Rants and discussions

Kim’s Story

he Tight Fisted Photographer speaks. Pentax SP500 Spotmatic. Super Takumar 55mm f/2 lens. Rollei Retro 400S b/w film. Developed in R09.

Most of us here are enthusiasts – amateurs, you photograph for the love of it.  What are we hoping to achieve?  We enjoy capturing light, we enjoy making still images, that perhaps, we find interesting, or attractive.  Perhaps they document something that others might enjoy looking at.  Perhaps they tell … or even suggest, a story.  We might like them for hidden patterns, their tones, their colours, or for their visual mathematics We might appreciate the composition.  The perfect photograph.  It makes us look, we appreciate it. 

Now that I have conveyed that opinion to you, here is a horror story all too common.

Kim is attracted into photography.  She uses a compact camera, family members and friends tell her that she has a gift.  She buys an entry level DSLR, because everyone does.  Her photography doesn’t improved particularly at first, but she is intelligent and competent, and masters the controls of her DSLR.  In that pursuit, she picks up shiny photography magazines from the superstore.  They tell her, what she already feared.  In order to improve further, she needed to buy a better lens.  The kit lens was too slow, distorted, and awful.  Suddenly her lens – and even her images, appear less spectacular, a bit imperfect.  They needed to be sharper, more detailed.

So Kim works overtime, goes without evenings out, decides not to holiday (vacation) in such an exotic place.  Pity, she could have had some great photographic opportunities there.  She buys a “great lens”.  Faster, less distortion, wow, this’ll do it.  But then she reads the newest issue of the magazine.  Her camera is entry level.  You can’t progress to advanced photography  with a beginner DSLR.  The sensor is too small Kim.  A larger sensor will capture more IQ.  Best scrap that holiday altogether.  Best cut out the car upgrade, its going to be a tough year.

She buys a full frame DSLR.  Hang on, she’ll need new lenses.  You know where this story is going.  How else can she produce those sharp, full detailed, perfectly exposed images.  It doesn’t stop.  her software is entry level.  She needs a licence for the newest Adobe package.  Best start budgeting tight.

Then suddenly Kim has lost her interest in photography.  There was something missing in her photography.  She did everything right – followed all of the HDR and RAW tutorials in the magazines.  Her images were glossy, highly detailed, sharp as a pin, technically perfect.  People would congratulate her on her wise choice of gear.  What could be missing?

It isn’t all about sharpness, detail, technical perfection.  Not for every school of photography.  We are creating images.  You can create images with a pinhole camera.  You can create images on a disposable film camera.  You can create images on an IPhone.  All can contain beauty and interest.  The great photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson were far from technically perfect.  But they were often astonishing.

Rants and discussions

Put Your Upgrade in the Bin

Out of tune. Street busker in Cambridge. Pentax SP500 Spotmatic. Super Takumar 55mm f/2 lens. Firstcall (Agfa Gevaert) 400S b/w film. Developed in R09. Scanned film on Epson V500.

Yes I know, I shouldn’t care about what others do, but I’m suffering from browsing photography forums, and i need to get it off my chest.  Here are some of the questions that piss me off a bit.

1) My DSLR is only APS, 20 megapixel, doesn’t have full HD Video, and is “entry level”.  I need to upgrade to a new £1,000 latest model DSLR.

My answer:  You twat.  The above photoGRAPH was recently taken on a forty plus year old camera.  You’ve fallen for market brainwash.  Your 20 – even a 6 megapixel APS DSLR is fine.  Spend your money on photography travel, food, drink, etc.  Money wont buy nada in skill.  Shit, what do you need Video for?

2) I presently own 18mm – 120mm, 180mm – 300mm, 300mm – 500mm zoom lenses for my Canikon DSLR.  What should I buy next?  should I buy a 120mm – 180mm lens?

My answer:  FFS, don’t you have legs or wheels you prick?  I never even feel the need for a frigging zoom.  A couple of primes is fine.  I can move back or forward.  I know I’m fortunate to do so – do you share that fortune?

Thats better.

Cameras and equipment

Finders Keepers

DSLR camera toting tourists in Cambridge, England. One Canon/Nikon is never enough apparently. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus medium format film. Home developed in R09. Scanned film Epson Perfection V500.

This post is about the cognitive connection with film V digital.  No, it is not a debate about film V digital – but rather, how the photographer connects differently, depending on the medium.

