Using Old Manual Focus Lenses on a DSLR

If you’ve bought your new DSLR with a kit lens, it will do a good ‘general purpose’  job.

However most aren’t that ‘fast’ i.e. they have fairly small minimum apertures (f3.5 to f5.6 for a 15-85mm Canon), so for isolating a subject with narrow depth of field and nice ‘bokeh’ they’re not great.

This post shows a way to get that ‘look’ without spending a fortune.

Shallow Depth of Field – Helios 85mm f2

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Taming a DSLR in the Wild

This post shows one way to set up a DSLR for simple everyday operation which I hope you find useful. I use these settings as a default, changing as required.

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Shooting Gargoyles

This is an odd title for a post I’ll admit. Let me explain.

Funfair Gargoyle + Lensbaby

In need of a photographic theme to run alongside general stock photography, a friend suggested that church gargoyles would be a good subject. As Dorset is packed full of medieval churches, it went into the ‘work in progress’ pile to be added to every time I drove past some likely looking subject.

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Shooting in Autumn Fog

Some days, photography is hard work. On others, the light and weather are truly magical and images present themselves so frequently you can hardly keep up.

One day last year I was lucky to have a free day when really heavy fog covered Dorset and Wiltshire. Photographs of foggy scenes sometimes seem a bit disappointing – there’s never as much fog in the shot as you saw (or at least percieved there to be) and the results aren’t quite what you wanted. However this day was very foggy, lit by some weak sunshine which made all the difference as it filtered through the gloom and gave an eerie diffuse light.

Heading (slowly) up onto the downland with a Canon 60D and the 15-85mm standard zoom, opportunities were everywhere. These are some of the best ones divided into two post processing categories. All shot in raw (as always) and converted with Canon software.

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An Adventure With Expired Film

When inspiration is lacking for shooting stock (this happens frequently), I like to try something different – new processing techniques, Lensbabys, infrared, a different type of film –  anything really.

So this is a short post for anyone who has wanted to see what happens if you shoot expired colour film in a cheap 35mm compact camera. Something of a ‘Lomography’ type experiment but without a Lomo camera I suppose.

Funfair Ride – Distorted Colours

An Hour with a Venetian Mask

Some subjects are just mesmerizing – and Venetian Masks are one of them.

I found one which we bought on honeymoon (several years ago), and ‘put it to one side’ for a wet Sunday afternoon.

Venetian 1

The agency I shoot for always like stuff on the ‘dark side’ of things (they do a lot of crime novel covers), so I tried a few different angles, being especially attracted to light coming in from behind the mask through the eyes. Maybe it was near Halloween….

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Lensbaby Zoneplate vs Pinhole

One Lensbaby lens I haven’t used much is the pinhole, so I thought I’d give it another try for this short post (inspired by

This comes with the Zoneplate on the same attachment, but at f177 the pinhole is probably the ultimate ‘slow’ lens.

Zoneplate Doing it’s Stuff

Since it’s sunny today in Dorset I thought I’d do a comparison of the two. All shots on a Canon 60D, shot in raw with centre weighted metering, and for the comparison, converted to JPEG, auto levels and colour then resized.

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Websites for Film Users?

If you’re the sort of photographer who’s pulse rate rises and eyes go all dreamy at the mention of ‘Tri X’, ‘Pentax K1000’ or ‘Rodinal’ read on.

There are thousands of digital photo websites, but not that many dealing with film photography. Given the huge number of variables involved with shooting, developing and scanning film this always strikes me as odd – until I remember there aren’t that many people using film these days (apparently).

Apart from the manufacturer’s websites, where are they?

For B/W processing times of almost every film in every known developer there the Massive Dev Chart here This has taken someone ages!

For all film related stuff, there’s the Analogue Photographers Users Group (APUG) here – This is quite technical but a very good place to learn and one of my favourites. has quite a lively film user group on the forums, and is good for film development.

For ‘old kit’ aka classic cameras the best is at which covers most of the camera systems.

Shimmeringgrains have posted a few up here – thanks for the links –

Can anyone suggest favourites you use all the time?

