Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Photographing the hard way

As I mentioned before, I have adapted manual focus lenses from my previous Contax SLR film system to the Pentax K10D. Not only focusing is manual, but the diaphragm cannot be operated by the camera anymore. Therefore, I have to do “stopped down” metering – the light is measured with the diaphragm manually closed to the position it’ll be at when the photo is taken. This turns the photographic process into a somewhat laborious, yet worthwhile, task:

1) Turn on the camera and select the lens focal length, so that the K10D’s Shake Reduction system can compute the appropriate stabilization amount to the sensor.

2) Frame and focus manually through the viewfinder, with the diaphragm open to at least f2.8. Even though I could, under bright lighting conditions, focus with the diaphragm closed (f8, for instance), this way I have better control over the location of the focus plane.

3) Manually close the aperture ring to the desired value. I do this without having to look at the ring, since I’ve memorized the sequence of stop numbers in the lens. The camera now displays the shutter speed computed for the light going through the diaphragm (I’m in Av mode).

4) Press the shutter button.

5) Check the histogram for correct exposure. The camera tends to overexpose heavily when the light is measured with the diaphragm closed beyond f4. -1.0 to -1.5 EV compensation is often necessary in contrasting light scenes. I believe this has to do mainly with the split prism focusing screen I’ve installed, which is affecting the light measurement. Its manufacturer (Katz Eye Optics) reports that evaluative metering (which I use) is not changed when using auto-aperture lenses with f5.6 or faster maximum apertures. The problem is that I’m using manual aperture lenses and the light has to be measured with the diaphragm closed (often at f8). However, I’m already accustomed to adjusting the compensation before taking the shot, taking into account the lighting conditions, and I obtain quite consistent and sufficiently accurate results.

6) Go back to step 2 for the next photo.

It seems hard, but it isn’t. Manual focusing is fast after some practice. Manually controlling the aperture ring forces me to think about which aperture I want to use before each shot. And since I have to close the diaphragm before taking the photo, I end up always seeing the actual depth of field and correct it if necessary. In the end, all this becomes part of a mental process that helps me stay aware of the different aspects of making a photograph.

“This might be fine for landscape, but what about action photography?” - the skeptical reader might ask. Well, I’m practicing that taking photos of my kids! So far, it’s been ok…

Pentax K10D + Zeiss Distagon 25/2.8

This is, of course, a very subjective point of view and may not work well with others. I believe it’s worth trying, though. There are many excellent manual focus lenses for sale in the used market that can be mounted on digital SLRs. Adapters for different types of mounts are also widely available nowadays.

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