SLR photography, retro style
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Old 07-05-2013   #1
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Default SLR photography, retro style

Here is a fun little project for those without film cameras who would like to have the flavor of going back to the "good old days" for a while but don't have a suitable film camera. For the purposes of this discussion, the "good old days would be the 1960s and 1970s, before the days of autofocus and electronic shutters.

The parallels won't be exact in certain respects. For instance, cameras were a lot lighter in weight back then, unless equipped with a motorized drive to advance the film rapidly. Not a lot can be done to lighten the weight of an existing dSLR body, so we will have to live with the difference in weight. Also, only very serious amateurs and professionals had such devices, and we are emulating the experience available to beginning to intermediate photographers here.

Film

The imagers in modern dSLR cameras respond more like color slide (diapositive) film than We are also going to imitate the experience of using color transparency film rather than black and white or color negative film because the exposure latitude and response of digital imagers most closely match that of color transparency film. If you want to play with simulating negative film, you will have to live with the tendency for digital imagers to "clip" the highlights.

If you are simulating transparency film, you are allowed to shoot in JPEG only: you don't have the opportunity to do any post-exposure manipulation, not even cropping or corrections to exposure or color balance. If you have multiple memory cards, you must also remove your memory card from your camera after finishing your last roll of "film" for the day and put the card aside for at least two days to simulate the time taken for sending the film to be processed and getting the slides back.

Film had a fixed color balance and ISO rating, so you must leave your color balance on "sunny day" or tungsten illumination and must not change it until you change "film" after 24 or 36 exposures. Saturation, contrast, color style, and the like for film was also fixed for a given roll of film, so those things are not allowed to be changed except between "rolls".

Those simulating color negative film may use RAW to allow for more head room on the highlight end and may also opt to choose auto white balance to simulate the processor's color corrections, either in camera or in your RAW processor. However, if you choose this option, you must use it consistently and take pot luck on the result. You aren't allowed to change the color balance or to crop your images for individual images, unless you want to do your own "darkroom" work. This was feasible only for black and white for most photographers; only very advanced amateurs or professionals could do their own color darkroom work and few of those would consider the process to be fun or pleasant. This part of the film experience will therefore not be simulated except for the delay in getting the results.

Film was usually available in 36-exposure magazines, though it could also be had in 20 or 24-exposure lengths as well. To simulate the changing of film, you may not change the white balance or ISO rating, saturation, contrast, sharpness, picture style, color tone, or so on until you have run through the entire roll. You must also wait for a full 60 seconds after each 36 exposures to simulate winding the film back into its cartridge and loading with a fresh cartridge of film. While waiting for this time to elapse, you may change your camera settings settings to simulate the new "film". If you actually do have a film camera, you are invited to time yourself changing film, but this time must include lowering your camera from your eye, rewinding the film, fishing the canister from its storage place, putting the used film inside it, fishing the new film from storage, loading the film, putting the empty canister back, advancing the film to start position, and raising the camera to your eye for the new shot.

Although it was possible to change film in the middle of a 36-exposure cartridge, it was very troublesome to do so and was seldom done. If you feel that you must do so, you must record the number of shots taken on the old roll before "changing" to a new new "roll." When restarting the old roll, you must spend an additional two seconds per exposure to simulate making a shot with the lens cap on and advancing the "film," plus four extra seconds to shoot two blanks so that your new images don't overlap with the old ones.

Because the speed of film in those days color film especially, was below ISO 100, you might consider putting a neutral density filter onto your lens to simulate the slowness of these films. A popular film back then was Kodachrome II, which had an ASA rating of 25, which is roughly the same as ISO 25. Kodachrome X and Ektachrome X had an (approximate) ISO rating of 64. There were faster color films, but even the really fast ones didn't go over ISO 400 or so. Black and white films ran a bit faster, with general-purpose films like Verichrome Pan at ISO 125 and Plux-X at 160 and high-speed stuff like Tri-X at ISO 400. There were films up in the ISO 1600 range, but those again were mainly special-purpose devices. The usual way to get higher speed was to "push" process film to get 1 or 2 stops more sensitivity out of it at a cost in general image quality. Pushing was a special service not available at the corner drugstore, but press photographers often used it.

If you want to simulate this generally lower speed, a (real) neutral density filter that cuts the incoming light by 2 or 3 stops might be helpful without interfering too much with the view through the finder.

