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A night’s tale

So what do you do when it’s darker than your meter will read or the lighting is so unusual you don’t have a clue?

You can start with what other people know.

There is a list of exposures to use in all sorts of odd situations called the Black Cat guide. The only down side to this is that it costs £20, which would buy a chunk of film or even a working light meter.

There is (update – was) a free online alternative: Fred Parker’s Ultimate Exposure Computer. This is like the Black Cat guide but probably has more information on how to use a light meter. The best thing though is that it gives good guide exposures for all sorts of situations.

For the rest, I used to take notes of every suggested exposure situation. The photo magazines used to run articles all the time about fireworks, fog, street scenes and so on. Good for them, as they could re-run pretty much the same articles at the same time each year. And I used to write down their suggested settings in what became the notebook of all photographic knowledge.

For example, taking a picture of someone lighting a cigarette using just the light from the match. Almost impossible to meter unless you have one of those clever cameras that continues to meter even when the shutter is open. Or you consult the notebook and use 400ISO and f4 for the time it takes to the match to flare. The example here used Tri-X pushed to 1600, which gave me a tad more depth of field.


I shot two frames (two matches’ worth) before my subject stopped cupping the match and actually lit their fag with it. This one was sharp, the second one blurred.

What about flames? Try 400ISO and 1/500 at f8. This picture below was actually given a fair bit more exposure as I wanted some detail in the background. I’m not sure how well it shows on a small screen, but you can see the climbing frame and other bits of the play area to give the fire some context.

Bonfire night, kids in silhouette against bonfire on playground.

And no, the fire wasn’t really that colour. It was a black and white picture that I toned red in the highlights later.

How about dim indoor lighting? Well, Fred says that dim indoor lighting is around EV0 or 8 secs at F5.6 on 400ISO. I think it turned out OK.

I was talking to someone a month or so back who had grown up in towns and later moved out to the countryside. They said how surprised they were that you could walk around easily under a full moon, as it was light enough to see by.

Moonlight is about 19 stops less bright than sunlight. If you allow say 3 stops for recipricity, you would open-up 22 stops from sunny 16. Sounds a lot, but what it translates to is roughly:

Full moon, 400ISO, 15 mins at f5.6
3/4 moon – 15 mins at f4
1/2 moon – 60 mins at f5.6
1/4 moon – 120 mins at f5.6

You might want to keep the moon itself out of shot, as it will move some distance during these shooting times and give you a streak in the sky. Also, these settings will give you daylight-like lighting. If you want it to look like moonlight you could reduce the time.

The moon itself is in full sunlight, so use sunny 16 and a long lens to get pictures of the craters.
OK, I’ve mentioned Sunny 16 a few times. Apart from being a great podcast, what is it? In bright sunlight, set your aperture to f16 and the shutter speed to the nearest value to the ISO. So 100ISO would mean f16 and 1/125. 400ISO would be f16 and 1/500. This works about right and gives about the right exposure for when you don’t have a meter.

If it’s less than sunny, you dial it down appropriately:

Sunny, hard shadows – f16
Hazy sun, soft shadows – f11
Cloudy, no shadows – f8
Overcast – f5.6

As with all of this stuff, you need to experiment and keep notes so that you can repeat what worked. And don’t fear the Fup Duck. Writing that, I can hear a tune in my head – ‘don’t fear the quacker‘ anyone? Or perhaps, as it was Mr Parker’s advice we are following, it should be ‘light, said Fred‘.



Maybe you did buy it, but it’s not yours

I was reading about HP’s subscription ink service. The idea looks pretty good – you decide how many prints you want to make a month and HP send you ink cartridges in the post. If I was making prints for sale this might be a good deal: I work out how many prints of each size I can sell and then churn through them.

The complication seems to be in the detail. It appears that you cannot exceed the planned number of prints. If you do, the printer stops working. If you cancel your subscription, the ink cartridges stop working even if they are full. So basically you give HP remote control over your printer to only print what you have paid them for, using only their cartridges. You thought it was your printer when you bought it, but it’s not.