When I shoot with a DSLR, I’ve noticed that in no more than ten minutes or so, I can rack up as much as 100 images on a memory card.  It’s insane – but that is what the ease of Digital does to us.  It turns us into machine guns, or movie cameras.  When I shoot in film, especially in medium format – it all slows down.  No conscious decision-making – partly because capturing an image with a system camera draws on the mental resources – guessing light, setting aperture, setting shutter, estimating or visually setting focus, then the CLUNK, before cranking onto a fresh slab of unexposed film.

Yet I notice – I have so many more keepers per 100 than I get on Digital!  Work that out.

Rants and discussions, Sony A200 DSLR and Sony DT 35mm F/1.8 SAM prime lens

Sweeping away bad attitude

Sweeping away the seasons. Sony A200 DSLR. Sony 35mm f/1.8 SAM lens. Open source software.

Woooah!  Colour on Tight Fisted Photography!  What’s going on?  I’ll tell you what is going on.  Sort of an epiphany moment – an insight that I was gathering in my last post – the Four Commandments of Creativity.  I’ve developed (pun) a love for home processed b/w film photography.  It was sort of planned – my drive for finding personal style.  Nothing is changing there.  However, I was getting sucked into some daft gear based elitist nonsense – you know it, the old film v digital bollocks.   The New Tight Fisted Photographer will use whatever gear that he has to hand – whatever it takes to create the image.  Just as important to me as an amateur – whatever gear and method gives me pleasure and satisfaction.  Film gives me most satisfaction – and the results that I like, but digital is sometimes so convenient.

I had a perfectly good DSLR rolling around in a dark dusty drawer, forgotten, because I forsake digital entirely.  This week, I took it out, cleaned it, sorted out my lenses, and ordered some new goodies.  It’s like having a new camera all over again.  I never used it to full potential.  I am of the opinion that an entry level DSLR can be either an overweight, clumsy auto toy for hipsters and tourists, or it can alternatively be a great learning tool for photography.  I would like to improve my photography, and in particular, I’d like to learn more about using artificial light and with portraits.  Ideally in time with medium format film.  But for now, convenience points to this sadly neglected digital camera as a way in.

I always say – it is the Learning Curve that keeps me interested in Photography as a hobby.  I’m going to be less reluctant to use a digital camera.


Cameras and equipment, Rants and discussions

A Digital Discovery

Ra. Our young sun-kissed corn snake. Pentax K20D DSLR. SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens.

You might get the idea from this blog that I’m some sort of hard core film photographer, hell bent for analogue.  Well, sure, film gives me a lot, but I really would like a nice DSLR.  I’ve got two old DSLR cameras – a Pentax K110D and a Sony A200.  None-the-less, these two rarely come out to hunt light these days.  They’ve been replaced by 120 and 35mm film.

Ok, confession time.  I was vulnerable to comfort impulse buying.  I’d had a domestic disagreement, and ended up in Cambridge – looking at the window display of a second hand gear shop.  There was this sexy looking Pentax K20D, body only, looking back at me.  Two hundred quid – more than I’d normally spend, more than I’ve ever spent on a camera.

I walked away with it – leaving behind the happy young salesman (who clearly didn’t know cameras), with his reassurances ringing in my ears that “impulse buying is usually the best buying”.  Indeed, on the bus to the Park & Ride, it did indeed, appear to be a better camera than either of my two previous DSLRs.  A rugged weather-resistant exterior, well built with locks for the covers, a top viewer.  And still spared of that horrible function “video”.  Burst mode was a bit wow, the 14.6 Mp impressive, anti-shake mode built into the body, usable ISO to 1600 – and dynamic range!  I started to fantasize how it would perform on my classic SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens, and quickly configured the settings to allow manual aperture ring operation.

Would it replace my film photography?  Of course not!  On returning home, making up with Nita, and fitting that lens, I recoiled at the vulgar easiness of instant imagery.  The next morning we took a few window light images with our baby corn snake, then took it on a trip to the nearby market town of March.  I noticed on preview and zoom that a black horizontal line appeared on play back images.  I hoped that this bug was restricted to viewing on the camera.

