Dances With Digital Dilettantes – Pt 1

Shooting with film for the last five years or so has given me huge pleasure, taught me a great deal about the basics of composing and taking photographs, and created a small body of work I’m very happy with.

But there came a point some months back where I deconstructed what film photography gave me, and whether these benefits could be gained from a digital machine.

To my surprise, the majority of the reasons I shoot film, can be experienced very similarly (and some identically) using a digital camera.

Now I’ve begun exploring digital more again (I never stopped entirely, it was just secondary to film photography output wise), I want to simplify and get down to the essence of what I like about each machine I have.

With film, I’ve honed down pretty much to three SLR bodies with about a dozen lenses, plus three compacts.

I could feasibly go to two SLRs, maybe three lenses and two compacts. But I’m at peace with the kit I have now, so don’t feel a further “urge to purge”.

With digital though, I do want to hone down even further, and maybe this is in part due to the greater complexity of digital cameras.

With pretty much any film SLR, once you’re familiar with one, you can pick up any other and be taking pictures within a couple of minutes.

With digital cameras and their endless options and menus, this isn’t quite so simple.

I don’t want to learn the settings and menus all over again every time I pick up a camera, I want it to be instinctive and immediate, like an extension of my eye, hand and mind.

But is it possible to have and master just one digital camera that suits all my needs?

This is part one of a two part post on the five main digital cameras I have and have extensively used, what they do for me, and why I like them.

As usual on 35hunter, you won’t find extensive tech spec, 100% crops or pixel peeping. These are my purely subjective thoughts on how and why these cameras work (and fall short) for me and my photographic preferences.

Sony NEX3N

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Handling

Disappointing. The grip at the front isn’t big enough to grip, and it always feels like a slightly awkward device, rather than a camera.

Since I’ve always used the NEX with a vintage lens and adapter, I end up mostly holding the lens/adapter. Which is fine, but the NEX itself could have such better handling. With this set up the camera is always front heavy to, so is a bit awkward and unbalanced around your neck.

This is quite possibly its biggest downfall, for me, and it becomes even more apparent when I return to a camera with excellent handling.

It is small, but once you put on a vintage lens and adapter, the depth is the same as a DSLR. Maybe with a pancake Sony AF lens it would feel very different, but I have no interest in modern AF lenses.

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Flexibility

This is excellent. I have used the NEX with at least half a dozen different adapters for vintage lens mounts, and on Aperture Priority (Av) mode the NEX is very simple to use and gives reliable exposures.

Focus peaking is a huge plus, and makes focusing with all kinds of manual lenses (even very slow ones) a breeze.

It shoots RAW (JPEG is an option, I’ve not really used it) and has all the ISO range I have ever needed – ISO1600 is relatively clean and grainless on the occasions I’ve used it, though mostly I use it at ISO400.

The tilting screen adds a great deal, especially for low or high shots that you just couldn’t get into the right position with using a DSLR.

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Enjoyment

AV mode, with the tilting screen and focus peaking, makes playing with vintage lenses great fun. This is what my NEX quickly became – the body to test any new lens I discovered and purchased.

It’s the major reason why I bought over 100 lenses in 50 months.

But it remains very much a fun device for testing lenses. A device or tool, rather than a proper camera for the kind of immersion in a scene I so value.

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Its performance in terms of sharpness is unequivocal. And with the focus peaking you can finely craft exactly how you want your images to look in terms of focus placement and depth of field.

But I’ve never much liked the colours it gives.

Really, only the images that have had fairly radical (for me) post processing having pleased me, colour wise. Most of the time either the colour is flat and dull, or it’s vivid enough but too clean, too clinical, too, er, digital.

Which is a major flaw for my needs – I don’t want to be heavily processing images, when there are other cameras that give me very pleasing pictures and colour with next to no processing.

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Overall

The NEX has made tens of thousands on photographs in my hands. Whilst it’s a very capable tool, I’ve never bonded with it as a camera. And I have to do quite a bit with the final output to get it looking how I want. It took the discovery of the next digital body on the list to hammer these realisations home.

Pentax K10D (/Samsung GX10 / Samsung GX-1S)

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Handling

I loved the K10D the moment I picked it up. It just felt right in my hands and up against my eye. It’s not light, but its heft is reassuring and further enhances the handling, and the feeling that this is a serious, quality camera. I don’t think there’s anything I don’t like on this front.

The Samsung GX10 is a rebadged Pentax K10D, so handling is identical, as is everything else for the purpose of this review.

The GX-1S is a smaller, lighter body, with a 6MP CCD sensor, instead of the 10MP CCD in the K10D/GX10. The difference in weight and size is quite significant, the different in image quality isn’t.

I think of the GX-1S as just a smaller, simpler version for when I want to travel lighter, otherwise all three cameras are very similar.

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Flexibility

These bodies can use any of my M42 lenses with a simple adapter to shoot on Manual mode, and any of my Pentax K lenses. They shoot RAW, and 90% of the time I keep them on their native ISO – 100 for the K10D/GX10, 200 for the GX-1S. All give highly usable images down to ISO400, when the light is less.

This is exactly the same ISO range I’m used to from shooting film, so I don’t bemoan the fact they can’t see in the dark and shoot at ISO6400, in fact I’ve never even used ISO800 on any of them.

That’s all the flexibility I need.

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Enjoyment

The K10D is a joy to use overall. Nothing else gets me as close to that immersion in the moment experience I get from 35mm SLRs.

