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.

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.

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

Redscale Film – How To Make And Shoot Your Own

One of the major reasons I love film is the experiments you can try that have no direct digital equivalent.

Shooting redscale film is an excellent example.

You’ve probably already seen redscale images, that look monochrome, but with a burnt orange red as the base colour rather than white.

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Canon T70, Sigma Mini Wide II 28mm f/2.8 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 DIY redscale film

These photographs are obviously distinctive overall, but redscale remains one of the more unpredictable and exciting aspects of film, along with cross processing (x-pro), shooting expired film and film soups.

But although the photographs appear dramatic, radical, and otherworldly, the process of creating redscale film is actually very simple.

You could go out and buy pre-made redscale film off the shelf, and pay £5-10+ per roll for the privilege. Or you could, like me, ever the cheapskate, make your own from cheap consumer film like AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, costing £1 a roll at Poundland.

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Pentax Espio 120Mi, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 DIY redscale film

You’ll notice from the above shot also, that redscale doesn’t always have to be those extreme fiery oranges. It can be more subtle graduations too. More on that later, but first, what redscale film is.

Essentially, redscale is regular film that is exposed on the wrong side. So to make your own, you need a canister of film that’s been loaded back to front. Easy.

What you need

A roll of fresh film, a donor film canister, some scissors, some sellotape, a dark room.

How to make the redscale film

First, take your two rolls of film.

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The purple roll on the left is the fresh roll of film. The red roll on the right contains just a few inches of film, still attached inside the canister. You can’t pull any more film out than is showing here. This is the donor canister.

The easiest way to get a donor canister is sacrifice a roll of film the first time you try this, by pulling it all out and cutting it off to leave just those three inches or so at the end.

After you’ve done this once, you will then always have a new donor canister at the end of making the redscale film – you won’t need to sacrifice a fresh roll of film every time.

Next, cut the leader from the fresh film so you have a vertical straight edge. Keep the offcut, you’ll need this later.

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Then with the fresh film and donor film canisters the same way up, overlap maybe three or four sprocket holes and tape. It helps if you try to keep the film neatly aligned top and bottom.

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Notice that one film has its regular side facing us, the other its reverse. This is obvious with any colour negative film – one side is a dark grey, the other brown. Because redscale film is regular film flipped over, it’s essentially we join the films with their opposite sides showing like above.

After the joining, wind in the donor spool (the red one that is currently empty) so the two canisters touch and you can’t see the film.

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You can do the next part anywhere that doesn’t have strong light present. If you’re nervous, go to a dark room.

I’ve done this with my arms the wrong way down the sleeves of my jumper in a field on a sunny day, and it’s worked perfectly, so don’t worry too much. Especially if you keep the two canisters close together like the image above, so there’s little chance of light getting in.

Wind the red donor roll in with your finger and thumb until it won’t wind anymore. Then, back in the light, pull a little film out again so you can see it between the two canisters.

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Then simply cut down the middle, leaving a few inches on the new donor roll, ie the purple roll that has just been emptied of film. This is then ready to be donor next time.

With the redscale roll (here the red one) which now contains all the film, use the leader you cut off at the start as a template to cut a new leader. The longer part of the leader is always at the top end of the canister where the knob sticks out.

DSC05639Now you have your new freshly rolled roll of redscale film. I find it useful to mark an R on the side to remind me it’s redscale.

DSC05643Pop your other, now empty canister in a pot and write “donor” on it, ready for next time.

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How to shoot redscale

As I mentioned at the outset, redscale photographs are typical intensely red and orange.

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Canon AE-1, Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens, Kodak 400 Max DIY redscale film

But once the novelty of that vivid effect wears off, you’ll likely want to explore the more subtle graduations. Especially as over exposing redscale film a few stops gives a lovely subtle vintage feel.

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Olympus XA2, Fuji C200 DIY redscale film @ISO25

Different films give different intensities of red. AfgaPhoto Vista Plus 200 (which is rebranded Fuji C200) works very well.

At box speed it gives vivid reds and oranges, and over exposed three or four stops gives the kind of tones as above and below. I’d recommend using a camera with manual ISO control, so you have this creative control.

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Olympus XA2, Fuji C200 DIY redscale film @ISO25

Ferrania Solaris 200 gives very red results, even if you overexpose it a few stops.

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Olympus XA2, Ferrania Solaris 200 DIY redscale @ISO25

Solution VX200 (rebranded Konica VX200) gives very interesting greens and yellows.

