Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Some Good Thoughts On 2020

Obviously, this past year is one that does not need to be repeated. So many things that many of us had planned went down the drain with COVID-19 and the subsequent effects on our world.  On top of that, a country with a disinterested self-indulgent criminal and con-artist in the role of president only made things worse. Despite the assaults on the constitution and the fabric of our society, it took 80 million voters to say "we have had enough."

As I look back on 2020,  it's clear to me that while there are many things I did not do, my lifestyle was not severely impacted.  As a retiree, the daily routine was not interrupted. I did not have to worry about children in school, losing my job, working in fear of becoming sick, telecommuting, or traveling to work.  So, I consider myself very lucky in that way.  Sure, I miss being able to go to a brewery for a quick beer, hanging out with people, and shopping anywhere without having to wear a mask. However, those are not unbearable burdens, merely inconveniences.

The things I could not do didn't prevent me from being creative. like many others, I found myself doing things that were more self-reflective or projects that had been put on hold for various reasons, became important.  New ways to do things allowed me to be "social" in a way that I had not done before, and establish new friendships via social media.  Before the pandemic hit us, Beverley, Adrienne, and I visited the pretty town of Sylva, where the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri was filmed.  Another trip in late February saw Beverley and I visit Selby and Forest City, NC. There were some other trips to Brevard and Biltmore.  Looking back, who knew that by the first day of spring, the streets of Asheville would be nearly empty of people, and businesses shuttered?

Instead of doing some long trips around NC and into some other states, I did a lot of day-trips.  One of my favorites was the day Adrienne and I drove up to Mt. Airy to witness the emergence of millions of periodical cicadas.  Although I had seen them in Ann Arbor, it was nothing like the scale of numbers that we saw that day. I am sure many thousands of cicadas were killed while flying across the interstate. The sound of their combined chorus was incredibly loud, too.   Another fun trip was the one to Linville Falls, where I met up with Joseph Brunjes. It was great to get together with another photographer and talk photography while we walked the trails.  

Last year, Susan Patrice told me about Rocky Fork State Park in Tennessee. I made my first trip there in May of this year.  It's about a 30 minute drive from my house, and I made several more trips there throughout the year.  I rarely saw anyone else apart from people driving along the road.  It's a fantastic stream with lots of small falls and cascades that are seemingly never-ending, with lots of great photo ops.   Likewise, driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway is always a great way to spend a day.  

It was a good time to just drive around and explore the countryside, which doesn't involve contact with other people.  I drove a lot of back roads and visited a number of small towns that were new to me.  So different than driving around flat Michigan.  

I produced two issues of Monochrome Mania during the pandemic.  Issue 2 was about photographing on various trips around Michigan, and issue 3 is all about medium-format toy cameras.  Number three required a lot of work in acquiring cameras to test, shooting with them, researching the history of different models, and of course, going through my older work to choose some images for the magazine.  I ended up separating all my toy camera negatives and organizing them in binders. It will make any future work with them far easier.

Going through my earlier work has been very productive and enlightening.  I have been scanning in a lot negatives that have not been scanned, and in the process found some images that I had forgotten about, and feel different about them now than when I made them.  Sometimes it's good to be removed from the immediate, emotional connection that comes with making a photo.  In doing so, I found some very good images, as well as some really awful ones.  I have also been winnowing out some of the boxes and boxes of 35mm color prints.  In retrospect, some are just not worth keeping. Many were made when I was just testing out cameras, and have lost their relevance.  Images of family, pets, and events are certainly wonderful to have, but not all are worth the space it takes to store them. 

I made some new friends due to Instagram, and my work with the Film Photography Project. In fact, Mike Raso's efforts to keep podcasting during the pandemic prompted him to try some new things like producing You Tube videos.  Using Zoom to record the podcast episodes was a lot of fun, and ALMOST as good as being there in person. Mike is a perfectionist in his production of the episodes, and the audio quality of internet interactions does not match what one gets in the studio with pro-grade mics and equipment.  Nonetheless, the podcasts and videos are really good.  I also got to listen to a lot of other podcasts this year, and my favorite podcast (after the FPP, of course!) is All Through A Lens podcast with Eric and Vania.  It's a great podcast that covers a myriad of topics, and has introduced me to some photographers' works that I'd never heard of before it was on the ATAL podcast.  Also, the banter between Vania and Eric is a lot of fun. Both are passionate photographers, and it shows in the attention they pay to processes and technique as well as just having fun doing what they love.

