voluntary limits

In Chinese legend, there is the story of a butcher whose knives never needed sharpening, because he always cut so perfectly that they were never blunted.

Some photographers seem to work the same way. No matter what their equipment, they always seem to come back with exactly the pictures they wanted.

The trouble is, they use such a wild diversity of equipment that it is impossible to work out how to emulate them. This one uses a brace of Leica rangefinder cameras; this one a roll-film SLR; this one a wood-and-brass Gandolfi 8x10 inch. Then there are the lenses they have...

Well, then: the answer is simple. Surely we should (if we can afford it) buy a brace of Leicas and a roll-film SLR and an 8x10 Gandolfi. And all the lenses in question.


Tree roots, Montreuil

Frances shot this with a 'baby' (6x9cm) Linhof Super Technika IV on Kodak negative film. The actual format was 6x7cm (6x7 backs are a lot more common than 6x9) and as we recall the lens was a Linhof-selected 105/3.5 Schneider Xenar.

Does this mean you need the same sort of camera to shoot the same sort of picture? Of course not. You could shoot it on anything from 35mm to 4x5 inch or even bigger -- or for that matter, on digital.

You will get different effects with the different cameras, and we believe that in this case medium format was the ideal compromise, but in the final analysis, you shoot with whatever you are most comfortable with and (above all) with what you have.

It might be an even better picture shot on 4x5 inch transparency -- but do you want to go to the trouble and expense of 4x5 inch, to say nothing of the weight, and seriously limit the range of pictures you can take?

The answer may very well be yes, in which case, fine; but always play devil's advocate before you lust too much after something new.


tree roots


The big problem with having 'one of everything', on the other hand, is that we have too much choice, so one of two things usually happens. Either we find that one camera (or outfit) crowds out the others, so we start wondering why we bought all the other kit, or we spend so much time wondering which camera(s) and lens(es) to use that our time for taking pictures is grievously reduced. This is why we call this module 'voluntary limits', because we firmly believe you will get more and better pictures by choosing to limit the range of equipment you use.

There are ways around these problems. But before that, we need to look (as promised in the free introduction) at:

why photographers are like cats

Anyone who has owned cats, or spent much time around them, know that cats are very finicky (but strange and fickle) about their diets. For weeks on end, they will eat exclusively a single brand and flavour of cat food, be it Moggiechops with Added Rabbit or Supacat Chicken Extra, disdaining all else.

Then, one day, they look with manifest disbelief at what is in their bowl, saying as clearly as if they had used the spoken word, "What is this disgusting muck, and why on earth are you putting it in front of me?"


rain butt


This turning up of the feline nose normally happens just after their owner (we use the word loosely) has stocked up with 72 cans of the stuff. There is, apparently, a good evolutionary reason for their change of preference, though the choice of timing is simply a matter of the natural cussedness of cats.


Rain butt, Atelier du Buissonier, Moncontour

We are very fortunate, in one way, in that we periodically test new cameras and lenses for the photographic press: Frances shot this with a Voigtländer Bessa-R2S and 50/3.5 Heliar on Ilford XP2 and printed it on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.

This may sound like paradise to some people -- getting to play with all the new equipment AND getting paid to do so -- but it is a mixed blessing. Believe it or not, there are times when we would rather set out with our familiar cameras so we could concentrate more on the pictures and less on the camera.



The explanation is that if a cat grows too dependent on a single food, it risks starvation if that food supply dries up. Changing periodically is therefore genetically programmed into the the cat's psyche. This makes sense, though it is disputable whether it makes any more sense than the aforementioned cussedness. On the bright side, keep the cans a year or two, and the cat will come back to liking it. Or get another cat. Or a dog; they'll eat anything.

What is the relevance of this to photographers? Simply that many -- not all -- photographers seem to need a periodical change of camera, and preferably of format, to recharge their creative batteries.

If you are share this cat-like characteristic (and we do), then we suggest the following:

multi-format camera strategy

There will always be one camera (or outfit) that you are happier with than any other. Exactly why you are happiest with it is not very important. It may give you the best technical quality, or despite its not being as technically excellent as another camera, you may simply feel more comfortable with it. Maybe it's smaller, lighter, less expensive, has faster lenses, or has some other advantage. There are those who really love Holgas, for example. To our eyes these are horrible, unreliable, cheap, nasty cameras delivering truly appalling results. To their fans, the element of chance adds to the appeal. There is no accounting for taste.


