Nuts & Bolts
July 2009

by Bill Pierce

I've noticed there are a lot of things in my gadget bag (excuse me, camera bag) that really are gadgets.

There's a mini-cassette tape recorder because it's easier and faster to dictate than write notes while you're shooting. I've mentioned before that some weird things occur when you hand a recorder to a stranger, tell him to spell out his name and briefly describe what is happening. It's the "what's happening" part that is interesting. I once had a guy essentially confess to financial fraud. Apparently you will say things to a photographer that you would never say to the reporter.

By the way, I use a mini-cassette rather than a smaller solid-state recorder just because it seems to produce more legible recordings when people scream or whisper into it or when there is high background noise. The downside is that it's much more likely to break when you drop it on a cement sidewalk.

In my bag, there's a little rubber squeeze bulb for blowing the dust off of digital camera sensors. It's the one I used to blow dust off negatives in the darkroom. It can also blow dust off lenses. But I'm sure it is now advertised somewhere as a "digital squeeze bulb."

Equally high tech is a homemade folder of heavy, but not corrugated, cardboard. It sits in the large pouch found on the back of many gadget bags or an appropriate area of a backpack. It protects paperwork, airplane boarding passes computer printed at home on flimsy stationary, borrowed personal photographs (the most obvious being photographs of people who are deceased) and receipts.

I have a small stack of business cards that have been printed for those occasions when you don't know anything about the person you're handing it to – no phone number, no address, just name, title and an e-mail address that is not your main e-mail account. These sit next to a stack of real cards with name, address, phone number, etc.

As DSLRs and their lenses grow bigger, I also carry a small camera to use when I don't want to attract attention to myself. Currently this is either a Canon G10 or a Sigma DP2.  

This is a fast evolving world. The recently announced Olympus EP-1 four-thirds camera equipped with the 17 mm (essentially the equivalent of a 35 mm lens on a full-frame camera) interchangeable lens and an accessory optical viewfinder is attracting attention. In an interview with The British Journal of Photography, Akira Watanabe, who is in charge of Olympus Imaging's SLR planning department, said there might be a similar camera directed towards the professional.

To me, most interesting is the fact that they are releasing a fixed focal length lens and a matching optical viewfinder. Anyone knows that using a camera that only has an LCD viewing screen outdoors in bright light is not simply inconvenient. IT'S IMPOSSIBLE.

[The Sigma DP2 has a 20.7 by 13.8 mm sensor, slightly larger than a four-thirds sensor with an imaging area of 17.3 by 13 mm. Both are smaller than the APS-C sensor (20.7 by 13.8 to 28.7 by 19.1 mm) used in some DSLRs, but certainly larger than the sensors used in most compact digital cameras. This can be important when it comes to noise level at higher ISOs.]

The DP2 has a fixed lens that is not interchangeable, a 24.2 mm lens that is the equivalent of a 41 mm lens on a full-frame camera. And, blessing of blessings, they sell an auxiliary bright line finder.

Within the circle of photographers that I associate with, the Canon G10 is the most popular of the minis. Nonetheless, it has a god-awful optical finder. Here's the solution.

You can set the G10 custom functions to zoom the lens to a predetermined focal length. When the camera is initially turned on, it sets its focal length at a 28 mm equivalent. I have set custom functions 1 and 2 to set it at the equivalents of 35 and 50 mm. In my bag I have accessory bright line finders originally made for a rangefinder camera and those focal lengths. The 2:3 vs 3:4 format ratios are not an exact match, and I don't know how the Canon feels about having Leitz finders in its accessory shoe, but it works for me. Turn the camera on, set the appropriate function on the control dial, and enjoy the viewing experience normally associated with a camera that costs $6,000 without a lens.

I'm so old I already have bright line finders from 15 to 135 mm from the rangefinder days. For young whippersnappers who want to try this, I recommend the Cosina-Voigtlander finders. They are good quality and reasonably priced.

And that's the other thing in my gadget bag, a soft pouch filled with bright line finders. I don't just use them on the G10; I use them on my big DSLRs. Remember, with the bright line finder, everything is sharp and you can see outside the frame lines. In nasty situations where photographers should be aware of what is happening around them, the bright line is a better and safer choice than the "I'm in a dark room watching a slide show" view of the DSLR. Slip the bright line finder into the accessory shoe of a DSLR and you can have it either way. Yes, you will be limited to a single focal length lens on each body. No fussing with your zoom – and that can be an advantage, too, in some of these situations.

As to the picture that has nothing to do with the column, tell me what you think the young lady with the baby thinks about the kissing couple. This may be an exciting new use of the box at the bottom of the column that says, "Type your comment here."

© Bill Pierce
Contributing Writer

Bill Pierce's pictures have appeared in Time, Life, People, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times and other publications and books here and abroad. He is a winner of the Leica Medal of Excellence, the World Press Budapest Award and the Overseas Press Olivier Rebbot Award for best photoreporting from abroad. His pictures are in the collections of major universities, museums and private collectors. More of his pictures can be seen at

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