My cameras - Part II - 120

This week I will focus on medium format cameras. There will be probably a few more on the list comparing to described before 35mm. I realised pretty fast that 120 is the format I will work with and it’s much more capable qualitywise than 135. You make fewer photographs but much better, both technical and substantially. You work much slower with this particular medium but also with overall better thinking of what you are doing. 

Presented below photographs are quite random just to show you the quality you can achieve using particular camera. You can also click on each photograph to enlarge it a bit. 

 1. I started on budget without particular knowledge or experience with this format. And the first one was, of course, Holga 120 GN :) In January I dedicated an entire blog post to this beautiful camera so please have a look HERE.

2. In the meantime, I was using for a while quite interesting and also budget TLR from the 50s, Welta Reflekta II with Meritar 75mm f3.5 lens. I must say it’s a reliable and straightforward camera with decent image quality. It’s just enough for the price. Lens wide open gives heavy vignetting - otherwise, it’s OK. Still better than many 35mm cameras.  

3. One day I decided to get something serious. That decision made me buy a camera which stayed with me for a few years, and I am often thinking about getting it once again. A bit heavy and bulky but with extremely bright focusing screen, which makes it a pure pleasure to use. Image quality is lovely. This camera is also slightly more expensive, of course. But that’s for a reason. Mamiya C330 Profesional F with 80mm 2.8 lens (blue dot) - my first medium format camera, which was almost perfect in every aspect. Focusing on Mamiya cameras are based on bellows, which allows you to get very close to the photographed subject without any extra gear. Camera is equipt with very helpful parallax correction indicator. It is also the only TLR with interchangeable lenses. Beautiful. 

4. That wasn’t the end. GAS keeps playing with me… and I’ve got one of the best cameras I could get in medium format system. Hasselblad 500c/m with standard A12 back and 80mm f2.8 CF Planar lens. A fantastic camera with outstanding optics. That was it. There was nothing better I could get back then. Later I added to my bag Distagon 50mm f4 CF lens. Superb. That was my primary camera for almost a decade. Its versatility, quality and overall user experience is top of the top. The only issue is the fact that anything for this camera is super expensive comparing to other analogue systems. It works without significant problems forever, and it’s ageing very well. Price is justified then ;) 

5. I wanted to try another TLR but much smaller and more portable than Mamiya. That was Yashica Mat 124G with Yashinon 80mm 3.5 lens. Another beauty. Very light and easy to use. Ground glass much darker comparing to Mamiya but quite similar to the one I had in Hasselblad. Image quality is excellent. Of course, all is down to personal taste. 

6. Mamiya RB67 Pro S with 127mm f3.5 lens - another modular system. What can I say - I had this camera for a short period. Why? Well, we have to come back here to an essential thing I am sometimes mentioning - each of us using cameras differently and for various type of photography. I am shooting on the streets most of the time. I am using a bicycle, or I am walking when I have to move from place to place. Considering all the above, RB is impossible to use. It’s a tank. Big and heavy. At the same time, there are pros as well. It’s another versatile system. Much cheaper compared to Hasselblad. It gives outstanding image quality. Negatives from this tank are huge and perfect (of course when properly exposed;) ). 6x7 is a beautiful aspect ratio but back then was somehow odd for me. I am devoted to the 6x6. 

7. What’s next? A long time ago I had also for a couple of weeks only small Agfa box camera 6x9. Very odd thing and strange to use if you want image properly framed at the same time it’s tiny, simple and very portable. I won’t talk here about optics as it doesn’t matter. I can’t see it personally being used for anything serious. I might be wrong. 

8. There was a Zero 2000 as well - beautiful 6x6 pinhole camera. I also mentioned it in one of the previous posts. Please have a look HERE

9. And another pinhole - Holga WPC 120 … 6x12!

10. Sometime later I’ve got the same format Holga Pan 120 (6x12) but with the lens. This one gave a heavy vignetting until I used a file to flatten part of the lens housing. After that, it was a fantastic camera.

11. After all these years, I ended up with Rolleiflex T as one of my main cameras. I was considering a more expensive model with an f2.8 Planar lens, but in the end, I found out that it doesn’t make sense. I am using this camera mostly at f11 to f22 photographing architecture or landscape, and it is perfect. It’s compact, lightweight with bright enough ground glass and fantastic optics. I can shoot with it even 1/30s handheld. What else do I need? Nothing. This camera fulfils my expectation in every aspect. I had a chance to shoot portraits with it twice with wide-open lens and it is excellent. It also over 30% lighter than my previous workhorse - Hasselblad. 

12. Another camera I am using recently is also described some time ago in a different blog article - Fucjica GS645w. This one is for wide-angle shots as it comes with razor-sharp EBC Fujinon 45mm f5.6 lens. Perfect for landscape and architecture. It’s very compact, zone focusing camera which makes it an ideal point and shoot medium format tool. Aspect ratio is quite close to 4x5, which I like a lot beside the favourite 6x6. 

