Technical Data, Monterey, California, June 2009
Oak, Carmel Valley, California.
Here's the technical poop behind my photos from Dave Wyman's Steinbeck Country photo tour that ran from Friday, 12 June 2009 through Sunday, 14 June 2009.
Contax 645 System top
My serious camera was a Contax 645 with three lenses:
The Contax 645 is a state-of-the art medium format camera that was discontinued about 2006.
I shot ISO 50 Fuji Velvia in 220 size in a standard Contax MFB-1A film insert. A roll of 220 gives 32 fantastic shots in the Contax 645.
It was processed and scanned at NCPS.
I shot the original ISO 50 Velvia that I froze back when it was being discontinued in 2004, not today's Velvia 50 which is the same stuff. This batch of original ISO 50 Velvia I shot here expired three years ago in 2006-6!
Why did I bring this Contax 645? Because you folks asked me to review it, and it turns out to be a superb camera. For the same price as a Nikon D90, the Contax 645 offers professional performance and convenience way beyond anything digital.
(Digital backs exist for the Contax 645, but why bother with the expense, hassle and inferior image quality of digital when I can shoot real film instead?)
The Contax 645 has the biggest, brighter, sharpest, most legible and least distracting finder of any camera I've ever used, and especially better than the Nikon D3X or any Leica. The Contax 645 is the only camera I've ever used where I felt more than comfortable getting perfect manual focus using nothing but the ground glass; it's that big, sharp and obvious. The finder of the Contax 645 is so brilliant and undistracting that your images already look like they are hanging at The Frick.
But wait — even though the Contax 645's finder is perfect for manual focus, it's also autofocus!
The Contax 645 weighs as much as a D3, but it's far more ergonomic. There are no menus or custom functions; everything has its own dedicated button or knob. The 645 hangs leisurely at your side with the lens pointing down from pivoting strap lugs, while Nikons are never comfortable with a fat lens pulling itself towards the earth.
The Contax 645 records all the exposure data along the edge of the film, so it's always there forever and automatically.
The Contax 645 just goes. Pick it up, and you're already shooting.
I carried the Contax around my neck (or in an M-Rock bag if in my trunk going from place-to-place) and carried the other lenses, film and poop in a Think Tank Speed Demon around my waist. The Speed Demon was always comfortable due to its wide and very well designed strap.
Leica M System top
As a goof, I brought a super lightweight Leica system in case I dropped the Contax, or if I just didn't feel like hauling the Contax 645 someplace.
I brought a Minolta CLE and three tiny lenses:
Leica 40mm f/2 Summicron-C, with 39mm B+W 81A warming filter
I also brought a 39mm Hoya 85C strong warming filter.
This complete professional system weighs in at 900 grams, or just under two pounds. A single modern Nikon zoom lens often weighs that much or more!
This complete Leica system fit in a tiny neoprene Kata Ergotech Format-Q waist bag, along with the filters, tiny spare watch batteries and 10 rolls of Velvia 50. Each spare lens goes in a side pocket, while the film goes in the top compartment in the main compartment.
Also many thanks to Gus at OC Camera, who overhauled my CLE. I brought it to Gus "just to tweak the rangefinder a little," and he got into it and gave it a complete overhaul. Now the rangefinder is perfect, so the focus is perfect — not just "close enough" — and my results are far sharper than they were before, especially with my 90mm lenses. My 90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit works perfectly at f/2.8, which was better than intended when the CLE was new. Gus also adjusted the shutter, which I had not realized was giving uneven exposures from side-to-side.
I put a Canon SD880 IS in my pocket for low-light and for fun.
I always shoot Canons in Vivid mode: press FUNC SET, click down to OFF, and click once to the right to V(ivid).
Regardless of format, all I ever need are lenses which cover the equivalents of 20mm, 40mm and 85mm.
It's not even important to be close to any of these: give me a 28mm, a 50mm and a 105mm and I'm just as happy.
I do not need anything to "cover" any of the in-between ranges. This is the fear that keeps less experienced photographers crippled buying and carrying too much gear.
If I have a 21mm and a 50mm, I have no need for, and do not want to carry, a 28mm or 35mm. I simply walk forward or back not more than a few steps and I get the exact framing I need. Even if I had someone carrying the spare lenses for me, I don't want to have them because I'll be too busy swapping too many lenses and I'll miss pictures.
Likewise, if I bring a 28mm, I won't bring a 20mm: they are too close together to bother carrying both.
All anyone needs is a wide, a fast normal, and a tele. They don't even have to zoom.
Give me an 18mm, a 35mm and a 90mm or whatever; it's all I want or need.
Guess what: the only reason I bring a normal lens isn't because I need a normal lens. I bring it because it's fast (f/2 in each case) for low-light. Since I packed a digital, I could have skipped the normal lenses and done fine with just two lenses. If you look at all the images, there are very few made with normal lenses, and I could have made those with the other lenses instead by walking forward or back.
All lenses should take the same sized filters.
Anything too far away for an 85mm lens is too far away to make a good photo. Get closer.
The only reason I use anything longer is if I'm photographing my kid and he's armed with a live garden hose.
What you see is what I got. I didn't tweak any colors.
I get the colors I do by finding colorful things and taking their pictures, and by choosing the right film and camera settings.
I prefer the colors I get from shooting Velvia. It looks even better in person than these scans look on your computer screens.
I love the colors I get from Velvia; digital doesn't go here.
Post processing is for people who aren't photographers.
I simply loaded the DVDs of scans I got from NCPS into my Mac, resized, sharpened and branded the images to fit your screen, and I was done. I didn't even do that much work: do all these things in one click, saved as a Photoshop Action.
I may have mildly adjusted levels, crops or lens distortion, but if I did anything significant I mentioned it under the image, otherwise, what you see is what I got.
If you can't shoot straight, Photoshop isn't going to help you.
If you can shoot well, you don't need to dick with it later.
If you have to dick with it later, it is unlikely that it's going to look any better anyway, so why bother? You have to get your perspective, lighting and composition right before you press the shutter, since you can't change it later.
Photoshop is for production and illustration; it can't change what you should have done right in the first place.
Not that my stuff is any good; but I am lazy. I'd rather spend a little effort before I take the photo to get it right than have to spend a lot more time in front of a computer trying to pull something out of garbage.
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