street

All posts tagged street

I’ve owned quite a few cameras, film and digital. Some were used for newspaper work, most for artistic purposes or personal memories. Lately I have been drawn to candid photography trending between street and documentary. Not all cameras are created equal for the purpose and I will explain my choices here pertaining to digital cameras.

Film cameras are not the focus of this post, but anyone wanting one can check out used Leicas on Ebay. I particularly like the M2. You can find a lot of cheaper older IIIc models, but they might need some work. My M4-P was also a great camera. Leicas are the Rolls Royces of film cameras and have been documenting life in the hands of the greatest photographers since before World War II. So no contest there, they are built like Swiss vaults. Their digital cameras, I wouldn’t bother unless I was rich and would consider them disposable.

A street camera should be discreet, meaning small. When a subject sees you take their photograph they change. It’s like quantum mechanics! The observer changes the state of the subject. You do not want people to see you take their photo. You don’t see actors looking straight at the camera in movies, there are good reasons for this. There are exceptions of course and street portraits can be beautiful, but generally, you want to be a ninja photographer. This practically eliminates DSLRs which today are huge with large lenses. That leaves mirrorless cameras.

Panasonic Lumix GM5

Panasonic Lumix GM5

The first feature I find necessary is a viewfinder. Taking a photo with the back screen is an exercise I don’t want to get used to. I can’t understand why anyone would buy a camera without one. I find it much more natural and easier to frame an image through a viewfinder, and I like it to be in the corner, not in the middle where it forces you to hide your face behind the camera. If your subject sees you, better have a smile on your face, it might avoid you some trouble, looking like some pervert taking snapshots for dubious reasons.

Size matters, as far as sensors are concerned. Though image quality isn’t the primary focus in Street and documentary photography, a minimum of resolution is necessary. I consider three sizes of sensors to be large enough for the task: Full frame, APS-C and Micro-4/3rd. Bigger is better, but larger sensors mean a larger and sometimes more expensive camera. I used a Fuji X100S with an APS-C sensor producing unbelievable images, but it always felt flimsy and indeed died after 5K shots. I now have opted for Micro-4/3rd (Lumix GM5) which are smaller and just good enough with quality prime lenses (fixed focal, not zooms). Forget megapixels, today they are meaningless. Anything with 10mp or above is plenty. Spend money on good glass, not more megapixels.

Depending on where you live and the type of photography you like, you might want to get a weather sealed camera and lenses. You will pay a premium but if you don’t mind working in the rain, more power to you. If you hope to work for a newspaper of press agency, it is a must. Cameras like the Fuji X-Pro2 or Sony a6300 would be prime examples, though Sony has few lenses available and fewer bright ones even. Fuji, I am suspicious about now. Olympus has great OM-D models but with the viewfinder in the wrong place (for me). I wish their new Pen-F model was weather-sealed. I am now in the North of France and ordered a Lumix GM5 which is not weather sealed. That will limit my time outside quite a bit, given that it rains an average of 220 days a year here, which is why I don’t plan on staying too long! My next camera might be an Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII, too bad for the viewfinder position, but it is a pretty rugged camera.

That is pretty much it. Again, the lenses are where you should spend your money. Get a 35mm equivalent: 23mm for APS-C and 17mm for Micro-4/3rd. A 35mm is always a 35mm on Full frame of course, and be done with it. Avoid zooms, there are just too many optical elements in them and quality suffers. Try to get a lens with an aperture of 2.8 or brighter (2.0, 1.8, 1.4…) if you can afford one. Get a spare battery and memory card. I also like to get a UV filter to protect my lenses, and a small metal lens hood.

I will review the Panasonic Lumix GM5 as soon as I get it (Monday) and take a couple hundred shots. They have been discontinued unfortunately, and there are a few remaining in stock, so if you want one, hurry up if you don’t want to have to buy a used one. They are also fairly cheap for a Micro-4/3rd. camera with a kit lens included. The GM5 is small and has all the features I want in a street camera but the weather sealing, including price.

My X100S crapped out! What a disappointment. I bought it in May of last year from B&H. Of course it’s out of warranty. Every few frames the camera crashes with a white screen of death. The only way to get it to work or turn off is to remove the battery. I spent $1300 for about 5000 shots taken; that’s $0.26 per shot. I really can’t afford it. To make things worse, B&H is closed until the 7th. I was really stupid not to buy an extended warranty on something that expensive.

