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Informal Photographic CV

Born 1942.

lent leather bellows folding camera
Was lent a family friend's very cheap Kodak Box Brownie. 120 film. Displayed enough interest and aptitude that was lent a more complicated 120 roll film folding bellows camera which had manual lens and shutter and a rising front for keeping verticals straight in architectural shots. None of the family or friends knew how to operate it. It turned out that it had bellows leaks which fogged the photos which I mended. It was decades before I learned about tilt-shit lenses and what the lens rise and fall adjustments were for. My struggles with this camera impressed my parents enough that I was given the next camera and later extras such as flash and darkroom kit as birthday and Xmas presents.

KodaK Cresta. 120 film camera, 2 tab pull exposures, sunny & cloudy, plus a tab pull portrait lens..
Read lots of photography books and magazines in the local library. Tried to take good family snaps, portraits, plus good landscape views. Photographs limited by costs because my pocket money had to make a significant contribution.

Own developing and printing
Given the kit for doing my own developing and contact prints. Couldn't afford an enlarger. Tried to build one myself with a magnifying glass but failed on lens quality and difficulty of making my bedroom dark enough.

flash bulb gun
Given a flashbulb gun with fan-folding reflector. Fascinated by the technology, but not much used because of cost of bulbs. Tried magnesium ribbon gifted me by my school physics teacher but it was messy, unreliable, and low powered.

Lost interest in photography when I left home for university in 1960. My left behind photographs and kit got lost in a parental house move.

Compact 35mm rangefinder camera
Just to have a camera for occasional snaps I bought an old rangefinder 35mm compact in a junk shop, f3.5-f16, shutter 1s-1/300th. Used it with an exposure meter which was inconsistent. The problem turned out to be a sluggish shutter due to dirt and corrosion. A good clean fixed it.

The camera had an uncoated rather soft lens with some tiny bubbles in it. The shutter died unrepairably after a few years. But it taught me the basics of manual metered photography.

Lent old Voigtlander Brillant camera. 120 film. Lens f4.5-16, shutter 1s-1/300th plus B & T.
Acquired cheap tripod. Bought minimal dark room kit and did own developing and contact printing. That camera took the first photographs of my new born son.

Olympus 35RC camera
Reading reviews carefully I guessed that was as good a 35mm compact for the serious amateur as could be got with a fixed non-zoom lens. (Turned out I may well have been right.) Acquired cheap Gnome enlarger and two remote programmable flashes. Started doing colour. Started doing small amounts of paid work for friends for enough cash to buy new kit.

Since the paid work was mostly shop product and art portfolio work for painters and sculptors the extra kit consisted mostly of a Vivitar 283 flashgun which gradually acquired all possible accessories, a cheap auxiliary flash, plus the light stands and long wires for wired remote flash work.

The new kit I was earning money for eventually became the next camera.

Minolta XG9 SLR camera.
I continued to do small amounts of paid photography for friends to finance extra photography kit. I ended up with a fairly comprehensive collection of lenses, flashes, and brollies. I eventually shifted entirely to colour and stopped doing my own developing and enlarging.

A coincidence of work and photography: I became a contract researcher on a digital photography robotics project at Edinburgh University, so I acquired a good grounding in the elementary basics of digital photography before digital cameras existed. (We got digital images by digitising the output of an analogue video camera.) I also turned out to be the only person who knew how to take good photographs of computer video screens, so I ended up doing occasional scientific documentary photography.

Acquired Vivitar 19mm lens
I have several old manual MD mount lenses for the Minolta XG9 SLR. I probably bought the Minolta 50mm f2 with the camera. Some time later I bought a Minolta 28mm f2.8 because I wanted to go wider. I soon discovered that I often wanted to wider than 28mm, and acquired a Vivitar 19mm f3.8, probably in 1983 (the lens barrel serial number indicates it was made in '73 or '83). That lens was sometimes reviewed as being very optically good for the money, that you'd have to spend 4-5 times more to get a better wide angle lens.

