#780. Monday Post (29 October) Resurrecting the Kodak Brownie (or is it the Instamatic?)

By philberphoto | Monday Post

Oct 29

This post comes inspired by the release of the Leica M10-D. The M10-D is essentially a M10-P (the one with a very quiet shutter) minus the rear LCD. Leica call it “digital body – analogue soul”. And, to make this even more obvious, the M10-D sports a very analogue-like lever for make-believe film transport. To be fair to Leica, it also incorporates a good bit of connectivity for remote camera control and image transfer, though how that makes the camera analogue-like escapes me.




Thus Leica’s position is that chimping via the rear LCD somehow detracts from an “analogue shooting experience”. Take the LCD away and we are all HCB resurrected. Voilà!



I am  not going to argue that or debate the merits of a camera I haven’t used, but I will go Leica one better. Don’t just take away the LCD. Also take away focusing, speed and aperture control. If you take away focusing, it means that all is always sharp, right? Right! So that means smartphone shooting, with minute sensors and humongous depth-of-field, but (sorry Pascal!) a limited shooting envelope? Wrong!



Take a camera with interchangeable lenses, stick it in auto mode, and mount onto it a lens designed for larger sensors. What do you have? For example, a 24mm FF lens works out like a 36mm on APS/C, or 48mm on M4/3. In all respects but one: depth of field, where 24mm remains 24mm.


Which means you get quite a bit more depth-of-field with, say a 28mm Leica R Elmarit vII mounted on a APS/C camera (Sony NEX 7) than you would with a native 42mm for a full-frame camera, even though you get the same field-of-view. Many of us here are already well acquainted with that fact.



So where am I going with this? Well, the Leica lens has a “true infinity” focus stop. Pre-set focus there, which one can do without any risk of failure. Pre-set aperture to f:5.6, a median aperture where the lens is sharpest. And you have a setup where your picture will be in focus from roughly 7m to infinity. That is the theoretical value, because the actual one is, from experience, from 4m to infinity.



So I can leave the camera with these settings, and, when I see something of interest, just point, compose, and shoot. Not only is this very analogue, it is the old Kodak Brownie, or Instamatic reinvented. Voilà! Instant trip down memory lane, and no need to buy a pricey Leica!



More seriously, shooting in this manner is yet another form of shooting-under-constraint, like slow photography, for example. For some, it is a nuisance, an oxymoron in times when one wants cameras to do more of everything and give more control on every aspect of photography. For others, it re-connects one to photography because it removes thinking about the camera and the settings from the equation and lets the ‘tog be one with his/her scene and image. in this mode, I don’t need to use magnification in the viewfinder, or to chimp for sharpness. technical keeper rate is essentially 100%, as long as available light keeps my shutter speed high enough.


There are side benefits to this approach of using a lens designed for a larger sensor than the one in your camera: the image only represents the centre of the image circle, meaning you don’t use the sides and corners, which are where a lens’ performance in weakest. No soft corners this way!


So, in essence this method lets you either mindlessly “spray-and-pray” in the hope Micawber-like hope  that “something of value will turn up”. Or you can discipline yourself to, when given lemons, not make lemonade. Make mojito! Meaning making the most of what you have. Meaning that the self-imposed limits of your gear become liberating, like one-hand clapping and shooting archery with a blindfold…


And I very probably haven’t cost you a bloody penny with this post, either…


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Provocative – I bet you didn’t take those photos with a Kodak Brownie, though.
    I won’t be doing it myself, but the principle is a great one – if you stick with one camera/lens setup, your photography develops a certain sterile sameness. You NEED variety, to stimulate creativity!

    • philberphoto says:

      That last statement is debatable, Pete. I could just as well say that NOT HAVING variety stimulates creativity (like shooting one prime instead of one zoom)

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Certainly debatable… , 🙂
        And you are, of course, both right.
        Somewhere in his book
        Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons,
        Stravinsky says, that the stricter the rules he makes for himself are, the freer he can compose.
        No lack of creativity there…
        ( Judging by his music, his rules varied.)

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    the good old analogue days…
    That’s the way I always carried a camera.
    ( You avoid the more modern term zone focus?)

    And that’s how I carry my DXO One.
    ( I just have to attach a 32mm-eq. (28 or 35 mm ?) viewfinder..)

    ( I never could do that with my other digital compact cameras, they forgot distance when shut off. The Ricoh GR is said to remember!)
    – – –

    Why is there so seldom a good distance scale nowadays?

