Advanced Photo System film, or APS film for short, was a cartridge based film system introduced in 1996 and just discontinued in 2011. Much like 110 and disc film, APS film was meant to be a simple format, easy for amateurs to use while incorporating a number of new features. APS film is 24mm wide, and interestingly varies in overall image dimensions according to buttons or a switch located on APS film cameras. This allows the user to choose between settings that crop the photo into different sizes including panoramic, classic, and high definition. The small cartridge is compact and perhaps the easiest of any film to load. Also much like 110 and disc film, the small negative of APS film causing increased graininess is one of the most common complaints about the format. APS is also commonly said to have been a ploy by film companies to force developing labs into purchasing expensive new equipment. Despite this, APS still had a number of other unique features incorporated, including an indicator on each roll that showed whether the film was unused, partially used, fully used, or developed. That’s right, developed! Once APS is developed it is re-wound back into the cartridge and returned to the user. This feature along with a spot for notes and ID numbering was supposed to make organization and storage of negatives simpler.
Another feature included in the system was the recording of image data optically or magnetically on the edge of the film. Despite these advantages sales decreased and APS film has been discontinued, though it can still be found (sometimes expired) on some store shelves. It is still processed by most one hour photo labs, at least for now, making developing simple. This leaves film photography enthusiasts who enjoy using unusual formats one last chance to try out APS film rather easily. After having fun with 110 film, I decided to give APS a try as well.
I found myself with loads of cameras to choose from, though the vast majority of them are compact pocket cameras, both Canon and Nikon made APS single lens reflex models. In the SLR category I was able to find a nice used Canon EOS IX that accepts all my Canon EF mount lenses. Despite the highly unusual design and questionable looks of the EOS IX, I found it very nice to use, it has a surprisingly good build quality and a very solid feel with much metal in the body. It has rapid film advance, and though some controls are in different locations it functions much like the rest of the EOS line of Canon Cameras.
For a pocket camera I picked up a Vivitar XM-1K with a fixed 24mm f4.5 lens. It reminds me very much of the cult favorite Vivitar Wide and Slim. Light and very pocketable, it was a joy to use. While limited in modes and settings, I didn’t find myself missing them much, it was great to be able to take along on a walk and just quickly and casually shoot what caught my eye, worrying only about subject and composition. Oddly for such an inexpensive model, it even has a rapid fire shutter mode for fast shooting! . For film I used some rather expired Kodak Advantix 200 ISO, since it is likely what others might find sitting dusty and forgotten in their local stores. The graininess, probably affected slightly by the film’s age, is not too bad. In the end I came away with a couple images I liked, and I had lots of fun with my APS film experiment!
Scenery is an immensely broad topic, but for beginners there are some key composition rules to remember, and beyond those one’s personal style and the specific situation are the most important factors.
First to consider is framing, and the ubiquitous “rule of thirds.” This rule states that if one divides the frame into 9 squares, three sections vertical and three sections horizontal, the subject should be placed in one of the side sections rather than directly in the center as many people do instinctively. This usually creates an arrangement that is more pleasing to the eye. One part of this technique is to not include too much sky in the scene, unless it is a part of the subject. Many people tend to place the horizon line right down the middle of the frame, which is usually not the most pleasing place for it.
This photo breaks the horizon line rule since both the clouds and the dock are key subjects, creating a reason for balance. Note the Rule of thirds being applied elsewhere to the dock and large cloud bank.
Wildlife photography can be very rewarding as well as very frustrating. It frequently has as much to do with patience as it does with actual photographic knowledge and skill, but it is the challenge that makes it enjoyable.
Beyond the basics there are few technical things to know, and it is one of the areas of photography where equipment really can mean the difference between getting a shot and not getting one. Zoom or telephoto lenses, while not a must (some of my best shots were the closest), are valuable for most sorts of wildlife. Despite this, the closer you get the more likely you are to get a quality image with less camera shake, no haze or objects in the way, and more control on your angle and depth of field. The most important thing is to learn about the habits of the animal you are targeting, get out there and spend lots of time. Your wait will no doubt be rewarded eventually, sometimes with something other than what you were looking for surprising you.
There are plenty of places on the internet to learn about the basics of photography, but for the sake of completeness and just because I want to explain it my own way, I’ll throw in my own two cents.
There are three main in camera processes that change the amount of light that creates the final image. The first is known by a few names, in digital cameras it is known as the ISO, and in film cameras it is known as film speed or ASA. Put simply this is either the film or the digital sensors’ sensitivity to light. When the ISO/film speed is low, such as 100, it is not very sensitive to light, and when it is high, such as 1600 it is very sensitive. Lower ISO/ film speeds provide images with less grain/pixilation than higher ISO/film speeds, so if with your given light conditions you can use a lower ISO/speed, you should.
A high ISO allowed by a fairly bright subject ensured a non-pixilated sky and snow. It is even more important in night shots as shown previously.
Next is aperture, which is measured in f-stops (a subject unto itself, but I’ll keep it simple here). There are blades in a camera lens that form a hole that can be open or closed to allow more or less light through to the film or sensor. The aperture f-stop number is how open the blades are. The lower the f-stop number the more open the blades are, the higher the more closed they are. A rather low/open f-stop is f1.4 and a rather high/closed f-stop is f16. Different lenses allow different ranges of f-stops. When an f-stop is very low the resulting image will receive more light, but will have a shallow depth of field, and when it is very high there will be low light transmission, but a great depth of field.
This simple shot was take with a low/open aperture causing only the one flower bud to be in focus.
Third to consider is shutter speed, simply how long the camera shutter is open to allow light to reach the film or sensor. Use fast shutter speeds to freeze action, and slow ones for dark and unmoving subjects. Also to consider is camera shake, or how still you can hold your camera. I generally do not use shutter speeds slower than 1/8 of a second without a tripod. Shutter speeds around 1/500 or 1/1000 or a second or even faster are best for freezing action such as in sports.
A fast shutter speed helped to freeze this hydroplane and the “rooster tail” behind it.