I first got into photography at the age of 12 in 1962 when I was
introduced to the subject by a teacher at school who ran a photographic
society. I can't remember receiving too much instruction but a group of
us got together and tried B&W development in the school's dark
room. I was hooked from the word go, what a magical process!
I can't now recall the first camera that I used but I guess that it was
a Kodak Brownie 127 borrowed from my parents, as I still have some
dreadful 127 negatives and remember the name Brownie.
Clearly I needed to buy a better camera. A friend's uncle was a keen
amateur photographer and he passed on the intelligence that the Halina
Paulette 35mm camera was a good starting point for people on a very
so one came my way. I don't recall if this was a Xmas present, or
if I saved up my pocket money, but it provided me with a real, if
rather poor, camera with adjustable shutter speeds and apertures. With
the benefit of hindsight I might have been better off with a
second hand camera of a different type, for example a folding Agfa.
Later, while still at school, I started work as a barman at a local
working man's club and that enabled me to save up for a single lens
reflex (SLR) camera. At that time there were three main contenders at
economy end of the scale, the Praktica, the Zenith and the Exa, all
from the former Eastern block soviet countries. Looking back, the
Zenith probably had the best lens (6 element, a copy of the Zeiss
planar) but I went for the f2.8 Zeiss Tessar on the Exa 500, later
supplemented by a Meyer Lydith 30 mm and a Hanimex 135 mm telephoto.
The Exa was not a great camera but the Tessar was a reasonable lens.
Well stopped down it delivered the goods. In cold weather, and I always
seemed to be taking photos in cold conditions, the mirror would jam in
the up position. The cure was to give the camera a good smack across
the pentaprism! Despite its shortcomings, the camera served me well for
a number of years.
My next purchase was perhaps a more sensible one, a 1957 vintage
Rolleicord 120 roll film camera for £25. This provided a quantum
leap in photo
quality. The lens, a
Schneider Xenar, was a four element Tessar type similar to the standard
lens on my Exa, but the greater acreage of negative made all the
At about this time I bought sufficient second hand kit to set up a
darkroom in my parents' bathroom. I still have the MPP enlarger etc.,
but it has not seen any use these past 25 years.
After getting a degree, a proper job, and married, I found myself in
the unprecedented position of having money in my pocket, when I was
able to indulge in my first decent quality new camera, a Pentax ME.
SLR. The first task it was given was an important one, my brother in
law's wedding! It was of course a mistake to use a new camera for such
an occasion, but I was but young and foolish! The day started very
badly when I found that the camera would not focus properly as people
walked towards me approaching the church. It took a few missed shots
before I realised that the camera focused in the opposite direction to
the Exa! Undeterred, I pressed on, and, using both the Pentax and the
Rollei, recorded my first wedding. Given the family connections, I
decided "dam the expense" and went
to a local professional lab to have the colour films processed. They
came out fine, but the person handing them over commented that the 120
shots were a lot better than the 35 mm. This can't be true I
thought, a brand new Pentax against an ancient Rollei, but he was
right. A good big-un will always beat a good little-un, even though the
Pentax lens was intrinsically superior. (Having conducted loads of
tests on lots of lenses, that 50 mm f1.7 SMC M remains one of the
sharpest in my collection).
At that time we were heavily into dinghy sailing and raced regularly at
South Shields. Once day I was on rescue boat duty and decided to take
the camera to get some action shots. Sadly, on first stepping onto the
inflatable, a wave washed over myself and the camera and that was that!
Every cloud, however, and the insurance paid for a replacement, the
improved Pentax ME Super. I loved that camera, and I still do. It
recorded all of the important events in our early married life and of
course the kids growing up. Considering the amount of work it got
through it served me very well indeed, I can forgive a couple of visits
repair man to cure stuck magnets etc.
In more recent years I decided to upgrade my camera and, taking
advantage of a work trip to the far east, bought myself a brand new
auto focus Pentax MZ-50. I did this without carrying out the research
that I would normally do and paid the price for my haste and idleness.
the least reliable camera that I have ever owned and the least robust.
