Tag Archives: camera

Love affair with a camera

I’ve always thought it a little odd how some photographers have these intense love affairs with a specific camera. They become fixated on the Leica, or Canon or cheap Diana plastic toys. A sort of photo-erotic romance. For them no other camera will ever match their one true love which they elevate on a pedestal, often with the kind of hyperbole that if examined closely, should make them blush. For me, cameras and computers are simply tools of my trade. They do the job and are discarded without sentimentality if and when they fail to measure up.

In reality though, I’m not so different. I must confess that I once had a passionate affair with one particular camera. It was the Nikon SP. Manufactured in the late 1950s, it was a machine that took the best ideas from Contax and Leica and melded them into a camera that I think, was the absolute pinnacle of rangefinder camera development. I bought mine second-hand in 1971. It came with two 50mm lenses, and a 25mm wide-angle. The 50mm lenses were the superb little Nikkor 1.4 and the incredibly fast and bulky Nikkor 1.1.

So large was the front element of the 1.1 that its barrel filled most of the viewfinder area. Without a supplementary viewfinder you were practically guessing at what was in the frame. For this reason I rarely used it, but what triggered this reminiscence was seeing that there was one of these lenses on eBay the other day. It’s price tag: $40,000! I sold mine about 20 years ago for $600 (groan).

With my Nikon SP and the 25mm wide angle, circa 1977 © Rob Walls

With my Nikon SP and the 25mm wide angle, circa 1977 © Rob Walls

The Nikon SP was my walkabout camera. It accompanied me everywhere. Compared with my SLRs it was compact (when without the f1.1 at least) and with its Contax style focussing wheel next to the shutter release, was fast in use. I developed a deep affection for this machine, and still Nikon still hold this fore-runner of the Nikon F in high regard. So much so that about 10 years ago they ran a limited commemorative edition that was immediately snapped up by collectors.

When I lost my SP in a burglary in the 1980s, I went into deep mourning. For years,  I gazed into pawn shop windows, hoping to glimpse my camera again, but eventually, I came to accept that it was gone forever. You can still pick up good examples of the SP on eBay for a couple of thousand dollars and I must admit that looking at them today, I was tempted. But then reality set in. I can’t bring myself to go back to film even for the love of my life. Now if only Nikon would produce the SP as a full-frame mirrorless digital with that superb 35mm F1.8 Nikkor, I could fall in love all over again.

If you want to know more about the history and qualities of this handsome camera, go here:

Here’s a couple of pictures from my Nikon SP.

An off-duty cleaner walks her dog from the back of a station wagon, in Centennial Park, Sydney © Rob Walls 1977

An off-duty cleaner walks her dog from the back of a station wagon, in Centennial Park, Sydney © Rob Walls 1975

Circus boy

A young boy captivated by the trapeze act at a performance by Ashton’s Circus in Sydney © Rob Walls 1973

Both of these pictures are spontaneous grab shots; the picture of the boy in the audience at the circus was shot under extreme low-light conditions. With the 1.4 wide open, I remember that the shutter speed for this was 1/4 second, hand-held, with my shoulder hard braced up against a tent-pole. I got off three frames, this was the only sharp one.

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Filed under Australia, Australian, Autobiography, documentary photography, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls

The new iPad as camera…

Having bought the new iPad for its dazzling display qualities, I finally got round to checking out what its improved camera could do. Now, with a brace of Nikon DSLRs and a Canon G11, I’m not especially in need of another camera, but driven by curiosity I decided to give it a run. Perhaps I should issue a warning here that this is not a serious review because the iPad camera is not a serious camera.

First up, its handling characteristics  make you look like an idiot, 50 years of working as a pro photographer has long ago inured me to what people think of me while I’m shooting pictures. The Ipad’s screen in bright conditions is practically unusable. This problem prompted me to drag out my old large format dark cloth. It was a great improvement, but stopping the cloth from falling over the lens was difficult. Now I look like a complete idiot, but at least I could now compose a picture effectively.

Using a dark cloth to view the new iPad screen. I call this my iBurka. © Rob Walls 2012

A quick candid shot. I guess one advantage with holding up an iPad is that most subjects, even those familiar with picture taking with a phone, are unaware that you are taking pictures. © Rob Walls 2012

The Cascade Brewery near my home. A picture I took while out for a walk a few hours ago. The iPad screen grid is useful for architectural shots. © Rob Walls 2012

As far as colour rendition is concerned, the new iPad suits my penchant for vivid colour.

