The cheap bastard guide to (film) photography – Part II: Medium format

Hasselblad 500c/m

With medium format cameras the price of the admission ticket used to be pretty steep. Thankfully to the explosion of the digital craziness now you may buy cameras that costed thousand of euro for a few bucks. Keep in mind that the quality will be correlated to the original price, not the one you will pay now!

I will not include in the “up to 50€” section cheap cameras like the Holga, the Diana or the Agfa Clack; if you like the specific look they deliver they are really good, but for a first-timer in the medium format world probably not the best choice.

All the same, in the “up to 150 / 200€” section I decided to not include the Pentacon Six and the various russian cameras, because at this price point I think you may buy cameras much more reliables nowadays.

Keep in mind that more often than not you will need an external exposure meter (not with the Fuji GS645, the Pentax 645 or if you’ll buy an exposure finder). You may also use the meter of another camera, obviously, but this would mean taking more weight with you; your choice.

 

UP TO 50€

  • Rolleicord IIb / IIc with Zeiss Triotar 75/3,5

 

UP TO 150 / 200€

  • every Rolleicord with a Schneider Xenar 75/3,5
  • Fuji GS645*
  • Fuji GW690*
  • Mamiya M645 with 80/2,8
  • Mamiya RB67 with 90/3,5
  • Zenza Bronica ETR / ETRs / ETRsi with 75/2,8

* rangefinder cameras

Rolleiflex Rolleicord Vb

UP TO 400 / 500€

  • Fuji GX680 with a couple lenses and an AA battery adapter
  • Hasselblad 500c/m with Zeiss Planar 80/2,8
  • Hasselblad 500EL with Zeiss Planar 80/2,8
  • Mamiya RZ67 with 110/2,8
  • Pentax 645 with 75/2,8
  • Pentax 67 with 105/2,5 and TTL finder
  • Rolleiflex with Zeiss Planar 3,5 and meter

Rolleicord, Rolleiflex and the two Fuji rangefinder are all fixed, non-interchangeable lens cameras.

For the others you can pick a wide angle and a tele for under 300€ total, often for much less.

See you next time, with the large format options.

 

The cheap bastard guide to (film) photography – Part I: Shooting in 35mm

Olympus XA

35mm is the film format with the more choices.

Pretty much every reflex made in the past 60 years is capable of delivering great results, assuming that is working within specs – i.e. it’s not broken. The prices are pretty close grouped too, at least at the same level of sophistication.

So in this case the differences are in ease of use and number of functions. Why buy a no-name camera when now for pretty much the same money you can have, for example, a Nikon?

 

UP TO 50€

At this price point you can already find fully professional, manual cameras, like:

 

  • Canon EFM
  • Contax 139 Quartz / 159 with a 50/1,7 or 50/2 Yashica ML
  • Minolta X700 with a 50/1,7 Rokkor
  • Nikon FG / FG20 / FM with a 50/1,8 Nikkor
  • Olympus OM1 / OM1md / OM2 with a 50/1,8mm OM Zuiko lens
  • Pentax ME Super / MX with a 50/1,7 Pentax M
  • Yashica FR-I with 50/2 or 50/1,7 Yashica ML

 

A few autofocus, motorized cameras like:

 

  • Canon Eos 650 / 620 / RT / 1000 / 500

 

Or the rangefinders from Russia:

 

  • Kiev 4AM with 50/2 Jupiter-8 (a beautiful Sonnar copy)
  • Zorki 4k with a 50mm

 

In a class on its own is the:

 

  • Olympus XA

It is an extremely small rangefinder camera with an exceptionally good 35/2,8 and aperture priority exposure. Its price varies quite a bit; you can often find one for 30€, but sometime it sells for over 150€!

 

Your choice will be determined more from what you like esthetically than anything else, even though if you have a digital camera with interchangeable lenses you may well check if the lenses of the film camera system you are going to buy are compatible; in this case with a simple and cheap adapter you can use them with both.

 Pentax ME Super

UP TO 150€ / 200€

Here we are entering in the realm of the admirals, autofocus and with fast motors.

 

  • Canon Eos 1 / 1n with 50/1,8 EF
  • Nikon F4 / F4s with 50/1,8 Nikon AF
  • Pentax Z1 with 50/1,7 AF

 

Or the amazing – but with a s****y finder:

 

  • Contax G1 with 45/2 Zeiss Planar

 

 

UP TO 500€

And now come the queens.

