Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Now - Here's a Surprise!

We were driving home from Moncton yesterday during a brief thunderstorm, with sunny breaks happening too. This created a perfect rainbow, which we had admired for several miles. We happened to have one camera in the car - the lowly and very small Panasonic I had bought almost two years ago in an open-box sale, with a further sale discount. Simply said - I bought it because it was cheap at just under $100, and didn't expect to get much use out of it. I especially hate it's very poor resistive (as opposed to the newer type capacitive) touch screen interface, and after trying a few shots with it, decided that it wasn't the camera for me.

But the rainbow! It appeared right in front of us, over this bridge, and I had a good spot to pull over - (one should never take pictures while driving a car - safely parked, on the other hand, is OK). I transferred the pic to my computer, and WOW - not bad at all! The detail here is fantastic, considering the car's windscreen was between us and the weather. We tend to turn up our noses a these cheap little digicams, and they certainly do have their limits, especially when it comes to all the latest in digital fad shooting, such as Photoshop workflow, paper-thin depth of field, night-time long exposure star-tracking, HD video and HDR photography, all of which are used as justification to buy the latest and greatest big system cameras. But seeing as I work within the limits of film photography most of the time now (also a fad? - maybe, but I hope not), the limits presented by this camera are in some ways similar to the older medium. But, in seeing the quality of it's output, there are some ways in which this could be the only camera I would ever need. And although I would still recommend a film compact such as the Pentax Zoom-90, if you're really looking to get into photography on the cheap, you might pick up a Zoom-90 for $5 like I did (actually two of them for $5 each), the cost of this Panasonic brand new is equal to the cost of only ten rolls of processed film. Also, most of the film compacts similar to the Zoom-90 also use expensive and rare Lithium batteries, which cost over $20 each. The Panasonic, on the other hand, has a rechargeable battery and charger included.

I know - I'm flip-flopping like Ken Rockwell here (sorry Ken, if you're reading this, I'd actually be honoured! Everybody else says that you flip-flop a lot, but not me, heheh). I've said this before - digital compacts are actually marvels of miniaturization, and smartphone cameras even more-so. Most of the time, a snap-shooter like myself can get by quite handsomely with a camera such as this. My enthusiasm for photography comes from experimenting with lot's of different gear, and with my tight budget, and so far without any dealers to lend me their latest and greatest cameras for review, a privilege enjoyed by Mr. Rockwell, Steve Huff and Mike Johnson, the most interesting gear that I can fool around with dirt poor at yard sale prices, while giving me great image quality happen to be film cameras.

Any dealers out there want to lend me a new Leica M for a couple of weeks?

Summer's Peak Color With Film

EOS 650, EF 28-105 at 28mm, Kodak Ultramax 400

Pentax Zoom-90 Compact, lens at 38mm and Kodak Ultramax 400

I've been noticing how vivid and beautiful our fields of wild flora have been lately - it is now summer at it's most beautiful, and soon, all this splendour will be turning brown as the autumn approaches. So I set out with two film cameras - the Canon EOS 650 and the Pentax Zoom 90. This will be the last run for the old 650 by the way. I am fully replacing it with the Elan-7 I just picked up. The reason for this is batteries. The 650 takes a 2CR5 6v Lithium battery that is getting very hard to find, very expensive, and not very reliable - I just bought one recently that was dead in it's package, in spite of having a service date of March 2017 on it. Fortunately, the little plastic Rebel-S that I picked up with the Elan-7 also used a 2CR5 and it had one with a bit of life left in it.

For the Elan-7, I bought a brand new-in-box BP-300 Battery Grip that uses four AA batteries, so now I have a reliable semi-pro film camera for which batteries will never be an issue. Lesson learned - if you want to shoot film, make sure you get a camera that either uses no batteries, or can somehow be made to run on common AA or AAA sized batteries. I'm finding the Lithium's like the 2CR5 and CR123 types are getting way too scarce and expensive to take a chance on.

I will not prater on any more today - enjoy the colours!