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Pentax P30T, 55mm f/2 SMC Takumar lens, Solution VX200 DIY Redscale film

Especially when combined with multiple exposures. It’s like autumn in a canister.

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Canon AE-1, Solution VX200 DIY redscale, double exposed

Hopefully you found this guide easy to follow and are inspired to try your own redscale, if you haven’t already. It’s a unique, rewarding and often surprising way to make the most of film.

Please share your thoughts, experiences, and any questions, in the comments below.

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

Binge, Purge, Repeat – Learning How To Escape The Camera Consumption Spiral

Recently, I had one of those revelations that the way you’re doing something is in fact entirely at odds with your reasons for doing it in the first place.

To elaborate, despite one of the main reasons I love photography being the ability to escape from the day to day and become lost in the moment, I was too often lost in the future instead.

More specifically, the future being which new (new to me, usually at least 30 years old!) camera and lens I would be using next.

So rather than being immersed and enjoying the equipment I’d chosen for that particular photoramble, I was trying to hurry it through, just to get to the next one.

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/1.7 lens

An overwhelming contributing factor was having too many new lenses and cameras I’d bought but not yet tested, and this evolving into an anxiety almost that I must get through them as quickly as possible.

Something needed to change. 

The first step in overcoming a problem, they say, is to acknowledge it.

So here it is – I buy way too much new camera kit and this gets in the way of me enjoying what I have. 

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M42 lenses, January 2017

How it gets in the way

1. Future, not present. The most obvious is what I’ve already mentioned. Whichever camera/lens I’m using, I’m thinking about which one to use next, or even to buy next, not the one I’m currently using. If your eyes are always on the horizon, you’ll never see the beauty at your feet.

2. Buying more kit means more time looking for it. Most often on eBay. I have limited “photography time” overall, as we all do, so time when I’m not able to be out with camera, I’d rather be spending editing photos already taken and communicating here with you, rather than shopping.

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Sony NEX 3N, SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.4 Pentax Mount lens

3. Limiting my total kit means when one comes in, another goes out. Again, usually via eBay, which means spending more time photographing and listing the stuff I’m selling, instead of investing this time in other ways – see point 2 above.

4. Never finding my favourite cameras and lenses. With cameras this is not as bad, and I know the half dozen cameras that form the cornerstones of my kit. With lenses though, I have far more, and seem to seek them out more. Because I’m rarely going on two consecutive shoots with the same lens, I’m not getting to know (m)any of them enough to find my absolute favourites. Which is unsatisfying.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, York Photo 100 expired film

5. Never finding my favourite combos. This is an extension of point 4 above. Simply speaking, even two cameras with two lenses gives you four combinations. Three cameras and three lenses gives you nine different match ups. If you went out on a photoramble even once a week, that’s nine weeks before you’d tried every combo once. Shooting film adds another variable. Three cameras, three lenses, three films equals 27 combos!

A part of me longs for the time when I know which combos give me the most satisfying photographs, and not just yet another “quite good but not spectacular” handful of photographs.

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Sony NEX 3N, Pentacon Auto 135mm f/2.8 M42 lens

What I’m doing to stop the spiral

You’d think the first step would be obvious – stop buying. But for this to work for me, I need to know I have a good enough sample/range at my disposal to not be constantly thinking of new possible replacements.

So to get to this point, I’ve had to work backwards a little, and first narrow the parameters.

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Sony NEX 3N, SMC Pentax-M 75-150mm f/4 Pentax K mount lens

Essentially this has come down to limiting three things – cameras, lens mounts, and focal lengths. 

I now have a range of cameras I love.

For film, Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F (M42), Contax 139 Quartz (C/Y mount, but now used exclusively for M42 via adapter), Canon EOS 300V (EF mount, but now also used exclusively for M42), Pentax Program A (Pentax K mount, but also has an M42 adapter), and Minolta Dynax 7000i (Minolta AF mount, plus another M42 adapter. Have you spotted a pattern?!)

On the digital front I have two. Sony a100 DSLR which I use with a couple of Minolta AF lenses (same mount as the Dynax 7000i), plus have an adapter to use M42. Again. Then a Sony NEX 3N with adapters for, you guessed it, M42, plus Pentax K.

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Sony NEX 3N, SMC Pentax 55mm f/2 Pentax K mount lens

You’ll notice now there are only three lens mounts.

Minolta/Sony AF of which I have two lenses, Pentax K which number maybe eight lenses, and M42 which amount to around another 12 lenses.

