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Friday, October 21

A Tale of Three Rolleis

I've reached the ripe old middle-age of 55 and am finding it increasingly difficult to drag a tripod around with me. Partly, it's because I'm a few stones overweight (diet underway) but I've also found that with each new year comes a host of reasons why I can't be bothered doing things that I used to take in my stride.

I keep bringing to mind that video of Don McCullin in his late 70s walking up and down hills in the depths of winter with his Mamiya Press around his neck to shame me into manning up. Sadly, it just doesn't work anymore where tripods are concerned. I think I need a new source of inspiration.

Mind you, I did manage to overcome the lethargy last week when Cath and I went for a drive to Alyth Glen, a charming, heavily wooded valley about 20 miles away. Cath's a bit of a hot-house flower (she'll have my guts for garters if she reads that!) and didn't fancy scrambling along muddy tracks and undergrowth so I was on my own. I had in a somewhat cavernous Camera Care Systems Gladstone bag my Rollei SL66E along with the 40mm, 80mm, 150mm and 250mm lenses - quite a heavy outfit.

But here's the thing - I also had a tripod in the boot. Not just any tripod but a Benbo and not the wimpy "baby" version either but the full-bodied, bloody heavy, over-engineered and bomb-proof Benbo. I couldn't figure out if it was a curse or a blessing to be honest. Should I take it or leave it? What's that Don? You've got 20-plus years on me? Well, good for you! At this stage of the story I know you're expecting me to say that I left it behind but whether it was Don's nagging or my moral compass homing in on true north, I picked the damned thing up.

So that was me, laden down with a heavy outfit over my right shoulder and a few tubes left over from the Forth Bridge construction in my left hand and wondering what the hell I was doing. I'm guessing that younger, fitter readers will have some difficulty identifying with this scenario but I suspect there are a few grey heads out there nodding along. Anyway, I managed a half hour stint and made it back to the car in one piece having taken three photographs of beech trees so it wasn't a complete waste.

Picking up the thread of this tale, I did wonder if tripods and heavy gear is really the way ahead for me. I love handheld 35mm for the sheer convenience and artistic freedom and it would be great if I could enjoy medium format in a similar vein. I have this recurring daydream where I get rid of the SL66E, the never-used Nikon D700 and a load of other gear and replace it all with three Rolleis - the 2.8F I already have, the Tele Rolleiflex and the Wide Angle version. The Tele and WA versions of Braunschweig's finest aren't cheap but it would be doable.

That trio would fit in a neat little bag and the weight would be quite acceptable. With Tmax 400 rated at an EI of 800 I'd be able to dispense with the lead-lined, tripled-legged monster with the granite centre post and quick release system made from black holes. Hill walking and general landscape photography would be considerably easier. I'd have the equivalent of around 28mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses - and what lenses! Distagon, Planar and Sonnar. If I couldn't produce good photographs with that talented trio then I'd be better packing it in.

A three-lens Leica outfit in one bag and the three Rolleis in another. What a brilliant way of simplifying life and turning something that is in danger of becoming a bit of a burden into a free-wheeling, fun-filled pursuit. At a time when motivation can be found wanting, these considerations  have to be factored into the equation. When photography ceases to be an enjoyable distraction and becomes something akin to an obligation, I have to ask myself what the point is exactly.


Nasir said...

Just take the SL66E out with one lens. Lighter on your back = more fun :-)

Clemens Lee said...

Solution is obvious (maybe - from the outside). Just take a single lens with you and the SL66E (just as you do with the M2 or TLS otherwise). Why it is obvious? Well, you took 4 lenses to make 3 shots. But then, maybe u need some rationalisation to get the Rolleiflexes. In that case, sure, sorry, just go ahead :). But then, don't take them all three at once, or you will curse the innocent tripod again. Cheers and good light.

slackercruster said...

Yes, most of us have to scale back with age. The young guns used to carry around a lot back in the day...9 to 10 pounds and that is without a lot of film holders.

Weegee even scaled back with age.