First the rangefinders:

 

  • Minolta CLE with 40/2 M-Rokkor or Leica Summicron-C
  • Leica M2 / M3 with 50/3,5 Elmar

 

And then the fastest reflex:

 

  • Canon Eos 1V
  • Canon Eos 3
  • Nikon F5

 

 Nikon Lenses

JUST LENSES

If you happen to have a camera and want just a suggestion for a few cheap – but extremely good – lenses here we are.

Please keep in mind that with an adapter you can use Nikon, Olympus and Pentax lenses on Canon EF bodies, even if with a bit of discomfort (you will have to manually close the aperture before each shot and / or focus with the aperture closed at the working value).

 

ALL UNDER 50€ (in italics) / 100€, for SLRs

  • 20/3,5 Nikkor UD pre-Ai
  • 24/2,8 Nikkor pre-Ai or Ai
  • 24/2,8 Olympus OM Zuiko
  • 28/2,5 Minolta MC W-Rokkor SI
  • 28/2,8 Tokina RMC (various mounts)
  • 28/3,5 or 28/2,8 Nikkor Ai
  • 28/3,5 Olympus OM Zuiko
  • 28/2,8 Yashica ML
  • 28-85/3,5-4,5 Yashica ML
  • 35/2 Nikkor O pre-Ai
  • 35/2,8 Olympus OM Zuiko
  • 35/2,8 Yashica ML
  • every 50/1,7, 50/1,8 or 50/2 Minolta / Nikkor / Olympus OM Zuiko / Pentax
  • 50/1,8 Canon EF
  • 50/3,5 Nikkor Micro Nikkor pre-Ai
  • 50/1,4 Pentax S-M-C Takumar
  • 50/4 Pentax M Macro
  • 50/1,7 or 50/2 Yashica ML
  • 85/2 Nikkor Ai
  • 135/3,5 Minolta MD
  • 135/3,5 Olympus OM Zuiko
  • 100-300/5,6 Nikon Ai
  • 80-200/4 Yashica ML

 

ALL UNDER 50€ (in italics) / 100€ for Rangefinders (Leica screw M39 or Kiev 4 mount)

  • 35/2,8 Jupiter-12
  • 50/3,5 Industar-22
  • 50/2 Jupiter-8
  • 55/2,8 Industar-61 L/D
  • 85/2 Jupiter-9

And if you have a Contax G series camera each and every Contax G lens:

  • 21/2,8
  • 28/28
  • 35/2
  • 45/2
  • 90/2

For one of these you can expect to pay from 150€ (for the 90) up to under 350€ (for the 21).

 

See you next time with the medium format options.

 

The cheap bastard guide to (film) photography: introduction

The cheap bastard guide to film photography

If you’re a beginner that never touched a camera before or a digital shooter that wants to dip his toe in the vast pond of film photography you may feel overwhelmed with the amount of choices you face.

After all film cameras have been around quite a bit, so you may find them in all shapes, formats and prices. Where to start? This guide is for you!

I will treat each film format separately, and recommend when possible at least three alternatives: under 50€, under 100/200€ and under 500€. Like I said the choices are many, so I will exclusively talk about cameras and lenses I personally used, or of which I’ve seen examples first hand.

By the way, while 500€ is not by any mean cheap, you have to put things in context: it is still the average price of a good quality compact camera, and less than the price of a decent smartphone.

Especially if you are a complete beginner, you may have trouble just choosing with which format to shoot. There are no rules set in stone, meaning that you can use a large format camera for street photography or shoot landscapes with a 35mm. But below are the most common choices:

Street photography & Reportage

This is the realm of 35mm film. You may also consider “fast” medium format rangefinders like the Fuji GS645.

 

Fashion

In this case medium format is your best bet.

 

Portrait

From 35mm to large format, mostly depending on the style you want to pursue and if you prefer dynamic or more static, posed shots.

 Pentax 67

Landscape

At least medium format, if not large format. That said, a master like Galen Rowell used 35mm cameras for portability.

 

Still-life

You will need probably lots of movements, so shooting large format is recommended.

 

When it comes to choosing what kind of lenses you want to buy you should look at a critical selection of your pictures – the ones you like the most – and compile a small “statistic” of the focal lenght you used the most.

If you are a total beginner you better do the same, but using pictures shot from photography masters or, at the very least, you’ve selected from sites like Flickr, 500px etc. and dividing the results for wide-angles, normal lenses and tele – just check the EXIF datas.

And now a preview of how this series will develop – the links will become active once the corresponding post is online:

 

Part I: 35mm
Part II: Medium format
Part III: Large format
Part IV: Films and developers
Part V: Digitizing the pictures

 

Next time we’ll start with the 35mm.

