The Most Incredible Photograph You Can Make

Shooting film, where you have a finite (and small) number of exposures on a roll, greatly helped me become more effective as a photographer. It encouraged me to take my time more, and make each shot count, as far as possible.

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Now I’m predominantly shooting digital again, I’ve tried to retain some of the best aspects of shooting film.

One major one is the vintage lenses I use.

I can’t see myself using a modern AF lens on my DSLRs anytime soon, I’m so attached to the experience and the resultant images gained when using vintage glass, from Takumars to Pentax-A.

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Arguably the second most significant shooting trait I try to carry over from film to digital can be phrased simply.

At the moment I’m about to take a photograph, I ask myself, “Picture the most incredible photograph you can make, with this subject, with this equipment, in these lighting conditions. Would that ultimate realisation of the scene before you be worth capturing?”

If the answer is no – and it often is – then I either try to adjust some aspect (focus, aperture thus depth of field, my position) to make it better, or just walk away.

Because if the very best possible outcome isn’t going to be that good, then why waste a photograph on it? 

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Yes, I know with digital you can potentially have hundreds or thousands of images on your camera at once, so you could take seven or 77 variations of the same scene and then decide later which to keep.

The technology is there for continuous shooting and exposure bracketing and so on, that mean it’s far more likely that one shot out of a rapid-fire blast of them is going to be ok.

But that’s really not my style. Again this was honed by shooting film. 

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I’m all for frugality and efficiency and would rather get it right with one shot in camera than be sifting through dozens afterwards. (My post processing with digital is very simple and virtually non-existent.)

And by asking this simple question – Would the most incredible photograph you can make in these conditions be worth taking? – it significantly reduces the likelihood of sifting through seven or 77 versions of the same scene, where none of them are any good because the lighting or the composition or the focal length was all wrong anyway.

Or the scene was just too dull to be worth capturing (yep, I’m still getting of this one pretty often!)

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How do you decide in the moment which photographs are worth taking? Does this process and thinking change between shooting film and digital? 

Let us know in the comments below.

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How I Keep Photography Simple (iPhone Edition)

So recently I’ve shared a couple of posts about how I (try to) keep photography simple – a film edition and a digital edition.

But after writing, re-reading and having some follow up conversations around those posts, I’ve realised that both could still seem pretty complex to the beginner or outsider.

I know if I was reading these posts five or six years ago when I when I would have probably guessed that a Takumar was a Japanese motorbike and the Carl Zeiss was merely the name Sony used for those lenses on their HandyCams, I would have found them complicated.

Then it dawned on me that I also make photographs in another way, that’s far simpler than either of those outlined.

One that goes back to my roots of, let’s call it Intentional Photography, over a decade ago with simple Sony camera phones.

Regular readers – especially those who most enjoy my thoughts and photographs around 35mm film – might be shocked to find out I also shoot with an iPhone.

Yikes, what a sellout eh?

Here’s how I use my 2013 model iPhone with its 8MP Sony sensor – and why I enjoy it. 

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Following the structure of the previous two posts, let’s start with the lens.

1. Simplify Lens Choices.

The iPhone only has one lens. I believe it’s 33mm (35mm film equivalent) and f/2.4. It focuses pretty close. It also zooms of course, but I hardly ever zoom.

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2. Simplify Settings. 

I use the Hipstamatic app, where you can change the “lens”, “film” and “flash” settings. You can save different combinations of these three variables as “favourites”. I’ve found two or three favourites I like and tend to stick with those.

You can also switch to Manual mode where you can adjust ISO, shutter speed, exposure, focus, zoom and white balance. But I ignore all of these and let the camera do everything auto.

There’s also the ability to choose a range of aspect ratios. I sometimes use 1:1 as I like the challenge of square photographs (and the synonymity with classic Polaroids), but mostly I revert to the 3:2 ratio I’m so familiar with from using 35mm film and my two Pentax K DSLRs.

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3. Simplify adjustments.

I just point and shoot. The only thing I adjust, occasionally, is the “favourite” I’m using, ie the combination of lens, film and flash. Oh and sometimes I just wait to make sure the lens is focusing on the right subject in the frame.

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4. Simplify editing. 

I tend to scroll through the images on my iPhone then just download the ones I like to my MacBook. The vast majority get scrapped, just like with my film and digital images!

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5. Simplify processing. 

Again, there is virtually none, I just download the photos I want to keep , then share my favourites of those online.

Conveniently, the Hipstamatic app does allow for a bit of post processing within itself. Every time you take a picture it also saves the original version, ie as the camera would capture without any Hipstamatic presets.

This means you can adjust the Hipstamatic lens, film and flash effects independently on a photo already captured, if you wish.

I confess that whilst I rarely do this with the photographs I’ve already made with Hipstmatic anyway, I have shot photographs on other digital cameras, then saved them to my phone to process via Hipstamatic as I really like the look!

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The best way to sum up how I see and use my iPhone with Hipstamatic is as a modern Polaroid.

Hardly any settings to change, very much a point and shoot, and a distinctive look to the final photos.

Whilst I’ve been very pleased with the images made, I wouldn’t say I’d made anything stunning or classic, or to rival my best other digital or film photographs.

But…

This is mostly because the Hipstamatic photographs have always been fairly spontaneous, and when I’ve not deliberately gone out with one of my usual cameras.

If I did leave all my “proper” photography kit at home and ventured out with the iPhone and Hipstamatic with more deliberate intention once or twice, I wonder what kind of images I might be able to come up with.

Food for thought…

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Do you every just leave all the “proper” kit at home and shoot with just your phone camera? What kind of results have you got, and how do you feel about using it?

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 (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.

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