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Thursday, April 19

Monifieth Beach

It's a funny old world when you start hoping that a photo from a 35mm SLR will turn out as well as the same shot taken on a phone. I was on a long beach walk yesterday and found the tide well out. I wandered up to the water's edge and saw this spit of land jutting out. In the background is the distant lighthouse at Buddon Ness. The scene looked like a giant "7" to me and I couldn't resist capturing it.

I took a few on the OM1 and then snapped the shot above mainly to send to Phil Rogers to give him something to look at whilst he was at work. The pic is completely untouched apart from a pre-set conversion in the iPhone editing software into a black and white image. The pre-set has actually given it a duotone look which I think suits it very well.

When I saw the job the iPhone had made of it I did wonder if the shot taken with the OM1 would be as good. For a start, the iphone's field of view is wider - something like 40mm - than the 50mm lens I had on the OM1. What that meant was that I could get the sunlight reflection at the bottom of the frame in the iPhone image but not in the OM1. There was no point in backing off to get it in as the reflection just followed me! It didn't matter what I did, the angle was just wrong when it came to the job of getting the reflection on film. I had the 24mm with me but that was far too wide.

Of course, I couldn't just meter the scene and expose the film in much the same way the iphone did it's job. No, I had to think of shadow detail even though my visualisation was dark and moody. So I'll probably end up with an over-exposed neg (for my visualisation) that will need to be printed down in the darkroom. I need to get out of that habit and expose the shot the way I see it.

So, the big question is whether or not the OM1 shot will be up to much. It's at the start of a roll so I'll just have to be patient I suppose.

Tuesday, April 17

Twenty-six months in the making

It was in November 2015 that I first spotted this scene. I'd been visiting my old mum and the light from the mid-morning sun was almost blinding as it reflected at a glare angle off the wet surface of a north-facing road.

At the time, I was driving but I thought there had to be a shot there somewhere and made a mental note to have a look at it when I had more time and, more importantly, a camera with me! The actual road in question, Elmwood Road, was about 1000 yards away, give or take a few inches, so a telephoto lens would definitely be needed.

Thursday, April 12

View from a bridge

This is a shot I took about eight months ago but didn't actually develop until this week. I'll not be doing that again. I'd delayed processing because I'd been using the Firstcall Superfine developer at the time and was having difficulty getting films to look the way I wanted. The first batch of Superfine worked really well with Tmax 400 but the second bottle I got was double strength or thereabouts and it didn't work as well for me. I just couldn't get the same consistency with the new stuff.

Rather than using the Superfine, I put the roll, mostly containing night shots, away in a light tight bag until I could use something else. At the weekend I decided to mix some ID11 at 1+1 for the roll, cutting the development time a little from normal to help prevent the highlights from becoming too dense. The results were fine except for one thing. If you look at the sky in the scan below, just above the two street lights on the left, you might see the number 14 repeated twice. I've tried to show them through a tweak or two in Photoshop. The digits are lying on their side. I'm not sure how that could have happened but it looks like something from the backing paper has effectively been burned, for want of a better word, onto the negatives. The image above was the the third last on the roll so it's possible it's light fogging through the backing paper but I wouldn't have expected anything like that from film stored in a light proof jiffy bag in a drawer.

Sunday, April 8

Film Drying Cabinet

A very generous reader has "donated" a Marrutt film drying cabinet to the Robbins darkroom - and a wonderful bit of kit it's proving to be as well. I'd never used such a cabinet or even seen one in the flesh but I can already tell that it's going to be a big boon to my film developing workflow.

It's a simple enough concept. Films are hung up to dry in what is essentially a metal wardrobe with an air-tight door. Air is drawn in to the wardrobe at the bottom by a fan and has to pass through a filter for dust removal before it wafts gently upwards and out of the top. Films dry in about half an hour in the gentle breeze. For even quicker drying there's a heat setting which warms the air up although some users claim that too much heat makes the film curl. Think I'll stick to the unheated setting.

