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Thursday, 02 July 2015


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I use John's technique with my Panasonic GX7 all the time. In fact, I hardly ever shoot with my eye at the viewfinder. But the GX7 has an on/off touch screen, bringing added benefits. Instead of pressing the shutter, I touch the screen where I want the point of focus to be. The camera fires quickly and focuses very accurately. And in those situations where I prefer to be unobtrusive, I just stand 90 degrees off from my subject, cradle the lens so it's pointing to the right, and touch the screen with my left thumb. The subjects almost never know their picture has been taken. Having shot with a real Rolleiflex for years, I find this all perfectly natural.

John shoots the way I do, complete with the thumb release. I use Panasonic GX7s. Unlike John, I like slightly longer than normal lenses -- 70 is usually about right -- and I do use zooms, though I don't zoom them much. I find I can hold the GX7s steady by essentially smothering them in my hands -- I look like I'm praying at a funeral or something, head down, my hands clutched in front of my belt buckle. My left hand wraps the left side of the camera and the barrel of the lens, my right hand holds the right side of the camera, with my thumb curling up over the release. That effectively hides the camera, although I'm rarely really trying to do that. I find that I keep the fliip-up screen angled somewhat down, because you don't get sky reflections that way, and you can still see it clearly. I find it helpful to turn on the artificial horizon, which tells me when the camera is exactly level. Like John, I use only my hands to steady the camera, and keep it away from my stomach.

The biggest problem with this kind of shooting is that it's not as fast (for me) as bringing the camera to my eye. So, I change back and forth, depending on what I'm doing.

I fully agree about the advantages of waist-level viewing. I particularly like the Olympus EV-4 tilting EVF, which also has a much larger image than even a full frame DSLR. The ability to easily control convergence and perspective with wide angle lenses by lowering your POV with a minimum of contortion is really useful.

It still doesn't help with verticals, though.

Back in my distant youth, writing and sometimes shooting for small newspapers, I used to sometimes remove the prism from my Canon F1 and shoot from waist level (one could still see and focus the image on the focus screen itself). And I remember doing this at least once to shoot around the corner of a building. My trick seemed brilliant at the time, though I'm sure I was far from alone in using it.

I purchased an EPL-6 for just the same reason, and I've had similar experiences. In most cases where I take people pics, it's at a local dirt racetrack I've attended most of my life so people know why I'm there and taking people shots is expected and in some cases welcomed.

Even then, when I dropped the camera to the waist, people still knew what I was doing but I was able to hold conversation and even in some cases, give direction to my subject or just put them a little more at ease with a joke or some small talk. What I liked about it was the reduction of resistance/posting.

Those who welcomed the camera didn't feel the need to overdo it with the pose, and those that didn't want to pose weren't so deliberate in their effort. The focus shifted from refusal to pose to more just moving on to whatever else was going on.

It improved the pictures, and revealed more of the true person.

Hi John,

The Fauxliflex has been my holy grail - ever since I picked up a TLR four or five years ago. I settled on the Panasonic 20mm as a normal lens, cropped square it has the exact* same angle of view vertically and horizontally as the 80mm lens on the Yashica I used to own.

Today, it sits on a GX7, which has both a tilt screen and a quiet shutter. It even has a silent electronic shutter as well the option to shoot by touching the LCD, which makes it even more unobtrusive to the casual observer. The focus ring can be set to trigger an enlarged center view on the viewfinder, very much replicating the effect of the flip down magnifier without any of the awkwardness.

Thank you for writing this article, it explains to me why I was so hung up on this particular mode of photography. I love it, but I couldn't articulate why. Nicely done.


*within about a degree or half a degree, assuming that the listed focal length on the lens is accurate (it never is) and that the exposed area of the film that is used to make the print is 52mm x 52mm. So I'd say it's close enough.

My favorite portraits that I ever took were made using a 4x5 view camera. Part of it was being in a studio, using strobes, a camera stand, etc. It is a much more formal environment and that changes the mood and dynamics right away. I think the most important part though was the fact that I was standing next to the camera when I took the picture. Talking to the subject, being part of the scene without something between you is powerful. Plus, having the subject address the camera instead of the photographer makes them an active part of the process instead of being an object. I didn't do a lot of shooting with TLRs but I imagine the same thing could be done when doing portraits with them.