Buying Props for Stock Photos

Second hand/charity shops are a great place to pick up unusual props for stock photography (Ebay isn’t too bad either). Being unable to resist such odd or unusual things, here’s a short post about some shots made from such unlikely pieces of junk. Just don’t spend too much – as with all stock photography, it might never sell.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found this – a dried scorpion in a case. I think the charity shop were quite glad to get rid of it.

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A Rainy Day Out with the Olympus OM1n

This post is about gaining inspiration on a wet, dark day. Sometimes simplicity is in itself inspirational, so leave the digital monster and zoom lens at home (it’s raining and it’s probably best not to get it wet) and just take out the most basic equipment and try to get some good shots.

In this case a 30 year old OM1n and a 50mm f1.8 lens, plus 2 rolls of film – Agfaphoto APX100 which is a great all purpose B/W film. As it turned out I only needed the 1 roll.  All  shots developed in Rodinal.

For those not familiar with old Olympus cameras, an OM1n is a small, all mechanical manual camera with just the basic controls –  shutter speed, aperture and focus. There’s the built in luxury of a needle exposure meter too powered by a battery, but if the power fails you can carry on shooting anyway, guessing the exposure.

Wet Day Shot 1

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Focus and Recompose – a Really Useful Technique

I’ve been lucky enough to have been asked to help a few friends with their photography. This usually takes the form of a walk with a pub at the end of it, where I claim my ‘fee’ – a sandwich. I usually get as much out of the day as they do whilst struggling to answer their questions.

One thing always becomes clear after 1/2 hour – everyone has skipped the bit of the manual which describes one of the most useful techniques in digital photography, namely focus and recompose. If you already use it – skip the rest of this post.

Focus and Recompose is a solution to that digital camera of yours deciding to focus and set exposure somewhere completely random in the frame, and frequently underexposing due to a bright background. Admittedly some cameras are worse than others – notably compacts.

It will also save you time twiddling around all those focus points in the viewfinder – something I can’t be bothered with to be honest.

Firstly set the focus area to only the centre of the LCD for a compact, or just the single centre AF point on a DSLR (you’ll have to get the manual out I’m afraid). That’s the end of the camera settings.

Now the camera will always focus on the centre of the image and set exposure accordingly so it’s wayward nature is at least under control.

Now you can point the central focus point at your subject and half press the shutter knowing exactly what it’s going to do.

Keep the shutter half pressed. Focus and exposure are now ‘locked in’ until you take your finger off the shutter or take the shot. This means you can now recompose the picture however you like, and fully depress the shutter.

Where you have a brightly lit background for a portrait, you can point the camera down slightly and focus on the torso, half press the shutter to get focus and exposure lock and then recompose.

Where this doesn’t work

By half pressing the shutter, you’ve now ‘locked’ the focus so don’t change the distance between you and your subject when recomposing. You’ll probably get away with it at wider focal lengths and smaller apertures as the depth of field will cover any differences in distance.

It probably won’t work that well with ultra fast lenses at maximum aperture, or telephotos as the depth of field may not cover the difference. For close up/macro work – don’t even try!

However as most people are using compacts or DSLRs with standard zooms with moderate maximum apertures it shouldn’t cause a problem.

Give it a try and plenty of practice – if it doesn’t work for you just set your focus points back to their default. If it does work for you you’ll never look back.

Another Lensbaby Post – the Zoneplate

Following up on an earlier post, I realised I hadn’t covered the use of one of the more esoteric lensbaby lenses (are there any other sort?) – the Zoneplate.

It’s not really a lens as there’s no glass – more a sophisticated pinhole. The effective aperture is f19 (according to their website). Not that it matters that much as you can’t change the aperture anyway.

The ‘hole’ bit is on a small sliding metal plate which also has a pinhole cut into it at the other end, so you’ll get 2 ‘lenses’ in one. I haven’t used the pinhole much but I’ll make sure I do next time we have a bright day in the UK. I’ll need a lot of light – the pinhole’s effective aperture is f177 – yes f177.

There’s no focussing required, and it produces images which are very different – dreamy and ‘sort of ‘ in focus but not.

Maybe an example :-

Edge of the Woods

As there’s no detail at all, simple, bold shapes with lots of contrast are the best subjects. Even with live view, it’s all very ‘hit and miss’ which I rather like!

