Canon 30-700mm DO - don't read old reviews

Canon 70-300 DO F4.5-5.6 IS

There are few online reviews of this old, now discontinued, lens. They were favorable but complained of low-contrast images and a high price tag (about $1,150 new). These two factors are no longer relevant - software can increase contrast, and the lens sells for about $500 on the used market. 

Canon's diffractive optics proof of concept

 The Canon 70-300mm DO was originally expensive because it was one of the first tests of 'diffractive optics' in a Canon lens. This used a saw-toothed fresnel lens to magnify an image while keeping the un-zoomed length of the lens to a minimum - at the expense of some contrast and a small maximum aperture (f4.5-5.6).

Historically, the lens competed against the better, and larger Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS (which is compatible with Canon's extenders. unlike the DO), along with the 50% cheaper, and larger,  EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. At the original selling price, the DO was a tough sell - only people who valued its short length as a compact travel lens would pony up the cash.

But then the DO lens got older. The price came down. I also think the mediocre reviews (based on the high price tag) contributed to the massive reduction in the used price of the lens. The only other reservation you might have about this lens is the variable f4.5-5.6 aperture, but again, modern cameras and software compensate for this with excellent high-ISO quality that was unheard of when this lens was first released.

The best travel lens set for Canon

So when the DO is viewed in today's context - a low priced compact lens - it is a no-brainer for a small travel kit. I pair it with the 40mm pancake lens when taking a digital camera on trips. The 40mm stays on the camera and the DO comes out when the extra reach is needed. If the DO is on the camera, the 40mm can be in a trouser pocket. 

You can see some examples of images taken with this lens (including many of my own) through the Instagram tag #canon70300doisusm.

For those of you on the fence about getting an old 70-300mm DO lens, there has never been a better time to get one.

Canon travel lenses 40mm 70-300mm DO

Minimalist darkroom: An enlarger using a 4x5 camera

The creator of the Intrepid 4x5 camera announced he was working on an attachment to use the camera as an enlarger. What a brilliant idea. 

I'll be the first to sign up when the enlarger is released - but in the mean time I wanted to see if I could make my own contraption and get printing right away. Here's how I did it...

The enlarging attachment

The idea is simple - use a LED light source (large, even illumination and low heat production) to shine through a negative in the film holder location on the camera. I designed an adapter out of layered thin plywood  to hold a DIY foam negative holder on one side, with a multigrade filter and the LED source on the other. The entire thing is encased in a lid, using black silicone caulk to make it light-tight and painted it all black. This all sits on the back of a 4x5 camera and can be height-adjusted on a tripod (in this case, a 3 legged thing Albert). The Intrepid version looks like it will use the graflok system to securely attach the box to the camera. My version is loose, so there is a danger of it being knocked off.

DIY enlarger using an Intrepid 4x5

Film formats

The foam negative holder is removable so it can be swapped out with another to mask different sized film. Different lenses are required for different film formats, too. They should be close the normal focal length associated with that format:  I use a 65mm for 35mm film (the shortest focal length my camera can handle), a 90mm for medium format and a 150mm for 4x5 large format negatives. 

Additional enlarging equipment

Rather than get an enlarger timer, I took Ansel's advice to use a simple metronome. I use a Seiko DM110 which has red indicator lights. The enlarger LED has a physical on-off switch so it can be left in the 'on' position and activated remotely with a simple foot switch.

The only other equipment needed are 4 trays for chemicals and water, tongs, paper easels and a safe-light (I use a junior bulb in a light-stand socket).  The final critical item is a black-out screen for my bathroom window. I made it using layers of cardboard to act as a light-trap when inserted into the window frame.

All of this darkroom kit (bar the cardboard screen and the camera/tripod) can fit into a 32 quart storage container. Most of the chemicals used are part of my negative-developing kit. The only difference is the use of Ilford's multigrade developer for the prints.

This is a darkroom in a bucket. The world's most compact darkroom? It would be tough to beat this setup.