Incidentally, I owned a book by Rolliflex, I think it was called "Shooting with Twin Lens Reflex Cameras." In addition to the pull against the strap trick, they also pointed out that all Rolliflexes had an action finder as well. You were able to have the TLR out in front of you (again using the taut strap to steady the camera) and you looked through the frame. This made it much much easier to follow something that was moving.

The trick with waist level viewing on medium format cameras is that to focus you rack the focus beyond the infocus point by a certain amount judged by how blurry it is, and then to the same amount in the other direction, then split the difference. Your Rollie had an optional microprism screen that made focusing really easy, I had one put on my Hasselblad.

I agree about the shutter button placement on most cameras, the upper right corner is a rotten place for a shutter button and there is no reason for it other than the way Leica focal plane shutters were designed a century ago.

The shutter button doesn't still spin around between shots since I think the Nikon F2 so why put it on the top right?

It's as bad as automatic transmissions having their "shift" lever in the center of the car.

I can not stand using eye level viewing, composition is so much easier when you aren't "looking through the camera"

I have done the same thing with Olympus E-M5s. I love the lower perspective. I set the camera to 1:1 and I can frame and shoot in square. I still have a TLR Rollei that I hope to use again.........sigh.

Exactly the way I like to shoot, in square, too (my inspiration for first trying this approach was Rinko Kawauchi).

My current Fauxliflexes are an E-P5 and E-PL7, but I don't enjoy them quite as much as my long-gone and somewhat awkward Sony R1. Never had to mess with even tilting a screen; just lift the camera, glance down, press the button and move on. Glorious. I'd get rid of everything for a FF R2 with IS, 1:1 and a fast lens in the 28-40mm range.

Anyway, loved this essay, thanks.

Very cool, John. Do you set your Oly Pens to shoot in square format when you do your Fauxliflex thing?

Excellent essay, John. Long ago I considered writing a piece for TOP on a very similar theme. But you've treated the subject much better than I could have.

Anyone who pays attention to movies or some classic portraiture can see that shoulder-to-waist level is a common lens height when photographing people. It presents more options, as you note, and it creates a more natural, engaging composition range for many subjects.

But, yeah, TLRs -are- indeed tough to use! Even before your noted challenges of snapping sharp focus and stabilization you're faced with an equally daunting challenge: the reversed image in the viewfinder! I'm sure that after 10+ years of daily use it would become second nature to me. But doing this with a handheld can make me a little dizzy!

For that reason (plus many others) today's cameras with tilting LCDs ("Fauxliflexes"...love it!) are so superior to TLR's viewfinders. In fact that feature has become so important to me that I won't buy a camera without one. (I broke that rule with the Lumix LX100 and really regret it.)

Interestingly, the upcoming new Phase One XF body offers a waist-level viewfinder as an option. I'm really looking forward to giving it a go, although I don't expect to wander the streets with it.

A "The Three-Foot-High Club" motto proposal: Never shoot higher than you dribble a basketball.

Thanks, again, John!

Quit often I find myself either sitting on a chair (about waist level), lying on the ground or standing at the top of a ladder. Eye level is boring.

Because most of my work is for print (magazines are North-South), I'd love to see a digital camera that shot portrait orientation, like the original 1/2 frame Olympus Pen F (film camera). A digital medium format, like the side-winder Bronica RF645 Rangefinder film camera would also be great. With either camera you'd get a vertical (portrait) flip-down finder.

BTW I'm not holding my breath while waiting for these superior cameras 8-)

If you've never seen a RF645 here's Mike Johnston's review https://luminous-landscape.com/bronica-rf645/

Like John I like to shoot at waist level and enjoy a tilt-out screen. Even over that I prefer the side hinged screen on my Panasonics - I do a lot of verticals and the side hinge works great for that, even if it is a bit awkward for horizontals. (Sony did get the articulated screen right on the A99, about the only thing I liked about that camera. If they would put that setup on some of their mirrorless models they might sell me another camera.)

