For those who have not seen yet, “The Last Roll of Kodachrome” from National Geographic. I strongly recommend this documentary.
For those who have not seen yet, “The Last Roll of Kodachrome” from National Geographic. I strongly recommend this documentary.
1 – Tiananmen Square  Stuart Franklin
2 – The Power of One  – Oded Balilty
3 – Nagasaki  – U.S. Air Force
4 – Gandhi  – Margaret Bourke-White
5 – U.S. Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima  – Joe Rosenthal
6 – Olympic Games, Mexico City  – Associated Press
7 – Earthrise – Apollo 8 mission  – By astronaut William Anders
8 – Spanish Civil War  – Robert Capa
9 – Marylin Monroe  – Matthew Zimmermann
10 – The Asanuma assasination  – Yasushi Nagao
The “1960” Exakta Varex IIa
While essentially the same model, this late (1962) Exakta Varex IIa replaced the traditional Exakta logo with something more “modern” at the time. The front plate is also changed, not necessarily for the better.The pentaprism has also a new shape; this is P.3, manufactured from 1960 on.
The lens mounted on this camera is a beauty: the 4.0/25 auto-diaphragm Flektogon, the second-widest lens Zeiss ever made for the Exakta (there was a 20 mm Flektogon, too).
For over a hundred years film was the only option. The greatest names in photography all shot film; I’m sure you’ve heard of Ansel Adams.
Some of the most inspiring, well-known photographs ever produced were shot by famous photographers—so why do all the modern-day pros shoot digital if all the greats shot film? The answer is quite simple: convenience and cost.
I would like to preface this tutorial by saying that I make the majority of my income from shooting digital. Film versus digital is a very controversial subject and the point of this tutorial is not to claim that one is better than the other, but rather to provide the reader a better understanding of film, and what it can do for them today, even in a digital world.
The digital format…
I could go on. The simple fact is that digital simply makes sense for the modern 35mm photographer and certainly for the weekend hobbyist. There are no messy chemicals to deal with, you’re not required to sit in a dark room for hours on end to see if your film [properly] developed, and you only need a memory card or two instead of roll after roll of film.
If you are interested in becoming a photographer, starting out can be very expensive. Granted, if you buy used equipment you can save a lot of money. But even used, a digital SLR (DSLR) can run you a few hundred dollars whereas a mint condition film SLR will cost less than $100.
Even the most expensive, top of the line, professional film SLR’s on the used market go for a couple hundred bucks. On the other hand, top of the line DSLR’s go for thousands, even well used. Start-up cost is one of the toughest hurdles to overcome when getting into photography and this is where film can save you a bundle while getting your feet wet in the world of photography.
The second reason I recommend film to beginners is that it’s a more immersive way to learn about the relationship between aperture, ISO and shutter speed. You also have to be more cognizant of your surroundings and available light when shooting film. I have to admit, I’m a little grumpy knowing that many modern photographers never touched or even wanted to try their hand at film; they’re robbing themselves of a truly wonderful experience that I believe can take them to a whole other level.
The digital format allows one to be very sloppy, especially if you’re shooting in digital RAW format. You’re able to over or underexpose and fix it in post rather than doing it right in the first place. Heck, worrying about white-balance seems to be a thing of the past; a simple eye-dropper tool fixes everything for you in post! Learning on film teaches you to truly care about your surroundings while getting intimately familiar with your camera and all of its little quirks.
If you thought my reasons for shooting film were subjective, my final reasons are even more so; but hear me out. In my opinion, black and white photography has yet to be reproduced in digital format to echo the beautiful black and white film formats that are still available today.
It’s hard to explain; maybe it’s the film grain versus digital grain, maybe it’s the seemingly infinite tones that black and white film can produce or maybe it’s a combination of a lot of different elements aligning to “make it happen”. All I know is that I have yet to see consistent results from digital black and white prints that are as astoundingly gorgeous as examples from countless black and white prints that I have seen throughout my life. Obviously, this is subjective, but there you have it.
