|Cameras and Film||home|
My current gear consists of four cameras. They include:
Fuji GSW690III - This camera is ideal for breathtaking landscapes. It's an excellent camera in terms of both picture quality and value. With an image size of 6x9 cm, film area is about 5 times larger than 35mm. These are also some of the lightest and most compact medium format cameras on the market. They're excellent for backpackers who want medium format quality without a lot of added weight.
These retail for $1475, but are available on the used market for under $1000. The GSW690III comes with Fuji's highly regarded EBC 65mm fixed lens, equivalent to a 28mm lens in 35mm format. Fuji also makes the GW690III with a 90mm lens and the GW670III with a 90mm lens and an image area of 6x7 cm.
The mark III is Fuji's current line. Changes from the previous mark II were fairly minor. The body is made of a lighter compound material, is a little more rounded, and a bubble level has been added. The original G690 included interchangeable lenses, but that model has long been discontinued and is difficult to find on the used market.
Fuji GA645 - This is the camera I use most often. It's a fully automatic 6x4.5 medium format, with auto focus and auto exposure. It's basically a point and shoot with an image area about 2.7 times greater than 35mm. It can also be used fully manual or in aperture priority mode. The focus can also be set manually. This model has the EBC 60mm lens. Fuji makes another similar model, the GA645w, with a wider 45m m lens. These were the precursor to Fuji's newest 645, the GA645zi, with a 55-90mm zoom lens. All of the cameras in Fuji's 645 line are incredibly lightweight and easy to use.
The GA645 is probably the lightest medium format camera that I know of. At just 1.8 pounds (875 grams) it's easy to forget you're even carrying it. It's also small enough to fit in a jacket pocket.
These are no longer available in retail stores, but can be found on the used market. Prices vary according to the model (the wider lens being more expensive), but in general they range from $450 to $650. These cameras are ideal for people who desire to transition from 35mm into medium format photography.
Pentax Spotmatic II - This was my first camera, which I inherited from my father's collection. I'm not sure when it was built, but I think it dates from the late 1960's. Anyone who's taken a class in photography has probably used either a Spotmatic or the Pentax K-1000. For decades they have been nearly standard for beginners.
But far from being just for beginners, the Pentax SLRs have been a favorite with many professionals. The same simplicity that makes it easy for a beginner to learn the basics of photography - shutter speed, aperture, f-stops, and depth of field - make it easy for an experienced and creative photographer to get exactly the image they're looking for with minimum fuss.
These cameras are built like a tank. To be honest, I much prefer the solidness and simplicity of this old Pentax to newer automatic and electronic Nikons and Canons. In the years I've owned it, I've shot many thousands of frames, yet it's never been serviced and it's never failed me. It's a camera I know I can rely on.
The Pentax line is also well regarded for its lenses. The SMC (super multi coated) lenses of the 1970s were so well made and produced such good picture quality that they're still being bought and sold on the used market, with certain lenses selling for several hundred dollars. The Pentax Super Takumar lenses are also very good.
Kodak DC290 - This camera was my first foray into digital. I still am and probably will be for a long time, a fan of good old fashioned film. However, this is one of the better digital cameras I've seen. Among lower priced consumer cameras, this has probably the best low-light and long exposure capability I've seen among digitals. It also has about the truest and most vivid color representation of any digicam of its time (it's about 3 years old now), not so surprising considering it's made by Kodak. It also seems to be very capable of handling a wide dynamic range, not blowing out highlights like many digicams.
The DC290 has a couple of downsides. It's a serious power hog. Alkaline batteries are all but useless. You'll get maybe 10 or 15 shots before you get a low battery warning. Fortunately, with the rechargeable NiMH batteries included, the performance is much better. The other downside is a consequence of it's age. It's maximum true resolution is only two megapixels. If you only want to print snapshots or post photos to the web, this shouldn't be a problem, but look for something else if you want to hang some 8x10s on your walls.
On my most recent trip, I test drove a Canon Powershot G2. While I think it's a very capable camera and renders an acceptable image, I won't be buying one myself. Some of the things I didn't like: It seemed very prone to blown highlights, the aspect ratio was too narrow, and even with the zoom lens at it's widest, it never seemed wide enough. The images also seemed surprisingly noisy, even in photos taken in ample lighting. On enlargements as small as 5x7 the noise becomes noticeable and bothersome.
Like most photographers, I can't seem to be satisfied with just one toy. I have lately become interested in trying large format photography. With vintage Crown Graphics with Ektar lenses selling for under $300 used, it seems a pretty low cost way to take my photography to the next level.
