Perverts guide to photography

Article posted on and takes 24 min. to read.

Photographers vision, good light, tasteful editing and lens are more important than the camera body. Visiting museums, galleries and expositions, and developing ones style is more beneficial than recreational technofetishism. Pretty much any modern camera will be leagues more advanced than what masters of old could afford at any moment in history.

There is no “real” camera as they all do pretty much the same thing. Most people will not see any differences scrolling past on their social media feed. Different types and styles of photography will definitely help mastering ones craft and developing preferences, but some respectable photographers did well with first camera they had. Some don’t care about the device.

This article is just collection of my research I’ve done over past few months on photography.


Finding inspiration

Lots have been written on finding inspiration for photography. Some of it is outlined in further reading below, some of it in its respective sections.

As for personal experience I found it extremely helpful to look back at beginning my photographic journey. It helps immensely to reflect on instagram posts, shares, likes and collections I made before. Finding a perfect hashtag that inspires me no matter how lewd it is, #эстетикаебеней. Watch beautiful films. Follow artists that inspire you instead of replicating toxic fb feed. Visit exhibitions and explore great artist work. Notice the light, the shadows, the texture and mood of photography. Go on a microadventure.

During my journey I begun to appreciate arts I didn’t value much before - modernist paintings, constructivist art, Japanese pottery and ink wash paintings, haiku. I discovered great artists like I outlined in Great Photographers section.

Editing

Editing is usually overlooked by beginner photographers. It is strongly adviced to use RAW format and shoot between both extremes on histogram. There is everything nothing wrong with shooting in JPG format if need be. Videographers use low contrast and low saturation for more flexibility in post-processing.

Commonly RAW editors and image editors are used simultaneously.

How much editing is too much?

Good edit is invisible.

Most everything has been photographed in past 200 years.

Editing used to be frowned upon favouring realism in photography. But here are arguments against unreasonable reality purism to help you decide your personal artistic limits:

Generally make distinction in your style of photography if you intend to document events or display fine art. Adding or removing objects in documentary is highly inappropriate while really fine for most art photography.

Further reading:

Tips:


Photography mediums

Gear matters. Matters less than it ever has. Medium you choose is your artistic choice. A beer tin is able to take great pictures too.

Digital photography

Digital is obviously most popular way to make, edit and share photography. It is easy, cheap and nearly effortless and flexible. This article is written assuming everybody has experience with phone photography.

Mobile phone photography

The best camera is the one that’s with you.

Modern phone photography has became a genre in itself. National geographic provides tips on photography, there are mobile photo awards, magazines feature phone photographs on their covers and Steven Spielberg shot a movie entirely on a phone. Phones even killed compact cameras. Phone software is leagues ahead of most camera manufacturers and support third party apps to emulate film photography imperfections and provide many other services. Phones feature decent cameras for good lighting conditions, photography can be edited and shared with millions of people with only one device.

No camera has sane syncing with phones, not to mention any third party app support. With phones generally more expensive models will feature better camera optics as well as better performance. I personally check wirecutter for reasonable phone - higher-end devices provide incrementally less value for the price.

Phone photography is enough for most tasks.

Compact cameras

Usually overlooked upgrade from mobile phone photography and choice of countless street photographers.

Compacts retain size and stealth advantage, feature larger sensors and better optics and reasonable price. Masters like Daido Moriyama, Charlie Waite, Wlada Schuler and your grandfather have produced great work with less than sexy technology. It gets the job done and doesn’t get in the way.

Enthusiast cameras

Modern mirrorless enthusiast cameras allow most professional camera features and performance at a fraction of size and cost.

What you get by upgrading form phones and compact cameras:

Note that enthusiast cameras usually have sensor crop factor around 1.5/1.6. Therefore your pops old 50/1.7 lens will be 80/2.8. This may impact wide angle lens selection as difference between 12mm and 18mm can be dramatic, but you get classic 80mm portrait lenses on the cheap and usually native 30-35mm lenses are easy to come by on a budget.

Enthusiast cameras are preferred choice for vlogging, traveling, casual shooting. Most of them are really similar in size, quality and function. One can pick just based off feel in hands or native lens selection. Sony or Fuji are reasonable choices but all of them will have cheap adapters for old lenses.

Professional cameras

The final upgrade provides excellent quality products, better customer service, better performance in low light and typically slightly better, large prints.

DSLR

New DSLRs are still produced but these don’t really provide many advantages over newer mirrorless cameras. Used market is great for good full-frame DSLRs and lenses to begin photography business.

Choosing used DSLR over mirrorles will give:

Mirrorless

All big manufacturers now offer comparable products at competitive prices. It is already possible to find used mirrorles full-frame cameras for aps-c camera price.

With mirrorless full-frame cameras you get:

Medium format

Niche format for better image quality at the expanse of size, battery life, price, lens choices. Nobody who wonders about this format needs one. Most people will not notice difference from aps-c format and medium/large format cameras.