Another bright spot this year was the continued popularity of film and the explosion of interest in 8mm film. I can't speak to the movie-making, as it's not my thing, but Mike tells me that the demand has been amazing.   As far as still-photography, there seems to be amped up interest in alt-processes as well as conventional ones.  While the digital world is having its battles with SLRs vs mirrorless, or full-frame vs cropped sensors, or Canon vs Nikon, we film users are happily shooting away with our various cameras, formats, and films, and it's all good.  The only controversies seem to be about the price increases from Kodak, and the dearth of home C-41 kits.   The film shooting community is filled with people that are passionate about their medium, and also filled with people that are helpful, generous, and very creative. 

Speaking of social media, I see that there is a lot of resentment of Instagram's policies regarding censorship of images. I know that photographers feel that their work should be shown without censorship, and I agree.  If your work is likely to be censored or removed for what IG feels violates "community standards" I suggest that you use Flickr.  Flickr remains the best place to share your work, and I have been using it since 2004. For me, it's an incredible way to archive my work, and at $50 year it is still a good deal.

Those are a few thoughts on the year.  It was a memorable one, in ways that we could not have anticipated, and I hope, as everyone does, that 2021 will be an improved one.  Best wishes to you all for a Happy New Year, and get out there and take some pictures!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Twenty Years of Photography

Twenty years ago, I went from being a typical family snapshooter to learning all I could about photography, and to become a better photographer.  That quest has never ended -,and I am always learning new things, and how to be a better photographer.  Over the past week or so, I began looking through my binders of early negatives, where shooting with b&w film really began having an effect on the way I saw scenes, and of course, recorded them on film.  Prior to that, I was shooting mostly color print film and color slides - and while I continued to do color work, it was the b&w world where I was learning the most.  Learning how to compose and think in b&w, as well as all the developing of negatives and subsequent printing onto sliver-gelatin paper.  My subject matter changed, compared to what I was shooting in color.  For me, color was where I was shooting macro and close-ups, and I suppose that I was trying to emulate the work of nature photographer John Shaw. While I learned a lot from his books and videos (which are very good), it also coincided with my vocation as an entomologist, and aided my research and work on insects.  

Bill Brudon, Nov. 2001. Praktica
Super TL, Tri-X film.

However, it was my mentor, William L. Brudon, that changed my world with his immense knowledge of black and white films and how to achieve the desired results with so many different kinds of b&w film. Bill was always testing different films with various developers, and he kept notebooks filled with his results. He was also a medical illustrator, natural science artist, and a good photographer. Bill and his wife Margaret (also a medical illustrator) lived a mile from my house, and every time I met with him, his critical eye and old-school demeanor whetted my appetite for more. He introduced me to the works of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Imogen Cunningham, Stieglitz, and Sudek, among others. His generous gifts of books and cameras and film are something that I shall never forget, and I swore to myself that I would repay him by sharing my knowledge and pass on film, books, and equipment to others when the opportunities arose. As my photography evolved, I did less macrophotography except in relation to work, and I explored b&w and different cameras in much of my free time. 

In late 2000, I developed my first roll of b&w film since I was in high school.  That whiff of stop bath and fixer immediately transported me to 1974. It was magic then, and it is still magic.  To see a roll of film yield images is forever a wonderful thing. I have developed thousands of rolls of film myself, and it never gets old.  My view, my images, my work, to make them something tangible. It's imagination, science, art, technology, and some craft makes those images possible.

Fleming Creek, 12-25-2000. Nikon FE, Ilford Delta 100

Bill Brudon was the person that changed me from being happy to get a picture from my camera, to someone wanting to show the world what I saw, and to always want to do better than the last roll I shot. To experience different film formats and see how they affected my composition and subject matter, to find that elusive moment when I know that BAM! I got the image that I envisioned, and to know that serendipity favors the prepared.  I have also learned that the quality of the gear means nothing without vision.  Some of my best images have been taken with my “worst” cameras.  

