What’s in my camera bag? Part 5: iPhone 6s

Ok, I’ll admit it. This one’s more often in my pocket than my camera bag itself, but like most people nowadays my smartphone follows me wherever I go, and, like most people’s, sees frequent use as a camera and camcorder.

Despite the shortcomings of its operating system (and boy, what a shortcoming getting photos from Windows Phone onto a MacBook really was…), the move from Nokia Lumia 930 (with its 20mp Carl Zeiss Pureview lens and optical image stabilisation) to iPhone 6s (12mp with digital image stabilisation) was essentially a downgrade (see examples below for comparison), but considering I reach for my “real” analog and digital cameras for more serious photography bits and pieces, reserving phone cameras for capturing impromptu adventures on the fly, or while out and about doing other things (such as on dog walks, at social events, anywhere larger cameras are unwelcome or impractical, or while doing sport [though it has been superseded by my action cam for all things extreme since shattering a pocketed Nokia on a failed flat bar boardslide]; see examples below).

 

 

It never ceases to amaze me when I think back to my first “camera phone”, a touch over a decade ago, and how far we’ve come since. Perhaps it’s the old-school’s fear of the unknown, a marketing push from manufacturers of digital cameras, or some photographers’ fear that our beloved art form is being “cheapened”, but I have noticed that many act as if photos taken on a phone are somehow less of an art and more of a function. But, differences in hardware aside, I would argue all forms of digital photography share the same (potentially) artificial and/or disposable nature; whether DSLR or mobile phone, we can now edit photos more drastically, quickly, and easily than ever before (and, in the case of a phone, often from within the camera itself), and take an essentially limitless number of photos in the blink of an eye for that “perfect shot”, simply discarding the ones we dislike later.

Whilst in my opinion, as you’ll know if you’ve read the rest of my camera bag series, digital cameras just can’t replace the satisfaction of unwrapping a new roll, (in some cases) manually winding film, being limited to a certain number of shots (making choosing when and what to shoot as much of an art as composition), the exciting wait to get shots developed, and ultimately being able to enjoy the physical fruits of your labour: your negatives and prints. But aside from the pleasure I gain from these almost fetishistic rituals and ability to obtain a particular aesthetic authentically and without the need for post-processing (don’t get me wrong, it’s undoubtedly an art form unto itself, just one I have little time for), I personally think the photo, not the camera, should do the talking. After all, people said something similar about synthesisers, yet music hasn’t died; television, yet radio hasn’t died; and most relevantly, digital cameras, yet here we are, still talking photography in 2017, some time (42 years) after Kodak developed the first digital camera in 1975…

 

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What’s in my camera bag? Part 4: Diana F+

And so, we come to my favourite camera, the jewel in my photography crown (my cheap blue rucksack). It’s one of a limited run of 1000 “Explorer Nocturne” Diana F+ cameras made by Lomographische AG, based on the Great Wall Plastic Factory‘s original Diana box camera, a cheap camera (mostly sold as a novelty item or even given out as prizes at carnivals and funfairs) whose production run (and that of its imitators) appears to have ceased in the 1970s. While I believe 35mm variants of both the original and modern versions of the camera exist, mine shoots medium-format 120 film.

Despite the modern “Diana+” having been upgraded from box to system camera (technically), it still “suffers” from the characteristic blurriness/softness of focus, colour fringing, abnormalities in colour rendition, vignetting, and light leaks associated with the original. Of course, these inclusions are the product of technical flaws in the physical process of capturing the image, and as such if taking flawless photos is your thing, this is not the camera for you. But this (to the converted, at least) is their very appeal. In the age of photoshop and DSLR cameras with interchangeable lenses; large, high-end sensors; and megapixel counts approaching 50 (such as the Nikon D850), one would struggle greatly to justify the use of analogue cameras at all if it weren’t for these most perfect imperfections, a “fingerprint” of not only the model used, but even of a particular camera itself.

As I have previously discussed, I am particularly fond of artistic and abstract photography in general (much more so than I am of the various forms of “documentary” photography in which technicality can so easily take precedence over aesthetic), and 19th and 20th century pictorialism and the “are-bure-bokeh” style of the Japanese Provoke photographers in particular. This camera’s “flaws”, when embraced and even exploited and intentionally exaggerated can have a significant artistic effect. What’s more, the manual winding of film allows for multiple exposures in a single frame, which can make for some particularly interesting effects (see example below). The addition of its beautiful looking flash, which has a slit for gel filters, further enhances the photos dream-like qualities by allowing “colour-splashing” images.

