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Camera Class by Harry Flashman


A move from medium format to digital photography

Medium format lens and a 35 mm camera.

I received a phone call the other day from a retired gentleman who was looking at his Mamiya 6x45 medium format film camera system and wondering where to go next.

During the course of our conversation, it came out that he had been very keen, but had not done any serious photography for 10 years.  However, now, with some spare time on his hands, he was looking at getting back into it, and of course a 6x45 film camera just isn’t practical these days.

He was interested in going digital, but wondered where he could go to learn how to use these new-fangled digital things.  He had his eye on a Canon D5, and also wondered if he could use his Mamiya prime lenses on the Canon.  That of course was a difficult question to answer, as it would need adaptors, and more than likely, the Auto-Focus system would not work (but the manual focus should) and the aperture might need to be manually selected.

As far as adaptors were concerned, after a brief internet search it was apparent that there were many, including shift-lens adaptors, a useful piece of equipment to have.  Most of these were available through eBay, so that would be a good cheap source.

The internet posts confirmed that you must go to manual focusing when using the Mamiya lenses on the Canon body, and aperture priority may need to be used.

There was some discussion as to whether the medium format Mamiya lenses were as good as the new 35 mm lenses for the digitals, and the jury seemed to be split on that.

However, one poster got it right when he said it was just a joy to use the big manual controls, and forget the modern plastic AF lenses and just slow down and enjoy the basic mechanics and rituals of manual photography.  Also there is no vignetting that there can be with 35 mm lenses, and no color fringing either.

When you look at the situation of using the medium format lenses on the 35 D body, it seems like a win-win situation all round.  Now while our reader was using his Mamiya 6x45, to check exposure and sharpness he would have had to use a Polaroid back to get an ‘instant’ (one minute) check on the variables.  Exposure not quite right?  Another Polaroid, and so it would go on, until it became quite expensive and time consuming.  I also found it very difficult to judge sharpness on a Polaroid, as the images were always slightly fuzzy.

Now with the technology that comes with a digital body, you truly do get an instant check on exposure, and by enlarging the image on the LCD you can soon see if the focus is correct.

When I look at the reader’s situation, he has the experience of how to use a medium format camera, so understands exposure variables.  He has plenty of ability to be able to handle the Canon D5, and all he has to do is set the camera body on ‘manual’ and not worry about the drop-down menus at all.  The Owner’s Manual will show anyone how to set the camera body on manual, and he can actually leave it on that setting if he wishes.

However, I am sure that his natural curiosity will be enough to get him experimenting with the different settings, and since he has more than a basic grounding, he should just go for it!  He has many interesting weekends coming up.

He will also discover that digital photography is so much cheaper than film, especially when coming from using medium format with 12 shots on a roll for a 6x6 or 15 for a 6x45.  Then there is the delay in processing, getting proof sheets and then cropping and printing.  Digital wins all the time.

The sharpness in today’s digital camera sensors is also superb, and I always come back to the fact that you get an instant review.  If you don’t like the image, just delete and take it again.

Fotographic Filter Fun

Take a look at the size of the lens diameter on your camera.  What is it?  Probably 55 mm, and that is not good enough.

The first thing I did with my new camera was to check the lens size.  It was 55 mm too.  The second thing I did was to rake through my collection of stepping rings to screw on to the end of the lens to bring the diameter up to 62 mm.  Why?  Many reasons.

The most obvious reason was to make the new camera lens compatible with my box of photographic filters, accumulated over the years.  The vast majority of these are 62 mm, which is a good size as it is larger than most 35 mm camera lenses, so will not produce a vignetting effect if you stack a few of them together, such as a polarizer and a +1 magnifier.

The first filter to have is called a Skylight 1A.  This filter does make the sky a little deeper, but the main reason to have it, is as a sacrificial piece of glass, so that your good, expensive lens does not get scratched.  Skylight 1A’s are very cheap.

One of the nicest filter effects is what is called “center spot soft focus”.  Now this just means the center is in focus and the edges are nicely soft and blurred.  This effect is used by portrait and wedding photographers all over the world to produce that wonderful “romantic” photograph.

Now to use this filter.  If you have an SLR (single lens reflex) film camera or a digital, you are actually looking through the lens when you are focusing and What You See Is What You Get (the WYSIWYG principle, mentioned many times in these columns).  Set your lens on the largest aperture you can (around f 5.6 or f 4 is fine).  Focus on your subject, keeping the face in the center of the screen.  Now bring up your magic soft focus filter and place it over the lens and what do you see?  The face is in focus and the edges are all blurred!  Try some different f stops as well (it makes the center spot larger or smaller) and record the details in your trusty notebook … which you take with you at all times!