 EOS 650, EF 28-105, Kodak Ultramax 400

 EOS 650, EF 28-105, Kodak Ultramax 400

EOS 650, EF 28-105, Kodak Ultramax 400

 Pentax Zoom-90 Compact, Kodak Ultramax 400

Pentax Zoom-90 Compact, Kodak Ultramax 400 

 Pentax Zoom-90 Compact, Kodak Ultramax 400

 Pentax Zoom-90 Compact, Kodak Ultramax 400

 Pentax Zoom-90 Compact, Kodak Ultramax 400

Pentax Zoom-90 Compact, Kodak Ultramax 400

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Vacation Snapshots

Colourful Peggys Cove, NS
EOS Elan-7, Kodak Gold 200

Summer- always the most prolific picture taking time for those of us in northern climes. There's a rare beauty to be found everywhere - whether it's in a hot congested big city, or in the preserved sea-coast towns of the Atlantic - the opportunities for snap-shots abound everywhere during vacation season. Being retired, I'm always "on vacation", but also being on a fixed income, I seldom take trips too far from home. Fortunately, there's plenty of summer beauty not too far from where I live, in pretty much every direction.

As an old school snapshot enthusiast, I don't mind creating my own take on places and things that have been shot millions of times by Happy Snapper Tourists. Among the best places here in Atlantic Canada, we find Peggys Cove and Lunenburg Nova Scotia. There are also many Historic Preservation Sites, and this year, we discovered the Ross Farm, with it's two centuries of history kept and acted out wonderfully. I won't get into an equipment discussion here - simply enjoy the photos for what they are. My aesthetic is almost always to take a step back into time, with a sentimental nostalgia - a lot like most Atlantic Canadians I suppose.

Peggys Cove, by Beth Gallant
Pentax Zoom 90, Kodak Gold 200

My sister Beth Gallant came along with us on this little adventure. She's not a photo hobbyist, but I gave her the use of my two Pentax Zoom-90's for the trip. She didn't do to bad with them!

My spouse Kathy was also her usual snapping self, with a huge album of lovely shots.

Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

I Just Can't help It!

Canon EOS Elan-7, EF 28-105 Zoom, Kodak Gold 200, Epson V500 Straight From Scan

I mean... I can't help doing crazy comparisons. When you hear the phrase "the equipment doesn't matter" sometimes I just have to respond with an "oh, really?"

Canon EOS Rebel T3i, EF 28-105 Zoom, 400 ISO JPG Straight From Camera

I just had a wonderful two days away touring the South Shore of Nova Scotia with my wife Kathy and sister Beth, and of course with six cameras on board - make that seven counting the Samsung Smartphone. We packed a lot of sightseeing into two days, but there was occasionally time to kill, waiting for the girls to finish browsing the Gift Shops, so I was able to get in a wild and experimental mood. This is the most familiar scene there is for us Maritime Canadians - the Lighthouse at Peggy's Cove, with some sunlight just breaking through the fog. I should summarize the conditions here - same idiot with a camera (me), same lens, vantage point - exactly the same, same lens setting at 28mm (widest), time was approximately 5 minutes apart. The difference was a film SLR, the Elan-7 which I scored for $20 with a lens, versus a Digital Rebel T3i, for which I traded down an equivalent of $400 without a lens. The DSLR crop factor of 1.6X (when compared with the full frame 35mm film size) is obvious here, making the 28mm into a real 45mm.

As for which is a better quality picture, with no post processing of any kind, I'll let you be the judge, but really, I'm beginning to wonder why I bother with Digital Cameras at all! Here is another pair...

Canon EOS Elan-7, EF 28-105 Zoom, Kodak Gold 200, Epson V500 Straight From Scan

Canon EOS Rebel T3i, EF 28-105 Zoom, 400 ISO JPG Straight From Camera

I should mention, in both of these comparisons, the photos are 3000x2000 Pixels at 100 Pixels Per Inch.

