A Year, A Camera

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea.

So, this will probably be one of the longer posts I’ve done. If you’re not in the mood for a bit of a read maybe it is time to check out ๐Ÿ˜‰ Also, to the people that have been around my blog for a long time this will probably be an annoying post. It will probably have you just about ready to never read my blog again. Giovanni (he knows who he is), I know this will probably irk you the most, ha.

All I can say to everyone is, trust me.

EPSON DSC Picture

Somewhere between Iksan and Seoul.

For the past two or three weeks I have been thinking a lot. Thinking a lot about my photography and about my photos. Basically, I have come to the conclusion that I haven’t really been getting better. Sad, really. I think there are several reasons for this:

First, I have never been able to create a consistent style. I know people will laugh at this but for me, I really don’t feel like there is a consistency to my work. I struggle with it all the time. Whether or not others can see it doesn’t bother me. I am worried about my own eye.

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea.

Second, I still struggle with cameras. Actually, these two things are linked. While I don’t spend the thousands and thousands of dollars I once did I still use way too many. I really think this is a detriment to my process. I never learn a camera. I never really feel like I ‘own’ one. Of course I own them, but by the time I have learned one I end up using something else. This is a problem of mine. A problem for me. The look of my photos lack consistency to my eye because they are always from different lenses or bodies. Different kinds of film and different developers. I know this isn’t the end all and be all and it shouldn’t really matter but to me it does.

It really does matter.

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea

I’ll take you back a couple months or so. I knew I was getting a Fujifilm X100T and was fairly excited about it even though I had used one before. I made a bet with my friend, Matthew (@endlessproof everywhere) that the next of us to buy another camera had to post a George Constanza – esque posed photo on Instagram. Well, needless to say I lost. I lost almost immediately. It is stupid really. I was embarrassed. Embarrassed by my lack of control.

IMG_0253-Edit

Seoul, South Korea.

The whole situation really got me thinking. I have a problem. I have a problem that is intrinsic to my soul. It is the same with everything. I change everything quickly, not just cameras. The problem is, with cameras, it really does effect the biggest part of my life.

EPSON DSC Picture

Somewhere between Iksan and Seoul.

Fast forward to last week. I was on the bus. I had a notebook in my bag. I took out the notebook and started to write all the things I like in a camera. The things I ‘need’ and the things I don’t. I wrote down my favorite photos and what camera I used to take them. This is when I started to understand a little bit more about myself.

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea.

When looking at the list of some of my favorite photos the thing I noticed was they were mostly all taken during times when I had the same camera for a long time. The one thing that I could remember about those situations is that I can’t remember thinking about cameras. I had a Leica M5 for three years and used it nearly all the time. Took almost all my photos in Toronto with it. A lot of my favorite photos from Korea were taken with the Ricoh GR21 during a time when I didn’t have enough money to buy anything else so I used the camera into the ground. The cameras themselves really have very little in common and I don’t think that is the point. It is a matter of philosophy.

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea.

Now is probably when you will want to tune out if you’re already starting to see where this is going.

IMG_0244-Edit

Seoul, South Korea.

After looking at the notes I took on the way to Seoul the one thing I decided was that I really, really had to stop. Had to stop getting a new camera every time I feel as though I am in a rut. It is a useless trend and one that very rarely leads to anything positive. So, I looked at the list of things I actually needed in a camera and the list of things I didn’t. I decided then what I needed was..

..wait for it..

another camera.

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea.

Well, sort of anyway. What I first decided was that I needed to rid myself of all the excess. I had started to horde cameras. Not expensive ones, but cheap ones. I had bought cameras I knew I couldn’t sell or held onto cameras from my past. A sad state of affairs.

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea.

The first thing I did was get rid of everything. When I say everything, I mean literally everything. I left for Seoul on Wednesday of this week holding literally the only camera in my life, my phone. Now, before you get the wrong idea I am NOT going to spend a year just using my phone, ha. Anyway, I didn’t sell the other cameras I had. I gave them away to people I thought would use them properly and appreciate the gesture. I gave them to people who would have happily paid for them if I’d asked. That wasn’t the point.

