The Krasnogorsk K-3: Film, Shutter, Speed and Light (Meter)

Today my plan is to pull together some info about the joyously interrelated subjects that combine together to expose our film, hopefully, the way we want.We will update the battery on the Internal LIGHTMETER on the K-3 with an inexpensive modern cell to test if the meter in your K-3 is dead or not and then check its accuracy. At the same time, we are going to explore setting up the K-3 to shoot one of Kodak’s finest film stocks, Vision 3 50D Negative

WHAT SPEED DO I RUN MY CAMERA?

Before we start filming, we’ve first got to select our frames per second speed. This is the speed the internal mechanism in the camera runs when you press the trigger, and how many little rectangles of your film are exposed to light PER SECOND.

Today, our default setting here is a smidgeon over 24fps (but see * below, too), which corresponds closely to the most widely used standards today that originated from the TV broadcast worlds of PAL and NTSC of approx 24fps. This is what your what your favourite video editing programme is going to see as ‘normal’ speed.

If (looking at the lower of the two dials on the right hand side of the camera (the winding side), we’ve got a knob to swing to match up our chosen frame speed  with the red dot on the body. Check out below:

My dial is in Cyrilic script, yours may be different, but the filming speeds shown are all the same. As you can see from my camera, I have 24fps, or I can alternatively choose 32 or 48fps while filming, which will produce a result that is ‘slowed motion’. The bonus with the K-3 is that there is always s tiny ‘cloudy factor’ in the dials, push just a click or so beyond 24 and you might be at 25, a bit beyond up from 48fps and you might nudge into 50fps.Bear in mind that when moving this dial you are making a mechanical setting, the exact rate your specific camera runs at, at each setting, what we could call its real frame rate, will depend on the health of the camera, how much it has been used, how well-maintained it is etc. In a later post I’ll show you a quick system for checking your your exact fps, if and when I get round to doing that myself.

Back to the film speed indicator dial.  I’m going to ignore the mildly slowed action that 32fps offers and focus on 48fps, as it seems more ‘photographic’ to me in that it follows ‘the rule of doubles and halves’ that is the essence of the descriptive and practical systems used throughout photography, whether stills or cine: when running at this speed we double our frame rate and half the light entering the camera. Neat.

To summarise so far, I’m suggesting that for most users today, whose film is going to end up digitised, we have TWO frame rates that we are likely to be using, ‘normal’ speed of approx 24fps, and a slow motion speed of approximatly double that at 48fps. There is an important takeout to remember when choosing one of these speeds. When running 24fps we are (mechanically) tied-in to a ‘shutter speed’ of 1/60th of a second, and when running 48fps we are at 120th of a second.  Unlike some 16mm cameras that offer a ‘variable’ shutter speed, the Krasnogorsk K-3 does not, and so at normal filming speed, 24fps on the dial, we are filming with only one shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. The shutter itself is a mechanical component, and its fixed. We can choose our frame rate, but we’re stuck with a shutter speed, there is no way of changing this to suit our artistic requirements.

*Back in the day many cine cameras were run at a ‘normal’ speed or 16 or 18fps, which offered a good balance between realistic-looking movement (when later projected and watched at EXACTLY THE SAME FRAME-RATE) and economy, ‘cos lets face it, film ain’t cheap and cranking that dial up means you are burning more money, not just film, in all stages of the process to come. If you want are going to PROJECT your film, you may prefer 16 over 24fps for these reasons, but don’t forget you will need a PROJECTOR that is capable of running at 16fps too, and when choosing film to shoot you need to look for film that is labelled ‘REVERSAL’ or ‘UMKEHRFILM’ or ‘REVERSIBLE’ like KODAK’s beautiful 100D. With 16fps as your base speed, you could then drop down to the lower speeds the K-3 has available when capturing objects that aren’t moving much or when there’s slightly less light around….like late afternoon flowers. Projecting film to family and friends is a wonderful thing, and don’t think I’m trying to persuade anyone not to do it. But this ‘workflow’, as the cool kids today are inclined to call it, is now the exception rather than the rule, and even if projecting, many people are going to choose not to shoot at 16fps anyway.

CREATIVE LIMITATION 1: WE’VE ONLY REALLY GOT ONE, MAYBE TWO, SHUTTER SPEEDS TO CHOOSE FROM.

