How to get started with analog photography

Nikon EM, with Nikkor 50mm 1.8 Ai lens and Fuji Superia 200 film

Nikon EM, with Nikkor 50mm 1.8 Ai lens and Fuji Superia 200 film

I’ve written a little about analog photography in the past, but for those of you only used to digital photography and curious about good old analog photography I thought I’d write a little short introduction.

Though the way we capture and process images have changed when moving from analog to digital photography, the very basics of photography remains the same! We compose and expose in much the same way, using the same tools. However some things are different.

What camera should I get?

Find a camera that suits you! There are a lot of cameras to choose from and you can find good cameras cheap on the eBay and in thrift shops. Some are easier to use than others. Cameras from the 90’s are packed with electronics and can be quite advanced. They have highly advanced auto modes. Personally I think they are a little too boring and remind me too much of modern digital cameras in the way they operate. Cameras from the 70’s and 80’s I think are great! They have good metering, are cheap and easy to use, but they still have that classic feel to them. You can still be creative and use them in manual mode. Cameras that are older are often a bit harder to use. They may lack proper metering, and some are less intuitive.

 

Asahi Pentax Spotmatic

Asahi Pentax Spotmatic is a typical classic SLR camera from the 60’s.

There are also different types of cameras to look for. SLR’s are great and is a good place to start. They have good metering and good manual control. You can change the lenses which is handy. They can usually be found cheap, and you can find high quality lenses fairly cheap as well! If you own a DSLR you’ll be familiar with how it operates.

 

 

Olumpus 35 SP

Olympus 35 SP is an example of a rangefinder camera.

Rangefinder cameras are also great! They work a bit differently than SLRs. You don’t actually see through the lens like on a SLR which at first seems odd. However, they have a different, and in some ways better, way of focusing.

Rangefinders are usually smaller and more compact than SLRs, and more quiet due to no flip-up mirror. Some rangefinder cameras have exchangeable lenses, others do not. Rangefinders are typically a bit more expensive than SLR, unless you find a bargain!

Pentax PC-550

Pentac PC-550 is a simple automatic viewfinder camera.

Rangefinders are easily confused with viewfinder cameras because they may look similar. Like on rangefinder cameras, on viewfinder cameras you don’t look through the lens itself. However, unlike rangefinder cameras, viewfinder cameras have no way of accurately confirming focus. Viewfinder cameras are often consumer models and have limited metering and manual controls.

 

Adox Golf 45 S

Adox Golf is a camera that uses 120 film. It’s an older camera from the 50’s and lack metering and focus system.

Older box cameras and twin-reflex lens cameras can be fun and interesting, but often a bit harder to use. Especially older box cameras. They often have limited or no metering or way of telling focus accurately. You basically point and shoot and hope for the best. You should have some skill to handle these cameras well.

 

 

 

What types of film can I use?

There are a lot of different films available still today! First we can look at the different film formats. Most of the films you’ll encounter will be either 135/35mm or 120-format film. These formats are still commonly used by analog photographers today and films in these formats are still produced.

135 or 35mm film you probably know already. It’s what you’ll most likely encounter. Used by most SLRs, rangefinders and compact-cameras this is beyond any doubt the most common film format in use.

120-film is larger than 135. It’s also know as medium format. This format is typically used in older cameras. It’s commonly used in older box cameras. Some films may also be labeled 220, but this only means that the film is a bit longer and can still be used.

There are other types of film formats as well, such as APS, 126,  110, 127, and so on, but most of these are no longer in production and can be hard to get and of poorer quality.

Film rolls

Different kinds of film. A roll of 35mm black and white and a roll of Kodak Portra color negative C-41 120-film

In addition to the film format there are also different film types and different development process. First is regular color film like Kodak Gold or Fuji Superia. Regular color film uses a process called C-41. Other names in use for this process is CN-16, CNK-4 and AP-70. This is the cheapest and easiest film process and most local photo shops with a lab can develop this kind of film.

Next is color reversal films. Also called slides, positives, dias and reversal. Unlike your regular color films which produces a negative image on the film, these kind of films actually produce a positive image. This meant that the negatives could be displayed on a large surface using a slides projector. These films are developed using a process called E-6. Once more common, fewer labs develop these films today and it may cost more to get these films developed. Small local labs will probably not be able to develop these films, so be prepared to ship your films off and get them back in a week or two.

The third alternative is black and white. These films use a very simple develop process. So simple in fact that a lot of people actually develop black and white films themselves! However, like the E-6 process it’s rare for smaller local shops to develop this kind of film, so you may have to ship your films off.

So where to begin?

If you think shooting on film sounds cool and would like to check it out, here’s my advice to you: First find an old camera. Either you go searching in the attic/basement of you parents, grandparents or uncle etc. or you go to your nearest thrift shop/flea marked/garage sale. In worst case you go online. If you end up on eBay you may need to know what you’re looking for. Try searching for a Canon AE-1, Minolta X-570, Pentax K-1000 or Nikon FM-2 and try to find one with a fast prime lens, 28mm, 35mm or 50mm f/2.8 or faster.

