Sunday, April 28, 2019

Playing With A "Toy" Camera

Buy one here.
Busman's Holiday: Sometimes it is nice to shake off the constraints associated with making a photograph. Composition, ISO selection, lens focal length, and color balance all contribute to the making of a good image, but may just get in the way when all you want is a simple "in the moment" image. I remember when I brought my first digital camera, a 3 megapixel, $300.00 Pentax Point and Shoot, to a Rendezvous* more than ten years ago. With no manual controls, I was pretty much at the mercy of the tiny computer chip that governed focus and exposure, and yet these images have become treasured keepsakes of my adventures in "the high lonesome".

Rendezvous Season Arrives: For a lark, I chose my Fuji X70 to be this year's companion camera. It has face detection autofocus, a compact design, and was fully adjustable should the situation dictate. It also has an APS sensor, a reticulated LCD display for waist level and overhead shots, and a native lens that was the full frame equivalent of a 28mm 2.8 lens. In nearly all respects, it's the camera I hoped my Nikon Cool Pix A would have been, but wasn't. While equally compact, the Nikon just didn't have the feature set I have come to expect from a camera, and its quirky performance became something of an annoyance throughout the years I owned it. Luckily, I didn't pay full price for it, as it was obscenely expensive when it first came out.

View photo source here.
Eye Level Viewfinder: I have plenty of experience with waist level and over-the-head perspectives, courtesy of  the Mamaya twin lens reflex (TLR)  that was my first serious film camera. What the TLR camera lacks is a convenient eye level viewing option. For a generation of photographers holding their camera phones at arms length between the photographer and the subject, the need for an eye level optical viewfinder might seem a quaint throwback, I beg to differ, as some photos demand the immediacy provided by this "you were there" perspective. Also, making "on your face" contact with the camera helps to steady things when shooting indoors with longer exposure times. So in spite of the pundits screaming "Don't waste your money" I decided to buy a dedicated Fuji optical finder. I found one on EBay. I paid about 60% of the retail price, and while expensive, it is bright, clear, and had frame lines for the native lens and for the wider (21mm equivalent) view afforded by the Fuji dedicated wide angle adapter, which I also bought.

Built-in flash used. Auto exposure mode, with both flash and ambient exposures set to minus 1/3 stop.
Rendezvous At Mary Hill: This shot was taken using the reticulated display, affording me a waist-level perspective that would minimize the distraction of a 21st Century background while emphasizing the fluffy clouds in the sky. 

Built-in flash used. Auto exposure mode, with both flash and ambient exposures set to minus 1/3 stop.
Larry's Primitive Camp: In keeping with the 1830's theme, ones campsite should reflect the technology of the period. No pop-tents here, just a simple canvas lean-to held up with wooden poles and natural fiber rope. A single blanket would have been all the bedding available to a woodsman of the time. Since there were restrictions on open fires, Larry didn't dig a traditional fire pit, and didn't unpack any period correct cooking implements. His primitive camp won the Best Primitive Camp Award, but there wasn't any competition, since nobody else took the time to set one up.

Built-in flash used. Auto exposure mode, with both flash and ambient exposures set to minus 1/3 stop.
Shooting Flintlocks: Modern firearms produced very little "gunsmoke" but in the 19th century, there was plenty of it. Unfortunately, the lovely clouds in the background hide the smoke and flash associated with shooting a traditional flintlock long rifle. This photo was the best compromise of composition and light placement, and overall, not a bad image.

0.6 second, ISO 200, F 5.6, exposure adjusted in post production
Tom's Camp: My idea of "roughing it" is a bathroom without a tub. This is the view from in front of my room. The photo was made with the camera resting on the open door of my car. Again, the exposure was determined by the camera, and once again, the Fuji  appears to have made a good call regarding exposure and white balance. The evening moon can be seen peeking out from behind the low cloud cover.

As you can tell, I do love the outdoor life, and I'm falling more in love with my Fuji X70.

