I purchased a new toy camera at Kiddyland in Harajuku while I was on vacation. I hadn’t expected to find any such thing there; we had other cuteness on our agenda. But when I saw that camera on display, I couldn’t say no.
I had planned to take a test roll in Tokyo and Nikko, but I forgot the Blackbird Fly in Aaron’s backpack at the inn, and once I realized what I’d done, wasn’t about to walk all the way back to the edge of town to get it. So I finished the roll at the Old West End Festival on Saturday, instead.
Overall impression: I like it. It makes distinctive photos, which is a big plus; also, it’s just manual enough to keep me on my toes, while being forgiving enough that my slip-ups don’t ruin everything.
More photographic geekery follows — and more pictures, too.
I did manage to squeeze off a few BBF pictures in Tokyo. Unfortunately, I packed the loaded camera in my checked luggage on the way back home, not even thinking about the film, so the film that was exposed in Japan got a little foggy:
Once I started photographing with it at the Old West End Festival, I realized a few things. First: I think this might be the second or third roll of film I’ve ever shot with a twin-lens reflex camera. Composing is weird, because you hold the camera around chest-level and look down into a large viewfinder window on the top. The viewfinder is also mirror-image; you move left, the image moves right. It’s hard to get used to, after photographing with a standard SLR or point-and-shoot.
Second: photographing is like driving a car. There are so many things to think about that sometimes you completely zone out on one aspect or another until it occurs to you to think about it for a particular reason (think side mirrors). I’d been worrying so much about composition and how to do it with this camera that I completely forgot to focus! It’s not obvious when you’re looking through the viewfinder if things are out of focus, since the aperture is small enough (f/8 or f/11 = “cloudy” or “sunny”) that most things will be in focus, anyway.
In the picture of Willie Joe the parrot, above right, his owner was all concerned about the lighting. Little did he know that what he should have been concerned about was my lack of technical prowess with my new camera. I was standing about three feet in front of Willie Joe, and absent-mindedly had my focus set to infinity. D’oh!
Even better? Once I did start paying attention to the focus, it took me through most of the rest of the roll before I remembered that the index was in meters, not feet. *facepalm* Thank goodness this camera only has small apertures!
(Note for non-camera people: The aperture is just the hole in the lens that opens up when you press the shutter button. Large apertures = small f-stop numbers = backgrounds out-of-focus = how I usually photograph. Small apertures = larger f-stop numbers = more things in focus = how studio portrait photographers usually photograph.)
Something else I noticed while carrying a twin-lens reflex camera around my neck — especially one with a strikingly white faceplate — is that it’s a bit of a conversation starter. I had one person approach me as I was perusing her yard sale and throw around enough jargon that I knew she knew about photography, so I geeked out with her about how cool my new camera was, how it takes 35mm film instead of “two-and-a-quarter,” and how I can even do sprocket photography with it. Another gentleman we walked past later on appreciated the simplicity of the older-style camera that actually takes film.
I did get to talk to a real photographer about my camera, albeit one who is considerably younger than I am. I say he’s a “real” photographer because he takes some fantastic portraits; he had many of them displayed at a table next to his family’s yard sale. His name is Aaron Geller, and he’s a very talented college-aged portrait photographer.
He was really interested in the Blackbird Fly until he got to twiddle the wheels and look through the viewfinder. I tried to explain to him that it was just a toy camera, like the Holga or the Lomo, and that part of the joy of it is in seeing what kind of images you get back after processing. When he pointed out that he couldn’t afford that kind of unpredictability in his work, that’s when he gestured me to his table of work and his very awesome Yashica TLR (and his Nikon D300 with a Very Long Lens).
I walked away from that encounter feeling humbled and slightly embarrassed — no, more than slightly. I felt like I’d just been totally schooled by someone a good ten years younger than me, someone who has a body of work that is completely kick-ass, of whose talent I’m totally envious.
But I digress.
The Blackbird Fly has a hotshoe on the left side, to attach a flash. I think the next test roll will include a few flash photos, although I’ll have to use one of my more old-school flashes with manual settings. It’ll be fun!
I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to use my Blackbird Fly, since the small aperture means either sunny outdoor photography or flash photography, but I’m planning to make it my main film camera for a while and see how that goes. I should probably take a closer gander at the user’s manual, too, come to think of it.