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I have a low end Canon digital camera, and I found my dad's old Sears KS-2 with the standard 50mm lens. I don't know that much about manual photography. I feel like I should do some research and learn about the technical aspects of photography, but I don't know what I should learn prior to experimentation with the film camera.

Also, would it be worth it to buy more lenses for the KS-2, or should I save money for a newer camera? I have heard about adapters that I could use to connect the old K mount lenses to the newer cameras, but is it worth it?

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One side-suggestion I'd make is go out and take a bunch of pictures! Provided it won't break the bank go out and use up a roll of film one day, write down what you did for each picture, then get it developed right away (same day if possible) and have a look. Take a weekend to do it or something. When I got my first film SLR 6 years ago this really helped. –  Shizam Dec 19 '10 at 22:53
    
Just FYI, I talked about the same camera/lens here: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/5692/pentax-to-canon-adapter (She's my sister) –  chills42 Dec 20 '10 at 3:45

7 Answers 7

The best way to learn is to start photographing more — both for the basics and for more advanced photography.

This is a particularly good answer to the "should I buy more lenses for the KS-2" question, because a lot of the answer depends on whether you find yourself really enjoying using it.

But, of course, film requires a greater time and patience commitment, and the per-shot costs (along with delay until you see results, and lack of automatically-recorded metadata) make experimenting a different process. That difference is not necessarily bad — in fact, arguably it's a great approach to serious learning — but it's not for everyone.

So, if you're going to spend some with film and aren't comfortable with the very basics, it's not a bad idea to make sure you understand what's happening with the basics of exposure — aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. There's dozens of books and web sites, and any of them can teach you about this, if you don't forget the key point, which is: the relationship is actually quite straightforward, so if you get confused, your teaching resource is probably broken in some way. (No problem: ditch that book or web site and pick up another.)

Beyond that, I find it nice to learn and mentally process while I'm working, a little bit at a time. Make sure to make at least one picture every day, and make sure every week to look at the pictures you've taken. (If you end up taking lots, take that time to weed out the very best.) And, at the same time, find a good book, and read it just a page or two a day. (Michael Freeman's books are well-suited for this; I just finished Perfect Exposure in this way, and am about to start on The Photographer's Mind.)

So basically: don't let being worried about lack of knowledge keep you from getting started. Mistakes are great to learn from, and if you're busy researching, you can't make any.

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"The wheel" didn't come with a manual :-P –  Nick Bedford Dec 20 '10 at 5:15

Don't worry about additional lenses and so forth. Several long and very distinguished careers in photography have been made entirely with a single format and the standard lens for that format (50mm for 35mm, 80mm for 6x6). Concentrate on getting the technical aspects together: focus; exposure; and composition. Learn to see what the picture will look like before you take it.

I have to go against the "practice with a digital" advice -- it's too forgiving, and there are too many things in the loop that will try to fix things for you. Those are hugely beneficial traits, but not if you are trying to learn control over the medium. You may want to use the digital camera to take important pictures until you have the film camera under control, but as long as you can afford the supplies and processing, make your mistakes on film if you can.

The closer you can get to doing it "right" at the moment of exposure, the less damage you'll have to do to the picture in order to realise your vision in post-production. These days, you'd need to be a bit of an end-to-end fanatic -- that is, you'd do everything except manufacture the film (and maybe the paper) yourself -- to do serious small-format photography with film. Unless you're planning on moving to large format at some point, the economic reality is pointing at the probability that your film foray will be nothing more than an excellent training exercise for digital mastery. Film photography is going to become a very expensive niche in the not-too-distant future.

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My parents recently bought a Nikon P100, and I went through a similar experience of learning.

I think the most important thing is to learn about exposure. Basically, you must understand three settings: Film speed, aperture size, shutter speed.

Film speed is a measure of how sensitive to light your film is. On newer cameras, it measures how sensitive the camera's sensor is, and can usually be configured on the fly. It is commonly referred to as "ISO."

High sensitivity means relatively less light is needed to register a picture.

Aperture is the opening through which light passes. The aperture size regulates how much light is allowed through. It is usually specified as f-numbers. Lower f-numbers denote bigger openings.

Aperture also influences the depth of field, which is the area of the scene which will appear sharp on the photo.

Finally, shutter speed controls how long your camera's shutter stays open. Smaller values are faster.

Slower shutter speeds mean the shutter stays open for a longer time, allowing more light to reach the film or sensor. This can produce very interesting photos.

Faster shutter speeds mean the shutter stays open for less time, which means less light will be registered by the film or sensor. You should adjust your aperture or ISO accordingly.

