Yellowstone: Tiles on Film

In March of 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant did something remarkable; he created the first National Park in United States in an area of Wyoming. This park, known today as Yellowstone National Park, comprises over 3,000 square miles and hosts more than 4 million visitors each year. Those visitors have come to see the over 10,000 geothermal features that comprise the park - ranging from the famous Old Faithful geyser to small steam vents - two-thirds of the world’s geysers are located within Yellowstone.  

The geysers and thermal features of Yellowstone are famous for numerous reasons, least of which is the color. Few places in the world are home to the vibrantly colored pools that dot Yellowstone’s landscape. These memorable colors form the basis of a dazzling mosaic, captured in individual tiles.

Today I am sharing a selection of images - dubbed "tiles" - that were taken with a medium format Rolleiflex film camera. The tiles were shot using Kodak color films, and other than scanning the images, slight cropping, and dust removal from the scanned negatives, there are no other adjustments. The vibrant colors and surreal abstract art is the natural look of these film images.

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Part II: Medium Format Cameras (Rollei v Hasselblad)

Part I: The Joy of Medium Format Film

So you are interested in medium format film photography. There are a litany of follow-on questions including: where do I get film, how do I develop film, and what kind of camera do I use?

There's a bit of good and bad news when it comes to medium format film cameras: there are not a lot of choices. And while there were more choices back in the 1970s, there are only a handful of cameras and brands that have survived the test of time well enough to seriously be considered for a photographer today.

There are two general categories for most of the medium format film cameras - Rollei style or Hasselblad style. Camera makers like Bronica, Mamiya and Yeshica are similar in design to the Rolleiflex and Hasselblad counterparts and the difference is largely related to price.

Since Rolleiflex and Hasselblad are both kings of their respective categories, and they are the cameras I own, I will use them to compare and contrast medium format cameras and you are welcome to extrapolate for another brand as appropriate. 

Let's take a look at each camera individually before comparing them side-by-side.

Rolleiflex

There are several models of the Rolleiflex - they were built for several decades- but the general design of a Rolleiflex (or Rollei for short) is straightforward. It is a twin lens camera - the top lens is used for focusing and composition while the bottom lens has a shutter in it that actually takes the photograph. The benefit of this design is that you are focusing through a bright lens and that can make using the camera in sunlight easier. The Rollei is completely manual; no batteries or circuits. Every time you fire the shutter, you rotate a side crank that advances the film and rechecks the shutter simultaneously.

There are several designs used in Rollei cameras to set the aperture and shutter. One version (seen on the model T) has a plastic ribbon that moves shutter speeds and apertures simultaneous; adjusting just one requires pulling out on a metal tab. Other Rollei cameras use a set of spinning wheels on either side of the lenses to adjust the settings. Some Rollei cameras also include a solenoid meter gauge, but at this age, they are hardly reliable. 

Rolleiflex are fairly compact and much of that is because the lens is fixed - you cannot swap to a different focal length. There are two common focal lengths offered in a Rollei that convert roughly to a 50mm equivalent on 35mm film (remember that a 80mm lens on medium format = 50mm on 35mm film). There are also a selection of different apertures available (ranging from f2.8 to f3.5, or a difference of a half stop). Finally, there are different types of lenses offered for Rolleiflex cameras. Each of these differences has an incredible affect on the pricing; a beginner looking to start can save considerable money by getting a Rollei with a "less desirable" lens or aperture. I've had both sides of the spectrum and think they are both great cameras.

Focusing a Rollei is done by flipping up the top hood and looking down through the top of the camera. The image that is seen is reversed and this causes some initial confusion as panning the camera right moves the image to the left and vice versa. But with practice, you'll get used to a reversed image. From there, you rotate a big knob on the side to move the entire face of the Rollei forward or back, bringing the image into focus.  

Hasselblad

Almost everyone has heard of (or at least seen) a Hasselblad in their lifetime. Why? Because it's the camera taken by the Apollo astronauts to the moon. Of course their version was modified to accommodate their gloves and space stuff, but that camera is remarkably similar to the ones produced through the 1990s. When looking at a Hasselblad for medium format film photography, most people are looking at something coming from the era of 1950-1990, starting with the model 500CM.

