Why An iPhone Can’t (Yet) Be My One And Only Camera

Ever wanting to minimise my camera kit, it’s crossed my mind more than once than a camera phone could be the only one I need.

Which would be ironic, as this is how I began photographing with intention over a decade ago, years before I discovered film, or knew what any of those intimidating and multiple numbers dials and buttons on an SLR were for – with a series of Sony Ericsson camera phones.

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Could it be, that after shooting my way through literally hundreds of cameras and lenses, and making tens of thousands of photographs, I’d arrive right back where I started, albeit with (I hope) a better understanding of and greater competence in the dark mysteries of the art?

Well, almost, but not quite.

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On the plus side, here’s what I like about my iPhone (5C), the most capable phone camera I’ve used –

1. It’s compact, convenient and always with me. The best camera you have is the one you have with you. That’s always the iPhone!

2. The images are more than acceptable, especially shot via an app like Hipstamatic. I don’t make huge prints, and any “defects” of the lens/sensor/app I see as a specific character of the device.

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3. I have plenty of control. Again Hipstamatic allows me to manual adjust shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, zoom, focus and white balance.

4. The phone works very well as a point and shoot, on Auto everything. For when I want to relinquish all that manual control that Hipstamatic offers. Which is 90% of the time.

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5. It’s not much different to using a digital compact. Especially when using 3:2 ratio with the phone on its side and the volume button(s) as the shutter button.

6. Different aspect ratios are readily available. Especially with Hipstamatic, though I confess that I only really use 1:1 (which just seems right for iPhones, the seemingly obvious modern digital successor to the classic Polaroids) or 3:2 (as I’m so used to this ratio from 35mm film, my Sony NEX, and my Pentax DSLRs).

7. I don’t feel the need for further uploading, processing, etc. Keeping processing simple is vital for me with film or digital. With the iPhone I just use the images as they come out of the phone (granted I have a Hipstamatic combo of “film”, “lens” and “flash” that I tend to use for most shots, so they’re rarely straight out of camera/phone).

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On the minus side, there is very little, but they add to the reasons why I can’t abandon all other image making devices for the iPhone yet (or maybe ever) – 

1. It might not feel much different to a digital compact, but it does feel very different to even a DSLR with a vintage lens. Let alone a 35mm film SLR. The tactile experience of holding and using a “proper” camera and those beautiful old metal and glass lenses remains a vital factor in my enjoyment of photography. The iPhone just feels like a device, a gadget, albeit a very capable one. I never pick it up and smile at the beautiful ergonomics and glove-like fit in my hands.

2. The screen is pretty good for framing and focusing, but I miss the viewfinder experience of a “proper” camera. That sense of being immersed in the confines of those four straight sides and everything else in the world evaporating can’t be replaced when holding a device with a screen at arm’s length. (This is also a major reason why my Pentax DLSRs have almost entirely replaced my previous main digital Sony NEX camera, which despite its many outstanding qualities, also lacks a VF).

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3. Storage seems very limited. My iPhone is also my iPod, my main email and messaging device, my portable internet browser, YouTube viewer/listener and more. Although I have very few apps, music or anything else overall, it always seems to be close to full, and I can only shoot maybe 40-50 photos before it maxes out. It doesn’t help that Hipstamatic is doubly storage hungry, keeping an original copy plus the filtered/processed version of each photo. I’ve toyed with the idea of upgrading to a new phone for everything but photography, then stripping everything but Hipstamatic from my current iPhone and using it purely for photography. But then I wouldn’t want to always be carrying two phones around, I may as well be using a “proper” camera.

4. Because it’s digital and so easy and instant, the pictures always feel disposable. This perception then extends so I feel I can’t/don’t make any images worth keeping, in the way I can with other cameras, even other digital cameras. Even though I have indeed made some photographs I really like with it. This is a state of mind I know, and maybe could be overcome in time.

