For a few days now, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how this damned camera chooses just how it’s going to expose. I kept telling myself that this thing is just a machine. It must be predictable based on how it it programmed to function within it’s limitations of shutter speed and aperture. But let me tell you…this has been a real puzzle to try to figure out. I think many people after a few packs of film would rather just get out the 10 pound sledge hammer.
This is what I know:
The film speed is 800.
The camera will choose either of 2 apertures – f8 or f22.
At 1/30s shutter speed, the camera will always choose f8.
The auto setting will expose anywhere from 10s to 1/250s
Right away based on these parameters, we know the camera will overexpose by one stop based on the sunny 16 rule. I always chose to shoot in bright conditions with a cpl screwed on to the lens for that reason. I just wanted something that would block the light coming into the lens by about a stop.
This is what I didn’t know:
Why do we get so many over exposures with this camera when it doesn’t seem like we should?
How does it select which aperture it’s going to use? Why do we get underexposures of our foreground?
I took a handheld Sekonic light meter with me each time I went out to take some test photos. And we have to remember that the built-in light meter on this camera does not look through the lens at our subject, but it measures the light where the camera is. So if your subject is in grossly different light than our camera, well guess what? You know what will happen.
Bearing this in mind, I always took an incident light reading at the camera’s meter location before I did a test shot. I thought this would be the most accurate way to predict the exposure from the camera’s perspective.
1.) The camera seems to opt for the higher shutter speed if possible. So if the shutter speed measured at f8 (at the camera location) is 1/250s or slower, it will always choose to use f8.
2.) If the shutter speed measured at f8 (at the camera location) is faster than 1/250s, it will choose to use f22 of course.
3.) the dynamic range of the prints are very very narrow. Thus, when you take a photograph you have to decide ahead of time if it’s the foreground or the sky that is the most important. Many times one of those things is going to go. So choose one or the other.
4.) Be prepared to use your exposure compensation switch to adjust for the foreground brightness. Most of the time during the day, I would have to shoot at -1, and if it was quite gloomy out, I may have to use 0 or even +1 to bring the foreground brightness up. And remember, I still have the cpl screwed onto the lens.
5.) If you’ve measured the exposure at 1/125s @ f8 or brighter and you are shooting a scene with sky in it or objects near to the sky that are important to see detail in, setting -1 on the exposure compensation often is not enough. You should use a cpl or 1 stop ND on the lens for sure. Otherwise, if you’re shooting a scene with no bright areas in it, you don’t really require a cpl. Just adjust your exposure compensation accordingly often setting it to 0 or +1.
6.) When you compose a photo, try to make sure that your subject is in decent light. Shadow areas quite often because of the dynamic range of the prints, will go to black.
7. As far as the flash is concerned, I found that the exposure compensation switch only had an effect on ambient light, not the flash. No big surprise there. But the flash was too bright in most photos I took of people 6 feet or so away. The only way to fix this would be to back up to 10 or 12 feet and try another shot. We know that aperture affects the brightness of the flash, and shutter speed controls the ambient. Therefore, you most need the flash when light levels are low, when the camera is going to choose an aperture of f8. So having the flash being too bright 6 feet from your subject really sucks. You’re probably not going to use the flash if your shooting at f22. Or are you??? Well, the flash when shooting at f22 seems to have very little effect on the photos. It’s just not powerful enough unless you’re very close to your subject. But here’s the weird thing about this flash: it seems just fine if you get in close and set the lens to focus to .6 meters. Maybe the flash sensor works fine at close distances. But it sure seems like if you’re at 6 feet or more, it fires at full power every time.
Wow. If you’re like me and like to know what your camera is going to do before you take a shot (daaaa), then this can be a really confusing camera to use. I’ve done some tests and have a much better idea of things to look for now when trying to predict the outcome. But even still, it’s more hit and miss than I really care for. Luck will really enter the equation with this camera. The images when they work, I really enjoy. If you like the unpredictable nature of instant photography, then you will enjoy playing around with this camera.