I recall being pleased with it, and was surprised to find that I would have liked a still wider lens. But in those days wider non-fisheye lenses were expensive, and it would only have been an occasional use lens. I wasn't getting the kind of paid work which would have benefited from a wider lens. I was now trying to get the kind of paid work which would fund improving my system in ways which would lead to more paid work.

Benbo tripod and second remote flashgun
I got a big contract to shoot the Phoebe Anna Traquair murals in the Mansfield Place Church. They wanted postcards and publicity materials for a Festival exhibition to parallel the exhibition of Phoebe's work in the portrait gallery at the same time.

The major extra accessories this work funded were a Benbo tripod, able to do its thing in awkward constricted spaces such as the church high galleries, a second flashgun, and a flashmeter for setting up the flashmeters manually. I wanted two flashguns to be able to photograph murals head on with the usual light at 45 degrees each side to avoid reflections and balance illumination. I used long wires and optical triggers.

The second flashgun was a Sunpak 30DX. The other which I'd long had was a Vivitar 283 with all possible accessories. (I'm still using both those flashguns and the Sekonik flashmeter today [2012].)

Interesting to note that back in 1992 I was doing what is now called "strobist" photography, using multiple off-camera flashes. I'd already been doing off-camera flash for years with one flashgun. The Vivitar 283 accessories included the extension wires to shift the gun off-camera while keeping the gun's auto sensor on the camera. I had also bought along with it an optical trigger so any old cheap flash on the hotshoe could fire it wirelessly anywhere.

AGFAnet ePHOTO CL 20 digital camera
Bought a cheap rubbish 2MP digital camera to see what digital cameras were like. Despite the rather fogged and smeared A5 prints, I was very impressed with digital convenience and cheapness.

Canon Powershot A300 3.1MP digital camera
Intended as a trial digital replacement for the Olympus 35RC, which in terms of image quality up to A5 it certainly was, and sometimes up to A4 enlargements if you didn't look too closely. I had made the mistake of listening to my wife's pleas to lend my beloved Olympus to her, since she'd lost her own camera and was off on holiday. She's had far more cameras than me because she loses them. She swore she'd guard the Olympus with her life. She left it on top of a mountain.

I had hoped the Canon Powershot A300's range of semi-manual control options would effectively amount to full manual control, which it turned out they didn't.

Sony DSC-R1 10MP digital camera, radio flash triggers, Metz 45 flashgun
I had intended to buy a good second hand 5-6MP P&S with full manual and a high quality zoom. I wanted a general purpose digital camera capable of A4 enlargements with which to learn the crafts of digital photography until DSLRs got both better and cheaper. While looking I came across a second hand R1 with a nearly full set of all possible accessories. That looked good enough to get me into DSLR image quality territory at a bargain price. Now retired and with a lot more free time I decided to take up photography seriously again. I hoped it might become a way of usefully supplementing my pension, at least to the extent of paying for kit upgrades.

The R1 was an interesting and eccentric engineering compromise, and that kind of thing always attracts me. One learns more from eccentric things. I thought I probably didn't want more than 5 good megapixels in my photos, but having 10 in the camera gave useful cropping latitude.

It lacked the action photo capabilities of a good DSLR, but since I prefered photographing things which stayed there while I fiddled about getting things right that wasn't an important issue.

I brought my old flashguns back into operation with the R1 with the help of cheap radio triggers (Cactus V2s) which I modified for extra distance and reliability. I added a Metz 45 handle mount flash.

Sony Alpha 350 DSLR. Sony 18-250mm zoom lens, Metz 60 flash
An accident to the R1 convinced me a serious photographer needed two cameras. I seriously considered another R1 as backup, but had been reading reviews of the new Sony Alpha 350 which shared some of the R1 philosophy. So I decided to take the opportunity to extend the range of focal lengths which the R1 could reach.

I acquired a Sony Alpha 350 with a 10-20mm and an 18-250mm zoom. A relatively cheap elevation into a wider range of photographic possibilities, i.e. more pixels and more zoom!

