Technical Details

Technical details

Paintbrushes

Cameras and lenses are tools to create photographs much as paint and paintbrushes are used to create paintings. Perhaps because some cameras are practically works of art in themselves, photographers discuss photo equipment a lot more than painters discuss paint.

In any case, I have discovered a working set of “paintbrushes” that have been dependable tools as well as some of the best optics ever made. For me, that means Leica and Zeiss lenses. As of 2006, add to that venerable stable the Olympus Zuiko lenses, especially the splendid 7-14mm f4 ultra wide-angle zoom.

Camera Gear
Most of the photographs on this web site were taken with Leica 35mm cameras and lenses. Indeed most of my photographs taken over the last 35 years were shot through razor sharp Leica lenses. The Leica quality impressed me from the beginning (see my Leica Black M2 article) and I have steadily added to the collection of versatile cameras and lenses.

For 35mm, I mostly use a rangefinder M6 with several Leitz lenses and a Single Lens Reflex Leica R8 with zoom lenses (Vario-Elmar 28-70mm/f3.5-4.5 and Vario-APO-Elmar 70-180mm/f2.8) that are as sharp as earlier prime lenses. Backup Leica cameras include other rangefinder M bodies and an all-mechanical R6 SLR (just in case I go to Antarctica and the R8 batteries stop working at 40 below!)

Digital

With the increasing digital approach, I now mostly use an Olympus E-330 instead of 35mm film cameras. See my adventures with this revolutionary new camera body, especially the unique combinations of Leica lenses on the Olympus body at my Lympa Log.

Larger Format
Hasselblad and their superb Zeiss lenses fill the medium format needs. I have a pair of ELM bodies since most of their use is for aerial photography. The motorized drive is essential for vertical aerial shots and really helps with oblique photography, too. The less you have to think about in the air (like winding the camera), the better. In a cramped cockpit with the sensory overload of noise, altitude, and finding the target, you don’t need any extra duties. Besides, no matter how comfortable flying feels now, I’m convinced that somewhere at the back of my brain, some ancient mode of sensory perception is trying to scream through all the commotion, “What are you DOING up here?!”

My favorite Hasselblad Zeiss lens is the 100mm/f3.5 Planar. Sharpness is edge-to-edge, even wide open. Other lenses include 50/4 80/2.8, 150/4 and 250/5.6. The 250 does a great job wide open, too, which is often needed in aerial work when shooting at 1/500th second on slow speed, fine grain film.

Additionally for aerial photography, a Ken-Lab K-6 gyrostabilizer has measurably improved photos, especially from helicopters. Helicopter vibrations often blur photos taken even at 1/500th, and the gyro gives rock-solid stability in my hands, especially with the Hasselblad double handgrip. See some examples at my page on how to do aerial photography .

Photoshop Darkroom
I still have photographs for sale and in my portfolio that were printed in my darkroom, but it seems to see less and less work these days. Enlargers include a Leitz Focomat 1c with custom color head for 35mm transparencies and negatives. An Omega D5500 with computerized color head works for medium and large format (now sold with only Black and White work done on the Leitz enlarger) . Most of my printing was done on Cibachrome/Ilfochrome color positive paper. An Ilford CAP-40 roller transport print processor (also history now) simplified the developing process for color prints up to 16x20” . Nothing, however, seemed to simplify the process of cleaning color slides!

Photoshop has rescued me from the frustration of dust spots on otherwise perfectly printed Cibachrome prints. It is still drudgery to “spot” in Photoshop, but once done, always done. I scan transparencies and an occasional negative on an Imacon Flextight Photo or Precision II scanner, and then use the Photoshop layer masking techniques to do the same chores as burning and dodging in the darkroom. Photoshop masking is very precise, allowing me to capture the tonal range of a transparency or digital file much more completely than the darkroom ever could.

Computer Network
The computer equipment for digital enlarging involves a network of three Windows XP PC’s connected in a small but fast configuration using 1000 BaseT (one gigabit/second) network cards. One PC is the “server” with 1500 gigabytes of disk in a RAID5 redundant storage setup. The second PC is my “darkroom”, running the latest version of Photoshop using 15,000rpm SCSI scratch drives and dual 21-inch monitors. The third PC is the one I'm typing on now, setup for e-mail, word processing and my my web-site connection using Drupal, a development applications that lets me update and modify this site easily. A Netgear Firewall Router keeps the Internet connected gear secure.

Computer peripherals include a 9x12 inch Wacom tablet, the Imacon Photo scanner and an Epson 4990 flatbed, plus an Epson R1800 printer for proofing. A KVM box lets me use one keyboard and mouse for all three computers. Data storage and backup included CD-R, CD-RW, DVD and external hard drives. I use 250GB external hard drives in removable trays for offsite backup along with an external USB connected hard drive for daily backups. The multiple PC setup allows me to do a long scan on one PC while working on another image in Photoshop on the other PC. All data is kept only on the server, so backup is complete and fairly simple.

After using a standardized workflow in Photoshop, I upload the digitized photo file with File Transfer Protocol, either on my local lab’s Fuji Noritsu printer for prints up to 12x18 inches or at a San Francisco Bay area lab by sending the CD or using FTP (File Transfer Protocol) over my cable high-speed Internet connection.

My 30 years experience with computers and programming has been a real plus for today’s photographic techniques!

Photographic Quality
When people comment about the quality of my photography, they invariably ask about what kind of “brushes” I use. Yes, the equipment behind the click of the shutter is important. However, quality photography requires attention to every detail along the way. The combination of technical expertise and an artistic eye makes modern photography an exciting and challenging endeavor.

Gary Todoroff

Articles and photographs copyright Gary Todoroff. For licensed use, call (707) 445-8425 or contact him by email.