 

How many megapixels do you need?

How many megapixels do you need to print on a specific paper size

I made this simple table for personal use, than I thought it may came in handy to others too, so here we are.

It sums up how many megapixels do you need to print on each of the more common paper sizes available.

Given that the level of quality requested varies according to the kind of image – a portrait will be more enlargeable without artifacts or softness than a detailed landscape, for example – I’ve set three thresholds at 200, 260 and 300 dpi.

Please note that here we are talking about PRINT resolution, not PRINTER one.

If you don’t have this point clear please read one of the basic introductions available online. Let’s suffice to say that normally you will have to “stretch” the megapixel of your picture onto the area you intend to print; to have a quality result you don’t want to stretch them too much, and that’s what I’m talking about.

Printer resolution, on the other end, refers to the way printers manage to actually create an image putting thousand of ink dots one after the other on a piece of paper.

While print resolution – how many megapixels you need to cover the area of a piece of paper – it is alway the same regardless of the device used to create the image on paper, printer resolution varies wildly between models, makers and technologies used.

Panorama multishot Olympus shift 35mm f/2,8 OM Zuiko

And now let’s look at the table. In the first column you find the paper format; in the seconds its size; in the third, fourth and fifth how many megapixels do you need for each print resolution, from the worst (200 dpi, in red) to the best (300 dpi, in green). You may pull it off with 200 dpi if the viewing distance for your print is not very close, especially if there is an actual physical impediment for the people to getting closer; otherwise everyone usually tends to stuck its nose to the print searching for more detail – and at 200 dpi this detail it will simply not be there.

In the last column I’ve listed how many shots you will need to use if you decide to join multiple frames in a matrix fashion to achieve a resolution of 300dpi with a 21-24 Megapixels camera* (first number is the total of shots needed, then how many shots rows x columns).

 

*With a 20% margin of juxtaposition to join the frames flawlessly

 

Paper format

Paper size
(mm / in)

200dpi260dpi300dpiN° of shots
[rows x columns]
A01189 x 841mm
46.8 x 33.1″
628914015 [ 5 x 3 ]
800 x 800mm
31.4 x 31.4″ 
3957899 [ 3 x 3 ]
A1841 x 594mm
33.1 x 23.4″ 
3145706 [ 3 x 2 ]
700 x 700mm
27.5 x 27.5″ 
304468 6 [ 3 x 2 ]
600 x 600mm
23.6 x 23.6″ 
223250 4 [ 2 x 2 ] 
A2594 x 420mm
23.4 x 16.5″ 
2235 2 [ 2 x 1 ]
500 x 500mm
19.6 x 19.6″ 
2235 2 [ 2 x 1 ]
A3420 x 297mm
16.5 x 11.7″
 11 17

 

How to scan films using a digital camera

Overview of the setup

If you’ve not read this previous post so far give it a skim:

Best film scanner: Canon 5D Mark II vs Drum Scanner vs Epson v700

You will see what level of (very high) quality you can expect using a digital camera as a scanner, as long as you setup everything nice and properly aligned – don’t worry, it’s really simple!

 

The setup

The nice thing about this technique is that you will be able to extract all the information on the film even with a low-res digital camera, as long as you can increase the reproduction ratio and get used to join multiple files in one, like when doing a panoramic image. For the details please take a look at the previous post linked above.

The setup, like I said, is really really simple: you will have to put you camera vertically on top of the film – taped on a slide viewer – using a metal lens hood that act as spacer / camera support / light screen. Then you’ll use the Live View to focus on the film grain, and the self timer set at 2 seconds or a soft shutter release to avoid vibrations.

The setup

Like I said the secret is taking multiple shots of each film frame, and joining them in a panoramic software.

How many shots will depend of:

> the reproduction ratio you (and your lens) will use

> how much detailed the picture is

> the resolution of your camera

> the sensor size of your camera (full frame, aps-c)

Generally I use a 1:2 enlargement ratio on medium and large format film and a 3:1 ratio on 35mm and I get more or less this results:

– 35mm = 4 / 6 shots
– 4,5×6 = 3 / 6 shots
– 6×6 / 6×7 = 6 / 8 shots
– 4×5″ / 13x18cm = 20 / 30 shots

 

How to take the multiple shots…

Multiple shots

…and the resulting image

 The resulting image

The shooting session lasts generally 15-30 seconds for each complete picture; how much time the computer will need to join the shots will depends by the computer processor power and amount of ram, other that by the number of shots to be joined. But for you to have a rough estimation: my 2011 iMac, with 24Gb of ram, generally takes 30-50 seconds to join 6 shots and up to 10 minutes to join 30 shots.

