Sunday, July 20, 2008


I see all kinds of things passed around on the net as facts, whereas they are really opinions. Sometimes there are such blatant misconceptions in photographic forums, that I wish I could throw an Argus brick (C-3) at the posters. Some gems go like this:
"I need a pro camera so I can take better photos"
"I want to sell my (insert camera system here) and get a ____ SLR, so I can take better photos"
"Old lenses are not as good as the modern lenses"
"I need to buy a Nikon D200 because I want to do portraits and weddings, and if I use my D40, people will think I'm not a pro"
"I need to go and spend about a grand so that I have the lights, etc. I need for portraits."

and the list goes on... People looking to upgrade their equipment thinking that it will improve their photographs. Of course, the camera companies would have you believe that this endless treadmill of upgrading WILL improve your photos. All things being equal -- the Nikkormat bought in 1973 is as capable of taking great photos as the Nikon F6. Of course, the newer cameras will have features that were unheard of back then. The microcomputers running in these new cameras are fantastic -- you should never have a badly exposed image again. However... hear me out. Just because someone has the newest camera body and lenses, does not mean that their photos will be "better." Composition, subject matter, aesthetics, meaningfulness, relevancy, artistry, colors, tonal values, etc., are issues that come from the photographer, not the camera.

OK, to the heart of this post --

This entry came about when I was looking through 5 rolls of processed black and white negatives on my light table, and had scanned some of them in already and viewed them on my monitor. I wasn't in the least bit surprised that they came out so well, considering that I was using the following:

A 30-something year old Nikon FE that I bought for less than $50 on ebay, and a 40+ year old Nikon 85mm f/1.8 Nikkor lens that I bought used in 2003. The film was Agfa APX 100, developed in Rodinal, 1:25.

What was I shooting? Actually, it was whom I was shooting. My friend Kelley posed for me in my backyard for a couple of hours and I think I came away with pretty nice images. What myth did I dispel? Well, for one, the Nikon FE is getting old, as SLRs go these days, and this one is kind of beat up outside. It works well, though, and the metering is really accurate. So, it is nowhere near a "pro-looking" camera. The lens came from a sale at the UM Photoservices in 2003, as they were selling off a lot of older equipment in their transition to a digital workflow. That 85mm 1.8 lens is a wonderful portrait lens, and I snapped it up. You can see it has had so much studio use that the paint is worn off the barrel. You will also notice I have the matching lens hood. IMPORTANT. A lens hood on that lens is a great idea. Everyone should use lens hoods more often. I was shooting outdoors, so I didn't need lighting -- just some reflectors.

My shooting style for portraits is to crop in the viewfinder, so generally, my portraits fill the frame. I also like using natural light, but will use lights when I need to. Using the Nikon FE (it could be any manual focus Nikon, for that matter) with the 85mm lens is such a different experience than using my D70s. For one, the image is brighter, larger, and easier for me to see. Two, it's just shutter speed and aperture and the meter. No other things to worry about except posing and making sure all the elements you want are in the shot.

So, let's see. Can you tell if these were made with a "pro" or "amateur" camera? Of course not. If you have an image in a magazine, hanging on a wall, or in a book -- nobody will care what camera you used (if they are not some camera geek). Neither will your client - if the images meet his/her expectations. So, my advice is to shoot, shoot, shoot, and learn. You can ask all you want about what lens to buy, and so on, but you have to use them! You'll soon figure out what works for you. At some point, you will realize that your camera doesn't matter. It's your eye and experience that provide better photos, not the newest wonder from Nikon, Canon, or Pentax, etc.

