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.

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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.

How I Shoot Film With A Digital Sensor

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Konica Autoreflex T, Konica Hexanon 52mm f/1.8 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

Film photography is one of the greatest joys of my life. 

But how much of this pleasure can be experienced and enjoyed equally via a digital sensor, rather than on 35mm film?

To explore this, let’s start with the five biggest reasons I love film, in reverse order. 

5. The look of film.

4. Using vintage cameras.

3. Using vintage lenses.

2. The immersive experience.

1. The freedom.

So (how) can each of these be recreated with a digital camera?

Specifically, I’m going to be talking about the digital camera I have come to enjoy using most recently, the Sony a100 DSLR, launched around 2006. I picked mine up this year used for a shade under £60.

Let’s look at each reason in more depth, and see how much the digital experience fulfils the needs I’ve found film photography satisfies.

5. The look of film

Film is unique in its look, and the warmth, grain and vibrant colours of film cannot be equalled, in my eyes. Also the sometimes unpredictable results add an extra variable and delight. Shooting expired film, for example.

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Asahi Pentax ES, S-M-C Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Konica Centuria 400 expired film

This being said, I’ve found a handful of film presets for LightRoom that, whilst they don’t recreate entirely the look of film, do give a softer and more endearing feel to my digital photographs. Often these have me smiling almost as much in the final image.

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Sony a350, Minolta AF 50mm f/2.8 Macro lens, LightRoom preset

Plus, using the same vintage film lenses on digital bodies help get closer to the overall feel of shooting film. More on those later.

4. Using vintage cameras

No digital camera can compare to using an all metal and mechanical classic 35mm film camera like an Asahi Spotmatic F. Or the seductively smooth wind and shutter release of the wonderful Contax 139 Quartz. Not to mention its amazing, big bright viewfinder.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens

What I can say about my Sony a100 is it’s as close to a film camera as I have used, in that I enjoy the handling, plus everything is at hand.

The viewfinder is very usable – even with vintage, manual focus lenses, and its technology is intuitive and doesn’t get in the way of the experience of seeking and finding beautiful things to photograph.

3. Using vintage lenses

This reason has been absolutely pivotal in me learning to embrace and love digital photography. Discovering that adapters existed to shoot my old lenses on digital bodies was probably the biggest game-changer in my photography adventure.

My favourite vintage lenses (which are mostly M42 mount Takumar and Zeiss) can be used very easily on the a100, in the same Aperture Priority (Av) mode I use 90% of the time with my film bodies.

The delicious quality and handling of the Takumars, and the biting sharpness and close focus of the Zeiss Pancolar 50/1.8 and Flektogon 35/2.4 are just the same on the a100, meaning half of my pair of hands is just as happy as when using them on film.

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Sony NEX 3N, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 lens

Yes, there is the crop factor of 1.5x, meaning a 50mm lens for a 35mm film camera gives an equivalent field of view of around 75mm on the a100 with its APS-C sensor.

But I have a range of focal lengths that fits my needs with the 35mm Flektogon (52.5mm field of view on the a100), 50mm Pancolar (75mm), 55mm Takumar (82.5mm), 58mm Helios 44-2 (87mm), 105mm Takumar (157.5mm) and 135mm Zeiss Sonnar and Jupiter-37a (202.5mm).

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

Plus, because the digital sensor only uses the central part of the lenses, where they deliver their optimum performance, you’re eliminating all of the outer edge weaknesses the lenses may reveal on 35mm film.

Also, since exploring Sony Alpha cameras, I’ve also bought three mid-80’s vintage Minolta AF lenses.

These lenses share the same mount (which Sony inherited when they bought the photographic arm of Konica Minolta on the mid 2000s), so fit straight on and are usable with all exposure modes.

I’ve been blown away by their performance, colours and sharpness, something I would not have experienced had I not gone down the Sony route and stuck purely to M42 lenses.

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Sony a100, Minolta 35-70mm f/4 lens, no post processing

2. The immersive experience

Using a film camera with a large bright viewfinder like the Contax 139 Quartz literally sucks one into the VF. Everything in the world except what’s in that rectangle is blocked out and forgotten.

Add the experience of focusing and adjusting depth of field (DOF) whilst using that larger than life VF immersion, it becomes a major highlight of my favourite film cameras.

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Fujia ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

The a100 can’t claim to have as big or bright a VF as the cream of my film cameras.

