January 7th, 2013 - 06:50 AM
Mon 31 Dec 2012
How did I get started with PENTAX?
My first cameras weren't PENTAX unfortunately but how I started to use them is woven in with all my others so I may as well list them completely.
Aged 8 I told my Father I'd like to take photographs. I'm not sure why but I think it was to a) preserve holiday memories b) be able to do something for myself/ be in control c) be creative d) use a piece of 'machinery' which I enjoyed doing, especially if it made something.
I was also intrigued and mystified by the photo making process and it seemed a bit like magic.
I was given my Fathers 'Ilford Sport' and used it for the first time from a rear seat of a Renault 21 whilst moving along a road in the Scottish Highlands. The '2 Years' eBook on my website shows this image. I also used it whilst living in Istanbul and have an image of a Russian nuclear submarine heading north up the Bosphorus with a litte wind-surfer nearby giving a good sense of scale. This was in the early 1980's.
I then used other cameras but whose make I don't remember...like a small, very cheap 35mm my Gran bought me from a chemist in north Norfolk. It resembled a 1950's rangefinder though wasn't - it had a fixed shutter speed with simple aperture control on the lens graphically depicting clouds and a sun for wide open or stopped down. I used it alot and started to develop black and white film at school in an old dovecote. I spent most of my time using a 'grain finder' but didn't know what it was for and drinking the developer as I was told you could get drunk from it.
I then bought a Halina 150 point and shoot with a built in flash as that was all I could afford and carried it with me everywhere. One of my family had a Konica 'Pop' which I would liked to have used but wasn't allowed to. A parent, who wanted an Olympus point and shoot but who was given an OM10 eventually handed this to me which was the first time I used an SLR. I never appreciated its standard 50mm f1.8 lens which was remarkably sharp and fast. I then received a Yashica FX-D quartz as a present, with a 50mm f2 lens and later bought myself a Tokina 24mm wideangle and Tamron 80-200mm zoom. I bought a Yashica FX-3 body and also a Canon Sureshot Zoom XL.
A webpage for the Canon Sureshot Zoom XL is here:
In 1987 I first went to art college and re-learnt the basics of SLR photography using the photo studio PENTAX K1000 which looking back was excellent but very basic compared to the Yashica and Olympus I had been using. My Father also gave me his Dad's old Kodak folding camera from around 1910. I was able to adapt 5x4 plate film to fit this for 'one-off' shots.
In 1989 I graduated and decided I should carry a good quality point and shoot with me wherever I went. After reading up a couple of 'What Camera' magazines I decided the Canon Zoom XL would be best and took a train journey from Colchester down to York Cameras, 45 York Road, Waterloo, SE1 in London especially to buy it. It blew me away with its sharp lens, the motorwind, the zoomable flash and loved the remote control which slid into the base of the camera. It was heavy and gave a sure feel of quality. I used it alot with colour slide film and also 'crossed processed' colour neg to slide when I worked as an E6 film processor on a Refrema.
There was a very good second hand camera shop down Queen Street in Colchester in the early to mid nineties and I bought many cameras from there - a rangefinder Polaroid Land camera with bellows, a couple of older, basic Polaroids, an Olympus Trip 35 with light meter built around the lens, a Lomo LC-A which I found too fiddly (I yearned for a Minox 35GT but couldn't afford one), a Lubitel 166 medium format twin-lens reflex camera and no doubt others which I would like to remember.
From 1989 to 1999 I relied on the Canon Zoom XL and the Yashica FX-3/Olympus OM10. By then I had worked in many jobs and spent another 4 years at art college. In late 1998 I graduated with a Masters in Interactive Multimedia and tried for 6 months to get a job in this field with no luck.
I was asked by an art college mate to go camping in north Wales and decided to part exchange every camera I owned for a brand new model.
I took along the OM10, its 50mm lens and flash, FX3 and lenses, Zoom XL and more to a London Camera Exchange when it was situated on Colchester High Street in 1999. A very young man went through all of my kit and told me all the lenses had fungus in them and that all the cameras were worthless. The only choice he gave me for a new camera in exchange for all the ones I had collected over 10 years was simply a brand new PENTAX MZ-M but with a second hand PENTAX 50mm f2 lens. This was a manual focus camera with basic controls but it did have an autowind. I accepted - deciding that if Henri Cartier-Bresson could make do with one camera and a standard lens then so could I.
