He Ain’t Heavy…..

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I suspect this rather overdue episode of this blog will turn into a camera nerd thing, only of real interest to fellow camera nerds of the same vintage. If that’s not you, I hope to see you again sometime, out the other side of it. But you might want to hang around and see where this leads, nevertheless.

Just before Christmas 2018, I had a week in Florence, basically armed only with my iPhone 7Plus. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. My luggage included my trusty Lumix GF1 camera, with its long and short lenses too, plus several memory cards and a spare battery. Somehow, though, a) I forgot the battery charger, b) the battery in the camera was more than half-used, and c) the spare was flat. Not really like me, because I live in virtual dread of running out of power. Florence has an excellent “real” camera shop, of the kind I was sure could bail me out with a replacement battery, a recharge, or something. But no, I was just met with sympathetic shakes of the head on both counts. So, after a couple of days exhausting such life as I had in the Lumix battery, the iPhone it was, then.

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Of course, if you’re a regular reader here, you’ll know I had no real reservations about the ‘phone’s ability to cope. I wasn’t disappointed, either. Our trip was principally to have a week immersing ourselves in Italian Renaissance culture. Much of most days was spent in museums and galleries, dodging the crowds where we could, and occasionally doing a bit of street photography – something Florence can be great for. It was a modest week – all told, about 1,000 photos. Nicest thing of all was to be shooting for myself, not to a brief, or a deadline, etc.

We travelled home right at the end of that “drone” thing at London Gatwick, which you may remember caused utter chaos and uncertainty, even though, by some miracle, we arrived home only 30 minutes later than originally scheduled. It was then that things like Christmas and New Year, having a new mains water supply pipe fitted to the house, and a major bout of interior decorating, took over. The latter hadn’t really been planned at all. We’d had some new double-glazed windows fitted in early December, and a few bits and pieces needed tidying up. I’d also declined some work from a client I’d been meaning to part with for some time (my patience with bad payers only lasts for so long), and I found I had time available for one of those month-long decorating binges that you know right from the start is going to extend into major reorganisations of books, CDs, camera gear, and so on. And it did.

Now, one thing that definitely needed sorting, as an adjunct to all the other tarting up of the house, was my stock of film. Several years back, I’d bought a fridge-full of mostly short-dated 120 and 35mm film from a very traditional photographer friend I’d known for a very long time. Ill-health had forced him to give up his business, and I was offered the film for a pittance. I’d bought it at a time when I also had great ambitions to get some serious use out of of my two Bronica medium format camera outfits. I wrote a couple of blogs about these beauties here and here the last time I’d begun to feel guilty about the many boxes of film still in the fridge, all getting older day by day. Life, and a bit of ill-health and sports injury had interfered with my plans for a few more regular trips to the Alps and Dolomites, which would have made big in-roads to that film stock. Key to that would have been the fitness to allow me to cart a medium format film camera outfit around on my back in the mountains. Suffice it to say that it just didn’t happen. I started this blog with a 2012 shot that amply shows the rewards from such exertions. Here’s another:

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The Florence trip maybe presented an opportunity to shoot some film. I’d done so on a visit there in 2011. However, the cost of hold-luggage on what were once regarded as “budget” flights has skyrocketed since then, and this time we just about got by on cabin bags. The Lumix digital outfit packs down small enough to travel that way. On this occasion, however, for the pathetic reasons already mentioned, it turned out to be mostly just useless dead weight. So, during the reorganising of the house, and almost as an act of revenge against my own poor preparation and packing, I’d vowed to take the earliest opportunity I could to get out a bit more with a Bronica. Again.

Then, in January, an opportunity to pay a visit to Venice came up. This was unexpected, but would help me solve a few other problems, so it went in the diary immediately. I also realised it was also 2011 when I’d last spent any time photographing Venice on film. That was when armed with my “baby Bronica”, the ETRSi, a wide angle lens, and its very useful panoramic format 35mm film back. I got shots like this:

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What I really wanted was to see Venice through the eye of my best camera: the big Bronica GS, with its 6cm x 7cm negatives. That trip is still a few weeks away, as I write this. There will be a blog, be assured.

The final part of the decorating/reorganisation of the house involved clearing cupboards etc of quite a bit of what my late mother would have called “old toot”. Mostly “old photographic toot”, in fact. Dead flashguns, broken lenses, bits and pieces I had acquired or held on to because I thought they “might come in useful one day”, and which never had. When sorted, it made a sorry little pile, all of which went in the bin without any further expenditure of emotion. It was nice, though, to find a few pieces that I’d given up as lost. These included two now very hard-to-get Bronica GS viewfinder screens, still in their original boxes. One was designed to work with a spot-meter viewing prism – something I now own, but certainly didn’t have when I bought the screen! Ah, faith!

Once everything being retained was neatly tidied back away, I sat down one evening to give the big Bronica a good look over. The baby Bronica had been professionally serviced a couple of years back, because it had been in the wars, but it was probably at least that long since I’d even changed one of the big, beautiful GS lenses. So, in a matter of minutes, I had dismantled it into its component parts. These things are completely modular. The camera body is little more than a plain cube containing the electrics, mirror and shutter button. To it, one clips on a choice of film back, viewfinder/metering prism, and lens. There’s also a useful optional carrying handle/flashgun bracket. Every piece is made to last. When all fitted together, the GS weighs in at almost 3 kilograms on my kitchen scales, proving how much of a lie the title to this blog is. By comparison, my Lumix GF, with its standard 14-42 lens weights just 0.7 of a kilo The Bronica is effectively a big, modular single lens reflex camera, but the experience of using these things is very different indeed to my workaday Nikon DSLR cameras, for example. Not better, not worse, just different.

I was quite chuffed that I also still had all the plastic protective covers for lenses and all the holes in the body, designed to protect the innards when the parts are in storage or transit. My inspection of the camera showed that little was actually needed to any of it, by way of remedial work, other than to remove a few bits of fluff with tweezers, and blow some dust off the mirror, etc. And it was while playing around with the parts that a thought came to me.

The big Bronica is one hell of a lump when assembled, and I’d never have considered putting it, fully assembled, into my cabin bag suitcase when flying. However, went the thought, each of its parts pack down neatly. Like this:

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The rubber lens hoods come off the lenses and fold down. The film back has its own leather carrying pouch, for example. I have a useful padded compartment that fits inside that cabin suitcase, which takes my Lumix GF1 outfit perfectly, along with a second lens, the battery charger, spare battery, plug lead, download lead, etc. I took the Lumix and its family out of the bag, and it dawned on my how much of what was in there comprised the “back-of-house overheads” that go with working with a properly equipped digital outfit. None of which (second lens excepted) has an equivalent in a thirty year old analogue kit. Well, ok, there’s rolls of film that make up some of the difference, I guess.

I slipped the camera body, prism, film back and one lens into the compartment and to my surprise, with a bit of experimentation, there was room to spare. Several rolls of film’s-worth. You can see where I’m going with this, of course. Venice for starters.

(To be continued when I get back!)

About tomsprints

I am a Masters athlete and freelance photographer living in Kent, in Great Britain. I'm a sprinter. As well as competing, my camera and I work regularly for the British Masters Athletics Federation and the European and World Masters Athletics organisations. For pleasure, I'm (principally) a landscape photographer. I have been blessed with the chance of spending quite a lot of time in the European Alps in the last 30 years. My web site is a vehicle for a my photographic work, and is at http://www.tomphillipsphotos.co.uk I run two blogs. One is about what it's like to be an older athlete ( http://tomsprints.wordpress.com ) and the other is basically about my photography ( https://ablogscape.wordpress.com ), although they often overlap.
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