Tag Archives: rangefinder

Relay for Life 2013

Hobart Relay for Life 2013

The 2013 Hobart Relay for Life might have been the first time I cracked 10,000 steps on my Fitbit One (and probably the one and only time I’ll crack 20,000), but it was also a time of realisation.

The vast majority of my recreational photography these days is film photography. If I had to put numbers to it, I’d probably say I do 85% film, 15% digital (which includes my iPhone, as well as my digital SLR). There’s just something about film photography that appeals to me — maybe I like it because it’s different to every other Joe who has a digital SLR, or maybe it’s because the photos taken with film all have their own unique character. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t experienced the very best digital photography has to offer, but these days — for whatever reason — I prefer film.

It was during a trip to Melbourne last year when I realised I could do all my recreational photography solely with my film camera. I only took my film-loaded Bessa over there, and it was perfectly adequate for my street photography and random snapshots. I missed focus on a few photos, and didn’t realise what my shutter speed had fallen to (resulting in a blurry mess) in another one or two, but apart from those random three or four photos, the photos I captured were totally fine1. After the trip, I looked back at my photos, compared them to the ones I took the last time I was in Melbourne, and realised: hey, this camera does a damn fine job of capturing the image I want it to, and, not to mention, it’s also a lot more enjoyable to use.

Relay for Life just affirmed that realisation.

I took my film rangefinder along to Relay because it presented a unique opportunity for me: a chance to take photos of people I actually knew and in reasonable light conditions, instead of the usual street photographs of complete strangers. I took my DSLR along as well, expecting it would get used during the night, when my film Bessa had been retired in favour of the selectable-ISO of my DSLR — I even borrowed my friend’s Speedlite, like I had done the previous year — but as it turned out, I took a total of zero photos using my DSLR this year at Relay.

Straight out of camera, would you believe, in the early hours of the morning.

Straight out of camera, would you believe, in the early hours of the morning.

To be fair, the weather didn’t exactly help; it rained for much of the afternoon and evening, preventing any serious photography from taking place. Had the weather been nicer, like it was last year, then maybe things would have turned out differently, and maybe I would have experimented with long exposures. I had intended to do long exposures during the day, even bringing along my 10-stop ND filter to try my hand at daytime long exposure photography, but alas, the weather had other plans.

All of the above should give you a pretty good idea of where I think digital SLRs and film rangefinders stand. Like I’ve said before, there’s still a place for the digital SLR in my photography endeavours, it’s just that that purpose is becoming more and more specialised where the role of the film rangefinder is expending. Don’t get me wrong: there are occasions where I wouldn’t choose a film rangefinder over a digital SLR, but those occasions are getting fewer as I gain more and more experience with film.

Like I’ve been saying all along, one format isn’t better than the other, and there’s room for both formats in my life. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. But when it comes down to which format takes the better photo, or which one I prefer for any given task, the answers to those questions are a little harder to come by.

Pram Cam 2013

In any case, Relay for Life was good. Not great, because it rained so damn much, but good. Like last year, we put the GoPro on the Team Radi8 mascot (a pram adorned with our names and stick figures), only this time around I turned it around so it faced the people pushing the pram, and recorded a mix of video and time-lapse footage. The video was kind of a mistake as sitting through 7 hours of people pushing a pram around a track isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but I still managed to capture a few nice moments here and there.

Unlike last year, though, that was pretty much all I did photographically. No time-lapse camera in the grandstand. No separate point-and-shoot for later tilt-shift intentions. All the digital frames that were taken were taken on the GoPro (with perhaps a panorama or two on the ol’ iPhone), but apart from that, it was analog all the way.

And honestly, if I was going to do it again, I would have done exactly the same thing the second time around.2.


  1. I’m tempted to add a qualifier here along the lines of “for a film camera”, but you know what? When a friend asked me (incidentally, at the Relay for Life) if my film camera took better photos than my digital SLR, I replied “I wouldn’t necessarily say better, but it does a pretty damn good job”. 
  2. I can’t share any of the (better) photos here for privacy reasons, but if you know me in real life ask to see them sometime and I’ll happily show you. 

A New Rangefinder (feat. Bessa R2A)

I was about 30 exposures into my 13th roll of film when suddenly, the shutter button on my Yashica Lynx 14 just stopped activating the shutter. Quite inconvenient, really. I always wind-on directly after firing off a shot, which cocks the shutter automatically — but somehow, that wasn’t happening anymore. The shutter wasn’t being cocked, even though it seemed to still be advancing film.

I made a short video which explains exactly what was going on.

The shutter was being fired when I was winding on. Not sure how, or why it started happening pretty much spontaneously; I had noticed similar “shutter-not-cocking-after-wind-on” issues a few weeks prior, but I didn’t know it at the time and dismissed it. Resulted in some pretty funky exposures too, since it was opening the shutter after winding on a new frame — mostly shaky, blurry-cam type stuff, but kinda cool in some sort of surrealist way.

I was pretty upset. Shooting with a rangefinder is incredibly satisfying, and seeing as my only rangefinder had just given up the ghost, not shooting with a rangefinder for street just wasn’t an option.

Being an old, fully mechanical camera, I investigated repair options: taking it to the local camera repair shop resulted in a repair bill which could have run into the hundreds of dollars had I chosen to send it off to some gentleman who specialised in older cameras, multiples of what the camera was actually worth (in monetary terms, anyway). I decided to do a little DIY, taking apart the camera and seeing if I could fix the issue myself.

Sadly, that didn’t work due to a lack of understanding about which camera parts did what. I took the entire thing apart (except for the lens assembly), and I still didn’t figure out how it worked. Nothing terribly obvious was wrong with it, which seems a little strange when you consider that it’s a fully mechanical camera, and not some electric-powered everything like the DSLRs of today. But I digress.