Is that all in 120?  Well, there was Russian folder Iskra and handmade field camera with 6x9 back. Iskra wasn’t mine and I’ve shot only 3 rolls with it (Very nice camera by the way). Field camera was too short with me to justify its real potential. So that’s all for now…  but I can’t guaranty that I won’t get anything else at some stage sooner or later. GAS… 

Soon part III and 4x5…

Thank you!   

My cameras - Part I - 35mm


Most of us photographers experienced GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) at some stage, an incurable (sometimes) ‘disease’. It is even more dangerous in case of those working with analogue equipment. Variety of cameras, formats, matching optics. It’s insane and very often attracts one’s attention, especially at the beginning of the photographic adventure (and further on as well, unfortunately)

Of course, equipment is not the most critical part, but it does matter. Your vision and ideas are the crucial elements leading to your fulfilment. Once you find the right tool, however, It will help to express your imagination on so much higher level. It also often opens new possibilities and makes you discover new ways of work and at the same time, new ideas. The one who never tries will never understand. That’s the fact.

In the post a few weeks ago, I was talking about the way I was discovering my photographic language, and when it turned up that first of all film, not digital photography is the way to go for me. 

Then my way of searching for the right tool - a camera. Which one? 

Initially, I started with a 35mm - relatively short but repeated period. I understood pretty fast that I need a bigger format. 120 was the way to go. Especially 6x6 which for some reason happened to be the most suitable format for my type of photography and the way I prefer to frame the world. 

Then I wanted occasionally to go bigger and slower. 4x5. That was my limit so far even if I had (and still have from time to time) crazy idea of going further.

After many years of using various cameras, I have now only the necessary tools to express my vision. I realised that I am settled at last. 

But is it for sure? I don’t know.

I still have a feeling, inner voice telling me that there is something special waiting for me - some unique camera which will turn everything upside down and will open magic doors to a completely different world of creativity. Echos of GAS I’d say ;)  

Above experience and also questions I am getting from time to time from my students or colleagues - ‘which camera should I use?’, ‘which camera were you using for this or that?’ made me think about making a sort of summary. I will try to list and describe only briefly every film camera I used over the last ten years. Not necessary chronologically. Just my experience of using it and samples of photographs made with them.

I hope I remember all of it. 

To make everything easy to go through, I will divide it into probably three or four separate posts with different formats.

I will skip my pre-digital use of film cameras. I simply don’t remember which models I had or what lenses. 

Today 35mm …

1. FED 3 type B with Industar-26M 50mm f2.8. Soviet-era fully manual rangefinder introduced in 1961. Easy to use with excellent optics and low price tag. Industar 26m delivered high quality, sharp images with a lot of character. When I saw the first photographs out of it, I knew I was on the right way looking for a proper camera. 

But Fed 3 wasn’t the one. Not yet. Its relatively small viewfinder made focusing and framing a little bit awkward, especially when one wearing glasses. My model (maybe all of them) had a metal cogged eyepiece. After two rolls of film, I had to visit an optician to replace my scratched lenses.

2. A few years later, I’ve got an appetite for another rangefinder. This time I decided to get something newer and a bit more advanced - Yashica Electro 35 GSN. A beautiful camera with fixed, outstanding Yashinon 45mm f1.7 lens.

Yashica electro introduced in the mid-’60s was first electronically controlled camera, with an aperture priority ‘auto’ mode. Fast and reliable piece of equipment.

I had this camera twice :) 

3.  Nikon F5 - beast camera. Literally. Excellent in almost every technical aspect - bright and significant viewfinder, fast and reliable AF, very convenient grip. Film loading was swift. F5 was, however, way too heavy. Even with a small 50mm 1.8 lens. This camera weighs a tone. It’s not for everyone and certainly not for me.  

4.  Canon EOS 1 - another excellent and fast camera. Much smaller and more friendly than F5. I have to admit that I was mainly Canon user for many years in the digital world and only had a few Nikons for a year or so. In that case, it could also be the force of habit. But F5 was too heavy, and that’s the fact :) 

I was using it mainly with a 50mm 1.4 lens. Nice combo.

I can’t find scans from negatives exposed with EOS 1, but the next camera was used with the same lenses so photographs would be no difference in the look and quality of images.

5. Canon EOS 3 - that was my last AF film camera. I realised that I much more prefer manual focus over AF when working with film. Of course, one can switch on to the manual mode, but it is not the same. Natively manual cameras work entirely different, and in such case, manual focus is a different experience.

EOS 3 is a unique camera. 45-point autofocus system and introduced earlier in EOS 5 a refined version of the Eye-Control system.

