The pendulum might eventually settle near the middle again – photography and archery

For a while there in 2018-19 I got completely obsessed with putting vintage lenses on the front of a modern digital camera, and everything was fair game to be photographed. At that time my Falco Storm flatbow was getting a lot less attention than it deserved, and consequently I was getting a bit less archery/meditation than I needed.

Enter the COVID-19 pandemic, and as I’ve written about here before, archery was back on the agenda, and I took on a brand new archery project in early 2020. I decided to give eastern thumb-draw traditional archery a try, after shooting the more familiar (in the west) 3 finger draw for decades.

Cutting a long story short, in typical western trad archery (and for a right hander), the arrow goes on the left side of the bow and one uses 3 fingers to draw the string back to a fixed anchor point – often the corner of one’s mouth. For me being a short chap, that meant I was drawing about 26″ (yes, everything in archery is in Imperial units) and never realising the full power of the bow, typically rated for a 28″ draw. Typical modern trad bows (there’s an oxymoron for you) have a shelf cut into the handle area where the arrow rests, and also giving a bit of a sight window. I’d being doing it this way since childhood, and that’s a while ago.

Me drawing the typical western way with 3 fingers, arrow left side on a rest.
Image by @benmaher73

In eastern styles the string is typically drawn with the thumb, and depending on the style and the circumstances it can be drawn back to a similar anchor to the western style around the mouth, or to a point further back such as the ear lobe, or in some West Asian styles back over the shoulder. There is usually not an arrow shelf cut into the bow – one shoots off the hand. And the arrow is on the right hand side of the bow (for a right hander).

Me drawing in the Ottoman Turkish style with my thumb and to my ear lobe.
Image by @nocturnal_archer

So switching automatically gets me from around 26″ draw length to a shade over 29″. For once I get more than the advertised bow power!

After the initial learning process for a completely new way of drawing a completely different kind of bow, it quickly became apparent that this style suits me biomechanically much better. It feels stronger, more powerful and controlled, and on a good day more accurate. So rather than being a flirtation with another style, I shifted over completely, and now I only really thumb shoot.

There are a few other advantages of shooting this way, for me. There’s a lot less paraphernalia, and that appeals to my minimalist tendencies. I no longer need an arm protection bracer on my bow arm, because the string doesn’t get over there during release. The thumb rings (zihgir in Ottoman Turkish) are quite small compared to the gloves and tabs of western trad archers, and also a bit on the attractive bling side in many cases. The bows are small and light, so carrying them around for hours in the field is really easy.

In a kind of cross-pollination exercise, I have recently started thumb shooting a Viking style longbow. Most people these days would shoot it the modern way, with a split finger Mediterranean draw – but Vikings may have used thumb draw, and also possibly so-called Slavic or Sassanid draw. So I’m not really being so radical, but folks still see it as a rather odd. I get most of the technical benefits I mentioned above of thumb versus fingers, for me.

Sarmat Varang Lux longbow – and me thumb shooting it

One thing has not changed though. Archery roving or stump shooting is still my favourite form of archery. Shooting informal, inanimate targets at varying distance and elevation, out in the forest. I do shoot formal targets sometimes though, and even though they are a bit more predictable, it can still be challenging.

For more bite-sized chunks about eastern style archery with Asiatic reflex bows, I do post a lot on Instagram as @flatcap_archery …

And so to close the loop. Archery and archers are really photogenic, and great cinematographic subjects … so cameras are back in hand but without displacing bows and arrows …

So I finally got around to using a Micro Four Thirds camera for something it unarguably excels at … video

I’ve had the right gear sitting here for years now, but there have been myriad other distractions.

I had a Lumix GH3 for years, and people have made feature films with that camera, even without 4K video and other bells/whistles. I upgraded recently to a GH4 – still trailing the pack by half a decade as Lumix will soon launch the GH6, and the GH5/GH5S are rusted-on staples in the videography world.

I also have the trifecta of old Russian lenses that are commonly used for making cinematic-looking video – the Helios 44-2 58mm, the Mir-2 37mm, and the Jupiter-9 85mm.

I’m over the steepest bits of the learning curve with FOSS video editing suites Shotcut and Kdenlive. So what’s next?

Here’s a recent ‘proof of concept’ exercise. Archery is, in my humble opinion, the perfect subject matter for poetic style documentary film-making. Maybe there’s even a niche for archery doco’s that aren’t just blokes with veins popping out of their foreheads while they grunt and haul back on some way over-powered reflex or compound bow?

