Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The good camera - It's all relative

I learned to take pictures on a camera like this one.  Huge, size 620 film.  The negatives were 3-1/4" x 2-1/4", I think.  Eight shots to the roll.  You advanced the film by turning a knob and looking in a window on the back to see when the next frame number appeared on the paper backing of the film.

You had to set the exposure by guessing - using the printed guide that came with the film - or by using a separate light meter.  The shutter only went to 100th of a second.  You had to be very careful taking pictures of moving things.  But, the lens was good and I learned the fundamentals of photography on it.  Even managed some half-decent pictures over the years.

Then, the world changed.  Christmas 1972, I got this neat 35 mm SLR camera.  Within a few years, I added a telephoto and a wide angle lens.

The light meter was built in!  The shutter went to 1/500th!  Interchangable lenses!  35mm film, 36 exposures to the roll!  A year later, I got my driver's licence and I started wandering around taking pictures of everything, but mostly of trains.

Taking train pictures is hard.  They are moving.  Often very fast and you only get one crack at it.  Even with a pretty good background in using a camera, I struggled to get things just right.  Practice and learning from mistakes turned the tide, and after a couple of years, I was getting decent shots.

However, now I have digital camera and life it just too easy. You can post-process your work on a PC and adjust for all the things you did wrong in the field.  You can even take rapid fire multiples and pick the one that looks best to start.  Now the expectation with each shot is "perfect".

Back then, the expectation was "pretty good".  Here is picture from back then.  One of my better ones.

AMTK_2Southern Crescent, July 1977, Princeton Jct. 

This is a good example of the challenge of taking train photos with a manual SLR.
Step zero: Load film in camera. Kodachrome (ASA 64) or "slow" or "fast" Ektachrome. What's the weather like? What's it likely to be when I finish the roll? I think this shot is on ASA 80 Ektachrome.
First step. Select a lens. Zoom? Forget it. Too expensive and not fast enough. Looks like I picked a 135mm fixed for this one. Later, I would buy a 200mm. I really liked tele-wedgies back then. (still do...)
Step 2: Gotta set that shutter speed high because of the long lens and the fast train. Camera went to 500th but I usually tried to get away with something slower so I'd have at least a little depth of field.
Step 3: Set the exposure. You only get one shot at it. Is the scene balanced or not? You have two metering choices - spot or average. Pick one an guess. Would you rather be a little over or under? Under looked better projected (over scans better, but who knew?).
Step 4. Focus. Where will the train be when I push the shutter? How will the shot be framed? How tall is that locomotive? Pick a spot and hope the train fills out the shot like you imagine. You only get one shot and there's no cropping. What you get is what you get.
Step 5: Shoot! Let the train wander into the frame and just at the exact moment - click!
Results: Maybe the shutter speed was high enough. Maybe the exposure was close. Maybe you shot the train right at the spot where you focused. You'll find out when the mailer comes back.
How'd I do on this one? Pretty good. This is pretty much the full frame of what I shot. The exposure was pretty close to dead on. I'd guess this was at 500th at f5.6 or so. Miracle of miracles, I was holding the camera level. (I have trouble with this one....) But, the focus is very slightly off. The center of focus is back closer to the first or second car, leaving the nose of the loco just a bit out. Perhaps I was counting on depth of field greater than what I really had or maybe I misjudged exactly where I wanted the train in the shot. (Anyway, the shot was just fuzzy enough for a reject.)
Perfect? No. But, pretty good for 1977!

1 comment:

  1. A 500 DTL! That was my Dad's first camera, and it became my first SLR (I had a Kodak P&S first) when I was about 11. Still have it and still use it for B&W work occasionally!


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