Minolta XD-11

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 15, 2009 by thtroyer

(So I’m finally getting around to publishing this thing…)

This was my first “real” camera that I got a little over a year ago. I’ve acquired a few since then, but this one is still my favorite. :)

The XD-11 (also known as the XD-7 in some regions) was made from the late seventies through early eighties and is arguably one of Minolta’s best manual film SLRs of all time. It was the last full-metal body SLR (followed by the semi-plastic X-700) and was the first mass-market camera to include multiple exposure modes (aperture priority, shutter priority).  This made for an incredibly durable and advanced camera.

This camera is built and the controlled the same as a fully manual SLR — shutter speed selectable on a dial around the shutter button, aperture selectable on a ring on the lens. The metering isn’t as intuitive as some cameras. I’d suspect that the older match-needle system would be quicker.

The XD-11 uses a center-weighted meter. By half-pressing the shutter release, it gives a recommended shutter speed for the given light, ISO, and aperture setting by lighting up small LEDs in the viewfinder next to selectable shutter speeds.

The selected aperture and shutter speed is also visible in the viewfinder — basically everything you need to know. This lets you make adjustments without having to lower the camera and examine/move dials. The XD-11 is one of the few Minolta cameras from the era with all this information in the viewfinder. For example, there was a simplified XD-11 produced as the XD-5, where this information was removed from the viewfinder. Also, the XD’s predecessor, the X-700 kept the aperture readout, but removed the shutter speed. The display of set shutter speed is incredibly convenient for shooting in full-manual.

This camera offered two automatic modes. Up to this point, cameras — if they had an automatic mode — was either aperture priority or shutter priority, which may or may not be coupled with an optional manual mode. This camera was the first consumer camera to offer all three in one package — manual, aperture priority, and shutter priority.

If I use an automatic mode, I tend to use aperture priority first. It makes more sense to me, probably because it seems to follow my regular method of shooting. In this mode, you set the aperture and the shutter speed is automatically controlled. You still have to pay attention to the meter, as there are two pitfalls. The shutter maxes out at 1/1000, so you can overexpose an image if you don’t close the aperture far enough. Secondly, if there’s not enough light or the aperture is too far closed, the meter will request too long of a shutter speed, resulting in blur. Certainly, though, this allows for faster shooting when the lighting is consistent and you don’t have the time to dial in the shutter speed when the lighting varies marginally.

The XD-11’s shutter priority is much more of an ‘automatic’ mode. In this mode, the camera will control both the aperture first, and shutter speed if necessary. The viewfinder readout changes, showing and lighting up aperture values instead of shutter speeds. For this mode, the MD lenses are recommended. The lens’ aperture needs to be stopped down to maximum and a reasonable shutter speed selected.

The ISO ranges from 25-3200. There is an over-under exposure control (+/- 1 or 2 stops) which is a little clumsy to use quickly, but works fine if you have a moment to set it. Selectable shutter speeds vary from 1 sec to 1/1000. Flash sync is at 1/100 of a sec (the red ‘X’). The camera has two mechanical methods of firing (even with no battery), ‘O’ fires at 1/100 and ‘B’ is bulb.

The viewfinder is bright and large. In the center of the viewfinder, there are two focusing prisms.  In the middle is horizontal split image.  Incredibly useful for quick and accurate focusing when dealing with lines perpendicular to it.  Surrounding that is a microprism ring.  When an area is in focus, it looks normal.  When out of focus, the image is scattered and has a glistening effect — definitely useful when you’re not dealing with straight lines that cater well to the split-image.

My only complaint about the viewfinder is that in low-light, it becomes difficult to understand the meter. The lights are bright enough, but it can become difficult to read the number next to it, since they are lit from light coming in the lens.

All around, I think XD-11 a wonderful, easy to use camera with plenty of excellent glass to pick from. I particularly love the MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.4. It’s definitely my most used lens. Sharp, fast, and has really pretty bokeh (IMO). The MC Rokkor-X 28mm f2.5 is next. Wide angle is fun.

For samples images, the majority of all of my film set on flickr is from the XD-11 (and scanned with the Epson V500). I try to label everything in the description with camera, lens, film, and anything else relevant.