To sum up: as a camera it will do in a pinch. The pictures are as sharp as one could expect from a device such as this. Great for taking pictures for a blog, but it’s handling is about as responsive as that big ship in the minutes before it collided with that chunk of ice 100 years ago (couldn’t resist working in a reference to the Titanic). No design changes I can foresee are ever likely to make the iPad into a decent camera, but then again, that’s not what I bought it for. I don’t think, I’ve ever owned a device that has given me more pleasure while contributing so much to my productivity.

Shooting from beneath my iBurka it occurred to me that a fun iPad accessory would be a clip-on dummy set of bellows with a fake tilt shift lens panel and a tripod mount that would make the iPad look like a conventional 10×8 view camera. After all, there is already a cover that disguises the iPhone as a Leica. (please note I am stamping this idea with my ownership right here:-))

Now the truly great thing about photography with the new Ipad is that with picture sharing via Twitter, the iPad camera brings back to my photography much of the playfulness that I used to experience when shooting with the Polaroid SX70. This sense of play is enhanced by the fact that pictures on the iPad are costing me nothing. I used to get free film from Polaroid, so it was the same with the SX70. Being able to shoot oblivious to cost and unhampered by the limitations imposed by knowing that the pictures don’t need to meet a certain quality standard for publication, is a truly liberating experience.

(Now I’d like to explore it’s video possibilities. With the addition of a Movie Mount it actually might even have reasonable handling capabilities. The new iPad mount is expected to be available in a month or so.)

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Filed under Australian, Digital photography, News, Opinion, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls

Bucking horses and chunky cameras…

The Australian National Rodeo Championships, Cootamundra, 1964

The Australian National Rodeo Championships, Cootamundra, 1965

It was the summer of 1965. I had been a very green staffer on Rupert Murdoch’s newly founded national daily, The Australian, for a mere three months, when I was assigned to cover the National Rodeo Championships in the New South Wales country town of Cootamundra.

Arriving early, after an early morning start and a 200 kilometre drive from Canberra, I approached the ring boss, to introduce myself. He was a rangy, tall, laconic cowboy straight out of central casting, Marlboro Man in an Akubra hat. I asked whether there might be a good vantage point I could use to photograph the action. My hope was that he might give me the OK to shoot from the announcer’s box high above the arena.

With the faintest shadow of a smile, he said, “Right here’s good?” We were standing in the centre of the arena, which in about half an hour would be a scene of bucking mayhem as bulls and broncos did their best to get rid of the cowboys on their backs. I managed a nervous, “You’re kidding aren’t you?” “Keep your eyes open and your wits about you and you should be OK.” He reassured me.

The first riders were called and as that gate slammed open, and the first horse exploded out into the arena, I couldn’t think about taking pictures. I was much too scared. When the ride was over, I realised that I had managed to stay out from under the hooves and survived. I began to think about taking photos. After the third or fourth horse I actually found I was beginning to enjoy myself. But there were still the bulls to come. But with each animal my confidence grew.

Because of the pace of the events there were often a couple of riderless horses or bulls in the arena at the same time as the one with a rider. You not only had to watch the action in front of the lens but have an awareness of what was going on behind you. Maybe it was the adrenaline, but I found I developed a fairly certain awareness of where everything was and where to place myself to stay out of the way. There were a couple of near misses, but in the end it became all part of the excitement.

This picture turned up when I was going through some old prints the other day. It was taken with a 180mm lens. So what, you might think; a reasonably long telephoto. The thing is it was actually a 180mm Mamiya Sekor and it was on a 6×6(120) Mamiya C3 twin lens camera. To fill the frame on a 2 ¼ x2 ¼ inch negative you had to get quite close enough to make for an exciting afternoon, especially with nothing between you and all that plunging, bucking, thundering livestock.

The world is such an over-regulated place these days, the opportunity to get so up close to the action like this rarely occurs. Nowadays you’d have to shoot from behind the barrier and probably wear a hard hat and a high-visibility vest as well. It’s probably a good thing, but I can’t help but feel that in a society that seems to reject the notion of personal responsibily for one’s safety and actions, that so much of the enjoyment and excitement has been leached out of the press photographer’s job.

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Filed under Australian, News, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls