My life as a photog

A few montha ago I joined the Pentax Forum, an on-line community for Pentax owners and enthusiasts. They ask you to introduce yourself, so this is what I wrote. It may be of interest.
Hi from Perth, Western Australia. I call myself PCPete because that incorporates my initials and I’m big in PCs. I’m 65, retired from 45 years as an electronics tech in a commercial TV station. My job started in the days of valves (toobs, for you Yanks) and went through every phase of electronic development to the point of being computer and network support in the Graphic Arts department. Pretty interesting work, and supporting graphic artists (Photoshop, Wacom tablets, PCs and Macs) was right up my alley. It also helped that most of the artists were gorgeous, intelligent women, too. I LIKE graphic artists. They combine artistic skills and computer skills. Nice.

My photography started in 1967 using my father’s 6x6cm (2 1/4″ square in those days) Voigtlander twin lens reflex, using 120 roll film. Scale focusing only! No focusing aids. No split image. No ground glass screen except for seeing the laterally reversed image.

No light meter either. That taught me to estimate exposure. Using Panatomic-X 125ASA, the sunny f16 rule said that correct exposure was 1/125th at f16 or 1/250th at f11. Simple. Since most days are sunny here, I learnt to estimate exposure very early in life. Black and white film had great latitude so errors were forgiven, but opening up for the shadows became second nature.

I even shot Ektachrome 64ASA 120 in that camera. It was very expensive to buy the film and with only 12 shots per roll, I became careful and frugal. It was good learning. I’ve still got those Ektachrome 6x6cm slides. I even bought a second hand Rollei 6x6cm slide projector in the 1980s. Seeing those big slides projected was fantastic. Like a fool, I sold it a few years later, too cheaply.

My first SLR in about 1968 was a Praktica Nova 1 with 50mm Tessar lens, made in Communist East Germany. The lens mount was M42 Pentax screw thread. I put my first roll of film through it, 25ASA Kodachrome X, and posted it off to Kodak in Melbourne for processing. A week later (yes! we had to wait a week to see results in those days), the box came back in the post and all it contained was a loose roll of uncut film, no slides. The film was blank, black.

Imagine my disappointment – there was a note in the box from Kodak, “There seems to have been a problem.” It was all unexposed film! I hadn’t threaded the film properly and it hadn’t gone through the camera. Oh, I was so disappointed.

However, the next roll went through and that was the start of a lifetime of photography. No meter in the camera in those days – you either estimated exposure or used a separate light meter, which I didn’t have.

I mostly used Agfa CT18 after that because I liked the European colour palette it gave. It wasn’t what we now call E6, but a similar process, and it was processed in Perth. But unlike Kodachrome, it faded badly and nearly all my Agfa film has faded away. I’ve scanned some in recent years and managed to salvage a few.

My next camera was a Konica Auto Reflex T3 in 1974, bought in Singapore on my way to Britain and Europe. It came with a Konica Hexanon 50mm f1.7 lens and I added a Vivitar 135mm and later a Vivitar 28mm. Good combo, or so it seemed then. Shutter priority auto exposure – a bit revolutionary then but I loved it. A great camera and I’ve still got the slides from that Euro trip – mainly CT18 and nearly all faded to purple, but … scanning has rescued most of them and now they’re stored on CD-ROMs.

I sold it in about 1980 to a work friend and he lost it in a burglary a year or so later. At work he said, “You wouldn’t happen to have a record of the serial numbers by any chance?” On the spot, I said, “Yes, the body number was 586755 and the lens was 7627303.” Just like that, from memory. I do that sort of thing. I can remember nearly all the number plates of my cars going back to 1970 [UK 985; BE 412; UEM 601; UHW 800; um, XRZ 077; Camry wagon …?; and now 1AXS 877] and many of my old phone numbers too. I know the numbers of both my VISA cards from memory.

It’s not a “photographic memory”, ha ha, it’s just that I learned the trick of moving things from short term to long term memory by visualising them “out there in space” and repeating them over and over. Once in long term memory, they are there for keeps, just about.

My friend never got the camera back, I’m afraid, but he bought a Canon film (pre-automation) whatever-it-was, oh, AE-1 with the insurance money.

After that, I moved through Minolta XD7, XE1, XM/XK (still got that one!), to Pentax Super A with 50mm lens, my first Pentax. Some of my best keepers were with that camera.

