How to Shoot a Silhouette

The annual Parade of Lights in 2014 was a perfect opportunity to create a silhouette.
The annual Parade of Lights in 2014 was a perfect opportunity to create a silhouette.
Ashlynd Huffman wields my 300mm f/2.8 lens at my office a couple of month ago.
Ashlynd Huffman wields my 300mm f/2.8 lens at my office a couple of month ago.

Fellow journalist Ashlynd Huffman texted me recently asking how to create a silhouette. It occurred to me that it would be worth it to have my own tutorial about it.

Silhouettes are essentially lithographs, and are usually created with a bright background that is correctly exposed, with something underlit or unlit in the foreground that forms a shape without having much detail.

Most of my silhouettes are happy circumstances of natural light, but it doesn’t take a lot to construct one. Throw some light on a background, and leave your foreground figure in the shadows.

If you are shooting in manual exposure mode, move up and down the exposure scale until you get the background about right, and the foreground item, person, or figure, very dark or black.

A statue of the icon Southwestern flute player Kokopelli is show normally exposed.
A statue of the icon Southwestern flute player Kokopelli is show normally exposed.
Kokopelli is shown as a silhouette. The only thing I changed was exposure using the exposure compensation feature (the +/-). This image is four full exposure values (stops) darker.
Kokopelli is shown as a silhouette. The only thing I changed was exposure using the exposure compensation feature (the +/-). This image is four full exposure values (stops) darker.

If you are shooting in an automatic exposure mode like Program, Shutter Priority, or Aperture Priority, use exposure compensation aggressively to get the look you want. Green Box Mode usually won’t let you control your exposure.

If you are shooting film, bracket: shoot a series of frames at widely different exposure settings.

Silhouettes imply shape and anonymity.

Silhouettes should never take the place of strong narrative, but if used correctly, can contribute to a strong narrative.

Coaches are silhouetted against a beautiful late-summer sky at a football game in Stratford, Oklahoma.
Coaches are silhouetted against a beautiful late-summer sky at a football game in Stratford, Oklahoma.

More Thoughts About the 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor

Summer is a very special dog for us, since we adopted her right after our previous female Chihuahua, Sierra, died. We photograph her all the time, as I did yesterday afternoon with the excellent 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor.
Summer is a very special dog for us, since we adopted her right after our previous female Chihuahua, Sierra, died. We photograph her all the time, as I did yesterday afternoon with the excellent 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor.

Readers might recall that I recently bought a long-ago favorite lens, the Nikkor 85mm f/2.0, and that I mentioned that this lens has an undeserved reputation as not very sharp, especially when compared to the 85mm that preceded it, the 85mm f/1.8 of 1970s vintage.

The 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor sits on my Nikon D7100 today. The D7100 has an aperture tab, so it can communicate with older, non-autofocus lenses.
The 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor sits on my Nikon D7100 today. The D7100 has an aperture tab, so it can communicate with older, non-autofocus lenses.

I have made a point of shooting with this pearl of a lens, especially since this autumn has been among the most beautiful ever here in Oklahoma, and not only have I enjoyed the excellent build quality and handling characteristics, which come from an era of superb camera craftsmanship, I can say without reservation that this lens is as sharp as I could want, even at wide open at f/2.0.

Hawken is a gorgeous dog, but can be hard to photograph sometimes because he is so friendly and curious, he comes over to you. For this image, he and I had been for a walk, so he was resting.
Hawken is a gorgeous dog, but can be hard to photograph sometimes because he is so friendly and curious, he comes over to you. For this image, he and I had been for a walk, so he was resting.
The neighbors kids brought their Chihuahua, Chi Chi, to visit their chickens.
The neighbors kids brought their Chihuahua, Chi Chi, to visit their chickens.

If you get a chance to pick up this lens and are either a Nikon shooter, or have a Nikkor lens adaptor for a mirrorless camera, by all means get it. It is a pearl.

This maple leaf came from our tree in the front yard, which I planted 15 years ago, when it was just a leafless stick. Now it is three stories tall.
This maple leaf came from our tree in the front yard, which I planted 15 years ago, when it was just a leafless stick. Now it is three stories tall.

Another 85mm???

Autumn leaves take on subtle color on this rainy afternoon.
Autumn leaves take on subtle color on this rainy afternoon.

