When I got serious about photography I started carrying around some serious cameras: a Nikon D800 and then, when I fell in love with shooting film, a Contax 645. They complement each other well, because the Nikon’s overpowered sensor means it is, in effect, a medium-format camera. I carried these two heavyweights around and would often shoot the same scene with both, if only to compare how film and digital rendered it. Sometimes I’d have a Polaroid camera with me as well. Fitting all of them into one bag was impossible (believe me, I tried). I tried to keep things simple by standardising on a single lens for each camera (35mm/1.4 for the Nikon, 80mm/2 for the Contax). But even without any extra lenses, the combination was back-breaking: the Nikon weighs 1,670g and the Contax weighs 2,000g. (Note for American readers: that’s a lot.)
But then something odd happened. I noticed that I usually shot everything with my iPhone as well. In fact, sometimes I’d take pictures with my iPhone and I wouldn’t bother to get the big cameras out. With the right apps I could get the Portra/film look I wanted with my smallest and most basic camera: my phone. I began to relish the freedom my iPhone granted me: it was small, light and simple. I could share images on Instagram, and people seemed to like them. I’d treated it like a toy, but my iPhone was, it seemed, a “real” camera after all. And if that was the case, then did I really need to carry those heavy cameras everywhere? Perhaps I didn’t. So I started to look for smaller, lighter versions of my two big cameras, for when I wanted to shoot film, or higher-resolution digital.
The smaller version of the Contax 645 was easy to identify: the Contax Aria. Instead of 120 it shoots 35mm. The 80mm lens on the 645 is equivalent to a 50mm, so I got the legendary Zeiss 50mm/1.4. Together, the camera and lens weigh just 816g. I’ve been using this camera for my Tri-X 365 project, and I’ve also shot some Portra with it. It may not deliver the flawless clarity of the 645, but nor does the iPhone. The important thing is that it shoots film, and is small. What about the Nikon? I’ve been shooting exclusively with a 35mm lens, and my husband had his eye on the Fuji X100S, which has a fixed 23mm lens that is equivalent to a 35mm. So we bought one together. It’s the size and shape of an old Leica, which means it slips into my bag easily (it weighs only 462g). Finally, for those occasions where even the Aria is too big and I just want the tiniest possible film camera, I bought a Contax T3, a compact camera that weighs just 260g. I think of it like an analogue iPhone: I can slip the T3 in one pocket and the iPhone in another.
Together, this trio of smaller cameras weigh less than either the D800 or the 645 does on its own. That means I can take them on a day trip into town without giving myself a back injury. For longer trips in the car, the big cameras come too. And of course I still use them when I know in advance that I want the ultimate image quality. But the important thing is that I no longer consider there to be a huge gap between iPhone snaps and “proper” photography. It is all proper photography, I now realise, no matter which camera I’m using. It doesn’t need to be a heavyweight. I now have the option of travelling light.