Monument Park, near Budapest

Frances shot this with her 'base' camera and lens, a Voigtländer Bessa-T with 50/2.5 Color-Skopar and 2x yellow filter from B+W; film was Ilford XP2 Super, and the print is on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone toned in a home-made sulphide toner.

Because she is so familiar with the camera, she can use it without thinking -- which is important in a situation like this, where fumbling might allow the aeroplane to leave the picture altogether. The Monument Park is a fascinating place, a collection of Communist-era statues and memorabilia.





The equipment you are happiest with is your 'base' camera (or outfit). For us, it's rangefinders, Leica and Voigtländer (and Zeiss Ikon too if we could afford one).

If you feel like a change, DO NOT get rid of this camera/system until you are sure that you are not going to use it again. Even then, you may want to keep some parts of the system because they can do something better than the replacement. For example, although we switched some years ago from SLRs (Nikons and Nikkormats) to reflexes, we still use the SLRs for long lenses (135mm and above -- though we have 135mm lenses for both systems) and for most close-up/macro (though we also have a Visoflex for the Leicas).


man horse fields


Your 'base' system should be the one where you always buy the best you can afford, with a view to keeping it and using it as long as possible. The longer you use it, the lower the cost per year (or cost per exposure, or however you want to count it) and the better the value. For example, Roger's 'second-best' Leica, recently pushed into second place by a new MP, is an M4-P. He bought it new in about 1983. To the best of our recollection it was a bit under a thousand pounds (call it $1800 or 1400 euros at today's exchange rates). So far, allowing for a repair necessitated by a cretinous baggage handler in Los Angeles, it has therefore cost under fifty pounds ($95, 75 euros) a year. This is hardly extravagant. Certainly, there are plenty of people who trade in very ordinary cameras every few years and spend a great deal more than this.


Terraced field, Lake Erhai, Yunnan

Roger shot this with his then-almost-new Leica MP in 2005 -- but the lens, as best he recalls, was his 35/1.4 Summilux, at that point some 23 years old. As noted elsewhere, he normally carries two bodies, one fitted with the 35/1.4 Summilux and the other with the 75/2 Summicron.

what sort of change do you want?

There are two main reasons for wanting a change. Either you reckon that there is a camera/system that will better suit your needs, or you just feel like it. The latter is generally brought on by a general feeling that your photography is in a rut, and that you can dig yourself out of this rut by getting a new camera.

For the former, ask yourself very carefully why you believe this. Assuming you can make a good case -- and the hardest person for you to fool should always be yourself -- then ask yourself whether the new camera you are thinking of buying really is the best for the job. If studio portraiture is your passion, for example, think hard about what kind of studio portraiture. Depending on your style, the best option might be anything from a Dreamagon soft-focus lens on an old 35mm SLR, through a medium-format reflex such as a Mamiya RB67, to an 8x10 inch camera for Hollywood-style pictures.

Ask yourself too whether the answer might be technique or knowledge or even subject matter, rather than equipment. In other words, what is it that you really admire in a particular photographer's style, or a particular kind of photography? Perhaps something as simple as using a tripod more often will force you to slow down and take a more considered style of picture; or perhaps using a tripod less often will enable you to work faster and more fluidly. Or you might force yourself to try colour after a long spell of black and white, or vice versa.





A prize candidate for large format, obviously, or at the very least, roll-film -- except that as you can see from the filed-out negative carrier, it's actually 35mm. It probably would be a better shot on a larger format, but you have to look quite hard before you decide that. Maybe a change of subject matter is all you need! The background, incidentally, is black flock: smoother and flatter than velvet, and a roll of the stuff lasts half-way to forever. Roger has forgotten all technical details.

If you just feel like a change, for no very good reason except cat's dinner syndrome (as above), we heartily suggest that for your second camera/system, you spend as little as reasonably possible. Buy secondhand, or even borrow a camera -- and make sure that it is as different as possible from your existing camera/system. If you currently use a Canon SLR, changing to a Nikon SLR of similar specification will have far less impact than buying (say) an old TLR or the cheapest usable 4x5 inch camera you can find.

