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Saturday, 14 May 2011


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I went to Iceland last summer and brought my Alpa Max + P45, my D700 + 2 lenses, and my trusty Canon G9. Guess which camera recorded my favorite pic from the trip ...

Sorry to hear about your scanner karma. I have been using the same two scanners (Microtek 120tf & 1800f) for 5+ years with no mechanical problems to date (knock wood). I have had a few frustrating issues with software though. I use Silverfast and as long as I keep it updated with my OS, it seems to work.

But Mike, you are an excellent Dog Nurse and this by far out-weighs being good with a scanner IMO. One more thing, you are also an *excellent neighbor* in my book. That car gunning at 1am would have motivated me to call the cops anonymously.

Love to Lulu and hoping for quiet time and sleep for you.

A perennial favourite question of course. I was just about to respond to the question in the title of the post, when I spotted your other question, re-phrased as a statement - "Good equipment doesn't guarantee good results."

The answer to "Does good equipment guarantee good results?" seems pretty straightforward to most people - I'd be surprised if anyone answered "yes". However the point of your example was to show how people misread the statement.

You rightly go on to say that equipment does matter, thereby answering the question posted in the title. And of course I agree, as will almost everyone else. And not just in photography. And not just from a quality point of view. Gear is personal - whether you are rock climbing or taking photographs - and you will do better with equipment you feel comfortable with, that you maybe feel an irrational love for, than top-of-the range stuff that feels awkward.

Some people will argue that carabiners that fail, no matter how much you love them, are not a good choice. Cameras and lenses that have less than perfect credentials do not present such a threat to life and limb. But I guess you know what I mean.

Having said all this, and harking back to your Leica example, I think the photos I take with an old Leica M3 and Tri-X are among my favourites. Is this because the combination produces intrinsically better images? No it's probably because I imagine that it does. My feelings, my reltaionship with a particular piece of equipment lead me to produce better photos. In addition, I am much more likely to be carrying such a piece of equipment

A lot of people, perhaps including me sometimes, are heavily enough involved in on-going discussions (in the world at large) that it's sometimes hard to notice when somebody says something that sounds like it's part of that discussion that, really, they should be listened to as an individual, rather than in the context of all the stupid things other people are saying.

It's absolutely true that good equipment does not guarantee good results; I've got thousands of image files on my computer here to prove it, if anybody needs convincing. (I've also got some I think are pretty good; and a lot of the not-that-good ones are of personal interest, snapshots; not looking for sympathy here!)

Equipment matters -- a lot!
All my life I've made the sacrifices required to have the "best" equipment. Leica, Rolleiflex, Graphic View II, etc.
It wasn't until I got my first SLR (Olympus Pen F) that I actually began to make good pictures. After 60+ years of shooting it is still true.
Over the years I have accumulated for use, (not collected) a wonderful menagerie of great equipment (which would probably make most real collectors turn purple with jealously). I still love to occasionally use (but mostly play with) all those Leicas, Linhofs, innumerable Zeiss models and sizes, Canons, Pentaxes (from 110 to 120), and boxes of lenses and ingenous accessories, which I bought hoping to improve my work.
But the plain fact is that I only make satisfactory images with SLRs.
After 8 years of digital I'm still working on it, but when I go to that Great Darkroom in the Sky I hope it will be with a brace of Pentax LXs, and a case of Tri-X (or even better, Kodachrome II).
If they have scanners "up there" I'll email you some samples.
PS, or more likely from "down there."

To bring your statement to the logical conclusion, equipment ultimately doesn't matter. :)

Seriously, let's put it this way: give a good photographer equipment that satisfies minimal technical requirements for a job. Give a bad photographer equipment with all the technical bells and whistles. The good photographer will get better photos than the bad one.

Satisfying the minimum of technical requirements, that's the thing.

Have you tried Lightroom presets that are supposed to make photos look like they were taken on various films? X-Equals has a bunch of them at the website. I don't know how authentic it is, but I like the look of their Tri-X preset.

It lasted all of four months before it stopped working.

Four months was been well within the warranty period...

I'm blessed in that I can appreciate most kinds of straight photography- despite format, film or capture used. I'm "cursed" in that my own shooting style is much more narrowly defined and restricted. What I want from equipment is consistency, so that if something goes wrong in the picture, I know exactly who to blame. That said, I think that pictures taken with unpredictable Holgas are some of the most beautiful, emotional and visually striking in all photography.

PS- If you have a considerable amount of 35mm negs to scan, you may want to invest in a Plustek dedicated film scanner. They're relatively cheap and I've had no problems with mine for the past six years. And good luck with Lulu...


Do you want to scan prints or negs?

Do you see any difference among the several Tri-X 400 formulations through the decades? Is that an evil question?

Late spring around here means a din of bird calls at morning twilight. I wonder if natural noise like that can be called "pollution" too.

Good luck with Lulu's recovery.

Mike. Can you just borrow a Sony a850 and a zeiss sony 85mm f 1.4 lens and shoot on a copy stand?


First and foremost, best regards to you, Zander and LuLu. Time heals my friend.

Second, apropos of the above, I want to do some coin photography and am looking at an Olympus XZ-1. So, do I choose the D700 or the XZ-1. Talk about Mutt and Jeff.



I just had my new v700 delivered last night. I've been super impressed with the scanning results. Way faster and astronomically better than the HP scanner I was doing negs on before. (If mine craps out in four months, it's going back on warranty).

Equipment doesn't matter as much as some people claim. But it does matter to a certain extent. The problem is a lot of people think that equipment will make/break them as a photographer. Not the case. Equipment does not an artist make.