The hinged screen also works well for portraits from a tripod. I angle the screen so I can see if from beside the camera and use a wired remote release. That way I can keep contact with the subject, only checking the screen from time to time to confirm framing or to be sure I caught a moment.

I love waist-level finders (a Bronica SQ-A and a Minolta Autocord) for two reasons. First, the experience of viewing with two eyes, combined with the shallow depth of field of medium format lenses makes the view seem like a 3D hologram. It's fun just to walk around and look through the things. I admit my eyes have devolved to the point I need the magnifier to focus, and that ruins the 3D effect. Second, I find the abstraction of looking down to compose, rather than in the direction of the subject, seems to help for noticing distracting elements in the frame. I don't find viewing LCD screens gives me the 3D effect, maybe because the resolution is't there and the depth of field with digital tends to be less shallow. A tilted LCD might give me the second effect, but I don't own such a camera.

Great topic. Stabilizing the camera with the flip out screen is the problem. I'm still learning with the Rolleiflex. The front shutter release is crucial. I still use my first digital, the Nikon Coolpix 4500. It also gives you a waist-level finder and a front shutter release. I can hold that slower than my Rolleiflex I think. Great for shooting children. "What are you doing?" "I'm just trying to work out what's wrong with this camera."

I am so relieved to learn that I am not the only person who struggled with achieving good TLR focus. I thought maybe it was a character defect of mine.

I agree with all of the points you make on shooting methods. I can add, often on city walks, I just keep the camera at my waist with a thumb on the release, and hope my aim is true. One of the beauties of digital versus film - more than 36 exposures.

My own Fauxliflex is a Lumix GX-7. It gives me a choice - flip up the screen, or flip up the viewfinder. The L. 20mm seems to be the ideal lens for this camera, and is virtually permanently attached, with a similar lens hood to what you have.

I see what looks like an ELP-5 and an EP-5. The latter one I just acquired new for a stellar price. What terrific little instruments these cameras are. Small, handy, versatile and concidering the sensor size, quite amazing image quality. For me they reflect a clever digital response to that golden age of 35mm photography with those beautifully designed Pentax and Olympus cameras. 50mm 1.4 multicoated heaven. Respect.

I shoot from the hip too (or from the waist, actually) with a tiny Lumix LX7. I fidget with it as I’m walking along, a trick I learned from watching videos of Garry Winogrand at work (he was always fidgeting, looking like he was thinking about taking a shot instead of taking a shot, which I think was a way of being less visible). Every now and then I catch myself in a reflection and I realize maybe I don’t look nearly as inconspicuous as I think I do (see below).

But I do prefer my street shots to be fully candid, and unlike you I guess I am being fully “sneaky” although I don’t like that term. But I like the navel-level point-of-view for the same reasons you do.

Detail from a rejected image showing yr hmbl commenter trying to be inconspicuous:

I've done the same thing since getting the Sony HX1 almost six years ago. Right thumb on the shutter button, too. I do wish they would actually make a camera with the screen on top sometimes. However, I also use it above my head quite often, since the screen also tilts down, so maybe that wouldn't work as well.

Having controls on the back, however, also doesn't work that well when the camera is at waist level. I often have to tilt it up to make adjustments.

For some semblance of stabilization against my hand tremors, I wrap the strap several times around my wrist until my hand is comfortably close to the camera, thumb over the shutter button, fingers wrapped around the bottom. Left hand is similar. Sometimes the screen gets pulled back against me, especially if I'm really trying to hold it steady.

It's a very enjoyable way to shoot, especially since the viewfinder isn't all that great. I've gotten so used to it, in fact, that when someone handed me a camera recently to take their photo and they had the screen turned off, I had to think twice about what to do with it.

I noticed a very similar effect when using my old Sony F828, the body of which could be twisted about seventy degrees off the lens axis. The result was that I looked down into the camera body whilst holding it just above waist height. Much less of the "I'm-pointing-this-thing-at-you" effect as well. I still consider some of the candid photographs I made with this camera as my better work, despite all it's idiosyncrasies and shortcomings. But then good work isn't made because it's easy...