In all fairness, I ought to mention that with a film camera, there is probably no reasonable way to pull off a shot like this without a Tri-Pod:

Canon EOS Rebel T3i, EF 28-105 Zoom, 6400 ISO JPG f3.5, 1/60 Sec, -1 EV

This one wasn't too difficult, as the old school building was lit with floodlights, but this gives a good sense of the extended capabilities of DSLR's at ISO 6400 when compared to colour film which is commonly available at only 400 ISO, or 800 ISO via special order. This is 4 Stops difference (400 compared with 6400) so I would've had to set my shutter speed at around 1/4 sec. to get this same shot with the same lens - impossible without a Tri-Pod. I should've tried the Elan-7 on a Tri-Pod, but this was a night-time walking tour of the Town of Lunenburg - not exactly something for which you'd carry a bunch of gear around. But I am doing the math as I write this - I could have used my Yashica Lynx-14 with it's super fast f1.4 lens, with 800 ISO film, and have gotten this shot with a still reasonable 1/30 Sec. shutter, hand-held! And of course it would've looked better too.

Sorry for all the techno-babel here. I imagine that most who are right into it will know what I'm talking about, but for those who might not - the time to get into 35mm Film Photography has never been better. The local classifieds are full of amazingly great Canon EOS film cameras that use the same lenses as the EOS DSLR's for $20, or if you look around and stick to your guns, you can get a great Rangefinder for $40. You can also get some really good film point n' shoots for $5.00 or less at yard sales and Goodwill stores.

Finally, a couple of more - this time, the Elan-7 had a cheap plastic EF28-90 on it - the lens that it came with:

Canon EOS Elan-7, EF 28-90 Zoom, Kodak Gold 200, Epson V500 Straight From Scan

Canon EOS Rebel T3i, EF 28-105 Zoom, 400 ISO JPG Straight From Camera

In this case, the Rebel T3i definitely has the most natural colour, which might be a product of the crappy lens I was using on the Elan-7. Still, the film camera is showing a lot more detail, and a better micro-contrast, which puts a more natural separation of elements in the picture.

I will conclude by saying that film and digital equipment are like night and day, and therefore the equipment you choose to use makes a huge difference in your photography, in spite of what the experts might tell you. I can also say that these days, film can get you into very serious photography for very little money. Imagine - cameras that once cost almost $1000 are now $20! And although you can get your film processing store to do the scans for you, you'll save a lot of money if you buy your own scanner - such as the Epson V500, for $130 on sale.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Another Elan

My New Year's resolution was not to buy any ore cameras this year. Well, since nobody keeps resolutions anyway, as we all know, I've got another $20 wonder. This time, it is a Canon EOS Elan-7. Last year I had reported the purchase of an Elan 55 (Japanese spec) which was quite exciting, but I don't think I mentioned what happened after I did a roll of film through it - nothing turned out - just very faint barely recognizable pictures. Was it expired film? Or was the shutter not operating? Anyway, I sold that one on Ebay, with full disclosure, and got more for it than what I paid, thanks to it having all the features - Date Back, Eye Controlled Focus and the Japan only feature of a Panorama Shooting Frame.

The EOS Elan-7 is a later model, built for the North American market, and so has no desirability whatsoever. That's why I got it for $20, complete with a good battery and a low-end EF 28-90 f4.0-5.6 Zoom lens.

There are many wonderful cameras out there near where you live for $20 - that is as long as you don't mind shooting film! I am now almost fully addicted to film, so spending $20 on a high spec camera like this is a no-brainer. You have to realize that cameras such as this work almost the same way as any modern EOS Digital - the Elan-7 is a lot like an EOS 40D, or even more like a 5D Mk-1 because it's "full frame", with a wonderful large and bright viewfinder. The control layout is the same - actually superior because the Auto-Focus and Drive Modes have their own dedicated switches on the top plate. There are also the two command dials (better than any EOS-D Rebel Series digital), and the ability to set up 13 different Custom Functions, using the very familiar C.Fn-xx scheme found on all Canon SLR's ever made, Digital or Film. Construction is mostly aluminium, and of course it will use all of the Full frame EF lenses Canon has ever made, and will make in the future.