"Late spring around here means a din of bird calls at morning twilight."

There was a lovely story--I forget from where--Yosemite?--about a Japanese tour group newly arrived for a vacation stay. Very early the next morning hotel management got a number of calls from the tourists, all extremely polite, saying that the birdsong was very nice and much appreciated, but could the volume please be turned down?


400TX changed a few years back, and for the better I think. It's finer grained. Mike, have you shot any of this latest version? Still has the same tonality, which also makes it one of my favourites.

More recently, 400TMY was changed. It is now exceptionally sharp, and I mean jaw-droppingly sharp. There's this strange paradox that as film photography fades into the sunset, we are getting some of the best films ever.

"Four months was been well within the warranty period..."

Yes, that's definitely one of things it's mocking me about.


Hang in there, Mike. Soon this recovery period will be a thing of the past for both you and Lulu, but the bonds that formed--even tighter than before she was so dependent on you--will last.

I, too, love Tri-X, and will never give up film as long as it's available.

As for noise pollution, there will probably come a day when you need hearing aids, and you can simply leave them on your dresser when you go to bed. :<)

Well: I will go a little further. Nothing _guarantees_ good results. Nothing. If there were such magical pixie dust, excellent photographs would be universal, which they manifestly are not.

Ben Marks

I really appreciate your blog, as both a photographer (on good days) and as someone who works selling gear. I tell people every day that "people take good pictures". Gear can sometimes limit what kind of shots they can get, all other things being equal, in certain situations.

Talent never comes in the box, of course.

Good luck with your dog; that subject is one dear to my heart, too.

I am a Leica guy. I don't think that a Leica is necessary to take the photos I take. I actually think you have to be really used to shooting with a Leica and be quick with it otherwise you would be better off taking pictures with another camera. I will say this however: people comment on the vibrant color in my photographs and they comment on the sharpness. I think this has as much to do with the CCD sensor that Leica uses for their digital cameras as with the lenses, but people do comment.

Also, I use Leicas because I love them. For me, there is no camera that is so beautiful and functional as an M camera. I enjoy holding it in my hands, focusing it, setting the aperture (on the lens, not with a toggle wheel!), and I just think it is a piece of art. Now I would not recommend a Leica to everyone, but if like shooting with manual controls and don't mind putting the time into it, and most importantly if you can afford it, a Leica may just give you more joy than any other camera you have ever used or will ever use. Try it. If it isn't for you, sell it again. They have actually held their value really well.

Last summer we had cars roaring (with attendant horn honk) up our street at around 1-2 in the morning; generally on nights when all our windows were open. Found out that the cause was a young lady in heat down the street. Apparently the noisy exit is part of the mating ritual.

Automatic weapons for the noisy neighbors may be a bit extreme (and illegal). I'd opt for semi-automatic. After the neighbors quiet down upon realizing there's a lunatic on the front porch down the street with a semi-automatic in his lap, the weapon can pull double duty for those pesky groundhogs in the garden.



rather than risk 5,000 years in jail in response to the speeding car (I am always amazed by the American legal system and its ability to impose sentences that need calculators to work out), have you thought about some some neighbourly cooperation? Parking on alternate sides of the road will slow down cars, or petition the town hall for speed bumps. Or organise a local roster of hour long shifts so that someone among your neighbours can take a photograph of the vehicle and send it to the Waukesha PD? I suspect there's someone on your road who knows a bit about photography, to advise on best camera, ISO at night, etc...

It may be somewhat morbid, but I can tell you from experience that unless you are a trained sniper, stopping a speeding car normally takes a squad of 8 men, firing a total of something like 100 rounds, and as the target is moving, the downrange cone of danger normally ends up as a circle of 600 metres radius (for 5.56mm ammunition, or .223 in US speak). Probably not popular with the neighbours, or the judge.

Oh yeah, you're describing me. I've got 5 Pentax film bodies now, which are my day to day shooters just because I love their lenses, one being particularly a "beater" (something that's just going to get used until it dies). I've got a Leica and a set of 'crons (which I really love), a GF1, and a GR Digital, but they mostly stay at home.

But I really crave a D700. Or an A900. Oh, and an M9 (why not?). Lately, I'm craving even just a K-5 (which is actually affordable -- in fact I've been saving enough money in the bank to probably buy any the above). Something digital and really really damned unexcusably GOOD.

But, I just can't justify it... when 98% of my shots are on 400TX (and scanned in via a V700... touch wood!). One friend commented on facebook to me that everything, EVERYTHING I take is in black and white, why no colour? I guess I just like it like that.


p.s. I think you had some bad luck with that v700 -- mine's been borrowed, shipped worldwide, bounced around in container ships and public transport... but still works a couple of years later. And I love it!

Equipment doesn't matter as long as it meets your technical criteria. After that point, vision and technique overtake equipment.

That's what I think, and I'm sticking to it! lol

Best of luck to you and Lulu. I own 4 little ankle biters and they are family.

Two suggestions. The plustek 7600 does a very decent job at a bargain price. Also DXO's film pack software duplicates the look of many popular and once popular films. I compared the grain of scanned Tri-x compared to the DXO version @100% and it was close. Very close.

$100 lightly used Epson 4870 on ebay still going strong* a year later.

*Meaning it still puts out passably adequate scans.

What usually happens to me: people look at your shots. They like it, envy you and want such a shot desperately. Finally they will ask you what equipment you have or they should buy.

Then with a good thing in mind and expensive equipments in your hand you will start with the classic opening speech: Good equipment doesn't guarantee good results ...

The problem is usually they will get angry thinking why you are hindering people to make good photographs by telling them not to buy things we owned.

