Over the last year or so I’ve been playing around with film, in black and white which is the cheapest option I’ve found as I can develop at home quite easily.
It’s surprisingly a bit of a learning process. Digital cameras these days make life so much easier. My Olympus has live view in the view finder, will show me under and over exposed areas in real time, with a histogram overlay so getting exposure wrong is pretty much impossible. I’ve shot in RAW format for years which means every photo has to be post processed to bring back the contrast and colour and tweak it to show what I want to represent. I spend more time in front of the computer than behind the camera for sure, and I enjoy that process.
With film I’ve found I have to really slow down. Are my settings correct? Is my exposure right? I’ve had to re-learn measure exposure all over again. Every click of the shutter costs real money so you are double and triple checking every step, and also really considering the photograph, is it worth taking? It’s quite enjoyable and I find the results very rewarding.
I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at photographs I really enjoy, landscapes that inspire me, works that draw me in, and something I’ve discovered is the majority of those photos have been captured on film, and on large film to be precise. My recent trip to visit my family on the Central Coast of NSW saw me drop in to Ken Duncan’s Gallery (again!) and really spend some time viewing and looking at his works. They are printed big, on beautiful hahnemuhle paper, and framed wonderfully. These are the types of photographs I love. And it’s really interesting, you can spot the digital photographs he has taken with his awesome digital medium format cameras a mile away, they are sharp as a tack, amazing detail, but I kept leaning towards the photographs captured on film. They have a bit more glow, are usually a longer exposure, some of the details aren’t quite as sharp, you can see where the exposure had to be nailed to get it right at point of capture. And the colours..film has colours I don’t think digital can reproduce, they are just stunning.
I have two film cameras at the moment. A lovely Olympus Trip 35 point and shoot style 35mm camera that I generally load with black and white and use for street style photography or family snaps. It’s almost set and forget, just pick a focus zone and don’t worry about exposure, it nails it every time, yes, every single time, it’s an amazing piece of kit.
My next camera is a new purchase, a Russian made Lubitel 166 Universal. This is a twin lens reflex (TLR) medium format 120 film camera. It’s extremely simple and extremely manual in use, creates either a 6×6 or 6×4.5cm negative per photo (there is a mask you can change but you are looked into that option for each roll. You look down through the top to work out your composition, and use a little magnifying glass inside to get the focus correct.
I’m working my way through a roll of black and white Fomapan 200 creative at the moment with this camera and absolutely loving the process. Working on a tripod (as I always do) getting the composition just right (the view is back to front so it makes you work for it!), measuring the exposure of the scene (I use a simple phone app), putting your settings in, cocking the shutter and then taking the photo. In 2 hours on the weekend I took two shots, total! And I loved it! The whole process of slowing down, really looking at the light of a scene, double checking exposure, framing, settings, and finally committing to the shot is really amazing to me.
My first roll is almost finished and this weekend I’m taking another little step in my film journey and shooting some Ektar 100 colour negative film. This is the modern landscape film of choice. Velvia 50 is what Ken Duncan uses a lot but it’s a lot harder and more expensive to use. The Ektar is very forgiving if you don’t quite get the exposure correctly and gives amazing colour and contrast. I’m really excited to see what results I can get from this film.
Medium format film, scanned in properly, will give a photograph file far larger than anything you can get from any DSLR digital camera, I’m talking hundreds of megapixels of data with a massive range of tones. I can scan a 35mm negative in at around 60mp, I can scan a 6×6 negative in at around 6 times that! The trick I use is I actually use my Olympus OMD Em5 MarkII digital camera, with a macro lens to take a photo of the negative, in hi res mode! Works startling well if you prep everything right.
All of this has me thinking about the next step in my photography. I really want to capture more landscapes with film, and I really want to have the full ability of selective choice in composition. I want big negatives that can give incredibly huge prints, I want the colours and tones that film gives with that beautiful fine grain. And I want bigger than 120 medium format! So now I’m saving, I’m working on getting a 4×5 field View Camera, a modern day version of what Ansel Adams used to use (although he was shooting bigger again with 8×10 I believe). A camera where it’s one shot per film, you need a dark cloth over you and the back of the camera just to compose, but you have the amazing ability to change the lens height, angle, swing for amazing depth of field, or custom focus bands. And a negative that is 4inch x 5inch in size, scanned size? @#%#@ huge!!
So I’m not quitting digital, I love my Olympus and it’ll be with me this weekend. But I’ll have the Lubitel and Olympus Trip with me as well, and they’ll be taking photos in a different way, it will be very interesting to see the results. I think film has a future in my work, some of the results that can be achieved with film are astonishing, and the process of slowing down, the time involved means more investment personally with every photograph taken. I look forward to a hybrid future of digital and analog.
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