Monday, 24 June 2013

The camera never dies

Paul Miller

Of all the amazing photos taken of Bearwood Shuffle V some of our favourites have to be the ones taken by Paul Miller (aka Fiddly Paul....the photo tells why he got that name!). 

Being very old school ourselves we like the fact that Paul uses traditional cameras.  Paul told us more about what he enjoys about photography, the cameras he uses and about being a retro chap.  We like!

"I have recently returned to photography after having taken no photographs for 20 years or so. In the 1980s, I was quite a prolific photographer, specialising in landscapes, musicians at gigs etc, and used to supplement my income by doing Wedding Photography at weekends.

At that time, I was in charge of the darkroom at The Regional Cytogenetics Unit at Birmingham Women's Hospital, where I was a Clinical Scientist, so I had access to excellent darkroom facilities, "free" photographic chemicals, paper etc. My cameras at the time were Pentax MX and ME Super 35mm SLRs, plus my Grandfather's 1954 Voiglander Vito B and Weston light meter with which I had taught myself the basics of photography while a student in the mid 1970s at Leicester Polytechnic.

For the last 20 years, my interest in photography became dormant, as I concentrated on playing electric viola in rock and folk bands (there was no time for photography as well, as my career as a Clinical Cytogeneticist and part-time father to my son took the lion's share of my days/evenings).

Since taking early retirement at 55 years of age (almost 2 years ago), I have lots of time on my hands, and re-kindled my interest in my old hobby....initially I had my 4 1980s Pentax Camera bodies serviced, so they are now as good as new, and started re-acquainting myself with the mechanics of taking pictures. The magical feeling when one gets the results back from the photo lab was as strong as it ever was, so I decided to fully embrace my old interest again.

Having played around with Digital,SLR cameras and a Canon Zoom Compact Digital Camera I can see their attraction (the immediacy of the results is attractive), but I really do prefer cameras which give complete control in an accessible way.

I really do not like the features found on typical Digital SLRs.....the idea of a lens with no immediately accessible aperturte ring (as is typical of digital cameras) is utter anathema to me, as is the fact that to wrest control of the functions such as manual shutter speeds requires scrolling through menus to find what one wants rather than simply turning a shutter speed dial as on a typical analogue camera.

I maintain that Pentax, Nikon et al have really missed a trick in that if they were to make a basic film-style SLR with a digital back and quality optical view finder it would sell in lorry loads to old-school photographers like myself, and also to Photograpy Students.

My favourite camera to use is the 1980s Pentax MX, a beautifully made all mechanical (apart from the metering system) manual only 35mm SLR, which handles beautifully, is very small and discreet, has a very large and bright viewfinder with all metering information, shutter speed and aperture readout visible. I have several lenses for these cameras, which are optically excellent (many users of Digital SLRs use these old Pentax SMC-M series lenses as they give superb results). Somehow, Pentax really "got it right" with the MX, which to me is just a joy to handle, and really does deliver the goods.

 Photo of Paul Murphy, taken by Paul R. Miller on a 1949 "Franka Solida" 120 2 1/4 inch square folding camera.

Apart from my SLRs, I have recently discovered the joy of finding, restoring and using ancient cameras dating back to the 1940s and 50s. They are slow to use, (no bad thing, as in the digital age, the tendency for so many is to just bash away in the hope of getting at least something useable) demand at least some knowledge to get any decent results from,...and the best bit is that in my experience, people are very happy to be photographed when one shows them the steam-age camera and light meter and explains what you are doing.
As a result, by the time a light meter reading has been taken, the aperture and shutter speed selected, the rangefinder reading transferred to the focus scale, shutter cocked etc, the subject is engaged, relaxed, and ore captures the real subject rather than the gurning smile seen on photos taken with something more instantaneous. As a bonus,I have had the pleasure of befriending several people who, had I been using something more modern, would have probably told me to bugger off had I asked them if it was ok to take a mere photograph with something modern.

The black and white results I have been getting with an old 1949 Franka Solida120 roll film camera have really surprised me.....the pics taken at the recent Bearwood Shuffle (on 09/06/2013) have a lovely old-fashioned appearance which is hard to define, but easy to see if that makes any sense. Ditto, the photos I took using a 1954 Braun Paxette 35mm rangefinder camera at the May Bank Holiday bash at Lightwoods Park have a lovely "retro" look about them, with gorgeous, almost pastel colours....that must be down to the lens technology of the era, I assume.
 Taken by Paul R. Miller on a 1949 "Franka Solida" 2 1/4 inch square folding camera.

I pick up my vintage cameras in junk shops, occasionally on "Evil Bay" and sometimes at Camera Fairs. I have a basic set of rules when purchasing an old camera. It must be of quality, which generally means German, there must be no fungus or obvious damage to the lens, the camera must be basically functional with an intact bellows where present, and in cosmetically good order. Shutters inevitably need servicing or repairing and lenses need cleaning, both of which I am able to do. Oh, and I never pay more than about 20 quid!

Regarding processing, I use a place on Colmore Row in Birmingham (Snappy Snaps) where I have the reputation as being the bloke with the retro cameras which actually work. The guys in there really know their stuff and prices are reasonable (about £10.00 for an 1 Hour service for a 24 exp film, prints ande a CD with the digitised images, with the price reducing if one is prepared to go with 3 hour service and cheaper again for overnight.

I suppose I am a bit of a retro sort of bloke, what with vintage cameras, old racing bicycles, vintage model aircraft building and flying, old motorcycles etc, but there you go!"


  1. Fiddly Paul!!

    I'd missed this article, a lovely read and a very different perspective on taking pictures.

  2. Thanks Ken! It's nice to know that there are so many great photographers living in Bearwood. Can't wait to see your photos from Picnic in the Park.