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Surface Photography at Loch Ness by Dick Raynor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Surface photography  at Loch Ness

Many visitors and Loch Ness enthusiasts still pin their hopes on surface photography as a means of conducting research into surface anomalies. One sad fact of photographic life is that, left to their own devices, camera specifications get worse with the passage of time.  An amateur photographer in the 1930's would possibly have had a quarter plate camera producing negatives around 4 inches by 3 inches, but by the 1950's an "8 on 120" roll film camera made negatives only 3"x2". 35 mm cameras became popular in the 1960's, giving negatives 1.5" x 1" followed soon after by 110 film giving negatives about 3/8" x 1/2". Lenses in general use have not changed  for the better since the 1940's, and in many cases manufacturers are now selling  "bottle" they would have been ashamed of 50 years ago.

In the earlier investigations it was thought that the elusive quarry would be better captured with the aid of long focus lenses, and lenses with focal lengths of up to 36" (915 mm) and even 2000 mm were used both on still and on cine cameras. The headquarters camera at the Loch Ness Investigation headquarters was nearly always a 36" lens model. These lenses were readily available on the surplus market having been used in Williamson aircraft reconnaissance cameras, where they covered 9" square negatives!

Main Rig


The main camera rig at LNI HQ

Photo by Dick Raynor, Copyright 1970, 2000.

Above the letter "Q" on the lens barrel is a white "blob" on the shoreline in the distance. That is the Dores Inn, and it is about 7.3 miles or almost 12 km from the LNI HQ at Achnahannet. The air can be very clear up here!

Below is a tiny loop of video from an  LNI 35mm test clip shot across Urquhart Bay from our Strone camera site. The camera was either an Arriflex or Cameflex fitted with a Wray 36" lens.  I scanned the original film and then assembled and stabilised the frames manually to produce the animated gif. It was filmed at a range of about 1090 metres and shows the quality of our cameras and also a glimpse into the past at the MacBraynes steamer ticket office and waiting room.

Test clip of Temple Pier from LNI Strone camera - 1960's. Range is about 1090 metres.

Copyright 2010 Dick Raynor

Google Earth image of Urquhart Bay showing Temple Pier and Strone camera site.

In 1969 I had made a 35 mm Newman Sinclair motion picture camera with a 19" ( 480 mm) f3.8 lens, and a 35 mm still camera with a 36" (915 mm) Wray lens for the Loch Morar Survey. These were used on the Survey in 1970, and have been hired intermittently since. In due course, I hope to make more details of these earlier forays available, as they are excellent examples of amateurs working with establishment zoologists in the field.


                               Photo by Dick Raynor. Copyright 1970, 2000

Bracora Camera Site, Loch Morar, 1970

One happy result of the venture into cinematography by amateurs short of cash was their reluctance to fire off the cameras unless they were fairly confident that they could not recognise the object in their sights. 35 mm cine cameras use 90 feet of film per minute, and this costs, at today's prices, around £100 per minute. For the price of a magazine of film, we could buy excellent binoculars! So we got careful. We used binoculars to examine the disturbances briefly but decisively. The result of this was that in the early 1970's we were able to identify more and more disturbances in terms of ordinary phenomena. To the public we may have seemed like inattentive incompetents, when they were seeing "monsters" here there and everywhere, and we were not. The reality was, of course, that with our superior optics, our "barrage of optical artillery" as Tim Dinsdale described it, we were recognising as ordinary objects which the others were not resolving, and so not recognising, at all. This was milestone along the road to the present position, where anything not recognised automatically "defaults" to being Nessie.  The more deficient your eyesight, equipment and common-sense, the more "successful" you are! This does not deter the serious investigator.

Recent experiments in long-range photography show up limitations.
In 1998 Richard Carter and others investigated the field capabilities of 16 mm cine photography with a view to informing the debate on the subject. The hypothesis they tested was that under some normal conditions a common type of anglers boat might not always be recognisable as such when at long range, typically one mile. They selected a 16 mm Bolex camera as being among the best of its type, and fitted a commonly used 135 mm lens. The film stock chosen was Eastman 7222 Double-X Negative film.

Throughout the photography the target boat was directed by radio, and its range was measured with accuracy using a Barr & Stroud FT37 80cm base Optical Rangefinder.

                        The 16 mm Bolex H16 Reflex Cine Camera                                The Barr & Stroud Rangefinder

            Original camera negative scanned at 10,000 dpi by Raynor Technical Services

The above image is a single frame from an experimental film taken by Richard Carter with a 16 mm Bolex cine camera fitted with a 135 mm lens. It shows a typical anglers boat crossing the loch towards the far shore, which is about one mile, or 1600 metres, from the camera. In most frames the object is not recognisable as a boat.

              Photograph of 35 mm film print  scanned at 10,000 dpi by Raynor Technical Services

For comparison purposes, this is one frame from the film taken by Loch Ness Investigation Bureau member Dick Raynor in 1967 using a 35 mm cine camera fitted with a 17 inch  (430 mm) lens. The range is again about one mile, but the combination of larger film format and longer focal length lens gives a different field of view. The "quality" of the 35 mm picture is visibly higher than that of the 16 mm picture, but neither is good enough to resolve the objects causing the disturbance, as the enlarged insets demonstrate. This would naturally suggest that even longer lenses should be employed, but experience indicates that with lenses beyond 1000 mm the combined extra requirements of increased camera stability and (usually) worse maximum aperture defeat the objectives. Poorer light transmission must be countered by  faster film or longer exposures, both of which will reduce the detail in the image of a moving subject.

It now seems rather unlikely that long-range photographs will ever enable us to recognise any unidentified animals, it is the inescapable conclusion after 67 years of failure. Groups of small objects close together will continue to be "seen" as one large object, perpetuating the "legends". Only close range pictures will be of any value to science, and in such a vast environment the most important factor governing success or failure might simply be Chance.

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Authors note: This version of the web page was updated on 09 June 2013 with the addition of the LNI 35mm film clip, a GoogleEarth image and associated text.