Beyond the benefits of digital photography I have previously discussed, I would argue that the greatest downfall of analogue photography is faced if one has to rely on external companies for the development, scanning, and printing of your rolls. I am currently researching the best development tanks and chemicals for developing my own photos at home, as well as researching scanners and scanning frames for 120 film, due to having had no end of trouble with my local photo shops. Firstly, it is exceptionally expensive: £17/$22 per roll. Secondly, 120 is often no longer developed in-house (it’s a fairly rare film format nowadays), and so I have to wait at least a week for my negatives to be ready for scanning. Then the scan itself presents the largest problem: I have had to return three times already for my most recent prints, which firstly were scanned at too low a resolution and printed very poorly, the next time they were correctly scanned but photos were missing, and those that hadn’t been lost were incorrectly cut (and somebody has put something sticky on my precious negatives!), and as such I am still awaiting my most recent photos as this “goes to press”. The truth is, the modern day photo shop is dying. The staff are often unfamiliar with handling film as it is seldom used, and as such the product is frankly sub-standard. If you are lucky enough to have a local shop that is still run by genuine enthusiasts who live for photography and take great pride in their product, please do everything you can to support them, and let me know where I can find them!

But, as they say, one sometimes has to suffer for their art…


Reunión (2017).


Hogar (2017).

 

Find more of my work here.

 

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What’s in my camera bag? Part 3: Canon Powershot A590IS

The next item I’ll be going into depth on is my digital camera, the very compact Canon Powershot A590IS. I much prefer shooting analogue photos, particularly 120 film, but there are times a digital camera is the more appropriate choice. Some of the more obvious benefits of going digital include: quickly, cheaply, and easily accessing, sharing, and printing photos (one roll of Ilford 120 film costs me around £4, or slightly less if bought in bulk, and cost a further £15 each to have developed and printed… which, needing to be taken to a specialist, takes over a week); the ability to take many photos in quick succession and delete them at will when/if one runs out of memory (my analogue camera is currently set up with a frame that allows 12 photos per roll); and being able to change settings such as ISO at the touch of a button (unlike analogue rolls, which determine ISO, and thus must be changed for a different visual effect).

Whilst many would argue that the digital camera has made the analogue options redundant, but I couldn’t disagree more. I grew up regularly visiting my local Tate Modern, and the Guggenheim and MACBA when visiting my Spanish family each summer (amongst many other local and international modern and contemporary art institutions), so it is perhaps natural that I gravitate towards the abstract over the precise, the emotive over the technical, and spontaneity over calculation, something clearly reflected in my tastes in photography; I love light leaks, natural soft focus, motion blur, and other “unwanted” inclusions that occur naturally, particularly with the more primitive box-cameras, but more on this when I come to cover my beloved Diana.

No photographers’ work has ever captured my attention more than that of the Japanese Provoke artists – Daidō Moriyama being my favourite photographer of all time – and so it seems only fitting that, an unconscious homage of sorts, I too should take the first camera I was given and stick to it.

I got it as a gift, but when I used it, it was unexpectedly good. Any camera is fine. It is only the means of taking a photo. – Daidō Moriyama

And this first camera was the Canon Powershot A590IS, a gift for my 15th birthday (almost a decade ago), chosen by my mother (a very good photographer herself, and undoubtedly her wonderful choice is also partially to thank for my never having felt the need to change camera), and with which all my digital photographs have been taken since. It’s joined me on all of my travels, both national and intercontinental, and as practical as it is – being a compact camera – comes wherever my analogue camera goes too.

It has absolutely everything I could possibly need: a viewfinder (though I sometimes also take “no-finder” shots) and control over the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. The camera is “only” 8 megapixels, though pixel size says very little about an image’s quality (for all you mobile-phone photographers out there), but takes great photos without the need for any photo editing or manipulation, something very important to me. After all, every minute spent learning and using photoshop and similar packages are a million moments I won’t capture, so I much prefer spending that time roaming, camera in hand:

Time past is expunged in favour of a permanent present. The PROVOKE photographers viewed the act of pressing the shutter as affirmation of their ‘own immediate reality, and no one else’s’. – Kazuo Nishii

Anyway, if a picture is worth a thousand words, let me leave you with two thousand of my own:

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Nami (2017).

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Iceland (2011).

