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Learning how to take photography with film - and a completely manual vintage camera

 
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I want to learn how to take photographs with film and a camera that is completely manual.  

The other day, someone brought home bags of free camera equipment, mostly broken, but in it were a few useable and easily fixable cameras.  The Argus C3 caught my imagination and I've cleaned it and it's ready for shooting.  Just add film.



The goal is for me to take better digital photographs and the best way for me to understand computers is to understand the mechanical settings they replaced.  This vintage Argus (also known as 'the brick' because with film in and the case on, it weighs a womping 2 pounds!) is 100% manual.  It doesn't tell me what the light is like.  It doesn't guess my aperture or adapt for different film speeeds.  It does exactly what I tell it, when I tell it, even if I tell it crappy instructions.  Heck, it doesn't even have any system in place to ensure I advance the film between shots.  I have to remember that too.

But first, I have to figure out where to buy 35mm film in Canada.  


We hope to go on a photo shoot with at least two of our new cameras.  One of the cameras is SLR that has a light meter and can do some thinking for us.  I'll also take my digital camera which also has three semi-manual settings and one full manual setting, but is also happy to suggest what settings will give me the best shot in those conditions.




What I really want is some sort of table.  Apparently, this used to be easily available.  The table would have a list: sunny, extra sunny, overcast, very overcast, west coast winter overcast, and inside/flash.  Then it would say something about ISO speed.  Then inside it would say if you are using this F-stop, then use that shutter speed.

Anyone knows what magic words to tell Google to get this table?


I'm also plundering my local library for all their books on photography.  They have something like 400+ books on the subject.  So far, I've discovered two of them that isn't about digital photography.  The first one arrived yesterday and it's crap.

Seeking suggestions on a book that covers vintage camera equipment and fully manual film photography.

I'll update how the learning process goes in this thread.
 
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Since you are using an analog camera with a given film, the sensitivity of the film is fixed and known.
Next you need to know the light intensity at the position of the camera and the time of the photograph. It can vary quite a bit and human eyes are really good at working across an amazing range of light levels. Your eyes will not work as a light meter.

The light meter probably has a build in feature to tell you the shutter duration for a given aperture, if not it hopefully has a table.
 
r ranson
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Modern photography relies on tools like light meters quite a bit.  But to me, saying we need a light meter to use a camera is like saying I need a lighter to make a fire.  Matches work, so too does flint and steel.  Heck, I've made a fire with two sticks, but I did that just to learn what it's like - just like this photography experiment.  I want to learn and train my eye.  A light meter is faster, more accurate, and would probably help.  We'll be using one for some of our tests.  But I want to learn how to use the camera as originally intended - sans accessories.  

The technology in the camera pre-dates light meters and isn't designed to use one.  Since the Argus is the every-day man's camera (something like the Singer Sewing Machines of the day), it should still be possible to use it without a light meter.  The problem I'm having is that the tables that come with the instructions for the camera use a different kind of film rating than our modern ISO and ASA.  With that part of the table 'broken', the rest of the table is very difficult to use.  

This is the table from the manual that is about the same age as my camera.



the biggest problem here is I don't know these films and what the modern equivalents are.  

This one appears more useful at first glance.



The challenge here is discovering what they thought an "average fast film" was in those days.  

The Weston Film Speed dial on the back of the camera goes from 8 to 160 - which translates to roughly a maximum speed of 200 ISO.  This seems to match what I've read from other photographers on the internet - that 100 and 200 ISO give the best pictures in the Argus C3.  

With the Sunny 16 rule, we can guess that 'average fast film' means 100 ISO - full bright sunshine and F16 gives us a shutter speed roughly the same as our film ISO.  

 
Sebastian Köln
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Kodachrome Daylight seems to have an ISO of 10 to 25 (source)

So my best guess is that the Kodachrome Daylight has ISO 25, Ektachrome Daylight appears to have ISO 100.

This might be useful too: The Ultimate Exposure Computer (unfortunately just a set of tables, not an actual computer)
 
r ranson
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a set of tables is exactly what I need.

It's having computers thinking for me that is making it hard to learn.
 