*"Rendezvous" is a re-enactment set in the heyday of the fur trade prior to 1838. With beaver pelts in high demand for felt hats, adventurers would venture into the mountains for months at a time, trapping the wily beaver, and bringing their pelts to an annual "rendezvous" with traders from the east for the purpose of exchanging them for essential items like flour, traps, and of course, whiskey. Unlike Civil War reenactments, this is not a spectator sport, and is not based on a specific historical event.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Back To Basics: Assembling My Kit

My last "Back To Basics" post covered the selection of equipment typical of what photojournalists 
working in the 1970's might have carried. The requirements were adjusted to accommodate the new digital technology, and appropriate adjustments made to lens selection and other equipment requirements. Nearly all of the pieces for this minimized kit have been identified, and the final camera-specific inventory includes:
  • A Fuji X100 with a  WCL-X100 Wide-Angle Conversion Lens attached,
  • A 27 mm F 2.8 "pancake" prime lens, and
  • A Fuji X-E1 body with a 50 mm F 2.0 WR prime lens.
This gives me four possible (35mm equivalent) focal length lenses: a 28 mm F 2.0, a 35 mm F 2.0, a 43 mm F 2.8, and a 75 mm F 2.0. Also, I have flash synchronization at all speeds in both 28 and 35 mm lengths. Considering the relatively large maximum apertures available using these primes, I have enough lens options for shooting indoor assignments at relatively short distances.

Click here for image source.
In addition to a flash and some essential bits and bobs, all of this will fit neatly into my LowePro Photo Runner 100 (sorry, no longer available, but you may still find one somewhere). Fitting everything  safely within introduced some interesting problems, with some interesting solutions.

Storing The Wide Angle Conversion: In the unlikely event that I need to remove the converter from the front of my X100, I included a 49mm screw-in lens cap. It turns out that this will thread directly into the back end of the converter, and provide protection much more secure than the rubber, slip on cap supplied with the lens. For more details, click here.

Body Choice: In the field, I found  it confusing to switch between Fuji's two different body types (the offset eyepiece bodies like the X100, the X-E, and the X-Pro series vs. the SLR  patterned X-T series). Once when I was on an assignment, I made the mistake of carrying one of each body type, and found myself frequently bringing the camera to my eye only to find the eyepiece in the "wrong" place. Pairing the X100 with an X-E1 eliminates the confusion.

I gained 0.053" by sanding the rear lens cap.
Making It Fit: Initially, the pancake lens wouldn't fit in the storage box I selected. Reducing the height of the rear lens cap might allow lid to close fully, so I clamped a strip of emery cloth on a firm, smooth surface and spent a few minutes sanding off the tiny ridge on the base of the cap. This gave me a bit of additional clearance, but not enough to clear the center-pinch front lens cap. Shazbot.

New Front Lens Cap Needed: I could gain some additional clearance if I used a screw-in front lens cap. The more convenient center-pinch caps were just too thick, and the screw-in caps add very little addition height. I manged to find only one on-line retailer who had them. And m
ind you, I'm doing all of this so that the pancake lens will fit in a $2.00 plastic box purchased at TAP plastics. I suspect I've just elevated my status to Black Belt Uber-Nerd.

I haven't had the opportunity to take this minimized kit on an assignment, but feel confident that once it is fully filled out, I will be reasonably well prepared once I settle on a suitable flash.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Back To Basics, Circa 1970

ISBN-13: 978-0471256922
Great Reads From The 70's: Books have always been a great source of inspiration for my photographic pursuits. Moments Preserved by Irving Penn inspired me to experiment with studio lighting and still life composition. Later, The Viet Nam Photo Book by Mark Jury, along with the work of Life Magazine photographer Larry Burrows, helped me imagine myself as a battle-hardened war photographer. So much for the inspiration. Now all I had to do was develop the technique.

I found Milton Feinberg's  Techniques In Photojournalism in the stacks of the City College of San Francisco Library. If memory serves, I was the first student to check it out, and subjected it to many, many renewals. This was the photojournalist's lifestyle I was looking for, minus the danger.

35mm photography was experiencing its own growing pains. While the choice of the new generation of "concerned young photographers with expensive cameras and their just-so faded blue jeans"* was indeed the Nikon F, commercial photographers hadn't fully adopted the smaller format, relying on 2 1/4" roll film Hasselblads and Rolleiflexes with Norman or Stroboflex flashes for serious color wedding and location portraiture. To carry a 35mm camera on so important an assignment was to be branded a heretic.

