A very nice camera…


THE OLD story has a photographer congratulated on his work by the hostess of a dinner party, who remarks: “You must have a very nice camera to take such photos.” As he leaves, the photographer compliments his hostess, saying: “You must have a very nice cooker to make such delicious food”.

But what if (whisper it quietly!) the camera really does make a difference? I’m not talking about a sharper or more contrasty lens, or a special close-up ability, we know different cameras have different capabilities. No, I mean what if one camera seems to produce pictures that consistently look better than those from other cameras?

Is such a thing possible? I wouldn’t have thought so. And yet – it seems to be happening to me.

I have a late 1970s Leica SLR. It looks and handles much like other SLRs of the period, offering a couple of auto metering modes as well as manual, a wheel to change the ISO and a way of dialling in a couple of stops over or under-exposure, as desired. All in all, the R4S Mod P is no more than a film chamber, a shutter and a light meter, all rolled into one.

Yet the results I get from it seem to be far above my average performance. Here are some examples, all taken from the same roll of film (photos not to be reproduced without permission):

Black and white film also produces startling results:

Well, I’m not daft enough to imagine that it is a magical camera, but there is certainly something going on – and I’m pretty sure that the 90mm f2 lens has a lot to do with it.

The 90mm Summicron is the only 35mm lens I have at that length. As a short telephoto it can be quite awkward to use in confined spaces but it pulls the subject in, gives a nice perspective and with a fairly wide aperture allows good control of the depth of field. I suspect these are the factors that are helping me to take better photos. The restrictions that the lens puts on what I can do force me into tight compositions that happen to fit well with my style.

The Leica is also light, unobtrusive compared with either a DSLR or medium format, and quick and easy to use. The only drawback is that to get the best out of 35mm the negatives need to be drum-scanned or properly printed.

So going by my experience, while the photo is not purely the product of “good equipment”, matching the gear to the photographer can have a profound effect on the outcome. I would expect different photographers to combine best with different types of lens.

In addition, the restrictions created by using a prime lens instead of a zoom may lead to a more carefully thought out – and therefore more effective – composition.

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About ambientimages

Paul Cowan is a former journalist turned full-time photographer.
This entry was posted in Black and White film, film camera, Film cameras, Film SLRs, Leica R4s Mod P, Leitz Summicron 90, Photography and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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