On returning home, I opened the RAW images on UFRaw.  That freaking horizontal line scored across the images.  The sensor was buggered.   A check online confirmed my diagnosis.  Someone on a Pentax group suggested that it was an aging effect, and that these issues could be a common problem for older digital cameras in the future, as their sensors fail.  Shit, if my film fails, it’s fine on the next!  I drove back to Cambridge with legal haste.  The shop accepted the return based on a technical fault within their 48 hour slot.  Money back to the bank.

I’m sorry that I forgot you film photography, I’m back now.  I wont say that I wont ever return to digital – I’d like to try a nice new higher range Pentax in the future, but I’ve taken stock.  Be careful with those used DSLRs.

Above image edited to crop out the “line”.

Monochrome, Rants and discussions, Zenza Bronica SQ-A

The Learning Tools of Photography

He didn’t learn the rules of cool photography!  Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 80mm f/2.8 lens. Foma Fomapan Classic 100 medium format film. Home developed in ID11

This article is based on my meagre experience as an amateur.  We are always in a state of learning.  To be honest, it’s the learning curve that keeps my interest in photography.

1. The DSLR

If I was to recommend a tool to any new student of photography, I’d probably go with the Digital-SLR.  Yes, it’s cliche, and many people recommend DSLRs where other styles of cameras might be more appropriate – and the future may be mirrorless.  However, for now, I’d probably recommend that new enthusiasts in photography consider buying an entry level DSLR camera.  Why?  Because first of all an entry level last years model / used DSLR is cheap as chips for what you get.  Also:

  1. They have full manual exposure controls
  2. They allow you to view your images instantly on an LCD.
  3. Interchangeable lenses.  You can override autofocus and manually focus.
  4. Through the lens viewing and light metering (lots of clever light metering at that).
  5. They have histograms
  6. Aperture and shutter priority modes available as well as full manual.
  7. Super fast exposure speeds and auto bracketing.
  8. Digital is super cheap and instant.  Processing it using Open source or supplied software is a lot easier, and cheaper than a fully equipped darkroom.

You see, you get all of that with any bog standard cheap “last years budget model” DSLR.  As a new amateur enthusiast (not a professional sports photographer):

  • You don’t need a so-called full frame sensor
  • You don’t need live view/preview.  It’s bloody uncool.  You’ve got a TTL prism viewfinder for goodness sake, stop using a SLR like a freaking IPad.
  • You don’t need HD Video.  You don’t need video.  You’re supposed to be  a still photographer.  Get a bloody video cam for crying out loud.  What else do you want from it?  A can opener?  It’s a still camera that you want.
  • You don’t need bloody GPS geo-tagging.
  • You don’t need 30 plus megapixels.  You’d be surprised by the quality of images from a Pentax K110D 6 megapixel camera fitted with a shit hot lens.
  • You don’t need to read those corrupt reviews in Digital Photography magazines that tell you that you MUST buy the latest all singing dancing model of DSLR.

Which brand?  Pretty much whatever you like – Pentax, Nikon, Sony, Canon, etc.  Don’t be one of those berks that gets wrapped up in the Canon V Nikon brand fan war.  Use it as a learning tool.  It has everything that you need regardless of brand.

What makes you a genuine enthusiast is that you love photography, and that you want to learn and to improve.  You learn how to manipulate light – not always by pressing a button on Auto Program mode, and then correcting the awful image with a … so-called software filter!  Ugh.

2. Old Film Cameras

This could be seen as either an alternative route, or maybe a later state of education, for those that chose to follow it.  What have car boot sale cameras and vintage film photographic technology taught me?  I’ve written extensively on value before.  That the costs and efforts of successfully creating an image from a film camera, adds to it’s value.  Each image becomes more of an article of love.

However, here, I’d promote the educational side.  An enthusiast recognises that cameras did not suddenly appear a few years ago with a Canikon DSLR.  They study the history, from the camera obscura onwards.  A vintage camera might teach you how to use aperture to zone focus.  This sort of lesson doesn’t often pop up in Digital Camera Today.  A vintage camera can teach you to judge distances, and to preset a camera focus candidly.  A vintage camera can teach you how to use much simpler light meters.  A vintage camera can even teach you how to take photographs with no light meter, but to learn to judge light by your eye and brain.  A vintage camera reminds you that you are capturing light – every time that you develop a negative film.

All of these sorts of things are usually processed by a chip on a DSLR.  It’s good to process them with your head, and to sometimes take control.


