9.09.2018

Tourist with an old Hasselblad. Florence.


One of our more memorable trips was one that Belinda and I took through Italy. I brought only one camera and two lenses but they seemed to suffice for the photography I wanted to do. The camera body was a typical 500 C/M that was, of course, totally mechanical and boasted a top shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. I brought along a 100mm f3.5 Zeiss Planar lens and a 50mm f4.0 Zeiss Distagon lens but I ended up using the 100mm for nearly everything. It matched my personal point of view.

I didn't use 220 film backs then because many of my favorite black and white films weren't available in 220 loads. The 12 frames on a 120 roll always seemed just fine to me.  I did bring a very old 45 degree pentaprism finder for the camera but most of the time it was easier to just use the waist level finder. I had become used to seeing the image on the waist level finder in reverse and had come to consider that normal. My one concession to modern convenience was a small, Sekonic incident light meter. I got into the habit of taking a reading when entering a new room and then just using those settings until I noticed the light had changed.

It's funny to think about working this way after having just read so much about the new cameras being launched and all the reasons why current photographers find the new cameras under-featured or "unusable" because they lack some "feature" such as GPS or AF zones that extend to the outside edges of the finder. I find it sad that dual cards slots are now a "must" and that so much depends on attaining terminal velocity of auto focus speed in order to capture simple images.

I wonder if many of the people who embrace all the new technology and demand it in order to take the most basic and banal images would benefit from spending a month with the Hasselblad camera I used for my trip. Perhaps the slow, manual film advance would give them time to consider the decisive moment instead of depending on the promiscuous spray. Perhaps knowing that they could not depend on the malleability of RAW files to fix many errors and shortcomings would prod them to be more careful with their exposure control. Maybe having to use one really good lens with one really nice focal length would allow them, over time, to develop some sort of personal vision or mastery.

The 1/500th of a second shutter speed isn't quite the issue it seems since most medium format lenses didn't experience much image degradation from diffraction until they were stopped down past f22.

I think about these things when I am told that a camera lacking 1/8,000th of a second top mechanical shutter speed is not "useful." I think about how much we were able to do with ISO 400 black and white film when I am told that the lack of a noise free ISO 12,000 on a camera is "a deal breaker."

And wouldn't the web be a much more sparse repository for images if every 12 frames shot had to be meticulously developed, by hand, in temperature calibrated liquids before having the perfect frame selected and then printed on thick silver papers in their own chemical baths? Washed for an hour or so?  Toned in selenium baths and then washed again? Dried face down on screens over night? Dust spotted with tiny bristle brushes and Spotone dyes, matched to the overall tone of the fiber prints?

Then maybe we'd have something more to talk about than the latest equipment and why we "need" it so badly.



17 comments:

  1. Even with rolls of 36 exposures we would husband each frame knowing the once in a lifetime shot would present itself for frame 37.

    The current topics dominating various fora seem to largely address issues that never arose when I began shooting in the 70's.
    Low light? Use Tri-X pushed two stops. Shooting sports? Pre-focus and wait. Dynamic range? What? Camera shake? Buy a tripod.
    Don't like the colors? Use filters or a different lab.

    We seem to be solving problems of photography at the extreme fringes of the craft. No ISO excellence will save the shot when a venue is as dark as some churches. No DR heroics can save an image in high contrast situations or gross incorrect exposure. 1000 FPS will never make an indifferent sports image usable.

    Absolutely many advances have improved our lives, particularly for video. But in the final analysis the vast bulk of images could have been made by even the most modest of film cameras with drugstore processing.
    Or a phone.

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  2. I can see the title of your next book, Kirk, "The Metaphysics of Photography" :)

    It may be one of those small books which become indispensable to thoughtful photographers everywhere. Guiding and explaining for a generation to come . . .

    Not sure if it will be published before or after the next tale of the adventures of a certain Nikon and Leica wielding professional though!!

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  3. Ah, how I recognize this...

    And I do think you are right in your conclusions!

    Re. "promiscuous spray":
    You are certainly right.
    Not even 25 f/s gives *decisive* moments, as I learned when cutting video.

    ( But eye-AF, IS and good high ISO can simplify also a good amateur's photo life...)
    - - -

    I grew up with a rangefinder 6x6cm Superikonta III w. Zeiss Tessar 75mm/3.5.
    ( I mostly used the built in light meter like you.)

    The speed (1-1/500 s) and aperture dials were coupled and set with an EV scale!
    ( 120 film transport was even slower than in the H. 500c. But you could squeeze 13 pics in a roll!
    Slow film gave margins for cropping so it was also a ~35-90mm eq. point&shoot.)

