How I Keep Photography Simple (Film Edition)

Recently I described how I keep my digital photography approach simple and as straightforward as possible by simplifying lens choice, camera settings, adjustments whilst shooting, editing and processing.

Let’s look at how this is different (and how it’s similar) when I’m shooting film.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film

Broadly, I have two approaches.

First, shooting without a light meter, with an all mechanical camera, which I wrote about a while back.

The second approach is, not coincidentally, very similar to how my digital approach has evolved.

Let’s break it down as before.

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Fujica ST701, Asahi Super-Multi-Coated-Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 film

1. Simplify lens choices.

My five years of experimenting has drawn a few solid conclusions, not least of all that my favourite mount is M42 and my favourite M42 lenses are Asahi Takumars.

With film I have very few cameras now, and if I’m not shooting fully manual with my Spotmatic F, I’ll pick either a Pentax Program-A or one of two Contax – 139 Quartz or 167MT.

With all three I need an M42 adapter, and shoot manually stopping down the lens. Exactly the same as with the DSLRs. Whichever I choose, the Takumars make most sense.

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

2. Simplify settings. 

This is easier than with digital, I mostly use ISO100 film, sometimes ISO200 and shoot maybe a third or half stop overexposed. Then I just go with Aperture Priority (Av) mode. Um, that’s about it.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film

3. Simplify adjustments.

I focus with the lens wide open, then usually stop down two or three stops, depending on the lens, and the light. I balance the depth of field I see in the viewfinder with the shutter speed, ensuring I don’t go too slow and end up with camera shake.

Occasionally I’ll have to move my shoulder strap because it’s slipped down a little. Um, that’s really about all I adjust once the film is loaded.

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Asahi Pentax ES, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, Kodak HD2 200 film

4. Simplify editing. 

Once the film is processed and scanned to CD, I just browse through and discard any that I don’t like or don’t think work. Then I’ll do it again, and maybe one more time, until I’m left with just the best. This might only be one or two shots per roll, a great hit rate for me is say six shots.

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Pentax ME Super, Asahi Takumar SMC 55m f/2 lens, Rollei Digibase CR200 cross processed film

5. Simplify processing. 

Processing is non-existent, I let the lab take care of it, then just use the scans on the CD they provide. This is for two reasons. Firstly because I tried scanning my own film for a few months and it took a crazy amount of time I didn’t want to spend on it. Second, I just like the unpredictability of film, and the excitement of getting the scans back and not knowing which shots (if any!) have turned out well and will put a smile on my face.

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Pentax ME Super, Asahi SMC Takumar 55mm f/2 lens, Tudorcolor XLX200 film

You can see that my film shooting process is considerably more straightforward than shooting digital.

It genuinely surprised me how little I had to write for this post.

And yet it is this simplicity that has hugely influenced my digital shooting, and helped me evolve it to where it is now.

When I first started shooting film it felt a whole other world to what I thought digital was.

But the experience of shooting film for around five years has helped me understand what is most important to me about photography overall, and how these days I can shape my digital experience to be very close – in both the experience and the final results – to the one I discovered and fell in love with with film.

Of course I’ve also realised that shooting digital doesn’t mean having to use an ugly bloated plasticky everything auto body with an equally horribly plasticky everything auto zoom lens. 

I’ve not given up on film, but I have far less a need for it now.

Who knows where I’ll be a year from now, but I’m pretty sure I’ll still have at least a handful of Takumars and a Pentax body or two.

How do you simplify your film photography process? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

How I Keep Photography Simple (Digital Edition)

The reasons I photograph are very straightforward, whether I use a film or digital camera, an SLR or a compact.

I wrote about this in more depth recently, but the short version is – to roam the English countryside, to feel the immersion of the moment and the whole world being in the viewfinder, to capture things I find beautiful, and to enjoy using vintage camera gear.

I’ve realised how easy it is to complicate these simple aims, most usually by obsessing over which kit to use, how to set it up and use it, then how to process the images afterwards.