There are lots of online resources for learning about all the differences between Hasselblad models (and this isn't one of them), so we'll just look at the big picture. Hasselblad cameras are designed to be tough, to withstand work and use by a professional, and to be very modular. Virtually everything is modular, which is one of the best parts of the system.

Unlike the Rolleiflex, this is a single lens camera, so the photograph is composed and shot via the single lens on the front. As a result of this design, the camera has a mirror that flips out of the way of the image, much like modern dSLR cameras do. To protect the film from accidental exposure to light, there are two shutters-one in the lens and another in the back of the camera (although its the timed lens shutter that captures the image, the back shutter is controlled by pressing and holding the shutter). Lenses are interchangeable and you can opt for a wide angle 50mm for one shot and then a 150mm portrait lens for the next. 

The modular system of a Hasselblad also means that you can change film mid roll. That's right folks, you can switch between black and white and color film mid roll and not have to 'sacrifice' exposures. This was one of the most important features for me - I often want to switch between film types between shots - be it for color or a different ISO speed, etc. You can also use the removable film back to create multiple exposures easily.

If that wasn't enough modular-ness, you can also switch out viewfinders, prisms, grips, electric winders, etc. The list of Hasselblad modular components is nearly endless! 

With a 80mm lens (50mm equivalent on 35mm film), the Hasselblad is only a little bigger than the Rolleiflex, although it is certainly heavier, which is the result of the sturdy construction. Like the Rolleiflex, it is a completely manual camera (later versions used batteries to control metal shutters or for the electronic winder) and focusing is again achieved by looking down on the viewfinder from the top. Settings like aperture and shutter speed are set on the lens itself, removing any controls beside shutter from the body of the camera. Film advance and shutter cocking are done simultaneously from a knob / twist arm on the side of the body.

In my experience, a Rollei is a little more forgiving for a beginner than the Hasselblad, but that's not to say the Hasselblad is a hard camera to use. For instance - Rollei is more "point and shoot" while the Hasselblad requires you to remember to remove the dark slide, make sure you load correctly (its more involved than the Rollei), etc. I would strongly suggest a buyer of either camera visit YouTube for a variety of video tutorials on both types of cameras. Film's too good to be wasted learning (and I've wasted my share......)!

Comparisons

Rollei Pros

  • Small size
  • Less expensive
  • Easy to use
  • Great image quality
  • Quiet shutter
  • Easy to hand hold down to 1/30 and 1/15th second

Rollei Cons

  • No interchangeable lenses
  • No removable film back - can't change film mid-roll
  • Used cameras can have mold, fungus, etc as problems
  • Not very modular. Accessories are limited to filters and a terrible Rolleikin (35mm film adaptor that doesn't work well)

Hasselblad Pros

  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Carl Zeiss optics (considered the best medium format lenses)
  • Modular film backs allow for hot swap of film mid-roll
  • Possible to buy newer cameras from the 1990s
  • Solid construction and design

Hasselblad Cons

  • Bigger and heavier
  • Pricey; some models can cost more than a digital SLR camera
  • Not as easy to use, more steps and things to remember (not hard though!)
  • Noisy shutter (clop-clop sound)
  • Hard to hand hold because of flip up mirror at slow shutter speeds

Looking at this list, you may have a strong inclination one way or another, but I encourage you to really think about the features rather than which camera has more pros or cons. For instance, I place tremendous value in the removable film back, so I'm willing to sacrifice price, shutter sound, and size to get that feature. I also recommend you search for high quality used versions of these cameras and maybe pay a little more for one from a photography shop that specializes in the cameras. eBay can be wonderful, but a camera shop is more likely to catch that fungus in the lens or a shutter that doesn't 'feel' right. Here's some recommendations of places to look:

There are other places to buy these cameras, but I have experience with these, hence my recommendation of them as resources for buying. And I don't get any kick backs or perks for recommending them!

Part I: The Joy of Medium Format Film

This year I discovered the joy of shooting medium format film, and it has completely rejuvenated my interest in film photography. To start my series on medium format film photography, I'll share with you what makes this photographic medium so attractive.