Using the minimalist darkroom

The first test of the darkroom was a success. I expected the LED was lower powered than a regular enlarger bulb, leading to very long exposure times, but in reality I was getting correctly exposed prints in the ballpark of 16 seconds at f22.

The main disadvantage was that the enlarger casing had to be removed to change the negative or the filter, whereas these items would be quickly switched out on a traditional enlarger. I also found that the honeycomb pattern of the LEDs was noticeable on the projection - this was addressed by placing a sheet of tracing paper behind the filter to act as a diffuser.

While not as convenient as a permanent darkroom, this compact setup might be what you are looking for if you have limited space.

 

Camera Kit: Large format 4x5

Large format seems like an extinct branch of photography to the uninitiated, but the format never went away. Actually, it is finding a new wave of appreciation among film photographers. There are a few reasons for the resurgence - there is no digital equivalent sensor size, nor is there a digital camera body capable of tilts, shifts, swings, rises and falls (with the exception of some specialty lenses). Used equipment is found online in abundance, and some entrepreneurs are even making new cameras such as the Intrepid Camera Company, Stenopeika and others. 

Intrepid 4x5 large format camera kit

The jump to large format

As for major changes in your photography workflow, the jump from digital to film is the biggest. You need to find a lab or learn to develop film yourself and then either scan the negative  or darkroom print your images. Most people will start with either 35mm cameras (because they are the most similar to consumer digital cameras) or medium format systems such as the Hasselblad 500 (because the cameras work in the same way as 35mm ones). 

The jump from small to large format film is a little easier. With large format, a few things change. Firstly you no longer need to get emotionally attached to a single manufacturer. You can pair anyone's lenses with anyone's bodies and choose any film holders for the negative size you have chosen. For bodies, you can choose between studio monorail systems which are the cheapest way to get going down the rabbit hole, or fold-able field cameras that have more restricted movements, but can fit in a backpack.

There are also a few extra pieces of kit your smaller camera systems may not have needed - lens boards, sheet film holders, a focus loupe and a dark cloth. Tripods and cable releases are no longer optional - you are going to need them to get even basic shots.

What is it good for?

  • Taking one photograph really well. This process is the antithesis of 'spray and pray'. A lot of time is spent picking and tinkering with the composition. It takes so long to set the camera up that you don't want to waste that time on a mediocre image.

  • Tilts and shifts by design. And rises and falls, too. The cameras are made to move the lens around for perspective control and plane of focus manipulation. 

  • MASSIVE negatives. They dwarf the grain even in 400 speed film.

What's the compromise?

  • Large format is not small. No way are these cameras going to fit in your pocket. Or small bag. Not even a medium bag. With a monorail camera, even a large bag is often insufficient. The compact Intrepid camera, on the other hand, easily fits in a backpack with a couple of lenses.

  • Forget about a quick snapshot. By the time the camera is set up, focused, shutter cocked and film holder inserted, a good deal of time will have passed. If you have a human subject, you have to keep their attention during setup and focusing or else there will be some long silences.

  • Lots of lens research required. You need to figure out which lenses cover your negative, and if you want extra coverage to accommodate small or large movements on the camera. Fast lenses allow for easier focusing via a bright image, but slower lenses are siginificantly smaller and lighter.  You also need to make sure your body can cope with ultra-wide angles (75mm or less) or very long lenses (300mm or more) or if it needs special bellows or lens boards to cope with them. A great list of lens stats to get you going can be found  at www.largeformatphotography.info.

What's in my camera bag?

  • Cameras: Intrepid 4x5 folding field camera

  • Lenses: Schnider 65mm f5.6, Schnider 90mm f5.6, Calumet 150mm f5.6, Rodenstock 210mm f5.6, Rodenstock 300mm f9

  • Accessories: Lens board for each lens, film holders (9), focusing cloth, cable release

No time to focus: the Rollei 35s

 
Rollei 35s Singapore
 

Winter in Houston is brief, so to make the most of it I take lunch-time hikes around downtown. I looked around for the smallest manual 35mm camera I could find to bring along with me. That turned out to be the Rollei 35.

What is is good for?

  • Super small - almost as small as a cigarette packet if you remember those. Or two stacked tape cassettes if you remember those.
  • Admiration of clever design. The lens retracts to save space when not in use, the hot shoe and frame counter are on the underside. The meter battery sits above the film cassette in the camera's interior (though I rarely use the meter).
  • Quiet - its leaf shutter makes a noise that is barely noticeable. 
  • No digital equivalent. If you want small, you'll have to get a digital point and shoot or that Pentax Q with the super-small sensor. If you want 35mm equivalent, and are doubling the size of this Rollei at the very least.
  • Fixed lens - Not being able to change the lens means fewer decisions to make before heading out doors, and no further money spent on building a system. 

WHAT'S THE COMPROMISE?

  • No optical focus aids at all. No range finder, no through the lens split prism. Just a focus scale on the lens. In reality, zone focusing is perfectly fine for most street photography during the day, and I've even practiced my range estimates so I can use the 2.8 aperture indoors. You can read more aboutthe speed benefits of manual camera settings in this previous post.
  • Left handed winding. Unusual, but not a problem.
  • The lens retract button - it is right next to the shutter button. Getting the two confused can cause frustration.
"Not Hiring", near downtown Houston, Rollei 35, Ilford HP5

"Not Hiring", near downtown Houston, Rollei 35, Ilford HP5

Return of the Stereo-Realist

The popularity of stereo images (including video) has peaked and troughed through the decades. Each time, we embrace the novelty of it, then it fades away - probably because we get fed up with all the equipment we need to get it to work. The Stereo Realist is a 35mm stereo camera that came at a similar time to the ViewMaster you might remember from your childhood if you are at the age where you start to find gray hairs in the mirror. Funnily enough, it might be more practical to use the Stereo-Realist today than when it was born half a century ago. 

Stereo Realist 35mm camera

Stereo photography has some history

The Victorians embraced stereo photography. In fact, stereo images were originally drawings that pre-date chemical photography. It was a way to explore an escape from the tyranny of two-dimensional prints. It turns out that Brian May (the guitarist from Queen) is an avid fan of this medium and has released books documenting its history through the London Stereoscopic Company.

Then there was a stereo craze in the 50s and 60s that gave rise to the ViewMaster and a host of stereo cameras from various manufacturers. The Realist was released by the David White Company just in time to ride the wave. It was an expensive luxury camera and it proved to be very popular (read more about it on Dr T's website).

To get a stereo effect, the camera has two lenses separated by a distance similar to the distance between our eyes. So each lens makes a unique 25.4 x 23.4 mm image of the same scene. When the images are viewed as a pair, it tricks the brain into thinking there is depth in the image. I wouldn't say it is perfect - it is more like seeing a series of 2D cardboard cut-outs in 3D space. Still, it is memorizing and everyone who has seen one of my stereo images breaks out in a smile at the novelty.

Using the Stereo Realist

The Stereo Realist is a fully mechanical camera with a few quirks (find the manual here). There is very little coupling between functions. For example, winding the film will trigger the frame counter, but it will not cock the shutter. There is a separate lever on the front which readies the shutter for the next shot. And once the shot is taken, the winding mechanism to advance the film is locked until you press the the release button. None of this is a problem once the full cycle of motions is performed a couple of times.

Why is the Realist relevant again?

Because computers. In the film days, stereo photos would have to be printed at special labs at specific sizes for specific viewer hardware. But now we can scan the negatives, stereo-pairs of photos can be assembled in Photoshop (or even in a word-processor). The trick is to keep them small - two or three inches wide. They can be viewed on a screen, but printing the images out makes it a more tactile experience. 

The simplest way to view the stereo pairs is to go cross-eyed untill the two images appear to overlap and a third image seems to exist between them. This is easiest when the pictures are either small, or viewed from far away. Many people cannot (or will not try to) use this technique. In this case, you can use an set of inexpensive 3d viewers which are easily found on eBay (I recommend these low cost viewers).

