How I Keep Photography Simple (Film Edition)

Recently I described how I keep my digital photography approach simple and as straightforward as possible by simplifying lens choice, camera settings, adjustments whilst shooting, editing and processing.

Let’s look at how this is different (and how it’s similar) when I’m shooting film.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film

Broadly, I have two approaches.

First, shooting without a light meter, with an all mechanical camera, which I wrote about a while back.

The second approach is, not coincidentally, very similar to how my digital approach has evolved.

Let’s break it down as before.

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Fujica ST701, Asahi Super-Multi-Coated-Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 film

1. Simplify lens choices.

My five years of experimenting has drawn a few solid conclusions, not least of all that my favourite mount is M42 and my favourite M42 lenses are Asahi Takumars.

With film I have very few cameras now, and if I’m not shooting fully manual with my Spotmatic F, I’ll pick either a Pentax Program-A or one of two Contax – 139 Quartz or 167MT.

With all three I need an M42 adapter, and shoot manually stopping down the lens. Exactly the same as with the DSLRs. Whichever I choose, the Takumars make most sense.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8, York Photo 100 film

2. Simplify settings. 

This is easier than with digital, I mostly use ISO100 film, sometimes ISO200 and shoot maybe a third or half stop overexposed. Then I just go with Aperture Priority (Av) mode. Um, that’s about it.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film

3. Simplify adjustments.

I focus with the lens wide open, then usually stop down two or three stops, depending on the lens, and the light. I balance the depth of field I see in the viewfinder with the shutter speed, ensuring I don’t go too slow and end up with camera shake.

Occasionally I’ll have to move my shoulder strap because it’s slipped down a little. Um, that’s really about all I adjust once the film is loaded.

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Asahi Pentax ES, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Kodak HD2 200 film

4. Simplify editing. 

Once the film is processed and scanned to CD, I just browse through and discard any that I don’t like or don’t think work. Then I’ll do it again, and maybe one more time, until I’m left with just the best. This might only be one or two shots per roll, a great hit rate for me is say six shots.

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Pentax ME Super, Asahi Takumar SMC 55m f/2 lens, Rollei Digibase CR200 cross processed film

5. Simplify processing. 

Processing is non-existent, I let the lab take care of it, then just use the scans on the CD they provide. This is for two reasons. Firstly because I tried scanning my own film for a few months and it took a crazy amount of time I didn’t want to spend on it. Second, I just like the unpredictability of film, and the excitement of getting the scans back and not knowing which shots (if any!) have turned out well and will put a smile on my face.

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Pentax ME Super, Asahi SMC Takumar 55mm f/2 lens, Tudorcolor XLX200 film

You can see that my film shooting process is considerably more straightforward than shooting digital.

It genuinely surprised me how little I had to write for this post.

And yet it is this simplicity that has hugely influenced my digital shooting, and helped me evolve it to where it is now.

When I first started shooting film it felt a whole other world to what I thought digital was.

But the experience of shooting film for around five years has helped me understand what is most important to me about photography overall, and how these days I can shape my digital experience to be very close – in both the experience and the final results – to the one I discovered and fell in love with with film.

Of course I’ve also realised that shooting digital doesn’t mean having to use an ugly bloated plasticky everything auto body with an equally horribly plasticky everything auto zoom lens. 

I’ve not given up on film, but I have far less a need for it now.

Who knows where I’ll be a year from now, but I’m pretty sure I’ll still have at least a handful of Takumars and a Pentax body or two.

How do you simplify your film photography process? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

How I Keep Photography Simple (Digital Edition)

The reasons I photograph are very straightforward, whether I use a film or digital camera, an SLR or a compact.

I wrote about this in more depth recently, but the short version is – to roam the English countryside, to feel the immersion of the moment and the whole world being in the viewfinder, to capture things I find beautiful, and to enjoy using vintage camera gear.

I’ve realised how easy it is to complicate these simple aims, most usually by obsessing over which kit to use, how to set it up and use it, then how to process the images afterwards.

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Samsung GX-1S, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens

So over time I’ve found (and I’m continuing to find) how to keep this to a minimum, and so maximise the raw pleasures of hunting, camera in hand.

With digital, I’ve found this harder than with film.

Although the cameras themselves are generally less appealing (I’m far less easily seduced by clever technology in a plastic shell than genuine mechanical craftsmanship and elegant, timeless design), the options are more abundant.

