Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5

My Personal Favourite Photography Experiences of 2020


With England going back into lockdown, I decided to look back at what I did with my photography last March and beyond. I didn’t stop writing for the site, nor did I stop taking photos, but I couldn’t really remember what I had done. In doing this, I ended up browsing all of my 50 odd articles/posts/reviews from last year, and the process of this reminded me of just how much photography-based fun I had last year.

It’s funny, the year before I had been really grumpy about my photography, but last year – a year that was made significantly less easy to enjoy (for obvious reasons) – I actually had loads of fun. In fact, I would go as far to say that photography was helpful in making last year a lot more bearable.

So I thought I’d write a article looking back at some of those experiences might help cement some of that positivity in my mind as we go into a still somewhat uncertain 2021. I suppose it’s probably a bit late in the year now for annual round-up type posts, but there we are, you’re getting one anyway…

Incidentally, I’ve already posted an article looking back at the most popular 35mmc content from 2020 – that’s the stuff that was popular with other people. This is simply my own personal favourite photography experiences from 2020.

Pentax P30, Pentax-M 135mm and a roll of JCH 400

Way back at the beginning of the year before all hell broke loose and my photography woes of 2019 were still fresh in my mind, I went out taking photos with two cameras. One was a Minolta Riva Pano which I shall come to in a second, the other was a Pentax P30 with a 135mm lens and a roll of JCH Streetpan 400.

In fact, the roll of film lasted two outings. The first was a walk with Hannah, the second an trip to the park with the kids. Both stick in my mind as really enjoyable outings. I got a lot from the photography experience too. I hadn’t shot JCH Streetpan 400 that much, and I’d not shot with either the P30 or the 135mm lens at all. All three helped me achieve results that I was really pleased with.

These shooting experiences really helped me get out of my 2019 photography funk too. A lot of the kit I’m going to talk about in this article is really quite expensive, but I’m a firm believer in the idea that cameras and lenses really don’t need to cost a lot to be enjoyable to use, be good quality, or result in good photos. I think it’s also true that shooting kit that doesn’t cost the earth is good for you – this combination of gear reminded me of that point quite nicely.

I wrote a review of the Pentax P30 talking about something of that experience here

Lomography Metropolis in a Minolta Riva Pano

This was a camera/film combo that really did it for me. Actually, this is something of a project that I intend to come back to. If the weight of requirement to continue to create new content for 35mmc wasn’t constantly on me, I think I could have quite easily spent a good part of last spring and beyond shooting with with this film in this camera.

Minolta Riva Pano

This website was born out of me finding joy in the point & shoot mentality. Once in a while I’m reminded of just how much pleasure I get out of taking that approach to photography. This was one such occasion. The camera, the film, the approach to photography – everything felt like it fell into place, and I really enjoyed the shooting experience!

I wrote about this more here

Full Spectrum Appreciation

Sometime in late 2019 I picked up an original Fuji X100. It was this that encouraged me to splurge on a new X100v. Funnily enough, in the end, the V didn’t even last the whole year – I sold it about a month back after bringing home a retired Sony A7iii from work. But whilst the V went, the original X100 stayed in the collection, albeit not in its original state.

After playing with a Kolari Pocket at the beginning of the year and concluding that I would like to have some sort of bigger, better more powerful full spectrum camera, and after spending quite a bit of time emailing Kolari back and forth, I finally decided the X100 was to make the ideal candidate for conversion.

Since then, I’ve had a couple of stand out successes with it. Or at least, I’ve had two outings that have stand out in my mind as resulting in images I am happy with. The first was just after I received it when my home city of Worcester flooded back in February. The images from that outing became the subject of my first impressions review.

Fuji X100 Full Spectrum Mod / Kolari IRChrome

The second outing with it I wrote about just the other week. I’d been stressed with work, needed some time out, and had gone for a walk up in the woods near my house. I ended up getting some images that I am really pleased with.

Fuji X100 - Full Spectrum converted with 720nm Filter

This full spectrum converted X100 is definitely a keeper. It’s not a camera I can see myself shooting with very regularly, but it’s certainly an interesting bit of kit to have at my disposal once in a while.