 
Stare at the images and let your eyes cross until the images overlap. You'll perceive a third image in the center with a stereo effect. If you are having trouble seeing it, move further away from the screen or make the images smaller.

Stare at the images and let your eyes cross until the images overlap. You'll perceive a third image in the center with a stereo effect. If you are having trouble seeing it, move further away from the screen or make the images smaller.

 

The No. 2 Kodak Brownie

 
Kodak Brownie No 2 medium format
 

The Kodak Brownie No.2 might be the simplest practical camera still easily found today. It takes 120 medium format film and costs less than a music CD, if you remember those. It produced 6x7cm negatives which is one of the larger medium format sizes. 

This particular model was  released in 1901 as the Victorian era drew to a close. The specialized technology of photography was now in the realm of the public. We often hear that digital cameras and iPhones have  taken work away from professional photographers, but it has happened in pulses over the entire history of photography. There is nothing new under the sun.

A box Brownie's simplicity can't be overstated - the only decisions to make are the framing of the subject, and the timing for when the shutter is fired. Changing the aperture is possible, but the manual (find it here) suggests that it only needs to be changed when using timed exposures or flash.

Here are the settings:

  • 1/60 shutter (presumably slower due to age of the camera)

  • apertures of 16, 22 and 32

  • Focused to infinity (presumably hyper-focal)

  • 90mm focal length (a ‘normal’ length for this size of negative)

Though the Brownie was designed for 100 speed film (or possibly slower), using modern 400 speed film allows some license to play with aperture settings (the equivalent of using shutter speeds of 1/125, 1/250 and 1/500 at f11). That covers outside scenes from bright sun to moderate shade. Long manual exposures are needed for indoor photography.

I have found that my copy of the camera shoots a little to the left when shooting in the landscape orientation. I'll look into how I can adjust the viewfinding elements and report back.

This camera is probably the cheapest way to get into medium format photography, and the results can be quite good if you give the camera enough light.

Freight train near Washington Avenue, Houston. Brownie No.2, Ilford HP5.

Freight train near Washington Avenue, Houston. Brownie No.2, Ilford HP5.

 

 

Camera kit: Leica 35mm rangefinders

The Leica rangefinder took the small film size from cinema cameras and created 35mm photography for the masses. The masses who could afford it, that is. Almost a century later, these classic cameras are a favorite both among collectors and active film shooters.

Leica M2 iii summaron 35 elmar 50

WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

  • Size. The bodies are relatively compact compared to an SLR, but the M bodies are still quite big. The early Leica III with a collapsible lens is truly pocketable.
  • Focusing. Achieving focus is a pleasure with a rangefinder. The lenses are cleverly designed with a lever for your index finger to manipulate. Once the split images line up in the viewfinder, you are in focus.
  • Quiet operation. The shutter sound from the M-series cameras is a satisfying 'crunch' as quiet as a whisper. A lot of my enjoyment from vintage cameras are from how they feel and sound - the Leicas have the most beautiful shutter sound of them all.
  • Simplicity. You get one Leica and one lens and you are done. Further, the camera has options for shutter speed and aperture and focus and that's it. The picture becomes more important than the camera.

WHAT'S THE COMPROMISE?

  • Ergonomics. There is nothing to grip on these cameras. Form definitely trumps function in this area.
  • Not through the lens. The rangefinder is a separate light-catcher than the lens. Therefore you see a slightly different image from the one captured on film. A minor problem. More of an inconvenience are the limited number of framelines available. The rangefinder is generally optimized for a 50mm or 35mm lens. Longer lenses use smaller framelines that become difficult to use efficiently in the finder, unlike an SLR which gives you a full-size preview of the image from through the lens. Wider than 35mm and a separate viewfinder accessory is needed for composing shots.
  • Tripod mount. Pre-digital Leicas have a tripod mount on one side of the base rather than in the center. This means I can't use my capture clip on a Leica, and panning for panoramas becomes difficult.
  • Weight. Not a major issue, but these cameras are heavier than they look. This is the result of large brass components along with all-metal lenses.