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5. I have very little emotional connection with it. This is similar to no 1 above or maybe a combination of 1 and 2. It’s just a clever little device – and has a huge range of uses of course, aside from being a very competent picture maker. But beyond that it has very little charm or attraction, and doesn’t evoke any particular affection. I’m not one for adulation of objects, but I can say that even my Pentax DSLRs bring a smile to my face when I pick them up – they feel like a comrade or companion in the quest to capture beautiful images.

All in all then, I can’t see that my iPhone will become my sole, even my main camera any time soon, if ever. 

But it still makes an excellent back up for those spontaneous images when I don’t have another camera – or the time to get it out.

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Addendum – I realised after publishing my last post about using just one camera and lens for a month, that I’ve also been using the iPhone, and even included images made with in that recent post!

But it hadn’t even crossed my mind that this had broken my one camera one lens run with the Samsung/Miranda combo!

More than anything else I think this shows how I don’t even count the iPhone as a “proper” camera…

Would you ever consider using a camera phone as your only camera? Let us know in the comments below. 

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One Month, One Camera, One Lens, One Step Too Far?

Is it possible for someone who’s bought and used (and mostly sold) hundreds of cameras and lenses in the last five years to spend a whole month with just one of each?

That’s the question I arrived at around a week ago.

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In recent months (in fact most of 2017) I’ve started to finally settle on a core photography kit. Around 15 vintage M42 and Pentax K mount lenses, two film bodies, and three digital bodies.

My film fallout this year has meant that maybe 95% or more of the compositions I’ve seen through these old lenses have been captured on a digital sensor rather than a frame of film.

I still have a few other cameras and lenses, but not in regular circulation and worth counting.

There are still duplicates in the set up (still too many M42 135mm lenses, still too many 50/55mm options) but overall I’m pretty content with what I have.

I’ve been experimenting with zoom lenses recently, and the SMC Pentax-A 35-105mm f/3.5 and to a lesser extent its fellow A series sibling the 24-50/4 have opened my eyes to the possibility of having one zoom lens to cover two, three, even four primes, without a significant loss in quality.

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Also, the need I seemed to have a month or two back to fill every focal length between 24 and 150mm with a quality prime lens has diminished. 

In practice, for my needs, having, say, a 120/2.8 Takumar plus four or five 135/3.5 lenses is superfluous. The difference between 120 and 135mm is small, so the 120/2.8 Tak with its slightly faster speed and wonderful performance could quite easily be the only one of these half dozen I need.

The final nudge that’s lead me to consider a month with just one lens and one camera is my very recent holiday experience.

Knowing that family holidays don’t tend to offer many photographic opportunities (aside from the family and touristy shots my little Nikon Coolpix has handled flawlessly for the last six years) I packed the smallest of my DSLRs, the Samsung GX-1s, my Pentax-DA 35/2.4 (the lightest lens I have by far) and my newest lens, and the widest I have, a Miranda 24mm f/2.8 in Pentax KA mount.

I started out with the 35mm, but because most of the shots were either interior shots in tight spaces, or wide landscapes, the 24mm Miranda (equivalent 36mm field of view with the Samsung’s APS-C crop sensor) soon took over and lived on my camera for the rest of the week.

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The Miranda is so humble (common consensus is it’s a Cosina made lens rebranded by UK electrical giant Dixons when they owned the Miranda name in the 80s, and more than capable) its former owner attached black tape across the Miranda name to hide his shame. Maybe his or her friends all had Leicas.

So far its close focus (< 0.2m), convenience to meter with (it’s A series), and sharp enough final images encourage me to use it further without concern.

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On a deeper level I love the idea of having less (in all areas of life), and having even the 15 or so lenses I have makes me a bit uneasy.

I don’t entirely know why, other than maybe a feeling that the less you have, the less you have to lose, and in a way the more independent this makes you.

If our house was hit by a freak bolt of lightning or hurricane, there are very few possessions I would be too upset at losing, cameras included.