Cobblestone Farm, June 2001.  Ricoh KR-5, 28mm lens
and Kodak's High Speed Infrared film with a Red 25A filter. 
Bill introduced me to the world of IR film.

Over the past 20 years, I have certainly handled more cameras (thousands) than I ever thought possible, due to an interest in collecting certain cameras (with an intense excursion into Argus, because I lived in Ann Arbor), and also because I became the person that could sell off a photographer’s estate.  That allowed me to learn an awful lot of photographic history and operate a lot of vintage cameras, some of which are rarely encountered. It put me in contact with many fine people in the Michigan Photographic Historical Society, of which I was a board member for a few years. 

Senescence. Nov. 2001, Nikkormat FT2, Kodak Tri-X.

So, it's hard to believe that in 2000, I was 44 years old, and absorbing so much new information and embarking on this journey into photography.  I certainly did not anticipate that my wife and I would sell our house and buy Bill and Margaret's home when they decided to move to a retirement village in 2002, and that Bill would leave behind a complete darkroom setup for me in that house.  A lot of what I learned proved useful in my real job at the University of Michigan, especially macro-photography.  But macrophotography isn't what I kept doing with my photography, it was learning about this huge universe of photographic technology, the history of photography, the arcane things that you can only pick up by delving into the minutiae of photography.  On top of all of that, it was shoot, shoot, shoot.  As I look over my negatives from 2000-2002, I can see that I often bracketed a lot of shots, as I was unsure of how things were best exposed. Bill also made sure that I did bracket so that I could judge a series of negatives for the best overall exposure. I really enjoyed delving into trying various films and developers, and as I look over those early negatives, I can see now where I should have done something differently had I known at the time. It's not hindsight - it's learning.  

Some proof sheets and negatives from 2001

I started this blog in late 2004, and it's been an ongoing way for me to share my photography, thoughts, and reviews of cameras and film.  That I have been doing it for 16 years astonishes me.  

Huron River, Sept. 2000, Retinette 1a, Agfa APX 100

Bill died in hospice care in July, 2009, at the age of 87. He was a beloved friend and mentor, and he called me "Number 3 Son" (he had two actual sons). I still own many of the cameras, lenses, books, and equipment that he gave me. While we lived in Ann Arbor, I always felt that the darkroom was my little sanctuary, just like it had been for Bill. Moving to NC meant that I would have to finally give it up, and hopefully build a new one here.  I think that is the only thing that I miss from our Ann Arbor house - the darkroom that Bill had built.  I still have yet to build mine, but the downstairs bathroom is where I develop my film so I can scan it. I have plans to convert a large closet next to the bathroom into a small darkroom, and after our kitchen renovations are done in the spring of 2021, I will start working on the darkroom.  

Another important date in my timeline is when I found out about the Film Photography Project. I think it was at Photostock in 2011 when I met a young Mat Marrash, who interviewed me. Within a few years I was a regular on the podcasts, and Michael Raso has become a great friend and collaborator. It’s allowed me to pass on my knowledge to hundreds of people via the podcasts, which I think Bill Brudon would have greatly enjoyed. 


Mike Raso and I at Benny's, Ann Arbor. 2016

So, anyway, back to scanning.  As I go through these binders, I am building up a library of images that I can use for other projects, future issues of Monochrome Mania, and to gather together material that will tell a story when I need it. I had a series of projects in mind when I lived in Michigan, and never felt that I had the quality of images to complete the projects. Going back through those files, with so much time removed from the time I shot them has given me a new viewpoint as to their value.  I sure as hell am glad that I shot on film, because it's really a lot easier to view a sheet of negatives than to scroll endlessly through computer files.  

