Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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I saw some work at an art show last night that reminded me that I'm interested in trying out Redscale at some point.

And so I was browsing around online for redscale stuff today, and came across a neat comparison of different exposures for redscale.

And in the description, the photographer mentioned trying to be quick about getting all the shots taken, so that other factors in the scene didn't change.

And that's when I got to wondering:

Does anyone know of any 35mm cameras that might somehow be controllable by a computer, such that a series of, say, 25 photos could be taken in very quick succession, but each with different shutter and/or aperture?

(For that matter, is that type of control even available on DSLRs, at, say, the maximum burst rate of the camera? I know you can trigger the shutter, but haven't shot tethered enough to know if you can control settings -- I'm guessing so, at least with the camera manufacturer's software.)

I can think of a number of scenarios (redscale testing being an obvious one, but there are others) where it might be nice to control a camera in this way. So, are there any cameras that do it?

As far as I can tell from their website, Canon is no longer making film SLRs (though see note below). Nikon still has two offerings (the FM10, which clearly wouldn't do it, and the F6, which I don't see any strong indications would have this either, though that'd be the one that would, of the two), and I don't immediately see anything on Pentax or Olympus sites, either.

Oh wait, but there is, perhaps, a Canon option! I got to it circuitously, but the EOS-1v seems to have some software that comes with it, called EOS LINK ES-E1. It's unclear to me, though, whether this could be used for the purpose I'm describing.

Does anyone know?

It certainly looks interesting... I don't expect to buy that body for something like this, but I could see renting it, maybe (and my local camera store seems to have it available for that, at a price that strikes me as reasonable). It'd be nice to know in advance, though, if something like this is possible. And/or if there are any other cameras that might have a chance of having this feature.

Thanks!

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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Let's tackle your questions separately:

Film Camera

The short answer is 'no.' There is no marketed utility that I'm aware of which would give you complete control over a film camera (even a relatively modern one). Now I can imagine a it would be possible (and even potentially relatively easy) to put together a DIY solution as long as the camera is recent enough that it uses an electronically-based remote shutter solution, but that would be far from full control of the camera. Essentially you'd be able to kick the AF, trip the shutter, and perhaps program in intervalmeter functionality, but that'd be about it.

The main reason for this is that film-based cameras, even the most 'modern' models produced by companies such as Canon and Nikon up until a few years ago are still more 'mechanical' than 'electrical' in operation... and what is electrical was not designed or intended to communicate via a realtime 2-way persistent connection 'with the outside world' such as would be necessary for this level of control. All of the realtime communication that is possible with today's modern dSLR cameras wasn't even a consideration until dSLR cameras came along...

The EOS Link ES-E1 was not a utility which enabled anything resembling realtime control of the camera... It was designed to help the camera user adjust the custom functions of the camera, and it could export picture data (essentially a forerunner of EXIF data) from the camera. Again, nothing about the utility was realtime, and it certainly couldn't enable any sort of camera control. Additionally, the utility hasn't been updated for nearly a decade, and it was designed to run via Windows NT/Windows 98, or on a pre-OSX Mac, so you're likely to have quite a time getting it to run on anything resembling a modern OS, any way you cut it.

While I have no direct experience with Nikon's line of film cameras, I would be very surprised if the situation were different in the world of Nikon film cameras.

dSLR Camera

In a nutshell, it is possible to control every aspect of a Canon dSLR with the Canon EOS Utility that comes as part of the package with every Canon dSLR camera. Nikon provides a similar level of control for their dSLR cameras via their Camera Control Pro 2 software, but unlike the Canon utility which is free, Nikon charges around $150 for their utility. These utilities allow fine-grained control, and access to every aspect of the camera's operation, including the firing of the cameras in burst-mode.

The one thing that these utilities cannot do 'out of the box' is adjust settings automatically across a series of exposures without manual intervention, though I don't think it would be very difficult to script something to attend to this aspect of the tethered shoot if you were so inclined...

