Making the Best of It

It has been a hard year, and not just because of the Covid. Repair work on the dam that creates the little lake near our home resulted in the water level dropping at least eight inches. I suspect that the effect on our mute swans’ nesting ground may have played a part in only one of their offspring surviving this year. Last year they had three cygnets and I am told that was typical. 

Even closer to home, the continuing deterioration of my eyesight and a quantum increase of the essential tremor in my hands has made photography more and more problematic. The photo of the swans above was the only one of half a dozen that was even remotely sharp. The others were either out of focus or showed significant camera shake. 

I am determined that, one way or another, I will continue taking pictures and making prints. I have been experimenting with several approaches and all of them involve compromises. I had previously settled on shooting ISO 400 film in my screw-mount Leicas, developing it with Rodinal and making inkjet prints. One way to continue doing this would be to put the little Leica on a tripod. I was already doing this for indoor staged photographs. But I gave up after a few walks carrying a camera bag and the tripod down to the lake or the other direction to the creek. The arrangement of the controls on the Leica and the small lettering on the shiny chrome controls made them difficult or even impossible to read in some conditions. Off the tripod I could shade the camera with my body and hold it at whatever angle was needed to see and operate the controls.

I am fortunate that my extended family has a variety of cameras to experiment with. The first I tried was my old Hasselblad kit. I gave it up years ago because of the weight of even a minimal kit. But I duly carried the 500C/M body with the 80/2.8 lens and the tripod down to the lake. And as I knew they would be the controls were very easy to read and very convenient to operate. But despite having the excellent Acute Matte screen I had difficulty focusing it. And the weight with the tripod was even worse than I remembered. 

The last camera on a tripod rig I tried was a Nikon F with a DR-2 right angle viewfinder. The viewfinder let me use the camera at waist level on the tripod where all of the controls were easy to read and operate. The Nikon is lighter than the Hasselblad but still carrying it around with the tripod is not enjoyable. Focusing is easier than with the Hasselblad because of the variable diopter built into the right angle viewfinder but I still had some difficulty. I did not see this as a viable long term solution. 

The last film camera approach I tried was a 24-85 VR kit zoom on a Nikon F6, hand held. The autofocus worked as I expected. For the shots where I agreed with the focus point the camera chose it was always spot on. But when I tried to override the camera by focusing manually, for example on one particular small leaf in what I call a foliage abstract, the results were not very predictable. Much of the time the vibration did its job and the percentage of sharp pictures went way up. But the size and weight of the camera with the big zoom lens were a lot more than I like, especially compared with the little Leicas with their equally small lenses. 

While all of this was going on, my wife grew so impatient with how long I was taking to develop, scan, proof and print her film photos that she completed the switch to digital that had been gradually happening anyway. As soon as she clicked the shutter she had the pictures to share online with her friends so she could wait for me to get around to editing and printing a few keepers. 

To be continued…

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