Since 1992 I had been photographing local country characters in north Essex and carried on doing this in north Wales where I 'stayed on' after my holiday with art college mate was over. By then I solely used Agfa Scala 200 which was a contrasty black and white positive film with very rich blacks which I adored. I got a job as a security guard, lived in a tent for 10 weeks and took photos of local farmers and my work colleagues.
I was more than happy with that PENTAX and never yearned for any other lens - I just stuck with the 50mm f2 lens and Scala film. The MZ-M had an 'automatic - A' setting which adjusted the shutter speed to suit whatever aperture you chose but I always left it on 1/30th second which I figured was the slowest speed I could use hand held. This slow speed meant, on average, that I could stop the lens down to f8 or more which gave good depth of field and made sure almost everything in view was sharp and in focus. After taking many images but living in tents and damp caravans I eventually came to take a photo of something moving a bit 'faster' and turned the shutter speed dial to another setting but it was stuck on 1/30th and so deemed unreliable. The camera and lens (now with plenty of fungus growing inside) was regretfully slung since repairing it was more expensive than the comparative cost of the body and I was without any camera for the first time since early childhood.
In the summer of 2001 I ended up in London and went to Jessops on New Oxford Street with the intention of spending all of my savings on a camera with better quality than I had ever been used to. Over 2 days I looked at the Fuji 645Zi, the Contax Aria and Hasselblad XPan and chose a demo XPan for £1420. The panoramic feature which didn't crop 35mm film but took an image onto 24mm x 65mm of film sold it to me along with the Hasselblad name, quality lens and autowind (though I didn't know then that the camera was actually made by Fuji and sold in Japan as the Fuji TX and the rest of the world as Hasselblad...so it wasn't Swedish after all!) I already owned a Minolta Dimage Scan Dual 35mm film scanner so that ruled out any camera other than a 35mm. Even though I took photographs with the XPan which later became published commercially in a hard back book of photos from Patagonia I really do regret buying this camera and could have bought a couple of second hand SLRs and quite a few lenses for the same price.
Back in north Wales I set about taking fine art photos with the XPan with the intention of selling them framed to tourists. A friend's young twins posed against a backdrop of slate wearing sacking cloth and holding sticks like prehistoric cave dwellers and later I photographed the now famous 'Lady with the Salmon' at Aber Falls but realized something was missing. I didn't understand what it was until I went to Cambrian Photography in Colwyn Bay and picked up an old PENTAX 67. With 35mm I was able to get the 'width' I wanted but to get all of my subject in the viewfinder I had to move backwards which meant they became further away and I lost the detail I craved. I mean - head and shoulder shots were fine with the XPan but to get all of the body in and without turning the camera at a right angle (portrait) I had to either move back or ask my subject to step away and that meant they became tiny, with much less detail. The PENTAX 67 was a breakthrough in photography for me. I stood in the camera shop for over 4 hours cradling the camera in the crook of my left arm without thinking and others around me asked me how long I had been using it for and that 'it seemed to suit me'...that I looked comfortable with it. The owner saw me coming and sold an old body and the 55/105 lenses for £1300. He said he had to match the price, showing me the back pages of a current camera mag, of Ffordes - a leading second hand shop in Inverness. Now I was able to get both width and depth and detail in the shot.
Unusually for me, I was renting and living in a flat on Anglesey and developed the b/w film myself but had to cut the 67 (120) negative in half in order to scan it using the Minolta 35mm scanner and then re-touch it in Photoshop. (I had adapted the film holder to accept the 'pan' shots taken with the XPan by cutting out a plastic frame and enlarging the aperture to scan 65mm of film in two scans).
Imagine the feeling of cutting the negative in half and not having the money to get the image scanned with a larger 120 scanner! I then photographed a guy called 'Titch' who had a 'Dragons Forge' and who made swords and did Viking re-enactments. We took a lobster pot fishing boat out to Dulas Island and he dressed in his chainmail armour, kneeling with sword and shield against a rocky backdrop with stone tower and I was finally pleased with the result.
After alot of work, alot of exhibitions and buying a Canon D2400U scanner :) I decided to go to Patagonia but now, on my 2nd PENTAX 67 body which, like the first, was suffering with 'sticky mirror syndrome' and realizing I needed a modern and reliable 67 asked PENTAX for sponsorship in 2005 for a 67II model. This model was still manual focus and had manual film advance but it had built in metering, came out in 1999 (30 years after its first introduction) and was most importantly reliable. I did find that the viewfinder was smaller than the Mark I model though which I preferred - it felt like a huge cinema screen...so sharp and clear and it seemed like I could climb through into the world I was viewing.