WHEN SHOOTING WITH THE K-3, WE WILL ‘NORMALLY’ BE SHOOTING AT 1/60th SECOND

If you are coming from a digital stills world, where all three photo-artistic parameters, ISO ‘film speed’, shutter speed and lens aperture (‘f-Stop’) can be liberally mixed from an infinite range of (digital) options, moving to cine film can be a little disconcerting. Cos after having learned that one of those parameters, shutter speed, is effectively pretty much fixed on the K-3 like many other small format cameras, we now face another challenge. Your ISO is going to be fixed too. And fixed from a pretty limited range of options too, just because there really aren’t that many different speeds available from the few manufacturers who are making 16mm filmstock anymore. So, at box speeds, nominally, we can shoot at 50ASA, 100ASA give or take, 200ASA give or take and 500ASA. Give or take. We make the creative decision with film speed when we choose our film and put it in the camera, not when we are shooting.

CREATIVE LIMITATION 2: ONCE LOADED AND FILMING, WE ONLY HAVE ONE ISO, OR ‘FILM SPEED’

I’m going to load up my camera with some Kodak Vision 3 ’50D’ Negative, nominally rated at 50 ASA by them. As the label tells us, this is a negative filmstock, meaning we are not going to be able to project the roll we put in the camera, after its been through the camera and developed. We would need to have a ‘positive’ print or copy made of the negative to do that, and today that is both expensive and a pretty rare thing for anyone to be doing. After development we will need to get our 50D roll digitised (this is the ‘TELECINE’ process) to be able to view and edit what we shot on our PC, Mac or tablet, and remember, we CAN’T RUN THIS FILM THROUGH A PROJECTOR (at least, not to see a positive image, you need to choose a ‘reversal’ stock for that).  This is also what’s called a ‘daylight’ balanced film, meaning you don’t NEED to use any filters in front of the lens when shooting in guess what, daylight, as opposed to man-made lighting, like light bulbs and LEDs, like you get in houses and clubs and bars . Now 50asa, is also pretty ‘slow’ as a film speed. In this respect its quite traditional, as back in the day all the big film companies new that, generally speaking, your average guy shooting any kind of film, whether stills or cine, was going to be doing so outside, in good weather, with plenty of sunshine. Lots of light means you can use slow film speeds, which have the benefit of lower levels of ugly looking grain, which people were going to have to endure if they wanted to film indoors, under (inadequate) artificial light, using the only other film stock you were prepared to make, probably a ‘Tungsten’ (electrical light) balanced stock just a tad north of 200ASA….

OK, back to the 50D. This stuff is the shit. Buy some. We are going to hack this a bit though. We can run this at the rated ‘box’ speed. Or we can lie to our meter. That’s right. Modern life huh, where lies are everywhere, we will even be doing it to our camera.

Negative film has what’s called ‘Latitude’ (good name for a blog that). That means you can mess with exposure, and it’all come out in the wash. So what we are going to do is OVEREXPOSE our 50D. This will have the result of tightening up the grain we see later just a little, although not as much as converting the camera to Super16 format (more to come on this). So let’s lie. We can choose to be conservative and lie a little bit, like ‘half a stop’, rating our stock somewhere in the mid-30s (there is a notch on my K-3 dial at this point, labelled 32ISO/ASA, yours might have a slightly different scale, but you should be able to select the same mechanical setting, see pic), or a whole stop, ie, at 25ASA (where there is another notch), or more. Self-rating the 50D like this, dropping by half from 50 down to 25 or one whole stop, is the equivalent of opening our aperture up a stop or doubling our exposure time (like 1/30th sec). This is really about getting as much exposure and light into the darker areas we are filming, shadow areas. We can fix what happens at the other, brighter end of the tonal scale, the ‘highlights’, later. With 50D we can safely go one stop over. So how do we do this?  Well if you’ve been following so far, we’ve discussed that while filming, we can’t change our shutter speed, and we can’t change our ISO.

CREATIVE LIMITATION 3: ONCE LOADED WITH FILM WE ONLY HAVE ONE OF THE THREE ‘PHOTOGRAPHIC VARIABLES TO PLAY WITH: APERTURE (f-Stop)

That’s right. All we have to do to get our exposure ‘right’, if such a thing exists, is to select the ‘correct’ lens aperture or f-Stop. So how do we do that? How do we make that choice with the K-3? Well that’s the job of our LIGHTMETER.

The Krasnogorsk K-3 is an amateur ‘cine’, home movie, camera. With a stubby, lightweight prime (i.e., non zooming) lens attached, it makes an ideal ‘run and gun’ camera, meaning shooting film ‘on the hoof’, without lots of time setting up shots with a tripod and elaborate, time-consuming light metering with an expensive, separate, pro-type LightMeter. That’s why the design includes it’s very own light meter. There’s a little notch visible in bottom edge of the viewfinder screen as you look through it, and a needle that moves (from underexposed to the right of the notch, to overexposed to the left of the notch) as the light-sensitive cell in the camera responds to light coming through the lens (or what’ abbreviated to ‘TTL’ metering).

