Yesterday I went to see Nakashima Hiroki’s photo exhibition Land of Smiles in Gallery NIW in Tokyo. I met the photographer in Dark Room Intl. in Yokohama before and had chance to see his work.
Land of Smiles is a collection of candid street portraits took in Thailand.
The portraits show natural connection between the photographer and the subject, and that, according to Nakashima is his purpose. The people looked at ease in their natural poses; the photos didn’t seem to be taken by a traveler, but someone local. Not a small achievement.
The sequencing of the photos as well as the technical quality of the photos were excellent, and show the obvious experience and skill of the photographer. I would also imagine Nakashima’s choice of the media, film instead of digital, is very conscious one.
Overall, the portraits had great variety and all of them had something special. In all of the photos the subjects seemed relaxed and at ease.
After I returned, it occurred to me that perhaps it was the last photo that gave me the final impact, the beautiful young woman dressed in white. The photo had a hint of sadness in it, what I especially liked, a photo that stood out from the others.
Without it, the smiles in the rest of photos might have lost their purpose. The sequencing is very important in any exhibition and the way how Nakashima organized his photos really made them shine, a skill what is only learned by doing.
Land of Smiles is a wonderful work of a human subject.
Visit Gallery NIW until 6/19.
Ektar 100 is a ultra-fine grain color negative film, which is designed for outdoor and studio shots. According to wikipedia it is rated as semi-professional film (although in the box it says Kodak Professional). The old Ektar was discontinued in 1994; Ektar 100 is relatively new film, based in new technology.
The results I get with Ektar 100 are amazing. There’s tons of dynamic range in the photos while the photos are rich in contrast. Colors are vivid and very natural. Even with my EOS 5D Mark II I find it difficult to achieve result that would be similarly natural or pleasing.
The film seems to respond especially well to the outdoor light and the results are immediately usable. There’s something a bit extra there what could be the magic of the film. I find that attractive and kind of “honest” to the scene I am shooting. I suppose it has something to do with white balance, digital cameras do auto white balance (if you set them to do it) while with film you kind of get what you see or whatever the film is balanced to. Ektar is really close to the dream I have always had about the perfect photo in means of the color and mood. It’s easy to fall in love with this film.
This is ISO 100 film so in rainy days it might be quite difficult to get the proper exposure unless you bring a tripod. Ektar 100 is also used for studio shooting and product shots and in Kodak’s site they actually recommend this film for those uses, likely because the photos with last some serious enlarging.
Indeed it seems that Ektar 100 shots can be enlarged very nicely, as long the scans are made properly and are a good quality. To get the scans correctly inverted requires a profile from your scanning software for this emulsion. Without the profile Ektar 100 can be tricky to scan. SilverFast Negafix plugin does feature it which is the reason why I decided to get Plustek scanner which is developed together with SilverFast (of course SilverFast comes included).
Shooting film in general is very different from shooting digital and getting to know different film stocks is necessary in order to know in advance what to get. Ektar 100 delivers for me and it is quickly becoming one of my main tools.
Yesterday, I found Miyoko Ihara’s photo book “Misao the Big Mama and Fukumaru the Cat”. The photos are unique and heartwarming; I can feel the photographer’s intention clearly; the human connection between the cat and grandma.
In her website she says:
“My grandmother and her cat are always together. This is the photobook captured the everyday life of my grandmother, Misa who bends her self to the fields work with her cat Fukumaru.”
What especially delighted me about this book is what I call a kind of artistic honesty; Ihara doesn’t try to be artistic, the photos are simple captures of real life events, but are exactly that in creative and artistic way. Ihara’s framing and selection of subject feels very profound and honest; it must be the result of her years in Nippon Photography Institute that took her to this level.
Although I understand why some of the photos might be criticized as being a kind of cute, the meaning behind the photos is clear; they are honest description of human connection. Fukumaru is very unique, odd-eyed cat and his partner and the 87 years old grandmother whose eyes show experience of life are naturally suited to each other.
The life of this couple is well captured in their green, lush environment.
It’s remarkable what the photos show if you take a moment to really look at them. Sure they are cute photos, but they are also much more. It is unclear to me at this point whether the photos were taken digitally or with film camera, but in any case, the print is excellent with very rich and saturated colors.
Especially I was moved about the second last photo, a rainbow captured in a very beautiful way.
I highly recommend this photo book to anyone interested in photography.
Find out more about the photo book in:
I have been a big fan of rangefinder cameras since my friend introduced me to his Leica M6 TTL. There is something magical about taking a photo with a rangefinder. It is very different experience. Unlike shooting with SLRs, you can view the scene during the exact moment when you take the photo; there is no mirror blocking your view.
Since I enjoyed the full manual operation of my friend’s M6, I chose the mechanical version of Bessa (the M in the name signifies the manual/mechanical version, R3A has aperture priority and is electronic in operation). You can shoot with R3M even if the batteries die. And even if the in-camera electronics would bite the dust one day, it’s still possible to keep shooting with this camera. I like that principle and I was willing to sacrifice the comfort of aperture priority mode for the sake of full mechanical operation.
Bessa is a popular camera here in Japan for film photographers. I’m not sure if it would be appropriate to call Bessa a poor man’s Leica but it is tempting to compare this camera to Leica M6 TTL since it’s similar in so many ways. I don’t have any information about exactly how popular the camera is, but at least two of my friends have it.
R3M is also a very portable and discreet camera (at least what comes to it’s size), making it a good tool for street shooting. When you hold it to your eye, people won’t get as intimidated as if you are holding a weapon-like SLR.