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In my younger days I knew how to use one of those cameras, but the knowledge has long since been lost from my head. Besides, hubby was far better at it than I since he was a real camera buff when we got married. Anyway, I won't be of much help to you. Hubby says that there's people still using those old cameras, basically hobbyists. There's probably discussions on the web someplace where those people gather.

Fast film was labeled 400. There was even faster films but I never used it. i can't remember why I stayed with 400 speed, but I got the best photos with it. 200 speed was average fast. Lots of  people used 200 and I'd use that if I couldn't find 400. But there was also 100 that was extremely common.  

When I was learning to take photos I used a light meter. After a while you could get pretty good judging your light setting by looking at the shadow from your hand on the ground. Pro photographers would use meters because they needed to get the photo right. I was a sloppy picture taker, so the quality wasn't important to me.  Back in those days the film and developing was fairly cheap, so even though it it cost money, I wasn't too concerned if I flubbed some shots. Besides, the developing companies were competitive, so some would let you hand back your bad photos without having to pay for the developing process.

Hubby says he thinks film is still available and that Fuji is the only one still making it. You might have to mail order it. He also says that there are labs still developing film, but he doesn't know who they are. Most serious photographers use to develop their own in homemade darkrooms. We never got into it that deeply. We used the companies.
 
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I went to london drugs yesterday.  Some of their locations still sell and process coloured film.  We can also buy black and white film there but have to send it out to be processed.  They only carry 400iso black and white film.

Apparently, one of the Wall Marts in town also sells and processes film.
 
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Great chart. Once I saw it, it triggered a memory. Yes, I would use that sort of chart for figuring out what my settings should be.
 
r ranson
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An infographic for film photography

 
r ranson
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Yep, that's how I'm feeling this morning.  So many books from the library later and I'm lost in the world of words.

Time to take the camera out for a test drive.

The problem is, there are only 36 pictures in this film.  I want each one to count.  I also know that the camera may not work so they may all be a dud - but the goal of this exercise is to think about photography better which includes practising thinking about the entire image, not just the one item I'm taking a picture of.

A week visiting the world of analysis paralysis thinking about what is worth becoming one of my thirty-six photographs.  Today is the last opportunity I have to take a picture of a beautiful valley with alpacas nibbling away at the grass.  Analysis paralysis, I'll leave you at home today.
 
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I've taken a few photos now.

The hardest thing is knowing what is photo-worth.  There are only 36 photos on this roll of film, and the first one I took twice because I wasn't confident I had advanced the film enough after loading it.  Just under 30 pictures left and I'm lost on what to take a picture of.  Sheep and chickens move too much.  Maybe the forest?  I like trees.  Trees are good.  But forests are also dark places with not much light.

The second hardest thing is having spare time when it's not raining or night.  We have very overcast winters here with maybe 6 hours of sunlight (the trees and the clouds shorten our day) at midwinter.  It's all about light.

I picked up one of these to help train myself to see light.



It's a light meter.

When I was reading about how to take photos without a light meter, I learned the sunny16 rule - it basically says if it's sunny, use F16 (size hole) and the shutter speed based on the kind of film you have.  Then adjust these numbers in a set way depending on the light.  This is neat and awesome for taking photos of people.

However, the one thing I'm very keen to learn about is the focus.  Sometimes I want to focus on just one object, and sometimes I want to focus on background and foreground and all sorts of things at once.  This is controlled by the size of the hole (f-stop).  There aren't any easy calculations like Sunny16 to help with this.  Say I want to focus just on a near object and have a blurry background.  It looks like the sunny16 rule means I have to wait for an overcast day to use a big hole (small f-stop).  

complicated yet?



how this works is a bit like a solar cell.  The light bounces something off the selenium which generates an electric current.  We turn the dile to match the reading and it does the math for us.  Nifty stuff.  
 
r ranson
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I'm on photo 30 of my first roll/role? of film.

So excited to get to 36 to see if it worked.

Starting to get the hang of what the different nobs do.

Surprised how frugal I feel about taking photos.
 
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Here's an inspirational video by a photographer who shoots almost exclusively with film:



She talks about her method, film choice, and the techniques she uses.

In this video I sit down with my friend Mavis CW who shoots street photography using her Leica M6 and Kodak Tri-X. She told me about why she loves the process of shooting and developing film and what it adds to her work as a street photographer.

