equipment

On the one hand, equipment doesn't matter: we have made some of our favourite pictures with cameras and lenses that many photographers would class as little more than junk, such as our Kodak Retina IIa or our KowaSIX. And Frances's first published picture -- also her first book cover -- was taken with a Nikon EM.

On the other hand, you need the right equipment for the job -- you can do things with a 35mm rangefinder camera that you can't do with a 5x7 inch view camera, and vice versa -- and some equipment delivers better results than others.

The Great Names -- Alpa, Contax, Gandolfi, Leica, Linhof and so forth -- undoubtedly deliver the best quality, but you have to be able to get on with the cameras. For example, although we love M-series rangefinder Leicas, we just don't get on with Leica reflexes. With Contax, it's the other way around: we like the 35mm SLRs very much, but are indifferent to the 'rangefinder' models and the 645 SLR. This is intensely personal; there are plenty of others who wouldn't want an M-series Leica, or who can't imagine a better camera than a Contax 645.

In any case, there is a 'quality plateau', a level of quality beyond which far more depends on your skill as a photographer than on the equipment you use. That 'quality plateau' is surprisingly low: most 'professional' 35mm cameras made since the 1960s (and many from much earlier) surpass it easily, as do a surprising number of 'amateur' cameras. Move up to roll film, and make the same size enlargements as you make from 35mm, and the quality you can get from almost any decent camera with a coated lens (i.e. just about anything from 1950 onwards) is remarkably good.

Over the decades, we have acquired an altogether ridiculous number of cameras -- far more than anyone needs. In the list below, there are over a dozen makes -- and we own several examples of some of those makes! On the other hand, each of the cameras we use reasonably often has its own advantages. We could live without many of them, but we don't want to.

For the record, we use the following:

cameras

alpa:   Not the original 35mm, but the modern roll-film versions. Frances has a 12 S/WA and Roger has a 12 WA. We use a range of formats from the Alpa-unique 44x66mm (designed for use with the 38/4.5 Zeiss Biogon, one of the most amazing lenses of all time) to 6x9cm. Lenses range from a 35/5.6 Rodenstock Apo-Grandagon to a 58/5.6 Schneider Super Angulon XL. These very expensive cameras deliver superb quality, but are really suitable only for wide-angle lenses.

de vere:   Still in business as enlarger manufacturers, De Vere used to make cameras as well. We have an 8x10 inch monorail dating from the 1960s with reducing backs for 5x7 inch and 4x5 inch. It has a one-metre rail and a custom one-metre bellows from Camera Bellows. This is too big and heavy to take on location easily but it's a wonderful studio camera, especially for portraits. Our favourite lens for portraits is a 21 inch f/7.5 Ross, probably made before World War One, with a TP roller blind front shutter, probably made in the 1920s.

gandolfi:   One of the oldest camera manufacturers in the world, Gandolfi will still repair any camera they have ever made since their beginnings in the late 19th century. We use a Variant, probably the most versatile flat-bed wooden camera ever made (though admittedly one of the heaviest currently available) with both 4x5 inch and 5x7 inch backs; an 8x10 inch back is also available. This is the 5x7 inch version. Linhof Technika panels (for 4x5) fit the Variant, but Variant panels do not fit Technikas.

graflex:   We actually use two Graflexes, one a quarter-plate reflex Super D from the late 1940s/early 50s, adapted to take Polaroid quarter-plate pack film, and one an XL from the 1970s with an 80/2.8 Rodenstock Heligon lens and a Mamiya RB back (the camera has to be modified slightly to accept these). We inherited the Super D from Frances's father, and use it very little, but the XL we bought because it offers a fast lens (by roll-film standards) and an excellent coupled rangefinder.

kodak:   Once again, two cameras: an Advantix APS (a real happy-snap camera, but so small it gets carried along where others wouldn't be) and a Retina IIa with 50/2 Schneider Xenon lens, another delightfully light, pocketable camera. The IIa ceased production in 1954.

kowa:   Inherited from Frances's father, the KowaSIX is a surprisingly good 6x6cm SLR. It has a reputation for unreliability, and when we first got it, we thought it didn't work: we didn't know it had to have a film in it to work at all... We have only the standard f/2.8 lens.