But it’s more than adequate to provide a very similarly immersive experience, and with a DOF preview button for native lenses (and of course the manual stop down of vintage M42 lenses which provides a constant DOF preview anyway), again it provides those same visual reward and engagement whilst shooting.

Or in other words, I still forget everything else but what’s in that little rectangle.

Which brings us on to the final, and most vital experience film photography brings me.

1. The freedom

Being able to grab a camera and head out to the sticks and wander around for an hour or two, hunting out beauty, gives me a huge sense of freedom and escape.

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Minolta Dynax 700Si, Minolta AF 50mm f/1.7 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

I’m very fortunate to have all I do have in my life, but this need for escape is still strong.

Packing a camera with me, with its immersive experience (see no4) via vintage lenses (no3), enhances that hunt for beauty further and deeper, and helps me see and appreciate things I might not otherwise notice.

And so, we come to the title of this post, and the revelation I had – that the top three of the five most important reasons I love film photography are almost (say 95%) as rewarding with my digital Sony a100.

No, when shooting with the Sony, I don’t have film, its emotive nostalgia, tactile experience and unique grain and feel, or the pleasure of using a smooth highly crafted mechanical machine like my Contax 139 Quartz.

But I’m not giving these up, just using them alternately, in conjunction with digital.

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Chinon CE-4S, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens, FujiColor C200 expired film

Plus digital, with its instant feedback and cheaper ongoing cost (as long as we don’t get caught up in forever chasing the latest and greatest digital wonder and its ever increasing cost – as I said my little a100 cost me £60 used, about the same as my Contax bodies) offers some benefits film can’t.

I’m still a die hard film lover.

But thanks to using the same vintage lenses on my Sony a100, I’m loving digital more than ever before too.

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Sony a100, Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 lens, no post processing

Combining the two is allowing me to create not only a consistent experience, but also, I hope, a coherent and congruous body of work, which transcends which camera I used to make the pictures.

What are your favourite reasons for shooting film and digital, and how much do they overlap?

Let us know in the comments below.

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Rise Of The Anti-Zoom – Why I Never Zoom With A Zoom Lens

Zoom lenses were made so you could stand in one place, point in any direction, zoom and capture the perfect composition. Right? 

Well, maybe. But not for me.

Instead I see a zoom lens as a small, highly portable set of prime lenses. Here’s why, and how I use them.

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Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro lens

For the first four years or so of shooting film, I only had one zoom. It happened to come attached to a Pentax ME Super I found cheap, and I gave the lens away almost immediately.

So my history of shooting film (and using the same vintage lenses digitally on my Sony NEX) was almost exclusively with primes. 

This honed my technique of getting used to the particular field of view of a particular lens, as there was simply no way to adjust it. I like this consistency – it’s one less setting to adjust, a great help when I was starting out with film especially, with all the other adjustments you can make.

Then one day I read a review of a reputedly excellent Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro.

The review – and the subsequent photographs I found online – made the lens too good to ignore, despite it being a zoom.

So I bought one.

Essentially, being a bit intimidated by the range of focal lengths (though 35-70mm is modest for a zoom!), I set it to 70mm and started to experiment with the NEX.

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Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro lens

 

Another factor for choosing 70mm was this was the end at which the “macro” focusing was available. I love finding the close up detail and beauty of objects.

The MD Zoom turned out to live up to its reputation, I was very impressed.

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Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro lens

More recently I picked up a Tamron with C/Y adapter, in fact very similar in spec to the Minolta. To give it its full name, it’s the Tamron 35-70mm f/3.5 CF Macro BBAR MC.

Whilst not as great as the Minolta, it’s still pretty good, and again I stuck it on 70mm and went off to explore.

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Yashica FX-D, Tamron 35-70mm f/3.5 CF Macro BBAR MC lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

Again, not being so keen on any lens wider than 50mm, and wanting to explore the closer “macro” focusing of the lens, in effect I treat it as a 70mm prime with close focus.

Very recently I acquired a Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 Macro. You might be noticing a pattern here. 

Turns out that this lens, on my Sony a350, has blown me away. And again I’ve only used it at the 70mm end.

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Sony a350, Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 lens

I found the MD Zoom very impressive, and I think this Minolta is even better. And the images in this post are straight out of the Sony Alpha, converted from RAW to JPEG, and no other post processing. I’m loving those Minolta colours!

Anyway, back to the point of this post. 

Taking for example the Minolta AF 35-70mm, I see this mostly as a 70mm prime.