I found centre weighted metering, aperture priority to be the best exposure mode, shooting in raw and spending a lot of time postprocessing.

Lonely House

So there you have it – lots of hard work, lots of reject shots, but the ‘keepers’ are unique!

I must start using this lens again.

Random Photo Opportunities

There are photo opportunites which present themselves to us every day, and there’s nothing more annoying than not being able to take that shot.

The best advice I was ever given (well, photo related advice) was ‘always carry a camera’.

On a related note there’s also the photographer’s question ‘What’s the best camera in the world?’. Answer – ‘The one you’ve got on you now’.

I can’t show you the missed opportunities (obviously), but here are a few that did result from following some good advice.

Really Weird Chair

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Infra Red Photography

Infra Red Venice

This post is for anyone who’s seen an infra red picture and wondered how to achieve the effect.

I first saw them in a book in the 1980s,  Michael Wood’s ‘In Search of the Dark Ages’ and really wanted to try to get that spooky, ethereal look. By coincidence the infra red ‘look’ is called the Wood effect after the physicist Robert Wood – nothing to do with Michael Wood who is a UK TV historian and author (and very good too).

U2 also used an infra red shot of the cover of ‘The Unforgettable Fire’.

Infra Red Shot 1 – Modified Fuji F810

So – this is an infra red photo – note the lightness of deciduous foliage. Blue sky is rendered black, as is water. Long exposure times with film also add to the dreamlike effect if there’s movement in the shot.

There are 4 ways I know to get this effect :-

Convert a colour shot to infra red monochrome in Photoshop.  

This is not really that good as the conversion can only see the colours in the image and convert them to an approximate scale of grey, so green is converted to white, blue to black etc. This sounds OK but if that green isn’t deciduous foliage or that blue isn’t sky then it doesn’t look right. As I didn’t like the effect that much, there’s no example – sorry.

Shoot Infra Red Film

This is where it gets interesting! There aren’t many infrared films left in production – only Ilford and Rollei now that Efke (Fotokemica) have stopped production. Kodak used to make the most famous infra red film, but this too is now discontinued.

Infra Red Shot 2- Efke IR film

What makes shooting this film so challenging is :-

  • The need for a tripod – rate the Rollei or Efke film at anywhere between 3 and 12 iso (that’s not a typo), using exposure times of between 1/4 and 10 seconds. As you’re guessing the exposure it’s best to bracket exposures +/- 2 stops so 12 pics on a 36 exposure roll.
  • I’ve used a near opaque Hoya R72 filter so you can’t see through the viewfinder with the filter fitted. A deep red R25 filter doesn’t seem to work that well with the modern IR film, though it was great with the old Kodak film.
  • Infra red light isn’t accurately measured by an exposure meter so there’s some guesswork involved.
  • Infra red is focussed at a different point to visible light, hence the red infra red marks on old lenses. Wide angle lenses with plenty of depth of field, stopped down to f8 or f16 make sure it’s all in focus.
  • At least developing the film is standard – some people insist on a metal developing tank but a plastic one has been fine for me.

So, not something for casual use. My old Olympus OM1 with a cable release is the camera I use as it’s all mechanical.

Shoot Digital with an R72 Filter

Sounds good – but there’s a filter in front of digital sensors which filters out infra red wavelengths, so the effect with the R72 filter is… long exposures again so don’t forget the tripod. Cranking up the iso doesn’t help that much as only the red sensitive pixel elements of the shot will be recording anything so it’s grainy already.

Infrared Shot 3 – Sony R1 with R72 filter

As the exposure is guesswork it’s best to bracket exposures +/- 2 stops and shoot in raw.

Modify a Digital Camera to Remove the IR Filter

Companies can do this for you (at a cost) or you can have a try yourself – only do this on an old camera you can afford to wreck and not worry about it. If you do go ahead make sure the battery is removed before you start. All in all I wouldn’t recommend it as there’s a good chance it just won’t work when you put it all back together.

