Mistakes with Film (1)

•Saturday, 20 December, 2008 • 2 Comments

I do enjoy playing around with film alongside my more digital photography. I’m just not so good at getting it processed so there can be some delays in seeing the output. I thought today I’d share some of my mistakes and experiments as I try to get the settings correct. Photo10_6

1) focusing 2)feet
This was part of my experimentation with hyperfocal focusing for street photography. A reasonable wide angle lens, pre focused (ahem) and then clicking a shot from waist-height. It didn’t quite work. Its a bit out of focus and its cropped their feet. I know proper street photography is in black-and-white, but I’m just practicing at the moment. I may use a digital for a few tests before I try more film stock for this.

Olympus OM2, 21mm f3.5.


1) focus 2)camera shake

What’s quite interesting with this type of photography is that there’s an element of ‘stolen moment’. I know the theory of presetting the shutter speed/focus/aperture but one needs a calmness to make it all work. I watched a guy in New York taking candids on a road crossing and he was all a bustle with a small Leica. In reality, some care is still needed to get the picture to freeze in sensible focus. Needs more work.

What was interesting about both of the above pictures though, is that the exposure seems pretty well spot on according to the equivalent computer calculation by Aperture. Not bad for a 1970s’ camera. Photo09_5

1) crap composition, 2) focus, 3) POV

Those that know my main blog will know that I don’t really do negative over there. This is something of a departure, putting up my own pictures and then criticizing them. I also deliberately use blurs and smudges over at rashbre central, so its amusing here trying to get some clean shots. The interesting thing for me with this little set was that I’d decided to experiment with ‘street’ settings but hadn’t really prepared. So I knew the theory but not the practicalities. And I suppose I was also in too much of a hurry as well. So the above picture taken with a 21mm lens has a large white van plonked in a silly place in the foreground and the interesting stuff going on in the arch is out of focus. It doesn’t pass the ‘brick’ test either because they are out of focus. I could have done so much more with the metalwork of that fork lift truck too.

Nice exposure though.

A few lessons for me:
1) Prepare for street shots; understand about pre-setting the camera
2) Still think about where the shots will work best
3) Use something moderately wide angle to gather the shot
4) Practice some non eye shots
5) Find some interesting areas for the shots/ backgrounds
6) Remember many of the best street shots can be black and white (I know I had a colour film at the time)
7) Get up close – I know I didn’t.

Call this a practice run.


Sensors and Depth of Field

•Saturday, 18 October, 2008 • 1 Comment

Olympus OM1, Zuiko 24mm f2 Kodak ASA200

I’ve been playing around with 35mm film and full frame sensor DSLR since the last post whilst I pondered the Depth of Field effects which are so much easier to get on cameras with large sensors. There’s some mathematics about calculating the near focus(NF) point, the far focus(FF) point and the consequent Depth of Field(DOF) in between. There is also the extra point called the Hyperfocal(H) point where from half that distance to infinity is in focus.

Why mention all of this? Mainly because just understanding that the points exist helps inform some types of photography. Its is less relevant when using auto focus or auto everything, but can provide some creative adjustments when wanting to throw background or foreground in or out of focus or to have a piece of the picture in focus alone.

I also noticed that it is easier to achieve with the larger format sensors and (less surprisingly) with wider aperture lenses. Quite interesting because there are a few commercial points to consider too:

1: most compact cameras have really small sensors – to keep down costs and to keep the camera small and slim. Neither point helps provide depth of field.

2: most DSLRs come with a zoom kit lens and many people don’t go beyond it. Many kit lenses stop down to around f3.8 and some of the really pronounced depth effects would typically be at larger apertures. The kit zoom is a pragmatic solution because the camera manufacturers know that changing lenses on digital is more dust prone than with film.

3: the sensors on most DSLRs are bigger than compact cameras, but still not as big as 35mm film, so the effect of the field is less pronounced for the previous mathematical reasons.

I guess it illustrates that the pixel race isn’t the only consideration with digital cameras although sensor size gets far less ‘publicity’.
Olympus OM1, Zuiko 24mm f2 Kodak ASA200

Using Zuiko OM lenses with a DSLR

•Thursday, 25 September, 2008 • 17 Comments

beautiful freak 2
I decided to take a couple of the recently acquired cheap eBay Olympus lenses and see how they fared on a modern digital camera. I had to buy a small metal ring adapter from the internet to allow the lenses to fit onto a digital body.