The choice of these three lens mounts has a specific logic, at least to me. 

M42 – huge range of gorgeous all manual vintage lenses, very affordable, very easy to adapt to a range of cameras.

Pentax K (PK) – smaller but also very capable range of lenses (most of mine are Pentax’s own), very compact, smooth, high build quality lenses with some automation compared with M42.

Minolta/Sony AF – a wide range available, though I only feel the need for two, a 35-70/4 and 50/2.8 Macro, which allow for excellent results, plus far more automation than the mounts above.

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Sony a100, Minolta AF 50mm f/2.8 Macro lens

Finally the third element was focal lengths.

Whilst with compact cameras (a whole other subset outside of this post!) 35mm seems the natural choice, with occasional dips into wider focal lengths like 30, 28 or 24mm, with SLRs 50/55 is my normal, go-to length. Aside from a sole 35mm lens (the wonderful Flektogon 35/2.4) I don’t really get on with anything wider than 50mm.

In recent times though, I have come to greatly love 135mm. In between 50 and 135, I have two or three lenses that are either primes (like the Asahi Takumar 105/2.8) or zooms that bridge part of the gap (like the Minolta AF 35-70mm or SMC Pentax-M 75-150mm).

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Sonnar 135mm f/3.5 M42 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film

I can’t see me seeking out anything wider than 50mm in the near future, or anything longer than 135mm (aside from the 150mm long end of that Pentax-M zoom). Or much else in between.

So by restricting myself to these three mounts, and mostly just two focal lengths, it becomes drastically easier to see an end to the binge, purge, repeat cycle of photographic kit consumption this post is all about tackling. 

Minolta AF mount I just tried because the Sony a100 so impressed me with M42 lenses, I was curious about the vintage native mount glass, ie Minolta (before Sony bought them out). The two lenses I have are so remarkable I can’t bear to part with them, though this would simplify my whole system to just the two mounts.

Anyway, I have no plans or temptation to seek out a full arsenal of Minolta AF lenses, not least of all because AF lenses – however capable – only have limited, occasional appeal for me. I just prefer giving my hands more to do when shooting.

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Sony NEX 3N, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/4 Macro Pentax K mount lens

In both M42 and PK mounts I have too many 50s, and too many 135s.

But what I do know is I have pretty much the best I’m likely to find in both mounts, without spending silly money, and that both mounts offer some of the best lenses ever made, again without getting into vast amounts of money for high end Contax/Zeiss or Leica glass, for example.

So I’m looking forward to something of a new era with my photography. 

One of finding the best of the best 50s and 135s in the mounts I’ve chosen, and then exploring the combos that work best with each of these.

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Sony NEX 3N, Asahi Takumar 105mm f/2.8 M42 lens

I recognise there might come a time when I might want to try an 85 or 90mm or a 28mm again.

But by already having limited my choice of mounts and camera bodies, I can do this in a manageable way, without needing to try out every 28/85/90mm lenses made in any mount ever.

In short, my first port of call would be either an M42 Takumar, an SMC Pentax-M in PK mount, or a Minolta AF, depending on the automation needed, and the camera(s) I planned to use it with most.

Photography, for me, is hugely about escaping and immersing in the moment and the beauty of what you’ve chosen to frame in that little rectangle. When I lose sight of this, I know it’s time to ask a few questions, and get back on track. 

With an ample lashing of logic and a smattering of willpower, I’m confident that in the coming months I’ll be able to do that, and after selling off the last few also rans, have a core kit that offers all I need without spending a penny more.

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Pentax MZ-5N, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 Pentax K mount lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

What are your consumption habits with camera kit?

Do you find yourself on similar binge, purge, repeat cycles that get in the way of you just enjoying and connecting with the best kit you already own?

Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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

Preset Aperture Lenses – How They Work And Why You Need At Least One

Preset aperture lenses are different from standard lenses with a single aperture ring and set click stops.

Here’s how they differ, some of the reasons I enjoy using them, and why you should try them too.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

First, how they work. 

There are different variations, but the feature common to them all is you preset not the exact aperture, but the minimum aperture the lens will stop down to.

There is either via a separate aperture ring, or the main aperture ring is spring loaded and pushes in or out then rotates. This ring dictates the smallest aperture the lens will be at when the main aperture ring is turned all the way in the opposite direction from being wide open.

Here are examples of three minor variants.