It took decent enough photos when it was working, but it soon
became apparent that I would be spending much more on repairs than the
camera cost, so it was allowed to die. Do not be tempted to buy a
Pentax camera from that particular era! Pentax does appear to have got
its act back into gear of late and they are now producing rather nice
DSLRs, which has had the effect of pushing up the price of second hand
When digital photography became available at sensible prices I bought a
cheap Fuji point and shoot camera to try the new technology, and the
film cameras were retired. This re-awakened my interest in photography
to some extent and I did begin to get back into reading about the
subject. A few years later a Canon A80 was acquired. This is a smart
little camera that does offer some manual override, and produces quite
nice images. While the camera does offer some manual adjustment, it is
and in time I found that frustrating. In particular I really missed the
opportunity to manually focus the camera and to look through a clear
viewfinder, while the delay between pressing the shutter release and
the shot being taken meant that it was not very satisfactory for any
kind of action photography. This came to a head when I was present at a
close friend's 50th
birthday and tried to take some shots of him making a speech - I
did not manage to capture a single good expression. In addition,
there were a number of important shots that were messed up
because the camera chose to focus on the wrong part of the scene.
You have to use a camera to realise its limitations! However I do have
A4 sized photos on the wall taken with the little
Canon, it is an excellent example of its type.
Further research led me to acquire a Canon 20D digital single lens
reflex (DSLR) camera and that has been my main photographic tool over
few years. I use it in connection with my work and take all of the
important family snaps with it. All of the photographs on this page
were taken using the 20D, a small light tent and two, radio controlled,
but ancient, Vivitar flash guns.
Unfortunately digital cameras depend
heavily upon sensor technology and that technology moves on at a
frantic pace. Not only can they cram more pixels on to the sensor, but,
perhaps more importantly, the image quality is also increasing
significantly. Whereas with a film camera you can always use the latest
emulsions and so keep pace with technology, this is not the case with
digital, as, to date, no-one has marketed a camera with an upgradable
sensor. At some point I will need to bite the bullet and buy a new
camera body. At the time of writing the Canon 50D (three iterations on
from my 20D) and the more expensive Canon 5D MkII have both been
announced and they are both possible candidates for purchase - but not
until the price subsides significantly!
At this stage I had better mention the alternatives workflows that are
available to the digital camera user. All DSLR cameras and some top of
the range non reflex digital cameras can capture images either as
standard JPG files or as RAW files. JPG is the photography industry
standard and JPGs are usable straight out of the camera. RAW files
comprise the basic digital information that the sensor has produced and
are peculiar to the camera involved. They need to be processed to a
different format for printing or viewing on standard systems, e.g they
need to be converted to JPG or TIFF format. Shooting RAW rather
than JPG allows the photographer to take control over the conversion
process, modifying the exposure, the white balance or contrast, or
taking control over the noise supression that is being employed.
This does introduce another step into the process of producing images,
but it provides more flexibility and in most cases can produce results
that are technically slightly better. For this reason I shoot the great
majority of my digital photos in the RAW format, and only use JPG when
the images are not too important, or when speed is of the essence. In
camera clubs throughout the length and breadth of the country there
will be people debating the relative merits of shooting JPG
versus RAW. My advice would be to try both and then use the
system that is best for your circumstances.
How do I find the 20D? There is no perceptible lag between releasing
the shutter and
taking the photo, the exposure meter gets it right most of the time,
and the images can be very good indeed. However, the viewfinder is
nothing like as good as that
fitted to my now antique Pentax ME Super. Fitted with an expensive L
zoom lens it's incredibly heavy and bulky, while the images, although
technically good, just don't have the same look as those that are
film. Further, I don't get the same pleasure from processing digital
images as I do from developing film. If you have never developed a film
you might find this hard to understand, but even after processing
hundreds of them, I always get a tingle of excitement when the film
first comes out the tank. In almost 50 years of
processing film this magic has never left me.
