Photography

The Canon 1D Mark II N And Roberta Olenick

I was in the market for a camera as I was looking to make use of the digital Mastin Lab film presets to bring my digital images closer to the way I wanted them to look (like film) and I was also considering a digital full frame that could shoot in demanding circumstances. The type of work I had been doing and the type of demands asked of me made me consider a camera upgrade. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the Leica and my Pentax 645 and Pentax digital cameras but there was a gap that needed to be filled in my line-up.  In all honesty, I could probably use any camera to take a photograph but in practice I have found that some tools are much better than others when it comes to certain assignments.

 Crowds line up for buses close to the Broadway City Hall Skytrain Station - Taken with the Canon 1D Mk II N and a 50mm F1.4 EF lens.

Crowds line up for buses close to the Broadway City Hall Skytrain Station - Taken with the Canon 1D Mk II N and a 50mm F1.4 EF lens.

After some meandering and considering of various cameras (Fuji X Series? Nikon? Wait for the Pentax Full Frame? Other mirrorless?), I found myself at Beau Photo and fell upon the Canon cameras. As I was considering the 5D (we had rented one for a photoshoot at Whytecliff Park), I was looking for one in good condition (still am) but my eye caught this big chunk of a camera sitting in the back of the other Canon cameras. Closer inspection revealed it to be a Canon 1D Mark II N in very good condition and the price was within what I was looking for too. As I investigated it closer for any major scuff marks, the gentleman at Beau noted that the dirt marks on the grip may have been from “her using the camera on the ground”. Her? Ground?

 Night and Day - Taken with the Canon 1D Mk II N and a 50mm F1.4 EF lens.

Night and Day - Taken with the Canon 1D Mk II N and a 50mm F1.4 EF lens.

When I happily took the camera home, I looked into the box and found a little note on one of the spare focusing screens. It was a pink little sticky that had the name “Roberta” on it and a number. At this point, I came to a realization that I was very intrigued about all the evidence mounting and became ever more curious about who the previous owner was. At this point, all I knew was that she was a woman, used the camera on the ground (probably for wildlife) and her name was Roberta. Would she think I was weird for calling her up or contacting her?

Through some “googling” of things, I found a website (www.neverspook.com) called “Never Spook The Animals Wildlife Photography” and found a photographer named Roberta Olenick. I sent her an email explaining that I may have purchased her camera. After a few brief email exchanges, we decided to meet up and met for the first time at a local Starbucks.

Roberta Olenick is a wildlife photographer and has a great respect and passion for nature and animals. Her images of wildlife exude a sense of playfulness and character. The animals look alive and active and interesting. She shared many stories about the camera and also about her experiences and adventures. Prior to this, we had a brief email exchange:

As part of an email, I wrote: “ Thank you for the kind words on my work. I have seen your work on the website and they are amazingly good nature photos! They have such character and I feel like the animals are very much like people :) “

She wrote: “Interesting that you feel like the animals in my images are much like people because when I was looking at your images of people, I was thinking your people were much like animals. Your people were often doing interesting things as though they did not know they were being watched and that natural behaviour is exactly what I try to capture with the wildlife I photograph. A lot of people photos don’t have that ‘wildlife’ quality, but many of yours do.”

As first, I thought that this was a strange comment to make but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense and I realized exactly what she meant.

 The one and only Roberta Olenick (www.neverspook.com)

The one and only Roberta Olenick (www.neverspook.com)

As my friend Neil, a fellow photog focusing on bird photography (Instagram: njdav), and I sat at the table at Starbucks with Roberta, we learned that the camera had “seen” many things. With a shutter count of about 61,000 frames, this was Roberta’s first digital camera (after previously using film to photograph nature) and it had been in various places in Canada from Vancouver to Newfoundland and on extended stints in Colorado. The camera and Roberta had witnessed bears and their cubs, playful foxes, birds of various types and many other amazing animals. She explained that she would often try to get up at “first light” to get the best images.

“As for what the camera has seen … that would be almost exclusively wildlife and a few landscapes, almost never people. So it is seeing very different things now than it did with me. It was an excellent camera for me as well. If I recall correctly, I used the MkIIN from 2006 when I went digital to around 2009 or so,” she wrote in an email.

 Roberta realizing I'm taking her photo with her old camera.

Roberta realizing I'm taking her photo with her old camera.

Roberta is a spunky and social person and very friendly and very open to telling the stories of her experiences, adventures and her thoughts. She explained that she had two rescue cats (which she pointed out in our emails after seeing my own blog post on my own rescue cat) who are now respectively 12 years and 15 years old.

