The Mamiya Sequence.

The sound you can hear above (my apologies for the quality, I had to use an app on my phone in lieu of a proper microphone) is something I have become increasingly familiar with over the last few months of shooting photos, what I have come to call 'the mamiya sequence'.

The mamiya sequence is the culmination of the wonderful act that is shooting film on a completely mechanical camera and can really apply to any such camera, regardless of whatever particular model it is that you happen to be using. The sequence as heard above can be broken down into the following constituents:

  1. The tripping of the mirror to enable mirror lock-up, thus reducing any unwanted vibration from mirror slap.
  2. The firing of the shutter using a remote cable release.
  3. The winding of the film on to the next frame.
  4. The resetting of the mirror so that the viewfinder is usable again for the next photo.

Making the effort to return to film shooting has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the shooting that I have done so far this year and it has really brought the enjoyment back into taking photographs. I do not wish to sound as if making photos on a film camera is some magical experience that you cannot get using a digital as after all they are ultimately just tools, but I cannot deny that there does feel as if there is something inherently different about the process that I definitely enjoy and it is perhaps moulded by my first experience with a camera.

The first camera that I ever properly used was my Dad's old Fuji AX-1 35mm film camera, which he still owns, and it is a camera that I still hold very dear to my heart even though I have not shot a frame of 35mm film in years. The act of firing off the shutter and then winding on the next frame of film was always something of a real pleasure when using that camera, and I think it is this tactile nature of using a completely mechanical film camera that I really enjoy and what makes it so different from shooting digitally.

Obviously using a digital camera still requires actual physical interaction with the camera itself but there is a different kind, or perhaps sequence, of interaction that I find occurs when I am using my film or digital systems. When taking any given picture using either camera both require the same level of attention to detail with things such as composition and exposure, but I will admit that i sometimes find myself being more contemplative when using my film camera. Perhaps one of the chief reasons is that with my film camera I am limited to a given number of frames per roll of film (and film costs mount up), whereas with my digital camera I can shoot hundreds of shots before space on the card may become an issue. After taking a shot using my digital camera I can sit and 'chimp' on the back of the screen looking at the levels and if the exposure is not how I want it I can simply delete the file, change my settings, and shoot until it is correct (which is admittedly very handy). With film, however, once I have arrived at an exposure calculation that I think to be correct I work through the mamiya sequence and have to wait for the results once the film is exposed, and this delayed gratification is something that I have found that I have missed when I was not shooting film that much.

I touched upon the physicality of film above but I think it can actually be expanded further into the core of the digital vs analogue sphere. In terms of photography, the entire film process is much more hands on than digital is ever going to be, no matter how much someone might argue to the contrary. With film you get to physically touch and see your slides and/or negatives and you are probably much more likely to handle a print of a photograph made using film than you ever are using digital; most pictures shot digitally remain on people's computers and at best maybe get put online. That does not make the photos any less real, but it is a very pleasing thing to actually see a photograph you have taken in print before your very eyes, and 99% of the time it looks waaaaay better than viewing it on a monitor. The same thing could be said of the audio world - there was (and is) something very nice about handing an LP, CD or a tape and inserting it into the machine that can play that medium and hitting a play button (or dropping the needle in the case of LP's). Much of the music listened to now is purchased digitally through services such as i-tunes and whilst you do have to click a mouse or press a button on a touchscreen, most people now never truly get to handle the music that they have purchased. Of course this does not actually affect the quality of the actual music flowing into your ears (though an argument about audio quality from services such as i-tunes is an extremely valid one), but there is something lost in the process.

What I have taken the long way about saying is that rekindling my relationship with film photography is something that I am very glad that I have done. Whilst I very much enjoy the immediacy and advantages that digital photography has to offer, the meditative nature of the film photography process is something that I find myself increasingly drawn back to once more and I am enjoying it immensely. I think the mamiya sequence is going to be a familiar sound for many more years to come.



Filters.

As anyone reading this who is into photography will know, ones kit bag tends to evolve as they get further into their photography. On a basic level this can be the actual tool that we photographers use, the camera, as maybe we want to explore a different format, or perhaps the current rig that we use no longer helps as it has become limiting in some capacity. Stick with it long enough and your inventory to fill with lots of other little trinkets and accessories that end up becoming essential to you in your everyday shooting situation such as remote controls/cable releases, flashguns, and filters.