Canon EOS 630 – Kodak T-MAX400 B&W Film
Where else? The camera! There have been so many makes, models and formats of cameras over the years that it would be silly to try and review them all. And I don’t want to “fake it”, I’m not going to scour the internet looking for info on camera systems that I know nothing about. I believe that would only dilute my information and rob you of truly useful, real-world experience. My goal is to provide some of what I know so that you can make an informed decision when you go on the hunt for your own film camera.
In this article, I will not address medium or large format film cameras since I could write a book on that topic alone. Not to mention, I wouldn’t be saving you any money by recommending the medium/large format route anyway. Instead, I’ll start with Canon’s EOS systems, I’ll continue with a short glimpse into rangefinders and finish up with film recommendations.
I apologize ahead of time for those interested in Nikon or other manufacturers. I have far more experience with Canon, but some of these same principles should apply to other systems and the film recommendations should work across the board.
Let’s get started!
The Canon EOS Elan IIe is a steal when you compare the price to performance ratio. While a 1v is a wonderful (and legendary) film SLR, even now a good copy is being sold for several hundred dollars and that might be a bit much to invest on a used film camera when you’re first starting out, especially since the Elan is so cheap and provides many of the same functions.
The Elan is also very easy to find in online auctions. It uses typical 35mm film and has the modern EF lens mount (versus the older, discontinued FD lens mount). I would highly recommend buying one that comes with a battery grip if you want to use AA batteries, the body itself will only take the more expensive 2CR5 batteries.
The reason I’m recommending the 600 series of cameras is that they’re extremely cheap, built like tanks, and can still be found quite easily. This series was among the first to rely on electronic focusing by communication between the on-board microprocessor and auto-focusing motors in EF lenses. The AF system out-performed anything else at the time.
The EOS 630 was the latest from the 600 line. It had the fastest processor which resulted in faster AF, had interchangeable viewing screens, had an illuminated LCD and could use databacks. It was also all metal construction; it has held up amazingly well over the years.
If I had a gripe, the biggest would be that it’s a pain to do manual metering because of the multiple button operations required to accomplish it. The camera is also not the most comfortable to hold in your hands in comparison with other EOS systems.
The Rebel series is probably the one you know as the “Andre Agassi camera”. The famous tennis player was hired by Canon to market their line of Rebel cameras throughout the 90′s and 2000′s. It was one of the most successful, mass-produced lines that Canon ever made (and continues that course with the digital Rebel today).
I’m recommending this camera because it costs next to nothing; I’ve seriously witnessed people give them away. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them, on the contrary! They’re quite capable with some pro-level features in a very light and compact package.
The reason they’re so cheap is that there were so many of them made and since they were never a “professional” camera, they were not that expensive, even when new. Don’t expect a lot of pro-features and amazing build quality, however.
If you want to spend next to nothing on a body just to get the experience of shooting and developing film, this is your camera.
What the heck is a rangefinder? It’s a camera fitted with a rangefinder, duh! For all intents and purposes, a rangefinder is a method of focusing. Most rangefinders show two images of a subject; when you turn a focus wheel, one of the images moves until it is lined up with the other image and that’s how you know it’s in focus. Personally, I really enjoy this method of focusing. Rangefinders are popular because of the following:
Rangefinders offer a unique shooting experience in that you’re not looking through the lens like you do with an SLR. It’s sort of like shooting through a modern point-n-shoot. Because the viewfinder is off to the side, you can leave both eyes open while looking through the viewfinder to survey your scene as you’re shooting. This makes the rangefinder very popular amongst urban and photojournalist photographers.
If you’ve researched rangefinders at any level, you’ve probably run across mention of Leica, they are the bad boys in the realm of rangefinders, the top of the pack. Unfortunately, that means they’re also insanely expensive.
