John's Photographic Ramblings

John's Photographic Ramblings

Saturday, 26 September 2015

26 September 2015

Equipment quality

This article is about psychology and how it affects our individual approaches to photography.

There are two basic approaches to equipment:

needing equipment that is good enough to achieve what I want to do.

must have the best equipment I can afford.

My own approach is the first. My equipment – both film and digital – is of good amateur quality. I actually own professional film cameras but seldom use them, - they are big, heavy and complicated. For film use I like my German rangefinders or 1960s SLRs – not too heavy, not so big and very few controls. My digital camera – Canon 650D – is a strictly amateur camera. All produce images I can print at A3 size.

I have had many discussions with other photographers – usually around digital kit but in the past about film kit. When I started out in photography something over forty years ago, it was made clear to me that my Soviet Zenit E with a Helios-44 lens was rubbish. Now it transpires that the Helios-44 lens in one of the best lenses ever and I had better kit than anyone knew.

With digital, I am told I should have a full frame camera as the quality is so much better and I should use Canon L series lenses as they are so much shaper.  That is a camera plus lens costing £3,000 or more compared to the £800 for the kit I use most. To me, it seems I should ask what I am doing with the camera and how I am displaying the images. This last seems to me to be the most important. Pictures displayed on a computer screen are about 2 megapixels. If that is how you view your pictures, full frame and top range lenses are completely wasted.  In fact, even mid-range cameras are more than you need. Printing up to A4 and any DSLR – even with an ASP-C sensor – with a mid-range lens will do you proud.

Monday, 30 December 2013

30 December 2013

Today I have been trying a new technique - going up. In most large towns and cities there are a number of buildings where you can get an good elevated view point. This afternoon I tried multi-storey car-parks.

Broadgate car-park
I was disappointed with the roofs - they were surrounded by wire mesh to prevent suicide attempts. At lower levels they made do with railings. The issue for me is the gap available to photograph through. I need around 50 mm to poke the camera lens through and the mesh was just a bit too small. on the lower levels, there was no problem as the gaps between the railings was a foot or more.
Debenham's restaurant
I was able to walk around the perimeter of the car-park on each level over the level of the roof tops - or at the level of the roof tops at lower levels. There were some obstructions ( a usual feature of city photography!) - a large hotel has been built against one side of the car-park - but in general the view over the city was refreshingly new.
Broadgate car-park
We have four multi-storey car-parks in Lincoln and over the next few weeks I shall be trying the views from each of these.
Broadgate car-park
There are other buildings that offer high views. A couple of Lincoln's department stores have restaurants on the top floor with nice large windows, and I am sure that if I put my mind to it, I could manage a pot of tea and a few photos in each.

Broadgate car-park
The castle, of course, is not only high but also on top of the hill. I have been on the castle wall previously and most of Lincoln is visible from there. The downside is that there is an admission charge.
I have a long-standing project to photograph buskers. Mostly, this is in Lincoln but not entirely. lately, Buskers seem to need amplification which does not quite seem to be playing the game, somehow. We even have a (pretty good) rockabilly trio playing fairly regularly.

I much prefer the acoustic approach. We have a number of fairly regular buskers here who play acoustic guitar and accordion.
I have a couple of other projects in hand - each of which requires me to print some pictures on paper. One is for a portfolio - 20-odd A4 pictures that are representative on my style -  and the other is for a small exhibition - again, 20-odd pictures but A3 this time. I have general ideas for both but I have hit a bit of a brick wall with deciding precisely which pictures.

One part of the exhibition will be based on the three fishing boats stranded outside Salen  (an t'Sailain) on Mull. I have at least 100 pictures to choose from and a name (the Norns) for them but I just cannot decide which pictures.
Three old fishing boats at an t'Sailain, Mull (only two visible here)

The other part of the exhibition is even harder to decide. It will be based on Lincoln cityscapes and be in monochrome. I have a good 2,000 pictures to choose from (I have been photographing Lincoln for just over ten years now). I think that is a good part of the problem - too much choice: buildings, streets, people, activity, town centre, out-skirts.