Epson apparently sent out an update to its printers that made them stop working with refilled or third-party ink cartridges. You thought it was your printer when you bought it, but it’s not.

This is one aspect of an issue that is growing with smartphones and tractors. The original manufacturer is trying to lock the device so that it can only be repaired by them or has to be replaced. You may think it’s a simple fix to replace a cracked screen on a phone, and it should be, but not when the phone has been programmed to reject a non-approved screen or will only work if some magic hidden register is reset by the original manufacturer. So the phone goes to landfill and a new one arrives on contract. And we lose the raw materials from the old phone while extracting more to make the new one.

Kodak used to try doing this by using proprietary film formats. It’s difficult to be a rapacious capitalist though, when the only thing stopping a competitor is whether the market is big enough to be worth the tooling costs to make the new format. But imagine what one could do, now that cameras have computers in them. If you make memory cards, or have a business relationship with someone who does, you could subtly slow-down other people’s cards or switch the occasion bit in the stored file to degrade it ever so slightly. You could slow-down the autofocus on third-party lenses, or even put the focus slightly out. Even more sneaky would be to apply a bit of image softening during the processing and saving of the image. And what happens when the scene recognition in your smartphone camera thinks you are taking a picture of children, or terrorists?

Not that the camera manufacturers do this. But the makers of smartphones, inkjet printers and tractors seem to.

Couldn’t happen with film, right? Well you used to be able to pop the end off a 35mm cassette to unload it, meaning that the cassette could be reloaded and reused multiple times. Not any more. Now you have to pry the end cap off a cassette, which destroys it. This turns a useful item into small bits of metal and plastic waste. I know that I can buy plastic reloadable cassettes, but that’s not the point. And in all my fumbled handling of film cassettes, I have never managed to accidentally pop the end off one of the old-style ones (so there can be no real argument that swaging the caps on is a safety feature). Plus, they don’t bear the costs of disposal.

Gosh darn it – I’ll have to get with the programme and buy new rather than reload

Where does this leave us? As the product. The printer makers don’t want to sell you a printer, they want to generate a perpetual revenue stream. If you refill your cartridges or use someone else’s, you harm their profits. If you get someone to repair your smartphone you might not buy a new one. Farm machinery like tractors probably lasts for years, so retaining an income from spare parts and servicing helps maintain profit between eventual replacements.

What can you do? Repair before replace. Support the right to repair. Think hard before you buy something that locks you in – you would be supporting the manufacturer in milking you. Stop being a product.


See this and this.

Hoods ‘n the boyz

Lens hoods – a good thing all round. There are those clever petal-shaped ones, square or rectangular ones to match the film format, the odd but sexy Leica ones with the cut-aways plus various rubber offerings. But what if you need one for a particular lens, perhaps only for a short time? How about making one?


We’re not talking 3d printing here. With a bit of calculation and the kind of drawing set you had at school, you can make a custom lens hood from black paper.

What you are going to make is a frustum, a cone with the top cut off. The narrow end of the frustum will fit over the front of your lens. The angle of the sides will match the angle of view of your lens. The depth of the hood will be what you want to make it, limited only by the size of your sheet of paper. There are some calculations involved, but I did this once in a spreadsheet so I only need to enter the key measurements to make a new hood.

The first key measurement is the diameter of the front of your lens. The lens hood will need to be a sliding fit over the lens. This measurement is not the filter thread size – measure the actual diameter of the lens.

Next is how deep you want the hood to be. This is handy if you are making a hood for a special situation, like using a long lens in strong side or frontal light.

Lastly, the difficult measurement: the lens’ angle of view. This can be difficult because it’s not just a function of the lens focal length: it’s the relationship between the focal length and the size of the film or sensor. This is why a 50mm lens is considered standard on 35mm film, but a 6×6 negative on 120 film uses a 75mm or 80mm lens.