I carry around a few cams. I use a backpack with hip belt. I try to avoid tripods, so I rest on things if need be. I sometimes use a little mini tripod with Velcro strap that can be strapped on poles etc.

Henry Beckmeyer said...

Three Rolleis are not what I would call light and compact. Great cameras...but three of them in a bag at once? Maybe a pair of Plaubel Makinas (the 67 and the W67)?

DcAnalogue said...

I agree with Nasir.... ;-)
A couple of days ago I went to a walk in the countryside. It was the first time I carried outside the "Big One" Mamiya RB67. I decided to leave my big Manfrotto at home and carried "just" the body, two lenses (80 & 180mm) plus the Spotmeter 3 and some filters.
Well...I'm 58 and my back didn't like it too much....
When one is no more young I believe less... is more... :-D

tjen dezutter said...

whaaaaw what are you still young . I' 63 but I do recognize that things doesn't go anymore lie 15 years ago .But I still love to go out with the Mamyia TLR C330 prof. fixed on the Manfrotto tripod 190 PROB and the paramender on top .I choose most the 55 mm to go out . Just like the Christ walking with his cross ....Isn't this sometimes the way that photographers feel? A bloody walk with a cross on our back....but the end is not to obtain dead but showing how beautyfull our earth can be. Greetings from Flanders nearby the grey Nordsea

DavidM said...

Well done.
A good deal of photographic sense already expressed here. If you're talking about reducing weight, why would you carry three shutters and viewfinders around with you? Perhaps even three ER cases and straps? The SL66 sounds like a sensible choice, but if you're in love with the TLR format there is an answer, but it's not as glamorous as a Rollei – the Mamiya 330. It has interchangeable lenses, closer focusing and parallax correction and they are excellent. I once knew a wedding photographer who used them because of the advantages they offer for people-photography. Eventually, he felt obliged to change to Hasselblad for prestige reasons, (apparently you can charge more...) but still hankered after the simplicity of the Mamiyas. He felt that except when used wide open, when the Swedish corners were slightly better, the lenses were equal.
I know that we all like a bit of hardware-stroking and a bit of iconic branding, but sooner or later, we might want to take pictures. With the money you've saved by owning an un-iconic camera, you might get a carbon Gitzo. I held my breath and sold the second Ferrari to get one and I've never regretted it. There are times when a bad-weather photographer really needs a tripod and Scotland is blessed with plenty of tripod weather.

Robert Dungan said...

Your blog reminds me of Clyde Butcher. For years he carried large format cameras, but, has started using digital because he just can't carry all the heavy equipment anymore. This has caused a lot of fuss among some of his followers. I agree the Mamiya 330 is worth consideration. I tote a Yashica Mat and make due with the one focal length. I hate carrying a tripod but do when necessary.

Dave Jenkins said...

I suppose that in that abominable Scottish light that you seem to love so much a tripod is often/usually necessary with a medium format camera. I'm 79, still a working photographer, and still capable of carrying a load, but -- why? I've found that when I carry enough equipment to be ready for anything, I'm in reality prepared for nothing. Get yourself the lightest reasonably capable tripod you can find and put one camera with one lens on it (the Rollei TLR is unbeatable for this), and, instead of thinking about the photographs you can't make, think of all the wonderful photographs that you can make with this combo.

Steve Weston said...

I know they are not the heaviest of cameras but I think you would soon get tired of lugging three Rollie's around. If you feel the need to have different options on the lenses I would go with the Mamiya. In the past I have taken just my 2.8F, light meter and film and just enjoyed it. I don't recollect ever taking a photo and then looking at it later thinking I needed a wide or telephoto. Ive also dragged my kit around and in many cases just used the lens that was already on there, usually the standard. By the time I have returned home my back and shoulders would let me know how stupid I was. If I had to reduce my kit down to one camera then the Rollie would be it. With tripods I am the same as you. I can take one with me but when I get to my destination and grab the camera I look at it and close the boot. Do I really want to drag that thing around? perhaps next time!

