Yep. Gear Acquisition Syndrome is peaking dangerously in the first world. The moths are circling the flickering flame called Photokina, the biannual high temple of photographic consumerism and gear lust. Fur is flying on the internet fora, as photo geeks of all sizes descriptions hurl invective at each other over the champions they are backing from the Houses of Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Fuji, Sony, Ricoh et al. More well-off photo geeks are disdainfully ignoring these champions of Hoi Polloi and are (with dangerous courtesy) debating the merits of Leica, Alpa, PhaseOne, Hasselblad.
It’s kind of entertaining to watch, especially when compared with Work, but after a week of using just a humble little Minox 35ML (and realising that focus and aperture ring markings were meant for eyes less, er, mature than mine), and having lots of fun with it, I can’t really get all that excited about all these latest electronic marketing iterations. I’ve also just cast off quite a large amount of digital gear, in the biggest sell-off I’ve ever done.
Oh, but I’m not immune to G.A.S. It’s just in my case it’s getting seriously, but seriously twisted.
This, above, is basically a very heavy, very solid metal box to which a lens board is screwed. The lens board features a stone-age Copal shutter and a lovely, but equally stone age Schneider lens. On top of the box is a film winder, and a film counter - well sort of, actually it’s a dial you have to remember to set for yourself. And perched on top of it is an accessory viewfinder which is of legendary quality. The lens is vertically offset from centre by 8mm (“8mm permanent shift”) which sounds crazy but would make a deal of sense to most dedicated wide-format photographers (I don’t much care for “panoramic”, it doesn’t mean the same thing). Oh, and you can pull the back off and drop in a roll of 120 film, assuming you can find one. Oh, and one last thing. A price tag that would make fellow Teutons Leica gasp in amazement.
Meet the Linhof Technorama 612PC II, the device of my dreams.
I don’t want one of these just for the sake of it, but rather because the 612 “cinemascope” frame is absolutely natural to me. I confirmed my hunch about this with my ill-fated experiment with the Belair X 6-12, and recently with the iPhone application 645Pro. Although I dearly love my XPan, sometimes, often even, it’s too wide. Sure, you can crop, but cropping an XPan frame down to a 2:1 ratio loses a lot of area, and on 35mm film it’s getting borderline for biggish prints. For the same reason, the 617 cameras don’t appeal that much.
I first discovered the existence of the 612 format through New Zealand photographer Andris Apse’s work. There aren’t actually many practitioners of the format to be found. Sure, there are gear geeks on Flickr who’ll pick up anything and run a few rolls of expired C41 film through it, photographing whatever and thing it’s art. But very few people have made the form their own (a recent exception I discovered is Alberto Bregani, whose mountain B&W work is quite gorgeous).
Anyway, there’s no way in this life I’m going to find nearly $10,000 to buy one of these new. But with my recent gear recycling, I’m dangerously close to having freed up enough cash to get one of the few on offer on eBay (actually, not so long ago I missed an absolute bargain there).
Yes, but. It takes 120 film. The only 120 reversal film still produced is Provia 100F (actually pretty good) and Velvia 100 (not my thing, really). It’s far too heavy to consider taking on my rare but vital polar trips, especially after I swore blind I was going to just take a point-and-shoot after my last trip. It is absurdly expensive. And really, unless I get off my backside and start actually promoting and displaying my photography, it’s total overkill. I’ve got the XPan. I can do stitching (I was a very early adopter of pinheads, back around ‘95). I could buy one of those mega Sony A7r thingies for the SAME MONEY, for heaven’s sake. And yet, finally, it all gets pretty meaningless, taking photos without much sense of direction or purpose.
And film ?? C’mon, digital blows it out of the water, surely ? Well, I’m not so sure. I just happened to dig out an B3 size folio album of prints I made from photos taken in Santorini and Naxos, back in 2002, on Provia 100F using XPan and Canon T90. I haven’t looked at these for ages, and I was really taken aback at the clarity and sense of form in the prints. Although the difference isn’t that huge, actually they look better than prints from digital (well, except from the Sigmas). It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and all the experts will tell me I’m nuts or making things up, but really, the results speak for themselves.
Clearly, I was born 15 years too late. I missed the glory years of wide format film, and maybe trying to get back to it now is tilting at one windmill too many, even for me. Maybe I should get back to the Photokina frenzy and inoculate myself against this craziness.
Meanwhile, I have actually finally made another decision and acquired some other new gear. More on that soon. It’s either going to have been a very good or a very bad idea. And it involves film.