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Sony a350, Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 lens

But I could also use it as a 35mm prime. And a 50mm prime. Or a 40mm prime, 60mm prime, or anything between. But let’s keep this simple for my argument and stick to 35, 5o and 70mm. Also because those are the three numbers marked on the barrel and easiest to set.

What I don’t do, on a photowalk, is this –

Stand in one position, look all around me, spot something interesting to photograph then point my camera and zoom in or out until it fills the frame as I wish, then take the photograph.

Before I begin the walk, I already decide what focal length I’ll use, set the lens to that, and then treat it as a prime.

By doing this I can focus on how the world looks at that focal length, with that lens. I have a consistency, a uniformity to work with.

Also there’s the distortion factor. 

Put simply, the same subject, filling the frame in the same way, will look quite different when photographed at different focal lengths. This post and collage of images is a great visual demonstration.

For me personally, I don’t want a set of images from one photowalk with one lens where they’re all distorted in different ways.

I’d find this confusing and frustrating.

This is mostly down to my inexperience in using a wide range of focal lengths (my default and most used by far is a 50mm lens) but partly my desire to keep things simple and clean with photography.

If I introduce too many options, too many variables, it takes away the escapist and immersive pleasure of photography. 

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Sony a350, Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 lens

With digital photography lately I’m trying to simplify further too, and so by using a particular lens like the Minolta AF 35-70 always at 70mm, with the same ISO setting on the camera, and keeping all other creative options neutral, it allows me to just focus on composition, and, er, focus.

Rather than for every shot drowning in a myriad of decisions and options before I even press the shutter button.

So it becomes more like the simple and joyful experience I feel when using film cameras.

Next, I’m looking forward to going out and using this Minolta at 50mm. Given its performance at 70mm, I’m hoping it will be pretty formidable at 50mm too, and might even surpass and supplant some of my current 50mm favourites.

But for now I’ll stick with treating it as my favourite 70mm prime.

How do you use zoom lenses? Do you find most shots are at a similar focal length or do you use the full range of the zoom?

Let us know in the comments below.

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

How To Start Film Photography For £27

One of the major reasons people are afraid to explore film photography is the perceived expense.

They’re concerned that to even get set up you need to spend hundreds of pounds on a capable camera and lens, and that’s before you even think about buying and processing film.

This is largely a myth, and this post is to show you how to get set up and started with some super capable kit for less than £30.

First, the camera. 

Whilst I love Pentax and Contax bodies, if I was starting out with film again, based on the knowledge I’ve gained over the last four years and 100+ cameras, I’d buy a Canon EOS.

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Canon EOS 300V, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 C/Y lens

No, they’re not the most glamorous or exciting to look at, nor do they have the luxury of the aforementioned Contax, or a huge bright viewfinder like a Minolta X-700.

But here’s a list of reasons why a humble EOS makes more sense than anything else. 

  1. Affordable. My first EOS, a 500, I bought for 99p plus a couple pounds postage. The 300V above, one of the last models made around 2002, was around £15.
  2. Plentiful. I just searched EOS in the film cameras category on eBay UK, from UK sellers, under £20 and found over 300 results. Obviously some models are better spec’d than others. I really like the super cheap 500. There are currently 35 of these for sale under £10.
  3. Small, light, compact. The advantage of a plastic (though pretty robust feeling) build is light weight. The EOS bodies are small too, especially examples like the 300V above. Cleverly though, they don’t feel cramped to hold, with a good sized ergonomically contoured handle.
  4. Adaptable. EOS are the compatibly kings, with simple adapters available for any number of other vintage lenses. These typically cost £5-10 each. This means you can have one EOS body and the pick of lenses from Zeiss, Asahi/Pentax, Minolta, Olympus, Yashica and many more, just by using a different adapter.
  5. Ease of use. The EOS bodies are easy to handle and easy to use, especially if you’re coming from digital cameras. Most have a similar mode dial, and later ones like the 300V have an LCD display on the back to show the major settings. Film loading and ISO setting is all automated. You can pick up an EOS and starting shooting in minutes, yet still have a depth of options you can explore as you become more experienced and adventurous.
  6. Features. The EOS 300v has an ISO range from 6 to 6400, shutter speeds from 30s down to 1/2000s, +/-2 exposure compensation and excellent metering. Pretty much all the options you’ll ever need. If you don’t know or care what most of this means, just note point 5 above – they’re easy to just pick up and use!
  7. Forward compatibility. If you invest in a film EOS, an adapter or two and a handful of lenses, at a later date you can get a digital EOS SLR and all the lenses and adapters will fit straight on. It’s the same mount. So with two EOS bodies – one film, one digital – and a few adapters and lenses, you you can have a tremendous range of shooting options at your disposal. But let’s get back to this 35 film set up.
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Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So we have our bargain body. Next, the lens. 