X100S
I hope it can be fixed because the image quality is exceptional. The only thing I can do is call Fuji in New Jersey and hope they can help me. I heard on the Range Finder Forum that they are nice people. Let’s hope. I will need this camera very soon on my sailing adventure for documentary photography. I wish it was a bit more rugged. I know, they don’t all do this, though reliability problems are known.. It is a camera you want to take everywhere, and it just doesn’t seem to be strong enough.

I am now selling my Nikon D2X. It is an excellent camera, but too big and heavy to carry around for candid shots. If I still worked for a newspaper I’d keep it. My style of photography requires small, discreet and quiet cameras. So I am now looking at the Olympus OM-D E-M5. It isn’t the latest and that’s fine with me, I like the discounted price. I hope the X100S remains my main camera. You just can’t beat the quality of the images. The E-M5 however is weather-sealed, which can really be an asset on a sailboat! Its sensor is a micro-4/3 format, smaller than the Fuji’s APS-C. I have browsed Flickr looking for images taken with the OM-D… They are really good. Not quite as good as what I get with my X100S, but it is sometimes hard to tell the difference. For my type of photography, it doesn’t matter much. I focus on composition and emotions, not pixel-peeping.

Olympus OM-D EM-5

Olympus OM-D EM-5

The kit lens sold with the Olympus is the M.ZUIKO 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R, way too dark for me, but beggers can’t be choosers. It is also not weather-sealed, but if I lost it, oh well.. I would like to get the 17mm/f1.8 or even the Panasonic made Leica 15mm/f1.7. Remember, you have to double the focal length to get the equivalent in 35mm; so, the Leica 15mm has the field of view of a 30mm. The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is supposedly excellent, but at $1K, it might have to wait. Bottom line is, I need a camera that can survive salt water spray, with interchangeable lenses. For twice the money I could buy an OM-D E-M1 or a Fuji X-T1. I just can’t justify spending more than what I get for my D2X and Tokina 28-70/f2.8 though. The lens just sold tonight.

The X100S and the OM-D E-M5 are the only two cameras I would need. Well, aside from my cheap GoPro. Let’s hope I get the former back in good shape, otherwise I’ll just have to do with one. This time I will get an extended warranty for the Olympus. The other contender by the way is the Panasonic LX-100, which does 4K video and has a bright 24-75 equivalent fixed lens. It isn’t weather sealed and more expensive.

I shouldn’t have sold my Leica M2!

Update, Oct. 6: My X100S is on its way to Fuji NJ. I ordered the E-M5 tonight from B&H. They have the camera with the 14-42 kit lens for $499. I suspect not many are left.. The kit lens, well, I don’t expect much from it, but it will get me started with M4/3. They sell for $299 new but only got for $55 on Ebay. I will post my inpressions after I get to play with it a bit. My next lens might be the Mitakon 35mm f0.95, the Panasonic Leica 15mm f1.7 or the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO zoom, depending on if i get my X100S back or not, and of course my finances…

Update, Oct. 19: Fuji wants $385.20!!! I will never buy a Fuji camera ever again in my life.

I am not giving up film! Film does look better in my opinion. It has a certain charm, an analog feel that digital can only approach with a lot of computer work. It might be a bit similar to listening to vinyls as opposed to compact discs. Theoretically you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference, but it seems that some people can. Our brains are not made for digital perception. So, why am I getting a digital camera? Albeit not any digital camera…

Rangefinder Cameras

Rangefinder Cameras

Image quality? Film can hold far more details than digital images. The problem is how to retrieve that information. These days images invariably end-up on a computer screen. In that regard, digital or film makes no difference as the image on a screen is limited to 72dpi (dots per inch). Expose your photographs blown-up on a gallery wall however and your results may vary depending on a flurry of variables such as your type of film, processing, paper, etc. It is generally said that your classic 35mm film is roughly equivalent to 16mp, though it is comparing apples and oranges. The advantage of digital is that it eliminates the multitude of small accidents that can happen during film processing, like scratches, stains, kinks, etc. You also skip processing and scanning. Though results can be similar, digital wins hands down on convenience.