Helios side
Helios 44-2 58mm f/2

With the Helios 44-2, the outermost part of the lens with the red dot is fixed. The next ring in, with the numbers on, clicks to the various standard stops. Above you can see it’s at f/8. The next knurled ring in adjusts freely between the maximum aperture (f/2) and the preset minimum aperture (f/8 in the picture above).

So you can adjust it as precisely as you wish, without needing to be at whole click stops like f/4, f/5.6 and so on. More on why you might want this later on.

Tak105 side
Asahi Takumar 105mm f/2.8

The Takumar is similar, but slightly more clear in its design. Again the outermost part with the red dot is fixed. The next ring where you can see all of the numbers sets the minimum aperture, and moves in clicks (and half clicks where you see the white dots). Then the next ring in, also numbered, moves freely between the maximum f/2 and minimum, in this case f/5.6.

The Takumar is a little easier to use for those used to setting an aperture number, as you still line up a specific aperture number with the red dot if you wish to.

Jupiter-37A side
Jupiter-37A 135mm f/3.5

The Jupiter-37A has just one aperture ring. Again the outer part with the white dot is fixed. To set the minimum aperture, you push the numbered ring in so its up against the large knurled focus ring, then turn it to the aperture required, then release the ring. It’s spring loaded so it pops back to the rest position as above.

Then the same ring rotates freely between the maximum aperture (f/3.5) and preset minimum aperture (f/5.6 in the picture above).

In practice, choosing and setting the aperture works as follows.

Say you want to shoot a lens at f/8. So you set the preset aperture ring to f/8, then open the lens wide open.

At the lens’s maximum aperture (wide open, so when you look into the lens from the front you can’t see the aperture blades at all), you have maximum light entering, so it’s easiest to compose and focus with the camera.

When you’ve focused, simply turn the main aperture ring all the way down until it won’t turn anymore. Then you know you’ll be at your preset aperture (f/8 in this example) and can take the picture at that aperture.

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Sony NEX 3N, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, LightRoom preset

Preset lenses give photographers a fast way to stop down a lens to a preset aperture, without having to count click stops, or take your eye away from the camera to see where you’re moving the aperture ring to.

Originally preset aperture lenses were superceded by lenses that offered set click stops (at f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 etc) plus open aperture metering.

With these lenses, you set the aperture ring on the lens but the aperture blades remain wide open (again letting in maximum light for easier focusing) until the instant the picture is taken, at which point they close down to the set aperture via a lever or pin on the back of the lens being depressed by the camera.

But for those of us using film and digital cameras with vintage lenses via adapters, open aperture metering isn’t an option anyway, we have to stop down manually. This is where the preset aperture lens comes into its own.

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Sony NEX 3N, Asahi Takumar 105mm f/2.8 M42 lens, LightRoom preset

What I like even more than the convenience of being able to close down in a split second to my preset aperture, is the fine adjustment it allows.

I shoot Aperture Priority (Av) 90% of the time or more. This is because I love to control the depth of field of the image.

Also, because I rarely shoot moving subjects, shutter speed is of little importance to me.

Photographing a decaying door or ancient gravestone or still flower looks exactly the same at 1/30s or 1/4000s.

Varying the aperture though – especially at the close distances I like to shoot at – has a dramatic effect on the final image and its depth of field.

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Contax 159MM, Jupiter-37A 135mm f/3.5 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

With standard click stop aperture lenses, most have only full or half click stops. The actual number of the aperture I’m using is again pretty irrelevant to when I’m shooting Av mode.

But what if, in terms of the look of the photograph, the depth of field is too shallow at f/4 and too deep at f/5.6? 

With a standard click stop aperture lens, you’d have to choose one or the other (or, with some lenses like for example a Yashica ML 50/1.4, you can find the halfway rest point between two click stops).

With a preset aperture lens, you simply turn the aperture ring until the image looks precisely how you want it to.

It’s irrelevant whether it’s f/4.37 or f/5.13. What matters is how it looks.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, Fuji Superia expired film

So, in practice, I often preset my aperture at a stop beyond what I think I will need. Then I have that scope for fine tuning.

For example if I think I’ll need around f/5.6, I’ll set the preset aperture to f/8, then open it up.

After composing and focusing, I’ll stop the lens down until the image I see is exactly as I want it. It might be shade past f/5.6, a little before, or bang on. I have that ability to find precisely what looks most right for me.

And, after all, isn’t that how all of us photograph anyway – point our camera at something then adjust our position and the lens aperture until what we see in the viewfinder is what looks most “right” to us?