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While this is not the answer I was hoping for, it does seem an honest and likely-accurate answer to my actual question(s); +1. One thought, though, before I consider whether to "accept" it: film SLRs have had some degree of being able to "communicate 'with the outside world.'" for a while - eg my Canon EOS Elan, from c. 1992, had a bar code scanner (and a booklet of situations you might encounter, each with a barcode), that it would talk to via an IR link. And it has a remote. The question, then, is whether any of these things could ever directly dial in exposure settings. –  lindes Jan 31 '11 at 17:57
    
Sorry, I probably should have stated more clearly that prior to the dSLR era, 35mm cameras weren't really designed to have realtime 2-way communication with the outside world such as would be necessary to control a camera via a computer... I'll update the answer. I can think of a couple of ways to give such cameras some more 'advanced' control, however it wouldn't be an 'off-the-shelf' solution, nor would it be possible to do without custom programming, some electronics knowledge in order to build an interface, and the willingness to dig around inside a camera... :-) –  Jay Lance Photography Jan 31 '11 at 18:16
    
...and (probably fairly obviously) there's not exactly a ton of people clamoring for this type of functionality, so in all likelihood if it's going to be done, it's going to be done at a hobbyist level. :-) –  Jay Lance Photography Jan 31 '11 at 18:20
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Actually, you don't need a computer for this. Take a look at the Promote:

https://www.promotesystems.com/products/Promote-Control.html

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That seems to be for digital SLRs, not for film, sorry! –  koiyu Jan 30 '11 at 23:40
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That looks like a neat product, and I may indeed have to look into getting one for other purposes. However, unless you can point me at a film camera that's compatible with it, it answers a different question than the one I believe I have asked. –  lindes Jan 31 '11 at 17:44
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It shouldn't be too difficult for someone with a bit of mechanical and electronic ability to put together a rig to do something not too unlike that, but it would have some restrictions. The linkages necessary to actually change the shutter speed and aperture at the camera would be complex enough to put them into "robotics hobbyist" territory (and would need to be different for different camera models) but you can do a bracketing run without touching either.

What's needed is a series of ND filters of different densities on a wheel in front of the lens, driven by a stepper motor. The wheel can (and probably should) be mounted in a housing that also acts as a bellows lens hood. You also need a camera with a motor drive or autowinder (and not all film cameras have them, or even have them available). Nearly all film cameras can be tripped by a good old-fashioned mechanical shutter release cable or a pneumatic bulb, and that can be driven by a stepper motor or a solenoid. Both can be controlled from a PC or a dedicated circuit (probably based on something like the Arduino controller board).

From the exposure series you linked to, it appears that some of the desirable features of the technique rely on halation, and the strength of the effect seems to be tied more strongly to shutter speed than overall exposure. Finding the best shutter speed for the effect would take a bit of initial testing, but for a landscape or architectural picture, you can probably keep it relatively long. The aperture you'd probably want to set based on your desired depth of field. A rig like the one I've described would sort of be like exposure bracketing using only the ISO setting on a digital camera -- you set both the shutter speed and aperture, and the overall exposure is controlled in small increments by moving successively denser filters in front of the lens and tripping the shutter.

Who knows? If you decide to build it (and do it right) it may become a sellable product with a niche market waiting.

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this seems quite complicated, i'd go for the dslr automation software and some scripting! –  JoséNunoFerreira Jan 31 '11 at 11:19
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It's really, really difficult to use film stock that's been loaded backwards in a DSLR. Really difficult. And that's the whole point of Redscale -- take the film out of the equation, and it's not Redscale anymore. A DSLR (or any digital camera) is out of the running altogether. –  user2719 Jan 31 '11 at 12:13
    
Hmm, changing neutral density filters is indeed an interesting idea. As is building a robot to control things... Though I think if I go the latter route, I'll more likely build a robot that moves the dials and control rings of the camera, a la a robotic follow-focus device (and perhaps even using just such a gear, but on an aperture ring for an old mechanical camera, instead of on the focus ring). Still, +1 for giving me the idea to do that. –  lindes Jan 31 '11 at 18:02
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