Frank said...

I'm 63 and making a trip through Scotland this summer with a Hasselblad set like the SL66 you mention, made me decide I was getting too old for this. Beside that I have the impression that changing lenses and magazines is killing my creativity.
Then a Fuji GA645zi came on my path. It's a medium format point and shoot, which produces sharp, well exposed 6x4.5 negatives.
Because I'm a wide angle type, in my bag is usually a Veriwide 100. The 56x94 mm negatives are huge and this camera is a great companion to my Rolleiflex tlr or Fuji.
I used this combo on a trip to photograph the Magnificent Seven in London and it's a relief after the gear I used to carry around.

Kodachromeguy said...

Bruce, you have a Rollei SL66E and lenses? I'm envious, but that is a heavy beast. Are you sure you want to take three Rolleiflexes with you instead? I doubt you would save much on weight, and you have the problem of the cost of the RolleiWide. I'd love one to augment my Rolleiflex 3.5E, but the cost is pretty serious. However, a contemporary digital Leica body is more then $5000, and it is just a computer-controlled imaging device in a case that looks old-fashioned, and will therefore depreciate to almost nothing in 5 or 8 years, so maybe the $5000 RolleiWide is not such a poor choice. Let me offer an alternative: a Fuji GA645W or GS645W (the one with the 45mm lens). Sure, they are semi-plastic and only 6x4.5 format. But the Fuji lenses are spectacular, and you can buy one for about $500. I use the Fuji GW690II camera with 90mm f/3.5 lens, and the results are sharper and more contrasty than with my old Rolleiflex with Xenotar lens (sorry, I had to say it). Cheers from Mississippi.

Herman Sheephouse said...

I can sympathise Bruce - having climbed a Munro (over 3000 ft mountain) carrying a Sinar F, Linhof Twin Shank Tripod, Gitzo Series V P&T head, lunch, water, and wearing the heaviest boots known to man, my extra weight topped out at an extra two and a half stone . . . it nearly killed me . . .

Anyway, three Rolleis isn't particularly light . . .
I agree with what Dave said above - just decide what you want to do and carry the one camera and concentrate on that lens - you know you can do it with MF. Please also beware that the Mamiya 330's etc aren't exactly light - I still have a rut in my shoulder from doing landscape stuff with a 330F 30 years back.
You've got probably one of the best lenses in MF photography on your Rollei already. If you need a tripod, although it might seem daft, the wonderful little Leitz table top with a decent ballhead would manage a surprisingly large number of circumstances.

Your Benbo . . well superb tripods, but as you say, made from leftovers from the Forth Rail bridge. There are many many lighter and just as stable tripods, albeit not as weatherproof as the Benbo.

It seems to me the heart of the problem is the SL66 kit . . . three lenses too! Jings man, that's HEAVY. Can you not just carry one lens + body and a lighter tripod? Failing that if you like the SLR route, how about a Bronica? That's lighter. Or as you keep suggesting to me, a walkabout 645 like the Pentax? They could all sort your problem out.
I think with the 3 lens kit, you're suffering a bit from 'option anxiety' - why not just decide you're taking one lens and see what you can do with that - that's what I've done with the Hasselblad/60mm Distagon and I've not come back yet thinking I need more lenses.
Oh and that video of Don? Don't think he's using a tripod, just Tri-X and his Mamiya Press - amazing photographs for atmosphere too.
Here's a thought - if you want quality MF why not sell everything, and get yourself a modern Alpa? You used to use 6x9 and made some wonderful photographs with it.
There's some great info and comparison stuff on Roger and Frances' website:

And also in their Medium and Large format book. Also the Mediumn Format Manual has a (stull strangely relevant) list of pretty much every MF camera system out there . .

Food for thought old friend!

Keith Tapscott said...

I carried my RZ67 around Exmoor last month, so I understand very well the weight problem. I also have a Rolleiflex TLR for when I don't want to carry the Mamiya outfit.

The quality was worth it though. ;)