My Photographic Journey by Greg Arnold

I’ve never been a talented photographer, my fascination has 90% been directed at the equipment and generally it was the gear that led me getting a few nice images. Like my Dad, it was the photo-mechanical process that I was most fascinated by.

When Dad moved to 35mm I was given his 120 roll and 1/4 plate cameras. I learnt to fold out and lock the bellows (pin holes taped up with insulation tape). Wind the knob till the next frame number appeared in the red window and rotate the 1/2” x 3/4” right angle 'focused mirror' finder to landscape/portrait. Once that was all done you were ready to take a light reading.

My first meter was an old Gossen that had opposing scales (like a slide rule) and pressing a button had the scales move relative to each other and ‘lock’. Forget taking any reading in low light. It was only ever going to get you into the 'ball park' for exposure and lots of hand shading and repeated readings were required to confirm an exposure setting. There was so much preparation to trying to get a usable exposure, let alone a decent composition but it didn’t matter, I loved the gear and the process... While the other kids had Brownie 127’s, I had a tilt/shift Ensign.

Neighbours gave me their old cameras and lightmeters for my collection and Dad showed me how to process the film and do prints with an old enlarger "on loan” from his business partner. At about 10 years old, the obsession was forming. Within a week of enrolment at Vic, I had the club darkroom in use and senior student photographers I admired.

From Uni. days (on a budget) through to my late 20’s when I was earning good money, my cameras changed and with each change, my photography went in different directions. A ($16) TLR (cost of the repair from a camera shop) at 19 sent me off looking for ‘perspective', a Takkumar bellows introduced me to the world of macro and the maths for working out exposures (preTTL metering) and my first super telephoto is (presently) showing me the magic of subject isolation.

By my mid 20’s (and after having owned about 50 cameras) I was enjoying using a Nikon F2s and a Mamiya C330 Pro. A board over the bath in a flat on Tamaki Dr., was my Dark Room. I sold everything I owned, (including all my camera gear) to scrape together a deposit on a first home and lived camera-less for a long time.

Some years later I shifted to the Wairarapa and through a pro photographer friend, I purchased some 2nd hand film gear. First an Olympus, then Contax (shouldn’t have let those lenses go) and then later still, Minolta.

The Olympus OM-1 (1972- ) and the Nikon F.  (1959-73)
The Olympus OM-1 (1972- ) and the Nikon F. (1959-73). By Greg Arnold

Pete was using and had steered me to Minolta because of his Dad’s friendship with the local Minolta Service Agent. Minolta was a much underrated camera manufacturer, with an interesting history of “fantastic” MF cameras (XK,XE,XD,CL) before, and (CLE) after their business ventures with Leica and were the pioneers in the early DSLR AF (the 9000 series). They lost a major law suit to Honeywell, who had copyright interests in the AF systems they incorporated into this Camera. This was apparently a devastating financial blow to Minolta. The penultimate film camera they released was the Dynax 9. It is the most beautiful film camera I have used, but it arrived too late to save Minolta with film in decline.

I had no darkroom now and while 'colour positive' film was good, mass 'colour negative' processing technology was awful and the prints were not stable like B&W. For me, the magic had gone and photographing properties, gardens, or being the designated Historian on fishing trips, became my lot. Photographically it was the doldrums! I had some lovely Pro Minolta Lenses just sitting in Pelicans doing next to nothing.

In early 2000(ish) I built my best darkroom (to date) and hoped it would re-stimulate my interest in B&W photography, only to sell the home shortly thereafter. The beginning of the digital age arrived and Pro Canon’s had 12MP….. Seriously who could ever need 12 megapixels?! :) I was using a Konica/Minolta 7D and while my FF film lenses fitted, the viewfinder was crap and apsc format messed up the desired angles of view …… it was probably my least liked camera (ever).

Minolta was the first manufacturer to incorporate AF in a DSLR. Here is their first and last Pro AF models. The 9000 (1985) and the beautiful alpha 9 (1999). By Greg Arnold

Then Sony released the a900, this had the “nicest” optical viewfinder (the last series before EVF's took over). It brought all the magic back and IBIS was game changing. Unfortunately, I only had early copies of Photoshop, no processing skills and no Raw file conversion facility. I was enjoying this camera but doing nothing with the images except storing them (without backup) as Jpegs on the old computers, that they would eventually die with.

Some years later, the Tramping Club organised the President of the local Camera Club to judge some photos. This was a turning point. I enjoyed the presentation so much, I left Tramping to join the Camera Club. With workshops on Lightroom and seeing other members photographic interests, I was back!

The gear was about to change again with the arrival of mirrorless. While I loved my Nikon years in Auckland, my Minolta mount lenses, were steering me to stay with Sony, who were showing their tech muscle with miniaturisation like the RX1- (the grandchild of the Minolta CLE), IBIS and Sensor advancement.

I owned the first a7 (briefly), then the a7ii (hugely better) followed by the a7Rii (and later the A7Riii) which were even better again in every way. Sony seemed to be following Minolta's numbering system which only produced a “9” series camera every second generation. Where was the “9”? ….. (I sold and had to re-buy a couple of cameras, miscalculating the timing of it’s release).

Today, most of my shots are taken with my Sony 400/2.8 GM and Canon 200/2 on the Sony a9.

© Excio