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27 January 2019 » Bye–bye Hasselblad... and film?

I mentioned in the end of last year that, going forward, I did not envision using my Hasselblad V–series system, and that it was only a question of time when I let it go. Well, it happened sooner than I expected—every single piece of gear related to the system is now gone. I no longer own anything related to Hasselblad.

It was not entirely intentional, I have to say. In late December, half–heartedly and just to see if it gets any interest, I posted in one of Alibaba's peer–to–peer second–hand transaction applications that I was selling my Hasselblad 503CW kit (camera body, CFE 80/2.8 lens and A12 film back, complete with original packaging, documentation and a number of accessories). To my surprise, the post got quite a number of views, and the kit was sold before I fully realised what happened. What surprised me even more, I managed to get a very decent amount for it: even though I used the camera for over 13 years, ran hundreds of rolls of film through it and repaired it twice, I still got 57% of the original price* I paid back in May 2005 (yes, there is the factor of inflation to consider and all, but this is still not too bad in my book).

So how does it feel now that the system is gone? I expected to endure regret, but again to my surprise, I feel relieved. The Hasselblad played a tremendous role in my photographic development, but we need to acknowledge when it is time to move on and embrace it. For now it suffices that the memory of using the camera is so deep and vivid I can almost feel it in my hands when I close my eyes. And if I ever get really nostalgic, I can always go to a used camera store and cradle a 503CW while I shed tears of reminiscence (but something tells me this will not happen).


The only film camera I have left: Ebony 45SU. Alas, discontinued.

With the Hasselblad gone, I find myself in a rather interesting position. As of now, I only have a Panasonic GX9 digital camera with two prime lenses (the Pana–Leica 15mm f/1.7 that still does not fail to make me cringe, plus the marvelous Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.7), and a Large Format system comprised of the Ebony 45SU camera, 3 lenses and various accessories. The gap between the two is a bit too extreme for my needs: the former is too "light" (i.e., limited in terms of performance envelope), while the latter is too "heavy" (both literally and with regard to commitment it requires and flexibility it takes away). Some further rebalancing seems due.

Another major consideration is that when and how I photograph has changed during the past few years. If in the past I used to primarily go on long, dedicated, steppenwolf–kind photographic expeditions, given the changes in the family and work landscape, they have evolved into trips that are more frequent, shorter and require more agility. The two kits that I currently have do not quite fit the new reality on the ground.

Working on a more balanced equation, one side of it is more or less clear to me: it will come in the shape of the Ricoh GR III camera. I used the Ricoh GR I for over five years and it remains my favourite digital camera of all time. It is simply perfect on the side of the dividing line where I do not carry a dedicated camera bag.

The other side of the equation—when I carry a camera bag of any sort—is less clear, though. Here, a high–megapixel** mirrorless camera that is not too large would suit me best. With the proceeds from selling the Hasselblad and a few other items, I am in a fortunate position to consider a Nikon Z7 or, if I stretch the budget a bit, perhaps even a Fujifilm GFX 50R. I have been having a long, hard look at both. The Z7 is the most rational choice, particularly given the availability of native tilt–and–shift lenses; intuitively and emotionally, however, the GFX 50R has a far greater pull on me.

The way this equation is panning out raises the obvious question of how my Large Format film kit fits into it. Not entirely unexpectedly, shooting film is becoming increasingly impractical—to the extent that it may be reaching the tipping point where it is untenable. The lab in Shanghai that I used for many years has closed, and the new one I tried is under par. Scanning is yet another major issue: flatbed scanners defy the whole exercise of aiming for top–notch image quality, and outsourced services using high–end scanners (Hasselblad X5 or, god forbid, drum scanning), are expensive and, again, impractical in the longer run.

Does this mean I am going to quit shooting film for good? In all honesty, I do not know. Thankfully, I am in no rush to make any decisions as yet: Ricoh GR III is still unavailable; if I decide to go with the GFX 50R, it will be only after the announced–but–still–unavailable GF 50mm f/3.5 lens hits the shelves; and if I choose the Z7, it will be only when we see more native Z mount lenses and they prove to perform as expected.

And before any of that, I really need to transition away from Adobe products: converting Panasonic GX9 RAW files that Lightroom 6.14 does not support into DNG format has created a big mess of my workflow. Thank you, Adobe, for kicking my butt out of the procrastination zone.

*My Hasselblad V–series lenses did not fare as well, but I sold them quickly and for a fair market price.

**Why do I need a high–megapixel camera? Well, I love large–ish prints with immersive detail you can drown in. For that, I need to print at 360dpi. 24MP gives you a 28cm by 42cm print. That is decent, but sometimes you may crop, or want a larger print. And of course, there are other image quality benefits inherent in larger sensors.

7 January 2019 » Publication in Open Skies magazine

I thought I would let you know that nine images from my Watertowns of Jiangnan, China series have been published in the Emirates' inflight magazine, Open Skies. Online publication can be found after this (Open Skies Web site) and this (issuu.com) link. And if you plan to fly Emirates in the nearest future, please flip through the magazine to see the images in printed form.

  Image: Publication of Oleg Novikov’s “Watertowns of Jiangnan” series in Emirates’ Open Skies magazine  

Emirates operates over 3600 flights per week, and each flight has at least over a hundred people; not everyone reads inflight magazines, but this is still a lot views.

  Image: Publication of Oleg Novikov’s “Watertowns of Jiangnan” series in Emirates’ Open Skies magazine  

This is by far the widest circulation of my images that I have ever had. Yet, it came as effortlessly as one can imagine—my work was found online, and it took just a few emails back and forth to get it all finalised.

  Image: Publication of Oleg Novikov’s “Watertowns of Jiangnan” series in Emirates’ Open Skies magazine  

This publication, honorable as it is, could not be more ironic. I work in the airline industry (on the cargo side, though) and fly a lot; yet, I have not flown Emirates even once. The reason is very simple: the airline's route network just does not overlap much with my regular travel geography (Asia to Europe and intra–Asia); the fact that Emirates is not a member of SkyTeam, which I am an Elite Plus member of and prefer whenever possible, does not help either. Well, now at least my images can take enough Emirates flights to make up for this glaring omission!


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