I’m hoping so.

Start here … just a minute and a bit of your time, with the Helios 44-2 lens showing just how beautifully it can render a forest scene near dusk. Watch it on a phone if you have no choice, but much better – watch it on a nice big computer screen with 4K resolution selected in the YouTube options, or a big tablet/iPad I guess. Check out the earthy colours, the crisp resolution in the narrow band of focus, and the nicely smeared edges and background.

Talk about subject separation …

Out with the old, in with the new – traditional archery bows for sale

This blog is about transition, but if you read on, that’ll probably be obvious and I most likely didn’t need to say so.

For a few years now, more or less since childhood but with breaks of varying duration, I’ve been an archer. Always with relatively simple stick bows of one sort or another. Broadly speaking in modern terminology a “traditional” archer (there are a few historiological flaws in that terminology, but that’s maybe for another day). That is, someone who uses a simple longbow, flatbow or recurve bow, but without any mechanical aids to drawing the string (like the pulleys on a modern compound bow) or aiming (no sighting aids of any sort). Typically wood or wood-mimicking carbon, and often feather-fletched arrows.

I can remember making bows in the back yard at home when I was about 11 or 12. A branch from a tree or a piece of cane or bamboo, simple twine bowstring, and improvised hardwood dowel arrows or some such. Later on there was a very simple commercial d-shaped bow – can’t remember much about it other than it was short and painted black. Around that time my father noticed when he was in his garage with the lights off, that a series of holes in one wall allowed tiny pillars of light to stream through the dusty interior. My aim wasn’t that great! Late teens or early twenties, after a brief archery retirement, I went along to a few sessions at an archery club in my home town of Geelong. Some kind of basic recurve bow was their weapon of choice. On and off over the years until about 2010 I retained a background interest in archery, but just dabbled here and there.

Some time around 2010 I decided it was time I had a real bow and got serious about archery. I had just moved to a regional area in Central Victoria, so the setting was right. I was determined not to join a club – self-taught, as usual, would be the way to go. The big bonus was that since my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s, the interwebs had arrived, and there wasn’t much you couldn’t learn about from YouTube. Archery was no exception.

Long story short. I settled on the style of bow I wanted (modern longbow, a.k.a. flatbow) and had narrowed down the search of which one to a bowyer based in Estonia. Falco Archery were making excellent bows, but at a fraction of the price of the more well known producers in the USA. Archers using Falco gear were winning international competitions, but I could actually afford one of their basic bows. The Falco Legend, 45 pound draw at 28”, and at 70” long when braced truly a long bow (if not technically a longbow). The Legend, YouTube and I made a hell of a lot of progress in a short time. It was a forgiving bow to learn on, even if I was a bit over-bowed at the start. Not long after that I met Ben Maher and was introduced to the magical world of archery roving or stump shooting. Immeasurably more fun than shooting at circles on static paper targets, and with the accompanying banter from other like-minded archers, more fun than it had previously seemed possible.

I dabbled briefly with a takedown ILF recurve as my second bow (TradTech Titan), but during a financial rough patch I sold it on again. Things settled down, and my second bow was another Falco – this time the short, fierce flatbow called the Falco Storm – #55@28 and just 54” long. Designed to be used as a horsebow and for hunting or roving. High arrow speeds, but compact shape making it easy to thread through the undergrowth in the bush (the 70” Legend wasn’t so nimble that way 🙂 ). It was the perfect roving/stumping bow for me, and I had a lot of fun and success with it.

I passed on the Falco Legend to another beginning archer in 2020, and I look forward to seeing it work its magic on another traveller.

The Falco Storm is now also for sale (see below for details).

So what changed?

Early in the COVID pandemic of 2020, during one of the lockdowns, I decided to give eastern style thumb draw archery a try, to see if I could master it. What is unsaid in all of that history above, and it usually is in the western context, is that I was using a typical western method to draw the bowstring back – three fingers on the string, and as a right handed archer the arrow was on an arrow shelf on the left side of the bow. Every depiction of archery in the west shows it this way (reversed for left handers of course, but still three fingers). So all my muscle memory is for what is generally known as the Mediterranean draw – what would happen if I tried to learn what is often called the Mongolian draw?

By the way – thumb draw was dominant in much of the east – Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, Middle East, Persia, Himalayas and the subcontinent, China, Japan, Korea, etc. – and still is in most of those places where an archery tradition persists. Mediterranean draw was definitely in the minority historically. Most western archers have overlooked this reality – evidenced by “you have the arrow on the wrong side” and similar comments.