I admit I might have a lens addiction problem.

In my defense, this most recent purchase was delayed for months while I searched and searched for a bargain on eBay.

My new/used Nikkor 85mm f/2.0 sits mounted on my Fuji mirrorless moments after I got it from eBay. In practice, I have a matching screw-in steel hood for it.
My new/used Nikkor 85mm f/2.0 sits mounted on my Fuji mirrorless moments after I got it from eBay. In practice, I have a matching screw-in steel hood for it.

I know I already have a couple of 85mm lenses, and that I can make 85mm with several zoom lenses. This 85mm, the Nikkor 85mm AI-S f/2.0, is of 1980s vintage. I had one for years in the 1990s and 2000s, and never used it as much as I should have. I sold it during a period of purge when I went digital, and missed this lens more than any other of the bunch, including the 24mm f/2.0, the 35mm f/2.0, and the 105mm f/1.8. The 85mm kept calling me back.

At my wife Abby's urging, the first frame with this classic lens was of our Chihuahua, Summer.
At my wife Abby’s urging, the first frame with this classic lens was of our Chihuahua, Summer.

Of note is that this lens, unlike my other 85mm lenses, has the vintage Nikkor seven-straight-bladed aperture, and should create beautiful 14-point sunstars.

It's fall in Oklahoma, and a beautiful one. This image was made this afternoon, though when the sun comes out, I'll be at it again.
It’s fall in Oklahoma, and a beautiful one. This image was made this afternoon, though when the sun comes out, I’ll be at it again.

This lens has what I think is an undeserved reputation as not very sharp, but today I was able to get very nice sharpness wide open at f/2.0, with just a tiny squinch of sharpening in Lightroom. And at f/2.0, it yields very nice wispy bokeh.

Welcome back, old friend.

Rain clings to berries on a fence near my garden, shot with my new classic 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor at f/2.0. It sharpened up nicely without adding much noise in Lightroom. The feathery bokeh is outstanding.
Rain clings to berries on a fence near my garden, shot with my new classic 85mm f/2.0 Nikkor at f/2.0. It sharpened up nicely without adding much noise in Lightroom. The feathery bokeh is outstanding.

Autumn Walk for Inspiration

Virginia creeper vines turn red in the fall, and have tiny green berries on them.
Virginia creeper vines turn red in the fall, and have tiny green berries on them.

A hard cold front roared through Oklahoma last night, leaving today the kind of day that inspired me to write awkward poetry in my youth. It was grey all day, and it eventually lured me outside several times to walk the dogs and, of course, make pictures.

I grabbed my Fuji mirrorless and my $50 Mamiya Sekor SX 200mm f/3.5. Unlike the cameras and lenses I use professionally, this combination is challenging: the camera is smaller, and the lens is manual focus, super slow to focus, focuses in the opposite direction of my Nikkors, and will only run at one aperture, in this case wide open at f/3.5.

After the session, I walked our Irish wolfhound Hawken again, and he found a discarded work glove in the pasture and made it his new toy. He loves this weather.

Hawken keeps an eye on me as I walk around photographing autumn.
Hawken keeps an eye on me as I walk around photographing autumn.
Tiny blue berries cling to the fence near my garden.
Tiny blue berries cling to the fence near my garden.
Thistle sways in the cold wing.
Thistle sways in the cold wing.
A roll of fence catches a leaf or two in the breeze.
A roll of fence catches a leaf or two in the breeze.
Guinea fowl keep watch in the neighbor's chicken pen.
Guinea fowl keep watch in the neighbor’s chicken pen.
A rooster struts his stuff.
A rooster struts his stuff.
I am gradually learning the strengths and weaknesses of this pearl of a lens from the 1970s.
I am gradually learning the strengths and weaknesses of this pearl of a lens from the 1970s.

Photography in the Margins

A poet recites esoteric verse.
A poet recites esoteric verse.

I spent an evening this week with some friends old and new at a poetry/fiction reading event at a home here in Ada. Lit by Christmas lights, candles, and camp fires, it really was photography pushed to the edge of all the margins: ISO 6400, aperture f/1.4, shutter speeds down to 1/8th of a second.