Focusing with slower lenses can be tricky so I stick to faster ones, and anything f/2.8 or over presents no problems. The cameras’ focus confirm light helps if/when the light is tricky and has proved to be reliable.

I have found a couple of things that I don’t like so much.

After a while, maybe an hour of shooting, my eyes get really tired using the viewfinder (VF). This doesn’t happen with cameras with screens and no VF.

Also, with vintage lenses, exposures often need a bit of fine tuning. With the NEX, I get maybe one inaccurate exposure per 100 shots, it’s amazing. With theses DSLRs I’ve come to expect I need to shoot, tweak, maybe shoot once or twice again, and make use of the “blinkies” and histogram.

It’s good in that it makes me slow down and I rarely end up overall with what I think is a great shot, but that’s let down by poor exposure. But it’s sometimes frustrating to not be able to point and shoot and trust the exposure will be ok first time.

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Post processing for these cameras goes like this – Copy RAW files from SD card to computer. Import images into LightRoom. Export favourites as JPEG after LightRoom automatically does its very subtle tweaking. That’s it.

I love the colours the CCD sensor of the Pentax’s give combined with vintage lenses. It’s not film, but it gives a very pleasing, warm look that reminds me of film, and is very different to the cool, clinical performance of the NEX.

Ironically, those CCD sensors are the work of Sony! Maybe if they stuck one in a NEX I’d be far more happy with the final images from that! All in all, the K10D and its siblings produces my favourite photographs I’ve made that haven’t been on film (and some are amongst my favourites in any medium).

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Overall

The K10D has been a revelation. Being able to use my beloved vintage M42 Takumars, plus a few very appealing Pentax A series, on a “proper” camera with a great viewfinder and excellent handling, plus the convenience of digital, has made me very happy.

The only slight downside is the sometimes demanding need to be very precise with exposure and that the VF tires my eyes pretty quickly. I envisage continuing to use these bodies for when I want that slow, immersive, film-like experience with my favourite vintage lenses.

Nikon CoolPix P300

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Handling

Despite being a compact minimalist black block of plastic and metal (it always reminded me of the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey), the Nikon is impressively reassuring to hold.

The little rubber strip down the front of the camera and the rubber thumb grip at the rear make the handling really quite good. No VF, but the screen is bright and clear and gives all the info you could ever need. The shutter button is responsive on half and full press and all other controls feel sturdily made.

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Flexibility

No RAW option, but when I got the CoolPix back in 2011 I was oblivious that this even existed, and it didn’t hold me back.

The camera has a variety of modes (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual) plus some very useful settings in the Scene modes. I made (and still make) extensive use of the high contrast b/w mode which gives really moody, inky and contrasty images straight out of camera.

For colour shots, a tweak of extra saturation gives me surprisingly pleasing colours without any further fiddling too.

A macro mode which goes down to a few centimetres adds to the flexibility, as does the zoom lens (which starts at a really wide 24mm and goes to 100mm, I think) and that screen which encourages different angles and closeness compared to a viewfinder camera.

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Enjoyment

When I got the Nikon I shot around 1000 photographs a month for eight months, before discovering film. In many ways this camera taught me how to compose, how to see in black and white, and how much I liked shooting up close with a blurred background.

It remains fun to use and really couldn’t be much more compact or versatile.

The only thing I would like is some indication of the focal length you were at, and a zoom with set steps, rather than zooming constantly. Obviously I know the wide end is 24mm and these days use it almost entirely at this focal length, but I would like to be able to set it to 35, 50 or 80 or 100mm, and know I was at that setting.

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Image

As mentioned above, for b/w I use the high contrast mode, and for colour I usually slightly increase the saturation in camera, and with the screen of course I can preview how it looks before I take the shot. Aside from that, I do nothing with the images the camera creates.

They never see LightRoom, and for that it feels one of the most streamlined and hassle free cameras to post process. I just download them from the camera, then choose the best and delete the rest. Ideal!

The only thing I’m not so keen on is the 4:3 aspect ratio which kind of feels an awkward compromise between 1:1 and the 3:2 of film, my NEX and my Pentax DSLRs I’m so used to.

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Overall

I have an attachment to this camera because it was my first “proper” digital camera after a few years playing with camera phones.

It’s also the camera that’s documented dozens of family trips and occasions, and I even shot (video) one of our best friends’ wedding, and they were delighted with the final film.

The more I’ve used other cameras since (and I’ve had a few!) the more I have appreciated the build quality, compactness, versatility and images from the Nikon. It cost me more than any other camera before or since (around £300) but has been tremendous value in the six years I’ve had it.

It’s an excellent compact, which for a while was – and still could be – sufficient for many dozens of pleasing photographs.

So those are the first three of five digital dilettantes, thanks for reading this far!

In the follow up post I’ll talk about two more digital cameras that have made a significant contribution to my photographic adventure, then sum up the whole lot, and make some decisions on what stays and what goes.

What’s your favourite digital camera? Please tell us about it in the comments below. 

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

 

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The False Affordability Of Film Photography?

We spoke recently about how you can quite easily get started in film photography for £27, and then even more recently how film photography on a shoestring can cost a mere £12 to begin.

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Since writing 35hunter, I’ve been all in favour of proclaiming the affordability of shooting film, and hopefully puncturing some myths that it’s an expensive and exclusive hobby only for the well heeled.

So why do I now seem to be suggesting that this affordability of film photography is false? 

It all comes down to my own story.

