talkin bout camerasa blog by Branden Frederick

2018 in Review

Published 8 Jan 2019 – Updated 8 Jan 2019

Another Horrible Year

The year of our lord two thousand and eighteen is finally over (a week ago, whoops). Did my photography grow in technique and skill? If nothing else, my pile of cameras and lenses definitely grew in size. Let's dig in!

By the numbers

According to my photo catalog, in 2018 I shot 7,734 photos, or about 12% more than in 2017. About 30% of the photos were film – nearly exactly half medium format, half 35mm. Camera by camera, the Fujifilm X-Pro2 dominated, taking 52% of my photos. After that, the X-T3 clocks in at 12%, the Hasselblad 500C/M at 7%, the GA645Zii and EOS 3 tied at 4%, and lastly the X-E1, Pentax 645Nii, and the Minolta setup all tied at 3%. My poor Leica only ran 5 rolls of film last year, how sad.

The Gear

Gratuitous gear shot

I, for once, have actually cut down on the amount of cameras I own. A few cameras came and went this year – but not out of indecision. The plan was never to hold onto them long, but merely to "rent" them from eBay, so to speak. And once I adopted that mentality, I realized that not everything I have has to be a "collection". And so I dispatched to the internet the cameras with which I was done – not necessarily "bad" equipment, just gear from which I had learned all I could.

I have decided to focus my efforts down onto a few cameras, namely the five you see in the photo. The Hasselblad 500C/M is great, everything I need from a camera. It has become my "go to". But sometimes I do want a little bit of automation, which is why I brought back the Pentax 645Nii. I do still want to try a TLR (I thought I had the old Fodorflex working again, but it broke, again) so I may "rent" a Mamiya, but for the immediate future I'm feeling well covered with my two extant options.

In the small formats, I freed myself from everything except the Leica M3, a camera awesome enough to alone justify 135 format film's existence, and the Canon Rebel 2000, which I've actually tried twice to sell on eBay for $20 and have had no takers. But in most situations, I plan on sticking to medium format photography.

In digital photography (for family, community, and only occasionally "serious" work), the Fujiflim X-T3 superseded my beloved X-Pro2, which I sold. I added an X-E1 as a second body for backup and to take photos like this one. And I replaced the XF 55-200mm lens with the XF 90mm; the 55-200mm doesn't hold up on the superior sensor of the X-T3.

In a nutshell, that's the mission: spend more time with the cameras that work best for me, and shuck the rest. I'm heading in 2019 with a meaner, leaner gear setup.

The Industry

Who am I, a mere consumer, to comment on the photographic industry?

An armchair analyst, that's who!

Digital

The most important camera in the world continues to be everyone's cell phone. But no matter how many blog posts like "iPhone XR vs 400megapixel Hubble Space Telescope" garbage we read, what proper gear-obsessed photographer would be happy with just a cell phone?

And so, for us, the gear nerds, the camera companies have created new products. Fujifilm, blessed be they, have outdone themselves with the X-T3. They took their time-honed shape, kept it the same, and put an awesome new sensor in it, resulting in the best camera on the market. This is refreshing after their X-H1 mis-step, especially in light of the fumbles made by other, lesser camera companies.

Canon and Nikon both released mirrorless versions of their flagship cameras in failed attempts to compete with Fujifilm's X-T3, forgetting to make them compact or put knobs or dials on them. Worse still, to get good color from their cameras, they force photographers to shoot in something called "RAW mode" and spend hours using expensive, proprietary software in order to get their photos looking like they should. What a joke!

Sony has continued to make fancy camera-shaped electronics which photographers "adapt" Canon lenses onto in order for them to work, which is bizarre but I guess an amusing way to explore optical physics. And other players have continued to make novelty "camera products" to justify the camera bag industry, such as this Leica D-Lux 7 which you can store in this $1000 camera bag.

Film

In film, Kodak brought back TMax 3200 by surprise, followed by their least interesting variant of Ektachrome: a 100-speed daylight-balanced neutral-toned slide film. Fujifilm managed to survive the year without killing off any important lines of film, which is about all we can hope for from them. eBay remains the best place to actually buy film, by far offering the widest variety of film types and formats.

Internet

On the internet, Flickr was bought by SmugMug, which is good since SmugMug seems to actually care about photography. Flickr remains my favorite place online to share photos since the audience is other photographers and it can, at times, feel like a real community. For some reason, comments on Flickr are, if not always constructive, at least positive, and I can say that about no other website, especially photography websites. You can find my top 20 Flickr photos of 2018 here (in terms of Flickr "favs").

The Photos

In between buying and selling cameras and lenses and reading press releases from camera companies, I found some time to actually take photos. Here's 20 of them, with a note of why I've included them here.

San Francisco // Fujifilm X-Pro2 // XF 16mm f/1.4

I live near, but not in, San Francisco, so I usually miss the most interesting time of day: the foggy part. New Years Day 2018 I managed to catch the fog, though, and got some surreal shots like this.

San Jose // Fujifilm X-Pro2 // XF 23mm f/1.4

Fujifilm's X-Pro2 has no issue shooting at ISO 6400, making street photography at night totally possible. I shot this while walking down the street one evening.