 
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Hello there Mr Ranson,
I once had the privilege of living on the left coast of Canada for 18 glorious months and shot exclusively film the whole time. I was in Victoria on Vancouver Island and there was quite a selection of film oriented photo shops with all the supplies you might need from film to darkroom equipment or they would process the film for you if you want to go that route. I could do some interwebs digging and find all the information about these haunts if you are on Van Isle. I am a millenial so apparently I was born with the google skills which I am happy to share. Let me know. I got burned by London Drugs exactly once as they overcharged me for terrible results (what big corp doesn't?) so I avoided them. This was only a couple of years ago so this information is not too old. I know Vancouver also has some specialty film labs.

When it comes to these non-electronic vintage cameras, the best news is, they are indestructible. No finnicky wiring to corrode and no electronics to become out of date. The glass is usually fabulous as well if mould has not attacked. The lack of correct exposure information is tricky but that is where colour negative film comes in. It is very forgiving. I have shot rolls 2-3 stops away from the correct ISO rating by mistake and still had useable results. If unsure I usually bracket. Shoot 3 shots of the same scene with 3 different exposures. 1 above, 1 below, and 1 that I think is correct. Yes it takes up valuable film but that's what film is about to me. The freedom from the pursuit of perfection in my photography. But that is a topic of another discussion. When shooting slides you have to get the exposure bang on every time.

Anyway, I've got a fair amount of experience shooting film with various different cameras so I'm more than happy to help wherever I can.

Share some results with us too if you would!
 
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I'm getting worried about the developing stage.  I don't know yet if the camera works so I don't know if I need to send it somewhere special to be developed.  I'm going to talk to the local drugstore which develops in house to see if they can do anything special with it (like watch and adjust the machine?).  The guy there seemed to know more about cameras than anyone else I found in town.  
 
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> in house...

? That is interesting, unusual, I would think, but I don't know London Drugs company policies. Potentially a great find, if it's close enough to you, because it may mean there's somebody there who is "into" film. With skills and interest.

Your books probably explained this, but... Normally, IIRC, they develop the negative based on the type of film you used. It's a one  time thing, you get what you get. They can adjust a little ahead of time, but that requires some idea of what and how to adjust and that depends entirely on whether there was anything consistently "special" about all the shots on that roll of file - and knowing what it is... Normally they develop the whole roll at the same time same way.

I believe there were a few people that could watch the development process as it happened in their tray and stop it at some point they felt was best. Two problems with that now - most places use automated development machines and, it took real and rare panache to be able to genuinely improve that development process manually. Don't know if there's any of that around any more.

Printing, OTOH, can be adjusted each time you make another print from the negative.

In my experience, you will feel better about photos if/when you get to the point of treating film like paper - grab some, use it and throw it away when it doesn't look right. Part of the overhead that digital has completely removed.

Great to see somebody trying a wonderful old technology. Best luck.

Rufus

 
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The first roll is at the drugstore.  I'll pick it up next week when I go that way.  But they emailed me the digital files so here's a glimpse for you.

argus-19-09-202small.JPG
on the waterfront victoria bc taken with the argus c3
on the waterfront victoria bc taken with the argus c3
argus-19-09-203small.JPG
bridg's up
bridg's up
argus-19-09-204small.JPG
new bridge in victoria bc
new bridge in victoria bc
 
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I don't really know what's wrong yet.  The corners often look properly exposed, but the centre is washed out.  

Perhaps my shutter speed is slower than stated?  
argus-19-09-2020small.JPG
raven driftwood art taken with argus c3
raven driftwood art taken with argus c3
argus-19-09-2024small.JPG
tree on tower point
tree on tower point
argus-19-09-2031small.JPG
egg the chicken
egg the chicken
 
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My attempt at a double exposure.

A bit too washed out.  Maybe I need to reduce increase the shutter speed a lot more?
argus-19-09-2018small.JPG
double exposure of raven art
double exposure of raven art
 
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Weird! It looks like you're using a filter. ..
 
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When I rebuilt the camera, I didn't take the lens apart.

I did very minimal cleaning on it, so I think this will be a big part of it...

