Thursday, April 26, 2018

Lost In Space (Three Wider Part 2)

Morning again, and today we'll continue with my ongoing attempts to learn the Hasselblad SWC/M (that is if you're still interested and haven't been locked up [yet]).

As I said before, camera-wise, it is an oddball, but also a supremely capable camera so long as you use it like you mean it.
What do I mean by that?
Well folks . . . read on!

My first attempts with the camera were, bar one photograph, pants (British, not American either). i.e. the scubbiest pair of soiled Y-Fronts, found wind-blown [literally and metaphorically] and pressed against the furthest wire fence of some lost recreation ground in the back of beyond . . . in other words, they were unbelievably awful.

Truth be told, initially I found the camera incredibly difficult to get my head around.
It wasn't just that handheld and with that viewfinder, things took on a slant that I could only equate to trying to compose with my old Agfa 6x9 box camera; it wasn't just that I forgot to set the focus either, it was more - could I justify the expense? I am in debt for a couple of years because of this - have I done a wise thing?

After film 1 was processed, I have to say I was a bit aghast and underwhelmed, apart from 2 frames - the best of which was the dog from the last post - the rest were a mish-mash of poor composition, focus mistakes and off-kilter perspective . . . however, that chance picture of a dog taken into the sun convinced me that the camera could do far more than I realised
So I did what I always do in such circumstances.
I thought about it a bit.
You see, the problem wasn't the camera, nope it was more basic than that - it was me.
When I began to realise that and that any approach to using it had to come from my perspective (sic) then things changed.

Enter Film 2.
It was a cold and misty 6AM down on Dundee's waterfront - currently a large area of building work surrounding the 'jewel in the crown' - the new V&A Museum of Design.
I've photographed the area for years and have found it frustrating that I have been unable for a while to do my favourite city centre walk, from Tescos Riverside, along past the Discovery, keeping to the sea wall (it is an estuary though) and along, under the road bridge and onto the old dock area ending up at the Nynas refinery.
It's a good walk, especially in the early morning when your companions are mostly birds and the odd runner.
But like I say, I can't do it because of the building work, so, I parked in the first space I could find, picked up the tripod, and headed into the mess of hoardings and fences, Do Not Enter signs and bollards.

This is what it used to look like courtesy of my Koni Omega - a bloody fantastic camera and lens actually - not loved at all by any photographers anywhere these days, but quality second to none. It's the cheapest route into 6x7 and if you can get over the film advance (not as frightening as it looks) and rangefinder, then you have an incredibly capable machine with a superb lens.
Anyway - the building you see below is the now demolished leisure centre - the new V&A sits right on top of where it was.

That pile of rubble on the right is the remains of the hotel where I spent my wedding night!

Below is the first frame from Film 2. OK it is a poor composition, but I was hobbled by fences and so on. The V&A is the thing that looks like a ship's prow in the distance. The weirdness in the sky is the mist which was patchy and kept coming in in waves.

V&A Dundee From The Road Bridge Footings 2018

Ocular Balancing Act

This is a twat's-eye view of that viewfinder.
That oblong on the left is a mirror, which reflects the bubble level on the camera body. You may just see, in between it and the main ocular window (OK, round bit of glass) a small circle of lightness surrounded by a red circle - the red circle isn't on the camera btw . . . .
Got it? well that is a round hole in the rubber eye-cup that you observe the mirror (and bubble level) with. So basically you have to balance your eye between making sure the bubble is right in the middle of the reflected level (delineated by a black circle printed within the bubble level itself and observed through a tiny hole in a bit of ancient rubber) and the scene you are composing through the viewfinder!

Does that sound hard?

Well, remember when you were young and you'd get these small perspex puzzles with say, oh a picture of a rabbit, but with holes around its perimeter, and the puzzle would be filled with ball-bearings and all you had to do was get those into the holes?
Well, the SWC/M is almost EXACTLY the same, except it has one ball-bearing (the bubble) and one hole (the black circle in the bubble level).
Add in composition and being handheld too, and it really is like an episode of The Krypton Factor!

Fortunately, and once you get your head around the fact that you only need to adjust the camera and not your head and stance, i.e. tilt the camera to centre the bubble, not your head, it starts to become second nature.

Anyway, on with the show . . . .
Tantalisingly THIS is a view (in part) of the V&A Dundee.
Don't look much do it?
But in actuality, it is a beautiful building that opens up interesting new vistas as you walk around it - I would love to have got closer, but I was nose against the security fencing and some burly security guys wondered what the hell I was doing . . . you'll have to wait till September when it opens.

