Thursday, March 25, 2010

seeing the subject

This post takes its name from an recent essay by Sean Reid from his photo review site ( Reid's review site features reviews of various photographic equipment and general essays on photography. His essay touches on something I've been thinking about awhile now... my somewhat unconventional approach to derby photography (for a future post).

Now, long time fans of my photostream on flickr may be wondering how often I actually use the viewfinder of my camera. And they would be right in being suspicious about this, as I sometimes shoot nearly an entire roll of film without actually looking through the viewfinder of the camera.

biking in the sun
biking in the sun by nocklebeast taken with a Hexar RF rangefinder, shot from the hip.

Now, most people don't shoot from the hip. Different kinds of cameras offer different ways of seeing the subject.  This is what Reid's essay is about. Reid lists five or six general types of camera with different kinds of finders.

One type of finder is of a camera that I don't have, the ground glass finder of the view camera.  The view camera focuses the image on a plate of ground glass. The photograph focuses and composes the photo looking at the inverted image on the ground glass (often using a tripod) and then swaps out the ground glass for some film and then snaps the photo.

Another type of finder is the wire frame camera. The finder consists of two rectangular frames, the first is an eyepiece that you press your eye up against and the second is just a frame that shows the camera's view.  Naturally, this sort of camera has a fixed focal length.  Reid claims that cameras with this finder haven't been made for quite some time, but several years ago, offered a quad cam with this simple direct view finder made entirely of plastic.

they don't make wire frame finder cameras
they don't make wire frame finder cameras by nocklebeast

Reid's essay includes a photo taken from a 4x5 crown graphic press camera with such a wire frame finder.

The most newfangled type of finder is the electronic view finder, which consists of a little TV screen in the back of the camera or in an eyepiece.  Most people are familiar with this sort of camera and call it a digital point-n-shoot. Some digital cameras include an EVF and another type of finder.

a little tv screen
a little tv screen by nocklebeast

Another type of finder is the "twin lens reflex" or TLR camera.  The camera has two lenses. The taking lens focuses an image on the exposed film, while the second lens coupled to the first focuses the image on a mirror which bounces the image onto a plate of ground glass.  Most TLR finders are viewed from above while the camera is held at waist level. I don't think anyone makes a digital TLR, but there's no reason why a digital TLR shouldn't exist.

why doesn't anyone make digital TLRs?  
why doesn't anyone make digital TLRs? by nocklebeast

Another type of finder is the "single lens reflex" or SLR camera.  The camera has a single lens.  The lens focuses the image on a mirror which bounces the image onto a ground glass prism which the photographer sees in an eyepiece above the lens.  When it's time to take the photo, the mirror collapses and the image is focused on the film or digital sensor while the view from the prism goes momentarily dark. Most often when people refer to "pro cameras" they're talking about digital SLRs.

an instantiation of the SLR class  
Minolta X-GM

The last finder is the "window finder" which consists of a piece of glass or window.  The entire window may show the view that will be recorded or the window will have a "framelines" which show what will be recorded on the film or digital sensor and the surrounding area of the recorded photograph.  A subset of the window finder camera is the rangefinder.  The rangefinder camera has a secondary window which is coupled to the mechanical focusing mechanism of the lens.  When the image from the second window lines up with the image of the primary window, the lens is focused on what is in the center of the field of view.

an instantiation of the rangefinder class 

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