I did get the chance to clean out the rangefinder patch and window, though, which has now resulted in a viewfinder that looks fantastic. Shame it doesn’t actually take photos anymore.

Which brought me to an entirely new dilemma: which replacement rangefinder was I going to purchase? Not having a rangefinder wasn’t an option, they’re just too much fun to shoot on, way more portable than a DSLR, and besides,, I don’t mind manual focus. I lusted over a digital rangefinder for about the same amount of time it took to look up the price. Until I start getting paid handsomely for photography, they’re a little out of my price range.

After looking around for a bit, it was a toss-up between two Voightländer cameras: the Bessa R2A, or the Bessa R3A. They’re practically the same camera, but the Bessa R3A has a 1:1 ratio viewfinder, which is pretty cool because it means you can take photos with both eyes open (if you look though the viewfinder with your right eye, that is). Apart from that, they’re both 35mm film rangefinders with built-in auto exposure or metered manual — and if I was going to shoot street, autoexposure was exactly what I wanted, allowing me to set the aperture, focus, and let the camera take care of the rest.

I ended up buying an R2A second-hand, because the store that I wanted to buy from didn’t have any in stock… I also ended up getting the super-popular Voightländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4, perhaps one of the cheapest ($529 new, hah) M-mount lenses that you can buy. Compared to some of the massively-upwards of $2000 Leica lenses, it’s dirt cheap whilst still providing excellent image quality — and by excellent IQ, I mean knock your pants off stuff.

But perhaps the best feature of the Bessa isn’t that it has auto-exposure, or the fact that it’s a reasonably recent film camera (i.e. introduced in 2004, still manufactured today), but the fact that it has the all-heralded Leica M mount.

Ah, Leica. They’re not a brand for the beginner or even for those without deep, deep pockets, but they’re renowned for the simple reason they have some of the best glass in the business. All manual focus, but lenses that are unparalleled when it comes to sheer resolving power and image quality.

The Bessa R2A isn’t really unique in that it’s not the only 35mm film rangefinder that features a Leica M mount, because there are a fair few rangefinders that do — but besides all that, it’s still a (very big) step up from the el-cheapo Yashica Lynx I was using before. Not top-tier (Leica M6/M7/MP-level), but not exactly bottom-barrel, either.

Besides being fantastically built and opening up yet another wide variety of super-expensive glass to lust over, the R2A is really good fun to shoot with.

But that’s for another time.

Film, continued

Red Awning

One of the crazy things I love about film is that your photos can change depending on what film you’re using, how it’s developed, and if you’re getting scans done, how good the scanner is.

It’s like each kind of film has its own character. Each kind of film is unique, different to the next, and I’m not even talking about the difference between B&W, slides/transparencies, or colour negatives, I’m talking about differences in grain type and amount, colour reproduction, dynamic range, and so on.

The differences between different brands and even different labels within the same manufacturer is crazy. Buy Kodak Portra, and you’ll get different/better skin tones than, say, Kodak Gold. Buy Kodak Ektar and, you’ll get much nicer grain than Kodak Ultramax (ISO differences aside). And so on.

It’s one of the things that appeals to me about film: digital is very predictable in terms of what you can expect straight out of the camera, whereas with film the kind of film you’re shooting can have a much greater impact on your photos than what kind of lens you’re using, for example. The differing characteristics from one film to the next give it that special edge over digital. It just adds a bit of variety, you know?

One of the realities of photography is that as you increase the sensitivity, you increase the amount of artefacts that appear in your image. With digital, as you ramp up the ISO you get more noise. With film, as you get a higher-rated film you get more grain. But here’s the rub: film grain resolves detail much better than digital noise does. Not only that, but film grain is much more evenly spread out across the image. Compare that to digital, where noise is essentially just a whole lot of random pixels, and can differ in appearance depending on where it appears in the image (i.e. it’s more pronounced in shadows than it is on subjects).

Don’t get me wrong, film is “worse” for grain at the same sensitivities when compared to digital. My DSLR can practically see in the dark when I’m shooting at ISO 12,800, but things are, not surprisingly, pretty noisy at those kinds of ISOs. At the same sensitivities, digital beats film hands down — but I much prefer the look of film grain to digital noise.

I’ve been asked if I develop my own stuff, and the answer is: no. Not because I don’t want to, but because that’s a whole other can of worms. For now, I get my C-41 (colour negatives) processed and either scanned or printed locally (i.e. Hobart), and I haven’t shot any E-6 (slides/transparencies) but I know that no one in Hobart commercially develops it anymore, and same goes for B&W.

I mean, developing your own film does have its advantages; you’re the only one that gets to see your “work”, you’re totally self-sufficient, and apparently it’s extremely cheap to DIY, but — and here’s the kicker — it’s a lot of extra work. Developing your own negatives requires messing around with chemicals, temperatures, not to mention the fact you need to arrange some kind of total-darkness environment. We haven’t even touched on the problem of needing to digitise your own negatives/slides, requiring a half-decent scanner if you want any kind of quality scans. Consumer flatbeds just don’t cut it.

Make no mistake, developing your own negatives is a whole different ball game. It gives you total control over your photography, but it’s a lot of extra work on top of just taking the shot.

Maybe I’ll start thinking about developing my own if I start taking this any more seriously than just what I’m doing at the moment, but for now, the local lab does acceptable scans, even if they’re not as high a quality that I would like (only 3 megapixels!).

I have a new camera on the way, which is a nice little Olympus point and shoot. I’ve been wanting a film camera as a daily carry for a while now, and maybe this little Olympus will be a good compromise for the time being. At least until I work up the courage to fork out for a Bessa, anyway.