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The Non Intruding Camera

The Non Intruding Camera

Let me start by stating that I am not a strolling shooter. I am not a Street Tog, I am a walker. I am not out on the street in a hap-hazard way. I am out there intentionally seeking the images that are seeking me. I do not exist without them and they do not exist without me. That is, unless YOU find them first.
So, here’s the way it works sometimes. I’m out walking with the GRD4 in my hand with a wrist strap. A neck strap also works very well but one must learn how not to struggle with ones gear. Then something calls to me and I start to feel my finger get itchy.
The finger is the main organ in photography. The eye is secondary as it finds the image with the brain and heart but….the finger is the organ that makes the camera expose. It is crucial that the camera provide a nice resting place for the finger. It is also crucial that the camera has a very delicate sexy feel to the finger for exposure.

Anyway, what happens for me is that I start to feel the finger want to work. The other 3 elements, (eye, heart, brain) of the process are analyzing the scene so that the finger can go to work. What I mean is this….
The eye generally responds to the scene first. Then the heart or brain get involved. There is no set order to the finding process. Any stimulis could work with any of the 3 elements to seek the image. The danger is that the finger get started first. That’s why they made that stupid multi drive crap years ago that has flooded into our nice easy laid back digital imaging world. A motor drive is for the finger to work first. You start the machine gun and hope to find something in the holes you made. Mostly you don’t or maybe you do by accident.
Once the image starts to form and the 3 elements start to frame, the finger is ready and hopefully, the camera is just as ready as you are. Many times a setting was made wrong, focus wasn’t close or off, exposure was off etc. These things are intrusions. We must be able to detect and control these intrusions. For me, any of the above and about a gazillion other things are not nice and I don’t want them as a part of my process.

I’ve used Leica M’s for over 40 years and started with the M8 when it first came out. I was one of the lucky ones that got the bad sensor, magenta bullcrap and camera turns into a brick mode. It happened with 4 different bodies and that killed Leica for me.
Now, it’s the Ricoh GXR. Why, ok I’ll explain my thinking.
The GXR is a totally expandable camera. It can morph into different cameras very easy. I prefer the 2 A12 units. The 28mm & 50mm are both excellent lenses. They keep the camera very compact and maintain all the features of a full DSLR. I prefer AF and depend on it all the time. The GXR has a snap focus mode that is ideal for street work.
With the 28mm at f8, focused at 6.6ft….you have 3.3ft to infinity as your DOF. So, it dont get better then that.
I set the camera to A mode, f8 and adjust the ISO to get the shutter speed In the range I want. Now that Ricoh has seen fit to install Auto ISO on the GXR, that’s what I use. I now can set both aperture and shutter speed and the camera sets the ISO. Wonderful!
Well, I used a Fuji X100 because I thought that it would bring back that “M” feel. It did and that was the problem. The main issue I had was the finder. I know, I know…that’s the reason to get the camera. It works great and so does the EVF but not for me.
What happens is this….the camera intrudes on my vision and process because it’s up at my eye. It’s blocking my view and puts most subjects off as they are totally aware that you are making a photo of them. Your hiding your face from the scene/subject.

I have since abandoned the GXR cameras and have settled on the GRD once again. I will not say how many times in the past that I have had the GRD series but lets just say, I learned my lesson well. The GRD4 is home.

The street is about being an observer not being observed.

The Street and The Screen

Recently I was involved in a discussion with a few shooters. We were talking about the differences and merits of the screen and the finders on compact cameras.
Lets establish what photography is to start. The process of  image making is about abstracting from a 3 dimensional reality a new 2 dimensional reality. Regardless of what camera you use or how you process your images, this is what we are all doing as photographers. For me, it makes common sense to use a screen set to B&W. Why? Glad you asked.

I am using the GRD & Sony RX100 for now and probably will be for a long spell. I hold the camera out in front or on some angle, depending on what I’m seeing. At this point, I can see my PRINT floating in reality. I see a B&W image in 2 dimensions in our 3 dimensional reality. It’s exciting. Why do I use B&W on the screen? If in fact, the camera abstracts a new reality, then it stands to reason that seeing the image on the screen in B&W further abstracts the reality. Sounds too heavy or too abstract? What do you think your doing making photos? Your making a new reality in the image. It stands on it’s own. It is it’s own object in 2 dimensions.

The EVF.

These finders essentially do the same thing but they don’t show the image or PRINT in 3 dimensional reality. The reason is that your camera is against your face. So you can’t see the image floating in reality, just an image on a screen. The screen is against your eye. It sees 2 dimensional but does not allow you to see it in time/space of 3 dimensions.

The OVF.

This finder like the one in the X100 is an engineering marvel but it also lacks the power to present your image in reality. Your face is still smashed against the camera. It’s a good way to photograph but the subject may see you as hiding behind the camera.

Working the street with a screen does a few important things. It allows you to look like a tourist or amatuer and blend in with everyone else out there. This simple fact is crucial to getting in closer. You actually go unnoticed most times, not always but most. This method also allows the camera to float in space and get a different angle that a finder can not do. The screen is not a new phenomonom. It dates back to the beginning of photography with view cameras.
The screen is an active way of working. If your doing portraits or snaps of people, it allows eye contact. This can be very important to sensitive subjects in very sensitive times.
You can get eye contact with finders also but your face is hidden behind the camera and this can be a put off to some.
The finders on the other hand, have the advantage of being better in bright light. This is changing with the Sony screens. Set to sunny mode, well it’s the best out there. I have to admit, I’ve never had any luck with any EVF in contrasty light.

So what does all this mean? It means that I prefer the screen for all it’s advantages in composing my frame. I can see all around the frame easily and quickly decide what’s in and what’s out.
The EVF does not offer that important element. The OVF does but in a limited capacity.
I fell in love with the idea of the X100 and it’s finder when it first was mentioned. I knew the camera would give me the feelings of my Leica M cameras. In a way it did but only in a way. After many months and many good images, I realized that I felt more self conscious using the camera.
So I put it on the shelf and started with a few compacts. Luckily I just got my GRD3 back after 2 years. In 1 day of shooting, I confirmed my feelings about the finder on the X100. I never touched the X100 again until I sold it a month later. Great camera just not my cup of tea anymore.
I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m just stating my thoughts on a subject that’s crucial to photography…..SEEING!


I posted this image a few days ago on Flickr and a few forums I visit. No one could figure out what the woman was doing. Some thought she was on a cell phone. Some thought she was doing something with makeup or the like.
Actually, her name is Diane. She is a photographer. She came to me for guidance on street work. She was changing the lens on her M8.2. She was worried about dust from the concourse getting on the sensor so I told her to get close to the wooden wall. I made the photo with every intention of it being ambiguous.

Subway Concourse, Phila. Pa

I planned on documenting the occupation on Dilworth Plaza whenever I could get there. I would go and take my GXR and move in and out of the scene and capture the overall feeling of the group. I work almost invisible and try to only observe and record. I really try to do the documentary thing but sometimes, like always…. I see an image that is a part of everything and yet it is just there by itself. It is just breathing by itself. The energy starts to overcome me and I go into my usual semi-trance mode. I hear nothing, see nothing, smell nothing unless it is related to the new image waiting to be born.

And then when all is right, the finger gets to do it’s magic….Snap!

Occupy Philly

Street Photography Chronicles by Don Springer