The FED 5

Back in 2009 I had a camera that died on me.  It might only be a camera to you but to me it was everything.  It was my first camera.  I was heartbroken.  To those of you mocking me, just think back to your first car and to your first accident in that car.  Alright, you may not be shedding a tear you unemotive bastard, but you might just have the smallest of inklings about my loss.  It was my fist camera that had taught me the basics of photography, and since 1987 had been a relatively constant companion, and part of me.  My son now has it on a shelf looking pretty damn cool on one of his shelves.

It was at that time that I had come back to film from digital.  Why bother using filters that would emulate film photography when you could get the same thing straight out of camera without going through the rigmaroles of messing around in Photoshop to get that result?  At that time, although digital gave me a lot, there was something missing.  Like most of us I was looking for something authentic. 

I went to the camera shop to see if anything could be done to repair my camera and bring it back to life.  With hope I entered the shop that would become a familiar haunt, and had to face the brutal truth.  My Praktica MTL3 was dead.  It had passed on, this camera was no more. It had ceased to be. It had expired and gone to meet its maker.  It was a stiff.  Bereft of photographic life.  It was resting in peace.  It was pushing up daisies.  Its metabolic processes were now history.  It was off the twig.  It had kicked the bucket.  It had shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bloody choir invisible. IT WAS AN EX Praktica MTL 3!  Any similarity to a Norwegian Blue parrot pining for the Fjords is a mere coincidence!  So I asked him if I could buy the one in the display cabinet and he said of course I could and that yes it was a little expensive, it came with a 6 month guarantee, and here was a film for it, and no mention of Bolton or Ipswitch.  Although not exactly the same it was a purchase that set me off on a series of events that lead me to “collecting” a certain quantity of cameras.  It was either that or becoming a lumberjack. 

Through YouTube, articles on the net, and my own research, I learnt about some of the iconic cameras that I never had, and at that stage, the hipsters hadn’t bought up everything on EBay and you could still get something very decent for un £50, which now of course might set you back between £150 to £200!  So I was very fortunate to start collecting when I did.

On the famous YouTube, and its infamous photography videos that I still seem to watch on a regular basis, I went down the rabbit hole of specialising in film cameras.  There was one guy, called Matt Day, who waxed lyrical about his Leica M6, and how much he loved using it to take images from his everyday life.  I started thinking, could this be my next acquisition.  And then I started looking at the prices that these things cost.  Megabucks, which is something that I don’t have and even if I did, such a purchase would be grounds for divorce.  It’s cheaper to keep her, as the classic Rhythm and Blues (before it became R’nB) so wisely reminded us. 

Therefore, what is the difference between my new old Praktica MTL3 and a Leica M6 I hear you say. Well, both are German.  One is a classic camera from a West German manufacturer, and was the gold standard of 35mm cameras from pre war times right up to the modern day, and was a rangefinder, the other one being a relatively cheap and yet very solid SLR from the old East Germany.

So both were made by the Boche, one further to the left that the other.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so a video  must be worth two thousand words! Earlier I talked about a certain Matt Day, well here is a video of his from last year talking about the differences.  I’ll let you watch it, and then we will be both on the same page!  I can tell you’re impressed.

Soooooo, I wanted to learn about a rangefinder and see how they worked out in real life.  But, as I said earlier it’s cheaper to keep her, so I was going to have to find another way of doing things.  As many photographers on a budget but wanting to get some half decent materiel, I looked East, towards Mother Russia.  Communism is messed up, but it did leave some rather solid cameras, and to the rangefinder aficionados, the names Zorky, and FED will be familiar.  The Zorky looks very vintage, rather sexy and exclusive with its Cyrillic writing on the top of the body, but I was not comfortable about using a camera without a light meter.  The Sunny 16 rule should be easy enough to follow, and with the latitude that black and white film photography gives you, you shouldn’t go too far wrong, but I was being stubborn, which is so out of character for me. 

I moved on to looking at the FED 5, especially since I had found one for only 15€ imported directly from the Ukraine, which at the time was not at war or hadn’t been annexed either by Mother Russia.  Oh you naughty boy Vladimir!!