The strangest aspect is how small these lenses look on the digital camera body because they don’t have internal electronics and servo motors. These 20 year old lenses actually work quite well. The focusing is manual, but the camera makes a reassuring ping when its internal focus circuit detects that a point of sharpness has been reached. The aperture needs to be stopped down manually too. For anyone used to film SLRs this is really no big deal, and for many people working beyond ‘point and shoot’ with digital camera this is also pretty normal.

The other interesting thing is the relatively inexpensive nature of what are really quite good lenses. I think the Olympus Zuiko lenses are surprisingly sharp and well-behaved when used in this way and for relatively small change its possible to build up a selection of prime lenses which have effectively been traded in by ex film photographers who have gone digital.

I spotted a few reviews by lens gurus comparing the Zuikos with various Zeiss, Canon and other lenses and the Olympus Zuikos generally came out very well, usually getting some top marks.

I won’t be as fastidious as that, but I am interested to see if they’ll take a good picture and so far the results are encouraging.

I think its quite a good little secret to be able to pick up a 50mm prime f1.8 with a filter for less than the price of a Canon filter alone. This also extends to quite a few of the other useful lenses; I acquired a 28mm f2.8 for the cost of a Starbucks Latte. Of course, this was part of my little eBay project and I thought it best to finish my collection before declaring anything in case the prices suddenly all went up.

I’ll add a few pictures when I’ve taken more than just some test shots, but for the moment here’s a couple of ‘straight from the camera to illustrate the effect.
depth of field test- Zuiko 50mm f1.4 on Canon DSLR full frame – No PS
rainy window – Zuiko 50mm f1.4 on Canon full frame – No PS
Zuiko 28mm f2.8 on Canon full frame – No PS

Film has a different rhythm

•Saturday, 20 September, 2008 • 1 Comment

I’d expected to write more about digital photography on this blog, but somehow the act of starting a blog about photography has forced me to think back to basics and I’ve found that film is a part of the process.

My digital camera can take 2,200 12 Megapixel shots at fine Jpeg or 500 raw before the card is full. Burst mode is 6 frames per second. My film camera takes a maximum of 36 shots and I have to wind the film in between by hand.

The DSLR can upload directly into my photo management software Aperture and the snaps can be on the internet in a few minutes – handy for the rashbre central blog where I want something current to accompany my daily story. Likewise my cellphone can post pictures direct to the internet. By comparison, I’m posting pictures here from a stroll last Sunday with the Olympus, because I’ve only just got the pictures processed. Today’s film shots are still in the camera because I’m only on shot 22 out of 36. Maybe I’ll finish them this weekend, or maybe I won’t.

I suppose the film camera is reminding me about how sometimes slowly planning a shot can be part of the process. The little analogue 35mm SLR I’m using has manual aperture settings and a needle to match for exposure so its also good as a way to rmember photograpic technique, which can blur away in a microprocessor instant, with auto everything. I still find the DSLR will refocus because ‘it knows best’ if I’ve forgotton to override something.

Today I was out walking by the sun-lit River Thames whilst carrying the inconspicuous SLR and I mused that probably f11 would be a good aperture for some general wide angle shots. I don’t think with DSLR I hardly ever bother to think or make such preparations – knowing that the computerised ASA will automatically adjust if I forget a setting.

My point is the simplicity of the viewfinder, aperture and speed setting that the film camera re-instills. I shall continue to take pictures with whatever device is to hand, but I’m regaining my appreciation for the simplicity of film and the techniques employed.
The pictures to accompany this were shot using the eBay acquired Olympus OM2, with a likewise eBay acquired 21mm lens, mainly taken at around f8. Last Saturday, I took a short stroll with the camera and decided to play with perspective. Unlike my digital shots, these are ‘straight from the camera’, without any adjustments or cropping.
…but you know something, I can’t resist cropping the middle one…

Depth of Field

•Friday, 12 September, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I started to muse about depth of field in the last post and I thought I’d continue. The little eBay camera has quite a nice lens with it, so when I found an expired reel of Kodak Gold 200, I though I’d take the camera for a spin. A few random artifacts around rashbre central created the subjects and I decided used the so called ‘standard 50mm lens’ to take a few deliberately blurry pictures.

The interesting thing is that this small SLR has the equivalent of a the latest generation Nikon or Canon professional sensor size (ie because its 35mm film) and so with a large aperture lens, the Depth of Field (ie how narrowly on can focus) gets quite interesting.
So today’s pictures are ‘straight from the camera’ (via film processing) and don’t have any Photoshopping, cropping or similar. I wanted to see how ‘thin’ the layer of focus could be to get some effects. The duck’s eye is supposed to be the focus, with a view to getting the one behind out of focus, for example. Available light with expired film also creates some interesting grain!

