La Rentrée 2021

My Dear Reader, welcome to yet another article where I will try to find something interesting or witty to tell you.  I have neglected you over August, but as most French people do, I closed shop and was on holiday.  Since Covid and the world going base over apex, my company has decided that we only need three weeks’ holiday in August compared to the more traditional four weeks.  I am about to sing the praises of my wife, so for those of you who hate the luvvy-duvvy side of things, turn away now.  I take it you have all turned away.  

For the first ten days of my holidays, I was camping in my living room. My wife and I literally carried our bed downstairs and set up camp.  That was the less agreeable part of those first ten days.  However, my wife had decided to decorate our bedroom and change all the furniture and replace it with nice new furniture from the infamous Swedish flat-pack place that we all know.  I have a love-hate relationship with flat packs.  Firstly, they’re heavy and hardly fit into the car without all the seats down and your wife in the back of the car telling you how to drive, you bloody moron!  Secondly, they take up an awful amount of space in the garage whilst your wife gets to grips with decorating the room.  Painting the ceiling, putting up wallpaper you agreed to ages ago because it’s easier and you love avoiding conflict.  You don’t sleep well because everything feels strange in the living room and it’s hot too.  Thirdly, they have to be taken upstairs to be put together and there’s always something missing, and you know it’s going to be your fault, you useless fool!  

Anyway, with the help of friends, my son, and a mad screaming bitch, sorry, wife, we now have a haven of peace.  We not only have a haven of peace, but fitted wardrobes that took three days to put together, but look great, and I have a cabinet for all my photography gear and, most importantly, a desk.  

She is a champion, and let me assure you all, she has become human again!  It has been a life-changer.  

During the pre-let’s get this done otherwise I’ll go mad, clear out, we found some films that needed to be developed.  You do not know what might lurk on those reels of film, but you tell yourself that you must have taken them, so it shouldn’t be too bad.  I took in 9 rolls of film in.  I was told by the amiable lady that if any of them hadn’t been exposed that there would be no charge for the development.   Seems fair.

I returned to get the films and the contact sheets.  That still sweet lady told me I would be in for a surprise!  She was right.  I looked through the sheets of paper and saw images of my son, who was still a toddler, and having baths, and being dried by his mother and his godmother.  It took me right back to the end of the last century!  My beard was in colour in those days!

Encouraged by all this photographic success, I went out and took even more photos.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter, or Instagram you will have seen the stories and saw the cameras for the day: the Mamiya C220, and the Pentax ME Super, which were both gifts from a former teacher, and now a friend of mine!  Merci Mr McM!  

I do like taking photos and using cameras.  There’s something I don’t think you knew!!  It was good to be back out.  I am now double jabbed. Thank you to that lovely lady at the chemists who reassured me and said that I wasn’t the only guy in the world that has a phobia of injections.  Not only am I double jabbed, but I also have my Covid Passport, so I can go to the pub again without having part of my brain scraped out by a nurse with a long plastic thingy!  I have rejoined the general population.  

If you’re wondering what the French title of this article is doing there, let me explain.  Quickly though, I’m already at 750 words here.  The Rentrée is the re-entry into normal daily life after the summer holidays where people just weren’t there.  The children go back to school.  Those of use in employment, go back to that employment.  Our extracurricular activities start again.  Last night was my first wind band rehearsal in over a year (thank you, COVID), and it feels as if some relative normality has come back into my life.  

Back to the photos.  I shot the square photos on the Mamiya C220, using Ilford HP5+ film shot at box speed, developed in Ilfosol 3, and I took the other photos on the Pentax ME Super, using Fomapan 100 film developed in the same chemistry.  Fine grain with the Fomapan and not something I’m used to, but a change is good, right? Oh, and I took them at the Hangar à Bananes, and HAB Gallerie in Nantes.

The Olympus Trip 35

After the success of my review of the Fuji Film X100F, I thought I might have to present another camera to you.  For the non-techy of you, don’t worry, this camera is a doddle to use, and my daughter was using it when she was a seven year old!  It won’t get complicated. 

I wanted to use a film camera to do it.   I will presume that you have no experience of using a film or vintage cameras also, so Millennial friendly, and after a certain age, you will be meeting an old friend.  I would like to introduce you to the Olympus Trip 35.

As the name might suggest the Olympus Trip was a camera designed for travel photography and for the mass market in the 1960s and 1970s (production stopped in 1988).  A point and shoot.  No gimmicks.  Although this is not a style or fashion blog, this camera is a beautiful object, and if you thought you had people coming up to you and telling you how sexy your camera was with the X100F, then you’ll get even more people coming up to you telling you how gorgeous your camera is.  It is one of those timeless cameras that just oozes sex appeal.  I replaced the original wrist strap with a more chunky and comfortable version from Amazon.