The cabinet is designed for 120 film and 24-exposure 35mm, in other words it's not long enough to accommodate the drop of a 36-exposure roll. I get around this by hanging both ends of the film from drying clips so it hangs in a loop and then cutting the washed film after frame 18 so it falls in two halves. This presents something of a problem as there's not enough blank film at the bottom of the cut ends to accept a film drying clip or weight to keep the roll straight. I sorted that out by taking apart four sprung clothes pegs and fashioning the springs into two hooks which slip through the last pair of sprocket holes at the cut ends. A normal film clip or weight can then be attached to the spring.

Monday, April 2

Carse Project underway

Near Ballindean

So, the Carse project. I'm getting quite into it I must say. For anyone who can't remember what this is about, a quick recap. The Carse of Gowrie is a strip of low-lying fertile land about 20 miles by 2 miles situated between Dundee and Perth. The idea is that I'll record it over the next two years with the somewhat ambitious goal of staging an exhibition somewhere. Kind of like what James Ravilious did in Devon but without the talent.

I really started taking photographs of the Carse seriously last year but things ramped up when I emerged from my photographic torpor a couple of months ago. It was the snow that got me going, I suppose. I know the area very well and it can sometimes seem over-familiar. A blanket of snow, however, transforms the Carse the way it does most landscapes. Suddenly, every scene looks like a promising photograph.

Sunday, March 25

Walkabout with the OM1


It's hard to believe it's been so long since my last post. I suppose I must have just lost the motivation necessary for regular blogging. Don't know if I've got it back to be honest but, at least, I'm sitting at the computer writing something so that's a start.

The winter was a bleak time in terms of my photography - no motivation again. There's a pattern emerging here. But once February came round and there were tentative signs of growth in the countryside - snowdrops are a lovely sight - I got the urge again to pick up a camera and get out and about.

Thursday, January 11

Lost for words

It's been a while since my last post and I've had a few enquiries from readers wondering what I'm up to and if I'm still above ground so I thought it was about time for an explanation. Probably long overdue to be honest.

The post title sums up the situation nicely: I just haven't had much to say recently. I haven't taken a photograph for about ten weeks or so and haven't felt any urge to do so. It coincides with my better half, Cath, deciding to join me in early retirement. Far from making use of all this free time and getting stuff done we've sort of kicked back, changed into joggers and slippers (metaphorically speaking) and have been taking it easy.

When I'm in full photographic mode I'm constantly on the look out for pictures even when I don't have a camera to hand. I just can't help it. For the last couple of months, that tendency has come to a complete halt. I've just stopped looking altogether. When I realised that, I got a bit worried that I'd lost my enthusiasm and I've resolved to get clicking once more. No doubt, as soon as I get serious about photography again, I'll slot straight back into picture-hunting mode.

I haven't been completely inactive on the hobby front as I've been working on a couple of my vintage bicycle projects (a 1950s Flying Scot and a 1944 F. C. Parkes if anyone is interested). They're not totally unrelated to my photography, however. If you read my last post you'll recall the idea I have to document the Carse of Gowrie? Well, I decided that the best way of seeing the whole area would be by bike rather than in a car.

I love driving and know the Carse very well already but there are plenty of wee dirt tracks and farm roads that are better explored on two wheels. Then there's the opportunity with a bike of stopping wherever I fancy and not having to find somewhere to park a car that doesn't block the narrow country roads.

Unbelievably for someone who has enough frames and parts to equip a small Tour de France team I don't have a functional bike of my own! That's because I like bikes from the 30s, 40s and 50s and everything is old and in need of restoration. It's not just a case of walking into my nearest bike shop and buying some bits and pieces: the stuff I need isn't readily available unless I want to ditch the idea of a "period correct" build. I've got boxes of old bike parts but there always seems to be one wee part that stalls a restoration. So I decided it was time to sort myself out and do up a couple of bikes that seemed to be more or less complete in terms of having all the right bits - and that's why my darkroom now resembles a bicycle workshop.

