I’ve been on a kick lately, and it’s been all about film. I can track it back to a few months ago I started going through some of my old negatives looking for some images I shot out in Eastern Oregon at a lonely (but seriously amazing) place called Leslie Gulch. Now, you really need to visit this place to understand how truly amazing the landscape is out there, but you can scratch the surface by looking at images from various visits. Getting back to my image search, I was only mildly successful at pulling some images out of my archives and onto the scanner but what really hung with me the last few months is getting back to shooting film.
I’ve been away from film for a long time. I mean, I have a lot of film cameras spanning 4×5, medium format, 35mm, pinhole cameras and toy cameras. I have a lot of vintage cameras too ranging from a 100 year old Kodak Brownie to a Polaroid Land Camera from the 60’s. I even have a couple of vintage spy-esque cameras that shoot crazy ass small films types. Even though the vast majority of my cameras are fully functional, I have shot surprisingly little film through them. I’ve been really enamored with my digital cameras and managed to collect a few really nice lenses, the purchase of which have been spaced well enough that my attention has been captured by them long enough to keep me happily clicking away trying to stretch my ability to create interesting images. My latest obsession has been my Tokina 16 – 28 f/2.8. It’s an absolutely glorious hunk of glass that produces crazy wide images. The super short depth of field is bested only by my 50 f/1.8 which just loves to produce laser sharp images layered on all sorts of bokeh awesomeness. Lately I’ve been yearning to get back to shooting with a slower, more methodical medium which totally caters to my type A personality. Yeah, I admit it. I’m one of those shooters that shoots a metric ton more images when I’m shooting digital. It’s so much easier to shoot more, and flit from frame to frame only half considering the composition. Consequently I contend this to be an unavoidable short-coming of the digital camera age. It doesn’t really cost anything to shoot a card full of images. SD cards are so inexpensive that you can get a 128mb card that can hold 10 times the number of images of a roll of film. So yeah, why the hell not just click away? This is less of a feature and more of a detractor.
Film on the other hand can get very expensive. If you burn through 10 rolls of any format of film in a day you have to shell out some significant duckettes to get them developed and printed, scanned or both. Yeah I know, you can develop them yourself, especially if it’s B&W film, but color film is more difficult to develop in a home darkroom as it requires more precise temperature control over all of the chemicals and the chemicals tend to be more expensive than their B&W counterparts. Since I don’t have a home darkroom setup, I get all my processing done at Blue Moon Camera. This expense, at least with 35mm, makes me consider each frame quite a bit more. I pay closer attention to all of the details in the composition, aperture and shutter speed. I preview the depth field quite often as well if I’m not stopped down or all the way open. It takes 3 times as long to shoot each image, and I tend not to bracket as much unless I’m shooting slide film. That’s precisely what I love about shooting with film though, and if I’m being honest, I tend to get better images on film. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Why don’t you just slow down and consider the images more while being Mr. Digital and quit being such a spaz?” Yeah, it doesn’t work that way unless I’m really focused on what I’m shooting. It may seem a little silly, but there it is.
The other part of it is the feel of the camera. Take the Nikon FE I just bought today (from Blue Moon of course). The thing is a tank. Nikon made amazingly well built 35mm cameras before they started moving to the all electronic cameras and the plastic body styles of the N80 and N90 cameras of the late 90’s. Yeah the FM3 and the F5 were different beasts and hold-overs from a by-gone era, but the dent they made in your wallet reflected that. The heft of the camera speaks volumes. It grabs your attention and refuses to be ignored. You know when you’re swinging an FE around, especially so if you’ve got a nice hunk of glass on it, say… like a Tokina 16-28 f/2.8 or the 70-200 f/2.8. Both of those lenses are on the boat anchor side, and after a day of lugging those puppies around your arm is ready to pat out of the match.
If I’m not careful here, it could easily sound like I’m complaining, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I like the feeling of knowing there is something is in my hand. Tugging on my arm like a dog pulls on his leash. This is a great feeling. The ruggedness of the camera, the mechanical clunks, squeaks and clicks. Being able to feel when the mirror flips up and the shutter actuates. The sound of the iris sliding closed as you hit the preview button to stop down the aperture and the decisive clicks the aperture ring makes. It all adds up to pure bliss.
Then there’s the whole uncertainty of it all. Handing the film off to the folks behind the counter, the waiting until net Saturday to see what you shot. Did they come out? Being able to hold the photograph in your hands, and then there’s the smell. With all of the amazing technology available in the cameras today is mind boggling. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that I borrowed a D100 from the Pro Photo Rental Department for a weekend and marveled at the fact that I was shooting six megapixel images (one of my favorites images of my oldest son) right in the camera. The fact that I could drop on any Nikon lens and get a super high quality image in just seconds was jaw-dropping. I shot this image of Pro Photo’s Rental cage before they moved with a 20 year old 6mm fisheye on the D100. As a side note, if you’ve never handled one of these monsters, it’s really quite an intimidating hunk of glass.
Even with all of this gnawing at me I still haven’t gotten out and shot as much as I’d like to. I’ve gotten out a couple of times with my youngest son, and he really enjoys it too. I recently gave him a Yashica FX-103 with a Zeiss 28mm lens on it, it’s actually a pretty sweet little camera. Even though it was built in the 80’s it’s still all metal but with an electronic shutter. But the weather has been great, and tomorrows another day, and I just bought 4 rolls of Street Pan 400 so maybe tomorrow’s the day.