camera equipment
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Contax G2
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"You use different cameras in different ways, and the camera you choose influences the way you see"
- Roger Hicks
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Current Kit:
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35mm Film
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Contax G2 Black Rangefinder Body
Carl Zeiss 21mm Biogon Lens
Carl Zeiss 45mm Planar Lens
Carl Zeiss 35-70mm Vario Sonnar Lens
Contax TLA-200 Flash
Ilford HP5 400 Film
Nikon Coolscan V Film Scanner
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Digital
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Canon EOS 5D Digital SLR Body
Canon 24-105mm L USM Image Stabiliser Lens
Canon 430-EX Flash
Canon BG-E4 Battery Grip
Sto-Fen Omni Bounce Flash Diffuser
4GB Sandisk Ultra III Compactflash Card
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Software
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Adobe Photoshop CS 2
ACDSee Pro
Macromedia Dreamweaver 8
ColorVision Spyder Monitor Calibration
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It is important to make the immediate distinction between the use of these two kits. My Contax G2 rangefinder kit has dominated my photographic practice for the last four years, but as with the development of ever more convenient and better quality digital technology, I have recently found myself defending my reasoning for continued use of it.
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Ultimately, the G2 wins hands down in terms of portability and quality - two essential requirements of a 'street' camera. However with these positives come negatives - relating specifically to reliability and speed. Reliability in terms of being unable to immediately examine whether a shot has been successful, and speed in terms of the frankly arduous effort required post process - film development, contact sheet analysis and then high quality scanning. These are not faults of the camera - but the obvious limitations of film photography now digital has entered the frame.
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My recent visit to the Far East (see East Meets West) is the perfect embodiment of this. Whilst the camera was perfectly suited to this environment because of its size, I couldn't help thinking whether it would have been better using my Canon EOS 5D SLR. With this digital setup I would have had greater flexibility in terms of zoom range, wider lens aperture, image stabilisation, image previewing and the number of images that could be shot. More significantly, however, the post-process scenario would have been significantly less than the four weeks I spent analysing and scanning my film images.
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This does not detract, however, from the success I have had with my Contax G2 in the past few years. I maintain that it is an ideal 'street' camera that outperforms it's Leica counterparts simply because of its speed. But, as has been made clear on this site, I am beginning to move away from the street environment towards a more defined documentary approach. Maybe, therefore, I no longer require the subtlety of a rangefinder camera.
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I have embraced the dilemma of film vs digital up until this point, but I feel now is the time that digital is beginning to pose a real threat to the street photographer's film kit. I am therefore certain that this issue will come to a head over the next couple of years.
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Contax G2
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The Contax G2 is widely respected and used by photojournalists around the world. To say that this camera revolutionised my approach to photography would be an understatement.
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This is the ultimate camera for film based street photography. At the risk of offending Leica users, this camera is better. It is as compact as any other rangefinder, yet it has autofocus and utilises the best quality lenses in the world. In my experience a bulky SLR system is impractical, obtrusive and conspicuous in a street environment. The beauty of this camera is that you can hang it round your shoulder under your jacket and whip it out when required. When you're not using it you hardly notice its there, but when you are using it there is a feeling of instant gratification from the beautifully constructed and responsive titanium body.
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Probably the most important feature of this camera, second to its responsiveness, is the quality you achieve with the astounding lenses. Anyone who has not used Carl Zeiss lenses before will simply not believe that such fidelity, quality and sharpness is achievable with 35mm film.
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Since purchasing this camera in 2002, I experimented with the 35-70mm Vario Sonnar and 45mm Planar before I discovered the 21mm Biogon, described as a lens that ‘exerts a powerful hold on the hearts of photographic fans around the world’. After one roll through my camera I could see why. I immediately became addicted to the wider, more expansive and spatial images created by this lens after years of shooting with standard lenses.
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Using this lens almost exclusively for about eighteen months gave my street work a new focus as I explored the insignificance, isolation and fragmentation of the individual within a wider urban context. These concepts provided the basis for my project on urban America - Zero.
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Discovering the 'wider view' was an important step in my development, but more recently I have learnt to re-embrace more 'traditional' focal lengths in order to avoid the obvious emotional detachment that comes with using such a lens.
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The Contax G2 has been responsible for a significant shift in my approach and style since I first acquired it, but as I have already explained, my future with it remains uncertain as I begin to demand certain features and functions that only digital equipment can provide.
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Canon EOS 5D.
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Canon EOS 5D
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It is difficult for me to be as excited about this camera as my Contax G2, mainly because I see digital SLRs as required purchase, as opposed to a passionate one.
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The 5D is my third digital SLR, and the first that I consider to be a real threat to any film equipment I have previously owned. This is due to the full frame 13 million pixel sensor, and the lens I have purchased with it - the 24-105mm L USM Image Stabiliser.
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Frankly, this combination of camera and lens are hard to beat, and I have been more than satisfied with the quality that can be achieved with this setup. The flexibility and functionality of the camera also ensure that it is suited to probably any photographic situation (and unfortunately that cannot be said of the G2).
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I purchased this camera primarily for commercial work, but it is likely that it will play a significant part in the inevitable shift from film to digital in my documentary work.
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This is not something that particularly excites me, because I see the loss of film and the organic approach to photography as a tragedy. However, as someone who has embraced both film and digital over the last decade, it is time to make an educated and rational decision, and unfortunately digital wins hands down...
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Previous Film Kits (in reverse order)
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Contax G1, 45mm Planar, 90mm Sonnar, TLA-140 Flash
Yashica T5 Compact
Canon EOS 50E, Sigma 28-80mm, 100-300mm, Cobra 700AF Flash
Canon EOS 10, Canon 35-70mm, 100-300mm, Cobra 700AF Flash
Yashica 200AF, Yashica 35-70mm, 100-300mm, Flash
Praktica B100, Praktica 35-70mm, 100-200mm, Paragon 500mm, Hanimex Flash
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Previous Digital Kits (in reverse order)
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Canon EOS 20D, 10-22mm Lens, 420EX Flash
Konica Minolta Dimage A2
Nikon D100, Nikkor 24-105mm, SB-50DX Flash
Canon Powershot G5
Nikon Coolpix 5700
Canon Powershot G2
Canon Digital Ixus
Nikon Coolpix 600
Ricoh RDC-300
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I have also briefly experimented with:
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Fuji GW 690 III, 90mm lens
Leica M3, Summicron 50mm
Lomo LC-A Kompact
Mamiya C330s Professional, 105mm Lens
Gossen Lunasix 3 Lightmeter
Bronica ETRS, Zenzanon 75mm Lens
Canon EOS 30, 28-90mm
Minolta Dynax 7000i, 35-70mm, 100-300mm

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