Though they have applications across the board for many different kinds of photographers, filters are an invaluable bit of kit for the landscape photographer. If you are a beginner photographer who starts trying your hand at landscape shots near the beginning or end of the the day, your experiments will quickly reveal that film and sensors only have so much latitude before the differences between darker areas and lighter areas are too much for the recording medium to handle. The results are either shadow areas with lots of detail and blown out highlight or the complete opposite depending on how you have metered the scene. Reading up on the matter you realise that you are going to have to invest in a set of graduated neutral density (GND) filters so that you can can get an exposure where you can control the lighter parts of the image, such as the sky, to bring your exposure back within the aforementioned latitude limits of the medium you happen to be using. A lot of photographers using digital cameras have now forgone the use of filters such as GNDs, as they now choose to capture different exposures for the different tonal ranges of the scene and then blend them together in post-production. For those wanting to do as much as they can in-camera, however, GNDs are an invaluable tool and there are other filters which have effects that software currently cannot reproduce, such as polarising filters.

As alluded to above, filters found their way into my armory from a reasonably early stage after early disastrous attempts at shots without their usage (though if you are a beginner who has stumbled across this blog it is worth noting that these disasters are invaluable, as it is through these failed attempts that you learn and grow as a photographer). So I spent some money and invested in the Cokin P system, which suited my budget at the time, and up until very recently it has been a constant companion in my bag.

Filter holder, adapter ring, and one of the filters I own for the Cokin P system. The grime on it indicates how often it has been recently used.

Filter holder, adapter ring, and one of the filters I own for the Cokin P system. The grime on it indicates how often it has been recently used.

For the most part the filters have served me well and their application has usually produced the effect that I was looking for. That being said, there has always been issues that have persisted throughout my time with them, particularly Cokin's GND filters. Whilst they provide a very affordable way to introduce filters into your kit bag, the Cokin grads are absolutely terrible for introducing a colour cast into a picture. For those that have used them this will come as no great shock as it is a well documented phenomenon, but over time it comes to be a great annoyance having to try and fix this cast at the editing stage, something which has on occasions proven almost impossible to rectify without unduly affecting the image to its detriment. 

Enter the Lee system.

The Lee filter system that I have eyed greedily for a long time. As a filter manufacturer their reputation precedes them; high quality construction materials and, in the case of the GNDs, colour neutrality. I have wanted to buy into the Lee system for a long time but the chief barrier has been cost. These things are so expensive! In the UK a set of GNDs with the Cokin P system will set you back (at the time of writing) £60, but a set of Lee's will set you back £199, and that's just for one full set - if you buy both hard and soft GNDs you are just pushing £400. As you can probably agree that is quite a lot of money to spend. There is also the filter holder and adapter rings to purchase, so it very quickly starts mounting up. It is an investment, however, so I have finally decided spend the money and buy into the system. I do think the holder and adapter rings, for all their quality, are overpriced but that is a grumble I will have to contend with.

The Lee 100mm system. Featured here is the filter pouch, filter holder, 77mm wide-angle adapter ring, and the Lee Big Stopper. Graduated ND filters are to be purchased shortly.

The Lee 100mm system. Featured here is the filter pouch, filter holder, 77mm wide-angle adapter ring, and the Lee Big Stopper. Graduated ND filters are to be purchased shortly.

My first purchase has actually been another type of filter that Lee makes, the big stopper (for anyone reading this unaware of what that is, it is a ND filter that reduces the light entering the lens by 10 stops). Long exposure photography has become very popular over the last few years and it has definitely piqued my interest as of late.  I have shot a couple of tests, one of which is featured below, and I have recently shot some 'proper' photographs with it but they are currently awaiting development. I think my first GND purchase is going to be a couple of hard filters and one soft one. They do sell these filters in complete sets but I have been reading that the 0.3 filters are rarely used, so I am wanting to spend my money wisely. After that I will be saving for a circular polariser.

The Bridge to Nowhere, Belhaven Beach, Dunbar. 

The Bridge to Nowhere, Belhaven Beach, Dunbar. 

So far the system has been an absolute joy to use and the difference in quality is very apparent. Once the adapter ring is screwed into the front of your lens the filter holder clips on and off very easily, making for a nice quick set-up. One of the things I am going to be extra careful with when using this sytem is handling and storage of the filters. The big stopper itself is a glass filter and so far I have been handling it with kid gloves, lest I damage it. I have damaged a few GNDs before with the Cokin P system but they have always had the advantage of being cheap to replace; Lee filters does not afford the same lackadaisical attitude.

One of my grads after taking a tumble. Lesson learned.