Little did I expect that I would gain a friend out of purchasing this camera. If anything, it has been very enlightening to learn where this camera has been and to give it a second life as a documentary and wedding camera. In the same way that the camera had seen the story of a vast plethora of nature’s animals, I am hoping it will capture the story of the many, many people in this world.

 Roberta's current cell phone which excels at something that current smart phones don't excel at: punching in numbers and making phone calls.

Roberta's current cell phone which excels at something that current smart phones don't excel at: punching in numbers and making phone calls.


Technical Note: The Canon 1D Mark IIN is actually an APS-H sensor (with a 1.3 crop factor, so it's a crop camera but not as cropped as your usual APS-C DSLR. So I didn't get a full frame camera per se but I find APS-H is more than good enough thus far).

We Showed Them Prints

It was the wonder in their eyes and the semi-astonished looks in their faces. We laid out the prints on a large desk and couldn't fit them all despite it being a large desk. There were many 4x6 prints and Stephen and Danielle (as well as my wife and I) were looking over them. Presenting the images in this way really created a new and old experience for us all. It was real. It was tangible. It was the true life of a photograph: Print.

I will be blogging the Whytecliff Park photos eventually but just thought I'd share our experience of receiving and presenting photographs in print form.

Oh, and my cat Hikari makes an appearance at the end ;)

Camera Geekery: darkosaric 35mm Viewfinder Accessory

In this (not entirely serious) post, I briefly review an accessory I acquired recently that has turned out to be actually pretty useful... and a cheap alternative to what I was looking for. Really, it was pretty cheap. These things cost like $200 and up. How did I get it so cheap? Connections :) ... and it's a custom part that someone threw together.

But seriously, it's ingenious. I saved like $185 dollars.

I've been the owner of a Leica M6 for a while and I use it constantly for almost all of my photography work. It's perfection of a camera. If the Lord created a camera, it would be a Leica M6 with light rays shining from it. It shoots rainbows at all angles when you rewind the film. It puts magical photography dust in your images when you least expect it (and in your scans). It automatically photoshops velociraptors into your wedding photos. PEW PEW! INSTANT MAGICAL PHOTO AWESOMENESS.

NOT.

Actually, in all honesty, using a rangefinder has been a difficult process for me and has required a lot of "re-thinking" on my part in terms of how I photograph. It's a whole different experience from what I've been used to before and, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, it revealed to me how much I needed to improve my photography.

So what did I do? How did I solve this difficulty? What any photographer would do... BUY AN ACCESSORY OF COURSE. THROW MONEY AT THE PROBLEM!!!!! CHUCK MONEY AT IT WITH PASSION!!! 

Alright, let's get to it. 

Without getting into the details of rangefinders, frame lines and limitations and what not, I will simply say that I was looking for a viewfinder attachment/accessory because of two reasons:
1) The Leica M6 I have does not allow me to see the full 35mm framelines when I have glasses on.
2) The lens I use is relatively large so it blocks the viewfinder so I can't see a bit of the lower right edge of the frame.

Enter the accessory viewfinder. This is placed on the top of the rangefinder in the accessory shoe (where you put the flash) and gives me framelines from which I can look through and provides an equivalent view of looking through the 35mm lens I have on the camera. So I mentioned that it was cheap. Why? It's... taped together.

This viewfinder is actually made from parts of an old 35mm film point and shoot camera, an accessory shoe and some pretty slick black duct tape (there is always the option of putting stickers on it if you don't like the black... maybe like a scratch and sniff strawberry sticker...or even Hello Kitty?). 

After some movement in my bag, I noted that it had already started to fall apart. The tape was starting to shift (not stick) and the glue holding the old viewfinder part to the shoe part was no longer .... attaching. So I did what I would normally do in such a situation: break out the electrical and double sided tape and tape things back down. Mwa ha ha. The battle station is now FULLY OPERATIONAL. Where are your rebel friends... .... 

Darko-Viewfinder-Accesory-Review-35mm-6.jpg

Does it work? Actually... yes, it does. Quite well for that matter. Nowhere near as sturdy as the more expensive Voigtlander and Leica ones but it certainly gets the job done. If I needed one of these and was heading into the jungle or dense bush and trudging through mud and snow and bushes... well, I'm sure the camera would be fine... but I'd be a complete mess!.... and the viewfinder probably would've been lost somewhere between the jungle and the dense bush... in pieces. 

The reality is that I don't really need it and I just need to continue to practice with the viewfinder and the framelines built into the Leica M6 and work around the little nuances. Just because I place a viewfinder on top of the camera does not mean it's going to magically make my photos better. I have to learn and practice and work at it. (It's kind of like that unicorn attachment for cats... Totally don't "need" it and your cat is still awesome).

