Getting Back to Basics…

Just recently I’ve been thinking that I really should stop being such a lazy bastard, and actually get out and take some photos.  I’d been really enthusiastic about photography, right up until the time when my fantastic Mamiya 645 decided to stop working.  Since then, I’ve not really had the urge to go out and take photos.

It’s been nearly two years since my Mamiya stopped working, and even though I’ve got the service manuals, and have a rough idea of what’s wrong, and how to fix it, I just haven’t got around to fixing that damn camera.  Mind you, that’s partly because I’m kind of cautious about taking the camera apart, but I’m going to have to do it eventually.  Still, having one camera out of action is a pretty crappy excuse for not taking any photos.

So, anyway, my interest in photography has been rekindled of late, thanks to a couple of my co-workers buying new digital cameras.  My fiancé and I have also been thinking about buying a new camera, with the ability to shoot HD video, so I’ve been looking around for what’s new these days.  After a bit of Googling, it pretty much became clear that the choice was down to Nikon or Canon.

I’ve not used Nikon cameras before, but I’ve used several Canons over the years, and haven’t had any complaints, so the decision has been pretty much made to go with a Canon of some description.  Of course, now the tricky question is which specific camera to buy.  It came down to 3 options, basic digital SLR, advanced dSLR, or advanced full-frame dSLR.

Given that we’re wanting this camera more for video, and I’ll be using it for stills as a bonus, the choice seemed fairly obvious.  The Canon 60D seems to get glowing reviews for people wanting to use it for video.  Of course, I would have liked to go for the 5D Mk II, but the extra $2000 it cost put it way out of reach.

In the course of looking at accessories, I got pointed towards Ken Rockwell’s site, where he reviews cameras and lenses, among other things.  With the aid of his reviews of Canon’s EF series of lenses, I managed to save myself several hundred dollars by picking the best lens for the camera, rather than just the best lens that Canon make.

While I was browsing the site, I found a wealth of information about photography in general.  My attention was grabbed by Ken’s repeated insistence that cameras have very little to do with the quality of any photograph, and that the major influence on whether a photograph will be good or not is all down to the photographer’s vision.  Several times he’s made the point that current cameras are actually making it herder to take good photos, what with all their bells and whistles.

One piece of advice was to limit the amount of gear you take with you, rather than lug several zoom lenses around, Ken suggests just taking one or two fixed lenses.  It seemed like a good exercise in making myself look for good photos, rather than just snapping haphazardly, as I have tended to do in the past.  At the same time, I’ve also just retrieved my collection of film from my parent’s fridge, a year and a half after moving out.

So, it seemed like a good time to start messing around with photography again.  I’ve taken Ken’s advice to heart, and gone for the simplest piece of kit I can lay my hands on, my venerable Agfa Clack.  The Clack was manufactured in the late 50s to mid 60s, so is around 50 years old now.  It has no aperture adjustment, a built in yellow filter for sunny days, one shutter speed and a B setting, and is designed to take ISO 50 black and white film.  I’ve tried colour reversal film in it quite successfully, but it does need a ND filter to work properly.

I’ve chosen to use some ISO 320 Kodak Tri-X Pan black and white film, as I’m able to develop that myself without any great trouble.  So, the challenge has been laid down.  I have a film with 12* 8 exposures , a camera with virtually no adjustments, and a neutral density filter to compensate for the fact that I’m using film with over 2 stops difference than what was intended for the camera.  Can I actually take some good photos with this thing?  I guess I’ll see…

* Whoops, apparently it’s been too long since I shot medium format film, and I’ve forgotten how many shots can be taken with each size…