In rage they will copy our equipment, spend couple thousand of dollars and wondering at the end why the result is different.

Get your Tri-x scanned at ScanCafe.com

Speaking of equipment mattering:

Knowing the audio rig you've got hooked up to your iMac, I don't think the laptop in the kitchen scenario is gonna do it for you! Laptops have pretty tinny little speakers that just don't put the be in the bop the way you like it.

Sending healing thoughts to you and Lulu. You are lucky to have each other.

Of course equipment matters - as an amateur the fun of taking pictures is part of the process. I like using some of my stuff, and if the pictures are bad - well - I suck it up and try to learn something.

My scanners never break, so I am stuck with old stuff that I can't bring myself to junk. I had to give away a perfectly good IBM branded flatbed scanner a few years ago when I switched to a Mac. I was afraid to check if Vuescan supported it :-) My flatbed is currently an Epson 2400 Photo. I have a perfectly good Minolta film scanner that I stopped using because it captured so much dust. The Nikon Coolscan is great with Digital ICE to get rid of dust.

" the birdsong was very nice and much appreciated, but could the volume please be turned down"

I'd say that story was more likely in Victoria Australia, where it's known as the dawn chorus, starts at first light (early!), and is followed shortly thereafter by the morning brackets of the kangaroo boxing matches. American bluejays cannot compete with Oz magpies and kookaburras.

I've slept late in Yosemite many times, but never managed to camping in Australia.

Of course equipment matters, just try taking a photo without a camera. But our relationship with the equipment that is quite another thing...

When I listen to some rich amateurs I meet at events and clubs, I can't help a wry smile when I hear them go on about certain equipment and lenses, or scoff at entry level SLRs and "non prestige" brands.

Sadly, they even use this criteria to judge people's photographs, which is why I never bother entering competitions. In a blind test, I doubt most could distinguish an M9 shot from a Rebel with a decent prime.

Fact is, most entry level SLRs and most micro cameras offer sensors which are far more capable than colour 35mm film or any professional DSLR from ten years ago. Equipment that many photographers won awards with.

In 2011, resolution, noise performance and dynamic range on a Nikon D5100 (16MP, 4FPS) is amazing compared to a Nikon D1x (6MP, 3FPS) that was state of the art in 2001 and reckoned by most to be "better than 35mm colour film". And you get 1080p video to boot.

Stick a cheap DX 35mm lens on a D5100 and you have a serious tool which can make stunning large prints. You can win a competition with this gear (as long as noone knows what you used).

Don't get me wrong, there are many sound reasons to invest in more exotic gear in more demanding situations. I would not want to be a modern day professional sports photographer without a D3s or 1D4 because I would not be able to compete. If I did professional advertising work, I would want an MF back for the same reason.

But in less demanding situations the extra weight and conspicuousness is a massive liability. On a work day when I see something amazing unfold on the street I would kill just to have an Oly XZ-1 in my pocket. The lens and sensor quality is easily as good as that D1x I mentioned.

'I sometimes wonder how many people have a favorite kind of equipment or a favorite material not in terms of what they like to use, but in terms of what they like to look at. Does that describe you?'

Ouch, yes. Try as I might to be rational, I can't help but feel I'm a better human being with a handsome metal bodied camera in my hand than when holding a plastic fantastic piece of sculpted obsolescence. So, I parted with a (now much missed) Sony R1 (responsible for the best digital images I've produced to this day, but it creaked slightly when squeezed), yet have never considered ditching my Pentax MX or Rolleiflex T, even though they each get used about once every five years. And I'm still iffy about my Rollei 6002 and 6003, which have metal bits but plastic too, and don't look nearly as classy as their older brother ...

Perhaps you could consider inaugurating the TOP Sad Awards, Mike, and shoe me into the short-list.

Gear matters none, knowing your gear matters big time. Someone who knows the limitations of his or her gear, can make a great shot within those exact limitation. Step (only a fraction) out of these limitations and you are three strikes out. For instance a D3X is a nice tool (very nice even) if your goal is to shoot for magazines etc. If your goal is large format art prints, then adios D3X and welcome, medium format analog (and a decent scanner for advise ask Ctein Mike he definitly knows a little bit about scanning :-)) or a large format camera and a drum scanner, for street nothing beats a Leica rangefinder (unless maybe a micro4/3 like the Oly of the GF1, since if things get really rough I wouldn't like to sport a 7000 dollar tool).

So in IMHO equipment doesn't matter as long as you don't try to photographicly drive a nail in the wall with a spanner. That usually does not work that well.


Ed Kuipers

P.S. personal choices do matter as well, therefore I'm thinking about selling my digital equipment in favour of a 4 x 5......lets see, lets see.


Beginners should be banned from using zoom lenses for at least the first year...

I think the answer is either yes or no but on all counts (related to the "equipment matters" part). I think further it largely depends on the specific person. Some people can drive an old VW Beetle and feel like they're driving a Ferrari (road behavior notwithstanding). Some would drive brand new Jaguar and be already dissatisfied with it, because they heard a rumor of the model following this one. They may drive rather badly, nonetheless.

It is the combination of the man and their gear that matters the most, I think. I still remember a lady with whom I had honor of working for few years more than a decade ago. It was back in the analog days. She had a regular point and shoot camera of the time, but boy, her pictures were brilliant. Her motto was - it is small and cheap, thus I can take it with me everywhere. Another example would be my daughter, who is 9 years old and who's been shooting with my Pentax DSLRs and lenses (currently K-7 and DFA 50/2.8 macro). She likes shooting and takes wonderful pictures. We made her a JAlbum book recently. It is a joy to hold and look at.