I recently got back into photography with Leica cameras and love the simplicity and handling of rangefinders. These cameras are small and discreet, unlike the large DSLRs you see today. For street work it is a big plus. I would have loved a digital Leica M-E, but at $5500 it was out of the question. The closest was the Fuji X100S with a fixed 35mm equivalent lens and a 16mp APSC sensor. The combination makes very high quality images. The fixed lens bothers me a bit, but I take most of my photographs with a 35mm lens anyway.. Alternatives were the Fuji X-E2 or X-T1, and the Olympus E-M1. The X100S with his silent leaf shutter won. I love the fact that you can take absolutely silent photographs; so silent in fact that you don’t hear yourself take a photo.

The X100S does cost about the same as my Leica M4-P and it’s Color Skopar lens. Of course I never have to buy film or chemicals. Quality is excellent, though the B&W files lack a bit of contrast, which can be fixed easily in Lightroom (software). I could take hundreds of photographs a day with the Fuji, but my old film habits limit me to a few shots a day, as if I still had to worry about the cost of film processing.

Another advantage is the light weight of the camera. I take it everywhere I go. My Leicas are about the same size but heavier. I would however hesitate to take the Fuji for hiking and camping. It just doesn’t feel as sturdy as the Leicas.

I think my favorite is still the M4-P, but the Fuji allows me to share images much faster. It would be an advantage also if I was ever hired again as a photographer, which is not something I am trying to do, but you never know. Documentary photography is my forte. So I carry two cameras when I can, the X100S and the M4-P. I bought a little Domke F-8 bag that is just large enough for both. I use the M4-P during the day and switch to the X100S when the sun goes down, which is when the Fuji really shines. Film and digital complement each-other nicely. I would not be without a film camera, but I could live without digital. No regrets about the Fuji though, I love the camera. It looks great and takes very high quality images. Fujifilm is definitely the company to watch these days for anyone wanting to buy a digital camera. I highly recommend the X100S or X-E2. For a lower price, see the new X30, rumored to be announced on July 3rd.

It has been three months since my return to photography, film photography to be exact. I already have two Leica bodies (M4-P & IIIc) and one lens (Summitar 50mm f2). I was fortunate to get those three items for very good prices. Still, I need a lens for the M4-P. I can afford only one. 35mm seems to be the best for street photography. I have thought long and hard about which one to get. New leica lenses are out of my financial reach, even the cheaper ones. One used option is the Summicron 40mm. They sell for $600 to $800. 40mm is close enough to the 35mm framelines of the M4-P, which I have read covers more like 38mm.. Then there are the Voightlander lenses, Color Skopar f2.5 and Nokton f1.4. The f1.2 Nokton is just too big.. I do not like the distortion and focus shift of the f1.4. Sure, it’s bright, but I know I will look for it’s imperfections on every image I produce. The Zeiss Biogon f2.8 is my favorite, though not a bright lens. Image quality however is said to be outstanding. The Biogon f2 model is a bit too expensive. I know there are other 35mm lenses out there, but I need to limit my selection. So, it will be the Color Skopar, incidentally the cheapest, or if by some miracle a wad of money falls on my lap, the Biogon f2.8. I can carry both my M4-P and IIIc around with their 35 and 50mm lenses, a good combo. The M4-P will probably see more use, as the Summitar is really for the IIIc and is a bit soft for my tastes. The so called “classic look” for me means old and of dubious optical quality. I like sharp and contrasty glass.

Not having a meter built into the cameras hasn’t bothered me much at all. I use my iPod with an app called “Pocket Light Meter.” I measure the light on the back of my hand stretched in front of me, making sure I am not shading it. It looks like I am taking a photo of my nails! I’ve had friends ask me what the hell I was doing! It looks a little gay but works really well.

I’ve tried a few films, Kodak Tri-X 400, Ilford FP4+ 125 and HP5+ 400. I like them all. The Ilford films dry a bit flatter which makes them easier to scan. I am borrowing an Epson V500 but it isn’t quite good enough. I plan on getting a Plustek, not sure which model. My first negatives came out grossly over-developped. I wasn’t sure if it was my meter or technique but it turns out that I had used 4oz of Kodak HC-110 to make a gallon (dissolution B) when what I wanted was dissolution H, 2oz of concentrate to make a gallon. With the correct 1+63 dissolution H both Kodak Tri-X and ilford HP5+ take eleven minutes to develop at 20°C/68°F when exposed at 400 ISO. I invert the tank twice every minute. FP4+ at 100 ISO takes fifteen minutes.