This part of me feels it’s not unfeasible or unreasonable to have a couple of digital bodies, a 24mm, 35mm, 55mm and 120mm lens and that be it. To stop the endless searching, if not for the perfect camera and lens (I don’t believe this exists), but the perfect collection of cameras and lenses.

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Also, I feel in another way the more lenses you have, the more excuses you have to not face up to improving your understanding and use of the raw essentials of photography – composition and light.

Confronting the limitations of one’s ability and experience.

For too long I’ve felt like a camera tester rather than a photographer, because the camera and/or lenses I’ve been using most recently is always new to me.

Maybe another way of expressing this is rather than proving I can rise to the challenge of making a half decent image with virtually any camera or lens, I want to prove I can make much better images with very few cameras/lenses.

Do less, and do it better. Another mantra of sorts that’s been at the forefront of my life for some years now. 

And what if I reached a point where I didn’t really care which camera/lens pairing I used to make image, as long as I liked using them, and those final images, rather than carefully noting the specific details each time I share a photo.

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Anyway, it’s an interesting time and potentially something of a crossroads in my photography journey so far.

I’ll post an update and some more images taken with the Samsung GX-1s and Miranda 24/2.8 combo in due course.

Have you ever used just one camera and/or lens for a month, six months, a year? Please let us know about experience in the comments below. 

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Tick Tick Tick Tick Zoom?

After very promising results recently with an SMC Pentax-A 35-105mm, the next step in my explorations of zoom lenses was to try something that would embrace the wider end.

It was time try the lens I got this with the 35-105mm, a 24-50mm, also Pentax-A series.

Now I’ve realised (duh!) that I can use a zoom as a set of primes, use one focal length at a time and ignore all the others, they’ve become vastly more appealing. At least a select few have.

The aforementioned SMC Pentax-A 35-105/3.5 appears to offer a wonderful range of primes – 35, 50, 80 and 105mm if you stick to the focal lengths marked on the barrel (which I do).

On paper this lens offers everything I need, bar maybe a 120 and/or 135mm prime at the tele end plus a 24 and/or 28mm at the wide. 

Turns out it’s not just promising on paper but actually a bit special in practice too.

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So let’s say this lens WAS the only one I needed between 35 and 105mm. What about that wider end? I have my Super-Takumar 28mm f/3.5 – pretty special in its own right too. But nothing wider.

Enter the 35-105’s little sibling, the SMC Pentax-A 24-50mm. 

Following its barrel markings, it offers 24, 28 and 35mm, as well as 40 and 50mm.

At 35 and 50mm it duplicates focal lengths of the 35-105 (and my surprisingly impressive 35-70mm f/4, also a Pentax-A zoom), and though the 24-50mm is significantly smaller and lighter, its close focus of 0.4m across all focal lengths puts it way behind the 35-105’s intimacy potential up close and personal at 35 and 50mm.

So my consideration of the 24-50 is almost exclusively as a twinset of 24 and 28mm primes.

With that in mind I took it for a spin at 24mm.

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In short, it’s pleasant enough to use, pretty compact for a zoom, but still with a wide enough focus ring to be very comfortable. The focusing is pretty smooth too.

The all metal aperture ring has a good feel, very similar to the M series lenses, and better than many A series with their reliance on plastic.

In practice I use A series lenses on their A setting, then have the camera on Manual (M) mode, adjusting both the aperture and shutter speed via the dial wheel(s), but the build of the aperture ring is reassuring nonetheless.

Overall the lens performed well enough.

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It’s sharp is enough for my needs, and the colours are similar to my other A series – natural yet quite vibrant (more so than my Takumars), and the combination with the CCD sensors of my Pentax DLSRs gives results I really like with minimal post processing.

But I have two main issues.

First, the close focus of 0.4m, whilst respectable at 50mm, and just about passable at 35mm, is just nowhere near close enough for me at 28mm or 24mm. A bit of a let down in all honesty, compared with the 35-105’s excellent “macro” shift focus action that works across the entire zoom range.

