Zoological project.

I was given one of the bestest ever Christmas presents for this year – an annual “friends of the zoos” membership, which means I can visit any of the major zoos in Victoria (Melbourne, Healesville & Werribee), and some not in Victoria, whenever I can, for all of 2011!! Well – I love the zoo, and this just screams to me “photo project”… but what sort of equipment, what format? I’d want to be consistent, yet have some flexibility, and animals are so fickle when it comes to patiently sitting still, or near…
So, Large Format is probably out of the question – that leaves Medium Format as the next best thing – but I’d want an auto-brain sort of camera (so I can react quickly), and some fairly tele lenses (for the smaller critters). Well, even in as silly a collection of cameras as mine, this really only leaves the Mamiya 645 system as the practical solution. So, for the weekend just gone, I put together a Mamiya test kit to take to the zoo to try out. This was a Mamiya 645 Super body, with the Auto-Exposure prism viewfinder (so I could set the camera to aperture priority and just shoot – the AE is quite useful on this camera, and places tones well within the exposure gamut of the film), motor-drive (loudest thing ever, next to the Mamiya shutter) and three lenses: a 210mm (on the camera), an f/1.9 80mm, and a very wide 35mm. The film used was Ilford Delta 400, so I’d have lots of shutter speed at small apertures!

This setup was very effective, but apart from a brief sojourn in the Platapusary (where I attempted to photograph with the 80mm f/1.9 in near darkness), I really only ever used the 210mm. I’d thought that might still be a bit “wide” (ie, I might need (to save for) a 500mm), but actually, in a suburban zoo, where animals are actually rather close, the 210mm was plenty. Its minimum focus of about 2 metres meant that some things (butterflies!) were actually too close – but for the elephants (which I wasted two rolls on – wretched cute babies!), it was perfect.

I did drag along a tripod too (just in case), but never used it – it’s just too busy at the zoo, and it’s more fun just roaming around “free”! For future trips, like the larger plains zoos at Werribee and so on, a 500mm might be useful – I may be able to justify this madness yet!! As always, I shot everything through my favourite orange (G) filter. I just like the tone, is all…

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