I would suggest starting with a 50mm lens. On the whole, prime (ie non zoom) lenses tend to give better quality images than zooms. You could go for an AutoFocus (AF) lens in the native Canon EF mount that the EOS cameras use. But I would go for a more vintage option, via one of the aforementioned adapters, which are cheaper, much more satisfying to hold and use, and more fun.

There’s little to choose between the 50mm lenses of the major brands.

And as mentioned above, the EOS bodies are hugely adaptable. Personally I’ve settled on M42 and C/Y (Contax/Yashica) mounts.

In M42 you have a vast range of fantastic quality lenses available, such as the Asahi Takumars, Helios 44 series, Fujinons, Yashicas and Pentacons. Any of these can be had for around £20.

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Pentax MG, Yashica Yashinon-DS 50mm f/2 M42 lens, FujiColor C200 expired film

I paid £7 for my Helios 44-2 and have had excellent Pentacon 50/1.8s for less than £10. Yashicas can be brilliant buys too, again less than £10, like the one I used to shoot the photograph above.

A Takumar 55/2 can be bought for £15 – many turn their nose up at the f/2 version in favour of the f/1.8, but the truth is they are the same lens, just with the max aperture slightly disabled on the f/2. I’ve had both and can’t tell the difference in the final image.

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Pentax MG, Pentacon Auto 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

In C/Y mount the Yashica ML range are a very good buy.

Again most go for the faster lenses, the 50/1.4 (as pictured on the Canon EOS 300V in the first image above), or the 50/1.7. They’re still cheap (I paid about £30 for my 50/1.4, and a shade over £20 for a 50/1.7) but the bargain of the range is again the f/2. Performance is near identical to the other two, and the very common 50/2 can be had for less than £20, even less than £15.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens, Fuji Superia 200 expired film

The Pentax K mount also offer a fantastic range, and the Pentax-M 50/1.7 or 50/2 won’t disappoint. Also very impressive in this mount are the Auto Chinon 50/1.7 and Rikenon 50/2.

Minolta made some very fine lenses in their day too.

If you want a luxurious, weighty feel, go for an older 50, like an MC Rokkor-PF – they’re smoother than virtually all other vintage lenses I’ve used, bar except the Takumars.

If you want comparable performance but in a smaller, lighter package, try one of the cracking later era Minolta MD 50/1.7s. I got one a few months back attached to a Minolta X-300, both fully working, for £15.

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Minolta X-300, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So to recap our (lack of) spending so far.

At the cheapest end, a Canon EOS body is available from around £5, and something like an M42 or Minolta or C/Y to EOS adapter start at around £7. If you’re patient, you’ll find an M42 Yashica Yashinon 50/2, C/Y mount Yashica ML 50/2 or Minolta MD 50/1.7 for £15.

This takes your total to £27.

If you want a slightly later body, say a 300V or 300X (though the 500 is stunning value), you might need to spend £15 or £20.

If you want a faster, more sought after lens, like a Pentax-M 50/1.7 or Takumar 55/1.8, you might need to invest £25.

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

The choice is yours, depending on your budget and interest.

This post is primarily about getting you set up with some quality, highly usable and enjoyable kit to shoot film with, so I don’t want to go into depth about film and processing.

I would point out though that a cheap and very capable film over here in the UK is AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, available for £1 a roll from Poundland.

Expired film can also be very cheap, and give fantastic results.

I get my film processed and scanned to CD (no prints) either at Asda for about £3.50 a roll, or at my photo store up the road which is around £4.50-5 a roll. Having three or four rolls processed at the same time and burned to the same CD saves a few pounds.

It’s not as cheap as digital per shot, but with film, as I hope I’ve shown here, getting set up can be very cheap indeed – under £30.

After that, with a modest budget of £20 a month you can shoot a film a week. Or for £10, one a fortnight.

Which, for virtually all of us, is still a very affordable, and infinitely pleasurable hobby indeed.

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Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

If you have any questions, or any tips of your own, please join the conversation in the comments below.

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

 

How To Discover Your Ideal Film Camera (The Test / Best / Rest Plan)

My hunt began some four and a half years ago with a birthday gift of a Holga 120N, my first film camera.