Monochrome, Rants and discussions, Sony DSLR A200 and Sony DT 50mm F/1.8mm SAM prime lens

Always Learning

Light on a Tuesday Afternoon. Sony A200 DSLR. Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens. B&W conversion in UFRaw.

I’m bloody broke again.  Not so much tight fisted photographer, as the penniless photographer.  Still, I’ve got digital cameras, some film, and developing chems, so I can use photography in my leisure time until pay day comes around next.  Woke up this afternoon from night shift.  Time to start experimenting with what I’ve been learning recently.  I’ve not really been too happy with my photography lately.  Maybe too much mucking about with different technologies and formats.  So in order to improve things, I’ve 1). been heavy browsing Flickr and adding to my favourites – seeing what I like, and what other’s produce.  I’m particularly impressed by the works of some Russians and East Europeans using medium format film for portraiture.  2) reading on portrait photography and light, from old photography books.  3). Reading up on the same using modern websites.

I can see some of my weaknesses.  I need to get in much closer.  I need to think more about background.  I need to think intelligently about light – not just exposure value.  So, rising out of bed this afternoon, with a few hours to spare before another shift for the Man, I thought I’d use a DSLR for some experimenting.  Now here is where I’m going to praise digital technology for once.

A DSLR is a fine learning tool, if only beginners were to read the damned manuals, and avoid all of those crappy automatic exposure programs.  A DSLR not only offers (for those that bother looking for them) full manual exposure and focusing controls, it offers fast results to gauge progress from.  Ok, with some of my film cameras, I get the reward of having to set up and judge everything – as I said in my last post, that gives my film photography more value; but, a digital camera with accessible full manual controls provides a good way of learning photography.  You can quickly evaluate your success and mistakes then move forward.  You can read the exif data of your images – a complete record of your technique.

My usual recommendation for beginners that want to get into photography these days is to buy a DSLR – a CHEAP DSLR though.  Not to worry about it’s bloody brand, or what DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHER magazine says about it’s lack of HD video or GPS.  Just buy a DSLR – used, pass down, last years stock, entry level, or whatever.  Don’t get sucked into the Nikon V Canon bullshit.  Any brand as long as you can still buy one or two decent lenses for it.  Use it as an educational tool, train with it, learn about light, exposure, composition, lines, subject, focus, dof, etc.  Just don’t use it as a point and shoot in an auto exposure program, with a kit lens fitted.  After a few years of learning technique, you can upgrade if you really feel the need to do so.

Getting back to today.  So I still have lots to learn, my photography has lots of room for improvement.  No time for digital, I grabbed my Sony DSLR, decided the 50mm prime lens was ok for my close up portraits.  Then I grabbed Nita, removed some of her clothes, and plonked her near the window light as I farted around with my one gold/silver reflector, aperture, exposure speed, ISO, and angle.  “Move this way, look that way”.  I can see that reflectors can be used, and I appreciate now how important it is to align the light with the subject.  Later on, I loaded the images into UFRAW.  Now, UFRaw may not be the software tool of everyone’s choice, but I am a fan of Open Source, and I’ve used it for years – originally on Linux operating systems.  Not only did I use it to correct some of my sloppy exposures, but I used Channel Mixer to generate monochrome .jpegs.  My favourite method of making digital b&w images.

So, there we go… Cheapskate digital b&w photography.

Tuesday Afternoon. As above.

Rants and discussions

Cheapskate Film Photography – the Research

The Reader. Reading Class Chapter 1. Taken with a Sony DSLR A200 and Sony AF DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM lens. B&W conversion in UFRaw open source software.

I have posted before in protest at the glossy photography magazines in newsagents.  All dedicated to spanking new D-SLR cameras, particularly Nikon and Canon (the unholy war), and Adobe software products.  As though these three capitalist giants have a divine right to control the minds, aspirations, and bank accounts of the photographic masses.  Laced with articles, features, and advertisements promoting the absolute necessity of buying and consuming their products, if we are to enjoy photography.  How could a 21st Century photographer be taken seriously, unless he or she owns an expensive Adobe software product licence, and swings his or her big black plastic all singing, all dancing, space age technology digital SLR, from a designer Canikon branded strap or camera bag?

