My Manual Exposure

By | March 18, 2010

February 28, 2010No image stabilization, no auto focus, no ability to preview a shot after it was taken and when you start a roll off at a certain ISO you are stuck at that speed until you’re done. All of this sounds like a negative but after using a DSLR for 18 months I decided to take a step back and see where photography came from. I am comfortable with the manual mode on my camera but have constantly read that the basics are learned from old cameras and I thought I would give it a chance.

I am using my Mother’s Canon FTb 35mm camera with a 200mm f/4.0, 50mm f/3.5 macro and 50mm f/1.8 lens. It came loaded with film but I have ISO200 and a roll of black and white that I will try my hand on.

My initial reactions to using the SLR was that it was a challenge but exciting. The way I approach photography on a DSLR is drastically different than on a film camera. With a DSLR I would adjust the settings, or not at all, point and shoot. If the image was blurry I would adjust the aperture, ISO and shutter speed accordingly and try again. If my hand was a little shaky I could rely on stabilization to save a shot. An infinite amount of processing power was available to me on a DSLR to save a shot.

None of that applies here.

After I dial in, literally, a proper exposure I tweak the focus ring and press the shutter I hope that after the fwwwhhiiik sound goes I got a good photo. At this point I am not looking to take profound or engaging photos, I just want something that is not underexposed and out of focus. Both are key fundamentals to photography that I have been able to easily ignore with a DSLR and it is a humbling experience to adjust all of these settings manually and still not know if the shot worked.

If I put the camera down and picked it up an hour later I don’t remember if I advanced the film. This is likely an instinctive process for some but it has not become a habit yet. I also find myself instinctively chimping to see if the show I took turned out…and see nothing but the back of the camera.

I never found a use for the DOF button on the DSLR, but completely understand why it is around now. I prefer seeing the shot lighten or darken depending on aperture and goes to show how much going from f/4.5 to to f/5.6 can really make. I never sought out the DOF button on the XTi or T1i but I will be more cognizant of its presence when I set up shots with the T1i in the future.

The ergonomics of the FTb are a little awkward. I thought my Rebel T1i/500D had much to improve upon and preferred the feel of higher end models like the 50D or 7D. Little did I know how easy I had it with the Rebel compared to the hard rectangle shape of the FTb. It has an uncomfortable grip, difficult to adjust shutter speed dial and yet those force me to concentrate on the photo more, making sure the camera is steady, focus is tight and the subject is in frame.

Roll #1
This roll was in the camera when I got it, so it could have been anywhere between three and eight years old. I didn’t expect the film to develop at that age but I put in the effort to use that roll of film. When I finished off the roll I realized that the camera had been set to ISO400 but the film was actually ISO200 and immediately doubted if anything would develop. To my surprise the age of the film didn’t make all the exposures void, and the underexposed photos were passable.

Some highlights from the first roll were…


Millet Trees Set Dressing Morning Sun

Roll #2
I was going to develop my first roll at the same time I developed the second so I wouldn’t know if there was a problem with the camera or lenses until it was too late. I took the cautious route and before installing the second roll of film (the first roll of film I have installed in a long time, if ever) I cleaned the inside of the Canon to make sure there were no spots or errant specs that could affect the results. I took a photo with each of the three lenses and then got to work.

I had finished strong on this roll of film and when I took all the exposures I confused the steps for removing the film and opened the back door leaking light onto a few of my shots. Sadly the photos I was most proud of were not developed (they are visible on the negatives) but it was a hard lesson learned to properly rewind film first and then open the door second.

Some highlights from the second roll were…


Bauer Eyes Milk and Cookies Quiet Candle Headphones

All photos developed from both rolls are available in my Gallery here.

Project 365: Film versus Digital
On March 11, 2010 I took my film camera out with me when I took my photo of the day with the 500D. I thought it would be interesting to see how the two shots turned out with over three decades of technology separating them. Below are two side by sides of the film and digital, and the originals can be found in the Gallery (digital / film).



The amount of detail picked up in the rocks and wood from the T1i is incredible, but the dull and grainy capture from film gives it a quiet and scerene feel.

Advancing Forward
I know that the body and lenses all function so I am going to take my time on my third roll of film and make every shot count. To ensure that I stick to this I have put in a roll of black and white and will take photos outdoors (people, buildings — things that stay still and don’t require precise focus pulling).

This has been a fun experiment and I am glad I did it. Stay tuned for updates as they develop.

2 thoughts on “My Manual Exposure

  1. Gordo

    More information on the scanning method & decisions on whether or not scans are accurate to film please.

  2. Aaron

    If they are negatives, there is no way to tell how accurate scanning is vis-a-vis the film aside from added noise, low resolution, scan focus etc. As for color, it is FAR from a simple 1:1 flip. Negatives tend to have strong and varied color bases that need to be subracted first before reversal. If they are slides, that’s a different story because no reversal is involved to get a positive image. For the most part, what you see is what you get. Sean, I’d strongly recommend getting a cheap roll of slide film from McBain’s and really start experimenting with exposure. The thing with minilab developed negs is, the machine will always try to comepsate for what it thinks your mistakes are – which may or may not be the case. They take creative exposure out of the hands of the photographer. Take a photograph of a subject at +2 and -2 and see how they look. Regardless, there is no such thing as “proper” exposure. Your camera’s meter is only trying to make everything 18% gray, a nice middle value, but may not be suitable for every shot, e.g. snow or Bauer.

    When I was starting out, one thing film taught me to see was the “color” of light. AWB on digital is quite handy at times, but it can also nullify much of the tones and intensity daylight balanced film pics up. Sometimes the digital presets can’t represent it, either.

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