On the other hand, going from automation to manual, or vice versa, might be enough of a change to make you start 'seeing' again. 'Classic' cameras can be a useful trick here: an old Exakta shouldn't cost you a fortune, and by the time you have wrestled with the left-hand, long-throw, non-ratcheting film wind, the double film speed dial and the concealed rewind dog, you might appreciate your other camera more when you go back to it. Much the same is true of roll-film folders with red window film advance.

Of course, 'spending as little as reasonably possible' is something of a weasel phrase. Let's take TLRs as an example. For one person, a second-hand Lyubitel for a fiver will be enough of a change; someone else might not be happy unless, at the very least, they had an old Rollei or Minolta Autocord.


church bells

The same might be true with 4x5 inch cameras -- one is happy enough with a basic press camera, where another insists on full movements. Fine. Just don't get carried away, at least, no further than you have to.



Church bells will be rung

In the event of the invasion of England during World War Two, one of the signals to be given was the ringing of church bells. We found the map in the attic; the keys came from a charity shop, from the same batch of two or three pounds of keys (1 to 1,5 kg) that were used for the still life above; we were given the replica pistol by a kind friend; and the old cartridge box came from Frances's father Artie. We chose to use 5x7 inch for the movements: the Scheimpflug rule allowed us to hold the receding plane in sharp focus.

As far as we recall, the camera was a Gandolfi Variant, but a similar shot would have been feasible with a (much cheaper) 4x5 inch MPP. The main difference is that the MPP would have had to be hung upside down in order to use the (backwards-only, off-axis) front tilt: often, the main advantage of spending more money on a large format camera is not quality, but ease of use. The lens was a 300/9 Repro Claron; the film, Ilford FP4 Plus; the paper, Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.

making the change permanent

It may be that when you have played with the second camera/system a while, you realize that it is a lot closer to the sort of camera that you want. This might be the time to trade your Minolta Autocord for a Hasselblad, or your Zorkii 4K for a Leica. That's fine too. But we'd still suggest that you keep your old system, or as much of it as you can possibly afford to keep, for at least six months, and preferably a year, or longer still if you can afford it. Sooner or later, you will run into something that your old camera/system did better than your new one, and you will wish you hadn't got rid of it.


Mao in the hutongs

The old bandit is everywhere, even in the (staunchly capitalist) hutongs or lanes of old Beijing. If we switched away from our rangefinder cameras, our Alpas would be the strongest candidates for becoming our 'base' systems. As it is, we can afford to keep both, so we do, switching between them for different applications and (it must be said) according to our mood. Roger used his 12 WA for this, with the 38/4.5 Zeiss Biogon, shooting on 66x44mm Ilford HP5 Plus. Frances printed it on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.


mao hutong


specialist applications

Sometimes, if you can afford it, it's a good idea to have a camera for a single specific application, or at least, for a limited range of applications. For example, our 8x10 inch monorail is used for portraits and for still lifes. It never leaves the studio. We used to have an 8x10 inch field camera but as we hardly ever used it in the field, we got rid of it. Actually, to be accurate, we gave it back to the manufacturer. The monorail, on the other hand, we own. For LF, we much prefer 5x7 inch on location, or possibly 12x15 inch; but 8x10 inch is neither one thing nor the other. For similar reasons, we normally use 4x5 inch only with roll-film backs, usually 6x12cm.

Another example is the old Konica SIII that we plan to use for shooting in the water at spas. We'd be sorry if we dropped it in the water and wrote it off, but nothing like as sorry as we would be if we did the same with a Leica. Sometime we'll get another Nikonos III to replace the one which, yes, foolishly, we got rid of years ago...

