The Small Things: Peak Design Straps and Remote Release Cords

I had started seeing these red rimmed black circles attached to cameras pop up on the internet, intregue got the better of me and next news I'd decided to see what all the fuss was about. These are a really elegant solution to quite an annoying problem, particularly if you have a hoard of cameras you regularly switch between. I hate with a passion the metal split ring lugs to attach camera straps; taking them on an off is a pain and so I end up having a strap permanently fitted to each body. Fine, except when you don't want the strap getting in the way, like when theyre stored, or when you'd rather use a wrist strap over a shoulder strap.

Peak Design's solution to this problem is to have these easy to attach Anchor Links, high quality plastic discs that attach to your camera lugs without going through the split ring fastened to a high strength cord (tested to 90kg), and then the disc fits into a quick release connector on compatible straps like the Cuff (wrist strap) or slide (shoulder strap). Neither of these products are inexpensive, but then quality gernally isn't. Plus it means that you only need one strap for multiple cameras. The Slide strap also comes with two more Anchor links and a screw in plate for the bottom of your camera so that you can mount your strap there instead of the lugs.

Its quality little things like this that make a big difference and buying cheap can be a false economy in the long run. As an aside another big impact little thing was to purchase some quality remote shutter releases - the Nikon AR-3 and one from Kaiser. Both cost something like £15-20, a huge premium compared to the £3 generic ones I had been buying off eBay. However too many times now the cheap ones have failed, either the plunger head coming off and getting lost or the thread disintegrating on the screw in mechanism. There is nothing worse than when your only shutter release cable fails when out in a loction that you want to do some long exposures.

1st Roll: Fuji GS645W with Fomapan 400

Highgate CemeteryFuji GS645W + Fomapan 400 (London, 2020)

Some 3 days after an impulse bid on eBay I was unboxing this camera. It was listed in fully working condition with the only flaw being the ISO dial losing its indentations making it prone to move around and loose its position. I has bought the first version of this camera sporting a 45mm lens and omitting a rangefinder. Its younger brother sports a 60mm lens protected by a curious looking bar resembling some sort of roll cage. The longer lens necessitates a rangefinder also. These "compact" Fuji 645 cameras are pretty rare in the UK, particularly this really wide version. I'd hoped this would be a good walk around 645 camera for me, and it has not disappointed.

First thing is that is bigger than you expect after only seeing images of it on the internet. It's plastic, seemingly pretty high grade, and not so weighty. It fits in the hand ok, could probably do with a bit more of a handgrip, but works nicely with my Peak Design Cuff wrist strap. The camera has basic controls: shutter speed selection from 1-1/500s in full stops and aperture from f5.6 to f22. Given the lack of rangefinder it'd be crazy to want anything with less depth of field than f5.6 in my humble opinion. The scale focus has indents at 2m and 5m which I guess must be there as most common settings for maximising the depth of field at f8 (or f11?) and f16 respectively. ISO setting goes up to 1600 and the meter reading inside the viewfinder is an illuminating -/O/+ type. Now the viewfinder, it may surprise you looking through it that its orientated vertically, and this may not sit well with you. For me it was actually a refreshing change. More and more I'm realising that using cameras with different characteristics can force you to change your perspective and help you see images that you wouldn't be apparent to you otherwise. I don't normally shoot vertical but I found this default setting of shooting vertical lead me to getting compositions I'm sure I would have been much less likely to try out on a landscape orientated camera. The film advance is a nice one and a half stroke. Finally the lens, as you can see from these images really nice and sharp. Unfortunately for me that it has a native 49mm filter thread, as I have a full set of 52mm filters, so I have installed a step up ring.

Overall this is definitely a keeper and I think will become my travel medium format camera. I'm realising I prefer the aspect ratio of 645 much better than 35mm, leading to me selling a few 35mm cameras to fund this one. 

Kentish Town RoadFuji GS645W + Fomapan 400 (London, 2020)
Raydon StFuji GS645W + Fomapan 400 (London, 2020)
Chester RoadFuji GS645W + Fomapan 400 (London, 2020)
Hampsted HeathFuji GS645W + Fomapan 400 (London, 2020)
Hampsted HeathDigitized with Negative Lab Pro v2.1.2

Whixall Moss

It was a mild Christmas this year with the foliage keeping more autumnal colours and gradations of brown hue. I took the chance to visit a couple of my favourite locations in my home county of Shropshire, Whixall Moss and Carding Mill Valley, along with one just across the border into north Wales that I'll be writing about in the next few posts. They're all quite different locations, the moss is sunken and flat making it hard to draw subjects, the hills are vast and rolling whilst the waterfall of Pistyll Rhaeadr is an obvious subject where the challenge is to find more creativity than a stock shot.

