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.

New Experimental Vistas – Black & White

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Fuji DL-300 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

A little while back I wrote about experimenting with AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 at different exposures.

Since then, I’ve been trying Vista Plus as a black and white film.

First, some background as to why – 

  1. Cheap film. AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 is the cheapest film available – £1 a roll at Poundland. I have plenty stocked in my freezer. When film is this affordable, it encourages me to experiment with it more. As stocks of other film I have dwindle, it’s likely I’ll be shooting Vista Plus more and more.
  2. Cheap processing. Colour Negative (C41) processing is also currently affordable and readily available. My nearest Asda – around 9 miles away – has a Fuji minilab and they process my film and scan to CD. I’m more than happy with the standard for my uses.

    I have four films processed at once, and scanned to the same CD. This works out at £3 per film.

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    Olympus Mju-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w 
  3. Expense of pure black and white. Conversely, black and white (b/w) film is far more expensive to buy and process.The cheapest black and white film is probably something like Fomapan, which is about £3 a roll if you buy in bulk.

    To have it developed I either have to drive much further to a lab, or send via mail order. Either way, it’s about £10 per film, plus postage/fuel/parking costs.

    So if I shot and processed four rolls at a time, it would cost a minimum of £12 for the film plus around £45 for processing, a total of £57. Gulp. Which is £14+ per film. Being a cheapskate, currently, I can’t justify this cost per roll of film.

  4. CN b/w isn’t working. I have in the past shot a fair few rolls of the CN b/w film that can be processed as Colour Negative (C41) – Kodak BW400CN, Fuji Neopan 400CN and Ilford XP2 Super. There are three reasons I’ve stopped doing this.

    First, the film itself costs more than “pure” b/w film, at around £5+ a roll.

    Second, although the processing is cheap, you end up with images with a colour cast – either green, purple, brown or somewhere in between. I then end up desaturating these to get just b/w images. I realised if I was going through this step anyway, why not use a cheaper colour film?

    Third, the results, whilst good enough, are not sufficiently impressive to use this film over colour negative film desaturated to b/w.

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Fuji DL-300 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

We’ve talked about the whys then – largely the affordability of this method compared with using pure b/w film.

Let’s move on to how I shoot colour negative film as b/w, and the associated mindset.

It’s easier here to explain what I don’t do. I don’t load a roll of Vista Plus colour film, then walking around shooting it as colour film, then once it’s processed, converting the images to b/w, just to see if any of them might just look better in b/w than colour.

For me, shooting colour and shooting black and white have different mindsets. If you’re shooting black and white, you need to commit to that mindset the moment you load the film.

Whilst there are aspects common to both – composition, subject matter, textures and so on – with colour film I’m looking for interesting, vibrant colour. I’m curious about how this colour will be rendered in the final image with this particular camera, lens and film combination.

This is why I photograph a lot of red post boxes and telephone boxes – they’re often a very vibrant pleasing red!

With a b/w mindset, I’m looking for for shapes, contrasts, shadows and more.

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Fuji DL-300 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

With a film camera of course it doesn’t matter what film is in the camera, you can choose a colour or b/w mindset when you’re shooting it, unlike a digital camera where you might switch the camera itself to a b/w mode to aid shooting.

I much prefer trying to translate the colour world around me into b/w in my head – the reward when it works is much greater than having let the camera visualise for you. 

(I confess that back in 2011 before I’d shot my first roll of film, I used a fantastic little Nikon Coolpix for all of my photography. It has a high contrast monochrome mode, which I used extensively.

Whilst I don’t do this with digital cameras now, with hindsight I’m sure the thousands of photographs I shot with Coolpix on its b/w mode helped me see the different kind of qualities of a composition that work better in b/w.)

So, when I load a roll of Vista Plus intending to shoot b/w, I just try to have that outlook and mindset as I find and capture photographs.

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Olympus Mju-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Finally, how I turn images shot with colour film into black and white.

Obviously the CD I get from the lab has all the images in colour, it’s a colour film. I simple open the whole batch, and in Preview on my MacBook choose Tools > Adjust Colour and slide the saturation right down to the b/w end, then save. I then browse through the images in my usual way and decide which I might want to share.

