Adventure in film – part 1

I am not into New years resolutions all that much, but starting new activities and projects, especially after receiving related gifts for Christmas is whole other story. There is few of those happening this week, and the one I am about to write a post about is going back to shooting film.

In upcoming series of posts, I will be sharing some of my experiences in buying film camera, developing it and other film-only related tips, so you can learn along with me. And maybe I can get you interested in expanding your tool box with this inexpensive gear to expand your creativity.

First, why at all would you like to try it?

Let me tell what the reasons were for me.I am sure many of you are familiar with this exercise for digital-only photographers, described for example in this article by Jeff Guyer for Digital Photography School. While simple exercise in imposing several limitations on your typical photo walk, I never could prevent myself from either limiting the number of shots, not to stop “chimping. Simply, did not work for me. getting the “real thing” was the way to go.
What goes with the lack of the LCD preview and the 24 pictures limit is a thrill of discovery after week or so passed, what treasure images are on the film when it comes back from the processing lab. And in terms of shooting, some more of selectivity what is really worth taking picture of. For me, it is more time spend evaluating the frame in the viewfinder, estimating if it really looks as good as I thought at first?

Secondly, how can you get your hands on a film camera?

For me, the first choices would be family and friends. I have tried to put hand on my father’s old film camera and/or borrow some from friends. You will be surprised how many people have stashed their old film equipment for various reasons. It limits your choices on what you can get, but is certainly cheaper, as long as it does the job, right? After all, after a week or two you might decide it is not for you, after all, and just give it back.

Well, since getting one of those film cameras for free was going nowhere for me, I talked my husband into getting one for me for Christmas. Which means I had to have a clear idea what I want and how much I want to spend before going on a shopping spree. Your requirements might vary from mine, but after quick reality check on proces of F4, legendary film Nikon camera, I posed those two conditions:

  • It is realistic to set a price for film camera at $50 or even less
  • It makes sense to buy just a body, and make sure it will work with the collection of digital lesnes you already own.

And with this last one, you need to be aware that your cropped sensor lenses will not work on a film camera. They will not have sufficient field of view. I actually have a cropped sensor Nikon D300, but for totally unrelated reason started to exchange all my DX lenses to FX lenses. Thus, I could put my newly acquired 50 mm f/1.4 lens on film camera and be set.

Nikon N65 film camera

With your requirements lists, you can either go online, to Amazon for example, and pick something from all the variety they offer. I made it easy for myself, and just visited a local camera store. Will you pay more? Probably. But sometimes, there is something to be said for a personal shopping experience. You can put your hands on new gear, see exactly how it fits in your hands, check where the buttons are. Maybe even get batteries or film thrown in the package for free?

And here it is- a Nikon D65, my new film camera. It is far more advanced than I expected I would get. It has a number of features, like bracketing, the auto exposure and focus. The buttons are in familiar places and it is of prosumer level, just like my first Nikon D40x was.

Now, how about you? Have you ever considered adding a film camera to your collection? Or maybe you already did, or, in fact, are one of those who decided to only shoot film? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments!

Coming next, some experiences in getting the film developed and how the quality of images differs between film and digital.

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  • Radek Kozak

    Very cool Iza, i’m looking forward to see what you’ll come up with in a film realm. Regarding questions at the end ot the post – i was fortunate to start with film camera when attending university and being a part of CAPA (Cracow student photography agency) I loved it and to the last year i was regularly using my Yashica and Bessa R3a cameras simply because there is something about that process, the feeling i will never get working digital. Unfortunatelly when moved back to smaller city, the costs of hanging on to film paradigm were too high. Even availability of films or good enough labs are almost non existent. Even if i would like to learn to develop myself, the chemicals and the like are simply not available here either (although i don’t think i would like to mess up with dark room at this stage). I sold my cameras and film scanners recently, not without heartache though. Wish it was all simpler.

    I get your pain when you said you couldn’t stop chimping or limit your frames – i’m here to say it’s possible even with LCD. I have now only one body and one lens and my last trip to Prague i have checked the LCD like maybe 5 times a day. It was a mind’s game at first i had to talk myself out of chimping behaviour (and was doing that at loud :-) but now i think i’m loving this simplicity to the bones. I still look at the back of my camera once in awhile if i’m afraid i could mess very important shot or when i’m in “fine art mode”. In my street and documentary type of workflow though that’s rather rare case and i’m always trying to evaluate pictures at the end of the day to emulate the shooting film feeling.

    As to limiting the frames – i have nothing against fixed frames’ count but i think the right amount of frames is the one that gets you to the picture you envisioned. Having said that i rarely am coming back home from the daily shoot with more than 100 frames ( maybe more if i’m exploring new environment)

    Anyway i hope you’ll enjoy film photography ride !

  • Iza

    I know you are right, you can do the “shoot like film camera” exercise with digital, it just never worked for me. I am just a happy snapper, and hope to be able to stop myself, slow down with film.
    I also see your pain with analog technology slowly disappearing- less choices for film, less labs which develop. It is not easy in small town America just as it is not easy in small town Poland. Something I will be writing more in future post- I am already working on the one about scanning, but before I post, I want to actually find a place to scan my images larger than thumbnail ;).
    Otherwise, film is so much fun!

  • Jessica Sweeney

    Very cool! I’m still loving my film camera – I find it slows me down and makes me more deliberate.

  • Iza

    I have to admit that I enjoy it a lot, no need for digital preview, don’t miss it at all.

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