With film, once you’ve chosen a camera, you then just have the choice of lens and film, essentially.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens

Shooting digital, once you have your camera, you still have the lens choice, but it’s usually a wider one, as adapters available for digital cameras open a whole world of vintage lenses, as well as the native, modern, AutoFocus lenses.

For example, my Pentax K10D DSLR can use any Pentax K mount lens (which began in 1975 and are still being made), plus with a simple adapter I have the pick of the vast vintage M42 world.

There’s no film to choose of course with digital, but instead a plethora of customisable settings, arranged in a myriad of menus.

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Pentax K10D, SMC Pentax-A Zoom 35-70mm f/4 lens

Then, once you have your negative (with film this is the physical negative, with digital the RAW file) you then have further options to extract your final “product”, the photograph. Or, many photographs – of course any number of variations can be created from that negative.

Again, too many options!

I generally feel in my life I spend too much time at a computer and not enough out in the fresh air.

So the thought of having to spend further time at a computer editing (ie choosing my favourite shots) and processing once the photowalk is over can be daunting and demoralising.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens

So, with all these choice to combat, and options to overcome, here are the main ways I try to keep this whole process as simple as possible, so ultimately as much of my photography time as possible is spent exploring the countryside and immersed in the beauty of the world according to my viewfinder.

1. Simplify lens choices. 

After a few years of experimenting with dozens of lenses, I came back to what I realised very early on. You can’t go wrong with an Asahi Takumar or two.

Once I’d narrowed down to M42 as my predominant mount, the Takumars were the obvious choice. I do have a few others, some Zeiss, a few Russians, but mostly now it’s Asahi’s finest I own and use.

If I’m in doubt as to which Takumar lens to use, I just default to the one that started it all for me, the humble yet wonderful 55mm f/1.8.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens

2. Simplify settings. 

On the digital front I’ve honed down to two main cameras. The Pentax K10D, and its smaller (but older) sibling, the Samsung GX-1S, a clone of the Pentax *ist DS2.

The K10D is bigger, sturdier, has more functions, is 10MP rather than 6MP and feels near perfect in my hands. The GX-1S is smaller, lighter, simpler and still handles great. In reality they’re 95% the same in function, once initially set up, so it’s easy switching between them.

I could just shoot the JPEG mode on the camera, then simply upload them to my computer so no further processing is required.

But the problem is there is no “neutral” JPEG. Even with all settings at neutral, natural or zero, the cameras still process and compress the image.

I’ve had excellent results (for my tastes and needs) by shooting RAW with both cameras at their native ISO (100 for the Pentax, 200 for the Samsung), then simply importing into LightRoom, and exporting those I want to share or print as JPEGs that way. I’m very happy with the outcome, so I’m sticking with this approach.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Auto-Takumar 55mm f/2 M42 lens

3. Simplify adjustments.

Once each camera was first set up I can shoot with hardly any adjustment. When I got them, I chose Auto White Balance, centre weighted metering, single shot, the base ISO, RAW, and so on.

Then, the only adjustments I need to make when shooting are slight tweaks to the exposures. I do this with the exposure compensation button, and the exposure lock button.

Typically on these cameras, M42 Takumars seem to need slightly over exposure wide open (I start with +0.5) then 0 compensation a stop or two down, then -0.5 or -1.0 once you’re three or four stops down.

Arguably my Sony NEX is simpler on this front where virtually every exposure is spot on, but it lacks a number of other things the Pentax and Samsung DSLRs have, so overall seems more complex and more work.

I have the “blinkies” switched on which show over and under exposed areas on the screen when you’ve taken the shot, and a histogram on the review mode so again I can see at a glance how the exposure is, if I can’t tell purely from looking at the photo on the screen.

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Samsung GX-1S, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens

4. Simplify editing.

By editing I mean choosing the pictures I want to keep and which I want to discard. I find it much easier with digital (than film) to be very brutal with editing.

The first step is to import all the RAW images into LightRoom. Then I cycle through, and simply export (as full size JPEG with no tweaks etc) the ones I like most. I then usually delete all the RAW files. Then I cycle again through the JPEGs I’ve kept and cull further, so I’m left with just the best of the best.

On a great day this might be 15 or 20 images from 100, sometimes it might only be a handful. Sometimes none! I usually make a 50% size version to share online, as well as keeping the original full size file.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Auto-Takumar 35mm f/3.5 M42 preset lens.