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Samsung GX-1S, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens

So over time I’ve found (and I’m continuing to find) how to keep this to a minimum, and so maximise the raw pleasures of hunting, camera in hand.

With digital, I’ve found this harder than with film.

Although the cameras themselves are generally less appealing (I’m far less easily seduced by clever technology in a plastic shell than genuine mechanical craftsmanship and elegant, timeless design), the options are more abundant.

With film, once you’ve chosen a camera, you then just have the choice of lens and film, essentially.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens

Shooting digital, once you have your camera, you still have the lens choice, but it’s usually a wider one, as adapters available for digital cameras open a whole world of vintage lenses, as well as the native, modern, AutoFocus lenses.

For example, my Pentax K10D DSLR can use any Pentax K mount lens (which began in 1975 and are still being made), plus with a simple adapter I have the pick of the vast vintage M42 world.

There’s no film to choose of course with digital, but instead a plethora of customisable settings, arranged in a myriad of menus.

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Pentax K10D, SMC Pentax-A Zoom 35-70mm f/4 lens

Then, once you have your negative (with film this is the physical negative, with digital the RAW file) you then have further options to extract your final “product”, the photograph. Or, many photographs – of course any number of variations can be created from that negative.

Again, too many options!

I generally feel in my life I spend too much time at a computer and not enough out in the fresh air.

So the thought of having to spend further time at a computer editing (ie choosing my favourite shots) and processing once the photowalk is over can be daunting and demoralising.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens

So, with all these choice to combat, and options to overcome, here are the main ways I try to keep this whole process as simple as possible, so ultimately as much of my photography time as possible is spent exploring the countryside and immersed in the beauty of the world according to my viewfinder.

1. Simplify lens choices. 

After a few years of experimenting with dozens of lenses, I came back to what I realised very early on. You can’t go wrong with an Asahi Takumar or two.

Once I’d narrowed down to M42 as my predominant mount, the Takumars were the obvious choice. I do have a few others, some Zeiss, a few Russians, but mostly now it’s Asahi’s finest I own and use.

If I’m in doubt as to which Takumar lens to use, I just default to the one that started it all for me, the humble yet wonderful 55mm f/1.8.

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens

2. Simplify settings. 

On the digital front I’ve honed down to two main cameras. The Pentax K10D, and its smaller (but older) sibling, the Samsung GX-1S, a clone of the Pentax *ist DS2.

The K10D is bigger, sturdier, has more functions, is 10MP rather than 6MP and feels near perfect in my hands. The GX-1S is smaller, lighter, simpler and still handles great. In reality they’re 95% the same in function, once initially set up, so it’s easy switching between them.

I could just shoot the JPEG mode on the camera, then simply upload them to my computer so no further processing is required.

But the problem is there is no “neutral” JPEG. Even with all settings at neutral, natural or zero, the cameras still process and compress the image.

I’ve had excellent results (for my tastes and needs) by shooting RAW with both cameras at their native ISO (100 for the Pentax, 200 for the Samsung), then simply importing into LightRoom, and exporting those I want to share or print as JPEGs that way. I’m very happy with the outcome, so I’m sticking with this approach.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Auto-Takumar 55mm f/2 M42 lens

3. Simplify adjustments.

Once each camera was first set up I can shoot with hardly any adjustment. When I got them, I chose Auto White Balance, centre weighted metering, single shot, the base ISO, RAW, and so on.

Then, the only adjustments I need to make when shooting are slight tweaks to the exposures. I do this with the exposure compensation button, and the exposure lock button.

Typically on these cameras, M42 Takumars seem to need slightly over exposure wide open (I start with +0.5) then 0 compensation a stop or two down, then -0.5 or -1.0 once you’re three or four stops down.

Arguably my Sony NEX is simpler on this front where virtually every exposure is spot on, but it lacks a number of other things the Pentax and Samsung DSLRs have, so overall seems more complex and more work.

I have the “blinkies” switched on which show over and under exposed areas on the screen when you’ve taken the shot, and a histogram on the review mode so again I can see at a glance how the exposure is, if I can’t tell purely from looking at the photo on the screen.