Now, if one thinks that brand new honking 600/4 lens will make one better birder, it may be a mistake. And yet may be not. As long as one knows what they are doing, they are likely to be fine. To that end, an integral part of knowing what one is doing is to know where the limit is. Give me an M9 with 'Crons - I am extremely unlikely to produce anything better than what I've been shooting with my Pentax gear. Not because Pentax is good, but rather because I know that I am not going to be any better with Leica.

Ultimately, gear is just gear. And friends, such as your dog are far more important. Get well soon, both of you!

Your neighbor with the chainsaw sounds (!) a little like mine. His favorite piece of equipment is anything with an internal combustion engine. And, like many landscape photographers, he likes to fire it up just before daybreak. I am not sure if he believes that a good silence can only be shattered with good equipment.

I get up early, so the racket intrudes on my TOP concentration, not my sleep. But it irritates my wife to no end, who thinks that it's impolite even to awaken -- much less to crank up the motorbike, chainsaw, lawnmower and leaf blower -- before the sun is above pines.

...all I have to say is ditto for Tri-X 400 vs. 320, 400 being perfect and 320 being whatever it was, but not perfect...always wished they made a Tri-X 400 sheet film instead of the marginal 320 stuff, I always had to hunt around or order just to get the 120 Tri-X 400 vs. the 120 Tri-X "Pro" 320 the store used to keep around....eeech....

They killed so many of my favorite 120 medium speed films (Verichrome Pan, Original FP-4, Agfa 100), that now I'm just down to shooting Tri-X 400 with a 2 stop filter...FP-4 "PLUS" actually looks like the flat crap of Tri-X 320...

T-Max? Forget about it. Never, ever reproduced the tones the same way as non-tabular grain films. Looks 'hinkey' and always has...I never knew anyone who shot Tri-X 400 and Verichrome Pan for any length of time that bought into ANY of the tabular grain stuff; as far as I can tell, the only people I know that use it are the people who were impressionable 'kids' when it was first marketed and bought into the Kodak hype about it...when I heard that they altered the tone of printing papers to make the stuff look 'more normal', then the question was 'why'? And then Kodak had to produce 'Polymax' to be used with the old formula films...sheesh, whata mess...

The equipment you own certainly matters (not necessarily the equipment that you actually use). About a year back I won a competition (in reality my name was drawn from a hat - probably a computer generated hat) with the first prize being a Sony DSC-W320. This camera has a number of features which not even my K20D has such as face detection, smile detection, waterside scene with rich blue color and pet mode. It baffles me how I am able to get a decent image out of my MX.

Anyway, this technological masterpiece now lives in the cubby hole of my Land Rover and is often the best camera, being the one you have with you. What surprises me is the number of times people look at photographs I've produced and, knowing what I shoot with, compliment me and add something like "of course you have a really good camera and lenses".

In the end it comes down to a basic understanding of exposure (which the Sony seems to get right almost all the time), composition, focus (which the camera also seems good at as long as you are actually looking at what its focusing on) and holding the damn thing still.

"Never let your equipment be your handicap." - Author unknown

Mike, you know the tired old joke about the mathematician, the physicist and the atronomer, who were riding on train in Scotland. The astronomer sees a black sheep in a field, and remarks, "How odd. Scottish sheep are black." "No," says the physicist. "Only some Scottish sheep are black." The mathematician disagrees sharply: "In Scotland, there is at least one field, containing at least one sheep, at least one side of which appears to be black from here."

By the same logical token, one might say there is at least one piece of equipment, namely one exemplar of the Epson V700 scanner model, which does demonstrably matter. Demonstrably, by failing to function. Failure to function being by definition the antinomy of good equipment. QED.

As for the Leica angle: for years, when the going got rough, I took a Leica M4 to fieldwork. It never let me down, in rain, snow or mud. On the other hand, I worked for several years in a lab. Very sheltered, very clean. The official camera for macro work was a Leicaflex SL2. I've never known any other camera, before or since, that was so continually broken. A total dud. I replaced it with my own private Olympus OM-1, at first only with the standard Zuiko 1.8/50mm and a cheap Hoya close-up lens. Whenever I produced a batch of slides, my boss went "Ah, the Leica touch. The sharpness. The contrast. Recognise it instantly. Nothing else can match it. Worth every penny."

Here's my take on when to pull out the checkbook.
If your are regularly at the edge of what your current kit can do and need, not want but need, more performance and it can be gained in a way that makes economic sense then your choice is clear.
Here's an example. Last year the TV station I work for retired all of our aging DVCPRO cameras. They had been in service for 12 years and of the 17 cameras we started with we were down to 6 working boxes. The support equipment was about as worn out.
We replaced them with a mix of Sony EX1R and EX3 cameras.
What we got was a jump in resolution from DV25 to 1080i, half the weight, color viewfinders with live histograms and two full stops better low light performance.
The cameras cost half of what we used to pay for a lens.
The change also has us editing on laptops in coffee shops and doing live hits in HD via wireless modems.
These are all factors that directly impact our competitive position in this market.
In 37 years in this business I have only seen this kind of transformation due to an equipment change once before and that was when we left 16mm film for video tape.
That's why you buy new gear, not to go from twelve to sixteen megapixels.
That said I also have to admit that my all time favorite camera and the one I will never give up is an ancient Rollei 2.8f.
I don't think I have to explain to TOP readers why I feel that way.

Re: Steven Duffey's comment.

Nonsense! I use 'air camera' all the time. In fact, my very best work is with 'air camera'. I'd show you some of it but if you think scanning prints is hard, well.....

Again getting to this late but have two pence to toss into the fountain.