Although this approach may sound wildly expensive and extravagant, it needn't be. It's often a question of keeping your eyes open until you find what you want at the right price -- and if you really know what you want it for, 'the right price' may be remarkably low. An old 8x10 inch monorail is a bulky, fractious beast, and extremely inconvenient in the field; but in the studio, where we use ours, it's fine. And the Konica would probably not fetch more than thirty quid/forty euros/fifty dollars at a camera show, top whack, and quite possibly only half that.


bucket levels


Galvanized bucket, Atelier du Buissonier, Moncontour

Just because you get a camera for one purpose, it doesn't mean that's all you can do with it. Our Nikon D70 was intended mainly for product shots, shooting photo shows, and the like. But we've also used it for quite a lot of moody, 'grainy' still lifes, such as this one or indeed for a whole gallery of digital still lifes. It doesn't replace our film cameras, but it complements them very well. (Roger)

buy it and try it

Closely related to the above is the possibility of buying a camera at the right price; using it for a while; and selling it at a profit, or at no loss, or at a loss that is small enough that you don't care about it, but can regard it as a hire fee. Our 12x15 inch Gandolfi is an example of this. We still don't know if we are going to keep it or not, but if we do sell it, we'll see a handsome profit.

three (or more) systems

If you adopt the kind of strategy we suggest, you may well find that you end up with three (or more) systems. For example, we have 35mm rangefinders; 35mm SLRs; 120 SLRs; 120 rangefinder cameras; and LF cameras in 4x5 inch, 5x7 inch, 8x10 inch and 12x15 inch.

To a considerable extent, it's true, this is because of what we do for a living, and some of the cameras -- probably half a dozen or so, out of several dozen we own -- were either given to us by the manufacturers or are on indefinite loan. On the other hand, it is precisely because we have such a ridiculous number of cameras that we would find it all too easy to fall into the trap mentioned earlier, namely, carrying so many cameras that we can never decide which ones to use. That's quite apart from the security considerations of where you leave the cameras you aren't using when you are travelling.





Tibetan Monk, Bir


We had a Contax outfit on loan for a year: an RX, an Aria and three lenses, 35/1.4, 50/2.8 PC and 100 Macro. When the time came to give it back, we asked what it would cost to keep it.

Alas, we couldn't afford it. If we had been able to, there is no question: we'd have switched away from our old Nikons (though we'd probably have bought an S2 all-mechanical Contax as well, just because we don't like to rely on battery dependent cameras).

The thing was, though, reflexes are our 'second' system in 35mm, and although the cameras were a joy to use and the quality was exquisite, we couldn't justify spending the money.

When it came to either giving back, or paying for, the 75/2 Summicron for the Leicas (and Voigtländers) there was rather less hesitation. Sure, we still hesitated, because we couldn't really afford it -- but we bought it anyway.

The 75/2 Summicron is one of the few lenses that would give the same staggering resolution and 'sparkle' as the 100mm Macro that Frances used for this shot. She used Ilford XP2 Super, printed on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone and hand-coloured with Marshall's Oils.

building an outfit

It doesn't matter what you have at home, unless you are shooting at home. What matters is what you have with you, when you want to shoot.

We normally carry no more than two different kinds of camera. Our rangefinder cameras are our 'base' outfits, so no matter what else we are carrying (usually roll-film or large format), we will usually carry these as well.

Sometimes, if we're only out for a few hours and the primary purpose of the trip isn't photographic, we won't even bring our 'serious' rangefinder cameras. Instead we will carry something else instead: our old Retina IIa because it is so compact, or a roll-film folder.


Couple, Bastille Metro, Paris


We don't always get it right... Roger's M4-P (with 35/1.4 Summilux, as usual) was pre-set for the right exposure here, but he couldn't focus fast enough to catch this wonderful pose. An autofocus camera would have done no better, though, because the autofocus zone would have been in the sky. In fact, an autofocus probably wouldn't have allowed him to take the picture at all, because it couldn't focus. The film, as far as we recall, was Kodachrome 64.



the basic outfit

By definition, this is the one that centres around your basic camera/system.

The first thing to realizes is that there is no 'one size fits all' approach. It is foolish to decide in advance, on theoretical ground, that you need one camera and one lens, or two cameras and five lenses, or whatever. Also, although it is a nice myth that Henri Cartier-Bresson only ever used one camera and a standard lens, it's simply untrue: photographs exist of him using a 90mm, for a start.

camera bodies

Our own view is that because any camera can break down, with the basic outfit it makes sense to have two bodies if you use 35mm or roll-film. The only exceptions to this are cameras with interchangeable, leaf-shuttered lenses and interchangeable backs, where the body is normally either very simple (such as a Hasselblad) or little more than a spacer (such as an Alpa or 'baby' Linhof).



