Photo-Philosophy

Practice [and not a New Camera] Makes Perfect!

There’s a lot to be said for practice when it comes to manual focusing cameras. Unfortunately, it’s fair to say that practice is something that I’m completely out of when it comes to focusing manual SLRs. I realised this after scanning a roll that I shot with an Olympus OM10 last weekend, and finding my hit rate to be quite low. But whilst the experience was quite frustrating, it also made me reflect on how we respond to these sorts of failures, and how we too often blame our tools.

A few years ago I discovered that my right eye had failed to the point that I could no longer critically focus a manual focus SLR camera. I’d bought myself a Nikon FM3a and a 50mm f/1.2 lens. At the time, this was pretty much my holy grail combination. I’d been a collector of Nikon cameras and had coveted both camera and lens, yet when I got my hands on them, I quickly realised something was wrong.

Though my Nikon collecting peaked around the time I was working in a camera shop over a decade back, I’d actually started writing this website by the time I bough this Nikon combo about 5-6 years ago. In that interim period I’d been shooting more rangefinder cameras, then more digital cameras, and eventually the compact 35mm cameras that had me enthralled enough to see me start this website. Because of this, I’d not really noticed my eye failing. So when I did, it was a bit of a shock.

I tell the full story in this post from back in 2013, but the abridged version is that I sold the Nikon and bought a Leica M7. I’d found that rangefinder focusing was slightly easier with my right eye and of course perfect with my properly-functioning left eye. Moreover, framing with a rangefinder with my left eye just about worked for me, whereas framing with an SLR and my left eye didn’t. For one reason or another, the view through an SLR viewfinder just didn’t make sense with my left eye, but because rangefinders have frame lines I could make better sense of the framing. I’m sure this doesn’t make much sense to some, but if you want to get an idea of where I was coming from, try putting any camera up to the eye you don’t use. Feel unnatural? To me the rangefinder was the best compromise to work with this unnatural feeling. It was this that I used to justify the purchase of the Leica M7.

leica m7

5-6 years later, I’ve had a lot of practice framing with my left eye. I don’t use it all the time, but when focus is critical I do, and as such, I’ve become much more used to using a camera held to my left eye. I’d never really thought about how this might affect my abilities with an SLR until I picked up my Nikon F2 about a year ago and used it for shooting some unremarkable architecture. I used my left eye, and low and behold, it didn’t seem to feel as confusing as I remember it had when I’d had the problems with my FM3a. In these years since then, I’ve just been training my brain – or more specifically – I’ve practiced and have become better at it.

Following on from this, I decided I would take some baby-steps back into SLR photography. I initially went at it via an autofocus camera and – to a certain degree at least – I enjoyed it. Though I still remained somewhat sceptical about my ability to focus a manual SLR properly. It was at this point people started recommending that I tried an Olympus. I was told by a good few people that they have huge bright viewfinders that are very easy to focus. In response to this, I borrowed my mates Olympus OM2n. But after a roll I shot in it went wrong – leaving me with very little to show for the experience – I gave the camera back.

One thing that stuck with me though was the enjoyable experience I’d had shooting the diminutive 100mm f/2.8 Olympus lens. I like small gear and I quite like shooting with a short telephoto lens, so the OM2n and 100mm f/2.8 definitely held some appeal. I even told its owner that I’d like to borrow, or perhaps even buy the lens off him if he’d be willing to part with it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I found an Olympus OM10 with a 50mm f/1.8 in a pawn shop in town. The pair was on the shelf for £35, a bit of a bargain these days – especially since it’s practically in mint condition. So, knowing I’d like to shoot the 100mm again, I bought it. A few weeks later, I visited my friends house for his daughters birthday party and had him dig the lens out. All excited, I shot most of the roll there and then – some with the 100mm, and some with the 50mm – just leaving a couple of frames which I shot of my works mates on Monday morning.

I’d love to say that I was feeling confident, but I must admit, I sent off the roll with some trepidation. I’d not found the experience of shooting this manual focus SLR to be as smooth as I’d like. Now, I think of myself as a fairly confident, or at very least competent film camera user. Not only this, but I have long overcome any of the concerns associated with shooting in anyway manually. Yet, trying to focus with either the 50 or 100mm lenses, I found it quite difficult – really difficult in fact, and in no way intuitive. This was a bit of a shock given that I used to have, and regularly shot with, a stack of manual focus SLRs with no problem at all.