So I’d say that you need to understand that the dynamic range of the prints is very narrow. Once you’ve gone through a few packs of film, you should be a little better at knowing how to choose your compositions and how to set the camera accordingly, and when and if you need to use a filter on the lens. The flash threw me for a loop, but I now have a better idea of how to use that.
But here’s the thing: are you really going to carry a light meter around with you and measure the exposure at the camera before you take a shot? Probably not! So just get used to using film to zero in your exposures.
I know a lot more about the unpredictable nature of this machine now than I did before, but I still intend to do some more experimenting with it…at least until I run out of film or get too frustrated – whichever comes first haha.
Note: all the horrific shots you see in this post are completely unedited in any way…straight up scans.
It must have been sometime around the year 1973 when my interest in photography really started. The reason I remember this is because my father brought home a few photography brochures from the office he was working in. On the cover of one of those brochures was the brand new Canon FTb SLR film camera. What a beauty. I can remember how much I would have liked to have been able to use a camera like that, but unfortunately, it was just not in our budget. Advance to the year 2016 and I am now the proud owner of a mint FTb with a 85mm f1.2 lens. It only took 42 years but I am finally shooting with that dream camera of my youth.
Film photography was how I started out as a photographer, and I still enjoy shooting with it today. I taught myself how to develop, scan, and print both black and white and colour negatives. I can honestly say that shooting with film has taught me more photography skills than any of my digital cameras will ever teach me.
I suppose though, that it’s the process of shooting with film that I enjoy the most. It’s getting away from that instant gratification thing that has made me have more of an appreciation for producing an image that is interesting and meaningful.
Today I’m a hybrid photographer. I own and shoot both digital and analog cameras. I cannot however, tell you how thankful I am that I started out with film and using film cameras. I guess I’m a dying breed as the new generation has grown up with digital. But it sure is nice to see so many younger people shooting with film SLR’s and really enjoying it.
So why then, do I think that I’ve learned a lot using film cameras? Here are some of my experiences:
1.) Shooting with film has taught me to think about what I’m doing with the camera. I’ve got 36 frames on a roll and I want to make them count.
2.) I have learned how to really evaluate exposure. Many of my film cameras either don’t have meters or have meters that don’t work. As a result I’ve taught myself how to carefully measure light using an external light meter or the sunny 16 rule.
3.) Film cameras have taught me the basics of understanding that photography is really the ability to see as well as having a good grasp of ASA (ISO), shutter speed, and aperture. Most film cameras have shutter speeds and apertures in full stops so they are easier to understand how different combinations work.
4.) I have learned that careful developing and film handling is critical to producing a good undamaged, clean negative.
5.) Shooting film has really taught me a great deal about how to see colour in the world. I’ve learned all about primary and complimentary colours, and how they manifest themselves with different film stocks. Thanks to film, I have a better understanding of what to look for when shooting colour.
6.) Film has taught me that sharpness and focus are often way overrated. A good photograph is not the sharpest photograph or the one that focused precisely.
7.) Film has given me an appreciation for the film aesthetic. I love the subtle differences in various film stocks, and I embrace grain like I couldn’t do with digital.
8.) Shooting film has made me patient. I’m no longer in a hurry to see my images. In fact, usually by the time I’ve developed the roll of film, I’ve completely forgotten that I even took those photos. That just makes it all the more sweeter.
9.) Film photography has led me to learn all about photography history. If you don’t know where you came from, you won’t know where you’re going.
10.) Large format photography has brought the joy back into shooting. I think the reason for this is because it requires a great deal of effort. And looking at an image on the ground glass that is upside down and flipped left to right, has forced me to pay attention to the edges of the frame and carefully consider my composition. The satisfaction I get from seeing a large format print beautifully composed, exposed, and handled is like no other.