Whixall moss is quite near where I grew up and I never actually visited it properly until the last couple of years. Previously the nearest I'd got was visits to the now defunct car scrapyard, Furbers, completely overlooking the natural beauty of the surroundings. Its a vast sodden peat bog, a site of national scientific interest that Natural England now manage, but its history was extraction of the peat for fuel and also as a rifle range in World War I. Visually its a stunning landscape, particularly in the autumn and winter with the subdued greens, browns and oranges, but there are not many obvious photographic subjects. Trees are sprawling and its hard to isolate particular things to focus on. Inspired somewhat by a recent book I acquired called "Nature's Chaos" with text describing Chaos theory and photographs by Eliot Porter, I decided to seek out images with the colours and texture of the landscape at their forefront rather than a punchy and obvious subject.

Although I never stopped shooting colour, I have shot much less in recent years and typically its been an after thought to me shooting black and white, if I used it at all. I often found colour often an unwelcome distraction and I felt it was easier me to be creative without it. The Eliot Porter book has helped give me a fresh perspective, as also has a book called "Earth Forms" by Stephen Strom that I found most interesting. He is an astromer who turned his attention to the terrestrial landscapes around him in the southwest United States. His landscapes show the chaos of shubs scattering the eathy hills that at first glance appear to be more works of abstract art than an image of a landscape. His use of a telephoto lens to compress the landscape works to abstract the chaos to some appearance of regularity but the longer your eyes dwell on the image you are drawn to the chaos in the detail. Colour is crucial for achieving this effect as the texture of a monochrome image would not provide the same complexity to explore.

There is beauty in the mundane and capturing these helped me to start thinking about how to observe this more critically. The subtle pallette of Portra 400 helps and on a technical note using Negative Lab Pro to invert the raw negative scan to the colours you see here is a huge improvement from the basic colours you get straight out of Epson or Vue Scan. One of the reasons I think I'd never felt too good about colour negative film was the inconsistent colours I'd get when scanning myself, so this tool seems great.

Bronica SQ 40mm f4 S Lens Review

This post is the first in a series I will be doing for all of the Bronica SQ kit that I own, maybe I'll even do the lenses in focal length order. In which case starting with the 40mm is not a bad choice, as my 500mm has not really been put through its paces yet.

TL;DR

  • Great when coupled with the 6x4.5 or 135W backs.
  • Poor sharpness in the corners for 6x6 images which can be a distraction.
  • Annoying 95mm filter thread, leather lens cap and built in lens hood.
  • Unless you absolutely need the extra 10mm of medium format wideness, you'd probably be better off with the 50mm, at around half the cost.

The specs

Focal Length: 40mm

Aperture: f4-f22 in full stop increments

Filter thread: 95mm

Lens hood: built in

Focussing distance: around 3.75m

Price: £300-400

Other versions: The PS version doesn't have the lens hood built in. This is an advantage for adding filters as they are quite hard to get off on the S model.

Comments from real world usage
This is the widest rectalinear lens for the Bronica SQ system (the 35mm f3.5 is a fish eye), and is also one of the most expensive to purchase (at the time of writing only the rare 500mm f8 appears to cost more although I couldn't find a 35mm for sale). Compared to the other lenses it feels pretty bulky due to its massive 95mm filter thread and built in metal lens hood. The 95mm filter thread is pretty annoying as I have consolidated to 2 sets of filters for all of my cameras - 77mm and 52mm - and use step up rings to accomodate them, so typically I'll be using this without a filter as 95mm ones are generally crazy expensive. I did in fact buy a cheap CPL in 95mm thread, and stupidly after fitting it I wondered, perplexed how I would get it back off. The small screw in ring of the CPL was almost completely under the built in lens hood and I had to resort to a small screw driver to finally unscrew. That being said it is nice to have a built in hood as it would probably be an annoying thing to find if it wasn't included with the lens like is typical with the PS version. The slip on fake leather lens hood is also quite annoying as it will often fall off. As for the build quality, there isn't much to dwell on here, its the same as all Bronica lenses. Solid metal construction with smooth focussing.