I’ll try to keep it short, but detailed enough to give you enough insight that you might avoid some of the pitfalls yourself.

In those posts linked to above I talked about one cheap body and one cheap lens to get going, then using cheap film and processing.

Take the £12 example as a starting point, which bought me a Canon EOS 500, Helios 44-2 58/2 M42 lens, M42 to EOS adapter and a couple of rolls of AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200.

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If we assume buying a film and having it processed is around £5, and that we shoot a roll of film a week, this adds up to 52 x £5 + the initial £12 outlay, a total of £272.

Divide by 12 and we have a hobby that costs a shade under £23 a month. Within the realms of affordability for most of us.

Especially when I consider people I know who spend double that every month on gym membership, or a satellite/cable TV subscription. Or more than that on coffee every single week.

It’s very little to pay for such a vital passion as ours.

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The problems for me started when I realised just how affordable it all was. 

My inner bargain hunter / thrift seeker / cheapskate / Scrooge revelled in this heady excitement and the fact that beautiful vintage lenses and cameras could be mine for a few pounds.

All kinds of weird and wonderful expired film could also be mine for a few pounds too. Plus it was usually cheaper bought in bulk lots of four or eight or 28 rolls.

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So £5 here, £12 there, occasionally £20 elsewhere, and certainly more than a few 99p triumphs, all seemed innocuous, bargain purchases in isolation.

But then one day I realised I’d hoarded not just one or two bargains, but one or two dozen.

Some days later still, I decided to lay it all out together to see the full damage (it’s amazing how much you can cram in boxes), and realised I had close to 60 cameras and maybe another 20 lenses.

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Estimating that each camera/lens probably cost on average £15, and that I had around 80 in total, the maths was rather frightening. 15 x 80 = £1200.

Now I didn’t spend this all at once of course. But if I’d bought just that one shoestring camera and lens for £12, I’d still have nearly all of that £1200 left over the same period. 

Plus arguably I’d be more focused on the real purpose on why I photograph with less options to distract and confuse me.

Looking at it another way, there isn’t a dream camera (for me) I’m aware of that I could have mine for maybe £500, let alone £1200.

I could have bought that Contax S2b and a couple of Zeiss lenses. Or even one of those German L cameras. 

Or spent it on trips to new places that would have given me fresh inspiration, or a couple of handfuls of books by some of the photography greats of the past. Or, at that £23 a month, funded over four years of buying and processing film.

£1200 goes a long way in this hobby.

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On reflection now, I don’t have any major regrets.

I’ve sold a lot of the stuff I bought, and rarely lost money, often making a decent profit.

I am the photographer I am today, with the experience I have, because of the paths I’ve chosen in the last ten year or so.

However, if I was starting again now, I would not have bought so so many cameras and lenses that ultimately all do much the same thing.

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I’m still looking for ways to simplify, and cut through to the raw essence of photography. 

My entire photographic arsenal now fills three small shelves in a bookcase. But what if it could fill just two. Or just one? Or just my pocket or the palm of my hand?

This reducing in itself can be just as dangerous and addictive.

I’m currently thinking of thinning my digital kit (I’m not quite ready to rely just on my iPhone though I do enjoy it more than ever) by buying an older 8 or 10MP CCD Ricoh GRD compact to use as my main camera, replacing both the iPhone, my DLSRs, and the NEX for most occasions.

Which of course costs an initial outlay, even if I could get it back by selling what it might replace afterwards.

 

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Back to the pint of writing and sharing this post. If I was to advise anyone starting out with film (or anyone trying to reduce their film photography kit), I would still point them to a simple, cheap set up.

Like that Canon EOS and Helios lens, or a Spotmatic and Takumar or a Pentax M or A body with an M or A series lens.

More importantly, I’d further suggest they stick to it – focus on mastering that one set up, shooting lots of film (of the same type) and getting to know their equipment, and themselves as a photographer.

More stuff and more choice is just an unnecessary distraction from this invaluable journey.

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Have you fallen into to the false affordability of film trap yourself? Please tell us about it in the comments below. 

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

How The Internet Helps And Hinders My Photography

The internet is a great wonder of the modern world that’s transformed our lives. 

Without it, I wouldn’t know 10% of what I do know about photography, or have owned and used maybe even 5% of the cameras and lenses.

But on the flipside, I’ve lost track of how much time, money and energy I’ve wasted online when I could have been out in the field making photographs.

Here’s a closer look at how the internet has specifically helped and hindered, enabled and crippled my photography in the last five or six years.

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Photography knowledge

I’ve learn a vast amount from reading articles online, not just about the mechanics and art of photography, but its history, and the evolution of various brands and camera types, and more.

But when I think about the core elements of photography – how to use a camera, basic composition, the effect varying ISO, aperture and shutter speed have, and so on, I think first about camera manuals.

I remember going through a series of fairly basic Canon models (mostly SureShots) and each one have a surprisingly descriptive and informative manual.

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These were 30+ year old manuals given away with affordable mainstream consumer cameras. And the core elements haven’t really changed since then. I didn’t need the internet, I could have just read one manual then gone out and practiced, practiced, practiced.

There’s a danger of information overload, and spending the valuable photography time we do have doing ever more research and reading, instead of using our cameras.

Buying habits

The internet gives us the largest shopping centre ever known, all in one place – the screen in front of us.

Aside from camera stores, sites that offer used kit like Gumtree, Amazon and of course eBay, are absolutely swimming with photography equipment, all too easy to make our own with a couple of clicks.