That all being said, at this point, I'm keeping it on my camera. While I can definitely live without it and just work around my technical hurdles, having this viewfinder is actually a nice option. There are times where I just want to look at a scene without focus patches, huge lens distractions and also to see the scene in the context of my lens.

Darko-Viewfinder-Accesory-Review-35mm-9.jpg

The Last Word: this is a cheaply built viewfinder and won't take a lot of punishment (bring tape with you, or just buy the real thing. There's lots of options). That being said, it serves the purpose for which I got it: to provide a clean view with frame lines to aid in estimating what the photo may look like before actually committing to it... and it cost me very little. 

Rating out of 5? How about a 250,891,023,789,172,897,389 for those days when you feel awesome, a -14,123,182,038,910 for days when photo-taking is kind of a downer, and a 53.56 if you had Subway today. I told you this wasn't a serious post ;)

 This viewfinder is Hikari-The-Cat-approved.

This viewfinder is Hikari-The-Cat-approved.

SUMMARY (PROS):

  • Cheap
  • Provides a clear (albeit yelllow) view. It's like the 60s all over again... with framelines.
  • It's black so it blends in with the night... like Batman.
  • Very light. I have another accessory viewfinder that's a lot heavier... probably because it's made of 1950s meteorite or something.

SUMMARY (CONS):

  • Not expensive.
  • Plastic and tape plus a metal attachment... it's not super durable.
  • Does not cause your Leica M6 to shoot rainbows every time you press the shutter.
  • Does not superimpose velociraptors into your street photographs... without the special Jurassic attachment.

Why I Bought My Leica And What It Taught Me About Myself

As I sat there looking at the negatives, I could only sit back and feel a bit let down. I had finally purchased the "camera to end all cameras", the "best of the best" of my camera world. The Leica M6. It matched my style and approach, it has the potential to create great images (which it has), it is legendary and some other photographers that I admire use or used them often.

 Obligatory selfie in the mirror while holding the camera in question.

Obligatory selfie in the mirror while holding the camera in question.

So why was I feeling downtrodden?

Quite simply, I came to a realization. The images I had initially created using this "amazing" camera system were not super awesome nor mind-blowing. Sure, they were great but they lacked something. Soul. My soul. The camera was missing a very important part. 

Me.

Sometimes, when we buy a camera or purchase a new piece of gear, we think that plunking down some money and buying "the perfect camera" will make our photographs become a bazillion times better than before. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, better equipment helps in making better images and the right tools help get the job done in a certain way but without a creative person to "be" the camera and creating and imagining... you just end up with a more expensive version of the same type of photographs as before.

 A view from the top of Okouchi-Sanso in Arashiyama, Japan.

A view from the top of Okouchi-Sanso in Arashiyama, Japan.

When I purchased my Leica in Japan, I was very happy to have it. It was exciting and it felt so good to be in my hands. The sales person in Map Camera really helped me in making sure the camera was in good shape and I was very satisfied with what I was getting. I had eyed the Leica M camera from online but now it was a reality. 

But when the first roll came back and the images looked "decent" but not "awesome", I realized what was wrong. My preconception that the Leica was the magical cure was wrong. 

This is a result of two things. First, it's a realization that I have to step up my creative photographic game and BE a photographer and a creative more than a camera button pusher. Awesome images are made up in here (feel your forehead right now for effect). Second, I had not taken the time to really learn how to use a particular camera and make it a part of me and the inexperience meant missed shots and not being able to use the camera to it's fullest.

 Amidst the beautiful nature in Okouchi Sanso, there were occasional shrines and temple areas.

Amidst the beautiful nature in Okouchi Sanso, there were occasional shrines and temple areas.

After a few more rolls, I began to see better results as I got more used to the camera. If anything, though, I've learned just how important it is to "step up my game" and really go all out when taking photographs. It's so easy to just "sit back" and be cautious. I can't afford to do that anymore.

My Leica and I have places to go.

 Taken at a crosswalk about a block away from Kyoto Station.

Taken at a crosswalk about a block away from Kyoto Station.

The Never Ending Quest To Find My Voice... Results In a New Blog

For those of you who have followed me at my old blog at www.jonathandesmond.blogspot.com, thank you for your interest and your support. I started that blog in 2010 to really focus on my creative vision and sharpen my instinct for my photography. The result is almost 4 years of blogging and also slowly seeing my interest and passion turn to Documentary-Style Photography (and Documentary and Street Photography in general).

Just as I started my old blog, this is how I will start my new blog: This is the start of something NEW. I look forward to taking this photographic vision adventure with you folks along side me :)

-Jonathan Desmond-
Documentary Photographer