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Samsung GX-1S, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens

4. Simplify editing.

By editing I mean choosing the pictures I want to keep and which I want to discard. I find it much easier with digital (than film) to be very brutal with editing.

The first step is to import all the RAW images into LightRoom. Then I cycle through, and simply export (as full size JPEG with no tweaks etc) the ones I like most. I then usually delete all the RAW files. Then I cycle again through the JPEGs I’ve kept and cull further, so I’m left with just the best of the best.

On a great day this might be 15 or 20 images from 100, sometimes it might only be a handful. Sometimes none! I usually make a 50% size version to share online, as well as keeping the original full size file.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Auto-Takumar 35mm f/3.5 M42 preset lens.

5. Simplify processing.

Processing for me is so simple it’s virtually non-existent. A while back I used to shoot with my Sony NEX then go through the editing process above to keep the best images.

Then I’d import these back into LightRoom and use a favourite one or two film presets to try and get the photos looking more like I wanted. Plus I might also slightly tweak the contrast and exposure settings. Processing for a single image might take between two and ten minutes.

With a good batch where I might have 10-20 keepers, this equated to 20-200 minutes of processing time. Interesting results, but not fun.

Once I’d discovered the Pentax and Samsung and the beautiful rendering of their CCD sensors – particularly with Takumar lenses – I eliminated the whole world of presets, and just do that simple export to JPEG.

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Samsung GX-1S, Helios 44-2 58mm f/2 M42 lens

Sound simple?

Hopefully it does. But maybe to you this might all still sound a bit complex, I don’t know.

But for me, after years of searching for a way to use beautiful vintage lenses to create photographs I’m really happy with, with the minimum of fuss and fiddling, I’m delighted with this current approach.

How do you simplify your own photography process? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

Lens Addiction – The Allure Of The Infinite Versions

Recently we spoke about how to escape the camera consumption spiral, and how narrowing the parameters has helped me hone down this consumption.

More recent still, I shared my favourite lenses – Asahi Takumars – and how really I don’t need to look at any other mount, or make.

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Samsung GX-1S, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens

I want to delve even deeper into the addiction of buying camera kit (and for me this is more specifically camera lenses) and dissect the next level.

It’s a slippery beast, akin to some mythical serpent, that seems to continuously shape-shift to avoid capture.

Rather than trying to explain it hypothetically, it’s easier to share a direct example of how this works, and what that next level seems to be.

In short, the last five years or so I’ve been exploring dozens of different cameras and lenses.

I’ve found my favourite lens mount is M42.

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Samsung GX-1S, Takumar 105mm f/2.8 lens

Whilst M42 covers a vast range of cameras and lenses (and adapters to use those lenses on non-native M42 cameras), it still hugely narrows the field and eliminates all other lens mounts.

Next, I’ve found, eventually, that my favourite cameras are Pentax.

They made M42 cameras, like the excellent Spotmatics, plus K mount cameras (film and digital) that with a simple adapter can use M42 lenses manually stopped down.

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Asahi Spotmatic F, Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens

I have also recently found a couple of excellent K mount DSLRS, the Pentax K10D and Samsung GX-1S, which can also very easily use the M42 lenses with an adapter.

Again this thins the herd and removes all non Pentax M42 cameras and any other cameras that can be adapted to M42, aside from Pentax K mount.

Then by choosing Takumar lenses (mostly, I still have a small selection of German and Russian gems in M42 too), I’ve further reduced the intimidation of having too much choice.

M42. Pentax. Takumar. End of story?

No, not yet, as focal length is the next layer down, and deciding on those I need and enjoy (any between 28mm and 150mm) and those I don’t (any less than 28mm or more than 150mm). The five I mentioned recently cover this range well.

But then, this sneaky ever complex addiction continues to evolve and introduces another layer. Lens model variations.

For example, the main Takumar variations across all lenses I’ve come across are plain Takumar (often preset aperture lenses), Auto-Takumar, Super-Takumar, Super-Multi-Coated (S-M-C) Takumar and SMC Takumar.

