Hugh goes at right-angles

One more person who caught the right-angle finder bug from me tells his story.

My first camera was a box camera. I was about eight years old, and all I knew about it was that it took rolls of film, which you had to change in a shady place, and you stood with the sun at your back, looked down at the viewfinder (were things upside-down in the viewfinder? I seem to remember they were), and pressed a lever by the lens. A few weeks after you came back from the seaside, you carefully undid the back of the camera in a dark room, trotted along to the chemist and a week later came back with some shiny black and white blurs.

I’ve always liked the look of the Rolleiflex and medium-format cameras, particularly because of the “look-down” viewfinders. There’s something a bit less aggressive about taking a photo like this – the subject doesn’t seem to feel “pointed at” in the same way. Of course, the newer finderless point and shoots can be used to do the same thing, to an extent, but I’ve always felt that holding a camera at arm’s length and squinting at a small reduced-resolution LCD screen is somewhat less than perfect in so many ways.

The articulated LCD screens on the more expensive DSLRs also allow waist-level (indirect) photo taking, but again, they reduce the resolution, and they suffer from glare and lighting problems.

Watching Alfie in action with his right-angle finder sharpened my curiosity, and I found one from eBay – it’s a Chinese brand called Seagull, which is apparently a reasonable maker of these things. Though there was no dedicated Olympus adapter, one of the Canon EOS adapters works OK (Alfie says that everyone who hangs around with him for a while ends up with a right-angle finder, so there’s nothing exceptional about all this).

So far, I’ve found two major uses for this gadget when taking flower and botanical photos. Since the viewfinder of the Olympus lower-end E-series DSLRs is very small, it’s a pain to use a manual focus lens, especially with something as fast as the Nikon 50/1.2 that I’ve been loaned. The right-angle finder model that I ended up getting provides a 2.5x view of the viewfinder, and this really helps get the thing into focus. This is especially useful for flower photos, where if the focus point is off by a couple of millimeters, the whole shot is ruined. The other major point here is the ability to take flower photos from a flower’s height without breaking your back or covering yourself in mud as you lie down to take the shot.

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And for walking around? Yesterday I went to Tokyo to a very crowded festival. There was no way on this earth that I could have used anything other than a standard DSLR in that fast-moving crowd in order to point and shoot a scene which only lasted for a second or two at the most.

However, in the less crowded side streets, the right-angle finder was wonderful, especially for taking pictures of children. The advantages of not pointing the camera directly at the child seem to be enormous. Even used while I’m standing, the camera is at a lower point than it normally would be, so the point of view comes down to the child’s level much more easily, and is much less scary for the child, it would seem.

There are two other advantages which I hadn’t really appreciated to the full when I bought the gadget. Firstly, by not your looking in the same direction as the camera, what the camera sees immediately becomes much closer to being perceived as a finished picture, rather than a view through a rather expensive piece of glass. Composition and framing become a relatively easy task. And allied to that, a problem which seems to afflict me more than it does some others – the problem of verticals and horizontals is more easily solved. I seem to have problems in this area, but this makes things so much easier.

So it may not be a Rollei or a Mamiya, let alone a Hasselblad, but I do have a pretty good idea now of why people like this way of taking photos. And it’s only taken me a few decades to come full circle in my picture-taking technique!

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Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

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