What could be a right chore is made simple by looking-up your lens and film/sensor combination in previously published data. The BJP had a great article plus graphs in the 116th edition in 1976, but I bet you didn’t keep yours… There is also a useful calculator here.
I’ve got a 55mm lens for a 35mm camera. Looking-up the angle of view from the calculator I’ve linked above, the diagonal angle for a 35mm frame is 43 degrees. I use the diagonal angle because anything less than this is likely to vignette the corners. So this means my lens hood should be a cone with an angle of 43 degrees. I fancy making the lens hood 50mm deep – for no other reason than it feels like a useful compromise between no use and too big.

The last key measurement is the diameter of the lens; in this case 57mm.

So I want to do the trigonometry to calculate a frustum with a 57mm wide hole at the top, the sides sloping at an included angle of 43 degrees and with a vertical height of 50mm. The first time I did this I did all the calculations myself. Then I discovered a dedicated website with the sole intention of providing the calculations needed to effectively open-up a frustum and lay it out as a shape that can be drawn on paper. The formulae look difficult, but it’s simple to put them in a spreadsheet. If you provide cells to put the specific values into – lens diameter, angle of view, depth of hood – the same spreadsheet will give the drawing measurements for any hood that takes your fancy.

I made the calculations for my hood and got three key measurements: two radii needed to draw the pie-slice on the paper and an angle of arc for which I need to draw the curves. In the case of my special lens hood, I need to draw two arcs with radii 78 and 132mm and to draw the arcs with a sweep of 132 degrees.
Here’s a picture.

Hood 1

I used plain black art card. For the pictures I marked it out using a white pen, but for normal use I would use a pencil. I marked a tab at the end of the arc to give myself an overlap that I could hold down with tape. If I was going to use this hood a lot, I would use the tab and a slot to let me disassemble the hood when I wasn’t using it (or I would hold it together with masking tape, which peels off). I also left some extra material on the inside of the smaller radius. This is cut into a number of tabs that will go over the lens and hold the hood in position, particularly if you put a bit of tape on them.

Hood 2

It’s easy to find a protractor, but a large set of compasses is more difficult. I use a bit of card with holes for the tip of the pencil and a pin to pivot on.

Hood 3

Cut out and fitted it works just fine.

Hood 4

This is an excellent way to make a hood for short-term use or for a lens that you would not otherwise be able to fit. Unstick the masking tape and the hood can be stored flat.

There you go – something useful for a change in place of the usual grumbling.
If anyone wants to use my spreadsheet rather than do your own calculations, drop me a comment and I will post it somewhere accessible.

FIlm is dead, and so is your phone

Mendeleev’s periodic table of the elements is 150 years old. Hurrah!

Film is back. Hurrah!

Film cameras are no longer made and will die out. Boo!

Some people are planning to make new film cameras. Hurrah!

Some people sell new film cameras. Hurrah!

Silver is running out. Boo!

So our revival could be short-lived. Silver is less abundant than uranium (surprise) but more abundant than gold. Part of the problem is that people don’t dissolve gold in photographic fixer and pour it down the sink. The main risk is probably mobile phones though. Everyone’s gotta get their upgrade. There is an estimate of over one million phones traded-in every month in the UK, ten million in Europe and twelve million in the USA. That’s where your silver is going, along with all the other rare elements.

What will happen is that the price of silver will increase rapidly before it finally vanishes. If you think film is expensive now, wait until it’s competing with smartphones.

I suppose the one light in the looming darkness is that, come the apocalypse, at least we will know that we can excavate the landfill sites as a source of raw materials.

What can you do? Keep your phone longer. Recycle. Pour your old fixer onto a wad of steel wool and let it stand before pouring it away. This plates the silver out onto the iron or drops it as sludge. You will be pouring less of a precious and rather toxic metal down the sink. What to do with silvery Brillo pads I’m not sure, but given enough silver sludge there will be a metal recycler who would handle it.

But enjoy film while you can. Before long we will all be shooting cyanotypes.

And if you shoot digital and are feeling smug, have a look at the number of rare elements used in screens, processors and lenses.

Think of the money I saved from those holes

Bullet-hole cameras

Proper blogs seem to be about cameras and lenses rather than photography, so here’s my grab at fame. 🙂

But here’s an unusual thing – instead of comparing cameras that you can’t afford this is a review of cameras that you can’t buy new.