On the upside this has meant I’ve bought dozens of cameras and lenses that have brought me great pleasure and expanded my photography experience.

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On the downside, I’ve spent hundreds more than I’ve needed to buying cameras and lenses that haven’t really offered me anything different.

Money I could have invested in film and processing, travelling, buying books or visiting exhibitions, all which arguably would have furthered my photography far more.

Not to mention the choice overload we’re faced with when trying to choose just one camera and lens to take out.

I’ve lost track of the minutes and hours I’ve been deadlocked in indecision and seen my opportunity to photograph disappear through changing weather or simply time passing whilst I struggled to choose.

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Film choice

Again the online stores give us a far wider choice of film – fresh and expired – than we would have just down our local camera shop, chemist or supermarket.

My favourite film, Fuji Superia 100, I’ve bought in batches mostly from Eastern Europe, and sometimes from ex-film photographers in the UK selling off their stash.

There’s nowhere local that stocks it, as it’s not been made for years.

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Unfortunately, like a kid in a sweet shop, I got a sweet tooth for more and more film and as with cameras and lenses, having too much to select from can be paralysing.

Just three cameras, three lenses and three films gives 27 different combinations. Four of each gives 64. I don’t want to calculate any higher, or contemplate how the pinnacle of my consumption resulted in owning over 50 cameras at once.

The film I’ve shot most with turns out to be good old AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, rebranded Fuji C200, widely available for some years from Poundland for, naturally, £1 a roll.

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Yes Superia 100 is amazing and remains my favourite, but Vista Plus 200 is super versatile and has given me colour, black and white, DIY redscale, and film soup experimental images I’ve been delighted with.

Just one film from just one store. Just £1 a roll.

There’s also the argument that by using just one film (camera, lens) we master our equipment far more quickly, know exactly how it will behave in any given lighting, and increase the probability of making consistently pleasing shots.

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Social

Mostly through Flickr, then this blog, plus a little through eBay, Instagram, PentaxForums, and other blogs, I’ve met some great photographers that I enjoy speaking with online.

I’ve also learned a great deal from them, about photography generally, from their images, and about certain brands, models and types of cameras. This is all brilliant.

But, again I wouldn’t want to count up the time I’ve spent say adding an in depth description about the camera, lens and film I’ve used (and why )to an image in Flickr, or adding thirteen hashtags to an Instagram post, to then have three people view it.

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For example, I quite like the photograph above, but it has officially zero views, zero favourites and zero comments on Flickr! There comes a point where you have to question the investment.

That said, what you can never really measure is the effect of creating a cumulative body of work and conversations over time.

If I was brand new to Flickr, had no other online presence, and uploaded my first image today, I’d might get a handful of views, if that, and very likely no comments. Or maybe zero again.

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But because I’ve been on Flickr since 2009, and been uploading fairly consistently, my images overall have gathered a quite impressive (to me!) 1.1M views, and I now get around 1500 views a day across all my Flickr photos.

This total amount is only because of the volume of work I’ve uploaded in the last eight years, so we have to acknowledge that each photo we share (and each comment we make on other people’s photographs and blogs and social media) goes towards this cumulative weight over time that increases our reach and presence.

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As you can see, I’m pretty torn about the internet.

I concede that overall it’s been fantastic for my photography – learning about the craft, its history, the evolution of brands, having access to a vast array of cameras, lenses and film, meeting and being inspired by other photographers, and finding a small audience for my photographs and writing about photography.

But I do despair at the time, money and energy I’ve spent online on activities and equipment that have slowed me down (and sometimes utterly paralysed me), and prevented me simply getting out and taking more pictures and improving as a photographer.

We can only try to learn from our past experiences of course, we can’t go back. 

I’m pleased to report that the urge to buy is greatly diminished now I’ve found my favourite core kit (film and digital), and I do spend very little time browsing new (to me) stuff.

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I’ve very recently purged my ridiculous film stock (200+ rolls in the freezer, which at the last six months’ shooting rate of about half a dozen film photographs a month, would far outlast me, my children and their children), so I now just have a small selection.

And 90% of it is my cherished Superia 100.

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I limit my online social time mostly to occasions where I couldn’t really being doing much else photographically, like right now. As I type it’s pitch black outside and the kids are tucked up in bed, so aside from a few test shots of the Barbies and Stretch Armstrong and our cat lying about, there’s not much photographic opportunity.

A good time to write and connect.

Talking of writing and connecting, what about you? How do you feel the internet has helped and hindered your photography? Please let us know in the comments below. 

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

The Cinderella Dilemma – Finding A Camera That Fits

When you know, you know.

The moment your fingers first close around the body and it feels like they were meant to be here from birth.

The instant your eyes meet the viewfinder and the view seems even more big and bright and colourful than if the glass wasn’t even there.

And then, when you click the shutter button and it sounds reassuring, sensual, indestructible and exultant all at once.

That’s when you know you’ve found the camera you’ve been looking for your whole (photographic) life.

Unfortunately, whilst finding just one of the above experiences isn’t especially tricky, finding them all simultaneously in the same camera is very much harder.

Here are a few of the near misses in my experience, followed by the one that’s come closest of all to being a Cinderella for my prints. Sorry, prince.

Minolta Dynax 7000i

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After sampling this Dynax, plus its more chunky and crude (but still charming) predecessor the 7000, and its more refined and feature laded successor the 700i, it was this, the 7000i, that ticked most boxes.

