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.