By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.― Benjamin Franklin
A clever chap was Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. He knew a thing or two about preparation. I, on the other hand, found myself to be a floundering father, when I decided soon before a family trip to New York to dispense with common sense and take two newly acquired and untested Olympus rangefinders with me.
The stakes were as high as the Chrysler Building, as I loaded an Olympus 35SP with Portra 400 and an Olympus 34DC with Superia 200. I figured a city like New York called for colour and I believe I got that much right.
The plan was to get out on my own with the Olympus 35SP and take the Olympus 35DC when going about with the family. The DC, as you may know, has fully automatic exposure. It’s simply a matter of focussing the rangefinder and pressing the shutter button isn’t it? The 35SP, with it’s meter readout in EV, initially takes a little more thought and attention, and some fiddling with the aperture and shutter values wrapped around the lens to match the EV value the meter is giving (or to modify the value to ones own judgement).
No doubt, if the Statue of Liberty had ears, she would be dropping the torch and tablet into the Hudson and giving it a full facepalm, had she just read the above. It turns out my simplistic rationale held as much water as a sieve.
My first assumption that the Olympus SP had a fully functioning meter imploded almost immediately after stepping out of our hotel room and into the brilliant midtown sunshine. It never gave a reading above 9EV, even when pointing it directly up at the sun. Bugger. That meant it couldn’t be relied on. No spot metering either, which is the SP’s USP, if you catch my drift.
Fortunately I wrapped my head around the Sunny 16 rule, and then added a bit for slight overexposure, and used the camera, with unease at first, but then growing confidence, as the week went by. I had no foundation for this confidence of course. It was just I was relaxing into the holiday. The one niggling thought was the condition of the light seals, which were as tacky as the lobby of Trump Tower.
The Olympus DC is smaller and lighter than the SP. It too has a 40mm 1.7 lens, but with a bit less glass in it and not quite as well corrected apparently. It also teases you about the exposure via a readout in the viewfinder, letting you know in advance with a half depress of the shutter button, what it intends to do. Apart from that, you don’t have a lot of say in the matter. There’s no program shift function here. Oh, but there’s the white button on the back, the Back Light Compensation button hidden in plain sight that I totally forgot about the whole week. Aaarghh!
Anyway, did I get a way with my lack of planning? Well, sometimes. I had plenty of nasty underexposed shots too I’m afraid and slightly embarrassed to say. There’s an acronym in my line of work that crops up now and again; SISO. It refers to what information you can glean from a database can only be as good as what was put there in the first place. If the information is pants then it’s a case of SISO. I will let you work out the acronym.
The same is true of image capture. Failing to give the film enough information will surely lead to less than acceptable results; images as amorphous and grainy as the whole grain mustard on a pastrami on rye.
Which camera gave the best results? The one I had more control over; the Olympus SP. Which camera did I enjoy using the most? Again, the SP by a country mile. It’s just a better quality of experience using the SP over the DC. As well as the easily quantifiable better finder and easier focusing, there’s the bigger, heavier body and the mechanical shutter sound which gives the SP a more ‘premium’ feel. It’s the difference between eating a midtown McDonalds and a burger at Friedman’s in Chelsea Market.
You can find more of Chris Pattison’s photographs at https://www.instagram.com/christopher.pattison/