Rebecca Stewart — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Photography — Full Speed Ahead & Damn the Equipment

What photographic equipment is necessary?

For the photograph above I used a Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD and a 140mm floating element macro lens. Film was Kodak Plus X. After scanning the negative(in RGB) I added red and yellow for the result. Below is the same picture without the colour.

At age 71 I am a former magazine photographer and writer in obsolescence (redundant in British lingo) retired because at least here in Vancouver and probably in the rest of Canada the era of paid photography is either gone permanently or at best for a while.

A scanned 100 ISO Polaroid taken with Mamiya RB and 90mm lens. I used a 2x3 Chimera softbox fired by a Norman 200B

I purchased my first camera an Agfa Silette in 1956 in a Washington DC pawnshop. The first roll I used was Kodak Tri-X. I remember taking snaps of the Parthenon replica in Nashville. The negative is long lost.

A year later after saving up with odd jobs in the boarding school I was attending, St Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas I spent $100 on a Pentacon F single lens reflex which came mail order from Olden Cameras in New York City.

Ektachrome 100G, Nikon FM-2 50mm lens

But it wasn’t until I moved with my Canadian wife and two Mexican-born daughters to Vancouver in 1975 that I became a photographer full-time. In that job I have been sent all over the world on assignments, worked for virtually every magazine around (except the National Geographic) and had access to film stars, rock stars, directors, politicians and hoods.

Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD, 140mm lens, Ektachrome 100G, 2x3 ft Chimera softbox fired by Norman 200B

Until three months ago my only digital camera was an iPhone 3G. I have taught photography at several schools in Vancouver and I have never had the need to tell my students that I did not own anything like the expensive Nikon and Canon DSLRs they had in their hands.

Three months ago, after having been urged by my wife, I finally purchased a digital camera. I am extremely proud of my most sophisticated Fuji X-E1.

Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD 90mm lens, Kodak Plus X negative scanned, from below, with sheet of white paper over it to get the texture seen here.

I went to Buenos Aires a month ago and took the Fuji (along with two Nikon FM-2 loaded with b+w and colour negative film). Because I have yet to acquire anything like Lightroom I shot jpgs and I was satisfied, even happy with my results.

Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD 140mm lens, 2x3 softbox powered by a Dynalite. This is a scanned and reversed Polaroid peel from the 100 ISO Polaroid film.

Just a few years ago I did a lot of work for a local arts weekly. Work diminished. In one assignment where I had to photograph some Shakespearean actors I took some pictures with my iPhone 3G but I used the modeling light of a 2x3 ft sofbox and placed my subjects on a nondescript darkish wall. The folks at the magazine never noticed the difference and even lauded me for sending them something that seemed to be “different” from my usual.

Mamiya RB-67 Pro SD. 90mm lens, 2x3 softbox and Norman 200B, Ektachrome 100G

Before I left for Buenos Aires I shot a cover for the publication and five inside shots with my Fuji. I did use a largish softbox and a good studio flash. They never noticed the difference either.

iPhone 3G, under Western Red Cedar, late afternoon

But I had to adjust to the idea of still using the small camera on my big tripod. When you shoot loose with a small camera you (or at least I did) tend to have heads too close to the top or slice the fingers of my subjects’ hands. For too long I have used a Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD on a tripod and I like to frame my shots carefully.

Nikon FM-2, 85mm lens, Kodak Tri-X, modeling light from Dynalite in 2x3 softbox — colour added in scanning negative

When I shoot cover jobs for magazines I rarely take more than 20 pictures on 120 Ektachrome (now Fuji Provia). With my digital Fuji I shot the cover with 8 exposures. I am not about to let that camera dictate how I am to use it. I was frugal with film, I will be frugal with pixels!

Same as above picture

The purpose of this essay, my first purpose-written for Medium.Com is to clear misunderstandings that I have gleaned from reading some of the interesting stuff in Click the Shutter. A few have written that with an iPhone 5 you don’t need better equipment. Others decry the loss of the analog system of taking pictures. Others, rightfully state that the equipment is not as important as knowing how to use what one has. I would only modify that last statement by adding that it is important to note the limitations of the equipment being used. With that said I have often loaded my heavy and largish Mamiya with Ilford 3200 ISO film and hand held it as if the camera where a 35mm camera.

iPhone 3G

While digital stitching has made the expensive swivel lens film cameras of the past obsolete, I still believe my Noblex (it takes a negative or slide that is 2¼ by 7 inches long) can take pictures that very good and with a perspective different to the one of stitching.

iPhone 3G, Texas

If there is a problem with digital cameras it is the perception, mostly thanks to their advertising, that says that with one of these in your hands you can do anything. I would beg to differ as this eliminates the idea of using lighting to control contrast and to impose on the picture a bit of one’s personal style.

Mamiya RB-67 Pro SD, 250mm lens wide open with slow shutter and using the modeling light (no flash) coming from a 2x3 softbox powered by one Dynalite head. Vignetting Corel Pro X2

With that said I will place here some portraits of my granddaughter through the years and I will mention what I used and how I took them. Note, especially, one photograph that I took with my 3G iPhone. If one realizes the iPhones are most comfortable with low contrast situations you will understand why my Rebecca sitting in a metal bench under a conifer in a late afternoon looks so good. Slide film would have rendered the scene a greenish blue. A digital camera, even a cheap one with good white balance would have rendered the scene in the right colour.

There is a saying in Spanish (I am Argentine born):

El diablo sabe más por viejo que por diablo.

That translates to: the devil knows more not because he is the devil but because he is older. Something then has to be said for experience.

And lastly here in Vancouver we still have at least five labs that process colour negative and slide film in small and large formats. The b+w film I shoot, I process and print in my still functioning darkroom.