One you have your camera in hand, go to your local store and pick up a roll of cheap standard color film, like Fuji Superia or whatever is cheapest. If you’re lucky and have a proper photo shop nearby this is where you’ll go. There you should be able to get help loading the film, and get a quick lesson on how to use your camera if you need it. Once loaded take the camera with you and shoot a test roll. Make sure it’s not just waste, but also make sure it’s not too important in case there should be anything wrong with the camera.

Once you have your roll developed and see that all is well with the camera, you’ll pick up some more film. Now remember that when you buy film, you need to look at the ISO value to find out how fast the film is. Once you’ve selected a value it can not be changed like on digital cameras. Also remember that films are calibrated for different lighting such as daylight or tungsten. So in essence when you buy your film you choose the ISO and white balance and you can’t change it later! When it comes to buying film for the first time I’ll suggest getting a couple rolls of different film to see how they differ in look. Try a couple of different until you find one that have the look you’re after. I’d suggest starting with a couple of Kodak Portra films, a roll of Kodak Ektar and maybe some Fuji films. Also get a roll of Ilford Delta and Kodak T-Max or Tri-X black and white films just for fun. Then go out and start shooting analog!

Nikon + Super-Takumar=?

So, I got my hands on some old manual focus Super-Takumar lenses. I had been on the look out for some manual focus lenses for a while, because I wanted to try them when shooting video with the D800. I’ve shot some video on regular modern Nikon auto focus lenses and it’s really difficult to pull focus accurate, so when these old Super-Takumar lenses fell into my lap for free I just had to try them!

Super-Takumar 35mm f/3.5

Now, these old Takumar lenses had the M42 screw-mount so in order to fit them on my D800 I would have to get an adapter from M42 to the Nikon F-mount. To complicate the issue even further the flange depth on the Nikon F-mount is different than on the M42 so in order to be able to focus to infinity, and not just get the effect of an extension tube, the adapter would have to have a corrective lens. Canon, Sony and Pentax for instance has the same flange depth as the M42 or less and only requires a mechanical adapter with no corrective lens. This corrective lens part had me worried. How would the extra glass affect the lens? Would it work and would the lens keep it’s sharpness and optical quality? In order to find out I devised a little test where I compared some original Nikkor lenses to the Super-Takumars with the adapter. Keep in mind this is nothing fancy or scientific. It’s a simple empirical kitchen-table test.

Equipment & set-up

Lenses:

  • Super-Takumar 35mm f/3.5
  • Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8
  • Super-Takumar 85mm f/1.9
  • Nikon 85mm f/1.8 D
  • Super-Takumar 200mm f/4

The adapter I used was from a producer called Hama. It’s a fairly cheap third party accessory brand but not the cheapest.

Hama M42-Nikon F adapter with corrective lens

For the 35mm test I rigged the camera on a tripod at a distance of 50 cm and for the 85mm test I rigged the camera on a tripod at a distance of 100 cm. For the 200mm I rigged the camera at a distance of 2,5 meters. This way I could  measure and check if the focus ring on the lens showed the correct distance. To make sure I had the most accurate focus I used live-view to zoom in digitally and set focus. All tests were done at aperture 5.6 and a shutter of 1/40. Focus is on the 2,50 mark on the bottle. Images are as is straight out of the camera only converted to JPEG from RAW and scaled down to 72dpi to save some bandwidth, but no editing is done. Check out the pictures below and judge for yourselves. You can choose to see the full size picture if you like.

Results

What I noticed while doing this test was that the Super-Takumar lenses were a little bit closer than the original Nikkors. They also seemed to be a little bit darker. This may be a result of the corrective lens in the adapter. Also, I noticed that the cameras light meter did not always respond too well to the Super-Takumar lenses. It may be something I did wrong, because sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I didn’t put too much effort into investigating or figuring it out at this point.

As for my the focal distance check; the focal distance it said on the lenses matched reality. It was a little bit off, but that was also the case for the original Nikkors and so I called it withing the margin of error.

I’m very pleased with the results. The 85mm lenses are really close. The Nikkor one is better, but the Super-Takumar is not that far behind. It’s still sharp and has minimal CA even with the adapter. Maybe even a little bit better than the original on the CA in some areas?

As for the 35mm test it is a bit unfair as I compared a fixed focal lens to a zoom lens. However, I am pleasantly surprised to see that the Super-Takumar is really sharp (sharper than the Nikkor zoom) and has very little CA even with the adapter.

Unfortunately I didn’t have an original Nikkor lens to compare the 200mm to. However, I’d say the 200mm holds up. It not as sharp as the others and it has more CA, but that’s to be expected. It’s still very good.

Conclusion

Can I use the old M42 Super-Takumar lenses? Absolutley! Are there any ill effects of the M42 to F-mount adapter and the corrective lens? Maybe. A little loss of light, and lack of metering. While this may be an issue for some, to me this is no big deal. What pleases me very much is that there seem to be hardly any loss of optical quality and that focusing work. Now that I know the image quality is good enough, I can’t wait to get to work with these lenses to see how they perform in real life and how they are to work with!

Disclaimer

I realize there are several things about this test that are just not right. For one you can’t compare a zoom-lens to a fixed focal lens the way I did. Second the light is not controlled in any way, hence it may have shifted from shot to shot. And so on… This was just a simple empirical test I decided to do on a Sunday morning to see if these lenses were usable at all with the adapter or if the adapter would mess up the optical quality.