Tempus is fugiting as it does and I need to decide very soon.
I currently have a picture in the Lincolnshire Artists' Society winter exhibition in the Ropewalk, Barton-on-Humber. It is always gratifying to have a picture selected for showing. I also enjoy looking at what the other LAS members have offered and see what inspiration I can glean. In addition to the LAS exhibition, there is another by the Ropewalk Studio Artists and their guests. 

One of these is a photographer whose photographs are very different to what I do. She appears to be photographing through muslin or similar (or is a good hand at Photoshop) and does not have sharp focus. They were also large - certainly over a metre high - which means expensive to produce and to store if they do not sell. The other down side of large pictures is that I cannot print them myself - I am limited to slightly wider than 420 mm, I don't think width is a limit if I can get the paper. Paying for commercial printing is another, very significant, expense.

Of course, I could always use Andy Warhol's technique of producing large pictures by sewing a series of smaller prints together. And I do mean 'sew' - he used a sewing machine and white thread to achieve the task.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

11 September 2013

I seriously need to learn to resist temptation. I have bought two 'new' cameras this week - a Zeiss Ikon Contina IIa and an Ihagee West Exakta TL500. Neither is in good condition - the Contina has had the frame counter completely removed and the Exakta has had the cover of the film advance removed and the metering system does not work. As picture making machines, however, both are fine and are eminently usable.

The Exakta is a final chapter in a long and noble story. Ihagee, the makers of Exaktas, was a German company owned by a Dutchman (Johan Steenbergen) in Dresden. When WWII broke out, Steenbergen was obliged to leave Dresden and return to the Netherlands. After the war finished, he was unable to return to Dresden in what was now East Germany. His company carried on without him and ended up as a part of the state owned VEB Pentacon concern (and produced an excellent line of Exakta and Exa cameras). Not to be beaten, Steenbergen restarted in West Germany calling his new Company Ihagee West and produced a separate line of Exakta cameras.  The Exakta TL500 that I have just bought is actually made in Japan by Petri. It is, in fact, a rebadged Petri FT camera.


I am going to have an exhibition of my photographs in the Angel Coffeehouse in Lincoln in March and April. That almost seems a long way away but I really ought to be getting on with producing the pictures. the exhibiting area in the Angel is in two parts. I have already decided on the theme for the lower part - The Three Old ladies (I might even call it The Coven and display the pictures with suitable quotes from Macbeth) which are three old wooden fishing boats that have been drawn up on the foreshore at Salen, Mull and left to moulder. The boats are called The Girl Claire, Pavonia and Elsie May (Elsie May was previously the Mint and then the Wisteria). The Pavonia was built in 1955 and the Elsie May around 1964-ish. I do not have a date for the Girl Claire. I have been photographing them for several years and each time there is less boat left - eventually, I shall go to Mull and find nothing.

The hard part here is selecting six pictures out of the several hundred I have taken. One thing I am sure of is that they will be in colour with blue dominating.

The other, upstairs, area will be monochrome but I cannot decide exactly on a theme for here. possibilities are the cathedral, Lincoln streets or macros. I need to decide soon as each picture can take several days to edit, print, mount and frame.


Currently in the Angel Coffeehouse is an exhibition by a Lincoln group called Instachimps These are all produced with mobile phone and they have a standard format of square pictures almost all of which are monochrome - I cannot say black and white as three are sepia. Those that are in colour are very subdued.

These exhibitions in the Angel are one of the joys of my life. They are very varied and range from photographs to drawings to paintings. Some are excellent, some are decidedly amateurish but it is great that people are willing to put themselves out there to be enjoyed and judged.  I am very in line with the Player in Tom Stoppard's 'Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead' - "the single assumption which makes our existence viable – that somebody is watching - with no audience, what is left?"


