Technical

A photographer’s choice of tools is a very personal affair, and as such it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try and justify those choices rationally. Really it doesn’t matter what equipment or methods you use, what matters is the results. Its commonly said that the camera doesn't really matter, which is to a large sense absolutely true. Hence nothing I list on this page should be of interest to 99% of viewers, but for the one percent who need to know, read on.



I’ve used a fair range of gear over the years but I can’t claim to be an expert, I just gravitate to equipment and methods that work for me, and fit my needs and circumstances (and budget!) at a particular time. The photos on this site vary from being made with distinctly antiquated analogue technology, to shots taken on the latest digital gear. There are photographs where the gear used represents a relatively substantial financial outlay, and shots taken with an old camera I bought for £5. These choices would not necessarily work for everyone, and they aren’t final choices either - I'm always open for trying new gear.

With the above in mind, I’ll state that the vast majority of photos on this site are taken on transparency film, predominantly medium or large format, with some 35mm and digital thrown in. Film and digital both have their own particular strengths and weaknesses and I try to use whatever tool seems right for a given situation. Usually digital when either immediacy or portability are the primary concerns – travel, climbing and family shots – and film for when quality, colour and a meticulous and considered approach are the order of the day. I have a strong preference for Fuji Velvia 50 for landscape work. Its a predictable choice, but one I make no apologies for! I also use both the 100 speed Velvia emulsions (100 and 100F) along with Provia 100F, which is a great film for very long exposures. I have also used the odd roll of Kodak EBX in 35mm (I particularly liked this for climbing shots) and also in 120 and 5x4" I shoot the odd roll or sheet of E100VS when the mood takes me.

In recent years I've done a bit of work in black & white, for which I've used Ilford's excellent range of film. At the time of writing I've mainly been using FP4+ in 5x4" size with a little HP5+ for higher speed, and Delta 100 in 35mm and 120. I've also used a bit of Kodak Tmax 100 and 400 in 35mm. My current developer is DD-X, although as tends to be the way with black & white I imagine I will experiment with a few different developers and films as time goes on.

For all the camera-anoraks out there, below are a few more detailed notes on the gear I use or have used in recent years in roughly chronological order, starting with my first serious film camera.


Nikon FE



My serious analogue work started out with a Nikon FE using prime lenses and 35mm film. I still think this is one of the best 35mm SLRs available, and outstanding value even today. I would strongly recommend this model to anyone wanting a manual focus 35mm camera. Its a total joy to use, reliable metering, and gives great results. It can use any SLR lens Nikon have every produced from the 1960s onwards, with the exception of the most recent G lenses and Digital-only DX lenses. The FE was released by Nikon in the late 1970s, essentially an electronic version of the FM with added aperture priority mode. For general travel, outdoor and landscape use its hard to beat even 35 years after it was first released.

The genius of the Nikon FE is the user interface only gives you exactly what you need, nothing more, nothing less. There are no plastic buttons unlike a lot of similar SLRs of similar vintage, no memory settings, no menus, no options, nothing to get in the way. The viewfinder display is big and bright and easy to focus with. The metering is only center-weighted, and although I love spotmetering for most things now I never really had any metering issues with the FE, generally just letting it do its stuff. The shot below was taken with the FE is the kind of conditions that in-built metering can struggle with, but no problem for the FE.



This was taken on Kodak EBX with the AF 24mm f/2.8 lens, a classic compact Nikon wideangle as favoured by the late Galen Rowell. My other two lenses which I used with the FE were the AF-D 50mm f/1.8 and the Series-E 100mm f/2.8. Both light, fast, compact, sharp, and taking the same 52mm filters. These lenses also served double-duty on my Nikon DLSR at the time, giving me a lot of flexibility in one small (and densely packed) camera bag, which I took all over the place when traveling and climbing - Peak District, Wales, Scotland, Thailand, Switzerland.

About the only thing wrong with the FE is the inherent limitation of the 35mm format - namely the aspect ratio and the relatively small film area of each frame. Which brings us nicely onto the next camera.



Mamiya 645 Pro-TL



The Mamiya 645 Pro-TL, pictured above with the 80mm "normal" lens, is a professional medium format camera taking 120 film. The poor-man's Hasselblad, it represents the final manual-focus camera in the Mamiya 645 line which started in the 1970s, the Pro-TL dating from around the turn of the 21st century. It is a brilliant camera system, and the fantastic sharp optics still live on today in use with high-resolution digital cameras such as the Mamiya/PhaseOne line, which are an evolution of the older manual cameras. I used three lenses, the 45mm f/2.8, 80mm f/2.8 and 150mm f/3.5. This mirrors my "classic" three-lens setup for the Nikon FE, but this time on a generous 41x56mm frame of film.

The Mamiya in use is very much like an oversized modular version of the Nikon FE in many ways, with a big viewfinder and great manual controls, but wrapped up in a 1990s vintage plastic cover. Unlike the Nikon it is fully modular so you can customise it to your needs - spot-metering prisms, swappable film-backs, motor drives, its all there. In the year 2000 this camera and three lenses might have cost you the best part of 1500 or 2000 quid, but when I bought mine in 2008 i paid less than £500, as the onslaught of digital photography had lowered the price as professional studio photographers jumped ship.