In the beginning it was very difficult to try such a different method after so many years of doing it another way. A bit of persistence paid off though, and when I got my ego under control and used a low poundage training bow the “a ha!” moment came relatively quickly. It’s a more complicated method than the three finger draw, and there are many more parts to the sequence to get a grip on. Getting the drawing hand, thumb and fingers correctly aligned (it’s 90° rotated from the western method) took a while, but then started to feel natural. Having the arrow on the other side of the bow felt odd, but once I adjusted my sight picture for “aiming”, that was no big deal. No shelf on the bow – that was a bit of an adjustment. Shooting off the hand seemed a bit scary – feather cuts and all that – but correct nock height setting on the string fixed all that. When it all came together though, wow, it felt so much stronger and more intimate than shooting the western way. As a short guy with short arms I’m used to getting less than the measured draw weight of a bow – usually the bow poundage is given at 28” draw, but I could only draw to a bit over 26” with three fingers – with thumb draw I could get around 29” draw.

So it’s fair to say that since I started trying to teach myself thumb draw in May 2020, I have switched over completely to that method. It suits me temperamentally and biomechanically in ways that the western draw can’t match. And because I’m practising more, I am basically a much better archer than I was in May 2020.

The next journey then was “which Asiatic reflex bow?”.

Of the styles that I have tried I like the Ottoman Sipahi and Crimean Tatar pattern bows, and shooting methods, the most. I also have a modern interpretation of an Assyrian bow, which is superb, and I shoot it in pretty much the Ottoman way. I’ve bought and sold and destroyed a few bows in the last year. A Hungarian style bow just didn’t work for me – I didn’t enjoy the physical character of it and I sold it on. Some of these very lightweight bows are rather fragile, and if not expertly made can self-destruct in normal use – I’ve had one Chinese-made Tatar bow completely delaminate, and a less expensive Indonesian-made fibreglass Sipahi style bow had a limb crack and fail. Full refund on both, so I kept experimenting.

Despite laminated wood bows attempting to replicate the historical composite bows (wood, horn, sinew) with these extreme reflex limbs being at the performance limits of the modern materials, and vulnerable to mechanical failure, they are for me the most satisfying to shoot. Some of the fibreglass and hi-tech polymer bows get closer to some of the historical parameters of shape, weight and so on, but feel lifeless compared to either a real composite bow, or a laminated analogue.

The laminated Vegh Sipahi (#34@28) is my favourite general purpose bow – it is very light, small, responsive and supple, and feels alive when in use. In contrast the Şimşek Hybrid+ (#45@28) that I’m offering for sale below is a technological marvel – it’s moulded resin shape is as close to the size, shape and weight of real composite bows as can be made at the moment – but it feels efficient like a well made tool, and doesn’t speak to me at all. A technical masterpiece, but for me somewhat inanimate and soulless – many others don’t share that problem with me, and put its technical excellence to use with great shooting.

My Grozer Biocomposite Assyrian (#45@28) feels alive in my hands when I shoot it – and I’m not referring to handshock or vibration. I’m still struggling to find an adequate description in words to explain how beautiful it is to shoot with. Maybe the look on my face after I’ve hit a distant target with it does better justice than the words I’m grappling for …

So, now down to the business. I have two beautiful traditional bows for sale. Surplus to my needs, but with much to offer their next owners.

FALCO STORM FLATBOW (SHORT MODERN LONGBOW) #55@28

It is a particularly beautiful and deadly bow. If I thought there was any chance I would be going back to western archery, it would not be up for sale.

The visible wood types in its construction are ebony, cocobolo and curly birch. Curly birch back. Ebony belly. Both of those with cocobolo layered in the riser. It’s very pretty. The limbs have a bamboo core, adding more to the already high energy nature of the bow to generate high arrow speeds from a compact bow. Draw length maximum is 28”.

From the Falco web page:

“… The Storm was first created to be a hunting/horsebow and the first prototype of it was ordered by our long-time test-shooter Marko Suhonen.

At creating Storm, we aimed to engineer a very quick and fierce bow which would at the same time be comfortable to handle while on horseback – hence it had to be short. However going the easy way of making a classical Hungarian Mongol horsebow did not satisfy us either so we looked further and ended at a model more similar to the horsebows used by Indians in the prairie.

We have never had such a rush of feedback which followed after Marko launched his test videos of The Storm on Youtube ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4o4nS9prPJ8 ) and right now it seems The Storm has filled the space of a short bowhunting longbow …”.

