Medium Format Mirrorless for Street Photography

There's a school of thought for street photography that basically says "hide and be sneaky".  I understand the root of this attitude, the idea being that you will get more authentic images and perhaps more of an emotional charge from sneaking shots of people.

I hate this.  The world has changed in the time since I started photography.  Where in the past, you could walk around with a camera making images and no one cared, today people are much more concerned about being observed and their actions tracked.  That worrying about a single person with a camera when you are tracked by innumerable surveillance cameras that you don't see is, to be blunt, a bit wacky, seems immaterial.  People are rightly concerned about privacy and about how their image may be used.  You may have heard of this thing called the Internet.  Truth and it are not necessarily entwined.

Funny enough, people with smartphones don't make others nervous the way that photographers with "real" cameras do.  I suppose it's because most people know that smartphone camera images while decent, aren't really that good for reproduction in print.  Even though most selfies and smartphone shots end up on Facebook and Instagram and never get printed, and thus get far more coverage than a print ever would.  Logic is absent from these fears.

I approach street differently.  If I see someone interesting, I introduce myself, tell the person that I think that he or she or they look very cool, how so, and ask permission to make an image.  Sometimes they say no.  Rarely they say so rudely because I am polite.  If no, I say thank you and move on.  When the subject says yes, which is the far more common answer, I make an image or two, quickly and quietly, offer thanks, and my card.  I do this by saying I think it would be rude to ask someone I just met for their email address, so I offer my own.  If they would like a copy of an image, I suggest they email me and I will get them a social media ready image back to them by return email.  When I do send an image, there is an invisible watermark encoded in the file, just like all my images, but there is no visible watermark or brand, because I think that they detract from this kind of image, demonstrate enormous ego, and no small amount of insecurity.  My choice, you might do differently.

 Fujifilm's very impressive GFX-50S

Fujifilm's very impressive GFX-50S

I recently challenged the whole concept of big scary camera by forcing myself to go shoot some street images, not with my usual small Leica M, but instead with the larger Fujifilm GFX-50S and the Hasselblad X1D.  No one can suggest that these cameras are small and unobtrusive.  Neither are fast, but both are relatively quiet.  For general street scenes, no one cared.  People noticed, and when I asked to make images, and in most cases offered not to post them in public forums, was told yes, if the person could get a copy.    Since you already know my methods, let's just say that this was a rocking success.

 Hasselblad's X-1D, medium format writ compact

Hasselblad's X-1D, medium format writ compact

One of the potential challenges of medium format is the camera itself because they tend to be large, heavy and rather loud.  I admit I was very annoyed by a DP Review article by some twat who said that medium format was irrelevant and that you could get the same result from a DSLR.  I try to ignore the criminally stupid, but sometimes I am not successful and this was another reason to assign myself this little project.

My other reason was to counter the "studio only" mentality that a lot of people elocute.  A bigger sensor means the option for better quality.  The step to a 16 bit RAW from a 14 bit RAW is significant, and the potential for wide dynamic range is awesome.  The question was how I would carry the camera, a couple of lenses, a speedlight and the usual trappings of extra cards, Lenspens, microfibre cloth, rain cover etc.  I decided that while I often take a tripod with me, to intentionally leave it in the truck.

I have a large collection of camera bags.  With two exceptions, they all come from Think Tank Photo.  One is my original Domke F2 that has been through hell, and the other is a bag I invested in through Kickstarter and have not liked since day one, but I have not been able to sell it off without taking a massive loss.  I swear by Think Tank Photo and even have a relationship with the company where if you buy a Think Tank bag through the link on my website, I earn a very small commission.  I don't choose Think Tank for that reason, I choose them because the products are superb and have never let me down.

 The Think Tank Photo Turnstyle V2.o family.  I chose the largest version which is still very compact.

The Think Tank Photo Turnstyle V2.o family.  I chose the largest version which is still very compact.

Think Tank Photo recently released their Turnstyle Sling V2.0  I had not owned a Turnstyle before, because I figured it would be too small for my usual DSLR field loadout and too big for my Leica kit which all fits nicely in a Think Tank Photo Mirrorless Mover.  I contacted the company and they graciously offered to send me a Turnstyle V2 for the purposes of review.  It arrived in two days and was in time for the last phase of my project which involved walking around downtown Toronto for just over five hours.

The Turnstyle V2.0 took the Hasselblad X1D, the 45mm, the 90mm and a Nikon compatible speedlight (the X1D uses Nikon speedlight protocols) with room to spare.  I like slings because they act like a backpack without the hassle of getting at your gear.  Just grab the lower corner and pull it around your front, make your changes, close it up and slide it back.  Even with all this kit in it, I was not fatigued at all by day's end, other than my aging knees which hate me on most days.

I had returned the GFX-50S to Fujifilm Canada prior to receiving the bag, so I stopped by a large retailer of professional cameras at the end of the outing.  I was already sure that the GFX-50S could fit and I was correct.  It does take a bit of thinking to place the dividers for optimal storage, but it worked and I am confident that I could put this larger mirrorless in this compact and usable bag without any issue at all.

Sadly I had to return the Hasselblad quickly so others could work with it and I did not get into the studio to shoot images of the camera and gear packed in the bag.  

My next challenge for the Turnstyle V2.0 will be to see if I can stuff it to hold a HasselbladH6D-100 for a review I will be doing in August.

Which brings me back to street photography.  In the film past, many street photographers shot with medium format.  I was reminded recently by Scott Bourne and Marco Larousse of Fan Ho, who started as a photographer before moving into cinema.  I also think of Vivian Meier who made thousands of street images with her Rolleicord.  Based on the success with the GFX-50S and the X1D, I think that I will be taking the H6D, and certainly the H4D-40 that I presently own on street projects.  I will shoot RAW, but force myself to see in black and white, and I will also constrain myself to no more than 24 images in a day, to use the constraint of two rolls of film to limit the potential for shooting without fully seeing.  For those not familiar with that count, a roll of 120mm film on the Rollei or my long gone and much missed Hasselblad 500CM allowed for only twelve images.  If that works out, I may take one of my old Mamiya RZ67s out with two rolls of real film.  The RZ makes beautiful images, but the 6x7 format is ten shots to a roll and no one could ever accuse the RZ of being small or light or unobtrusive.

I'll see how things work out.  In the interim, be assured that medium format does offer a different look, a different perspective, better colour and more refinement.  The two cameras I mention are excellent for street work, just remember not to strain yourself with the wrong bag, and strongly consider the Think Tank Photo Turnstyle V2.0

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I'm Ross Chevalier, thanks for reading, and until next time, peace.