Coming Back To What You Know

Recently I’ve found myself coming back to some older things I’m familiar with.

Partly perhaps as a natural reaction to the endless stream of changes made necessary by 15 months and counting in some form of lockdown due to a global pandemic.

And perhaps partly just because I really enjoy these things I’ve returned to.

Here are three of them.

2008 Apple MacBook Pro

Whilst I’ve been mostly using a Chromebook for online reading and writing for the last eighteen months or so (my daughter’s, then my own), I hadn’t quite made the transition on the photography front.

That is to say, when I used any digital camera that wasn’t my phone, I plugged the SD card into the MacBook to download and backup the photos, not the Chromebook.

This was because I have a back up system that just works and didn’t need changing, plus the MacBook has a 250GB solid state drive which I store stuff on, vastly more than the Chromebook’s 32GB.

The Chromebooks are very much designed to be lightweight mobile internet devices, not heavyweight machines at all in terms of processing or storage, so it’s not a criticism or failing of the Chromebook.

Also, the screen on the MacBook remains absolutely lovely, despite being ancient in digital terms now, 13 years old.

Again, the Chromebook is a much simpler, cheaper device, and the screen is fine for general online stuff, but not if you want to enjoy your photographs in their fully glory.

Sometimes I hook the Chromebook up to my 27″ screen as I wrote about before, but this is in a different room, where my makeshift day job home office is, and not somewhere I generally want to spend my evenings too.

So in the main living room, either at the dining table or my lap on the sofa, the MacBook makes the far superior option for viewing and editing my photos.

Another factor is the aspect ratio of the screen. The MacBook is a 15″ 1440×900, a ratio of 1.6, which is very close to the 3:2 of 35mm film, and my DSLRs, and not far off the 4:3 of old school monitors and TVs I grew up with, not to mention nearly all digital compact cameras.

Put another way, viewing full screen, the images fill the vast majority of it.

The Chromebook is 1366×768 which is 1.77, and far more widescreen, the same as 16:9. Brilliant if you’re shooting in that ratio, but with the 3:2 and 4:3 images I shoot, you’re using far less of the available screen, compared with viewing on the MacBook.

So whilst on paper there is only one inch between the Chromebook’s 14″ and the MacBook’s 15″ screens, in reality with these aspect ratios you see the images significantly bigger on the MacBook. And in vastly superior definition.

The keyboard, trackpad, and just general quality of the MacBook is light years ahead of the Chromebook and just much more pleasant to use too.

Which is why I’m using it more than I’ve done in over a year.

Samsung GX-1S DSLR

I’ve picked the Samsung as it’s the one I’m using currently, but in fact any of my three old Pentax CCD DSLRs would fit equally here – the Samsung branded GX-1S, the Pentax K100D or Pentax K-m. They’re very similar in function and of course use the exact same lenses.

From around October last year, I’ve not used anything but my phone or the Lumix FZ38, so something like eight months with one camera plus phone.

It just felt time to get back to a CCD DSLR, for the greater control, lovely colours, and lens options, not least of all the range of M42 lenses I have gathered over the last nine years or so. More on those in a moment.

The Lumix is great, as are the handful of other digital compacts I have, but slowing down and coming back to a DSLR is both exciting and comforting.

Which is why these seem like the only cameras I want to use right now.

M42 lenses

As I just mentioned above, this is one of the major appeals of returning to using the DSLRs.

I’m very happy using a more modern AF lens like the fantastic little Pentax DA 35/2.4, or stepping back a little in time to the manual focus but auto aperture Pentax-A 50/1.7, which I greatly prefer over its DA 50/1.8 successor.

But the true gems – and the deepest connection to shooting film – come in the guise of M42 lenses like my Takumars, Helios 44 or more recent addition, the Petri CC Auto 55/1.8.

The slower, more manual method of using these lenses, their general feel and build quality, and feeling like you’ve given new life to lenses that have been making photographs for longer than you’ve been alive in many cases, makes shooting M42 a special experience, and one I’m always happy to return to.

How about you? What have you returned to in recent months, and why?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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4 thoughts on “Coming Back To What You Know”

  1. Whenever I get back to my Rikenon P 50 1.4 lens, I ask myself, why don’t I use this more?
    I recently shot some vases of flowers with my 50s to see if my newly acquired DA 50 1.8 is worth keeping (yup, I like it better than I thought I would) – and the Rikenon was the one I liked the most, I liked it even better than the mighty SMC “K” 50 1.2.

    1. I ask that question about half a dozen lenses, ha ha!

      I need to do one of those kind of static object tests again I think. I did a couple in the past, one of M42 lenses which included a fungus ridden Tessar, which had it’s own charm and appeal –

      The other was with five PK lenses –

      As you can see, I preferred the humble Ricoh 50/2 in many ways to the Pentax-M, -A and Auto Chinon 50/1.7s.

      These kind of experiments often given unexpected results and a direct unequivocal comparison, without unreliable memories of how good you think a lens is or isn’t getting in the way! It would be good to try it now with a CCD Pentax.

      I bought the DA 50/1.8 after being so impressed with the DA 35/2.4. I’ve never warmed to it (it’s in my box of stuff to sell) and would rather take an M or A 50/1.7 or a Tak 55/1.8 any day, or indeed an Auto Chinon 50/1.7. Just doesn’t seem to have any kind of magic or sparkle in the final image, and it’s very bland and plasticky to use, something I forgive the DA 35/2.4 as it gives such stunning results.

      1. Aha, yes, I loved the images from the Rikenon 50 f2 (mine was branded Auto Sears, but it’s the same thing). The only reason I sold it was because the focus movement was so narrow, so it was really hard to nail focus with it.
        With the DA 50 1.8, I’m liking it better than I expected. For the same reason I think the DA 35 2.4 might be a better fit for me overall than the DA 35 Limited; better skin tones and hair rendering. Since the most important thing for me is family pictures, those things (people rendering and fast AF) get an advantage over the more expensive options. Though I have to say the best results I ever had from the DA 35 2.4 were when I was manually focusing, and I think the same will happen with the 50 1.8. These cheaper lenses are said to have coarser “stops” in their AF system, so they will not be in perfect focus even if it seems like they are, the focusing is not “fine” enough. That’s what I was told… and I believe it from my own results.
        My SMC (K) 55 f2 might actually have been the best “fifty-ish” for family pictures, but it has balsam separation now that looks like it covers it with tiny bubbles inside. And I’m told that’s common with this lens and those that don’t have this issue, will develop it soon. Otherwise I’d buy another one…

      2. Yes I remember that about the focus now – it only went down to 0.6m, and was a bit short in the throw. If I didn’t do quite so much close up work (mostly closer than 0.6m) I would have kept a Ricoh 50/2 or two.

        I probably need to give the 50/1.8 DA another run. Just seems to fall between two stools for me. Not as sharp or as useful as the DA 35/2.4, and not as enjoyable to use (or again as good in the final image) as its older predecessors like the A 50/1.7 which, like its M predecessor, is an absolute gem. Maybe I’ll try manual focus like you suggest. With most lenses, even AF lenses, I tend to get the focus as close as I can using the lens barrel (or AF), then make that final micro adjustment by rocking by body physically forward or back. So the “coarser focus stops” you talk about wouldn’t really be an issue for me.

        You know the K 55/2 is just the Takumar 55/2 in K mount, and THAT was the 55/1.8 with the max aperture ever so slightly limited, rather than a different lens? And the Tak (or K) 55/1.8 is rightly regarded as one of the loveliest 50/55mm lenses ever made. So I understand why you like the K 55/2.

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