There are some things that you will not be able to do with this camera.  You won’t be able to add another lens.  You get a 40mm Zuiko F 2.8, however the 40mm focal length will have you covered for the majority of situations for your photographic trip, and also gives beautiful results, especially with modern emulsions!.  Just look at the X100F photos and it will be self evident.  You won’t have all the modern conveniences of a Modern DSLR or even mirrorless camera, but you won’t have any problems with batteries.  There aren’t any.  The power for the metering comes from the selenium cell (which contrary to appearances isn’t a New Romantic group from the 1980’s).  You will have get film for it.  It take film from ISO (or ASA) 25 to 400 which, for when you’re on the road is fine, and will cover most eventualities.

Loading film is so simple that a child of seven could do it, and my child, when seven years old did it easily.  Then basically, you’re ready.  Off you go and explore.  I haven’t talked about how to focus the camera.  So….  The camera uses the principle of zone focussing.  You turn the lens and you will see a face, a couple, a group of people, and then a mountain.  If you turn the camera around so the top is the bottom, and the bottom the top (Pride reference, even if I am slightly late), you will see the distances marked out: 1m, 1m50, and 3m to infinity, but not beyond.  We’re talking photography, and not a film based on Ants, or Seven Samurai.

There are two shutter speeds, 1/200th of a second and 1/40th and the camera chooses which one it uses.  But 1/40th with a 40mm lens shouldn’t give camera shake.  So you can cover light from F22 at 1/200th of a second to F2.8 at 1/40th of a second.  You will see an F stop dial on the camera, and that you will see in the viewfinder.  When not using a flash, just put it to A (automatic).  If ever there is not enough light, there is a little red flag that pops up into the viewfinder, and the camera shutter won’t fire.  It’s idiot proof!

I will include a video from YouTube to show you how to load the film as it will be easier than describing to you in written language.   

So get out there and start taking some photos!  Go on the streets.  Go on a Trip.  Just get out there and start using it.  Have fun and share photos if you want!  Mine are from a trip to Portugal and the Canary Islands from 2016 taken on Ilford HP5 Plus.  Make of them what you will…

The Fujifilm X100F

I use a Fuji X100F as my every day camera and love it for different reasons.  Firstly, this article is not a collaboration with Fuji or anyone else for that matter.  Will I fan boy on my Fuji camera?  Possibly.  Is that a problem for me?  Nope.  Is that a problem for you?  I haven’t a clue, but if it is you might want to wait for the next article…

Here is a link to the manufacturer’s site, which will give you all the techy stuff.  I don’t really care about that.  It’s part of the camera of course, but not just.  I’ll take you back to 2018 when I bought the camera.  I had a Sony bridge, which was fine, but left me wanting, like a French cup of tea, or an English so called baguette.  I mean they try hard, but it’s not just quite there.  The fact that I could only get jpegs and not raw files was bugging me like a small child who has more patience that I do.

I have never done a review article yet, and after this one and feedback, might not try again.  I’m counting on you Mummy to put me right!  I don’t even have a plan for what I’ll be writing so you might just be reading the edited version of this article which hasn’t even been written yet.

Anyway…  Back to the subject in hand.  I had done a large amount of film photography to get me over my photographic frustrations.  It was really doing it for me too, and I would get a huge amount of pleasure.  The negatives and scans were giving me some beautiful images, and my mother has a huge print of one those images on the wall in their house.  I might have overdone it again.  It’s massive on their wall and is definitely a “statement” piece.   And that statement was even though not my childhood home, it’s still a beautiful part of the world to be able to call home.

Why am I not talking about a Fuji camera yet?  Because I’m doing the groundwork and preparation for my story.  I want you there with me in that strange place called my brain.  So my photography was analogic, without too much logic, but that’s my problem.  I also got into my film funk which was cured thanks to lockdown.  If you’re really keen you can read about it here.

So, I was at the beginning of my film funk, and was wanting to replace film with a digital camera.  I had perused the internet and YouTube looking for reviews and articles and results of said cameras.  I had been into the shops and had looked at the cameras face to face, and was thinking very seriously about either a bridge, but a really nice Lumix one with a Leica lens, and whist in the shop I saw the X100F just sitting there in the display, and I could hear it talking to me, yes this crap does happen in my head, and it was saying, “buy me, you know you want to!”   I answered, “Oooooooh, you are one sexy camera, but just let me have a look at the rest, just in case.”  I mean the price tag alone was saying, “I think you might want to talk to your bank manager about this…”  And I was desperately trying to think how can I explain this to my wife, who was used to various film cameras turning up on our doorstep. 

