Although I have been photographing with my Contax / P30+ combo for only a short time now, there’s no question I’m producing some of the best quality photos I have ever made. Better, in many respects -- most respects, even! -- than even those that began life as a piece of film in my 810G Toyo, which has come as something of a surprise to me. At the same time, though, I seem to be losing a lot as well.
I arrived at medium-format digital after a nearly two-year stint of using m4/3 cameras almost exclusively. Thanks to their large LCDs, LiveView, and Olympus’ f2 zooms, I was able to photograph at times of day – specifically, at night – in ways that simply weren’t possible with a view camera. This last factor in particular has absolutely transformed my photography, because night time is about the only time I have free thanks to my busy work schedule and as a result, the frequency of my outings quickly increased from once a month or so to several times each week. And as the saying goes, practice makes perfect...
Unfortunately, although the number of my outings hasn’t changed, it seems the amount of practice I’m getting now is decreasing markedly. Last night is a good example: I left my house at 9:00 pm and headed to the downtown Phoenix historic warehouse district. I arrived and had unloaded the gear from my car by 9:30 pm. I proceeded to photograph inside a three-block radius until 12:55 am, at which point I headed home and pulled into my driveway at roughly 1:20 am.
My take for the night? A total of 34 images of 4 different scenes. With my m4/3 outfit, a typical night’s outing would have been 90-100 images of 12-15 scenes. (With my 8x10, a typical outing resulted in a maximum of 12 images, because I only have 6 film holders and at $15 per photo for film and processing, I was fairly conservative in what I photographed.) Combine this with the fact that I am now using a stepladder in order to compose images with a waist-level finder from my preferred perspective and I am essentially back to photographing out of my car, as I did with my 8x10, because walking around with a camera bag hung on one shoulder and the tripod and camera on the other, as I often did with my m4/3 outfits, simply isn’t possible. I will admit to having become spoiled by zoom lenses and LCDs that allow you to compose precisely right to the edge of the frame (for various reasons, I hate to crop) and I’m certain that as time passes, I’ll become proficient again at “seeing” in terms of the fixed focal-length lenses I am carrying. But for now, I am finding myself reminded in a rather vivid manner of all the reasons why I fell away from shooting 8x10 and am concerned about the implications this holds for the future.
I realize every format has a sweet spot and everybody’s needs and preferences differ, but it’s clear to me now that there’s a downside to photographing with medium-format digital that is often overlooked. And as I rarely see this discussed here or elsewhere, I decided to post this note for the benefit of those people who are contemplating making a similar move, if only so they know going in that over-and-above the not inconsiderable financial expense, there is a price to be paid for photographing in medium-format digital in other respects as well.
For the record, I have no regrets with my decision to make the switch and I will continue to explore different ways to adapt my workflow to better fit the tools I have available, but I sure do wish the experience of using a medium-format digital outfit was more like that of an m4/3 camera and less like an 8x10.