You can also use these filters with any compact point and shoot camera, but it is a little more hit and miss.  The reason being there’s no WYSIWYG with compacts.  What you have to do is position the center of the filter over the lens and, while keeping it there, bring the camera up to your eye, compose the shot and then shoot.  Takes some fiddling and manual dexterity and take a few shots as you are really flying blind.

The next one is the polarizer.  I have mentioned polarizers many times before, but the difference between polarized sunlit shots and unpolarized is incredible.  The depth of color when you polarize is fantastic.  As you rotate the polarizing filter, the reflections on any shiny surface, be that grass, trees, water or whatever, just disappear, leaving the undiluted bold color.

Soft romantic effects can be produced in many ways, and here are a few tried and true methods, and the first is super inexpensive as well.  Just gently breathe on the Skylight 1A filter just before you take the shot.  Your warm breath will impart a “mist” to produce a wonderfully misty portrait, or that early morning mist look for landscapes.  Remember that the “misting” only lasts a few seconds, so make sure you have the camera pre-focused and ready to shoot.  If you have control over the aperture, try around f 4 as well.

Another interesting result is by smearing Vaseline on the same Skylight 1A and seeing the different effects you get.  Do not smear the Vaseline on the end of your lens.  It is almost impossible to get off without washing in hot soapy water, something you can do with a filter, but not with your lens.

There are many more filters, colored effects, graduated effects, star cross and more.  Photography should be fun.  Try a filter or two this weekend.

Camera phones

I was at a function the other day and noticed that everyone present was using his or her camera phones to record the event.  Now while I take my hat off to the clever engineers who can make a phone also take a photo, for me, this is about as useful as strapping your microwave on your wrist to have a device that will tell you the time as well as cook your meals.

I have the more than sneaking suspicion that this ambidextrous telephone device ends up being neither fish nor fowl.  Brilliant at being able to ring people in far of places and speak to them in real time, but giving a very poor picture quality at best.

It stands to reason, that while the phone manufacturers are attempting to impress you with the number of megapixels you have in your hand, megapixels alone do not give you razor sharp photographs.

A reasonably new development in the early 21st century, now the majority of cameras and of mobile phones in use are camera phones.

The physical make-up of camera phones is simpler than separate digital cameras.  Their usual fixed focus lenses and smaller sensors limit their performance in poor lighting.  Having no physical shutter, most have a long shutter lag.  Most have no flash or optical zoom or tripod screw.  Many lack a USB connection, removable memory card, or other way of transferring their pictures more quickly than by the phone’s inherent communication feature, be that 2G, 3G or 4G.

Some of the more expensive camera phones have only a few of these technical disadvantages, which apply most acutely in low light conditions but has not inhibited their widespread use.  Most model lines improve in these regards every year or two (as does just about every electronic gizmo).  Some, such as the iPhone, only have a menu choice to start an application program to activate the camera.  Whilst others, such as the BlackBerry Storm2, Droid X, Motorola V980 and Nokia 5800 also have a separate camera button for quickness and convenience.  Some are designed to resemble separate low-end digital compact cameras in appearance and to some extent in features and picture quality, and are branded as both mobile phones and cameras, including certain Sony phones.

The principal advantages of camera phones are cost and compactness; indeed for a user who carries a mobile phone anyway, the additional size and cost are negligible.  Smart phones that are camera phones may run mobile applications to add capabilities such as geotagging and image stitching, but most do not.  A few high end phones can use their touch screen to direct their camera to focus on a particular object in the field of view, giving even an inexperienced user a degree of focus control exceeded only by ‘real’ photographers using a ‘real phone’ with manual focus.

There is no getting away from the fact that modern man likes the concept of a camera phone.  The J-Phone in Japan had more than half of its subscribers using cell phone cameras in two years.  The world soon followed.  By 2003, more camera phones were sold worldwide than stand-alone digital cameras.  In 2005, Nokia became the world’s most sold digital camera brand.  In 2006, half of the world’s mobile phones had a built-in camera.

In 2008, Nokia sold more camera phones than Kodak sells film based simple cameras, thus became the biggest manufacturer of any kind of camera.

In 2010 the worldwide number of camera phones totaled more than a billion and sales of separate cameras began to decline.  Even inexpensive mobile phones, were being sold with a camera.  High end camera phones usually have a good lens, high resolution, but once again picture quality is limited by a small sensor.

What I have against camera phones (as well as the lack of sharpness in the image) is the lack of creative control.  You cannot isolate the subject from the background by selecting the best focal length.  Long time-exposures are not possible.  Slow shutter speeds cannot be selected to give a speed blur effect.  In fact, what you are getting is a very simple camera image, where the Box Brownie was about 100 years ago.