As I mentioned in the previous post, today will be something completely different. A while ago I got this inexplicable urge to start shooting film. I have no idea why, I’ve always felt that digital is so much more convenient and cost effective. Still, there is a certain something about film that gives it a magic that I don’t think digital can ever quite live up to. I’m certainly not saying it’s better and it sure costs a lot in the long run, but it is different and has a different appeal.
I figured that if I was going to get a film camera, might as well make it a medium format and really get a different look. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to afford a digital medium format camera but a film camera is a completely different story. I started looking around and found that the prices vary a lot depending on brand and what condition the camera is in. The beauty of film is that the camera really doesn’t matter very much, since you decide what sensor to use when you load the film. The only part of the camera that has any real impact on quality is the lens. Other than that it’s just a question of different features and all I wanted was something that took pictures with a decent lens on it.
After looking at the local used market for cameras (I didn’t want to wait/pay extra to have something shipped from abroad) I found a Mamiya C330f for a good (at least I think it was good) price. It’s a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera with the unusual feature of interchangeable lenses. Here’s a couple of pictures of what it looks like.
This thing is built like a tank, seriously, you could easily kill someone with it and it would still work just fine. You can see that it’s a bit worn but it’s nothing that affects the functionality. It’s completely mechanical, meaning there are no batteries and hence no meter either. In other words you need a light meter or you can do what I do, which is to use my digital camera as a meter.
So far I’ve only shot two rolls with it but I have to say that it’s a lot of fun to use it. All the basic functions works perfectly but I did run in to some trouble when I tried to use flash. I can get it to trigger the flash but it’s rather unreliable, sometimes it would trigger and sometimes not. The way I did it was to leave the lens cap on and do a test shot. If the flash triggered I would then make a real exposure and then I could be more or less confident that the flash would trigger again. However, I don’t think I’ll be shooting much flash with this camera, it’s just too fiddly when I can’t trust it.
These were shot on Kodak TMAX 100 and nothing has been done to them in post. I have no intention of developing film myself; for one thing I don’t have any space for that at home. I might however get a scanner at some point, at least if I start shooting a bit more film. These were sent away to be developed and scanned in low resolution to keep the cost down. By scanning myself I would get higher resolution scans and it would pay for itself pretty quickly when you consider the cost of having someone else do it for you.
Everything I’m showing here today was shot wide open at f2.8 with an 80mm lens. I wanted to really get the full effect of shooting medium format so that’s why I shot everything wide open. This is a look I would never be able to get with anything that I can afford in the digital world. Below are a few more shots from the same roll that shows better what I mean by the medium format look.
As you can see the contrast is quite soft in these shots and part of that I guess is because of the film (I’m still very unfamiliar with different films). However, I think part of it can be from the lens as well. There are some marks on the coating of the lens so it’s not in perfect condition. The photos are quite soft as well and that should also be because of the lens and the fact that I’m shooting wide open. I still like the look a lot and, frankly, part of the charm and magic with film is that it isn’t as clean and polished as digital, at least not if you don’t edit your scans.
I was worried that I would have trouble getting focus right manually but the viewfinder is huge and also has a loupe that lets you magnify part of it for more accurate focus. However, focusing on my daughter was still far from easy – she’s not what you would call a patient model.
Here are some more photos from my second roll of film (same as the one at the top), shot on Kodak Portra 160.
I didn’t use flash for these but for two of them, the one just above here and the one at the top of the post, I used a reflector to get some more light on my subject’s face. A reflector is probably the way I’ll go when it comes to lighting things with this camera, based on the fickle flash we discussed earlier. The problem was that the sun was moving in and out of the clouds and my little model was standing very still. This meant that I had to either wait for the sun to come back, which would make my model impatient, or I would have to get my digital camera to meter for the cloudy scene and hope the sun didn’t come back before I could get my shot. Not knowing what kind of results I was getting was definitely a big change from what I’m used to but it’s also part of what makes it fun.
For some of these shots I also used a 3-stop ND filter, since the top shutter speed is 1/500 and I wanted to keep the aperture at 2.8.
A few more shots, with natural light only, since my assistant was modelling here.
The last shot here was something I took just to finish the roll so I could send it in and get it developed as quickly as possible.
So far this has been a fun experiment that has left me wanting more. By no means will this replace my digital camera, especially not for my serious work, but it’s definitely something I’ll pull out from time to time when I just want a different look and a different, slower and more deliberate experience while shooting. I’m going to hold off on getting a scanner for a while but it’s on my radar for the future. I still have several rolls of the films you see here but I’m also planning on trying some Kodak Ektar 100 for some more punch to the colours.
Let me know what you think and if you shoot any film yourself and have some advice for a beginner.