Priscilla insisted that I warn you that this was going to be a “geeking out on photography” post, hence the title for this post. I’m going to do my best to make this non-techie, so I ask your indulgence in allowing me at least one photography related post. Every once in awhile you’ve got to throw a dog a bone!
I’ve been doing quite a bit of photography on this trip, much of it on 30+ year-old manual focus film cameras. In the process, I’ve come to a fascinating and counter intuitive observation regarding street photography. The old manual focus film cameras have an advantage over modern, auto-focus digital cameras when it comes to street photography. I’m going to do my best to explain this in layperson terms, so please hang in there.
The first three photos in this blog post were all made using a technique called zone focusing. Here’s where the geeking out part starts. On the older manual focus film cameras, there is a scale on the lenses that shows you how much is going to be in focus, from front to back, depending on how wide you set the aperture on the camera. The aperture is the opening in the lens that allows light in. The smaller that opening is, the more will be in focus from front to back. All cameras have an aperture, even the camera in your smartphone.
With the two photos above, I was coming up out of a Metro station and had preset my camera for zone focusing. I set my aperture based on the lighting conditions and preset my focus point so that I knew that anything from 5 feet to 12 - 15 feet would be in focus. When I came up the stairs and saw these subjects, I simply raised the camera to my eye, framed up my composition, and pressed the shutter release. There was no need to focus. If I had needed to focus, the moment would have been lost. Modern digital cameras, like my Nikon D850, are not geared toward using this technique. True, the autofocus systems on most modern cameras are lighting fast, but they’re not faster than instantaneous. That’s how fast zone focusing is.
Don’t worry, I’m not giving up my digital gear. By most any objective measure, my Nikon D850 is the better image-making machine. It certainly is more convenient than using a manual focus film camera. And when it comes to dealing with low light, the D850 is far superior to film. So no, I’m not giving up my digital gear, but I am happy to have rekindled a love of film and the beautifully built cameras from decades ago on this trip. I’m also pleased to know that the old man still has the photographic chops to handle manual focus film cameras.