Take the humble (and glorious) Takumar 55mm f/1.8. 

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Pentax K10D, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens

I have a Super-Takumar version. I’ve also had the later SMC version but disliked it because of the rubber waffle focusing ring. I greatly prefer the metal knurled ring of the older pre-SMC Takumars.

But I am curious about the S-M-C Takumar, as supposedly it has a superior multi coating to the Super, but still that metal focus ring.

Would this lens give different colours, a different character, more accurate exposures, more consistent results? 

I’m even more intrigued by the earlier Auto-Takumar 55/1.8, as this has ten aperture blades (compared with six in later models), and has a simpler coating still.

I know from experience of lenses with a greater number of aperture blades how this can create much smoother backgrounds, especially the bokeh highlights, so it’s a genuinely appealing advantage to me.

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Six blade apertures can lead to an attack of aggressive bokeh highlights – Pentacon Auto 50/1.8
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Many aperture blades equals very smooth backgrounds – Jupiter-37A

Since shooting mostly digital this year, and especially in the last couple of months with my Pentax K10D, I prefer the more subdued colours I get from Takumars and similar age lenses, compared with for example the Pentax A series lenses which can be almost too brash and vivid in their colours.

So would the older Auto-Takumar 55/1.8 with its simpler coating give more subdued colours still than my Super-Takumar, and would I like this more, or less?

The short answer to all of this is I won’t know until I try it. 

And there’s the dilemma. Even once the choices have been drastically limited, there’s still much to try.

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A former phase of my M42 lens collection

I probably didn’t choose the best range for someone who wants to limit their choices.

Allphotolenses have 78 different Takumars listed. PentaxForums has 54.

Surely none of us need more than half a dozen lenses, maybe a dozen maximum?

How do you narrow down your choices with photography kit? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

Halfway To Heaven – Why I Sold All My Minolta Cameras And Lenses

When I first held my first Minolta – an SR-1s with MC Rokkor-PF 55mm f/1.7 lens – it was as beautiful as any camera I’ve held before or since. 

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Minolta AR-1s, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 55/1.7 lens

In use too, both lens and camera felt well built, smooth and oozing class.

Its simplicity was as alluring as its handsomeness – no meter, just the pure essentials need to make the photographic experience enjoyable and beautiful from start to finish.

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Minolta SR-1s, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 55/1.7 lens, Kodak Color Plus 200 expired film

So, as a result, this camera surely remains at the heart of my collection, correct? Er, no. 

After the SR-1s whet my appetite for Minolta, I explored a handful of other lenses. The pinnacle of these was quite probably the big brother of the lens on the SR-1s, a Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4.

This gem remains the most gorgeous lens I have ever owned, and quite likely the most beautiful object I’ve ever owned. 

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Minolta X-700, Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4 lens

Other thoroughly excellent lenses I tried were the very capable and silky smooth MD Rokkor 50/1.4…

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Minolta X-700, Minolta MD Rokkor 50mm f/1.4 lens, Ilford XP2 Super expired film

And the highly impressive MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro, which single handedly made me look at zoom lenses in a whole new light, and led to me using my best zooms as a replacement for a prime.

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

As well as a humble later era MD 50/1.7 that despite its diminutive size, weight and plastic feel, optically held its own against any other Minolta SR mount lens I’ve owned.

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Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens

So again, surely I’ve kept all these gems too? Er, no. Again. 

Whilst with Minolta I was indeed halfway to heaven, and thought – and still think – many of their lenses are fantastic (and indeed now have a couple of arguably even better vintage Minolta AF lenses for my Sony a100 DSLR), the bodies just didn’t match up.

Yes, the SR-1s was a lovely camera, and for fully manual and meterless film photography it’s as good as anything I’ve used.

But, for 9 out of rolls of film I shoot with an SLR, if not more, I like to use Aperture Priority mode. So I sought out a Minolta body to accommodate this, and settled on the X-700.