I have no idea whether there’s a better way of doing this with Photoshop, Lightroom, or anything else, and at this point don’t much care.

I just want a simple process to extract the colour from the images, and this works.

My workflow for processing film photographs is – insert CD, copy and paste all the images to an “unposted” folder on my desktop, then using the original negatives and my notes on which film I shot with which camera and where, put the images into subfolders, eg “2016_10_01 OlympusMju1 AgfaPhotoVistaPlus200 as b/w”.

Again, I’m sure there are ways to use Lightroom for example to have a highly polished workflow, but I just like to keep it simple, and this works. Plus the less time I can spend post processing, the better!

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Fuji Dl-300 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

 

So how do I feel about the AgfaPhoto Vista Plus I’ve shot as b/w so far?

In short, I’m very happy.

I’m sure some will be horrified at the the thought of shooting b/w images without using b/w film. A while ago I was!

But for my level of photography (enthusiastic amateur), and my limited budget, Vista Plus is looking a very workable option for shooting b/w.

I’m not going to pore over my older images shot with Kodak TMax or TX and compare contrast, grain or anything else, because I’m happy with how the Vista Plus images are.

Plus again, TMax or TX now would cost me £15 a roll to buy and process compared with £4 for VistaPlus. And for someone who loves using film cameras as much as I do, I’m not about to cut my shooting rate in quarter.

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Olympus Mju-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Have you tried anything similar, shooting colour film as b/w and converting? 

Let us know your experiences in the comments below.

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

 

Machine Code (Tiny Notes For Better Photographs)

Part of the enjoyment of film photography these days is the range of cameras available at ridiculously cheap prices. It truly is a golden age for the vintage camera lover.

The downside of owning and using a number of cameras is you never get to deeply know and understand each machine, and how to get the best from it.

Because of this I’ve started making a small sticker for certain compact cameras with three simple items of “machine code”, to give me a better chance of eking out the most pleasing images with it.

Here’s an example of what the machine code notes look like – 

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I use my knowledge and experience of the Sunny 16 rule to aid with this approach too, in the same way I use it to shoot without a lightmeter in fully manual cameras.

The three codes, what they mean, and how they help, are as follows –

A is for Aperture

The numbers noted are the max and min aperture the camera is capable of. On SLRs and the like, obviously this is stated on the lens, so this system is mostly for compact cameras with Auto Exposure (AE), where the aperture range isn’t visible.

Knowing the max aperture is helpful in lower light. Some cameras have a low light or flash warning light come on to aid with this.

Knowing the min aperture is helpful on bright days, especially with faster film. The info is more useful in conjunction with the next note.

S is for Shutter Speed

The shutter speed range of the camera. As with aperture, this is useful to know in low light and bright situations especially.

If the camera has a max aperture of f/2.8 and max shutter speed of 1/2s, then you know you can shoot in really low light and still get a properly exposed image. If it’s f/5.6 and 1/125s, then you’re far more limited.

On the flipside, if you know a camera has a min shutter speed of say 1/45s, then you can confidently shoot without really worrying about camera shake – it can never go below that minimum shutter speed. As long as the light is sufficient for the exposure.

On the other end of the scale, if the max shutter speed is say 1/125s, and the max aperture is f/8, you need to be careful when shooting fast film, say ISO400 or ISO800 film on a bright day, as the camera is likely to max out and overexpose.

For these reasons you might think twice about taking certain cameras out on very bright or very dull days, and save them for when conditions where they’re more likely to perform well.

MF is for Minimum Focus

This is the minimum focusing distance of the camera. Many of the cameras I’m using this system for are Auto Focus (AF), and whilst some have a visual warning when the camera can’t focus (usually a rapidly flashing green light, rather than a steadily fixed one), many don’t.

If you think the camera is focusing correctly when you’re shooting at around 0.5m say, but it turns out it isn’t because it can’t and you forgot its minimum focus was only 1m, it can result in a very frustrating roll of blurred images.

With fixed focus cameras, it’s also useful, for similar reasons – you’re not likely to get sharp results trying to focus on something 0.5m away, if the recommended min focus is 1.5m.

With the best equipped cameras, these notes are less useful.