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first.  The FED 5 was produced in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov from 1977 until 1990.  It is a 35mm format rangefinder camera, with interchangeable lenses with a Leica M39 screw thread, (mine has a 35mm f2.8 lens, which is great for street photography).  It has a focal plane shutter, shutter speeds of 1 second to 1/500th of a second, bulb mode, and the flash sync speed is 1/30th of a second.  What more could you ask for.  The film loading is similar to the Leica where you remove the base of the camera, load your film etc. and then put that base back on.  Because you know that it’s about the bass, ‘bout that bass no treble…

To do the metering you have to put your faith in the selenium cell light meter, on the top right of the front of the camera.  This will give you a reading on an EV meter on top of the camera next to the “calculation wheel”.  One dial is for the speed of you your film.  Now don’t go looking for Din, ISO, or ASA, but look for GOCT, or GOST. 90 GOST is 100ASA, 180 being 200ASA etc.  For 400ASA I just turn the little dot to the S in GOCT.  It’s one of those Soviet things that is just a quirk of this camera. This will give me a reading on the outer dial with my shutter speeds and F Stops combinations to nail that exposure! 

As with other Soviet-era rangefinders, the shutter-speed selector rotates when the shutter is released, and this should not be changed “until after” the shutter has been cocked. If you change the shutter speed before you cock the shutter first, the setting pin can be broken when you advance the film and cock the shutter!  Don’t even bother trying.  I never have, and it still works today!

Focussing is easy which is always something that catches my eye, no zone focussing, and it’s slightly different to the SLR.  As you saw in the video, there is a ghost image in the middle of the viewfinder and as soon as that ghost image disappears, it means that you have focussed successfully. 

Anyway, I paid my 15 Euros and a Ukrainian camera arrived two weeks later in an original box which is still in a display cabinet in my hallway.  The leather case still smells of leather! So I tried the damn thing out.  Worked out how to load the film which as completely foreign to me but still doable and not too demanding even for me.  It is supposed to be the street photography camera par excellence for a few reasons.  Firstly it looks pretty sexy around my neck and the leather is top notch without necessarily having a leather fetish, but each to his own!  You can use zone focussing with the lens as you can see at such and such an F-stop, the part of your photo which will be in focus is shown on the lens.  There is no mirror that slaps up, and the camera is relatively silent, and can be used to close to your subject and get that trendy and yet timeless street portrait.  Shooting from the hip. 

I can hear you saying, well thank you Ian for all this information.  Really great, and almost useful.  But pray tell, is it any good?  What’s it like to shoot with?  Is it worth me looking into? Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday? 

Well Dear Reader, let me address your interrogations.  Firstly is it any good?  It is definitely slightly sexy and certainly looks the part! I wasn’t used to the focussing of a rangefinder but found the focussing to be spot on.  I’ll let you have a look at the photos and let you judge!  What’s it like to shoot with?  Once you get used to the way a Soviet camera functions it’s actually pretty neat!  What I do like is being able to get my exposition without having to look through the viewfinder.  You know that you’re going to be spot on, and indeed I was.  That’s half the battle won, which is what we’re all about.  It works mate, it works!  You need to be able to get that sot that you want and I think that’s pretty simple to do.  Is it worth me looking into?  All depends on what you’re looking for.  If you can get one for a relatively cheap price then get one just to try out; you can always sell on.  I certainly have no regrets and it’s still in my collection which just goes to show you!  Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday?  Who am I to refuse such generosity?

The photos in this article were taken in Montaigu, Vendée  in 2016 and feature my daughter.  The film is Illford XP, which is a black and white film that is developed with colour film chemicals and processes.  C41 for those in the know.  It’s always strange seeing photos from nearly 6 years ago and I remember that outing with my daughter as if it were yesterday.  It was one of the ways I used to cope with my depression.  I might not know what day it was but I remember taking each photo.  We all cope in our own individual ways I suppose…

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!

Happy New Year?

Happy New Year Dear Reader, and thank you for continuing to read my twice monthly drivel that spews forth from my  obviously damaged mind. Maybe it’s reassuring for you to have somebody madder than yourself?  Or maybe I just admit it and embrace it!

I think at the beginning of any year we always look back to the previous year and basically just hope for the best. That’s  exactly what I did in 2019 and look where it got us!  So this year I’m going to look back and search for the great positivity from 2020. 