Therefore, in addition to using the 20D, I have now returned to using
film cameras. I tried to have my trusty ME Super fixed but it has had a
and hard life and I eventually concluded that it was beyond economic
repair. A new, to me, Pentax ME Super and Pentax MX were bought from
Ebay very cheaply, and, following a professional clean, lubrication and
(CLA) are now working cameras. The Rolleicord has been rejuvenated, and
is almost as good as new. Liking the superior quality obtainable from
the larger 120 film negatives, but missing the convenience of a SLR and
interchangeable lenses, I have bought a second hand Bronica set up. The
Bronica has been described as "the poor man's Hasselblad" and is a very
good Japanese copy of the Swedish Hasselblad modular camera concept.
Bronicas were the preferred tool of many a professional and semi
professional photographer for wedding and studio work, and, when
new, were expensive cameras. The digital revolution has floored
the market for film cameras so it is possible to buy this first class
equipment for a fraction of its original price, while the results it is
capable of producing are outstanding. The lenses give the same quality
at f4 as that fitted to the Rolleicord at f11, i.e. they are a good
deal better, and the focusing screen is much brighter and easier to use.
I believe that many professionals deserted film for digital because the
running costs were so much lower, and of course the results were
immediately available. It was not driven by image quality.
Professionals would take quick and dirty Polaroid images to verify the
exposures in the days of film, but now you just take a glance at the
histogram on the digital camera's LCD screen. Things move
on of course and the images from top of the range digital cameras now
compete successfully with all but the largest format film cameras.
The Pentax MX with one of my favourite
lenses, the K 28mm f3.5 - I have provided some comments on the relative
merits of my collection of Pentax lenses here
The Bronica ETRSi with AE-II metering
prism view finder, and 50mm, 75mm and 150mm Zenzanon lenses.
Why have such an assortment of cameras? Well I enjoy handling these
precision instruments, they are beautifully engineered. The Pentax M
series approach ergonomic perfection with regard to the fit in the hand
and the bright clear viewfinder. It is very useful to have two camera
bodies available, each capable of using the same assortment of lenses,
but with a different film, or lens, in each. The 35 mm cameras are by
far the most
convenient to use, being relatively small and light, and are the best
choice for reportage or action shots. But there is a satisfaction to be
had from the more considered approach that is required using the 120
film cameras. I have taken some of my best photographs using the
Bronica mounted on a heavy tripod. Rather than machine gun the scene
with the camera, you carefully consider what is the best viewpoint,
decide, what, if any, filter to use, think carefully about the exposure
and camera settings and then wait for the perfect light or cloud
formation before gently squeezing the cable release. You then have to
wait until that film emerges from the tank to see if your masterpiece
is as good as you hope it might be.
For exposure metering I use the built in meters most of the time, but I
also have a Gossen Digisix reflected and incident light meter for use
with the Rolleicord and in difficult cirumstances. There are occasions
when even the sophisticated evaluative metering mode on the 20D gets it
wrong and a manual exposure setting gives a much better result.
I tend to use Ilford films and developers, my current favourites being
FP4+ rated at 125 and developed in DD-X and HP5+ in Perceptol
(rated at 320 for the finest grain) and DD-X when it is necessary to
push the speed. PanF I find too contrasty, while the Delta series,
although finer grained, don't produce the look that I like from
photographs. I have a bottle of Rodinal but cannot live with the grainy
results that it gives. At some point in the future I may try mixing my
I continue to use the DSLR camera for work and for recording important
events, the progress of our grandchild for example, but I use the film
cameras for pleasure and I am taking more photographs now than I ever
have done. It's a fascinating hobby!
Update - reasoning that I don't need all of those megapixels, but that
full frame digital is the way to go for improved quality, I have bought
myself a nearly new Canon 5D DSLR camera. This camera does not have the
whistles of the new 50D or 5D mark II, but it produces superb image
quality, ideal for the stock photography libraries. One bonus, the
camera comes with the Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP) RAW
converter software and Canon does allow users to update to the latest
version free of charge. In effect you are getting the latest technology
RAW converter to use with an older camera. I have compared this to
Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and, in my opinion, DPP gives better results. At
some stage I will carry out comparative tests between my Bronica and
the Canon 5D.