From Anatomy Films. Click here.
News photographers were quicker to adopt the 35mm rangefinder, with the German Leica and Contax cameras providing convenient backup for the clumsy  Speed Graphics of the day. A suitably equipped camera bag included the camera itself, a dozen film holders, each the size of a slice of bread and capable of capturing two images each, and a pack of flash bulbs, each the size of an apricot. Needless to say, the reduction in weight and bulk afforded by a 35 mm "kit" was indeed welcomed.

From a post on Film Locations in London. Click here.
I am reminded of the minimalist aspect taken to an extreme. In this photo, a screen capture from the movie "Blowup", a photographer named Thomas (David Hemmings) returns to  his Rolls Royce convertible after completing a photo essay in a gritty men's shelter using only a Nikon F hidden in a paper bag. And if you don't believe me, watch the movie! Minimalism at its least.

Advance To 2019: Nearly 50 years later, I find myself looking for that minimalist approach to equipment when I'm positive I won't need an extreme telephoto or an ultra-wide angle lens. Outdoor location event shooting is a prime example. Lately, I've found that a Fuji X-100 with the wide angle adapter attached has proven adequate for fully 99% of my submitted images. But when on an assignment, I still need to have a backup camera, just in case something goes terribly wrong.

Mr. Feinberg's minimal kit, as echoed by Popular Photography's Bob Schwalberg, included two bodies and only two lenses: a fast 35 mm lens for general work and an 80 mm lens for tight head shots. Since my Fuji combination allowed me the equivalent of a 28 mm lens with, and a 35mm lens without the WCL-X100 adapter, I needed to add the equivalent of that 80mm lens just to stay with program. Until recently,  I had carried a second Fuji X100 with the TCL-X100 telephoto adapter semi-permanently mounted. This converted the camera's existing lens to a 50 mm equivalent, a painfully modest gain in focal length, considering the bulk it added to the otherwise compact X100. When used wide open, the images from this combination were disappointingly soft, so the combination was seldom used.

My solution was to purchase a Fuji X Mount 50mm F 2.0 WR lens. My reasoning was simple: I needed a companion WR (Weather Resistant) lens to accompany my 35mm WR lens should I be called upon to photograph under damp conditions. My choice made sense on many levels. When mounted on a WR body like my X-T2, I shall fear no mist though I walk in the valley of  drizzle. The lens is relatively compact, relatively fast, and certainly less bulky (and less dear) than my 56 mm F 1.2 lens.

Fuji X-E1 with 50mm F 2.0 lens (left) compared to an X100S with the TCL-X100 telephoto adapter.

You can see in this side by side comparison just how bulky the adapted X100, shown on  the right,  is when compared to the 50 mm F 2.0 WR mounted an X-E1 body, shown on the left. Based on size alone, the choice was a clear one, but while I solved the 75mm lens dilemma, another potential problem presented itself. concerning how one properly equips a wedding photographer. The author of a column written for Rangefinder Magazine stressed the importance of a backup camera system, not just a backup camera body or lens. If your primary camera should fail after the first photo is made, you should be able to complete the assignment using your backup camera, a "suitable" lens, a compatible flash, and enough film to complete the assignment if your primary and backup cameras don't share the same film format.

Order yours here.
Because it would be almost impossible to complete an indoor assignment with only a short telephoto lens, I will add my compact 27mm F 2.8 "pancake" lens to the kit in case my short-lensed X100 fails. Mounted on the XT-2 body, I'll have a 42 mm lens equivalent, a usable indoor focal length.  Its compact size should make it easy to tuck away in some unused corner of my camera bag, assuming I can find some way to ensure its safety in transit. I suspect that a small plastic box can be lined with foam and pressed into service, and when one is found, I'll do just that.

Content for the moment, I must now find a matching purse to carry my new ensemble.

*The "Concerned young photographers" quote came from an article in Popular Photography in the 1970's. It poked fun at the emergence of of the 35mm SLR as the trendy fashion accessory of the "hip" generation. Groovy.