I shot it with my Fuji mirrorless and the magnificent Pentax K-Mount 50mm f/1.4. The results are messy in a great way; the chaos and intimacy of the imagery mirrors the chaos and intimacy of the participants and their words.

The evening was quiet and warm, so we mostly sat on the ground to listen.
The evening was quiet and warm, so we mostly sat on the ground to listen.
A friend listens to verse on this warm evening.
A friend listens to verse on this warm evening.
A single light catches the poet, and elements inside my 50mm f/1.4, to create a sense of the rhyme.
A single light catches the poet, and elements inside my 50mm f/1.4, to create a sense of the rhyme.
Mac recites verse, some of which she had never shared before. The light in the upper left corner is the moon.
Mac recites verse, some of which she had never shared before. The light in the upper left corner is the moon.
A camera and a cup of tea sit on a table.
A camera and a cup of tea sit on a table.
The evening began and ended with excellent conversation.
The evening began and ended with excellent conversation.
The fire in the front yard turns to coals as the evening ages.
The fire in the front yard turns to coals as the evening ages.

More from the Mamiya Sekor

The Mamiya Sekor SX 200mm f/3.5 sits in my dressing room today.
The Mamiya Sekor SX 200mm f/3.5 sits in my dressing room today.

Here are a few more images from the Mamiya Sekor SX 200mm f/3.5 I recently bought on eBay for just a few dollars, shot on my Fujifilm X-T10 with an M42 screw-mount adaptor.

Hawken Rifle Trail, our Irish wolfhound, enjoys an evening walk.
Hawken Rifle Trail, our Irish wolfhound, enjoys an evening walk.
Marigold color is muted in hazy evening air.
Marigold color is muted in hazy evening air.
Flare creates a dream-like effect on this morning glory vine.
Flare creates a dream-like effect on this morning glory vine.
Wheat grass gently sways in the evening air.
Wheat grass gently sways in the evening air.

The Way They Made Them

Our Rose-of-Sharon bush in the back yard is always a good place to start taking pictures, like this one shot with the Mamiya Sekor SX 200mm f/3.5 on my Fuji mirrorless.
Our Rose-of-Sharon bush in the back yard is always a good place to start taking pictures, like this one shot with the Mamiya Sekor SX 200mm f/3.5 on my Fuji mirrorless.

Sometimes when we see an old tractor, a restored antique firearm, or even a beautiful old house, an aphorism that sometimes comes to mind is, “They don’t make them like they used to.”

Such a phrase came to my mind when I opened box from eBay recently to find the Mamiya Sekor SX 200mm f/3.5 I ordered. As soon as I pulled it out of the bubble wrap, I was amazed by its smooth, slow, well-oiled focus mechanism, it’s heavy-checkered focus ring, and the fact that it didn’t make any sound when I shook it.

As soon as I pulled the Mamiya Sekor SX 200mm f/3.5 out of the box from eBay, my wife commented, "It looks brand new." In a way, that's a little sad, because it means this lens was probably stored, not taking pictures, for most of its life.
As soon as I pulled the Mamiya Sekor SX 200mm f/3.5 out of the box from eBay, my wife commented, “It looks brand new.” In a way, that’s a little sad, because it means this lens was probably stored, not taking pictures, for most of its life.

I bought this lens as part of an ongoing effort to open a new avenue of photographic creativity and mastery that started with the purchase of a Fujifilm X-T10 mirrorless camera in July, for the expressed purpose of bringing old lenses back to life using various adaptors.

If you are trying to find a lens that that makes pictures with a retro look, this one does the trick. It’s just a teensy bit soft wide open, and has that slightly-ratty bokeh of a lens designed an built by humans, in this case in Japan.

The mechanics and optics in this lens are good, especially considering I paid so little for it.
The mechanics and optics in this lens are good, especially considering I paid so little for it.

Most of the lenses of this era were mechanically sturdy, heavy, all-metal tools that weren’t as good optically as today’s hardware, which, since the early 2000s, have been getting optically better but mechanically more and more plasticky. This helps hold down cost and weight.

We are, however, seeing a reverse in this trend in the latest lenses coming from Sigma, Sony, Nikon, and Fuji, who have discovered a new market for craftsmanship.