leica:   Roger has been using these since about 1970, though Frances has rarely used them much. We have two M2 cameras and an M4P but as soon as we can afford it we want an MP -- the best new Leica in years! The Leicas are integrated with our Voigtländers (see below). This is an MP fitted with the incredible 50/1 Noctilux on loan from a friend.

linhof:   Somewhat to our own surprise we have three of these: a Technikardan 4x5inch/9x12cm, a Technika 5x7inch/13x18cm, and a 6x9cm special, a Technika 70 stripped down (for lightness) and modified (for extra rise) by Bill Orford, one of the best camera mechanics in the business. The picture shows the Tech 70 Special.

nikon (digital):   The Nikon D70 is our standard digital camera because it integrates fully with out existing Nikon system, though there is absolutely no metering with our old manual lenses -- not even stop-down. It is remarkably easy to use: one- or two-button control allows you to tell the camera what to do, instead of its telling you what to do. For pack shots, how-tos and step-by-steps is is absolutely indispensable -- but we still love film for 'fine' photography, especially black and white.

 

nikon/nikkormat (film):   We used little else for years: Roger mostly Nikon F (we still have five) and Frances, Nikkormats (we still have two). When we want 35mm SLRs, these are what we normally use. The main applications are with longer lenses than are convenient with Leicas and Voigtländers, or in the studio for doing 35mm pack shots.

npc:   An utterly lovely recreation of the old Polaroid 195 pack-film camera, taking modern Polaroid films.

 

olympus:   One of the rarest of the half-frame Pen F series, the Pen W, with the 25/2.8 6-glass wide angle lens and black painted body. A lovely little 'notebook' camera but 72 frames is rather a lot of film for a notebook. Made in the 1960s, we believe.

polaroid:   We have a 600SE with the 75/5.6 and 127/4.7 lenses, and the following backs: Polaroid quarter-plate (the standard), NPC 4x5 inch (for 4x5 Polaroid and Quickload/Readyload) and 6x7cm and 6x9cm Mamiya (via the M-adapter). We use it mostly with the roll-film backs.

rollei:   Roger's standard happy-snap camera (when he isn't using the Retina or the Olympus) is a Rollei AF35M which delivers superb quality thanks to a fixed focal length lens.

toho:   These are the lightest full-featured monorails in the world. We use mostly the FC45X. This is ideal for travelling with large format as it weighs only a couple of pounds but accepts lenses from 47mm (no movement) to 240mm or beyond. We use it mostly with a 120/6.8 Schneider Angulon (not Super Angulon) because the lens is so compact and light.

voigtländer:   Voigtländer's advertising in the 1950s and 1960s was 'because the lenses are so good', and it is the lenses that brought into being the modern Voigtländer rangefinder cameras. The cameras are not in the same class as Leicas, but then, they are a fraction of the price -- and the Bessa-R2 (Roger's favourite, and his standard camera) must have influenced Leica in dropping the M6 ttl and introducing the MP. Frances uses mostly the Bessa-T, which (like the R2) has a Leica bayonet mount, but we also have an R (Leica screw) and a R2C (Nikon/Contax bayonet).

lenses

dreamagon:   An altogether extraordinary soft-focus lens, the only one apart from the fabulously expensive pre-war Leitz Thambar that we find truly satisfactory for 35mm. It is completely different from the Thambar, much more 'over the top'. It was used to take the picture of Frances on the About Us page and there are a few other pictures on the site we have also taken with it.

goertz:   Well, you have to have one Dagor, don't you? Ours is a 165/6.8, probably dating from around World War I or the 1920s at the latest. Still a great lens for black and white but rather flat and blue with transparency films -- it was made long before coating was invented.

