Past and future equipment

At my store (http://www.michaelwillemsphoto.com) we buy and sell quality used camera equipment, like cameras, lenses and flashes.

Film equipment, like the equipment above, as well as modern digital equipment (like right now, a Nikon D3200, a Canon 1Dx Mk3, and a Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera). You can see the full list on https://www.michaelwillemsphoto.com/specials.html.

Which prompts me to ask: when do you upgrade? Do you buy new or used? Film or digital?

That’s really two questions. My opinion:

Film vs digital: shoot a roll of film regularly!

  • It forces you to get good. No preview, and you pay $2 per click.
  • For the same reason, you think much more about the photos you take.
  • And especially B/W film has a grainy magic that is all its own.

Then: when to upgrade your digital stuff?

That’s much more difficult. There is no right or wrong answer to this. For me, I tend to like good used equipment. After all a used 70-200mm lens works the same as a new one – exactly the same, for a lower price.

Upgrading comes in three categories: better functionality you need, better functionality you do not need, and better category you just want. Many people upgrade for the last reason: new toys are fun. But that is good for the rest of us: that’s why there is such good used equipment available. You can buy a 5D Mk3 for under $1000. And it works great (I know: we use two of them daily in the studio), and unless you really need a GPS or whatever other new bells and whistles the new gear has, you might consider saving yourself a lot of money. $1000 for a fully professional camera, for example, instead of three times that: what’s not to like?

If you do buy used, be careful: for pro equipment, get shutter counts, and while eBay prices can look low – though very comparable to what I charge – once you buy there, you have to pay for shipping, customs, delays, and so on, and you deal with an unknown. Kijiji is local but full of, eh, flakes; Facebook Marketplace is better but does not have much to sell. That’s why I decided to add used equipment at the store, to take away those drawbacks for anyone interested.

Whatever you do: remember, photography is not about the equipment. It’s about your skills, your artistry, your being there in the moment. Have fun!

Fisheye Fun

I have some very good used equipment for sale at the store – some mint, as new. One of those is a Canon 8-15mm EF L USM Fisheye.

An amazing lens. And fun.

At 8mm on a full size sensor, you get a dramatic 180º view in a total circle:

Here’s the store itself:

(When using it on a crop camera rather than on a full frame camera, the image is cropped so you do not get the full circle.)

I prefer to make the outside white, by the way. Out of the camera, the outside is black.

This kind of lens is most fun when you get close to things. And this lens allows you to get close… here’s Alex at the store:

And my watch:

We also have a Nikon Mirrorless camera with a bunch of lenses and a converter, and a Canon 5D MkIII, and a bunch of other things. Come take a look at Place d’Orléans, if you are near Ottawa.

Premium Prints

In my shop, we print, among the things. We print all day, and we do it well; so well that we call our prints “Premium Prints”.

So what is a Premium Print?

For these prints, we do the following:

  1. We help our customer get the photo off their device (mostly, a phone). This can involve some phone training, Bluetooth, Airdrop, and so on.
  2. We ascertain that the file is the best one there is. Often we get a tiny screen shot from Facebook Messenger etc, where there is in fact a better file available. We make sure that we get the best file available.
  3. We crop the photo is necessary. Sometimes, we have to fill in areas to allow printing at the required size (e.g. 8×10, if the original is square).
  4. We adjust exposure and colour, if necessary.
  5. Sometimes we need to make more extensive changes. These can include de-noising, sharpening, or even removing items.
  6. Then we print, using fine art papers, on one of our “Giclée” printers: printers that have at least 10 different ink colours rather than just three our four. These inks are pigments not dyes: prints made with pigments reproduce colours better and do not fade readily, like the usual dye-based prints.
  7. We then crop these by hand.
  8. If a frame is wanted, we can advice on the kind of frame that would best suit the photo.

Our staff are all trained photographers and phot-editors, so you get the benefit of their experience and knowledge with every print you make.

And prints are important. They should be on walls, not just on Facebook walls.

Cold

It is cold in Ottawa. Yesterday was -18ºC (0ºF), and that was warmer than the day before.