Bit of an irony about the rejection of the Mongolian horsebow as a model for a new horsebow. 🙂

Never dry fired or left in a hot car, etc. Stored with my other bows on a dedicated rack in the house. It will come with its original Fast Flight Flemish Twist string, a string keeper, and a bow sock.

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Currently selling from Falco Archery for €280 (plus shipping) in the configuration that I’m selling here (first generation Storm) … it could be yours for €185 (plus shipping) – approximately USD$225 or AUD$285 (plus shipping).

http://www.falco.ee/products/falco_longbows/storm

ŞIMŞEK OTTOMAN HYBRID+ #45@28

Let’s now talk about my Şimşek Hybrid+ #45@28 Asiatic reflex bow (renewed 3rd generation with leather covering).

We’ve been together since November 2020, and as wowed as I am by its technical credentials and excellence, we have never really become friends. I always shoot better and more happily with various kinds of laminated Asiatic reflex bows like my Vegh Sipahi, or the Biocomposite Assyrian from Grozer as fraught as they are with the risk of delamination on a humid day, etc. I know many others are much more than happy with the Şimşek bows, reflecting as they do probably the closest and most authentic experience of shooting with real composite Ottoman bows.

I don’t have a single bad word to say about either the technical, sales or support aspects of the Şimşek operation, which are all top notch, but the bow just doesn’t suit me and my way of shooting. I think it’s time the bow went somewhere to find a real friend!

It is the latest iteration of the Şimşek Ottoman Hybrid with leather wrapping (Hybrid+). There is abrasion of the leather at the arrow pass, but the bow is in otherwise fine condition. Never dry fired or left in a hot car, etc. Stored with my other bows on a dedicated rack in the house. It will come with string, string-keeper, bow sock.

Currently selling new from Şimşek for €400 at this draw weight (plus shipping) … it could be yours for €295 (plus shipping) – approximately USD$360 or AUD$455 (plus shipping).

https://simsekbow.com/bows/ottomanhiybridplus

Email me at lconole@gmail.com if you want more details.

It’s not that I don’t care about photography any more …

I last wrote in this blog back in May 2020, when the pandemic was just starting to hit its straps. Nothing much since has happened here on the blog, or elsewhere on my website. Meanwhile, much has gone on in the world.

Photo by Ben Maher @benmaher73 on Instagram. Şimşek Ottoman Hybrid+ bow, VLBB Tabs quiver

Back then my archery practice had almost ground to a complete stop. Nine months later, that slide has definitely been reversed. I’ve moved from one neotrad archery tradition to one which is a little bit more actually trad. Out with the laminated American flatbows (a 20th century invention); in with things often (incorrectly) called ‘horsebows’ – Asiatic reflex bows made in the form of medieval Ottoman designs, but with modern material and techniques (laminated, some epoxy resin involved, reconstituted horn and sinew, etc.). Instead of the familiar Western (Mediterranean) draw with 3 fingers on the string and arrow on the inside (left side if you’re righthanded), now it’s thumb draw and the arrow is on the outside.

Végh Sipahi bow, VLBB Tabs quiver, Gold Tip arrows

Suffice to say the time spent in learning the new ways and reading the rich philosophical and technical literature, translated from Ottoman Turkish, Persian and Arabic, has well and truly reignited my passion for archery. The other major benefit, as an aid to meditation, has helped me not go crazy during pandemic lockdowns, etc. Massively beneficial.

Végh Sipahi bow, Gold Tip arrows

So now archery as a martial art with a philosophical and technical underpinning has paired up with the sheer joy I’ve always experienced of being out in the forest somewhere, at one with the bow and arrows, delighting in the sound of the bowstring as it launches the arrow. So simple, but so wonderful.

Image by Andy – @nocturnal_archer on Instagram. Végh Sipahi bow.

And photography hasn’t gone away. It just has to share the space … and the trad archery gear does look very photogenic … 😉

Grozer Biocomposite Assyrian bow, Bogar Archery quiver, Sungur arrows

Images by me, unless otherwise credited; taken on either a Google Pixel 2 or Pixel 4a mobile phone (don’t tell my cameras !!).

ARCHERY AND FORAGING – GETTING BACK TO SOME NEGLECTED FOREST CRAFTS!

These last 2-3 years photography and roaming with the dogs have pretty much supplanted a few of my other outdoor passions. In beautiful autumnal sunshine, two of them got a bit of love today.