The X-700 had the best viewfinder I’ve seen on an SLR, and was breathtaking to look through.

But otherwise,  whilst competent enough, it somehow always felt faceless and unremarkable.

I also tried the X-700’s simpler sibling, the X-300, which I actually liked a lot more.

It took the over complicated and over featured (in my view) X-700, stripped away everything you don’t really need but kept the compact size, big bright viewfinder and of course fantastic range of lenses. It yielded some very pleasing images.

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

So why didn’t I keep the X-300?

The answer is, which one? The first one that lasted a roll and half then seized? Or the second one that was dead on arrival (despite being sold as fully working)? Or that one’s replacement, which lasted a glorious seven shots before also seizing?

My confidence in the reliability of Minolta electronics, and the lack of personality of their bodies anyway made me wonder if I’d ever get to use my beautiful Rokkors on film again. 

In the meantime, the discovery of the divine Contax 139 Quartz which is a whole other world of class to the Minolta equivalents I tried, was the final aperture pin in the coffin.

So I sold my last remaining working Minolta body – that original SR-1s – as it was gathering dust, knowing if I wanted an old school all mechanical experience I had my Asahi Spotmatic F and a wonderful Super-Takumar 55/1.8, amongst other fine M42 lenses.

Ultimately, my Contax story has proved to be almost the opposite of the Minolta one – amazing bodies, the best I’ve used, but somehow disappointing lenses, not so much in the final image, but mostly in feel and pleasure to use.

The epilogue to this tale is that I’ve returned to the best combination of film bodies and lenses I’ve tried – Pentax.

Whether the M42s, like the aforementioned Spotmatic F with a fabulous Takumar 55mm, or K mount, like the later M or A series (my current K body is a Program A) with the excellent, light, smooth and very well built Pentax-M lenses.

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Asahi Spotmatic F, Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens, FujiFilm Superia X-Tra 400 expired film

The moral of the story? 

For me, with my love of the tactile experience of vintage kit, having just one piece of the puzzle – body or lens – was not enough.

A ten out of ten lens with a six out of ten body, or vice versa, is just frustrating, and gets in the way of fully enjoying either.

Whereas eight or nine out of ten for each is a far better balance and experience overall.

Which is your favourite system? Is it because of the lenses, the bodies, or, like Pentax for me, the most satisfying unison of both?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something needed to change. 

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

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

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M42 lenses, January 2017

How it gets in the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m doing to stop the spiral

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

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

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

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

I now have a range of cameras I love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally the third element was focal lengths.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your consumption habits with camera kit?

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

Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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

Speed Myths – Why You Probably Don’t Need That Expensive f/1.4 Lens

Any serious photographer needs at least one 50/1.4 or even 50/1.2 lens in their arsenal. Otherwise, there’s no way you’ll ever be able to create your best pictures, right?

In this post I look into this assumption further, explore some of the pros and cons of fast lenses, and whether we really need them as much as we think, if at all.

Part of my educational background means I love numbers. They fascinate me. So cameras and lenses with their multiple scales of figures are a delight to behold.

Also, lenses as physical objects can be incredibly alluring, especially vintage lenses with all that metal and glass.

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Minolta SR-1s, MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4 lens / Minolta X-700, MD Rokkor 50mm f1.4 lens

Partly because of this, and partly because of the online hype I sometimes succumb to, fast lenses, like the 58/1.4 and 50/1.4 Minolta Rokkors above, seemed essential to me, not only for optimum aesthetic deliciousness on my cameras, but to be able to make the best photographs.

You can’t deny the visual appeal of fast lenses. But the other point, about them being capable of better pictures, I’ve found to be largely, if not entirely, a myth. 

 

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

Take the sample photographs above, taken with a 50mm lens with, gasp, a maximum aperture of just f/2.8.

Because the lens is so slow, its maximum aperture a whole two stops more sluggish than a 50/1.4, the result is obviously going to be terrible.

There’ll be no way to create a shallow depth of field, the subject will likely be blurred because of the low shutter speed needed with such a slow lens, and all in all it will be ghastly and futile.