Onto some images. The biggest thing I have noticed so far is that the corner sharpness is poor, which I find can be distracting in contrast to the relatively sharp centre in 6x6. However in 6x4.5 and 135W formats this lens does really come into its own as the unsharp corners are now conveniently cropped out. Therefore unless I really need the wide perspective for a 6x6 image I would normally tend to use the 50mm instead, which is also weighs around 10% less.

Editing film photos, a cardinal sin?

One of the reasons people have been drawn back to the cumbersome, time consuming and in many ways archaic media of film to create photographs is possibly because there is something more of an empirical truth to it. Once an image is recorded to the emulsion its there forever, only to be destroyed physically, and can be used as an undisputable reference point to the view into reality that was frozen in time. Some of this is a push back or fatigue with over edited, over saturated, or even fake images that it is now relatively easy to produce. I myself experience this and has encouraged me to continue working with film despite some of its challenges and expense.

There is however a sentiment that can be found commonly online that editing film photos is somewhat sacrilegious. The photo above, taken with my Bornica SQ at Pistyll Rhaeadr in Wales, got me thinking about this. Normally my tendancy is to freely crop, tweak the exposure, black point or contrast, as after all the scan is just an interpretation that normally needs some creative input to resolve an impactful image. Rarely have I scanned myself and not felt the need to tweak the levels. Even with Lab scans, the decisioning is theirs and the resultant images may not match my vision. Its also true that errors in exposure can be compensated for after the fact. I don't see a big philosophical problem with this, as after all printing involves creatives choices to get the best out of a photo. Where I do, normally, draw the line though is any airbrushing other than dust spots or belmishes on the film itself. But this image made me pause. I really liked the composition but unfortunately two people were stood right by the waterfall, and judging by the smell of what they were smoking, did not appear that thier transfixion with the crashing water would end anytime soon. The light was fading and I needed to leave so I decided to take the photo anyway.

So I airbrushed them out, as you can see from second image above, which is the straight from scan edit. Clearly its helped the photo become a better image, although it obviously reflects a dubious reality. Is airbrushing out the people really any different than waiting until they had left? After all this image without people could be argued to misrepresent this site anyway, as it is infact a well visited tourist attraction (in fact this is the tallest waterfall in England or Wales). So overall editing the image to make it useable for me rather than simply discarding it was worthwhile, but I'm sure not everyone will agree.

A new perspective: Bronica SQ with the 120J 6x4.5 back

The square format is a favourite of mine; it’s a perspective different to our normal field of vision. There is no periphery to a 6x6 image which can be helpful in offering a slightly altered view of the world by default. I’d got used to shooting the Bronica in this way and the idea of trying some of the film backs that offer different aspect ratios began to appeal to see if it would nurture some new ideas, so the 120J and 135W backs were bought to try out. The latter is a great deal rarer, and 3-4x more expensive than the 120J but offers a panoramic aspect ratio, by using a much wider frame on 35mm film. It will be a subject of another post once I have finished my test roll.

6x4.5 is also a film saver, you can get 15 frames rather than 12 on a roll of 120 film and is slightly more square than the standard 35mm frame (4:3 compared to 3:2 aspect ratios). Clearly the upside of a 120J back is flexibility of 6x6 or 6x4.5 with one camera system. The main downside is if you do shoot the latter most of the time, you’re carrying a much bulkier system than necessary, you could get a Bronica ETRS for example instead, but you would sacrifice the 6x6 ability.

Onto the images: these were taken over the Christmas holidays in Shropshire. The weather was surprisingly good with some lovely winter sun on some days. It’s always a gamble with an eBay purchase, especially with a film back, if it will work correctly. This film back came in its original box and the light seals looked decent. However, I’d been burnt before so I was very relieved when the negatives came back showing only minimal light leaks in one place, that did not even reach the frame, and the film spacing being accurate. Bronica backs have a somewhat bad reputation for light leaks so I normally keep mine in my bag as much as possible to minimise prolonged exposure to light. Previously I had tried 6x4.5 with a 220J back; a mistake, whilst much cheaper (due to no 220 film being made anymore) and although they will work, the pressure plate is not calibrated for the thickness of 120 film so at the very least will put extra strain on the winder mechanism. If I recall correctly my copy was also damaged and resulted in frame spacing issues and so was promptly sold for spares/repairs.

Framing the images was straightforward, my split image focussing screen has frame lines for 6x4.5 on it, although it did take a bit of effort to remind myself that I needed to use them when looking down the waist level finder. I’m very pleasantly surprised how much I enjoy these images. Perhaps the aspect ratio is just novel to me at the moment, but this back definitely seems like a useful tool in my Bronica system.