The type of bike best suited for the job is one with fat, comfortable tyres, an upright riding style so I can see over hedgerows and "relaxed geometry" for stable handling when carrying a heavy camera bag and tripod on a rear carrier. I had a little bit of Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket and happened across a nice Raleigh Superbe (that's it below) on Gumtree that's about an hours drive away. I made the seller an offer, he accepted and, as soon as he's shaken off the 'flu, I'll nip over and pick it up.

The Raleigh Superbe. I'll replace the ladies saddle with a nice Brooks Pro and
lose the dress guard over the back wheel - I don't wear long enough skirts to need
one of those.

It's nothing like the type of bike I normally go for being too modern (1980) and a roadster type rather than a vintage racer but it should be perfect for pootling around the Carse. Plus, the basic design of the Superbe changed very little over its near 60 year life span so a pre-war one isn't much different from the later versions. So hopefully, within a couple of weeks or so, I'll be back out there with a camera and getting some much-needed exercise into the bargain.

The pic at the top of this post, which is just for decorative purposes, was taken back in October and was the last print I made in the darkroom prior to its temporary change of use. It's a not-very-original view of Broughty Ferry, a small, well-to-do suburb of Dundee,  which I took whilst waiting for Cath to emerge from the hairdressers. The castle in the distance is 15th century Broughty Castle. I was facing east taking the photo and it was mid-morning but I've printed it on the heavy side for dramatic effect. This is a very common view of Broughty Ferry so I can't claim much credit in the artistic stakes.

I wasn't sure at the taking stage whether I saw this as a silhouette or with some detail in the land so I hedged my bets and took a shot on auto on the Contax RTS and another at plus two stops. My walkabout camera has morphed into the RTS with a 28-135 Tamron SP zoom, shoved into a Lowepro holster bag. It's not the lightest combination ever but it's very versatile.

The zoom is nice except at the 135mm end where the contrast drops off a little. There's a little more distortion as well but that sort of things is to be expected and is one of the penalties for having the equivalent of 28mm, 50mm and 135mm lenses in the one package. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how sharp the lens was at 135mm on this occasion and the pic was handheld at f11.

It was really the Cormorant sitting on the wee spit of land jutting into the river in the foreground that caught my eye. It was a case of waiting until it turned it's head so I could catch it in profile and not just record it as a shapeless lump. Exposure on Ilford MGIV FB matt was 5 seconds at f11 on the Leitz 1C. I was using a Grade 4 filter and the sky got a total of another 10 seconds at the same grade to give it a bit of oomph.

Thursday, November 9

On Projects...

Grange Orchard, Carse of Gowrie.
Zeiss Super Ikonta, Tmax 400, printed on Ilford MG IV FB

"Project" is proving to be a right four-letter word for me at the moment. As we all know, projects are a brilliant way of providing some direction for our photography, of keeping the senses keen and - at the very least - giving us something to point the camera at when inspiration is in short supply.

I'm great at starting projects. In fact, I could be the best there's ever been. Sadly, I'm the worst at finishing them. I've never finished anything I've started really. They're not failures as such as they're open-ended and I can go back to them at any time. Who knows, I might pick one or two of them up in future. However, the fact that I haven't so far shouldn't be ignored when assessing my ability to start something and see it through to the end.

And yet, here I am again kicking around some ideas for projects. Will I be able to complete the deal this time? Is there any point to a half-finished project? I've been thinking about embarking on a big (for me) project but I've been keeping quiet about it because I didn't know if I was up to the task. It was James Ravilious that got me thinking about it. Or rather, his book, A Corner of England.

Photography largely performs two functions, as decorative art and social documentary. It's the art side of things that I've always been more interested in but the book planted a documentary seed in my brain that has since germinated and flowered. It either needs to be harvested now or zapped with weedkiller.

This project idea is quite simple. I want to document The Carse of Gowrie over the next two years with the idea of, hopefully, putting on a wee exhibition somewhere at the end of it. I should say that part of me wants to document it. The other part says, "It's too big a job and you don't like photographing people." Brutally honest, that other part.


For whatever reason, I've always had a fear of failure. It's what spurred me on at school and in sport. I used to be fiercely competitive as a lad but have mellowed like a fine wine as I've grown older. Some would say I've just grown foostie*. I suppose I'm worried that I might "fail" if I took on the project.