Argus C-4, December 2000. Nikon FE, T-Max 400 in Microdol-X

This year has been a tough one in regards to the COVID pandemic, but it's also made me take time and go through work that I haven't looked at in a long while.  I do hope 2021 will be much improved, and I can go on some long-overdue road trips to make new images of things that interest me. Oh, and I expect that I'll be using at least one of the Nikons that Bill gave me.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

The 2021 Calendar is Available

Every year for the past 10 years, I have produced a calendar. For years, they were of the gardens and flowers, but the past few years I have had a different focus. Last year it was trees, and Water is this year’s theme for my annual calendar. Most of the images were shot on film, and all are in monochrome, my favorite medium.  The calendars are on heavy glossy card stock, and wire-bound, with enough room to write events on the pages.

 I can’t think of a sound more relaxing and calming as the one I hear from a babbling brook. A rushing stream with small cascades is a common feature of my new home. Moving from Michigan to the mountains of North Carolina has opened up a whole new world of easily accessed photo opportunities, and while there are many amazing waterfalls, the details in a small creek can be just as interesting. Half of the images in this calendar were shot within 30 minutes of my home in Weaverville, NC. The other half are from previous years and many different places. 

Photographing moving water can be challenging, and my aim has always been to stretch time, and let the water flow be represented as how I hear it. We don't hear waterfalls at 1/200 sec - we hear them as a continuous, varying sound, and that's how I approach my photography of them. In those long exposures, I see the variables, the different angles and arcs the water makes as it flows downstream. A small trickle has the same patterns as a much larger stream, and it's somewhat like a fractal. The effect is the same, and just as mesmerizing if you take the time to look. 

 Here's a list of the images, and you can purchase the calendar for $19, which includes US postage. Sorry, but I am not selling these outside the USA. The link to place an order is to the right, under LINKS! 

  • Cover – Rocky Fork State Park, TN. 
  • January – Great Falls, CT 
  • February – Foggy morning along the Huron River, Ann Arbor, MI 
  • March – Laughing Whitefish Falls, Alger Co., MI 
  • April – Ash Cave Falls, Hocking Hills, OH 
  • May – Beads of dew on webs, Mackinac Co., MI 
  • June – Creek in South Georgian Bay, Ontario 
  • July – Ivy Creek, Barnardsville, NC 
  • August – Bass Pond, Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC 
  • September – Rocky Fork State Park, TN 
  • October – Stormy afternoon, Blue Ridge Mountains, NC 
  • November – Rocky Fork State Park, TN 
  • December – French Broad River, Asheville, NC
The last date for orders is December 15th.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Magic and Allure of Toy Cameras

Just a few of the cameras in Monochrome Mania #3

If you have been following this blog for a while, you have probably seen a few recent posts about 620 and 120 low-fi cameras.  Whether you want to call them toy cameras, crappy cameras, low-fi cameras, or plastic fantastic wonders, is up to you. I’m sticking with toy cameras, because it’s a pretty simple term, but also a bit misleading.  To some, the "toy camera" conjures up a child’s toy that doesn’t really take photos, sort of like one of those Fisher-Price cameras with the rotating images.  That’s not what I am talking about here, or in my new issue of Monochrome Mania #3, "The Magic and Allure of Toy cameras." These are cameras that lack a lot of the controls that we typically use in our photography, or have at best, a reduced amount of functionality.  That puts box cameras, plastic brownies, Dianas, Holgas, faux-TLR Duaflexes, and a bunch of other simple cameras under that umbrella. That lack of precise control is what makes them alluring, and you can make magic with them. 

Some of the crowd that attended the 2007 Cheap Shots exhibit

The work for this latest zine actually started in 2007, when I typed up a partial manuscript for a book on toy cameras.  I had just hung my "Through A lens Softly" show at Pierpont Commons at the University of Michigan, and I was also in the planning stages of an exhibit by members of the Ann Arbor Crappy Camera Club, called "Cheap Shots." While I had been using a Holga since late 2001 and an original Diana a little after that, it wasn’t until the formation of the Ann Arbor Crappy Camera Club in 2006, that I really became encouraged by the use of these cheap cameras. Finding kindred souls just as the digital onslaught was underway was a propitious event that influenced my creativity and social circles.  While I am no longer living in Michigan, I still keep in touch with my Crappy Camera friends.

The many iterations of Kodak "Brownies" not all are 120/620.