These cameras have a wide enough range of apertures and shutter speed to cope with virtually all lighting conditions – they were specifically designed that way. Plus they have a very close min focus and a visible warning when you’ve gone closer and the camera can’t focus.

An excellent example is my Nikon AF3, which is fast becoming my favourite AF compact. It pretty much does everything you want, and in a logical, cooperative way.

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Sometimes though, logical and cooperative can get a little repetitive and dull.

 

With more limited cameras, the challenge is greater to get a keeper of a photograph, but often the fun and enjoyment is greater too.

Creating a memorable image with a cheap hunk of plastic can be far more rewarding than doing the same with a sophisticated SLR with a stunning lens and foolproof metering.

On to how these machine codes work for me in practice.

Here are three examples of cameras with these notes, and how they specifically help in each case.

Fuji DL-300

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This Fuji is one of the best equipped of the classic 35/2.8 compacts I’ve used, and the machine codes reflect that. It’s not dissimilar to the Nikon AF3 in spec.

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The aperture range is wide, as are the shutter speeds. With ISO400 film on a sunny day, f/11 and 1/500s would be required, and with f/14 and 1/330s the DL-300 is close enough for accurate exposures.

On a very overcast day where you might need f/2.8 and 1/500s the Fuji has even more latitude, with the minimum shutter speed of 1/4s being some seven stops over this. You could virtually shoot in the dark!

The camera has a built in flash, and thankfully a button to switch it off. So you would assume that with the flash off, in dark conditions the Fuji would default to f/2.8 and use the required shutter speed.

The MF code in this case is of less use, as the Fuji also, like the best equipped AF cameras, flashes the AF confirm light when it can’t focus. You just focus a little farther away and try again until the focus light stays lit, then you know focus is locked.

Halina Junior G

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The Junior J is very basic, very plasticky, has a fixed shutter speed of 1/100s and a fixed focus lens. It reminds me very much of a 35mm version of the Holga 120. This is a good thing!

Surprisingly the Halina does have a range of apertures, albeit limited to three.

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From knowing the shutter speed was 1/100s, and noting the handy weather symbols on the barrel of the G, I calculated the apertures to be f/8, f/11 and f/16, and internet knowledge confirmed this.

With ISO100 film on a sunny day, you might likely use f/11 and then point and shoot.

With that aperture, the lens should be sharper and give a larger depth of field than using f/8. You could even push to f/16 if you wanted even more depth of field, which would of course also be forgiving with the fixed focus lens.

As I found with my AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 experiment, most consumer films with their -1/+3 latitude still give respectable pictures within this range.

Most fixed focus plastic compacts like this have a “sweet spot” around 3m, and greater depth of field obviously means more either side of this sweet spot is in reasonably sharp focus. Hence my “1m?” Min Focus – at f/16 objects at 1m would likely be fairly well in focus.

On a heavily overcast day, where according to the Sunny 11 rule you might need f/4, you might think the Halina is useless with its maximum f/8 aperture.

But with ISO400 film, you’d still be in a usable range.

If at 1/500s you need f/4, remember the fixed shutter speed of the Junior G is 1/100s, approximately two stops slower. In other words, with your shutter speed two stops slower, you can have an aperture two stops smaller, and get the same exposure.

So with the Halina, and ISO400 film, f/8 and 1/100s in overcast weather should still yield usable photographs.

I, or you, could of course write out all these permutations, but really you only need the simple machine codes and a knowledge of Sunny 11 (or write that out on a small card like I used to have) and even with such a simple camera, if you intelligently use ISO100, 200 and 400 (and even 800) film you have quite a wide range of situations in which to shoot usable images.

Pentax PC-330

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An even more basic camera which might not have much appeal to many with its fixed focus, fixed aperture and fixed shutter speed.

But the little Pentax has, in my view, two trump cards.

First its super large and bright viewfinder. The only compact camera with as big a VF is my Minolta AF50 Big Finder. Hence its name.

Every time I hold the PC-330 up to my eye I smile – you almost forget you’re looking through a VF. One go with one of these and you’ll probably never return to the horribly pokey dark tunnels that pass as viewfinders on virtually every zoom compact made after 1985.

Its second ace is the width of its lens.

At 26mm (or 25mm, according to the manual!) you have not only the ability to fit much more in the frame, but a vastly greater depth of field than with, say a 35mm lens.