5. Simplify processing.

Processing for me is so simple it’s virtually non-existent. A while back I used to shoot with my Sony NEX then go through the editing process above to keep the best images.

Then I’d import these back into LightRoom and use a favourite one or two film presets to try and get the photos looking more like I wanted. Plus I might also slightly tweak the contrast and exposure settings. Processing for a single image might take between two and ten minutes.

With a good batch where I might have 10-20 keepers, this equated to 20-200 minutes of processing time. Interesting results, but not fun.

Once I’d discovered the Pentax and Samsung and the beautiful rendering of their CCD sensors – particularly with Takumar lenses – I eliminated the whole world of presets, and just do that simple export to JPEG.

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Samsung GX-1S, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens

Sound simple?

Hopefully it does. But maybe to you this might all still sound a bit complex, I don’t know.

But for me, after years of searching for a way to use beautiful vintage lenses to create photographs I’m really happy with, with the minimum of fuss and fiddling, I’m delighted with this current approach.

How do you simplify your own photography process? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

Lens Addiction – The Allure Of The Infinite Versions

Recently we spoke about how to escape the camera consumption spiral, and how narrowing the parameters has helped me hone down this consumption.

More recent still, I shared my favourite lenses – Asahi Takumars – and how really I don’t need to look at any other mount, or make.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens

I want to delve even deeper into the addiction of buying camera kit (and for me this is more specifically camera lenses) and dissect the next level.

It’s a slippery beast, akin to some mythical serpent, that seems to continuously shape-shift to avoid capture.

Rather than trying to explain it hypothetically, it’s easier to share a direct example of how this works, and what that next level seems to be.

In short, the last five years or so I’ve been exploring dozens of different cameras and lenses.

I’ve found my favourite lens mount is M42.

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Samsung GX-1S, Takumar 105mm f/2.8 lens

Whilst M42 covers a vast range of cameras and lenses (and adapters to use those lenses on non-native M42 cameras), it still hugely narrows the field and eliminates all other lens mounts.

Next, I’ve found, eventually, that my favourite cameras are Pentax.

They made M42 cameras, like the excellent Spotmatics, plus K mount cameras (film and digital) that with a simple adapter can use M42 lenses manually stopped down.

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Asahi Spotmatic F, Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens

I have also recently found a couple of excellent K mount DSLRS, the Pentax K10D and Samsung GX-1S, which can also very easily use the M42 lenses with an adapter.

Again this thins the herd and removes all non Pentax M42 cameras and any other cameras that can be adapted to M42, aside from Pentax K mount.

Then by choosing Takumar lenses (mostly, I still have a small selection of German and Russian gems in M42 too), I’ve further reduced the intimidation of having too much choice.

M42. Pentax. Takumar. End of story?

No, not yet, as focal length is the next layer down, and deciding on those I need and enjoy (any between 28mm and 150mm) and those I don’t (any less than 28mm or more than 150mm). The five I mentioned recently cover this range well.

But then, this sneaky ever complex addiction continues to evolve and introduces another layer. Lens model variations.

For example, the main Takumar variations across all lenses I’ve come across are plain Takumar (often preset aperture lenses), Auto-Takumar, Super-Takumar, Super-Multi-Coated (S-M-C) Takumar and SMC Takumar.

Take the humble (and glorious) Takumar 55mm f/1.8. 

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens

I have a Super-Takumar version. I’ve also had the later SMC version but disliked it because of the rubber waffle focusing ring. I greatly prefer the metal knurled ring of the older pre-SMC Takumars.

But I am curious about the S-M-C Takumar, as supposedly it has a superior multi coating to the Super, but still that metal focus ring.

Would this lens give different colours, a different character, more accurate exposures, more consistent results? 

I’m even more intrigued by the earlier Auto-Takumar 55/1.8, as this has ten aperture blades (compared with six in later models), and has a simpler coating still.

I know from experience of lenses with a greater number of aperture blades how this can create much smoother backgrounds, especially the bokeh highlights, so it’s a genuinely appealing advantage to me.

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Six blade apertures can lead to an attack of aggressive bokeh highlights – Pentacon Auto 50/1.8
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Many aperture blades equals very smooth backgrounds – Jupiter-37A

Since shooting mostly digital this year, and especially in the last couple of months with my Pentax K10D, I prefer the more subdued colours I get from Takumars and similar age lenses, compared with for example the Pentax A series lenses which can be almost too brash and vivid in their colours.