By the way do not buy the “Arista Classic Plastic Developing Tank.” It leaks.. I always end-up with liquid spilling out from the lid. The Paterson is better. I might also try the Arista stainless model because the plastic spools cause trouble sometimes and I have damaged two films that resisted spooling all the way. I probably should just get the Paterson though. I was using them while developing for the local paper and never had a problem with them. I am curious however about those stainless spools. Anyone reading this has used them?

Processing your own films saves a lot of money but there is still the cost of film. What about buying in bulk? You can actually buy rolls of 100ft of film! A film loader is necessary but should pay for itself fairly quickly. I will get the Arista 35mm Bulk Film Loader Bobinquick Junior. That site has all the film processing gear you will ever need! Film is cheaper at B&H though, a 100ft. roll of HP5+ costs $50. At maybe 20 rolls of 36exp per 100ft. roll, that comes to about $2.50 per roll instead of $4.75. It takes 31 rolls to pay off the Arista loader ($70), 14 rolls for a cheaper loader ($30). The empty cartridges are cheap at about $1, and reusable. You can also use spent cartridges if the leader is still sticking out.

Film photography is my hobby. I used to make a living with it when digital didn’t exist. I don’t plan on being a professional again, but if my skills improve I might want to be ready if an opportunity presents itself, say an assignment overseas for instance. That means digital, and probably a DSLR. Being used to professional cameras that can be banged around and abused (F3 & F4) I wouldn’t go for any less. Problem is, new ones cost a fortune, from $5K to $7K, not to mention lenses. Fortunately there are awesome professional cameras on Ebay that used to cost as much but can be found now for around $500! The best example would be the Nikon D2X or the Canon 1Ds Mk1. I am a Nikon kind of guy.. The D2X actually goes for around $450. It’s built like a tank, pretty much waterproof, shock proof, freeze proof, etc. I don’t think you could break one by accident, short of dropping it from an airplane on concrete. 12mp is quite enough. More than that and files get way too big. Image quality is outstanding. Add a 35mm f2 (52.5mm equivalent) for $330, and you have a professional combo for $800 (including a filter). There is nothing else out there that can beat that.

Speaking about lenses… The best advise I can give to beginners is to avoid zooms, especially “kit zooms.” prime lenses, or fixed-focal lenses are leaps-and-bounds better than zooms. Kit zooms will turn a great camera body into a piece of crap.. Spend more money on a lens than you did on the camera body. I would suggest starting with a 50mm full frame equivalent. What does that mean? Well, some cameras have a smaller sensor than the 36x24mm film size. The D2X for example has a 1.5x crop factor. That means that if you want a 50mm equivalent you would need to buy a 33.3mm lens. 35mm is the closest you will find. Later you can get a 28mm, and maybe a 135mm.. NO ZOOMS! With a zoom you become lazy and composition takes a backstage. You don’t want that. How hard a picture is to take is often directly proportional to it’s quality. Zooms have more elements and more of them need to move for zooming. That creates problems and eats light. Prime lenses are better optically, brighter and cheaper! How do you recognize and amateur from a professional? The amateur uses long skinny lenses, often zooms. The professional uses wide prime lenses that let in a lot of light.

I still want a Fuji X100S for street photography of course, but unfortunately I think the money will go to my dentist.. Sorry B&H.. Tooth problems can cause so many health problems, I need to take care of myself first before thinking of buying more cameras. Even if I get to buy a D2X, X100S and say three Nikon lenses, I can’t imagine needing anything else as a hobbyist, even semi-pro. It’s about the images, not the gear.

This year I also want to start on my new boat construction. Unfortunately the economy has finally caught up with me. I might just have to get that Voightlander 35mm, forget all the rest and make sure I am healthy with no late bills to pay. I have a wide array of marketable skills but no field is being spared, except maybe medical professionals, and I am not even sure about them.. I know my dentist will get my money.. It might be time to learn some new tricks..