Back To Basics: SLR Walkthrough


As back to basics draws to a close we look at a true sex object of the 1960's. Capturing everyone from Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy to Mick Jagger and The Beatles. The fully manual SLR.

By the amazing @mczoum, she is holding a Russian Zenit SLR.

David Bailey has a lot to do with making the SLR sexy. Before his meteoric raise to fame at Vogue, in the media, everything was Medium. His use of the 35mm SLR gave his images an urgency that overly planned shoots didn’t have, and sat well with the modern youth of the day.

That aside, there is no doubt that there is something purely sexy about the way a heavy, metal, manual SLR sits in the hand properly glinting in the light. No silver coloured plastic in sight.

There are many famous SLRs that people pay a great deal for. There is a huge range of choice in vintage SLRs. Many Canons and Nikons command a high price. Mine is neither of those. Mine came out of East Germany before the wall came down. Mine is a Praktica.

This diagram shows all the key parts of your SLR.

This month’s Back To Basics is a simple guide to the various parts of a vintage, fully manual, SLR. If you have not yet, I recommend reading all the previous parts of this series. There are terms I use below that are explained in them, but not here.

Single Lens Reflex (SLR) describes the pulsing heart of the camera. What makes them so great is the mirror inside the body. This reflects light through a prism, up into the eyepeice. When you press the shutter, the mirror ‘locks up’ the shutter is opened for an amount of time, then closes, and the mirror drops down. This is the reflex.

Most SLRs viewfinders are a bit smaller than the film itself, so you see a little less (worth knowing for composition) but for all intents and purposes, you see what you are going to get.

Some have ‘depth of field preview’. This ‘stops-down’ the lens, showing you your bokeh (if there is any) before you commit the image to film (though if you are in low light, you may see very little at all as everything darkens). My Praktica does this when I press the button that activates the meter.

Most SLRs you’ll come across have some form of light metering. Some will be more advanced with LEDs or lights of some sort. My Praktica has a moving needle in the viewfinder.

Before you start, find the ISO setting on your SLR, mine is nested inside the Shutter Speed Dial.

See, there it is in yellow/orange inside the dial!

The needle in the viewfinder moves up and down in reaction to how much light is coming through the lens. When it’s the perfect amount, the needle rests in a little circle. And that’s when I fire the shutter.

The center is the focus aid. I twist my focus and the image becomes clear. To the right is the needle and circle that show when metering is accurate. This shot would be underexposed (and very boring)!

Modern SLRs will have some form of ‘program’, normally an auto, then a time value or aperture value. My Praktica is fully manual so you have to choose which to change. As you slow down or speed up the shutter speed (using the appropriate dial), or open and close the aperture (normally done on the lens), the meter needle or LED system or whatever you have, will change until the balance is perfect (remember aperture and depth of field).

Some of the photos taken with my SLRs. The first remains my most liked image. Shot with my Praktica.

You’ll note that most SLRs will have a hot shoe, and each one will ‘synch’ to a certain speed or range of speeds. This simply means if you are going to use flash, to guarantee a good result, you cannot set the speed any higher. See this excellent article for more information.

One of the most compelling reasons to use an SLR are the lenses. The wide barrel of the lens allows more light into the image, this allows for a greater range of f-stop and the ability to shoot in much lower available light. Most SLRs allow you to swap lenses. My Praktica came with three prime lenses. A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal distance, essentially the opposite of zoom.

The stock 50mm lens that came with it is excellent, it’s f1.8 which means wide open, and with 800 or 1600 ISO film I can shoot most indoors images, in daylight, without a flash. 50 or 55mm is about what the eye sees not a lot changes when you look through the lens. The other two lenses were a 35mm, slightly wide, and a 135mm lens, a telephoto (gets in close).

To tell what type of lens you have, look at the front of the barrel, on nearly all lenses you’ll see a marking like this one 1.8/50. This simply tells you it is an f1.8 50mm lens. Another example 2.8/35 tells you it is a 35mm lens with an f-stop of 2.8 when wide open.

There, top left is 1.8/50

Many modern film cameras’ kit lenses do not include this last bit of information, I must admit I don’t use it, but most vintage SLR lenses will have a depth of field gauge on the lens barrel. You can read all about it here and make up your mind on how useful it is.

There are thousands of images shot with SLRs in the community, do a search and have a look!

Next month will be both my first full year as a community member, and is my last Back to Basics article. I’ll be talking about Time Value and Aperture Value settings, how you can use them creatively and how the technique can be applied to plastic cameras. We’ll also be announcing the Back to Basics Rumble and my forthcoming new series.

Back to Basics is a monthly Tipster series by Adam Griffiths where he seeks to impart a little more technical film photography knowledge. For each installment, he chooses a fundamental subject and explains it quickly and in simple terms (with examples where possible).

written by adam_g2000 on 2012-09-24 in #gear #tipster #35mm #praktica #light #depth-of-field #nikon #exposure #hot-shoe #slr #lenses #canon #back-to-basics #tipster #time-value #aperture-value #camera


  1. korppi
    korppi ·

    Like for SLRs :)

  2. neanderthalis
    neanderthalis ·

    Nice breakdown.

  3. lokified
    lokified ·

    Despite my initial fears at being overwhelmed, I recently bought an Olympus OM-1. I needn't have worried. The control is beautiful, the 50mm macros lens is beautful & I love it to pieces.

  4. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @lokified It's the king of SLRs in my view. My father has it's little brother the OM-10 and the glass on the lens is wonderful, gives you that real 3d look to the pictures that only really good glass gives. Congratulations on your purchase. David Bailey is reported to have loved the OM-1.

  5. lokified
    lokified ·

    @adam_g2000 Wow, what a pedigree!

  6. superlighter
    superlighter ·

    I love Olympus lenses too! I have an OM10 with three lenses, the 50mm f1.8 the 28mm f2.8 and the 135mm f3.5 absolutely great lenses!

  7. amytam
    amytam ·

    I'm still learning more about SLRs, so i'm curious as to the purpose of the ISO/ASA dial. Is it just for the light meter or does it change something in the camera itself?

  8. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @amytam that's a good question. On a fully manual SLR, it's a safe bet it's just for the meter. But on one where Tv or Av are available, it's going to be used to set the 'other' value. Eg. You set your ISO to 400 to match the film, set your Av to f2.8 then the meter (using that ISO setting) will set the Tv, perhaps, to 1/500...

  9. quietedheart
    quietedheart ·

    I have a Yashica FX-3 and I don't know how to adjust the ISO. Help, please? It's in the shutter speed dial also.

  10. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @quietedheart you pull up and twist on a Praktica. I don't know about the Yashica. Search online with that term and the word butkus and you might find the manual.

  11. quietedheart
    quietedheart ·

    @adam_g2000 thanks!

  12. quietedheart
    quietedheart ·

    @adam_g2000 thanks!

  13. lokified
    lokified ·

    Came crawling back to this article, as I just got an Asahi Pentax S1a for Christmas, and though it's beautiful, it's number of light meters are exactly zero. Argh, so lost. I'm tempted to just bring my OM-1 with me at all times, use the light meter & match settings.

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