Well, I had the yearly 13th month bonus.  Look it up of you don’t know about life in France.  And that was what tilted the scale in my favour.  I remember going to the shop with my wife, because this is serious business.  I purchased the camera, ordered the rather sexy leather strap and case on the internet, and took my new baby home. 

It was exactly the same size and weight as my Pentax ME Super, and had the same kind of feel.  When you look at it you can mistake it for a film camera, with the dials for exposure compensation, film speed, and shutter speed.  The aperture is on the lens just like the rest of my film cameras.  It feels just like a film camera in my hands, which, is a great plus.  It has a leaf shutter, so is silent, therefore discreet, and for street photography is perfect.  The lens is a 35mm equivalent F2.0 lens which is great for me and is built into the camera, so you can’t change it, but it simplifies everything, and for somebody used to 50mm F1.7 or f1.8 depending on the camera, the transition was easy.  Another thing that tilted the balance were the film simulations.  Classic Chrome is a wonderful thing and is my “go to” when shooting colour.  It gives a beautiful vintage tone, and even better when you over expose by one stop, but be careful not to blow out those highlights.  I was used to black and white photography and that had become etched in my brain thanks to Ilford and HP5+.  So when I discovered the Acros black and white film simulation with a red filter, I was home.  To be honest it’s what I use nearly all the time.  I still have my RAW files with all the information, but the JPEGS are just amazing, as you will see on my Instagram feed.

Some have called it the poor man’s Leica, but I refuse to put 10 grand into a camera, because my wife would make my life a living hell, and I wouldn’t be able to take it out in case somebody nicked it.  I like good gear, but I’m not paying silly money despite my desires to own one.  It’s not worth it to me.  But if anybody wants to give me one then I would of course accept with tremendous grace, but as if that’s going to happen!

So I have this beautiful object in my hands and want to get out there trying it out.  And boy did I try it out.    I remember talking about it in one of my first articles on this blog.  There was a whole gang of us that had decided to meet up and you smell the testosterone.  Each camera bigger and larger than the next one.  It was like a penis size contest and I turn up with my discreet X100F.  We went round Nantes taking pictures and you could feel a certain “size matters” feel to the whole thing.  That was until we started comparing pictures!  Yes it’s not huge but I know how to use it!  I definitely felt less intimidated at that moment.

“They” say it’s a street photographer’s camera.  “They” say that due to its small size, it’s a great travel camera.  “They” also tend to say that it is great for documentary photography.  Sometimes “they” are right, but not about everything.  It also works really well in the studio and the auto focus works like a doosey!  And when you show the client those colours, then they get over the discreetness of its size and realise that you don’t always need a massive DSLR to be a serious photographer.

I had also wanted to do some night time photography on the streets in Nantes, and because of it’s smaller size people don’t feel threatened by it.  It is silent, and, as I’ve said before and allows you to get up close. 

But why should you get a new camera?  If you have the money, then why not.  But that’s not the main reason.  I bought my X100 for more than just that.  I had “grown out” of my previous camera and could only see the limitations.  I wanted a camera that would help me develop as a photographer.  With the settings on automatic, and just using exposure compensation I have been able to concentrate on just getting the shot.  Seeing a shot in the street.  Composing.  Putting the camera to my eye, and taking the shot.  It really feels like my old film cameras except that with the EVF (electronic view finder) I know what I will be getting.  This has allowed me to get away from just settings, and concentrating more on my photography.  You soon get very used to seeing the world in 35mm, and it gives me more room to capture a scene than a 50mm.  So, for that reason alone, it is worth getting one.  Even a second hand one.  They’re coming down in price since the latest super duper model was released, the Fujifilm X 100 V.  Do I want one?  Honestly?  Yes , because who doesn’t like a new camera.  Will I get one?  No.  I don’t have the need for one.  My X100F is more than what I need. 

Do you have a camera that just takes you to your happy place when you go out shooting?  I do.  My Mamiya C220.  And when I want to go digital, I have my X100F.  I get happy, by just getting in the car and having it with me.  I know that I will have a good few hours taking photos.  Do I like my Canon DSLR?  Definitely especially with my 16-35mm lens, but it’s heavy, and makes you look like a proper photographer, but it’s like having a Citroen 2CV.  Is it the best car in the world?  Nope.  Is it the fastest car in the world?  Nope.  Does it just have style and makes you feel good?  Damn right people!