I’ve had experience with several rangefinders over the years, but I always go back to my Canon QL-17 GIII. I love the photos that come out of this thing, especially black and whites. It is often referred to as the “poor man’s Leica” because the lens quality was able to produce incredible photos for the price.
Canon Canonet QL-17 GIII
You can find them on used camera forums and eBay for $20-$30. The reason you can find them so cheap is that the light seals are often shot, sometimes the aperture blades are frozen and the shutter speed may be off.
If you are lucky enough to find one that only needs the light seals replaced, it’s a relatively easy and cheap fix (we’re talking $12-$15 for the new seals) if you do the repair yourself.
Light Seal Replacement on my Canon Canonet QL-17 GIII
Canon Canonet QL-17 GII – Kodak B&W T-MAX400
First and foremost, find a reputable local camera lab and give them a call. They’ll tell you what kind of film they’re able to handle as well as what they can print and what sort of print medium they can print on.
Don’t be shy about admitting you’re a film beginner. In fact, I encourage it. Otherwise, they’ll assume you know what you’re doing and you may miss out on some very important lessons while working with your photo lab. After you’ve developed your first couple of rolls, feel free to see if there are other services that are cheaper (including online) if you’re so inclined.
I recommend your local camera shop because I’m a believer in supporting your local industry. And, as I eluded to, you can learn a lot by asking questions and dealing with your lab in person.
Generally speaking, there are two types of film; slide film and negative film. I’m going to focus on negative film, it’s the easiest (and cheapest) to work with. As you progress, you may want to dabble with slide film as it can technically produce better prints than negatives can and slide longevity is much greater than negatives (which start to deteriorate well within a decade).
Next up is film speed. ISO speeds in digital cameras came from the ISO film rating system and the same principles apply. The larger the ISO number, the less light you’ll need to expose your scene on the film negative.
What I would recommend is starting with an ISO400 film (or thereabouts) so that you have a little more latitude with available light. Any higher and you’ll really start to see a lot of film grain and any lower will require sunlight or lots of interior light, more than a typically lit room in your house will provide.
You may have heard that some people store batteries in their refrigerator. Well, I have no idea if that does anything for batteries or not, but it certainly does for film. I store all of my film in the fridge. Why? Film is made of chemicals that start to break down as heat is introduced. The warmer it gets, the faster it deteriorates.
If you keep your film cold, the process is slowed, although never completely stopped. It doesn’t matter whether you keep your film in the fridge or the freezer, there are no ill effects to film if you freeze and defrost it. However, I keep mine in the fridge so that I can use it immediately instead of waiting for it to thaw.
Here’s some film that I’ve used over the years. I shoot B&W Kodak T-MAX400 almost exclusively these days, although I do pop in a roll of T-MAX100 once in a while. As for color, I can’t remember the last time I used a color negative film slower than 400. I would probably recommend starting with TMX400 if you’re interested in B&W, I find it to be very versatile. Again, call up your local shop and make sure there will be no problems developing whatever film you decide to use.
Slow: Ilford Pan F50
Mid/Fast: Plus-X, FP4,Tri-X, T-MAX400
Slow: Kodak Gold 100, Fuji Super G 100
Mid/Fast: Kodak Professional Portra / Royal Gold 400, Fuji NPH
When you buy your first used film camera, make sure to put a roll of cheap color film through it and have your photo lab develop straight to a CD so that you can check for possible issues with the camera. You’ll be able to see if there are light leaks, if the shutter is off or the aperture blades are malfunctioning.
I also recommend getting yourself a light meter or using your digital camera to meter (if you have one, of course). Write down the readings and compare them with the photos you get back to determine if your film camera has a metering problem.
I know you’ll have many questions when you buy that first film camera and run that first roll through it, and a lot of it will be trial and error. But I hope this article will be enough to get you started and I encourage each of you to at least try shooting a couple rolls of film.
I’ve provided some options that cost next-to-nothing, so even if you don’t enjoy yourself, you’re not out that much cash. I’m betting you’ll have a blast!