Hi John, I couldnt agree more. I have been a Pentax user through Spotmatic, LX1, K200D and K 5. On the pentax dsler forum on dpreview over years was a sneering at articulating screens especially the ones that only swing up and down.
I had given up with Pentax ever producing one ... And as i DO like a good OVF/ EVF I have gone with the Olympus OMD EM5. This gives me IBIS which i love and need more as i grow older! It gives me a good EVF which i often use ... But the flippy screen allows candid views, but also as you say remarkably betterengagement eith your subject. The different perspective you mention is interesting and leads me to another thought.
I landscapes i usually use the EVF. But over the last week have walkedca hundred miles across the Yorkshire Dales and Moors. It is tiring. Nearer the end of the day there were fascinating plantts and insects I used to see with my Pentax. I thought of photographing thenm but after 7-8 hours walking the thought of grtting up again put me off ... Now down to waist level and beyond and all is possible.
So in my view, like you i prefer the inline screen. As it is not protected i get a glass protector for mine.
You described for me precisely why this is so valuable. In fact for me now the critical factors in camera purchase will be
1/ Good EVF/OVF
2/ weatherproofing ... I live on Dartmoor!
3/ Flippable screen

LOL; this exactly captures my evolution from late-1990s Rollei experiment to Olympus Fauxliflex (same camera, same 17 1.8 lens).

Oh dear! I've been resisting for weeks the urge to update my menagerie of µ4/3 bodies.

Then John K. praises his pair of E-PL5s and I notice for the first time that the screen hinges up at the top, rather than half way down the back, as the E-PL3, E-M5 and GX7 do.

Oly introduced the E-PL6, a '5' with a few software updates, outside the US. Apparently, they didn't sell well, as they recently started selling them here for $299, including the 14-42 II kit lens (which one may sell on to reduce the net cost). That's less than the E-PL5.

You should be getting your little spiff for the one coming here. Perhaps others will decide they need one, too. Available through your Amazon and B&H links.

Tim Hetherington, to the best of my knowledge and memory of his last photos made just before his death, used a Mamiya 7 medium format camera. He's even shown holding it.

[True, but a quick scan of the Google image search for his name shows him holding many other cameras too, including a Hasselblad and a TLR and at least two digitals. --Mike]

I use almost exactly the same technique, but with a Leica. I prefocus extensively and shoot from the hip without the finder for a large amount of my photos.

I'm not entirely convinced that using a finder or a screen would offer an advantage over an accurate distance scale on a lens -- it would be slower and more random in my opinion (but perhaps give a more sure result, if you happened to be looking down at your navel).

Horses for courses, but I can confirm that this technique really works on the street.

Cheers, Pak

I recently upgraded from an epl-5 to an ep-5. The new omd em-5 mkii was very tempting, but in the end the fully articulating screen was a deal killer for me. Sticking out from the side of the camera made it very un "fauxliflex" to me, and the the epl-5, and a previous Mamiya C330 (as well as a pair of Yashicas) had made me appreciate waist level shooting.

I direct film, not much photography, but I'm convinced some of the most interesting results I had were with a very short DoP because a) his handheld camera work was always lower than the taller DoPs I use and 2) because he's shorter he sees the world from that lower perceptive anyway. I'm always interested in seeing the world differently from how I normally experience it and I'm pretty tall. Anything to get away from the default setting of seeing things.

Way back when Gerald Ford was president I borrowed a Rollei F with an eye level prism from another student. "I want one of these," I thought and finally, at the end of Ronald Reagan's term I bought a Rollie E in good condition (because the introduction of the G actually inflated prices for the F). I shot from the waist but in fairly short order bought a prism and held the camera at eye level, stabilized by the bracket that held the flash unit I universally used. I shot with that camera until 2003 when I went digital.

Now I have a Sony RX100-3. I bought it for the pop-up finder (among other reasons) because I hate holding a camera away from my face. But I've learned the advantage of the articulated screen and have been shooting from the waist, just to be unobtrusive. Go figure.

So, how come neither B and H or Adorama sells the Fauxliflex? Where can I get one? Seriously, what Olympus model and lens is shown in that picture?

I'm just waiting for the menu option to enable me to flip the image left to right (and maybe even top to bottom too). Then I'm in.

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