When you decide to take up photography, you'll need to decide which film to use. That will largely depend on whether you intend to shoot for your own personal mementos, as a serious hobby, or to pursue a career in photography. The answer will determine whether you shoot with print film (negatives) or slide film (also called reversal film). Many professionals shoot on slide film for it's better color saturation and fine grain. Most hobbyists choose print film for its ease of use and the convenience of having it developed and getting prints to show to others.
Certain films are made specifically for the consumer market, like Kodak Gold 100 print film and Fuji Superia slide film. High quality films like Fuji NPS print film and Fuji's popular Velvia and Provia are made for professional use.
Film is a very personal thing, just as photography is a highly personalized art. However, certain films have staked their claim for certain uses and found almost unanimous approval from photographers in those genres. Most landscape photographers swear by Fuji Velvia, but many also still like the look of Kodachrome. Many portrait photographers prefer Fuji Astia for it's flattering rendition of skin tones.
Among black and white photographers, there is less of a consensus, but still there exists a small pool of perennial favorites, among these, Kodak T-max and Ilford HP5.
Although these are logical choices and have found a following for a reason, no one who's starting out in photography should lock in on a film that others dictate is the 'right' film for their subject. You should shoot a lot of different films and get to know their characteristics to see which you prefer.
That said, I've found that I do like the look of Velvia for the landscape work I do. No other film quite captures the striking color and contrast of landscapes like Velvia. However, I have a love hate relationship with it as well. Velvia is a very unforgiving film. With a range of only about five stops, it has an extremely narrow exposure latitude. Shadows can block up if it's underexposed by as little as half a stop.
Print film (negative) has a wide latitude and can produce a printable image even with an exposure error of up to two stops. Velvia on the other hand demands an almost exact exposure. An error of two stops (even one stop) will result in an image that's destined for the trash.
Velvia is a slow film, rated at ISO 50 (Fuji has announced that Velvia will be available in ISO 100 soon). Many people who use Velvia will rate it at ISO 40, overexposing it by one third stop in order to tame it just a bit and avoid blocking up the shadows. This is an effective technique, but in my opinion it also robs Velvia of the beautiful deep saturated colors that make Velvia what it is.
If you find Velvia too difficult to work with, a very good alternative is Fuji's Provia 100F. It also offers brilliant color rendition - although not as much as Velvia - but has a bit wider latitude and is one stop faster.
Among black and white films, Kodak T-max is one of the oldest emulsions still on the market, but still one that's very favored. I happen to like it a lot myself. It's a super easy film to work with. It' s very forgiving in both exposure and development. T-max is fine grained and has a good tonal range.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is another one of my favorite black and white films, Kodak Technical Pan. Tech Pan (as it's called) is a lithographic film. It' s intended purpose is to reproduce line art, blacks and whites with little tonal range.
It is an extremely fine grained film, so fine grained that no commercially available lens can fully utilize the resolving power of the emulsion (over 300 lines per millimeter). Although it's a lithographic film, with careful development using specialized chemical formulations (I recommend Photographer's Formulary TD-3), it can be used for more artistic purposes.
When properly exposed and developed, Tech Pan's results are absolutely breathtaking - prints with striking contrast, smooth tonality, and no perceptible grain. It's superfine grain also means a 35mm negative is capable of making much larger prints than other black and white films.
The Digital Darkroom:
Although I still enjoy developing and printing photos in a traditional darkroom, the digital age has made it temptingly easy to bypass the wet process. My digital darkroom consists of an Epson 2450 scanner, Photoshop 6.0, and an Epson inkjet printer.
Photoshop is a powerful tool for photographers, and for that reason, there also seems to be a bit of controversy about how much Photoshop is too much. Photographers can now almost completely invent a photo from scratch.
I tend to be quite a purist. With almost no exception, I strive to use Photoshop as a tool that will render images just as they are rendered on the film. To an extent I' ll also use it as I would use the traditional techniques, like dodge and burn, that photographers have always used to make prints.
One thing I see being done all the time that particularly annoys me is the use of double images. When I see a moon on a cityscape that's half the size of the city, I think that just looks ridiculous.
In general my minimal corrections include adjusting any color casts, highlight and shadow detail, contrast, and sharpness. For the most part, if you see it on my prints, you can see it on my slide, and my slides show what I saw with my eyes.
But that's just my personal photographic credo. Some photographers use Photoshop very creatively, sometime intentionally obvious and sometime unintentionally, and with great skill to make striking and unique images. It' s all art and if someone enjoys it, then who is anyone else to criticize.
(c) Copyright 2003 Todd Adams