Why am I bothering with this? Because both of these cameras can be had cheap, so you can risk taking them to places or doing things you wouldn’t do with your proper camera. Both of them are very limited in what they can do, so are good for creativity and experimentation. And both of them look funky. Using one of these will make you smile.

Back in 1950 Britain was on its economic knees after the war. Food rationing didn’t end until 1954. The country needed people to buy things and it needed things to buy. So the government arranged an exhibition of manufacturers to show the world that Blighty still had it. One of the companies that stepped up was Ensign, who showed a couple of new cameras. One of them was the Ful-Vue. It had a futuristic design, simple operation and sold well. It was so popular that Ensign brought out the Ful-Vue 2, which they claim sold over one million units during its three-year span.

Meanwhile, over in the USA, they were riding on a wave of mass production from the enormous manufacturing investment of the war. Kodak’s designer, the wonderfully named Arthur Hunt Crapsey Jr, produced an art deco Bakelite camera for the masses. The Brownie Hawkeye evolved through a flash-synced model, stayed in production until 1961 and sold by the squillion.

So what we have here is a head-to-head between two very similar cameras: an Ensign Ful-Vue II and a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash. Both are around 1950 vintage and so older than me. Both still work, unlike most of your later cameras with electronics. These babies will still be taking (not very good) pictures long after the rise of our robot overlords.

Both are very simple roll film box cameras. The large negative meant that simple contact prints of the negatives were acceptable and would be acceptably sharp. Both had a fixed aperture and a fixed shutter speed plus B. The Ful-Vue had a scale-focussing lens while the Kodak was fixed focus. The Ensign offered a shutter speed of 1/30 at f11 while the Kodak gave approximately 1/50 at about f16. America may have had better weather but the Brits had steadier hands. Both cameras used the simplest possible single-element meniscus lens. So technically, pretty much on a par. In marketing terms, these things were both the epitome of Minimum Viable Product.


Nice, simple. Watch out for the slow shutter speed. The shape of the Ensign and the position of the shutter release means you pinch the camera to fire it. This may help the steadiness. The Kodak has a push-down button to fire, but it’s a lighter action than the Ensign.

Both of them use a bright viewfinder through a second lens. The image is reversed like with a TLR so it can be tricky to frame a group or get your verticals right.

There is no interlock to prevent double exposures, so you learn to wind on after every shot. It does make double exposures easy though, if you want them. Plus, if you can put the camera on something steady like a table or wall, you can compensate for the small aperture by taking multiple shots on the same frame or holding it open on B.

Image quality

Fuzzy. Not too bad in the centre. But sharpness is overrated. The film is not held very flat and tends to give pictures that are softer at the sides. Since the negative is square one of the recommended tricks is to shoot groups with the camera rotated sideways. This makes the sides sharper at the expense of the sky and foreground, which is usually fine. Also, if you are shooting expired film or cock up the spool, it’s more likely to be the sides of the film that suffer. Turning the camera sideways and shooting horizontal subjects makes it easier to crop the top and bottom of the frame. But if you thought looking down into a reversed viewfinder was awkward, try sideways…

Pose value

Either. It comes down to a choice of art deco or streamlined curves. The Kodak has a little carrying handle while the Ensign takes a neck strap. Either would go well with a check shirt, beard and no socks. Actually, they are both lovely. You will feel happy using one and people will smile when they see you. Except photographers; they will shake their heads.


The Ensign wins on film choice. It uses 120 film while the Kodak uses 620. Kodak were the Apple of photography and tried to lock competitors out of the market by using dedicated film sizes. 620 is exactly the same film as 120, but rolled onto a spool that is slightly narrower in width with slightly smaller diameter end disks and a thinner centre post. Some 620 cameras have enough slack to take a 120 spool and I’m told that the Hawkeye can be made to take 120 with a bit of judicious fettling. Mine will take a fresh 120 roll on the feed side but will only wind the exposed film onto a 620 spool. No bother as I shoot black and white and develop it myself, so I can keep my 620 spools to reuse.