The handling is fantastic, thanks almost entirely to the contours of that right hand grip and how it subtly curves back away from the lens. I don’t think any film camera has felt better in my right hand.

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The viewfinder is also very good, especially for an AF camera. This shouldn’t be a great shock really, as the X-700 and X-500 from the last line of manual focus Minoltas had class leading viewfinders, and remain the best I’ve used in any camera before or since.

The sounds it emits are, well, whiny and electronic mostly.

There’s loads to love about this Dynax, and the Minolta AF lenses I’ve had have been outstanding, especially the 35-70 “Baby Beercan” and 50/2.8 Macro.

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So why do I not still have it? 

I’m just not an AF kind of guy, nor do I much like auto wind film. The Dynax, through no fault of its own, felt a kind of halfway house between film (it uses 35mm film with all its delights) and digital (auto focus, auto wind, program modes) I just didn’t enjoy shooting with it that much. Despite its tactile joys, when I want to shoot film, I prefer it to be a far more manual experience.

Pentax MZ-5N

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I’ve been a Pentax lover from very early on in my film photography adventure, the ME Super being the first I tried. Since then I’ve had a couple of dozen Pentax bodies and enjoyed all of them in some way or other.

The MZ-5N is one of the last film bodies Pentax made, and as such it makes use of the technological advances of the time, and Pentax’s decades of experience.

It’s very light, and probably as compact as an SLR can be before it starts to feel uncomfortable and cramped.

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It of course has access to a vast range of Pentax K mount lenses from 1975, both manual and auto focus. And all the program and shooting modes you might need.

With that glorious glass available to me, I’ve actually made a handful of my favourite photographs made with ANY Pentax with the MZ-5N.

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So where did it fall down for me? 

Partly, the same overly automated issues I had with the Minolta. You don’t really have to do much with your hands to use it, making it more point and shoot than SLR.

But a much bigger flaw for me was the viewfinder – usable, just, but incredibly disappointing with manual focus lenses compared with its late 70s and early 80s siblings like the ME Super through the A series (Super A, Program A) to even the P30 and P50 line, which still have great viewfinders.

Plus all that plastic may be light, but it makes it feel, well, plasticky. Again I prefer more heft and metal between my fingers.

Sony a350

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After shooting a substantial amount of photographs via almost as substantial amount of different lenses with my mirrorless Sony NEX 3N, I realised it just didn’t compare with using a camera that felt like a camera, not a device, and had a proper viewfinder.

Enter my explorations into Sony Alpha mount, and the highly promising a350.

At this point I’d decided that the majority of my favourite lenses I owned were M42 mount. This was a crucial decision in purchasing the Sony – a simple M42 to Alpha mount adapter was widely and cheaply available.

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A little further down the line I discovered the delights of Minolta’s AF lenses from the mid 80s. When Sony bought the camera arm of Minolta (then Konica Minolta) in the mid 2000s, they kept the AF mount Minolta had invented over 20 years previously. So these lenses fit straight on Sony Alpha mount digital bodies. And perform excellently.

The Sony was in some ways like the Dynax, but digital. Same lenses, plus the option to use M42 manually. But the convenience and immediacy of digital compared with film.

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Why didn’t the affair last this time?

Again though, despite its appeal, ultimately the Sony (and it’s even more usable predecessor the a100) fell by the wayside when I realised I didn’t much like using AF lenses – however capable – and the viewfinder was, like the Pentax MZ-5N, miles away from my favourites I’d experienced with film cameras.

Plus, again, the plasticky feel put me off. It wasn’t exactly flimsy, it just didn’t feel robust or well made enough to inspire much confidence or affection.

Would Cinderella ever appear?

Pentax K10D

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After the Sonys failed to tick enough boxes for my fickle prince, I went back to what I knew best. Pentax.

I’d had a K-x DSLR some years back, but had been disappointed in it for much the same reasons as the Sony Alpha DLSRs. But I couldn’t help wondering if if Pentax had made something I’d like more.

Surely the same company that had made at least a dozen different film cameras I’ve used and loved was capable of making something as appealing to me on the digital front?

After some research, I somehow stumbled across much talk about the K10D, the flagship semi-pro Pentax at the time of its release in 2006.

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There was much talk of its CCD sensor rendering images with a “film-like” quality, and so many happy owners, not least of all on the epic PentaxForums thread devoted to the K10D and still going strong 11 years after the camera’s release. After reading a few hundred comments and seeing as many photographs made with a K10D, I decided I needed to try one.

When it arrived, the first touch was just like I wrote about right at the start of this post. It felt like the camera I’d been searching for for years.

Added to the contours and comfort, the weight and heft of the body, whilst maybe a turn off for some, just made it feel even better, and more confidence inspiring.

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The K10D is weather sealed, and this further enhances its robustness of feel.

Though it’s largely plastic on the outside, it’s very well made and just from picking one up, you can see why there are still so many happy K10D shooters eleven years after the camera debuted.

The viewfinder is far superior to the Sonys, with 0.95x magnification and a 95% view. It’s not up there with the very best film cameras, but highly usable, especially with any lens with a maximum aperture of f/3.5 or faster. Plus it has a visible (and if you wish, audible) focus confirm, which works just as well with manual focus lenses, and has proved to be very accurate when lighting is challenging.

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Of course I can also use all my M42 lenses with a simple adapter, as well as that vast range of K mount glass that began in 1975 and, yep, is still being made today. The K10D can use any of that 42 years’ worth of fine Pentax K glass.