Today’s Voigtlander cameras are manufactured by Cosina company in Japan, and have nothing (except name) to do with Johann Christoph Voigtländer’s company. Nokton lenses are also manufactured by Cosina in Japan.
Operating Bessa R3M is comparable experience to Leica M6 TTL. It is a delight to to use and handle this camera and the Leica-like rangefinder magic is fully present. The rangefinder patch is bright even in low-light conditions and big enough for accurate focusing.
Bessa’s 1:1 viewfinder is bright and very easy to use. Since it doesn’t magnify, it allows you to shoot with both eyes open. The camera has 40/50/75/90 frame lines which must be manually set by using the switch. The camera won’t recognize the coding in Leica’s M lenses. Frame lines are parallax corrected just like in Leica and move as you focus.
40mm frame lines are kind of hard to see because they extend so far into the corners, so it might take some getting used to. There are no exact 35mm frame lines in R3M, but setting the camera to 40mm lines and anticipating the 5mm difference might not be such a big deal.
TTL center weighted metering turns on automatically when you press the shutter half way. Unlike in Leica, you don’t need to turn the camera on or off. This is likely to save some batteries. The metering has plus/minus scale of exposure in steps of 2, 1.5, 1, 0.5. It’s more informative than Leica’s simple arrows, because you get instant feedback how much you’re off from the optimal exposure. But this is a matter of taste. I can also understand why many prefer the Leica’s super-simple led arrows.
In my tests, I found the metering to be very accurate.
Bessa has maximum shutter speed of 2000 which is high enough for the most situations, although ND filter might be necessary if you want to open up the lens in bright conditions.
It is true that R3M’s shutter is kind of loud. It sounds like SLR shutter (it actually comes from Cosina’s cheap SLR line). This might become problem if you shoot in quiet places and the shutter sound might be one reason to choose Leica over Bessa, since it’s shutter is much more discreet.
This might also have something to do with the fact that Bessa R3M has dual plane shutter.
Bessa has no timer, but the shutter button accepts a standard mechanical shutter release.
Loading film is also very easy, perhaps easier that it is in Leica. With Bessa you don’t need to remove bottom plate to load film. Just move the switch on top plate back and pull up the film rewinding crank, and the back pops open. The switch on top plate should prevent accidental opening of the camera.
Winding back the film is easy. It requires pressing the film release button on the bottom of the camera and winding the film back to the cartridge with the crank. I would guess that the mechanism is more robust than M6, because the crank is not angled but straight; less mechanical parts.
I found Bessa’s build quality to be very good, if not as rock solid as Leica. The camera is mostly made of metal, except the back door. It feels comfortably solid and heavy, and it has some of that “real camera” feel. The camera feels very well balanced in my hands. It’s easy to carry this camera with one hand, so neck strap might not be necessary.
Shutter button and film forward lever are made of metal as well as film rewinding crank and shutter speed dial and they feel very robust.
The markings on the camera are painted and not engraved on metal (except shutter speed numbers). If one finds the top plate logo annoying, it might be relatively easy to remove it.
I have read some reports of small screws of the bottom plate becoming loose, so it might be good idea to check their tightness every now and then. But overall, if you want better build quality than this in a film rangefinder camera, Leica is the only option.
The strap connectors are positioned strangely a bit on the front side of the camera, so the camera doesn’t quite hug your body while you’re carrying it, but makes the camera’s lens to point to the sky in 45 degree angle. Although this camera has a double focal plane shutter to prevent damage from the sun, I would recommend caution. Strangely the weird positioning of the strap connectors seem to highlight this risk. My recommendation is to either use lens cap, or carry the camera so that lens faces your body in sunny days, like most pros do with their RF cameras.
Overall, it must be said that Bessa is a solid and very well built camera.
Bessa R3m is a reasonable cost alternative for Leica, plus it accepts all wonderful Leica’s lenses (but has no built-in 35mm frame lines). Bessa R3M with Nokton 40mm lens might be good option for those who want to try manual rangefinder photography for the first time. It’s also generally good idea to invest into M-mount lenses; should you upgrade to Leica one day, you can still use the same glass.
R3m offers full manual shooting experience. The camera is mechanical and only electronic part of the camera is the metering which can be turned off by removing the batteries.
The photos I took with 40mm 1.4 Nokton lens compare very well against the shots I took with Leica M6 TTL, they are similarly crisp and sharp, but that should be mostly if not entirely due to the lens and film.
The size of Bessa makes it also very portable. The camera is almost as small as Fujifilm X100, although almost twice as heavy. I personally like the reassuring weight of this camera, which makes it to feel like a solid tool.
I really recommend this camera for anyone who wants to get into the wonderful world of rangefinder photography, but are on a budget or hesitate to invest into Leica.
See the gallery below for my shots with Bessa R3M and Nokton 40mm 1.4 lens.
I have been ignoring this important task of any artist for far too long. I resort to Illustrator CS5, guides and Baskerville font. Rest should be easy except that..
How many times I have felt that I need my own art director..
Anyway, being a photographer without up-to-date portfolio is like being a bird with no feathers. So, break a leg, Jaakko!
I had great time shooting a documentary of Pin Pin Co yesterday. She is doing a project “More than the Face” in BankART NYK in Yokohama. I was really moved about her artistic style and execution.
My documentary will be finished in next weeks. On the mean while, you can learn more from Pin Pin Co at her website: http://pinpinco.com
Embassy of Finland in Tokyo is so cool!