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea.

With part one of my plan finished, the purge as it were, I headed to Seoul in search of the camera I had decided to get. I should say first that a lot of thought went into this. It will sound like the words of an addict, but believe me this is a decision I struggled with quite a bit and the camera I have decided on is far from the ‘best’ at anything. In fact, I would say it is barely better than the phone I was just talking about.

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea.

Before the big reveal, I know how cliche one camera and one lens for one year sounds. It felt cheesy just to type it. I in fact, typed it once before and got ripped apart by my normal followers as they knew myself better than I apparently did and guessed correctly that I couldn’t live with such a restriction. These self-imposed challenges are stupid at best, but somehow I feel it is necessary to state it as though it were a contract. I was ‘almost’ a real lawyer once ๐Ÿ˜‰

IMG_0207

Epson R-D1X, Zeiss 28mm f2,8 ZM. Seoul, South Korea.

Without anymore stalling, here is the camera and lens I have decided to contract myself to. It is a 6 megapixel digital rangefinder called the Epson R-D1X G from 2009. The lens, is the 28mm Zeiss ZM f2.8 Biogon. I should mention all the photos from this post are taken with this camera and lens.

Why this camera and why this lens?

I shall explain my logic:

EPSON DSC Picture

Gwangju, South Korea. Epson R-D1X G, Zeiss 28mm f2.8 Biogon.

1. I love film and I hate film

This reason is a kind of complicated one. I love using film rangefinders. I love the feeling of walking around and taking photos with one. I love the film rewind and the way of focusing a rangefinder. I love watching something enter my framelines from outside them. I love that feeling. I am nostalgic to that feeling. I was walking through the rice fields near my house in Iksan recently with an old film Leica. The feeling of that walk just felt so zen. I loved it, the feeling of it. It is beautiful to not thinking about the photos I am taking because I am enjoying the process of doing so.

So, why a digital camera then? Well, let me say that for all that nostalgia film annoys the hell out of me most of the time. Having to travel to Seoul four hours return to drop the film off. Having to spend almost $1 a photo to develop and scan the photos or spend the hours necessary to do it myself. While I am the first to admit I love the zen of the shooting like I said above I do not at all like the process of developing or printing. I am NOT that guy.

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea.

The Epson, is as close to a film camera as a digital camera gets. Forget modern Leicas with their electronic viewfinders and modern sensors and live view. Sure, there is the Leica without an LCD. It costs as much as a car and the photos to me look as though they came from a DSLR. The R-D1X (and the older versions of it) really feels like a film rangefinder to me. It is basically a Bessa with a sensor and LCD instead of a film back. The camera has a rewind lever to recock the shutter. Sounds cheesy, but I love it. I love the feeling of doing it. It makes a big difference to me as ridiculous as it sounds.I don’t think I have looked again at the LCD since I originally set up the camera. No need to really as all the settings that are necessary are easily accessible on the top of the camera and lens. Shooting with this camera to me, REALLY feels like shooting with a film rangefinder.

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea.

2. The film ‘look’ is overrated and annequated 

Okay, so this is probably a stretch and slightly hypocritical as I have written the exact opposite in the past. Now, more than ever I think it is possible in digital to get a similar look to film. I searched and searched for all the cameras that sort of fit my parameters and the one I felt like had the best film ‘look’ was the Epson. It is a small CCD. I have always felt like CCD sensors give a much better film look than their newer cousin CMOS sensors. At the same time as I looked at the Epson I looked at the Leica M8. I had an M8 for years and quite liked it. Strangely, I found the photos from both the M8 and M9 to be a lot more digital looking to those from the Epson. Furthermore, I felt like the Epson actually looked better at ISO1600 than either.

