I’ve been shooting for a while. Actually, a long while. If you read my About page, I talk a bit about how I started seriously into photography. The first good camera I bought was a Canon AE-1 – back when they were first introduced. When Canon produced their New F1, I knew I had to have it.
For one thing, it has a true match-needle metering system. I’ve talked about that before, but basically there are two needles in the viewfinder, one of which is a little circle. That one moves up and down as you turn the aperture ring and the other needle shows the meter reading. When they line up, the camera thinks the exposure is good. It’s nice because it conveys good information in one place that’s easy to interpret without staring at it. Other metering systems at the time were either a meter needle alone (you matched it to some point in the middle) or an electronic system similar to today as those were just beginning to appear.
The F1 has been sitting on a shelf. I last used it for real over a decade ago before I bought my first digital SLR. At the time, I was having a problem with the film transport mechanism. It would become jammed and scrunch the film until the film advance lever would no longer move. I recently thought that it might be fun to play with a bit of film, just for something different. I loaded an old roll and ran it through with the back open. It seemed to be working – unexpectedly. I believe the issue is really that it’s just overly sensitive to having the film loaded exactly right.
If I was going to experiment with film, I decided to make it black and white. There’s a character to black and white film which might be fun to play with. Brad and Lindsay agreed to model for me (with their son, Felix). We were going to try for some shots when it was actively snowing last Saturday, but it was coming down so hard and fast that I decided that was just too much on the roads. Instead, we met up Sunday downtown.
I bought four types of film, two rolls each. My first set was the Kodak TMax 100. The idea is to compare the four films to see what look suits me best. Each film has it’s own character. I used to shoot a lot of Kodachrome slide film. It’s look is best explained by Paul Simon’s song.
For this B&W experiment, I decided to also develop the film myself. Although I used to have a darkroom, I didn’t do a lot of film processing. (In fact, Kodachrome had to be processed by a lab.) But, I’ve done a bit of B&W and used to process Ektachrome slide film. I figure it’s probably been 30 years since I last developed a roll of film. It’s not that hard, though. You have a tank into which the film goes, and once it’s in there, everything is done in daylight – i.e. no darkroom needed.
These are some of my shots. After developing and drying the film, I scanned them into the computer where I used Lightroom and Photoshop to finish them. I’m looking more at the film’s character, not trying to replicate the entire old workflow. I did have to remind myself there’s no autofocus – I had to do that manually. And I had to advance the film between shots. While I was very happy with exposures and such, there were some issues: dust, scratches, and water spots.
I’ve cleaned the camera’s film chamber more thoroughly hoping that helps some. And I have a squeegee coming to wipe the film before setting it to dry. I likely scratched it using my fingers for that purpose. Fingers crossed for next time. Fortunately, Photoshop helps solve those problems, although it can be time consuming.
What’s the verdict? For the moment, it’s still an ongoing experiment. I really do want to see how the different films compare. Looking at the images, especially zoomed at 100%, the grain in this “fine grain” film is substantial. More than I expected. But it’s okay, too. Digital photographs can be a bit cold in a sense. They are so good. In fact, we sometimes go to extremes to reduce away any hint of noise, of imperfection, that they become almost industrial. Film is different from that. B&W film, in particular, reacts to the color of the world in a way which isn’t obvious, each film reacting in its own way.
I’m never going to become a film snob for sure. I love digital. Love, love it. But, there’s something fun about setting your exposure, taking a photo, and knowing – but not really knowing – you got the shot. I always remember my mom’s words – “I hope it comes out.” It will be a learning process, too. What do I like and not like about the various looks? Then how can I imbed those characteristics in my digital photos?
Next up is Ilford PanF Plus 50. I burned a roll yesterday outside my house shooting the big heavy snow we were having. I also shot a couple night shots down the street with 30 second exposures. I haven’t shot at 50 ISO since, well, since I very rarely shot 25 ISO Kodachrome.
I hope they come out.