These days though, I’m used to my rangefinder cameras. I put them to my eye with complete confidence. Rangefinder cameras are familiar, they feel right in my hand, I know what to expect from the viewfinder and more specifically, I know how to focus them without really even thinking about it. There’s something akin to a muscle memory when I use them – it feels like my eye, hand and brain are in complete cooperation with the function of the camera. I am able to focus with what feels like little more than gut instinct. The result of this is a high hit rate… at least in terms of focus.

With the Olympus, there was none of that. I could use my left eye to frame happily enough, I can even cope with seeing a blurred view though a viewfinder – I’m used to that from using my mirrorless cameras for work. What I’m not used to is having to focus with a split prism focusing screen. I wonder if this is just something that I’ve never done with my left eye, or if it’s just a product of having not shot an SLR since my FM3a, and for a few years before that, with any other manual SLR at all. Either way, it really bloody shows in the results! I won’t show them all, but having counted, I can tell you that of the 29 shots that were critically focused, 8 are in focus. 8! This is not the sort of hit rate associated with someone who thinks of themselves as a competent photographer. Especially when some of them look like this:

Blured girls

But I suppose, there’s no surprises here really. I’ve not done something for ages, so I’m out of practice, and as such I’m not very good at it anymore. Finding this, really made me reflect on the importance of familiarity with a camera, or even just a type or feature of a camera. As photographers, we often chop and change cameras looking for the right or better solutions. When in reality, what makes us better with the cameras we choose is simply spending more time with them.

How often have you read online someone talking about how much better they get on with one type of focusing system over the next? Yet, none of us are born with innate ability to focus using a split screen. We learn how to use these things, we practice and we get better. I once learned how to use a split prism screen to focus, then over time those skills have left me. Instead, I’ve learned how to use a rangefinder. If I want to be able to focus a 100mm lens (or even a 50mm for that matter) with an SLR, I just need to practice again.

Will

The only shot taken with the 100mm that I nailed – there is a lot of potential in that lens!

Yet, when I talked about this on social media, the response from almost everyone was to suggest I try a different camera. The OM10 viewfinder isn’t as bright or as big and easy to focus with as an OM1, so maybe I should try one of those instead…? This is all too often what happens when we talk about our experiences with cameras online – the problems are pinned on the gear we use. I suppose this must be down to the fact that it’s much easier to try and find a solution in a new bit of gear, rather than face up to the fact that we just need to try a bit harder with the camera we already own.

At this point I should say that I’m in no way being critical of the people who tried to help me on social media (especially since one of them has offered to loan me his OM1…). I guess I could take it as a compliment that so many people would assume that I’m competent enough that it must be the camera, and not me at fault. And apart from anything else, I also very often give people advice about cameras, so it’d be pretty bloody hypocritical if I was to belittle those who tried to help me.

I just think that with all these types of conversations so frequently going on – especially on social media where the context just doesn’t fit in to 280 characters – we probably owe it to ourselves to acknowledge the fact that when we fail at photography we should probably first look at our own abilities before we we try and fix the problem with a new bit of kit. Of course cameras are sometimes the root cause of failure, but the proportion of failures based on a lack of skill is likely much, much higher. Despite this, the rate at which we seem to blame our tools, and not ourselves, doesn’t seem to match those proportions – not by a large margin!

In short, as the old saying goes: practice [and not a new camera] makes perfect!

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47 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    StephenJ
    February 4, 2019 at 10:37 am

    Speak for yourself Hamish, I am under no illusions about my bad snaps.

    Very few cameras are less capable than me.

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    Reply
    Andrew
    February 4, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    Do you think part of the reason you got the response you received on social media, is in part your a person known for trying multiple cameras? Plus maybe considering the variety of equipment available many people have different experiences or something that works for them.

    It’s a shame that there wasn’t more support for simply persisting with a camera you feel you’re struggling with, maybe focus is overrated anyway, if you’re only a little bit out that doesn’t mean you’ve wasted a shot 🙂

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 4, 2019 at 3:27 pm

      Possibly – but I’d still bet that a large majority of the time these discussions happen, the result is around gear.
      As for focusing being overrated – have you read this

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    Reply
    Adam Laws
    February 4, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    Like you my right eye has also treacherously betrayed me and was also focusing with my left eye. Have you tried using a diopter (hope that doesn’t sound patronising)? I purchased a ridiculously expensive one for my Leica last year and it has done the trick. I no longer have to hide my face behind the camera (although my subjects probably preferred it hidden). Subsequently I purchased one for my Mamiya and now my FM2n, which has been sitting on my shelf for the last few years.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 4, 2019 at 3:25 pm

      Yeah, it’s an astigmatism, unfortunately…

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        Reply
        Adam Laws
        February 4, 2019 at 4:17 pm

        Ahhhh. Well I hope you have more luck with the OM1 kind sir.