Just be careful, it can become very addicting very quickly. Before you know it, you’ll be buying developer chemicals and trying to figure out which room in your house you can get away with turning into a darkroom!
All photos © Shane Parker Photography
Photographs by Steve McCurry.
Two years ago, photographer Steve McCurry heard the whispers. Due to the digital-photography revolution, Kodak was considering discontinuing one of the most legendary film stocks of all time: Kodachrome, a film which was to color slides what the saxophone was to jazz. McCurry spoke with Kodak’s worldwide-marketing wizard Audrey Jonckheer, hoping to persuade Kodak to bequeath him the very last roll that came off the assembly line in Rochester, New York. They readily agreed. And recently, McCurry—most famous for his National Geographic cover of an Afghan girl in a refugee camp, shot on Kodachrome loaded his Nikon F6 with the 36 exposure spool and headed east, intending to concentrate on visual artists like himself, relying on his typical mix of portraiture, photojournalism, and street photography.
Herewith, presented for the first time in their entirety, are the frames from that historic final roll, which accompanied McCurry from the manufacturing plant in Rochester to his home in Manhattan (where he is a member of the prestigious photo agency Magnum), to Bombay, Rajasthan, Bombay, Istanbul, London, and back to New York. (The camera was X-rayed twice at airports along the way.) McCurry’s final stop, on July 12, 2010: Dwayne’s Photo, in Parsons, Kansas—the only lab on Earth that still developed Kodachrome—which halted all such processing in late December.
What did he choose to shoot on the last frame of that last roll? A statue in a Parsons graveyard (in the section reserved for Civil War veterans), bearing flowers of the same yellow-and-red hue as the Kodak package. (See Frame 36.) “I saw a statue of this soldier, looking off in the distance,” says McCurry, age 60, “and he’s kind of looking off into the future or the past. I figure, This is perfect. A cemetery. Kodachrome—this is the end of this sort of film—[suggesting] the transience of life. This is something that’s disappearing forever.”
And what, pray tell, will McCurry miss most about his old trusty chrome? (He happens to have shot, at last count, 800,000 Kodachrome frames over the past four decades.) “I’ve been shooting digital for years,” he insists, “but I don’t think you can make a better photograph under certain conditions than you can with Kodachrome. If you have good light and you’re at a fairly high shutter speed, it’s going to be a brilliant color photograph. It had a great color palette. It wasn’t too garish. Some films are like you’re on a drug or something. Velvia made everything so saturated and wildly over-the-top, too electric. Kodachrome had more poetry in it, a softness, an elegance. With digital photography, you gain many benefits [but] you have to put in post-production. [With Kodachrome,] you take it out of the box and the pictures are already brilliant.”
Never more, alas. Unless, of course, some chemist some day comes up with a way to replicate the complex, expensive developing process. Until then, McCurry is biding his time. “I have a few rolls of Kodachrome in the fridge,” he claims. “I’m just going to leave it there. My fridge would be kind of empty without them. If they ever revive Kodachrome like they did Polaroid, I’ll be poised and ready to go!”
Collecting vintage cameras has become more popular in recent years, especially as digital cameras have replaced film cameras in most homes as the first choice for family and holiday snapshots. Collectors should follow a few simple guidelines when considering vintage cameras, whether they are collecting for fun or hoping to find rarities that will gain value in the future.
1 – Vulture Stalking a Child – Kevin Carter.
2 – Afghan Girl – Steve McCurry.
3 – Migrant Mother – Dorothea Lange.
4 – V-J Day in Times Square – Alfred Eisenstaedt.
6 – Uganda Famine – Mike Wells.
7 – Albert Einstein – Arthur Sasse.
8 – Fire on Marlborough Street – Stanley J. Forman.
9 – Nagasaki 1945 – U.S. Air Force.
10 – Che Guevara – Alberto Korda.