You don't have to carry both bodies at all times, but equally, you want to have the second body somewhere you can get to it: if not in the camera bag, then in the boot (trunk) of the car or the hotel room or of course at home if home isn't too far away.


Palais des Papes, Avignon

Roger shot this (on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX) when we were testing the then-new 15/4.5 Super-Wide-Heliar from Voigtländer. It was mounted on the original, very basic Bessa-L, which had no rangefinder or viewfinder; it was meant only to be used with the 15/4.5 and 25/4 uncoupled ultra-wides. In late 2006 Zeiss returned to this idea with the (considerably better) Zeiss Ikon Superwide.

Although there is some logic to the idea of keeping very wide angle lenses on basic bodies, we soon decided that it was a better idea to stick with two 'full-service' bodies each and put the 15mm on whichever of them was most useful. The savings in time and convenience that are afforded by a dedicated body are, in our view, wiped out by the extra bulk and weight of the third body.

Unless, of course, the 15mm is one of the lenses that you use all the time...

Roger generally prefers to carry two M-series bodies around his neck, fitted with his two most-used lenses (35mm and 75mm, as described below), whereas Frances normally carries just one of her Voigtländers around her neck: the other lives in her camera bag along with her other lenses. Any more than two cameras around the neck and/or over the shoulder will soon grow unwieldy: the maximum we normally carry, like the Vietnam war photographers of old, is three.

Although the bodies need not be identical, they should be as similar as your finances will permit, or you will find yourself struggling to remember which way the shutter speed dial goes, which way the lenses focus, and so forth. A lot depends on how fast you habitually work, or rather, on how fast you want to work at your fastest. With cameras that are identical, you can grow so familiar as a result of practice that you don't really have to think at all: the camera becomes 'transparent' and you can use it almost instinctively.

There is rarely any reason to carry more than one large format camera, which is just as well, because considerations of weight and bulk would soon become decisive.

lenses and diminishing returns

Many photographers find that at any one time, and with any one camera, an absolute majority of their pictures are taken with a single lens. Indeed, that single lens may account for 80 or 90 per cent of their pictures, or even more.


Piglet in car boot, Transylvania

We are not purists about cropping. As far as we recall, Roger simply cropped out the dull, grey sky above the main subject of this shot. The point was, it was better to shoot fast, and get a picture with his 35/1.4 Summilux on the Leica MP, rather than spend a lot of time composing and perhaps losing the shot. Immediately after this picture, the piglet did indeed disappear back into the boot (trunk).

This is one reason we are against zooms. When you have a zoom, the temptation is always to use it, thereby wasting precious seconds. With a prime lens you can move closer or further away -- 'your legs are your best zoom' -- or just shoot on the spot.



A second lens will often account for a similar proportion of the remainder. For example, Roger uses a 35mm lens on his Leicas for 80 per cent of his pictures. Add the 75mm, and that is probably 60 to 80 per cent of the remainder, i.e. he uses these two lenses for 90-95 per cent of his 35mm shots.

Then, each subsequent lens shows the same sort of diminishing returns. For Roger, in descending order, these lenses are 21mm; 50mm and 90mm about equal; and 15mm, 28mm and 135mm about equal, but all in tiny numbers.

This is a purely personal choice. Frances uses 50mm most (80 per cent again); then 28mm (10-15 per cent); then 90mm, 21mm and 35mm in that order, with 15mm almost never and 135mm only when she borrows Roger's Leicas because the 135/2.8 won't fit on her Voigtländers and wouldn't focus adequately accurately if it did.

If you do not already know which lenses give you your best pictures, because you believe you do not have the lens, ask yourself what you need that you cannot do at the moment. A wider angle? Narrower? More speed? That will tell you where to concentrate your attention.