It’s a long Pine Mushroom (Saffron Milk Cap Lactaria deliciosa) season in 2020. This lovely harvest was in between where I stood and the old stump I was shooting at in my long overdue instinctive archery stumping session.
This is a frame grab from a video I shot this morning. I’m too much of a skinflint to upgrade my WordPress subscription to premium to load videos here! Pine forest near Castlemaine, Falco Storm bow – this is instinctive archery stump-shooting …
Another video grab – arrow frozen in flight – not bad camera resolution on an object travelling at over 220km/h …

But it works on YouTube

TRIPOD RENOVATION COMPLETE …

In May last year I blogged about replacing the head on my Manfrotto 055PROB aluminium tripod with relatively inexpensive Sirui levelling base and panning head parts. As opposed to junking the whole thing and buying a new expensive tripod. https://mikrokosmfotos.art/2019/05/04/upgrading-my-trusty-tripod/

That has proven to be a great improvement, and it’s such a better experience using it now for all sorts of photography.

The one lingering useability glitch has been the rubber feet. Unstable on carpet indoors, and on various soft surfaces outdoors.

Yesterday I replaced the rubber feet with retractable screw-out spikes.

The renovation of the 055PROB is complete. The Sirui head is wonderful, and now on spikes it’s rock solid, more than a match for my heaviest camera gear.

FROM FILM TO DIGITAL – FOUR TIMES & COUNTING

Or, a short photographic history of Lawrie Conole, and a mini review of the Sigma SD Quattro camera

PART 1

I’ve been on the journey from film to digital a few times over the years. You’d think by now I might have worked out where I want to be on the photographic spectrum, between completely analogue at one end through to totally digital at the other. But it’s never really that simple.

Cameras were significant objects in my childhood. On the one hand I very distinctly remember the boxes of monochrome family photographic prints my mother compiled with a Kodak Box Brownie, but I have no memory of her actually standing there in front of me using it. On the other hand, her unmarried sister, my Auntie Dorothy, had what was obviously at the time a much more expensive and sophisticated Voigtländer 35mm rangefinder camera. She compiled hundreds, maybe thousands, of colourful Kodachrome slides, which led to interminably long family slide nights – where we the children who were in most of the photos started snoring after a short time.

Fast forward a few years, and when I was about 10-11, I was given a Kodak Instamatic camera. I distinctly remember the weird brownish/green colour-cast, square images it produced, but I haven’t kept any of them. At around about that time I also started developing a pretty solid interest in birding (birdwatching), and so there were quite a few images of tree foliage, in which if you were very careful and keen-sighted you might find a few tiny photographic grains that comprised a splodgy Silvereye or maybe a New Holland Honeyeater. This may explain why my interests in ornithology and photography never really crossed paths very often in the years that followed. Photographic birds with a wide angle plastic lens is hard …

The Instamatic was retired at some point, and I was camera-less for a few years. When I was about 17-18 (around 1977) I got my first 35mm film SLR. It was a second hand Pentax Spotmatic, with a 50mm standard lens, and I started feeding it Kodachrome 64. Landscapes, wildflowers, family (but not birds) were my targets. Shortly after I traded the Spotmatic in for a Pentax MX – possibly still my favourite 35mm film SLR, and I think my younger brother still has it somewhere. It was joined a bit later by a secondhand Pentax ME-Super (ditto for current whereabouts). With those I had a couple of Pentax 50mm standard lenses, plus a Sigma 28mm and a Sigma 80-200mm zoom. A few birds were captured, but mostly it was landscape, vegetation, wildflowers, bats, frogs, lizards … full on natural history documentary scientific photography .. hobbyist style. Those Pentax SLRs travelled all over eastern Australia with me, chasing critters – from the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia up through Central Australia in the Northern Territory, all through Queensland and New South Wales – most of their lives spent across my home state of Victoria, and a bit in Tasmania. Everything from alpine to desert to wet tropics, which they took in their stride – remarkably robust and durable kit.

In the period from about 1986-1990 was my period of professional scientific photography, when my job included running a darkroom and photographic archaeological artefacts of various kinds (stone tools, canoe trees, animal and human skeletal material, staff at work, etc.) at the state archaeological authority. Though I was still using the MX and ME-Super in my private photography, my work cameras were an Olympus OM-1 (35mm) and a Zenza Bronica ETRS (120 film). Still solidly in the film era!