As a side note, I just ordered my first digital SLR, the Nikon D200. I’m not abandoning film, but I wanted a little more modern medium that would enable me to shoot and process images with more speed and flexibility. Film has, without a doubt, taught me many things about photography. It changed the way I think about, approach, and even take photos. While not an end-all solution, film is an excellent medium for learning and producing high-quality images.


Yeah… I’m slow.

Posted in Uncategorized on December 19, 2008 by thtroyer

I didn’t intend on leaving this blog sit for so long. I’ve been unexpectedly busy and generally burnt-out, leaving me with little time for photography… and the time I have spent with it has not been very fulfilling. Oh well…

In any case, I figured an update was due. No, I haven’t forgotten about this blog, and I haven’t ditched it. It’s just been on the back burner. There are several unfinished articles coming up, including a full XD-11 review.

So, on a more positive note, I finally got my last roll of Velvia 50 back, which I shot over the latter part of autumn. Lots of cool stuff, though, I haven’t had a chance to look anything over with a loupe yet. Those will be showing up on my flickr as I get them scanned and processed.

Slide film is a beauty to behold… but the scans are not. So, it’s a real challenge to get the scans to come anywhere close to the originals. I see low-contrast and low-saturation slide shots on flickr all the time from bad scanning/processing (most slide film in inherently med/high in both contrast and saturation). This makes me sad. A bit of work and know-how can really bring to life the dead looking digital version. I’ll eventually get around to documenting the process as I get better at it. In the meantime, expect a more general tutorial on using the curves tool found in almost any serious image editor — seriously the best digital post-processing tool you can have (beyond crop/rotate, of course).

Lastly, here’s a semi-recent shot.

Lost.  again.
Lost. again.
Minolta XD-11, 28mm MC Rokkor-X f2.5.
Ilford HP5+ @ 3200 in Rodinal 1+100, 2 hours, stand.

While I got decent scans, the negatives were still rather thin looking. Really grainy, as I expected… but contrast in the scans look good. If I try pushed HP5 with Rodinal again, I’ll either go for a more traditional development process or a stand development with a higher concentration (maybe 1:50). I’ve got 1 more roll of HP5+… but I may go back to Tri-X for a while. Still have a bunch of Tmax 100 and 400 too, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan. I’ve got a roll of Tmax 100 I’m going to try in Rodinal when I finish it. That should be interesting.


Posted in Random with tags , , , on October 4, 2008 by thtroyer

Minolta XD-11, 50mm MD Rokkor-X f1.4.
Kodak Tri-X pushed to 3200 in Rodinal (2 hour)

There are some days that the essence of this photo is exactly what I feel like. It’s cluttered, unbalanced, busy, dark, negative.

So, I’ve noticed that sometimes in life, doing everything ‘right’ is the wrong thing to do. Not in the moral sense — more basic than that; that doing everything by-the-book, perhaps even without mistake, doesn’t always work. There are times you’ve got to break the rules, the established norms, be unique.

And I think that’s why I like this photo. The rule of thirds sort-of applies, but the stem is awkwardly through the center. The background is nicely blurred, yet still busy and distracting. The contrast/tone is lo-fi and grainy. There’s plenty ‘wrong’ with this photo, but that’s OK. It wouldn’t be the same otherwise, nor would it be able to communicate the same emotion. :)


Posted in Tutorials with tags , , , , on October 1, 2008 by thtroyer

It’s time to start tackling exposure, and you’ll need to understand what a stop is.

A stop is a dimensionless measurement of light — it needs a reference to be quantified. Stops are most often used to measure relative brightness (“this is 2 stops brighter than that”) and to describe exposures of photos (“that photo was underexposed 1 stop”). The easiest way to see it work is in examples.

So, lets say I have a candle in a dark room. If I add another candle, I would double the light in the room. Doubling or halving the light creates a 1 stop difference.

1 – 2 – 4 – 8 – 16 – 32 – 64 – 128 – 256 – 512 – 1024

If those numbers represented candles in a room, the difference between each number is 1 stop, regardless of where we started and which direction we went.

One stop brighter = light doubled.
One stop darker = light halved.

The shutter is used to allow light through at a certain interval.  On manual cameras, it is often between 1 second to 1/1000th second, and is laid out something like this:

1 – 2 – 4 – 8 – 15 – 30 – 60 – 125 – 250 – 500 – 1000

There is approximately one stop between each number.

