Mechanical Simplicity


I’ve owned a handful of both film and digital cameras over the years. The two film cameras I still own that I’ve used the most are a Canonet QL-17 GIII and a Nikon S3.

Often called a poor man’s Leica, the Canonet is quite simple. It has a quiet leaf shutter and this version has a fast 40mm f1.7 fixed lens. You can use the surprisingly accurate meter (requires a battery) and shoot in shutter priority, or shoot manual. The focus throw is short and has an easy to use tab. I really like this camera and it has never let me down.

The Nikon S3 is fully mechanical (no meter), accepts a variety of lenses and is a noticeable step up in build quality over the Canonet. The S3 I have is a very early version. Serial numbers started at 6300000 and mine is 6300041. It has a quiet cloth shutter and a wonderful precision mechanical feel overall. The film advance is weighty and smooth. The focus throw is long, favoring accuracy over speed. The full size finder has fixed frame lines at 35, 50 and 105 and I have lenses for each.

Unlike the relentless upgrade cycle with digital cameras, the only functional upgrades these cameras have is the film. That means, my relationship with the camera itself stays strong and using them is a familiar, almost second nature exercise.

I hadn’t shot with either camera much at all for nearly two years. In the late summer of last year, I lost interest in my dslr, purchased several rolls of film and put the Canonet and Nikon back to use. I quickly realized how much I had missed using these cameras. What I really enjoyed was their mechanical simplicity. Aperture, shutter speed and focus. That’s it. No worrying about focus mode, metering mode, VR, ISO, RAW, focus point, bracketing, etc.

The simplicity has helped me enjoy the act of photographing much more again and I hadn’t realized how much I missed it. When I used to shoot only film, I was envious of my friends with digital cameras that gave them incredible amounts of adjustability and customization and immediate access to their images. Having spent a few years shooting digitally myself, I have a new appreciation for simplicity in my photography.

Digital won’t go away though. While my dslr continues to sit and gather dust, I did buy a new digital camera late last year. I believe that I can find simplicity it it too if I remember to not let the complexity get in my way. Time will tell.


* originally published on Medium, January 2016

Update two years later: While I’ve certainly used the “new” digital camera I bought back then (Fuji X100T), I’ve continued to use and enjoy these two film cameras as well as a Mamiya 645m kit that I was lucky enough to be given by a friend. I’m also taking time to let some rolls sit before developing them. I’ll get that going soon enough.



24 Hour Project recap

The 2017 edition of the 24 Hour Project was the first time I have participated so I was a bit unsure what to expect. I took the afternoon off from work on Friday with hopes of getting a few hours of sleep. I did lay down for a bit and got some rest but sleep was elusive as the excitement of the pending 24 hours was too much to overcome. What this meant was that I was about to be up for 42 hours before falling asleep early Sunday.

I met up with my friend Jake at 11:30 Friday night and we drove into Milwaukee. Our planned first stop was the area around Oakland and North. I posted my first photo of the night in Von Trier at 12:13am and enjoyed a tasty Founders Breakfast Stout. Second shot of the night happened just outside Von Trier as we left at 1:03am. From there we took some photos around the donut shop on the corner of North and Oakland and then had a drink at the Eastsider.

Bars in Wisconsin close at 2am so we wandered the area a bit but quickly decided to find people at Ma Fischer’s Diner. This was my third photo, outside the restaurant at 2:31am, and my fourth inside at 3:29am.





The photos needed from 4-6am were a couple of the toughest of the entire project. It was a chilly April 1st morning and the streets of Milwaukee were deserted. Additionally, a couple of drinks, a stomach full of breakfast food, and a lack of sleep added up to extreme exhaustion. I nearly fell asleep in the car waiting for a stoplight to change. Finally in desperation we both found people doing their last bit of bar cleanup. Jake got his photo at the County Claire and I got mine at Cafe Hollander on Downer Ave at 4:54am. After that difficult hour I figured to have better odds of finding people, we needed to go to the Milwaukee Intermodal Station where there is rail and bus service. The place was far from full but we did manage to take care of the 5-6am hour. I got my photo outside at 5:24.

Shortly after 5:30am we could see the first bit of light coming up over the eastern horizon and we headed to the lakeshore. The steadily increasing light was like a shot of adrenalin and suddenly my head cleared, my legs had a spring to them that had been missing the past two hours, and I knew the rest of the day would be ok. The sunrise was beautiful and I got a nice reflection/silhouette photo of another photographer at 6:03am.