So would the older Auto-Takumar 55/1.8 with its simpler coating give more subdued colours still than my Super-Takumar, and would I like this more, or less?

The short answer to all of this is I won’t know until I try it. 

And there’s the dilemma. Even once the choices have been drastically limited, there’s still much to try.

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A former phase of my M42 lens collection

I probably didn’t choose the best range for someone who wants to limit their choices.

Allphotolenses have 78 different Takumars listed. PentaxForums has 54.

Surely none of us need more than half a dozen lenses, maybe a dozen maximum?

How do you narrow down your choices with photography kit? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

The Only Lens You’ll Ever Need

Some say the only lens you’ll ever need is the one you have with you.

But I would add an extra caveat, based on my five years of buying, testing and, let’s be frank, fumbling around until I get something half decent from, dozens of vintage SLR lenses.

That addition is simple – it has to have the word Takumar on the front. 

Because, over this period and these many optical flirtations and explorations, I’ve emerged the other side loving Asahi’s classics more than anything else.

Plus, given the extensive range they made, there’s something for all of us, from the wide angle wanderers and the tunnel visioned telephotoists, to the macro maniacs, and everyone in between.

My own set has settled, for now, on these five Takumars. 

2017_06_02 Taks x5

Here’s why I love each of these, and Takumars in general, and why, if you haven’t already, you should have at least a couple in your arsenal too.

Super-Takumar 28mm f/3.5

Tiny, all metal build, with super smooth knurled metal focus ring and exquisitely weighted aperture ring. With 35mm film, I’ve struggled with 28mm – there’s just too much in the frame, too many elements.

But on my Pentax K10D with its APS-C crop sensor, the 28mm gives an equivalent 42mm field of view – according to many, the perfect “normal” the human eye sees.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Super-Takumar 28mm f/3.5 lens

It’s still, for me, quite a radically wide perspective compared with the 135mms I’ve been using most in recent months, but this difference is challenging in a good way. And using this little jewel of a lens is a constant delight.

Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8

The one that started it all for me, the first Takumar I bought around 4.5 years ago, and indeed the first M42 lens I had. Of all the 50/55mm lenses I have since, I can’t say that a single one has felt better to use, or performed better than the humble Tak 55/1.8.

On film I love 55mm, it gives that slightly large than life perspective in the viewfinder compared with a 50mm lens.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

With a digital APS-C sensor the 55mm is 82.5mm field of view, which is getting comfortably into the more up close territory I like these days.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens

The blend of sharpness versus out of focus background quality with the 55/1.8 is near perfect for me, on film and digital, and incredibly pleasing to my eye. I’ve said here before, if I had to shoot just one lens for the rest of my photographic days, it would be this one.

Takumar 105mm f/2.8 Preset

An unusual focal length, and I expected this lens to be significantly bigger in size. But it’s tiny, slim and, like all the others, divinely smooth in handling and focusing.

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Sony NEX-3N, Asahi Takumar 105mm f/2.8 lens

I love preset aperture lenses. They work great on film, and even better, in my view, with digital.

Preset the outer aperture ring to the minimum you want, then open the inner ring wide open. Focus, compose, then gently close down the inner ring until the image (and most vitally, the depth of field) is exactly how you want it to look, and shoot.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Takumar 105mm f/2.8 lens

This lens is probably my second favourite behind the 55/1.8, as it gives that closer perspective, and increased depth of field, without needing to stand 2 or 3m away from the subject like with longer lenses.

Takumar 135mm f/3.5 Preset

This is from the same era as the 105/2.8, also preset, and also wonderful to use. It’s only slightly bigger too, and smaller and lighter than most 135mm lenses.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Takumar 135mm f/3.5 lens

Whilst similar in use to the 105/2.8, but arguably even better in the final image. Both lenses are older, pre Super, Super-Multi-Coated or SMC, so the coatings are less sophisticated. I thought this might impact the quality of the images, but they’ve delighted me so far, especially the colours when used with the K10D.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Takumar 135mm f/3.5 lens

Super-Takumar 150mm f/4

Given my fairly wide range of 135mm lenses, whilst I was tempted by a Super-Tak 135/3.5, I thought it wasn’t going to be much different to the preset version.

I assumed the next lens up in the range would be 200mm, but that seemed too long and awkward, especially as it gives a 300mm field of view on APS-C.