It was the lightest of all 3 SLRs with AF I was using. Also the nicest of them all :)

Usually, I had a 50/1.4, 35/2 or 100/2 lens in the front of it. Once happened that I had a 70-200/4. 

6. Here comes another camera (Id’s say in the meantime of my AF period) and that once was my favourite of all I had so far. I had this camera twice, and I won’t be surprised if I will get it once again at some stage in the future.

Canon A-1 - Small, comfortable camera with some automation (AV/TV) and with a fantastic Canon FD optics. I had two lenses with each of them, 50/1.8 and later 50/1.4. Both were incredible performers rendering images uniquely. I don’t remember any other 35mm camera/optics combo which gave me photographs I had such pleasure to look at. 

7. Minolta SR-T 101 with Rokkor PF 58mm 1.4. Lovely, fully mechanical camera with very bright viewfinder and TTL introduced by Minolta in 1966. These and also superb optics made it a pure pleasure to use… for a short while. Again - I was trying these small SLRs, but in the end, they were gathering dust. 

8. The last one on the list is Vivitar IC100 - It’s the only one I still have on my shelf.  

IC 100 is an entirely plastic, point and shoot camera with a focus-free (also plastic) lens which apparently may give surprisingly good results depending on the lighting condition.

The beauty of such a ‘toy camera’ is the fact that it is weight next to nothing and fits in even the smallest pocket. Its quality and value are similar to disposable cameras, so you can go anywhere without worrying about losing it or breaking.  

If this were my priority, I would go for something more sophisticated. There are thousands of similar sizewise cameras on the market. Most of them much better than IC100. Not even saying about hi quality but also pricey ones like Rollei 35 series, Olympus XA or Mju or other. The possibilities are endless.

If I had to choose one from all the above, It would probably be Canon A-1. If rangefinder - FED. These two deliver images with a character and unique for each of them look. It’s an essential factor for me. Speed is irrelevant.

Also, it looks like I will be up for hunting another 35mm camera soon.

It will have to be something small and preferably mechanical. I just got from a friend of mine a bag of expired, but excellent 35mm films and I can’t wait to use them. I think I am mature enough to reconsider such a small format as an alternative (in some cases) in my creative process, especially if I appreciate more and more small and light cameras.

Next week I will make a list of all medium format equipment I was using.

In the meantime, I am happy to answer any questions about listed cameras or their alternatives… If I will be able to ;)  And remember - we all use cameras for different types/styles of photography; thus, our experience and requirements may be completely different. 

But once you find the right tool - focus on your creativity and make the most out of it. GAS may still, however, keep waiting over the corner to hit unexpectedly ;)

Contact prints without enlarger - part II - negative film

In the previous blog post, I wrote a few words about contact printing without an enlarger using paper negatives. It works perfectly.
This time I focused on standard negatives to see how different the process itself is.
The list of required elements remains the same except printed material so that I won't repeat here. 

Negative film lets the light through much faster rather than paper, so exposure is much shorter. I didn't expect, however, such a difference.
Initial test strip showed that about 3-4 seconds is already too much. Another thing which surprised me was the fact that even a slight change in position of the printed paper will affect exposure time. First print gave an utterly black paper anyway.

Shortening exposure didn't bring anything to the process, so the last step was to extend the distance in between light source and print. I took away a small plastic chair I was printing on and moved the paper to the floor - further 30cm down.
Now everything has started to work.

I got a first prints which can indicate another step - longer exposure - two, three or four seconds. Clearly, even split of a second makes a difference, but I work without any possibility to measure the time precisely, so it's hit-and-miss.
And that's why it is all such fun. The trick is to work with what available without any extra investment and keep testing. I am sure more consistent results will come with experience.

I discovered another element which makes it all more complicated - something I will have to change soon to be able to predict somehow further steps - the bulb. Halogen bulb (E14 7W), when switched on, doesn't give a full power light at the beginning. It starts to shine properly after a second or so.
I managed to fix this problem temporarily by covering it with cardboard which I took away when the bulb gave a full power light. It's not a big deal. Jut another unnecessary step.
I need a standard, low power bulb. 

Final print with a little bit of dodging and burning at the end. Three seconds exposure and then extra 1-2 seconds for the sky only. 

I really like what I got here.

Going further, I decided to use a different negative. An old portrait of my daughter I made many years ago. 

A few quick tests following previous results. One second, two seconds, four seconds… 

This one was much easier. Probably slightly below 4 seconds would give better results but just after this print I broke my glass sheet, so this is the end of tests until I will get a new one… next week ;) 

Conclusion? I am delighted with the results of both tests. I still think, however, that using paper negative for this particular process makes more sense rather than standard one. Paper gives a specific look of the final image and allows more flexibility in manual postprocessing. Especially timewise. It is also an excellent alternative for direct positive paper. 

Thank you!

Using Format