So I sought to define failure in this context. What would it look like in social documentary terms? Well, I can handle the technical side of things so I'm not worried about that. But what if, heaven forbid, I spent two years producing lots of boring, mundane photographs? Yes, I'd classify that as failure. How real is that possibility?

The Carse has an amazing variety of things happening within a quite restricted geographical area so, on the face of it, there shouldn't be too much difficulty finding stuff to point a lens at. However, I know from past experience that there's not a lot in terms of countryside or environment that has the "wow factor" so we're not talking Ansel Adams country here. Or even Gomez Addams.

But, and, as they say, it's a big but, does that really matter? The aim must be to show the Carse as it is now, boring bits, warts and all. The idea is that people will hopefully look at my pictures in years to come and say so that's what life was like then. Not, "Wow, look at the bokeh on that shot".  Or, "Yes, that 300mm lens really has compressed the perspective nicely." And, if worst came to the worst and I failed according to my own criteria, what would it matter? Who'd give a toss beyond me? There's no piper to pay if you're playing your own tune, is there?

Photographic Gold

Another obstacle to overcome is my penchant for trying to photograph things as they were and not as they are. Ravilious was mining photographic gold in his quiet corner of England both in terms of the landscape and the people, a way of life that hadn't changed too significantly for much of the 20th century. A comprehensive account of the Carse would look quite 21st century as you might expect and just couldn't possess the same charm as 1970s/80s rural England. And people? Yes, I'd have to photograph lots of them in covering the area's varied commercial and industrial aspects and one thing this blog is not over-endowed with is pics of people.

Unusually for a journalist, I just never found people as interesting as buildings and things. I know that must sound terrible to many folk but "human interest" stories never did much for me - and I wrote more than my fair share of them, tear-jerkers and all. It's pretty much the same when it comes to photographing people: if they're not family or friends then they don't hold my attention as much (although Ravilious's people shots are making me re-think that somewhat). I photographed people almost every working day during my first year as a reporter in a district office (and learned a lot from the local Fife freelance, David Ireland) and I suppose I could get used to it again - if I had to.

Here's another "but". The prospect of having to photograph people changed the whole exercise for me. It went from being something I was really beginning to look forward to with some excitement to a job of work. I always knew it would be difficult building enough enthusiasm for the people shots. I just get no creative buzz from that type of photography. And the creative buzz is the only reason I pick up a camera.

I even, sort of, made a start to the Carse project. It happened a few weeks ago. It was a day filled with drizzle and showers - perfect photography weather for me. I hadn't been out to the Carse for a couple of months so decided to visit the biggest village, Errol. In the bag were a Nikon F90 and 35mm and 85mm Nikkors - an almost perfect little outfit. A roll of Tmax 400 was standing by for duty.

Clotted Cream

There was an interesting-looking building on the main street running through the village that I wanted to photograph whilst standing up a pend on the opposite side of the road. It was all old brick with mortar highlights the colour of clotted cream, some of which were reflected in the puddles on the road. It was nice but it lacked something - a human figure. There weren't too many people about - understandable given the weather - and those that were seemed to be running from car to shop and back again. Then I saw a young woman, hood up, pushing a pram and towing a West Highland Terrier. She was on the same side of the road as the building and walking towards it. Superb!

So, I'm standing under the roof of the pend, looking through the viewfinder with trigger finger cocked and the safety off and waiting for her to appear in front of the building - when she suddenly loomed directly in front of me! She'd crossed the road to enter the same pend! I started laughing and said, "You've just spoiled my photograph." I explained about my idea of a figure in front of the building and she volunteered to cross the road and walk past - in the rain.** What a lass.

Back in the pend, she asked me why I was photographing Errol and I heard myself saying, "Well, I've got this idea for a photographic project about the Carse with maybe a wee exhibition at the end of it..." I thought that might have been my "crossing the Rubicon" moment but no. Since then I've hummed and hawed, weighed the pros and cons and sought out countless other hackneyed expressions useful to the arch-procrastinator until I was almost catatonic. Then I did it all over again.

