The decision as to which camera, which lens, how much can I fit in my bag, which bag shall I use, and can I carry it all day comfortably, will be familiar, I am sure, to a lot of photographers. I mean it’s a complicated game we are playing. To capture any potential scene that we might encounter! I wanted to go through my take on it, to present day anyway, and talk about where I have ended up.
I am old enough to remember a time when, if you took a picture, it was on film. That’s it, no other options. I also remember borrowing a medium format film camera way back and marvelling at the depth of the images compared to my 35mm SLR shots. This was another level. I discounted ever owning one of these exotic beasts as they were the preserve of the wealthy or professional.
The digital age happened and I gave away my SLR to the local charity shop when sorting through things for a house move. I had no use for this obsolete lump of metal, glass and cogs. Digital is the new age after all. When I could afford I went feet first into digital, eventually owning what was my dream camera, a Nikon D610 with a Sigma Art 24-35, f2 zoom. This was the answer. I had all the tools I needed to record any scene. Bags of dynamic range, a lens to cover all the bases. I could store almost 1000 images in RAW if I wanted to. Auto everything… That’s it!
Then… in late 2017 I decided on a whim to buy a Hasselblad 500C/M with the classic Carl Zeiss Planar CF 80mm f/2.8 lens. It was simply a curiosity after looking at the work and working process of a good friend that owned one. He had been shooting with one for many years. It sparked a little question in my head, “Might it be kind of fun to go out and shoot film as a different look occasionally? Why not?”
After all I remember lusting after that medium format kit from my younger days. To think I can buy one now was intriguing. I mean, why not buy the one that was supposed to be the Porsche of medium format cameras, a Hasselblad? It was exciting to me. That was the start of my ‘which camera, which lens, which bag’ conundrum from the introduction.
I went through a period of indecision and hesitation now. I had made my life more complicated… The photo trips now consisted of a series of questions as to what should I carry and what am I doing? You can easily imagine the amount of space I needed in my shoulder bag to accommodate a full frame DSLR and a Hasselblad. It fitted, just. It was awkward to get them in and out of the bag.
I would find myself spending most of the time using the digital and then coming to a snap decision to make a film image of the same scene to take advantage of the square frame that the 6×6 afforded. I was basically using the medium format film camera as a novelty. In my mind I already had the shot on digital but what the heck, I have been lugging this Hasselblad round. Why not do a shot with it in order to justify carrying the extra weight? Ridiculous isn’t it? I was making my photography cluttered, too many choices.
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The crunch came, I think, when I was out with friends on a shoot. It was a weekend event and there was a particular shot that I had already shot on my DSLR that I thought worked, but my friend coerced me to shoot it on the Hasselblad. As soon as the frame was set on the viewfinder it was clear that the 6×6 had everything there that was needed, with a little extra height for balance. I was intrigued. Perhaps this square frame might make me look at things differently…
Things didn’t immediately change but I think that was a catalyst. It was further cemented once I started home developing my film. I no longer had to wait several days for the negs. I could have them in my sticky mitts in less than an hour. Big bonus.
After a while I was happy just setting out with the Hasselblad. I mean it was a wrench at first, felt like I was leaving my comfort blanket at home. It was unquestionably easier on my shoulder. The freedom to just see what worked with what I had was a different experience from the Sigma zoom lens that I used on the digital. It was in theory a constriction but the challenge is only perceived, in fact I have learned to just walk past things that don’t frame or work. Mostly…
See you again soon.
Note: This article originally appeared on Paul’s blog on October 19th 2020 and has been published on EMULSIVE at the author’s request.
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