Sad to see that UK high street photography chain Jessops has collapsed this week with the loss of many jobs.  Any customers with outstanding orders have now lost them and it looks like many units on British high streets are going to go vacant.

Fifteen to twenty years ago, I found Jessops very useful and often bought stuff from there.  They were good at film processing if not great at it and you could collect on the same day rather than mail it off, like I usually do these days.  There was a good range of hardware available and a lively second hand section.  Serious amateur photographers were critical of Jessops.  It wasn’t great at handling unusual requests and the staff had limited knowledge.  There was also some sales techniques going on as well.  I found it amusing that nearly every time I enquired about buying something, the assistant told me that he / she had bought this for Mam’s birthday / Christmas present.  If you had a Jessop’s employee in the family, your house must have been littered with SLRs and 50mm prime lenses.  Or perhaps they were lying.  I always thought that criticism of Jessops from the serious amateurs was a bit misplaced,  It was a camera supermarket not really a specialists’ shop.  It was Asda, not that quality butcher’s shop you go to for special occasions.

The photography market changed from film to digital, Jessops changed with it and I didn’t really change that much, as you can see from this blog, so I started to go less and less.  It was still a handy place to pick up some single rolls of film and get some processed quickly but I could do this cheaper and better via the internet as long as I was prepared to wait and buy in bulk.

I think that it would be easy to say that Jessops failed because it didn’t move with the times.  My feeling is that it wasn’t specialised enough.  It may have had a future if it pulled back from the high street and the expense of maintaining large retail units and focussed on online shopping.

Anybody else got any memories of Jessops?


Brown Paper Parcels in the Post

I have guilty pleaseures.  One is to receive fairly unremarkable brown paper parcels in the post.  These contain my new film, freshly despatched.  After a few days of restrained enthusiasm I pick up the parcel and hurry to a room on my own to have a look at it.  Bulk buying such items from the internet produces savings compared to the shops.

It’s a bit like pornography and I’ve ordered several different types.

Firstly, there’s the workhorse, bread and butter stuff – Ilford HP5+ 400 speed.  Good in all conditions and with a nice grain to it.

Then there’s a bit of Kodak, Porta 800 speed.  It’s colour and it’s faster than I’m used to but I’m not sure if I’m going to enjoy the results.  However it just looked too tempting on the webpage and a click later it was on its way to me.

Then I went all exotic and kinky and bought Infra Red film.  This is really difficult, I don’t know what I’m doing.  I remove it carefully from it’s packaging and only dare open the plastic tub in subdued conditions.  I’ll need filters and the right sort of lighting and then I’ll need to clearly mark the film for development as IR when I send it off.

To finish off, I ordered some cheap foreign stuff.  It’s Czech, Formapan.  It’s packaging suggests the Seventies.  It could be exciting or rubbish.  Probably it’s a mucky laugh.

This should keep me going for the rest of the summer.

Strangely enough, I don’t mind the wait.  It takes about a week for me to get the negatives and accompanying CD.  It’s fun to wait for the post every day and see if the pictures have arrived.  I could save money and develop the negs myself.  Most of the stuff is black and white and that’s the easiest to develop.  I did this once and the results weren’t too bad.  The biggest problem was when I opened the film canister.  It’s made out of metal and you have to open it with a sharp object. That’s not too difficult but, to protect the film you have to do it in the dark.  I cut my thumb quite badly.  It bled, a lot.  It seems that some of it got on the negs.  So I get someone else to handle the developing until blood stained photography becomes fashionable (it will one day, every other type and variant has had a moment in the sun over the last hundred years, there’s probably a site on the internet that deals with it).

The arrival of the negs is the second kind of brown paper parcel in the post which I treat like porn.  I recently sent six films to be processed so that’s about 216 pictures I’m going to sit down with any day soon.  That’s going to need a big cup of coffee and the PC without anybody bothering me.

Negatives, blood, waiting for the postman.  You don’t get this kind of fun with a digital camera!

