Thursday, August 27, 2009

Beware Point-and-Shoot Film Cameras with Post Pre-Focus Focussing

This will be a short post, but I wanted to share some potentially informative experiences with high-quality, point-and-shoot film cameras I've accumulated recently, especially for street photography shooters and those trying to photograph fast and oft-moving children...

Apparently, the "pre-focus" (when you push the shutter button down halfway to "pre-focus" in order to minimize the delay before the shutter is actually tripped) on many point-and-shoot film cameras doesn't actually focus the lens; it'll only determine whether there's enough light to take the photo, and whether assistance from the built-in flash will be needed. Also, it allows you to fix the exposure level and recompose the shot. I guess this behavior is meant to minimize the battery drain caused by focussing the lens and then not taking a photograph.

For street and child photography, the extra amount of time needed to focus the lens upon pressing the shutter button the rest of the way down, can easily lead to missed which my experience can attest.

One of the highly-touted point-and-shoot cameras of the 1990s was and is the Yashica T4/T5. The lens quality is quite nice and it even works relatively well with the built-in flash. The only drawback I've experienced with it: it doesn't actually focus the lens until you press the shutter button all the way down. Luckily, it focusses pretty fast; but it can't compete with a camera that actually focusses the lens upon partial pressing of the shutter button.

I was surprised to find this out about the Yashica T4/T5 because the point-and-shoot cameras I had gathered before acquiring the Yashica T4 actually focussed the lens on pre-focus.

It turns out the Leica Minis (I have both the Mini II and Mini III) actually focus upon pre-focussing; I didn't realize how lucky I was to have selected them as my first compact film cameras for my street and child photography. (Note: I've noticed my Mini II with a 35 f/3.5 lens focuses slightly faster than my Mini III with a 32 f/3.2 lens.)

Two others I've collected that don't have the focussing delay after pre-focus:
  1. The Ricoh GR1, GR1s, and GR1v. The Ricohs, in fact, have a "snap" focussing mode that even eliminates time to pre-focus.
  2. The Konica Hexar AF. This isn't a very compact point-and-shoot camera; but it's the fastest auto-focussing film camera I fast as my Canon SLR and DSLRs.
Anyway, if you're looking for compact and/or point-and-shoot film cameras for street and/or child photography, you should be aware that many of these types of cameras are like the Yashica T4/T5 in that true focussing doesn't occur until the shutter button is fully depressed.

As I gather and/or use other point-and-shoot film cameras, I will try to make sure to report my findings here at the blog.

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why 35mm Film Isn't Dead Yet

I, like many others, thought it no longer made sense to make or use 35mm film.

It still made sense that photographers would buy medium and large format film because--unless you had $20,000-$40,000 for a medium format digital camera--shooting medium and large format film is still a cost effective way to get really rich and detailed images, whether you scan the film or just print it. (I know that some would argue that 35mm full-frame digital SLRs give you as good or better images than medium format film. Maybe. Maybe sometimes. Regardless, you can easily spend thousands of dollars on a good full-frame DSLR setup...).

But why would anyone shoot a 35mm film negative or slide when: 1) you have to keep buying more film, 2) pay to process (and probably ship) that film, 3) wait for it to be processed (and probably shipped back), 4) film scans often need to be "cleaned up" due to dust, scratches, and/or chemical residue, 5) film scans--especially if higher than 100 ISO--often show a lot of graininess..??