NO CHIMPING ALLOWED! Period. No exceptions. You are also not allowed to go back and review your shots on the LCD monitor or to delete your bad ones. You are also not allowed to check the histograms, either before or after taking the exposure, and of course no live view. If you must, cover your LCD monitor. You are allowed to uncover it to use the menu and change settings, but that's it.

Filters

To simulate the usage of color correction or color balancing filters, you must wait 20 to 30 seconds to simulate retrieval of the correct filter and its installation. You may deduct the time necessary to change your white balance and ISO settings to simulate the properties of this new filter. After you are finished with the filter, you must wait 20 seconds to simulate the filter's removal and storage in your gadget bag. If you have some real filters such as a polarizer or UV filter, you can have someone time you as you actually install the filter, use the camera, and remove it again and use these numbers. To make these timings as realistic as possible, the time must include putting the camera down, retrieving the filter case from your gadget bag (or pocket if you are timing the removal of the filter and would normally store the case there), actually install or remove the filter, put the case back, and raise the camera to your eye. You are also invited to report the numbers that you get for installing and removing your filters.

Many dSLRs these days have features for simulating the use of yellow, orange, red, or green filters in-camera. You may deduct the time it takes to access and change these menu items from your simulated filter installation/removal or perform these operations while waiting for your simulated time to expire. If you have actual filters of the proper size and kind, you may of course use the real thing instead of simulating them.

Exposure/metering

Full auto and scene modes as we know them today did not exist back then, so you are not allowed to use these settings. Shutters were typically strictly manual affairs in SLR cameras of that day but many of them had match-needle mechanisms or fully automatic control of the lens' diaphragm. Today's "manual" mode is similar to the match-needle system and the S or Tv mode to yesterday's shutter-priority "automatic" mode. You are therefore allowed only allowed to use your dSLR in M and Tv (or S) mode.

Back then, there was spot metering, center-weighted averaging, or averaging. No matrix/evaluative metering, and if you wanted a really tight spot, you had to use an external meter. Therefore, these are the only modes allowed, although I would be willing to consider Canon's "partial" metering, which is similar to center-weighted averaging but ignores the edges altogether. You might also think of it as a fat spot metering.


Flash

You are allowed external flashes only; SLR cameras of this period did not have built-in xenon flashes. Although xenon flashes did exist, they were comparatively expensive and weak. Any built-in flashes would have used flashbulbs. With their reflectors and batteries, such devices would be too big to be built into a 35 mm SLR camera. You are also allowed to use your flash units in manual mode only and at a fixed power setting, most likely full power. If you really want to be retro, you must compute your exposure using guide numbers or experience.

Lenses

Back then, zoom lenses existed but were neither very fast nor sharp and had restricted zoom range. Forget wide angle zooms. For this reason, most work was done with prime (non-zoom) lenses. Some of these were fast, a camera starter kit typically being equipped with something like a 50 mm f/2 or f/1.8 lens, with f/4 being a fairly typical "speed" for entry level or intermediate use. Lenses faster than f/2.8 were available, but were on the higher end of the market. If you have no prime lenses of the sort, You might wish to simulate both the slow film fixing your zoom setting, with tape if need be, scaling your imager speed up by two or three stops, and by scaling your zoom range up by two or three stops. This will give you more depth of field than you would have gotten with a SLR of that period, but at least the shutter speed under the light conditions would be right. For a digital camera with an APS-C sized imager, a focal length of between 28 and 35 mm will simulate the 50 mm lens.

Automatic focusing is a comparatively new development; you are allowed manual focus only. However, you might consider waiving this rule because today's cameras and lenses are not really intended for manual focusing. If you have suitable old lenses, you might want to try it, but you are still at a disadvantage unless your camera is equipped with a viewfinder especially intended for manual focusing. Such viewfinders are usually add-on options; dSLR cameras don't normally come from the factory equipped with them. Today's lenses have shorter "throws" on their focusing rings to help speed up autofocus, but that also makes manual focus more difficult to do quickly and accurately. If you do waive this rule, you are only allowed "single shot" autofocus with the center focus point. The center point restriction simulates the split image in the middle of the viewfinder.

De facto standard focal lengths back then were 21, 24, 28, 35, 50, a range between 85-105 mm, 135 and from 180 mm up. There were premium wide angle lenses as short as 17 mm, but not for mere mortals, and even the 21 mm length was pushing it. Nikon also had a 8.5 mm fisheye, but that one cost about US5,000 in 1963 dollars. Teleconverters were available, usually 2x and, less commonly, 3x. The 1.4x extender common today was hard to find back then. There are complaints about today's 2x converters, but today's are still better than those available back then. Nobody today would be satisfied with the images produced by the 3x converters, even if they would tolerate the 3-stop penalty for using one.