You're probably sitting there wondering why I'm over-thinking this instead of just going and doing it. The truth is I over-think a lot of things in life. You know how a big dog needs a lot of exercise? Well, a big brain is the same. Haha. So that's Project One - parked in neutral while I try to summon up enough revs to get started.


Project Two is a little easier but I'm still nowhere near committed to it either. During the 19th and 20th centuries, governments bought up privately-owned land, divided it into bite-sized chunks and rented it to various categories of people, including war veterans, so that they could earn a subsistence living working their plot in some way. These "smallholdings" became quite popular. Scotland has around 20,000 of them at the last count. There's a sub-division of these called, if I remember correctly, small landholdings. Smallholdings can be rented or privately-owned but small landholdings are always tenanted.

In Scotland, there are fewer than 100 small landholdings left and it's anyone's guess how long they'll be around although the Scottish Government has been taking an interest in them recently. They would seem like a good subject for a project especially since I think we have a handful here on the northern outskirts of Dundee which might make a good start.

So what's the problem with this project? I think I'm about 30 years too late. Had I started in the 1980s I think I would have found some of the older practices and customs extant. Now? Well, I've skirted around the edges of what I believe are the small landholdings with a camera whilst photographing a nearby beech wood and the plots didn't look all that different from ordinary countryside gardens, only bigger. There are one or two small tractors, a couple of big sheds, some signs of livestock and a general air of untidiness but nothing too bad - or too good from a photographic point of view, if you know what I mean. Would I be able to get anything vaguely coherent in project terms from these plots? I'm going to have a closer look over the next few days. I wouldn't describe Project Two as "parked": it's more like I'm just driving by very slowly with the window down taking it all in.

Mid-life Crisis

Project Three is dead easy but isn't likely to be very fulfilling from an artistic point of view. I want to photograph my youth. I've had this idea kicking around for ages, made a tentative start a few years ago but didn't take it any further (sounds familiar?). The idea, in a nutshell, is that I'd make a list of memorable places from my youth into my teenage years and photograph them. Prints would be made and pasted in a project journal with a write-up for each one explaining the photograph's significance.

I thought my off-spring might find something like this interesting. I'd certainly have loved it had my own father been able to do something similar but we're all different and computers have fried the minds of most young people in my experience so my best effort could end up at the local dump at some indeterminate point in the future. Despite that, I think I'll go ahead with this project partly because it's so accessible: I can walk to a lot of the significant places I'm talking about and many of them are still standing. Official status? I've just chucked the keys to the valet parking attendant and I'm headed to the bar for some refreshment before getting started.

So that's where I'm standing with regard to possible projects. One should go ahead but the other two will need yet more thought - unless I adopt the "Screw it - let's do it!" attitude of Richard Branson.

* Urban Dictionary: Scottish. "disgusting, putrid, over-ripe, mouldy, etc."

** Despite writing above that I was confident I could handle the technical side, I failed miserably with this photograph. For some reason that still escapes me, I'd loaded Tmax 100 into the Nikon but had over-ridden the DX coding and set the ISO dial to 400 ISO. I tried to recover the situation a little by extending development in Rollei RHS DC and got a very under-developed set of negs. A bit of research showed that a two-stop push is a big no-no for Tmax 100 in this brew. I think the shot was just never meant to be.

Friday, November 3

Old cameras and old cars

Some photographers, collectors mainly, refuse to use their cameras in the real world in case the instrument suffers a mark or sustains a fall, rendering it less than perfect. I remember reading about one photographer - not a collector - who loved his Leica M6 so much that he would never take it on holiday with him and struggled to even give it an airing outdoors.

It's easy to have a chuckle at that sort of behaviour as a camera is there to be used and damage, slight or otherwise, is one of the risks we take when subjecting what is after all a tool to the rigours of the countryside or street. Imagine a joiner leaving his favourite plane in a display cabinet.

