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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