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Holga 120N, Fuji Velvia 50 film cross processed

Little did I know that now over 50 months later I would have shot at least one roll of film with over 120 film cameras and owned maybe 50 more.

I didn’t set out to be a collector, but what happened with film was that using the equipment came to equal, maybe even eclipse the final photograph.

Pre-film, I shot first with phone cameras, mostly Sony (Ericsson), simply because it was the camera I always had with me.

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Sony Ericsson C902

A few years later I invested in a fantastic little Nikon CoolPix.

Like the phone cameras, the compact Nikon was really just a tool, something super pocketable that I could take with me when out walking and capture something of the beautiful things I found.

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Nikon Coolpix P300

But even from the early days using the humble Holga, the sensations of unwrapping and loading the film, winding it on after each shot, then having to wait to see the results, were all new to me and tremendously engaging and exciting.

And still are.

Add to this the side of my personality that loves shiny new (to me) toys to play with, and I soon found I was seeking out new possibilities of film – the greater convenience, compactness and affordability of 35mm, plus all the different cameras to shoot it with.

As I write this I feel as settled with my small arsenal of film cameras as I have ever done.

At the heart, five SLRs (Contax, Contax, Contax, Asahi Spotmatic, Canon EOS), accompanied by a handful of compacts, including arguably my favourite I’ve used, the humble Olympus Mju-1.

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Olympus Mju-1, Ilford XP2 Super expired film

For further variety I have a Kiev-2A (the oldest camera I have ever, c1956) and a not much newer Voigtlander Vito B.

The little I use the latter two, I could easily sell them too, relying on the wonderful Spotmatic for when I wanted the unplugged all manual mechanical experience.

But, as I mentioned when we began, I didn’t get here quickly!

The system that has worked for me in finding the film cameras (and lenses) I love most, has been pretty simple, and can be summed up in three words -Test, Best, Rest.

To expand a little –

Test

We all have to start somewhere. The first 35mm film camera I bought was a Lomo Smena 8M, surprisingly manual in retrospect – I could have chosen something far more automated.

My first SLR was a Praktica BMS Electronic, a solid and serious leather coated chunk of German engineering and electronics. The pictures from my first roll were a revelation – I had discovered (unintentionally!) shallow depth of field and bokeh!

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Praktica BMS Electronic, Prakticar Pentacon 50/1.8 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

This opened the floodgates and I went on various voyages of exploration with my reading and browsing images online to find the next port of call, seeing how cameras of a similar style (eg, SLR) differed between models and manufacturers.

In other words I just set about testing different kit to find what I liked. Which leads us to the second word and stage – Best.

Best

After a while (and indeed even after trying two cameras), you can make an informed decision about which camera you like best. It can’t be a judgement based on all the cameras in the world, because no-one has used all the cameras in the world, but only what you’ve used thus far.

Plus sometimes, indeed often, it’s not a decision based on the spec sheet or technical prowess of the kit, but more about how it makes you feel when you hold and use it.

With me for example, after trying Praktica, Konica and Canon, I found I much preferred Pentax, especially the M range – ME, ME Super, MV et al. I just really liked how it felt to hold them, wind them on and shoot film with them.

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Pentax ME Super, SMC Takmar 55/2 M42 lens, Tudorcolor XLX200 film

Each time you try something you like better than anything you’ve liked before, you have your new yardstick. 

These of course become the cameras you keep, the ones you can’t wait to use again, the ones that seem to call you from the shelf they sit on each time you pass…

Rest

So what happens when you compare two cameras and like one better than the other? You have a choice.

If one is amazing and the other is even more amazing, but slightly different, you might want to keep both.

But if one is clearly preferable, and you feel that every time you picked up the “inferior” camera you’d be wondering why you weren’t shooting with your favourite, then it’s probably time to let it go.

It becomes one of “the rest”, that don’t quite make the grade for you, but might become someone else’s new (old) favourite camera. You can either sell it on, and use the funds for a future purchase, or donate to a charity shop, or photographic friend.

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Olympus OM40 Program, Olympus OM 50/1.8 lens, Solution VX200 expired film

So that’s the methodology I use, and the journey I’ve been on over the last four and a half years, very simply.

Test, test, test, keep the Best, sell/donate the Rest. 

There are still I’m sure thousands of cameras I’ve not tried and never will. But I’m ok with that.

The ones I do have are special enough to make me not want to use anything else, or to seek any further.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50/1.7 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

Have you found your ideal film camera(s)? How did you go about it? 

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