Background

I started shooting large format film, which is about as backward as it can be! I enjoy it, but large format requires big cameras, a big tripod, and isn't exactly an easy system to shoot in a busy environment. So although I loved shooting film, I didn't do it but every so often - for "special occasions."

Interest

I really didn't know much about medium format film (since I had been shooting large format) until early 2015. I often spend a few hours before bed surfing the internet and searching for the work of other photographers to help inspire me. One evening I discovered the work of Vivian Maier, a photographer whose work only became well known after her death. Her work intrigued me - there was a rawness and curiosity to her work that made me explore more. Upon researching her work, I found she shot with a Rolleiflex camera, a brand that was relatively unknown to me. 

My collection - Rolleiflex T whiteface, Hasselblad 503CX and a Rolleiflex 2.8F

Rolleiflex

Off to Google I went. I quickly learned what a Rolleiflex camera is and about the type of film it shoots. The Rolleiflex (called a Rollei for short) is a twin lens camera that uses one lens for framing and focusing and the other to capture the image. Compared to the large format view camera, the Rollei is very compact and portable - perfect for travel.

120mm Film

Part of learning about the Rollei involved learning about medium format film. These days, the term medium format film most often refers to film that is 120mm in size. Each resulting negative is about the size of a post-it note. It offers the big negatives with full resolution that I loved about large format, without being so massive that it's hard to travel with. 120mm film is shot on a roll, each roll is 12 images. 

A Square Affair

At first I wasn't interested. Unlike the other film sizes (large format and 35mm), 120mm film is normally shot as a square. There are other rectangular shapes, but they aren't as common - it's almost entirely a square format affair. This did not appeal to me. It seemed faddish- probably because Instagram has made square photos popular on the internet. And everything I shot was cropped to 16:9 (widescreen) format. How could I go to square after being in love with big rectangles?

Discovery

Although I didn't like the square format of 120mm film, I figured I would go look at a used Rolleiflex and see how it felt and worked in person. It is hard to really get a sense for using and holding a camera by just watching internet photos or YouTube videos - I needed to experience it to decide. Thankfully it's not hard or expensive to find used medium format film cameras; as attics get emptied the market has filled with affordable choices. Of course there's some risk involved in buying a 40 year old camera - parts can be hard to find and issues like fungus and mold become concerns. 

I headed to one of the local camera shops that specializes in film cameras called West Yorkshire Cameras in Leeds, England. They advertised having a mint condition Rolleiflex model T Whiteface Edition in stock for a reasonable price, so off I went. First impression was that the camera was surprisingly small. It was lightweight and straight forward. Instructions for use were easy: load film, wind crank, focus, set aperture and shutter, push shutter release, rinse and repeat. The camera is completely manual - no batteries, no light meter, no circuits to break. This version, the T Whiteface, was in impeccable condition and looked like it'd never been used. Although I was still very skeptical about the square format, I liked the camera, so I figured why not. I bought it and a roll of Ilford HP4+ and went home to play with my new camera.

My Rollei T Whiteface - the camera that started my obsession with medium format film photography

Hesitation and elation

There's something very unnerving about loading a roll of 120mm film, taking some photos, unloading the roll, and developing it at home and hoping you got it all right. One slip up - one little bitty bit of light leak, and it's all gone. You can imagine my relief when I opened the film drum after developing to see a dozen perfect negatives..... phew!

My hesitation with the square format quickly turned into an obsession. I love square format. Its geometrically a very interesting and complex shape to shoot and offers so many different compositions from my normal rectangle. I could start to see the world in square, and boy it made sense. 

Big negatives are the name of the game. Here you can see a roll of 120mm film once exposed, the developing spool, and some finished negatives.

Fast forward

Today I'm all in. I have three medium format film cameras (a Hasselblad 503cx, a Rolleiflex T whiteface and a Rolleiflex 2.8F). With these I have shot hundreds of frames of black and white film - I took the cameras to Africa and around much of Europe. Opening a new roll of 120mm film is like my camera crack - I can't get enough. I savor each of those shots and plan meticulously to get the perfect shot. I have discovered a new creative world in the form of double exposures and taking images that are otherwise impossible with digital. And unlike with the digital camera, there's a certain creative freedom. I don't get to peek at a viewfinder to know if I got it right. I've ruined rolls of film. But those are liberating feelings. I don't have to worry about hitting 100 buttons on the camera, instead I focus on the 12 photographs in front of me and try to make each one count. 