I think John H. Maw captured my feelings in his featured comment. I have a tremendous amount of photo equipment, far more than is reasonable. I am not a collector, per se, but I really enjoy using a wide variety of cameras, from small film cameras to a P65+ digital back. (Lately I've been experimenting with a Sony Nex 5 and a variety of lenses...with startling results! But that's perhaps a story for another time.)

But when a particular job's gotta get done I grab for the gear that I know and trust. Or, as John so nicely stated, the cameras that have become "transparent to the process", that are prosthetic extensions to my eye. It's not necessarily the most expensive of my equipment, nor the newest. But it's the stuff I consider essential to my photography.

So, yes, equipment matters. But not at all in the terms that the provocative title might suggest.

"birdsong was very nice and much appreciated, but could the volume please be turned down?"

Funny story. Unfortunately, I don't have a concierge, so I have to find the volume knob myself. Still looking. And did I mention the woodpeckers?

My 5-yr-old Canon flatbed is still chugging along (slowly!), though the glass is now hazy and the plastic clip on the "platen" is broken. I covet the V700, but I hear that simply owning one won't guarantee good results, or in some cases any results at all.

Agreed, equipment does not insure quality results. When equipment is discussed, however, a significant element is too-often omitted: psychology. Generally, there is a significant difference between the consideration of equipment by pros and amateurs. The former select the approprate equipment for the job at hand, and complete the job for otherwise no groceries. For amateurs, photography is a creative endavour amongst other activites. It is a question of commitment to a completely gratuitous mode of expression. Then, equipment may just be reiteration of the pursuit in personal financial terms. If I put this much money to get the best of ..., I'd better do the very best I can to DO the best. Only once there can I get myself a Holga, for otherwise the Holga will be blamed.

Sometimes equipment can guarantee BAD results. My particular pet peeve in this area is on-camera flash, which seems to me like a conspiracy by camera manufacturers to keep people taking crappy pictures so they'll trade up. But it's not impossible to use on-camera flash well, so here's a better example.

A local artist asked me to photograph his work a while back so that he could have photos to submit to juried shows. He does (among other things) beadwork. He's had lots of photographers shoot his work, and all the pictures look like crap. He did not have high expectations for the results I'd be able to achieve. But I knew I'd be able to do better, because I knew all his other photographers had been using digital cameras, and his work can't be shot well with a digital camera. The reason is this: he uses 1 millimeter beads, and a lot of his work is big. I photographed one work that's 6 feet tall. That means it's about 1600 beads in the long dimension.

Resolving a bead should take at least 5 pixels in each dimension - 2 pixels for each edge, with one left for the center. In other words, to resolve each bead in a photo of this piece of artwork, you'd need 64 megapixels on your sensor

(22mm/in x 72 in x 5 pixels) squared = 62,726,400

But that's not even the extent of the bad news; 64 megapixels gets you a shot in which the subject completely fills the frame - and if you're shooting color, the colors won't be right, because the Bayer sensor only has somewhere between 1 and 9 pixels of color information about each bead.

And, of course, because the beads are tied in a very precise square grid, you're going to get moire like nobody's business.

Various photographers told me after the fact that "you could have shot it on a DSLR with a macro lens and stitched the frames together" and other similarly dumb stuff. Right. You do it.

I shot it on 4x5 film (Portra), and then had it scanned on an Imacon. It looked great, and the artist was very happy.

My point here is that a Bayer sensor is just the WRONG tool for shooting anything which is very finely detailed and on a square grid. This is not a situation which arises frequently (unless you photograph window screens for a living), but when it does arise, you need to know that the wrong equipment will guarantee failure.

One more word for the "equipment doesn't matter" crowd: Nikonos.

...of course, the whole equipment question is really the difference between 'pro' and 'amateur'. Showing up on assignment 'cold', or having the art director change the specs 'on-the-fly', means you have to either own it all, or rent it all, but you certainly have to bring it all.

That said, if I was just doing the things I wanted to do for 'art', I could get by with just the things I would normally use; at minimum an RB67 (or any 120 or larger camera) with a few lenses and backs, and a few strobe heads. But then, I'm just pleasing myself there. I'd love to be in that position. Before the digital divide, and the constant advancement of the imaging chips and software that turns the camera you own into a boat anchor, I actually knew pros that hadn't bought a new piece of equipment in 20 years!

There are also 'art' photographers I know that have worked for years with just a Rollei 120 twin lens, and the lens on it, and that's it, they make it work for whatever they're doing..I love that concept...

Dear Mike,

Our border collie is 2 months in to the 3 months post ACL-op confinement rehab journey. At last we can see serious improvement....hang in there its quite the ordeal. Not much relation to equipment except that the vet operation cost even more more than the Zeiss -ZF 35mm Distagon 1.4 I just bought (that's my justification for the lens and I'm sticking to it :)

good luck!


Last summer, a group of buzzeyed Twenty- somethings, 2 girls and 1 guy, decided, on their way home from the bars, to wake everyone up at 3:30 in the morning with some very loud fireworks. Not pretty stuff..bombs.

I woke up (cause it was loud), ran to my window-third floor. Saw them halfway down the block walking on the sidewalk towards me..I ran and filled a bucket of water in the kitchen sink..ran back to the window just in time..my windows are directly over the sidewalk.

They were almost in my vertical line of fire when the guy said to the girls.."gooood mooorning everyboody" in a sort of sing-song way..

As they started to laugh, I dumped my bucket of water straight down on them and nailed all three of them...WOW, I can't tell you how awesome that was..they reacted..freaked, cussed..and I said to them.."good morning everybody"..same sing song way..