Another advantage of preset aperture lenses, is not directly due to their preset feature but seems connected.

My favourite preset lenses tend to have more aperture blades, and ones that close down whilst staying very rounded. The result is smoother bokeh highlights, like this –

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Sony a350, Jupiter-37A 135mm f/3.5 M42 lens, LightRoom preset

With a standard lens, the majority have six blades, and are very straight edged.

So the bokeh highlights look like this –

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Sony NEX 3N, Pentacon Auto 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens

You can imagine how the first image would have looked it taken with the second lens.

Let’s directly compare two lenses.

The first three images show my Cosina Cosinon Auto 135/2.8 at f/5.6, f/8 and f/11. Notice how the (hexagon) shape made by the (six) blades is already angular at f/5.6 and becomes even more so as you stop down further.

Cosinon 5_6Cosinon 8Cosinon 11The next three pictures show the Jupiter-37A 135/3.5 at the same apertures – f/5.6, f/8 and f/11. You’ll notice how because of the greater number of aperture blades (12!) and the way they close down, it’s almost perfectly circular, even at f/11.

Jupiter-37A 5_6Jupiter-37A 8Jupiter-37A 11This smoother, more circular shape makes for smoother bokeh, especially in shots with multiple light sources where each one takes the shape of the open aperture blades in the lens.

Which preset aperture lens(es) I recommend

I love all three of the lenses featured in the first images above and would recommend any without hesitation. The Helios 44-2 58/2, Asahi Takumar 105/2.8 and Jupiter-37A 135/3.5. All are M42 mount and all are fantastic regardless of being preset aperture.

The fact that they are preset lenses just makes them, for me, even more enjoyable and controllable when shooting my preferred Aperture Priority mode.

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Sony NEX 3N, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens

If you don’t already use M42 lenses, then I recommend getting one of the three above plus an adapter for whatever you do use. It’s probably the most easily adaptable lens mount.

I’ve shot M42 lenses on Contax/Yashica, Pentax K, Canon EOS and Minolta AF film cameras, and Pentax K, Sony NEX (E mount) and Sony a100 and a350 (Sony/Minolta A/Alpha mount) digital cameras. Adapters exist for probably a dozen other camera mounts.

If you’re starting from scratch and want a super affordable film camera set up, check out my recent post on getting started with film for £27.

On the digital front I’d recommend either the Sony a100 DLSR  or if you want something more compact and even more adaptable try a Sony NEX 3, 5, or 7. All are amazingly affordable these days.

With a film or digital camera plus an adapter for vintage M42 lenses, preset aperture lenses are a delight to use, infinitely adjustable and give splendid results.

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Sony NEX 3N, Asahi Takumar 105mm f/2.8 M42 lens, LightRoom preset

Have you tried preset aperture lenses yet?

Let us know in the comments below.

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

How I Shoot Manual Vintage Lenses With A DSLR

My experience with film and digital cameras over the last five years or so culminated recently in the revelation that it doesn’t matter so much whether I’m hunting for beauty with film or pixels.

What’s far more valuable to me is the hunting itself, plus the vintage lenses I love to use.

This post is the extension of that – How I use manual vintage lenses with a DSLR. 

For the purpose of the following explanations, let’s go with my Sony a100 DLSR, plus a Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Flektogon Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens.

2017_03_12 Sony a100 ZeissFlektogon

Other lenses – especially other M42 mount lenses – follow a very similar process in use.

Initial set up

First, I ensure the M42 > Sony adapter is on the camera, then screw in the lens. I set it to minimum focus, as most of my photography tends to be up close.

The camera I try to set as neutral as possible.

I use ISO400, which gives a little more noise/grain in the final image than ISO200 or ISO100, a personal preference, and a leaning towards the grain I love with shooting film. I don’t like digital to look too clean and clinical.

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Sony a100, Jupiter-37A 135mm f/3.5 M42 lens

Also, a higher ISO means in lower light I can shoot at smaller apertures without resorting to too slow a shutter speed and the increased potential of blurred shots.

I shoot RAW files at the maximum size (10MP with the a100), set the colour to “standard” and all the other colour, contrast, saturation and sharpness settings to neutral/zero.

For metering I go with centre weighted, which I’m most used to from shooting film cameras.

White balance is usually daylight as I only really shoot in daylight and this seems to give most consistently realistic colours, to my eye. I’ve found auto white balance can be a bit erratic with the a100. I turn off any other “enhancements” like noise reduction.