This has quickly become one of my favorite streets to photograph with film. It's located in Cambridge and the row of chimneys is so very British! Shot on Ilford Delta 100 with Hasselblad 503CX.

Coming Soon: Part II - Rollei vs Hasselblad

Quick Shot: Love that Black and White Film

I LOVE shooting 120mm film. I love the square. I love the look. I love the size of the negative and the detailed enlargements. I love the look of film. There's nothing my digital camera can do to compare to the images that I can get from 120mm film. 

I took my Rolleiflex 2.8F 120mm film camera along to Greece and was rewarded with some wonderful film shots. Today I'm sharing a selection of those images - developed and scanned in my home studio. I think you'll be able to see what makes these film shots so unique from their digital equivalent. 

Quick Shot: Double Exposure

One of the fun things film can do that digital cameras cannot is the art of a double exposure. In film, a double exposure is achieved when the film is exposed twice - with two different images - creating a composite on the negative. 

As a photographer, this is rather fun, because you don't know what the outcome will be until you've gone home to develop the film. In this case, I had to wait almost two weeks after taking the images before I could leave Venice to return to my developing studio. The wait was worth it, and I was excited by the resulting images.

Here's a quick shot to introduce the concept - the first image was of the gondolas along the grand canal. The second image was with my Leica camera in the scene.

Shot with a Rolleiflex 2.8F on Ilford Delta 100 Pro film.

1970s.....? No, 2015 Lion!

Looking at this photograph quickly and you might think it was taken in 1970. It's got that distinctive color and feel of a photograph from 1970..... the feel of a photograph taken with old film.

That's because it is! The photograph is from 2015 and Tanzania, but was shot on a 1970's era Rolleiflex 120mm camera on Kodak color film. 

For the past few weeks I've slowly been developing all the rolls of film I shot in Tanzania and am excited to start sharing those shots, starting with this one of a very friendly lion. Although the composition is a little.... wacky.... I think you can appreciate that I was a bit nervous to shove my arm outside the car to frame a better shot!

Quick Shot: Dungeness

I spend most of the week researching the places I'll spend time exploring on the weekend. When I found my way to some photographs of Dungeness, I knew I'd have to take a day trip to see it in person.

Dungeness is home to one of England's still operational nuclear power stations and sits along the southern coast, just a few miles from France. In fact, it's so close to France that my cell phone starts to provide me with text messages welcoming me to an international destination! Along the beach leading to the power station is a bunch of, well, junk. But it's very photogenic junk!

With the Leica and Rolleiflex T in hand, I took about two dozen images of the junk around the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station. I haven't finished the roll from the Leica, so all of these are from the Rollei. I think it's one of the more interesting piles of junk I've had the chance to photograph in England!

PS - keep your eyes out for power lines in these photos that lead from the power station!

Quick Shot: Misty Lake

I just returned from a long weekend trip to the beautiful Lake District of England, but this trip was a little different from most of my other ones. It's been over a decade since I didn't use a digital camera of some type on a trip, but I "cut the cord" and only brought film for this journey. 

Since returning, I've been busy developing and scanning lots of color and black and white film from the trip and I'm excited to finally share some of the images. This first one was taken at the end of a a boat pier on Lake Windermere. It was a foggy and drizzly morning, which gave the lake a mystic feeling. I really wanted to try and capture that mist, so I pulled out the Rolleiflex, which was loaded with Kodak Ektar 100 film and took this shot. I think it's a great way to tease some of the other Lake District prints coming soon....... what do you think? Ready to see more?

Quick Shot: A Stroll Through Cambridge

I have teased about my most recent purchase in previous posts, but if you missed it, I recently added a 1974 Rolleiflex T Whiteface 120mm medium format film camera to my collection. This camera is absolutely fantastic and it's quickly become one of my favorite cameras to shoot with.

