Prepare to enter a world of both shadow and substance

Take a journey of body, mind and spirit where you'll encounter things you won't find anywhere else.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Cameras I Use

There are a lot of blogs out there where the writers post wonderful pictures they've taken. You might be able to guess that those are the kind I frequent most. Well, I see all those photos and I wonder what kind of equipment they used to create those images. What brand of camera, what size of lens, the speed of the film or if the camera is digital. All these things interest me greatly because I've been taking pictures for all of my adult life, and more. Looking at a beautiful image is nice, but I always want more. I mean, did they push the film to get such vibrant colors? Or did they hand hold a fairly long timed exposure? What about the lens; was it a telephoto or a zoom? I have too much time on my hands.
So, in case you're wondering these things about my photographs, (I know you are!) I thought that this would be a good opportunity to make you familiar with what I am using these days. But, before I tell you what camera I used to take the pictures on this post, we must go back.... way back.... so everybody hop on board the Wayback Machine and let's go to the beginning. A very good place to start.

At the ripe old age of 15, I acquired my first camera. My neighbor, Dan, gave me an old 35mm rangefinder camera that didn't work. Of course, I tinkered with everything in those days to see how it functioned, or in this case, why it didn't. In due course, I got it to working correctly. Here is what that camera looked like, although this isn't the same one. It's one I purchased within this last year because the original one finally gave up the ghost in the late 1970's and didn't work anymore:

Kodak 35

It was a Kodak 35 rangefinder, made in 1948. Recently, I discovered that there is a code in the number on the front of the lens that tells exactly which year it was made, as they manufactured this model from 1940 - 1951. The one in the above picture seems to have been made in 1948. So, I dug out my original Kodak 35 and, lo and behold, it was made the very same year! What are the odds of that happening? I ended up shooting many a roll of 100 ASA film through that camera. I was hooked on photography.
In the next few years, several other cameras joined my collection, mostly Kodak cameras - box cameras from the early 1900's, a Brownie Holiday, and over a half-dozen Brownie Hawkeyes, among others. I shot color film through those, and black and white, too, and learned a lot about taking pictures. This became a plus, for in 1977, when I was a junior in high school, I joined the yearbook staff as photographer. The school I went to had purchased a new Konica Autoreflex TC camera in 1976, so I inherited a nearly-new, state of the art piece of photography equipment. Several of my pictures made it into the 1978 yearbook, and I was smitten with this new technology. So much so, that I began to check into the latest cameras myself, with the thought of getting the best one out there for myself. You can bet I devoured a lot of photography magazines and read a lot of reviews.
In early 1978, the camera everybody seemed to be talking about was the new Minolta XD 11. It was revolutionary at the time because it was the first camera to offer not only aperture priority, but shutter priority and manual as well. This sounded to me exactly like what I needed. Then, I would have the best of both worlds, and manual exposure settings, too, so I could experiment to my little ol' heart's content. And, brother did I!

Minolta XD 11

When it was first released, it was only offered in black and chrome. But, I knew they were going to put out an all-black model, so I worked all summer, saved up my money and waited for it. It came out just after school started for my senior year, so I ordered one. Along with the black body, I got the dedicated flash unit for it, the power winder, (2 frames per second!) and the super standard normal lens they offered as an upgrade, a Rokkor X 50mm f/1.2. All for around $700. I was in electronic 35mm bliss!
My trusty and well-built Minolta became my main camera and I used it practically exclusively up until the late 1980's. Perhaps it was a virus or something, but then I began to experiment with other types of cameras again. I had all sorts of point and shoot cameras that I kept in the glovebox, 126 instamatics, 110 pocket flash cameras, etc. Throughout this period, though, my handy Minolta wasn't very far away for the important pictures. I even used it to photograph both of my weddings.
During the course of my second marriage and subsequent divorce, I got reenergized about taking serious photographs again. And it has been since the turn of the new millenium that I finally bought some extra lenses for my trusted old Minolta, ones I always wanted but never bought at the time. The picture of my XD 11 above shows one of those new lenses - a Minolta 70-210mm zoom lens. With it back in service, I felt I needed another camera to use so that I could shoot two types of film at the same time and have lenses that would interchange. From eBay, I bought a late-1970's release of a Minolta XG 1 - another truly well-made camera.

Minolta XG 1

This camera had the normal 45mm f/2 stock lens, so I added a 28-210mm Vivitar zoom lens to it. It's a great little camera, too, and comes in handy for just about any occasion.
Along about this time, the Digital Revolution was in full swing. And again, I started reading review after review, trying to see what was out there and would fit my needs. A chance Dell computer catalog fell into my hands and I came across a camera that seemed to have all the features I was looking for in a digital SLR. It turned out to be made by Konica Minolta, who had recently went into business together, so I knew, having used both brands of cameras before, that they made quality products. An order was duly phoned in for one Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D Digital SLR, (with the all-black body, of course!) and the standard 18-70mm zoom lens they offered from their own designers.

Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D Digital SLR

Just ask anyone who ever bought one what they think of it, and you'll hear resounding unanimous praise for this well-thought out jewel of a camera. It is well-made and has a lot of great features that I like, but sadly, they retired from the camera producing business after I purchased it. Where they were, hands down, one of the greatest innovators of cameras, they were slightly behind a lot of other manufactures when it came to the promotion end of things. This, more than anything, was what brought about their demise. I'm going to miss them.

Oh, and one last little side note: When I recently added another lens to my Minolta film camera stable, one online auction had included in the sale a classic Konica automatic rangefinder camera. As soon as I can locate a film door for the bottom of it, I fully intend to try it out, as I hear it takes great pictures! But, I wouldn't expect anything less, because Konica made some pretty good glass back in their days, too.

Konica C35 Automatic

And, after I've shot a roll or two through this little camera, you can be sure I'll be posting an article featuring some of it's pictures.

I'll end this post with a little levity that is probably applicable to 99.9% of all photographers out there. Even though I myself have worked freelance for a few newspapers, been a professional portrait photographer and shot a lot of weddings, my intense affair with cameras has hardly been able to support me in the manner that I've become accustomed to. Even though it probably never will, I'll keep snapping a shutter, trying to catch that perfect image.

Q. What's the difference between a large pepperoni pizza and an aspiring photographer?
A. A large pepperoni pizza can feed a family of four.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Great Butterfly Chase Of 2007 Has Begun

Viceroy Butterfly

Well, butterflies are starting to emerge from their long winter, at least here in Southern Illinois they are. And once again, it's like track season for me - just to keep up with them is a marathon! I will be posting some of the ones I manage to photograph as the season progresses, but for now, here are a few of the beauties I was able to run down last year.

Red-Spotted Purple Admiral

This very distinctive butterfly has the honor of being, not the first butterfly I ever photographed - that would probably go to an Orange Sulphur or an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail - but the one that got me hooked on photographing them in a serious manner. And if you've ever tried to get a picture of a butterfly, you know how hard it can be just getting them to sit still for a couple seconds. They are notorious in their utter disregard for the photographer. This one was captured sitting on a leaf in late afternoon just before the sun went down on September 4th, 2006 and I don't think I've been the same since.

Pearl Crescent

This butterfly is much smaller than it looks - it was only about half as high as my lens cap, and it's a relative small one as lenscaps go. It flew around for awhile and then alighted on this tomato vine. You can see some unripened ones in the top right of the picture.

Eastern Comma

This butterfly looks a whole lot like one named a Question Mark. You may ask, why the punctuation nomenclature? Well, believe it or not, on the underside of an Eastern Comma's wing is a little white spot shaped like a comma. And correspondingly, on the underside of a Question Mark's wing is what looks exactly like a question mark - a squiggly line with a dot below it. Both species really like fruit, which is why this one is sitting on an apple that had fallen off the tree.

Cloudless Sulphur

For a lot of the butterfly season, at least it seems this way in my part of the state, Sulphurs and Whites fly around a lot, but they don't land very often. Which makes it extremely hard to get a decent shot of one. This Cloudless Sulphur, however, came through late in the season and I suppose he was tired or something, because he sat on this leaf for quite some time to allow me to take his picture. He was about 8 or 9 feet off the ground, so I had to just hold the camera up at arm's length and point it in his general direction. It was sunny bright that day, but the tree he chose to roost in was heavily shaded. Hence the obvious use of flash to lighten him enough for the photo. It's harder than it seems holding a camera that high, with the lens zoomed in all the way, to get something positioned in the center of the frame. Not every shot actually had the complete butterfly in it, but this one did, so that's the one I used.

Red Admiral

This was another butterfly that sat still and gave me plenty of opportunities. Several different views were captured, albeit halfway up a ladder. He landed on this tree trunk, but was about 10 feet off the ground. I couldn't even hold my camera up that high by stretching way out. But, he looked content to sit there awhile, so I went and got a step ladder, placed it against the tree and climbed up to his level. Even then he didn't fly away for about 10 minutes or so. His colors were very distinct. Don't you think so?

Common Buckeye

This one looks just like he has large eyes on his wings. I guess it's to frighten off anybody that might be interested in eating him for lunch. Well, those are just a few of many species I catalogued here last year. I'm hoping that this year will be even better, so stay tuned for the results!