If you're yearning to go "full frame", the least expensive body-only Digital options are the EOS 6D ($2000.00), the Nikon D800 ($2900.00) or the Sony A99 ($2800.00). Or you can get stuff like I'm getting for $20 a pop. My film costs are about $11 per roll with processing included, so by shooting 200 rolls of film, I'm into the Canon EOS 6D territory. It would take me 5 or 6 years to shoot that many rolls of film. If you're a digital person, perhaps you could put away $11 every 2 weeks, and combined with the fact that in five years, there will be a lot more full frame digital cameras, and they'll be a lot cheaper, you'll probably win at the cost equation in the end.

But with film, you can have Full Frame right now, for the price of one good dinner! And with what you save on the camera, you can spend it where it really counts - on the lenses. You can get the best Canon Lens ever made for $1500, and use it with an Elan-7 camera. I've seen this lens second hand for half that price.

Ahh - you say, but what about all the advantages of the Digital Workflow? You can't get that with film!

Well, hear me out on a few points about that:

  1. Walmart processes my film for $5.00 - no prints, no photo CD - just the developed negative.
  2. I bought an Epson V500 Scanner brand new for $130.00, so that starts your digital workflow with the scanning of negatives. 
  3. I'm not going to get into a film vs. digital - which is better discussion here, but what I will say is that "digital is not better than film"... you're not going to lose anything by using a film camera
  4. What about processing a digital RAW file in Photoshop? Well, in fact, a scanner puts out a Tiff File, and all that an Adobe RAW (DNG) file consists of is a Tiff file in a DNG wrapper. This means that a Tiff file can be imported into Photoshop and worked on in exactly the same way as a RAW file, except that you'll find that a film scan will need less work than a digital camera RAW file to make it look good.

So, is it starting to add up? It works for me. There are really only two down-sides in shooting Full Frame with film -

  • Film cameras that use Lithium Batteries can be a problem because those batteries, like the 2CR5 and the CR123 are getting rare and expensive. A possible solution is that many of these film SLR's can be equipped with a battery grip that takes standard "AA" batteries. I've already ordered one for my Elan. Also, a lot of film cameras don't use, or need, batteries at all.
  • I now have 7 film cameras, and it's sometimes difficult to know which one to use!

I recently added a lot more pics to my Print catalogue. Please have a look, and email me at if you'd like some details about any of these.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Alex Colville 1921-2013

Alex Colville - Cyclist and Crow (1981)

Canada has lost it's most iconic visual artist today. Alex Colville has passed on, leaving a priceless visual legacy. His paintings are recognizable worldwide, and especially dear to Canadians, and even more-so to Atlantic Canadians, from where most of his work was inspired and crafted. Often referred to as "Photo-Realism", Colville himself rejected that term. His paintings might be "photographic", but that's merely in the sharp detail. The difference lies strongly in the artist's own observation that paintings are made, but photographs are taken. Colville's approach to making a painting was to carefully create studies of each of a picture's element, and carefully put them together into a scene that could have been real, but in fact, was not real in the "photographic" sense.

His approach in Cyclist and Crow, for example, would've incorporated his years of study and sketches about the way in which a crow flies, to which he added studies about how a person rides a bicycle, combined with the human God-like curiosity about all things. Then he would choose a perfect setting, and put it all together into a work that might look as if it had been snapped by a camera, but was in fact not. In this painting, he might even be teasing this impression somewhat, because the very bottom part of the bicycle tires are cut off, as is the entire rear part of the bike itself, which kind of gives the painting a snapshot quality. In fact, if I were to submit this as a photograph to critique, these would be brought out as "issues" regarding my composition. But to Colville, who was of course in control of every aspect of the image composition, because it is a painting after all, he decided to compose the picture in this fashion. In the end, it is these compositional factors, which we photographers might call "mistakes", that actually give this painting an eternal life - just stand back and look at it, and you should see what I mean - both the bike and the crow are set in motion because of the composition - in true "decisive moment" fashion.

In my younger days as a painter, Alex Colville was one of the few artists that mattered to me personally. Now as a snap photographer, a few years back I had created a Flickr Group in his honour. Sadly, there's not much on here besides my own photos, but I give recognition and gratitude to the four other individuals who've joined this group.