From 1990 until about 2000 I worked at the state museum. The museum had a dedicated photographic team, so I didn’t take photos at work until around 1995-96 on a research project documenting aspects of the state science museum collections. Around this time the museum’s photography team had started capturing digital images of the state collections, using a high end video camera to make digital still images. For my project I needed only relatively low resolution thumbnail images to go on database card entries for quick reference. Enter the first digital stills camera that I’d ever encountered, the Kodak DC50. Capturing images in glorious 0.4 megapixel splendour. From that encounter I formed the opinion that digital had a very, very long way to go before it posed any kind of existential threat to film.

In 1996 I took my Pentax MX to Indonesia, for a month of travelling in Java and Bali, shooting Kodachrome 64. In 2000 I travelled to ex-Soviet Central Asia on holiday. Throughout Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan (and a bit of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) I took my Pentax MX plus a standard lens and the Sigma wide angle, and I shot Ektachrome. That MX was a delight, and largely bombproof …

Then I lost my photographic mojo to a very large extent, and gave my Pentax SLRs and lenses to my younger brother.

I didn’t have a camera at all between 2001-2004. With the birth of my daughter Marta approaching, I bought a Nikon Coolpix 4500 compact digital camera – 4 megapixel. As digital compacts go it was a fantastic camera. The revolutionary rotary two-part body meant that it could be shot in the manner of a waist level finder camera – fantastic for candid portrait photography – though the screen was relatively small and not very high resolution. Macro ability was also impressive, and the colour rendition was excellent. It also had an optical rangefinder style viewfinder. As my eyesight deteriorated with age, I found it more and more difficult to use the screen, and consequently stopped using it altogether by around 2009.

In 2010 I travelled to Brazil to a conference where I would present some of my PhD research. My travel funding paid for a small Pentax Optio H90 point-and-shoot digital. It barely survived the trip before it ceased to operate reliably, but it did capture some great images along the way.

Then the dark ages, where I hardly took any photographs except family snaps with mobile phones (they weren’t that great back then) from 2010-2017.

Major ructions occurred in my life in 2017. I came out of a 16 year marriage, and moved to a slightly larger small town than where I had been living with my family. The family dog Harry came with me (more about him later). A few months into bachelorhood after using an iPhone 5c increasingly for landscape and dog photography, I felt the urge to have a ‘real’ camera again. Enter a second hand Olympus Pen EP-3, with 14-42mm kit lens, 16 megapixel sensor.

It didn’t take all that long before my research discovered that the Micro Four Thirds system was great for adapting classic manual focus lenses. I never really enjoyed zooms very much, and although AF was great for fast-moving kids and dogs, my main interests were in landscape, portraits and still life – MF territory.

My first Soviet M42 lens was an Industar 50-2. It cost about AUD$15 delivered from Ukraine. New old stock. And it was awesome – image quality was quite superb – virtual pancake so the camera was pocketable (in a generous coat pocket). I was hooked. Initially I used it with a dumb adapter as a virtual 100mm lens. Soon after I got a Viltrox speedbooster and it became a 75mm equivalent lens, and a bit brighter than its nominal f/3.5.

From there I experimented with a range of old manual focus lenses, mostly former Soviet Union in origin. The Jupiter-9 became and remains one of my favourites, as does the Helios 44-2. I got a couple of Minolta MD lenses – 55mm and 135mm – plus a Zhong Yi Lens Turbo II speedbooster. That combination had some real character, and superb IQ.

A little while later I stayed with Micro Four Thirds but moved to Panasonic Lumix – a GH3. I gave the EP-3 to my daughter.

Amongst the M42 lenses I had was a Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8. I’d never really found its sweet spot, and hadn’t used it much. A friend gave me her old black Pentax Spotmatic in mid-2018. Around 40 years since I’d handled a Spotmatic, and the familiarity in-hand was immediate and a little spooky. It just felt right, and I knew where everything was without looking. Re-enter the world of film!

I shot a few films with the Spotmatic. I had a variety of M42 lenses to use on it. It was a great idea, but my eyesight has really deteriorated in 40 years. I found it incredibly difficult to focus – not like the old days when I could quickly see what was in and what was out. Enter one Minolta SRT101 opp-shop rescue.

The SRT101 was easier for me to focus. Still not easy, but easier. I had two Minolta lenses to use on it, and a very simple adapter ring brought all the M42 lenses into play as well. I shot a few films on the SRT101.

35mm film SLRs and my eyes were not really getting along. I also thought that both the MD Rokkor and M42 lenses were producing superior IQ on digital than with film. My re-entry into the film world was stalling – just when it was becoming the very hip thing to be doing. I knew that I could get great IQ on film, but how was I going to get there. Another timely donation – a Zorki 4 rangefinder. Oh – I remember rangefinders! I remember the torture by Voigtländer and Kodachrome in childhood. But surely they are primitive old tech?

