I was a bit apprehensive about embarking on a page about this topic. Like a kid spelling the word ‘banana’ I know how to start, but I’m not sure when to stop! Being integral to the process, I thought I would take the chance to touch on a little bit on the journey. Sentimental warning for the first part for nostalgiaphobes, thought it would be cruel not to mention.
I haven’t been shooting for very long in the grand scheme of things- one regret in my life is not having picked up a camera earlier. If you don’t have the photo, did it ever happen? There are plenty of moments I would love to have had as photographic keepsakes- like when I found a large hole in a rusty wire fence behind where I lived when I was 5 or 6. Behind the fence was some sort of forest or woods and I was convinced a bear did it. Of course there were no bears there, but if I had that picture now, I could surely make a case for it!
My first cameras were of the disposable variety- 27 frames of possibility! If I really wanted to live large, I’d stretch the budget for the one with a flash. One time, anticipating a snorkelling trip to Pulau Tioman in Malaysia, I used every last coin I ever received from a relative for being adorable and got myself an underwater model. An underwater model!!
I used to wonder why disposable camera only came with so few shots when roll film came in 24 and 36’s- in retrospect, it does make sense because developing and printing costs would factor in to what you’re signing yourself up for when you purchase a disposable camera. Fortunately for me, a kid of single digit years with a grand income of a dollar per weekday which was meant to pay for food on tuckshop break at school, my mum often let me put my developing and printing charges on her photocopying and teaching-related printing bill from the same place. 3R! 3½” × 5″ or 9cm x 13cm. In retrospect they were tiny, but to a tiny kid who didn’t know any better, at the time I felt they were just the right size.
The next phase saw me in a camera shop with my dad many years later picking a film point and shoot camera. The choice came down to a small but feature-loaded Yashica vs. a Fujifilm option which I can best describe as a bulbous plastic box with a viewfinder and the ability to date photos. Of course, never having heard of Yashica before, I was most certain the much cheaper and significantly more basic Fujifilm was the superior option despite my father’s attempt at being persuasive otherwise. It was hilarious- I must not have been very bright. I did know how to pick a stayer though- my bulbous box took many years of satisfactory photographs, not to mention Fujifilm somehow stormed back in 2011 and 2012 with a number of inspired products such as the X100 and the X-Pro1, staring down photographic behemoths Canon and Nikon and their seemingly limitless R&D budgets. As the years went by, I eventually inherited another Fujifilm film point and shoot with a much sleeker form factor, a sliding door lens cover, retractable zoom lens etc. It even took fancy batteries which although seemed to last nearly forever, when they did kick the bucket I had no idea where to replace them.
When a friend of mine then decided to upgrade his digital point and shoot, I jumped at the chance! A Canon IXUS 700! What a leap. The digital thing felt liberating! The quality of pictures were good for snaps and it is still serving its purpose very well. I still have my IXUS 700 today, and it has been the most reliable worker. These days it lives in the car mostly, or comes out on the tinny (small aluminium dinghy, in non-Australian lingo) when I take it out on the bay.
Fast forward a decade or so to approximately 2003. The time had come to purchase my first film SLR. I spent weeks accumulating all sorts of brochures and catalogs of cameras and lenses and after careful consideration of needs, wants and budget, I narrowed the body down to the Canon EOS 30/33 (eye controlled focusing!!), the Nikon F80 and F100, and the Pentax MZ-5n or MZ3.
The Canon and Nikon were neck and neck and being the big players, I knew I couldn’t go wrong with either. The Pentax MZ-5n though, love at first sight. Modern camera, gorgeously appealing retro design, small form factor, solid metal construction, spot metering, a pentaprism (vs pentamirror), manual control knobs etc. Not to mention a smorgasbord of lenses to choose from given Pentax’s prolific history in the area of single lens reflex cameras.
First major purchase, a Pentax MZ-5n, Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 EX DF, a 77mm UV filter, 77mm Red 25a, battery grip (which greatly improved handling with the 28-70 which was a relatively chunky lens), a cable release, a Velbon Mountain Chaser tripod, and AF360FGZ flash unit and an olive Hardigg (now Pelican?) iM2050 Stormcase. Grand total, $1800 to a starving uni student. The pain was felt for a while.
Subsequently, I ran off two rolls of film pretty quickly shooting in manual and felt pretty good about it. Got it back from the lab and that $1800 spent seemed like an even larger amount of money spent- the photos were without a doubt the worst photos I had ever taken, and that’s even sampling the photos from my 27 frame disposable cameras and my bulbous Fujifilm box. That incident was possibly one of the biggest kicks in the guts ever, and determined not to be beaten, I printed out and read every article I could find on everything that looked like something I should know, aperture, shutter speed, depth of field, hyperfocal distance, circle of confusion- everything.. and put it all in the loo. That’s where all the great thinking takes place right? And it sure beat re-reading that tube of Colgate for the thousandth time- great regular flavour, maximum cavity protection, strengthens teeth and freshens breath!
I grew a fond liking for Av mode soon thereafter; letting the camera handle one critical decision (shutter speed) let me think a bit more about composition while getting a feel for the limitations of the camera’s metering system. By extension, that also meant getting a taste of manual or M mode now and it just went from there.
I soon also landed, by the most brilliant stroke of luck, the extremely rare and notoriously sharp SMC-F 50mm f/1.4 in mint condition for a song, together with a SMC-F 1.7x teleconverter. Could not believe it!
It wasn’t much longer after that I was landing small paid photographic assignments and the money from that went into buying more film- Fuji Reala being my favourite standard use film, complemented with Ilford HP5 and FP4, Kodak TMAX, and Fujipress- and developing, printing and paper.