My first roll of film was "wasted" on pictures of my dog around our house, but my first real roll of film was spent on a long day walking through Cambridge, England. I wanted to focus on learning the camera - focusing, shooting, metering, composing, etc. I packed a roll of Ilford FP-4+ and headed into the heart of Cambridge to see what came between me and the camera.

Each roll contains 12 images so I took.... 12 images. The roll was then brought home and developed by me using the methods I had practiced on my first throw away roll. I was very pleased that, upon seeing the developed negatives, I had 12 perfectly exposed images! phew!

Upon closer inspection I did notice a problem with a few images. If you look closely you can see some vertical streaks on the film. Turns out that Rolleiflex changed how the camera was loaded for the T variants - previous versions had you thread the film under a roller bar, but the T doesn't go through the roller. I had just read some generic "how to load film" instructions and did not catch this little difference. The vertical streaks resulted from the film being run under this roller bar, creating very small scratches on the film. That's okay- this was the time to trouble shoot those things and it really only shows on a few images.

I scanned each of these images using an Epson V700 scanner - there is no adjustment or color correction done. What you see is what I got! What do you think?

Intro to Film: Small, Medium, & Large Formats

Congratulations! You have decided to embark on a journey that will inevitably leave you frustrated, confused, but most of all, excited to take more photographs. This journey is a travel back a few decades to the era where film reigned supreme and taking a photograph involved more thought and art than reaching for the iPhone.

Now what? You are probably digging in your basement, your parents basement, or friends basement looking for a camera to start shooting with and you'll most likely find a 35mm film camera. Then you'll hit up Google and ask for some film photography advice and start reading words like "medium and large format." Googling "medium format" returns an image search for all sorts of interesting cameras and suddenly you're left wondering what all of this means.

So let's get a primer in film, why you might want to shoot film, and the pros/cons of each film format.

In the beginning....

Before we discuss the formats, lets take a quick primer in film photography. Film is a plastic covered in silver and light-sensitive chemicals. Prior to developing, any exposure to light results in  either an image or damage of the film. A film camera holds the unexposed film in a dark sleeve or roll and when you click the shutter, a portion of that film is exposed to light, rendering an image. Most photographers start with negative film (and that's what we'll discuss here). Negative film results in an inverse image- the darkest parts of the image appear lightest on the film and vice versa.

After you have exposed an image, the next step is to develop the film. Development happens either in a lab (which are dwindling in numbers) or can be done at home with some equipment and chemicals. With the right equipment, black and white film can be processed in broad daylight in about 15 minutes with three chemicals, so it's not terribly difficult.

Once the development has occurred, you have two choices. The first is to use the traditional printing method of using an enlarger to project the negative onto light sensitive paper. The more modern (and cheaper) method is to invest in a high quality scanner (I use the Epson V700) that can hold and scan negatives of all sizes, resulting in digital images that can be sent to a lab or your home printer.

Why are we doing this?

Right, that process sounded hard and cumbersome, but the end product is much more gratifying. I am left holding real images and the quality of these images is totally on me - from exposure to developing and scanning - the camera made no decisions. I find every film image far more gratifying than a digital image for that reason. There is also something very beautiful about film that digital cannot reproduce - and the quality of a nice film image is hard to replicate with digital.

Ok, what do I need?

Some film, a lens, and a camera. But we have decisions here...... what kind of subjects do you plan to shoot? Are you a color or black and white shooter? Do you want something compact, or are you okay hauling lots of equipment for a truly magnificent image? Finally, what size do you want your images to be? All of these factors make a big difference when selecting the gear and format to shoot. Let's look at the formats....

35mm (small) format film

This is the one you are probably most familiar with. It's what I saw my dad using and I briefly used as a kid. At one point there were even drive through film processing centers for 35mm! This size most closely matches the size of the digital camera sensor in a dSLR. The resulting image is about the size of a postage stamp, and is the smallest size most commonly used with photography.  

Virtually every company has made a 35mm camera at some point - Nikon, Canon, Kodak, Minolta, Leica, etc etc etc. Many 35mm cameras also accept their modern lenses - I have a Nikon 35mm body that takes my "digital" lenses, meaning less gear to buy. If you need a body, eBay is flush with options. I paid $12 for my Nikon film body.....