Alex Colville - you will always be remembered. Thank you for showing us the truth about reality.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Yashica Lynx-14 First Pictures

Yashica Lynx 14e With Kodak Gold 200 Film

A few days ago, I reported my purchase of the Lynx-14e from the Salvation Army Thrift Store. It was a bargain at $30.00, but I had to wait months for them to finally reduce the price, and I'm glad that someone else didn't spot it before I did.

I had mentioned a couple of potential problems with the camera -1) the light seals around the film door have deteriorated to a gooey mess, and 2) the battery chamber is corroded, but not heavily. I cleaned it out with vinegar, and no further damage has crept through the camera. Neither of these issues proved to be a problem in us, as 1) the camera came with it's lovely black leather case, and the botttom half completely covers the film door, blocking any stray light, and 2) this camera works without batteries - they're only used to power the light meter, for which I use the BeeCam App on my Android Phone.

However, in use I found a more serious issue - 3) the silver on the Rangefinder Mirror has deteriorated, making the yellow RF Patch in the middle of the viewfinder image to be very faint - unusable even in moderately low light. After consulting a Rangefinder Forum, (one of many give the following same suggestion) - If you can put a black dot on the outside of the view finder, over the centre where the yellow shows, it will help improve visibility.

 I used a dark green Magic Marker to make this dot on the VF Lens, and it worked "magically"! Here are two perfectly focussed cat pictures, taken hand held at f1.4 (wide open lens) and a 1/15 shutter speed to prove that I could now focus the camera, even in very low light:



Here's a link to most of my first roll (a few were badly focussed before I fixed the RF issue, so I left them out). No masterpieces here, with the exception of the indoor scene at the top, which I took inside The Black Duck Cafe on Bridge St.

This is a fantastic camera! It's been called a "cult classic" and I can see why. It is amazingly precise, the light capture is lovely, that huge lens is wonderful in it's colour rendering and sharpness, the shutter is almost silent - it's hard to find fault. It provides another reason to say "film isn't dead" - every film camera you can pick up for $40 or less gives yet another quality to the pictures you take. No two are alike. If you want "consistent" results, then film isn't for you - go with digital if your pictures have to be the same as everyone else's. But if you need adventure in your photo hobby, there's really never been a better time to be shooting film, and building a camera collection at the same time. I think enough people are realizing this - more and more in fact, to make film production continuously viable.Also, the price of old cameras is now at rock bottom, and may be set to rise, as more people get more frustrated with the ho-hum samey-ness of their digital cameras.

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Focus Matters

EOS 400D, Kit Lens, Summer 2011

Yes, focus does matter a lot, or you might regard this as a Post concerning all Matters About Focussing. Either way is right.

I love the above picture for it's composition and creative use of exposure. However, there are some focus problems within it. The waitress and the two ladies seated at the very back are not in focus, and this really shows up on a print that is 8X10 or bigger. It sort of doesn't matter, because of the low exposure, and emphasis on the suspended lamps, but it does matter because it is somewhat distracting.

This was a case where I let the camera's AF make the decision, and I wasn't careful enough to make sure the AF was doing the right thing. In fact, I honestly wasn't thinking about focus at all, because I was so absorbed with getting the correct "moody" exposure, I ended up taking "Auto Focus" for granted, and I don't even know for sure what the camera did, or how I had the AF set, but from looking at the picture, it would appear that I was using the default Multi-Point AF, and the camera set itself to provide best focus on one of the lower points, giving very good definition in the foreground, and poor focus in the background. At the very least, I should have manually selected a more appropriate AF point, along with a deeper (smaller, higher number) Aperture value. I highlighted those words for a reason - it always strikes me funny how that with "automatic" cameras, we still have to be careful to manually set up the right automation to best suit the picture! It's not nearly as easy as putting your automatic transmission in reverse when you want to go backwards! This is what makes me a fan of older style manual lenses, and classic film cameras.

We must be very careful about how we use Auto Focus, and that it can be in fact, just as laborious and time consuming as manual focus. Personally, I prefer using manual focus, simply because it's much easier than trying to select one of the 9 (or in cases with "better" cameras, 19 or more!) AF points using the camera's push-buttons and control dials. With a manual focus lens, you simply focus on the main object of interest (which is not necessarily in the centre of the picture - in this case it should've been the waitress), then re-compose, and finally stop down the lens and press your Depth of Field Preview button to check on what's actually in focus from front to back.

