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Photography Question 
George Sarri

A film camera in 2005?

If you had money to buy only one expensive camera that you wanted to use for a long time, would it make sense to buy a film or a digital one?

I shoot mostly B&W (available light, people, architecture) but I don't have darkroom. Technology doesn't frighten me. And I'm craving a Leica M7.

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11/2/2005 11:48:45 AM

Kerry L. Walker   For B&W, you are much better off with a film camera.

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11/2/2005 2:10:38 PM

Justin G.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004
  Looks like a nice camera. I'm assuming it's 35mm. Don't want to start a digital war here. Lets say you want to go film and shoot mainly black and white, would it be out of the question to maybe go to a larger format. On it said an average price was like $2500 or something. If you're goign to put that much into a film camera to shoot black and white, I personally would maybe go with MF. But if you don't have you're own darkroom it may not be worth it, unless you have access to one. My personal recommendation would be film for B&W (not the C-41 orange negative but the purple TRUE B&W film). I personally just bought a Mamiya RB67 last night and it seems like a tank. I dunno maybe it's just me but if I were dropping $2000 or so into a camera I wouldn't want to be limited to the little size of 35mm where 11x14 is pretty much standard; MAYBE just maybe you could pull off a 16x20 with the right film.

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11/2/2005 2:34:04 PM

Bob Fately   George, I agree that film makes more sense if you'll be doing B&W, but frankly the camera is only half (or less) of the craft in that realm. Where "wet" color processing was a total pain to deal with, in the world of B&W there is so much more creative input you can add during development and enlargement that I would strongly suggest you taking that Leica money and get a different "light box with lens" and also put together a darkroom.

The good news is that with everyone flocking to digital, you should be able to find great deals on enlargers like Besseler or Omega - the good stuff.

And the medium format idea Justin mentions is worth a thought as well, if only because you can get that much better tonality from the bigger swath of film.

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11/2/2005 2:40:46 PM

shannon casey   FILM CAMERA!!!!!

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11/2/2005 2:57:31 PM

Kerry L. Walker   It really all depends on how you plan to use the camera. The M7, being a rangefinder, is much more limited in scope than an SLR. Can't use zoom lenses (one variable focal length lens available - not a real zoom). Can't use long tele. etc. However, for low light photography and street photography, a Leica can't be beat (maybe matched by the new Zeiss Ikon rangefinder). Likewise, the lenses can't be beat (again, maybe matched by Zeiss). If you like a rangefinder, it is a great choice. Personally, I would love to have one - just can't afford it - but then I like rangefinders.

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11/2/2005 2:57:37 PM

George Anderson   One problem you have is that your varied subject interests (available light, people, architecture) are not necessarily best served by a single camera, depending upon the type of photography you do.

Rangefinders are great for available light, handheld photography, and street shooting, but as mentioned the small 35mm format is not often used for professional architectural studies of the highest caliber. The RF has no tilt/shift lenses to correct for distortion, like an SLR, and even those are quite limited in versatility and quality of result, as both digital and 35mm SLR users have discovered. Many of us who love architecture have eventually gone to large format (LF) bellows cameras. Horses for courses. Even Ansel Adams used a Leica, LF cameras and Hasselblads.

Personally I wouldn't blow all my budget on a single very expensive new 35mm or digital camera and very expensive lenses, especially when I can easily achieve much better image quality by simply using a camera with larger film size. If I were you I would consider purchasing one or two good to excellent quality secondhand cameras suitable for the majority of your current work, and using the savings to fund additional purchases and suitable lenses as your precise requirements evolve.

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11/2/2005 3:18:26 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003

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11/3/2005 8:22:04 AM

doug Nelson   If image quality is everything to you, go for the largest negative size you can afford and reasonably carry. However, we all make compromises.

35mm is the ultimate compromise in reasonable enlargability, versatility and portability. These days, we'd have to add good digital, shot through high quality lenses to that mix. If your heart is set on Leica, go for the GLASS, not the overpriced box (RF or SLR). Try any version of the Leica M 35mm lens on a new Bessa Voigtlander R2 or R2A. The Leica 40mm Summicron C lens is a best kept secret, a SUPERB lens for $250.

I am getting into medium format after 35 years of 35mm. I never liked the 35mm aspect ratio, as I throw away too much neg space in cropping. The Bronica 645 RF is going fairly cheap these days as they're being phased out. You get no tele capability, no macro, but, man, the lenses are superb. In medium format, consider also the Mamiya 6 or 7.
If you're REALLY into architectural, you may as well take the plunge into a 4 x 5 view camera for its tilt and shift perspective features.