 

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What’s in my camera bag? Part 2: Akaso EK7000 action cam

The first piece of kit that I’ll be covering in-depth is my action camera (or “GoPro” as many have taken to referring to any camera in the category, much like we hear talk of “Hoovers”, “Jacuzzis”, “Q-tips”, “Rollerblades”, “Post-Its”… Anyway, I digress), the only camera in my kit that I tend not to use at all for photography, though these cameras were never really intended for this purpose anyway.

What these cameras are made for is recording video. The Akaso EK7000 can shoot videos at resolutions up to 4k (25fps), but in my opinion really shines at 1080p 60fps (see example below), the greater frame rate being particularly ideal for smoothly capturing fast movement, and can permit smooth slow motion at anything up to 40% of the original speed (a reduction to the movie standard rate of 24fps). The camera, with its 170 degree wide-angle lens with no zoom (typical of action cams), is best put to use for filming point of view videos, and the addition of robust waterproof housing makes these little cameras particularly ideal for all sports and all outdoor activities, but, lightweight and easy to mount in an endless number of inventive ways, can be used to film anything.

Whilst this morning I filmed the example below at an abandoned BMX racing track by strapping the camera to a chest mount, I have also previously attached the camera to my dog’s collar, attached it to a float and brought it out to sea, and mounted it to a tripod for a range of uses from filming skateboarding clips to functioning as a dashboard camera (the loop recording option being particularly useful to ensure filming does not stop due to the camera’s memory becoming full).

A price to pay for its rugged simplicity becomes apparent when it comes to taking photos, which I tend to do only in conditions which would put a less rugged camera at risk: the camera is reduced to essentially “recording” a single frame; there are no camera controls at all, so with no ability to manually focus or set aperture, shutter speed, or ISO to get the perfect shot, or merely for artistic effect, you are as well filming a short video and selecting a single frame (or, conditions permitting, use any other camera):

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A photo of Gloria taken on holiday in Malaga this summer, taken in 12mp photo mode.

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As similar a single frame to the above photo that I could find, taken from a 1080p60 video.

The truth be told, despite not being ideal for taking photos, the rugged little thing has been incredibly fun to use so far, and after nearly a year of heavy use I love using it as much as ever (the floating-arm wide-angle chest mount position in particular – as seen in the above video – makes anything look cool… I’ve even filmed myself driving to work). And whilst mobile phones are increasingly competitive (and, let’s be honest, hugely convenient) when it comes to digital photography and recording videos, the ease with which I have accidentally put smartphones to the sword (falling on a pocketed phone while skating, dropping one – on carpet – while texting, putting one through the wash, and even dropping one in a bowl of cereal, yes, really), a lot can be said for durability.

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What’s in my camera bag? Part 1: Overview

Like many people, I like to carry a bag with me almost everywhere I go. Beyond being pretty handy for carrying reading materials on long train journeys, a raincoat (oh the joys of living in Blighty), or stowing away purchases while out shopping, my favourite rucksack (with its well hidden laptop slip, very large central compartment, and two outer pockets) also lets me carry my entire photography kit with me wherever I go.


Left to right: 2011 MacBook Pro (still going strong!), Canon Powershot A590 IS, “Explorer Nocturne” Diana F+ (1 of a Lomography special edition run of 1000) and flash with colour filters, mini telescopic tripod with phone and action cam mounts, notebook (by Muji; for camera settings and photo locations, dates, and times), Akaso EK7000, iPhone 6s, chest mount harness (with action camera, mobile phone, and camera tripod head screw options; action camera mount pictured).

I am sure many will be quick to notice the absence of a (D)SLR (often so bulky that one can easily occupy a similar amount of bag-space to my entire current kit combined): an absence that is not just practicality- or financially-motivated, but also personal choice formed over a decade of photography, but more on that later. Whilst some items (the notebook, tripod, and mounts) need little introduction and even less discussion (though the value of a notebook, particularly for analogue photography, should never be underestimated), over the course of the coming post series I will be going into depth on each part of my kit and how I like to use them, illustrated with examples of my work.

 


Apple iPhone 6s – Nami (with adjustments using Apple’s in-house editing tools).

 

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Canon A590 IS – Nami (no post-processing).

 

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Diana F+ – Nami (400 ISO colour-negative 120 film with blue flash, no post-processing).

 

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Akaso EK7000 – Gloria (no post-processing). I very rarely use the photo mode on this camera due to its fish-eye lens, the lack of any kind of zoom, and the very limited camera settings, but it does step up to the plate in dirty, sandy, and wet environments (the worst enemies of a typical photo camera).

 

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