Christmas in the Park // Hasselblad 500C/M // LomoChrome Purple

Even though I'm not quite cool enough to do Lomography, I still sometimes play with their toys. This bizarre "purple" film is one of their more notorious creations and I was able to shoot some rolls from their 2017 batch. I found it difficult to use well, but I did like this shot.

San Jose // Hasselblad 500C/M // New Portra 160

San Jose is a very car-centric city, so its downtown is filled with parking garages of all shapes and sizes. I was very happy with this composition and execution showing both below and above ground level at the same time.

Wedding // Fujifilm X-Pro2 // XF 23mm f/1.4

Although I'm long out of the wedding photography game, my sister-in-law was having a very casual wedding party, so I volunteered to take photos, so long as I could do whatever I wanted. It's actually fun again to shoot weddings when you do it this way.

Jerusalem // Fujifilm X-Pro2 // XF 16mm f/1.4

This shot, looking South from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, contrasts the ageless sky, the ancient village, and the modern tourist infrastructure in a way that I'm proud of.

San Francisco // Fujifilm GA645Zi // Ilford FP4 Plus

I had a brief, intense love affair with the Fujifilm GA645Zi loaded with Ilford FP4 Plus film. This shot from that day may have been my favorite.

Santa Clara // Canon Rebel 2000 // Fujifilm Pro 400H

I've also spent a lot of this year trying to capture Santa Clara's classic architecture, trying a large variety of techniques and approaches. This sunset series on Pro 400H (the best evening film) was stand-out.

San Francisco // Fujifilm GA645Zi // CineStill 50D

I was very proud of this shot – I think I did a good job arranging the subject and selectively picking the scenery to best complement it.

Santa Clara // Canon Rebel 2000 // Kodak Elite Pro 100

My continuing mission to conquer the suburbs resulted in this shot, with perfect colors.

Cambria // Hasselblad 500C/M // Portra 160NC

I've spent a lot of effort snatching up as much "NC" Portra as I can find, and my efforts are repaid through excellent colors like this.

Santa Clara // Hasselblad 500C/M // Fujifilm Prova 100F

Another color study, but this time using modern Provia 100F film, I was especially happy with this frame.

San Sebastian // Fujifilm X-Pro2 // XF 35mm f/1.4

The colors, the evenness of the crowd, the reminiscence of "Where's Waldo?" – it's all came together so perfectly here.

Gijon // Fujifilm X-Pro2 // XF 18mm f/2

I was enamored with the architecture of northern Spain, and I feel this photo is one of the best at encapsulating much of that blend of modern and ancient building styles.

Picos de Europa // Fujifilm X-Pro2 // XF 18mm f/2

I haven't shot many proper landscape photos this year, but I was pleased with this image made in northern Spain, no matter how touristy the site.

Santander // Fujifilm X-Pro2 // XF 18mm f/2

This shouldn't surprise me, but people dismissed Santander as an "industrial" city with little reason for tourism, and then I go there and find the place a visual feast. I think I should start going exclusively to industrial cities.

San Francisco // Fujifilm X-E1 // XF 23mm f/1.4

Or, for that matter, the industrial parts of San Francisco.

Flight // Canon EOS 3 // Kodak Ektachrome E100

I'm not good at taking abstract-esque photos, but I was happy with the smears and streaks of colors here, putting that new Ektachrome to the test.

Santa Clara // Pentax 645Nii // Kodak T-Max 100

Black and White photography is deceptively challenging. I feel like I've barely achieved competence with this image, which is about as good as I get in monochrome.

San Francisco // Hasselblad 500C/M // Fujifilm Prova 100F

And finally, this image from December where I've given a lot of light to slide film at dusk, producing some unusual colors on the houses, and some intense greens on the vehicle, pleased me greatly. This is one I knew was special when I shot it, and I was happy to see after development that I didn't screw anything up.

What's next?

My medium format film stash runneth over, so in 2019 I hope to hit the streets even harder, finding new and different parts of the Bay Area to further explore street and suburban scene photography. Beyond taking photos, I also aim to better organize and present my street work – a quandary I've been mulling over in my head for a long time now. I share photos on this blog and on Flickr, but these are casual; I'd like something more formal, I suppose.

I've begun teaching a photography class to youngsters. Teaching something to others has the secondary benefit of sometimes giving back to the teacher new perspectives into the material, so I view the class's benefit as much as for the students as for myself. In the class, one moment I feel like "you kids don't know how lucky you are that someone as good as me is teaching this" and the next like I'm the blind leading the blind and I'm a fool for thinking I could do this. If nothing else, building out the curriculum has helped organize my thoughts.

And lastly, I've included no mention of flash photography in this review, but as my photos of cameras for this blog have been evidence of, I've decided again that I can't keep ignoring speedlite technique in my photography skillset. There's always more to learn!

about Branden Frederick

I am a photographer: I have fun taking photos, and I always have.

I've had a camera in my hand my whole life, a 110 camera as a kid, and the high school's 35mm SLR later. In 2008 I spent six months doing nothing but taking photos and loved it. From that point on I've had my camera surgically attached to my hand (I lie). I went digital in the year 2000, and I came back to film in 2013. My parents tell me my photos are "nice".

bf@branfred.com