TECHNIQUE – My History, Equipment, Technical Style

Background – My Early Years in Photography

I became acquainted with photography and cameras in the mid-1970s at age 12 when I discovered my father's equipment in a storage area of the house one boring winter day in Michigan. This included a Century Graphic press camera he acquired in the late 1950s, and a Fuji enlarger he brought from Japan after a stint in the Navy in the 1950s. I was enamored with the strange array of knobs and controls, and with the fact that one could create unique images using this stuff. Within 6 months or so, I was taking black and white pictures on medium format film, developing film, and using the enlarger to make prints. I was surprised at how natural it seemed for me to create unique images that were admired by myself, friends, and family. About two years later, I saved up $150 and bought a used Rolleiflex twin lens reflex. This enabled me to take candid pictures of people and animals, and still use medium format film. Most of the world was enamored with 35mm at the time, but my experience with old "vintage" equipment was unique and added some nostalgia and mystique to my photography.

I got to use plenty of 35mm equipment while working on the high school yearbook and sports photos for the local newspaper. These were very fun and rewarding activities, and I became quite knowledgeable and accomplished at all aspects of photography by the time I was 18. This included black/white and color films, developing, and printing, and use of various 35mm and medium format cameras. I was also very mechanically inclined, and learned how to diagnose and repair several cameras. After high school, I spent several years overseas in Germany with the Army, and took pictures with 35mm cameras during day trips to nearby cities, especially Heidelberg. Europe was an enchanting place, and I wish I had spent more time there, and photographed more of it while I was there for two short years. Fortunately, I preserved all of my slides and negatives, and have posted a few of the images on this website.

Keen Interest in Vintage Equipment

Over the next 18 years, I was too busy with college, small children, fixing up houses, my urban planning career, and all that other stuff that usually distracts people from their interests. I dabbled in and out of photography, while studying technique and reading books on the subject. The Ansel Adams Photography Series were my favorites, and I focused on continually improving my understanding of the black and white photographic process. In the winter of 2002/2003, something sparked my interest to do more with photography, and I bought a 4x5 Crown Graphic and a 4x5 Omega enlarger on Ebay. Over the next several years, I became enamored with the ease and low expense of acquiring vintage photographic equipment in the Internet marketplace, and I bought a mountain of cameras and lenses. Much of this stuff was damaged and not fully functioning, and I repaired most of it in an area of my house I called "the camera hospital," giving broken cameras new life as functioning equipment. This included numerous 35mm, medium format, and 4x5 cameras and lenses. Most of the 35mm equipment was mid 1970s-early 1980s vintage; the larger format stuff was generally 1950s.

The Past 10 Years with Vintage Cameras and "Vintage+Digital"

Armed with all this "new" equipment in 2003, including an Epson film scanner for converting color negatives into digital images, I embarked on a 5-year long picture-taking and image-creating spree in Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, the Lake Superior region, and the Southern Appalachians. I totally loved using the vintage equipment with film to capture images, while doing color retouching and printing digitally. This vintage+digital approach was a huge improvement from the days of the color darkroom. Although digital cameras have improved to the point of exceeding the image quality of medium and large format, I still have a stock of film and continue to enjoy using vintage cameras. With regard to black and white, I would like to continue using "traditional" chemical darkroom techniques. There is a certain artsyness and mystique to traditional black and white that cannot be duplicated with a digital approach.

I have thoroughly enjoyed creating nearly all of the images on this website with "old" and "vintage" cameras, shot on color negative (medium format and 4x5) and slide film (35mm) and transformed with scanners into digital images for retouching and printing. I think the vintage+digital approach gives the images a unique quality that includes a connection with the rich history of photography. While I truly believe that digital photography represents a big improvement in quality and efficiency compared with the previous 50 years, I will continue to use my vintage camera approach until I can no longer buy film. That aside, I have been a huge fan of using Photoshop and inkjet printing for producing color images for the past 10 years.

More About My Favorite Vintage Cameras

My favorite film format to work with has been 6x9cm, which includes my Dad's old Century Graphic. I acquired a stash of lensboards, film holders, and lenses for this beauty, and used it extensively to record many of the images on this site. It is mechanically very simple, is light to carry, and is compact and easy to use. I also acquired a Mamiya Universal Press 6x9 camera with a Graflok back, using the same film holders as the Century Graphic. It has great lenses, a coupled rangefinder, and is as easy to use as a 35mm SLR. Finally, my other faves include 6x9 and 6x6 folding cameras from the 1940s and 1950s. While these have only a "normal" lens attached, they are very simple and compact, take awesome high-quality pictures, and eliminate distractions involved with using more sophisticated equipment. This lets me focus solely on creating images rather than fiddling with equipment.

I consider the twin lens reflex camera to be the best overall design for medium format cameras. You have the benefit of accurate through-the-lens focusing without the vibration of a large focal plane shutter and moving mirror. I still have the Rolleiflex I bought in the late 1970s and use it occasionally. The Mamiya TLRs are ingenious equipment. I was fortunate enough to find all the lenses ever made for it, along with two bodies and a prism finder. I'll use these with pleasure as long as I can buy film. I wish I could convert these to digital somehow.

