Although I can’t remember exactly the last time I used film, it had to be sometime around 2002. I knew this much because I had small digital cameras in Tibet (2000) and after that I moved into DSLRs at the newspaper (2003). Either way there were a few reasons why I tried it again (notice I said tried, not a full conversion, I still need digital for the magazine):
-I was bored.
-I felt a tremendous itch to buy something photographic.
-A new photog friend, Chuck Price, shoots almost exclusively film, and I was getting jealous of his 4×5 and medium format cameras (see above reason). He loaned me is Olympus 35 RD rangefinder, which according to the internets, is older than I am. He picked it up for 35 dollars, which I thought was a perfect way to venture back into film by using an old, small, cheap, but fully functional camera.
-I also wanted to put more restrictions on myself (I already did some by using only one lens, or my iphone, or a small CF card, but it’s too easy to cheat). There is no cheating with film, you have 36 shots, and thats it.
It also costs money to process it. I calculated about 2 rmb (30 cents) each shot, but its still money I have to spend, whereas digital is free for the most part after a one time purchase of the CF card.
I decided that a photowalk was the perfect place to try it out. There was no pressure to finish an assignment, no pressure to produce stunning images, no competition from others (photowalks are basically a way to meet other togs, talk shop, and drink).
Some of the things I noticed:
-I kept chimping to no avail! (From wikipedia: “Chimping is a colloquial term used in digital photography to describe the habit of checking every photo on the camera display (LCD) immediately after capture.”) I would take a picture, then look at the back of the camera to be faced only with the fake leather backing.
This action of not being immediately self-gratified made me very uneasy and tense for a while. It was something I haven’t experienced in years, and it was hard to stop thinking about it.
That was the biggest thing I felt I had to get adjusted to. After that, budgeting my shots was next on the list. It wasn’t just the descipline of being more selective with shots-I already do that fairly well-it was not being able to get multiple images of a single event. I normally try to pop off 5-6 shots at different angles and perspectives, with the idea of seeing which one works the best later on.
Now, after I took the shot, it was impossible to press the button again, even thought the image might have gotten better. I need to work on this, and also be more patient.
One of the last bits of difficulty came in shooting the camera itself. I have been shooting with a DSLR forever, and a rangefinder has a whole new learning curve. Most of the problems occurred with the viewfinder and focusing. With a DSLR, its got a WYSIWYG viewfinder, in the middle of the camera, and no mater how you rotate it, you can see clearly through the viewfinder.
A rangefinder uses a split screen window, a way of focusing where you match up the two images where you want to prioritize focus. The Olympus’ window has a fairly poor split screen, with softer lines and is harder to see in bright sun or dark places.
On top of that , the viewfinder is on the left side of the screen, which is no problem since I shoot with my right eye. But when turing the camera to go vertical, my left hand has to focus which in turn covers up the viewfinder. The only way to correct for this is by reversing the way I normally shoot, not the most comfortable thing to do.
So in addition to the black and white, I did a roll of color. The color roll was much more deliberate, the black and white was all done on the street with an in-your-face-run-and-gun approach. I shot most of the roll at Prince Gong’s Mansion the next day, when the students from my workshop were out on their morning shoot.
Although the negatives look fine, the scans are of a subpar quality, I guess that’s what you get for 3 bucks with developing included.
Some of the nice things about the camera is its almost silent operation, there is no mirror, so just a soft “click” sound and a manual advance via the crank. The response time is fairly fast, if not faster than with my DSLR, because the camera doesn’t really have to do anything but fire.
With the image below, I was able to take a few pictures and she still never looked up due to the almost completely silent shutter. With my DSLR I’m positive after the first one went off this shot would be gone. I had an epiphany at the end of the first day. After the initial anxiety of not being able to see my image, I got relaxed and actually forgot about it. After a while I totally forgot what I had taken at all. The frustration turned into fascination and interest, because now the entire roll became a mystery to me. I couldn’t wait to get the images back to see if I nailed it or not. I then hit bottom again when I realized it would take two days to process the film.
Some of the outtakes where I missed…
And the final verdict: It was fun. I do like shooting with film, it is a very relaxing experience. I know that it will just take more practice and patience to make sure I get everything right.
Now for the funny part. Since I don’t have a film camera anymore and need to return the Olympus back to Chuck, add to that not a lot of money to invest in a good one (I’m saving for the new, cheaper full frame camera from Canon that is rumored to come out in the fall), and wanted a camera now (the itch needed to be scratched), there was only one option I could thing of.
I bought a Holga.
But not just any Holga, I got the most difficult Holga to “play” around with. A Holga Panoramic Pinhole Camera. I will save all the juicy tidbits for a later post. But just to give you the gist of it, the “suggested” exposure “time” for the camera in a bright sunny day is 7-9 seconds. That’s right, seconds. Fun times…