According to the very useful DOF Master site, with a 26mm lens, with your subject 3m away (I’m assuming the fixed focus of the Pentax is approximately 3m), and at f/6.3 (the fixed aperture of this camera), everything between 1.63m and 18.5m will be in focus! With this range, who needs AF?

With a 35mm lens in the same situation, the depth of field would only be 2.05m to 5.57m. Still very usable if you’re careful, but nothing like the vast DOF you get with that little 26mm lens.

Aside – I also have a Superheadz Olive San which takes these to even greater levels. Its f/11 fixed aperture and insanely wide 22mm lens mean using the same 3m focus point, everything between 0.97m and infinity is in focus! The manual suggests the focus range is 1.2m to infinity, so reverse engineering these figures on DOF Master, the “sweet spot” of the lens is around 7m, for those who have one, or are thinking of getting one. Again, it pretty much eliminates the need for AF entirely.

Back to the Pentax PC-330, and the machine codes look like this – 

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I can use similar calculations as with the Halina, then choose the best film depending on the conditions to get the best from the camera. The Pentax has a slightly faster lens – f/6.3 to the Halina’s maximum f/8 – so can be used in slightly darker conditions.

You could feel confident using the PC-330 with ISO400 film on a sunny, hazy sunny or partially overcast day.

I would always rather over expose than under (remember the latitude of -1/+3 of most consumer films) so even on a bright sunny f/11 day, with ISO400 film and base settings of f/11 and 1/500s, you’re only going to be about three stops over exposing  with the Pentax and its fixed f/6.3 and 1/100s settings. Modern consumer film should absorb that over exposure in its stride.

I would likely hedge my bets and use ISO200 film with the PC-330, knowing that the relying on the film’s latitude I’d be fine in conditions from bright sun to fairly overcast, and have a camera that keeps everything from around 1.5m to 18m in focus.

Hopefully these real life examples have helped explain this system better and how it helps.

If you took a very capable camera like the Fuji DL-300, loaded some ISO100 film and went out in any conditions from the brightest sun to dusk you’d get usable results.

Do the same with the Pentax PC-330 though say, and you’d likely be ok at the sunny end, but when the light was poor the film would be underexposed and you’d likely have a roll of horribly grainy and near unusable images.

On the opposite side of this though, with simpler cameras with fixed aperture, shutter speed and focus, you ironically have more control.

You know that on a reasonably bright day, if you point the Pentax PC-330 at a person slowly walking by about 5m away and press the shutter button, the depth of field will be enough to mean they’re in focus, and the 1/100s shutter speed should freeze their motion on film.

In the same situation with a more sophisticated AF, AE (Auto Exposure) camera, you don’t know a) if the AF will lock on the right person quickly enough, and b) if the camera will choose a fast enough shutter speed to freeze their motion.

If the camera chooses a large aperture and fast shutter speed, you’ll have the motion captured but lose depth of field, meaning any focus errors will be further exaggerated.

If the camera’s AE goes the other way and chooses a small aperture for maximum depth of field, the shutter speed might be 1/30s say and your subject will be a ghostly blur.

With most AF, AE cameras you don’t really know what it’s doing until you see the final photograph.

Plenty of food for thought in how simple and uncontrollable these basic cameras are, or are not, compared with AF, AE cameras after all.

A final tip on where to find the three details you need for these machine codes, if you want to try something similar yourself.

There are essentially two sources – the camera’s manual, or a review on a website.

Quite often you’ll be fortunate to get a manual with the camera, but if not, Mike Butkus is an amazing resource.

Almost as valuable is Derry Bryson, though all of his manuals seem to use the US name of the cameras, so if you don’t have the same US version of the camera (like me in the UK where the Olympus Mju range is not known as Stylus, and the Pentax zoom range is called Espio, not IQZoom) you’ll need to do a bit of research first to find out your camera’s equivalent.

In some cases, the manufacturer’s own websites still have the basic specs you need. 

The Canon Camera Museum is excellent (there were no shortage of very capable and fun to use Sure Shots in the 80s), and the archives of Olympus and Nikon still have much usable info. Ricoh Japan also has a substantial history of their compacts (just have Google Translate switched on automatically, unless you’re fluent in Japanese).

