Resurrecting My Forty-seven Year-old Film Camera

This update corrects the age of my camera, initially reported as fifty-four years old.


We are currently experiencing a mini-boom in the return to analogue. Vinyl records are making a comeback, as are film cameras. Much as I have come to love digital photography, I have thought more about supplementing my work with film (you do recall film). Just as vinyl has a richer sound than digital, film images have their own quality, compared with digital (though the latter can mimic a range of film emulsions). So, why bother with film? Well first, my Yashica TL-electro SLR 35 mm is by definition, a full-frame camera (i.e., it has a 24 x 36 mm frame size), whereas my three digital cameras have smaller APS-C format sensors. All other things being equal, larger sensors/negatives mean sharper pictures.

High dynamic range is another reason for film. This is the range of definition between a scene’s darkest and lightest areas. Film provides a greater range of detail in high contrast light and dark scenes (e.g., Kodak Vision3 provides a 14 stop range) than digital (e.g., Canon 7D provides an 8.7 stop range), thus requiring less bracketing of photos for high contrast scenes. A third reason for using film is that if you are shooting in B&W, unlike digital sensors that record color, no detail is lost as happens with digital’s B&W conversion (unless you buy a Leica M monochrome digital camera, but then that will set you back about $7500 + a few thousand for lenses). See Quora for a technical discussion of detail loss during B&W conversion.

However, there is yet another less technical reason for film photography. Film and its processing costs money and there is no screen on the camera back (what!?) to see how the image turned out. Nonetheless, these “disadvantages” force the photographer to slow down and think more deeply about exposure settings and composition. In fact, this is a major reason for using film cameras in a program, for which I volunteer, that works with junior high, city kids. Over time, they learn to slow their brains down and better focus on getting good compositions, something that we expect will help them in their other academic and life activities.

In preparing for my film venture, I tried my Yashica and everything seemed to work fine, so I bought a roll of film and took some test shots. Unfortunately, the mirror locked up at slower shutter speeds after the first four shots and the mirror would not return until I advanced the film and released the shutter. This meant that only every other frame would contain an image!

So, off the camera went for a complete overhaul ($193, including shipping both ways). Since the camera is only worth about $30 on eBay, you might ask why would I do this? Well, I also have Yashinon 50 mm f/2 & 135 mm f/2.8 prime lenses, including a 2X Soligor tele-converter—all scratch-free with smoothly operating diaphragms and focusing rings; I also have polarizing and skylight filters. It would be unlikely that I could replace all this excellent equipment for much less.

I will be using this camera for making extremely sharp B&W macro and landscape prints. B&W is the film of choice for emphasizing form and texture in those situations where color would be distracting. Under these circumstances B&W yields a more fine art look. Since these compositions will be static, fast shutter speed will not be necessary. This will enable me to use Ilford’s PANF Plus ISO 50, and Delta 100 Professional ISO 100 B&W, fine grain films, further enhancing very sharp images. This camera, therefore, will be sitting on a tripod most of the time.

This brings me to developing and printing. I will have a local, custom lab develop my film according to my preferences (contrast, sharpness, overall quality, etc.) and produce a contact print of the roll. After reviewing and selecting the best negatives from the contact prints, I will use my film magnifier to look for sharpness and any imperfections before deciding what negatives to scan with my Epson V800 scanner. These improved B&W images might require that I transition from a two to a three black ink-jet printer. We will see.

If any of you have shot film and print it digitally, I would love to hear about your experiences and/or suggestions.

Canon EOS-7D

I just took delivery of this–Canon’s top-of-the-line APS-C format camera.  Although the EOS-60D served me well over the past two years, it is not as effective at capturing action shots as the 7D.  The latter has much more in the way of autofocus options, including: 19 autofocus points (compared with 9 on the 60D), greater autofocus speed and points selection, and lens calibration. The 7D also has a burst rate of 8.3 compared with 5.3 on the 60D. Other key features include a weather and dust resistant magnesium body, and CF disk for recording images.  Since the APS-C sensor is the same as the 60D, there will be little or no difference in still image quality.

If you have been shooting with this model I would appreciate hearing about your experience.

The Red Crossbills

Red Crossbill (male)
Red Crossbill (male)

We went on an automobile caravan field trip with fellow members of the Rochester Birding Association in mid-January (each with a hand-held two-way radio). It was one of those winter overcast days so common here on the Great Lakes. These trips are always a bit frustrating for us bird photographers because the true birders are happy to spot with binoculars and high-power spotting scopes.  In contrast, I’m limited to my 100-400mm auto-focus lens, which extends to 560mm with the 1.4X tele-converter (without auto-focusing). The result is I get far fewer bird opportunities.