I sold the Super A in the 80s to a mate who dropped it, sat on it, never read the manual, complained bitterly that it was faulty (he never learned to use it properly) and it finally stopped working entirely due to too rough handling. He used to complain bitterly that the viewfinder LCD figures went dark. It was because his baseball cap covered the light window in the pentaprism! “Well, the camera is poorly designed, then”, was his response. Duh. He blamed me for selling him a faulty camera. Great mate.

He wanted to sell it on eBay even in its non-working state but I persuaded him to give it back to me, (which he grudgingly did, making me feel bad for asking), and I’ve still got the 50mm f1.7 Pentax KA MF lens in front of me as I write. I can use it now on my K-5.

Early last decade he asked me to look out for a good second hand camera for him. In about 2003 I spotted a Pentax Z-70 fitted with a Sigma 28-70mm AF lens for $200, and like a fool I bought it on his behalf. “Oh, no,” he said when I showed it to him, “I want a digital camera now, not a film camera” and refused to take it. What a great mate! I was very upset, but just had to swallow it, so I’ve still got that Z-70 Pentax film camera.

I moved on, in film days, through to Nikon (FE2, F801 and F601 – I loved that F801, and some lovely Nikon glass, including the 200mm Micro-Nikkor. I also had a 300mm IF-ED Nikon lens. Phew, those were nice lenses. MF, but smoooooth fingertip focusing.

Then I was seduced in the 1980s by Olympus OM and I had that, as well as the Nikon gear. The Olympus OM2SP body cost $275 brand new, “duty free” for a traveller! It was a good bargain.Those were the days – every trip was anticipated by a fantastic period of working out what I’d buy “duty free”, because you could really save on the retail cost in those days. Singapore was still bargain alley, too. Not any more, I’m afraid.

The Minolta and Pentax Super A had gone by then. I wanted the Olympus for its flash and macro system and I found a used T10 Ring Flash, T-Power Control 1, new Macro Flash Shoe Ring (in KL, Malaysia, but I could never find or afford the Macro Twin Flashes to fit it) and 18mm, 21mm, 28mm, 50mm and 135mm OM Zuiko lenses. Beautiful stuff. The trouble was actually getting the things shown in the Olympus catalogue – they were always unavailable, but I found a lot in used condition.

I even adapted the Nikkor 200mm Micro to the Olympus OM2SP body by mounting two T-adapters back to back, Nikon on one side to take the Nikkor lens, OM bayonet on the other to fit the camera body. Yes, it didn’t focus to infinity of course, but this was macro work – I never shot at infinity focus.

That way I got 200mm Micro-Nikkor sharpness with smooth finger tip focusing, with the OM system’s flash capabilities. In those days, with film, that mattered a lot. I walked Malaysian jungle trails with that lot on a tripod, heavy as hell, slipping and slithering in the mud. I got some nice shots for the time.

Then in 1991 I lost the lot in a burglary! Yes, around $15,000 worth of gear, all gone. All in great camera bags too, just handy for the burglars to walk away with. Bastards.

I got the insurance money but I had to settle for the second-hand values, because that’s how I’d bought a lot of it. I had (and still have) the serial numbers of everything, but none of it was ever recovered.

It included all the little extras you collect – double element closeup lenses, flash and remote cords, a grey card, many adapters, you name it – all gone. I could have cried.

I had the payout money so I just had to start again. I re-bought much the same stuff. All second-hand again, and I’ve still got my replacement OM2SP and 28mm and 50mm lenses, with a T20 flash and the T10 ring flash/T-Power Control – they missed those. I also bought another s/h Nikon F801 and re-bought a 200mm Micro Nikkor a few years later, but it was never the same.

We’re up to about 1996 now and I had bad sleep apnea without realising it. My life went to shit. Too tired to do anything. Lost interest in photography and most else. Lots of problems at work. Too tired, and no idea what was wrong. Doctors did all the tests for fatigue but never thought of sleep. I was drinking myself to sleep as self medication. Travel became impossible because I fell asleep at the wheel (micro sleeps). On planes, I felt as if I was choking as my head and chin drooped to my chest.

Then in 1999 my company called for voluntary redundancies. At age 52 I had no debt so I jumped at the chance to retire early. I was so tired I thought my life was near an end anyway so I may as well enjoy the freedom. That’s what it does, befuddles your mind.