My very old excellent Vivitar 283 flashgun had been joined by a more powerful Metz 45. I was very impressed by the extra flexibility which extra flash power gave and in pursuit of large room lighting power acquired a Metz 60 with an auxiliary 60-40 slave head.

Sony 50mm f1.4, Sony 500mm f8 reflex
I extended my available light aperture range with a 50mm f1.4 lens. I extended the long end with the remarkable Sony/Minolta 500mm f8 reflex. Both lenses require very exact focus and showed the A350 to have slight backfocus. I corrected this by using the AF sensor plane adjustment bolts. This had the unexpected bonus of correcting previously unknown back focus on the 18-250mm at 250mm and f8. That lens correctly focused is sharper at 250mm than I thought it was. And sharper I think than some reviewers have supposed.

The Sony/Minolta 500mm f8 is the only autofocusing and image stabilised reflex lens on the market. Add to that it's remarkably cheap price, small size, and light weight, and it's a uniquely portable 500mm and a uniquely easy to use reflex. When Minolta introduced it in 1989 I very much wanted one, but couldn't justify the expenditure on a lens so unlikely to earn its purchase. I was at the time trying to pay for my camera gear by photographing art works and products.

2009 November
Sony A550 camera body
A repairable accident to my Sony A350 at a time when I had a paid contract which couldn't wait for the repair provided an excellent excuse to upgrade to an A550. Much improved high ISO performance, higher quality jpegs, and delightful manual focus ability on the much better quality and much brighter LCD. Such easy accurate manual focus that I started using manual focus a lot.

I soon discovered that DSLR AF wasn't as good as I had thought it was. I was surprised by how often a careful manual focus gave an extra edge to image resolution, some of my lenses proving to be rather better than I'd thought.

There are so many little differences between lenses, apertures, and focal lengths. Generic AF can only be a compromise. I guessed that was the reason for the lens-specific microfocus adjustments appearing in all the top DSLRs.

Samyang 85mm f1.4, Sigma 8-16mm lenses
The Samyang 85mm is a fully manual lens. Damaging my Sigma 10-20mm at a time when I needed a wide angle lens for some exhibition work was a good excuse to acquire the new Sigma 8-16mm. It's a better lens in general, clearly sharper, plus it crosses that very important threshold of being able to capture all four walls of a room from a corner of the room. The 10-20mm couldn't quite reach that, whereas the 8-16mm does it with plenty of room to spare for perspective corrections etc..

Samyang fisheye lens
Acquired the new Samyang fisheye lens. Can be used both as a fisheye and defished to give even wider (than the 8-15mm Sigma) linear perspective, although that's pretty costly in resolution given how much correction is appled. Partial defishing has also given me some good interesting photographs.

Rumours abound that Sony has discontinued the 500mm f8 reflex lens, the only autofocusing and image stabilised reflex in the world. And so hugely much cheaper and lighter (and inferior optically) to the incoming 500mm f4 that it could hardly be regarded as competition. Michael Reichman of Luminous Landscape even suggested that the combination of Sony Alpha DSLR and Sony/Minolta 500mm reflex was so unique that for some it would be a good enough reason to decide to go with Sony DSLRs. Pleased I got mine in time!

DIY sighting scope for the 500mm, more Metz 60 flashguns
I'd been getting increasingly annoyed by the difficulty of aiming the 500mm reflex. The field of view on an APS-C sensor is so narrow that where there aren't handy directional cues like the horizon to track along it's very hard to find what you want in the viewfinder/LCD. Makes finding anything moving more than slowly very difficult. In the absence of good sighting clues it can even take a minute to find something that isn't moving.

So I've often thought about adding some kind of sighting aid to it, such as a bead on a stick on the end of the lens and a notch on the hot shoe like a rifle sight. The new optical "red dot" gun sights which don't magnify and so let you use both eyes to cover the entire field of view, and don't suffer from parallax, sounded like a great improvement, and aren't expensive.

My DIY development of a lens sight based on on one of these gun sights turned out to be delightfully successful. It's possible to line the dot and the autofocus point accurately enough that you can catch birds in flight just using the sight, not bothering with viewfinder or LCD.

