Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An elusive look

Rolleiflex New Standard - Photograph by Tim Irving
Rolleiflex New Standard - Tim Irving
Have you noticed that the price and popularity of Rolleiflex twin lens reflex cameras is as buoyant as ever, and quite rightly so. From my earliest memories of peering onto camera shop windows, Rolleiflex have always been expensive cameras. Of course they are beautifully made precision instruments that will usually out live their owners. I've seen some examples that have been used almost constantly for over thirty years by press photographers. The paint chipped by knocks, leather shrunk by sweat and the lens clouded by constant cleaning with the end of a polyester neck tie. Despite the abuse they still wind and fire.

I've used an old standard (that's it above, in my hand and on my tee shirt), for over twenty years and wouldn't be without it. This particular Rolleiflex is nothing special, it's very basic, but the photographs from it do have a unique look, one that I love and I believe that's the reason why these and a few other camera and lens combinations are still sought after, it's a certain look. At exhibitions and in print, this qualitydraws me in and I find it very appealing.

The look is most striking with medium format cameras. Certain lenses on 35mm cameras can be unique, but in my experience I've found a larger negative in itself has a distinct quality, that's the reason Rolleiflex, Hasselblad and even the toy medium formats, Holga and Diana have a loyal following.

You can try and emulate a photographic look with software, in fact that's a current trend with phone camera apps, to create a lo-fi look. But if you compare the digital effort with the original, side by side, you'll generally find you can spot the fake.

This mysterious look I'm talking about is personal, not everyone will appreciate it. It's very subtle and is best judged in the form of a print, but I can still spot it on a screen. In my case I only became aware of the look after many years, it's one of the advantages of using a wide variety of cameras.

2 comments:

  1. I have noticed the price of Rolleiflex cameras, as I've been looking at them on both eBay and Etsy. And it's not that I wouldn't like to shoot with one, but I'd also like one for my vintage camera collection. They're just great looking cameras.

    I admit that I've played around with the lomography look in PS, as well as TTV filters.

    That said, I do own a newer Holga, but I'm not getting the vignetting or dream like quality that I had hoped for. I'm new to it, so I'm playing around with different films to see what I can achieve with experimentation and diligence.

    I have played around with TTV, but using my digital SLR, not a film camera. I'd love to do the latter, eventually.

    Playing in PS is fun, but certainly not as fun as composing and taking the photographs with camera in hand.

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