You can use a similar approach with auto-focus by setting up your camera with it's "non-default" single- centre focus point, focus on the object of interest, half press the shutter - the camera will respond by automatically setting the focus AND the exposure, then re-compose, and press the DOF button to check your front to back focus. But be careful - now the exposure may not be what you want, because the exposure automatically got set at the same time the focus did! If I had done this by centring on the waitress, the whole picture would've been auto-exposed much brighter, because the camera would've compensated for the waitress being in shadow. Further manual effort would then be required to lower the Exposure Value (EV).

This should serve to explain why modern DSLR's have all those buttons and dials on them - yes you can re-program your camera using these buttons and dials to separate the focus point from the exposure point (such as by pressing the "exposure lock" button), and then focussing, or you can program it to do the opposite - program that same button to be a "focus lock" and then create the exposure you want, before taking the picture. But then, don't forget to change everything back to "normal" before you take the next picture. Personally, it all makes my head spin, and it's all a perfect example of how the camera can get in your way sometimes.

Here's a good article that describes the "old" way of focussing a camera, using the Depth of Field scale on the lens barrel (something that's absent from almost all modern "digital" lenses). It may sound complicated if all you are used to is Auto-Focus, but in actual fact, for tricky situations such as I encountered with the picture above, this would have been much easier, and more of what I'm personally accustomed to.

Aside from all that, no matter what camera you've got, the most important thing is to get to know it. Learn what all the buttons and dials do, and practice with lot's of pictures. Then form your own opinions about the way of using the camera that works best for you in every situation.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Good Thing Come to Those Who Wait

The Yashica Lynx - 14E

I've had my eye on this one for a long time. It's been sitting in the display case of "expensive items" at a Salvation Army Thrift Store since February with a price tag of $89.95 on it. At first I tried to beat them down, but the word was "we never negotiate on price, as this is a charity store". Good enough - I believe in good will, but I don't believe in overpriced cameras. We shall see. I would periodically go in and check on it, and one time I gave it a thorough going over in the store. I noticed the light seals around the film door were badly deteriorated, and I couldn't get the battery holder to unscrew, probably due to corrosion, but otherwise, everything worked very well. I gave the girl behind the case my evaluation, but do you suppose she even knew what I was talking about, or even cared?

Today, I went into the store to buy a pair of jeans, but of course, had to sneak by the display case too. And what's this? The green price sticker of $89.95 had been replaced with a red one, reading $29.95! Now that's more like it! As you can see, I brought it home, fiddled around with the controls a bit - everything's still good, and I put a roll of film in.

But what about those light seals? Well, the lower half of the leather case (real nice case I might add) completely covers the affected door, so I'm going to trust that no light will get past the case. And the battery? Well, contrary to the belief of some out there, this model's battery is for the meter only, and unlike with , say, the Yashica 5000, there is no automation or electronic shutter control. The shutter speed only goes to 1/500 - everything is totally manual. I can use this camera with my external light meter, same as I do with my FED-5b. I made good and certain this was in fact true before I put the film in. I verified every shutter speed, and looked through the lens at every aperture setting, and sure enough - they operate fully independently of each other. Here's a short little article that verifies my findings.

Here's a close-up of the control rings:

The 45mm f1.4 (drool!!) lens is fixed - it can't be interchanged with other lenses. Also, all controls are on the lens barrel itself. Starting from the body outward, there is the focus ring, the depth of field scale on the main tube, which also has a flash sync selector and self-timer winder underneath, which you can't see here, then there's the aperture ring (f1.4 to f16) along with the film "ASA" (ISO) selector switch and window, and finally, the shutter speed selector is the very front control ring, with provision for "B" to 1/500 speeds. The only controls on top of the beautifully chromed top plate are the film advance / counter window, the shutter release, and the rewind crank. The flash PC socket is also mounted on the top left of the plate. The front of the camera has both the viewfinder and rangefinder windows, and the very ugly Cds light-meter lens, along with a push-button "Switch" near the bottom to activate the light meter, which displays simple arrows in the viewfinder (useless without the battery).