They say the proof is in the pudding.  As long as there is chocolate in that pudding then I’m good.  Take note of my love of tea, and cake!  At the top of each article, you can see the tags used.  If you click on the X100f tag, then you will see the photos, which speak louder than words.

Before I conclude this fan boy article I would just like to talk briefly about Fuji X Weekly!  If the X100F is a film shooters digital camera, then this web site will give you “recipes” that will emulate different film stocks, even like Kodachrome, that sadly died in 2009.  RIP Kodachrome.  The geeks will understand me.  So if you have a Fuji, then go and check it out!

So let’s see where we are.  Is the X100F a great camera?  Yes.  Does it look wonderful?  Yes.  Even last Saturday, I got complements about how beautiful my camera is!  Felt elated for ages.  Is it great for street photography?  Yes.  It’s small and not heavy, so having it around your neck all day is fine.  And it still gets the job done, which in the end, is what we’re all after.  Getting that image, without our camera or our own incompetence getting in the way.  Like Marie Kendo, does it inspire joy?  Yes, by the truckload.  And if a camera can inspire you get out and take photographs, then it’s a winner in my eyes.  Thank you Fuji for having created the X100 line of cameras, and thank you for the X100F!

Beauty of the mundane update

I have been busy with my camera trying to find some beauty in the mundane and here is a little video showing my efforts for this week…

There are other photos and they will gradually be added to the Instagram feed so they’re off. It’s still a project and might change over time in the same way that this blog has. But at least it’s started.

PS. Strangely I have had a view from Russia and six people have downloaded my video…. weird.

Jardin des Plantes, Nantes

This story actually begins in my village in Vendée, with a foray into the next town and its Saturday market. But you could argue that it began earlier in Nantes when I bought my son’s girlfriend an old film camera, a Canon AE1 with a 50mm f1.4 lens, that I nearly kept for myself, but in a pang of culpability, couldn’t. I would have replaced it with a more classic standard 50mm f1.8 lens. Damn you conscience!

Let us start therefore not at the very beginning but the second beginning, which is like the first beginning, but is in fact the second, thus being named the second beginning, but is still a rather good place to start as the Sound of Music told us whilst explaining the notes to sing by using a woodland creature, the sun, me, a long long way to go, sewing, a note after the previous one, an afternoon snack with bread and jam etc.

I might start at the very beginning after all.  My son’s girlfriend is on a journey, much like myself, discovering photography.  As some of you Dear Readers might have noticed, I’m ever so slightly old-school.  Having a digital camera, and shooting like it was a machine gun hoping for the best is not my idea of what photography should be.  I am more sedate, probably because I am more rotund middle-aged gentleman, aka fat bald git, but find that it suits me.  I prefer to take my time.  One of the advantages of film photography is that it forces you to slow down, and concentrate to take a picture, with apparently, but I’m not quite sure, supposedly even, more value.  When I take a photo, I take a photo on purpose.  I do not do it whimsically on the off chance of realising “the” shot.  I also learnt on film, so maybe this is a habit I picked up early on.   

Anyway….  I thought this might be a way to help Elise slow down, and to be more mindful when photographing something or someone.  Mindfulness is all the rage at the moment, but I think it might just be more about taking your time and being conscious of the action you are partaking in.  I refer the reader to the middle-aged rotund gentleman comment earlier.

I made sure she had some film in the camera so it was useable straight away, and explained to how to focus, not just the lens but mentally too.  Explained what all the dials and displays were about and basically let her get on with it.

We are now at the second beginning, which is still an OK kind of place to start.  The day is Saturday, and the previous day we had arranged for them to come over for lunch, and I said that I would go to the market and get some goodies, which means basically, some nice saucission, cheese, nice fruit, some duck sausages to be eaten later on during the week without necessarily needing to duck whilst eating them, but duck sausages, because they were made with duck meat.  Obviously a duck that didn’t….  I came home with my goodies, and was told off for buying too much and how were we going to eat all that….  We gave it a fine go!

Elise then had the idea of doing the typical after French lunch walk, and we were all told that we would be doing it.  However, a friend phoned to invite her to a pyjama party, so there went that idea.  I riposted, saying that it was fine and that we should go out into Nantes to take pictures the next day with the film cameras.  I prepared a couple of cameras for them to use, and some rolls of film.