Infra Red Shot 4 Fuji F810 Modified

Infra Red Shot 4 Fuji F810 Modified

There are plenty of articles on the web about this – each camera is different so the instructions vary. Suffice to say you’ll be dismantling the camera, removing the IR filter in front of the sensor, replacing it with a plain glass one (not always necessary) and reassembling the whole thing. DSLRs are difficult to convert, compact cameras are easier.

Infrared Shot 5 – Modified Fuji F810

My conversion was of a Fuji F810 compact and it went well – though the autofocus gets a bit confused, and sometimes it’s exposures are way off. I didn’t replace the sensor’s IR filter with plain glass, which may have something to do with the poor camera’s confusion.

However once converted, you can hand hold the camera with an R72 filter held in front of the lens and view the scene on the LCD.

IR shot 6 – Surreal Infrared – modified Fuji F810

However you do it, infra red is quite a challenge but the results are very rewarding. The only downside is that they’re not very commercially successful.

Infra red shot7

Added a few more shots – 31/10/2012

Infra Red Beech woodland – Converted Fuji F810


Using a Lensbaby

Lensbabys – you either love or hate them (or I suppose see them as a pointless gadget). I really like mine – it’s permanently attached to an Olympus EPL3 and it’s great for getting going when inspiration is lacking.

What are they?

Simple lenses in several arrangements available in most DSLR mounts. They produce an area of the frame which is in focus, surrounded by a region which definitely isn’t in focus! I’ve used the single and double glass lenses along with the plastic and pinhole/zoneplate lenses.

The size of the aperture – either ‘built in’ or uniquely, manually fitted at the front – controls the size of the area in focus. Depending on the lens holder chosen, the area of focus can be moved around the frame to produce different effects. I try to avoid the widest aperture settings, as the ‘Lensbaby effect’ is too strong for me – f4 or  f5.6 seems to be best for my purposes.

On your Camera

Attaching one of these to a modern DSLR does cause a few minor problems. There is no feedback between the lens and camera so there’s no information recorded for the EXIF data about focal length or aperture. Evaluative metering doesn’t work too well so switch to centre weighted metering if you can.

It’s also best to shoot in raw if you can to correct any minor exposure problems. The colour rendering can also be a bit odd, frequently over saturating the colours, so a neutral colour profile might be best too.


Focussing is best done in live view mode, with the magnify button to help. Optical viewfinder focussing is hit and miss at best. Did I mention there’s no autofocus either?

Coincidentally, all of these exposure and focus limitations apply to any manual focus lens attached to a DSLR so if you get into practice you’ll be able to use those too.

There’s enough technical info on the Lensbaby around the web (I’m not getting into detailed equipment reviews) so let’s look at some results :-

Lensbaby – Shot 1

Single glass lens with a wide aperture (2.8), converted to black and white with high contrast. The ‘in focus’ area was pointing up a bit.

Same lens, slight blue tint. In focus area dead centre.

Lensbaby Shot 3

If you use photoshop layering as a post processing technique (I’ll cover this in another post) the out of focus areas show the layering effect very well. This one with the glass lens and Olympus ‘in camera’ blue monochrome filter.

Lensbaby shot 4

This is an example of the extreme edge distortion that can be generated using a lensbaby – this one is the ‘Sweet 35’ 35mm with built in aperture. Pete’s head has been reduced to an odd shaped squiggle.

Lensbaby Shot 5

This one is with the plastic lens – this produces soft results which can be very good but require quite a bit of post processing. This one has been photoshop layered as well.

Lensbaby shot 6

This again shows the softness of the plastic lens – taken in a car park in the fog where lost possessions were draped over a tree in the hope that the owner would return and find them. Again, ‘in camera’ blue monochrome processing, tweaked in photoshop.

Lensbaby shot 7

This was attached to a ‘wish tree’ in East Dorset – a favourite haunt. This is the glass lens, probably f4, with some heavy layering. The out of focus areas look much like those of more expensive fast lenses.

As always, it’s all down to personal taste. If your approach to photography is more ‘experimental’ then maybe one would suit you fine. If you’re a ‘100 ISO at f8 on a tripod’ landscape photographer – and there’s nothing wrong with that – probably not….

I’ll cover the use of a lensbaby for portraits/people shots in a later post.