Then I heard someone clapping and I looked across the street..there were two people looking out of the window across from me clapping their hands and saying "Yeees!! That was Awesome!!"

It WAS awesome, I was awesome

: )

Without a doubt, the most perfect series of moments in my life...nobody got hurt, everyone recovered nicely via evaporation..i recovered via laughter and i still think about it and laugh out loud alone.

We have a major noise problem because our neighborhood got "hot" and bars started opening up..it was much quieter around here when it was a slum..

While I tend to move away from folks shooting very expensive camera gear for the only reason being their wanting the very best for their snapshots I'm also dismayed by folks in my photo club who insist that gear never be discussed. Some of these folks buy nice medium range DSLR's only to stick $100 kit zooms on them and then discount any comments about image quality because "it can be fixed in PS" or something like that. We live in a time when expensive cameras are expected while expensive lenses are deemed as unnecessary.

Camera gear has, of course, evolved from the era of better gear taking better photographs due to the quality of lenses to a modern era of just about any digital camera being capable of recording a nicely represented image. Still, you won't take a sports page shot of the derby using a G9 nor should you shoot weddings with one. The fact that this is lost on folks is simply amazing and I've had several discussions over the years with folks complaining about the poor quality of their point-and-shooter photos of their kids' basketball games and the fact the teenager at Better Buy sold their chosen point-and-shooter as the perfect camera.

The usual take on camera gear is a camera is just a tool. Well, I've never heard of automotive mechanics buying their hand tools at Big Lots. The power tools used on the PBS woodworking show with the New Yankee for the host never have Black & Decker printed on them. Gear matters - it always has and it always will. The AP will never hire photogs who shoot 100% camera phones. The right gear for the job will always be so even as gear evolves over time.

Mike, good luck with the moderate perspective on camera gear, that of high-end gear can aid in the creation of good photographs but is not always required nor does it guarantee success. It's not that many folks fail to understand but rather that the debate is often used as an excuse for other issues. And the issue at the top of the list, in my opinion, is a lack of research in educating oneself on camera gear. Holga photography is a wonderfully creative pursuit of a unique style of photography in general, and the gear used is perfectly appropriate which is all cool, but those photographs taken by photographers shooting with Holga cameras will never be anything other than shots from Holga cameras.

"T-Max? Forget about it. Never, ever reproduced the tones the same way as non-tabular grain films. Looks 'hinkey' and always has...I never knew anyone who shot Tri-X 400 and Verichrome Pan for any length of time that bought into ANY of the tabular grain stuff; as far as I can tell, the only people I know that use it are the people who were impressionable 'kids' when it was first marketed and bought into the Kodak hype about it..."

I was one of the earliest beta-testers for T-Max 100 and 400 but I was never able to tame either one to my complete liking. Part of that was my complete, total satisfaction with the Verichrome Pan look. Never liked T-Max 100's lack of edge effects, another residue of my satisfaction with VP and TX. TX 400 is in essence just the fast version of Verichrome, in my mind.


Dear Crabby and Mike,

TMAX is a really good example of different strokes, etc.

I didn't have a lot of trouble adapting to TMX or TMY and came to really like them a whole lot, pretty quickly. Buncha reasons:

-- The learning curve didn't faze me, as I was being paid to test the stuff; I put in more effort than most folks ought to learning just how those films behaved.

-- The processing sensitivity didn't bother me, as I was routinely developing color film, which was much fussier.

-- I tend to like print papers with long toes, which are a good match for TMAX's hot shoulders.

-- I thought Tri-X and VP were just fine, but I was never in love with them.

Anyway, I'd have to say my consistantly best B&W work was done with either TMY or Ilford XP1/2. Hard to think of two more different films.

Go figger. Taste in film is like taste in food. Not really subject to rationality.

pax / Ctein

"It WAS awesome, I was awesome"

Reminds me of a story my older brother tells. He and his wife lived in a third floor apartment in Chicago. Their bedroom was directly above an alley. At 5:30 one morning, a car pulled up directly below and blasted its horn. It was someone picking up a coworker who lived across the alley. This went on for several mornings.

Finally, my brother placed an egg in a bowl on the window sill before retiring for the night. Sure enough, the perpetrator showed up at 5:30 am. My brother opened the window, dropped the egg and scored a direct hit on the windshield. The driver got out of her car and screamed, "What's the big idea?" with a few expletives thrown in. My brother replied, "Next time it'll be a brick." It solved the problem.

I think that, in certain kind of people, good (or new) equipment really DOES make a difference.

My girlfriend has a really good eye to "choose" what to take a picture of, but she's never used my K1000.

Whenever I get a new piece of -digital- equipment she grabs it, goes away and comes back later with really good pictures.

My point is: some kind of people only shoots when they like the equipment they use; if some new stuff makes them go out and shoot, I think that's great.

I'm surprised that no one has cited David duChemin's mantra: "Gear is good. Vision is better."


...interesting about Ilford XP1/2. I consider it to be my 'fallback' film now. There is no one near me that hand/tank processes standard black & white emulsions, and the one local guy that does decent quality for lab work insists on 'constant agitation' tube processing of all his films, which I think, no matter what developer/film combination, yields flat looking blacks and whites, and no 'sparkle'. If I can not process the film I'm shooting myself, due to timing or volume, then I fall back on the Ilford XP. Not my favorite stuff, but better at getting an acceptable print or scan for me (especially print), than the 'constantly agitated' standard films from lab processing.

Bob -- interesting argument for why you needed 62MP for the beaded jewelry shot. But what was the final use of the image? How much of that resolution appeared on the page (or whatever the use was)?