The manuscript sat dormant until 2019. As COVID-19 eliminated many of the activities that I had planned, I knew that working on a toy camera issue for my new zine Monochrome Mania would occupy my time.  What I soon realized, was that if I was going to expand the selection of cameras, I needed to go on eBay and purchase camera models that I once owned so that I could photograph them as well as run film through them. At one time, I probably had well over 250 cameras in my house in Ann Arbor, and over the course of a decade, sold off a lot of the ones that I had lost interest in, were shelf queens, or were just unrelated to my photographic interests at the time. Luckily, the market for cheap Bakelite cameras is not an expensive one, and I was able to procure ones that I felt should be in the issue. I limited the scope to medium-format toy cameras for a reason -- 120 and 620 film cameras offer the largest negatives, and one gets all the benefits of cheap lenses. There are quite a few models to choose from, as well.  I left out 127 cameras even though there were hundreds of models made. The film just isn’t readily available, and that made little sense to include them. I do plan on doing a follow-up issue with 35mm toy cameras sometime in 2021.

I don’t know how many hours I spent on writing and rewriting the text for this issue, but the text went through several iterations, and several people received copies to read for any errors of fact and readability. My wife Adrienne is my copy editor and found places where I needed to be more clear.  I was also busy trying out cameras and re-spooling 120 onto 620 spools into October, before I felt that I had enough cameras to include in the issue. In searching for examples from the various models, I ended up going through all my filed negatives back to 2002. It turns out that I had scanned very few of those older negatives because I had made prints of some of them for shows, and the early work really pre-dated the explosion of social media. I found myself scanning in hundreds of negatives, and in doing so, found a good many excellent images that I had forgotten about. I realized that I had nearly 100 negative sheets from my Holgas alone. Another plus for film, as looking only for digital files would have been a real difficult task.

sample pages from MM #3

So, the issue "The Magic and Allure of Toy Cameras" is now available.  It contains reviews of over 20 cameras with historical information, tips on using them, how to modify them, and a multitude of images taken with these cameras.  Every camera reviewed is one that I have shot.  With over 100 figures, this zine is filled with photographs in its 36 pages.  I think it’s one of the best pieces of writing that I have done, and people that have already received a copy are really enthusiastic about it.   At $12 in the USA (which includes shipping) it’s one of the best bargains you’ll ever find.  

Erwin, TN, Spartus Full-Vue

You can order from my marketplace on Square -- links are to the right, and if you live outside of the USA, there are additional order options.  Like all of my issues of Monochrome Mania, this is a real, tangible, in-your-hands item. I do not offer digital versions. If you love film cameras, or know someone that does, this makes a great gift for yourself or others!

Imperial 620 camera

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Chinon CS SLR - Ordinary, But Good

If you have been reading my posts over the last 16 years, you’ll probably see a pattern of my fondness for M-42 (Praktica, Screw Mount, Pentax screw-mount, etc.) cameras.  A lot of them were manufactured by many companies in the 1960s and 70s, and they ultimately died out as the Pentax K-mount supplanted it. The biggest drawback against the M-42 mount was that it took time to attach a lens, and the mount did not lend itself to electronic contacts or more complex automation of the cameras. However, since so many M-42 camera bodies and lenses were produced, the prices tend to stay lower, compared to K-mount cameras as well as the offerings from Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and Minolta. While Pentax Spotmatics are what people usually associate with the M-42 mount, there are other cameras that used the mount, and many of them are quite good, if not especially innovative. Such is the case with the Chinon CS.

Chinon is a Japanese company that started in the city of Chino in 1948. Initially, the company produced only parts for lenses, but by 1956, it released a lens for 8mm movie cameras, followed by the world’s first 8mm zoom lens. Subsequently, they manufactured 8mm movie cameras, and the company at the time was known as Sanshin Optical Industrial Ltd.  The company started making 35mm cameras in 1971, and in 1973, changed its name to Chinon Industries. Chinon manufactured M-42 mount SLRs which were re-branded for other companies, such as Argus, GAF, Photo-Quelle, and Prinz. The Chinonflex TTL was introduced in 1966, followed by the Chinonflex in 1969. The Chinon CS appeared in 1978, and it features:

    • TTL match-needle metering - CdS cell, center-weighted, stop-down, center-needle indicator in viewfinder.

