Ted Felix: Photography Technique


My main camera is a Canon Powershot G1 (3.3MP digicam). The resolution is high enough to make great 8x10s (@ 195dpi) and the zoom goes out to 102mm (35mm equiv) which is better than the 85mm zoom that I had for my film cameras. I leave the film cameras at home now. (2/2/2001)

My other digicam is a Fuji FinePix 1300 (1.3MP). This was my introduction to a real digital camera. I had such a great time with it, shooting 4000 images in two months, that I decided I had to have the Canon G1 so I would never again have to use film. Well, ok, film is good for some things, but I still don't like it. (12/1/2000)

My main film camera is the girlfriend's Canon AE-1 (35mm SLR) with 50mm f/1.8 lens, 24mm lens, and Quantaray 28-85mm f/3.4 zoom.

I acquired a Canon AT-1 with 50mm f/1.8 lens on eBay for $96. After running a test roll through, I discovered that the camera had a light leak. Fortunately the seller was nice enough to send me some light baffle material for free. I installed it, and the camera works perfectly now. Soon after, though, the shutter failed to cock. I sent it to Karl Aimo, and he repaired it for a reasonable cost, and it works perfectly now.

I also "borrowed" a second Canon AE-1 from the girlfriend's father. It served me for a while, then the shutter got stuck open. Karl Aimo tore it apart and found adhesive from the mirror shock pad in the shutter. I'll have to test it and see if it is ok now.

I sometimes borrow my brother's Olympus OM-PC which has a cool 200mm zoom lens on it. It rocks.

I bought the JamCam 2.0 for the kids to play with. They love it. For a while, Stacy was enjoying the Polaroid i-Zone Sticker Film camera, but now I make the kids use the Fuji FinePix 1300 because I hate dealing with the JamCam TWAIN driver. Occassionally, Stacy will shoot a disposable 35mm camera or two backstage at her ballet performances. I can't wait until I can give her a better camera for that.

I really wanted to get a Canon EOS-3 to shoot action like ballet and soccer. I was hoping the EOS-3's auto-focus, and fast film loading/advancing would be very helpful. However, since my discovery of the digital camera, I have a really hard time justifying any further investment in film photography.

So now my sights are set on a Canon EOS-1D Mark II. It's 8fps shooting rate should let me get some decent shots of the kids riding horses and doing jumps. And maybe, just maybe, I might try shooting ballet again. Not sure I'm ready to drop the $5000 though.

Digital Darkroom

I've gone through a number of approaches to convert film to bits. At first, I scanned with a sheet-fed reflection scanner. Very annoying. Then I got a flatbed. I scanned many images, but felt I could do better. I then checked out Kodak Photo CD, and was blown away. After discovering the "Lost Highlights" problem with Kodak Photo CD, I started looking around for another solution. I tried various Photo CD-specific software, a different lab and a film scanner. In the end, I hacked Kodak's PhotoCD library to get significantly improved results from Photo CD.

Then I discovered the digital camera, and my life has changed. No money spent on film and processing (except maybe prints when needed). No spotting dirty scans. No film that has been dragged on the floor by the Kodak lab. Freedom to shoot with wild abandon. Instant feedback. Digital Cameras can't be beat. It's unfortunate that they still aren't quite up to the task of action photography. My experience shooting ballet was a lot of fun, and I wish I could do it with a digicam. I'm hoping future digital cameras will fare better at action.

I pull the images into Photoshop 7.0 for retouching. I then print the results to my HP DeskJet 722c printer on Ilford Inkjet Photo Paper. I've also had good results with digital prints from places like PhotoAccess.com (and a lot less waiting and cutting).


For lighting I try to stick with natural light. Cloudy days and big windows are my favorite combination. At some point I might invest in a studio light setup, but for now, the sun will do just fine.

I discovered that my hand is 1.5 stops brighter than middle gray. Very "handy" for incident metering (and very white too).

My main flash unit is a Sunpak 383s. This flash can tilt and swivel in all directions which allows me to bounce the flash in many different ways. The results are usually spectacular especially when compared to direct flash. Bounce flash with a digital camera is a lot of fun since you can quickly see the results and adjust the flash angle and exposure to taste. The color I get from this flash is spot-on perfect. It was well worth the $70.

I also have a Vivitar 550FD flash with a Lumiquest Pocket Bounce to soften the light. Unfortunately, I've discovered that the 550FD's color balance is pretty poor when compared to the 383s, so I don't use it any more.

Diffusers are great. I use the Lumiquest Pocket Bounce on the 550FD and the Lumiquest Soft Box on the Vivitar 2600. Still, bouncing off a nice white wall (or poster board) is even better.

