I suffer from GAS: Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Even as I write this I have a painfully expensive Mamiya 6 on its way from Japan because I just had to have a medium format camera that’s light and easy to carry. You know, because my 35mm cameras are great, but what if I find myself in an impromptu portrait shoot with a childhood hero and I absolutely need that 120 look…
Like many sufferers, I can always find an excuse for a new camera, lens or accessory. My 35mm Zeiss Biogon is lovely, but it’s only f/2.8. What if I need to shoot at night and I’ve already shot half a roll at EI 400? A Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM lens would be great for that.
…and what about if I need to shoot some action? What then? 10 minutes online would tell me that none of my film gear is remotely suitable for that, which is why I grabbed my Pentax 6×7 (Luther*) along with a few rolls of film and headed to the local skatepark last weekend.
* I like naming my cameras – this one is loud, prolific, and loves being printed.
Everything about the Pentax 6×7 is wrong for shooting action. It’s incredibly heavy (nearly 3kg / 6 lbs with a lens), unwieldy, and only has a max shutter speed of 1/500. I absolutely love the lenses though, and I have hardly used my SMC Pentax 55mm f/4 (GAS again) so I wanted to see if it was possible.
When I arrived at the sake park there were hordes of young kids being taught to skate – my wife keeps telling me I shouldn’t take pictures of other people’s kids so they were out. Luckily there were three lads in their 30s on the ramps too, so I wandered over and asked if they minded me taking a few shots. They said sure, and I ended up going through five rolls (3 of Kodak Portra 160, 1 of ILFORD Delta 400 Professional and 1 of Kodak T-MAX 400) over the course of 3 hours.
In all the excitement I accidentally metered the Delta 400 at 160, but I threw it in with the Kodak T-MAX 400 and developed both in Kodak HC-110 1:31 (dilution B) for 5.5 minutes and it came out great. I love how forgiving of mistakes black and white film is.
Honestly, it was great fun and none of the supposed issues of “low” max shutter speed, small max aperture or weight bothered me in the slightest. In fact, I didn’t notice the weight because I was focused on the skaters. The metered prism viewfinder is big and bright, and since I planned my shots and pre-focused I only needed to use it for composition.
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Being limited to 10 shots a roll forced me to pick my moments, which allowed me to enjoy the skills of the skaters so much more than if I was doing the old spray and pray with a digital camera. The top 1/500 second shutter speed was more than fast enough to freeze them, and even when metering at EI 160, I had enough depth of field on this bright sunny day.
This shoot was a very different experience to candid street photography of strangers or documenting social events. Some years ago I got into shooting martial arts competitions in the Netherlands and this reminded of those days hanging on to a turnbuckle, getting as close as possible without being hit and trying to anticipate movement to capture the best moments.
I am pleased with the results, and even more pleased to have proven to myself that it is possible to shoot sports handheld with the Pentax 6×7. This has served to confirm that GAS is just gear lust, and that most cameras will do fine in most situations with a little thought and patience.
Still, I wish the courier would hurry up with that Mamiya 6 though…
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