I have used film cameras for most of my life. Starting with a Kodak Brownie and ending up with Nikon SLRs. A while after I was using digital cameras I purchased a Voigtländer Bessa R3A made by Cosina in Japan. This eventually grew into a collection of three camera bodies and seven lenses. I was totally committed to using these great little rangefinders and excellent lenses. The results I was getting with film seemed to be better than the output of my digital gear, at least in terms of dynamic range. I was scanning the negatives first with a Canon FS4000US film scanner and then later with a Nikon Coolscan V. I was in love with film photography and my Voigtländer rangefinder cameras. For those who have not used a 35mm rangefinder camera, there is a certain romance, a connection with famous photographers and a feeling of exclusiveness when shooting with one of these beauties. The king of rangefinders is the Leica. The Leica rangefinder is a piece of art you can take photographs with. If you own a Leica you have the crème de la crème of cameras. Everything about them exudes quality and craftsmanship. This does demand something from the photographer – a significant amount of cash.
This is where the Cosina made Voigtländer comes in. For a much smaller amount of hard earned dollars one can experience the joy of rangefinder photography. These are not the same German built beauties that bear the Leica brand. The Voigtländer is a blue collar camera and a great of bang for the buck. They are the children of a camera loving gentleman who happens to run Cosina. I was able to accumulate my modest rangefinder gear for less than the price of a current Leica rangefinder body.
This now brings me to the point of the story. With my entry into the world of micro four thirds photography my beloved Bessa rangefinders were taken out into the daylight less and less. It came to mind recently that they had not been used in two years. I did a lot of rationalization and finally last week made the decision to sell or trade my rangefinders. They served me faithfully once more and delivered enough cash value to purchase a couple of new lenses for my newer cameras. Lenses that I would not have been able to afford otherwise. Today when I was using one of my new lenses I was thinking of my Bessas.
A bit over twelve years ago I ventured into the world of digital photography with the Minolta DiMage 7. It was a good camera by the standards of the day. It was equipped with an excellent lens and was easy to hold. The major drawback was its enormous appetite for batteries. As the years rolled by I moved on to a Canon DSLR. A few years ago I discovered the u4/3 system. Built on a standard developed by Olympus and Panasonic it seemed to offer a lot: decent image quality, interchangeable lens, compact size and the ability to use virtually any manual focus lens ever made with the proper adapter.
After shooting with three different Panasonic cameras I now use the Panasonic GH3 and lately the GX7.
I am a bit old school when it comes to photography. I have always been a bit uneasy with all the automatic features of modern cameras and wanted a fully manual camera. This is what attracted me to the GX7. While it has all the features one would expect on a digital camera, it is very easy to operate manually. In this aspect it is as close to using one of my 35mm range finder cameras as I could at a fraction of the cost of alternative cameras.
The GX7 is constructed on a diecast magnesium alloy frame and has a solid feel. It is compact but not overly small. It fits in my hands very well.
The controls are easy to use and are ergonomically arranged. The electronic viewfinder works very well for me. The viewfinder doesn’t exhibit any vignetting of the image when viewed through my glasses. This is very important to me. All of the electronic viewfinders from Olympus and Panasonic have dark corners (including my GH3) that force me to move my eye around in relation to the eyepiece to view the entire image. It is probably caused by a combination of my eyesight, my prescription and the magnification of the viewfinder.
Over the years I have bought, sold and traded many cameras. I have kept my Nikon F2 and a small collection of Nikkor lenses. I also have a Cosina Voigtlander R3A and R4M with a small assortment of lenses. These lenses can be utilized with an adapter. Because the u4/3 sensor is smaller than the 35mm frame size these lenses were designed for the angle of view is half of what it would be for on a 35mm camera. This in effect doubles the focal length – a 50mm lens when mounted on a u4/3 body will have the same field of view of a 100mm lens on a 35mm camera. This “crop factor” as it has become to be called just leads to confusion so I don’t think about it. I know what the field of view will be for a given lens from experience.
This adaptability has breathed new life into my vintage lens collection. The Nikkor 300/4.5 is currently my longest lens and works very well with the GX7.