Let's not forget about all of those great 35mm cameras and lenses from the 1970s and 1980s from Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Pentax, and Yashica. That stuff was expensive back then, and became very inexpensive and plentiful after digital took over in the early 2000s. Of course, I couldn't resist acquiring oodles of it, and ended up with so much of it I'm embarrassed to admit how much. Most of the stuff I have now has been restored to great working order and captured many of the images on this website. Perhaps 35mm isn't the absolute best choice for capturing landscape images, compared with medium format, but it's just darn fun to use and you can't argue with the innumerable selection of lenses. It's a gadget freak's delight.

Film Scanning

Finally, I should say something about what I use to get all those negatives and slides I have produced into digital formats for retouching and printing in Photoshop.

I use an Epson 4870 flatbed scanner for converting 4x5 and medium format negatives to digital. The scanner is about 8 years old and still works great. I've found that the resolution of this scanner, combined with the size of the film, produces excellent quality digital images that can yield big enlargements up to 36 inches. The benefit of capturing images on color negative film is the exposure latitude and capability to capture a wide dynamic range of light without "blown" highlights. The unique image qualities I obtain by using this approach are worth foregoing using digital cameras for a while, especially since I love my vintage+digital technique. I use an outstanding product called Vuescan to scan negatives from the Epson scanner. Then I use another outstanding product called Picture Window Pro to convert my color negative scans into great quality positives for editing in Photoshop.

I use a Nikon Coolscan V scanner for scanning 35mm negatives and slides. I've found that 35mm slides yield image quality that's very good, and it enables me to continue using that great 1970s and 1980s camera gear. This scanner basically leaves nothing to be desired, as it captures every possible grain of information from the film. However, I've found that 35mm color negative film has some obvious limitations in terms of its maximum enlargement potential, so I generally avoid using it for capturing images that demand high quality. Very few of the images on this website were captured with 35mm color negative film.

  epson4870      Coolscan V

With regard to black and white film photography, the scanning to digital format is quite useful, even for a "traditional" purist who still likes the chemical darkroom approach. Back in the day before digital, figuring out what your negatives would look like when printed was a total guessing game, and one could spend hours in the darkroom only to emerge with no good results. Now, I can scan those negatives into Photoshop , simulate darkroom techniques, figure out which images are worth printing, and have a plan for burning/dodging before I pour the smelly chemicals and spend hours in the dark. I love that I can make traditional black and white printing way more productive with better results.

Digital Cameras

I bought my first digital camera, a 3.2 megapixel Toshiba model (left), back in 2002. It takes very good snapshots, but with minimal enlargement potential. Back then, I didn't think digital cameras were close to replacing film for professional applications. However, the smaller digicams I bought in the past several years (middle and right) come very close in quality to 35mm, and the professional digicams produce stunning results. The camera on the right, a small hand-held model, does very well at 12 megapixels and creates outstanding 16x20 images. About 5 of the images in the galleries on this website were captured by the camera on the right. I anticipate acquiring a professional digicam in the next few years, most likely one that can use my existing Nikon lenses or fits on a medium format Graflok back.

  Toshiba digicam   Canon digicam   Fuji digicam


OK, that was just the overview. There's quite a bit more to know about vintage equipment, repairs, film selection, film development, scanning, printing, and more. Then there's the subject of using Vuescan, Picture Window Pro, Photoshop, plugins, and other software to get images from initial scan to final print. That's quite a process, and it varies with various types of images. Anyone who wants to have hours-long conversations with me on these topics in-depth is welcome to do so, provided you and I both have time for that. Please contact me if you have any questions, especially if you're in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina!

My First Camera

This 6x9 press camera was actually my father's, and was made around 1950. It took many of the photos on this site.

Classic Rolleiflex TLR

I bought this when I was 14. It's a great picture-taker and still one of my favorites.

My Pentax – Early 1980s

This camera and lenses traveled all over Germany with me. It still works great.

"New" 4x5 Crown Graphic

I bought this in 2003 to get into large format. Shoots handheld 4x5!

Vintage Lenses for 4x5 Graphic

The one on the left is 100 years old. They have all been restored to working order.

Mamiya Universal Press Camera

Another "new" medium format camera in 2004 (circa 1970). This one was beat up, and I restored it to working order. A big favorite with me, creating lots of images.

Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta B

This is a 6x6 folding camera from Germany, made in 1948. Works great. It took a few of the photos on this site.

Mamiya Twin Lens Reflex

I think the Mamiya TLR is an ingenious invention. It doesn't vibrate like SLRs. I like it so much I found and restored all the lenses made for it, got a prism finder too.

35mm Freak!

I always loved the gadgetry aspect of 35mm, with the wide array of lenses and camera bodies. The classic stuff from the late 1970s and early 1980s is plentiful and cheap, but often needs extensive repairs to work properly. Here are a few of mine.

More Classics!

Light Meters

A good light meter is essential for using vintage cameras and film..

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