One of my grads after taking a tumble. Lesson learned.

The big stopper is a filter I am excited to get using and I already have a batch of images taken with it that I am just waiting to get developed now. It opens up a world of image making that I have hitherto not been able to explore, though it is a technique I am going to be conscious of not going overboard with. The GNDs are going to be put into action once I have them in my hand as recently I have been conservative about trying particular shots due to me not having a GND solution to work with, so that is going to be great going forward.

A lot of money has been spent but I am confident that it will be an investment that will pay dividends for future images. If you are reading this and contemplating buying into the Lee system, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

A light metering solution.

Aching muscles.

These two words as of late have become synonymous with my recent trips out with my cameras. I generally (try to) keep myself in pretty good shape. Exercise is something that I value and enjoy and, without getting on a pedestal about it, I think taking care of ones body in this way is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and general longevity. My general fitness routine involves lifting weights, biking, and taking long walks. What does this have to do with photography? Well, I have found that it helps when it comes to lugging around photographic kit, but even then, carrying a lot of equipment around on your back for long distances is still tiring work and having burning, chafed skin on your shoulders where you bag straps dig in is never a fun experience. The main reason my bag can be so heavy is that I frequently lug around both my medium format and my digital kit (alongside a heavy tripod).

As a user of both systems I enjoy the advantages that each of them confer and it is often why I go out with both kits. Some of the time, however, I have been carrying my digital camera with me when my main intention has been to shoot with my medium format kit. Why do this? Well, I have used my digital camera as a light meter for my film work. The digital camera has the ability to display a histogram and I have used this as a barometer as to whether or not I have a good exposure to work with for my mamiya. Lately I have found myself wanting to shoot a lot more things with my mamiya and lugging around an extra camera and lens purely for the purpose of reading the light levels is beginning to feel unnecessary, especially given the fact that  have owned a handheld light meter for quite some time.

 

The Sekonic L-558 Dualmaster.

The Sekonic L-558 Dualmaster.

I originally bought this light meter with the sole intention of using it with my film camera. I had owned another sekonic light meter a few years previous that only had an incident meter on it and whilst it was a nice little meter, it was pretty inadequate for any subject that was not sitting under the same light as I was (as you tend to find in things like landscape shots), so I sold it to help fund this purchase. 'Yes, a new handheld meter that has spot metering functionality!' I triumphantly thought to myself. So I took it out and experimented with it and the shots I got back with it were not working out as I had hoped; the results were infrequently good and I was wasting film. I then spent a while reading more about using handheld meters and I then took it out with my digital camera. I would diligently meter off what I thought were mid-grey tones and use those for my settings but I was again experiencing middling results (though as I was using my digital camera there were not really any resources being drained other than the cameras battery). Frustrated, I packed the light meter away and did not really use it that much for a few years. After all, I could use the histogram on the back of my digital camera to see if I was getting things right or not so I continued to use this as my metering solution for film shots.

Recently, however, this was beginning to become a pain. I would get to the end of a long day out with my camera where I not taken a shot for whatever reason and I had aching muscles. Aching muscles from carrying around this extra kit purely for the purpose of light metering (and perhaps grabbing a few shots that I didn't want to waste film on). I had resolved at the start of the year to get to know how to use my light meter once and for all, so I started searching about again for any article or video that would finally cement proper light metering technique into my mind and I came across this video by American photographer Ben Horne (http://www.benhorne.com).

In this video, Ben talks about how he goes about metering a scene, accounting for both shadow detail and highlight detail, and how to utilise these when using either positive film or negative film. I can say that this has been nothing short of a revelation as to how I go about using the L-558. I ran some test shots using my digital camera again but using Ben's technique laid out in the video and the results I was getting back in the histogram were exactly what I was looking for. It has actually made me overhaul my metering technique even for my digital photography, as I have found that I am now producing a better RAW file to work with before any processing takes place.

I am so happy that I found this video as it has finally given me the confidence to head out with just my medium format kit knowing that on the whole I can take a light reading using my meter, using Ben's methodology, and be confident that I am getting things right. A bonus of this video has been that I have been exposed (no pun intended) to Ben's wonderful work, of which I am now an avid follower. There is a coastal hike I am planning on doing soon and it is going to be just me, my mamiya, and my light meter. I am quite happy in the knowledge that I can shoot with my mamiya knowing that I do not have to use my digital kit as a crutch when it comes to exposure.

After long distance hikes, however, I fear I may still have aching muscles