Why I use my camera

23rd October 2016

Strange thing to ask but why do I like my camera, why do I use it. It all started with a request for a piece on my camera.

My camera is a Mamiya RB67 for medium format and a Leica M4-P, now lets understand what these two cameras do, they hold film. This is where the tumbleweed rolls by and the silence is gently disturbed by Ry Cooder playing "she leaves the bank" from Paris Texas. No fireworks, no great list of fabulous functions like an iphone billion with life changing facilities making remembering to get cheese next time you go shopping the most simple thing it actually is. No GPS because with a RB67 and a couple of lenses and backs you know exactly where you are because it isn't going to be that far away from where you started, having climbed with it in a rucksac I can confirm it ranks alongside the heaviest of image makers perhaps outweighed by the Fuji GX680. I suppose the revolving back giving its RB and 6x7 negative size its name just about tells the full story, but there is more.

The original RB67 were basically studio cameras heft from offcuts off the Forth Bridge, ironically the camera has a mirror up facility due to the mass of the mirror slamming against the body during a shot producing tremmors similar to tectonic plate movement. The positive side to this weight is its isolation from everything around, place on tripod and its staying there no matter the wind. You can read on the internet how you can use flash with these and all the different lenses with coatings but basically lots of us use them outside now because they are the cheapest big negative medium format camera out there.

The bit I don't understand is how everybody seems to want a Hasselblad when they start out in medium format and in terms of reliability and cost the mamiya spanks it out of the park, so often we would get Hasselblads jamming, easy to fix yes but you needed the tool to fix it, light yes but cost soooooooo much compared to the RB and in terms of lens quality was it that much better. I know loads of people will disagree and argue very good points for the Swedish perfection, yes its better but like the British cycling team with rounder wheels than the competition, its the user that counts.

So we go to the Leica and I hear the groans already, yes its overpriced and yes its all about brand and logo and the Pentax P30N is just as good for holding film at a fraction of the price but when we talk about lenses we are talking about some of the best glass available.
The M4-P is the ugly duckling, the runt of the litter and for many perfect. Without the Leica M4-P we would probably not have Leica today, it was made in Canada and because of this non German heritage it is frowned upon. Another change was the way Leica thinking evolved from adjusting to replacing parts and making stronger parts cheaper, in financial trouble the M4-2 and M4-P kept the M rangefinder system alive. Eventually the Canadian factory was sold to Hughes Aircraft but still made lenses for a while.

The M4-P was in production from 1981 to 1987 with a few final cameras made in Germany and as usual with Leica there are a few special editions but lets ignore those and ask the question why did I choose the ugly duckling. I worked in a camera shop that sold used Leicas and had the opportunity to try and discuss with others most of the Leica cameras ever sold. The Leica M mount with the quick film load and bullet proof electronics, that's due to having no electronics, 28mm to 135mm frame lines .72 magnification it just works.

The main reasons for going the M4-P route is that the previous versions have a slightly harder film loading process with a spool, once you learn the technique it makes thing a bit easier as you have to hold the base of the camera already. The other reason was that lack of electrical complexity of the M5, M6 and onwards, quite simply its a film holder with an adjustable shutter, no self timer for you selfie brigades. The viewfinder has 3 frameline options from the 28/90 to the 50/75 and the final 35/135 allowing you to use a wide range of glass. The vulcanite on the later models isn't as good as the old stuff apparently so you may be lucky enough to find a recovered masterpiece like my bright red example.

This image of Rosie is an example of why I like the Leica, boucing around in the back of a pick up truck on the island of Eigg with 2 dogs and no light meter guessing the exposure, trying to get away from the dog as the minimum focus distance isn't close while trying to use 1/60th after a few Gin and Tonics is always the recipe for success

In terms of Glass I have used a few different lenses on the camera from the voigtlander 21mm f4, 35mm jupiter, 40mm f1.4 voigtlander, 90mm elmar and a host of 50mm lenses from 1.1 to 2.8.

I suppose the common link between the RB67 and the M4-P is the lack of metering, no battery, no electronic stuff, once again the tumbleweed rolls when talking about their matrix, spot metering trillion focus points and auto load/bracketing doobry firkin.
The bottom line is you do it, no adjusting adding an extra stop, working it out yourself, making mistakes and learning from them, understanding how it all works and other times just getting it wrong and producing something that works. I know its all ethereal, but incident metering and using you eyes and experience gives you such satisfaction it makes you smile and if anybody says otherwise hit them with a RB67 , they won't argue again.