The Addendum

Photos make the photographer, not cameras

The Yashicamat, a tempting MF camera. Photo by tim_d, used under Creative Commons license.

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time on sites like KEH and Blue Moon and eBay considering used medium-format cameras. For those unschooled in the arcana of film photography, medium-format (or MF as I sometimes refer to it) is a larger size (or format) of film photography. Rather than little negatives about three-quarters-of-an-inch by one (or thereabouts) as in a 35mm camera, the negatives are a little over two inches on their shortest dimension. With a much larger negative, grain is less pronounced, detail enhanced, and the size of prints (and crops) possible increases dramatically.

As a dedicated lover of film, I’ve wanted to use a medium-format camera for a good long time. This most recent bout of online window-shopping was inspired by my trip to Sacramento last month, during which I was able to meet (and see prints from) David Plowden. On the trip home, my traveling companion — a fellow photographer — made a rather evil pronouncement: “you should get a Yashicamat TLR. They’re probably the best value in medium-format right now.”

Ah, the Yashicamat. Made throughout the second half of the last century, the Yashicamat is a Twin-Lens-Reflex camera, or TLR. Cliff notes version: two lenses are on the camera, one to view the image through, one to capture the image. They are usually simpler than SLR-type cameras with their multiple lenses and their viewing prisms. Bottom line: they’re slightly limiting but quite capable within the limits they have; many of the images in Plowden’s latest book were made with a similar TLR made by Rollei. Those same limits also make TLRs like the Yashicamat less spendy than other MF options. For a couple hundred dollars, I could own a decent, functional, optically sound TLR.

I was tempted. In fact, I will confess, I bid in series on three on eBay. Fortunately, I lost each auction.

Fortunately? Why fortunately? Don’t I want one?

In photography, it is common to become seduced by equipment. There’s a collector’s mania that can set in, not satisfied until one of everything worth having is on the shelf. For others, it becomes a more temporal thing, a compulsion to try and/or own every type of camera and lens you desire, only to quickly become bored and sell them on again, a kind of photographic womanizing. And all too often — especially among newcomers and amateurs — there’s the false sense that if only one had this camera or that lens ones photography would improve drastically.

So yes, fortunately, I lost those auctions. In the process, I got the TLR bug out of my system for a while longer, and remembered there was something far more important: that little row of undeveloped rolls of PanF sitting on my workbench.

I’m not saying there’s no value to new or different equipment. I’m not saying the Yashicamat or other TLRs or MF cameras aren’t worth owning, or aren’t worth it for me. Some day, I probably will own one, when the timing is right. But for right now, what’s more important is spending my time, energy, and budget on making photographs, not collecting equipment. This is a lesson that should be learned early by aspiring photographers and never forgotten.: photos make the photographer, not cameras.

What gear has been tempting you lately?

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One Response to Photos make the photographer, not cameras

  1. Dave Jannuzzi says:

    A Canon 400mm :)