Wow. I can see _so_ well through a rangefinder (the viewfinder dioptre adjustment is superb). And I can focus (the rangefinder patch is bright and clear). And I actually like both the hands-on experience of using the Zorki 4, and the IQ. This is my 35mm film camera. See a slightly longer version of the Zorki story here: https://www.35mmc.com/22/09/2019/5-frames-with-kodak-portra-400-on-a-zorki-4-or-down-a-rabbit-hole-by-lawrie-conole/

Then there’s medium format film. I enjoyed using the Bronica in the 1980s. My research led me to the Pentacon Six TL medium-format SLR and its superb Carl Zeiss Jena lenses. So much more affordable than either Bronica or Hasselblad, obviously. I didn’t really want to go down the TLR route – the CZJ lenses were calling me – Biometar, Flektogon, Sonnar. And then I heard about the guy on eBay from Slovakia – Cupog as he’s known there – really knows Pentacon Six cameras and how to CLA them properly. Accordingly, the P6 and those three lenses came to me from Slovakia – in beautiful working condition and a relatively tiny price. The IQ was breathtaking; still is.

Maybe now the last turn back to digital. It’s late 2019 and I’m rationalising my modest collection of classic cameras and lenses. The 35mm film SLRs have to go – I can’t focus them. The Mir-1ш 37mm and I never really hit it off, on film or digital (it’s replacement the Meyer-Optik Görlitz 30mm is sooo much better). The Zorki 4 stays. So does the P6 and its lenses. The Lumix GH3 is superb when coupled with the Pana-Lumix 25mm, and various classic lenses. For high resolution landscapes, still life, portraits … enter the Sigma SD Quattro (SDQ hereafter).

THE SIGMA SD QUATTRO MINI-REVIEW

There’s a list as long as your arm about why _not_ to buy the SDQ. Aside from the general (non-Sigma) fanboy chauvinism and discrimination out there against Sigma cameras (but not their lenses), what else? As a general purpose mirrorless digital camera it ticks very few of the boxes. For a mirrorless camera it’s relatively large and heavy, and it has a DSLR lens mount (Sigma’s proprietary SA mount) with an empty mirror box tube protruding from the front of the camera.. It has an APS-C crop sensor. No IBIS – no any kind of IS. No video. Almost restricted to the lowest ISO settings around 100-400 before IQ starts to drift. Odd green flare if there’s a bright light source in screen. File writing is slow. Battery life pretty short (~200 images with AF lenses). The proprietary X3F super definition raw format is unreadable to all but Sigma’s own software. Autofocus is apparently very slow.

Most of these factors are irrelevant to me. The potential users of Sigma cameras are necessarily an odd bunch.

The sensor may be APS-C crop size, but it’s a Foveon. Almost all other digital cameras use Bayer sensors. In the right hands the Foveon produces filmic naturalistic colour; monochrome rendering is superb; take out the removable hot filter in front of the sensor and you have real infrared capability (still need a visible light filter on the lens). The 39MP Foveon produces dazzling detail resolution equivalent to a 50+MP Bayer sensor. Classic lens rendering with the Foveon is amazing; particularly with the CZJ medium format lenses, but the Helios 44-2 for example is superb with this sensor. The virtual mirror box DSLR mount means that adapted M42 lenses only need a thread ring adapter – compatible flange distance is already there. Focus peaking in your choice of red, yellow or black – that’s a luxury with MF lenses that I’ve not used before – and I like it. The SDQ has a Super Fine Detail mode, which stacks 7 exposures with bracketing fused into one raw file, in camera – exported JPEGs are about 60MP. The light rendering and resolution of the SFD files are jaw dropping sensational; at least medium format quality. I have a Lumix GH3, so video is well in hand if I need it. My Google Pixel 2 phone shoots 4K if I need that. 100-400 ISO is more than I need on most days, and I have a tripod. If I want to shoot straight at a light source I’ll use the GH3. Battery life is not long it’s true, but better with MF lenses when electrons are not being used to drive Sigma’s hybrid phase/contrast AF. And miraculously, it uses the same battery as Lumix G-series cameras, so I have a few already. The SOOC JPEGs at superfine are nearly perfect, and there’s the DNG option. AF is irrelevant to me on this camera. The Sigma menus are the best I’ve used, and the manual controls are intuitively selected and placed. Two two pane screen on the camera back is very nice. Camera build quality overall is very impressive. Ergonomics are fantastic, even compared to the GH3 which I rate very highly. I like the heft of the camera, and with CZJ medium format lenses on board, it’s very much medium format handling. Perfect (for me).