    And an enlarger in the back room.
    ( My father bought outdated b/w paper cheaply in large sizes to be cut as wished.)

    But we simplified; paper was dried spread on newspapers and was ironed on the back and stashed in piles of books to flatten. We retouched dust spots with pencils. Occasionally we projected on the floor for large prints.

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  4. I remember a trip to France and Switzerland in the 1980s carrying my Mamiya C220 and a load of 120 film and came back with some of my favourite photos.
    However I'm pretty sure that earlier generations of photographers would have said I was spoiled as they loaded their 5x4 (or larger) plates into their luggage.
    As digital brought a huge number of people into photography and many countries were not developed enough to have a large photographic base in the film days, it is probably fair to say that the majority of photographers in the world nowadays have never used film.
    And these people will have grown up with the convenience of autofocus and autoexposure and instantaneous feedback and movable ISO etc. and so that is their base line.
    We all have our minimum expectations and base lines and it is usually formed when you first use something. And the older generation always thinks that the newer generation is spoiled because their expectations are higher. Such is progress.

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  5. Been there, done that (but with a Bronica SQ, couldn't afford the Blad)... Used a M6 for years, but also the FM2n Tank ! Did my own chemistry and my enlargements !
    I'm happy today with a "one slot" Df and a bunch of old lenses (I even work with it). I might get myself a Z because I believe in evolution, progress and I'm still curious about new techniques... While getting older each day (though I used to be a swimmer)!

    I'm happy to find, reading you, that I've not gone "locos", and that sanity might prevail among those who are more interested in taking pictures then on the tools to get them... The old "means and end" story !

    Thank you for your not so common (alas) sense !

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  6. Paris, 2001. A "green" parade, all kinds of pro-environment floats and costumes. Me with my old Canon and a serviceable zoom lens. I was getting great shots ... until I happened to glance at the take-up winder. Why wasn't it turning? Argh! Film not threaded properly.

    Just think how a second film position could have saved the day!

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  7. I've tried to approach shooting with jpegs the way I shot slide film. My last film camera was a Bronica RF645 (I still miss that one),nad it definitely frames my shooting approach.

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  8. I attended a talk and image presentation by the excellent photographer Kara Mercer today. (BTW, she started in Texas.) I believe she is the first professional photographer I've heard who started with a digital camera rather than film. I'm certain she won't be the last.

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  9. I think it's sad that photography seems to have changed (at least for amateurs like me) from a craft that you had to study and master at least the basics to something that seems to be based on endlessly buying expensive electronics and internet hype. I still take family and vacation photos with digital cameras but's it's not really much fun anymore. It's nothing like looking at your wet negatives after you pull them off the reel or at a print you made yourself in a closet darkroom in the basement.

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  10. It is interesting to see the parallel interest in Diana and Lomo cameras, returning photograpy to the box camera days and forcing the photographer to look for emotional content rather than technically flawless images.

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    Replies
    1. Agreed...I now mostly use a Holga and a pinhole camera and I very much like the results. Long live film.

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  11. My lab had an old Hasselblad 500 that I got working again and tested out shooting in downtown DC. I really didn't like it. Now the Pentacon six has magic. I love mine with the large bright Russian pentaprism and focus screen. I haven't shot a rolling in about 6 years now. Actually bought the DF because I missed it and all the local film labs have shut down. I have the chemicals, but haven't done my own processing yet. Maybe one day I fire off 10 rolls from the freezer, all of which have long expired and try my hand at developing.
    The Df is good but the Pentacon six has magic.

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  12. "promiscuous spray", I love that expression.

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  13. I don't shoot a lot of film these days but I still shoot it from time to time. One camera I still use is the Konica Hexar AF. It has a max shutter speed of 1/250. I've shot it in full summer daylight. I always get great results from that beautiful lens. I try to think of that camera when I feel my current digital cameras are insufficient. The square is heavenly btw.

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  14. So nice photos Kirk - I love them all!

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  15. I still can afford to shoot film, as I no longer shoot pro jobs..
    Photos needed for yesterday! I seldom worked to very hard deadlines..
    Photos needed by a certain time, as "presses" of 3 major newspapers,
    were all on pause waiting for my prints..
    I loved the square, used in borrowed Rollei, later my Mamiyaflex c-series.
    Main reason for less exposures was less to edit!
    Success rate on 21/4 6x6, was 3~4 good prints.
    A success rate way ahead of my 35mm x 36 exp.
    Light years ahead of my digital files..
    Your shots of Italy and beautiful wife, very inspiring!

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