On that same note, the ISO dial on the top of the Epson was one of the things that really sold me on it as opposed to other cameras. Much like a film camera, you don’t have to go into the menu to change the ISO. It is just a dial on the top of the camera. There isn’t an auto, but I feel like this would just make the camera feel less ‘right’ for me if there was. I really wanted to do this with a film camera but just couldn’t justify the annoyances of film just for the ‘feeling’ of shooting with one. These things really do make a difference in my brain.

ISO1600 on the Epson is grainy, but so is ISO1600 film. It is as usable as ISO1600 film is to me. People will argue the dynamic range suffers especially on an old sensor. I would argue that if you get the exposure right you don’t need to worry about such things.

EPSON DSC Picture

Gwangju, South Korea. Epson R-D1X G, Zeiss 28mm f2.8 Biogon.

3. I wanted something for all occasions 

The Zeiss lens on the Epson is around 42mm. A strange focal length, I suppose. To be fair I quite like it. During my time with Leica rangefinders the lens I used almost exclusively was the 40mm summicron. I think this focal length really suits my eye. It is just wide enough for street photography but standard enough for people. I love taking photos of the people in my life and those photos are probably those most important to me. I loved the dreamy sort of look from film when taking these in the past. I was a little worried about the Zeiss being ‘too’ sharp as it famously is sharper than the Leica 28mm elmarit. I figured out a way around this as the Epson actually has ‘film’ settings in the menu that allow me to turn the sharpness down a lot on the jpgs. I really loved the look of it even in the shop before i bought it.

On top of that, it is a very handsome camera. Of course, most people will prefer the look of a Leica but when I held the Epson for the first time I couldn’t get over how much I liked the look of it. That was years ago, before all of this. It still felt the same when I picked it up last week. The steampunk gauge on the top just makes it look even better. It certainly gets a lot of attention which I like if I am being honest, ha. I don’t care to be discrete. People almost always notice me anyway.

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea.

4. Just modern enough

This was one of the things that was on my list from the bus. I wanted whatever camera I got to have some modern capabilities.

First, I wanted it to be at least decent on battery life. The Epson I bought came with three batteries and gets about 350 photos per. Considering I take about 350 photos in four months it will do me just fine. I haven’t charged the first battery yet and I have had it for about a week.

Second, I do most of the little editing I do on my phone so I wanted a camera that would be capable of wifi. Of course, the Epson doesn’t have wifi but my Eye-fi card works perfectly fine with it. It sends the photos as I take them. I know, I know, after all I said about nostalgia of film cameras this seems a bit stupid. In the end, I am lazy and impatient so the least amount of time I can spend on my computer the better.

EPSON DSC Picture

Seoul, South Korea.

5. Creative constraints and all that non-sense 

I would never argue that this Epson camera takes better photos than the Fujifilm X100T I just sold. The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t, at least not technically. I started this article by talking about how I feel like my photos haven’t really gotten better. I think I have become lazy. Most of my favorite photos are film and I think this has very little to do with film itself as opposed to how film forces me to shoot. Film forces me to work within a parameter. It forces me to work within restraints. The Epson as a digital camera does the same thing. It doesn’t allow me to rely on a super computer to take a good photo. I have to zone focus if I am in the street instead of relying on face detection. Okay, I could zone focus with a Fujifilm camera but it really isn’t the same is it? Looking in the LCD with the focus by wire lens feels just wrong. It really doesn’t feel the same. Instead of relying on auto ISO that can reach 6400 I have to think about my exposure. Instead of relying on 16 megapixels to be able to crop I have to get my framing perfect in order to keep the full 6 on the Epson. An interesting sidenote is the Epson saves jpgs at 600 DPI so I am not sure printing as I might do will ever be much of a problem. I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that their sensors were usually used for film scanners.

Either way, working within these restrictions I think will force me to become a more polished photographer. I think this is the biggest and most important reason I am doing this.