The pros of 35mm are that it's the most readily available, it's the cheapest, there is an abundance of 35mm equipment on the market, and they are very compact and easy to carry. There are also tons of film choices in this category! The cons? It's smaller than the other formats, so the resulting image cannot be enlarged as much and "everyone does it." The larger formats certainly have a uniqueness and lure to them based on the rarer sizing....

Loading and unloading film can be done in the daylight with both 120mm and 35mm films - large format film cannot be loaded into the slides without being in a dark environment.

Loading and unloading film can be done in the daylight with both 120mm and 35mm films - large format film cannot be loaded into the slides without being in a dark environment.

Medium format film

If you guessed that this is larger than 35mm film, then congrats on the obvious! Medium format is a huge category - there are lots of sizes in this genre, but we'll talk about 120mm, which is the most common medium format film. Based on the numbers alone, you can tell that 120mm is almost 4x larger than 35mm. Unlike 35mm, which shoots a rectangular image, 120mm film is square. Yep, square. 

There are many choices of cameras for medium format, but they are less abundant than 35mm. Common brands are Rollei, Hasselblad, etc. In a future blog post I'll discuss my choice in medium format, which is a twin lens Rolleiflex T. Most medium format cameras are larger than 35mm, but still small enough to tuck into a small camera bag (my Rollei is about the size of a facial tissue box). 

The pros of 120mm are the image size is larger, resulting in bigger prints that can be made from the negatives without introducing grain. The film is harder to find than 35mm, but it is still relatively economical. We'll talk about large format in a minute, but for me, medium format was a good "compromise" between the small size of 35mm and the high costs of large format. For the films I use, it's about $0.10 per image on 35mm, $0.50 per image on 120mm film, and $2 per image on large format! I can afford to make mistakes on $0.50 an image film and the economics and cost benefit made this my preferred "larger than 35mm" format.

Unlike my large format camera, which cannot be loaded or unloaded in the daylight, I can load and unload the 120mm camera in light, making it better for travel. 

The cons of 120mm are the availability of film and camera equipment. There are many specialty film stores in the UK and the USA that sell these films for competitive prices and free shipping. The films are available in both color and black and white, but the price differences start to become more apparent between color and black and white at this size. 35mm film is almost equally priced, but color 120mm film runs about $1-2 more per roll (each roll is 12 images). There is a nice range of films made in this size too. 

Shooting 120mm medium format film in my Rolleiflex T camera

Shooting 120mm medium format film in my Rolleiflex T camera

Large format film

This category, like medium format, encompasses many film sizes, with the most common being 4x5, 5x7 and 8x10. Those units are in inches..... that's right.... a piece of film that is 4 inches by 5 inches in size. That's incredible! The resulting negative is the size of my hand! The quality is unreal - I've scanned some of these on the highest resolution and been left with the equivalent of an 800 megapixel photograph. Think about that for a second..... with my 36megapixel D800 I would need to stitch 22 images together to get 800 megapixels of resolution. Wow.

You have probably never heard of any companies that make these cameras - they are specialized and not the sort of item you find just anywhere! I have a Zone VI camera that was made about 20 years ago, but there are many great choices on the market. 

The cameras for this are often called "view cameras" and are great for architecture and landscape photography because the lens and film planes can be aligned to a different geometry. The camera consists of two parts connected by a bellows between them - the film side and lens side. Moving knobs allows the lens and film sides to be adjusted until a sharp image is rendered on the focusing screen. This sounds very complicated and it is, compared to the point and shoot 35mm, but it also offers more creative possibilities and opportunities! Most large format photography is done from a tripod, so it's not the best camera to carry around a busy city center.

The pros of large format are the huge film size and quality compared to the other formats. The camera designs also offer more creative freedom compared to some of the smaller formats, but at the cost of having to haul more gear! 

The cons of large format is the cost of the film (in color it can run almost $7 an image!), the bulky equipment, and availability of cameras and film. Film for large format is also pre-loaded in a dark environment into slides that are inserted into the camera to create an exposure. Unfortunately, these slides must be loaded in total darkness (I use a dark bag that I insert my arms into and load "blind"), which means you can't pull out more film if you run out on a trip without needing even more equipment handy. I normally only pack a few sheets of film in slides and hope that I don't see something terrific to photograph the moment I'm out of film!

