Last weekend Sydney hosted two quite different festivals, The Festival of Chocolate and The Festival of the Wind. Both with a tonne of photographic opportunities, but to my mind requiring very different approaches. I attended both of these and thought it would be interesting to show what I chose to use and why. I will be posting the photographs I was able to make soon, but this article is primarily on the different camera bags of equipment.
I actually wrote this article because I get asked quite often by people what type of camera or equipment they should buy and use. While I do tend to try and help people, I guide them into a decision they make themselves based on what they will use the camera for. Please note, that this article is only what I felt would be good to take and use, and not necessarily a tutorial on equipment choice, and it will vary by person. I am also in a phase of shooting primarily film, which also would not suit a lot of people.
Festival of Chocolate
This is a festival that not only I was looking forward to, but so was my younger son and quite a large part of the Sydney population. It is held in the very scenic Circular Quay and The Rocks area with a backdrop of Sydney Harbour, Opera House and Bridge. There was not only dessert and sweet food on offer but some very delicious cuisines.
As this is more of a street photography type of festival, I decided I would go down the rangefinder route. This would allow me to make photos very quickly with very little intrusion on the subjects. With this in mind, I decided on two cameras, one with colour film and one with black and white.
Firstly, I chose the Leica M3 paired with the wonderful Summicron 50mm f/2 lens. The second camera I took is the Yashica Electro 35 GL which has a fantastic Yashinon 40mm f/1.7 lens. I recently wrote a review on this camera which you can find here. These cameras are quite different in the rangefinder world, as the Leica is as manual as you can get, the Yashica is fully automatic aperture controlled. As such I believe they make quite a good combination.
I generally don’t use a meter when I am out with a meter-less camera, but some habits are hard to break and so I carry around what must the world’s most under used light meter. I have a small (in fact tiny) Sekonic Twinmate L-208 which sits comfortably in one of the bag pockets and really only gets pulled out if the light is too hard to judge mentally. It has an attachment which lets you also attach the meter to the hot/cold shoe of a camera for convenience, but I do not use this. This is a great little meter, as it functions as both an incident and a reflective light meter with just a flick to choose between the two modes.
I also took some other accessories which sometimes come in handy, mainly a notepad and pen for some notes and some business cards which helps break the ice when someone questions why you are photographing them. Of-course, we also need something to be able to clean the camera or lens if needed. Apart from the lens cloth, one little accessory I think is worth its weight in gold is the Lens Pen. With a soft brush on one end and lens cleaning pad on the other, it is fantastic and easy to use. As always advised though, try and avoid cleaning a lens element as much as possible as this can lead to cleaning marks.
All this was then carried in an old Jenova over-the-shoulder camera bag. I guess you could call this vintage now, even though I don’t want to admit it having bought it new in the mid-nineties.
This is a great little camera bag, with quite a few compartments, easy to sling on the shoulder and soft so that it does not intrude. It also has quite a number of pockets, including a couple on the outside so that I can put my sunglasses and sun cream in there (it is Sydney after all). The zipper can also be left open, just using the clasps to keep it closed, allowing for very quick access.
The film of choice for a day like this tends to fall onto the middle speed of 400 ISO. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted both colour and black and white. Firstly, I chose Ilford HP5+ for black and white. It is my go to film which I use all the time, and I would be quite unhappy if I ever could not get hold of it (which happened recently). It has a wide latitude, so quite forgiving, with a beautiful grain structure. Other options are Kodak Tri-X (also a fantastic classic film with a unique grain), Ilford Delta 400 (very subtle but contrasty), Kodak T-Max 400 (very smooth), Kentmere 400, Fomopan 400 Action, Rollei Retro 400s, as well as quite a few others from different parts of the planet.
For colour, my preference for the way it brings across the colours is Fuji PRO400H. It has such a gorgeous rendering in my opinion. Of-course Kodak Porta 400 would be great too, as it has the most natural skin tones. Also other options include Agfa Vista Plus, Fuji Superia 400 and Kodak Ultramax 400. I would steer away from slide film in this situation, as it has little latitude and skin tones tend to be very saturated. This also applies for Kodak Ektar even though this a negative film.
If I was shooting digital, I would have used a mirrorless camera, for the same reason I chose rangefinders for film. Quick and small. Something like the Panasonic GX7 which I use for urban photography works well, as would any of the models from Olympus, Fuji and Sony. A really up market option of-course are the Leica models, which I wish I had handy!
Festival of the Winds
The Festival of the Winds is a kite flying festival held on the famous Bondi beach every year. It is a fun day for both adults and children. It features kite flyers from all over the world and the competition can get very serious.
For this festival I wanted to use something with autofocus, and could take a big lens. This takes me into either SLR or DSLR territory. Being in a film kind of mind, I chose a SLR, and specifically the Nikon F4s. Being discreet is not much of a problem at a festival like this, as everyone is there to show off their kites and it is more important to get the shot.
This camera feels like a bit of a lost child to me. It was very progressive in its day, as Nikon was moving from the manual focus classic of the F3 (which continued production though the life of the F4) and was entering the world of autofocus. The reason for my feeling that it is a bit lost is that at the 24-70mm and 70-200mm ranges I have some classic manual focus Nikkor lenses at my disposal, and some newer Nikkor G lenses. The F4s does not have an aperture selector wheel, so the G lenses would not really work well from a user view. If I was to use manual focus lenses, then why would I use the F4s and not the F3?
In the end, I picked up the 24mm f/2.8 AF-D, the 50mm f/1.8 AF and the 300mm f/4 AF-S lenses. I then borrowed back from my son, the Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 HSM APO lens that I had given him for his DLSR. This of-course would not have been a problem if I had chosen to use either the F5, D300 or the D800, but I was really keen to give the F4s a run and I wouldn’t buy lenses just for this purpose.
I loaded all this into the Lowepro Urban Reporter 250 shoulder bag. This is a great soft bag, tough as nails and really functional. It can hold a hell of a lot of equipment though, so you have to be very careful not to overload otherwise your neck muscles will complain. I added the usual cleaning kit, a blower and some polarising filters.
For a kite flying festival, I decided to stick with only colour film. This again is my personal choice, but I wanted to be able to capture those beautiful saturated colours of those magnificent kites. So taking that into account, I selected Kodak Ektar, known for its very fine grain and fantastic saturation. I have even had someone compare it to Fujifilm Velvia slide film, but I still have the jury out on that one. I also picked up some slide film, which I must admit I hardly use these days. As you can capture great colours in digital, I find it hard to justify, but for this exercise I picked out some Agfa Precisa CT. I would have been just as happy with Velvia. Both these films are rated at 100, which on such a sunny bright day was perfect.
In the end, it was a weekend I fully enjoyed, even more than normal shooting as I got to share it with my family at the same time. So the message really is, take whatever equipment you have, and go out and shoot. There really is no wrong equipment to use if it works for you, but now you know some of my thought process.