Problem is though, the inbuilt meter uses a SELENIUM light cell, renowned for deteriorating over time and losing their accuracy, or of course, failing completely. And with your camera having been in suspended animation in Siberia for a lifetime already, how well do you think your meter is going to perform? Which is why many ‘pros’ will ignore the inbuilt meter completely, and go out and spend more than the cost of a full K-3 kit on a beautiful Sekonic LIGHTMETER.

My take on this though, is that for a handful of coins we can find out whether our K-3 meter works, and if we are ‘lucky’ and it does, we can then check how accurate it is, cos if it does read OK, or if it can be made to work OK, we get to use the camera how it was intended, for one of things it excels at, grabbing shots without too much prep. So lets spend €/£/$ 10.00, and find out if our light meter works.

INSTALLING A NEW BATTERY IN THE KRASNOGORSK K-3

The LIGHTMETER battery compartment is in the baseplate of the camera, accessed by inserting a coin and unscrewing (anti/counter clockwise) the cover (marked +):


The original battery  fitment under here was  a something that in theory, was of similar levels of toxicity to the average school classroom in the ear that your dear writer grew up, stuffed with asbestos, lead pipe and paints, weren’t those happy days eh? Even if most of us were more worried about the teacher throwing large wooden board-rubbers at us than the chemical composition our wider environment (not then, a word in common circulation if I might add). For the K-3, the nasty culprit, viewed through the lens of today’s world, was a mercury stuffed battery. We can replace this with whatever works, but with very little expense we can approach the 1.3ish volts of the original, and avoid the use of 1.5v hearing aid batteries that have a very limited lifespan.

I just happened to have one of these WEIN CELLs in the drawer. Mine was 10 years old, but had never had the little strip torn off to ‘activate’ the cell with fresh air.. Other 1.35v WEIN CELLs may fit, all I know is that I had this model on hand and it dropped right in the compartment.

At 1.35V, this is almost a spot-on replacement for the original, and these batteries really do have great lifespan. These are available all over the place, and shouldn’t cost more than £6-7 delivered each. Drop one right in on top of the spring that’s fixed to the bottom of the compartment:

The only issue is, while the diameter is large enough for it to sit nicely on the spring contact at the base of the battery compartment, it is nowhere near tall enough. We need a solution that conducts the current from the battery up to the lid and the outer + connection of the thread on the housing of the compartment. Here is my highly elegant solution:


This nut happens to be metric, but anything will do really. The important dimension is the depth of the nut, after finding something that will physically fit into the compartment, aim for 6mm, or 1/4″, like this:


This will mean that when you come to screw the compartment cover back on there will be a little free-length left in the spring before you start screwing down (take your time, try not to cross the thread when starting the thread against the spring). Nip the screw up, it does not need to be super-tight.

Next step is to see whether we are getting a response form the meter itself. You will need a lens on the camera at this point, but not necessarily any film loaded.

If you haven’t noticed it yet, and it is a little tricky to spot, the inner part of the LIGHTMETER dial, the UPPER one on the winding side, has what looks like a flat-blade screw head in the center. This is actually the LIGHTMETER ON/OFF SWITCH.

In what may possibly be a one-off anywhere on the internet of a justifiable use of wafer-thin depth of field, my photos below show, in order:

Switch in the OFF position (HORIZONTAL)

And, secondly, below, in the VERTICAL, ON position


Now, whether or not there is actually any film in the camera, we can now test the functionality of the system. I’m going to do this while at the same time applying the stuff as above about how I intend to use my Kodak Vision 3 50D, i.e, by lying to the meter a little, so that at any time I’ filming, my base settings are always for a little overexposure. So, let’s get the camera ready to run some 50D and apply our settings to the dials in preparation for using that filmstock. Obviously, if we were going to be using a different filmstock, we would need to use alternative settings right?