Having been asked to shoot a few events in church halls I'd discovered that my Metz 60 plus 60-40 slave had almost enough power to light an entire church hall with ceiling bounce and let me run around snapping very flexibly with my 18-250mm at f6.3. I still had the old flash meter I'd used with my Minolta XG9 and was quite happy using remote flashes in manual mode. I decided the cheapest route to plenty of portable flash power would be a handful of Metz 60s and set about acquiring them in bits and pieces from Ebay.

Prices of these great old warhorses had rocketed up with the popularity of strobist photography so I bought the much cheaper possibly working stuff, fixing or discarding what didn't.

2012 April
Sony 35mm f1.4
Widely regarded as very sharp and more generally useful on a crop sensor camera than 50mm. I agree. It's become my general purpose low light lens.

2012 August
Sony HVL-43-FM
The baby brother of the Sony 58-60, all the latest whizz-bang features but less powerful and more portable. My first modern system flash!

2012 October
Sony A77
Upgrade to the current top of the range APS-C DSLT flagship. A very impressive well engineered camera, much the best camera I've ever owned. I'll probably be happy hanging onto this until the 2nd generation of well sorted completely mirrorless Alphas arrives and settles down in price.

2013 October
Sony 16-50 f/2.8
My only low light (wide aperture) lenses so far had been primes. This is a little better than my 18-250mm zoom at its f/8 best, and nearly as good as my primes at wider apertures. Fills the gap in my lens range between high quality primes and good quality small aperture zooms. It's also (like my A77) weatherproofed, so I can keep shooting in the rain without bothering with a camera raincoat, and has a quiet AF which won't intrude on the sound track of video. It's also handy being able to go as wide as 16mm with in-camera correction of lens non-linearity in jpegs.

2013 November
Sony 30mm f/2.8 macro
The cheapest macro lens for the Alpha lens mount. Too short in focal length for bugs which run off when you get near, but very nice for photographing small flowers or big flower details. I have a selection of add-on closer focusing extension lenses, but they're a tedious fiddle to use and not of the best optical quality.

2014 May
Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 USD
Since acquiring the excellent Sony 16-50mm f/2.8 zoom I've been using the 18-250mm less and less often. The instant IQ comparison of swapping from the 16-50mm to the 18-250mm has made the defects of the 16-250mm more obvious. In order to get better quality longer focal length shots I was starting to carry around my longer primes instead of the 18-250mm. That was a bit of a bagful and a lot of lens swapping which lost me a lot of unexpected opportunistic shots. I wanted a better quality long zoom. Since I do nearly all my long shots in good daylight I could avoid the expense and weight of a wide aperture. This Tamron seems the currently favoured bargain lens to fit that niche. I considered the Sony 55-300mm, considered by Carl Garrard to be optically as good as this Tamron, but it lacks the seamless manual tweaking of AF which the Tamron offers, and which I do like to use.

2015 November
Minolta 80-200mm f2.8 High Speed APO (white)
Possibly not quite as good as a modern version of this kind of lens, but a hell of a lot cheaper! I have two other zooms which cover this range of focal lengths. What this lens has and they don't is the wide aperture and very fast AF. Unlike many wide aperture zooms it seems to be as sharp wide open as stopped down. It's made of steel and glass and pretty heavy, so it's very handy that the zoom is internal -- it doesn't change length as you zoom in & out. That means it can be mounted on a tripod (or monopod) with the centre of gravity of camera and lens perfectly balanced right over the support. That means no annoying droop as you tighten up the ball head or whatever, and no change in balance as you zoom.


Rights to any of the digital imagery in my pages here are negotiable, and prints can be ordered.


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    chrisdonia says:

    "Unsuprisingly, after so many years of photographic experience, Chris has an excellent eye for the right shot. Rarely seen without his monopod or an unexpected chunk of equipment, he lends his widsom to all - unbiased and always with a wry humour."

    November 27th, 2009

Chris Malcolm
April 2007
Edinburgh, Scotland
I am:
Male and Taken
Pension stretching