Two photographs made with two very different, but unique cameras.
Can we see the difference? And, should the camera make any difference to how we judge the photographs?
Sometimes we do need specialised equipment for particular outcomes. However, for many art projects the photograph is “hero” and the camera does not or should not matter.
I think sometimes we feel we need a special camera to make a great photograph. I also worry that our fixation on equipment comes at the expense of us developing our vision and creative skills which I think are far more decisive to the outcome than any camera we might choose to use.
Here are two photographs below, both of which I love. They are creative and artful expressions of my personal passion and vision. Both will sit well in respective bodies of work and both will look beautiful mounted and framed.
For this outcome the camera should not matter… or should it?
The Mamiya 7II film camera
The Mamiya 7II is a special camera. It shoots film and uses some of the most outstanding lenses ever made… and that’s about all there is to it.
Most camera reviews try and tell (and sell) you all the great features which a camera has. Well this film camera has very few features and yet the Mamiya 7II is one of the best cameras ever made.
In fact for many specific applications, the Mamiya 7II is most likely the best camera in the world. Its exceptional optics and simplicity of use makes it a near perfect camera for ‘walk-about’ landscape and fine art photography.
The Mamiya 7II is a medium format rangefinder film camera. It makes a 6 x 7cm image on 120 or 220 rolls film.
What is a rangefinder camera?
The key characteristic of a rangefinder camera is that you don’t look through the lens, but through a separate window which has a range finding focusing mechanism built-in. This is coupled to the focusing movement on the lens itself. The benefit of this approach is that it allows for a more perfect optical design of the actual lens than has been possible in a ‘through-the-lens’ camera system. The result is the potential for a more technically brilliant lens, a very quiet shutter and a more compact overall camera system. The Mamiya 7II meets these objectives.
What is the benefit of a photographic film camera?
Film photography has some significant benefits. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with digital, film offers some unique advantages. I have written separately here as to Why I shoot film.
It started as a modest drawing in Kurt Mottweiler’s sketchbook. It became a beautiful bespoke instrument; The P.90, a hand crafted lensless, medium format camera made from a blend of cherrywood, custom made brass and other carefully chosen materials.
The P.90 is a very limited edition camera designed by an artist, for artists. A work of art with which to make art. However, it is also a camera designed to be used, where function meets a beautiful aesthetic for a memorable picture making experience.
The craftsman is Kurt Mottweiler.
From his Oregon studio workshop Kurt makes his hand built cameras with love and passion. They will no doubt become valuable collector items over time; much like an early Leica. Perhaps they will become the ‘Stradivarius’ of pin hole cameras?
I shoot film for all my principal landscape photography. It is a personal choice. My reasons for choosing film over digital are part technical, part aesthetic and part emotional.
There is no doubt that digital capture is the best option for most kinds of photography today, including much landscape photography. So this is not a film versus digital debate. It is personal. One day I will shoot digital for everything I do, but right now film has some specific things I need.
I am very fortunate to be living in a world which still has plenty of film. Why?… Because film is an incredible teacher of photography. My film cameras are really just dumb boxes, and film is very unforgiving when exposed to light. So when I shoot film, especially with a dumb camera, I have no choice but to learn to be a good technical photographer. If I don’t, anything creative I might try to do, probably won’t look very good. It is my keeness to learn photography which drives me to film. Let me explain.