You can get 120 film in many types and places. 620 is more rare unless you can reroll your own 120 onto 620 spools. Just don’t call it 120mm or the Hypersensitive Photography people will growl at you.

The Kodak needs one to two more stops of light than the Ensign and won’t be sharp for anything closer than about ten feet. The Ensign has a focusing lens but the markings are speculative at best.

But that’s not the point. If you want sharp or adjustments, buy a better camera. These are fun and a challenge. Use one in bright sunlight as they were intended and get some nice retro shots. Or load it with slow film, go out in the gloom and take some long or multiple exposures. Waves of people washing against the rocks of architecture. Trees thrashed by the wind. Streaky skies and empty streets. All this from something that could cost less than a roll of Ektachrome or Portra.


Oh yes. Marred by the totally expired 620 film I tried to use, but what a joy to try and overcome all the constraints. Never again will I moan that my camera doesn’t have a top shutter speed of 1/4000. The only camera more basic than these is a pinhole. In fact, since the lens aperture isn’t that much bigger than a pinhole, can I call these bullet-hole cameras?

Scarborough Castle
Not normally this bad – this was some VERY expired film

Very old film

I was given some very old roll film as part of my Emulsive secret santa, for which I am very grateful. It’s 620 size, so the youngest it could be is from 1995. The backing paper tells me that it’s a lot older than that.

film paper

The first roll ran through the camera OK but was very foggy and stained. This filled me with a misplaced confidence that the next roll would work just as well. It seemed to wind-on normally but when I took the exposed roll out of the camera there was a bulge on one side. It looked like a fat roll, not suprising for something this old in a camera with only the most basic attempts to keep the film plane flat. It seemed to load very quickly onto the reel, which I thought little of at the time.

It turns out that the tape holding the leading edge of the film to the backing paper had dried-up and let go. So instead of the film following the backing paper across the image plane pf the camera and around the take-up reel, it caught and started rolling-up behind the lens. At some point it must have caught again, leading to a doubled-over length of film being wound round the reel. It was pretty obvious after development that the film had been folded in half.

old film
Film, folded over and banded where bits of it didn’t touch the developer. Plus the dried-up tape.

I have one roll of 620 film left, a lovely old example of Verichrome Pan. This too could be as recent as 1995, but I doubt it. Knowing what happened with the previous roll I loaded the camera in a dark bag. As feared, the tape holding the leading edge had fallen off. That was easily replaced with a bit of masking tape and the camera seemed to load OK.

The fun started when I tried to load the film into a reel to develop it. The trailing edge of the film – the end that you feed into the reel – was folded over by around 5mm. As soon as I tried to fold it back the film cracked and this strip fell off. This film is definitely older than 1995.

I carried on trying to load the film into the reel but it had a vicious curl from being wound around a thin 620 spool for many years. No problem: wind all of the film off the backing paper and load it from the other end. The film had other ideas. Even when I got the front edge lined-up with the entry point of the tank spiral, it tried to curl into a tube (the ‘cupping’ type curl that films like Tri-X are prone to).

So I need to find a way to get this film to relax. What I have done for now is to curl it around the centre tube in my Paterson tank to see if it will de-tension a bit. If that doesn’t work I may have to resort to soaking it and trying to load it wet into a wet spiral.

I’ll keep you posted…

UPDATE – rolling the film around the central tube of a Paterson tank and leaving it alone for a day worked! The film relaxed enough to be wound onto the reel and developed. Of course, it was so old it was totally fogged. Or fup duck, as we like to say.

The Shambles
Here’s one I prepared earlier

Copy right

What would I do if you took one of my pictures from this blog and passed it off as your own? What would I do if you used one of my pictures to advertise something?

Well, I probably wouldn’t know unless someone told me, but I do have copyright law behind me. The two examples above are clear breaches, one of fraud and the other of theft. I can ask you to stop using the picture and in the second example to pay me money.

