Tristan Parker Photography


One Camera and lens for 2014: My thoughts


The other day I posted on  Facebook that I was thinking of going to one camera and one lens for 2014. It was interesting as I got a few replies from people saying that they were thinking of doing the same thing, or had done in the past. I knew it was a popular learning tool, but it was just intriguing for me that as we come to the close of a year, people are having similar thoughts to me for a photo related new years resolution. I thought this would be a good time to post something outlining my thoughts on what it is that I am hoping to get from this, and maybe some assumptions about what I think may drive others to pursue such a project. I dont know if project is the right term for this decision for me. I dont think that my decision to use only one camera and lens for 12 months has anything to do with the subject matter of the images that I will be making, but this may be a statement that I come to be totally off base with this time next year.

What will I be using. I will be using a Leica M6, so will obviously be shooting nothing but film for the year. And I will be using a Zeiss 35mm Biogon f2. I was considering limiting myself to a single type of film for the year as well, but I didnt want to get too restrictive with this and end up breaking the rules soon after starting. As always though, you will see mostly black and white I do think. I shoot very little colour film at the moment. In part due to the expense of buying the film and paying for processing, but also due to the fact that I cant process it myself at home. I would like to think that a part of the learning process for this will also be an improvement in darkroom printing and film developing technique.

It is kind of funny, I have had the M6 now for about 3 months and I dont think that during that time I have used another camera anyway, so I have sort of already started I guess. I have only just replaced the lens with the Zeiss though, so the lens combo is pretty new for me. Right now when I look at some of the work that I have been producing of late I dont think that this is going to be a hard project to stick to, but I do think that I will learn a lot about photography through this process.

Before I talk about what I hope to get out of this process, I think that I will just take a second to outline some of the limitations of the camera. And when I re-read that statement I am going to make a corrective comment. When I say limitations, I think that I am referring to the manual nature of the camera that I will be using for the year. I want to be clear, that this is not actually a limitation as such, and its also a massive part of why I both bought the camera to start with, as well as why I am choosing this camera for this task.

The M6 is a great tool, but it doesnt have any of the bells and whistles of  modern film cameras like my Nikon F100, and especially doent have the myriad of settings that modern digital cameras like my Olympus OMD have. The camera has a simple light meter, is fully manual controlled for all of the changes in settings like aperture and shutter speed, and is also fully manual to focus. These are all things that force someone to slow down just that little bit as they are working for an image. Especially as one learns the ropes with a new camera.

What do I hope to learn through this?

  1. Faster and intuitive selection of settings on the camera
  2. Faster ability to focus using the rangefinder
  3. Better judgement of distance to subject to pre focus before shooting
  4. Improved ability to judge shutter speed and aperture settings without needing to meter with the camera
  5. Better understanding of the nuances of film and tolerances for mistakes
  6. Better composition skills, especially with the 35mm focal length
  7. Ability to be able to 'see' in the 35mm field of view
  8. Ability to visualise shots before lifting the camera to the eye
  9. Increased confidence in shooting in the street as I wont need to worry about my camera settings, just get in there and get the job done
  10. Development of a style as the year progresses

I am sure that there are a host of other things that I cant think of right now, but if I have missed something then feel free to comment below. And I will make sure that as I progress with this task, I will post updates to how I am tracking, and any other lessons that I have come across.

I have made comment on previous posts about the speed of the world, and how fast people need to have things at the moment. There are a number of different methods that a person would be able to use to combat this, and I feel for me that this is a good one. Its about simplifying the process that I use on a daily basis. Taking it back to basics. Some will argue that its simpler with all of the auto settings of a modern camera, but my statement to that is as follows. I am not talking about making what I do easy. I am not talking about making the action of taking an image less mentally challenging. I am talking about taking the process of taking an image and taking it back a few steps in its development. Taking it back to a place where I feel more comfortable with the fact that I will be able to appreciate what I am doing and learn something about both myself, as well as about photography. Cutting out all the computerised decisions in this work flow just allows for me to only have one thing to blame if something goes wrong. Me! If I dont get a shot its going to be because I did something wrong. I set the wrong setting. I didnt nail the focus. I didnt adjust the exposure for the back lighting. It takes all of the other denominators out of the equation and allows me to fully assess my own process for making an image, and fix the thing that I am going to get the most benefit out of fixing. Myself.

I just want to point out here as well, if someone was going to complete this project, there is no reason that it has to be done on film. You will still get a lot out of using the one camera and lens with a digital set up as well. I will say that there is one part of the process that you may find doesnt work quite so well with a digital decision, and thats the ability to learn to use the camera that you will likely use for a long long time. I am confident that my M6 will be with me for a very long time. I am confident that film will be around and available for longer than we think with its recent resurgence. I am also pretty confident that if you chose to undertake this project with a digital camera, that said camera is not going to last you a very long time. I think the shelf life of a digital camera is probably in the field of 2-3 years, even if you dont have a bad case of buying stuff cause its better than the one you have at the moment. But, the way things are made these days, it will need to be replaced. You might be able to replace it with something that is so similar, that it still feels homely and familiar, but it will need to be replaced.

I also hope that this process puts a stop to my love of buying things that I think will make me a better photographer. We all do it. What I will say is this though, I know for sure that I will have an obsession with buying something, I always do, and its something that I am coming to accept. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will be spending a bit of money during the year on photo books. Its amazing how much joy you get from looking at printed images on paper rather than on back-lit screens. I am confident that they will also last me longer than any camera purchase, and will also give me more joy. But, this is a topic for another post I think.

I may even start to do a few book reviews and post up some of the favourites here during the year. I dont know if this is the right platform for that, or if Tumblr will serve the purpose better. I still struggle with the number of platforms that are available out there, and which is best for what.

So one camera, one lens, 2014... I am trying to consider if there is anything digital that I need to get out of the system before next week, but I think that I al already well on the way to doing that as is...