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Copy photography, Part 2 (06/18/2006)
By Tom Hirsch

Since you've come this far, it can be assumed that you are interested in copy photography. But don't get in a hurry. There are still a few things you should know before betting too involved.

About that camera. If you have a compact film camera or an electronic-everything 35mm SLR without override capabilities, you will have problems. Most compact film cameras won't let you get close enough to copy anything smaller than a 16 X 20 print. Even at that, it's difficult to center the image in the frame. You can use the camera's internal framing lines, but not very precisely.

With an all-automatic 35mm camera, you'll have trouble holding a photo in focus, and you'll have difficulty determining correct exposure. In normal photography there is no problem, but in copy work these are two separate procedures. When using an automatic film camera with manual override, use this feature for more accurate results. More about this later.

A great camera for copy work is an older model 35mm SLR with no automatic features. Interchangeable lens capability is nice, but there should definitely be a receptacle for a cable release. Most photographers want to trade up, so you might be able to pick up an older camera at the used-camera section of a photo store, or on an Internet site. You can type "used cameras" in the Search window on your computer.

With regard to the copy lens for a digital or film SLR, the choice depends on your needs and what lens or lenses you already own. If you will be shooting small objects such as stamps or coins, the very best choice is a macro lens to fit your camera. A macro lens is expensive, but it can also serve as a general purpose lens. Its advantage is that it will focus down to a 2:1 ratio, and with its adapter you can get one-to-one magnification for very small photos and other small objects. Great for stamps and coins, but possibly overkill for larger items.

If you own a 35mm camera with a macro-zoom lens, you can probably fill the frame with a 5-1/2 X 8 object or, depending on the make and model of the lens, possibly as small as 4 X 5. You can test the capability of your lens with a ruler.

Regardless of the lens you use, if you want to get closer than it will allow, you can purchase a set of auxiliary close-up lenses. These lenses screw onto the front of the copy lens. They come in sets of +1, +2, and +3 or +4. Individually, they cover a wide range of picture sizes, but for small objects where you want greater magnification, you can use them in combination. When stacked, the highest numbered lens should be placed closest to the camera. Close-up lenses aren't cheap, but they will provide you with excellent versatility.

Now it's time to visit your friendly photo dealer for a few items. Write these down because you won't remember them all. Depending on what you have decided, be sure and buy items that are compatible with equipment you already have. If you'll be shooting film, purchase two ECA photoflood lamps. You'll also want an 18% photographic gray card for determining proper exposure. Also for use with film, get an 80A filter of the same diameter as the lens you'll be using.

In use, ECA photoflood lamps get hot. These bulbs are rated at 250 watts, and should only be on while you are aligning the picture, focusing, determining exposure, and taking the picture. Better yet, do as I do and use a high-intensity desk lamp for setting up the picture and focusing. When taking pictures, turn off the lamp to reduce the chance of reflection.

Also, ECA lamps are of a different color temperature balance from color film. The 80A filter will bring them into balance. Always use it with color films. If you will be copying black-and-white pictures on B-&-W film, the filter is not necessary, but it will cause no harm if left on the camera.

You're almost ready to make copies. More information next time. 


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