Now, you have more control over exposure than just the shutter.  This is where the aperture comes in. I mentioned it in the Depth of Field article. It’s primary purpose is to block light to help one get a correct exposure. The effect on DoF is secondary.

In any case, the aperture value is a ratio of focal length over aperture diameter and represented as f-numbers. The actual size of the aperture isn’t important, but the ratio is — that’s what the f-number is. Important to note: the f-number is a fraction, the smaller the bottom number, the larger the aperture and the more light that is let in. So, f/1.4 is brighter than f/2.8.

The f-numbers on lenses are often arranged in a stop pattern to make them easy to use and understand:
1.4 – 2 – 2.8 – 4 – 5.6 – 8 – 11 – 16

The numbers seem arbitrary — don’t worry about them right now. More importantly is the concept of an f-stop, in that between each of the above numbers is a difference of one stop of light. When dealing with the aperture altering the light one stop, it is called an f-stop. So, the difference between f/4 and f/5.6 is one f-stop.

Finally, there’s one last common variable beyond shutter speed and aperture.  That’s the ISO, or sensitivity of the medium you’re using.  A digital camera can change ISO on the fly, making its sensor more or less sensitive as appropriate.  On a film camera, the film type dictates speed.  Common modern film speeds vary from 50 to 3200 (consumer film is usually between 100 and 400).  The scale looks like this:

50 – 100 – 200 – 400 – 800 – 1600 – 3200

Again, there is one stop difference between them all, meaning that 200 is twice as sensitive to light than 100 (one stop).  1600 is 16 times as sensitive as 100 (4 stops).

There are definite advantages in picking different film speeds.  With faster speed often comes greater grain (noise on digital) and slower speeds capable of higher resolution.  Faster speeds have obvious advantages in low-light, but slow speeds have advantages when wanting a limited depth of field.  There is no obvious hands-down winner because they are all useful for different applications.

Just this morning I just unloaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X I pushed to 3200 to shoot freehand at a night festival and loaded Fuji Velvia 50 that can require a tripod in daylight!

All sorts of combinations can be used to get a proper exposure:
– f/1.4, 1/1000 sec, ISO 400
– f/2, 1/500, ISO 400
– f/2, 1/250, ISO 200
– f/8, 1/60, ISO 800

These would all provide the same exposure given the same scene.  They would not all look the same, given that there are consequences of changing these variables, but the point is, if one was exposed properly, they would all be exposed properly.

Faster (larger) apertures = less depth of field
Slower (smaller) apertures = more depth of field

Faster shutter speeds = more motion stopped
Slower shutter speeds = potential blur from subject/background movement, handshake, camera vibrations

Fast ISO = more grain
Slow ISO = less grain

All of these things can be used creatively — depth of field, grain, blur. However, understanding stops is fundamental to predicting and being able to consistently get the shots you want.

“I like your camera!”

Posted in Random with tags , on September 22, 2008 by thtroyer

That’s what a girl told me yesterday!

Well, Ok.  She was… maybe 12? 

I had just gotten off my bike at a local park, pulled my silver Minolta XD-11 from my book bag, and was headed towards the trails.  One of the adults near her glanced my way, said “She wants to become a photographer”.  I smiled, nodded, and went on my way, having other things on my mind.

I reflected back on the experience later. Would she really end up in photography, or is this just a juvenile fantasy? *shrug* But it got me thinking about dreams and hopes — what I hoped for as a child, a teenager, and now as a young adult. Some of these things have remained the same, but most haven’t. I guess it’s to be expected, really, that events and experiences fundamentally change us as time goes on. Hopes and dreams of the past fade as we grow and new interests arise. I would expect life would get rather dull if this cycle didn’t happen.

In any case, I just found it interesting to see a kid interested in photography. As I recall, I was curious about photography when I was little. When my family got our first digital camera, I was a teenager and enjoyed experimenting with it, but didn’t have the maturity to thrive. It wasn’t until recently that I was even able to love photography. I’m often technical-minded, so I enjoyed using the concepts I researched to understand. I’m now more patient than ever and I’ll often wander aimlessly carrying a camera; it’s relaxing, whether I’m actively shooting photos or not. Lastly, photography gives me a creative outlet for emotion — whether in a good or bad mood, it enables me to vent or share in a unique way. To me, there’s much more than one facet of this art and to be able to approach something in multiple ways like this gets me much more involved and keeps my interest, without the likeliness of burning out quite so fast… and it wasn’t until my personality changed and matured that I was able to get to this point.