Rules (stupid and self imposed)

  1. While I have endeavored to use just this camera and lens I will not stop using my phone as well. It will be the only other camera I use this year (you can feel free to snicker now).
  2. I will not cheat. Maybe.
  3. I will try my best not to cheat.
  4. I can buy any accessory I like including camera bags, straps, or otherwise. A lens is not an accessory.
  5. The lens is part of the deal. I will also use only the Zeiss.
  6. If the camera breaks during the year, I reserve the right (self imposed, ha) to replace it with the same camera or at least one of the Epsons.
  7. I will update and blog about the progress of this once a week, usually on Sundays.
  8. I will happily read and reply to all ire in response to this post and future posts on this matter.
  9. I don’t like the number 8 so I wanted to extend this to 9.
  10. Might as well round it off to 10.

_______________________________________________________________

Okay,  now that that is over with a bit of side notes:

For those interested, I recently had a feature at Lensculture and have been given a portfolio there that will be updated from time to time: http://www.lensculture.com/articles/jt-white-neverland-my-korea

I was also a recent guest on The Photography Talkshow that can be found on both iTunes or here http://www.photographytalkshow.com/

For people who are awaiting my Youtube ‘debut’ the first video is finished and will be posted this week ๐Ÿ˜‰ I will link it on my blog when it is posted! If you’re good at googling you might be already able to find it on a Korean site where it was already published, haha.

There will be a photo of me on instagram (@jt_inseoul) posted this week in the pose of George Constanza on a sofa. Google it if that makes no sense to you ๐Ÿ˜‰

Finally, if you are planning to come to Seoul feel free to hit me up. Always like hearing from people or meeting them when they come.

Peace out kids, time to go out and shoot some Myeongdong street craziness. 

32 thoughts on “A Year, A Camera

  1. Wow, Josh! I will not expand on how I think you will buy another camera before the year is over., sorry… or are you that steadfast. In that case I applaud you!

    Then again, your decision is certainly right, if difficult. The main reason I use film is because of the feel of the whole process, the handling and feeling of the cameras above all. And of course if you attempt to create YOUR look, it won’t do to change tools a lot.

    Sure the new Leica thingamajig is ideal… on paper, but at that price! Your choice is the only viable alternative, barring the M8.

    Anyways, I enjoyed reading your post and I wish you luck with your endeavour and many more photographs like these.

  2. Funny, about one hour before opening this article, I was exploring the availability of the R-D1. I was looking for a concept camera to add to a manual focus prime, as a fun pastime project. The only recent sale I saw went for US$1,500. Completely insane. Probably the worst overpriced camera on the planet. No argument that it is worth that has any merit. This camera at that price could only be sold to people who are completely addicted to ‘camera ideas’ instead of photographic ideas.

  3. You are right to have defined a certain “look” (whatever kit you use) as visual consistency goes a long way to mitigating different types of subject matter, which is the usual staple of blog posts and photostreams. Personally I break all these rules too, but it goes without saying that whatever is posted (and not posted) can be re-edited and sequenced later in finished works. Until one reaches that point everything is only ever work in progress. A blog really is just a way of building an audience to signpost to something that is or will become finished later.

    I enjoy looking at your pictures and reading what you write. And your observations about the smaller sensors rendering closer-to-film images is interesting. The idea of a Wifi straight to the phone for processing / uploading is slick and convenient, of course. But it’s really not that much effort to process your own film and scan it. I suspect the problem is a “modern” one – for some reason we seem to feel we lack time. I suspect this lies more with self-imposed pressure, perceived “need” to keep posting. Cheers.

    • Thanks for the comment! I agree in some ways. What I will say is when it comes to developing and scanning I don’t mind the time as much as I just don’t at all enjoy the process haha.

  4. Great post, always enjoy your photos. I’m actually trying to pick up an r-d1s… haha.
    Similar perspective, no other digital camera has a film advance. I hated fly-by-wire on fuji cameras.