Once you understand all that, you should learn about composition. Start with the rule of thirds.

By the way, you should practice with a digital camera so that you can see the results of your experiments immediately.

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Not to sound condescending, but the Nikon P100 is a mass-market compact ultrazoom, not really a "semiprofessional camera". That doesn't mean you can't learn from it (or even be professional with it), but it does have some disadvantages for learning. Namely: a user interface geared towards auto-mode, a slow-ish variable-aperture-zoom lens, no optical viewfinder, and a tiny sensor. –  mattdm Dec 19 '10 at 20:12
    
All that said, nothing wrong with your actual answer! –  mattdm Dec 19 '10 at 20:12
    
Just having a manual mode means professional for some people I know. :) –  Matheus Moreira Dec 19 '10 at 21:15
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But speaking as someone who's actually received money for photographic services rendered, there is so much more to being pro than a manual mode. –  mmr Dec 19 '10 at 22:02
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And manual mode on compacts are often not nearly as "quick" as the controls on an SLR. But your points are fine. I would add however, that the aperture not only affects light level, but depth of field. With a compact, this rarely has much effect due to the small sensor, but on an SLR sensor (whether FF or not), aperture significantly changes depth of field. –  Nick Bedford Dec 20 '10 at 5:13

If you are new to photography, or just want to have a deeper and enriching look at the field, I believe you can do yourself a huge favor and buy and watch John Greengo's CreativeLive courses:

http://creativelive.com/courses/digitalphotography01

http://creativelive.com/courses/digitalphotography02

Before shelling out money on new gear, you will have a much sounder foundation for making your decisions. Not to mention the mind-opening effect of this course.

I am yet to see a better "intro" course on any subject.

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The answer to a really good question is usually "It depends." It depends how serious you are, what kind of photography or art are you interested in ... is this personal, about connecting with Dad [through his old Sears KS-2 camera]? For the most part, you need to take pictures in order to complement your serious research, not take them after your research. A really good entry level DSLR [with sufficient memory so that you can take thousands and thousands of JPEG+RAW pictures] is the best way to learn before starting to photograph more with film, with classic gear and more exotic artistic methods.

Complement your experience from taking lots of photos with information from good books and websites, but there's really no substitute for seeing the results of lots of changes in your technique and lot of different settings and LOTS of pictures ... if you really get into it, you could learn more in a year with a DSLR than you'd learn in a lifetime of taking film pictures and waiting for them to develop. A decent entry-level DSLR is not so much a camera as much as it is a photographic learning tool. A DSLR allows you gain to experience at a highly accelerated rate in an affordable manner. You will be better able to fully appreciate the artform that authors, teachers, other photographers, especially the old masters are trying to convey.

What's changed in the few months, is that it is now possible to get a pretty awesome DSLR and everything you need to get started for less than $1000 ... Amazon is pretty aggressive on prices, B&H Photo and Video in NYC probably can't be matched for depth of knowledge / service. Before you drop a few hundred dollars and go down the wrong path with the wrong DSLR, do your homework, read as many good, well-written professional reviews as you can. A great entry level DSLR like the Canon EOS Rebel T2i is probably a good benchmark to compare others against -- this is not an endorsement; but it'd be tough to do a lot better than the T2i and you could do a lot worse ... the best advice is to check around and compare ... there are professional photographers who swear by other brands. For example: you might want to spend some time reading what ChaseJarvis has to say on his blog about gear and workflows.

Hang on to your classic camera ... after you've mastered everything a DSLR can teach you, there are probably a lot of things you'll be ready to try with an older camera and older gear that might require some tweaking or repair, different techniques in the darkroom, etc.

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For me the most impactful things I have done to improve my photography is talk with other photographers and exchange experiences. The best thing is to share an image to have critiqued and commented on. Digital makes this easier as you can post images and get comments on them, as well as having the EXIF info provide notes. Having said that taking good notes like Shizam said and then getting and viewing the pictures will help. If you are lucky enough to have a camera shop that does film processing (not a "FotoHut" a store with DSLR and the like) they will likely be willing to talk with you about your images if you phrase the question right. Such as, "I was thinking of getting this image printed large when I took it, but now that I see it ..... what would you recommend to help?" Some places will provide good insight as they know that having a customer that also sees the store as a resource they will keep coming back.

Hope that helps. Also don't be afraid to take both a film and digital picture at the same time, great way to also learn the differences.

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There are some good references over on photo.net on the art of photography. But to be honest the best thing going in Ansel Adams' 3 Volume set "the Camera", "The Negative" and "The Print". Distilled wisdom from one of the best ever

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