To return just for a moment to the original topic, which was essentially about using the wrong camera for the right job, or the right camera for the wrong job (a bit like using a chisel as a screwdriver, really).
Normally I photograph landscape, architecture, townscapes, harbours and a bit of still-life. Subjects which don’t move around too much, and for which the limitations of MF are not really a problem. However, in the past I have also done quite a bit of what you might grandly term environmental portraiture – people at work or just doing things. I used to shoot those kinds of subjects back in the ‘80s using a Rollei 2.8F, which was the camera I happened to have, rather than perhaps the best tool for the job.
This summer I got the urge to do some more of these “people” shots, perhaps because I was just plain bored with my landscapes and needed a change of pace. However, I do not own a 35mm DSLR, or a compact camera, or really anything much except my beloved old Hasselblad 500 kit. So needs must, and I spent some time attending our local shows, rallies, and horse trials doing what we used to call “candid” photography. These events are huge fun, all held in the open with all sorts of stalls, bands, animals, old cars and crazy things going on. So this is a bit like street photography, only it’s in a field, not a street. All these pictures were shot on the ‘Blad 500 with the 80mm Planar and the CFV-39 digital back.
Now I would be the very first to admit that I would have been better off using a smaller-format DSLR for this job. Or for my taste, probably a Leica M9. The ‘Blad is heavy, cumbersome, slow to focus, prone to camera-shake if you rush, and it is very hard to melt into the background when you are toting this thing around your neck. I missed quite a few opportunities because I simply wasn’t fast enough. But there are some unexpected advantages to balance the downsides, which don’t necessarily apply to all MF cameras, admittedly.
• A surprising number of people approached me and asked about the camera, and I got into all sorts of interesting conversations as a result. A 1960s ‘Blad with the silver CZ lenses seems to attract attention rather like a classic car.
• I was using the waist-level finder, rather than a prism. One interesting result of this is that, unlike using a 35mm camera, you are shooting at about three feet from ground level. I like the way this gives the pictures a kind of “child’s-eye view”, which you can see most clearly in the beer-tent shot.
• The WLF has another advantage. People don’t seem to feel so threatened by someone who is looking down into a little screen as they do by having a lens poked at them at eye-level. Consequently, it can be easier to get close to the action without spooking people or making them embarrassed.
I have always owned a MF camera of one sort or another, ever since I started in photography. Whereas I have owned 35mm cameras on and off, but never enjoyed them much, so I suppose that I am biased. In the days of film, there was such a huge quality advantage to MF that for me there was no contest. With high-end digital these days, the performance gap is so much less that I think I just carry on with it out of stubbornness really, and because I get a great deal of pleasure out of my old Zeiss glass.