Cheaper or lesser photographic equipment is much like an old beater car. Generally it gets the job done exactly as it needs to, but sometimes its leaves you stranded. Often you have to plan around this possibility, carry jumper cables, avoid long trips, park on a hill so you can bump start it, or park on a flat surface so it doesn't roll away when your not looking.

A new car can be completely forgotten and ignored, you can jump in and go anywhere or do anything without second thought. It just works.

And so does good photographic equipment.

The arguments in favor of a cheap car are similar to that toward a cheap lens, and the price discrepancies are also similar. Interestingly, depreciation is much less, in accordance with expected service life.

You might almost argue that there is no Tri-X 400 anymore since there seem to be so few papers that print it well. I've settled on Delta 400 and Ilford warm tone fiber - way different from Tri-X but at least you can get a good gray scale on paper including a strong black and managable highlight.

I've used Tmax developed in practically everything and it always looked like a converted gray scale from a color negative. Yuck!

Equipment is an encapsulation of our expectations of how we interact with the activity. I'm so tired of people talking about how HCB used a Leica M, so we should all as well. The point is, HCB was using a Leica when his peers were probably using view cameras or clunky box cameras. What would he use today? In his last years, seems like he was spotted with a Contax T- a P&S.

The same argument rages in the retro steel bicycle community. Grant Peterson, founder of Rivendell bikes, an advertiser here, during an interview with one of the Shimano brothers, prez. of Shimano America, argues that the more advanced the componentry, the "further" from bicycling one gets; that there's a whole generation of cyclists who never knew that you had to shift gears using levers on the down tube of the bike, instead of integrated in the brakes as most are today.

My point is that we're all on a trajectory of change in the way we do various things- hobbies, crafts, using tools. The tools change- either on their own accord, and thus change the craft; or they change in response to changes in the craft. And the population of people involved in that activity changes too. With smart phones, snapping video and posting online is now out of the hands of the tiny minority of professional videographers schlepping around 20 lb betacams. Is it bad that these new online videographers have no idea about splicing tape?

One thing I realize- I haven't felt as much joy in my film cameras (manual SLRs, manual focus with dSLR, and Leica M6) as with my Hexar AF. Shooting was effortless, and getting back the prints shot on Reala, where 90% were like postcards, was immensely gratifying.

So maybe you find out where you are on that evolutionary trajectory of your craft, and find the tool that feels truest and most joyful to you. And stick with it.

I loved your comments about Leicaphiles being fooled into thinking photos taken with other brands of lenses were taken with Leica lenses.

It's just as I suspected--while Leica lenses are wonderful indeed, in truth, there's not that much difference in the image quality produced by one marque of lens as opposed to another.

I bring this up becuse if here's one thing that annoys me, it's the type of person who will go on and on about the (supposed) differences between on marque of lens and another: you know who I'm talking about--the type that will rattle on about "Lens X has greater microcontrast and a smoother gradation than Lens Y , but Lens Y is slightly sharper in the center, and has a better overall tonal rendition," etc, etc,etc....

These folks sound like wine-snob bores, and their intent is often the same--to show that their skill, taste and sensitivity is much, much superior to yours. I particularly enjoy it when one "expert" says that, for example, Brand Y's F\2 35mm lens really sucks, where another "expert" will say that the same lens is "the sharpest I've ever seen"....

Oh, I'm sure their may be SOME differences from brand to brand, but it seems to me that any good quality lens will deliver a quality image, and it will be hard for most people to see any real difference....

Either that, or I'm just a Philistine...

I think Tmax 100 has gorgeous tonality. I've used it for many years, mainly in Rodinal, but I've also gotten gorgeous results with it in D-76 1+1.


The above was shot with a Mamiya 645 on Tmax 100 developed in D-76 1+1.

Tmax 400 has always been beautiful too.


This one was also shot in a Mamiya 645, now with Tmax 400 (the old stuff, not the new finer grained version...but its good film too), developed in Tmax developer 1+9.

In my experience, those who don't like Tmax have been those who were unwilling to work to the high level of precision needed to get the best results from these films. They are not forgiving of poor exposure or sloppy developing like Tri-X is, but they are worth the effort.

"obviously equipment matters"--but bizarrely, not everybody will concede that. at least, not where photography is concerned; on photo fora you often see claims that painters don't argue about brushes, carpenters don't argue about hammers, or cooks don't argue about pots... which, strangely, i've never heard actual painters, carpenters, or cooks claim (and can personally attest that they all do argue passionately about those respective tools). non-photographers hardly ever seem to argue that 'photographers don't care what sort of camera they use, if they're an artist/professional they just make great photographs.' in other words, i think there is something about the phenomenology of photography that makes many people want to claim that the equipment doesn't matter. probably the manifestly obvious fact that the camera does basically make the picture, determine its technical qualities, which poses a challenge to cliches of authorship and artistic genius.

i get better results from my m9 than i did from my 5d2--both fantastic cameras, unreasonably good--mostly because the way you focus with a rangefinder suits the kind of photos i take (mainly street and documentary) better. oh, the leica glass is superb--even better than the already excellent canon fast primes--and the base iso shadow detail is outrageously good from the m9, permitting you to expose very conservatively to protect highlights without compromising other subjects, and the files enlarge better; but what matters most isn't the "iq" differences, but the fact that the way you make photos with the two cameras is different. and that matters--you get different pictures.

for the last month i've been without my m9 and my favorite 3 lenses--they're all away being fixed and adjusted. (yes, you could argue this is another example of how equipment matters....) so i've been using an m6 with cv40/1.4... a lens i really dislike, but all i've got on hand. on digital, it has terrible objective flaws, but those don't show up so much on film. the more important problems are that the aperture ring 'ears' stick out too much and turn too freely, so i regularly wind up with wildly mis-exposed shots (left it on f/5.6 and three shots later it's on f/11, etc), and the focus action is slightly sticky, so it's difficult to stop exactly at the point you want. i can work around it; i have the aperture ring taped down with gaffers, and if i rack the focus back and forth half a dozen times it warms up and improves a bit. but then i end up shooting things at absurdly slow shutter speeds 'cause it would have taken too long to untape the aperture... boy, does equipment ever matter.