My large format Zone VI camera accepts 4x5 inch sheet film

My large format Zone VI camera accepts 4x5 inch sheet film

So what do I use?

All three! Seriously, for me there is a time and place to shoot each of these formats. 35mm is the camera that can be tossed into a small purse and carried through London on a date night or for street photography. Medium format is perfect for a "photo mission" but where I still want to be more mobile than large format. For me, large format is best for scenes I have already scouted and am going with the intention of taking 1-2 pre-determined photographs. My trips with large format are usually very dedicated.

I will be posting more about each of these formats, cameras and photos taken with each in the coming weeks.... stay tuned!

Review: Cambridge Satchel Company Bags

I rarely review something that wasn't explicitly designed for photography, but occasionally I find something so awesome that is also useful for photographers that I feel compelled to share the secret. In this case, the secret is the Cambridge Satchel Company - a small business in Cambridge, England that specializes in leather bags.

My dilemma was clear. I have a medium format Rolleiflex camera that I want to carry around and travel with, but I like to do so semi-discreetly. Carrying an obvious camera bag in an urban environment is a good way to get robbed, and I try to avoid making myself a target. All of my camera bags are bigger and designed for a multi-lens dSLR system, not for a small medium format camera. I also wanted to be able to carry some extra goodies - my wallet, phone, extra film, etc, but most camera bags are just too big and bulky for a small selection of accessories. Oh, and I've got a tendency to be rough on gear, so it needed to be durable. (and good looking always helps)

With my criteria laid out, I set out on a semi-quest for a bag. I say semi-quest because I did not think I'd be able to find something in person and assumed I'd have to resort to the internet to find a good bag for my needs; however, a recent journey through Cambridge offered more than a few urban street photographs. I found myself outside the Cambridge Satchel Company looking into their windows and thinking "maybe, just maybe"....

After walking around and eyeing the bags in stock, I found one I thought my suit my needs. It was a dark brown leather medium expedition satchel and was already broken in as the store demo, so I wouldn't feel guilty about beating it up by making it a camera bag! The bag is just thick enough to hold the Rolleiflex and has lots of extra space for those accessories without being too bulky. In fact, this bag will be perfect as a dual purpose carry on + camera bag because there are pockets for passports, iPad, and lots of goodies with the camera. This particular bag included quick release clasps, which I rather liked over the traditional buckles. In use, these buckles are easy to unhinge when the bag was slung behind my back.

A comfortable and wide shoulder strap make it the sort of bag I can carry all day. The strap is a heavy duty fabric and wide enough to distribute the weight of the bag comfortably along my shoulder. 

I paid a little extra to get my initials engraved in the bag and left feeling excited and ready to take the bag for a spin...... it didn't wait long! The next day it was time for a 5 mile walk around a historical English estate. The bag performed spectacularly!

There is plenty of space for the camera and all the accessories I could need for a day of discreet walking around. The bag fit tight to my body and didn't flop around, which is a big pet peeve with so many other bags. It also allowed easy access to my gear and, with the thick leather, should tolerate a lifetime of abuse!

Unfortunately, the Satchel I purchased won't do much for my digital photography - it's too small to consider carrying my dSLR and lenses, but for this medium format camera or a smaller 35mm / rangefinder / compact camera, it would perform wonderfully. 

Quick Shot: First 120mm Pup

Last week I decided to expand my camera collection with a Rolleiflex T White Face, which was one of the last models made in 1974 (by my math, it was about 4K away from being the last one!).

This camera takes 120mm film, which is a new format for me to work with, but that I'm really excited about. It's larger than 35mm film, but not as big and bulky as my 4x5 large format camera. 

I recently started trying to develop my own film at home, so yesterday I decided to burn a roll around my house playing with the new camera and processing techniques, figuring "what-the-heck" - better to play around with new gear and techniques when I am not traveling!

My dog, Juno, was a pretty good sport about posing and I got several decent negatives out of the process, but I'll share this one today. This weekend, now that I've gotten the practice out of the way, I'll take the camera out for some real work!