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        Reply
        TBM3FAN
        February 5, 2019 at 12:36 am

        I thought so just taking a wild guess on myopia or astigmatism being an eye doctor. So what is the issue with glasses? I suppose you might tell me they get in the way, or you are not used to them, or your brain is not trained in them? Well I have been wearing glasses since the age of 12 and have a high astigmatic correction which probably dwarfs yours. Nonetheless, I have no problem using my glasses when shooting. Maybe because that is all I have ever known since getting an SLR 47 years ago. Oh, and before one thinks of one of those diopter corrections for the viewfinder forget it. They only work if you have a spherical correction of myopia or hyperopia but not an astigmatic correction where you need the power in only one meridian.

        • Avatar
          Reply
          Hamish Gill
          February 8, 2019 at 9:32 pm

          I don’t find my glasses correct the astigmatism properly. They come close, but they aren’r quite right… They also make everything look angled. I don’t wear them much and keep thinking I need to go back to the opticians and have another chat with them about them

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Andy Moore
    February 4, 2019 at 2:22 pm

    Hi,

    I can’t agree with the idea that the OM1 screen is much brighter than the OM10. I’ve had a few of them both for a long time – including the OM10 which was my 16th birthday present, 41 years ago – and they are similar brightness.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 4, 2019 at 3:25 pm

      I now have an OM1, borrowed off someone on social media – so now I get to find out for myself 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply
    PhilStefans
    February 4, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    I go thru regular periods where every wide open shot I take is back focussed by about 3 inches. I’ve worked out its because I subconsciously lean in a tiny bit after I focus…its like I go thru all the logical steps to taking a photo (pose model, set exposure, focus), then relax and start thinking creatively and shift forward slightly…I have to consciously remember not to do it to break the habit.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 4, 2019 at 3:12 pm

      What you need is a lighter camera – will pull you forward less! 😉 😉

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    Reply
    Lori
    February 4, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    Are you near sighted? I had the same problem with my focus with my OM and I bought a viewfinder diopter in my prescription. It’s been a godsend.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 4, 2019 at 3:12 pm

      Astigmatism – so theres nothing that will completely fix it

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Terry B
        February 4, 2019 at 8:28 pm

        Hamish, I can empathise a lot with you here. I’m quite short-sighted in my right eye with some residual astigmatism too, and need something in the region of -3 dioptre correction with cameras that aren’t eye glasses friendly. Simple dioptre correction that is built in to some of my cameras does vary from camera to camera as to their efficiency in focusing, despite these not having any astigmatism correction. Fortunately, I don’t have any issues focusing with my left eye, despite my natural inclination to be right eye dominant. Regarding your astigmatism, have you approached your optician for a prescription lens that could fit?

        Regarding the focusing inaccuracies you had, I do wonder if the f1.2 lens played a significant role. Unless tripod mounted, I suspect the very narrow d.o.f makes it quite tricky to hand-hold and focus and it is easy to lose the critical point of focus with just the slightest movement of the camera or even the subject. I don’t think many people realise just how much the head moves when we believe we’re standing still, and this will be magnified with the f1.2. And if one couples this with less than the best focusing screen, is it any wonder that we get a fair number of misses?

        Focusing screens can make a huge difference, and it is not just down to their actual size. Personally, I’d much prefer to have a full microprism central spot with a plain screen, and failing this a plain ground glass screen. The actual quality of the screen material itself also has an impact. Believe me or not, the best screen I’ve come across for focusing is the plain ground glass one in my 1950’s Zenit-C. Even using the slow f3.5 lens, it it so easy to assess and nail focus, despite the relative dimness of the illumination. For comparison, using the exact same type of screen in my Exakta cameras does not match the Zenit’s ease of focus. I suspect this is down to just how finely etched the screen is in the little Zenit.