The Mamiya Sekor 200mm f/3.5 is an M42 screw-mount lens, and I use it with a cheap pass-through adaptor to mount it on my Fuji. Focus and exposure are entirely manual. Because the M42 mount isn’t very precise, when the Sekor is mounted, the focus scale and the aperture ring face down, and the aperture pin strikes a rim on the adaptor, locking it to the f/stop you pick before mounting it. This is fine with me, since I don’t use the focus scale much, and I got this lens intending to mostly shoot with it wide open, at f/3.5.

This frame is cropped to show about the maximum amount of sharpness I could coax out of this lens, with the help of our Chihuahua, Summer.
This frame is cropped to show about the maximum amount of sharpness I could coax out of this lens, with the help of our Chihuahua, Summer.

F/3.5 seemed to be a tipping point for lenses made in the 1970s, presumably due to manufacturing limits that resulted in diminishing results with larger apertures, as well as a photographic community that is far less obsessed with selective focus and bokeh as it is today.

Being able to focus a lens is a rarer commodity than it was 25 years ago, but it seems to be making a little bit of a comeback with the retro film scene. I look forward to grabbing this lens for all kinds of creative endeavors.

Testing a manual-focus lens on the neighbor's chickens seems like cheating: they are contrasty and spotted and interesting-looking, all of which makes focusing on them easy.
Testing a manual-focus lens on the neighbor’s chickens seems like cheating: they are contrasty and spotted and interesting-looking, all of which makes focusing on them easy.

 

Pinch, Poke and The Mighty Hound

The sun setting behind these Rose-of-Sharon flowers creates a beautiful pallet of haze and flare that helps express the light and the moment.
The sun setting behind these Rose-of-Sharon flowers creates a beautiful pallet of haze and flare that helps express the light and the moment.

I worked outside for a while after walking the dogs last night. We had a very wet spring and summer, so I had let some vines and trees in the back yard get thick and out of control.

Our mighty Irish wolfhound Hawken plopped down in the middle of the elm branches and vine clippings. He even tried to eat a Rose-of-Sharon branch. Wow, he is a gorgeous dog.
Our mighty Irish wolfhound Hawken plopped down in the middle of the elm branches and vine clippings. He even tried to eat a Rose-of-Sharon branch. Wow, he is a gorgeous dog.
The Fuji X-T10 is shown with the Pentax 50mm f/1.4.
The Fuji X-T10 is shown with the Pentax 50mm f/1.4.

Lately I’ve been very much enjoying my new/used Fuji X-T10 with an ancient and very well-used Pentax 50mm f/1.4 on it. This camera/lens combination creates a look that reminds me of older color slides made with older lenses.

After lopping branches and playing tug-of-war with some very beautiful but tenacious vines, the light started to mature, and, as I often do, I grabbed a camera.

I took a minute to walk over the the Nipps' house to photograph Mike's chickens.
I took a minute to walk over the the Nipps’ house to photograph Mike’s chickens.
These two big roosters took a keen interest in my presence.
These two big roosters took a keen interest in my presence.
The vines I trimmed had these tiny purple berries on them.
The vines I trimmed had these tiny purple berries on them.
The Pentax 50mm f/1.4 shot wide open gives me a very painterly look, which expresses the light and the mood of the evening well.
The Pentax 50mm f/1.4 shot wide open gives me a very painterly look, which expresses the light and the mood of the evening well.
This image shows what a bit of a jungle I have allowed to grow in the back yard.
This image shows what a bit of a jungle I have allowed to grow in the back yard.

Photographic Doings

A tiny green spider hunts atop one of my marigolds in the garden.
A tiny green spider hunts atop one of my marigolds in the garden.

I often ask my photographer friends on the phone, “Hey, what are you doing photographically?”

The idea is to trade ideas, think creatively, and to encourage each other in our efforts to bring more to our photographic games.

I come to this party ahead of the curve, since I am a photojournalist my trade, but I am often trying to get out of that box and make different images, which I hope have some element of fine art to them. Here are a couple of items I shot this week around our patch of green in Oklahoma.

