Sitting on the train going into the city can be quite boring. I didn’t feel like reading and just gazing out of the window didn’t seem to be much of an option. Then it occurred to me that I’d never had much luck taking pictures from the train. What could I do to try to improve? I had my NEX 5n with me and I was trying out a manual focus Jupiter 8 lens – A copy of the pre World War II Zeiss Sonnar I believe.

Why do I have problems shooting from a train? I usually use autofocus lenses and for exposure it’s usually aperture priority leaving the camera to choose the shutter speed. So what’s going wrong. First I’m shooting through the train window and autofocus can be fooled when shooting through glass – the lens focuses on the glass rather than on the object beyond the glass. Second using aperture priority mode the camera can choose a shutter speed, which is too long to stop the motion caused by the moving train.

So now I’m using a manual focus lens. What can I do about this? When using manual focus lenses I’ve always used aperture priority since the camera can’t automatically change the aperture, but it can change the shutter speed. There is an alternative though. I can set the shutter speed and and the aperture and let the camera vary the ISO. If I did this I could ensure that a faster shutter speed would be used.

What to do about the focus issue? There’s no chance that the glass window would fool a manual focus lens. However, my technique is not so good that I can rapidly change focus as the train flashes by (‘flashes’ may be a bit of an exaggeration. This is metro north not a French bullet train). Luckily the Jupiter 8 has an old style depth of field scale. So I could try hyperfocal focussing. Set it on f11 to get decent depth of field and you’re off.

Did it work? Certainly the results were better than I usually get. Generally the focus was acceptable. The problem is that if you set both the aperture and the shutter speed then the camera can only set the ISO. It often set it higher than I would have liked. This resulted in lots of noise. To avoid excessively high noise levels I set the shutter speed lower than I should have and there’s more motion blur and camera shake than I would have liked.

Also the fixed 50mm (or 75mm lens when on the NEX) was something of a limitation. To get the framing that I wanted I had to crop fairly aggressively. And of course you still see reflections in the windows….

Generally the pictures are softer than I would have liked. They are much better than I’ve been able get before so all things considered I’m pleased with the results.

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