And yet, although I don't have the camera version of this disorder, I do, sadly, have the old car variant. When it comes to cameras, I've always treated my equipment with great respect, taking good care of it and making sure never to drop a camera or lens (still haven't, touch wood) or bash it about with reckless abandon as I've seen some photographers doing.

My old Saab 900 (above) is a different matter, though. I've been treating "Magnus" a bit like a camera collector treats his mint, black-painted M3. I've had it two-and-a-half years and in all that time I've done fewer than 4,000 miles in it. Saabs were well-made cars but they're not indestructible and I'm wary of the effect our salt-laden roads will have on the vulnerable bodywork in the depths of winter.

I've restricted it to occasional summer outings on good days, limiting the car's exposure to rain. Every fortnight I empty the best part of a can of WD40 on the wheelarches and the inside bottoms of the doors, both particularly good areas at cultivating large quantities of rust if not given regular attention. The underside of the bonnet gets similar treatment and any other suspect areas are slathered in water dispersing grease.

The upshot is that, for a 28-year-old car that's spent its life on British roads, it's in very nice condition. At least, that's what I believed until recently. I was cleaning out the boot area when I thought I felt some roughness on the metal work at the back of the rear offside wheelarch. I looked down into the corner and saw a light red staining that set alarm bells ringing. Out came the iphone and I took a pic of an area I couldn't actually see from where I was standing as it was underneath the overhanging parcel shelf and supporting metalwork. It showed this:

It was a surprise to say the least and means that a little welding will need to be done to the affected area. It's not a huge problem but I'd always liked the idea that the car had remained unmolested by any welder since it left the Saab factory. It was undersealed from new and there is no sign of the rusty patch from the outside of the car. Obviously, though, water has been finding its way into that remote corner, probably through a pin hole or two in the underseal, and has been able to work away undisturbed and out of reach of my can of WD40.

The discovery got me thinking about the use I was making of Magnus. But instead of becoming overly protective and locking the car away in the garage for even longer periods, I decided to get it out on the road more often instead. The thing is, I love the Saab 900. I drove hundreds of cars when I wrote a weekly motoring column for my paper but it was always the robust and dependable Swede that I liked the most.

Plenty of other cars were "better" than the Saab but none had its character or quirkiness. I suppose it was a bit like me - solid, reliable, not flashy but, in Turbo guise, with a distinctly sporty nature. Haha. It just fitted me like a glove. It was also good to discover that several surveys in the 1970s and 1980s found that Saab drivers were rated the best, nicest and most considerate on the road. How could I take issue with those findings?

So my mint, black M3, so to speak, is going to have its protective wrapping removed, the doors of its display cabinet left open and lots of time spent in my company. I'll still try my best not to drop it or bang the rangefinder off a door but it will have to take its chances from now on. I'm 56 and the Saab, properly maintained will see my boots off. The key is regular preventative maintenance. Yes, had it continued its cossetted life in the garage it might have been in better condition when we finally went our separate ways but all that would have meant was that my two sons would have inherited a splendid vehicle for which they had no real interest.

Much better, I think, that the one who really appreciates the Saab 900 gets to use it on an almost daily basis - even it that means, in time, almost wearing it out. I was helped in reaching this conclusion by a local chap who I see out regularly in his late 1960s Old-English White Morris Minor Traveller. The car's not perfect by any manner of means but he obviously loves his Moggie and wants to drive it every day. So he does. That's how I feel about the Saab and it's why the car will now become a more common sight on Dundee roads.

This is the garage at our old house but it's the kind of view Magnus will have to
get used to.

Friday, October 27

The imperfect Leica bag

People all over the internet spend an inordinate amount of time searching for the perfect bag in which to carry their Leica(s). Of course, there can be no such thing: only the perfect bag for you. No surprise then that there are myriad suggestions for this particular holy grail. Here, then, is another.

I spoke a few days ago about the Leica man jewellery industry that guys like Steve Huff and others milk - and there's nothing at all wrong with that. Fortunately, I've not been attracted down that particular road, except where the Ona Bowery bag is concerned. They make two with that name - leather and canvas. It's the leather one I like and any colour would do. I can feel the high quality of the full grain leather through the pictures.