I've come to realize the reasons why 35mm film isn't dead yet:
  1. Compact digital cameras with "full" (DSLR) sized sensors have not been perfected yet. Sure, you'll see some offerings from Sigma (DP-1 and DP-2) and Olympus (E-P1) out in the market; but these cameras haven't reached the level of performance (e.g., in terms of auto-focussing and lens quality) achieved by the compact 35mm film cameras of the 1990s--e.g., the Contax Ts, the Leica Minis and Miniluxes, the Ricoh GR1s, the Yashica T4/T5, the Olympus Stylus Epic, and so on.
  2. Compact digital cameras with their typical small sensors have very little pleasing bokeh--which is the thing that provides the selective focus and 3-D "depth" that most people like in a good photo...especially when the subject matter is people.
  3. With all its drawbacks, film can still provide a rich, classic, and artistic "look" that digital photography doesn't have (i.e., it's the difference between a digital and analog aesthetic).
  4. Film cameras allow you to get different types of images by simply changing the film you're using (e.g., black & white versus color; grainier versus finer grain; different grain structures--Kodak Tri-X has a different look than Ilford or Fuji B&W films...or even other Kodak B&W films; smooth versus contrasty; etc...)
  5. Most people now shoot digital due to convenience and price. Want to make your work stand out more as a photographer/photographer-artist? Shoot film...your work will automatically look different than 95% (or more) of the images being produced these days. (I think less than 95% of people own digital versus film cameras; however, it's clear a vast majority of the images produced and displayed on the web came from a digital camera.)
Even though the market for 35mm film has become smaller and smaller, I think it's here to stay a while. There's a certain level of 35mm film user die-hards I don't think are going to go away anytime soon. These die-hards are partially motivated by nostalgia; but it's not all nostalgia. The reasons I listed above are legitimate, "practical" reasons why 35mm film is still around and still fills an important niche.

As long as there are people/consumers out there wanting to use 35mm film, someone is going to make it for them...:-).

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Terry Richardson Bought My Point-and-Shoot Film Camera

I recently sold a point-and-shoot 35mm film camera on eBay to someone named Terry Richardson in New York City. I asked (via email) whether this was *the* Terry Richardson--the fashion photographer who famously uses compact "point-and-shoot" 35mm cameras to do his high-paying fashion photography...? Well, I didn't get an answer.

Of course, this leads me even more to believe it's probably him...(!)
(Update: He did eventually email me back. His message: "Hi,yes its that camera its awesome for street shots..and fits in my pocket better then the yashica. keep on clicking...thanks Terry")

Terry Richardson is renowned for shooting with a compact 35mm film camera that is no longer manufactured: the Yashica T5/T4 Super. As a result, Yashica T5/T4 Supers now sell for more used than they did new in the 1990s!

It would make sense that he would have to buy more used Yashica T5s/T4s on eBay when they wear out because they're no longer made--or even, probably, serviced--by Yashica. (Does Yashica even still exist as a company?)

But that is not what he bought from me.

Terry Richardson--this one in New York City--bought a compact, point-and-shoot camera from me that was not made by Yashica. It was another relatively famous point-and-shoot 35mm film camera that was manufactured around the same time as the T5/T4 Super.

Now I'm inclined to keep it a secret so that the price on this gem doesn't get as inflated as it's become on the Yashica T5s/T4s. However, if someone guesses it, I'll come clean and tell you what it was.

Note: anyone who posts a "Who Cares!" comment has become too jaded for their own good...;-).

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Do Zoom Lenses Make You Lazy?

First, let me say when I photograph a wedding I rely heavily on zoom lenses. I find that too many things are happening too fast to rely on having to reposition myself for shots or on changing my lens to a different prime. Also, I don't want to have to do a bunch of post-wedding image cropping when the lens I was using was too wide for the shot.

When it comes to my wedding photography, I have made a conscious decision that it is more important to catch as much as is potentially interesting as possible than to:
  1. use a prime lens for the ultimate in optical quality (a difference professional photographers might notice but many clients wouldn't and/or don't care about), or
  2. cut my shots down to *only* the premium artistic and emotional shots and become *really* good at properly positioning myself for them knowing I have the limitations of a fixed focal length (prime) lens on my camera.
Now, I should mention that I reduce the impact of issue #1 by using Canon's very best and most expensive zoom lenses; it's not like I'm using consumer grade zoom lenses..!

Issue #2 is more interesting to me.

There is an award-winning wedding photographer in the UK (whom I've mentioned before: Jeff Ascough) who believes that "less is more" and takes an astoundingly small number of photos during a wedding, even though he's using a digital camera and could easily shoot more at no additional financial cost--it's not a financial consideration. I just checked his blog and it appears he shoots with two cameras plus four prime lenses. He seems to be a good example of someone doing #2 above.

I believe that successfully doing #2 would require some transition time...and I'm certainly not going to "experiment" on weddings for which my clients have paid me to produce the same type of work they've seen demonstrated on my wedding website using my usual wedding shooting practices!