Chroma in the Garden

We had some really nice weather back in the spring, and with us not really being able to go out very much, I decided to have some photography fun in the garden. At the time I was also trying to inspire Connie’s interest in photography, and decided I would try and do this being bringing out the big guns.

The plan was to shoot a few frames of 5×4 in my Chroma, then develop it and digitise it myself with Connie’s help. Unfortunately, Connie’s interest in the whole process was limited to taking photos with my Fuji X100v and talking mostly about how cool the images with blur in the background looked. Not exactly what I had hoped the outcome would be, but nonetheless it was good to see her engaged with photography, and I had a lot of fun with the LF gear even if she didn’t. I turned out to be the nice reminder for me just how easy shooting LF and home development can be – if I can be bothered to do it (which I often can’t). I also got a nice shot of me and the Norah

Garden Portraits with a Chroma

You can read about the whole experience here

Skyllaney/Zeiss Uncoated Lens Love

Early summer also brought my first experience with an uncoated Sonnar. I’ve always sort of shied away from uncoated lenses through experiencing a lower-contrast look that didn’t always entirely appeal to me. I’ve also always struggled to find uncoated lenses that aren’t in one way or another basically knackered both mechanically and optically.

Receiving a lens from Chris at Skyllaney solved both of these issues. It came perfectly rehoused and with near perfect glass. I was intrigued to shoot it, but despite Chris talking to me at length about the merits of these lenses, I was still slightly sceptical. Perhaps unsurprisingly to anyone who knows these lenses, the uncoated Sonnar wasn’t as low contrast as I expected it to be.

This was, of course, the attraction to Sonnar lenses in those early pre-coating days anyway. The Sonnar design when compared to their contemporary double gauss counterparts brought more contrast to the table. I knew this to be the case, but I’d just never experienced a good condition uncoated lens, never mind a good condition uncoated Sonnar. Perhaps because it was a near-spotless example that has been fettled by Chris, and maybe also because my expectations were skewed, but either way the results really struck me.

It wasn’t just the greater levels of contrast either. The colour rendition just seemed to have a really natural feel to it. And whilst results weren’t quite as objectively sharp, the contrast pop and the natural rendering of detail really struck me! I love Sonnar lenses anyway, but this one really did jump out at me as something quite special.

Skyllaney Rehoused 1930s Zeiss Jena 50mm f2 Sonnar

I also spent time shooting this particular lens on a walk with Connie – her interest in photography seems to eb and flow a bit, but when she is into it, it’s nice to see her getting excited by it.

I reviewed this lens in more detail here

Pixii Rangefinder Fun

I really can’t tell you how exciting it was to get a call from David at Pixii asking me if I would like to try out his new digital rangefinder.

At the time he made contact, the camera was still very much in beta. David got in touch with me specifically as he was looking for someone to give him some further insights into the camera from a 3rd party point of view, but also from someone who he knew would get the concept.

Pixii is not the average camera. Not by a long shot. In fact, in many ways it breaks the mould. It has no preview screen, and is designed to be used with a smartphone app to look at the images. It’s also a rangefinder camera with a Leica M mount. I’d been fascinated by the concept since I first heard about it a few years ago, but had my doubts it would ever see the light of day. So when David rang saying that they were working toward release asking if I would like to try a pre-production model, I was absolutely thrilled by the prospect.

Soon later I had one in my hands and was almost immediately taken with it. It wasn’t an entirely rosey experience though. I shared photos of it on Instagram and was actually taken aback by the sheer extent of people’s distaste towards it. It never ceases to amaze me the extent to which some people will hate on a camera just because it wasn’t designed for them. I think photographers have almost been conditioned now to expect all cameras released to be designed to fit all of there needs. So when something like Pixii or even the Fuji X-Pro3 comes along that is designed for a niche audience, many photographers seem to respond by throwing bile in its direction.

Of course, for the niche who “get” David’s vision in Pixii it looks and feels like something that has been designed for them. And that’s really the point here I think. Love or loath what David has done, along with the Zeiss ZX1 and Fuji XPro3, it’s a camera that doesn’t fit the apparent standard everything-to-everyone brief. I hope to see more cameras cameras like this come to market soon. I also continue to wish David every success with his project!