We get lots of snow, plus this kind of thing:

While I’d rather have this:

Sahara Desert, Libya, south of Ras Lanuf

Or perhaps this:

Port Harcourt, Nigeria, 1980s

All of these environments present problems for cameras, through. Cold, heat +sand, and humidity, respectively.

Always carry a spare battery; keep your camera clean; do not change lenses when there’s dust; and when in the cold, carry your camera back inside within a plastic bag and keep it in that bag until it warms up.

Color or B/W?

When you photograph people, consider black and white rather than colour. For several possible reasons:

  • To avoid distractions
  • To create mood
  • To create “a look”
  • To make skin look smoother.

Nothing wrong with this portrait of Floor Manager Rose:

But this also looks great:

So next time you shoot portraits, consider also trying B/W. You can convert from colour too B/W after shooting – that gives you great control over relative shades.

Retrospect

Do you take photos when travelling? Yes, so do I.

And I suggest that you, like me, may want to go back regularly to old shoots, old vacations, old trips, to see them in a new light, with a new eye. And you will be surprised.

Like this for example. From a trip to Rome in 2005:

And from the same trip:

(See the wolf, with Romulus and Remus?)

And those are just two images from hundreds that are quite good and that I never even spotted before – even though I must have looked at these photos 50 times in the years since the trip.

Photos really are forever!

Back to the future – with film!

I have always recommended shooting a roll of film every now and then. Film – that stuff they used like in the 1800s. And if you are artistic, black and white film.

So I shoot a roll of film every now and then. Because it’s cool. And because I remember to respect the click. Every time you shoot, you spend a few dollars. And you need to get it right: no feedback, no second chances. So you think about photos.

I use my Nikon FE:

And that’s why in my store we also develop film – and in the case of most black and white film, we even do this in-house, right in the store. Here’s some of the equipment, and today’s film drying (35mm as well as 120):

But you don’t need a pro camera… sure, hipsters use cameras like mine, but young women instead love single-use cameras, or better, the simple brightly coloured Kodak snapshot cameras (yes, and we sell them):

And here’s why:

Bring back the past: by popular demand

I tell all my students to shoot a roll of film every now and then. Because you have to think. And you value that click. And it’s fun to see “what you got”.

Young people have realized this too, which is why these are so popular all of a sudden, and why I now carry them in my shop:

Kodak M35: Re-usable (not single use) film cameras, in fun colours. And since I imported them directly from, um, yeah, China, they are affordable too.

Who’d have thought: back to film!

Spare time…

…of which right now I have quite a lot. My store/studio (www.michaelwillemsphoto.com) is still open, but only for passport/ID photos and curbside delivery/pickup, so the days are super slow.

So I get to do some hobby stuff. And my hobby intertests are wide. They also include electronics and computers, and the other day, I bought an Arduino-based Altair 8800 simulator kit (from www.adwaterandstir.com). An excellent kit, by the way, highly recommended.

The Arduino is a modern microcontroller, and the Altair 8080 was really the first personal computer, way back in 1974.

After seeing that article, a couple of young students from Harvard decided to write a BASIC interpreter for it, and the rest is history – you may recognize the names in the Altair BASIC manual:

Anyway, the Altair looked like this…:

And the simulator I built looked like this:

And then it looked like this:

And now, after seven hours of soldering and constructing, looks like this:

And it works! So now I can watch blinking lights (loom up “blinkenlights“). And I can program some BASIC to calculate primes:

..and I can rum CP/M, play Othello and Star Trek and Zork, and in general, do the things you could do in 1977.

Why on earth would I want to do this?

Because it’s a cool conversation piece. And it looks super cool: the Altair with its lights and data/address switches was based on the Data General NOVA.

And because it’s a special thing to run the original Bill Gates/Paul Allen Basic (even “Micro-Soft” did not exist yet) – the project that made Gates $100 billion, and that is responsible for most computer stuff you have now. And to type the same “PRINT 2+2” command that Paul Allen typed in New Mexico to demonstrate the project to MITS, the makers of Altair, and to see the same “4” appear that impressed them enough to buy this BASIC, is quite an experience too.

And above all else, because just like photography, this takes me back. Back to the 1970s and 80s. I feel like I am 20-odd years old again!

And it’s always handy to know prime numbers. I guess.