Then I stumbled across a 150mm f/4 Super-Takumar. The reviews were good, so I gave it a chance.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Super-Takumar 150mm f/4 lens

It’s early days with the 150/4 and I’ve only really played around in our garden with it, but no regrets so far!

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Super-Takumar 150mm f/4 lens

Overall

I’m sure you’ll have gathered from above the major appeals of the Takumars. Beautiful all metal and glass build quality, very smooth mechanically, compact and light, and excellent performance.

What I haven’t yet mentioned are two other crucial factors.

First, adaptability.

Whilst I’m finally settling down to a very small handful of Pentax bodies (four – two film, two digital), I have used M42 lenses on M42, Pentax K, Contax and Yashica (C/Y mount), Minolta AF and Canon EOS film bodies, and Pentax K, Sony Alpha, and Sony NEX digital bodies.

M42 is a vast world, and there’s a camera body (or three) for all of us to use those lenses, with a simple and cheap adapter if necessary.

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Sony NEX 3N, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens

Second, affordability.

A common theme to my writing here is spending as little money as possible on photography, like under £5 on a lens, and shooting film on a shoestring.

The Takumars fit into this beautifully, and a working, if little worn, lens can be picked up from around £10-15. The most I’ve spent on any of the above is around £75 for the 105/2.8, but it is quite rare, is an unusual focal length, is in near perfect condition, and performs amazingly. It’s worth every penny.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Takumar 105mm f/2.8 lens

The whole set of five (which to most people I’m sure seems more than one would ever need) only cost me around £200.

Many pay more than that for a single, plastic, AF zoom lens. Yuck!

Add this to say, £15 for a K mount or Spotmatic film body, or the £50 I recently paid for the little Samsung GX-1S (a rebadged Pentax *ist DS2 I understand), and it’s a very affordable set up for such world class and luxurious kit.

The cheapest Takumar is usually the 135/3.5 (non preset) or the 55/2.

The latter being a 55/1.8 with slightly hindered maximum aperture, but otherwise identical, and therefore equally stunning in use and final image.

One of these with a Spotmatic or older SV or S2/H2 can usually be had for under £50, sometimes way under.

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Pentax ME Super, Asahi SMC Takumar 55mm f/2 lens, TudorColor XLX200 film

In the last five years, having gone through at least a couple of lenses a month, the clear frontrunners have been the Asahi Takumars.

Everyone should have at least one – but beware, once you do have one, it might make you seriously reconsider all the other lenses you have!

Do you have any Takumars? Which one(s), and what are your impressions? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

The £5 Cheap Lens Challenge – Part 2

In my vintage lens adventures, I’ve rarely come across any that were truly awful. Indeed many have initially been underdogs on paper, but have then surprised me in use.

So I decided to set myself a challenge that encompassed the two aspects of my 35hunter approach – finding a lens that met certain criteria, then finding some tiny pockets of beauty to photograph with it.

Being something of a cheapskate, I decided to set my spending limit to just £5. Could I find a usable lens for £5 or less, and get some decent results with it?

Read part one, with the MC Sun Zoom 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro here.

Part 2 of this series features the Paragon 300mm f/5.6, in M42 mount.

IMG_3230 This lens I saw looking neglected and forgotten under a pile of ornaments at a car boot sale.

A quick inspection revealed mechanically it was fine, with a preset aperture and lots of aperture blades, but with pretty serious condensation inside one of the rear elements.

I asked the seller what they wanted for it, and they had no clue, so I offered £1. And she accepted immediately. Maybe I should’ve opened at 50p…

Not having used a 300m lens before, I was surprised how light it is. But it is huge in length, even on my not insubstantial Pentax K10D.

IMG_3228The Paragon also has a strange arm attachment (part of which I removed) which I think is to mount it on a tripod.

So, with its cloudy rear elements, slow speed (f/5.6 max remember!) and cumbersome handling, could I possibly get any decent images from it?

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Pentax K10D, Paragon 300mm f/5.6 M42 lens

Not too shockingly, yes!

With experience I’ve realised that dust, minor fungus, even serious scratches, don’t have the apparently terrifying impact on images that some people fear.

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Pentax K10D, Paragon 300mm f/5.6 M42 lens

True, the haze does make an impact, and the images are quite soft and, well a little hazy.

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But for me it makes the photographs romantic somehow, especially with the long focal length giving such shallow depth of field.

