A quick update on Marilyn--she left the dog hospital with her hind quarters paralyzed, and without much official hope for recovery. Each day, I would walk her as much as possible by looping a towel under her and supporting her while she locomoted on her front legs--sort of a doggie wheelbarrow. As much as possible, I would lower her back legs to the floor, in the hope that she might begin to use them.
Guess what? She did.
It's been slow. Sometimes she can't get up, and she does have a limp. But, when she went back to Animal Medical for a checkup, a new vet read her report and then suddenly realized the dog in the report had just walked up to her and was woofing. The doctor excused herself, then reappeared with the head of the original team. There was extreme rejoicing.
Which brings me to the point of this month's column. In spite of the lust that all of us have for new and shiny gear, there are a number of old photo-things that are perfectly serviceable and have a lot of life left in them. My first two Leica M3's worked for twenty-five years before they were stolen while doing a walk-up to the Canadian Olympics. They were replaced with two used M3's of similar age. Those M3's are still going strong on a daily basis, albeit on a slightly lightened schedule, as they are supplemented by those young whipper-snapper Leicas with the built-in meter.
I have two Rollei IIIF's with f/3.5 Planars. The lenses are excellent, and thought by many to be the best of the older Rollei TLR lenses. Frankly, I've seen some mighty impressive 2.8's. These cameras are not a part of my normal gadget bag. But, when they are added to the bag, it's little strain. A 120 Rollei TLR is smaller than either a Canon EOS 1N or Nikon F5 with its normal lens. And, the TLR has two lenses--what a bargain.
The jump from 35 to 120 probably produces the greatest difference in quality between two formats that are neighbors. The results are far more obvious than the jump between 6x7 centimeters and 4x5 inches, or 4x5 and 8x10 inches. It's not a difference in quality that is obvious in newsprint. However, in larger reproductions--in a magazine or book--the difference is clear.
I tend to use the Rollei TLR on a tripod, both on location and in the studio for portraits--environmental and otherwise. It leaves my eyes free to check the composition in the viewfinder, or check out the actual subject. In essence, it becomes a little, tiny view camera.
I will also use the camera on set, when covering plays or television. The leaf shutter is so quiet that I am able to use it in situations where one would normally have to use a "blimped" camera. There's just one catch. The wind is much louder, so you are limited to one shot during a take. Since the camera has a medium-wide lens, I normally use it for a medium format overall, and one frame is enough. (Sadly, the new Rollei G's release is linked to the meter mechanism and noisier. Only old Rolleis are allowed to visit the sound stage.)
Ralph Morse had seven 4x5 Speed Graphics in his office at Time & Life. They're big, rugged cameras that can be adapted to a variety of tasks, more by home carpentry than precision machining. Ralph used them for everything from space shots and elaborate multiple exposures, to macro photography. When Ralph was in his office he used to leave the door open, I am sure, for the sole purpose of making me green with envy.
Then, at a yard sale in Tennessee, my younger son bought a Speed Graphic with a 127mm Ektar, 15 sheet film holders, and a first edition copy of [ital title]The Family of Man. All in a cardboard box labeled "Photo Stuff." The purchase price was $25. Realizing this was causing a major emotional meltdown on my part, Arthur Grace gave me a mint Speed, as much for the sake of my family as for me.
Initially, equipped with a Polaroid back, it became my "guest camera." You had dinner at my house, attended a party, you got a [ital word]big Polaroid snapshot. The fact that everybody would stand still for this snapshooting, made me realize that people were impressed with the big camera. I started using it on the street. New York is not a photographer-friendly town, but with this camera, people actually came up and asked me to take their picture. Suddenly, I wasn't just another dime-a-dozen skilled professional--I was somebody!!
Needless to say, I started using the camera for professional portraiture, and difficult subjects became a little more cooperative. An added advantage is that it's a relatively small camera for a 4x5--and it folds up. I've always used 4x5 for portraiture, when appropriate. Although it was rarely appropriate outside my own studio, because I was reluctant to lug a large 4x5 monorail on location.
It's also small enough for me to use as the "overall" camera. (You do a story and, on your way out of town, you shoot a detailed overall of the town from the top of the hill.) Used to be, I did this with the Rollei. Now I use the Graphic. The hidden advantage of sheet film: I don't have to shoot 12 exposures just to get the film out of the camera.
And last, I borrowed a stunt from Ralph. I made an adapter that will put Zeiss Luminar micro lenses on the Speed Graphic (remember, the Speed Graphic has its own, built-in focal plane shutter--not something you see on most view cameras.) There is something mighty impressive about an image that is two, four, eight times life size, especially when it's a 4x5 transparency rather than a slide.
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