So there you have it. There are many more reasons why shooting film has helped me as a photographer, but I think you get the point. If you are a new photographer and have never tried film, I encourage you to do so. Even if you buy a used SLR on Ebay and shoot a few rolls a year and have a lab develop them for you, you’re bound to enjoy the experience and learn a lot about photography.
Why do photographers use different cameras? Why for example would they choose to photograph with a large format, cumbersome old camera versus a nice new modern 35mm DSLR? Why do some photographers prefer using a Pentax 645 or a Hasselblad 6 by 6 for their work? And why on earth would some photographers choose film over digital?
I want to say first of all, that even though photography is a visual art and the end product of what we do is something to study and look at, it is also an activity that is based on process. Therefore image quality aside, some photographers very much enjoy the process of shooting on large format compared to how easy it is to snap an image with say a cellphone or a 35mm point and shoot.
But in terms of image quality, let’s consider a few of the most important differences between formats.
1.) The larger the format or sensor size, the less depth of field and the better the separation between focus planes in the image. Typically when you go to a larger format you need a longer lens to get the same image coverage. And although you could shoot at a smaller aperture to compensate for the depth of field difference, the image is still rendered differently. Image planes are separated better and with a sharper transition than wider lenses can accommodate.
2.) The larger the format or sensor size, the greater the dynamic range and the more subtle the transitions between adjacent luminosities. This is perhaps the number one reason many landscape photographers tend to choose large format cameras. Not only are they typically shooting scenes with large dynamic ranges, but they also tend to print big. Some modern DSLR cameras handle dynamic range quite well while others do not. The capture curve on some cameras is very linear producing unnatural looking tonality. And there are some cameras that may have a smaller actual dynamic range, but they have a curve that renders the high-mids to high luminosities in a much more gradual and natural looking way.
3.) The larger the format or sensor size, the larger the image receptors and the more spread out over a greater area they are. This results in better signal to noise ratios which are perceived as better edge definition and clarity. And, when viewing large prints up close, certainly more pixels per inch is a huge part of what gives us the sensation of being immersed into a scene rather than just say looking at some flat rectangle from a distance.
An interesting aspect to this story that most people do not realize, particularly when it comes to tonal transition and resolution, is that most web images simply cannot show you these differences. In fact it’s not until you start to display images that are at least 3000 pixels in size that you will begin to appreciate this. Not many people are in the habit of outputting 100 percent crops of their web images or displaying them in that size. 4k monitors are becoming much more prevalent, but even still, the typical size of a web image and that kind of downsizing of a high resolution sensor cannot possibly yield any advantage to resolution or edge acuity, the very reasons why we think we should choose a large format camera.
So this brings us back to the question of why we need to shoot with a larger format camera or sensor size. I’d like to think that most who shoot these kinds of cameras are in the habit of outputting their images to large prints. But there are also those who simply choose to shoot different formats because it is the “process” that they enjoy regardless of the image quality. It is indeed a whole different thing to shoot a large format camera compared to a 35mm.
And lastly, why do some photographers choose film over digital? It’s been my experience that the response curve of film is very much like what we see with very gradual tonal transitions in the high end, whereas most digital cameras, particularly those with smaller sensor sizes have rather unnatural and abrupt response transitions to clipping. Trying to capture large dynamic range landscapes with an iPhone is going to produce images that not only suffer from poor resolution, but may have unfavourable highlight clipping or poor colour rendering. Cell phone cameras have really improved of late, and may be a huge advantage as far as stealthiness and convenience, however, they are not the camera of choice if you’re looking for high output resolution or image plane separation.
This all brings us back to what I’ve mentioned in many of my previous blogs about things to consider when choosing a camera. You need to look at and consider your end goal. If you’re only interested in printing the occasional 4 by 6 or outputting your images to Instagram, then why are you using a medium format sensor or a DSLR with a massively high resolution? I hope your answer is because you enjoy using the camera and not because it gets you more likes. (But we all know that those of us who still shoot film cameras are cooler right?)
Something to think about…