Mechanically this camera feels amazing. The shutter is very quiet, and all controls turn very smoothly. The viewfinder is large and very bright, although mine looks quite cloudy with age. The split image for the rangefinder is a bit smaller than the one on my FED-5, but it is brighter, and responds with less of a turn on the focus knob, so focus can be achieved very quickly. Remember - nothing is ever blurry in a rangefinder window - you have to be looking at the split image when you focus.

I will try and get a roll of film shot through this little beauty within the next couple of days, and hope everything works out as good as I think it will. Meanwhile, here's a Flickr Group dedicated to these cameras showing what they can do.

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Nailing It With Old School

Norm Hunter, the All-Around Tour Nice-Guy
(FED-5b Russian Rangefinder, Industar-61 50mm f2.8 Lens, Kodak Ultramax 400 Film)

I haven't done much with the FED-5 lately. As much as I love the camera, I thought that a lot of shots I had taken last winter with it were really bad, because of the Industar 61 Lens I have on it. It's a very old sample of a very cheap lens, with an early Serial # and without the L/D designation. I've been thinking of upgrading it to at least a Jupiter-8, but with even those getting pretty close to $100 lately, I though I should give the really bad Industar another try, now that it's summer.

So, this Co-Operative Farm that Kathy and I work at as volunteers was having a Volunteer Orientation Day - a perfect opportunity to photograph people (which I don't do very much) outdoors, as Norm gave us a very thorough tour of the Farm. This put me in a very rare situation where I could photograph people casually, while I was right in the middle of the action. And of course I had the goats, horses, chickens and turkeys in the mix as fine subjects too.

Before I go any further writing about the experience, I should say that I am very pleased with the shots I got... you can see them all here. Very pleasantly surprised indeed!

I had forgotten how cool it is using a Rangefinder. The FED-5b is a very sturdy Russian camera - the one I've got is about 40 years old, and it happens to be the model without a built-in light meter. It really gets you back to the roots of photography, as it is a totally manual camera with which you need to determine yourself what f-stops and shutter speed you need for good exposure, there are no batteries, and of course, the lens is manually focussed, with the help of the rangefinder window. Sometimes, I use a light-meter app on my smart-phone, but as I had left it at home, I was left to my own devices. It was a bright, sunny and hot day, so the "Sunny-16 Rule" would be my only baseline. From past experience however, I've found this rule lends to under-exposure, and so I've adapted it to be the "Sunny-8 Rule", meaning that with 400 ISO film, I would use a shutter speed of 1/400 and an aperture of f8. Old cameras usually don't have 1/400, and the closest thing is 1/500, which is a little "darker", and creates a happy medium between f8 and f16. You would be also good at f11, but I have a strong preference to push film to it's upper limit, because with film photography, it's all about "catching light". Most of these shots will show that I nailed it with 1/500 at f8, using 400 ISO film.

 Eric the Builder, Proud of His New Chicken Coupe

 Follow the Leader

 Picking Peas

 Some Final Words

Bo-Jangles, the Biting Horse

Manual Exposure is only half the game - how about manual focus? This is always a beginner-friendly Blog, so I'm going to address this to people who haven't experienced focussing a camera manually. So, with most of these shots, I was at f8, as described above, which normally provides plenty of field depth to make everything in focus, especially if you're a few metres away from your foreground subjects. But for most of these, I was closer than that, and foreground focus would be the most critical part here, and so I made use of the built-in rangefinder focussing aid. This is truly one of the best inventions of photography - a rangefinder is a dual window viewfinder which provides a coloured patch in the middle of the viewfinder window which displays a "split image" of whatever you choose to be the subject of the picture you wish to focus on. The idea is to aim that patch right over your preferred focus point, turn the focus ring on the lens until the split-image lines up into one, and then re-compose your picture. Nothing in the viewfinder will ever look blurry, because it's not looking through  the main lens, as on a SLR type camera. It takes some getting used to, but in my opinion, this manner of focussing a picture is the best way to go. Once you get onto it, you'll find it's certainly more accurate than multi-point auto-focus, and can also be quicker, as all you have to do is merge those two images into one - it can be done very quickly.

