The cameras and other equipment discussed in these pages are ones that I personally have owned and used. Regrettably, I’m not in a position to comment on cameras or lenses with which I am not familiar.
I admit it — I’m a photographic equipment addict. In fact I enjoy every aspect of photography, from the travel and location work, to the use of fine equipment in the field, to processing, printing and exhibiting my work.
The choices of equipment available to photographers has always been a challenge. Today the choices are, if anything, greater than ever before. The rate of technological change is ever-increasing and the transition that we are currently going through to digital makes choices even more difficult to make.
What format to choose — 35mm, medium format, large format, panoramic? What lenses to use — zooms, primes? What films, what tripods, accessories? And then there’s digital — computers, scanners and printers!
I can’t steer you out of this morass. I’ve made certain decisions for myself based on personal factors. Yours are bound to be different. I currently use several camera systems, each appropriate for a certain type of work or shooting environment. You may have other criteria, styles of working and financial considerations. All I can do is tell you what went into my thinking process, how I use the equipment and what I like and dislike. Hopefully this information will be useful to some. Take from it what you will.
Horses for Courses
The British have a saying —“horses for courses” — which essentially means that you wouldn’t use a Clydesdale for harness racing or a thoroughbred to pull a plow. Similarly, one camera or system can’t effectively do all types of photography.
For personal travel I usually like to take along a rangefinder 35mm. These are generally light, small and unobtrusive. In the past I have used Leica M2, M3 and M6, Contax G1 and G2 and now the Hasselblad XPan. (Remember, I’ve been at this for more than 35 years).
For landscape work, and travel when photography is the primary purpose, I usually use medium format — primarily the Rollei 6008 system. The image quality is high enough for almost any sized enlargement but the bulk of a system with four lenses, two film backs and a complete range of accessories is small enough to fit in a bag suitable for airline carry-on. It’s also manageable for anything except multi-hour backpacking.
Panoramic photography is a particular interest of mine, and the Fuji 61 7and Hasselblad XPan fill this bill. In the case of the XPan it is dual-purpose, also serving as a wonderful travel and vacation camera. In the Fall of 2000 I also added the very specialized Noblex 150UX.
A 35mm system is most photographer’s mainstay. For me my Canon EOS-1V and EOS3 bodies along with 6 lenses serve best for specialized applications — very long telephoto, ultra-wide, hand-holding when needed, and tilt / shift applications.
Large format is the final category. After some 20 years away from the format in the spring of ’99 I decided to get back into it and have recently added a Toyo VX125 monorail field camera and three lenses to my arsenal. Since then I have used it less often than I thought I would and now I mainly use the Hasselblad ArcBody for applications requiring camera movements.
Digital photography (as opposed to the digital darkroom) is still in its infancy, and for less than $25,000 there still isn’t (in late ’99) a camera or medium-format back that produces image quality that meets the needs of a landscape photographer. But developments are happening very quickly, particularly in SLRs and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one (Canon) in my stable shortly.
When shooting from home base and traveling by car it isn’t difficult to choose what gear to use. I frequently will take two complete systems in the car, using whichever is most appropriate for a particular shooting environment or scene.
When traveling to a destination by air it’s another matter. I refuse to check my camera bodies and lenses as luggage — regardless of how strong the shipping case may be, so one or two carry-on bags must hold all the cameras needed, including essential non-photographic items. Regardless of which format I select I almost always bring along a panoramic camera — these days usually the XPan. I pack my clothes in a checked duffel bag because it’s long enough to also hold the tripod and ball-head.
More on each of these systems and travel tips below and in the connected pages.
I currently use three panoramic cameras; a Fuji 617,Noblex 150UX and a Hasselblad XPan. The Fuji I bought on impulse through a camera show and though I don’t use it much, primarily because of its bulk, I enjoy shooting with it and have used it to produce some exciting landscape work. I have been tempted to upgrade to the newer interchangeable lens GX617, but the appearance of the Hasselblad XPan put an end to that expensive move.