As I mentioned, this feature alone would make me reach for the 35-105 for a 35 or 50mm lens over the 24-50mm every time, again making it in practical use just a 24 or 28mm lens.

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The second issue is not really the lens’s fault but more just my unfamiliarity with 24mm. And this is a major reason I bought it – to get more familiar with 28 and especially 24mm.

I struggled not so much with finding compositions that suited 24mm, but the focusing, and the (deep) depth of field (DOF).

Even at my usual starting point of f/5.6, there’s a fairly extensive DOF (and remember the lens only goes down to 0.4m – obviously at half this distance the DOF would be significantly more shallow) so I didn’t have my usual comfort blanket/ crutch/ excuse for not intelligently making every single element in the frame work together and blurring it out with shallow DOF.

With the 24mm field of view I wanted to get really close. But the lens wouldn’t let me.

At least not unless maybe I used a tiny aperture and relied on the DOF at this aperture to bring everything in focus. Which I didn’t want to do.

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In a way this is all good, and challenging for me as a photographer. It was just different to get used to.

In time once I am more used to 24mm I’ve no doubt it will have a positive effect on me using longer focal lengths too, and being less reliant on wide apertures to magically disappear backgrounds.

So to sum up, the lens  mostly ticked the boxes I wanted it to – providing an affordable option at a 24mm focal length, to allow me to experience and start to embrace that focal length for wider, more distant scenes at least.

The fact is, it’s unlikely to be used at 35 and 50mm (maybe I’ll dabble at 40mm a little) and maybe not even at 28mm (that Super-Tak 28/3.5 is arguably the loveliest and most balanced handling Tak I’ve ever had).

Which makes it essentially a 24mm prime in a more chunky package that only focuses down to 0.4m. Hmmm.

So whilst it does give me a taste of 24mm, the prime alternatives I might consider are the 24/3.5 Takumar which goes down to 0.25m, and a DA 21mm which focus as close as 0.2m. A whole other world of intimacy compared with 0.4m.

I’ve also got decent enough results a couple of years ago with a Sigma Super Wide II 24/2.8, which are far more affordable than either of the Pentax options mention above and also focus close.

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I’m all for embracing the versatility of zooms, but with this one I’m still undecided. 

A zoom that offers four focal lengths, but I’ll only realistically use for one of them, 24mm, doesn’t seem such good value.

It deserves another couple of outings, but my hopes of it being as big a surprise as my other two A series zooms are somewhat dashed.

Which 24mm (or wider) lenses have you tried, whether as a prime, or within a zoom? 

Let us know in the comments below.

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Champion The Wonder Zoom?

Traditionally I’ve been a prime lens kind of photographer. I just like the simplicity of having one less variable to consider.

Plus the journey of getting to know how the world looks at a fixed focal length and field of view – so you can visualise the part of the scene the camera will capture with this particular lens before you raise it to your eye – is very enjoyable and satisfying.

But I confess I’m increasingly drawn towards zooms, albeit using them as a set of primes. I’m still not comfortable with the stand-in-one-fixed-position-and-just-zoom-until-the-scene-fits-the-frame approach that I imagine zooms were/are designed for.

Also I’m gradually coming to settle on a range of focal lengths I like shooting.

50/55mm is where I began and have most experience, and 135mm is something I’ve now used a fair bit too.

Less familiar are wider angles, though the Super-Takumar 28/3.5 I’ve used a few times has delighted me already, and is an absolutely joy to use.

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As I’ve started to consider zoom lenses more, I’ve chosen them based on the gaps they can fill in my collection.

I’m geeky enough to have recently sat down and plotted every lens I have on a chart of focal lengths, to see where there is duplication, and see where there are shortfalls.

The outcome of this exercise was – plenty of coverage at 50/55mm and 135mm, one 28mm and three 35mm lenses covers the moderate wide angle front, and lovely f/2.8 Takumars at 105 and 120mm elegantly bridge that 105-135mm gap.