I have bought several lenses lately for my Pentax cameras. These all have a 52 mm filter thread. They all, also, came without lens caps. Now, I am not the gentlest when it comes to using and storing my kit. Three lenses with no caps is asking for scratches. Bought as accessories in a camera shop, these are quite expensive - singly, perhaps not too bad, but when you want a few it soon adds up.

I decided to try one of the cheap Chinese companies selling on Ebay. What I bought was a petal lens hood and lens cap - only £2.58 for the pair. I bought two sets.  I am of an age where Chinese goods were always rubbish so I have some long standing prejudices to overcome.  I am aware that the Chinese can do good stuff now: my newish Canon 650D is made in China but that does not appease my prejudices. I am pleased to report that they are both (lens hood and lens cap) well designed and well made. The lens hoods are a screw fit and have a locking ring. The lens caps are a snap fit.


While I was looking through my archive for suitable pictures for my Angel exhibition, I was taken by both the quality and colour rendition of my medium format pictures. A lot of these are taken on Fujifilm Provia slide film. This film has its own colour signature and produces particularly attractive colours in cold conditions.

Colour rendition is dependent on a number of factors. Partly, this is down to the colour of sunlight. At midday on June 21st on a sunny day, sunlight is white (that is almost the definition of 'white'). At other times of day and other times of year, the colour of sunlight changes. Most photographers know that early morning or late afternoon is best for landscapes - the Golden Hour - as the sunlight is more yellow then. In the winter, the sunlight passes through more atmosphere and the yellow/red portion of the sunlight is scattered more - giving us a bluer light. It is this reason that makes snow in photographs look blue. Snow aside, all other colours get a colour shift towards blue making all colours that bit colder.

But there is more to it than the colour of sunlight. Most people will have come across things that are designed to change colour with temperature (at work, we have warning signs that magically show the word 'ice' when the air temperature reaches zero) but even things that are not designed to change colour do so at least a bit. So, sunlight is bluer in the winter (regardless of temperature) and other colours do their own colour shifts depending on the pigment and the temperature. This can give cold scenes an aethereal look which is what I have found in my snow scenes taken on Provia film.  At least one of these is going to find its way into the exhibition.

Friday, 30 August 2013

30 August 2013

I have finished the test films in both my new Pentax cameras and my Adox Golf S - Here is a sample picture from each:
Pentax ME Super

Pentax SP1000
Adox Golf

I am quite please with all three.  The ME Super is comparable in use to my new canon 650D digital camera. It is light and fairly gentle in its action. the SP1000 is older, heavier and larger. When you press the shutter release there is a definite Thunk as the mirror comes up. I was out on the Lincolnshire Wolds near Belchford and I was initially horrified by the strength of the thunk until I used my Praktica MTL 5B (I generally have at least two camera with me) which is so much more violent in its action. Actually, both the SP1000 and the MTL 5B produce good pictures so the Thunk is not a real issue. It could also be relieved by replacing the gooey foam from around the focusing screen which would provide a good deal of dampening to the motion of the mirror. I have mentally booked this in for this afternoon. It is a quick and easy job - cleaning the old foam away, cutting new foam and putting it in place takes around two minutes per camera. On the other hand, I might get diverted - self-discipline is not my strong suit. I have three cameras that need this treatment - Pentax ME Super, Pentax SP1000 and Praktica MTL 5B.

I also have a test film back from Snappy Snaps from my Adox Golf S. This is a cheap folding 120 camera from Germany, made in the mid-1`950s. It is a bottom-of-the-range camera with the absolute minimum of controls but the results are quite good (see the picture above of Skidbrooke church). It was taken on Ilford XP2 Super monochrome C41 film. The advantage of C41 black-and-white is that it is easy to get developed.  I develop my own 35mm mono film but I cannot get the hang of loading 120 film into the spirals.