These settings I adjusted when I first got the camera, and now don’t need to touch them.

It’s not something I have to (or feel the need to) fiddle with every time I pick it up.

I want the camera to be as simple to use as possible.

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Sony a100, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Sonnar 135mm f/3.5 M42 lens

So after this initial set up, the only adjustments I make shot to shot predominantly involve just two settings – the aperture and the focus.

Talking of focus, it’s worth mentioning here to check your diopter adjustment. It can make a huge difference to how easy (or not!) it is to focus with a manual focus lens on a DSLR.

Look through the camera towards a bright light source with the lens set to infinity (or even better, no lens). Note how sharp and clear the central AF rectangle in the VF is.

Adjust the diopter up and down until you get the clearest picture. It should be quite obvious when you have the right setting, as moving a couple of notches either side will make the image significantly more fuzzy.

If this is a few notches out it will be very difficult to focus accurately.

Initial set up covered, let’s move on to using the camera shot by shot.

With film cameras, whilst sometimes I like to go meterless and Sunny 11, 95% of the time I use Aperture Priority mode (Av) mode. It’s the same with the a100, though it’s marked A on the mode dial, rather than Av.

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Sony a100, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Sonnar 135mm f/3.5 M42 lens

My default aperture is f/5.6 with a lens like the Flektogon, and indeed any reasonably fast lens.

This gives me, most of the time, the kind of depth of field I like, plus as a rule the lens is likely to be performing better (sharpness, colour, contrast) two or three stops down than at its maximum aperture.

The viewfinder (VF) on the a100 is bright enough in good lighting to be able to focus at f/5.6. If I need to be more precise with focusing I will open the aperture to the maximum of f/2.4, focus, then stop down to the required aperture.

To make stopping down easier, use the Auto/Manual (A/M) switch found on most M42 lenses.

If the aperture you want makes the VF too dark to focus, and/or you don’t want to be stopping up and down a lot, make use of the little switch like this –

Set your chosen aperture, ensure the switch is on A. Look into the lens and you’ll see the aperture wide open, ie you can’t see the blades.

Compose, focus, then when you’re ready, flick the switch to M, so the blades close, the camera can automatically set its shutter speed, then shoot.

Switch back to A, ready for the next shot.

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Sony a100, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens

Shot to shot, step by step, this is my process – 

  1. Find something interesting to capture.
  2. Compose and focus.
  3. Adjust aperture, if needed, to adjust depth of field, either manually stopping down or using the A/M switch.
  4. Half press the shutter button so the camera’s meter activates and shows the shutter speed.
  5. If shutter speed is ok (not maxing out, or not too slow a for hand held shot), press the shutter button all the way to take the photograph.

I do tend to check the screen most shots afterwards, for one main reason.

Whilst with fully auto lenses like the excellent Minolta AF series, the a100 seems to meter very accurately, with manual vintage lenses it tends to slightly underexpose.

I have found by setting the exposure compensation (the button is marked AV +/-) to +0.3 as a base setting, most shots come out well.

As with any photography, when the light is tricky, you may have to compensate.

With digital we have the blessing of the screen to check, then adjust the exposure compensation a little if needed, and retake the shot.

If you’re really concerned about precise exposure (I’m generally not!) then use the Exposure Bracketing mode most DLSRs have to take three shots then pick the best exposed afterwards. The a100 cleverly shows the three exposures it will take on the sliding scale in the VF and you can still use this in conjunction with exposure compensation too if you wish.

Personally, I’d rather get it right with trail and error using the Exposure Comp feature than have three of every photograph to look through at home.

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Sony a100, Industar-61L/Z 50mm f/2.8 M42 lens

And that about it.

Hopefully, as you can see, after my modest initial set up, using the a100 with M42 lenses is very similar to using my Contax or Canon EOS film cameras with the very same lenses.

Set to Aperture Priority mode, compose, focus, adjust aperture, half press to check shutter speed, shoot. Repeat as required.

For me this provides the ideal balance between the pleasure of handling and using vintage lenses, yet the camera being invisible enough and the process simple enough, to not get in the way of me enjoying the exploring and the picture taking.

Hopefully this has encouraged you to try a DSLR with manual vintage lenses, or if you have already, how it can be reduced to a refreshing simple process, despite the many buttons, modes and switches at our disposal with these devices.

Do you shoot vintage lenses on a DSLR?

Let us know your experiences in the comments below.

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