The thing is, there are significant differences between doing fine art/street photography versus wedding photography:
  • a client *pays* you to photograph a wedding; no one (yet) has paid me to go out and do some street photography...though I'm certainly open to offers..:p
  • there are no "must have" shots when you're doing fine art/street photography; it's pretty casual and purely up to your artistic choices
  • fine art/street photography can be as slow-moving or fast-moving as the photographer desires; a wedding photographer--especially a photojournalistic-style wedding photographer like myself--has little control over the pace of events at a wedding
  • in street photography, "missed shots" can be a disappointment for a photographer, but there are always more shots to capture (it's all part of the fun); for a one-time (well, it's supposed to be...) dynamic event like a wedding, a missed shot is a "hole" in the wedding coverage that the paying client may be very disappointed about and can't get back
  • the higher optical quality of a prime lens actually makes a difference in fine art photography because the audience for fine art photography actually notices that sort of thing (they're usually very "into" photos and looking at them in terms of quality); better quality also can make a difference when making large prints, which would be more typical in fine art photography
Let me address one other issue that someone might bring up about using prime lenses for wedding photography: prime lenses typically come with larger maximum apertures making existing light photography more feasible in dark conditions versus zoom lenses. I often switch to using some primes during a wedding reception once it really gets dark. But this works well for me for two reasons:
  1. I still keep one zoom lens on a camera with a flash because sometimes flash is the best choice and I might as well have a zoom lens that covers a good range starting somewhere wide, like 24mm or 16mm.
  2. Even though there are "must have" shots at a reception, I usually have plenty of time to ready myself for them (the DJ or wedding planner usually lets me know they're about to happen); otherwise, shooting at receptions is quite casual and relatively easily covered by fixed/prime lenses on my second camera
I'd like to step out of the wedding versus fine art photography discussion for a moment and briefly discuss the use of a fixed/prime lens for my fine art/street photography versus using a zoom lens.

We went on a family vacation during which I decided to shoot some of my leftover film using my Canon film SLR (an Elan 7). I decided to use my Canon 24-105 f/4 L lens with it as a good general purpose zoom lens. I generally enjoyed shooting film as a change of pace from shooting my usual digital; it helped me practice "waiting on" good shots, which I think is becoming a lost art now with the prevalence of digital photography.

Anyway, I got the film processed and scanned to disk. I was pretty pleased with the results; though it was difficult to know whether the photos that didn't come out very well were more due to the camera or the out-of-date film I used!

Shortly after that vacation, I got a hold of some compact 35mm film cameras with high-quality, fixed focal length lenses (Leica Mini II, Yashica T4, Ricoh GR1s) because my Elan 7 with the 24-105 zoom lens wasn't very compact; plus I had to worry about it (due to the relatively high cost of the lens) when I set it down to swim in the pool or whatever...and my wife absolutely hates having to keep an eye on my camera equipment!

Well, I was pleasantly surprised by three things:
  1. the quality of the photos was as good if not better than the quality of the photos I got with the expensive Canon "L" lens attached to the relatively large Canon SLR!
  2. the fixed focal length lens forces me to be more strategic and move around more to get a shot....and because of this, I'm getting photos I like better!
  3. I forget this sometimes, but one of the reasons I like photography is being outdoors and running around (I like this much better than spending hours at a computer)! I really like the fresh air and exercise...and bonus: this too usually improves the quality of my photography...:-).
Essentially, I'm using Jeff Ascough's "less is more" strategy in my fine art/street photography with some real success. I will have more on my experiences with the compact (point & shoot) film cameras in future blog posts.
So, what about the question in my blog post title: Do Zoom Lenses Make You Lazy? Here's my current answer: zoom lenses are a "crutch".
  • They help you make fewer decisions of a strategic nature when you are photographing; they cover more so you're giving up less when using them
  • They smooth over time/place "crunches" caused by dynamic events with simultaneous photo opportunities
  • They compensate for either the inability or unwillingness to move around more physically
I think the unfortunate thing that can happen is that you use zoom lenses even when you really don't need them. This *can* lead to a certain amount of photographic laziness that really can start to erode the quality of your photography.

If you feel like your photography is getting stale and you're relying a lot on zoom lenses, try changing things up by using some fixed focal length lenses and forcing yourself to see the world in an interesting way through that one focal length. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find...:-).

Note: If you're interested in purchasing one of these high-quality lens, point-and-shoot film cameras I refer to, take a look in B&H's Used Store; there's nothing like them that you can buy new anymore...:-(.

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: