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Page 2 : Digitising Film Images

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Cameras and Accessories
(revised July 2016)


My first camera was a Zeiss Werra 1. It scored well with a teenager for its Zeiss name, 1/750 sec. top speed, and a Zeiss Tessar lens. Unfortunately, it proved rather limited and unreliable. So, once I could afford one, I bought a Pentax Spotmatic SP1000, which seemed remarkably inexpensive for such a high quality camera. It was this camera that opened my eyes to the possibilities of natural history photography, and I soon acquired a Tamron 90mm Macro lens to extend this capability. Later, when the limitations of stop-down metering and the slow screw-mount became too apparent, I found my ideal solution in the Pentax K1000, which served reliably for many years. Eventually, the shutter and wind-on became erratic and, with digital looming on the horizon, I bought a Pentax MZ5n as a 'stop gap'. A Nikon D70 then took me into the digital age, with the benefit of a similar control layout to the MZ5n, and this camera served me very well for five years.

On the Beach - 1965
(Zeiss Werra 1 - copied from a transparency)

Current Set-up

Before deciding to use the Olympus OM-D system (see below), my main camera, for several years, was a Nikon D300s and. I also updated my Tamron macro lens to the 'Di' version. I subsequently added the excellent Nikon 70 - 300 VR lens, which has proved very useful for small, nervous subjects, since it focuses reasonably closely and the vibration reduction (VR) ensures shake-free images, even when stopped down to achieve a useful depth of field. When I started to try photographing birds in flight, I found that a faster lens was needed, so I bought a Nikon 300mm f/4 lens, which also works well when combined with a 1.4X teleconverter, to give a '35mm equivalent' focal length of 630mm @ f/5.6. Important advantages of this lens are the almost instant auto-focus and the wide manual focus ring, which can be used at any time to over-ride the automatic setting.

I keep a monopod attached to my camera most of the time, since it adds stability, while still allowing freedom of movement, unlike the more restrictive tripod. I generally use a sensitivity of 400 ISO, which allows sufficiently small apertures for close-up work in reasonable light, without having to use slow shutter speeds that cause camera-shake. For low-level work, such as flower photography, I find that a Seagull right-angle finder is an inexpensive and very useful accessory.

Photographing a Monkey Orchid in the Field
using a right-angle finder

For many years, I avoided the use of flash, as the results always appeared un-natural. Now, however, I have found that a 'dedicated' flash (linked to the camera's own exposure system) can give excellent results, especially when used 'off camera' with a diffuser. I frequently use a Nikon SB-600 flashgun with a Sto-Fen diffuser, which connects wirelessly to my D300s. The flashgun is useful not only in low light but to remove excessive contrast, when taking photos in bright sunlight. Follow this link for more information on how I use flash.

Lightweight Travel Kit

Since I've been finding that the weight of my Nikon camera gear seems to increase with my age, I decided to try an Olympus OM-D E-M5 kit, which is ruggedised and weather-sealed, as a lightweight alternative to my Nikon system.  This camera uses a 'micro4/3' sensor, in a mirror-less body that brings substantial savings in both size and weight.  Overall weight of my Olympus system (comprising the camera body plus 12-50mm, 40-150mm, and 45mm f/1.8 lenses) is less than 1kg, compared with 7.1kg for my complete Nikon kit. 

Electronic viewfinder technology has advanced to the point where this type can challenge the optical finder of a DSLR.  In fact, there are some advantages.  The Olympus finder can be set to indicate areas that will be over- or under- exposed, with the current settings, and so provides a direct indication of when exposure compensation is required.  The finder can also provide a magnified image, when using manual focus.  The '4/3' sensor has also advanced, so that it competes with APS-size sensors, in terms of overall image quality.