These days the prices for second-hand Mamiya 645 gear are fairly stable and still represent gobsmacking value. You can buy a pro-level medium format setup capable of fantastic results with a few lenses for less than the price of a low-end consumer DSLR. I got consistently great results from mine, using for for handheld travel and climbing shots, tripod-mounted for landscape, and even shots of my newborn son (when he was small enough to sit still long enough to focus!). The shot below was taken with the Mamiya and 45mm lens during one of my last trips away with it in San Martino, Italian alps, 2010.



I enjoyed using it tremendously, but after owning the Mamiya for a few years I knew a change was on the cards. For the deep near-far images that I often favour when landscape shooting it became clear that any fixed-geometry medium format camera would never give me the necessary depth-of-field I required even when stopped down fully. I retired it from landscape use but hung onto it for occasional use for climbing shots. It was with a heavy heart that I parted company with the camera and all three lenses in 2012. I have a feeling I may live to regret it....


Large Format, 4x5"



The majority of my landscape shots are now taken with a 4×5″ field camera, Currently a Chamonix 045F1, and previously an Ebony RSW45 (shown above with a 300mm tele lens), sometimes with a panoramic 120 back. This is a rather Victorian looking setup but it brings home the results and the generously proportioned film contains a tremendous amount of detail and complete control over perspective and depth of field. These type of camera force what is very much a slow and deliberate working style, back to basics.

The particular model of Ebony I used was produced in conjunction with Robert White Photographic in Dorset, designed specifically for use in the British landscape, and only available through their shop. Recently they did a quick video demonstrating the camera for anyone in the market for one of these. I eventually outgrew it, needed to use longer lenses for detail shots with greater ease, but the Ebony RSW45 models are still truly wonderful cameras, and I would recommend one to any prospective large format shooter for landscape work without hesitation.

Any large format camera is really just an flexible box that has a lens and shutter on the front, a big piece of film at the back, and lets you move to two relative to each other. Its as simple as that. The simplicity and the tactile "knobs and levers" interface is so far removed from today's automated cameras means working with this type of equipment can be tremendously liberating. On the other hand, sometimes its a lesson in frustration and expensive mistakes - but as I always say you learn more from expensive mistake than you do from cheap ones.

I predominantly use 90mm, 150mm and 240mm lenses, recently adding a 65mm, 110mm, 203mm and 300mm to fill out the kit, although I never carry more than three of these at any one time, often just two. Of course the camera doesn't have metering built-in, I also carry a hand-held Pentax digital spotmeter.



As of early 2013 I have been working with a Chamonix 045F-1 pictured above, a new model from Chamonix cameras in China. My camera was probably the first one into the UK. The 045F-1 gives me much longer extension then I have with the Ebony and hence greater capacity for longer lens work and closeups/detail. The camera also has rear asymmetric tilt. This fantastic camera very quickly replaced the Ebony in my bag, giving me double the length of bellows, the same light weight and rigidity, great build quality, and the added bonus of asymmetric rear tilt. I have a few blog posts about the Chamonix here and I also wrote a detailed review of the camera in issue 58 of On Landscape magazine.


Fuji GA645Zi

I bought this oversized medium format point&shoot for use when alpine climbing in the summer of 2014. I got a lot of very good shots with this camera, which I will feature on the site at some point. Its the total antithesis of what I would usually use, a slow zoom lens and auto-everything, but in some situations it's totally necessary. When doing big classic alpine routes speed is of the essence not only for success but also for safety, so I need a camera I can pull out of a chest pouch one-handed and focus and shoot with one hand, often whilst still moving.


Hasselblad Xpan



A fairly recent addition to the stable, this has been used mainly for handheld climbing photography. Its a pretty unique offering from the late 1990s from Fuji/Hasselblad. I pretty much fell in love with this camera from day one, it got me exited for shooting 35mm and shooting climbing shots again. I intend to feature a lot more of my recent work with this rig soon, and write a few blog posts about it.


Digital



Currently I also use an Olympus OMD EM5 with its incredible 20mm lens for digital work, with 14mm and 45mm primes for the wide and long ends (it is pictured above shooting with a borrowed OM 21mm f/3.5 on a tilt adaptor). Prior to that I used a Panasonic GF1 for a few years which was great, using the same lenses as above. A lot of my older climbing shots were taken with a Nikon D70 which served me well for many years but has since been retired. Its a shame Nikon never came up with any proper wide primes or compact normal lenses for DX bodies or I'd maybe still be using a Nikon camera.


Tripods

Generally my climbing shots are handheld, and large format landscapes are shot exclusively from a decent tripod, currently a Gitzo model but I also used a Manfrotto in the early days. At the moment I have a 3-series systematic for rock-solid stability and a lighter 2-series mountaineer model for portability. Both tripods are equipped with spikes...