ROGER HICKS

Photography is supposed to be an enjoyable pastime for us all, so why make it unnecessarily difficult for ourselves?

MORE than the general run of mankind, it seems, photographers have a genius for seizing a half - truth and then presenting it as an immutable law of nature. One of the more interesting is that a particular lens or camera or film isnt for everyone; you have to learn to use it.

On one level, this is an empty truism. Most people get better results if they are familiar with their equipment and materials. A trivial example is learning the longest handheld speed usable with a particular camera/lens combination. By continually pushing their luck, they learn that with one combination they can often get away with l/15sec, if they havent been running or drinking too much coffee, while with another they would be unwse to use less than 1/60SGC.

But on another level, the idea of learning to use a camera is often imbued with a sort of moral weight Those who wrestle with refractory equipment or materials, and finally achieve decent or even excellent quality, are by this implication morally supenor to, and better photographers than, those who take the easy route.

Now, the other half of the truth about materials and equipment is that if youre lucky, there is a sort of love at first sight. You may have used something else that is very similar, and been unimpressed, but suddenly, you get your hands on something that feels as if it were made for you. Or the first picture you make with a particular film or paper, or even printer, is just exactly what you wanted. And so is the second, and the third; so even when the fourth isnt, the fifth is, and you know that from here on, if s down to you, not the materials or equipment.

A while back, my wife Frances Schultz had exactly this experience. For several years, we have both used Alpa medium - format cameras with extreme wideangle lenses, but when it comes to 35mm she has never really got on with either 15mm or 21mm. Then we borrowed for review both the Leica Tri - Elmar 16 - 18 - 21mm f/4 and the Zeiss 18mm f/4 - and she found that 18mm was her focal length.

The question is, could she have learned either 15mm or 21mm? And the answer is that its a meaningless question. We have both; she could pick up either, any time she wanted - and mostly, she didnt. Yes, she used them when they were needed: for interiors, for example, or when she wanted a very strong foreground. But they were not her lenses of choice, in the way that her 35mm f/4.5 Rodenstock Apo Grandagon is her lens of choice on the Alpa with a 6x9cm back, where it is almost exactly the equivalent of 16mm on the 35mm format.

More than once in this column I have said that photography is not primarily a way of purifying the soul through suffering, even though some photographers treat it that way. It is perfectly true that if there is something you especially want to do, and the only way to do it is by learning to do something more or less difficult, then you have to buckle down and leam. But it is also perfectly true that for most serious hobbysts, photography is fun; if it gets too difficult, there are other things that are more fun. Many pay better, too.

This is not for one moment to denigrate the value of learning, or to say that difficulty is a bad thing. Far from it. To quote one of my dearest friends, the late Colin Glanfield: The day you stop learning, youre dead. And a lot of things that are worth doing are, indeed, difficult: learning to read and whte б a lot more difficult than leaning to watch television.

But there is enough to learn in this life that ft makes sense to husband carefully the limited time that is available to us all. Instead of fighting with a refractory camera or a recalcitrant process, and subsequently learning to take pictures, it surely makes more sense to learn to take pictures using the cameras and processes that come easily; the ones that suit you, as if by revelation, the first time you try them. After that, if you are a good enough photographer, you may want to confront the difficult bits. Although if you are a good enough photographer, maybe you wont need to.

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