Taking a big plunge?
I write this standing, metaphorically, on the edge of a diving board about to make a jump I don’t know how high. I’ve been looking into my output (again!) over the last few years, figuring out what lenses I use and don’t use, and I’ve come to a big decision. Essentially, I’m going to set foot into the large format land.
I’ve realised that – especially since I bought my 85 tilt-shift lens at the end of 2014 – there are a number of lenses/pieces of equipment I have barely used.
Lens-wise, though I have taken some very satisfying photos with the following, their limitations have meant that they haven’t been used, or have been superseded by the tilt-shift. There are three lenses in particular: my Sigma 15mm fisheye, my Zeiss 21mm f2.8 Distagon, and my Nikon 50 f/1.4 G.
The wide lenses haven’t seen very much use at all and only in part because of a lack of opportunities. With the Zeiss, while the sharpness is amazing, on the D800 it’s quite annoying to use unless you’re really prepared to do focus stacking, which can be very time-consuming and difficult. With the Nikon, basically this lens has been entirely overlooked by both tilt-shift for close detail work, and my Nikon 60mm f/2.8 micro, which is more multi-purpose in that it can be used equally well for normal-view work handheld and for its excellent macro possibilities including with tubes.
In addition to the lenses, I also have a Nikon MB-D12 battery grip for the D800 lying around, which really hasn’t seen very much use since I bought it. I guess when I sold my D3S I was concerned about battery times, but this really hasn’t been an issue since I’ve been slowing down and taking fewer pictures. What I’ll be left with is my Nikon D800E and D300 bodies, and lens-wise, 300f4, 200f4 micro, 85PC-E, 60mm micro, and 18-200VR for the D300, plus 1.4 teleconverter if I ever find myself doing any birding, and a set of tubes for macro beyond 1:1. I also still have a couple of tripod heads, my Novoflex rack, and my trusty ever-present Gitzo 3540LS tripod.
So, all in here, on current new prices, I have over £2000 of kit sitting at home or in my bag with little use, and I still have a good deal of digital kit (minus at the wide-end, which hasn’t seen much use anyway).
For me, this means that, even if it doesn’t work out too well, trading this gear in and switching across to Large Format to work in conjunction with a rationalised Nikon setup seems a no-brainer even for a trial purpose/period ( though the direction of my recent travel seems to suggest that this may be a longer-term proposition). In a discussion on his blog, Ming Thein considered this a little bit drastic, but if I keep in with Nikon digital, the D800e 36mpx isn’t going to become entirely obsolete overnight. Here the point isn’t so much the resolution factor, which people seem to make too much of. The real take-away that I’ve got through the combination of shooting tilt-shift on digital and using just the one roll of 35mm Velvia so far (!!) is that both the colour rendition and the flexibility of shooting film on a view camera with movements make it seem like a wonderful opportunity to expand my photographic horizons.
To this end, I’ve made a purchase already. Hopefully – while it hasn’t arrived yet – I’ve got a good deal on a Linhof Technikardan S45 with wide-angle bellows included along with a 6×7 Super Rollex back. This means – once I pick up a lens or two (haven’t quite decided which yet, but probably a 150mm and a wide-angle) – I’ll be able to practice, shoot some medium format Velvia (which I’ve also just stocked up on), as well as try some proper 4×5 shots with some other film stock. The prospect of trip to Japan next summer en route to a visit to New Zealand to see my brother may also allow me to go shopping in Tokyo and pick up a stock of 5×4 Velvia otherwise unavailable elsewhere.
I already have the Sekonic light-meter and a Paramo dark cloth (which I can use with the DLSR in any case – very useful for shooting ground-level reflected-light or macro shots in full sun), so I’m almost all set, especially for close-up detail shots. For wider landscapes I’ll need to get my head around using grads, and I still need some basic essentials to round out a basic 4×5 setup.
I also bought some more Velvia 35mm rolls for the Canon A-1 when I want to shoot film and digital side-by-side but don’t want to carry all the weight.
I was also tempted by a Fuji GX617 for panoramic shots with medium-format film, but in the end the Technikardan deal got the better of me. I suspect it’s one or the other rather than both but I really have no idea what the future will bring here. Let’s just hope that I manage to stock up on some Velvia 5×4 film before it becomes entirely extinct.
I’ll try to keep this blog updated with more results as they come in. Meanwhile, here are a couple of nice shots from last weekend, taken of a small birch grove in Bernwood Forest. I’m already thinking of the possibilities of shooting in this location with large format – while I guess ICM techniques will be a bit off the menu, who knows what some shots with NDs might come up with…
As usual (!) both shots taken with 85PC-E on Nikon D800E with a polarizer to generate some more colour saturation and slow down the shutter by nearly 2 stops; both ICM, though with different techniques. Both shot at ISO 100 0.8” f/16
Soft Pastel Birches