Equipment


Some thoughts on equipment ....

Elsewhere on this site I suggest , more or less, that all photographers lie somewhere on a spectrum which has equipment freaks at one end and me at the other. Anyone asking me about equipment should have second thoughts, and quickly! There is some truth in this, but anyone spending a period of time taking pictures will build up ideas and preferences about the equipment they use and I'm actually no exception.

For many years I used 35mm film equipment, which I liked for its flexibility and portability, but my reliance on it probably held back my profile as a photographer. It sometimes seemed to me that picture editors could be seduced by the size of a piece of film, rather than the image on it; I often suspected that they aren't able to truly see the image on a 35mm slide. There are some superb photographers out there working on large and medium format equipment, but its use does not necessarily indicate a better photographer.


For a short while I did flirt with medium format, but I just didn't get on with it. I may have subconsciously connected using it with some personal problems I was having at the time. But as I was getting as much commissioned work then as I could cope with using 35mm, I decided to stay with what I knew. Velvia 50 is/was superb film and the quality of enlargements obtainable from it, both in litho and photographic printing, is/was astonishing.

From 1987 onwards I had been using a Contax system, with a succession of bodies including the RX, which was a real workhorse of a camera, and a small selection of superb Zeiss lenses. It didn't seem like an advantage at the time, but the launch of a new Zeiss lens or Contax body was a real event. One just tended to carry on otherwise - develop one's vision, perhaps - without being tempted by glittering new equipment.

Then along came digital, and I successfully ignored it for a few years. I supposed I hoped it would go away, or, more seriously, that it would never equal the quality of film. Contax introduced its only digital model, which never took off against competition from the big manufacturers. Shortly later the company went out of business altogether, which is a huge shame; doubly so because many people will now never use Contax gear and appreciate how good it really was.


What worried me about digital was that skills picked up over many years of using film would be rendered insignificant by the new technology. Newcomers with a modicum of photographic knowledge but an aptitude for using computer software would, I suspected, climb rapidly up the photographic pecking order, and nothing has persuaded me since that I was wrong. A beginner on a forum I belong to actually said that he'd been playing around with software for some time, and thought it was now about time he got a camera! Priorities!


I traded up to the Contax N film system around the same time, and the N1 was a superb camera. However auto-focus was a novelty to me and I just couldn't see the point of it! Call me a luddite if you like but it added complications such as having to re-focus the camera each time you zoomed in or out. With auto-focus switched off (my preference), this was a real pain. So I went back to the trusty manual-focus RX.


During summer 2005 I realised that the digital train had arrived, and that I should perhaps get on board. I plumped for a new Canon system based on the 20D, plus a simple film body as a back-up "in case of emergencies"!  Perhaps the Contax system had simply shaped my way of using a camera from Day One, but I found the switch from Contax film to Canon digital just too much to take. The instruction book for the 20D looked terrifying, and the ergonomics of the camera (and its film siblings) were horrible after the exquisite nature of the equipment I was used to.


So I returned to film, and got used to the Canon way of working with a second-hand EOS3 - a lot of camera by then for very little money. I used the 20D occasionally if I needed a fast turnaround or if I thought there would otherwise be a lot of wasted film. I carried on like that until August 2007 when the EOS3 needed repairs, and I had no choice really but to take the plunge into full time digital. I'm now using a 5D mk2. In 2012 I added a 7d to my kit to enable me to do more bird photography; it is capable of good results, but it is a noisy beast (picture-quality-wise) compared to the 5d2.


So I'm now on the digital treadmill. No need to buy film, of course, but I expect I'll need to update my camera and laptop every couple of years, begin accumulating hard drives, purchase and learn to use ever more complicated software, and to back-up, back-up and back-up even more. For me, though, the biggest disadvantage is being entirely dependent on the computer. Fine when it's working, but a nightmare when it's not. 


With film it seemed that the quality of the lenses was of paramount importance. It didn't seem necessary to have a top-end camera body on the end of them. I'm beginning to realise that with digital the body is equally important; I believed that my Canon 5D mk2 should be capable of medium format quality and the prints Andrew Jackson made for my exhibition "Wales at Waters Edge"  have shown that to be the case.

I'm an avid user of polarising filters. I once saw them described as "humble", but a polariser is so effective at improving one's images that "indispensable" might be a better adjective. I also use graduated neutral density filters; a one-stop "hard" grad, for example, is very effective at holding back skies without its use being detectable.
I have never used warming filters, nor do I find that warm "golden hour" light necessarily improves the landscape. Heresy!


I use a tripod, of course; I use a Gitzo Explorer, which seems to have all the flexibility of the Benbo . I also use a little carbon fibre Gitzo model on longer walks in the hills when it's desirable to keep the weight down. While most equipment is a matter of personal taste, I make an exception in highly recommending the Novoflex Magicball tripod head, which has amazing flexibility, makes quick-release plates unnecessary and is quite light in weight. I have one on each tripod, and I genuinely don't understand why other photographers don't use them.


So there we have it. For someone not really interested in equipment, I suppose I have quite a lot to say!