  5. It was great to read your Lensculture interview Josh and see photos from your posts here edited into Neverland: My Korea. I was curious about the Epson R-D1 as it still pops up quite often in rangefinder articles. Then The Camera Store did their review a month ago, and I finally got to see one in action. It must be so much fun to use a camera that is designed so coherently to give that mechanical photography experience.

  6. Thanks much for your recents posts and thoughts – and good luck with the new project! jtinseoul is my favourite photoblog – by the way: have you ever thought of a photobook (about Transport in Seoul or so, with some of your texts)…? Kind regards from Germany

  7. I don’t know how many Giovannis follow your blog, Josh, but if that Giovanni is yours truly then, no, I’m not irked by this post, but rather intrigued and perhaps puzzled here an there… !

    I’ll tell you where we would be having a good conversation if I were there in Korea:

    1- If you don’t feel you have a consistent style then let me tell you nobody does, or anyways none of us realized you don’t. A JTW image can be spotted from miles away. That cannot be said of many of us!
    1b. Still perhaps I hear you, and indeed you may well have pinpointed the issue: “style” for us is about the output, “style” for you is the process, and having used very different cameras you have not *felt* consistent. Which I fully understand: the tools dictate the output. I don’t feel I’m shooting the same way and the same subjects with the Ricoh GR than with the Leica M9 or Mono (CCDs both btw).
    1c. It’s perhaps less about getting better than about evolving through projects, having exhausted one chapter and needing to move on. How many more images of commuters can you take? How much further will the next one push your portfolio to the next level? You might replace a few with new material, but will you rebuild the portfolio from scratch? You need a new subject, a new album to fill…

    2- I fully concur, again, that there is an issue with too many cameras. A camera needs to become invisible to your brain, hands, fingers, eyes, totally mastered to make sure you’re not thinking about the act of shooting but are fully absorbed in what you are shooting. You need to know precisely how a scene will look when captured before you capture it. What will be in focus, what will not be, etcetera.
    2b- And yes, changing lenses *radically* changes the images. Nothing worse than a portfolio or slideshow that oscillates between radically different FLs there only.

    3- I think you did the right thing on that bus: going back to the output and figure out the input behind it, patterns have emerged. You have anchored yourself to a scientific method in a way, more reliable than gut feelings…

    4- Your solution was radical. I can’t say much about the Epson, I have never touched let alone used one. It does not matter. Whichever your choice must work for you and nobody else can comment, let alone judge. I’ll just say that the idea of a manual shutter rewind is just cool. I try to use my Mono in the same way. Never look at the screen, wait to dump into LR and edit there only. 6MP or 18 or 24, it does not matter much, so long as you output to screen or smallish prints only, anyways. Imperfection is good. I *add* grain to my images as I feel they’re too clean most of the time!
    4b- Zone focusing is the best autofocus mechanism ever invented by mankind! Alas it does not work well in low-light and large-sensor environments, but hey, if one gets used to it, guessing subject distances is more precise and faster than autofocus…

    In the end: enjoy your Epson. We are looking forward to seeing your work with it and how it evolves. But don’t forget either that whatever camera you have been using in the past, they all had one think in common: @jtinseoul !

    • “Alas it does not work well in low-light and large-sensor environments”

      Of course it works in large sensor environments. When you are at F16, everything is in focus. Even at F11 most of it is.

  8. Best of luck with your plan Josh, I remember the time, when I used my D90 four years in a row, until I got my (t)rusty E-M5 in 2012. Since then it got worse I think, haha! Keep rotating Olympus Nikon and Fuji.
    What do you think about trading your camera once a year, next summer, you send me your R-D1 and I give you my Nikon V1 ๐Ÿ˜€

  9. Good luck Josh ! I would love to do the one camera one lens thing but know I would fail quickly !! Will be really interesting to see if you can last a year without a Ricoh Grd of some kind ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

  10. Sometimes a yearning for simplification can only lead to one thing — a new camera! … Still, I don’t think you should get too hung up on being into gear – it’s not that big a deal and I think consistency has so much more to do with the eye than the kit. Your photos may not seem to have a consistent look to them to you, but I think they do to others.

