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10-20-2020, 03:16 PM   #1
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How to track fstop and shutter speed when shooting film or vintage lenses on digital?

I'm embarking on shooting film for the first time in 20 years, and the most challenging part so far has been figuring out the right exposure values (fstop and shutter speed) to get the pictures I want. I also find myself increasing reaching for old lenses when I want to shoot digital.

To improve, I want to be able to know what settings I used when I took a particular photo. While digital cameras can often record this in EXIF with newer lenses, those fields are blank when using adapted K-mount or M42 lenses. And with film, there's no EXIF data at all.

I'm contemplating just carrying a notebook, but I feel like stopping to write down my settings between each picture is kind of a pain, plus now I have to carry more stuff and make sure I have a pen, etc. I've seen some folks using a gopro for this, but that seems like a lot of gear as well.

Maybe there's an app for this?

Other ideas?

10-20-2020, 03:19 PM - 1 Like   #2
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Use f/8 all the time and set ISO to auto?
10-20-2020, 03:34 PM   #3
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You can use your phone to take a picture of the top LCD screen each time you change settings, bchoward, and then take a picture with your phone each time you change location. Gives you almost a narrative history of the shoot.
10-20-2020, 03:35 PM   #4
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When I shoot film lenses on my digital cameras, I will usually shoot like this:
Manual Mode in base ISO. Meter your scene with the Green Button for shutter speed.
Take three sequences of every composition and stop down one stop each time (example: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8).
So, in post production you'll see three shots, and you'll know which aperture you used for each shot.
If I want to shoot the same composition again, same thing. I would have 6 shots of the same composition repeated (f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8; f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8).
Sometimes I separate similar compositions with a shot of my hand... but still always do the same 3 shot sequence of aperture.

Once you get a hang of that sequence, move onto another sequence. Soon you'll just get comfortable with your settings and be able to just guess them in advance.

10-20-2020, 03:43 PM   #5
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There are formulas like sunny sixteen. You can get pretty intuitive about light. I like to guess light before I shoot. I often walk around thinking this is 1/60 light with base f/5.6. My slow telephoto lens can't open more. I can chimp and change unlike film so being a stop of doesn't bother me.
10-20-2020, 04:01 PM - 3 Likes   #6
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A spiral bound pocket notebook and pen/pencil is how I did it back in my film days. And still do it with MF lenses. Pockets are handy things for pocket sized items.
10-20-2020, 05:21 PM - 2 Likes   #7
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Here is my film EXIF recorder:

10-20-2020, 05:45 PM   #8
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Take a photo at the start of your initial settings. Then write down any change and take a shot each time you change aperture or shutter speed.

10-20-2020, 06:17 PM   #9
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When shooting non-id'ed lenses on my K-3, the focal length is always a clue, that and remembering what lenses were in the bag. I don't sweat the taking aperture, but if I did, I would either use my phone for voice memos or carry a notebook.

Moving on to film work, the notebook option is actually pretty easy given that most of us tend to work in sessions with at most two lenses per session. End of session is a great time to make the notes and if playing with different exposure settings, between major changes.

10-20-2020, 06:30 PM   #10
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Since you are learning I suggest you play an active role from the start.

That means you evaluate the scene, noting what the camera (weighted average, spot and where), cheat sheet (sunny 16 rule and mods there of), etc.; and (thus) write down what f-stop you chose and why, and then when you review what you got, you can compare to/learn from what you did.

So, yes it means notes--but that also provides the basis for fine tuning/benchmarking yourself.

It also means you should have an idea of how exposure is done. i.e., about the range of amount of light (zones) and the middle zone. This can be only a few pages but should be presented in a more fundamental approach than (for example) saying use the light meter avoiding sky .... At a minimum you must know about the mid zone and how a scene w/ mostly highly reflective (light) or mostly highly absorbing (dark) surfaces will "fool" the camera light meters.**
** I also suggest you use a weighted average or spot meter, initially. As the matrix metering which attempts to account for unbalanced light and dark areas uses rules based on lots of pictures and a fuzzy logic that cannot always be understood. Later you can use matrix metering.

BTW I assume you plan to use the camera meter. It will be instructive to have:
1. A written sunny f/16 rule as it applies to strong sun, moderate sun, etc. The cheat sheet that used to come w/ film.
2. Depending how serious you are you may want an incident light meter as well. A used Sekonic studio light meter (e.g., L398) would likely be $20-30 (time are changing--it looks like it will be $60.-$90. Probably skip it for now)

Last edited by dms; 10-20-2020 at 06:38 PM. Reason: Guessed price of L398 meter was wrong.
10-20-2020, 08:03 PM   #11
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When I was shooting film, the pocket spiral-bound notebook was what I would use. It fit in the front pocket of my camera bag, so it was always with me. (Also get a good waterproof pen because the notebook will get wet.) The notebook really helped me starting out.

I donít know if you get your pictures scanned or not. I made sure to get my pictures developed somewhere that put the frame number on the back of the photo... not everyone did. That made it easier matching photos with my notebook later, especially if I was bracketing because it is tough to tell 2 bracketed photos apart by looking at the negatives.

As far as getting good exposures, for film I would almost always shoot in manual mode with spot metering. I would spot meter several points in the picture like the blue sky, a gray rock, the shade, a tree, etc. Often I did not meter the subject... If I had a good gray sidewalk, granite rock, or blue sky I could meter off from, then the subject would be exposed correctly. Matrix metering modes sometimes work but often guess wrong with complex backgrounds. For really pretty shots, I would bracket the shot over and under exposing.
10-20-2020, 11:27 PM   #12
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Notebook for me too, rule some columns in for subject, f stop, speed and lens I have a good memory so will often shoot and then write the previous shots down when I take a break.

As I shoot film its not that hard as a subject will only have a limited range of options in most cases.

Eg Church and Blooms, 500 f8, 35mm
Ditto 500 f5.6, 35mm
Country Lane 500 5.6, 58mm

Sonits not hard to remember previous three shots all at 500 first at f8 last two at f5.6, change up lens on last shot. I have a kind of mental shorthand for it.
10-21-2020, 12:37 AM   #13
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Everybody says to write it down but why? Is this to improve your intuitition? If not why care?
10-21-2020, 12:59 AM   #14
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I am always in M mode and once I have set my exposure value I don't tend to change it much for a subject. I tend to either shoot wide open or at a single aperture choice- say f 4 . So If the shutter speed drops and the exposure of the image stays the same it means I have stopped down. (I am always at base Iso).
10-21-2020, 01:44 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by swanlefitte Quote
Everybody says to write it down but why? Is this to improve your intuitition? If not why care?
I agree - what's the value of knowing the actual aperture after the fact? Even after 35 years of photography, I don't trust my intuition when it comes to exposure. Yes, the light meter is not always correct. That said, there are light sensors in modern cameras with more pixels than the first digital cameras (or so it seems). When shooting film, you take a meter reading. If you don't trust it, you bracket. There were even some film bodies that could bracket automatically.

These days, I am of the belief that highlights should be preserved in my images. I would rather let the shadows go dark than have blow a highlight. When you get it right, it's just magic. So I take a shot with the meter reading, peep at the histogram and adjust. Afterwards the actual exposure numbers do not matter to me, just the histogram in Darktable. Besides, I will do the same checks next time. Checking the histogram may be tedious, but so is scribbling notes. But each to his own. Those who keep record of their exposures have my blessing.

To illustrate my point, here is one I made earlier.


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