It was also around the same time whilst holidaying at my folks’ place in the UK, that I was contacted by the United Nations Environment Program regarding a photo I entered in the 2004-2005 Focus On Your World International Photographic Competition. It had placed as a finalist in the youth category. What were the chances! Well actually I guess I could work it out.. approximately 50 in 75,000? Proudest. Moment. Ever. I never did get to see that photo exhibited, but I did have to sign off allowing it to travel around the world and be exhibited at random places.
Not long after that DSLRs started seeming like they had arrived and were here to stay. A chance came up to purchase a limited edition of Pentax’s maiden offering *ist D. Gold trim and commemorating CR Kennedy’s50th anniversary in Australia. Getting a good price on it and figuring that I would need the other sooner or later, I stretched the budget a bit and bought two. Considering I also only had two lenses at that point, in retrospect this was clearly a good case study of the neuroscience behind marketing methodology.
The new medium presented some challenges and I soon discovered my first one. While my SMC-F 50mm f/1.4 was tack sharp and did not disappoint apart from the crop factor turning it into more of a portrait focal length, the Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8EX DF did not play nice. My particular copy, despite being a flawless coupling with the MZ-5n, was back-focusing with the *ist D. Guess that’s one of the downsides re third party lenses- while they make some nice glass, it can become a bit of a run around to sort out compatibility issues, in this case the focus adjustment. Presumably, I had to send the cameras with the lens back to the distributor/service agent who would possibly then have to send the combination back to Japan etc.
Around the same time, Canon had just released their new and very impressive at the time 20D body, although it was nearly twice the cost of the *ist D. I cannot say that my transition into digital SLR photography was a fun ride. Eventually after much consideration and crunching the logistics, I returned both *ist D bodies- not wanting to wait a few months to have my cameras being the major motivation. Heartbreakingly, I also sold my much beloved MZ-5n and all associated gear. If I had the option to, I would have kept it all, but I urgently needed to free up some funds. The result of that and a bit of a top up help from my wonderful grandparents and an overseas shopping trip culminated in a Canon 20D body, EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6, lens hood, B+W UV filter, battery grip, first generation Sandisk Extreme 1Gb CF card and a spare battery which was thrown in. I think I got my 580EX unit in there as well, so I was off to a great start.
It was an exciting time. I did an early test shot specifically to see how this new medium would compare to good results I had been having with film. Nothing done in post, just a large in-camera jpg with neutral settings. I printed it out to a glossy 10” x 12” and it was the precise moment I was sold. The detail was resolved beautifully, the catchlight-bounced flash was soft, even and subtle. I was elated and just knew it was the beginning of something good.
It was around a year that I had to get all I could out of my lone hero of a lens, the 17-85, and it wasn’t til a year after that later that things started to get more serious- my first L lens. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. This was soon followed by a 30D and a 2Gb card which I funded with a cash advanced wedding job, following which came the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 and a very late Canon EF 50mm f/1.8. I really should have got the cheap, cheerful and extremely useful nifty 50 a lot earlier, but as they say.. hindsight is 20/20 right?
The inevitable switch to full frame did come too, but it had to be done with it being the general expected standard for a working photographer in 2011, not to mention the improved noise and high ISO performance amongst other things. There were also the images possible with a full frame camera that at the moment are not possible with a cropped sensor camera e.g. with a 24mm f/1.4- there isn’t an APS-C crop equivalent 17mm f/1.4 currently being manufactured. Not that I have a 24mm f/1.4, but it could happen sometime down the road?
The biggest hurdle to overcome switching to full frame was definitely the cost. Assuming I would go with Canon lenses the 17-85 f/4-5.6 would have to become the 24-70mm f/2.8 or 24-105mm f/4, while the 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 would have to become either the 17-40mm f/4 or 16-35mm f/2.8, and really wanting the extra stop and better bokeh, the upgrade path was quite clear.
It’s been a long journey, but today the current cast includes a 5D mk II, my new 5D mk III, 30D, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, EF 85mm f/1.2L II, 50mm f/1.8mm II, 2x Extender III, 580EX, 580EXII, TC80N3, Rode VideoMic Pro, Slik 814CFII, Manfrotto 322RC2, Manfrotto monopod. In addition, UV filters, a 77m CPL, an 82mm Light Craft Workshop ND500 (9-stop) filter , 72mm-77mm-82mm step up rings, 500D closeup lens, various flash modifiers, 4 Cactus V5 triggers, a large reflector, a couple of shoot through umbrellas and light stands, IXUS 700, a Go Pro Hero HD 2, a Lowepro Fastpack 350AW, Lowepro Magnum 650AW, Lowepro Pro Messenger 200AW, Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable AA’s, and also a Google Nexus One and HTC One XL.
While I was hoping to get that elusive 1DX instead of a 5D mk III, I’ve run out of kidneys to sell. That being said I couldn’t be happier with my 5D mk III- like the reviews say, it doesn’t look like it should be that big a jump from the mk II on paper, but when you see how the improvements are implemented, then see them in action, it’s a thing of beauty.
On the wish list apart from that 1DX, there’s a Dynamic Perception rig or a Kessler Pocket Dolly with the Oracle and Electra Drive, a Cognisys Stopshot with both laser and UV sensors, an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS 1.4x when it comes out, to upgrade the 580EX’s to three 600EX-RT’s, a TSE 17mm f/4L an MPE 65mm f/2.8 1-5x and 180mm f/3.5 with Kenko tubes. And also- a 322RC2 with an ARCA style clamp not using an RC2 adapter plate! And of course, to take better photos. One can dream right?