I’m just back from two weeks’ holiday in the Highlands and Islands. Before going I was beginning to toy with the idea of a pinhole camera, but something else has come up…
Last year I went on a large format photography day workshop – a kind of taster to see if this kind of thing might be of interest to me. It was… and soon after that I was nearly tempted into buying one of Mark Banks’ view cameras that he was selling, but I couldn’t quite afford it at the time (have a look at his website, by the way – wonderful images!).
Whilst on holiday near Inverness a couple of weeks ago I found myself in Ffordes – a fantastic camera shop selling all kinds of new and second-hand camera equipment. I was there to buy a spare plate for my tripod head (which I did, second-hand, at £7, and my bank balance would have been very happy had I just walked out of the shop at that point). But I also asked about prices for wide lenses for my Mamiya MF camera, and somehow the discussion then moved on to other things… and before long a Chamonix 4×5 view camera was mentioned…
Almost completely unused and on sale at a pretty good price, I went away to think about it, consult some Twitter users of 4×5 cameras, and the next day, I went back to buy it. Gulp!
So now I have a rather beautiful view camera! It is one of the cameras that Dav Thomas and Tim Parkin recommended when I was on their large-format workshop last year, and I know that other photographers like Tim Smalley have used Chamonix cameras after being on Dav and Tim’s workshops. I don’t yet have any lenses for it, nor do I have any of the other accessories I’ll need, but I’ll be working towards acquiring these just as soon as I have paid off the credit card bill for the camera! 😉
The Chamonix is very light, and folds down to become fairly small and rather elegant. I don’t really get very excited about modern cameras: my digital Nikon is a great camera and does the job well, but it is pretty soulless. However, there is something absolutely exquisite about this view camera, which is partly, I think, to do with there being no plastic – it’s made of metal, wood, and glass, with board for the bellows.
This makes handling it a very tactile experience, even before it’s seen any usage. I also like the attention to detail in the construction of the body, which makes me want to touch it and use it right away. I know that a modern digital camera is designed and made with amazing attention to detail: every component is precisely formed within fractions of a millimetre so as to squeeze in every last little bit of technological wizardry, but still… this is somehow different. I never thought I’d be this sentimental and romantic about a camera, but it really is a beautiful piece of equipment! 🙂
Of course, it’s all very well being excited about the tactile nature of the camera – I need to use it properly and create images with it that work for me and communicate something of what I understand and see in the landscape. Given that I don’t have any of the necessary accessories yet, that might take a little while, but it will come… I would hope that I’m able to start working with it in a couple of months’ time at the latest (afore-mentioned credit card bill being a key factor…!).
A few days after buying the Chamonix I was on the Isle of Lewis – an amazing experience, of which more another time (my films are being processed at the moment and I won’t get them back until later this week). The house we were staying in didn’t have much of a mobile signal, but I was out one afternoon photographing the second and third group of Calanais standing stones where the mobile reception was pretty good, and Twitter chatter from a few days before that confirmed the news that Fuji are withdrawing Velvia 50 and 100F in 4×5 format – just as I buy myself a 4×5 camera! As it is for many other people, Velvia 50 is my favourite colour film for landscapes, so I found that news rather depressing, and I even found myself wondering if I had made a mistake buying the Chamonix if my favourite colour film was being withdrawn.
At the time of writing, I’m not sure whether this means Fuji UK are no longer importing 4×5 Velvia 50 to the UK and therefore it might still be available elsewhere, or if it is going to be discontinued globally. I’m not bothered about the 100F being discontinued, which has always seemed to me to be a pointless film, but it seems odd that the 50 is being discontinued and the Velvia 100 is being kept (for now) – if Fuji thinks cutting down the Velvia range is necessary, then ditching both the 100 and 100F would seem more sensible to me.
Anyway: there’s not much I can do about decisions by a global company like Fuji (beyond signing this petition – I’d encourage you to do likewise!). My first reaction on Lewis was to come home and try to buy lots of 4×5 Velvia 50 so that I have a stock of it to use with my new camera. I did look into different suppliers in the UK, but they are mostly out of stock (other photographers – clearly not on holiday at the time of the announcement! – seem to have bought up everything they could). I even checked some suppliers abroad: it appears to still be readily available in Germany, for example.
But now I am beginning to think that I should just leave it: I think that perhaps the challenge for me should be to look at doing something new with the 4×5 camera and to keep the Velvia 50 for my medium format Mamiya (it is still being produced in 120 size). My thinking just now is that perhaps I should be photographing landscapes on the Chamonix using black and white film – I love Ilford’s FP4+ film, for example – at least to begin with. There are two good reasons for this:
- a practical one: FP4+ is wonderfully forgiving about exposure errors in a way that Velvia is most emphatically not, and perhaps this will stand me in good stead as I get to grips with a new process;
- a process one: I want to engage more with my composition and I can imagine that photographing in black and white on a view camera could enable that, not least since the image on the ground glass is, of course, upside down! This means shape and form and tone are more accentuated when composing, at least, that was my impression from the workshop I participated in last year.
So my sadness at the apparent loss of Velvia 50 in 4×5 format is turning into a further kind of challenge. Again, I’ll have to see how I get on with this, and I’m sure there will be plenty of ‘misses’ – but I hope the ‘hits’ to ‘misses’ ratio improves over time!
More about this camera and my trials with the image-making process to come over the next months. And yes: the pinhole will now have to wait a little longer…