dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook

The right tool for the job

A lot of human suffering goes into using the wrong tool for the wrong job. Like when you used your Dad's shiny new screwdriver set as chisels for removing baseboard moldings. The following is a compact guide suggesting the right photographic tool for some common tasks. You may disagree, but one man's chisel is another man's screwdriver... so yes, you can take telephoto pictures with a cardboard box camera, but why, other than just to prove that you can do it?!

By Specific Application

Task Best Adequate Try to Avoid
Pictorial / landscapes

6x9 cm or larger camera.

4x5 and larger cameras should have a groundglass and be capable of lens movements to insure adequate focus with near and far objects.

Large negative provides excellent detail and tonality, even with N+2 processing. As they say, there is no substitute for displacement.


6x4.5cm camera with scale focusing or depth-of-field chart printed out.

Medium-sized negative provides very good tonality and detail and allow for N+2 processing without noticeable grain.

35mm camera.

Large grain relative to the size of details on film impedes the perception of depth, regardless of lens resolution.

Small negatives require large degrees of enlargement, degrading tonality.


35mm camera provides unobtrusive size (generally) and provides excellent picture quality at close range.

35mm flash systems are typically sophisticated (most now feature TTL meterning) and capable of pleasing results.


6x4.5cm or 6x6 camera with focusing mechanism allows excellent tonality in ambient light in a relatively small package.

Medium-format flash systems are less sophisticated, often requiring off-camera flash.

6x9 cm or larger cameras. These do not allow for quick action so as to preserve expressions. Large size and weight is intimidating to subjects and makes shooting fatiguing.

Already-primitive operation is impeded by the use of shutter-mounted PC cords, which tend to become unplugged.


Travel photography

35mm camera (rangefinder or compact SLR) provides good image quality at all distances and is unobtrusive.

Best lens length is 35mm.

Folding 6x4.5cm or 6x6 camera with 60-75mm lens, if small enough, can give medium-format performance from a package not much bigger and heavier than a 35mm camera.


6x9 or larger cameras. While some exceptions can be made for compact items like the Brooks Veriwide, cameras in this size range are bulky, heavy and often require tripods.
Close facial Portraits

Reflex- or groundglass-viewing 6x4.5 or larger camera with normal or telephoto lens (80mm or longer for a 6x4.5).

Medium or large format provides best tonality, coupled with a negative big enough to retouch if necessary.


35mm SLR with groundglass focusing screen (or spot autofocus) and normal or telephoto lens (50-105mm).

A good groundglass (B, D or E) screen is easier to focus on a face than one with a focusing aid (split screen, microprism, etc.), and when the stopdown lever is pushed, will show depth of field without blackout.

Pro-level SLRs like the Nikon F3 have complete frame coverage and can be focused anywhere on frame.


35mm rangefinder camera with large-aperture 85-105mm lens or 6x9 rangefinder with 100-180mm lens.

Primary disadvantage of RF normal lens is that most focus to 1m.

Disadvantage of RF system is that focus cannot be precisely controlled as a composition element; off-center focusing is difficult and requires recomposure.