In my nearly 60 years of photography I have used many cameras. The GX7 ranks as my all time favorite. It has a very natural feel and is very much an extension of my eyes. It is not perfect but comes closer than any camera that I have used to that level.
If you are in the market for a new camera give the Olympus and Panasonic u4/3 system cameras a look. I think you will be amazed with what they offer.
I tend not to read long dissertations on the philosophy of photography or the importance of developing a photographic style. I like to think I enjoy photographing anything with few exceptions. I grew up liking anything mechanical and had aspirations to be a garbage man because I thought garbage trucks were very cool. I was enthralled with airplanes, trains and cars. Not too different than many other young boys. My first photographs were taken with a Kodak 127 Brownie of some sort or another. I was fascinated with some Asian styled concrete lanterns in our local park. They were standing in a pool filled with water lilies and surrounded with large ferns. I think I shot at least two rolls of film from different angles. I don’t really recall any specific shots. When the film was developed at the local drug store I couldn’t wait to see the glossy deckle edge black and white masterpieces. I was proud of the photographs. The concrete structures looked like they were emerging through the canopy of a tropical rain forest. I was king of the hill…until my mother asked to see the photographs. I was admonished for wasting film. There were no people to be seen anywhere. Film should not be wasted on photographs without people in them! I was allowed to draw all I wanted to. I was pretty accomplished with a pencil and a blank sheet of paper. It may run in the family – my late sister was very artistic. Other than art in public schools I never pursued it. I do recall that all of my notebooks were liberally decorated with sketches and doodles. I did keep up with photography in an undercover manner. I bought my own film and paid for processing with money saved up from birthdays and Christmas. It was supposed to go into my “college fund”. The volume of my work was small. Close to nonexistent. I experimented with filters using various colors of cellophane. I even took some “telephoto” images with my father’s 7×50 binoculars. This went on for years using a variety of cameras. Usually variations of Kodak Brownies. When I enlisted in the Air Force I purchased my first “real camera”, a Yashica fixed lens rangefinder. I eventually bought my first SLR, a Minolta SRT-101. Beside the 50mm lens that came with the camera I purchased two Vivitar T4 lenses, 28mm and 200mm. I also started developing my film and making prints. Eventually I migrated to medium format. First a Kowa Six then a Mamiya RB67. I also begin to dabble in large format with a 4×5 camera. I begin work at a small studio doing portraits, publicity photos, photography for private investigators and weddings. After a while I was getting burned out with studio work and sold the RB67 to the studio. After a brief stint with a Spotmatic II, I started buying Nikon gear. I also sold my 4×5 camera and enlarger. I had settled back into the 35mm world. The Nikon cameras and lenses serve me well for over 20 years. I still use them occasionally. The journey to digital began with a Minolta DiMage 7. It was a good camera with an insatiable appetite for batteries. I purchased my Canon 10D three years later. After a bit I had the inclination to shoot film again. This time with the excellent Cosina made Voigtländer RF cameras. In six more years I had Panasonic GF1. I was hooked on the u4/3 system. I bought the Panasonic GH3 a few years later and thought this is the last camera I will ever need. Eventually it was time to sell my unused Canon gear. To get an idea what it was worth I boxed it all up and headed to a local camera store. I was thinking I would be lucky to get five or six hundred dollars. I was pleasantly surprised to be offered enough to order a Panasonic GX7 and still have over one hundred dollars in my pocket. That is how I arrived at my present location of my photographic journey. And just where am I now? In my mind I am back to where I began the odyssey. All of the cameras I have used have not changed what I see. The cameras I now use are very comfortable and have a natural feel to them. My photographic skills have improved over the years due to the sheer number of photographs taken. The subjects of my photographs are not far removed from the things I photographed as a youngster. I am still attracted to the isolated abstract elements in my subjects. I feel a deep satisfaction when I can capture the play of light on reflective surfaces. I do photograph people and have dabbled in street photography – not “the stiff in the center of the frame, Ok Jim and Sally trade places and let me take one more” photographs. Sorry mom it just doesn’t work for me.