        • Avatar
          Reply
          Hamish Gill
          February 4, 2019 at 9:08 pm

          I have yes, I have glasses that I don’t wear and that really mess with me if I try and use them with a camera, and don’t entirely help anyway.
          As for the 50mm 1.2, the issue with looking through the viewfinder, not after the photo was taken – my right eye just gives me a poor view – That said, have a squizz at the original post, theres a shot taken at 1.2 that I have no idea where it was focussed.
          I think overall, I just need more practice with SLRs. Finding what screens suit me will come in time, I hope

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Ron Scibilia
    February 4, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    Totally resonates. I’ve considered an auto focusing camera, but for now I’m relying on zone focusing, using mostly a 24 or 28mm lens.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 8, 2019 at 9:30 pm

      Yeah, wide angle lenses certainly help! 🙂

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    Reply
    Malcolm Barron
    February 4, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    I have had a similar problem recently. I recently acquired a Contax 139Q for a fiver as it supposedly had a jammed shutter but it turned out to be a dud battery. So running a film through the camera with several lenses, I keenly anticipated the results. I was very disappointed to see many shots out of focus. I’m still not sure if this is an issue to do with the camera or my poor near sight. The lenses used seem to focus correctly on my Fuji X T1 and the focusing issues on Contax became worse with increasing focal length.

    I have been using mostly rangefinder and scale/zone focus cameras such as the Zorki 4K and the Olympus XA2 recently and haven’t had a issue with focusing with these cameras. I just wonder if the change in the point of focus of a middle-aged eye affects the optical pathway through an SLR to the viewfinder enough to throw the focus off? I may have a look for the appropriate dioptre to see if this solves the problem as noted in the previous post.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 4, 2019 at 8:51 pm

      How much out is it, and is it always out the same way, if that makes sense …?

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Terry B
      February 6, 2019 at 11:25 am

      Malcolm, “I just wonder if the change in the point of focus of a middle-aged eye affects the optical pathway through an SLR to the viewfinder enough to throw the focus off?”

      This is quite possible and setting aside for the moment how we may react to focusing efficiency of different screen types, the reason this will happen is because the slr viewing optical arrangement assumes a viewing distance of 1 metre, or so. What this means is that the focused image appears as if we were focusing on a subject 1 metre away. To test, set your lens to infinity on a subject roughly around infinity, 100ft will do, a building should do nicely, and check with the naked eye. If this doesn’t appear sharp, it could point to the inevitable impact on our vision of ageing.
      I often think that if slr viewing were so good, why did manufacturers clutter the screen with split image prisms, microprisms and ground plain focusing aids? The problem with slr viewing, IMO, is that focusing is a matter of rocking the lens to and fro until we assess that the point of critical focus has been reached. With a correctly set up r/f camera, this simply isn’t the case. The eye can more readily see a discontinuity in a straight line and this is why r/f focusing is generally more efficient.

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    Reply
    Richard U
    February 4, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    My eyes have had severe astigmatism since an early age. As I got into photography I always found RF focusing easier (I did not know about the astigmatism back then). SLR focusing was always a bit vague. As my eyes have aged I have found SLR focus is worse. In the last few years I have taken the opportunity to investigate focus accuracy. I can tell you the best thing is to take your time. You will also need to learn what type of patterns / textures give you best focus. As you are used to RF you will tend to choose focus targets which suit RF, you need to find targets which suit your eyes for SLR use. I also use OM cameras but have found that a plain ground glass works best for my eyes. For me microprisms are useless, I think my brain has adapted to astigmatism and compensates for microprism effects. I went away from the split RF as it makes me focus on patterns / textures that suit RF instead of those which suit my eyes. The plain ground glass means I do not lose the central area to unnecessary aids. I have also heard (but not investigated) that it is possible to have an optician make a “custom diopter lens” which has correction for astigmatism.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 4, 2019 at 8:54 pm

      I had a plain screen in my F2, but didn’t have much luck with that – I think with my left eye, I just need to practice. I am also in the unique/annoying position of running a website that somewhat necessitates me using lots of different cameras, so getting used to a split screen – seeing as they are more common (i think) – might be the thing to do. Points definitely noted though, thanks!