A large grasshopper clings to some of my marigolds in the garden.
A large grasshopper clings to some of my marigolds in the garden.
A tall thistle sways in late afternoon light.
A tall thistle sways in late afternoon light.
Condensation clings to the transparent lid of our coffee maker.
Condensation clings to the transparent lid of our coffee maker.
Tangled morning glory vines reach for late afternoon sunshine.
Tangled morning glory vines reach for late afternoon sunshine.
Dusty power cables cast long shadows in the garage at last light.
Dusty power cables cast long shadows in the garage at last light.
Marigold blossoms stretch to reach sunlight.
Marigold blossoms stretch to reach sunlight.
Mimosa branches are silhouettes against the red summer sun at sunset.
Mimosa branches are silhouettes against the red summer sun at sunset.

Large Format is the Wild West of Photography

My ambitious young photographer friend Mac Crosby came by the office earlier this week, at my invitation, so I could lend her a Minolta X-700 and a couple of lenses, as well as a couple of antique 620 cameras. Readers might recall that Mac wrote a neat piece about my wife Abby and me for class last March (link).

Photographer Mac Crosby looks at some of the thousands of 4x5 negatives on file at my newspaper.
Photographer Mac Crosby looks at some of the thousands of 4×5 negatives on file at my newspaper.

In recent months, Mac has been curating film photography into her body of work as an aspiring photojournalist, and that has included disposable cameras, 35mm film cameras, medium format cameras, and even toy cameras. Photography with toy cameras is sometimes called lomography.

One thing I showed her while she was here at the office is some of the thousands of 4×5-inch black-and-white negatives we have in our files at The Ada News.

4×5 negatives are about 15 times larger than 35mm film frames, so they potentially contain a tremendous amount of detail. In fact, 4×5 negatives are large enough that they can be printed as contact prints, in which the film is laid directly on the printing paper and exposed to light, skipping the step of putting the film in an enlarger.

I lent my friend and fellow photographer Mac Crosby this Minolta X-700, a 35mm film camera from the late 1980s. I hope she dazzles me with the results she gets with it.
I lent my friend and fellow photographer Mac Crosby this Minolta X-700, a 35mm film camera from the late 1980s. I hope she dazzles me with the results she gets with it.

If 35mm film is common and medium format film is exotic, 4×5 film is the Wild West of photography.

I’ve never owned a 4×5 camera. I do have a photographer friend, Robert in Tulsa, who has a Burke and James 4×5 field camera. A field camera differs from a view camera in that it uses a viewfinder instead of a focusing hood or cloth. If you have ever seen the movie Flags of Our Fathers, the character of Joe Rosenthal uses a 4×5 field camera to photograph the raising of the second U.S. flag on Iwo Jima.

As Mac and I talked about film photography, she said she’d like to see what I could do with film, and I pointed out that in the very office in which she sat were literally hundreds of thousands of film frames I made during my career, from when I started at The Ada News in October 1988 until about the middle of 2005, when I had enough digital cameras to get the job done, and when the film scanner of 1998 vintage finally died.

I also told Mac that if she gets a chance to use a darkroom in her travels or education, I’d be glad to tag along and throw in my expertise. I’d also extend that invitation to anyone who wants to learn about how a darkroom works. It’s pretty amazing that I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night, but I can tell you exactly how to process a roll of film.

Three children use a water pump in this image made on 4x5 inch sheet film. The film is from an envelope marked, “Oakman Homecoming, Published Oct. 21, 1954, in weekly.” That means that the children in this image are in their 70s now.
Three children use a water pump in this image made on 4×5 inch sheet film. The film is from an envelope marked, “Oakman Homecoming, Published Oct. 21, 1954, in weekly.” That means that the children in this image are in their 70s now.

A Fisheye Surprise

The Altura Photo 8mm f/3.0 Fisheye Lens sits in my home studio recently.
The Altura Photo 8mm f/3.0 Fisheye Lens sits in my home studio recently.

Two of the things I write on the dry erase board at the start of every Intro to Digital Photography class are…

  1. You can’t buy mastery. You have to earn it.
  2. What can you do to make your camera take better pictures? Wear it out.
The large front elements of the Altura 8mm fisheye and the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye are shown for comparison.
The large front elements of the Altura 8mm fisheye and the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye are shown for comparison.

I’ve got enough great cameras, lenses, lights, filters, computers and software to make images, both for myself and as a professional news photographer.

It might seem strange, then, that once in a while I buy photo gear out of curiosity. My most recent acquisition is the Altura Photo 8mm f/3.0 Fisheye Lens. I had rock-bottom expectations since I never heard of Altura, and it didn’t cost much.