No, it isn’t a film camera, but as many have raved about, that 10MP CCD sensor does have a charm and ability to render colour and to some extent texture that is reminiscent of film, and generally much more appealing to my eyes than newer, cooler, more clinical CMOS sensors.

It helps to keep the K10D’s sensor at its native ISO100 to optimise this look, which suits me just fine – it reminds me of shooting my very favourite film – FujiFilm Superia 100.

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There’s little about the K10D to complain about. 

Yes it could be smaller and lighter, as many subsequent Pentax DLSRs were. But when something feels right in your hands, the weight becomes a non-issue. And if you’re like me, you want to know the camera is there, your reliable partner in photographic adventures. You want the reassurance of that heft.

I love it so much I recently bought a back up – a Samsung GX10 that is almost identical, and a product of the Pentax/Samsung collaboration at the time. Aside from slightly different software, and fractionally different shaped buttons on the rear, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. The viewfinder and sensor are identical.

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So is the K10D the last camera I’ll ever buy?

No, I’m sure there’ll come a time when I’m curious about what Pentax made a few years later.

But until both my K10D and GX10 break down beyond repair, and all other examples out there follow, I can’t see myself not continuing to use them to make photograph after photograph, for many months and years to come.

Have you found your Cinderella camera, be it film or digital? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Joy In A Leather Jacket

Of the compact 35mm film cameras I’ve tried in the last few years, many have given decent results, but only one has combined quality images with genuine pocketability, and close enough (for me) focus.

That camera is the Olympus Mju 1 (or µ[mju:]-1), aka the Stylus in some territories. 

Well, I say only one camera. In truth, it’s not the last Jedi in this compact galaxy. No, Luke, there is another. Except it’s the same wolf. In different clothes.

Before my analogies become even more muddled, let’s introduce the Olympus LT-1. 

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On the functionality side, it’s essentially a Mju 1. Same cracking little 35mm f/3.5 lens with a close (auto)focus of around 0.35m.

Same compact size. (It’s a bugbear of mine to have had so many cameras that claim to be compact, but have the bulk of a small SLR. Very few have been truly pocketable, as in a trouser pocket, not the centre kangaroo style pocket of a very oversized hoodie. But back to the pros of the LT-1…)

Same ability to astonish when you get your scans back and wonder if you mixed them up with photographs shot with an SLR (especially when shooting colour film as black and white).

The main difference with the LT-1 is its shape and outer shell. 

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Left to right – AF-1 Mini, Mju-1, LT-1, all sharing the same 35mm f/3.5 lens

The Mju 1 is known for its curved, ergonomic shell, and the ease at which you can slide its clamshell cover open with a swift motion and be ready for shooting in an instant.

For me the original Mju perfected this, and where later Mju descendants tried to repeat the trick, they didn’t quite get it right.

The now ridiculously hyped Mju 2 (Stylus Epic) I found too small and too slippery, and if it wasn’t for the wrist strap I would have seen it meet a violent end against the pavement two or three times in just one roll of film. Way too pokey viewfinder too, but that’s another story.

I’ve had a couple of later zoom models in the Mju series and unfortunately the added bulk of the body required to house the zoom lens meant it was no longer pocketable.

Those curves, whilst near perfect on the original Mju, just made it even more uncomfortable when you did try to force it into your pocket, where a more typical smoothed brick shaped compact camera of the same depth would slide in and out with much greater ease.

The closest I’ve found was ironically another sibling in many ways to the Mju-1, the AF-1 Mini, pictured alongside its family above.

Same lens again, and a weatherproof body, but just slightly less pocketable than the Mju-1 – comfy in a coat, too tight for trousers. Oh and didn’t focus quite so close, more like 0.5m.

Back to the LT-1 and there’s (gasp!) no clamshell cover to slide open.

Instead we have a flip over leather flap that folds up over the lens, plus an on switch right next to the lens itself.

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Initially I was sceptical and expected this to be slow and fiddly.

But Olympus cleverly designed the lens so even when the camera is on and the lens housing protrudes a couple of mm, the leather flap can still be over the lens without touching the glass.

Which means by keeping it switched on, on a photowalk it’s virtually as instantaneous as the Mju-1 – just flip the cover over with your thumb, point and shoot.

When the flap is closed, it reassuringly relocates itself in a second, thanks to the magnetic clasp. A clasp that is magnetic enough to stop it flapping open unwantedly, but not so strong that it can’t be flipped up quickly with your thumb tip when you’re ready to shoot.

Unlike the shiny smooth plastic of the Mju-1, the LT-1 has a fancy leather jacket. Sophistication indeed.

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The shape is much more symmetric and rounded too, like a well washed pebble on the beach that you pick up and feels just right in your hands.

This curvy edged shape plus the extra grip of the leather surface make it handle at least as well as the Mju-1. 

These kind of details – the tactile leather, the on/off switch round the lens perfectly placed to operate with your middle finger, how the lens housing protrudes when switched on so the flap can be closed without touching the glass, and the perfectly weighted strength of the magnetic clasp – are not happy accidents.

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Especially given Olympus’s track record (not least of the Mju-1 itself and its father/grandfather/godfather, the original XA), we can safely assume these were features specifically designed to make the LT-1 a very easy, almost invisible camera to use, yet at the same time that leather providing a hint of luxury unusual in a compact, unless you want to pay many hundreds of pounds more.