What remains missing then, is anything wider than 28mm, and between 55mm and 105mm.

Conveniently, I came across someone selling two rather well regarded Pentax-A series zooms together – a 24-50mm f/4 and 35-105mm f/3.5.

Given my previous experience of Pentax-A zooms – a solitary, but very impressive 35-70mm f/4 – I thought these two could potentially fill any remaining gaps in my optical arsenal, so made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

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Indeed, between the 24-50mm, the existing 35-70mm and the 35-105mm I now have everything covered from 24-105mm (and 35-50mm covered three times over), pretty much the entire range I shoot. In three lenses.

I currently have 15 other lenses (all primes) that, on the basis of focal lengths at least, could be replaced by just these three A series.

Collectively the zooms cost me around £90. The remainder of my 15 lenses probably amount to £750+.

Ah, another reason why people like zooms.

So today I went out with the 35-105/3.5 and my Samsung GX-10 (almost identical sibling to my Pentax K10D) to see if there was any chance it could indeed replace a handful of primes. 

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The short story is, there’s plenty to like about the 35-105.

It’s well made, with lots of metal and big Super-Multi-Coated glass on the front. It’s smooth to use and feels robust.

The focus initially goes down to 1.5m, on paper very disappointing, especially at the wide end.

But, cleverly, and crucially, shunt the (wide and easy to handle) focus ring forward a few mm and it shifts into a whole other “macro” scale, which, even better, works at all focal lengths, not just at one end of the scale, like many similar zooms.

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In practice this means focusing is possible down to around 0.15m at 35mm, 0.3m at 50mm, 0.5m at 80mm and maybe 0.7m at 105mm.

All of these are as close or closer focusing distances than any equivalent primes I have. If you’re a regular here, you’ll know I like my close focus. A big +1 for team zoom then.

Performance wise it’s more than sharp enough for my needs (I don’t pixel peep and/or make 3m x 2m prints) and the colours are in line with other A series I have, which on my Pentax/Samsung DSLRs with their CCD sensors means lovely vivid colours, that are natural without looking too garishly digital or processed.

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As I said, plenty about the 35-105 to want to cuddle it close on a cold winter’s night.

So far so peachy. But are there any downsides?

Ultimately, there is only one, which itself all depends on how you view it. The size and weight of the lens.

At a shade over 600g, it’s not exactly a bazooka, but heavier than my biggest prime, the Takumar 120/2.8 which weighs in around 350g. Paired with the GX-10 / K10D it’s not a pocketable, lightweight combo you want dangling from your neck for eight hours.

The overall size itself in terms of handling is not an issue, and that wide, chunky focus ring is fun and reassuring to use. Especially once you get used to that macro shift feature.

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The 35-105 has markings at 35, 50, 80 and 105mm, so in my one-zoom-equals-a-handful-of-primes outlook, this equates to four primes in one. 

If you make a direct comparison with any of the primes I have (35, 50 and 105, I have nothing at 80mm anyway) then in terms of weight and size the 35-105 seems a bit of a dinosaur.

But that’s not exactly its point or purpose.

On the flip side, you could quite easily argue that you could use just this single lens for all kinds of different photography over a series of photoshoots, and it would be far lighter, smaller and cheaper than the comparable four primes you’d need to carry around to cover the same range. As I said, for maybe 90%+ of my shooting needs, this one lens would deliver.

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The other potential negative for some might be the f/3.5 maximum aperture.

For me, the only time this would make it difficult are the occasional very low light church interior explorations I venture on. In these instances, my A series 50/1.4 or 55/1.8 Takumar would be the lens I reached for, as my lenses at all other focal lengths are f/2.4, 2.8 or 3.5 anyway.

But for all other situations, where my default aperture tends to be around f/5.6, the max aperture is perfectly fine – fast enough to make the viewfinder bright and clear to focus, and to mean that my optimum shooting aperture is a comfortable stop and half down from the lens’s maximum.

So, does this “champion the wonder zoom” mean I’ll be selling every other lens from 35-105mm that I own? 