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11/4/2005 6:04:06 AM

Michael H. Cothran   George,
I'm going to presume you and I are about the same age, ie, what hair you have left has long been gray! My photographic "career" also spans 35 years, buying my first 35mm camera in 1970. In 1971, I bought my first medium format camera, and have shot 120 film ever since.
No one will dispute the build quality of a Leica ( I even owned and used a mint M3 w/50mm Summicron for a few years), but unless you are big into handholding in low level light with a 50/1.4 or 35/1.4 Summilux, I see no reason to own a 35mm rangefinder. Quality-wise, any decent medium format system will out-print the best of 35mm on any given day. Medium format is so cheap today that for film fans, it just doesn't make any sense to shoot 35mm, except for handheld snapshot kinds of photography.

True story here, George - I sell fine art photography at juried Arts & Crafts Shows. One day last year an older woman came into my booth, and after verbally admiring many of my images - flower macros, telephoto scenery, etc, she asked if I thought if she could take similar pictures with her new camera. I asked what kind of camera she had, and out of her purse she pulls a brand new Leica M? that her husband just bought for her.
Sadly, I had to tell her that she could not do the macro work, nor would she be able to shoot the long telephoto shots. She asked - "why was this camera so expensive then?" I replied "build quality is as good as it gets." She responded "what good does it do if you can't use the *@#*& thing for hardly anything?"
George, I'd think real hard before committing to a 35mm M7.
Michael H. Cothran

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11/4/2005 12:10:23 PM

Justin G.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004
  HAHAHAHA that is just too good, and true too! Great story Michael!

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11/4/2005 12:36:15 PM

George Sarri   I'd like to thank you all for the valuable input. The consensus is for a film camera over digital (although I wonder what it would be if I had posted the question in the digital forum of this website). Opting for medium format, as many of you suggest, is tempting. The size and weight of these cameras, though, would likely be a problem for me. I plan to rent a Pentax or a Mamiya as a test. The other obstacles to MF for me are the dearth of fast lenses and long minimum focusing distances. As for price, buying either a new MF system or a Leica would be expensive. I know the Bronica is cheap, but it's also discontinued. The one thing I don't want to do is sink money in a mediocre system. I did that 12 years ago with a Canon EOS 10S -- a good camera but with lousy lenses (the expensive Canon L lenses notwithstanding.) Thanks again.

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11/4/2005 12:48:31 PM

Justin G.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004
  I just got the RB67 and it has a small bellows system right on it. I have a 90mm f/3.8 and I can get it down to like 5-6 inches. It's really nice. and if you get the common 127mm all you would need is a #2 auto extension tube and you have a 1:1.01 magnification and the 90mm with a #2 tube is a 1:1.42 magnification! Absolutely crazy I tell ya.

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11/4/2005 1:10:23 PM

Kerry L. Walker   Check out the Pentax 645 series. A new 645NII can be bought for less than the Leica body only. A used 645N (which is what I have) can be gotten for less than $800.00. In my opinion, the few upgrades on the 645NII are not worth the extra funds. The lenses, BTW, are great!

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11/4/2005 2:28:53 PM

Justin G.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004
  And Kerry you mentioned that one time that the N records your settings which is an AMAZING feature and probably one of the best functions that could ever be created. Unlike a pen and paper the film "exif" data is right on the negative, with it forever. how cool.

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11/4/2005 3:04:06 PM

Glen Taylor   "As for price, buying either a new MF system or a Leica would be expensive."

This is why folks keep suggesting to you that you get your film cameras and lenses secondhand in excellent condition, and are giving you good alternatives to the overpriced Leica. More versatility, more bang for the buck. You can have it all if you go the used camera route and get yourself two camera systems, rather than just picking one new digital or film camera and having to live with its limitations.

"I know the Bronica is cheap, but it's also discontinued. The one thing I don't want to do is sink money in a mediocre system."

So what if it's discontinued? The last Bronicas offered were very fine cameras and the accessories and lenses are all available. They're certainly not 'mediocre'. These cameras were designed for professional use, and made to last for years. They're at least as reliable as the various Hassy models, if not more so, and the optics are wonderful. Replacement bodies are relatively cheap used, as well. Many amateur MF users didn't seem to use their cameras much, judging by the pristine condition of some of the used cameras I've seen. As to photo quality, remember, it's not just the lens but also the film SIZE that gives for stunning results, not to mention crop versatility. Worried your less prestigious 35mm or 645 camera can't give the detail you want? Get a 6x7 Bronica, Pentax, or Mamiya and blow everyone else away.

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11/5/2005 7:53:40 AM

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