Why I Hate Photography Magazines

  1. They wouldn’t print my pictures.
  2. My other gripe is the standard of pictures that pass for ‘amateur’ photographers.  Each magazine has a readers’ pictures section with pictures that range from crass filler material to epic pieces of photojournalism.  Some of the best pictures are taken with a £10 000 camera using a paid model in an expensive studio environment, in other words – professional.   A lot of amateur magazine contests seem to be won by pros, supplementing their income.  If they’ve already got the great shot (or an unused out take) why not submit it and win some brand new kit or cash?
  3. There’s a hellova lot of kit reviews.  Kit reviews usually mean digital these days and I’m biased.  But, how interesting are three page articles comparing different ISO setting on the same camera?  Usually, it involves a lot of snaps of things a short walk from magazine’s office – that means London and either The Eye or Big Ben.  I just don’t believe that you kit matters that much.  I need more examples of great pictures and more descriptions of how great photographers work, not how their camera work.  For the price of a magazine, you can normally get a half decent photo book and learn more about images that way.

So I hate them all, until they start printing my stuff.


Film Isn’t Dead, It’s Just Selective


There is a scene in the movie ‘Spinal Tap’ where the band’s manager gets questioned about why they are booked into smaller venues than the last tour.  Has the band gotten less popular?  No, he says, more selective.  That’s also true of photographic film, 35mm in particular.

Film has moved back from the mass market and its not longer available in many of the shops that it once was.  There are virtually no film cameras on sale in the major retailers and many brands have disappeared over the last ten years.

The second hand market has risen.  Because the price of film cameras has dropped significantly you can buy a high end film model which costs £100 and is the equivalent of a £10 000 brand new digital SLR or a £900 second hand.  Also, film can still render an image more accurately than digital, so if you combine 35mm negatives with a scanner and the latest photo manipulation software, you can have the best in quality with the latest advances in technology.

The problem is that many sewcond hand cameras may be bought as collectibles or only used the once.  If 35mm isn’t being used then it’s production will fall and the price will rise.  That could mean its end.

We lost lots of film brands, Kodachrome being the highest profile victim, but now new brands are appearing on the market.  The reliable Fomapan from the Czech Republic and Kentmere from Ilford are two.  Ilford is a firm that had its financial problems but restructured and now appears to be on the rise again.  Kodak has also announced the new Porta 160 colour negative film.  Developing and printing a role of black and white film is still a right of passage on many photography courses.

Film is ‘cool’ now.  That means that its gone from ‘old fashioned’ (which means rubbish) to ‘retro’ (which means artistic).  Japanese and some European photographers see it as a medium worth using.

The Brand of Canon

Like PC or Mac, when there are two leading brands, one gets trendy and the other gets labelled the ‘establishment.’  One global corporation is youthful and innovative.  The other is boring and stagnant.  One is sexy, one is your dad.  This is despite both brands having advertising executives, sales targets and profit margins.  The media likes to pretend that Windows is money grabbing and Apple is some sort of non-profit making collective.  Last time I went into the Apple store to have a quick look, I was accosted by a legion of blue jumpered androids – young, energetic and probably powered by commission.  They had the religious fervour of a Jesus Youth Club – the last people I would want to buy a computer off.

In the world of cameras, this battle is fought out between Canon and Nikon.  Two Japanese corporations who sell products in every high street in the world and are much more similar than we would admit to.  Canon is the old codger  who dresses like your dad and Nikon is the trendy weapon of the artist.

In truth, your choice of camera system really depends which one you bought first.  And this is probably some sort of educated accident, since we all signed up at a time when we knew very little about SLR’s.  In my case I bought a Canon because it came in a nice two lens set and hard case at a decent price in my local camera shop.  The companies’ two systems are not compatible, so after your first purchase you take a step down one path and every time you buy a zoom lens or a flash gun you go further down the path.  In my case it would need a significant investment to change to Nikon and I doubt I would see any significant improvement in the final result, my photos.

The Nikon is regarded as the better camera but I doubt that you could tell who took a photo with what by looking at the pictures.  I suspect it’s down to Vietnam war photographers who used Nikons in the field and left lots of stories about changing film under fire and rebuilding damaged cameras in their hotel rooms.  One story about putting nail varnish over exposed screws on the cameras to stop rust comes to mind.  They developed their films in the bath tubs probably while listening to The Doors.

Like I said, there’s not as much difference between them as we pretend, but Canon is definitely the better make.  Did you know it was named after a buddhist monk?