    All that said, the RD1 was such a great camera. Those dials on the top are truly fantastic. And it’s nice to be able to flip the screen round to avoid distractions… I hope you enjoy it for many years to come.

  11. Really enjoyed the post. Four months ago, I got rid of my DSLR, and even a Sony A6000 mirrorless, because I hate the menu stuff. I learned photography on a Mercury II 35mm 1/2 frame film camera. I like adjustment dials accessible while I shoot. For me the Fuji X100T is what feels right to me. I very seldom have to go to menus, and when I do, I go to the Q button, where there are only about 16 choices (that I get to customize).
    I thrive on keeping things simple, that’s why when I left film and went digital, I went with a Canon S90 P&S. I still use it occasionally.
    Anyway keep on with your plan and I’ll be waiting for the next post.

  12. Goo luck on your project. I started #ocoloy (one camera, one lens, one year) on Feb 12th, 2016. I sold all my other cameras and lenses. It has been a wonder experience. Freeing. No decision, just grab my X70 and go. 18mm (27mm FF) is the perfect focal length for me. I’m getting good at predicting where to stand, what angle to hold my camera. YEs, I’m getting to know my camera!

    Yes, I still lust after new gear. I read the reviews. I think that with that new camera I’d take better pictures ๐Ÿ™‚ If I had that Leica, people would take me seriously…..

    Today I’m happy with my little camera!

    Monty
    @montysphotos

  13. I did exactly what you did. I went through all my images from the last 6 years and selected the best ones. In my case they were all taken with one of two cameras: the Fuji X100 or the Ricoh GR.

    In the last two weeks, I sold everything but those two.

    Incidentally, I’m surprised to see you talk about George Costanza. That’s a weird reference for someone your age. You must have been in diapers when Seinfeld was on TV. Was there a resurgence of the show that I’m not aware of? How did you come up with that one? ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Meh, just shoot, man. I have never understood why so many photographers have to justify their choices on the internet. Just take pictures, and hope they work out. I used to do things like “I will only use 1600 iso” or “I want to just use one lens” until I realized my pictures got a hell of lot better when I stopped with the preconceived notions I had picked up from reading too much about photography and it’s famous practitioners.

  15. Hi Josh,
    Harry again @harryv007.
    I know that you use flash a lot, will you be using it with the Epson and if so what type?
    Thanks as always!
    Best,
    Harry

  16. Hi Josh, what happened to rule number 7…? Maybe once a week is too rigid and needs to be eased, but now itยดs a month… so looking forward to reading an update, itยดs always inspiring – hope you find the time and this post adds to your motivation to continue this great blog. Kind regards from Germany to Korea

  17. Re-reading this post, I suddenly realize that I know the answer to the question: “why do I shoot?” and why do I shoot “street” (as much as I don’t really think I’m doing “street”).
    Because at the end of the day, the cumulated sum of all of those street photos, just as yours Josh, become a record of what our lives have been: the things that we cared about on the way. It does not matter if we have been shooting torn posters on walls or lonely commuters we never met other than for a fleeting second. It does not necessarily matter if we never shot our own lives directly (even if I think it would end up being the most precious ones), And it does not matter if the apparent intent is to shoot “good street stuff” or whatever.
    The end result is that we shall have built an edit of the impressions that stuck with us during our lives, that struck us strongly enough to make us trigger the camera (if we had one handy, which is why we should always carry one), that defined what we cared about even if ‘just’ in a visual way (some people are less visual, would rather record sounds, and it’s sad that there is no smellographers out there…; we are visual people, and we’re lucky to have cameras to help us).
    I’m not saying that we set out to shoot with that end in mind, but I realize watching your images Josh that they do represent you, not just Korea, and I’m sure that YOU look at them reliving the feelings that led you to shoot in the first place. Your love for your adopted country and your trek towards making it yours is all there.
    Thanks for sharing yourself with us.
    Giovanni

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