So, back to that Industar-61 lens and these results. I am a lot more pleased with this lens now than I was, and replacing it is not so much on my mind any more. It has a "etch-like sharpness" that's hard to describe, and very unusual. Also, the film you use makes a big difference. Last winter, I was using Fuji Superia 400, which tends toward low colour saturation. These pics were taken with Kodak Ultramax, and I was surprised with it's very high saturation. I had to de-saturate all of these pictures a couple of steps, while with the Fuji, I found myself boosting the colour saturation.  I think it's better to be de-saturating a film that's a little too bloomy, as opposed to adding more un-natural software saturation to a film that's too neutral, and I feel this was influencing my thinking that this is a bad lens.

So, it's seldom that I get nearly a full roll of keepers, but it happened this time, with this event. The camera and lens, being Russian, are very unusual, and they deliver very unusual results. There is certainly a nostalgic old school look provided here, without going way overboard with that, as you would do with the very popular "Instagram -cult" digital filters. It's just enough to keep it real.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Art of the Snapshot

The Snow Job

I know... I know! You must be wondering why I'm featuring a shot from last February, when we're just beginning to enjoy the humid comforts of a late summer. Well, my topic is Snapshots - again. And this picture, for some reason popped into my mind as a perfect example of a Snapshot that was taken, at least this year, even though it was in February. Like I said in my earlier post, the main ingredient is "love", in the sense that snap-shooters "do it for love". In this case, I love the way my town clears away the snow banks so quickly, and I also love machinery in action. So, in the form of a true snap-shooter, I spontaneously went out and took pictures of the snow clearing operation in action. Absolutely no professionalism, no aspirations, no pay, and even though I used my DSLR for this, it would've been just as good if I had used a much cheaper camera.

Here then is a warmer example^

I have to admit, of every photo genre, I still like the snapshot most of all. I like the spontaneity, the simple stories, the anti-professionalism and the aesthetic. I also like what differentiates the snapshot from everything else that comes close to it. Unlike Street Photography, it doesn't have to be about being in the middle of the action on a busy city street. The idea of the snapshot is that it can be taken literally anywhere. Unlike Lomography, the snapshot doesn't have to be deliberately shoddy and unpredictable because a toy camera is used. Equipment doesn't matter at all, although if you're into snap-shooting, one could be over-equipped I suppose.

Finally, when you come right down to it, snap-shooting is about all that I do. I've never used a studio or special lighting - always available light, occasionally with flash-fill, I've only shot one wedding, and by my own estimation, it was a failure. I don't do videos, sports or photojournalism, so I don't need all the good camera features that enable these. In other words, I'm no aspiring Pro! Don't ever forget - with this blog, I write about being a non-professional, and if you're looking for professional advice - look elsewhere. This blog is about how to be the anti-professional, non-aspiring photographer.

It occurred to me just yesterday as I was daydreaming, (which is one thing I'm really really good at), that even though I'm thoroughly familiar with a camera and it's mathematics of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, flash-sync, etc. I mostly use my cameras in "snapshot mode". I don't mean "green box" mode; I mean I usually set up for normal exposure and long field depth, so that the camera isn't focussing on the wrong thing, but is simply focussing on everything. This makes the camera ready for any shot, with no delays from the auto-focus... or, I abandon auto-focus completely, and use an old manual lens and pre-focus it for maximum depth.

In other words, I am very over-equipped. All I really need is a Russian FED-Zorki with two or three LTM lenses for it. When I think about all of the equipment I've got, I feel uneasy - almost pressured by the question - "why aren't I aspiring to be doing more with my photography?" But when I think about owning just one camera system, based on the Russian Leica copies to shoot only one roll of film per month, I feel totally at peace. The reason for this is - that's the way I shoot 95% of the time, with a few exceptions - music festivals, car shows and cat shows. For these, I need to rapidly shoot a lot of pictures with a wide aperture - and the DSLR is what makes the most sense here.

I've decided to be a snap-shooter, and that makes me feel great! We'll be hitting the road sometime this month, and I promise lot's of great summertime snapshots.

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at