    • shutter speeds 1 sec - 1/1000 sec, + B.

    • Depth of Field Preview

    • Copal Square vertically-traveling metal shutter

    • X-sync hot shoe as well as PC sockets for external flash, x-sync at 1/125 sec

    • ISO range of 25-800

    • 15 sec. Self-timer

    • M-42 mount

    • power - PX625 1.3V Mercury cell

Pretty standard layout, easy to use!

Simplicity is a creative asset.

So, while there is nothing that really stands out in the camera, everything is there that you need to take photos with full control of the exposure.  The only wrinkle is that like almost every other camera manufactured at the time, it requires a PX625 mercury cell for the meter.  In other words it’s a fairly ordinary, but well-built 35mm M-42 mount SLR. It doesn’t have the name recognition of Pentax or Praktica, but it can hold its own with any M-42 camera body made by anyone else at the time. I can say that had I owned this camera in 1978, I would have been won over very easily to its attributes, seeing that I owned an Exa 2a at the time. 

I picked this particular Chinon CS body up on eBay for $30, and I already had a matching Chinon 55 mm f/1.7 lens waiting for it. I used a PX625A alkaline cell, and then realized that to get a meter reading correct, I needed to dial down the ISO to one stop. So, for example, I was using ISO 400 film, I set the ASA (ISO) dial to 200, thereby compensating for the over-voltage of the cell.

I loaded a roll of Holga 400 film (i.e., Foma 400), and took the Chinon CS out on some local trips to test it out.  The camera handles well; after all, it is "ordinary" and the stop-down metering button on the right side of the lens mount returns to its off position after the shutter is released.  The metering is center-weighted, and I had no issues with this 42 year-old SLR. The shutter has a satisfying "clunk" that is typical for the Copal Square shutters. 

I think that this camera encompasses the status quo in mid-1970s 35mm SLRs.  Nothing plastic, everything manual, and sturdily built. You can easily build your camera kit with cameras like this, as M-42 lenses are generally plentiful and relatively inexpensive, and mostly primes.  There are many other Chinon SLR models besides the CS, and a switchover to K-mount lenses occurred around 1981.  You can get an idea of the various models on the Camera-Wiki site. 

Some sample shots from the first roll:

Monday, November 16, 2020

Golden Oldies: Pre-Set Lenses and T-mounts

Over the many years that I have been dealing with camera equipment, it seems that the least desirable (from a selling point) have been pre-set lenses and lenses that have a T-mount.  First of all, let me tell you what I am talking about here.  

Two pre-set T-mount lenses, M42 mount

When you photograph, you set your aperture on the lens and/or adjust your shutter speed until you get the light meter indicator to where it suggests the correct exposure. That’s pretty much how it works with any camera, including digital, unless you have it in complete auto mode, and the camera makes those decisions for you. If you are using an SLR, everything looks the same to you through the viewfinder, unless you push a button or lever to observe the depth of field, which stops down the lens to the chosen aperture. We do it so automatically, that it’s easy to not think about what is actually happening inside the camera.  That’s called open-aperture metering, and even though the lens is wide-open the mechanical or electronic linkages relay all that information to the metering system. When the shutter is fired, the lens then stops down to the selected aperture (assuming that you are not shooting wide-open, of course). It’s been with us since 1963, and adopted by most camera manufacturers by 1971. While cameras have evolved to do just about anything via some electronic adjustment, the basic system of aperture/shutter control is really all you need to control the exposure of an image.

Aperture pin, (indicated by red circle) on a M42 lens

Before the days of open-aperture metering, we had stop-down metering, which means that you set your aperture and pushed a button or lever on the camera to actuate the diaphragm and the light meter.  The problem with that system is that the smaller the aperture, the dimmer the image, making focusing more difficult. If you have used a Pentax Spotmatic, Canon FT QL, Praktica, Zenit, Minolta SR, and any number of M-42 mount cameras, it’s likely that you have used stop-down metering. It’s why many lenses in the early days have an M and an A at the base of the lens. M=Manual, and the aperture is wherever you set it at all times, and the A = Automatic, meaning the aperture changes from wide open to the selected aperture when the shutter is released. Often such lenses have the word "Auto" on them, at least before it became standard on all cameras and lenses.