I was originally intent on getting the Sigma SD Quattro H – much the same camera but with a bigger APS-H sensor – the biggest ever Foveon sensor made by Sigma to date (apparently there’s a full frame Foveon coming this year). That proved to be impossible in Australia, as the importer had none, and neither did any of the distributors. Getting one from Japan was going to be too expensive. I’m not sure I’m missing much with the APS-C versus APS-H sensor, but I remain curious.

The images that im getting from the SDQ and the CZJ lenses are as good as medium format film, occasionally better. The SDQ is slow to use, like film medium format, and I love that. Having said that though, it’s so much easier to use than medium format film. I’d sell the P6 today (much as I love it, it’s not getting used now) but it’s probably not worth much without its beautiful lenses. I can see those beautiful lenses outlasting me … 🙂

BACK TO THE MAIN STORY

So I first encountered digital in about 1995-1996 with a 0.4MP Kodak DC50. It was useful for the particular job at the time, but not to be taken seriously for IQ. Early 2000s with my film cameras gone, the 4MP Nikon Coolpix 4500 was a great camera to use as a sophisticated point-and-shoot, and the IQ was actually very nice. In 2010 the little Pentax Optio was a brief blip – IQ was quite good, but the camera wasn’t robust enough for my lifestyle. Film still had the edge. Come 2016-17 and I was using the 16MP Lumix GH3 about 95% of the time with classic MF lenses – it was (still is) an excellent camera and IQ is easily good enough for A2 and A1 printing. I was using film again in 2018-19 – mostly for the lovely handling and IQ of the Zorki 4 rangefinder, and the beautiful monochrome IQ of the Pentacon Six TL medium format system. Since the SDQ arrived on my desk, film is slipping away again, maybe for the last time. I still love using the Zorki 4, but I have to force myself to use it. The P6 has donated its stellar lenses to the SDQ, and with the SDQ as main camera, GH3 as second camera, digital is now doing everything I want or need.

I’m going to leave it mostly to the deliberate film-shooting photographers and hipsters to keep film alive – it’s future seems assured at the moment.

… but the Zorki 4 will still get some occasional outings I think. It’s too lovely to leave on display on the mantelpiece, as a decorative curio alongside the Zenit E …

Upgrading my trusty tripod

OK, I’m talking about tripod heads. There are a few reasons why it matters to me and might be relevant to anyone else:

  • Some classic lenses are really heavy (–> tripod)
  • Some people use classic lenses to stitch panoramic landscapes together (–> tripod)
  • I have a near classic set of tripod legs and it’s only the head I have an issue with
  • I hate turfing good gear out if it can be updated to be better

I’ve had my Manfrotto 055PROB tripod for about 20 years. The aluminium legs are good and solid, not all that heavy, and the centre column can also be mounted horizontally.

The 141RC three-way head on the other hand is a shocker. I’ve never liked it, but this didn’t matter much when I didn’t use it much. Now I use it a lot for film cameras, long exposures, landscapes, etc. The 141RC is really heavy, but not very steady. The three-way controls are clunky. I always have to level the legs for panning because the head offers no useful adjustment in that domain.

I recently saw one of the major tripod makers’ heads with a levelling bowl type adjustment underneath. Get the legs stable, and then level the head from its base rather than fiddling with legs on uneven ground. Great! Could I retrofit something like this on my on 055PROB legs? Turns out, yes.

So in the image below are pictured my Manfrotto 055PROB tripod legs, with a Sirui LE-60 levelling base and Sirui L-20S tilt head … and the giant clunky 141RC alongside for scale.

The Sirui gear is really nicely made. It included one of their big camera plates (TY-70-2), so my Pentacon Six TL medium format camera feels rock solid on there. Sirui camera plates are Arca-type quick release. The tripod with the Sirui gear on board weighs a lot less than before, and makes it easier to carry further. The new head arrangement is smooth, precise and compact. There are numerous accessible spirit levels built in. It’s a spectacular improvement.

So I’ll sell or give away the 141RC. The 055PROB legs will live on for at least another 20 years. _Nothing went to landfill._

Landscapes and long exposure shots will be SO much easier to do now.

Oh, and I guess I could have just bought a whole new setup. I can’t afford to do that (this retrofit is cost effective), and I like the old 055PROB legs anyhow …