Further reading:


Analog photography

Analog photography is not obsolete, but a deliberate creative choice.

Analog camera is just a box of controlled darkness. One advances the light sensitive material and lets in precise amount of light at certain speeds. That’s what analog cameras are. Some people are extremely particular in their dark box brands but honestly as long as it is dark it will do.

Analog photography allows to slow down the work flow, shoot more deliberately, use metal devices that capture slightly unpredictable results on limited medium you can hold and preserve for years. It is easy to digitize the results shot on analog devices or keep them private in a box. And they look classy.

Analog full-frame, medium and large formats allow to make casual photography cheaper than getting obscenely priced digital equivalents.

Cost of shooting film per frame and format

Format Film Cost per frame €
Instant Fuji instax SQUARE instant film 1.1
Pinhole paper Harman Direct Positive FB glossy 4x5 1.3
8mm Same price for all on Macodirect 0.69
35mm Ilford HP5 Plus 35mm 0.16
120mm Ilford HP5 Plus roll film 120 0.32
4x5 Ilford HP5 Plus sheet film 4x5 2
8x10 Ilford HP5 Plus sheet film 8x10” 5.56

TLR, SLR, Rangefinder, WTF

Camera ergonomics can seriously impact end result of photography

Further reading:

Instant cameras

Unpredictable, instantaneous results in trendy format - the new lomography for young people tired of digital life.

Further reading:

8mm / 16mm

Niche film for old camcorders, Minox and odd Minolta camera. Film is obscenely expensive but one could always make some from 35mm or 120mm film with some palletwood and razor blades

Check out subclub for more culture around 8mm.

Half-frame

Uses 35mm film but exposes only half a frame at a time. You will take 72 photos at the expanse of grain and quality, but this makes for an interesting artistic choice. The idea is to take 2 photographs subsequently to present at once as visual haiku - something abstract and concrete to tell a story in a single frame.

Many cameras are available now but most of them relied on now hardly functioning light meters which I’d suggest to avoid. The format calls for more expression and vision rather than technical perfection. Chaika 2, Robot, Agfa half-frame cameras are solid choice. Half-frame club is prime source for half-frame culture.

Robot cameras are an odd beast on the market. Universally praised for quality, cutting edge design, interchangeable lenses and probably worth saving, but they are not true-half-frame - they produce square images.

35mm

The standard of modern film and digital cameras to measure against and source of resurrected analog photography culture.

Advent of mirrorless cameras brought not only old lenses back into action but allowed us to reflect on film medium we have left behind. As of now film market is experiencing major changes with c41 color development processing becoming standard in smaller photography labs, film and development stocks discontinued or changing ownership, rising gear prices because of non-existent camera and lens suppliers. But most people have relatives with an old stashed film camera.

Kodak still produces legendary Kodak color, Ektar, Portra colour film, monochrome TRI-X and has resurrected Kodachrome, T-max 3200. Ilford is popular modern manufacturer of beloved black and white film - HP5 and FP4, developing chemistry and photo paper. This is worthy ally to support if you are into bnw film.

One should beware of new brands popping up like Kosmofoto and JCH rebranding existing stock. While harmless shenanigans one must be transparent in his intentions and have viable future plan to contribute to the community.

Pretty much any western and Japanese 35mm camera will be great companion for life. Considering older cameras one must be aware of its technical faults - working shutter on all speeds; some cameras are fully manual without any electronics, others rely on obsolete batteries to meter light or power shutter; some use usually faulty selenium meters; fully analog cameras will hold their value better than electronic ones. One should choose working, reasonably priced camera that feels good in the hand and can attach existing lenses. There is no reason to own more than one 35mm camera. m42 is a nice mount to have on a camera with many cheap, quirky lenses you can’t get new anymore. If you are considering buying Zenit for the sweet m42 mount - get a Praktica

One more thing to consider is - SLR or rangefinder type. Both have their own advantages but I prefer SLRs for ease of composition and use.

There are plenty of communities around 35mm photography, but I enjoy reading 35mmc. Macodirect is the most popular but not the only place to get your film in Europe.

Further reading:

Medium format

At this point it is more about the nostalgic feel to do something real, analog, to slow down and enjoy the experience rather than spray & pray. Results, when successful, can be stunning, but one must be able to produce great results in any format before wasting film.

Usually larger, more expensive and even harder to commercially develop and scan than 35mm. Most important film is available for medium format shooting but cost per photo increases considerably, yet it is much cheaper for casual use than digital medium format.

Medium format cameras come in many different ratios and shoot different sized pictures which may add more to cost.

Further reading:

Large Format

This is least practical and most expensive format for true masochists. One usually finds these cameras in photography museums displayed as centerpieces, in niche photography studios and old people selling these in flea markets. This kind of photography offers much more customization and freedom of choice than any other camera.