WHAT'S IN MY CAMERA BAG?

  • Cameras: Leica III with nickel fittings, Leica M2 with self timer. 
  • Lenses: 35mm F3.5 Summaron M39, 50mm F3.5 Elmar M39 collapsable (nickel)
  • Accessories: M39 screw mount to M-bayonet adapters (35 and 50).

One too many cameras - the Olympus Trip 35

The acquisition of  a camera with no intention to use it. A classic problem. This is a camera addiction, I guess. 

I can quit anytime I want. I'll quit tomorrow. 

 
Olympus Trip 35
 

what is the offending camera?

I picked up an Olympus Trip 35 as an impulse buy while on vacation. Why won't it get used? Because it is designed to be used as an automatic. There is no way to set the shutter speed, and the aperture settings are supposed to be used only for flash photography (find the manual here). It has a passive light meter that dictates exposure settings for each shot. Can I trust the way the meter is calibrated? Has it lost accuracy with age?

So why keep it?

Because it looks iconic, in keeping with the PEN line of cameras, and this is full rather than half frame. It is very small and pocket-able. Lightweight. And automatic exposure isn't always a bad thing - sometimes taking pictures quickly for memories is desirable. Not every shot is for a project or portfolio. 

Ok, ok. I'll put a roll of film through it. 

 

Camera Kit: 35mm SLRs, the M42 mount

 

35mm film is a tricky one to recommend to people wanting to transition form digital photography. Modern digital sensors cover this film size and the files can be modified to simulate the look of film, with all the convenience that digital offers. If you were to dive into the world of film, I would recommend either medium format or large format for the main reason that they have no digital equivalent (digital medium format is still not as large as even a small traditional medium format - I wrote more about that in a previous post). That said, there are still a few compelling reasons to shoot 35mm film...

M42Cameras

What is it good for?

  • A very cheap way to shoot film. Actually, it might be the cheapest way to shoot 'full frame' 35mm photos period, given that a good digital camera costs so much up front (cheapest "full-frame" is a Canon 6d1 for $1100 refurbished at time of writing). Used film cameras can be found online or in thrift stores for $20-40 and black and white film can be found for $5. Developing at home reduces costs significantly. 
  • It is familiar. 35mm is a modern standard from which we reference other formats (e.g. crop factors, focal length equivelents). There is almost no learning curve when transitioning from digital, assuming you have knowledge about exposure.
  • Easily available. When 35mm became affordable to the masses, they were sold in great quantities. The result is that there are many used/vintage.antique cameras available for very low prices today. 
  • Inter-compatibility. In the large format days, you could use any manufacturer's lens on any other manufacturer's body. Medium format brought with it propriety lens mounts and this is still the case with 35mm. However, one mount slipped through the net - M42 screw mount. It wasn't completely universal, but was used by more than one brand including Praktica, Pentax and Zenit.
  • Lenses can be adapted to modern cameras. Nikon's film 35mm lenses can still be used on many of their digital bodies today. Canon's FD mount and M42 lenses can be adapted for use on Canon DSLRs and many mirror-less cameras because their mirror boxes are shorter than the lens' native mounts. 

What's the compromise?

  • Digital 35mm cameras exist. And they can replicate the film look very well. But that takes a lot of post-processing. If you want to commit to the film look, shooting film makes life easier.
  • The cameras are heavy. They might look smaller than modern digital cameras, but they are often all-metal and hefty. The lenses are built so well they have a weight penalty, too.

What's in my camera bag?

  • Cameras: Praktica MTL 3, Pentax Spotmatic SPII, Ricoh Singlex TLS
  • Lenses: Super-Takumar 35mm f3.5, Pentacon 50mm f1.8, Industar 50-2 50mm f3.5, Helios 44-2 58mm f2.0, Sears 135mm f2.8,
  • Accessories: Macro tubes, tele-converter, cable release