There’s various mathematical explanations about why a compact camera’s small sensor can’t do this, even when it says f2.8 on the camera so I sense that the eBay bargain will be getting some reasonable use alongside my other cameras. There’s a few more test shots here, all from the same reel of ten year old film

Did I say digital? Maybe film will also get a look-in

•Thursday, 4 September, 2008 • 4 Comments

Olympus OM2
Before I started using digital cameras, my weapon of choice used to be an Olympus OM2 SLR or an ancient solar-powered Olympus Trip which I acquired from a friend in a complicated piece of money-less bartering. By comparison with today’s cameras, these cameras have an endearing simplicity, although both took great film-based pictures.

The OM 1 and 2 series from Yoshihisa Maitani San are absolute design classics and my favourite is the OM2. The current Olympus digitals still pay a subtle homage to the OM series with their concealed OM viewfinder ‘peak’ hidden under the popup flash.
Oly OM Homage in their digitals
Perhaps I am in a minority nowadays, but I generally prefer working with a viewfinder and am surprised that quite a few of the less expensive DSLRs don’t provide depth of field preview, which is a ‘table stakes’ facility for the old film SLRs. I can understand it with compact digitals which generally have tiny sensors and maddeningly short focal lengths so ‘depth of field’ really has less meaning.

Also, time spent using film SLRs means that I don’t habitually look at the camera back after every shot the way that most people seem to when working with compacts. Perhaps time with film and the lack of that instant picture feedback has got me used to a certain confidence in what I’m expecting to finally emerge.

So when I saw that Debra is working on a semi-secret website for filmaholics, I thought I’d better dust off the old camera in readiness. But Oh, sadness. The OM2 has decided to misbehave and even after a battery change I’m not sure whether I can fix it. The problem is, that after ‘touching’ the OM2 again and twisting the shutter speed ring and the preview button, I knew this was where my film based heart lay.

So across to eBay for a quick peek and where I found what I consider to be a classic OM2 camera being bid for rather small money. What could I do? Why ‘win’ it of course! So for less than a small round of drinks in a London bar, I now have a shiny new-looking replacement OM2, f1.4(!) lens and even a leather case.

Now for some film.

Tip : Crop : Fill the Frame

•Monday, 1 September, 2008 • 3 Comments

I use a variety of cameras from SLR to mobile phone when I take pictures and that sometimes means that the composition is less than precise. There’s plenty of people that say it is important to get the picture right in the camera, so that it doesn’t need any post-processing. “Fill the Frame” goes the mantra.

I’m less convinced when its a ‘grab shot’ on a random small device, where there quite often isn’t even a proper viewfinder. I was in a run at the weekend and took a few pictures on my cellphone. To be honest, I knew the pictures would look blurry and made that a feature of the pictures. “Its not a bug, its a feature”, as the saying goes.

But this post is supposed to be about cropping to create a ‘fill the frame’ moment after a less than ideal initial circumstance. I’ve taken a fairly bleary eyed early morning Glastonbury picture just to illustrate that there can sometimes be scenes to rescue from even rather rough starting material. I took this on a small handheld camera and am using it just to illustrate some cropping and the side point about ‘fill the frame’. Here’s the ‘grabbed’ original…
A little messy, with the central hula hoopist with a flagpole growing from her head. Oops. It was an early misty, smoky morning, so that does create some atmosphere I’d want to retain. But its not obvious where the focus of the picture resides. There’s a dragon at the left edge of the frame, light coloured tents in the background…

So as well as drawing a square around part of the original picture, it’s necessary to decide what to make the story. ‘Fill the frame’ says make one thing the main point. This is supposed to be done when the picture is first composed, but I’ll jettison some pixels to make it happen afterwards.

Step one: crop it down and apply a small amount of foliage cloning to make the flagpole through the head go away. And gently boost the contrast so that the main characters stand out slightly more.
Step two: decide if that’s a good way to tell it, or whether to come in closer so that the scene is the hoopist and the bemused onlooker.
The last one still gives the same sense of place, but is a much tighter and simpler shot. With an SLR, it might have been possible to just pick the shot directly, but at least this way its possible to get a similar effect. To be honest, the yellow hat gets rather large after the second crop, but it could be muted down. And don’t tell me that film photographers don’t get up to these tricks with ‘dodge and burn’ to emphasise or de-emphasise parts of the picture.
So a further version with the yellow hat de-emphasized and a gently increased contrast. That’ll do. I’ll call it ‘Hoopy’.