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In short, for those seeking a very capable, close focusing, genuinely compact film camera, it’s joy in a leather jacket. 

So would I crown the LT-1 as my AF king compact?

Well I certainly wouldn’t be upset if I was told it was the only compact (indeed the only film camera) I could shoot from this point on.

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Given its greater rarity, and the way those design features make me smile at Olympus’s intelligence and attention to detail each time I pick up, the LT-1 might just be my favourite compact, even trumping its older sibling the Mju-1.

Indeed my discovery of the Mju-1 , and then later the LT-1, feels very akin to being a teenage boy and finding a beautiful girl you spend a few months with and really start to think you might spend the rest of your life with her, gulp, only to discover she has an even cuter, quirkier and equally friendly younger sister.

In that irresistible leather jacket, of course.

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As a confused adolescent male in that situation, which sister would you run away with?

What’s your favourite 35mm film compact? Please let us know in the comments below.

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Letting Go / When The Fun Stops

Over my photography adventures in the last five years, there have been significant landmarks, where something that had worked well for a period of time just stopped working.

Or, put another way, the fun disappeared. 

Rather than carry on slogging through and becoming increasingly frustrated and disillusioned, I’ve tried to recognise what’s happening, and make the necessary shift. In short I’ve tried to let go of whatever was sucking away the enjoyment.

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In gambling shops and ads over here, one slogan appears frequently – “When the fun stops, stop.”

It’s a good philosophy for any hobby and pursuit we originally begin because we enjoy it. 

Here are a few photography activities I once loved, but chose to let go of when the fun stopped.

Scanning film

I got into scanning film for a couple of reasons.

First, I thought it would be cheaper than having it scanned by a lab. Even the initial outlay for the scanner would be saved once I’d scanned maybe a couple of dozen films – which was only three or four months’ worth at the rate I was shooting film back then.

Second, I could scan film it was either not possible to have scanned locally, or that was prohibitively expensive (for my budget).

Like 35mm film shot in my Holga 120N that exposed the film right to the edge and across the sprocket holes, and overlaid multiple exposure collages (again usually with the Holga and my DIY 35mm conversion) where a conventional automated lab scanner would cut it into regular 35mm frames.

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It was useful for a while, and what I should have probably done was only use the scanner for occasional experiments, and send the conventional stuff to the processing lab for scanning too.

But scanning every film became laborious and fiddly, and a roll might take me two or three hours or more.

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One reason I love photography is that it gets me away from computers and out in nature. Scanning for hours a week completely defeated this aim.

I came to loathe scanning.

Plus my time and energy in the evenings was worth more to me than the extra couple of pounds a roll it would cost me to have regular 35mm film scanned to CD at the lab.

Further to this, I was actually holding back from shooting film because I was dreading the whole scanning experience I’d have to endure if I wanted to see the photographs in digital form.

The fun had emphatically stopped.

So I let go of scanning, packed my Canoscan away and trusted the lab. I haven’t looked back. I should probably list it on eBay soon.

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Testing cameras

This one took me a while. For about four and a half of the five years or so I’ve shot film I’ve felt more like a camera tester than a photographer. The first few months were very exciting and experimental, with the Holga and my first few 35mm cameras.

But then the buying of new (to me) cameras accelerated beyond the speed at which I was able to find time to shoot them.

Again the actual experience of shooting the cameras was being tarnished by the fact I knew I had another dozen at home also waiting to be tested.

Also, I just don’t like having too much stuff or clutter in any area of life. My inner minimalist reels in horror at seeing cameras and lenses spilling from shelves.

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Because I was selling most of those I’d tested, I also had a rising stack of boxes, bubble wrap and other packaging materials in our bedroom.

Again, every time I went in the room I was reminded of all the stuff I needed to photograph, list and sell online, and all the packaging that needed using up. Which chipped away at my enjoyment of the hobby overall.

As with the scanning, the fun had stopped. So I had to let go.

This took far too long to realise, and it was probably only a few months back I felt I’d really got on top of this. Choosing mostly just a couple of lens mounts (M42 and Pentax K) and one brand of camera was a huge step.

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And on the digital front in fact switching to Pentax DLSRs which only use those two aforementioned mounts, rather than my Sony NEX for which I’ve had at least half a dozen adapters and over a hundred lenses, was also fundamental in this letting go and regaining control. And rediscovering the fun.

Buying and shooting 50mm lenses

This one is like a sub-genre of the testing cameras experience above, but different enough to mention separately.

My first SLR was a Praktica BMS Electronic with, inevitably, a Prakticar 50mm f/1.8 lens. The next was a Konica, again with a 50mm lens.

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Then I think a Canon AE-1. With a 50mm lens. And so it continued.

Of maybe 100 or 120 SLR lenses I’ve had, I would guess that 85% of them have been 50 or 55mm.

What you find after a while is that there is not a drastic difference between them.

All of the major manufactures came up with a very good 50mm lens, one that you could use as your only lens for the rest of your life and still get consistently pleasing images.

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Plus as mentioned before, the incredibly adaptable Sony NEX meant I could switch between different 50s in completely different mounts very easily. The choice was amazing, yet overwhelming.

What really helped narrow this down and let go of so many near duplicate 50s was deciding on the camera bodies I most enjoyed and wanted to use.

For a while it was the Contax C/Y bodies, but as good as the Yashica C/Y lenses are, I found I was using the Contax with M42 lenses and an adapter the majority of the time. So having a 50mm C/Y lens was all but redundant.

