Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Redwood Acres Fair, June 2010

I just read a column by John Driscoll in the local newspaper the Times Standard. The theme was about hunting, hunters and technology. What I got from my read was that some hunter's needs to keep up with the latest gear and technology can, and often does usurp the essence and purity of their sport.

I know that it is true for photographers that we often get caught up in camera and gear shopping. It has always been so, but is very marked now in the ever-changing digital age.

For about twenty years I used an antique, and very flimsy Korona 4x5 view camera. The camera was wooden (maybe rosewood) with leather bellows. It had an extension rail, and would rack out a very long way. The lens was an Ektar 203mm f7.7 that had lots of coverage for all the camera's movements. The extreme movements that this camera was capable of allowed for me to take architectural and landscape shots that had correct perspectives. This camera was always attached to a heavy-duty tripod, and I don't think I ever took a hand-held shot with it. While using this camera I was almost always slow and deliberate in my compositions. The primary advantage of this old camera was that the negatives were a joy to print, and they were full of detail.

Sometime in the late eighties I bought a Mamiya 645 Super roll film camera. The negatives were considerably smaller than the 4x5, but the camera, with its detachable film backs, was more convent to use. Those backs (one for color and the other for B&W) were good for fifteen shots each. The quality of the images from this system were quite good. I often "hand-held" this camera, and because of the waist-level viewfinder, I became more creative and spontaneous with my compositions. The Mamiya however, did not allow for the use of swings and tilts like the Korona, and there were occasions where I really missed the ability to correct the perspective. The images from this camera did not have as much detail as the 4x5, but they were still very nice. I had two lenses and I mostly used the wide angle 45mm Mamiya which was superb for landscapes.

These were my main cameras from the mid seventies through the nineties. I always had a 35mm camera as well, and usually carried it in addition to the other systems. I don't know how many thousands of negatives and slides that I took in 35mm, but there are quite a few.

I really embraced digital photography in 2006 when I bought the Sony R1. I rediscovered the joy of shooting with this wonderful camera. I think the thing I most liked about using the Sony was that it felt like the Mamiya. The Sony has a very flexible LCD screen, and I often flipped it so that it was on top of the camera. In this position the camera operated like waist-level camera. This enabled me to get shots from a low perspective, and it also rotated so that I could get shots while holding the camera above my head. I must mention that the lens was downright superb. A 24-120 mm equivalent piece of glass that was really clean at all focal lengths. The camera was totally quiet. I took shots inside monasteries, and never did I intrude with a noisy shutter.

Ah, the shortcomings of the Sony: noise at anything above ISO 400, and no image stabilization. I never could figure out why the camera did not incorporate IS, but it did not. Because of this I often used the camera with a tripod, and this, at times, slowed down my spontaneity.

I will editorialize a bit and give my opinion about what I think Sony could have done to upgrade this camera. I think that the R1 with its great lens and rotating LCD was a great design. If Sony would have produced a R2 with the same lens, an upgraded LCD (that rotated the same), increased the resolution to at least 15mp, added IS and video they would have a very appealing camera, but they did not. I don't know why Sony dropped the design. I know that the R1 had some less than stellar reviews. It seems that some reviewers did not like the LCD's flexibility, and the camera's lack of an optical viewfinder. Anyhow, I would have bought the R2 that I described above if Sony would have made it - but they did not.

What this leads to is that last month I finally bought a new camera. My choice was made almost entirely on the lens that I intend to buy soon. I am trading the flexibility of the Sony R1/Mamiya 645 for some of the movements and resolution of the Korona. I bought a Canon 5d Mark II. I chose this camera because Canon makes two suburb tilt/shift lenses. These lenses and this camera (with its 21megapixiles) will allow me to make architectural and landscape shots with most of the advantages of the view camera, and the convenience of a 35mm camera. There are shots that the lenses will allow that none of previously mentioned systems could. I will soon acquire one of the TS lenses and share my discoveries here.

I have just started using the Canon, and I do miss the Sony's LCD, but for 95% of my shots this camera with its 24-105mm image-stabilized lens is really impressing me. I do believe that in this day and age, that technology does have its place, but that nothing will ever replace the need to just go out and take photographs.  I know that for me it is too easy to spend excessive amounts of time doing the  "shopping" part of the craft.