Canon A-1 with Portra 400

Discussion in 'Canon FD' started by NinaL.A, Oct 19, 2017.

  1. Hello,

    I wonder if anyone can help me as I am new to film photography.

    I am using a Canon A1 with a 35-70mm lens and have just bought some Kodak Portra 400.

    I will be shooting indoors in a well lit room with neon lights. I have set my ISO to 400 to match the film but does anyone know what the best shutter speed I should be using?

    The only options I have on my camera are 1000, 500, 250, 125, 60, 30, 15, 8, 4 etc. I was using Portra 160 film before with shutter speeds between 250 on a sunny day and 30 indoors. The ones at 250 in daylight looked really nice, however the indoor shots with shutter speed between 125 and 30 came out really dark and grainy, it was pretty disappointing.

    I thought if I got a faster film it might help?
  2. kendunton

    kendunton Edinburgh

    It depends on the aperture you set.

    I'd suspect even wide open the shutter speed will be down at 1/4 second or so.
    What does the meter indicate? (that's what it is for :) )
  3. kendunton

    kendunton Edinburgh

    With a quick Google it looks like your minimum aperture is 3.5, so maybe 1/8 or 1/16 second - not really hand held shutter speeds.
  4. Thank you : )
    I guess it will be trail and error until I figure it out
  5. kendunton

    kendunton Edinburgh

    I thought when I was on TP that I had seen a similar question. :)
  6. What will be your subject matter? If you are going to shoot people under neon lights, expect some unusual flesh tomes. Are you sure they are neon, not florescent?

    "The only options I have on my camera are 1000, 500, 250, 125, 60, 30, 15, 8, 4"

    Those are standard for almost all film cameras from that era. A limitation? I don't think so. A 150th v. a 125th - no big deal.

    Yes, wide open at 1/15th sounds about right. With lots of practice, with the lens set at 35mm, hand holding can be done.

  7. Nina, to prevent underexposure be sure to meter your intended subject and not the neon lights.
  8. For indoor shooting, I would also try Aperture Priority ("Av") and set the aperture (on the AV dial not the lens), to the largest aperture of the lens (like f3.5 as indicated above) and let the camera choose the correct shutter speed. It may be too slow for effective hand held photography but its really not a good idea to underexpose color print film. If you leave the camera in shutter priority "Tv" mode, you need to choose a shutter speed slow enough whereby the shutter speed LED indicator in the viewfinder stops blinking. Blinking means under or overexposure requiring a change in shutter speed to correct this. You can also set the camera to Tv and use the "P" program setting.

    Again with a maximum aperture of f3.5 you may find the resulting shutter speed too slow to hand hold. If you also have a fast 50mm lens (like f1.4 or f1.8) this may be the opportunity to use it!
  9. What everyone above said.

    I've done my fair share of shooting an A-1 and other cameras with ASA400 negative film. In all honesty, I consider a slow consumer zoom lens to be a terrible choice for flashless photography indoors, and even a pro 2.8 zoom(not too many options in the FD mount) is going to be pushing things.

    I know that under the fairly bright fluorescent lights at work, for example, I can manage 1/125 at about f/2 or 2.5 with ASA 400 film. That's a hand-holdable shutter speed with a 50mm lens. Many folks will tell you that you can go down to 1/60 with a 50mm lens(inverse focal length rule of thumb) but I prefer double that. With digital, if I have to dip down into low shutter speeds hand-held I'll often take a half dozen photos and pick the sharpest one-that's not always practical with film.

    Getting down into 1/30 or 1/15, which may even be a stretch with a slow zoom, dramatically lowers your chances of getting a sharp photo. Most folks can practice and get something that's workable in a 4x6 with a 50mm at 1/30, but even that's not guaranteed and it will probably fall apart if you try to enlarge beyond that.

    Now with wonder technologies like IS/VR(forget those in the FD mount) I can often get reliably sharp photos at ~50mm down to 1/15, but at that speed you can end up with blurry people if they are moving at all. That's especially true in a "normal" social situation even with people casually walking around. A few weeks ago, I was chasing my 18-month old niece around the living room and at 1/15 and even 1/30 I was getting sharp furniture and nothing but a white blur for her :)

    For the OP, I'd definitely suggest getting a $20 50mm 1.8 or a 1.4 if possible. That will at least buy a few more stops and may get into the 1/125 or longer speeds. Also, I'm assuming the OP meant fluorecent lights, and if so I'd hunt down an FL-D filter. Fluorescent lighting and color photography don't get along that well anyway. It use to be really bad when ballasts ran at 60hz, although many now use electronic ballasts that run at a few khz and the light is more consistent. The FL-D at least partially compensates for the ugly green tinge of fluorescent, and will hopefully get you to the point where the lab can correct it out. The downside to this is that it costs 1.6 stops, so will bring a 1.4 lens back to the 2.5 range.

    As others have said, your best bet regardless of the lens put the camera in Av mode and set the largest aperture(smallest number) that the lens supports.

    The final suggestion I can make is for the OP to get a crash course in flash photography at least if it would be appropriate to the situation. IMO, the Canon 299T is the best on-camera flash for the A-series cameras(and all other FD cameras for that matter except the T90). It's about as powerful as you'll find in a shoe mount flash, has a bounce and swivel head, and "talks" to the A-1 so that you can simplify settings. It's been a little while since I've used that particular combo, but I'm pretty sure the camera will automatically go to 1/60(flash sync speed) and use the aperture set on the flash. Flash photography is not easy to do well, but to start things off I'd suggest bouncing the flash off the ceiling or a nearby wall.
  10. I couldn't agree more with Ben, especially with regard to his comments having to do with flash photography, which to me would be the easiest solution. I don't see stepping into flash photography as being especially difficult, however, especially when using a fairly sophisticated flash like the 299T. It's a big jump in capabilities over the 199A, which was the best flash contemporaneous to the A-1 at the time. Incidentally, here's a pretty decent write-up on the 299T over at the MIR site:

    Canon Flash - 299T Speedlite

    It's cheaply priced on the used market these days and well worth considering as an addition to any FD kit.

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