London Underground

When we say that a 21mm lens accounts for maybe 3 per cent of our pictures, of course we do not mean that we shoot 97 pictures with something else and then three with a 21mm. Far from it. Either of us may well shoot half a roll or a roll with a 21mm, then not use it again for months. Roger shot this with a 21/2.8 Kobalux on (as far as he recalls) a Voigtländer Bessa-T. Film stock forgotten but it looks like Ilford XP2 Super.

lenses, cameras and format

Although Frances almost never uses 15mm on 35mm, her standard lens on her Alpa is an almost exact equivalent when it comes to angle of coverage, namely, her 35/5.6 Rodenstock Apo-Grandagon on 6x9cm nominal (56 x 84mm actual). Occasionally, she switches to our 58/5.6 Schneider Super-Angulon XL, almost exactly equivalent to 25mm on 35mm.

Likewise, Roger thought when we bought the Schneider 110/5.6 Super-Symmar XL that it might become his primary lens for 5x7 inch (where it equates roughly to 21mm in 35mm terms). In fact, he uses the 210/5.6 Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-N a good deal more, and indeed, the ancient 165/6.8 Goertz Dagor more than the Super-Symmar, which has remained something of a special-application lens except on 6x12cm.

changing your mind

Your favourite focal length may change with time as well as with your choice of camera. When she first started, Frances favoured a 90/2.5 macro on a Nikkormat. After a few years, her number one lens changed to a 35/2.8 PC-Nikkor, still on the same camera. Then when she switched to rangefinders, she hovered between 28mm and 50mm for a while before making 50mm her favourite.



This is no problem, as long as you remain open on the one hand to the possibility that the lens you have 'always used' may not be the one that you always want to use, and on the other hand to the possibility that a desire for change may simply be cat's dinner syndrome, as described above.


Pack mules near the Norbulingka

This is probably one of the last pictures Frances shot in the days when she used reflexes (Nikkormats) as her 'basic' outfit, around 1999. By then, she was using mostly her 35/2.8 PC-Nikkor, but her second choice was still her 90/2.5 Vivitar Series 1.

The picture illustrates very well that whatever lens you use, it is mostly just a matter of standing in the right place. Of course the perspective relationships change, but the more accustomed you are to a lens, the easier it is to choose the right place to stand.

Generous exposure on Ilford XP2 Super in fierce Indian sun (this is the Norbulingka-in-exile, near Dharamsala, not the Lhasa original) has left the highlights a bit 'hot' and short of detail, but it has also given wonderfully open shadows.

how many lenses should you carry?

With all of the above in mind, there are three main factors governing the number of lenses it makes sense to carry with a particular outfit. The first is what you can afford; the second, the question of diminishing returns; and the third, the weight, bulk and general inconvenience.

The first requires little explanation, except to say that if you can't afford vast numbers of lenses, it will probably benefit your photography more than it harms it. It is worth adding, though, that there is more to lenses than focal length, and the fewer lenses you carry, the better they need to match your requirements. If you have a 35/2.8 and a 50/1.4, and constantly wish that either the 35mm lens were faster or the 50mm were wider, maybe it is time to grit your teeth and buy a single fast 35mm to replace the pair of them.

The second depends on your own personal priorities. It is always vexing to have to accept that you cannot get the picture you want, either because you do not have the lens you need or (worse still) that you do not have it with you. On the other hand, we firmly believe that once you have the size of your outfit where you need it, you will lose far fewer pictures as a result of carrying too little equipment than you will if you try to carry too much equipment. For our rangefinder outfits we often carry just three lenses each: 21-35-75 for Roger, 28-50-90 for Frances. It's true that these outfits do not overlap at all, so we can borrow one another's lenses, but we actually do so very rarely.

The third will obviously depend on what sort of camera you have, and this is one of the reasons we like rangefinder cameras: the lenses are small and light. Often, too, we will carry slower rather than faster lenses, in order to save weight and bulk. Frances will use the 28/1.9 as a fast lens, along with the 50/2.5 (instead of f/1.5) and 90/3.5 (instead of 90/2), while Roger supplements his 35/1.4 and 75/2 with a 21/4 instead of our 21/2.8.


Daroca, Spain

The 15/2.8 Zeiss Distagon for the Zeiss Ikon (in Leica M fit) is a gorgeous lens, a stop and a third faster than the 15/4.5 Super-Wide-Heliar, and it comes with a centre filter (obviously not used here) for even illumination. If we used 15mm a lot, we would very seriously consider buying one.

