Month: March 2010


The benefits of a large sensor become apparent here. Long exposure plus high ISO = noise on small sensors. Not with a full-frame as found in the Canon 5D. I just love shooting “available darkness”, especially with a great lens such as the 15mm. I got the creeps shooting from this spot, too many weirdo arrivals in cars looking for a hookup…

I had planned to make this a HDR, but car headlights on the dam wall were a problem, so I went for a single shot with what seemed to me to be a balance of exposure. It was so dark that I couldn’t see the bottom of the original frame through the viewfinder. Next time I will take a torch.

My images are dominated by three central principles when I get serious: (1) as Ernst Haas advised, “The best wide angle lens? Two steps backwards”, (2) the photojournalists adage of “f8 and be there….” and (3) visualise first, shoot second. The best camera is the one behind your eyes.

Canon 5D, 15mm fisheye, 30 seconds, f5, 400 ISO


Andrew David Same, in memorium, 1977

Shot on a Nikkor 50mm lens, with 125 ASA film, at f2. This is what available darkness is all about. Buy prime lens glass as fast as you can afford, and don’t make the mistake of ever selling them.

Lenses for darkness

Glass and metal -  a concerto in 3 parts -  M42 f1.4 Takumars

Ahh, the darkness, my photographic companion. My artistic soul cries out to shoot in the dark, to share what I see.

So, what makes it possible? High ISO ratings? Slow shutter speeds? Added light? Or perhaps high aperture lenses. The age of the ubiquitous zoom lens has made people numb to the possibilities that come from using a genuinely fast piece of glass, and so perhaps it is time to re-think possibilities over convenience?

My own arsenal shows I am no purist as I have plenty of zooms, a few of which are genuinely fast in their own right. Take for example the venerable Canon 20-35 mm f2.8 L lens – as fast a lens of this type as has been made. But it is slow when compared to a truly wide prime, such as the Canon 35mm f1.4 L – yes, f1.4. At full aperture, the prime lets in 4 times as much light, and also has far better IQ than the zoom, even at this outrageous speed. This means shots are possible at 1/30 sec – hand-holdable, instead of 1/8 sec @ f2.8, or worse still, 1/4 sec @ f4 on the typical kit zoom, which just about guarantees camera shale and ruined pictures.

If you are into the night, try out the 50mm f1.4, or perhaps the 50mm f1.2 (or if you are rich, the legendary f1 model), or how about the 85mm f1.4? And then what about the 135mm f2 prime, perhaps the sharpest lens Canon makes? My own holy trinity of fast glass is the glorious trio of the 35mm f1.4; the 50mm f1.4, and the 135mm f2. It works for me.

If you don’t want to spend too much, then buy a cheap adapter for your camera and try out some of these stellar lenses – any of the screw mount Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 series; the fabled 55mm f1.2 Tomioka (the “poor man’s Noctilux”); any of the older Canon / Nikon / Minolta f1.4 or even better f1.2 primes, or perhaps a Zeiss Planar f1.4 or a Summilux R (f1.4).

Fog (ii)

I have posted this image to bring in a little bit of colour so that it is not such a visual shock when I get around to posting some high colour work. This one combines dark and light, colour and monochrome and has (to me at least) a powerful geometry. Oh, and it was made with a fisheye.
It was made on an incredibly dark, foggy night that drew me out to try and capture the feelings I had experienced driving home in the fog. I felt drawn to the dam wall to try to capture the mystery, the yin & yang of darkness and light in the ethereal night.
EF 15mm fisheye, Canon 5D – I love this incredible camera, it has freed my vision. Most valued accessory – a Maglite 3 cell torch that doubles as a club on dark nights. A tripod is pretty useful too.

Ricoh 35 ZF

Following on from my earlier entry, you might be curious to know exactly what a Ricoh 35 ZF camera bought for $2 actually looks like. Well, here it is.

Like most cameras of its day, it needed new light seals (a messy job) and a battery swap (easy) to start working again.
It’s about the same size as the digital Pen, so it can be carried in a pocket, ready for those sneaky shots which the zone focus and auto-exposure is just perfect for.

I do prefer it’s near twin, the rangefinder-equipped 500G, but that’s another story. Keep watching.

Voigtlander Vitessa, Ultron 50mm f2

My modest collection of film cameras in the digital age began with a Ricoh 35 ZF zone focus rangefinder-lookalike for $2 at a local flea market many years ago.  Once spotted, it brought back memories of the great snaps I had taken on a similar true rangefinder, a Ricoh 500G, so I had to buy it. Of course, at the dawn of the digital age it sat at home, unused, in its case waiting to see the light of day when I had some film to put through it. Sadly this never happened.

Years went on by, and I developed a hankering, no, an outright promiscuous desire for a fast lens for my SLR. My searching ended with me possessing a Canon 50mm f1.2 Leica thread mount lens, hoping I could adapt it to use on my digital SLR body. No chance, as the flange distance demands were not going to ever allow this to happen without butchering the lens mount. A long re-think led me to decide that if I couldn’t do it digitally,  then I would shoot some film for the first time in years. Serendipitously, I acquired a Canon 7 35mm rangefinder body in beautiful condition, and so began my first taste of GAS – the awful gear acquisition syndrome. The low light images this combination can make is in my mind just about unbeatable – glorious, rich 35mm film images from the technology at the pinnacle of screw mount rangefinders. I reserved using it for personal work involving my family.

However, GAS had by now very firmly grabbed hold of my toe. Any time I passed a welfare shop I had to look inside and see if there were any unloved treasures waiting for me.  Which brings me to the subject of this post. I found a fantastic Voigtander Vitessa, a classic folding 35mm rangefinder with a bellows, sporting the fast, legendary and somewhat rare Voigtlander Ultron 50mm f2 lens. Most of these cameras were shipped with a Color Skopar f3.5 lens, a whole stop and a half slower than the Ultron. I got it with its original, blue-lined leather case for $10. For appreciators of camera pr0n, this is (I believe) the A3 model variant from 1950-54.

Many people believe that this camera is as well finished as any Leica, and it is absolutely beautiful in the flesh. Again, like the Ricoh that started this all, it’s still waiting on a film, but I do have a bit of luxury in the choices I have for film cameras, so I don’t need to rush. In fact I now think I will take it away for Easter instead of my M5 and Summicron v 4…

Infinite depth of field

This image explains why I have been searching for a small, pocketable camera – in other words, a point & shoot – that I can use as a snapshot device, but that has the possibility of isolating the subject from the rest of the photo. This could have been a great image if I had the luxury of selective focusing coupled to a narrow depth of field.

This image was shot with a Canon A720IS I picked up for almost nothing, and it produces reasonable, no, make that excellent images, considering the drawbacks that simply stem from small sensor physics. It also boasts 8 megapixels, a 6x optical zoom range, and in-lens image stabilisation, so it’s a goer in the specifications arms race. This image started as a JPEG, and has been treated with Topaz Adjust to sharpen it and increase the contrast, and then selectively toned to a B&W image. Imagine how it might have looked shot at say, f2.8 on 4/3 or bigger sensor.
Oh well.