Tomorrow evening we’re off for a long needed week of relaxation, in the very familiar surroundings of Sardinia. My initial thought was not to take any camera at all, because if I do I’ll feel under pressure to use it. Last year, also in Sardinia, I did get a few interesting shots, but by and large I’d probably have done better just to settle for the beach.
But, well, what I’ve ended up doing is I’ve decided to try something different. I’m getting a little jaded with digital cameras, even though the Olympus E-P5 is very nice, and the Sigma twins are fabulous when they’re having a good hair day, I just don’t feel like dragging all the paraphernalia of chargers and whatever with me.
So I bought some film.
I’ve never used Portra 400 before, but since sooner or later I’m going to need to move away from reversal film, I decided to give it a try. It gets a pretty good write up from all sorts of people. Hopefully it will be better than Ektar 100, which is a bit too Velvia for my tastes.
My earliest visits to Sardinia were film-only, so this is a bit of a nostalgia trip. Not decided yet if the XPan is coming along. I might just take the Minox. And maybe the XA, one with Porta, the other with Scala. E100G is reserved for the XPan.
There’s a lot of talk these days about the revival of film, and how film is better and just switching to film turns you into an instant mega-hip star photographer. Well, frankly, that’s utter bollocks. Back in those pre-digital years when everybody used film, was everybody a totally brilliant gifted photographer ? No, they weren’t. Most were crap. A far higher proportion than today were utterly hopeless. The instant feedback and accessibility of digital has had a huge impact of helping many, many people to become brilliant photographers. Most people who have “rediscovered” or just started using film are producing truly ghastly work, seemingly believing that drastic overexposure will turn any sow’s ear into a silk purse. Of course there are exceptions - many exceptions - but as a trend, it’s all more than a little hollow.
I’ve also just discovered and download a nice little iPhone app made by Kodak - remember them ? Anyway, it’s largely a bit of marketing fluff for Kodak film, but I’m all for that, and it is very pretty. I haven’t found the section on Kodachrome or Ektachrome yet though. It does include a location finder for approved development labs and film retailers. In my case, these (both of them) are 250km away, on the other side of the highest mountain range in Europe. No one said shooting film was getting easier.
(I can highly recommend Photo Studio 13 by the way. One of the very, very few labs that still process Agfa Scala)
A photographic post with a return to the topic of street photography (which I don’t do). Here I line up all sorts of obstacles for myself by first trying to do street photography, second using a camera which really is at it’s best on a tripod and used slowly, and third, using what was always an unconventional choice of film, and now is just plain flat-out eccentric, Agfa Scala monochrome E6 slide film (or indeed using film at all).
Agfa Scala is nominally rated at ISO200, but is designed to be used from 100 to 1600 depending on circumstances. The canisters are not DX-coded, so you need to set the speed yourself. I ran this roll at ISO800, as the XPan’s 45mm lens is relatively slow at f/4. Note, 45mm on an Xpan corresponds to a horizontal field of view around 28mm for a normal 35mm frame, so you need to get close.
It’s pretty easy to scan in Silverfast, using 16bit greyscale settings and auto-levels.
The results are, well, at best tentative, but it was an interesting experiment.
I don’t know about the rest of the world, but you can still buy the allegedly withdrawn Agfa Scala film from Fotomedia in Switzerland, who will also process it.
Although my most recent visit to Venice was, officially, under the auspices of Olympus UK’s OM-D workshop, I could hardly not take my XPan with me. So, before, and indeed during, the workshop, I sneakily grabbed a few frames using not only a non-Olympus camera, but even a non-digital camera!! The sky did not fall, however.
I think this is my favourite shot of from the couple of rolls I shot. It’s taken way, way away from the mainstream tourist traffic.
This, along with a few other panoramic masterpieces can be enjoyed in my recent work gallery. Go on, what else have you got to do for the next five minutes ?
And finally, for now: a wider view of Venice. The finale of my slightly more than a month-long series of series documenting my tiresome obsession with Venice draws to a conclusion with a set of wide angle shots. This I feel is my most incomplete series, and possibly my most rushed, as it draws only from one visit, last December. It’s not the most obvious location on the planet for this approach, especially if avoiding clichés is desired. So I’ve decided to let the clichés have their day.
All photos created using the Hasselblad XPan II with a mix of Kodak Ektachrome E100G and Fuji Provia 400X slide film. Processed using a steam-driven Babbage Engine.