In February 2000, I told the doctor I was falling asleep at the wheel and running off the road (I was!)

“I suppose we’d better get you checked for sleep apnea”, he said. I finally had the sleep test in June 2000. Bingo – I was waking on average every 60 seconds, all night long, without knowing it (I sleep alone). My blood oxygen levels were going as low as 85%. No wonder I was tired. No wonder I was type II diabetic. No wonder I was developing heart disease.

In July 2000 I had my first night of sleep on a CPAP machine, and I awoke next morning feeling refreshed for the first time in about 10 years. I’ll never forget the feeling of energy I had that first day! Ten years of wasted life because two successive family doctors never thought to get me checked for sleep apnea. Damn.

I’d actually passed up an offer made in May 2000 to work in the TV Centre at the Olympics in Sydney because I knew I’d be too tired and wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Now in July 2000, I was free to travel again, and despite the scare stories about full planes, I found seats easily so I went to Sydney for a week as a visitor during the Olympics and loved it. I had enough energy to just walk around and enjoy the atmosphere, carrying my camera gear. No particularly great photos, but even so I was back into it. Btw, my sharpest shots were from an Olympus Stylus point and shoot film camera. Olympus makes great lenses. More on that in a minute.

In Singapore late in 2000 I bought my dream camera, a used Contax G2 with 28mm, 35mm and 90mm Zeiss lenses. Film camera of course. Digital, although becoming available, was still too low res, then.

Then digital took off and in 2004 I bought my first, the 8Mp KonicaMinolta A2. I still have it and love it, but it isn’t up to the standard we expect now.

That got me going, as well as buying a Nikon LS4000 slide and film scanner. I spent the next three or four years scanning nearly all my film and slides, thousands of ’em. There’s more to it than it looks and the more I did, the better results I got. I used to get the scanning work from my old TV station too, but that died off after a few years. I’ve still got the scanner and the Contax gear, but I gifted all my Nikon film gear to my young niece who has talent, along with a Mamiya C330 6x6cm TLR. She uses it well.

Next has been a succession of digital cameras: Canon 40D (nice, but all buttons same size and shape – sold off with all my Canon lenses etc to a young friend); Canon G9 (nice too, but a crap optical finder – also sold, boy that’s another story!); Ricoh GX1 (OK, but sold it cheap to a good mate in return for favours); Fuji S100fs (still got it, took it to Europe in ’08, love it but it has flaws) —

and finally, the Pentax K-5 in October 2010, with 16-45mm and 50-200mm Pentax DA lenses. I’ve since added a Sigma 10-20mm f3.5/4.5 and the Sigma 120-400mm APO.

As you can see, I like to chop and change, but I don’t buy boats or cars or motorbikes or jetskis or go to expensive restaurants. Cameras are my heroin, my collectables. To me, a camera like the Contax G2 is a fine object, near the pinnacle of engineering, manufacturing and styling. A beautiful object.

Now I spend my retirement at 65 on the computer doing all the fantastic stuff that computers can do: scanning (LS4000 and Epson 4990), cataloguing (ThumbsPlus), manipulating (ThumbsPlus and Photoshop Elements if I have to), printing (Epson 2880), framing (matt cutter), making slide shows (Photodex ProShow Producer), editing hi-def video (Canopus Edius Neo), burning shows to Blu-ray  and, oh yeah, taking a few photos with the K-5. Unfortunately they tend to be a lot of dog shots.

And still it goes on, this camera addiction! Only a few weeks ago, I received delivery of my latest, an Olympus E-PL2 with 14-150mm lens for $600 the pair. My first micro4/3 gear.

Why? Last year I bought an adapter on eBay from Hong Kong which adapts my Zeiss Contax G lenses to micro4/3 mount. At last, I can use this legendary glass on digital. Focusing is manual, of course, by a little finger wheel, as the lenses have no focusing ring, but we’ll see. Better than letting them gather dust on the shelf or mould in the bag.

I hope maybe next will be an OM-D E-M5. Photokina in September was going to show a new Panasonic high-end whopper, but I don’t think the G5 is enough to tempt me. I’m (we are) still hoping for a Pentax full frame. There’s no end in sight. I ain’t finished yet!

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