No, not exactly.

But because it’s more than competent at all of its focal lengths (four, if you stick to the barrel markings as I do), it has made me strongly question whether I need another three 35mm, four 50/55/58mm, and one 105mm prime lenses over the same range, that will in most situations not give me any significant advantage or better final photographs than the zoom.

A more thorough testing of the 24-50mm is next on the plan, though on its initial outing it’s shown enough promise to be optimistic.

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If it lives up to its reputation – and my experience with its 35-70 and 35-105 siblings – it will no doubt further the argument for a few quality zooms potentially replacing a bunch of primes.

Which would free some funds maybe for some more unusual additions, like something even wider than 24mm… A 20mm Takumar? A 15 or 21mm Limited? Time will tell.

How is the balance of primes and zooms in your kit? When do you favour a prime over a zoom, and vice versa?

Let us know in the comments below.

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Guilty Secrets And The Great Film Fallout 2017

This feels something of a confessional. I started writing 35hunter in late 2015 with the following intentions –

35hunter is a diary of my photography hunting adventures.

The three things I’m hunting for are –

  1. Beautiful objects and scenes to capture with a photograph. Usually using 35mm film cameras.
  2. The ideal camera. Or, more realistically, a small collection of excellent, individual cameras that I love using.
  3. A balance between being a photographer and a camera collector. Mostly I want to be the former, and feel like the latter.

I’m pleased to find that, some 20 months and 80 posts later, my intentions are much the same. Especially parts 1a, 2 and 3.

What has changed rather significantly is the extent of my use of 35mm film.

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I’ve never been an exclusively film photographer, and since buying my Sony NEX in 2014 have kept around 3500 photographs. As I edit quite strictly, and maybe only keep 20% at best, I must have shot around 15000+ with the NEX.

In other words, I’m no stranger to shooting digital. 

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Since 2012 I’ve gathered some 15000 items in my film photograph folder on my MacBook, shot with 130 different cameras. Yikes. So, I’m pretty familiar with film too.

But the number of rolls of film I’ve shot this year, 2017, can be counted on two hands. 

Since May I’ve shot a single roll of film, barely any more on my NEX. But I have kept some 1500 photographs from my newly discovered Pentax K10D and Samsung GX-1S DSLRs.

Again these are just the keepers – I’ve likely shot approaching 7000-8000+ images across these two bodies so far.

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What this all means is I’m not what you could call an active high volume film photographer anymore. 

I’m barely a film photographer at all.

So, the truth is out! Where does this leave me?

As I see it, I’m actually closer to my original aims outlined at the launch of 35hunter (and ones I’ve had in my head for some years previously) than ever before.

I still love seeking out beautiful things to photograph, and they’re still usually trees, flowers, crumbling gravestones and weathered paint flaking doors.

Also, I’ve found as close to the ideal camera set up as is probably possible, in my K10D and its little brother the Samsung GX-1S.

So much so that I’ve literally just taken arrival of a Samsung GX10, the Samsung clone of the K10D as a back up/ complementary camera.

Using my beloved old Takumars and a few other vintage M42 lenses on the K10D, a handful of A series SMC Pentax on the GX10, and potentially any of these (but mostly my recently discovered super light and mightily impressive Pentax DA 35/2.4) on the little GX-1S, makes a manageably small but formidable arsenal – three cameras and around 20 lenses.

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When I do feel a hunger for film, I still have my Spotmatic F for M42 and Program A for K mount lenses.

This set up also makes me feel closer to being a photographer than a camera/lens collector than I have done in about four years.

Which is a big thing for me – I hate just collecting stuff for the sake of collecting and not actively using it, plus that unhealthy binge/purge consumption cycle it’s so easy to get sucked into.

So whilst this post does feel a bit of a guilty confession, in fact I’m nearer my aims than ever.

Which, it turns out, is nothing to hide about after all…

Where are you in your photography journey? 

Let us know in the comments below.

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