But what would happen if I was taking pictures at a public event? Do people in a photograph have any rights over how a picture of them is used? Well yes, if it is used in something like advertising but not if the use is editorial (this was the scene…). But what about a private or ticketed event?

There is a recent example where the use of a picture to advertise the singer’s clothing led to the shutdown of the clothing company. In that case it looks like the photographer was being reasonable but met a stupid initial response. The power of the calm and well-judged responses of the internet then bombed the clothing company (rabid attack monkeys on parade). This was one of those cases where the pictures were taken at a private event. If the professional photographers were given special access, then there should have been clear terms and conditions for the use of the images. If the band wanted to control the use of the images, this should have been clear so that the photographers had the opportunity to decline to take part.

Do you ever copy someone else’s work? By this I mean try and recreate one of their pictures. I can see a sense in which you might refer visually to an existing picture for effect. Think of the beginning of The Watchmen film where Doisneau’s picture of the kiss by the Hotel de Ville is recreated. Then there is taking an exact copy. I have done this: there is a picture somewhere of the statue of Churchill looming over the Houses of Parliament. I was in London, I was young, I took the same picture. If I had taken it without seeing the original first that would be fine: we both saw the same framing. But I had seen the original and I copied it. So that negative has never been printed or shown. What would be the point? It’s not my picture.

So one response to this might be to avoid looking at anyone else’s pictures, keeping all your influences clean and ensuring that you work from a position of innocence. Or you look at pictures you like and analyse why you like them. And then go out and recreate what you like rather than what you saw.

There was a discussion on the Negative Positives podcast about taking pictures of graffiti. I believe that, if the purpose of your picture is to reproduce the graffiti, then you are copying someone’s artistic work. If the purpose of your picture is to say something about the situation in which the graffiti exists, then you are not copying but commenting. It doesn’t matter what your intention was either, because the interpretation of a picture is owned by the viewer. If someone looks at your picture and says “that’s a picture of the x” then the best you can do is reproduce it accurately. If they say “I’ve never seen it like that before” or “x is in the picture but what is going on here?” then you have done something more than copy. Even then, there is the copyright of buildings and statues to consider. For example, you can take a picture of the Eiffel Tower during the day but not lit-up at night. In some countries you could, providing the item is not the main subject but forms part of a panorama. Not in France though. (The link goes to a very interesting source, by the way.)

Darn! Who left that in the background?

So I suppose the summary is that if I take a picture of a created work (which doesn’t include landscapes, no matter what the creations claim) then I need to be explicit that my picture is a record. If I include a created work but the purpose of the picture is something other than a direct record, the interpretation of copyright and privacy varies with location. There are fairly well established principles of fair use and quotation and if we ever get close to making a copy of a created work, we should bear them in mind. But in case any of us thought it was clear, take a look at art. A collage is accepted to be an original work. Take a look at Dadaism and the use of found objects.

I never meant this to be an accurate representation of the statue

I think we can agree on the basics though: pass my work off as yours and you are committing fraud. Earn money from my work without asking me and you are committing theft. For the rest I guess we learn by doing (and would everyone please calm down?).

Update – someday your sins will probably find you out.

Classic lenses

Classic seems to mean ‘not made any more’. I used to be interested in classic motorcycles, but classic came to mean extinct rather than good and some complete dirtburgers were given a rebore and a coat of paint and became “classic”. Never mind that the refurb would have cost more than the bike was ever worth or that people who owned one at the time were only too happy to trade it for a Honda. And the result of all the effort is that the proud owner gets to take it to shows on a trailer and have people tell him that the shade of paint is wrong for that year.

I too rode a classic motorcycle, but it had raised compression, a twin-plug head and a chain oiler, and I rode it to work. Oh dear, I’m getting into reverse willy-waving again. Let’s get back to lenses.