The The Altura Photo 8mm f/3.0 fisheye lens and the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye sit in my home studio recently.
The The Altura Photo 8mm f/3.0 fisheye lens and the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye sit in my home studio recently.

The Altura was a big surprise.

This Altura 8mm fisheye sits on its lens cap with its hood removed.
This Altura 8mm fisheye sits on its lens cap with its hood removed.

Its build quality is unheard of in modern times. It is constructed of brass and steel. It is heavy. The focus throw is long, smooth and well-damped, reminiscent of lenses made in the 1960s rather than the 2020s. The glass is multi-coated. The aperture ring is smooth and has distinct clicks at whole aperture values.

One reason the Altura is probably so cheap is its totally manual configuration. It has no connection to the camera except being mounted on it. There are no electronics to tell the camera about aperture or focus settings, and there isn’t even an aperture linkage to hold the aperture open during focusing and composing; if you pick a small aperture, the image in the viewfinder is dark.

A good example of how wide a fisheye lens can be is this view of the inside of my Nissan Juke, which is a very small car.
A good example of how wide a fisheye lens can be is this view of the inside of my Nissan Juke, which is a very small car.

Interestingly, picking a large aperture doesn’t seem to be necessary. The lens is sharp at all of its apertures, and depth of field at 8mm is, by it very nature, very deep: everything in front of the lens is in focus.

The large front element of the Altura fisheye lens is quite striking, and could be easily damaged in everyday use. The lens is furnished with a large plastic lens cap.
The large front element of the Altura fisheye lens is quite striking, and could be easily damaged in everyday use. The lens is furnished with a large plastic lens cap.

And there’s a lot in front of this lens. I compared it directly to my 15-year-old Tokina fisheye, which sees 180º corner-to-corner, and found the Altura sees maybe 15º more than the Tokina using a camera with a 15mm x 24mm sensor. Additionally, if you remove the hood, the Altura projects a circular fisheye pattern on cameras with larger 24mm x 36mm sensors.

This is the 180º view of the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye.
This is the 180º view of the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye.
This is the 195º-ish view of the Altura 8mm fisheye.
This is the 195º-ish view of the Altura 8mm fisheye.

The challenge of using a specialized lens like this is putting it to real world use. In the past, my main use for fisheye lenses has been as extreme wide angle lenses, using Photoshop or Lightroom to “unbend” the circular look of the lens. It’s very effective, as you can see in the examples below…

This 2012 view of Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado near Page, Arizona, was made with my widest lens available, the Tokina 12-24mm. Compare it to the next image.
This 2012 view of Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado near Page, Arizona, was made with my widest lens available, the Tokina 12-24mm. Compare it to the next image.
Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado is shown in this April 2015 fisheye view, with the curved line straightened out using Adobe Photoshop.
Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado is shown in this April 2015 fisheye view, with the curved line straightened out using Adobe Photoshop.

I hope to throw this unusual lens into my daily news and sports coverage, and I hope it adds to my narrative in new and different ways.

Most Popular Camera Ever?

The beautifully-made Canon AE-1 Program camera sits in my home studio recently.
The beautifully-made Canon AE-1 Program camera sits in my home studio recently.

A friend of mine recently asked me to look over an older film camera of his. He told me he had grown up making pictures with it. I I told him I would be happy to look it over, and to drop it by my office. I wasn’t surprised when the that camera showed up the next day was a Canon AE-1 Program, one of the most popular cameras ever made.

The battery for the Canon AE-1 Program sits inside a door on the front of the camera.
The battery for the Canon AE-1 Program sits inside a door on the front of the camera.

Before I go on, let me say that I’m not usually a “they don’t build them like they used to” guy, since technology has swept us away with all kinds of advancement, from the smartphone to the self-diagnosing car engine, but on this occasion, well… they just don’t build them like they used to.

The Canon AE-1 Program came from an era of rapid advancement in camera design, and includes some very advanced technology in it, but it also inherited the build quality, fit, and finish of the handmade and hand-assembled era of camera development.

The shutter speed dial can be set to program which, in combination with setting the aperture ring on the lens to "A" will allow the camera to set both shutter speed and aperture.
The shutter speed dial can be set to program which, in combination with setting the aperture ring on the lens to “A” will allow the camera to set both shutter speed and aperture.