Three different lenses with A and M control

To actuate the diaphragm in the lens, there needs to be a small pin at the base that is pressed against by an arm or movable plate inside the camera at the moment the shutter button is pressed. Usually, that lever is in front of the mirror. It’s not needed for rangefinder cameras, or twin-lens reflex cameras, because you are not looking directly through the taking lens to focus and compose.  However, on an SLR, you want to have the view as bright as possible, so the lens only stops down when the shutter is released.  

Pre-set T-mount lens has no aperture pin

But wait, what if there is no aperture actuator in the camera or on the lens?  You could still do the manual route and suffer with the dimmer image at smaller apertures, or you could use a pre-set lens. Pre-set lenses have two rings for setting the aperture(usually towards the front of the lens, not at the base). The foremost ring sets your final aperture, and the following ring closes the aperture when you are ready to shoot.  You can view your subject at the full aperture of your lens, and since your shooting aperture is been pre-set, you just close the second ring to shoot. I’ll tell you more about this later on why this is a good thing today. 

Simplified system - shooting aperture at top and
C to close down, O to open up

Final aperture set at f/22, but open to view at f/2.8

Final aperture at f/22
135mm Spiratone lens

T-mount on lens, adapter at right

Now, obviously, the pre-set system is rarely used on modern lenses, but back in the 1950s and 60s, it was pretty common.  It was also used a lot on T-mount lenses, which are third-party lenses made by a variety of manufacturers into the 1970s. The T-mount is a 42mm thread which has a different pitch than the M-42 mount that it is sometimes confused with.  The usual T-mount is a screw mount using a male 42×0.75 (42 mm diameter, 0.75 mm thread pitch) metric thread on the lens with a flange focal distance of 55 mm and a mating female 42mm thread on a camera adapter or other optical component.  The T mount is a mechanical-only mount, meaning it does nothing beyond physically connect the lens to the camera. It does not transfer electrical signals, auto-focus information, or aperture settings. So, the beauty of the T-mount is that you can use one lens with different SLR camera mounts, so long as you have the right T-mount adapter.  The other part of this is that you don’t have to worry about the linkage to an aperture pin, because there isn’t any.  The image below shows a Spiratone 135mm f/3.5 T-mount lens that I have used on M-42, Pentax K, Nikon F, Konica, Leica R, and Minolta SR/MD mount cameras.  You may ask why I would bother.  The aperture in this lens is completely circular due to the many-bladed diaphragm, and it gives very pleasing image. I have used it on digital SLRs, as well.  Since it’s also a pre-set lens. I can easily focus and stop the lens down to any aperture, not pre-determined click stops. 

T-mount lens with a variety of adapters

So, here we are with some lenses from a time when NOTHING was automatic, yet they can still be used today, with the proper adapter, on your film SLR or your DSLR or mirrorless camera.  The beauty of the pre-set lens becomes more apparent when you see the image on your LCD, and adjust the aperture to get exactly what you want in the image.  Since there are no electronic connections, you may have to do all the exposures in Manual mode with some cameras, and Aperture-Priority in others.

I should add that not all T-mount lenses are vintage. Some T-mounts date from the 1980s, and are often seen on mirror telephoto lenses, oddball art lenses, slide copying units, and telescope and microscope adapters. You can also buy new 500mm telephoto lenses that use the T-mount, AND have pre-set apertures. So, the T-mount and pre-set lenses have never really gone away after all these years. The beauty is that you can usually pick up a used T-mount lens or a pre-set lens quite cheaply, and the only factor will be if you can find a T-mount adapter for your SLR. T-mount adapters are easily found for M-42 Pentax screw mount, Pentax K-mount, Nikon F-mount, Olympus OM, Minolta SR, and Canon FL. I think I have seen most pre-set lenses/T-mounts for M-42, as it was a very popular mount before the mid-1970s.