I think many of us would describe 2020 as the shittiest of years for a long time.  We were introduced to Covid and saw a lot of our everyday freedoms curtailed in quite a disconcerting manner.  Our dear President Manu, declared that we were at war with this deadly virus.  And made sure the press scared us into complying with some very draconian policies to “protect” us.  So to those who are still alive I say, well done!  To those of us who are still alive I  say, don’t forget those who didn’t make it.  I’m not going to go into inflated figures of Covid related deaths and all the conspiracy theories that might exist, because when you’re  dead, you’re  dead, Covid or no Covid. 

At the beginning of my year I am usually on holiday from work and will think how far away August seems until we get to go on holiday again.  I, like many of my colleagues with look to the month of May, and its streak of bank holidays, labour day on the 1st of May, VE Day on the 8h of May, even though France at best came in a slight second, Whit Monday, and Ascension Thursday.  We are looking to see if it is a worker’s year, or a year for the bosses.

Let me explain to the non French of you.  In France we have a concept that is a wonderful thing, called “le pont” or the bridge.  If a public holiday falls on a Thursday; we get the Friday off too, and the same for a Tuesday; we get the Monday off. If the holiday is on a Wednesday, you get the Wednesday off.  You can’t  win ’em all!

I’ve  just checked on the calendar, and this year it’s half and half.  The 1st and the 8th are on Saturdays, so tough!

Right, now that you know about the concept, you will realise that we look to the month of May as being a way to get a couple of long , and most importantly, paid, weekends.  The weather is usually good and gives us a foretaste of Summer.  Brilliant right?  It also helps “bridge” the gap between January and August, which can be very long otherwise.

Well in 2020 all bets were off.  We discovered a new concept that year. The concept of lockdown.  On the 17th of March, the country went into lockdown, which was basically house arrest, but you’re allowed out to buy groceries, to get one hour’s exercise a day, but that’s  it. Translated into reality the country pressed the pause button, and everyone was put on furlough, with 85% of net pay paid by the government, and the rest by the company.

House arrest isn’t a very positive term, so let’s  make it more positive.  At the Eve of Saint Patricks Day, my local supermarket stocked up on Guinness and put it on special offer!  Daddy was going to have some special Daddy time, and not have to worry about going into work the next day. My son had set up clandestine meetings with his new girlfriend, and despite our protests decided to go out and visit her.  Sex is a powerful driving force…  we said that it would be silly to pay a fine of 135€ just for that.  The following week she moved in with us and spent the whole of lockdown with us.  That brought a certain animation into our lives and despite the intensity of it all, it could have been a lot worse. 

It also afforded me time to rest. I mean proper rest.  A rest from everyday life.  Not like a holiday rest, but a rest never the less.  It made us realise how speical such a moment can be.  It allowed us time to be physically present with each other in a way that “normal life’ doesn’t afford us.  It allowed us to discover a new person. With faults, but also great qualities. The first being that she is a cheap drunk, which in our family who has had a great fondness for drink drinks for generations is really a blessing.  I’m  not saying that we are all alcoholics, despite our Irish roots, but we do partake and enjoy a drink drink. As opposed to a drink, which is left for total abstainers which are a curse on humaity. 

I discovered that my daughter has a fondness for making cakes, and not only just of making them, but is quite good at it.  This brings joy to my heart, as I too, have a fondness for cakes, especially eating them!

We lost track of time, and with hindsight, I realise what a luxury that is.  We all have our phones on constant alert, we all have things to do, we all like to consider ourselves busy, but there,  we were all on hold. Not just people like me but everyone.  Yes, I’m  talking about you, celebrities.  Those people on TV,   those people on our screens.  We saw them trying to prove how they were still relevant on various podcasts, and showing what they looked like without the glamour and  how like us they were, in their massive houses, with massive kitchens, and how in reality they look as shitty as we do on a morning after having had some drink drinks.   I think they burst the bubble and broke the illusion of magic that surrounds them. That’s  an other great thing about Covid.  It showed us the sameness of humanity.  People in my little council house were under the same restrictions as those in mansions. Money and fame couldn’t protect them.  Talk about a level playing field. 

It gave me time also to get back into film photography and my greatest achievement was to conquer my film funk.  I discovered what I had been doing wring and no longer make that mistake. 

Towards the end of that first month of lockdown, cracks were staring to appear, but we still managed to get along enough so as not to kill eachother before Covid would.

