The trusty Spotmatic, I still have it, still love it
Nowadays it’s all about the acronyms, many of which I confess I’m still puzzling through and learning about, but in the beginning – my beginning – there was only one: SLR. A friend loaned a camera, its name long forgotten, that introduced me to apertures and shutter speeds, and I got The Itch to own one myself. Soon afterwards the trusty Spotmatic came into my life, and I learned to love the little match-needle in the viewfinder, the silky focusing, the reassuring soft click of the aperture ring. Advancing film rubbed a little callus that formed on the inside of my right thumb, I tried to learn patience waiting for the lab to return my film and when patience grew short I taught myself to load Paterson reels and performed the darkroom rites myself.
If I had to pick out a single piece of photography equipment or software that has made the biggest positive impact on photographic workflow, it would be Adobe Lightroom. The ability to perform edits on raw files provides the power and flexibility necessary to fix the inevitable exposure problems associated with landscape photography, where the photographer cannot control the light of his subject. Lightroom, when combined with the superb dynamic range of a camera like the Pentax K-5, provides the tools necessary to rectify those situations when the camera sees the light quite differently from the naked eye. It allows the boring, flat image on the left to be transformed into the image on the right:
What if I told you that you could take remarkable nature photos outside of the so-called “Golden Hours” that bracket sunrise and sunset? That you could take great shots with pleasing color and manageable dynamic range, requiring very minimal post processing, and that these shots could be taken under the harsh midday sun? And what if I told you that you didn’t need to travel to faraway lands or lug around a bag full of expensive equipment to grab great wildlife photos? Best yet, I’d tell you that there’s a dramatic new world waiting to be captured in pictures - a world of life and death struggles, of predators and prey, of great beautiful creatures with delicate wings of gauze and fierce venomous monsters with many eyes, and this world is waiting for you right outside your backdoor.
The old hymn says once I was blind and now I see, and with Pentax in your hand, you can see the world as never before. Whether shooting Senior Proms, bucking bulls at the rodeo, or a newborn's first night home, the discreet choice of sport for high speed, and soft flash allows you to be discreet, and assured of getting the shot right first time every time.
This post isn't sexy. It isn't overly informative. And it most certainly isn't technical. Probably the best that can be said about it is that it won't take too much of your precious time. So why bother?
What I hope is that in a simple yet significant way it helps a few like-minded photographers find what they're looking for from their gear bag: a bigger and better view of every... single... shot they take.
Let me start by saying that I am on – I'll resentfully acknowledge – a perpetual search. Unfortunately for me, I seek the resolution of a contradiction. An oxymoron. Technology did this to me, I say. But if I'm honest, it's probably a lack of simple contentment with what physics offers us. I want the biggest view in the smallest package. I want to look through my viewfinder and see IMAX. But in my hand, I want to carry a camera the size of a matchbox. James Bond has one of these, of course. But I, unfortunately, do not.
Having begun with a decent cropped sensor dslr, I ditched it as soon as I could for a full-frame unit with 24 whopping megapixels to play with. The view through the finder was stunning. Medium-format junkies, be damned. My 35 mill DSLR showed me the world on big-screen. Except... the other edge of the sword: I was carrying a bag of bricks around.
Ever unsatisfied, I looked to Pentax. In particular, it's limited prime pancakes promised to deliver my other desire: a small, well-made, fine functioning photography system. So I jumped ship. It was quite lovely and satisfying, offering a high-quality yet compact camera experience. Except... that viewfinder. It's great and all. But perhaps, couldn't it be a little larger? I didn't want full-frame for the lenses or depth of field or format of the images it took, apparently. I wanted full-frame because of the huge view of my subjects in the little window I held my eye up to.
What to do now? Read forums till way after bedtime!
A photo of the Photographer's Hand
When I first thought about what piece of equipment makes the most positive impact on my shooting, I was not sure what piece I should write about. My first digital camera? My first DSLR? My first film camera? Any of my lenses? Something different? And then I realized that what has the highest impact on my photography (and I am sure on everyone else's) is my hand (or everyone else's, respectively). Well, you may be thinking I am being a little impudent right now and that this kind of joke does not belong to a serious competition, and guess what... you may be right. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that it is true. My other equipment is just a pile of plastic, metal and glass and cannot take a single picture without the most important part of the photography: The Photographer's Hand. After all, one of my college teachers, a well recognised professor of archaeology, states that "Any artifact is only an extension of the human body". And I must hand it to him.
The Pentax SMC-DA 15mm f/4 ED AL Limited has transformed my photographic vision in expected and unexpected ways. I was certain it would be a great lens for landscape work; I was astonished when it revolutionized my street photography. Street photography with the DA 15 is the subject of this article; my second submission is about using the DA 15 for landscapes.
As a young child, during WWII, I wished I could draw. I hardly could even write properly. I was lucky to have access to Life and National Geographic Magazine. Dr. Gilbert H. Grosvenor, chairman of the board and former president of the National Geographic Society and editor of the National Geographic magazine from 1899 to 1954, died on the Cape Breton Island estate, “Beinn Breagh” which is Gaelic for “beautiful mountain”. The estate is on an island off Baddeck. It is not far from my home town. In fact my husband surreptitiously once went on a date with his granddaughter. Beinn Breagh was formerly owned by his father-in-law, the inventor Alexander Graham Bell. He was 90 years old when he died. I was also lucky to have access to my father’s folding Jiffy Kodak Camera.