speeds. The camera and I were so well bonded I could load film in the dark and set exposures with my eyes closed.
I've traded, and bought and sold, digital cameras so often since those days that I have never attained the same level of workaday comfort with any of them. On most of the cameras we use now there are really no physical aperture rings, no nicely knurled shutter speed dials, and, of course, no need to load them with film in the dark. All the tactile cues have been stripped off and replaced with buttons and dials that have no beginning or final set points. You can't set a Canon 5DmkIV's shutter speed only by touch - you have to look at an LCD panel. You can't set a Nikon G series lens aperture from memory - you have to look at a screen. It's not the way we first warmed up to cameras but it's the way things are...
Lately, I've been defaulting to my simplest camera. That's the Nikon D700. That camera has the fewest menu items, the most streamlined settings and the fewest control distractions. I think the smaller set of choices appeals to me even though more "feature rich" cameras from the same maker can be used in a similar, simplified mode. It's not having to make additional choices that seems to be the appeal.
When I left the house on Sunday to drive to San Antonio I remembered the full cloudscapes I'd shot the week before. I used the D700 and the very ancient 37-70mm f3.5 lens to make them and I was struck by their unique look and color when I pulled them up on my monitor.
I'm using the camera in a very standard way. I set it to Jpeg fine and select the "standard" color setting. The only modification I make is to drop the saturation by one click. The files look better to me that way. I can always add a bit more saturation in post, if the image requires it.
I also like using a non-AF lens. I've been pulling over and shooting a lot of scenic stuff from the car lately and it's great to set the lens at its widest focal length, set the aperture at f11 and the focus at infinity. When I've got the camera set that way and I'm in aperture preferred mode I can just point the camera and shoot without having to fine tune anything. Occasionally I'll have to dial in some exposure compensation but that's hardly traumatic.
All in all it's a fun way to shoot. And a very big departure from the way I shoot in the studio.
The photo of Mousumi is the result of a much different approach. I spent lots of time getting the subject to background distance just right and even more time lighting the whole scene. I focused carefully and used a flash meter to get my exposure into my favorite printable range. And, finally, I spent half an hour working with Mousumi to get a range of expressions and engagement that we would both find satisfying. The camera didn't need any automation, and that's a good thing since it was a completely manual Hasselblad mechanical camera. The only setting on that old 500C/M was the shutter button. The aperture and shutter speed rings were on the leaf shutter lens. Old school.
House camera versus road camera. Long seeing versus reflexive snapshots. All fun.