Of course, computers have allowed better lenses to be designed since the early 1970s, but the software was still in the research and development stage much before 1975 or so. Corrections arnd refinements are of course welcome to this suggested project and the background information. Have fun!

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Old 07-05-2013   #2
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Default Re: SLR photography, retro style

This is such a fantastic idea. Do you mind if I share it with my photo group?
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Old 07-05-2013   #3
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I would love to hear how the experiment comes out.
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Old 07-05-2013   #4
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Today I went to the beach and shot the equivalent of 2 rolls of film at ISO 200 in jpeg. Outside so I just used daylight WB. However I used autofocus and I don't have a mirror anymore so there is not much I could do about that..
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Old 07-05-2013   #5
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Originally Posted by nolanr66 View Post
Today I went to the beach and shot the equivalent of 2 rolls of film at ISO 200 in jpeg. Outside so I just used daylight WB. However I used autofocus and I don't have a mirror anymore so there is not much I could do about that..
If autofocus is all you have, then you have to use it. Some bridge cameras have manual focus, but if you don't have a real through-the-lens optical viewfinder, you may have to use autofocus to get decent quality. However, an important part of this experience is to turn off the post-exposure review so you have no idea what you captured until you are well away from the site.

I also forgot to include that you are not allowed to see the images until at least two days after you have finished the "roll", one day if you want to pretend that you had them processed at a one-day photo kiosk. If my memory serves correctly, one-hour photofinishing for the masses didn't become available until the late 1970s, which is alfter our simulation window. You are allowed to change to a new memory card to simulate another batch of rolls while you are waiting for your first batch to get back from simulated processing. If finishing the roll means shooting some "junk" or speculative images, then so be it. That is what most amateurs did back then rather than waste several exposures the end of the roll. Don's skimp or cheat on the waiting process; it is an important part of the retro experience.
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Old 07-06-2013   #6
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I like some of the aspects of your project, and I can see the learning lesson that it is involved, but on the other hand, I have to ask "why"?

Shouldn't we use all of the tools at our disposal? As technology advances, why wouldn't we take advantage of all that this technology has to offer?

Now as a learning lesson, and to focus on learning to see and to take less images and force ourselves to work on composition, lighting, framing, etc., I can see some benefit, but beyond that, I do not get the "why" of your project. I have heard of several "training" exercises where you are not allowed to look at your images until after you are done with your shoot to force you to envision your shot and work hard on composition and not just put the camera on burst mode, take 5 million shots, and hope a few turn out. I can clearly see the benefit of such an exercise, at least for a once or twice excursion. But I am not sure I get the rest of your project...

For example, why wait 2 days to "simulate" the wait we used to have to experience to get film developed? I am not sure I see any benefit there, other than to feel the "pain" of past generations. In the past, my distant relatives used outhouses too, but I am not *that* interested in experiencing their lifestyle that I am going to go out and rent a porta-potty and put one in my backyard! Haha!

Not being confrontational here, just trying to see into your mind to get an idea of where you are going with this. If it is just a fun exercise, then I will pass and let others enjoy all the fun!
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Old 07-06-2013   #7
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Originally Posted by Doublehelix3216 View Post
Not being confrontational here, just trying to see into your mind to get an idea of where you are going with this. If it is just a fun exercise, then I will pass and let others enjoy all the fun!
Quote:
Originally Posted by scoundrel1728 View Post
Here is a fun little project for those without film cameras who would like to have the flavor of going back to the "good old days" for a while but don't have a suitable film camera....................................Have fun!
Just commenting that I think scoundrel stated the purpose in the first sentence. It sounds like a lot of fun for those who would like to kind of see what it was like as best they can. I used to shoot film and have a film camera now so I think I will pass but I am hoping participants will post their photos on a thread somewhere here or at least link to their posts on other sites.
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Old 07-06-2013   #8
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Originally Posted by scoundrel1728 View Post
If autofocus is all you have, then you have to use it. Some bridge cameras have manual focus, but if you don't have a real through-the-lens optical viewfinder, you may have to use autofocus to get decent quality. However, an important part of this experience is to turn off the post-exposure review so you have no idea what you captured until you are well away from the site.