So, to mock-up our default base setting for Kodak Vision 3 50D for HALF A STOP OVEREXPOSED, we are going to lie to the meter (mild overexposure for the shadows), running 24 frames per second (‘normal’ speed, with an actual, mechanical shutter speed of 1/60th second), as per this image; as you can see, the dot (.) on the scale between the 25 and 50 (Gost/ISO/ASA, forget the difference), representing 32ISO (common USSR film speed), is lined up with our actual camera running speed of 24 fps on the outer dial. If we wanted, we could take this another half-notch round so that the 25 (film speed) aligns with the 24fps (filming speed) at no real risk – that would be one-stop overexposed against box speed, absolutely nothing the 50D can’t take in its stride. The upshot of this is going to be, if I’m able to use my meter and if it works correctly, I’m going to point my camera at a subject. When I rotate the aperture dial on my lens barrel to allow more or less light into the camera (say from f16 to f5.6, more light), I’m going to see my light meter needle move in the viewfinder (to the left in this example), and hopefully get it to settle in the notch along the bottom edge of the viewfinder. When its there, I have the ‘correct’ exposure – knowing that I’m also automatically adding (with the settings show here) a mild overexposure of the film by ‘1/2 a stop’ (actually 50% more light!), which will hopefully yield some benefits further down the line. It also gives me a tiny bit of latitude while filming, if the needle deflects very very slightly to the underexposed (right side as you look through the finder) I’m not going to have to immediately open the lens up another stop (to f4 to follow my example), as I have a little wriggle-room built in (which would be greater if I chose to overexpose by a whole stop (at 25) in my initial settings.

OK, so here is what my dial looks like:

OK, so we’ve told a little white lie to our K-3. It thinks we’ve put some of the USSR’s finest 32ISO SVEMA in it. We know we haven’t, we are happy to overexpose the 50D in there, and so actually, are KODAK. So what’s next?

Let’s remember, 50D is a low-speed (ie good resolution, low grain) stock that NEEDS LIGHT to work right. In addition to that, we’re metering it a half- or whole-stop lower, so the internal meter is now metering for 32ISO (as per my photo), maybe lower, depending on how far you go. So let’s now get ourselves outside, with your camera. Move the little screw head thing to vertical to switch your light meter on. If you have some sunshine, begin opening up your lens from f22 or whatever, in the ‘more light’ direction, and see what happens. We are using some pretty slow-speed settings, so don’t be surprised if you need to be heading towards very open apertures to see any movement in your needle, depending on how much light you have available where you are, ie, whether its bright sun, overcast, or gloomy.

Now, there’s a pretty big chance that your meter needle will do nothing. The meter might be dead. If there is no needle visible at all, then make sure to go back and check your battery orientation and that you nut is making good contact to make the circuit. Also, remember that the WEIN cell needs at least 1/2 an hour after you remove the little tab to start working.

Well joy of joys, when I was working through this setup myself, I got movement with my needle. I managed to get a few photos of the inside of my K-3 Viewfinder Image, showing the scale along the bottom edge of the frame, with the pointy needle bang in the middle of the central notch indicating ‘correctly exposed’. To the right of this notch, your film is not getting enough light, and to the left, too much:

METER NEEDLE to the right of the notch = UNDEREXPOSED

macro 038

METER NEEDLE central in the notch = CORRECTLY EXPOSED

macro 043

NEEDLE to the left of the notch = OVEREXPOSED

macro 045

 

If you are still getting nothing and you are technically minded, it is possible to open the camera up and make sure the wiring to the meter itself is intact. That’s probably the subject of another post, but it may be worth doing before you put your WEIN Cell and nut on eBay. Make sure you read on though, cos all is not lost yet!

If you are ‘lucky’, and that may not be the most appropriate word, and you seem to be getting a reading, with the needle responding and indicating BOTH over- and under-exposed, if you have a manual digital camera its time to test the current accuracy of your K-3 meter (don’t forget to repeat this regularly). All you have to do is set up the digi cam with the same settings as your K-3, ie, shutter at 1/60th, ISO at 32 or 25 or whatever you chose above. Then start playing with your aperture settings to match those on the K-3, and see what the digital camera’s light meter reads. If you are exceptionally lucky, these are going to tally with what the meter in the K-3 is showing. This method, using a meter in a camera that you know is good (that’s why I suggested a modern camera rather than an old film camera that maybe has a suspect meter), can be used to take the place of a dedicated, separate and expensive pro-type meter if you are on a budget, although it might not have all the functionality of the pro meter.

There is one more solution, and exploring this actually provides us with some really useful knowledge that is going to liberate us from over-reliance on our meters and hopefully make using the Krasnogorsk K-3 even more pleasurable.
What we are going to to do here is start from the idea that a LIGHTMETER is doing is what you are actually capable of doing yourself, reading the light conditions, which, with practice, you should be able to do, and which we can then marry up some of the genius nowledge the guys who invented the ASA/Shutter Speed/f-stop relationship thought up so that we can fumble towards getting some ‘PROPERLY’ EXPOSED FILM. This is based around what is called the ‘Sunny 16’ rule, which like any rule, has some pretty significant exceptions which are actually going to govern many of our doubtful situations, but lets not let that take away from the basics quite yet.

Before we can do do that though, we need to load up the camera with film and tape up the outside of the body to stop unwanted light getting to our film from around the film door and a few other spots.

 


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