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As I explored digital SLRs maybe nine months ago, first Sony, then Pentax, (both with M42 adapters mostly) I found the C/Y lenses completely superfluous and off they went.

The Sony DSLRs were fine, and created excellent results. But it wasn’t until I stumbled across a Pentax K10D in my research that the pieces really started to tumble into place.

This gave me a very capable camera, with excellent handling (probably the best of any camera I’ve used, film or digital), with a great viewfinder and the ability to easily use M42 lenses, or any Pentax K mount lens since 1975. It’s probably the camera I wish I’d discovered about four years ago.

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The range of available 50s in M42 mount alone is still vast, but steadily the mighty Asahi Takumars rose to the top.

I now have just two different 55mm Takumars (a Super 55/1.8 plus a much older Auto 55/2), plus a 50/1.4 Pentax-A for when I want (slightly) more automated shooting, and slightly brighter, poppier colours.

The relief of having only three 50mm lenses to choose from rather than 13 or 33 is immense, and means not only do I choose more quickly and just get out photographing, I’m getting to know the particular strengths and personality of each of these lenses better too.

When you’re choosing a different lens every time you pick up a camera, reaching this familiarity takes forever – if it happens at all. Constantly fiddling around with your kit is frustrating and time consuming.

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As with the other examples above, when the fun stopped, I needed to find ways to let go of the habit so I could preserve my enjoyment of photography overall.

What has caused photography to stop being fun for you in the past? What did you do to help you let go and rediscover the enjoyment? Please let us know in the comments below.

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The Lomo Itch (And How I Scratch It)

Lomo photography is an itch I periodically get and have to scratch. Here’s how I came to it, the allure it has, and how I scratch that itch these days…

Though I was using camera phones to intentionally make photographs from the mid 2000s, my first film camera, in 2012, was about as Lomo as it gets, a Holga 120N.

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My initial disbelief that this simplistic toy hunk of plastic could make any kind of image turned to wonder and delight I had the first roll processed. Then another, and another.

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Finding that shooting medium format 120 film was pretty expensive, I followed this by adapting the Holga to take 35mm film – considerably more affordable to buy and have developed.

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Realising that the Holga exposed 35mm film across its whole width – and that the cost to have this scanned was ridiculous – I invested in my own scanner and modified one of the scanning masks/frames.

I also experimented with some close up filters, and again got some surprisingly pleasing results.

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This in turn was soon followed by the first genuine 35mm film camera I bought, a possibly even more Lomo, er, Lomo Smena 8M.

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Most of my cameras since (and there have been many!) have been less lo-fi, and I eventually expanded into the sedate control of SLRs, and some five years later, DSLRs.

Other notable plastic fantastic cameras I’ve had are the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (UWS) clones – I’ve had a Black Slim Devil and an Olive San, both made by Superheadz – the Konica Pop, a Pentax PC-330, and a couple of Miranda and Halina panoramas.

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Though these days I shoot mostly digital with vintage manual lenses, that Lomo urge still periodically reappears.

Why?

Because not having to think about anything but pointing and shooting, and knowing that the final photograph will be high contrast, overly saturated, soft at the edges (if not all over), and have significant vignetting (if it comes out at all), and be a little bit unpredictable, is somehow very attractive and addictive.

But, ironically, the most Lomo images I make these days aren’t on film at all, but with my iPhone, plus the Hipstamatic app.

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After taking a few hundred shots with the iPhone and finding them good enough for snapshots but overall a bit dull, I tried the in built filters, like Noir, Chrome, Instant and, my favourite, Transfer. The latter makes for especially appealing spontaneous portrait shots, in my opinion, and it’s my default setting for family outings.

Keen to explore further (and after stumbling across it via another app I already had to use my iPhone as a lightmeter for my oldest 35mm cameras), I downloaded Hipstamatic.

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The range of options available via changing the “film”, “lens” and “flash” in any combination is quite dizzying. I’ve managed to find a handful of combos I really like, and recently settled on just one.

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Hipstamatic offers seven different aspect ratios, but the one that I use most is the pure 1:1 square. I sometimes use 3:2 as I’m so familiar with it from shooting 35mm film and with my Pentax DSLRs.

And occasionally too I’ve been dabbling the widescreen cinema apsect of 16:9, which can work well for landscapes and adds drama.

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The iPhone plus Hipstamatic pairing gives me results very similar to my favourites I was getting with probably my favourite 35mm plastic fantastic, the Superheadz UWS clone.

As I can do this with no expenditure on film, a way higher hit rate, and the convenience that my iPhone is always with me, it’s pretty much resigned my Holga and Superheadz to a dusty shelf.

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Plus the whole process of scanning was unbelievably time consuming, and for me at least, just not worth the time and frustration. I fairly quickly reverted to having my film developed and scanned to CD again, and let the lab do their best.

The time saving and the relief was a major revelation, not unlike my recent giving up of eBay to gain more time for other aspects of photography.

More often than not I love the control and image quality that SLRs/DSLRs with vintage manual lenses give, not to mention the tactile experience and the immersion of a good viewfinder.

It’s these that get me closer to the majesty and wonder of the world that’s too easily overlooked.

But for when I feel that Lomo itch, and want a quick and dirty image that’s a delicious hyperreal dream take on reality, all I need do now is reach in my pocket, swipe right, open Hipstamatic, point and shoot. And that has a great appeal.

What are your experiences with lomo/lo-fi photography? Let us know in the comments below.

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