On the other hand, we don't use 15mm very much; it is several times the price of the Super-Wide-Heliar; and it is very much bigger. So big, in fact, that while we think nothing of throwing the tiny Super-Wide-Heliar into a camera bag, even if we owned the Distagon we would think twice about carrying it with us on the off-chance that we might need it. Roger shot this on Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX with the Distagon on his M4-P.




other outfits

We have already suggested that there are two reasons for using something other than your basic outfit: to take a particular kind of picture better, and just for a change.

Both approaches suggest to us that the 'other outfit' should if possible be even more stripped-down than your basic outfit, because you shouldn't try to do as much with it. We'd also suggest that a single body should be sufficient, because you don't have to depend on it so much. Thus, for example, we are perfectly happy to carry a single rollfilm SLR and indeed just one lens for it, though we do normally carry two or three lenses for our large format outfits, simply because any large format outfit is so big and heavy next to a rangefinder outfit that the marginal extra weight is trivial: a pound or two (half a kilo to a kilo) of extra lenses is nothing when the camera itself weights ten or eleven pounds (five kilos) and the film holders the best part of a pound (half a kilo) each, as is the case with our 5x7 inch cameras.

complementary cameras

If you have two (or more) cameras or outfits, there may well be times when they complement one another. Thus, for example, we often carry an old Nikon F along with our rangefinder cameras, with a single lens, a 200mm. This is because the only reliable way to use a 200mm lens on a Leica M-series is with a Visoflex reflex housing, and a Viso plus 200mm Telyt is bulkier, more expensive and less convenient than a Nikon F plus 200/3 Vivitar Series 1. Also, we have a Nikon and 200/3, and although we have a Viso, we don't have a 200 Telyt at the moment.



Pumpkins, Slovenia

This is a classic example of why we carry the old Nikon F and 200/3 Vivitar Series 1. The lens is almost invariably fitted with a Soviet-era 2,8x orange filter and the camera is loaded with Ilford HP5 Plus. Not only were we naturally hesitant about trespassing on the farmer's land in order to get the composition we wanted: he also had a big guard dog...

Intriguingly, a Viso fits straight onto a Bessa-T: even the release arm falls in the right place. Late Visoflexes are however impractical with other Bessas (except probably a screw-mount Viso on a Bessa-L, which we haven't tried): you cannot get the right-angled finder to fit over the Bessa rangefinder housing.


Once again, we believe in keeping these to a minimum. Yes, it's nice to have every single filter you might need, for every single lens, but it costs a fortune, takes up a lot of space and can mean a lot of time wasted while you decide which filter to use, hunt it out and fit it.



It is a great advantage if all your lenses accept the same size filters, and Voigtländer are especially good for this: the 21/4, 25/4, 25/4, 28/3.5, 35/2.5, 50/2.5 and 90/3.5 all take 39mm.


Clothes drying, Capodistria, Slovenia

Frances is more likely to use heavy filtration than Roger is (except for the orange filter on the 200/3 Vivitar Series 1) and this is a heavily red-filtered but also generously exposed picture on Ilford Delta 3200, shot with a 50/2,5 Color-Skopar on her Voigtländer Bessa-T.

This well illustrates the complexity of film speeds. The true ISO of Delta 3200, developed as here in Ilford DD-X, is around 1250. Allow 8x for the red filter, and this falls to an effective 160 or so, except that Delta 3200 has quite high red sensitivity, so it's probably a bit better than that...

It's also worth remembering that a 'sky' filter (yellow, orange, or red) also darkens shadows disproportionately because they are lit principally by (bluish) sky-light, not white sunlight. Frances hand-coloured the laundry with SpotPens.

Some accessories are taken for granted, such as lens hoods (shades) and (unless you really trust your in-camera meter) a separate exposure meter of some kind, but otherwise you can easily carry too much. For example, the 90/4 collapsible Macro-Elmar for the M-series Leica is a lovely lens, and with the 'spectacles' you can focus down to 1/3 life size. On the other hand, if you really want to do that, it's easier to carry an old reflex with a macro lens or even a Visoflex rangefinder housing with a 65/3.5 Elmar, and fiddling around with the 'spectacles' is time-consuming.

