When I started investigating medium format, before purchasing my Yashicamat, I spent hours searching the web for useful information on cameras, film and technique. Here are five websites I found particularly useful:
I spent two weeks on Patmos last month. It’s a small Greek island in the Dodecanese chain, chiefly associated with John of Patmos, the reputed biblical author of the Book of Revelation or Apocalypse. Patmos is arid but beautiful, blessed with a fine climate and endless light.
Though I packed a digital SLR, it didn’t see much use – the Yashicamat came first. I brought my usual slide film (Fuji Provia 400) and some print film (Fuji Reala 100) for the first time. Daily temperatures around 31 degrees Celsius (88 degrees Fahrenheit) had shooting at dawn and dusk most days, avoiding the harsh light and heat of midday.
Patmos was created volcanically around 7 million years ago; its topsoil is loose and has the texture of Granola, crumbling beneath your feet as you scramble around. Arriving on location pre-dawn, I fell over more than once whilst clambering with my tripod and camera equipment in the dark. At dawn, the window of great light lasted around 15 minutes so it was essential to have shots pre-visualised and locations scouted beforehand.
The ‘Rock of the Apocalypse’ shots were made at dawn in Petra bay. The shoreline at Petra (Greek πέτρα, literally ‘rock’) has a tangible volcanic rim shape and the bay is dominated by a large rock of geological and historical interest. The rock contains grottoes inhabited by early Christians and, according to a controversial theory outlined by an Austrian lady I met, it may have been be the cave site of John of Patmos. This theory is of course regarded as errant by the Orthodox monks managing the ‘official’ cave and fortress monastery at Chora. History aside, the rock formation is very sculptural and makes an excellent photographic subject.
Boulders, wiry plants and rocky outcrops drew my gaze on Patmos. The hillsides at Grikos turned fiery at dawn (see ‘Hillside at Grikos II’) and came out rather over-saturated in print film (which is already sensitive to red) so I adjusted this in Lightroom. Comparing C41 (print film) and E6 (slide film) results from this trip, C41 shots like ‘Massey Ferguson, Grikos’ have more muted tones and smoother contrast. The E6 Grikos harbour images have a different look altogether, something I can best describe as ‘glassy’.
Gordon and I met on Grain recently to take advantage of some excellent skies and to take the delightful air of north Kent. If you’ve been following this blog, you already know I’ve spent a lot of time there recently.
I brought the Yashicamat, my tripod and a few rolls of Provia 100F for the trip. Determined to improve my metering skills after mistakes last time out, we visited some familiar spots before heading to Grain beach for dusk.
Determining the right exposure for slide film is a skill I’m working on – it’s alien coming from digital photography, and I think experience and ‘feel’ is going to be as important as reading numbers off the meter. Looking at the tiff scans and processed films from this trip, the exposure is variable: sometimes over, sometimes under, sometimes about right. I’m hoping consistency will come with practice.
In the gallery below, I’ve used Lightroom’s ‘B&W Creative – Creamtone’ preset on three images as an experiment. Lightroom 3 has several new presets which I’ll be trying out in due course. Next time out, I’ll be using Provia 400 for the first time.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the summer cycling on the Isle of Grain in north Kent. Last weekend, I packed the Yashicamat and tripod to shoot film and shake off the rust – this was my first trip for a while. It’s been very, very dry this year and the landscape is yellow turning white in places. The wheat and onion fields are being harvested, everything’s pale and waiting for rain.
Schoolboy error no.1 – after finishing the film, I realised that I’d been using my meter on reflective, not incidental, mode all day. Damn, that meant everything was likely to be over-exposed. There was nothing to do but send the film for processing and pray something useful would return. I used the Darkroom in Cheltenham for the first time – the website’s a bit creaky but their service is speedy: I had the film and scans back within 3 days. As I feared, the photos were overexposed by about 2 stops but I let Lightroom work its magic and they came out tolerably (N.B. I got medium-res jpegs from the lab this time, not tiffs, so exposure recovery was limited). In an odd way, the overexposure suits the parched landscape well.