Red Crossbill (female)
Red Crossbill (female)

As we drove down a farm road someone spotted a flock of birds high in the trees so we all pulled over.  Shortly afterwards one person announced that it was a group of Red Crossbills feeding, with a few Pine Siskins mingling among them. Female Crossbills have no red, instead consisting mostly of olive-green. Found mostly across southern Canada Red Crossbills fan out to the Northwest Territories and into Alaska.  They wander irregularly, depending on the availability of cone crops. What we saw was an irruption into the northern U.S.; sometimes they fly to the deep south. Their population has been stable over the past several decades.

Since cloudy skies reflect more light than blue-skies I over-exposed by +2/3 to minimize silhouetting. The settings for the shot below are: 1/500 sec. @ f / 11, ISO 500.

Red Crossbill with Pine Siskin
Red Crossbill with Pine Siskins

High Acres Nature Area–Heron Sequence

wpid928-HANA-6574.jpgI’m way behind on my image processing and blog posts.  I guess this is okay since most photography articles tell us to spend most of our time getting the shots and as little time as possible in front of the computer.

We visited High Acres for the first time in early November, located in Penfield, NY. Surrounded by suburban development, it is nice to see the towns setting aside and maintaining nature areas. It was a nice fall day, though it was a bit chilly at 35º (but nothing like the 10º that we are currently experiencing during the day). We saw several hawks above, along with the usual crows.  On the ground we saw Greater Yellowlegs and Great Blue Herons. As you can see in the photograph, above, there are several trails, most of which we hiked over a period of about 2 1/2 hours.

Most of the herons we saw on the ground were standing (you know, doing their mime acts) atop muskrat houses. Since I have countless shots of Great Blue Herons I decided to see if I could shoot a launch sequence.  On the one hand, Great Blues are easier to catch taking off than songbirds because herons are so much slower.  On the other hand, who knows when they will go? So I got the idea that if I set up my camera at the end of the levy bordering the pond where the heron was located and had my wife then cross it, that would cause him to vacate, much as was the case earlier with the other herons in the area.

Well, wouldn’t you know, she crossed and it just stood there.  She returned, he continued to stand still. My wife even waved her arms–to no avail.  Clearly, this was an avian plot to thwart the photographer.  I ended up standing behind my tripod for about half an hour. Then, he crouched–okay this is it! The heron has departed! I pressed and held the shutter button, and the proofs  of my success are below.

The launch sequence
The launch sequence

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We also saw a few Greater Yellowlegs. One bird was relatively near and “agreed” to pose for some shots before taking off.  Here is its best pose:

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Greater Yellowlegs

Shortly afterwards, it left to join a couple of its associates further out, but I managed to capture its lift-off.

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One of the features I’ve yet to take advantage of on my Canon 100mm-400mm L lens is the image stabilization setting for panning shots. The problem is that when panning shots on the wing occur, there is little time to reset image stabilization from stills to pan.  Perhaps you have developed a strategy for switching IS modes?  If so, please let me know.

My next post will feature the return of the Red Crossbills.

Neutral density graduated filters

If you ever tried to photograph a high contrast scene such as a late afternoon landscape or sunset you know that it is almost impossible to get a good exposure of the sky along with detail in the foreground or shadow areas. One way to get around this problem is by using high dynamic resolution (HDR). This process requires photo software to merge several photos, each exposed for a particular section of a scene, into one photograph that is properly exposed in all areas. HDR, however, requires more screen time, something I would gladly reduce.

Neutral density graduated filters provide an alternative for capturing high contrast settings.  By sliding the filter through its lens holder to the point just before any of the foreground starts to darken you will reduce the intensity of the sky so that you can get a more evenly exposed photograph.

I recently purchased a set of Cokin P series filters (H250A). The kit contains the filter holder and three neutral density graduated filters: 121L, 121M, and 121S. The first reduces exposure by 2, the second by 4, and the third by 4 with a more gradual shading from clear to neutral gray (the adaptor ring that connects the filter holder to the lens is extra). The total cost was $105, before tax.

I took a few photographs so you can see their effects (I made no processing adjustments to the photographs, other than applying lens correction to minimize distortion). The photographs were taken in mid-July at about 4:30PM. The first photograph was taken without a filter. Here, I exposed to the right (in this case 1/25 @ f22, ISO 100)–only the partial disk of the sun is overexposed.

In the next photo I used the 121L (ND2) filter (1/20 @ f22, ISO 100). Notice that the sky is a deeper blue and there is somewhat greater detail in the trees’ foliage.

The last photo shows the same scene with the 121M (ND4) filter (1/20 @ f22, ISO 100). Here the sky is darker still, yet with even greater detail in the trees’ foliage. You can also see that I did not lower the filter quite enough, as there is a lighter sky immediately above the trees. Had I lowered the filter more I would probably have even greater detail in the foliage.

Since landscapes are best shot at dawn and dusk, these filters should enable me to produce images with less contrast and more detail. Though I do like landscapes in their own right, I plan to shoot more of these to illustrate the habitats of my bird photographs. By so doing I anticipate providing greater context for describing the birds and the state of their respective populations over the past 30 or more years.

If you have been using neutral density filters in your work I would be happy to hear about your experiences with them.