    Just as you say,
    a good enough reason to have a couple of manual focus wide angle lenses.

    ( Lenses on my Canon M5 seem to remember distance though, so – with a shorter lens – I *could* focus on something at a middle distance, set manual focus, an aperture and shut off!)
    – – –

    For 24x36mm film, on lens DOF scales usually meant just resolving lines 1/30 mm apart at the end of the DOF – rather unsharp with slow b/w film!

    Now, with today’s higher resolution sensors you *might* want more sharpness at the ends of the DOF, and closing the aperture about two stops (three for the higher res. sensors) more than the old tables recommend should take care of that – but then you quickly enter diffraction…

    So, thanks to the small (1″) sensor, with my DXO One (there is distance scale in the attached iPhone and the camera remembers), at f:4 and 8m I get a *sharp* DOF of 4m-inf. without noticeable diffraction.
    – – –

    > “.. a very analogue-like lever for make-believe film transport..”

    They call it a Thumb Rest,
    but I believe your diagnosis of make-believe is correct!

    • philberphoto says:

      Kristian, I was a big fan of the Sony/DXO approach of “hanging” a sensor and lens to a smartphone, but obviously not many shared your/my opinion. I think it would be interesting if you would tell us of your experience with the DXO. It could also get others to follow in your tracks…

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Well, hanging an iPhone to a DXO One works nicely enough.
        Except in portrait mode…
        ( And I haven’t yet found a cable to connect them, but there Is a WiFi connection.)

        There is supposed to be an Android version in development.

        I’d really prefer a built in EVF.

        Ideally a double camera, say a mild wide angle camera plus a short tele camera plus an EVF in the same housing. With three narrow touch panels with an activation button and a toggle button for parameter choice
        – – –

        The One is almost always with me, but not so frequently in use, as the 32mm-eq. focal length isn’t my favourite.
        I’ve found a cheap 28mm OVF, but I haven’t made a fixture for it yet.

  • Kim says:

    Thanks Brian. The ‘aha’ moment on this video is the concept that inspiration drives inspiration. I have never used creative styles, preferring to do such adjustments afterwards. I’ve been shooting RAW + JPEG again since ON1 added the support for pairing the shots together, so it will be no pain to try it and it may just inspire something. I often use the Fuji Velvia emulation in ON1 – having shot that film for years on film cameras. Looking forward to trying it out.

  • PaulB says:


    SHHHhhhhhhh . . . . !

    Now everybody will want to use this secret. I was trying to build a collection cool, old, and inexpensive lenses. Well there goes the inexpensive part. 😉

    I have been using this technique for film based M (F, R, FD) mount lenses with Micro 4/3 cameras. If the crop isn’t too much for your photographic vision, the results can be quite good. My current camera for is the Panasonic G9.


  • I’m actually using this method with the Voigtlander 15/4.5 set to F/8-11 and focus at 2,5m using hyperfocus, which turns my A6000 into an instant point & shoot. Great fun!

    You just have to be aware that different lenses have different sharpness/focus falloffs. For example I owned the Samyang 12/2 for some short time, and it had a much steeper focus falloff then the Voigtlander which made it much harder to focus and I needed to re-focus more often then on the Voigtlander. Although 12mm has a larger depth of field then 15mm and should handle this task easier. But it wasn’t and infinity hyperfocal distance was actually just short before the infinity mark.

    But this approach is only feasible with wide angle lenses and IMO tops out with 28mm on the long end. Beyond that you have to switch focus zone for close and far away subjects too often.

    But you don’t need a lens designed for a larger mount to do it. As you already said, mounting 24mm with a fixed aperture setting to different sensor sizes will narrow field of view and increase depth of field – regardless for which sensor the lens is build for. But actually the depth of field does not increase. It only increases because the photographer needs to step back to compensate for the increased field of view with larger sensors. And with a larger distance comes a larger depth of field.

    Back to your example: If you mount a medium format 24mm on your M43 sensor and set it to F11 it will have look absolutely the same as a M43 24mm set to F/11 – but with a much smaller size and weight. Hence, the actual lens is not important but the sensor: smaller sensor have more depth of field compared to larger sensor at the same F-stop. If you want to maximize dof while finding a compromise with light (aperture), a smaller sensor will help. Back to the example with 28mm at the long end for hyperfocal distance and zone focusing, you can only narrow down field of view further with a smaller sensor – or simply cropping in post.

    Does that makes sense … ?

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