Besides, our 200/3 (above) goes down to about 1/4 life size anyway...

a back-up camera

Independently of whatever else you may carry -- whatever camera, whatever format -- it is often a good idea to have a cheap, reliable, simple, good-quality camera in your suitcase (not your camera bag) as a final back-up in case of loss, theft or other disasters. It doesn't matter what it is: cameras we use or have used for this purpose include an Olympus Pen W half frame, a Retina IIa, a Rollei 35, a Konica SIII, and a Nikon F with a 45/2.8 or 50/2 Nikkor.


Painter, Honfleur

Every now and then, give your backup camera a bit of exercise to make sure that it is still working. Frances shot this with our Rollei 35, one of the less expensive models with the 50/3.5 Triotar three-glass lens -- and the quality was still remarkable.

One of our friends did an entire shoot with a Rollei 35 in Scandinavia when his other cameras were stolen. The publisher had no problem with the pictures, though admittedly his Rollei did have the superior Tessar lens.



camera bags

These will in due course be the subject of a module of their own, but the main things to say here are that you don't want too much weight; you want the maximum possible comfort; and you want easy access.


The advantages of a light camera bag are obvious enough, and as you get older they become more obvious: many is the photographer whose back problems in middle age are the result of carrying overweight bags in younger days.

Of course a lot depends on how far you are carrying things. We are not too worried about our 65-lb Gandolfi 12x15 inch outfit, with its 25-lb tripod, as long as we do not have to carry it more than a few yards. It also matters where you are carrying things. Snow-shoeing with an over-the-shoulder bag can have you over on a regular basis, as Roger discovered when he tried it. Walking on rough tracks is harder with a big bag, too.




Roger favours backpacks for anything more than the lightest outfits, but as a result of surgery for breast cancer in 2000, Frances prefers 'bandoleer' or 'despatch rider' bags. We both like photographers' vests, too.


In the heyday of rangefinder cameras, when you needed all kinds of accessories for close-focusing, plus a viewfinder for each lens, quite apart from everything else, there was a fashion for bags that held an unbelievable amount of equipment in a tiny space.


Slingshot bag by LowePro

Frances swears by these, as they are comfortable to wear and (unlike backpacks) can be swung around like this for very secure access.

These super-packed 1950s bags had two drawbacks, though. First, they were necessarily heavy for their size, and second, everything was so intricately packed that if you needed one thing, you might have to unpack (and repack) three other things. If what you needed replaced something else -- a lens, say, or a viewfinder -- then putting the 'something else' away might also necessitate an absurd amount of unpacking and repacking.

Slingshot AW 200, fully loaded

It might look as if this Slingshot is subject to the problems noted above, with three cameras (two Voigtländers and an Alpa, four lenses for the Voigtländers, finders, filters, film and Pentax Digital spot meter and passports, but part of the secret is that when the bag is in use, there's at least one camera around her neck and the spot meter goes into a pocket. Also, the bag is brilliantly designed.



More recently, the fashion has been for a vast multiplicity of pockets (especially in photographers' vests). If you are enormously disciplined and always put everything away in the same place, this can be a great advantage. Otherwise, there is far too much scope for losing things in the bag itself, and spending ten minutes trying to find (say) a viewfinder, panicking because you think you may have dropped it a mile back.

This is yet another reason why we favour small outfits, to be kept in bags where the minimum of digging and burrowing is required.

the bottom line

This is where we come back to our mythical Chinese butcher from the beginning of the module. There were really two reasons why his knives never needed sharpening. One was that he knew exactly where to cut. The other was that he knew which knife to use for what operation, and how to use it.

The same is true of the vast majority of the world's best photographers. They know which camera to use, and they use it almost instinctively. If they have to use something else for a particular purpose, they will, but they will normally do so from necessity, not from choice.


Similar considerations apply to materials, but that is another story.

Most photographers lack the single-mindedness to work this way, but even so, the closer they can come to the ideal of simplification, the better their photography is likely to become.


Festival, Pecs, Hungary

Fast, accurate focusing was essential, and the exposure is a swine -- dappled sunlight is always difficult -- but familiarity with your camera and lens makes such things a lot easier. Roger used his 35/1.4 Summilux on his Leica MP for this shot on Kodak Elite Chrome EBX ISO 100.



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© 2006 Roger W. Hicks