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Pentax K10D, Paragon 300mm f/5.6 M42 lens

These were all shot handheld too, and mostly wide open. I wonder if a tripod was used a couple of stops down the sharpness would increase.

But that kind of preparation sort of defeats the unique strength of the Paragon, and that is its dreamy romantic charm, from a bygone era.

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Pentax K10D, Paragon 300mm f/5.6 M42 lens

For the grand total investment of just £1, the Paragon offers amazing performance per pound.

Given its long focal length (for me!) and the relative difficulty of focusing at f/5.6 with a DLSR and hazy elements, it’s not something I’ll pull out at every opportunity.

But it’s probably worth another play before deciding whether to attempt to dismantle those rear elements and see if they can be cleaned, or to just donate it as is to a local charity shop.

What have been your most pleasing results with very cheap cameras and/or lenses? How do you feel using cheap kit compared with far more expensive?

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

Cheap Seats At The Widescreen – The Halina Panorama

My fellow photographer and cheapskate Alan Duncan, who writes at Canny Cameras, challenged me to shoot a roll with a mystery film camera he’d send in the post.

I agreed, always interested in trying a new toys, and eagerly awaited the postman’s arrival with A Leica M series, Contax III or maybe at least a Pentax AF SLR.

What arrived was not Germany or Japan’s finest, but this little beauty made in Thailand, the Halina Panorama.

IMG_3207Told you Alan was a fellow cheapskate…

It actually made me smile, and ironically only a few weeks earlier I’d bought a near identical Miranda Solo Panorama.

The challenge was to shoot a roll of film (kindly supplied with the camera), then share my favourite photographs I shot with it and some thoughts on using it, so Alan could repost on his blog too. 

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Halina Panorama, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film

What I liked about the Halina Panorama.

It’s very simple.

There are no frills whatsoever, with its fixed focus, fixed aperture (I’d guess at f/8) lens and fixed shutter speed (1/125s would again be a fair guess). You just compose and shoot.

Like that old saying about photography, the only two choices you have are where you stand and when you release the shutter. Arguably as pure as photography gets.

This was really liberating, especially shooting it in between my favoured camera of the moment, a semi pro Pentax DLSR which I’m slowly figuring out using a range of different lenses and modes.

It got me back to the raw essence of composition.

The panoramic perspective.

Cleverly with the Halina, you can remove the panoramic mask very simply. Well I say cleverly, more likely it was cheaper to manufacture this little mask and insert it into a standard plastic full frame 35mm camera mould that already existed. Though I chose not to.

Also cleverly (genuinely this time), the viewfinder is the same widescreen aspect ratio as the film mask, so when you’re composing you can’t help but be looking for the kind of shoots that work well at the apparent 5:2 ratio (as opposed to 3:2 for full frame).

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Halina Panorama, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film

The shutter button lock.

Yes I know I said it had no frills, but it does have a useful twin function lens cover/ shutter button lock. Slide the cover across the lens and it not only keeps the dust out but also prevents the shutter from being accidentally pushed and a frame of film wasted when in your bag or pocket.

I’ve had a number of far more expensive cameras that don’t have this precious film waste prevention mechanism built in. Neat touch!

 

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Halina Panorama, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film

It’s plastic, but good plastic. 

What I mean is has some of the best qualities of plastic – cheap to make, very light (110g), easy to wipe clean, without being so flimsy you feel it will implode at any moment. Like the Superheadz Slim cameras for example. This Halina I happily chucked in a bag without fear of it getting damaged.

The film wind on was surprisingly robust too, again much better than many “lomo” cameras I’ve used. It really wasn’t much different to the wind on wheel of the fantastic Olympus XA series, and if anything quicker to wind on.

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Halina Panorama, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film

Ergonomics. 

The more time you spend with the HalPan, to give it its little known pet name, the more you realise perhaps first impressions didn’t give it enough credit and in fact for its purpose it is almost perfectly designed.

The ergonomics you’d think would be not existent, essentially a black block of plastic. But the curved cutout for your thumb at the rear (with that thumbwheel to wind on the film ideally placed in the centre), and the subtle but very useful little raised bump on the front of the camera to rest your finger make it surprisingly reassuring to hold and use.

Even the film door has a separate switch to pop it open (and one that works instantly, unlike the Superheadz cameras) and which is far more practical and confidence inspiring that the swift pull up on the rewind crank that the majority of 35mm cameras require.