But hang on, in fact, this is one of my favourite photographs I’ve made in recent times, and probably the best I’ve made from dozens of shots of this gate I’ve taken with dozens of different lenses.

I couldn’t have done it any better with an f/1.4 or indeed an f/1.2 lens.

What about this next image, with the so humble it can’t be worth bothering with Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2?

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Sony NEX 3N, Ricoh Rikenon 50mm f/2 Pentax K mount lens

To get that shallow depth of field, you’d need to wide open or very close to it, which would mean, as everyone knows, the images will be softer than an ice cream in the hands of a toddler on Brighton beach on an August Bank Holiday.

But no, actually, the Rikenon, wide open at f/2 is actually pretty impressive, even if I say so myself, and again this image is one of my favourites.

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Sony NEX 3N, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar 50mm f/2.8 M42 lens

Next up, another candidate slower than a snail with a hangover, the ubiquitous M42 Zeiss Tessar 50/2.8.

Again though, shockingly, the results are pretty good, and there’s little, if anything in the photograph to suggest it was made with such a slow and therefore inferior piece of glass.

With this initial evidence laid out then, here are some of the myths of fast lenses, and why, in my experience, they don’t stack up.

1. You need a fast lens to be able to shoot handheld in low light.

Yes, this is true. If you shoot all the time indoors and/or at night, you’re going to be able to take shots at f/1.4 or f/1.2 that you couldn’t keep the camera steady enough for at, say, f/2. But I rarely shoot indoors, and virtually never at night, because in my experience, colours look best in good daylight, to our own eyes, and to the lenses of our cameras.

So for my style of available daylight shooting, this is a non-issue.

2. You need a fast lens so it’s super sharp two/three/four stops down, where you’ll really take most of your shots.

This is based on the logic that all lenses perform at their best two/three/four stops down. But many lenses, like the humble, plentiful and super affordable Rikenon 50/2 that made the Robin photograph above, are more than usable wide open at f/2.

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

I very recently bought a Pentax-M 50mm f/4 Macro lens, which is stunning sharp, contrasty and colourful at f/4. I could shoot with it virtually all the time wide open and be delighted with the results.

The main reason I stop this lens down one or two stops is to get a larger depth of field at very close distances.

Some lenses are indeed at their very best at, say, f/5.6.

My recent experiment with four 50s showed that my Zeiss Pancolar 50/1.8 is really impressive at f/5.6, But at f/1.8, even f/2.8 it’s a bit of a mess.

Conversely, my Asahi Super-Takumar 55/1.8 is very usable wide open at f/1.8, and brilliant at f/4, when the Pancolar is only just beginning to get its act together. It wouldn’t matter if the Pancolar was f/1.2, if it wasn’t particularly usable until three stops down.

Surely it’s smarter to choose lenses like the Takumar 55/1.8 (or its near identical sibling the 55/2) that might be slightly slower than f/1.4, but perform well from wide open, or close to wide open onwards? 

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Sony NEX 3N, Jupiter-11 135mm f/4 M42 lens

3. You need a fast lens to be able to create beautiful bokeh.

Take a look at any of the images in this post. I think you’ll agree the out of focus backgrounds are far from unpleasant!

If you want shallow depth of field, use a longer lens, and/or compose and focus a bit closer (either with the lens, like the Pentacon Auto 50/1.8s that focus down to 0.33m, or by using an extension tube, close up filter or macro reversing ring).

The image of the magnolia above was taken with a 135/4 Jupiter-11. You don’t need f/1.4, f/2 or even f/2.8 with such a characterful 135mm lens.

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

4. You need a fast lens to be able to see and focus properly through the viewfinder. 

With film cameras, where the viewfinder might not be great anyway (for example pretty much every non-pro SLR after about 1984!), then focusing with a 50/2.8 or 135/4 is of course going to be more challenging than with a 50/1.4.