I also forgot to include that you are not allowed to see the images until at least two days after you have finished the "roll", one day if you want to pretend that you had them processed at a one-day photo kiosk. If my memory serves correctly, one-hour photofinishing for the masses didn't become available until the late 1970s, which is alfter our simulation window. You are allowed to change to a new memory card to simulate another batch of rolls while you are waiting for your first batch to get back from simulated processing. If finishing the roll means shooting some "junk" or speculative images, then so be it. That is what most amateurs did back then rather than waste several exposures the end of the roll. Don's skimp or cheat on the waiting process; it is an important part of the retro experience.

Well I took the pictures before I saw your project. My camera does have manual focus but being a new camera I have not even tried it out yet.
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Old 07-06-2013   #9
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Sorry, but I think the idea doesn't work. It's like trying to experience a walk in the park via the internet.

If you want to get the film experience, well get out and use film, don't try to emulate it halfway. Ask around whether someone still has a film camera you can borrow and with people over 50 there a good 80% chance they have one, or if not spend $25 in your local used camera store, flea-market or on ebay on an old Yashica, Pentax, Olympus, Mamyia, Exacta, Practica or whatever else.

Invest $3.50 for a film and you're ready to experience the real thing. This is most fun, if you do it in a group with a wide variety of cameras, from point-and-shoot via fully manual slr and rangefinder to the professional gear of the later 90ies.

Have the whole batch of films developed at your local drug-store and have a "Watch what we got"-party with wine and beer when the films come back.

No need for a convoluted set of rules what you're not allowed to use on your digital camera to only get only a shadow of the effect.

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Old 07-06-2013   #10
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@nolan: Chances are that your camera has a way to change the length of the review or turn it off altogether. It may be thoroughly buried in the set-up menus, but that is one way to get some of the retro flavor even if you don't have a true optical finder. An EVF would be better than the main monitor for the viewfinder if you have an EVF but not a true optical finder.

@rainlily and Doublehelx: Yes, that is the general idea. The delay in viewing the images is an important part of the difference between here and now. Just reading about this delay doesn't compare with actually experiencing it. Experiencing this delay also will help explain why Polaroid was able to stay in business despite the outrageously high prices for its film.

@everybody: Speaking of prices, each roll of black and white film cost about USD0.50 to 0.6o, color slide or color negative film cost something like $1.50, plus another $1.50 or so for processing. Black and white cost something like $0.50 plus $0.05 per print, so a 20-exposure roll cost about $1.50. For a 36-exposure roll, that would be about $2.30. Flash bulbs ran about $0.10 each. I never did shoot color negative film during that period because of the expense of processing it, but it ran something like $4 for 8 exposures, which I suppose would divide into $1.50 for processing the negatives, plus $0.25 per print. This amounts to about $11 (in 1970 dollars) for a 36-exposure roll.

There were of course ways of reducing thexe costs if you found yourself blowing through a lot of exposures. I bought my film in 100-foot rolls and spooled it myself, which produced about 18 36-exposure rolls. Before long, I learned that the design of my camera allowed a much shorter leater than standard, so I could squeeze another couple of exposures from each roll in this way. I also cut the expense of my developing and printing way down by doing it myself. This involved a fair amount of time in the darkroom, but considering that I was still in my preteens when I started, I had the time. I dealt with the expense of flash photography by hardly ever using flash and developing a taste for available light photography.

Although the price of color prints does not seem that high today, this is in 1970 dollars. In round numbers, each 1970 dollar is about equivalent to 5 to 10 of today's dollars. To simulate these expenses, you can have a special kitty for depositing your expenses for "film" and "processing" to the tune of $5 for each 36-exposure roll of black-and-white, $15 for each roll of color, $15 for a 36-exposure roll of processed slides, and $110 for each processed roll of color film and prints, $6 for a set of flash batteries, and $12 for a dozen flash bulbs. It should be no surprise that black-and-white film was so much more popular than color back then!

You must pay for the film, processing, batteries, and flashbulbs i.e., put the actual money in the kitty, before you are allowed to use the product: no IOUs or credit allowed. In other words, if you run out of film, you must "buy" some more before you can do any more shooting, and you must pay the processing "fees" before you see the results. If you plan to use flash, you must pay for the photoflash batteries and a dozen flashbulbs. Photoflash batteries had about a 6-month shelf life back then, so You must renew the batteries every 6 months regardless of how little you use them. You must also renew your flash bulbs as you use your flash. You must also spend ten seconds putting in the "bulb" and 10 seconds removing it, plus five extra seconds blowing on your (simulated) burned fingers. After a month of two of this simulated photography, you should have a nice little pile of money that you might go toward a new lens or flash or some other photographic accessory.


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