Flash and Film

To deal with automatic flash units and film, I created a handy exposure table in an Excel spreadsheet. Using this table, I can run the flash in manual mode and get consistent results. I had to experiment with a roll of Ektachrome to discover that the real Guide Number for the Vivitar 550FD with a Lumiquest Pocket Bounce is 17.8 (feet @ 100 ASA). I had been using 50(?!), which gave me way too little light. Needless to say, all is working much better now.

I used to use the Vivitar 550FD flash in automatic mode with film. It seemed to work OK for portraits, but was extremely unpredictable most of the time. The newly discovered guide number of 17.8 explains the extremely dark photos of subjects at a great distance from the camera. That severely limited my range in the "blue" automatic mode at ASA 100.

After experimenting with my Vivitar 2600 flash, I discovered that manufacturer's guide numbers are not to be trusted even though they are printed on the flash. The quoted guide numbers are usually almost double (!!) the real guide number of the flash. I can't believe this is light loss due to my lenses. It's way too much. It really pays to shoot a roll of transparency and bracket it to death to find out the real guide number of your flash. A flash meter would save film.

I really wish some camera manufacturer would make a feature that links the focus distance to the aperture based on the flash guide number. That would save me a ton of time when shooting. Doesn't it seem like an incredibly logical idea? (Apparently to Minolta it does. 5/23/2001, I'm reading a review of Minolta's new DiMAGE 7 digicam and it mentions "ADI (Advanced Distance Integration) flash metering".) (Canon has followed suit. With the release of the EOS-1D Mark II in 2004, Canon has introduced E-TTL II which factors in focus distance when calculating flash power)


First, let me just say, "I hate film." After working with a digital camera I refuse to go back to film if there is any way at all that I can avoid it. (I feel better now.)

Color negative film is the easiest to work with. It gives a nice margin for exposure error, but is a bit tricky to color correct after scanning. The more I play with it, though, the better I get (automatic color correction tools tend to help a lot). I've found that almost any brand/type of color negative film will work fine if you are good at color correcting. 800 speed color negative films are great for available light work, and I've been successful at printing 8x10s from Photo CD scans of 800 speed negs (grain isn't as big an issue as I was led to believe).

Transparency Film is a very useful tool. It has helped me learn to get my exposure right, and it gives me wonderfully consistent color when scanned. The dynamic range is rather tight, but it's serviceable.

Unfortunately, Kodak Photo CD has a lot of trouble with Black and White film, so I've had to abandon it, although I really like it. Maybe when I get another film scanner, I'll go back to trying Black and White again.

2004 Dream Camera

My current dream camera (7/2004) is the Canon EOS-1D Mark II. It has a focal length multiplier of only 1.3x, so the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens would give me a range of 36.4-175.5mm which covers what I was used to with the G1 (34-102mm) plus some added reach. However, it looks like this is a rather soft lens, and the 28-105 would be a better choice. Or perhaps the Tokina 28-80. Or finally, the Canon EF 24-70 f2.8 L at a significantly higher price. 8 frames per second and a real viewfinder should help with action shots, although I have finally figured out how to shoot action with good consistency on the G1. Total cost: $5000. Looks like my dreams are getting more expensive.

2002 Dream Camera

As of 2002, my dream camera is probably the Canon EOS-D60. I figure a Canon EF 28-70 USM 2.8L would go perfectly with it. Given a focal length multiplier of 1.6, that makes a 44.8-112 zoom. Unfortunately the total cost would come in at over $3000. These digital SLRs have the unfortunate limitation that you must buy a really wide angle lens to begin to get wide angle results. This is due to the small CCD size when compared to film. Maybe the next generation of digital SLRs will have a larger CCD. For the D60 the ultra cheap Canon EF 22-55 4/5.6 gives a range from 35-88 but lousy light sensitivity. The wide angle Canon EF 28 1.8 USM would probably be a great general shooting lens at 44mm with great light sensitivity. Sigma also makes EF compatible lenses at a substantial savings. Knowing Canon's practice of overpricing, the Sigma lenses are probably well worth a look.

Annoying Hobby

After acquiring my first digital cameras, I realized that I was shooting at an alarming rate. There was no way I could select and process the thousands of photographs I had taken. As a result I decided in the middle of 2001 to reduce Photography from "obsession" status to "annoying hobby" until the backlog of 6,000 photographs can be moved through the selection and retouching process. As of May 2002, I've chipped the backlog back to 3,000 photographs.

As of 6/30/2002, I've finished off the backlog. Now it's time to get back to photography (after a break).

7/10/2002 - I just upgraded to Photoshop 7.0, got a big black backdrop for my birthday and I have some more advanced lighting on order. Stay tuned, this could get interesting....

7/28/2004 - Nah, it didn't. Instead Photography continues to be an annoying hobby that I avoid at all costs. The backlog of photos is piling up, and my will to shoot has pretty much gone. I got to a point where I realized that I needed to become even better than I was. Then frustration set in because I couldn't shoot anything. Nothing was good enough. Then I gave up.

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Copyright ©1999, Ted Felix