I haven’t shared many images I have taken with the camera yet – since I received my production camera, I have been swamped with reviews. I have taken a few photos with it though. This is one of my favourites:

New Bridge - Pixii & 35mm 2.8 C-Biogon

You can also read my primer article about the Pixii here

Pentax SFX & Pentax 77mm Limited Joy

The Pentax SFX is a camera that was given to me, it’s not a camera I would have bought, so I was more than pleased to discover just how much it would appeal to me in practice. It’s big, heavy, boxy and looks about as 80s as is possible for a camera to look. It also has what I described as a “veneer of complexity” that nearly put me off using it altogether. But for one reason or another, we really clicked.

Part of this click might have come from the fact that for the most part I mated it with a Pentax 77mm Limited lens. I mostly think of myself as being the sort of person to get most out of lenses with “character”, but this lens appealed to me for different reasons. It’s small, light, and just feels like it gets out of the way. The focal length absolutely appealed to me too. I increasingly feel like I get more out of shooting short telephoto lenses than I even get out of shooting a normal lens.

What really rounded this camera and lens combination off for me was shooting it almost exclusively whilst on holiday in Cornwall in the summer. I had the usual temptation to take too much kit, but resisted in the end and for the most part just shot with this combination, albeit with the 40mm limited as backup when I just wanted a little bit more context.

The photos from that holiday ended up being some of my favourites from any holiday I’ve been on. I got some real gems of the family, whilst enjoying a shooting experience that felt entirely unlabored.

Cornwall 2020

You can read my review of the Pentax SFX here and the Pentax 77mm review here – You might notice I used the word “joy” in both titles…

Meyer 100mm Trioplan

The Meyer 100mm Trioplan was a lens that struck me for the exact opposite reasons the Pentax 77mm did. Whilst the Pentax 77mm largely gets out of the way, the Meyer 100mm Trioplan imposes itself on results in a big way. I’ve owned a 100mm trioplan before, but the previous one was an original and came to me at a time in my photography career that I remember quite negatively. It was a time I had become obsessed with things like bokeh rendering, had become obsessed with gear and had forgotten the simple joy of just taking photos.

I then bought a Yashica T5 that had such a huge impact on my photography-wellbeing that it inspired me to start this website. I sold the old Meyer lens soon after and for a while turned my back on lenses and bokeh etc. Then, over time, the interest in lenses started creeping back in, but with the added experiences I’d had, my interest in lenses seemed to be a little more complete. I wasn’t just obsessed with bokeh, instead I was interested in what certain lens formulas could bring to the whole image.

The relevance of all this is that shooting the Meyer 100mm Trioplan again after those 7-8 years felt like I was closing a loop. I’d been enjoying lenses, but had long wondered to what degree I would appreciate this lens with my new found understanding of what I liked in lenses. As it turned out, I really liked the lens. It didn’t seem nearly as gimmicky as I had thought it might. The complete look of images it creates really appealed to me, and I got some images that I was extremely happy with with.

Meyer Optik Görlitz f/2.8 100mm Trioplan II

If you’re interested in the new Meyer 100mm Trioplan, you can read my review here

A Day at the Beach

I wrote about this day out to the beach quite recently, so I won’t go into a huge amount of detail. The short story is that one of our dogs had needed to be put down, and we hadn’t done anything nice as a family together for a while, so we decided to go for a day out to the beach to blow the cobwebs out.

I’d also not shot my Leica M4-P for ages, and hadn’t ever shot a new Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar lens Chris (from Skyllaney) and Aaron from CameraKote had worked on for me. I’d also not shot a roll of Kosmo Foto Mono and had been promising Steve I would for, well, ages.

The day out on the beach did everything we needed as a family together, and the photographic experience was not only fulfilling on the day itself, but the resulting photos were some of, if not my most favourite from the whole year.

Beach Day

You can read the full post about the day here

So that’s that, 2020 through my favourite photography experiences. Going into 2021, the feeling of foreboding I have when I think about the virus and all the political nonsense that’s going on in the world is quite significant. But I’m very lucky. I have my lovely little family, my secure little life and my photography to keep me sane. I know not everyone out these is as fortunate as me, so for what it’s worth I hope all you lot reading this are doing ok, looking after yourselves and those around you. Stay safe, and all that!!

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Hamish Gill

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