V&A Dundee, With Security Fence Installation

Film 2 was partly how I had hoped it would be, using it on a tripod and with careful levelling.
It gave me the sort of experience (and quality of image) I'd had from a 5x4, but without the pain in the arse
But, you really need to centre that bubble level, unless you're intentionally exploiting space and perspective.
And you also really need to get in super-close.
The zero distortion thing which is often written about with regard to the lens, is something to behold - I can see why this camera has been used by a lot of architectural photographers - lemme in to the V&A with only natural light, pleeeeeze, pleeeze!
Yes there are equivalents out there, but somehow, the Biogon defines the space.
Actually, the word that keeps coming to mind is dominate.
I haven't put my finger on it yet, but it has strangely helped me produce two photographs that have immediately gone into the top ten photographs I have ever made, and for only having been here for a short while, that was something.
I love it - what can we do together in the future?
Oh for plenty of spare time and limitless film and developer!

SWC/M in situ. Gitzo CF Tripod, Arca Ball-head, Arca plate. As stable as having a pair of concrete boots fitted and being embedded in one of those piers.

Twat's-eye View Part 1

Twat's-eye View Part 2

"'Ere, oo put that bridge on me 'ead?"

I was so chuffed with this last photo - it looks Russian if you know what I mean - I could print it better too - there's still some detail in the more exposed distances, but on the whole, yes, I like it.
It was a long exposure - about 30 secs allowing for Zone III on the tarmac and reciprocity on Delta 400. Pyrocat-HD, looked at this, sniffed, laughed and did its business - the negative is semi-tanned. Had I been  using a 'real' film it would have had a better tanning.

After I'd developed Film 2 I was pleased, but I was also still a bit perplexed about the camera.
Mainly because its cost kept running through my head, so again, I thought about things for a bit, did a bit of internet searching around and came across a renowned American educator called Neal Rintoul, who had made extensive use of the SW.
He had a 'contact me' bit on his site, so I did.
I asked him whether it was a totally different frame of mind to use the camera well, and he sent me a nice reply which he's said he doesn't mind if I publish, so here goes:

"I am happy to reply.

The SWC is a whole different mindset. And yes the vf is just a facsimile, not so very accurate, especially when in close. I also don’t agree with the infinite DOF idea with this lens. Out of focus is possible and even desirable sometimes. You will find you get pretty good at judging how far away things are and hyperlocal distance is your friend. I had a colleague who believed that focus didn’t matter with the SWC. But then, when looking at his pictures you could tell he was sloppy and imprecise.

So, some of it is the subtlety and the beauty of how it renders.  For instance, it is seeing up and down as much as left and right. This often isn’t apparent as there could be sky up there and pavement or something not so crucial below. But it is there.
Hold it in front of you then notice how  close to your feet it is seeing in the bottom of the frame.

I would always think that shooting with the camera was intuitive. Far more than with most cameras, as you’d have to take it on faith that it was getting what you intended. I got pretty good at this as almost never cropped. I used it with the  6 x 4.5  back for a while, as Harry Callahan did. But I didn’t like it much-trying to convert it into seeing a normal rectangular frame seemed almost a perversion.

How does one get good with the SWC? Shoot with it, tons of film, daily and in truly unexceptional surroundings-around home- at work. Another friend bought one - I was responsible for many many buying them, I am sure - and he shot it every day walking to work and walking home.

The level: a key part as it is whether you make a picture that simulates normality or not. Stand in front of something and keep it really level and it deceives as it looks pretty good, straight lines straight, no barrel distortion and sharp in the edges.
Most people would never know. Take it out of level or tilt it slightly and all hell breaks loose. Both were tactics I used often.

Don’t know if you’ve seen this or not

Also, look to Lee Freidlander as he was a later convert. And, of course, Callahan- on the Cape but also in Peru.

Finally, shooting with the SWC is mostly intuited or automated. Figure the exposure, set aperture, look up, guess the distance and where you want to set the focus on the lens scale, look through the vf, know whether you want it level or not, if you want level set bubble level in the middle (very important that it be right on!). 

Ah, the Superwide. I was wedded at the hip with that camera.

As you get going send me some pictures. Would love to se them.

Hope this helps.

Neal Rantoul"

This was great advice, so I asked him some more questions and he very kindly replied again:

"As a teacher, I found that students would often want to emulate me. As I was exhibiting often locally, they’d see my work and want to make pictures like what they’d seen. If they had money then would come the question about how I made my pictures look like that and then about the SWC.
I would say and still believe that the camera is for “experts”. And would caution them to be really serious and conscientious in using it. It can be so very subtle(particularly if used level). But with really substantial experience and hard work (students seldom had the discipline) could be a wonderful tool.
I also believe that the  wider the lens the greater the expertise that is needed.

Not for everyone, the SWC.

I would be honored if you chose to quote me.