Using an higher reproduction ratio is more time consuming (you’ll need more shots to cover the same area), but as a result you will be able to get the most detail from the film. Just check this few examples, in which the Canon setup is used at various reproduction ratios and compared against a well respected flatbed scanner, the Epson v700:

Epson v700 scan     Canon multirow scan

Epson v700 sharpened scan     Canon unsharpened scan

Epson sharpened scan     Canon unsharpened scan     Canon unsharpened scan 3:1 ratio

 

The tips

This is all for the general guide, now some tips:

Focus

– don’t try to focus at full aperture; even an excellent lens like the Zeiss Makro Planar has its problems, and all your pictures will look like mush. Close the lens a couple of stops from the maximum aperture to focus (remember, set the Live View to compensate automatically for the light loss if you want to see anything at all!)

– if possible focus on the film grain, not on the details; this way you will be sure to extract all the information there is on film, and it is easier; if you don’t seem able to see the grain just look at a dark out of focus area, the grain will pop out!

– focus independently each frame; even if they are on the same strip of film they will require more often than not an adjustment in focus

– for maximum sharpness tape the film to the viewer, tensioning the film itself a bit to ensure maximum flatness; use painter’s paper masking tape, the one that leaves no residues

Exposure

– if your computer is powerful enough shoot in raw; you will benefit not only from more detail, but also from extended dynamic range and better gray / colors

– close the lens a couple more stops from the one you used to focus – till f/8 or better f/11 – to take the shot. This way you will hit the best spot of your lens and avoid vignetting related issues

– take a custom white balance on the viewer surface, without the film. This way the colors will be almost perfect without the need to mess with the curves later in Photoshop or Gimp

– shot in manual mode, to have the same exposure and density on all sections

– “expose to the right”, i.e. overexpose until the histogram for all the colors almost touches the right side of its window; this will ensure that you will have less noise as possible and that you will exploit the entire dynamic range your camera is capable of. Be careful to not overexpose too much – another good motive to shoot in raw

Setup

– shot in some kind of order (clockwise, counterclockwise, whatever), to avoid forget same part of the film frame; after a while it will became routine, and you will become very fast

– to avoid scratching the negatives put them down with the shiny side up – it’s called “protective layer” for a reason; having the opaque side – the emulsion – in contact with the viewer surface will avoid the formation of Newton rings too

– if the picture you’re about to “scan” has got few details – vast areas of sky, water or out-of-focus zones – take closer knit shots to help the panoramic software identifying some meaningful “anchors” to use in the merge

– if you don’t have a slide viewer, but you’re comfortable around electricity, you can easily adapt to the same use an old scanner transparency adapter or build one of your own (plenty of DIY projects like this on the web)

 

The software

What panoramic software you want to use is your choice, there are hundred of them out there. The only important thing is that it has to let you join the files in a “matrix” fashion, not only in rows. Here some of the one I tried or use, and a few notes for each one:

– Adobe Photoshop function Photomerge: really good 90% of the times. Use the “reposition” option, because you are not shooting a panorama, so there is no parallax error to take care of. Its biggest downside is the lack of the possibility of manual corrections; on the bright side it is still one of the fastest panoramic software I ever used, and it was able to “digest” without a hitch even 110 files at once.

– ArcSoft Panorama Maker 5: really good for those 10% of the times in which Photomerge goes nuts. Its biggest drawback is the impossibility to maintain the 16 bit in the output tif. Quite cheap (13,99€ on the Mac App Store).

– Kolor Autopano Pro 3: as good as PhotoShop CS6 or slightly better. A lot slower, though. On the other hand it can batch process entire folders of files recognizing automatically which files to merge in which panorama. Not so costly, just 99€.

– PhotoStitch: this one comes free with every Canon digital camera. It would be really good, except that has a strong tendency to crash if used with 6 files or more (at least with Canon 5D mark II files, could also be some kind of incompatibility, I don’t know). Same problem of Panorama Maker, meaning that it doesn’t support a 16 bit output. Better, it supports 16 bit on paper, but the resulting tif files will be an ugly mess.

– Hugin: free and extremely complete. For the same reason a bit complex and intimidating at first, even if it’s present a sort of “assistant” that it’s supposed to guide you. Excellent for general panoramic photography, I found it a bit of an overkill for just join a few shots like in the technique discussed here.