We grabbed some excellent coffee at the lakefront Colectivo and I took care of the next two hours with a photo in McKinley Marina and one in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. From there we headed to Brady Street but not too many people were out yet. I managed a desperation photo of a window washer at 9:47am and three ladies in Peter Sciortino’s Bakery at 10:09am. On the hunt for more people, Jake and I headed south to Bay View but the sidewalks were nearly deserted. Where is everyone??? I took a photo at the Bay View Colectivo at 11:36am and knew we needed to find people as we crossed the halfway point in the day.

The Milwaukee Art museum did not fail. I took care of the 12-2pm photo requirements with an outside photo of the iconic Burke Brise Soleil at 12:11pm and inside at 1:27pm. I also was able to take a second look at the excellent Helen Levitt: In the Street exhibit as well as watch about 20 minutes of the 61 minute mesmerizing Street video by James Nares. It is a masterpiece of slow motion street scenes in New York City done with a high speed camera. Incredible.



24 photos. One every hour. You are always on the clock. The pressure of the clock increased in the afternoon as my brain felt sluggish and inspiration faded. The timing of my next two photos are a dead giveaway to this as I got them at 2:57pm and 3:59pm. Then two more at 4:22pm and 5:16pm. Neither were satisfying but as each hour drew to a close, they were the best I had. Finally I caught one of the many skateboarders I saw that day at 6:25pm and decided we needed a change of venue.



From here we took a brief detour to the top of the parking ramp near the historic Pabst Brewery and took a near golden hour photo of the Milwaukee skyline to the east.

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After that brief reprise, we went for food and drink as the streets cleared and people packed into bars to watch the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four games. On the upside, there are plenty of people, good beer and food to be found in a bar. On the downside, it is quite dark and that noticably increased the challenge of getting a good shot. Shot 20 came at 7:47pm in Stubby’s Gastropub. After that stop we had a good idea of how we wanted to end the night so we headed back to Bay View and I got this shot at 8:28pm of the hostess at Odd Duck.



Photo 22 was inside Cafe Central right at 9:00pm. Checking this box right away took some pressure off and with the end in sight, we began discussing the day a bit. Then it was off to Burnhearts where I got photo 23 at 10:47pm and finally, we finished the day with a fantastic Old Fashioned at Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge. Whiskey sour for me, bourbon sweet for Jake. I uploaded the final photo of the project at 11:52pm. I dropped Jake off around 12:30am and my head hit the pillow at home shortly after 1:00am.

A few technical/operational details. Both Jake and I used the Fuji X100T for the project. I’ve had mine for a year and a half and I have really enjoyed using it. It was perfect for this project. I was on my sixth battery as the day drew to a close. Six. I knew battery life would be an issue, particularly using the X100T’s built in wi-fi to transfer an image to my iPhone 6s+ each hour, so I had plenty on hand. Still, six batteries is kind of crazy. I’ll enjoy a future where this is less of an issue.

The Fuji has a number of film simulations built in. I shot in black and white with a yellow filter for the whole day. Jake was shooting in Classic Chrome. I lightly edited photos on my phone using Snapseed and sometimes added just a minor tweak in the Instagram app. I really like the selective editing capabilities in Snapseed compared to most mobile apps that use global adjustments only. Jake was using the Filmborn app for editing, both in color and black and white.

Overall, this was a great adventure. There were moments I questioned my sanity but those passed quickly. Finding someone you can shoot with for the full 24 hours is critical. After many long days of shooting with Jake in Chicago, it was great fun to experience this with him and we’re both committed to doing it again next year.

See my 24 photos on Instagram or here.

See Jake’s 24 photos on Instagram or Flickr.


24 Hours, 24 Photos


I’ve wanted to participate in this event for the past couple of years but the timing has not worked out. This year the timing is right and I’m really excited for it. 2017 will be the 6th edition of the 24 Hour Project where photographers across the world document the human condition in their city for a day and post one photo per hour over the 24 hour period. The first year there were 65 photographers covering 24 cities and it has since grown to nearly 3000 photographers in over 700 cities worldwide.

My bud Jake immediately committed to the project when I asked him if he wanted to join me and we have decided on Milwaukee, WI as the city we will document. I’ve loaded up on extra batteries for my Fuji X100T and will rely on good food, lots of coffee and plenty of determination to make it through the entire day. You can check in on our adventure this April 1 (no joke!) by following both of us on Instagram and I’ll surely have plenty to share from the project so expect a followup post here as well.