Anyway, sometimes it’s hard to tell where a train of thought will go. Even writing this down is a sort of exploratory process for me, as some things seem almost epiphanic… kinda strange… but perhaps it’s because I’m low on sleep. :)

Intro to Depth of Field

Posted in Tutorials with tags , , on September 18, 2008 by thtroyer

Minolta XD-11, MD Rokkor-X 50mm 1.4, Vivitar MC 2x teleconverter
Kodak BW400CN

Simply, depth of field (DoF) defines how much of the scene is in focus — both in front of and behind the focus distance. It’s another composition tool available to photographers, but it isn’t incredibly intuitive to pick up, so I’ll touch on the largest determining factors.

The aperture consists of multiple blades which can be closed down to limit the amount of light into the camera (like an eye’s iris). The aperture is the easiest control of depth of field, and the aperture is rated by f-numbers (which is a ratio of the focal length over the aperture diameter). So, the smaller the the f-number, the larger the aperture. For example, a f/2 is larger than a f/4.

The effect of opening or closing the aperture has two side-effects. The most obvious is the amount of light that reaches the film/sensor. For example, one of my lenses can close down 7 stops: f/1.4 is ~128 times brighter than f/16.

Secondly, depth of field is directly affected by the aperture such that a higher f-number results in a larger DoF. Effectively, the smaller the aperture is set, the more that will be in focus. The converse is thus true that a shallow DoF is the result of a larger aperture (lower f-number).

DoF is affected by various other factors that I’ll merely mention. For instance, wide angle lenses typically have greater DoF than standard. Also, the closer you’re focused towards infinity, the larger the DoF. I’ll revisit these ideas again later in an article about understanding and using hyperfocal distance.

Anyway, time for examples:
Ooh... Pretty.
Minolta XD-11, 50mm MD Rokkor-X f1.4, on Fuji Superia 400.

A shallow DoF can be used to isolate the subject from the background for whatever reason — distracting, ugly, etc. In this case, with a large aperture and close focal distance, the trees/yard/road are blurred into oblivion to create a dream-like state.

Yashica Electro 35 GSN, Fuji Superia 200

Controlling DoF can be incredibly useful in portraiture. Here, background blur is present, but not overwhelming. Had the background been sharper, it could become distracting; more blurry, then less interesting.

Minolta XD-11, 28mm MC W.Rokkor-X f2.5, on Kodak Tmax 100.

This is one of my favorites, and it’s a good demonstration that background blur (shallow DoF) is absolutely not necessary for a great photo. There is no “right way” to use DoF — it, like everything else in photography, is merely a tool. No more, no less.

(Not all cameras have access to aperture controls. Some point and shoot digital cameras allow it, but camera/lens design often limits the flexibility of such cameras. Consult camera documentation to see about access to either a manual or aperture priority mode).

Rule of Thirds

Posted in Tutorials with tags , , on September 11, 2008 by thtroyer

Alright.  I figured I’d start out simple.  The “Rule of Thirds” is a universally known rule throughout photography and other visual arts.  It is one of the most basic methods available to compose a shot, and it’s simplicity and effectiveness make it is an excellent place to start.

One of the common pitfalls I see among new photographer (and I was no exception) is a centered subject.  This is one of the few things you want to avoid.  It’s not that all photos with centered subjects are bad, but usually, they could be better.  Centered subjects usually create an awkward or unbalanced feel.  This is where the rule of thirds comes into play.

The concept is that there are stronger places to put the subject (or subjects) than in the middle.  In this case, 4 lines, and specifically, 4 intersections.  It gives you a way to break down the composition and place defining items at these stronger points.  These lines are at 1/3 intervals into the photos, as such.

The lines are common points to place things such as the horizon, buildings, or any other definitive horizontal/vertical lines.  The intersections are excellent places to put the subject, parts of the subject, or otherwise interesting things.  Using this method, it’s perfectly fine to not use all lines/intersections.

Taken with Kodak disposable

Finally, like any rule, this one is meant to be broken — it certainly isn’t the only way to compose a photo, but it’s good to understand what is aesthetically pleasing and why, and the rule of thirds is a great introduction into composition and a guideline that you’ll use for a long time.