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.

27987526540_6e432e9022_c
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.

27672823465_6a6777a08e_c
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.

27190185524_1b2b6b6b04_c
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.

26968663256_bfac4a1703_c
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.

20768515916_9dc908ae52_c
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.

13441128133_1566cce76f_c
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.

9776151882_b81074b16c_c1
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.

Advertisements

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.

34479168043_100feebfd4_c
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.

34855781820_30d0d2b3f4_c
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.

34778759381_75921f75e2_c
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.

34837003801_1dcb2dce5f_c
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.

34969236155_52c4b76d83_c
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.

35450965145_841de694c5_c
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.

35221623912_09ae108834_c
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.

35162281982_dee5e82103_c
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.

35340929925_cee85bfcc3_c
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.

34879979640_1750f568ec_c
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.

35089762821_53c6e8c37c_c
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.

27455220521_017e6e4f2d_c
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. 

34221861104_197d05df18_c
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.

19298082492_b9a4761f13_b1
Six blade apertures can lead to an attack of aggressive bokeh highlights – Pentacon Auto 50/1.8
31795124490_8317a350a9_c
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.

28007452216_91edb40ae3_c
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.

34363330263_aa360d1ae3_c
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.

28268533775_f56cb6c436_c
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.

34385667753_61320afacf_c
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.

31654199083_6223d87d61_c
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.

34720510885_7f2cae07c7_c
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.

34542545740_d101d35a13_c
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.

34542546270_22f503a00a_c
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.

35162895486_d4362f41e8_c
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!

35162895906_4716c2d731_c
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.

33899544525_053a89c6aa_c
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.

34865589261_b80484f3d3_c
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.

9776151882_b81074b16c_c
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.