This is what a leather Ona bag looks like when new!

Not huge but big enough.

Don't recognise that Leica - obviously a fake. They even left off the
wind-on lever. Amateurs.

The bags are very compact but big enough for a Leica film body and a few lenses. A Nikon F and a couple of lenses would do as well. They wear quickly but look better the more they age. As luck would have it, I'm too grounded (aka impoverished) to meet the £250 asking price so I started looking around for something that would do the job for a lot less money even if it was likely to mean a lot less style. As it turned out, the price of membership to this not so elite club was most affordable. Let me introduce the Lowepro Nova 2.

The Nova 2. My studio assistant decided to literally take a back seat for this shoot.

I've had a couple of Lowepro bags over the years and they've always been well-made and hard-wearing. This one was an Ebay purchase and is in excellent condition with very little apparent wear. It was a bit of a risk since it's difficult knowing exactly how big or small a bag is until you've got it in front of you. But the opening bid was just £4.99, there were no takers and I got lucky. Mind you. it's not the bargain of the century as I've since seen one at Ffordes for a tenner. They just don't seem to be in big demand. The Nova 2 is no longer made but they do come up not infrequently on the usual sites.

I took to the Nova 2 straight away. I offered up the M2 and 50mm Summicron, the MDa and 35mm Summaron and the 90mm Elmar and everything fitted perfectly. Those bits filled the main compartment but there were still several pockets left for things like filters, a cable release, notebook and pencil, film and my exposure meter. All in a very compact package - just what I was looking for.

My notebook and pencil are in the zipped rear pocket. Waist pack conversion
possible via the vertical belt loops.

Net pockets on either side fine for a few rolls of film,

The underside of the shoulder strap showing the grippy anti-slide pad.

As is usually the case with a new bag, I started mucking about to see what other configurations I could come up with. Out came the MDa and Summaron to be replaced by my Konica Hexar AF. The Super Ikonta fits in place of the Elmar and a Rollei TLR could pair up nicely with the M2 and Summicron. Or a Rollei and the Hexar AF, perhaps.

So, the accommodation of the A2 comprises: main compartment with two dividers, zipped pockets at the rear and the top flap, springy net pockets on either side and a zipped net pocket on the underside of the "lid", front zipped pocket enclosing zipped net pocket and two small flap-type pockets. The main compartment is protected on all sides, top and bottom by some nice, thick padding. None of the other pockets has any padding. There's a grab handle on the lid and a permanently attached shoulder strap and stitched-in shoulder pad with a grippy underside to prevent it sliding down your nylon anorak. The bag also has two loops at the rear so you can attach it to your belt as a waist bag.

Access to the main compartment is good, particularly if you wear the bag diagonally across your body rather than hanging from a shoulder. It's also safe enough to leave the lid unzipped and close the bag using the plastic buckle on the top flap.

Access to the zipped main compartment beneath the flap.

Left to right: M2 and 50mm Summicron, 90 mm Elmar and Hexar AF.

The bag is quite tall and will swallow a TLR without any bother.

Front pocket is good for accessories and odds and ends.

It would have been handy if the shoulder strap had been detachable when using it as a waist bag. A padded side pocket or, better still, two in place of the side nets would have provided somewhere safe to store another wee rangefinder lens. There are no "feet" on the underside so you wouldn't want to sit the bag down on a muddy surface but the overall design does seem to suggest that the Nova 2 would be fairly water resistant. Hopefully that will prove the case as there's no pull out waterproof cover.

One of the few great advantages of the Nova 2 over the Ona Bowery is that the Lowepro is almost disposable. Spill a mug of coffee over your Ona and it might spoil your week. Spill it over the Nova 2 and you'll just order another coffee. So am I saying I'd rather have a Nova 2 than an Ona Bowery? Are you mad? Give me the Ona every time. But, style aside, I now have a nice, wee, imperfect Leica bag that should do the job perfectly. All that's left to do is find out how to spend the £245 I've just saved.