The XPan was purchased in early 1999 and has seen a great deal of use since then. In fact, as good as the 617 is, the convenience of the XPan system is winning out most of the time. It is now the subject of a forthcoming hands-on review that I’ve written for a major U.S. photography magazine. For this reason I’ll have little more to say about it here until the review sees print in the Summer of 2000. At that time it will be reprinted here in full. In the meantime look at some of my portfolios and travel articles done in 1999 and 2000 for a look at what this amazing camera system can do.
The Noblex 150UX is a new addition as of the Fall of 2000. Again, a specialized tool, but I think it will produce so exciting photographs for me in the days ahead.
Early in 1999 I switched from Nikon to Canon EOS. Probably as many people as did this switched the other way. In 35mm photography there has always been a constant tug-of-war between these two great brands for market leadership.
I had a Nikon F4 system for many years and also dabbled briefly with a Contax RTSIII. I loved the Zeiss lenses of the Contax system but really missed autofocus. Contax’s AX autofocus solution does not appeal to me and so I never completely made the switch to Contax.
The switch from Nikon to a Canon EOS system was made primarily because of lenses. As you will read elsewhere on these pages, while camera functionality is important to me, ultimately it’s the lenses that are the most critical component. I believe that currently Canon has the best combination of lens image quality and technology in the 35mm field and in this section I’ll discuss why in greater depth.
My system of choice in medium format is the Rollei 6008. Highly versatile, the Rollei 6008 system is everything one could want in a medium format camera and it features exceptional (though expensive) lenses from Schneider and Zeiss. If I could only have one camera system, this would be it.
As good as the Rollei is, it lacks the tilts and shifts that I enjoy with both my large format Toyo system and with my 35mm Canon T/S lenses. Therefore a very specialized medium format camera, the Hasselblad ArcBody became part of my arsenal during early 2000, and it is helping me produce some very pleasing images that would have been otherwise unobtainable.
The Rollei system, as good as it is, isn’t suitable for difficult or lengthy hiking. For this I use the Mamiya 7 II, a superb rangefinder 6X7 camera system.
I also used the Mamiya 645 Pro system for a couple of years before switching to Rollei and found it versatile and of very good quality. On a budget this would be a great choice. The new Contax 645 system appears to be an excellent system with exceptional Zeiss glass, but for reasons which are described in my comments on the Rollei I prefer the 6X6 format.
Twenty years ago I was product manager for large format equipment at a major importer, and taught seminars on view camera technique at the community college level. Since then I have worked exclusively in 35mm and medium format. But, I have now acquired a Toyo VX125 monorail field camera and am rediscovering the joys of large format work.
This is the most dynamic area in photography today. Changes are happening monthly. Here you’ll find links to the latest developments and new equipment.
Digital image processing is PC based. (I’m not ignoring Macs — I’ve just always been Wintel based). Therefore, the equipment and software landscape changes as quickly as the rest of the computer industry. For traditional darkroom aficionados for whom change happens over decades, this can be disconcerting.
In this section I describe the equipment that I am currently using as I completed a major system upgrade in the fall of ’99.
What format to use? What film to buy? Perennial questions. Here are some brief thoughts on these twin issues.
There is an art to traveling for the purpose of photography — as opposed to traveling and taking photographs as a side event. Here are some tips and techniques derived from a lifetime of experience.
Join a discussion on one of the topics above, or create a new one.
Creating a web site can be quick and simple, or a difficult long-term project. This section provides some insights into how The Luminous Landscape was created.
Using and understanding polarizers, colour enhancing filters and graduated filters in the age of PhotoShop.
The most important equipment a photographer can own for obtaining sharp high-resolution images is a good tripod and head. Learn why‚¬¹ and what to get.
There is a great deal of myth and misinformation regarding lens resolution, what’s important, and what ends up on film. Here is a fascinating new article that explores this topic in some depth.
But, here is a rebuttal that points out flaws in the above presentation. Make of it what you will. As for me, I’m going out to take pictures.
Most photographers no longer use hand-held meters. A pity. The Sekonic L508 is probably the most versatile light meter ever made. If for nothing else, it’s worth owning for use in incident mode.
This section also contains a tutorial on incident metering.
Increasing numbers of digital imaging works (myself among them) are switching to large high-quality LCD displays. These offer crisper images, less heat and radiation and no flicker. Alain Briot has contributed a review of the King of such monitors, the Apple Cinema Display.