 

leica:   As for most people, price precludes our owning too many of these for our M-series cameras. In fact we have only two that we bought new, a 35/1.4 (the last pre-aspheric generation) and a 90/2 (again, pre-aspheric). We used to have both a 50/2 and 135/2.8 but used them so little we sold them -- but as soon as we can afford it, we want the new 90/4 'macro' for M-series. Another lens we would buy if we could afford it is the incredible Thambar soft-focus lens from the 1930s, illustrated here.

nikon:   We use reflexes relatively little so these are all old lenses. The one we use most is a 35/2.8 PC-Nikkor, for which we had an adapter made (by SRB Instruments of Luton) so we can use it on our Leicas and Voigtländers. We also use a 300/9 Nikkor on large format.

 

rodenstock:   We use these both with our Alpas and for large format. We have two: the 35/5.6 Apo-Grandagon for the Alpa and the 210/5.6 Apo-Sironar-N for large format.

 

ross:   A 'secret weapon': a 21 inch (533mm) f/7.7 lens, probably made before World War I, that we use for 8x10 inch Hollywood-style black and white portraits with the De Vere (above). The shutter is a clip-on-the-front Thornton Pickard, probably from the 1920s. Uncoated, of course.

schneider:   Like the Rodenstocks, these are both for Alpa and LF. On the Alpas we have 47/5.6 and 58/5.6 Super Angulon XL lenses and for LF we use a 100/5.6 Apo-Symmar (on the 'baby' Linhof) and a 110/5.6 Super-Symmar on larger formats.

sigma:   These are leftovers from the days when we used reflexes more. The two lenses we use most are a 14/3.5 rectilinear and a 15/2.8 fisheye. They are clear proof that non-'marque' lenses can still be excellent.

 

vivitar:   We have quite a lot of old Vivitar Series 1 lenses, including the 90/2.5 macro (a superb lens); 135/2.3; 200/3 (used a lot with an orange filter); 600/8 Solid Cat; 35-85/2.8 Varifocal; and 90-180/4.5 Flat Field. The last is our standard lens for 35mm close-ups and pack shots in the studio.

voigtländer:   These lenses are among the finest in the world. We use the 15/4.5, 21/4, 28/1.9, 35/1.7, 35/2.5, 50/1.5, 50/2.5 and 90/3.5 -- and we're seriously considering the 35/1.2 and 75/2.5. The 12/5.6 is the widest lens ever made for any format, and it's excellent, but given how little we use the 15 we manage to live without the 12.

 

zeiss:   We have only one modern Zeiss lens, the 38/4.5 Zeiss Biogon for the Alpas. It fully justifies the legendary reputation that Zeiss enjoys. So did the lenses we borrowed for Contax, but couldn't afford to keep: 35/1.4, 35/2.8 shift and 100/2.8 macro. Then again, the old 21/4 Contax-fit Biogon that lives on the Voigtlander Bessa-R2S is pretty good too!

enlargers and darkroom equipment

meopta:   Our standard enlargers are two Meopta Magnifaxes -- true 6x9cm enlargers. One has a Meograde variable-contrast head and the other has a colour head but we shall probably swap this for another Meograde head in the near future. They are built to last, though we have made a few modifications such as self-adhesive black 'fuzz' on the undersides of neg carriers and at the back of the neg carrier slot to suppress residual flare and light leaks.

 

de vere/m.p.p. hybrid:   Almost 30 years ago Roger bought an M.P.P. Micromatic 5x7 inch enlarger at auction for £18.35. It is currently fitted with a De Vere 5x7 inch colour head. We keep thinking of changing it for a De Vere enlarger but we don't really do enough large-format enlarging to justify the expense.

 

colorstar analyzer:  

rh designs timers:  

de ville sink:  

jobo cpe-2:  

kinderman tanks:  

hewes spirals:  

 

nova tanks and washers:   These are covered enthusiastically on the darkroom page.

 

nova dryer:  

paterson equipment:  

 

beard easels:   We have two of these, one two-blade and one four-blade. The great thing about them is that they are built to last and if you damage any parts they are replaceable.

 

bags, tripods, spares, repairs, shops, etc.

bernard hunter

mr. cad

billingham

nova

camera bellows

odyssey

camerex

opti-visor

canterbury cameras

bill orford

stuart heggie

rk photographic

heiland

slik

labelbase

velbon

lee filters

graham wainwright

linhof and professional

mary walker

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© 2006 Roger W. Hicks