With LF cameras one can shoot:

In any of these standard formats:

And any portability:

LF lenses come in graded sizes with smallest Copal 0 for 4x5 to largest for larger formats. Lenses are mounted to a lens board, which in turn is mounted to front standard attached to bellows to rear standard bearing glass plate and film holder. All focusing is done by adjusting distance on rail between standards. The device is rather simple and can be replicated with basic woodworking skills and tools.

Cheapest way to get into LF is to buy lens separately, taking in mind crop factor, and build the rest using wood/metal working skills, ordering bellows or lens boards online. Note that some lenses come without shutter mechanism, some use specific DB boards, others are just a chunk of old brass with some glass in them. It depends what you want to do.

Further reading:

Pinhole

Pinhole photography is another extremely customisable way to shoot film or even plain photographic paper. Essentially anything can be pinhole camera if it is box of darkness with a small pinhole for light.

One usually requires a stable surface or tripod to take typically much longer exposures up to several minutes.

Solargraphy

Solargraphy is extremely fun way to take insanely long pictures. Easy way to construct pinhole photography is to put photography paper into beer can and make a small hole in it. It can be placed rather discreetly in public places but you always risk to have bomb squad called on site.

Pinhole film

Many small manufacturers caught on the trend of making small wooden cameras for 35mm and medium film. Construction is not that different from standard rangefinder cameras which hold film and take-up spool in a light sealed box but instead of lens use simple rotating shutters. Typically these cameras have about 25-30mm focal length because film canister diameter is 25mm, but it is possible to construct pinhole camera with extending focal range.

One advantage of keeping it wide-angle is stability and certainty that vibration will not spoil the end result.

Further reading:

Developing

I made a few calculators for Rodiynal and linked everything of interest there.

Further reading:


Lenses

Lenses are much more important than bodies and will greatly affect final result.

It is deceptively easy to buy into hype of owning nearly every lens as they all provide their own optical and mechanical characteristics and ergonomics, but in reality most lenses of their decade will be awfully similar to one another. Not many people will see distinct difference blind-testing 1970’s and will hardly see any differences with modern lenses at f5.6.

IMO most reasonable approach for modern photographer is to own one good native lens of favourite focal length with autofocus and a couple vintage wide, standard and telephoto lenses.

I personally enjoy 28mm, 135mm and 50mm in that particular order. I find unusual perspectives much more engaging than a regular 50mm.

Focal length

Focal length is simply distance from lens to sensor. Focal length and sensor crop factor affects the feel of an image.

Further reading:

Aperture

Adage is the lower the merrier. Benefit of lower minimum aperture is thin focus area and better out of focus background. Benefit of larger maximum aperture is longer focus area.

Realistically many lenses wide open will give a very soft focus on the subject. Closed/smaller aperture will bend light and create rather horrid image quality with diffraction and fringing.

All lenses perform better stopped down anywhere from f4 to f8 on standard 35mm format. Some older lenses have marked red dot on a sweetspot of the lens. Focusing is much easier and image quality improves drastically past f4.

There is nothing wrong with slower lenses like f2 or f2.8. Many awesome standard lenses of the seventies were f2/f2.8 like Helios 44-2, Industar 50, Pentacon 1.8/50, Zeiss Jena 2.8/50, Rokkor MC 2/45 are loved by many artists.

Vintage lenses

It is common to adapt vintage lenses to modern mirrorless cameras. Vintage lenses offer usually lower price, character (read: vintage imperfections in lens design) and great optics at fraction of the new thing. Many budget artists rely on legacy bodies, lenses and usually one or two native lenses.

Benefits of vintage lenses:

Drawbacks of vintage lenses:

Shooting vintage lenses is trivial with modern electronic viewfinders. Manual focus mode highlights focused area by matching contrast sharpness. EVF is generally reliable but still I’d advice setting custom button next to shutter release to focus magnifying to be sure subject is in focus.


Getting used equipment

How to pick a camera

Generally difference between cameras in every generation is negligible. Some niche cameras have interesting quirks that make them desirable - halfframe cameras can produce 72 smaller images per roll of film, Smena 8 is best for double exposures, some have fancy brand names, others offer great versatility. Pick the one that feels solid, is manageable size, and works correctly.

I personally value fun and reliability.

Further reading:

What to look out for in analog cameras

I have listed my priorities in order of importance before making a decision. If camera passes all important inspection then it is ok to use:

It is great if camera leatherette is in good condition but it can always be changed with aftermarket leatherettes or one can be fashioned out of tapestry.

What to look out for in digital cameras

If the camera obviously turns on and works is already a good sign. Some dents should be take more seriously as electronics can go out of order after months of being knocked about. Some really old digital cameras are not worth anything as phones can provide better quality than any early digital camera. Generally refrain from considering over 10 years old tech - many advances have been made over the years and electronics might not be top notch.

What to look out for in lenses

Lens fungus, broken diaphragm setting (aperture) and hazing are most common faults in used lenses.


Photography tools


Great photographers

and many others