The AE-1 Program followed the AE-1, which was probably the most popular camera ever sold in the film era. The “Program” was a piece of tech that allowed the camera to pick both the shutter speed and the aperture, and was the first of that feature to be introduced.

In-hand, this camera has a big-camera feel. In contrast to almost any digital camera today, it is heavy. The corners and grips of the camera are fairly conventional, and the controls are laid out nicely. I can pick up a camera like this and immediately start using it.

The Canon 50mm f/1.8 is a great lens, but most 50mm lenses are. They are easy and cheap to make, and are capable of making great images.
The Canon 50mm f/1.8 is a great lens, but most 50mm lenses are. They are easy and cheap to make, and are capable of making great images.

I cleaned it up with a soft toothbrush and some canned air. It had a fair amount of back-of-the-closet dust on it. This particular one seemed to run just fine. The shutter and aperture cycled like they should. Focus on the 50mm f/1.8 lens, a fine piece of glass that every Canon owner had during that era, was smooth and accurate. The only thing I could find wrong with it was the light seals – the foam rubber in the slots on the film door – was dry and cracked, which could cause light leaks, especially in bright sunlight.

If my friend is willing to buy film then have it processed and scanned or printed, his Canon AE-1 Program is ready for the job.

The Canon AE-1 Program is shown with its lens removed.
The Canon AE-1 Program is shown with its lens removed.

Experiments Keep Us Moving Forward

In my last post, I talked about buying a nice used mirrorless camera and some adaptors so I could experiment with older lenses. It got me thinking about some of the very first images, and very first experiments, I tried.

I had a microscope as a kid, and spent a lot of time looking through it at everything from ants to onions. Photographing it with a homemade macro lens yielded very shallow depth of field.
I had a microscope as a kid, and spent a lot of time looking through it at everything from ants to onions. Photographing it with a homemade macro lens yielded very shallow depth of field.

Ignorance is bliss, and some of my most successful early photographic experiments wouldn’t have happened if an expert had told me why they wouldn’t work. One, for example, is one I tried with a garage-sale Exa camera of 1962 vintage. I was drawn to it by it’s beautifully-made all-metal Exacta removable / interchangeable lens. It was the only lens I had for it, but it occured to me as I watched how the focus mechanism moved the lens farther from the film to focus closer that if I could move it ever farther from the film, I could focus even closer.

Using my fingertips to hold the lens on the camera with a piece of cardboard toilet paper core between them required some patience.
Using my fingertips to hold the lens on the camera with a piece of cardboard toilet paper core between them required some patience.

In the world of photographic equipment, this is done with a device called an extension tube, which mounts between the camera and the lens. I didn’t have one, and I was 15, so the only money I had was a few bucks from mowing a few lawns, and my allowance. So I decided to put the cardboard core from a used-up toilet paper roll between the camera and the lens. It worked!

This spring of wheat grass grew in the pasture behind our house in Lawton when I lived there in the 1970s.
This spring of wheat grass grew in the pasture behind our house in Lawton when I lived there in the 1970s.

Most lenses aren’t designed to focus close, and neither was the 1960s-era Exacta. The images I got have a dream-like softness about them, and are loaded with vignetting, which is darkening of the edges of the frame. The vignetting was so dominant that my mother called the images “vignettes.”

Experimenting with the creative aspects of photography goes so far beyond camera and lens reviews and specifications. Sometimes I can get better, more interesting, more compelling images with a broken camera, a toy camera, or an ancient camera.

This tiny statue made of corn husks is a representation of my mother and her sister singing together, which was their favorite thing to do.
This tiny statue made of corn husks is a representation of my mother and her sister singing together, which was their favorite thing to do.

Reflecting on Mirrorless

My new/used Fujifilm X-T10 sits in my home studio this week.
My new/used Fujifilm X-T10 sits in my home studio this week.
The Fujifilm has an articulating screen on the back for low and high angle shooting. Most of my shooting will be using the electronic viewfinder, which was a must-have when I was shopping for mirrorless.
The Fujifilm has an articulating screen on the back for low and high angle shooting. Most of my shooting will be using the electronic viewfinder, which was a must-have when I was shopping for mirrorless.