Can you tell that I have a chip on my shoulder?  Seriously though, these magazines are clearly controlled by their commercial sponsors.  They are designed to make us feel inadequate if we don’t spend our hard earned wages on new products.  I’m not a Luddite, I’m not a film snob – I’ve taken the above photo with a DSLR.  Digital is great, it gives fast instant and sometimes cheap results.  A digital SLR is a great tool to learn from.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Canon nor Nikon either.  They make some great products.  It’s just that their overbearing advertising campaigns have fed a materialist, brand fan base of consumers hell bent on supporting their ‘brand’.  Here’s a secret, some of the best, and also the most expensive cameras in the World are neither Canon nor Nikon manufactured.  Shock.  Here’s another secret, an enthusiast can produce great results, and more importantly, have great fun, using old technologies and cheap cameras.  There is nothing shameful in being an amateur.  An amateur is an enthusiast with a passion for their interest.

But moving back to the theme of the above photo.  I’ve found a compensation for the lack of magazines catering for us tight fisted photographers.  We have access to oodles of cheap used books, published before the rise of the digital sensor.  We can buy great books, that cater for our 1930s – 1990s contemporary film photography technologies at car boot sales, charity shops, and thrift stalls.  How much do you pay for your glossy magazine?  We buy cracking good books for between GBP £0.20p and £2.00.

Tight fisted cheapskate photography.  Beat the system.

Models and themed photoshoots, Portrait, Sony DSLR A200 and Sony DT 50mm F/1.8mm SAM prime lens, The East English Fens of East Anglia

Fields of Barley

Children of the Corn. Portrait of a girl in a barley field. Sony A200 DSLR camera. Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens.

In the Barley Field with Mum. Sony DSLR, as above photo.

The barley was so beautiful near to ours, that it had to be used for a piece of photography yesterday evening.


Jessop Macro kit, Sony DSLR A200 and Sony DT 50mm F/1.8mm SAM prime lens

Something New from the Car Boot Sale

Jessop macro kit – 2 x tele-converter and three extension tubes with Sony DSLR mount. Taken with the Sony DSLR-A200 and Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens.

Well, not as ancient as my usual purchases at the car boot sale.  I bought something for one of my digital cameras at yesterday’s sale!  What are the chances of bumping into something with a modern Sony DSLR mount at a local car boot sale?  Pretty slim I’d say.  I don’t see much modern gear for Canon or Nikon at the local sale, never mind for Sony / Minolta.  My usual purchases are classic film cameras.  But yesterday, I did just that.  A Jessops macro-kit, consisting of a Jessop MC 2x Mx/AF tele-converter, and three Jessop M-Xi extension tubes – 31mm, 21mm, and 13mm.  All with a Sony / Minolta Alpha-mount!

The seller explained that he had bought them for his Canon, not understanding the difference in mount.  He said that he had seen similar sold on Ebay for £60.  Well, I’ve checked them out, and I’d guess Ebay price for the kit might go £40 – £80.  The Tele-converter is still listed new on the Jessop website at £80.  How much did I pay?  I knocked him down to £23 (well, £25 with two movie DVDs in the price) for the whole kit.  A wee bit more than I’d spend on vintage camera equipment, but a nice buy still I feel.

Using them behind the Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens?  Focus has to be manual – even with just the tele-converter (although it gives me the option now to use the 50mm prime as a 100mm MF prime when I need it.).  The auto focus just doesn’t find it’s target with the tele-converter behind the nifty fifty, despite claims to be AF.

With the extension tubes added, it turns the 50mm into a macro lens.  I’ve not had time yet, to experiment with different extensions or the tele-converter, nor using them with my 35mm prime lens.  D0F is incredibly shallow at macro with all tubes and tele-converter, making hard to focus anything but a flat surface (see the 20p coin below).  I’ll try for better results when I have better light and more interesting subjects, but for now I achieved the below results.

Test One. The Feather. Jessops 2x tele-converter plus all three extension tubes behind a Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM prime lens

The 20p UK coin. As above, tele-converter, three extension tubes, 50mm prime lens on the A200.

The Pencil tip. As above. 2x tele-converter, three extension tubes, 50mm prime lens.

I’ll play more when I get time.  As I stated above, the tele-converter alone can double the focal lengths of my prime lenses should I need that.  I want to try the kit with my 35mm prime, and to experiment with and without the tele converter and various tubes to see if I can improve that DoF with less magnification.  I also need good light!

I don’t think that macro photography is going to be me, it’s done far better by others with better gear, but it’s worth £23 to play with that option.