As I said at the beginning of this post, you could just pick up one of the classic 35/2.8 80s compacts like a Nikon AF3, Canon MC, Ricoh TF-900, Minolta AF-S or similar and get great shots in almost all situations. 

But if you like a bit more of a challenge, and to keep alive that wonder of how a tiny plastic box with the most minimal of moving parts (and often no batteries!) can still produce memorable images, then these machine codes should help you towards making the best photographs you can.

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

The Crazed King Of Camera Straps

Is it just me who’s driven crazy by camera straps?

Once you have more than three or four cameras (and which film photography enthusiast doesn’t?), you want two things –

  1. A strap on each camera you use, so it’s comfortable to hold and wear, and more importantly so you don’t drop it.
  2. A neat and convenient place to keep your cameras so any one can be chosen to go and shoot some film with at a moment’s notice.

The trouble is, when you have condition number one above met, number two goes out the window. 

Even a mere couple of bestrapped SLRs on a shelf seem to become very easily entwined, ironically increasing the likelihood of dropping and breaking one.

Have you ever picked up one camera assuming it was unattached only to have two or three others leap from the shelf or box a fraction of a second later and hurl themselves headlong into your elbow/ chest/ face/ the floor or a combination of the above?

I knew I wasn’t the only one!

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Contax 139 Quartz, Flektogon 35/2.4 lens, leather quick release strap by 595strapco

With compact cameras it’s usually slightly better as many have short wrist straps, decreasing the possibilities of entanglement. 

But just as many have ridiculously long straps that when around your neck mean the camera dangles too low and bounces on and off your, well, privacy area, as you try to walk.

Or am I just a foot shorter than the average camera strap designer?

The obvious solution for both SLRs with neck/chest straps and compacts with wrist straps seems to be to just find one strap you love and then just use that on whichever particular camera you’re taking out each time.

Your cameras can sit happily separate on a shelf or in a box and be easily selected without the aforementioned lemming like leaping and resultant injury/ damage/ swearing.

But this is where SLR straps drive me even more crazy! 

Those tight, tiny metal rings that are so fiddly to remove from one camera and add to another, you lose the will to load a film after you’ve finally reattached them, ten minutes and half a dozen ragged fingernails later.

Compacts can be even worse, with multiple buckles and rubber padded sections needing to be navigated and woven in and out like some entry exam to the Guild of Professional Knotters.

So, after some years or frustration, I’ve finally found a simple and elegant solution for both SLRs and compacts. 

With SLRs, I liked the idea of a somewhat vintage looking leather strap. I came across 595strapco on Etsy, run by a very friendly chap called Dave Young, and soon bought a beautiful 42cm tan leather strap.

It was lovely, but if I wanted to use it on a different camera I had that same torture by tiny ring removal to endure. 

I got in touch with him again and found he also sells straps with a quick release clip at either end. I quickly ordered one.

It’s brilliant, and now as long as each SLR has a little ring already attached to each lug, I just clip the strap on in a couple of seconds. Now it’s the one and only SLR strap I ever need.

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Contax 139 Quartz, leather quick release strap by 595strapco

Plus I can have half a dozen SLRs cosied up on a shelf without any kind of surly strap stroppery, on my part, or theirs.

Inspired, I turned my attention to compacts.

Unlike SLRs, which virtually all have similar lugs, compacts vary greatly in their strap attachments.

Some do have a simple lug and ring like an SLR, some have a kind of plastic channel on the side through which a strap needs to be threaded, some have a plastic lug too thick to clip anything too, and so on.

But what virtually all my compacts do have in common is a tripod socket. 

I figured there must be simple screws that go into these for various tripods, and quickly found on eBay some very simple tripod thread mount screws with a D-ring that folds down flat.

Being ever the cheapskate, I found some that cost a mere £2.35 for a pair.

The D-ring can be used to hold as you screw in, eliminating the need for any tools. And of course the ring can easily be clipped on to.

All I needed now was one of my favourite compact camera straps (the short type, not the dangly droopy ones) and to attach it to the D-ring.

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Yashica Minitec AF, tripod D-Ring plus woven wrist strap

After I did this, I remembered I had an old leather strap that had come with the case of my 1956 Soviet Kiev-2A.