So – a classic lens is one that you can no longer buy new. I did ask and was firmly told that a classic lens is also a fixed focal length: zoom lenses are not classic. From what I can see, the most prized feature of a classic lens is the way it renders out of focus areas, particularly highlights. Remember the mirror lenses that were, for a while, the easiest way for mortals to afford a long lens? There were a load of 500mm f8 catadioptrics to choose from, but their distinguishing feature was the way they rendered out of focus highlights as circles. Pretty much a one-trick pony: once you had seen a picture full of bubbles you probably sold the lens and went back to refraction as your favoured method for bending light. And now people pay big wonga for Meyer Goerlitz lenses that have sufficient aberrations to recreate the effect. Want to do it for cheap? Try a longish lens with a clear filter and a disk of black paper or tape in the middle of the filter. If there wasn’t a Cokin filter that did this I’m sure I could sell you a bubble bokehlicious®️fuzzy duck filter.

A few minutes work with a marker pen and the first Fuzzy Duck filter leaves the production line

Ooh, bokeh balls, yum! The odd texture in them is due to the swirls of the marker pen

So ok, rings is a thing but not the only trick in town. The other things that classic lenses are supposed to be good for is micro-contrast, meaning low contrast as far as I can understand it, and not smoothing-out fine detail (which may be the same thing). But perhaps this only applies to CLASSIC lenses and not just any old bit of second-hand glass. From what I understand, older lenses suffered more with flare and reflections. This could mean that the overall contrast between highlights and shadows was reduced, so kept within the dynamic range of the film. If the lens was a good one and could resolve fine detail, this could be what people call microcontrast. As coatings got better I assume that the overall contrast rendered by the lens increased. It may well be that this exceeded the ability of film to capture it, and the abilities of earlier-generation digital sensors. Digital sensors now beat film on both dynamic range and sensitivity, so I would expect that a modern digital camera with a modern digital-designed lens will render both fine detail and a wide overall contrast. Stick this clever lens on a film camera and you might find it too contrasty. Stick an older film lens on a digital camera and you might find it reduces the overall contrast of the scene, so it needs less post-processing.

There are also some issues with putting older film lenses on digital sensors, in that a digital sensor prefers the light to arrive straight-on, where film doesn’t mind if the rays are oblique. This matters at the edge of the frame, and more in colour than black and white. So some film lenses on some digital cameras produce fuzzy edges or colour fringing.

The main idea seems to be though that older lenses contain magic. They don’t resolve every skin pore, the backgrounds are nicely smooth and not distracting, and the fall-off from sharp to out of focus looks nice. Sensors smaller than the original film size turn old lenses into longer focal lengths (narrower angle of view), so a fairly cheap 50mm film lens can become a very cheap wide-aperture portrait lens. This will throw the background out of focus and isolate the subject better than the zoom lens that came with the camera, and way cheaper than a sharp digital lens of the same size.

But watch what happens with mobile phones and how it will migrate to mainstream cameras. Before long you won’t need to buy a Planar or a Sonnar and deal with fungus or scratches; you will use the kit lens and dial-in your lens effect. The autofocus knows which parts of the image are sharp, so the in-camera computer can add your favourite aberrations back to the fuzzy bits. Pentax released a software developer’s toolkit for their K1 full-frame camera, so this might be where you see it first.

But this idea that old lenses were better than new lenses? Prove it. Technically better, in terms of resolving power, control of flare, sharpness across the image? I doubt it. A more pleasing rendering of the image due to design or manufacturing shortcomings? In the eye of the beholder, but apparently true if you have seen how the prices of some old lenses have risen. Come the revolution though, and I’m hoping the prices drop again as in-camera effects mean that everyone can have a Canon ‘dream‘ lens.

it’s already here.

Some day my prints will come

We used to say this when film developing by post was the norm. Humour isn’t what it used to be. Neither is nostalgia.

I’ve not had much luck with printers.

For my own use the issue is that I don’t put enough prints through the printer to keep the print head from drying up. And of course the cartridges have chips in them so that you can’t refill. And my particular printer complains that that colour cartridge is empty when I try to print black text.

For personal use I prefer to send my stuff off to someone else, as they generally do a better job for less than buying new cartridges or unclogging my printer. When I wanted a load of prints made in various sizes, the easiest way was to arrange them all onto A4 paper, get someone else to print them and then trim the results into individual prints.