I came out of lockdown early in order to go back to work on the 20th of April. As you know I am a big lad, and my BMI is above a certain level which could have allowed me to remain on lockdown and not go back to work.  But as I said to my boss, I’m  not going to get any thinner by staying at home, and the idea of having somebody in “my” stores, not working the way I did was abhorrent.  At the time I was also the only person working in my stores that knew all the products etc…  I was therefore allowed back.

Restrictions were gradually lifted and we came out of our shelters with our masks on, and started to look forward to Summer.  A trip to the UK was definitely out of the question, and my little getaway to Hull, would be cancelled.  I negotiated well and got all my money back. I was one of the lucky ones.  By early July travel restrictions had been lifted and as I had some time off from work, I took my daughter to Paris for the Day.  I rediscovered the  capital after having beem away for 20 years.  I also got to spend some quality time with my daughter.  We had the chance to meet up as a wider family, so for the Fête Nationale, and met up with other membres of the French family to celebrate.  Thanks to Sean Tucker and his very educative videos, I had launched myself into the world of portrait photography and was fortunate to have some willing victims to be portraited…  We even celebrated the 60th birthday of a great friend too. It felt almost normal again. 

August saw me going back to Paris twice and loving the capital as much as ever.  I’ll be back!

Spetember seemed to be very normal, but mask wearing seemed to be coming back into fashion. This would not be your typical rentrée. Even in  the windband things were going to change as lockdown 2.0 came info force.  Lockdown 2.0 was an awful lot like what I lived through in April.  Everyday freedoms taken away, except I could still go to work, and al5hough regearsals, they had changed and we were spaced out in the rehearsal romsphyically I mean of course. No mushroomswere harmed in any way.  Come Novemeber concerts were cancelled and we discovered curfews, but only in certain counties.  But it was all just putting off the inevitable further lockdown. 

Christmas was relatively normal and we were allowed to go to the non essential shops again on the 15th of December.  The government installed a nationwide curfew, but would not enforce it for Christmas.  It was good to be together again as a family and celebrate a very special birth.  Don’t worry, I’m  not going to give my Christmas sermon about how God the Son, part of the Holy Trinity, allowed himself to experience a full humanity, and human fragility. Born not as King, despite being God.  Humanity, human fragility, and exceptional humility. 

New Year’s Eve technically was under curfew. My wife had decided to get the house looking ship shape for that evening’s meal.  That means that it is a wonderful opportunity to bugger off and not be there to annoy her by just existing and breathing. 

Last Year I had buggered off to Nantes and spent the afternoon and early evening taking photos of the Hangar  à Bananes, so this year decided to do something else. This might just be turning info a tradition…  possibly…

Over the two weeks of holidays, my sleep has gone haywire, and although I sleep enough hours it is a broken sleep. Today it would be different. I had decided to bugger off to the beach in Noirmoutier and would enjoy the sun coming up over the last day of this rather “particular” year. The alarm went off at 6am. You see how serious I was? My camera kit was in the car. I shut the car boot and my cup of tea fell off the car roof and broke. It was as if 2020 wanted to get the last laugh. Bitch! I still got off on time and the road took me past my factory. Thankfully I didn’t stop and kept going. I arrived at the supermarket in Noirmoutier at opening time, and decided to go and have a pee in the supermarket toilets.

I went into the toilets and discovered the light was broken. I wasn’t going to pee in the sink, which has been an option, albeit an emergency option in the past. Luckily I had my phone, and used the torch on that to light my way. I got my sandwich and went back to the car. Ate the sandwich, and headed off to my final destination. The rest as the say is history, and you will see the pictures at the end if this article.

So now you’re pretty much up to date. I have seen may Instagram stories being rather rude about 2020, and how shitty it was and how 2021 can only get better. But taking stock, 2020 was a good year. People got together against a common foe, people realised that life has more important lessons for than Facebook. People realised that there are so many more important things in life, like family, and freinds, and the importance of all these social interactions that have been withheld from us. I know now where my priorities lie, and how much I treasure them. Has it been easy? Not every day. But with vaccines coming out, maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe i will even be able to get back and visit the UK despite Brexit. Maybe Brexit might even work. A free trade agreement is all that Britain ever wanted anyway. 2021 will undoubtedly have its own set of challenges but 2020 has shown us that we can get through things that might seem impossible. Let us hope so anyway!