• Model Railroad photography

  • Discussion of photography and videography techniques, equipment and technology, and links to personal railroad-related photo galleries.
Discussion of photography and videography techniques, equipment and technology, and links to personal railroad-related photo galleries.

Moderators: nomis, keeper1616

  by Otto Vondrak
I use a Pentax K-1000 35mm camera for all my photography. I have done some photography of our club layout over the years using slides and digital camera. I am about to do a feature on our layout, but I am looking at some more customized equipment. In the past, I had a telephoto lens that went down to f32, and I got some good pictures with that. My 28mm and my 50mm both stop down to f22, which is still pretty good. I light my scenes with tungsten incandescent floods, I use Kodak T64 kodachrome, varying exposures somewhere between 1 and 1.5 seconds. The photos come out well, but I want better! Here are some scenes from the past...



I hear pinhole lenses are best. Do they make pinhole lenses for 35mm cameras? Perhaps there is some sort attachment? I dont know much about these things. Any help?


  by pgengler
I'm sure you've seen the feature about model RR photography in the Feb. 2006 RMC, but there was another feature in the February 1993 issue which seems a lot more informative. It looks like mostly stuff you already know, though.

As for pinhole cameras/lenses, while I don't have any experience using them, what I have heard about that is that they're not recommended for model railroad photography (I recall reading almost that exact quote in an article, but I can't seem to find which one at the moment). From what I've read regarding general use of a pinhole lens, while it does provide greater depth-of-field, the image is generally less sharp as a whole (owing to the fact that a larger DOF does not necessarily mean more of the image will be in clear focus; rather, it means that more of the image will be around the same focus as the sharpest point).
  by MEC407
Otto Vondrak wrote:I use Kodak T64 kodachrome
Do you mean Kodak Ektachrome 64T? I'm pretty sure Kodak discontinued the tungsten-balanced version of 35mm Kodachrome many years ago.

Anyway, it sounds like your basic setup is good. Can't think of much that I would change about it, really. A macro lens is always good for detail shots of specific models/equipment. Try a roll or two of Fujichrome 64T II and see how you like that. It's not dramatically different from its Ektachrome counterpart, but some say it's a bit sharper and finer grained.

  by AndyB
Not to simplify model photography.
Film, lighting, quality of equipment all has a roll.
The most important item I found was controlling depth of field or what is in focus. Take a roster shot of a GP-9 (giving away my age) focus on the cab, lens wide open - 55mm lens @ F2.8. The number on the cab will be clear, the number board fuzzy put readable, the back end a blur. Stop the lens down to F-16, usually the smallest on most 35mm SLR cameras. You will get the entire engine and most likely the first two or three cars in focus.
You can also get better depth of field by using wider angle lens. I have done a lot of model photography using a 28mm with an F32. Depth of field with this about 3" to infinity. Of course the smaller the F stop setting the longer the exposure, 15 seconds or more. No shots of moving equipment. Defiantly a tripod needed for this.

Being the type who always tries the gadget, I have a pinhole lens for my Minolta X-700. In the early 80s a fellow from Cincinnati, Andrew J Fricko, advertised in the model magazines a pinhole lens with a fixed focusing lens. A hole 0.018" was etched in very thin stainless steel. This, according to the instruction sheet with the lens, gives the lens a F-90 rating. You developed an exposure time by first taking a reading through your standard lens set at F-16 then multiplying by 60, 1 second gave 60 seconds. I found the factor to be more like 300 to 1. Usually I would take a series at 1 minute intervals starting at 3 minutes up to 10 minutes. Somewhere in there would be a good exposure. It did take a very clear photo that was all in focus. The down side was time needed for setup and multiple exposures.

About, a year ago I went digital and have been getting some fine photos with a Fuji S-5100.

  by Otto Vondrak
Hrmm... I cant remember the last time I bought tungsten balanced film, there is still a roll kicking around in the fridge. Hrm. Well anyway, yeah, I used that 1993 article as my bible. Oddly enough, if you follow Chris' instructions, it works!

I remember the Fricko attachment, and have seen similar attachments on ebay and whatnot, but wasn't sure if it was worth it. I may try to hunt up a 28mm lens that I can stop down farther. Right now, my fixed 28 goes down to f22.

I was able to get decent shots with the f32 200mm telephoto. It worked like the real thing, allowing me to get to areas of the layout where I normally wouldn't be able to set up a tripod and shoot with a short lens. Though most of the images I liked came out of the good ol' 50mm.

One time I borrowed a flash set that was synced to my Pentax. It worked fine, but the flash set blew away the headlights and other lighting effects, and gave everything a coldish blue cast.

Well, I guess it's off to eBay to find a 28mm that I can stop down to f32!


  by MEC407
Otto Vondrak wrote:One time I borrowed a flash set that was synced to my Pentax. It worked fine, but the flash set blew away the headlights and other lighting effects, and gave everything a coldish blue cast.
When using a flash, you would need to use normal (daylight balanced) film; using flash with tungsten-balanced film, or using tungsten-balanced film outdoors, will result in the blue cast you noticed.

  by AndyB
The difference between F22 and F32 is negligible. I doubt that anyone would see a difference using a 28mm lens. This is especially true where print format (magazine) or internet posting can not handle the fine detail of film. At this point, the clarity factor comes from the quality of the lens. A very high quality, expensive, lens will give a clearer photo at F11 or even F8 then an inexpensive lens at F22 or F32. From here we go into things like light fracturing through the lens and beyond the scope of what we want to do. Enjoy ourselves!
A finger smudge or minute scratch on the lens can also ruin clarity.
Of course, the finest equipment, lights, lenses will not make up for good composition. Over the years, I have seen some great photos done with snap-shot cameras.

One of the great things with digital cameras is the ability to feed the viewfinder directly to a TV. It's great to see what you are going take on a 25" screen before you take it.

  by Otto Vondrak
Those are good points, thank you.

I should also point out that I was shooting EKTACHROME 64T and not Kodachrome. Big difference!

The flash set up wasn't my idea, one of my photo friends thought it would be great, so she borrowed this whole set from the cage and set up the club room like a studio shoot. It worked great from a technical standpoint, but didn't really give the realistic lighting I was looking for. I plan on sticking with the incandescent floods.


  by AndyB
Being so close to New York City and the advertising market, the NYSME layouts http://www.ModelEngineers.org have been used a few time for add layouts. How many model railroads can claim the cover of Money Magazine?
The Pros seem to prefer flood lighting over flash. They also would use thin sheets of colored glass in front of the lights for different effects. The lights, HOT! After one shoot of a "HO" pasenger train the side of one of the plastic cars was found to have sagged from the heat.
Their standard camera was a large format Hasselbrad 2.5" x 2.5" using slide film.
Last edited by AndyB on Sun Jun 11, 2006 7:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

  by CNJ999
Otto, you mean you want a camera/lenses system that will allow you to shoot stuff like this:


If you are still monitoring this thread and looking for advice, just pipe up. I've been doing model photography with all sorts of specialized lens systems for years and could probably offer some useful suggestions.