So a quick modification later, I had a vintage 60 year old leather hand strap for my compacts too.

The next step is to remove all straps from all the compacts I have (maybe a dozen) and use just one of the two new hand straps I’ve made.

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Nikon AF3, tripod D-Ring plus vintage Kiev-2A leather strap

Because the straps rely purely on the tripod thread, they’re just as quick to attach and reattach than my SLR quick release strap, taking literally about three seconds to unscrew. 

An added bonus with a strap mounted like this is it’s on the bottom of the camera, and when you’re holding the camera ready to shoot, the straps drops out of the way.

A number of cameras I’ve used have the straps attached on the right of the camera, getting in the way of holding it as you try to compose.

This solution has even got me re-enthused about my little Yashica Electro 35MC which I had considerable trouble using because it only had a strap lug on the left which for me made it ergonomically awful to use.

It’s such a tiny camera I didn’t want to use it without a strap at all for fear of dropping it. So the leather strap in the tripod mount is now ideal.

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Yashica Electro 35MC, tripod D-Ring plus vintage Kiev-2A leather strap

As I said, is it just me who’s driven crazy by camera straps?

Wait, I need to correct that. WAS it only me who was driven crazy by camera straps? 

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

The Three Faces of Expired Film Photography

“Using expired film is risky, foolish and virtually always ends in disappointing, unappealing photographs, so why bother?”

This might be the kind of advice you hear from some quarters, but it’s certainly not been my experience, very far from it.

In fact, over the last three or four years, I’d estimate over 80% of the 35mm film I’ve shot has been expired.

In my experience with expired film, it tends to go one of three ways –

1. It looks indistinguishable from fresh film, possibly slightly more saturated.

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Pentax MX, Auto Chinon 50mm f/1.7 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 film expired 2010
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Canon Sure Shot Tele, 40mm f/2.8 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film
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Pentax Spotmatic F, Auto Chinon 55mm f/1.7 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film
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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

2. It produces interesting colour shifts, sometimes purples and greens, but also amber tones.

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Minolta X-700, Minolta MD 28mm f/2.8 lens, Truprint FG+200 film expired 2006
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Contax 139 Quartz, Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens, York Photo 100 expired film
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Minolta Dynax 7000i, Tokina SD 28-70mm lens, Truprint FG+ 200 expired film
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Contax 139 Quartz, Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens, York Photo 100 expired film

3. It looks washed out, overly grainy and lacking in contrast and detail.

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Pentax ES, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Solution VX200 expired film
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Fujica ST701, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Solution VX200 expired film

The high proportion of rolls that end up as 1 and 2 for me outweigh the disappointment of the few that turn out like 3.

Of the expired film I’ve shot, only maybe one roll in every 12 turns out poorly.

Recently it’s been even less than that.

Here are the basic guidelines I follow to ensure I get often pleasing and frequently delightful results using expired film – 

1. Stick to colour negative film.

Modern colour negative film is very robust, and most consumer film has a fantastic latitude of around -1/+3. This means you can under expose by a stop or over expose by three stops, and still get very decent results.

It follows, by my logic, that even if it’s expired and you follow the general rule of thumb that film loses sensitivity by one stop every decade, there’s still plenty of flexibility there, before the film will start to struggle.

2. Use only ISO100 and ISO200 film.

Following on from the above point, these films are very tolerant. The faster the film, the faster it deteriorates.

I don’t bother using expired ISO400 film any more as I’ve been disappointed far more often than not. But with ISO200 and ISO100 they’re rarely a let down.

3. Stay within ten years expired, or less. 

The older the film, the more it will have deteriorated, so the greater the risk it will be grainy, washed out and low contrast.

If you stay within 5-10 years expired, there’s little chance the film has significantly lost any quality. Especially in the UK, where most unused film is sitting in the back of a cool drawer or cupboard, and not in sunlight or heat, which rapidly increase the rate of deterioration.

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Konica AutoReflex T, Hexanon 52mm f/1.8 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film expired 2003

These simple guidelines work for me, and I enjoy the results I get from expired film.

If you like some of the samples above, feel free to follow these suggestions and experiment with expired film yourself – especially if you never have before for fear it’s guaranteed to end in disaster.

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