Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Fiddling With Film And The Cameras That Use Them

"Film is not dead." says a local online seller here in Metro Manila. I can't help but agree. Though no longer as prevalent as it once was, it's still alive and kicking. The resurgence and reintroduction of some film brands may just prove that it's not all curtains yet. I'd like to believe, there's life in film yet. There's something about prints that you hold on your hand that makes it feel special compared to just watching it on a screen. It's relatively pricey, but that does encourage one to take the level of pictures you take up a notch. When was the last time you shot a picture that's a bit more meaningful than some random selfie?

Folks at Film-Folk (er, pun not intended?) have a vast array of collection if you're curious.
Buying online is encouraged as it's at a good price.
For the hands on experience, they have their wares on display at Satchmi SM Megamall

One can argue that digital images can be printed... But let's be honest here- it's only something done by a few dedicated to the craft. Shooting film compels one to have it developed, and it's not a complete experience without getting your hands on the prints at the end. Yes, I am raving about outdated technology. Maybe I'm also just romanticizing an era far gone. It's fortunate for me though, that reliving that time isn't necessarily beyond reach. I got my hands on a couple of film cameras. And after a few rolls, I must say it's one lovely nostalgia trip.

But a quick caveat though- I've never held an SLR before this. I've seen the but never got to hold them let alone use them. I've used film before, but it was with automatic cameras- that takes care of the learning curve on working out how and where that canister goes at the back of the camera. These are precursors of DSLRs. And this makes it an interesting experience for me.

The first camera I got my hands on was an antique - like, as old as my parents antique. It was obtained at a garage sale at a ridiculously low price by a kind soul who lent it to me (Thank you for making this possible. You are beyond awesome! This post goes out to you.).

The catch though, is it's haunted... By molds, rust and dust that is. Countdown timer doesn't work and the reflex mirror gets stuck on some shutter speeds. It worked, but only partially. Oh yeah, it has no light meter either.

A hipster's fantasy? No light meter, no electronics, and instead of an LCD at the back, you get a dial to remind yourself the rating of the film used. Everyone says "ISO" but you also say "ASA". More about ASA.

Despite the flaws, I jumped at the chance to use it anyway. I got my hands on a couple of Superia 400 rolls and loaded one up. Just the experience of loading it was utterly nostalgic. but also a new experience (this is due to the slightly different design of the film spool)- the phrase "Same-same, but different. But still same." would be an appropriate description regardless how absurd that sounds.

This old thing is fully mechanical, and devoid of electronics. The absence of a light meter means you need to do the math to compute for exposure- like hardcore old school photographers used to do when the sunny 16 rule won't apply... 
But I cheated. I used a smartphone app as a light meter to guide my settings. I am no hardcore old school photographer. I just don't have that kind of experience. 

Here are some prints I got. Yes these are actual 3R prints. I didn't bother scanning them not because I'm lazy, but rather because if I scan them, it's like shooting digital anyway which defeats the purpose of it. Dusty table border and shot with another camera to include the background.

Full frame and wide aperture means getting that Bokehlicious shot.

Nailing the focus was kinda tricky.

Yes, food photography. With film.

Food photography. Same habit, different medium.

If I shot this on  digital I'd have applied film simulations anyway.
Operating this thing is a joy. The full manual stuff has its unique charm that's not present in most cameras these days. Manual focusing can be a bit of a chore, which leads me to admire photographers in the past. Getting that focus spot on is no easy feat if you're not used to it.

This thing is built like a tank, and it's heavy. In a pinch you can use this as a weapon and it will ensure the unfortunate face this hits will bleed before even having a dent. I wish modern low end/midrange DSLRs are built as tough.

After a roll, I thought this thing can use some love. And so I had this baby repaired. After some poking around the Internet, I found Joseph Camera Repair to be at a relatively convenient location. There are other recommendations though, especially ones mentioned by this blog. It's definitely worth a visit.

Sitting on the camera technician's desk for now. If it were sentient it'd probably gasp at the horror of parts on display.

The other one lent to me was fairly more recent. I have no film camera of my own right now, so I just borrow this film camera experience. It was a mess with a lot of molds but a bit of elbow grease and restoring solution made it look like new again. It was the least I can do for letting me experience using an SLR. Fortunately, the owner was happy with it. It looked amazing and it had the same build quality as mid-range DSLRs these days- except that this one was from the 90's year 2000's. This baby is perfectly working too.

It's like my D40- But on film, no LCD and all the bells and whistles.
DOF preview button was enjoyable to use. I wish most low end DSLRs had it.

If I had a gripe with the Nikon probably, it's the fact that it is powered by a couple of CR2 batteries. And these aren't the rechargeable type either. Each pair can shoot through around 10 rolls of 36 exposure film according to the manual. These aren't cheap in the long run. Unlike the other camera that was fully mechanical, modernization is battery powered. Nonetheless it's awesome to use. It's like using film with DSLR ergonomics that you're used to. Just remember to not open the camera body until after it's done rewinding, lest you'd lose everything you shot.

Just a couple of options to play with. I personally used Superia X-tra 400 and loved it.
But I'm also curious how Acros will come out after it's developed.



Oops... The film experience isn't perfect though. It's not without its woes and mess ups. A notable example was after I had the repair completed. I got too excited that I haven't properly checked if the film was loaded correctly. At the end of the day of shooting, I was beginning to wonder why I'm still able to advance after 36 shots. After a rewind I had the film developed the next day. That's when I found it- A day of shooting wasted because the film wasn't advancing at all since it wasn't properly loaded to the spool. Oh well, you live, you learn. That's one lesson I need to keep in mind, as digital photography spoiled me.

Wasted roll on the left, and another film I'm curious to try on the right.
I'm keeping that as a reminder to load the film properly.

More to come.

A day in 36 frames. I'm not about to abandon digital anytime soon, but this I think is something interesting to do on the side. I would still have my digital shots, but on days I feel adventurous film would be the way to go. If I'm particularly daring I'd consider loading an Acros or Ilford and go monochrome.

Is this something that I'd recommend to everyone? 

Definitely. I'd recommend photography enthusiasts shoot film at least once. It has its caveats and challenges, especially in the cost and gratification- I can't argue with the cost, but for the gratification, what better way to slow down and savor the moment? I think it's also good practice to help one avoid chimping. :)  

Some may not necessarily find this to be as feasible compared to digital in the long run, however it would still prove to be an interesting experience.

More pictures to come. Until then, don't let the fear of getting lost deter you from going out to wander! :)

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