The only suggestion I would have for you about the pictures you’ve shown me is to get closer. Pictures can easily become too passive if made with the camera. Everything receding into the background is never good. I think I learned more about working closer and making comparative statements from foreground to background with the Superwide than any other camera I used. Most of the time I was working with it I was shooting in 8 x10 as well, which is a whole different thing altogether.


Neal Rantoul"

Hmmm - the phrase "get closer" rang around and around in my head, so for film 3 I did, and went from this (the last frame on Film 2):

Phone Exchange - Dundee Waterfront

To this on Film 3:

Technician's Tea Room - DOJCA

This was more like it!
My sort of photo completely.
I was weirdly pressed up against a window at the back of the Art College for this last one. I guessed focus, took a deep breath and managed 1/15th at f11.
Nah, there's none.  
What a lens.

And that's it for now folks - there's a part 3 coming in which a scale and polish at the dentists turns into an intensely creative 30 minutes of shooting fun.

Take care and remember, you can only play 'Kick Out The Jams' on the carehome stereo system after the rest of the residents have listened to that 'Cilla's Golden Hits' CD.
You know it makes you happy.
What a lovely afternoon, listening, dancing, tapping your toes, drinking tea, reminiscing about Tony Blackburn and Ed 'Stewpot Stewart' and Junior Choice on Radio One on Saturdays.
You're a popular chap with the old ladies . . .well actually, you're the only chap still left alive!

Are you ready to kick out the jams muthahubbards???


  1. Sorry David - for some reason your comment got deleted . . anyway, here it is:

    DavidM has left a new comment on your post "Lost In Space (Three Wider Part 2)":

    What was the programme were they told a very sad story which always included the phrase "So she went home to her mum."? So much gloomier than even Cilla's Greatest.
    Oops! I rather like the Phone Exchange picture, even quite small on a screen. A pleasing restraint. Perhaps a six-foot print...

  2. Don't remember the programme, but have to admit the thought of being stuck in a home listening to all these 'memory exercise' things they seem to be chucking at oldies these days . . .I mean, can you imagine when the punk generation get really old . . will it be 12XU by Wire, or Rivers Of Babylon by Boney M????

  3. Will they all be sitting in rows behind their Zimmers, banging their snow-white heads?
    Perhaps by the time you get there, we shall have devised a hygienic solution to the old codger problem. A world of under 24s... None of them able to afford a mortgage but all of them able to afford cappuccinos and mobile phone rental. Joy!
    Looking at the hotel picture, it must have been a very energetic night.

  4. Oh very good!

    Yes, Harry Harrison wasn't far wrong - Solyent Green is coming . . . and you can't pogo with a zimmer - I know, I've tried.

  5. Yes, David, that was a very good one! Don't go anywhere near San Francisco in an amorous mood, Phil.

    Keep the SWC shots coming, Phil. I really like them. The tearoom is a cracker and I also like the phone exchange shot. I can see David's point about a 6ft print. If you ask your missus to stretch her arms out from her shoulders you should be able to sellotape a large sheet of paper to her fingertips. Swing the head of the De Vere round and you're away. Haha.

  6. Thanks Bruce - actually in all honesty, even if I did ask her I couldn't move the DeVere - seems to be cemented in place at the moment . . !

  7. I was consumed with envy at the catalogue of desirable artefacts in picture number five. Hasselblad, Zeiss, Arca, Arca, Gitzo. I hope it wasn't a Jessops cable release.

  8. Nah - Kaiser!
    it has taken me a very very long time to acquire that lot David actually, and were I to be asked do they make a difference, I would answer yes, especially the tripod setup!

  9. You don't appreciate a Gitzo until you've used one – no go-faster stripes, not even matt black. Somehow they just seem to work as they should.
    Kaiser is fine. They make very nice developing trays with smooth raised ribs that I find easier to use for developing film. Proper flat film, that is, not this new-fangled rolled-up stuff.

  10. I know what you mean about Gitzo, my old Reporter (Made In France) is a wonderful thing - just extremely cold when in the mountains and heavy over a long day. The Italian CF Gitzo was a revelation though - it has been a very solid and light companion so far.
    I've also got an ex-British Museum Gitzo Series 5 P&T head - it would hold a Sherman Tank level and weighs as much as a Morris Minor . . . .

    Kaiser, yes, agree, very good - I like the older Photax trays too!

  11. Getting close seems to be the trick indeed. I really like the Technician's Tea Room. It really is amazing how little distortion there is in such a wide lens I can barely get straight lines on a 28mm lens using an accurate pentaprism viewfinder, never mind something you have to line up through a little hole. Well done. I'm looking forward to seeing more photos from this fascinating camera.

  12. Thanks Marcus - yeah it seems to be slapping my chops with every film . . more soon!


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