Oh, one last comment about the "pro" thing. How you conduct yourself, how you deal with the assignment, and the results you deliver will have far more bearing on how people perceive you than what camera you have in your hand.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Argus C-4 and a show in the works

Of all the Argus cameras that I own, one particular model still gets used by me a few times a year -- the Argus C-4. Despite the lack of removable lenses (not necessarily a deteriment, and the Geiss-modified C-4 did allow that), and a limited range of shutter speeds (only B, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/300) - the C-4 is a very usable camera, and looks quite elegant compared to the old workhorse, the Argus C-3.
Argus 5th

The camera pictured above is one that I bought about 8 years ago, and was one of my very first Argus camera purchases. I have shot with it in quite a few places, and it is a pretty reliable camera. Of course, I have more than one -- my other user C-4 was purchased a few years ago at an estate sale in Ann Arbor. It was given to the owner by his wife as a Christmas gift, and she worked for Argus. So, that makes that particular camera a little special in terms of history. A few weeks ago, I packed the first camera for a trip to Munising, and then to Burt Lake and to Cross Village for Photostock 2008 (see previous post). There was a roll of TechPan in it - at least that was what the label on the top of the camera indicated. So, I finished off the roll of TechPan at AuTrain falls, figuring the slower speed film would allow me to get some better photos of blurred water. Imagine my surprise when I developed the film the other night and saw negatives from the last time I shot with that camera --- Nebraska, 2003! Argus #2 must have been getting most of the workouts in the past few years.
Conestoga Wagon, circa 2003
From Carhenge, Alliance, Nebraska, July 2003.

My other use for the camera was to reshoot the old lighthouse ruins at Cheboygan State Park. I shot it in 200o or 2001 with the C-4, and wondered if a few years more experience might provide me with different images. I'd like to think the second time was better, but the mosquitoes there were just fierce. So, it was a battle to get the images I wanted. This one is okay, but nothing special - blame the mosquitoes.


My best shots with the C-4 from the trip were at AuTrain Falls:
Autrain Falls

The rest of the title for this post refers to the fact that the Ann Arbor Area Crappy Camera Club will be showing a series of images taken with Argus cameras, in memory of our friend George O'Neal, who passed away last August. The title: Vintage Cameras - Contemporary Images. The show will open in mid-September at the Argus Museum in Ann Arbor. I will be posting more about it later.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Photostock 2008 - Fun Time in the Woods

I had hoped to have had this posted a few days earlier, but I'd also hoped to have more of my film developed by now. Last Wednesday, I was up north at Bill Schwab's place near Cross Village for Photostock 2008 -- a gathering of photographers, mostly all of which are members of the Analog Photography User's Group (APUG) on the web. Bill has been offering some interesting wet-plate workshops, and his collodion workshop preceded the gathering. I arrived for Photostock on the 25, and had a great time meeting a lot of photographers. I only knew a couple previously, and a few I knew by their APUG names, but still, it took me the whole 4 days to associate names with most of the people -- as there were around 30 at any given day. I camped out at Bill's woodlot, as did a few others, and it was pretty darn nice to wake up to the birds in the woods in the morning, make some coffee, and think about little but photography for several days.

Marc Akemann and I teamed up for our excursions, and we got along really well - he's an excellent and very dedicated film shooter, and like me, shoots a lot of 35mm and some medium format. Probably the worst combo would be a large format and a 35mm shooter, since our approaches are so different. We had a great time going down to Sleeping bear Dunes on the Thursday and finding lots to occupy our time -- especially the ghost forest, which was the purpose of the trip. Driving around and photographing anywhere in that part of Michigan virtually guarantees that the trip will be lengthy, and we shot until after sunset.

In the evenings, we viewed other photographers' portfolios, and it was a real eye-opener. There are some really talented photographers out there and most of us don't see their work. From 35mm to Cirkut cameras (a specialized panoramic camera), the quality of work was astounding. It also made me realize that I need to get my ass in the darkroom and start printing. A LOT.

The relaxed atmosphere and sharing spirit of the Photostock was really refreshing, and getting out into the area and shooting so much film (over 20 rolls) was very rewarding. I've just processed a few rolls already, and the shots from the Ghost Forest on TechPan look excellent and surreal. I had a great time partnering with Marc, and made a new friend or two during those 4 days.