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    Reply
    Kurt Ingham
    February 4, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    The key to using any system is practice. I have more than the requisite 10,000 hours using MF lenses, and am seldom stymied. The only difficulty I regularly encounter is using slow aperture wide to medium focal length MF lenses on AF cameras – the screens are often very fine. We regularly see equipment ‘condemned’ on social media because the users haven’t taken the time to learn how to use them (catadioptric lenses are prime examples). Rant over – for now!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 4, 2019 at 8:55 pm

      If you want to rant properly, let me know and we can talk about setting you up as a contributor to the site 😉

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    Reply
    LASousa
    February 4, 2019 at 7:26 pm

    Having the exact same problem. The SLR no longer feels natural. Just yesterday shot with a Spotmatic. The shots were landscapes so I just used the depth of field gauge. For close-up stuff it would be hit and miss. On my Leica M240 I have a diopter, but new problems arise. To see my surroundings reasonably well I need my glasses. To then shoot through the corrected viewfinder I have to take my glasses off. I now keep a tie around my glasses to make it easier, but it is a pain. I like shooting the rangefinder without glasses, I get better eye position to see around the frame lines. But in the end, the diopter now largely stays in the bag.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 4, 2019 at 9:00 pm

      I honestly don’t know what I will do if my left eye goes… AF probably :/

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    Reply
    Joseph Meyerson
    February 4, 2019 at 7:38 pm

    OM have different focus screens, including huge split rf type prisms in center of screen

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    Reply
    Julian Higgs
    February 4, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    Persistence in anything pays dividends I agree, but there are times when gear does make a difference. I have a Voigtlander CLR with a dim/faint Rangefinder patch, would another example or a different camera be better? Maybe? One of the benefits of the Olympus system (and others) is the ability to easily change focus screens, There are a number of different plain (non split prism) focus screens available for the OM series that may help you focus? And while the OM 10 will accept them, apparently they are easier to change on the single digit OM series as you have to modify the screen a bit to fit them to the camera, apparently. I do still struggle sometimes with the split prism thing and I have pretty good vision apparently according to my optician the last time I went. I’m afraid I only suggested that you should have an OM1 on the back of the lens because it’s (in my opinion) a less fussy camera to use. Pure gear addiction on my part! Moreover, I don’t like the location of the manual shutter speed thingy, and given your love of simplicity and quality I felt the OM1 would be a better match for what is undeniably a lovely lens. Hooped you find away or canoractice your way to love the OM series as much as many others, including myself do. A great article that has given me food for thought. Thanks as always for a great site and content Hamish.

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 4, 2019 at 9:13 pm

      Thanks Julian – I definitely think that cameras make a difference. I borrowed an OM1 today (I do like it more – though I can’t see any difference in the VF) – Fraser who leant it to me ended up chatting to me for a while in the car park where we met. I found myself extolling the virtues of the Leica rangefinder over basically all others – I believe me too… I suppose the point it is though, if you can make a canon ql17 work for you, your still going to be better placed to use almost any other rangefinder… if you follow .. ?! 🙂

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    Reply
    Simon Forster
    February 4, 2019 at 10:08 pm

    I agree with the sentiment, but different people find different cameras easier or harder to focus. I count my self a competent SLR user, yet when I met up with Rachel of Sunny 16 fame last year at The Photography Show, and she invited me to take her photo with her OM10 and my 100mm f/2 Zuiko, I failed to get the shot. My 100mm f/2 is a significantly sharper and brighter lens than the 100/2.8 you have been using yet I still failed miserably. If I were using a Contax body that I was familiar with, I’m certain I would have nailed the focus. Practice is one thing, but having a deep understanding of your camera is another.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 4, 2019 at 10:21 pm

      For sure – that’s a logical extension of my point. The best camera is definitely the one you know how to use! (That’s a title of a blog post I’ve had in the making for a while)

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    Reply
    Mike
    February 5, 2019 at 1:44 am

    Take this article, make it about a regular SLR shooter trying a rangefinder and it’s my story. Well except the eye bit. I am right handed but left we dominant. So to use my left eye when looking through a viewfinder. I have been trying to use the right eye, but find it a bit of struggle. Couple of things I have noticed, when using a Nikon FE the film winder hits my forehead. Since I am trying to compose with the left eye. Also, for Nikons again, the meter is on the left side, of which is hard to see with the left eye. Canon, thankfully puts in on the right, or in the case of my A-1, on the bottom in bright red LEDs.

    Again always comes down to practice. I set a goal to shoot 10 rolls this year with my Canonet QLIII17. Which poses all of its own challenges.

    Wish me luck. Great article.