Chris Crawford,

I think that most professionals have a very high level of precision in their work, many of them, if not most, coming from an era of shooting highly 'tweaky' transparency with limited range, and nailing exposures correctly for years. And yet, many of these professionals, at least most that I know, can't stand T-Max films either.

Having been in advertising related industries for over 30 years, and familiar with years of Kodak products (and the way the bean counters and marketers took over the company in the 70's), it's pretty well understood that Kodak was "answering questions that weren't being asked" by introducing many of their products. Kodak, like many other businesses, kept introducing products and variations of products, to capture market share. Unfortunately, what the industry was doing as a whole was "eating their own seed corn" as we like to say in the Midwest, i.e. it certainly cost more to manufacture 8 or 9 types of black & white film than 3 or 4, hoping to capture buyers away from Ilford and Agfa and hold on to your own. Most likely very few changed over and you just ended up selling the same amount of film with twice the manufacturing processes and costs.

The T-max films sort of fit this "answering questions no one asked" format, and other manufacturers had to respond to try and maintain market share.

Look at it this way: Kodak designed a black & white series of films to compete with their own offerings as well as try to steal market share from others. It doesn't reproduce tonal ranges the same as all other films at the time (and for decades before), and arguable 'not better' either. It's tougher to shoot, and for best results you have to use a developer targeted specifically for it, and you have to change the way you process and agitate or it will look even worse. Then it looks like crap on paper, until Kodak changes the paper around to make it look better, and then they have to make another emulsion (Polymax) so that all the people that like the original films aren't complaining. And the upshot of this whole mess is that you get 'finer grain', and maybe more sharpness. Which, of course, most professionals know you can render moot by just moving to a larger format.

Tho above has all the earmarks of technology development driven by marketing.

TS Wu...

Interesting points about HCB and Leica, and what he eventually ended up using...I remember seeing a show in Washington DC on Robert Franks pre-American work, street shots from England, and I remember thinking at the time that the work was technically way sub-standard to what someone could get (at the time I saw the show) with just an Olympus Stylist. Not to mention the advantage of just being some guy walking around with an 'amateur' point-and-shoot instead of an expensive looking camera.

When I used to manage a big photography department, the Olympus Stylist was the assistants camera of choice for street and club photography, not for the quality, which was certainly 'there'; but, as they used to tell me, for the innoculousness of it!

The quy who got me into my Leica M3 (and who I also got some of my admiration for the Nikon FM from, come to think of it) once said he could tell a photo I'd shown him was shot with the 90mm Summicron on my M3 (an 8x10 B&W print I'd made myself; pretty good print). That's the only time that's ever happened to me -- and this time he was wrong; that photo was shot with the Tamron 85-210 T-mount zoom on my Pentax Spotmatic. (That's a slow zoom, but optically it was damned good, actually. Still, not in the Leica price category, and a couple of stops slower.)

For 35mm work, the most convenient high quality way of scanning would be to get a good DSLR, a good macro lens and a slide copying attachment (e.g. old bellows usually had compatible slide copying attachments). I've been working on the medium format part, but it's more tricky. But go for the camera copying thing, you'll get stuff transferred to you computer since it's both fast and good quality! e-mail me if you want details.

As for equipment, I think the problem is that there are too many parameters to the problem, so there are many partial truths to the matter.

To Tom Kwas:
Thanks for making the point about Tmax a little more elequently than my more sucinct "Yuck".

I still resent the days, weeks, months, I spent with my Jobo (mentioned because of comments about sloppy techniques) making endless minor changes to exposure, agitation and developer to try to obtain a pleasing print, and, as you mention, trying every new paper that came along that promised to "fix" the widespread problems people were having with printing Tmax. I think we had the basis of a malpractice suit against Kodak. :)

It may be a matter of taste. I was once able to view a good number of John Sexton prints from both Tri-x and Tmax negatives. My reaction was that he had given up a lot to use a film with better reciprocity characteristics and was more maleable with time/temperature adjustments.

Take care,

Probably too late for this conversation, but I just stumbled into this at http://www.mironchuk.com/hc-110.html

"...good T-Max negative LOOKS ABOUT A STOP THINNER THAN A GOOD TRI-X NEGATIVE. The thinner-looking negatives PRINT THE SAME, but there is a knee-jerk reaction to want to develop them more, next time.

"This is the reason why a lot of Old-Timers don't care for T-Max films... they think that they have to develop them to a greater degree to get "negative density", and wind up blocking the living s**t out of the highlights, and increasing the apparent granularity in the mid-tones. It is a failing of Kodak, that they didn't/don't EXPLAIN this to photographers, who regularly develop their own B&W."

robert e,
Yeah, well, I certainly didn't have that problem.


robert e

...me neither, I come from an era where I was taught, for best sharpness, to shoot the 'thinest' negative you could that still has a full range...the old 'saw' is that you should be able to put a correctly exposed and processed negative down on the page of a book and still read the type through the blackest part...

robert, like others on here, you are making the assumption that we don't like T-Max because we're screwing up...we are not screwing up, we know what we're doing...

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