... but I expect the photos to come out quite a bit darker because of the guck on the lens.  Not so much lighter.  It's like the exact opposite of what I expected.

You don't think I have a light leak in the camera?  
 
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Possibly. But, I'd start with cleaning and drying the lens, thoroughly, because that's an easier fix.
 
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Here's the photo taken with the argus:



and here is the photo taken with the digital camera (ISO 100, f8, 1/200)
water.JPG
water with digital auto
water with digital auto
 
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HOLY MOLEY!!! Ok, that's huge, now that we have a side by side, with a 'control' shot. I think I'd still start with taking it apart again, and cleaning and drying the lens. But, I'm a 'process of elimination' kinda gal.
 
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The lens may have developed a leak...a bit of moisture and a layer of mold will result.  

The internal elements and their coatings are rarely designed for cleaning so a replacement lens is called for.  

Taking the time and the extra effort required for film processing rather demands it, eh?

JP
 
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r ranson wrote:Here's the photo taken with the argus:


and here is the photo taken with the digital camera (ISO 100, f8, 1/200)


(both photos not included again)

There are so many things one could say... every film type has a look... a set colour to it. It does not matter if one is using film or digital card, the first rule of photography is take 10 pictures, keep 1. The second thing to know is that digital cameras do a massive amount of manipulation before they even save the "raw" image. This is cheaper than a really good lens. In a digital camera there will be corner correction, for colour, brightness and shape because the lens is not perfect (even when they weight 5 times more than the camera does). The digital camera also will add sharpening, dynamic exposure control and other bits of stuff. With film, "you get what you get". The negatives are all processed the same way (as someone else has stated) with the exception that the developer can be asked to "push" the film. I can remember using iso400 film and having it pushed to 1600 so I could use the camera for taking candid photos in dimly lit places without a flash. They were of course grainier than normal, but that is true even when not pushed iso400 film is grainier than iso100.

The edges are not important, shoot for the centre of the picture, do the settings for the centre, focus for the centre. Most professionals will frame their pictures so they can crop them to show exactly what they want which will tend to remove the corners anyway.

Shooting with film is expensive... having someone else manipulate and print them even more so. Having said that, my son took all my film stuff and has been having lots of fun with it. Taking photos is an art both film and digital... but to really be artistic one has to turn all the auto features off. This is why the Pentax K1000 was the standard camera for teaching photography for 30 or 40 years. All it had was an internal meter. To tell a story with a photo, do not  record reality. Use the faults and failings of the medium to tell a story. Use monochrome film to show things colour gets in the way of. Use Fuji film for nature, kodac for people... (I am not even sure what is available these days) or the reverse if it suits.

I would not take a lens apart with out a "clean room" and an optical bench. Use the digital for sharp, hard, clean recording of a scene. Use the film to tell a story.

Photography is not something learned from a book or from one roll of film. I played around with film stuff a bit in the late 70s and early 80s but never took it far. In the end I think I did not really do much I couldn't do now digitally. I am not really that kind of artist I guess.
 
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Some more playing.

Looking at the roll some more, it's interesting that the photos where I didn't use the light meter turned out better exposed than the ones where I did things properly.  

To my novice eye, the photos I metered look about one stop overexposed.  Does this seem right?  
two-pic.jpeg
the two pictures side by each
the two pictures side by each
digital-one-stop-brighter.JPG
I took the raw file and change the exposure to be one stop brighter
I took the raw file and change the exposure to be one stop brighter
digital-two-stop-brighter.JPG
And this one is manipulated to be two stops brighter.
And this one is manipulated to be two stops brighter.
 
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This is what the shutter looks like from the inside back.




The Argus C3 has a three-blade shutter system, that very quickly opens and closes.  It's brilliant, but it's also the most temperamental part of the camera.

It's a bit sticky, especially the top blade which I suspect matches the way that the centre top of the photos are brighter than the rest of the image.

I'm also wondering if my metering is off.  I notice when I take photos with my digital camera, I focus on the details shadows and let the highlights fall to white.  This is pretty much the opposite of what people recommend for photography.  I should meter for the brighter areas and protect my hightlights.

This video explains it well:

 
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