Here are a few examples, with a link to the full gallery below:
So, the accessories arrived a few days ago. Here’s the Gossen Lunasix F light meter I purchased from eBay:
Gossen have thoughtfully archived their old manuals as pdfs on their website so I was able to get this with ease. I’ve never used a light meter before but it seems quite straightforward in practice.
Here is my Yashica Mat itself:
and here’s everything cased up:
The manual is obviously dated but it’s concisely put together. The slide film (or ‘E6’ for short) is Fujifilm Provia 100F which I’m using as a control group to begin with. I’ll be trying and comparing colour negative film later on, if the money doesn’t run out.
First time out
Monday’s weather was tepid spring: the odd sunny spell but mostly overcast, warm in the sun but otherwise cool. Nonetheless, I was determined to take the TLR out for a trial run so I headed to some local woodland with camera, tripod and meter.
I spent forty minutes walking the woods, looking for shots and analyzing the light. Then it was time for action. Tripod out, TLR out of case, meter out – whoops, the cases are on the ground – and so on. I then composed the shot using the viewfinder on the Yashica Mat which pops up from the top:
It’s large, fairly bright and has grid lines (great for me, I’m usually 1/1.5 degrees lopsided). The viewfinder image is laterally reversed which is weird when you start moving the camera or tripod – it’ll take a while to master. There’s a magnifying glass you can pop down for precise focusing. I found myself really taking time to get the composition right, metering the scene several times (I have not put the Zone System into practice yet – all in good time).
It’s not digital – I took four photographs in around two hours. Ok, it was my first time so everything took longer than it should. Still, when you have the cost of film and processing in the back of your mind, you do your best before you press the shutter. There’s also an element of “Hmm, is that idea really worth setting up for?”.
When I finish the roll, I’ll have it developed straight away to verify the exposures and make sure everything is working as it should. I’m noting shutter speed and aperture for each shot as I go. I’ll have some results to share before too long.
Last week I bought an old medium format film camera, a Yashica Mat TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) made sometime between 1957-1971.
Image quality – this camera takes 120 film, a format Kodak created around 1902. TLRs are most associated with the Rolleiflex brand but it’s a little more complex than that (here’s a great summary). You get 12 shots a roll and the negatives measure 6cm x 6cm. The total film surface area is much larger than 35mm: 3136 sq.mm versus 864 sq.mm (click here for an excellent summary). Larger negatives offer finer image quality with superior saturation, tonality and detail through capturing more information through the lens. The lens on this particular model (Yashica made many over several decades – see here for details) is a Yashinon 80mm F3.5.
Fit for purpose – I’m interested in landscape photography in available light and I’m trying to get better. In two weeks’ time, I start a 10-week tutored portfolio course (of which more soon) and I’ve been reading books on the history of photography, and on landscape photography in particular. I’ll be shooting digitally (Nikon D40) for the portfolio project but during the course I’ll certainly be practising with the TLR. I think medium format has real potential if I can get things right behind the camera.
It’s not digital – the TLR should be a useful counterpoint to my digital habits as it’s so different. Whilst it’s hard to take technically poor photos with today’s digital cameras – their ease-of-use and economy are great – they can encourage sloppy habits. With digital, you’re shooting at no real cost and you know you can trash all rejects later; therefore, it’s natural to (even unconsciously) take less care making the photographs themselves.
The completely manual operation of a TLR – bring a light meter, set the shutter speed and aperture, crank the film advance – and the expense of film (and processing it) perhaps makes for a more frugal and careful photographer – we’ll see. Though I expect to use the TLR in a considered way, mostly with a tripod, TLRs can of course be used handheld and they were used by press photographers before the ascent of 35m SLRs.
I have 5 rolls of Fuji Provia 100F slide film (E6) for starters, and a batch of Provia 400X on the way. So when my light meter arrives tomorrow, I’ll be ready to take the Yashica Mat outdoors. The forecast this weekend looks decent too.