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 8, 2019 at 9:29 pm

      The bits of camera hitting the forehead thing is mighty annoying – another tick for my Leica m’s for me that one, as I have no issue with that sort of thing with them

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    Alvaro
    February 6, 2019 at 1:02 am

    I mentioned this in the Instagram post, but some time ago I got an OM-1n from eBay after loving my XA2 and wanting something to replace my AE-1 that I never really liked beyond the initial honeymoon period (first film camera, and first ‘real’ camera of my own, for that matter), so this compact system seemed ideal (I too have a thing for smaller cameras), specially since it had such a large and bright VF. Sadly, after a few rolls I realised how hard it was to focus with the latest, sharpest 50 1.8. There frequently was a very long distance that could feasibly be in focus, and drifting to and fro didn’t make the focus point any clearer, no matter how much I tried. Obviously, in low light it was basically impossible. Didn’t help that before the OM-2, they didn’t come with a split prism, only the microprism. Still, trying to focus slightly off-centre was definitely WAY easier with my AE-1 and my friend’s F3 and my other friend’s F3HP. Like, no question. I googled and found a few other people with the same issue. Some argued that in order to make the VF so large and bright, they had to skimp on how much light scattered on the screen, and thus how clear the focus point was. or something of the sort. Anyway, the camera came with a couple other issues so I’m gonna sell it, as-is. Not the system for me, and I was pretty stoked about getting that 100, a 28 2.8, and someday the also-tiny 85/2.

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      Hamish Gill
      February 8, 2019 at 9:28 pm

      Interesting – I did find the vf to be a little dim on occasions, and indeed noticed in off centre subjects. I shall think more on this next time I try it.

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    Kevin Allan
    February 8, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    I have Duane syndrome which has the effect that my right eye can not move to left or right or up and down (at least not without giving double vision) and even when looking ahead the vision in my right eye is quite limited. I also can’t close my right eye indepedenly and use just the left eye.

    For most daily life I just automatically adjust by moving my head in circumstances where others might move their eyes. However photography is the activity where it does make a difference (a shame for a photography addict).

    Having said all that the effect on photography is inconvenience rather than an inability to focus. Most cameras seem to have ergonomics which are maximised for right-eye viewing rather than left-eye. I am sure that I spend more time with my nose squashed up against the back of a camera than most photographers do. As a result, I prefer a waist-level viewfinder (RZ67, 124G) or a LF ground glass (Intrepid 4×5) to any eye-level finder.

    A more pressing problem for me is which pair of spectacles to wear – I have three pairs, for distance vision, computer work, and reading, since I’ve never got on with varifocals. The view through the finder is usually clearest using the distance specs but seeing the aperture and shutter settings is best with the reading specs!

    When I’m in a winter landscape, swapping spectacles is a complication I could do without …

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      February 8, 2019 at 9:20 pm

      That sounds difficult! You certainly sound like you struggle for your art a fair bit more than me!

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    Bill
    February 9, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    I don’t see the answer(npi) as being cut and dried. I spent the vast majority of my shooting life with Canon slr’s(25+ yrs on a F1-n before an unrepairable problem). During the last years my shooting has migrated to a Contax G2. I have shot long enough with the two types to now have patterns emerge relating to this issue. My focus success directly relates to the type of shot I’m endeavoring to shoot. I achieved better success with the F1-n when doing precise up close/macro work because I could see exactly what was in focus. I am left wanting on many of my critical focus G2 shots. On the other hand I have migrated to more spontaneous shots with the G2 because of it’s auto focus capabilities. With that said I would insert that I have had to shift my confidence from what I see to what I know. That is where experience and practice come in. I am somewhat analytical in nature so I constantly look at my newly developed work and try to decide where I went right or wrong. I think it can be akin to what happens when we drive somewhere often. Sometimes after arriving at a frequented destination I am hard pressed to remember the actual drive. My brain took over and got me there without my full attentiveness(not necessarily safe). I also believe this can be true with how I shoot with different cameras. On one occasion, I was shooting with both the F1-n and the G2 and I forgot to focus the lens on the canon(not necessarily safe). My brain had been conditioned to not focusing myself. Thankfully this only occurred for a few shots before I got my brain running on the two tracks. I hope I’m saying this with some clarity. I think there are multiple factors at play in the process. The camera/owner interaction is a definite factor in focus success but the experience and length of relationship between camera/owner also plays a role. I rarely experience a situation that has a simple conclusion. Every person has their own set of parameters that work for them so learning how to recognize what those are is a definite piece to this puzzle. Also,sticking with a particular camera long enough can enable a person to establish brain pathways that influence results. There are definitely times I wish for my F1-n but then I just press in harder to make myself think about what I should be doing to get the most out of the contax. Finally,some people get better results with a specifically prescribed contact lens. I myself am a lifetime glasses wearer. Sorry for the lengthy response.