I like 120 format photography in spite of the cost - this test film from my Golf cost me £1.00 each time I pressed the shutter release. I get regular 120 slide film from a Leeds company that costs me £10.00 for developing, printing, scanning to CD and a new film. These films last me about a month. That is, I use the film in one day and keep it for a month before I send it for developing. I have one of their films in my film cupboard at the moment which I intend to use in my Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex (made in 1936 and still as good as the day it was made). The Ikoflex is a TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera that has a large (60 x 60 mm) focusing screen on the top. to use this sort of camera, you have it dangling on a strap at waist level and look down to compose and focus. the image is reversed left to right - which makes moving the camera counter intuitive. move the camera to the right and the image moves to the left.


I have a habit of getting involved in on-line discussion forums. A frequent topic is as to which lens a photographer should buy. I find these discussions rather annoying and I have been known to get hot under the collar.

A lot of advice is given that you should buy the most expensive lenses as they are 'best'. I try to get those offering this advice to define 'best' which they are rarely able to do. Reasons range from 'of course they are best' to 'they are tack sharp right to the corners'. To me, 'best' means 'most able to do what I am trying to do'. Best portrait lens is not best landscape lens is not best Street lens is not . . . 

If you are going to buy a new lens, you need to think why you are. What is wrong with your current lens? If you cannot answer that, you are not actually in the market for a lens. If your answer is not that your pictures are too soft in the corners, why worry about an expensive lens that offers tack sharpness in the corners?

There is also the fact that the high end lenses cost more to design and develop and sell in relatively small numbers. This means that the manufacturers will keep a given design on the market for as long as possible to give them a suitable return on investment. Mid range lenses cost less to develop and sell in much larger quantities in a competitive market. This means the makers have to (and can afford to) update the design on a regular basis. Mid range lenses are frequently more up-to-date in their design than the top-of-the-range lenses are.

Far more important are commercial results. I sell more photographs taken with a sixty year old Tessar than I do photographs taken with a modern expensive lens.  That is the most compelling argument!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

25 August 2013

Today has been a day of trying out my 'new' Pentax ME Super.  Details of this camera can be seen at my Old Camera Blog.  When I was first interested in photography (in the early 1970s) I really wanted a Pentax Spotmatic but I could not afford one.  Actually, as I was a single man on a good wage, I think I could have afforded one if I had wanted to badly enough but I don't come from a family that squanders money. At that time I bought myself a Soviet Zenit E. That camera cost me £45.00 (indelibly engraved on my memory because of the vast cost!) which was about two weeks' wages.  the Spotmatic was perhaps three times that amount.  I was quite happy with the Zenit - I am told now that the Helios-44 lens that came with the camera was as good as anything Pentax made - but always kept that secret longing for a Spotmatic.

This Pentax ME Super is not a Spotmatic - it is much too new for that - but I can't help feeling a bit chuffed to finally have a Pentax.  The camera is a nice, light and compact camera to carry and to use.  the lens I am using at the moment is a 28mm pseudo-macro lens by Sirius.  I have been photographing hawkers (small dragonflies, not itinerant salesmen!) and other attractive insects I found at Kirkby Gravel Pits nature reserve near Woodhall Spa.  This is somewhere we go to fairly regularly as Bestbeloved is doing a long-term survey for the BTO.

Macros aside, there is not a lot iof interest in the reserve, photographically, and I frequently spend the time on the reserve reading.  The survey only takes Bestbeloved an hour or so and we then go on somewhere more generally interesting.  As this includes lunch and occasionally dinner, it makes for a good day out.

This evening, I am going to look into setting up a photographic web site.  I have had one before but it was one of those sites where you pick a template and end up with a site that does not quite work.  I want to have more control than that and I have no use for any bells and whistles.

What do I want from the site?  First and foremost I want to display my best pictures.  I am not looking to sell from the web site - that does not seem to work very well - but getting commissions on the strength of my displayed work is a possibility I would like  to take advantage of.

I would also like to be able to preserve the occasional exhibition I manage to have.  over the last few years I have had one solo exhibition each year and pictures in two or three joint exhibitions.  I am a member of the Lincolnshire Artists Society which exists to present exhibitions and has a summer and Christmas exhibition most years.