Even if we didn’t go out I knew I would be at least good for a nice cup of tea.  For Christmas, which was well before the beginning beginning, and even the second beginning, I had brought my daughter a mix to make Madeleines, which French people automatically associate with Proust, in the same way the English automatically associate a cup of tea, with another cup of tea.  The smell as I came down was amazing a filled the house with loveliness and sweetness.  There was also a huge dash of tastiness when I bit into Madeleine number one.  I showed immense self control and put four of my Madeleines into a box with a further half a dozen to share with Killian and Elise.  They too, were very happy with my display of self-control.

The enthusiasm for “going out for a walk” from the previous day had all but disappeared, but we eventually set off for Nantes to visit the Jardin des Plantes, which was where Jules Verne once hang out back in the day.  Tradition, tradition, tradition….

I had my X100F, which I adore, Killian a 1960 Kodak Retinette 1B, and Elise the infamous AE1.  We made a good go at it and ended up cream crackered after a nice long walk.  As the all round good egg that I am I made sure we passed by an open bakery on the way back to the car to get the a treat for the gouter, which usually is the four o’ clock snack for small children, that older children or younger adults still seem to enjoy, even a middle aged rotund gentleman….

Cloé in front of my lens

It was last Friday, and we were only doing 36 hours this week at work, so I was free on Friday afternoon. I like to go and visit my son, and his girlfriend, as I know I’ll be allowed to have a nice cup of tea and be able to talk photography without being told how boring I am. My daughter-in-law asked if I would like to come round as she was doing a photoshoot with somebody from Instagram. There was a friend to do make up and hair, and we would take it in turns being made up and photographed. Sounds like a deal right?

I of course turned up to early as they were getting the other girl from Nantes. I was asked if I could get pizza and off I went to get pizza; It’s easier like that. I got back and everyone was there. Elise, my ex-daughter-in-law, Maureen, to do the make up, and Cloé the girl from Instagram who was along for the ride. That morning I had piled up all my gear and put it in the boot ready for the off. I had a couple of lights and some modifiers for speedlights. It was going to be a good day. Tea, and pizza in the same phrase has to be a good omen.

Elise does a bit of YouTube and has a three light set up for her videos. Fine for video but not so good for photography. As you might have seen I have been exploring the use of artificial light in photography and seem to be on the, if not right path, then certainly a path that is taking me somewhere. So, I wasn’t a fan of these video lights and thereofre set up my own. A flash, that would flash into an umbrella and the light would come back through an translucent white diffuser giving off a nice soft light. Yes I’m a big softy! I had a new led light to act as a hairlight, and was able to turn the power down so it wasn’t too harsh.

Elise started off and it interests me immensely to see somebody else start working and see how they interact with the model. The model being Cloé already made up by Maureen. I would take the occasional “behind the scenes” for Elise. I wasn’t happy with the light, so when it was my turn I turned everything off and just allowed my lights to work their magic. i’m becoming a fan of this soft light and seem to have understood the basics of how it might work and what it might do for me.

Cloé wa already “warmed up” if you can say that, and we started talking about her complexes about the way she looks. I showed her the first photos that we were getting and she seemed happy with the way it was going. I shoot RAW and JPEG at the same time. It means that I can see my black and white image on the screen and it gives me an idea of what I will achieve later whilst editing. I will however only edit my RAW file, as each pixel contains so much more information than a JPEG file, and although less destrucive than back in the day, it is still a feature of JPEG files even though they have progressed immensely over the last 15 years.

We kept talking and caught her laughing at some of my Dad jokes that she hadn’t heard before. I would see a picture I like and then activate the shutter. The first few reminded me of Anne Frank, and what she might have looked like had she have survived the war. Now I’m feeling sad about all that suffering in the camps. What an utter waste of human life.

Anay, we kept going and the feeling of the photos changed and looked slightly more modern. It is 2021after all. I switched to the X100F which is usually for street photography but holds it’s own in a studio environment, and the 35mm equivalent lense was great for getting some full body shots. The fact that Cloé was sitting on the floor gave a very flattering angle and I think I might just have to do it more often.

Before showing you the photos I would like to say a huge thank you to the three girls for putting up with me and the very generous feed they gave me. It gives one such a boost, and at the moment it’s a wonderfull thing to have. Covid is getting right on my wick, and although I know that this situation is temporary, it feels slightly less temporary.

So the tools used for this shoot… Canon 6D Mark 2 with a 50mm F1.8 lens, a Fujifilm X100F with a converter so I could go from a 35mm equivalent to a 50mm equivalent. The fash was a GODOX TT600 speedlight with GODOX X1T triggers.