The options on the film front are to use AF lenses, and/or choose cameras with the best possible viewfinders. The best that come to mind from those I’ve had are the Minolta X-700 and X-300, Contax 139 Quartz and many of the Pentax M range, like the ME Super etc. All of these are very usable with f/2.8 and f/3.5 lenses, and super bright with f/2 and faster.

Again it depends on the kind of photography you favour.

With digital, at least with mirrorless cameras like the Sony NEX, the excellent focus peaking feature means less light coming through the lens is all but irrelevant, so a lens like the Jupiter-11 135/4 is just as easy to focus as a 50/1.2 would be.

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Sony NEX 3N, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/2 M42 lens

 

5. You need a fast lens to gain street cred / kudos with other photographers / attract potential future partners. 

As I mentioned at the outset, fast lenses mean bigger glass, and few can deny the appeal visually of these beauties.

But let’s get to the point of why we photograph.

Speaking for myself, I rarely photograph where there are many other people around anyway, and when I do, I try to be discrete. My camera is a tool to make find and capture beautiful compositions with. How it looks to others is largely irrelevant.

If I cared about what others thought about my camera I would have probably sold all my photography, and my car, bought a fancy Leica years ago, and flashed it around at every opportunity.

Creating any photograph that makes you happy is wonderful, but when it’s with kit that is humble and affordable, for me just magnifies the pleasure. 

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Sony a100, Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 lens

As I think I’ve shown in this post, for my needs, and maybe yours too, a fast expensive lens is unnecessary to create photographs we love, and enjoy making

What are your experiences with fast lenses? What are your favourite slower lenses?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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

Soft Pleasures – Why Lens Sharpness Is Overrated

I confess I’m a sucker for a searingly sharp close up of a flower or decaying texture against a soft dreamy background.

But the sharpness is only part of the appeal.

In truth, it’s the textures of the background that allure me most. 

Here are some of my favourite photographs where sharpness was not paramount – or in some cases barely in evidence at all.

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Sony NEX 3N, Tamron 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro BBAR MC (17A), LightRoom preset

The Tamron 35-70/3.5 creates surprisingly painterly bokeh, whilst hinting just enough sharpness of definition to counterbalance it.

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Yashica FX-3, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

The Zeiss Jena Flektogon 35/2.4 is one of the sharpest, if not the sharpest lens I have ever experienced. But sometimes its not needed, and the bokeh it produces takes centre stage.

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Minolta 7000, Minolta AF 50mm f/1.7 lens, Jessops Diamond Everyday 200 expired film

The sharpness of the Minolta AF is close to redundant here, with the disappearing wire mesh becoming the central subject.

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

As I recently talked about, one of the great appeals of the Pentacon 50/1.8 is that stopped down it can be very sharp, but at larger apertures its increasing softness can be highly endearing. Especially with this much sunlight streaming through.

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Contax 137MA, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens, Fuji Superia Reala 100 expired film

Up close the central stalks are pretty sharp – and the ML 50/1.7 is an excellent performer. But they’re overcome by the background. I couldn’t resist all those dewdrops one early sunny morning.

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Pentax PC-330 with 26mm lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

This cheap flimsy pocketable Pentax is plastic even down to the lens, and could never be described as anything approaching razor sharp. But its vignetting and flare created the kind of image that would have come out very bland with a high quality lens on an SLR.

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Minolta X-700, MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

This must have been shot close to wide open with the large fast 58/1.4 Minolta, as nothing is sharp, just varying degrees of dissolving light.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens, Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

The Yashica ML here produced the kind of swirl a Helios 44-2 would have been proud of.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

Along with its Zeiss stablemate the Flektogon 35/2.4, the Pancolar 50/1.8 is as sharp as anything I’ve used. But here that wasn’t required, instead its background rendering was put to use.

Looking back through the last year or so of my photographs to write this post has been a great reality check, and amusing to see how many images I make that don’t need any kind of sharpness from the lens.

And yet I’ve spent so much time chasing the most sharp, precise lens I could, especially in the 50mm focal length. What was I thinking?

Soft is the new sharp!

How highly do you value the sharpness of your lens(es)? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

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