Following my trial of the E-M5 during a visit to Sabah in 2015, I liked it so much that I've 'up-graded' to the Olympus OM-D E-M1, which is even nicer!  It looks as though my Nikon days are numbered.  The size difference is best illustrated by a photo of my two cameras side-by-side:

camera comparison
Olympus / Nikon size comparison

My latest acquisition (2016) is the Leica DG 100-400mm lens, in micro-4/3 mount, for use with my Olympus cameras.  I bought this lens to replace the capability previously provided by my Nikon 300mm lens but it is proving much more versatile than expected.  The zoom range is very useful and makes it much easier to 'pick up' subjects, such as birds in flight, before zooming in for a closer image.  Additionally, this lens has exceptional close-focus capability, which makes it extremely useful for small, nervous subjects, such as dragonflies.

Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly 
Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonfly
photographed using Olympus E-M1 with Leica 100-400mm lens

Compact Cameras

The days of the 'compact camera' are, perhaps, numbered now that mobile phones are able to capture good quality images.  There are still some areas where the compact camera provides a valuable extension of capability - especially in the case of models with a wide zoom range.

When travelling light, I find that a digital compact can be amazingly versatile and capable of good close-up work. I find that the Panasonic Lumix TZ range offers a remarkable combination of capability and portability. I'm currently using a Panasonic Lumix TZ25 camera,. which has an excellent Leica DC 24-380mm (35mm equiv) lens and a good high-resolution (460k dot) viewing screen.

The main disadvantage of a compact camera is that the screen can be difficult to see in bright outdoor light. To overcome this limitation, 'Bridge' cameras, such as the Lumix FZ-series, use an electronic viewfinder, which has improved considerably, both in resolution and speed of response, in recent models.

I am currently using a Lumix FZ200, having noticed that this model seems to produce good results for many other butterfly and flower photographers. As well as the electronic viewfinder, there is also a 'tilt and rotate' viewing screen, which is very useful for awkward-to-reach subjects. I enjoy using this type of screen for general photography, looking down onto the focusing screen as if using a medium-format camera.

The Lumix FZ200 is a remarkable piece of kit, mainly for its 25-600mm (35mm equiv) lens, which maintains a constant f/2.8 aperture across its entire range and provides good quality results, even at the extreme settings. As an 'always at hand' camera, I feel that it can be used with confidence to get good shots of static subjects in favourable light conditions.  The small sensor has some limitations but also some advantages.  The main limitations are a more limited brightness range, which means that exposures have to be more accurate and that performance in low light is poor, when compared with larger cameras.  It is also difficult to 'isolate' a subject because the depth of field of a small lens is much greater than for the larger lenses used on a DSLR.  This last point can be turned into an advantage, however, when trying to keep foreground objects in focus at the same time as the background, as shown below:

Small Tortoiseshell in Brecon Beacons
Small Tortoiseshell in the Brecon Beacons
photographed using Panasonic Lumix FZ200 camera
(focal length=8mm, 1/800s@f/4 ISO160)


As my collection of digital files has now grown to be quite large, I find Digital Asset Management software is very useful for sorting and finding images of particular species. I use 'Expression Media 2' (formerly named 'iView Media Pro'). The software is easy to use and provides almost instant viewing of selected categories, with useful tools for adding keywords or modifying filenames and associated metadata. (N.B. This software is now marketed by Phase One as 'Media Pro')

I have chosen to use the RAW mode in the camera. With highly-mobile natural history subjects, I find it is often difficult to get everything right in the camera, and RAW provides more scope for post-processing. After many years of using Pixmantec 'RawShooter' for RAW conversion, I currently use Corel's 'After Shot Pro 3', which offers a good range of facilities and works with my Olympus ORF files..

For cropping, dodging and burning, etc., I use Adobe Photoshop Elements. I still use Version 2, which came bundled with a scanner, and still prefer the manual control that it gives me. Later versions have added lots of automation features but, in my opinion, offer a less satisfactory user interface, where I miss the 'browse' feature of early versions.. I provide more detailed information about the ways in which I use Photoshop Elements in a series of Technical Notes, listed on the Site Menu.

Finally, I find that Neat Image is a remarkable noise-reduction software product, particularly effective on high-ISO images taken under adverse lighting conditions.


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All text and photographs on this website are Copyright Mike Flemming.