Which would be fine and nothing to write about, expect that once a year I get involved in a mass-printing panic.

In the run-up to Christmas we run a fair with stalls and a Santa’s grotto in the local town hall. The event raises money for a local charity, so it’s a good thing and generally very busy.

The deal with Santa is that you can have your picture taken and printed on the spot.

One year, maybe three years back, I did both the pictures and the printing. You may no longer be familiar with the phrase ‘busy as a one-armed paper-hanger’, but that’s how busy I was. It didn’t help that we have a rather ancient laptop running Windows 95 and a very basic Canon inkjet printer.

In later years we traded-up. The kit is the same but we split the work so that I just run the printer and a chum of the organiser takes the pictures. Now, people who work in IT know that computers (and by extension printers) have two little-known components. The first is the critical need detector. This causes the device to fail when it is most needed. The second is the support detector. This causes the device to feign good health and full functionality when someone with expert knowledge approaches. Obviously, as I work in IT, the former sensor takes priority over the latter.

The person taking the pictures used a camera that takes CF memory cards. These are the size of an after-dinner mint and connect through an array of fine wire probes. Obviously, swapping cards repeatedly with a cheap USB card reader causes one or more of the pins to bend. We killed two card readers and had to buy a third from a local gadget shop to keep running. I deeply hate CF cards.

But the printer; oh I hate that more.

It is incredibly slow to print. If you were printing your own snaps that would not be a problem, but when you have a queue of tired parents and sugared-up children like monkeys on crack, a slow printer is more pain than one should endure. And then, of course, one of the print heads clogs.

So this year it was going to be different. I brought my own laptop and a little dye-sub printer. Dye-sub printers are marvellous: they are fast, the prints resist smudging and there is no issue with running out of ink: the dye cartridge prints the number of sheets of paper that it comes with. It’s more expensive per print but less expensive than taking everyone’s address and posting them the prints later, which is what I had to do the previous year.

And the little dye-sub printer zipped along. It even entertained people as they watched the paper shuttle back and forth through the printer as the colours were added.

And then it ate the paper. So I cleared the jam. The next print had a blank strip down one long edge. It ate the next sheet.

Panic, moi?

I hauled the old inkjet out of the box and hooked it up. Of course I had a reserve printer.

Of course the print heads were clogged.

So I cleared the heads, loaded-up and we were back in business.

Not too slow either – I guess the biggest problem before was Windows 95 and not so much the printer.

A pal of mine turned up at the event and noticed that I looked a little stressed. He popped home and got his own dye-sub printer. Same make, different model, but they take the same cartridge and paper. Except it’s a different model so it needs a different print driver and my laptop has no Internet connection so it can’t find the driver.

So back to the inkjet we go.

And we more or less cope.

It was something like 150 prints over the course of the event, around five hours.

Even our record of around 250 prints doesn’t sound much, if it was evenly spaced.

But it’s not, and the printer and laptop are set up on a small table just outside the entrance to the main hall. So I have all the people walking in past me, combining with all the people coming out and wanting to see the screen to see their picture. And the main lift is behind me, so I have to move out of the way when someone uses it. There really is nowhere else to place it, so it’s get on with the job in hand and be thankful I’m not next to the radiator like I was last year.

Did I mention how much I hate printers? The little Canon inkjet is admittedly quite good – the cartridges are cheap and the quality pretty good when it has been unclogged.

The Canon dye-sub printer is on my study floor with the top off to see if I can find out where it is jamming. It would be ideal if it worked but I can’t have anything unreliable when the job is commercial. It’s a shame, as dye-sub is ideal for this sort of event. So it looks as though I’m back to the inkjet. I’m planning to print more of my own pictures during this year so if I space it out I could make sure the printer doesn’t dry up.

Printers – we hates them precious

For serious personal use though I’m going to stick with what I know works: send them off to someone else who can print them properly.

And Santa’s grotto? I made a special wish for Christmas 2019 that the price of Polaroid drops (and the quality improves) to the point where we could dispense with printing altogether. Get it down to 50p a shot, Santa, and I’ll release the hostage elves.

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