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      Hamish Gill
      February 11, 2019 at 6:43 pm

      Not at all, a spot-on addition to my thoughts on the subject. There is a lot to be said for “auto-pilot” as long as you remember which camera you’re piloting – makes 100% sense to me!

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    Bill
    February 10, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    I have to say my experience over the years indicates that a great amount of my success is due to experience. Sticking with a specific camera and getting to know it’s strengths and weaknesses. Knowing how to set the camera for a certain situation only comes from time spent practicing. Knowing how to anticipate and shoot a fleeting moment also only comes from practice. Practice eventually turns into experience. I moved from a Canon F1-n(upon it’s death) to a Contax G2. Going from what I could see in focus to what I trust is in focus. I have more critical focus failures with the Contax but I also have more spontaneous moments of success. I am a lifetime glasses wearer with no real problems thankfully. I know some who have had a specifically prescribed contact lens that has been good for their specific need. Having been a right eye shooter my whole life I can’t imagine switching to my left.

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    ilya
    February 21, 2019 at 9:10 pm

    Sorry to hear about your failing eye, Hamish. But I’m really glad that you are able to re-learn this craft and adjust to using a left eye.
    I’ve personally never used a rangefinder camera until a month ago, when I got a (huge) Fuji GW690iii. I’ve read about its huge size but still found myself amazed when I opened the box. Until now I’ve only ever used SLR’s, and I like being able to see exactly what’s in focus and what’s not. With range-finder’s single point I find myself spending a lot of time trying to focus the darn thing. I guess I should keep practicing and see if the image quality will pay off for it in the end. But it’s probably a similar gear-shift to using a rangefinder compared to an SLR, as it it to using a different eye. Or perhaps I should try my left eye before I make such comments 🙂

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      Hamish Gill
      February 24, 2019 at 9:49 pm

      Very similar – it’s all just mindset and practice… I certainly wouldn’t make it harder for yourself with your left eye though! Appreciate the wonders of a useful dominant eye 😉

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    Sroyon
    March 5, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    There is medical research to back you up. Vernier acuity, the faculty we use for focusing split-screen aids, improves with practice. See e.g. Mckee and Westhe, 1978

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      Hamish Gill
      March 7, 2019 at 9:41 pm

      Ha, well there we go! Thanks very much!

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    Roland Otterstein
    March 13, 2019 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Hamish,
    I like the notion that we ought to look more often at our skills, attitudes, or frequency of practice and less often at our gear, in trying to improve on our photographic work, yet I would encourage you to try a couple of other cameras before settling on the OM10.
    I’ve been a pretty avid photographer for most of my youth and adult life and have developed a very good relationship with my fleet of Nikon film cameras, including FE/FE2’s, FM/FM2’s, an F3, and an FA. Since I also like old film cameras from other brands, I’ve acquired other SLR’s and rangefinder cameras, including an Olympus OM1. Despite its big and bright viewfinder, I really struggle to focus with the OM1. My son, who has much better eyes, doesn’t have the same problem. I will persevere with the OM1 because I like the camera and lenses and I’m not the sort of guy who gives up too quickly, but I guess I’ll be choosing smaller aperture settings for the most part. And when I’m shooting wide open with fast lenses, I’ll be using my Nikon gear.
    I’m not really here to put in a plug for Nikon. I imagine there are other brands that focus well for others and could do the same for me. But I would guess that you’d get a pretty good sense of what works best for you, just from trying a few options at a used camera shop (and hopefully the user experience would match up with the hit rate!).

  • Reply
    Kosmo Foto Weekender: 9/2/19 - Kosmo Foto
    April 2, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    […] 35mmc: Practice makes perfectI didn’t know until I read this piece that Hamish Gill, who runs 35mmc, had failing eyesight in his right eye, which has meant he’s found it difficult to use SLRs. All that changed after he found an Olympus OM-10 at a must-buy price. But using the OM-10 reminded him of one vitally important skill that can really improve your photography – familiarity with your camera.https://www.35mmc.com/04/02/2019/reminder-about-the-importance-of-practice-vs-upgrading-your-camera/ […]

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