Mirrorless digital cameras have matured nicely alongside the rest of digital imaging, and are, today, at the top of the game. There are plenty of great mirrorless camera systems in the photography world today. Sony was one of the first leaders in the field, but the industry has caught up in recent years, and Fujifilm, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and others all have competitive models.

So what exactly is “mirrorless?” For decades the most popular cameras in the industry, both film and digital, were single lens reflex cameras, or SLRs. These cameras use a mirror to reflect light entering the lens into a viewfinder on top of the camera. Mirrorless cameras do away with the mechanically complex system of mirrors and pentaprisms by shining light from the lens directly on the imaging sensor, then showing it to the photographer using a display on the back of the camera or in an electronic viewfinder.

A digital single lens reflex camera and a single lens reflex film camera with their lenses removed how the mirror used to reflect light into the viewfinder.
A digital single lens reflex camera and a single lens reflex film camera with their lenses removed how the mirror used to reflect light into the viewfinder.

Mirrorless matured hand-in-hand with smartphone technology. The same way a phone gives you a live view on-screen, the mirrorless camera does as well. 10 or 15 years ago, this process was too slow for action photography, as the camera took time to process and display the image, causing a lag between the action on front of the camera and what the photographer saw.

The biggest advantage of mirrorless is size and weight. Mirrorless cameras are small and light.

I hesitated to buy mirrorless because I already have a lot of really great cameras, but for my birthday recently, my wife encouraged me to find something I would like in the field. I hunted for a bargain, since I love bargains, and I mostly looked at finding a kindly-used Fuji. One of my first cameras was a Fuji, and my wife and I have matching Fuji travel/all-in-one cameras, and I love their style.

The 2015 Fujifilm X-T10 sits next to the 1978 Fujica ST-605n.
The 2015 Fujifilm X-T10 sits next to the 1978 Fujica ST-605n.
The X-T10 has a pop-up flash, but with the exception of fill flash in broad daylight, this feature produces very poor light.
The X-T10 has a pop-up flash, but with the exception of fill flash in broad daylight, this feature produces very poor light.

I’ve said this many times, but it bears repeating: buying cameras used is the way to go, at least for me. You get powerful, expensive technology for a fraction of the original price because someone decided to “upgrade,” which is industry code language for trying to buy better photography by spending money on hardware.

The camera I found and bought is the Fujifilm X-T10 of 2015 vintage. In 2015, it was at the top of photographic technology, and the introduction of newer cameras since then has no effect on what this camera can do.

The controls on many Fuji mirrorless cameras are throwbacks to the manual-everything days, and are immaculately made and fitted.
The controls on many Fuji mirrorless cameras are throwbacks to the manual-everything days, and are immaculately made and fitted.
Simple converters with no mechanical or electronic connections in them are very cheap, and let me use all manner of lenses on this Fuji mirrorless.
Simple converters with no mechanical or electronic connections in them are very cheap, and let me use all manner of lenses on this Fuji mirrorless.

I didn’t buy any lenses with this camera, because part of the allure of mirrorless is, for me anyway, the fact that with an adaptor, you can put just about any lens on your mirrorless camera. This is possible because the imaging sensor in mirrorless cameras is right behind the lens, not buried behind the mirror box and mechanical shutter of older cameras.

This is my very first image with the Fujifilm X-T10, of a pillbox shaped like a camera my wife gave me years ago. I shot it with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens wide open, and it is surprisingly sharp.
This is my very first image with the Fujifilm X-T10, of a pillbox shaped like a camera my wife gave me years ago. I shot it with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens wide open, and it is surprisingly sharp.

The only thing I actively dislike about mirrorless cameras are the name. “Mirrorless” is a lazy, techno-pop-culture fallback name. Saying that a class of cameras is “mirrorless” is like saying most cars are “diesel-less,” which is true, but a lame way of naming them.

I have already made some impressive images with this amazing machine, and hope to keep making more as I explore its potential.

Putting my very first SLR lens, a Fujinon 55mm screw-mount, on my new/used X-T10 is a very satisfying tribute to my photographic history.
Putting my very first SLR lens, a Fujinon 55mm screw-mount, on my new/used X-T10 is a very satisfying tribute to my photographic history.