Since then I have sold the Hasselblad XPan (early 2010) as I was flat broke and have started to use digital. As well as going to Patagonia with the 67II and XPan I bought a PENTAX *ist DL2 with 18-55mm lens for £350. The day I flew to Patagonia (23 June 2006) was the first day I used this digital camera. Prior to this my only experiences had been with a Sony Mavica MVC-FD5 which I bought during my Masters in 1998. This was 0.31 megapixels and saved each image laboriously to a floppy disk. I used it alot for making time lapse videos, stop frame animations and photo montages but it broke quickly so got binned. Needless to say I wasn't impressed by digital and it felt too 2D to me - lacking good definition, detail and most importantly dept of field which actually looked like what the human eye sees. I also used a Fuji S2 for a day (2005) which I hired from Cambrian Photography in order to take photos of me posing with clothing from a sponsor 'Snugpak' on Parys Mountain near Amlwch on Anglesey. Eventually the guy taking the photos took some using his own Fuji Finepix and these images were used. And lastly - when I had bought the PENTAX 67 I had a brief change of mind and was allowed to take away an Olympus E-10 to try out but went back to the PENTAX 67 as again this was the only camera I had ever found which suited my needs (I had never been able to define my photographic needs in the past and prefer to think of 'needs' as 'feelings').
After Patagonia I went to an extremely remote Inuit village in Alaska and despite, by then, having used digital extensively and with great results chose just to use film even though I also had DSLRs to hand. BUT the film and looking after it and airport xray machines and developing and scanning costs almost broke me and I sold the XPan, not wanting to continue further with film. This is January 2010. Since then I have only shot digital though intended to use 5x4 sheet film in Afghanistan and bought a 'Speed Graphic' (as well as use DSLRs). The quality was absolutely incredible and detail in each image astounded me. I loved the Graphic since my early hero Weegee had used one in the 1940s. However there was a knack to taking a photo and if you did one thing 'out of sequence' you would wreck the shot. I did this once and never used the Graphic again. It was my fault and should have practiced more before using it seriously in the field. I coudn't afford to go missing shots and it was bad enough that PENTAX's only fault (IMO) with extremely slow auto focus meant that I missed half of all the photos I tried to take in Afghanistan.
(I took 4000 in 3 weeks and know for sure I could have taken 8000 if autofocus had been as fast as the other Japanese makes out there).
I started off buying the PENTAX *ist DL2 and have had images from that humble 6 megapixel camera published in both magazine and book.
PENTAX then gave me their K10D and a DA 12-24mm lens. Then I bought an *istD as it is able to use a cheap external flash with TTL. If I had wanted an external flash for the K10D with TTL there were only 3 expensive options to buy new. PENTAX gave me a K7 for Afghanistan along with a DA 35 Limited fixed prime lens and now, prior to a USA project their K5 with another 12-24 lens as the first is beyond economical repair.
I have been trying to explore techniques like 'HDR' and 'stacking' and what is possible with digitaI but do think about going back to film as I miss its clarity, sharpness and depth of field. I liked to use colour negative as exposure isn't as critical as positive film and Fuji Pro 160 NS was my favourite with its 'muted contrast and saturation, suited to social photography...with a more subdued and natural look'. The PENTAX 67 lenses gave me the contrast I needed as the film didn't but I liked this film for its 'highly optimized skin tone reproduction and neutral gray balance which is especially important for portrait photography'. Basically the colour was more like what the human eye sees and less exaggerated than most films out there which seem to be preferred nowadays.
Digital is great for High Dynamic Range (though I never experimented with HDR with film by taking many different exposures). Digital find light where there doesn't seem to be any and I love it for dark interiors/twilight with long exposures and a tripod. For daylight and only daylight I still prefer film and look forward to using it again. I have some ideas for the future for what and how I will use it and I would like to move away from simply displaying digital images as a print or on the screen as a 2D image. I think people would like to see other possibilities.
My thanks goes to PENTAX who have been kind and supportive to me and I look forward to continuing with them in 2013. Their 'payback' from helping me, going back to 2005, is that I made sure their name, credits, acknowledgements and web details were put in the front of my Patagonia book published in July 2012.
The 35mm photographs on pages 4, 5, 34, 158 and159 in the book found via the web link, below, were taken with the PENTAX MZ-M when I first went to north Wales. I have many more images I took with this camera upon my arrival in Wales in 1999 and also photographs from inside Colchester's 'Glasshouse' (Britains only remaining military prison) and of the Hot Rod 'M'hula' crew - all using Scala 200.