Sep 21, 2010 11:09:57 AM
One Donut – Three Cameras Public Post
Jan 12, 2011 8:43:50 AM

Pot Stop: Maple Glazed Old Fashioned and black Americano at Top Pot Donuts, Bellevue WA. Canon AE-1 with 50mm 1.4 lens. Rite-Aid 400 film, shot at ISO200 Setting. Natural lighting, camera stabilized on the top of a chair.

I really enjoy the current group of 365 photo projects here on Intersect. Being a visual person, I love seeing the world through the eyes of others; it’s inspiring, and Intersect is a great place to share that vision. While I don’t always take pictures every day, by the end of 2011 I will have taken between 1000 and 2000 photos with all sorts of equipment.

And for the record, I plan to shoot film so long as I can buy it.

Despite amazing advances in digital photo technology and apps – which I fully support – I am old enough to appreciate the mechanical sound of a shutter, and to savor the mystery of “what’s on the roll” until the film is developed at the photo lab. Don’t get me wrong; I shoot a lot of photos, and a majority are digital or cameraphone. Both get the job done.

But using a film camera is like driving stick.

It’s that sometimes-mystical interaction between machine and man that keeps my SLRs loaded. Whatever settings or technique I put into the camera will be reflected in the outcome. This can be good and bad. Good, because it forces the photographer to use their brain to imagine how the shot will come out. Bad, because it’s film and the results of those settings aren’t immediately known. Occasionally the settings just don’t work and the outcome just isn’t good enough. With no “delete” button on a film camera, photographers must think harder about composing what is in front of them. And when the composition works, at least for me, there is a real sense of pride that I succeeded in capturing something cool on film – instead of memory card.

For the heck of it the other day, I shot the same subject using three different kinds of cameras. All the donut photos above were taken at Top Pot Donuts in Bellevue WA, on a rainy morning this month. Here’s a breakdown of a what was used:

The Nifty Fifty
I did the shot first with a camera/lens combination which some consider to be the purest form of equipment to support photography as art: The Canon AE-1 and 50mm 1.4 lens. A 50mm lens on an SLR camera is the closest view that a camera can use to mimic what the human eye sees. Nicknamed the “Nifty Fifty,” it is a classic lens with a huge following by photographers everywhere. The Canon AE-1 was the first microprocessor-equipped camera available to consumers; the two I have are amazing if you consider they were made in 1980 and 1981. My silver AE-1 sets the lens aperture – amount of light and how much behind the subject will be focused – to the optimal setting based on the shutter speed I’ve chosen. The black AE-1 Program (pictured here with the 50mm lens) has a fully-automatic setting that will choose both optimal shutter speed and aperture settings for me. Both cameras can be overridden to shoot fully manual if I want. The quality I like about the film-borne donut photo above is the attention a “shallow depth of field” puts on the subject, blurring out everything else. I can feel the rain outside without hating it. The shot just has a certain warmth that I love.

The second shot was taken with my workhorse camera: the Olympus Stylus 410 4-megapixel digital camera. Most of the pictures I use in blogging and on Flickr are done with this camera. I haven’t hacked it, but in 1 ½ years of use I have learned to avoid its weaknesses and bring its strong points out. I bought it on Craigslist for $35, once my older Olympus point-n-shoot gave up after taking thousands of photos; not wanting to fork out big money on an unexpected purchase we hadn’t budgeted for, I picked this up from a teacher who had traveled all over the world with the Stylus, including Asia several times and even the Andes of South America. If cameras could talk. This donut shot from the Stylus is like I’ve described before: it got the job done. There isn’t any particular character to it, rather than to document I had eaten half of the donut. It does have clarity, which I appreciate. The shot was zoomed in just a bit, maybe the equivalent to a 40mm lens. But in a donut photo contest, this one would be the shot on the ground under the display.

The Blackjack
The final shot was done with my Blackjack so I could blog about the donut and email the post. To be honest, I would rank this one #2 out of the three overall. It has more character, even it if doesn’t have the image quality, The lens on the Blackjack is wide angle, perhaps 28 to 30mm. I can get a lot in a shot with the phone; if I hold it very very still, the photographs actually come out alright. It’s just a matter of working within its weaknesses. I can’t afford an iPhone, but if I could then the Instagram app would be the first thing I downloaded.

Try this sometime, using three different kinds of cameras on the same subject; it was fun to put the pictures next to each other and how they were different. In a way it also helped me understand the strong points of each camera, while will help me know what to choose when confronted by a certain photographic need.

To answer the big question: Yes, the maple glazed old-fashioned was really good – especially with the black Americano which helped melt the glazy insulin-defying coating into a sweet trickle of sugary goodness. Is it my favorite donut ever? No, not by a longshot.

That’s a discussion for another post!

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Comments (5)

Jim Strange - about 3 years ago

Kurt- this is great. For me this is a story of intentionality. It’s a quality that is often in short supply. I used to subscribe to the idea that drawing what you see, was the most intentional way to “imprint” the memory. But, I really like your idea of using 3 cameras. Intentionally seeing a subject through different apertures. As a metaphor and as a practice, it’s very cool.

Tess Rinearson - about 3 years ago

I also use three different cameras! Although I confess that I would only use two if I didn’t have to shoot black and white film for my photography class (for that, I use a Nikon N90s). My other two are a Nikon D50 (which is a digital SLR which can swap lenses with the N90s) and my iPhone—which has somehow turned into my primary camera, maybe just because it’s ALWAYS with me.

Marianne Spellman - about 3 years ago

Love this! I use lots of different cameras, too, from an iPhone to a Canon 60D. They all have their own unique great qualities.

Beth Anderson - about 3 years ago

It’s amazing to me how much I appreciate photos shot with film now! Thanks for putting this together- it’s great :)

Kurt Clark - about 3 years ago

Thanks everyone!
@Jim – I agree with you. I would also add that photography might be considered a blend of Intent and Happy Accidents :)

@Tess – Cameraphones end up being primaries for many for the very reason you mention. I take a lot of pictures with mine, even if it doesn’t have the quality of my other cameras. But sometimes it surprises me :)

@Marianne – You’ve noticed the same thing I have, that each camera can bring something to the table; it’s just a matter of using the individual strengths to your benefit :)

Thank you @Beth :) Read something last year from Kodak, who said there has been an uptick in sales of certain films. The consumer market – save disposable cameras – is pretty much under the grip of digital. But professional grade film apparently still sells strong. Glad that is the case for now!