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What I didn’t like.

Annoyingly, there was some debris or hair or something inside the camera which intermittently announced itself in the pictures. This could be avoided on the future with a clean before loading film, and of course could happen with any camera, it wasn’t poor old HalPan’s fault.

Obviously there was no control over exposures. So you had to pick days and scenes where the camera would likely expose ok.

I used my experience of shooting without a lightmeter plus the proven exposure latitude of consumer colour negative film (and the assumption that the camera had an f/8 lens and 1/125s shutter speed, based on using similar cameras previously) to figure out that any sunny day should be fine, as long as I avoided the shadows. Which turn out to be fine for at least 75% of the shots.

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Halina Panorama, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film

It could have had a wider lens. I estimate it’s maybe 28mm, maybe only 30mm. I’ve had wider cameras that have given a more dramatic result with the kind of widescreen shots the panoramic frame otherwise encourages.

The insanely wide Superheadz clones with their 22mm lenses, the Pentax Espio 24EW (24mm at its widest), Ricoh R1 (24mm with panoramic mask but this can easily be left open so its full frame), and even a Minolta AF50 which is 27mm, all give that extra interest of a more unusual wider perspective compared with the HalPan.

Er, that’s about it.

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Halina Panorama, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 film

In summary

I’m really grateful to Alan for sending me such a simple camera, and with the panoramic option too, something I’d not seriously tried before.

The pictures were probably about as good/bad as I hoped/expected, but of course technically stunning images are never the point of this kind of camera, or experiment.

There’s a somewhat unromantic saying that out of the hundreds of people we meet in our lifetimes, the people you choose to settle down and spend your life with, are not so much the ones you can’t bear to live without, but simply the ones that annoy you least.

And the Halina Panorama is much like that theory.

It’s not amazing, and maybe you wouldn’t consider picking it up at all. But when you do, there’s actually very little that annoys and plenty to like.

Combine that with the challenge of making an image you’re proud of with what’s essentially 130g of plastic with no electronics that probably cost 7 pence to make, and the HP might well be exactly the juicy shot of cheap widescreen thrills your photography (and mine) needs every now and again…

Have you ever used a Halina Panorama or something similarly cheap and plastic?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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Film Photography On A Shoestring

There are still many myths around how much it costs to get set up with film photography.

I want to shoot a few more down.

A while back I wrote about how to start start film photography for £27. Based on at least two of the three rolls of film I’ve just got back from the lab, this amount is hugely generous.

Let’s just look at one set up, a 35mm SLR.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

The caption above kind of gives away the kit I used, but to elucidate further –

Camera – Canon EOS 500

These are abundant on the auction site online and often in charity shops too. Though I also have a more sophisticated EOS 300v which cost a heady £15, the 500 does everything I need and more. It’s great if you’re coming from a DSLR as it looks and feels similar – like a baby DSLR with no LCD screen on the back, simpler controls and that only weighs 350g. It cost me 99p plus a couple of pounds postage.

Lens – Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 Mount

I bought this from a jumble bin at a camera show. It’s battered, bruised, has lots of dust and a couple of bubbles inside. Plus a dent in the filter rim where it was rapidly encouraged to the floor from a table by a three year old. But it keeps on ticking. The dealer wanted £10, I got it for £7. Try these other three underdogs for equally affordable alternatives.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

Film – AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

This rebranded Fuji C200 film is £1 a roll in Poundland. It’s very versatile and I’ve used it extensively to shoot colour, DIY redscale and black and white. Though there are other emulsions I like, this is my Olympian Decathlete film – a fantastic all round champion.

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Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film as b/w

Of course the Canon EOS isn’t a native M42 mount body.

So I need an adapter.

I actually have three, as a couple of sellers have included them free when I’ve bought M42 lenses. If you do have to buy one, they start at 99p. With free postage. Mine is a simple all metal adapter with no fancy focus chips. On Aperture Priority (Av) mode on the EOS it works a treat.

Adding it up, this set up cost me about £12, including film.

Obviously the film you can only use once, and there are development costs each time.

But there are no excuses on the grounds of cost in getting started with shooting film (or resuming the passion you retired to the sidelines years ago).

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Canon EOS, Helios 44-2, complete with dented filter ring badge of honour

What else does £10 buy you these days?

Are you making excuses about getting started in shooting film? 

Or, like me, do you try to shoot on a shoestring budget?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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