I, like many of you here, suffer chronic GAS. It remains true that a great picture comes from the photographer, not the camera, but there is something uniquely satisfying about using a camera that looks and feels good. Although my student budget places heavy limitations upon my Leica-laden aspirations, bargains can be found, which may produce images just as good as the pricey alternatives.
To set the scene, it was a drizzly day in Newcastle, and I had just visited my favourite camera shop. My experiences with medium format up until this point had been very disappointing –- I once borrowed my old school’s dusty Bronica ETRS, which evidently had many mechanical issues, for pictures came out covered in light leaks and inconsistencies.
The film was also much faffier to load than the easy 35mm cassettes. Nevertheless, my desire for large negatives and the characteristic medium format sharpness coupled with razor-thin depth of field led me to buy a very reasonably priced Minolta Autocord (which I would afterwards find to be the later RG-1 model). I may have dreamt of owning a Rolleiflex 3.5F, but this would have to do.
With a roll of Kodak Portra 160, my second-favourite colour film stock (Ektar 100 being first, not that you asked), I set about testing it. Despite not paying much at all, it appeared that the previous owner had serviced it recently, so the seals were not deteriorated and the focus smooth, something certainty unusual for second-hand film cameras. Although the mirrored focus screen was initially difficult for someone used to the ease of SLR cameras, it was certainly a lot of fun. For those not familiar, the Autocord uses a somewhat novel lever bellow the lens to focus, rather than a dial on the side, which feels great to pull from left to right.
Each photograph is a portrait taken within the North East of England, and I tried to capture my subjects amidst the greens and oranges of autumn. Despite my previous disdain for medium format, I fell in love with the ease and beauty of this TLR. It may not have been a fabled Rollei, but that soon became unimportant, because I quickly realised there was little the German wonder could do better.
This lens is almost painfully sharp, and colour rendition is spectacular. None of these photographs have been edited, bar a crop or rotate when necessary. I now join the legions of forum-dwelling individuals who see this camera as equal to, if not better than, the Rolleiflex I previously yearned for.
Photography on a budget is not only possible, but can yield amazing results.
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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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