Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Analogue Backlash

You might have noticed that long playing records (LPs), (or 33 and a third to us oldies) have made a bit of a comeback. They do periodically resurface, and new records pressed are hellishly expensive over here in the UK right now, somewhere in the region of £20 or so, but of course there are squillions of legacy LPs floating around for next to nothing in the charity shops.

Let's be clear: LPs are a pain in the arse in general: they scratch easily, have to be turned over almost as soon as you've sat down and take a fair bit of real estate to store. But here's the thing, the sound quality from an unscratched LP is superior than a CD, with a much better frequency range. That assumes your hearing can still handle the range, but hey ho, there's the nostalgia trip too.

And if they are better than CDs, then consider the MP3 and other compressed formats that we use all the time. We really have allowed music quality to sink.

I haven't bought any LPs, and stream with the best of them, but I do occasionally dig the LPs out and give them a spin.

Another retro area is photography. I wasn't impressed by my first digital compact, a Fuji, quite some years ago, but when I got my Fuji Z2 I declared I'd never buy a film camera again. In 2008 I bought a digital SLR, an Olympus E-510 kit with two zooms and I've been pretty happy with that, even though I know the best digital cameras have only 5 EV stop range compared to film's 7. To keep this simple, it's the visual equivalent of LPs versus CDs - CDs are clearly good enough but if we want more....

So earlier this year I ate my own words. To be fair, I need to share a bit of an anecdote with you. Back in 1976 I was using a Yashica rangefinder camera for my photography, and was looking to move into the SLR field. The camera of choice for me back then was the Contax RTS, a truly ground breaking camera with lenses designed and made by Zeiss, a body designed by Porche and electronics designed by Yashica that broke the mould. I couldn't afford a RTS back then, and in fact I struggled to afford a Yashica FR SLR, an affordable take on parts of the RTS, sharing the lens mount.

I had a few of these cameras over the years, replacing when others became damaged, but I never found myself in a position to buy a Contax. Then, somewhere along the way Yashica were bought out by Kyocera, a photo copier firm that didn't improve the product in my opinion. To be fair, some photographic giants disappeared as a result of the digital revolution, including Kodak, credited with inventing the digital camera in 1978, so I guess Yashica was just another casualty.

But there's a film revival going on; in Japan you're not considered a photographer by many unless you're toting a classic film camera. So far this doesn't seem to be pushing up the price of old film cameras, but that may happen. Or the fad may fade.

Anyway, I was browsing eBay just after Christmas and someone was selling a Contax RTS with a few lenses and accessories. There were a few duplications in the kit for me because I've been using legacy Yashica lenses on my Olympus DSLR for a while, but it looked tempting. It had been brought out of an attic after twenty years and was a 'collect only'. The location was a fair trek away and would have meant either a ten hour turnaround or an overnight stop, but I prepared to bid. I didn't actually place a bid on that one - it went over £200 with ten minutes to go and given the camera was untested I wasn't prepared to go further.

However my appetite had been wetted and within a week I had bought a near mint RTS plus a couple of additional lenses, a flashgun and a cable release that's unfortunately for a later model. Since then I've added a second body, two motor-drives, the correct cable release and some other bits and bobs. Four films through and I'm getting back to grips with focussing myself, checking exposure, adjusting f stop for depth of field and lugging the lot around. I'd forgotten how labour intensive traditional cameras are, or how much workload DSLRs take on, and my word, how heavy the old beasts are.

I'm having a whale of a time and will start processing my own black and white negatives soon. I picked up a negative scanner, which actually is a fixed focal length digital camera in reality, and that does a passable job of converting the negatives to digital images and I can get the odd really good shot printed the traditional way.

If, like me, you've felt a little jaded with the ease of digital photography and want to put a bit more of yourself into your photos, then why not go online and pick up a classic camera. You could pop an LP on the turntable to listen to while you search.

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